“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 13, 2003

Bollettino

"There was no attempt at deconfliction at all," he added, using the military term for avoidance of duplicate effort. -- Wash Post


A sea, a sea of bad news this morning, spanning the globe, from the odious Tom DeLay in D.C. -- a man who, unlike many a democratic presidential candidate, has no trouble telling Bush to screw off when he feels like it -- Bush wanted him to make some limp-wristed liberal gesture like giving a tax break to (gasp) the poor, so DeLay obliged by embedding it in an impossible tax break for those poor who make 150 thou a year -- to our non-battle, in non-hostile Iraq, which just killed, according to the Times, 100 Iraqis in battles somewhere around Kirkuk, to another non-battle with Iraqi forces that attacked a tank column, in which 27 Iraqis were killed. Or maybe they were non-Iraqis in the first battle. Of course, given our super embedded media, we really don't know much about what is happening with these things -- the miltary has decided to pull the plug on info, until they've licked it into whatever shape they want the press to spoon it out to the rest of us as, and the press is content to do its patriotic duty. In their story on these events, the NYT published a figure of 40 American casualties since the Bush declaration of non-hostility. It is amazing how the newspapers can't seem to make a count of such a seemingly simple thing. Nor is there any investigation of the rather suspicious 'accident' figures.

Let's be clear, as our beloved Defense Secretary might put it. The War is entering a second phase. Is this phase going to be peaceful? No. Is this phase going to lead to a pattern resembling the retaliatory cycle between Palestinians and Israelis. Yes. Yes but. This isn't an inevitability. J-Lo Bremer has been in alarming commandante mode the past two weeks. He has, for instance, decided to ban writing that conveys an "anti-american" tone, or a "pro-Ba'athist" tone. He has put back the moment in which Iraqis will rule their own country into the middle distance, from whence it appears likely to be the "light at the end of the tunnel", to quote a beloved cliche from our last big war. Meanwhile, there are persistant and worrisome patterns in the tone from the Bush team that originally planned the invasion. George Ward, who works at the comically named U.S. Peace institute -- an appendage of the Pentagon, mainly, which war planned 'post-hostile' Iraq -- pens an op ed piece in the NYT today that, along with assuring us that everything is hunky-dory in our temporary colony, advances this proposition: "The long-term goals in Iraq now are public security, a transition to a representative system of government and the creation of a free-market economy." Where, one wants to know, does that last little item come from? And what does it mean? If it means what LI thinks it means -- privatizing Iraqi oil, and distributing it to American oil companies -- than the team is clearly whacked. No blood for oil was an anti-war slogan that was, admittedly, exaggerated. But if the George Wards of the administration are truly pursuing the goal of "creating a free-market economy" -- as if it is our business to create any such thing in Iraq -- then the slogan will be verified, and definitely the verification will be in blood.

Where, in the friendly scenario outlined by Ward, is the takeover, as quickly as possible, of Iraq by Iraqis? LI thought, and thinks, that for all the D.C. chestbeating about America being an empire, the American people won't bear a colony -- especially as it serves nobody's interest, and drinks American blood. The vampiric drip drip of casualties is the worrisome noise in the background. The press has the idea that Bush's triumphalism has entered every heart, and that we are all overjoyed by the guy. I don't think so. I think that nobody but a circle of policy makers around Rumsfeld is going to be happy about a war to install 'free enterprise' in Iraq.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Bollettino

"If we credit what should seem the most authentic of all records, an oration, still extant, and delivered by the emperor himself to the senate, we must allow that the victory of
Alexander Severus was not inferior to any of those formerly obtained over the Persians by the son of Philip. The army of the Great King consisted of one hundred and twenty thousand horse, clothed in complete armor of steel; of seven hundred elephants,
with towers filled with archers on their backs, and of eighteen hundred chariots armed with scythes. This formidable host, the like of which is not to be found in eastern history, and has
scarcely been imagined in eastern romance, ^49 was discomfited in a great battle, in which the Roman Alexander proved himself an intrepid soldier and a skilful general. The Great King fled before his valor; an immense booty, and the conquest of Mesopotamia, were the immediate fruits of this signal victory.

Such are the circumstances of this ostentatious and improbable relation, dictated, as it too plainly appears, by the vanity of the monarch, adorned by the unblushing servility of his
flatterers, and received without contradiction by a distant and obsequious senate. Far from being inclined to believe that the arms of Alexander obtained any memorable advantage over the Persians, we are induced to suspect that all this blaze of imaginary glory was designed to conceal some real disgrace.
Gibbon, Decline and Fall



"Brief gun battles erupted when American forces surrounded this belt of rich green farmland, created by a broad curve in the Tigris River, early Monday, American commanders said. Four Iraqis died, four Americans were wounded and 375 Iraqi men were detained, the Americans said.

The American assessment is that Tikrit, Kirkuk and Baiji, which are farther north of Baghdad, are relatively secure. But the American military command has been concerned about resistance in a swath of territory around the towns of Balad, Taji and Baquba, roughly 30 miles north of Baghdad. Only several hundred Americans have been patrolling them.
Gauging the intensity of the surge in attacks has been difficult. American military officials disclose the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq but do not routinely publicize every attack on American forces. Military officials declined a request this week to produce figures totaling the number of attacks on Americans forces over the last six weeks."

And so this seems that as the fabulous Weapons of Mass Destruction recede ever further into the intelligence fictions where they were manufactured, the War, which has been declared over and done with, rumbles less fabulously, and much less reported, in the background. Could it be that all this blaze of imaginary glory is designed to conceal some real disgrace? Could it be that our own obsequious legislatures are letting an incompetent chief get away with both the destruction of the government's ability to carry out its domestic functions and the misgovernment of a not quite fully conquered territory, with the vampiric sucking of American and Iraqi blood, every day, reaching our ears merely as a distant rumor?

Naw. Too improbable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Bollettino

Casualty counts: "At least 3,240 civilians died across Iraq during a month of war, including 1,896 in Baghdad, according to a five-week Associated Press investigation.The count is still fragmentary, and the complete toll if it is ever tallied is sure to be significantly higher."

Hobhouse

The extraordinary things you can find on the Internet. John Cam Hobhouse is a name that will be familiar to any Byron devotee. He was the occassion for some of Byron's best, because most spiteful and most explicit, letters. Well, there is a site that is putting up his diary. A rum thing, as Hobhouse himself might have said. Mr. Roast Beef in Venice is pretty funny. The first entries, which describe a circumcision with all the fuss of a man who is both a prude and bears a strong prejudice against Jews -- Hobhouse's snooty anti-semitism is of a very English kind - is a complete hoot. We recommend it. Here are a couple of grafs from it:

I went to the circumcision room � the rabbins were not to be known by their dress, nor did I make out that any ceremony had commenced, when two men in plain clothes sat down next to each other and sung recitative out of two little books, talking to each other and the company at intervals. Presently two enormously stout fellows threw strips of silk over their shoulders, and one, sitting down in a chair, put three or four pillows on his knees. The instruments were in a dish prepared � a sort of thin prong to hold the prepuce over the glass and prevent the latter from being cut, a sharp thin knife, a pair of scissors and a lancet, together with some balsam and a rag. The poor little red child, only eight days old, was brought in � the singing continued between the two who now stood up and approached the man with the pillows � the infant being stripped below was then laid on the pillows � the rabbins stood by and sung � the operator in half minute threw the prepuce, a considerable piece of flesh, in the plate, and I saw the infant covered with the blood. He screamed violently � the operator then ran his thumbnail violently round between the teguments of the [ ]ended rim of the flesh and sucked the parts. Owing to some mistake, the wine with which he was to wash his mouth was not ready, and was at last given to him in some confusion by the rabbins, who still continued their mummery and recitative, the child screaming and the father crying in the corner.

A Jew told Lewis [ Monk Lewis, staying with Byron at that moment] that the fault of the family was troppo di sensibilit�15 � the operator then powdered the wounded part and then covered it with a balsamed rag and powdered it again � then bandaged it up raw and bloody and delivered the child to a nurse. The singing ceased, and the men pulled off their silk and the ceremony was declared over.

The foreskin was carefully preserved in a bottle, and became the trophy of the operator who I understood had 800 such, and would bury them with him. Lewis, however, supposed that the prepuce is buried with its original owner. We made enquiries, and found that any man may operate who has served an apprenticeship and has suffered his thumbnail to grow to a proper length. I was shown a thumbnail then in a state of pupillage for the purpose: long, dirty.

This is a brutal ceremony � lasts longer than I thought and is more bloody � and I should think, painful. It is the height of indecency to ask women to assist at it. My young ladies, the doctor�s daughters, told me that the moment the child was taken out of the room � on a signal given, all the women cried, or seemed to cry, and continued until the young Jew was brought back. The name is given on this occasion. The conversazione lasted for some time � afterwards cakes and chocolate and water dashed with aniseed were handed round and the ladies and gentlemen began again to mix and to make merry upon the morning�s exploit. I came home and read a little, dined, walked out by myself in the evening � supped at Byron�s � read Tales of my Landlord at night."

Hobhouse has always been simply a name to me. The site is devoted to Hobby-O. As is evident from the diary, although prudish, Hobhouse was not a man to blanche at a description. He wanted Byron's memoirs published -- but of course they were burnt by the odious Thomas Moore, sentimental fig eater that he was. LI, in this age in which the forces of progress have once again joined up with the forces of puritanism to try to ban everything that can be construed as unhealthy (such as smoking in bars -- a ban which we trust, here in Austin, is on its way to being overturned, thanks to the defeat of Margot Clarke for City Council), while of course hypocritically ignoring what is really unhealthy - namely, the conditions in which our meat is slaughtered, or our petrochemicals are woven into useable molecular patterns down there in Cancer Gulch in Louisiana, or the way in which each American citizen drains as much energy from Gaia in a year as a sperm whale -- anyway, LI has a lively sympathy for figures who live in ages of transition between a dominant proper appreciation of the body's appetites and a dominant abhorrence of same, finds Hobhouse an interesting figure. The diary entries on the web were supposedly repressed when his diary came to be published:

"John Cam Hobhouse�s diary is one of the two major texts written about Byron by his contemporaries which has (July 2002) still to see the full light of day � though it is about much more than Byron, for Hobhouse became, as he cast off his Byronic shackles, a significant political figure in his own right. The sections on his two Napoleonic French excursions � on both of which he went without Byron � are worth books in themselves. His weeks in Newgate, just before he was elected MP for Westminster, will be included. However, the extent to which he played Sancho to Byron�s Quixote - Pylades to Byron�s Orestes - Hal to Byron�s Falstaff - Horatio to Byron�s Hamlet - Celia to Byron�s Rosalind � cannot be exaggerated, and will have justice done to it."

Go to it, reader. Download. Enjoy.
Bollettino

Further thoughts on Israel and Palestine.

As we said before, we doubt that the roadmap to peace is either a roadmap, or one that leads to peace. The problem, as we see it, of Israel and Palestine is that both are states claiming legitimacy as representatives of a mystical ethnic group: the Jews, on the one side, the Palestinians, on the other. This isn't to say that ethnic division isn't sufficient for the claim of nationhood - this would be way too unrealistic. Our point, rather, is that ethnic purity is not a claim that a nation can put forward - at least, a civilized nation. We've seen this war fought before - in 1860, in the U.S. - in 1939, in Europe - and in the innumerable small skirmishes that make up the resistance to apartheid, in South Africa.

Martha Nussbaum wrote a famous essay on the cosmopolitan alternative to nationalism - at least it was famous in the 90s. She references the cynic, Diogenes, as the first man who said he was a citizen of the world - and she digs into what that meant for the Stoics, who adopted it during the eclipse of Greek state-nation power. The stoic ideal had, of course, a tremendous influence on the humanists, and on the philosophes. Since the Bush White House is supposedly bursting at the seams with eager Straussians, perhaps they will want to plunge into their copies of Kant's essay on Perpetual Peace - a sort of cosmopolitan manifesto, insofar as Kant was capable of writing a manifesto. The first two points are interesting:

1. "No Treaty of Peace Shall Be Held Valid in Which There Is Tacitly Reserved Matter for a Future War"; and 2. "No Independent States, Large or Small, Shall Come under the Dominion of Another State by Inheritance, Exchange, Purchase, or Donation" One can take the last point as the typical reactionary defense formation of the small German states in the face of the threat of Prussia - or France. But Kant, who is a thoroughgoing philosopher, binds the second point to the wording of his more famous categorical imperative. Just as the duty forbids treating a person as an object, so, too, the usurpation of the power of one state by another is a violation of a state's subjective autonomy: it is to treat the state as a thing: "A state is not, like the ground which it occupies, a piece of property (patrimonium). It is a society of men whom no one else has any right to command or to dispose except the state itself. It is a trunk with its own roots. But to incorporate it into another state, like a graft, is to destroy its existence as a moral person, reducing it to a thing; such incorporation thus contradicts the idea of the original contract without which no right over a people can be conceived."

We've never thought Kant's argument about thinghood, and its morally low status, was very convincing; but we recognize its resonance with the whole moral thematic of liberal politics. Actually, if it wouldn't entail a long detour, we think we could make a convincing case for cynical thinghood as the moral basis of cosmopolitanism -- but never mind that. The thing to hold in mind here, qua Israel and Palestine, is that enforced respect which, at least, allows the cosmopolitan moment. Practically, that would mean the building of certain transnational institutions between Palestine and Israel, such as a court that could fairly try both the encouragers of suicide bombing and the killing of civilians by soldiers. This would provide another route for retaliation, instead of the routes followed by both parties, as in today's paper -- and tomorrow's, and tomorrow's...

LI doesn't believe our suggestion is going to be followed, of course � we hasten to say that. But we do think a real peace plan would address the causes of hostility, instead of endlessly bargaining settlers against the repression of terrorists. Finally, there's a lot to be said for Kant's sixth point:

"6. "No State Shall, during War, Permit Such Acts of Hostility Which Would Make Mutual Confidence in the Subsequent Peace Impossible: Such Are the Employment of Assassins (percussores), Poisoners (venefici), Breach of Capitulation, and Incitement to Treason (perduellio) in the Opposing State";
These are dishonorable stratagems. For some confidence in the character of the enemy must remain even in the midst of war, as otherwise no peace could be concluded and the hostilities would degenerate into a war of extermination (bellum internecinum). War, however, is only the sad recourse in the state of nature (where there is no tribunal which could judge with the force of law) by which each state asserts its right by violence and in which neither party can be adjudged unjust (for that would presuppose a juridical decision); in lieu of such a decision, the issue of the conflict (as if given by a so-called "judgment of God") decides on which side justice lies. But between states no punitive war (bellum punitivum) is conceivable, because there is no relation between them of master and servant."

Oops. The Straussians aren't going to like that phrase about there being "no relation between them of master and servant." Kant, as always, goes too far! Out with the guy -- let's get another court philosopher. How about Tom DeLay?

Monday, June 09, 2003

Bollettino

First, the weekend casualty count.
One soldier and five others were wounded near Tikret on Saturday, which provoked the usual wierd dissimilarity in casualty count reports -- and this from this morning:

"BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a U.S. soldier at a checkpoint in western Iraq, a military statement said Monday. U.S. troops returned fire, killing one person and capturing a second.

An undetermined number of attackers pulled up late Sunday to the roadblock near the Syrian border and requested medical help for a person in the car. They then pulled pistols and shot the soldier, said a statement released by the U.S. Central Command.

Troops responded, killing one person and capturing a second. At least one other assailant fled in the vehicle."

Second, Lew Wasserman.

We read the excerpts from Connie Bruck's bio in the New Yorker. Frankly, we were a bit disappointed. Lew Wasserman was the evil genius head of MCA. The man, if Dan Moldea is to be believed, who made Ronald Reagan. The man, we believe, who created the blue-print for the business organization of the nineties: that blending of technostructure and entrepreneurial scurrying, with its outrageous bonuses and its hole-ridden accounting. The conduit for the mob style in American capitalism -- which is appropriate, as the mob simply decoded and encoded the older style of American capitalism, the strike breaking formula from the 1880s and 90s, applying that violence towards the tender markets in those chemistry experiments we all love to perform on our bodies.

Richard Schickel, one time movie reviewer for Life Magazine, has a nice review in the LAT. Here are two grafs rendering a thumbnail sketch that is a pleasant reminder of what Luce magazine writers could do, unloosed on a subject:

"Wasserman was a sleek, taciturn man, except when people gave him answers he didn't want to hear. Then he became a screaming tyrant, capable of reducing grown men to tears. He would not take "no" for an answer. Or, for that matter, a busy signal. His secretary was obliged to fake emergencies so Lew could break right through to his next victim. Since power begets power, he became the man Washington listened to on all sorts of matters. There's no doubt that all his libidinal energy went into the business. He and his wife had separate bedrooms, and, according to Bruck, she had a number of discreet affairs, which her husband tolerated. Why not? He knew no stud, however adorable, could match the potency of his power.

Was some of that power derived from organized crime? MCA in its band-booking days had a rich web of connections with Chicago's gangland, and the mobsters moved west about the time MCA did. Bruck, like Kennedy before her, labors hard to link Wasserman and his company to the "outfit." We do not for a moment doubt that link. After all, his best friend for 50 years was Sidney Korshak, whose position as mouthpiece for the Chicago syndicate was a matter of long-standing suspicion. But no more than Kennedy can she document a connection. That's the way these things work -- a nod, a smile, a frown, and useful outcomes occur. It may be that ultimate power resides in the ability to make underlings anticipate its desires."