“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, March 29, 2003

Bollettino

After the pointless maundering in the pre-war period, the mainstream press is beginning to get what LI, with our lack of knowledge of battlefields and Iraqi culture, has been harping on for months: just because the media has decided that the war will end with the end of Saddam H. doesn't mean the War has decided the same thing. The reports of the first suicide bombing draw us ever nearer to a world in which we Our Palestinians have to be controlled, through increasing use of our soldiers, and to the detriment of our moral character, our economy, and our security.

The NYT gets it, almost. Here's a think piece that could of been ripped out of this weblog over the past two months. Well, no, it isn't as stylishly written.

Other reports corroborate the direction that the war, as well as its aftermath, promises to take: Iraqi militiamen, in civilian clothes, firing weapons and disappearing inside the anonymity of the local populace. So-called civilians riding in buses to move toward contact. Enemy combatants mixing among women and children. Children firing weapons. Families threatened with death if a soldier does not fight. A wounded American soldier commenting, "If they're dressed as civilians, you don't know who is the enemy anymore."

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/30/weekinreview/30WEBB.html

Friday, March 28, 2003

Bollettino

In the buildup to the war, the tipping point, for most Americans, was the idea that Al qaeda and Saddam H. were joined at the hip. In the 48 hour ultimatum speech, Bush must have repeated this charge ten times � or was that in the �your 48 hour ultimatum is pre-approved!� speech? I get them all confused. In any case, whenever Bush insistently repeats a fact, you know that it is spurious. It is almost a 100% proof. Any antiwar activist can tell you that the Al Qaeda link has been laughably tenuous.

What hasn�t been asked, however, is why. Why shouldn�t Saddam have supported Al-q.?
The usual answer is that Osama bin and Saddam H. have a Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan relationship. In the one corner is the ugly infidel, in the other corner the minion of Saudi irredentism.

That doesn�t convince LI. Middle Eastern politics is a patchwork of alliances between people who would like nothing better than to stick the steak knife into each others backs. The most notorious example is Israel and Iran in 1980. There was no love lost between the countries, but since countries don�t exchange bodily fluids, merely goods, that was no problem. As we all know, Ayatollah Homeinii got his arms from Israel.

The weird thing about Iraq in 98 and 99 is that it seems to have gone out of its way to avoid Osama bin. If Atta did meet with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague in April, 2001, as has been endlessly speculated, we shouldn�t assume that the momentum was all with Iraq � it might have been Atta who was making an ouverture.

We have a theory.

Our theory is that the nineties anti-terrorist strategy worked. Or at least it mostly worked. The strategy posited making state�s pay for sponsoring terrorism. How? By squeezing them. The Economist, in its May 26, 2001 issue, had a little article about the Bush administration�s tweaking of sanctions.

�Ever since the UN's weapons inspectors were expelled from Iraq two and a half years ago, sanctions have lost their original purpose of ensuring that the country was declawed of its weapons of mass destruction (see article). They now merely help to devastate Iraq's economy and bolster its cruel dictatorship. A change is called for.
America and Britain think they have found the right one. They are hoping this week to persuade not just the other three permanent Security Council members, Russia, China and France, but also Iraq's neighbours, that there are more effective ways of squeezing Mr Hussein's regime. And they hope to do this before the current oil-for-food protocol, with its crude and leaky web of rules, exceptions, bribes and cudgels, comes up for its six-monthly renewal on June 4th. America and Britain hope the changes will shift the blame for Iraqi deprivation

Basically the new smart sanctions are a more flexible and, it has to be presumed, more efficient version of the oil-for-food arrangement which allows Iraq to import food and medicine and some humanitarian goods in exchange for its oil. Under the new proposals, Iraq would be able to import all the goods it wants, except for weapons and dual-use stuff.�

That was the state of play pre 9.11. There were two triumphs for the sanctionists in the nineties: Libya and South Africa. Libya is the relevant case. Libya basically caved, in order to avoid the Iran-Libya sanctions act, and the EU equivalents.

Iraq�s was the secret surrender that seemed to make sanctions do-able. Given the precarious flow of money into Iraq, Saddam H. had every reason to keep Osama bin at arm�s length.

Now, here�s where strategy meets reality. Affecting a disconnect between the state and paramilitary groups sets those groups free. They are no longer limited, in their ambitions, by the caution of tyrants. The refusal to do anything to benefit the Middle East � and this scales up to sucking money from Gulf state treasuries for unnecessary arms to refusing to protect the Palestinians � preserved the angry, and oh so recruitable context of hostility. Hence, migration to semi-states, like Afghanistan and Sudan, on the part of Osama bin. Hence, the build up of cells in South East Asia. One of those stories that is being overshadowed by the War is a thoughtful piece by AP journalist John Solomon
claiming that al-q. was recentering its operations in Southeast Asia in 2001. The graf is buried in an article about Moussaoui and the possibility that the hijacker team was planning a second wave of attacks.

�Some of that same evidence, gathered during raids and arrests in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, also has led authorities to suspect al-Qaida's financing and operational planning has been shifting from Afghanistan and the Middle East to southeast Asia.�
LI�s theory would posit that the paramilitary network would use second line government officials and sympathizers in countries like Malaysia to design their campaign. This doesn�t mean we should attack Malaysia, by the way � we�ve already tried Southeast Asia, and though the beaches are a lot better than Iraq�s, the people can be a bitch when you are relocating them to safe villages. It does indicate that squeezing a state that has surrendered, like Iraq, sends a signal that sanctions are simply the prelude to greater degrees of violence.
The omni-menace coming out of the White House has surely speeded up the building of missiles in N. Korea, and the attempt to make atom bombs in Iran, while the invasion of Iraq has simply sanctified the disconnect between paramilitary groups and states. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, we are being led by a crew of idiots!
Excuse me. So sorry about that. Remove the man shouting from the mezzanine. Where was I? Oh yes. The problem with our theory is pretty clear. We cannot, Perle like, make any money out of it. Life really is a bummer.

Bollettino

"cacerolada"

We had a friend who used to get so wrapped up in soap operas that she would write to them, adumbrating her own original views of the ongoing dilemmas agonizing the characters. It was as if she considered these characters real in the sense that they could benefit from her advice. In a way, LI thinks that we are engaged in a similar bout of unfettered fantasy. All we do on this site, lately, is ruminate endlessly about a war we are powerless to change.

So -- we recognize we are demented. Okay? Sometimes, common sense dictates that fantasy overwhelm common sense.

So let's zip around to interesting stories. The NYT has a small piece about a Spanish protest that seems much more clever than lying down in the streets. Banging pots. We always love pot banging. Pot banging doesn't have an ideology. They banged pots against Allende in Chili. I'm sure there was some pot banging in Venezuala last year. Surely this goes way back. In Piero di Cosimo's The Discovery of Honey, circa 1499, Satyrs bang pots to drive bees to a tree. I wonder if the custom of banging those pots is related to this obvious folk custom? Of course, in the Allende case, it was supposed to represent the empty pots of the middle class.

In any case... now they are banging pots against our intrepid coalition ally, Aznar, the man whose support for Bush has resulted in Spain sending a battalion of spirtual troops to accompany our boys. Yes, the ghosts of Cortez and Franco have been dispatched, post haste, to Kuwait --- that'll put the fear of God into em!


Here are the intro grafs:

"ADRID, March 27 � The lights in Madrid and Barcelona went off tonight and the kitchenware came out, as thousands of people responding to a call for an antiwar blackout banged pots and pans together in a noisy protest against the war in Iraq. An environmental group urged citizens to join in a noise-making "cacerolada" in Madrid's Plaza Mayor at 10 p.m., to coincide with another call to turn out the lights.

But the protest seemed to spread spontaneously across the city, with many neighborhoods resounding to the sound of banging metal. Adding to the cacophony in Catalonia, drivers honked their horns, while fire-stations sounded their sirens."


Krugman bangs his usual pot in his op ed today. It makes a beautiful sound; but, of course, it could be one hand clapping for all the attention it will get. He points out that Cheney's energy commission, convened during the California brown outs, was thoroughly misguided, mistaking a problem that resulted from industry-wide collusion for one that was caused by too much environmentalism. As Krugman also points out, since Cheney conferred almost solely with the colluders, it isn't surprising that he pooh-poohed the communist, or at least Democrat, idea of corporate manipulation. Who, us manipulate? That view is now the official view of Bush's own FERC. As a final kicker, we won't know whether Cheney's friends profited themselves, or how clued in he was to the reality of the situation, since access to the records of his meetings have been completely blocked.

And finally -- Richard Perle, that patriot of patriots, has reluctantly put personal profit over officially sanctioned warmongering and resigned his semi-official position with the Bush administration. The story here has been building for the last two weeks, ever since Perle stupidly denounced an article by Sy Hersch in the New Yorker by saying that Hersch was a 'terrorist'. Since then, Perle's finances have been investigated by the Times. He's responded not by keeping quiet, but by stirring up the rightwing troops. Here's a bit of the interview he gave NewsMax:

According to a recent editorial by New York Times columnist and full-time Bush-hater Maureen Dowd, Perle may have a conflict of interest in that he is a member of the Pentagon�s Defense Advisory Board. Perle called Dowd�s claims a fabrication. "Absolutely, categorically untrue," he said."Maureen Dowd's view of this is very misleading. Ms. Dowd's recent editorial suggested that I was retained to 'help overcome Pentagon resistance' to the proposed sale of Global Crossing to Hutcheson Whampoa. That is not why I was retained," Perle asserted."I have not been retained by Hutcheson Whampoa, nor have I been retained by Global Crossing to represent them in any way with the U.S. government. I have been retained by Global Crossing to help them put together a security arrangement that is acceptable to the U.S. government."

Which, of course, isn't true. This story burned Perle because the rightwing campers aren't about to get all soft and mushy about Global Crossing. They hate Global Crossing. They hate the idea of Global Crossing going communist. Wierdly enough, the same NewsMax people who are putting Perle under 24 hour protection against the wild Bush haters out there in the spreading darkness published a three parter just last month that could have been entitled, how do I hate thee, Global Crossing? Let me count the ways...

First two grafs went:


"Li Ka Shing has lost the first round in his effort to take over Global Crossing. Li's bid for the defunct telecommunications giant failed before a U.S. national security committee charged with oversight.
"The credit for causing Li's failure must be distributed evenly to both NewsMax and our readers for passing so many valuable tips about the reclusive billionaire to the FBI. In the end, Li had to withdraw his offer to buy Global Crossing because he knew it would fail."

There are certain rules that apply even to the aberrant right. One of them is that your readers can't be passing many valuable tips to the FBI, on the one hand, and then be expected to admire a man hired by the group the FBI is supposed to be suppressing, on the other.

However, this does say something about Perle's hubris. Did he really expect to get away with getting more than a half mill from Global Crossing? He might as well have contracted to do PR work for Saddam Hussein. The man is obviously a little ... shall we say, vain?

The Bush haters (otherwise known as the NYT) had the satisfaction of reporting that Perle has resigned:

"WASHINGTON, March 27 � Richard N. Perle resigned today as chairman of an influential Pentagon advisory board in the wake of disclosures that his business dealings included a recent meeting with a Saudi arms dealer and a contract to advise a communications company that is seeking permission from the Defense Department to be sold to Chinese investors."

However, the letter of the victory is less than the spirit. He is still a member of the damn board. His contract with Global Crossing is premised on him making 600,000 dollars if he gets results. I'd still bet on him making his 600 grand.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Bollettino

Are we so obvious? You know, we thought it was a good gag, pretending that Tony Blair was being played by a double. We thought it rather magnificently parodied the misinformation coming out of the Pentagon, and made a little poison point. But alas, our little jest seems to have been independently discovered by loads of other people. For the funniest double joke, read the Guardian article about the Dubya double.
We admit, these grafs are good:

"Most of those who regularly monitor Mr Bush's speech patterns believe that it was the genuine article who spoke at Central Command HQ in Florida yesterday, pointing to a characteristic tendency toward quasi-biblical phrasing - "There will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing in near" - and an almost total absence of words of more than three syllables.

Other experts disagree, pointing out that these consistencies originate with speech writers rather then the president himself, and that Bush's main vocal technique - the bewildered pause - is only too easy to imitate."

Which reminds us -- we heard the Bush-Blair press conference this morning, and the leader of the free world was cruising in his retarded frat boy mode. Bush is obviously petrified by the prospect of getting asked questions by journalists. It tortures him. When asked about the absense of a coalition in this war, Bush responded -- this is from memory: "We got allies. We got allies and allies and allies." He was obviously trying to remember the name of one. Too bad he didn't come up with Cameroon -- just to see how he'd pronounce it. Blair eventually interjected himself, in a fatherly way, and the question was diverted Blairishly, which is almost as good as being answered.
Bollettino

There's a funny article in Slate today going after Johnny Apple, the NYT's instant theory man. Apple's had the black mark on his forehead ever since Bush called him an asshole in a public forum, and was overheard, and was embarrassed. It's an indirect form of lese majeste, but Apple must suffer for it. Jack Shafer, who is doing his duty to guard his country, makes the point that Apple was exaggeratedly negative about our great adventure in Afghanistan -- which is turning, in the light of our current war, into the pundit's golden age. Weren't we the boys back then!

Apple apparently once wrote a piece saying we risked getting into a quagmire in Afghanistan. Look what happened: we toppled the Taliban toute suite! Now Apple writes a piece that we risk getting into a quagmire in Iraq; thus, by the rule of substitution, Saddam Hussein must be in the bag.

This is an excellent example of the reasoning power of those journalists who are embedded in that most dangerous front-line city, D.C. In fact, Shafer seems so emboldened by Apple's piss poor forecasting record that he allows himself a funny:

"Apple's fear that dropping bombs on civilians wouldn't "win Afghan 'hearts and minds' " and that the country would prove ungovernable even if the United States won turned out to be unfounded. Two weeks after his comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam, the allies liberated Kabul, and 16 months later the place is at least as governable as San Francisco."

Which goes to show that Shafer must explore much rougher sections of San Francisco than are advised even by the most hardcore S/M guides. For the latest on the governability of Afghanistan, here's an excerpt from a recent Boston Globe article:


"KABUL -- US forces have clashed with fighters loyal to an Afghan warlord in an incident that could turn the renegade commander, a former US ally, against the Americans and undermine the shaky peace in a sensitive border area, Afghan officials said yesterday.

There were differing accounts of the fighting, which may have killed as many as 13 of the warlord's men, including his eldest son."

Hmm. I don't remember Willie Brown, the mayor of S.F., experiencing the loss of his son to a firefight with the U.S. army, but I guess we can take Shafer's word that the S.F. and Afghanistan are mirror images of each other. Perhaps Slate, as an experiment, ougt to unscrew the guy from his D.C. desk and lauch him into the streets of Gardez to experience the wonders of the order the contemptible Mr. Apple predicted would be difficult to establish. Here's what is happening there:

"Khan Zadran alienated both the Afghan government and the Americans by rocketing cities to wrest power from his rivals, including a notorious attack on Gardez in which 13 locals were killed. His brutal methods raised questions about the US military's judgment in choosing Afghan allies; he was dropped from the coalition last fall. But his militia fighters still operate roadblocks where local people complain of harassment, extortion, and kidnapping."

The wonders of the democracy that we have unleashed on these people, like the ways of a man with a woman, and the ways of the fish undersea, make me praise the almighty. In fact, it makes me feel all Hitchenish all over!
Belligeranti

There is a tic to which the belligeranti have become much addicted. A rhetorical tic.

To illustrate, take this rather typical piece from Christopher Hitchens. He is in full regalia, bucking us up in a Daily Mirror piece called (hats off to Kipling) We must keep our nerve. Hitchens goes through the drill -- the so called peace marchers are hypocrites. Saddam Hussein is the bloodiest thing since heart surgery sans anaesthetic. Peace marchers love Saddam Hussein. The coalition forces are brave boys. The coalition forces are making fine progress. The Iraqi soldiers are terrorists. The Iraqi people would really be strewing flowers in the streets if they weren't so fearful about the above mentioned tyrant -- did I mention that Saddam Hussein is a bloody tyrant? The peace marchers protested against the Afghanistan war, didn't they, the peace, or so called peace, or really friends of totalitarianism, marchers. They are weak headed or sinister. Etc.

That about covers the cognitive content. He was obviously telephoning this one in. Or perhaps sending it in with an automatic guidance system, like one of his much beloved cruise missiles.

But then C.H. reaches deep into his personal feelings. He, too, would be upset telling Mrs. Bum in East Bum that her hubby or son had lost a leg, or perhaps his or her life, depending, in the course of this bold and just war, if he had to. Yes, if the Government for instance hired him for that job, and he'd been fired from Vanity Fair, or somethihg. Yes, even C.H. might shudder a bit, but he'd do his part. Message: we must keep our nerve.

Then we get the drumroll: "However, there is both honour and glory in being able to demolish the palaces and cellars of a murdering dictatorship, inflicting so few incidental casualties (and taking such obvious care to minimize them) that the propaganda of Saddam's goons can produce almost no genuine victims to gloat over."

And then we get this little driblet of prose:

"I feel disgust for those who blame this week's deaths on the intervention and not on its sole target: Saddam Hussein."

The "I feel disgust" locution, and its cousins, have become very popular among the belligeranti. As we noted in the last post, Kanan Makiya was feeling disgust for all those clueless antiwar friends of his calling him up and saying bummer about the bombing, dude. And Andrew Sullivan feels disgust on almost every post.

Now, disgust has been much discussed in recent years, partly due to William Miller's book, Anatomy of Disgust. I've only read Miller's book on courage, but there is an extensive and interesting essay by Martha Nussbaum on Miller's book that articulates his theory and Nussbaum's objections.

According to Nussbaum:

"Miller's book has three goals: to analyze the emotion of disgust; to give an account of when and where people experience disgust in daily life and in the sexual realm; and to investigate the role of disgust in morals and politics. Many writers about disgust have treated it as a bare feeling, with little or no cognitive content. Miller argues powerfully that this approach is inadequate. Disgust actually has a very complex and sophisticated cognitive content. Disgust is "about something and in response to something." It is not like a stomach flu: it "necessarily involves particular thoughts, characteristically very intrusive and unriddable thoughts, about the repugnance of that which is its object." These thoughts revolve around the notion of a particular type of danger for the self, "the danger inherent in pollution and contamination, the danger of defilement." Disgust evaluates its object both as base and as a threat. Thus it is closely linked both to fear (for the self) and to contempt (for the object).'

Actually, the idea that the antiwar people might contaminate Hitchens or pollute him is not implausible. At one time, after all, he was with the "Left" -- a resume that he is going to retire on. You cannot really be a rightwing writer without once having been a leftist. It gives you credibility. This is a puzzle: on the left, having once been a rightwinger gives you no credibility at all. Why should repentence should be so attractive to one side, and so unattractive to the other? Hmm.

But to get back to the "I am disgusted" locution.

The thing about the Daily Mail column is that clearly Hitchens doesn't really feel disgust. There's no emotional fervor here. Perhaps, however, he is reporting a disgust he once felt, and is simply applying the conventional fiction that that particular feeling is prolonged in the report of it. Interestingly, according to Nussbaum, Miller finds the roots of disgust in a certain aversion to life itself -- its fats and sweats and sperm and smells -- and he also claims that the aversion to life -- a sort of death drive -- is characteristically transposed to sex. Disgust has an important role to play in ascesis -- it is, indeed, the favored disciplinary instrument. From St. Anthony regarding a corpse to Christopher Hitchens regarding a peace marcher, there is a clear conceptual continuity.

Still, let's say that C.H. feels disgust at one remove, why report it?

Miller follows a Freudian path about disgust -- that is, he sees disgust intimately connected to desire. This idea has been done to death in the last twenty years, with a lot of speculation built into the idea of the male gaze. The lure of disgust is not only that one will be disgusted, but that one will be aroused. Was it Martin Amis who wrote that the problem with watching pornography is that you never know when you will see something you like that you don't really ever want to know that you'll like?

Some interesting experiments have been done about the psychology of moral feelings, trying to disentangle, if possible, the emotional content of disgust from that of disapproval. Nicols Shaun, a philosophy professor at Charleston College, has written a little paper on this topic: Norms with Feeling: Towards a Psychological Account of Moral Judgment
Shaun considers a series of experiments involving psychopaths in British prisons (hey, the application of this to Hitchens, Sullivan et al. is up to you, gentle reader) that aimed at filling out a notion of Lorenz's about evolved aversion ot inter-species violence. Now, we think Lorenz's idea about this has been pretty well exploded by every study in ethology since. Still, Shaun's point isn't against Lorenz, it is that the experiments are skewed by a body of assumptions about the relation between affective and normative judgements.

There's a term used by Shaun that makes sense, when applied to the belligeranti -- distress cues. Let's take the idea of pack journalism literally, for a moment --that is, that the kind of pro-war journalism we've seen, and its reception by a circumscribed constituency, has created a pack, which is a particular kind of crowd. In a pack, reporting a distress cue like "I am disgusted" -- which, Derrideans among us would surely agree, encrypts another verbal report, I disgust, and repulses it in the same grammatical moment -- is a signal to attack. If disgust is a fear of contamination, the thing to be destroyed must be destroyed so that it doesn't contaminate. We must, in other words, be Friedenrein, in order to achieve real peace -- that is, peace without pollution.

This little phenomenological excursus is an attempt to understand a puzzling thing about certain of the belligeranti: the obvious, visible decay of their writing abilities. Christopher Cauldwell, who is as pro-war as any Weekly Standard writer, is still a fine writer. There's been no deterioration in his prose that I can spot. Christopher Cauldwell is rarely disgusted -- he is, more frequently, fascinated. He operates as a sort of Malcolm Gladwell of the right. But with Hitchens there has been an alarming collapse. I'd say that counterfeiting the distress cue of "I am disgusted by" -- by keying his piece, and most of his pieces, to pseudo-disgust -- Hitchens old lefty ideology is getting its revenge in creating a lifeless (corpselike, aversive) prose. Interesting that being disgusted by should lead, by such insensible steps, to being disgusting.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Bollettino

Ceasefire and the intellectuals

In Edward Lascelles Life of Charles James Fox, there�s a passage that describes the formation of the peace cabinet. The Whig opposition, at this point, had been guided both philosophically and strategically by Edmund Burke. The great unifying issue was peace with the North American colonies. In 1782, to negotiate the peace, a government formed under Lord Shelburne, but no cabinet post was found for Burke. This has always been a bit of a puzzle for historians. This is Lascelles explanation:

The exalted spirit of Burke might have upheld Whig principles in the Cabinet, but no place was found for him. His omission was probably due less to the aristocratic exclusiveness of a Whig administration than to the fact that the Whigs doubted whether Burke, with all his inspiring genius, possessed either the self-control or the judgment necessary for a cabinet minister.

Now, that is the kind of thing that drives Burke�s fans crazy. Whether it was true of Burke or not, it is surely true that the intellectual vice, in politics, is lack of self-control and judgment. We�ve been pondering this since reading Kanan Makiya�s intemperate, and pretty much politically suicidal, entries in his TNR weblog.

Solzhenitsyn, however he had set his face against the Soviet regime, never wished for bombs to rain down on Moscow. Even Adenauer avoided, as far as we know, celebrating publicly the mass incineration of Dresden. But here is the kind of thing that rolls right off of Makiya�s pen, and is referenced with approval by innumerable belligeranti:

The bombs have begun to fall on Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers have shot their officers and are giving themselves up to the Americans and the British in droves. Others, as in Nasiriyah and Umm Qasr, are fighting back, and civilians have already come under fire. Yet I find myself dismissing contemptuously all the e-mails and phone calls I get from antiwar friends who think they are commiserating with me because "their" country is bombing "mine." To be sure, I am worried. Like every other Iraqi I know, I have friends and relatives in Baghdad. I am nauseous with anxiety for their safety. But still those bombs are music to my ears. They are like bells tolling for liberation in a country that has been turned into a gigantic concentration camp. One is not supposed to say such things in the kind of liberal, pacifist, and deeply anti-American circles of academia, in which I normally live and work. The truth is jarring even to my own ears.'

This is the sadder insofar as it is obviously a case of a man who has lost his sense of limits by allowing himself to be endlessly coddled by the ultra-hawks, who form a sort of guard of enablers around those who they grossly embrace (it is, by the way, a little hard to believe that Makiya is getting a lot of emails from antiwar activists. It must be spam). The same thing has been happening to Blair, even if, for him, the threshold of temptation is much lower. If, as I hope is still possible, a ceasefire is enforced in Iraq � a more interesting possibility at this point than when the war started, and more obviously to the American interest than anyone in the American press is allowing (is there anyone in the American press who is even considering it?) � one of the provisions of it, to please the ever liberating Bush administration, would be to include the exile community in the devolution of the power on the ground to Iraqis.

Self-censorship seems, according to an admiring profile of Kanan Makiya, to be a terrible struggle for the man. It�s easy to understand Makiya having the thought that the bombs should come down � LI has entertained a treasonous thought or too ourselves during the last week. But to express it is merely forging the knife that will be used to cut your throat. For what? What grand gesture needs to be made so badly?

Perhaps there is something to the theory that intellectuals and tyrants are secret sharers of each other�s characters. Tyrants, too, are enamored of metaphors. The elided 'like," the hidden 'as if" -- these seem impossible for the totalitarian mindset to sense. Only the intoxicating power of one's own rhetoric explains how Makiya could move from the idea that "country that has been turned into a gigantic concentration camp" to the idea that the bombing is music to his ears. Guess what? the people the bombs kill -- the school kid, the vending cart guy, the mother -- probably don't think of themselves as concentration camp inmates. In fact, given that metaphor, there is no reason for Saddam H. to build concentration camps, or political prisons -- what, after all, would be the point?

...And so all distinction is overthrown -- a very bad sign of the times.
bollettino

A wonderful reader, Ms. B. Bush from Houston Texas, writes:

"We often say that God has blessed America, but we really don't pay attention to the daily miracles proving that this is indeed so. We are so richly blessed as a nation! But I'm especially heartened by the the way God multiplies our enemies when we kill them. We first noticed this in Vietnam. We would kill 40 Vietcong, and overnight they would multiply to 80, and be reported as 90.. God was working along lines he'd first laid down in the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, except that this time he was working with the U.S. Military; which is, frankly, a more prepared force than the itinerant preacher he favored in times of yore.

The miracle is happening again. Yesterday, the U.S. Military was engaged by the terrorist Iraqis. At first it looked like 150 fell -- but lo and behold! God multiplied those dead. Here's the AP Story:

"Defense officials also revised to 350 the number of Iraqi forces killed in fierce fighting Tuesday for a key Euphrates River crossing about 90 miles south of Baghdad. The number had been widely estimated Tuesday at more than 150 Iraqi fighters and possibly as many as 500. No American casualties were reported from the battle, which pitted an American armored division against Iraqi infantry."

Now, the U.S. Military's favor in the eyes of providence in this war is not limited to the dead. No sir, don't you think so! God has been working another miracle in our favor, the miracle of the prisoners. One thousand Iraqi prisoners will surrender to our side, and in an hour's time -- just in time for the media to report it, without fear or favor -- they will have multiplied to 8,000. In fact, the division that is fighting the British in Basra right now was reported to have surrendered lock, stock and barrel on the first day of the invasion. This is theologically puzzling, to me. But this letter, Mr. Limited Inc (what a funny name you have!) is more about a terrible loop hole in the ongoing miracle. It is this: let's say Saddam finds out about all this. He's evil and all. So let's say he surrenders his 60,000 troops to us -- they will multiply eightfold in a mere couple of hours. If he keeps doing this, within a week's time there will be more Iraqis than Americans! This is a weapon of mass destruction he cannot be allowed to get a-hold of!
On to Baghdad, say I, before he surrenders!"
Bollettino

I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.
-- Ken Adelman, WP


Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it
'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!
-- Donna Summer

For the latest cake and casualties from Iraq, here's a link to abtv's shots of civilian casualties. Luckily, we are being protected from this kind of shocking image thing in the States. It might make us reconsider dessert, and it will certainly only help the terrorists. Now back to our regularly scheduled program, Pastries and Politics with President Bush.
Bollettino

We are all anti-monarchists around here. But we've been deeply affected by the NYT article on old peers who are seeking their old seats again in Tony Blair's New-n-improved House of Lords. Politics is one thing -- but seeing the spiritual descendents of Bertie Wooster in a fix is quite another.

"LONDON, March 25 � "Quite obviously, I haven't got a hope of getting elected, or of getting any votes at all," said Viscount Massereene, describing his curiously languid attempt to win back (or not) his former seat in the House of Lords. "I thought I would put my name down as a bit of a statement."

One's heart rather goes out, in a hail fellow well met way, not a get the hankies out way, nothing like that, to Viscount Massereene. Especially when you compare his idea that he would rather like, all things considered, to be as it were warming the old seat up again to the barking of the young, buff shark, obviously some New Labor suit, who sounds like a typical thug:

"It's a farcical situation," said Alex Runswick, policy officer for Charter 88, a group that campaigns for electoral reform. "You've got a situation where 91 hereditary peers who shouldn't be there anyway are able to vote for other people who shouldn't be there either."

Get the old folks out of the home. That's a very typical Blair-ite message -- and of course we are talking of the real Blair, who as readers of this site know is struggling in his bonds in the Scottish castle, and not the Blair double who is conferring today with Bush, and no doubt secretly with his maker, Richard Perle.


Finally, there is this graf. We fell in love with this graf -- we lost our aversion to the aristocracy with this graf:

'Meanwhile, the Earl of Stockton has joined some candidates in sending statements to potential voters, gingerly enumerating his qualifications.

"I hope to steer a rather elegant course between the Scylla of self-promotion and the Charybdis of boastfulness," said the earl, who already has a full-time job as a Conservative member of the European Parliament. "I'm also very fortunate to have a brother-in-law in the Lords who's putting in a good word for me."

The results of the election, decided by a system of weighted voting that is so convoluted as to be unintelligible, will be announced on Thursday."

If we must barge into countries and tell them how to run themselves, surely the plight of the House of Lords should move our Pentagon planners. Any politician who ponders the elegant course between the Scylla of self-promotion and the Charybdis of boastfulness -- and can actually say that, like that, to a reporter -- should be supported with all the weapons in our arsenal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Bollettino

Nice story in the Scotsman on the spin war, or strategic information operations. Goebbels called it propaganda. Just what you'd expect.
Bollettino

Our Palestinians

Andrew Sullivan is not often quoted in these pages, because we think it is the height of pointlessness to quote Andrew Sullivan. But he does represent a golden mean of Bush-ism, and for that reason we find one of his posts for
Monday
extremely interesting. Here it is:

"THE TACTICS OF FAILURE: The setbacks the allies have suffered these last couple of days are all due to one thing: some Saddam units acting as terrorists. By pretending to surrender and then opening fire, by relocating in civilian neighborhoods, by shooting prisoners of war in the head, the soldiers apparently still loyal to Saddam are not reversing the allied advance. What they're doing is trying to inflict sufficient damage to improve their morale and increase the costs of the invasion. They want us to fire into civilian areas; they want us to panic at a few atrocities (as in Somalia); they are counting on an American unwillingness to persevere through serious casualties. And they intend to use the Arab media and their Western sympathizers, i.e. the BBC, NYT, NPR etc., to get this message out. The lesson to learn is that we have cornered the equivalent of a rabid dog. It will fight nastily, brutally and with no compunction. Those units who will go down with this regime will not go down easily. After an initial hope that this thing could be over swiftly, I think it's obvious by now that we're in for a nasty fight - and the Saddamite remnants will ally with the anti-war media to fight dirty and spin shamelessly."

Beyond the standard vitriol about the media, the logic, here, is beginning to appear in the mainstream press too. The steps go like this.

1. Our liberation of Iraq seems to have been shockingly non-floral. The cakewalk through a grateful population doesn't seem to have materialized.

2. The resistance to liberation can only come from evil units "acting as terrorists."

3. Notice how those evil terrorists endanger civilians, which we, all unwillingly, have to shoot.

4. So any terrorist act that seems to emerge from those endangered civilians is probably some kind of disguised Saddamite terrorists. Thus, no reason not to liquidate them.

Now, we don't want to dispute about whether Saddam's troops and militia are using the civilians as shields or not. That seems pretty likely, given Saddam's history. And our point isn't that there are other causes that might be behind Iraqi resistance. Our point is what happens when this kind of logic becomes the dominant way of explaining the war. What is obviously wrong with Sullivan's analysis is that it emphasizes the evil of the tactic at the expense of the success of it. What is secondarily wrong about Sullivan's analysis is that it defines evil in terms of opposition to America, which is good. This is an ideological fantasy; as it infiltrates the cool thinking necessary to analyze events, it skews them until they assume a moral incorrigibility -- they become simply evil, or simply good. This always leads states to disaster.

We think that probably some Iraqis are feeling the prod of the fedayeen bayonette in their backs -- whereas we also think that some Iraqis are resisting on their own, for reasons that range from nationalism to religion. As Americans, to use Kanan Makiya's words, orchestrate the music of liberation -- or in plain english, bomb the shit out of various Iraqi towns -- there is every chance that the mood will turn against the Americans. The sequence of it is foreseeable, the structure is there, and certainly the propagandists, like Sullivan, have armed themselves with justifications. As it does, Iraqis will increasingly be treated as either friends or terrorists. The Iraqis, in other words, will become Our Palestinians.
Bollettino

Note to readers: we are retiring "remora." The Vatican issues daily bulletins of the doings of the pope, and all his little munchkins in Emerald City, and we've decided to borrow that as our name for our own daily bulletins. Dope will continue to be dope. Thanks.

War and language

Tony Blair -- or a man claiming to be Tony Blair -- readers will recall, I hope, that the real Tony Blair, according to some reports, might be struggling with his bonds in a remote castle in Scotland -- calls the upcoming battle for Baghdad crucial. U.S. commanders, including General Franks, our liberator in chief, a man whose press conferences have quickly devolved into those exercises in denial the military specialized in in Vietnam, claim that the speed Americans are making is success in itself. War, according to this scenario, is a kind of motor-race, and we are simply leaving behind, with superb disdain, those "pockets of resistance" that might exist behind the lines due to fear, according to the inestimable Franks. It is fear that has kept Iraqis from showering us with blossoms, fear that has kept them away from the 24 hour florist shops of Basra, Um Qasr, Najaf, and Mosul, which are guarded round the clock by feared units of S. Hussein's terrorist units, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Legion, Lmt., a non-profit terrorist organization incorporated in Delaware.

But consider an absurd idea: that the Iraqis might have another definition of the war. They might even consider that the invasion of their territory is not, uh, liberation.

I know. You will say, who are these people? I mean, who really cares what the Iraqis think? Some of them have been so ignorant as to compare the U.S.'s showing of unlawful prisoners of sorta-war -- the Taliban and such -- and the way they were masked and manacled -- treated to all the comforts of home, in our prisons in Cuba, if home is a small place, nine by nine, kept perpetually dark, and speaking is forbidden there -- with their own showing and treatment of U.S. Pows, which is a war crime according to the Geneva convention. This is the kind of evil moral equivalency, promoted by relativism and deconstruction, that has spread from our universities overseas. This is what happens when you don't root it out here.

Perhaps it is all one of those big funny cultural things. First we bomb them, then we love bomb them -- with the precious gift of Freedom. When you care enough to send the very best, send Freedom -- it is best served with a big Abrams tank, we understand. Talk about gourmet!

Consider the lowly casualty. It has now become the newscaster norm to consider the combat casualty as a thing defined by the government, and its military branch. So the Edinburg News, today, reports on the first British casualty in combat

"A SOLDIER from the Black Watch has been killed in action in southern Iraq, the second Briton killed in combat in 24 hours.

The unnamed soldier, from the 1st Battalion Black Watch, which recruits in Scotland, died near Al Zubayr, 15 miles west of Basra, Iraq�s second city, where British forces have been engaged in heavy fighting."


Later in the story, however, we are told that "the total number of British deaths in the war so far is now 18." Now, granted, some of those deaths were the result of friendly fire, but some were the result of potshots taken by Iraqi guerrillas. Potshots don't count as combat, however. They are way outside the rules. Combat only occurs when the coalition forces engage in coordinated attack, n'est-ce pas? Eventually some genius will come up with the idea that Iraqis are suffering from mass Stockholm syndrome.

We can't wait.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Remora

This weekend LI talked with a friend who, incautiously, quoted us when talking with another friend about the war. The latter friend said, where does he get his information?! The implication being that we pulled it out of ... the bowels of our imagination. Well, fantasy is something we love to indulge in. But middle age has rather put the kebosh on day dreaming. So we usually look around for info in the usual places.

Information is proving to be a difficulty in this war. The American and British press seem determined to do their patriotic best, whether it is questioning whether Saddam the nefarious is using a body double to do his rousing work (a question that should be directed, we think, at Tony Blair -- surely the real Blair is even now struggling with a duct tape over his mouth and a rope around his wrists in some isolated Scottish castle, much like the kidnapped wife in that Danny DeVito flick, while the Blair substitute, created by Richard Perle out of primitive proteins in some dank basement in Transylvania, is leading the U.K ever closer to 51st state status) or depending on the military to tell us whether the Iraqi tv's broadcast of two downed American helicopter pilots is really two downed American helicopter pilots, or a film cleverly concocted in Baghdad's famous branch of Dreamworks studio. The servility is overwhelming. When General Franks gives his press conferences, the press people now report, with appropriate indignation, that he is greeted with sceptical questions by some of the foreigners present. Shocking.

So the fabulous Iraqi battalion, division, or whatever, consisting of 8,000 men, has surrendered to "coalition" forces at least six times in the press, each time to sort of dwindle away to a bunch of shoemakers and their german shepherd. One of these days a real Iraqi division will surrender to the Americans, and nobody will believe it. So, too, on a day when the stock market loses 300 some points, we have radio newscasters asking journalists sited in Kuwait City, the war seems to be going well from here. What does it look like from there?

What it does look like is a copy of the war that will happen after Saddam H. is history. Treacherous attacks by a subaltern people who don't appreciate the marvels we simply ache to shower them with -- food, democracy, privatized telephone service with 10,000 hours of free long distance calls -- that will eventually wear away the the surface of the military nerve, in the form of the shooting of this or that civilian, and provoke backlash, in the form of the ambush of this or that heroic American, and so on. You know the drill. The huge surprise, so far, is that the American troops haven't had their floral moment -- the Washington Post is getting quite snippy about it. Where are those Iraqi women-'n-children giving our boys the traditional bouquets in Basra and, oh, one of those other desert towns that nobody is going to remember anyway? We can announce, I think, that the problem is that many of those flower arrangements were ordered from busted dot com companies. Seems that Saddam tyrannically prevented the Iraqi masses from accessing the Nets. Hence, behind the times Iraqi women-n-children are ordering their flowers from Grocery.com and Van.com and other now defunct companies. The sorrow and the pity, as they say.


But let's take a breath and remember that our victory is assured, as Blair (II) would put it, and little is really said about who will govern our new staging area for democracy. Michael Young, in Reason, profiles two of American's budding proconsuls. One, Barbara Bodine, our woman in Yemen, gets Young's qualified approval. But of Garner, Young has this to say:


"If Bodine's prospective appointment is designed to reassure the Iraqis of the benign nature of a US occupation, her boss, Jay Garner, will prove a harder sell. Garner famously signed onto an October 12, 2000 statement by the archconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which praised the Israeli army for having "exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority that deliberately pushes civilians and young people to the front lines."

The statement noted: "What makes the US-Israel security relationship one of mutual benefit is the combination of military capabilities and shared political values�freedom, democracy, personal liberty and the rule of law." That Garner himself benefited from the security relationship is well known: As president of California-based defense contractor SY Technology, he oversaw the company's work on the US-Israeli Arrow missile defense system."

Young also reports that on every missile fired into Iraq for its liberation, Garner's company gets a little tooth fairy money. Putting him, it must be said, in the company of the Bush administration's nearest and dearest as far as war profits are concerned.

We did wonder, though, what Young meant by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Was this latent anti-semitism? Turns out that there really is such an organization. Here's a link.
Remora

"...they have a large exposed rear and exposed flanks..."
-- NPR War correspondent.

Ah, those large exposed rears! For a second, I was thinking that NPR had finally gotten around to reviewing one of my favorite movies, Kelly the Coed: part 5 -- in which the exposure of the rear is an essential, uh, plot element. I mean, isn't it about time Fresh Air took on Vivid Videos? But Alas, the war goes on...

LI has redounded a bit too much lately, about Iraq. Let's turn to the toast economy, shall we?



HealthSouth's collapse, last week, was masked by the war -- as, for that matter, were the tax shenanigans of the D.C. Bush-ites, the busy troops bringing us the Great Giveaway. HealthSouth is serious business. These great structures, with their CEO Humpty Dumpties sitting on them, redefining the language of profit and loss, cause a lot of collateral damage when they have their great falls. One of our best friends here, S., is a physical therapist working at a Health South Hospital. She is pregnant, she is a recent homeowner, and she is just the kind of person who is put at risk by the likes of the CEO of Health South, Richard Scrushy.



To rehash the story:



Last year, Health South made one of those surprising earnings announcement that almost invariably indicate the midnight scuttling of rats in the accounting department.  At the beginning of last year, as the death bell for Enron was ringing out  the dead in the energy and telecom sectors, scary news was being heard from the health sector. Forbes, in October, summed up the year's spiral for Health South like this:



"Healthsouth Chairman Richard Scrushy was complaining about Medicare reimbursements when we wrote about him earlier this year. He's still complaining, but he's got bigger problems. A raft of shareholder suits charge that Scrushy and another director sold $100 million worth of shares knowing that a clarification in Medicare billing rules on group therapy would reduce annual operating earnings at the rehab hospital chain by $175 million.



HealthSouth's stock has plunged 75% since the earnings reduction announcement Aug. 27.But maybe it's bondholders who have the real beef. The suits claim that HealthSouth knew about the Medicare billing clarification as early as May 17. Scrushy insists he had no knowledge of it until August. Interesting, that May 17 date. That's when HealthSouth sold $1 billion in debt to investors, extending notes that would have expired in 2003 for an additional ten years. The company got a 7 5/8% rate. Not bad, given that the bonds have since fallen to 69 cents on the dollar, which if negotiated today would mean a 14% coupon for HealthSouth. In short, HealthSouth got a good deal issuing that debt when it did."



Ah, innocence. One ponders another CEO's parental concern with his stock options outweighing his concern for his company. But wait! There was a twist with this announcement. Rather than confessing to a possible fraud, the confession itself was part of a larger fraud.

The HealthSouth saga was, as is so often the case, all about the CEO, Richard Scrushy. Scrushy swung a  member of elephantine proportions in his home town of Birmingham, Alabama. He'd gotten his name on various University of Alabama buildings. He was celebrated in the newspaper as an entrepeneurial sage. Like Stephen Hilbert, the CEO of CONSECO of Indianapolis, another grounded high flier with a taste for younger, prettier wives, located in an out of the way burg that was perfect for camoflaging on-going revenue stripping, Scrushy was famed for a variety of tasteless moments. There's one of those NYT portraits of the guy, by Simon Romero that drypoints with just that hint of acid the true bizarreness that can be overlooked in a Southern town if you are willing to throw around one hundred million dollars:





"For a city that had grown accustomed to Mr. Scrushy's public persona in recent years, the disclosure of the problems at HealthSouth came as a jolt. Mr. Scrushy (pronounced SCROO-shee) was known as much in Birmingham for his extravagant tastes, which included a Hummer oversize S.U.V., a luxurious Florida estate and a lead singing role in his own country music band, as he was for his philanthropy."





Romero's article -- and by the way, that it is Romero's and not Kurt Eichenwald makes us wonder if something is up there on the NYT business page --today frontloads a few pretty shocking grafs, bad news for Scrushy:





"At least one official is said to be planning to submit documents, including copies of invoices and receipts, that would show how Richard M. Scrushy, HealthSouth's former chairman, oversaw the creation of a sophisticated electronic surveillance system that may have intimidated senior officials into keeping quiet.Last week, the Justice Department filed a criminal complaint against Weston Smith, HealthSouth's former chief financial officer. Mr. Smith is cooperating with investigators in their effort to show how Mr. Scrushy pushed senior executives to inflate earnings to prevent a decline in HealthSouth's share price. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating."



But worse is in the meat of the article, the twist in Scrushy's summer confession:



"The S.E.C., in the case it filed last week, said that the controversy over the Medicare rule was simply a ruse and that Mr. Scrushy, along with several other HealthSouth executives, had been inflating and distorting the company's financial results almost since its inception. The company is accused of inflating earnings by $1.4 billion and assets by $800 million from 1999 through mid-2002, although the fraud is said to have taken place for a much longer time. Like other health care companies, HealthSouth routinely adjusted its revenues to estimate how much it would be paid by insurers.



But Healthsouth used those adjustments to manipulate its earnings, according to the S.E.C. complaint, and falsified records to deceive the company's auditors.After years of falsifying earnings, Mr. Scrushy had been looking for a way to reduce Wall Street expectations so he would not have to inflate profits as much in the future, the regulators said."




Wow. You have to wonder about the brass, or the desperation, of a guy like this. Meanwhile, Alabama has to face up to the costs of erasing Srushy's name on various and sundry public buildings. Surely there's a market in this -- selling governments erasable tags, good for stadiums and college facilities. If your donator CEO goes belly up, just flick a switch and presto-chango! The name changes to Smith or something. Until you program in the next CEO's name.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Remora

The US government, and the British government, in their wisdom, have decided that it is all right for US photographers to show Iraqi troops surrendering, and it is all right for US journalists to interview Iraqi POWs, but that it is a war crime for Iraqis to do the same thing. The broadcast of Iraqis interviewing -- or rather mistreating -- obviously scared prisoners has been shown through out the Arab world by Al Jazeera,and you can see it here, from the Netherlands RTL4. It is not pleasant watching. However, censorship, in this case, is merely feeding the Beast -- a point deliberately misunderstoon by our patriot censors who are bravely manning the media, feeding us figures that don't match the images. When the NYT asked ABC news about the Al Jazeera broadcast, here was the reply -- supply your own satire:

David Westin, the ABC News president, said he decided ABC News should not show those pictures. "I don't think there's any news value in it," he said.

Among other censorship news: the widely reported figure of 8,000 Iraqi troops surrendering in the first days of the conflict has dwindled to 2,000 troops in further re-telling. Here's the NYT take:

"The first few days were intense, but perhaps the easiest part of a complex war. Many of the Iraqi soldiers the allies confronted were ill motivated and ill trained. Some surrendered, and many simply vanished. Even so, some of the celebrated capitulations have turned out to be less than advertised. American officials were quick to announce the surrender of the commander of the 51st Iraqi Division. Today, they discovered that the "commander" was actually a junior officer masquerading as a higher-up in an attempt to win better treatment."