“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, June 21, 2003

Bollettino

We were amused by this report of the absolute idyll that reigns in Fallujah, penned by AP scribe Mark Fitz. To balance out the reports of ambushes and pissed off Iraqis, AP evidently decided to show the good side of the American occupation. What, a little massacre here and there?

Here's Fitz putting Fallujah in news context:

"Fallujah is perhaps the most extreme example of hyperbole run amok. This city of 300,000, about a 30-minute drive west of Baghdad, is one of the corners of the so-called "Sunni triangle," a sector that has seen sporadic attacks that have killed four of the 50 Americans killed since major combat ended in April.

Saddam is a Sunni Muslim, and it's easy to see other Sunnis as fighting a last-ditch battle to prevent the Americans from allowing the majority Shiites to overrun them. But in fact, many tribes of Sunnis, particularly the more devout, have long opposed Saddam's socialist, secular Baath party.

Fallujah gained notoriety when troops from the 82nd Airborne Division fired on protesters on April 28 and April 30. Twenty Iraqis were killed."

The hyperbole, of course, is that the town is in any way anti-American. Why, according to Fitz, there isn't even any anti-American grafitti in town:

"Fallujah today has none of the anti-American graffiti found in southern cities dominated by fundamentalist Shiites. Produce and meat markets are open well into the night, and some shops are filled with tires and plastic chairs already being imported from China."

We wondered about the wonders of Fallujah. For instance, in a previous story in the Wash Post -- just the other day -- the reporters seem to have found some grafitti:


"In the streets of Fallujah, slogans scrawled in recent weeks have been covered with white paint. But some remain. "God bless the holy fighters of the city of mosque," reads one. "Fallujah will remain a symbol of jihad and resistance," proclaims another."

But Fitz finds nothing odd in the fact that there's no grafitti about a recent massacre of protestors. Hmm. Sell that man a bridge.

In fact, in the WP story of a couple of days ago, the gentle and prosperous people of Fallujah seemed to agree about one thing: the need for the Americans to find an exit story.

But Fitz's story interested us more because of its Rumsfeld like rhetoric. It has now become a Rumsfeldian cliche to say that Iraq is California sized. Apparently, when planning on having 30,000 American troops do the post-hostility occupation of the country, and dissing suggestions that it would take more than one hundred thousand troops, Iraq was Rhode Island sized. But now, it just keeps growing and growing, with more and more hidey holes for WMD and Saddam and lord knows what. Here's Fitz:

"U.S. service personnel are continually perplexed by the distraught letters and emails from their families, who read or hear about a veritable hunting season on U.S. troops when the casualties - considering the magnitude of invading, pacifying and rebuilding a California-sized country - pale in comparison to any other American war of such magnitude."

This was obviously coming. The second stage, when the criticisms of the common GI leak back to the Homeland, is to wrap the patriotic GI around the disgruntled grunt's neck.

Bollettino


This month, History Today has two articles of interest, perhaps, to the LI reader. Philip Mansel, who has written a nice history of Constantinople, abridges that history into 11 pages. Its fascinating and oddly pertinent info -- anybody who has an even cursory knowledge of the history of Istanbul knows that it is nonsense, on the part of the EU, to deny Turkey its place in the organization. Here are two grafs about the last years of Ottoman Istanbul:

"By then the Muslim proportion of the population of Constantinople, hitherto stable at around 60 per cent, had fallen to around 44 per cent. In 1900 the population of the city reached a million. While other international cities such as Vienna and Prague were becoming avowedly German or Czech, the balance of forces between the Palace, the Sublime Porte, the embassies, the mosques, the Patriarchates, the barracks, the bazaars and the port kept Constantinople a truly international city. Economically as well as diplomatically, it became part of the system of Europe. European banks were built in Galata, and took control of the government debt, the tobacco industry and much else. From the sultan down, the Ottoman elite wore clothes modelled on, and often made in, western Europe. Europeans even threatened some of the most sacred Ottoman buildings in the city. Panels of magnificent Iznik tiles were removed from imperial mosques, and sold to western museums such as the Louvre and the Victoria and Albert Museum, while the last powerful sultan, Abdulhamid II (r. 1876-1909), was still on the throne.

In its last years as Ottoman capital, Constantinople, more than ever, became a world city. As the seat of the Muslim caliphate and capital of the last independent Muslim state to resist the advance of European imperialism, it captured the hearts and pockets of Muslims from Bosnia to Sumatra. However, in November 1914 the decision of the Minister of War Enver Pasha to take the empire into the First World War on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary led to defeat and foreign occupation. After the war, in 1919-24, the Khilafat movement, supported by Indian Muslims, Gandhi and some Hindus, developed as a mass nationalist protest, sometimes violent, against the occupation of Constantinople, the 'seat of the caliphate', by British, French and Italian troops."

There's also a nice appreciation of Marshal Zhukov, Stalin's commander, that quotes the unstinting laudations of Eisenhower -- in fact, Eisenhower seems to have considered Zhukov the great general of WWII. Zhukov has been more in the news, lately, due to Beevor's book about the battle of Berlin. We haven't read the book, but the portrayal of the drunken, raping Russians has been with us since John Toland's popular history of the end of the war. Beevor fronts rape as it hasn't been fronted in military history, which is good. But that the Soviet army bears the onus of atrocity is, to us, a little suspicious. The millions under Zhukov's command had witnessed what the Nazis did in their advance into Russia, and they were maddened by it all -- and by it coming within thirty years of the last German advance into Russia, in 1918, which seems, frustratingly, to be thrust into the deep dark background by most historians of these matters. There's a nice review of Beevor's book by Norman Stone in the Atlantic that is more skeptical about Beevor's theses and picture than most. To read about the Soviet-German encounter, between 41 and 45, is to encounter, ironically, just the kind of opera Hitler dreamed of -- the End of the World theater. An opinionated survey of the Soviet war effort on line reveals, among other things, that Stalin's appointment book shows that the old story of Stalin having a nervous breakdown in the first days of the war is untrue. It also attributes to Zhukov the idea of holding Moscow against the Germans, surely a key turning point in the war.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Bollettino

Pot Shot War

"What we are seeing here is a fundamental reassessment of the situation in Iraq in terms of political and military stability," said Daniel Goure, a Pentagon adviser at the Washington-based Lexington Institute. "We have been operating on two assumptions: that once the war was over the Iraqis would rapidly move into peaceful mode, and second, that there would be a new political and economic spirit in the country. We discovered neither of these assumptions is true." -- Asian Times
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EF18Ak01.html

March 14, 2003 -- Limited Inc

"Given this, here is the primer for the upcoming catastrophe:

1. Occupation is not peace. The media has defined the war as having a beginning -- when Bush declares it -- and an end -- when Saddam Hussein is dissolved. Now, the beginning, as we all know by now, has not been clear. In fact, it is unclear what Bush will declare, if we are actually engaged in warlike hostilities now, and who will be responsible for the war... Is it the UN vs. Saddam, the U.S. vs Saddam, or the Coalition of the Willing vs. Saddam? Similarily, the dissolution of Saddam ends only one phase of the war. The next phase, if the post-Saddam history of Northern Iraq is relevant, begins with squabbling between hostile factions that soon escalates into shooting. Plus, of course, with a soldiery strung out in Iraq and no central authority besides that army, the terrain and disposition of forces is ideally suited for suicide bombers.

2.You can't give what you take. As we've pointed out before, Paul Wolfowitz has testified that we intend to pay for the war with Iraq's money. At the same time, we intend to reconstruct Iraq. Those are mutually cancelling propositions. This is when the lesson of Afghanistan kicks in. There is no constituency in this country willing to see a transfer of about one hundred billion dollars to Iraq. And if the economy continues to suck, the pressure will be overwhelming to subsidize this war with the spoils.

3.A democratic government won't last if its strips the country of its wealth. Stripping, here, is pretty direct. We aren't talking fancy Swiss bank accounts. We are talking oil money going out in ways that everybody sees. If this is the American strategy, be prepared for a guerilla war.

4 The current civil society in Northern Iraq is endangered by American adventurism. Northern Iraq, and the Kurds, have become the stuff of propaganda lately. That there was no outpouring of admiration for their civil ways before 9/11 had a simple cause: for the first five years of the No Fly Zone, Kurdish factions killed each other. They also gave shelter to the PKK, a guerrilla group in Turkey that was as dirty as they come. This isn't to say that Northern Iraq hasn't made progress -- they have. They've done it in the way that progress is made -- it is a grassroots effort, and it takes security, money, and time. If the U.S. expects to 'integrate' Northern Iraq, by force, into its idea of Iraq, all of that progress will be undone." -- Limited Inc,


"... 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. -- Limited Inc, March 24, 2003

The Republican Guard turned out to be a dud. The fedayeen, on the other hand, is scrapping out there in the countryside, and we doubt that Baghdad's fall is going to put a stop to them --Limited Inc, April 3

In Iraq, the forces of Saddam are through. But the War still rumbles, in Mosul, in Baghdad, in Basra. These are weeks of shifting. We don't think the War part 2 is necessary. We think it is preventable. We think the factional struggles that racked Northern Iraq don't have to be replicated on a national scale with quite that fury. But we also think that the longer the Americans display their insensibility to their situation in Iraq, as long as they sign contracts that seemingly are premised on the assumption of months, if not years, of occupation, we creep ever closer to a pot shot war. One in which Americans casualties will be higher than the pot shot war in Afghanistan, and Iraqi casualties, as seems to be the destiny of wars waged in Iraq, will be much higher still. There's probably some calculable multiple, now, of American to Iraqi deaths. -- April 17, Limited Inc

We've been going back to check our forecasts against reality. Not bad. Better, we think, than Rumsfeld's guys. Two places where we've been truly wrong: Northern Iraq, and the exiles. Northern Iraq has been mostly preserved, and that's good news. The exiles never came in as a colonial government (good news) because Americans decided to govern directly (bad news). The rest of it, though, has not been hard to foresee. Any competent journalist could have predicted the potshot war we are in now. Any competent journalist who puts together the numbers -- that we are paying for Iraq out of Iraq's own funds -- and the governance (which is wholly American) will find all the grievances that we are going to be surprised about, stunned about, in tomorrow's headlines.
Bollettino

"Holmes!" I cried. "Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you are alive? Is it possible that you succeeded in climbing out of that awful abyss?" -- The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

To find a parallel to the saga of Saddam, one has to look to genre literature and film. His deaths and reappearances are so driven by the Bush administration's script that one wonders if the movie will ever come out -- perpetual re-writes seem to be holding up the production. Dead at the beginning of the war -- and smug the American journalists were when anybody mistook that man on tv for anything but a shabby interloper, an amateur double, ha ha, those Al Jazeera amateurs -- he's needed now more than ever. If it isn't an arch-villain directing ambushes at our troops, could it be (gasp) a grassroots insurgency prompted, perhaps, by the trigger happy crowd control techniques that are, alas, all too necessary to secure these excitable but loveable Muslim types? Impossible, my dear Watson. Now, it is true, Holmes's reappearence, as opposed to Freddie's in the Friday the 13th series (which seems to have seriously effected Bush's whole Weltanshauung), was the return of the hero, not the villain. But the narrative motif is about the same -- the series must go on, for economic reasons, if not artistic ones, and so explanations must be made. The NYT, with the straight face with which it doles out administration pap, tells us that Saddam's escape is due to the vast size of Iraq. And in some ways, we are prepared for this: where, indeed, are the escapees of yesteryere? Osama bin, remember? And the terrorist cell who mailed anthrax to various Democrats? And remember all the detainees, whose names, for reasons of security, we don't even need to know? So of course, Saddam lurks on the outskirts. Here's the graf from the NYT:

"WASHINGTON, June 19 � American intelligence analysts now believe that Saddam Hussein is much more likely to be alive than dead, a view that has been strengthened in recent weeks by intercepted communications among fugitive members of the Saddam Fedayeen and the Iraqi intelligence service, according to United States government officials.

The officials said the recently obtained intelligence had re-intensified the search for Mr. Hussein along with his sons, Uday and Qusay. The search is being led by Task Force 20, a secret military organization that includes members of the Army's highly specialized Delta Force and of the Navy's elite counterterrorism squads, with support from the Central Intelligence Agency.The intercepted communications between some of Mr. Hussein's supporters have included credible discussions indicating that the former Iraqi president is alive and must be protected, two Defense Department officials said."

And we know, from recent experience, how trustworthy those Defense Department intelligence people are. On the mark, those guys! Bloodhounds!

Actually, Conan Doyle is less hoaky. Here's Holmes explaining his escape:

"This is indeed like the old days. We shall have time for a mouthful of dinner before we need go. Well, then, about that chasm. I had no serious difficulty in getting out of it, for the very simple reason that I never was in it."

"You never were in it?"

"No, Watson, I never was in it. My note to you was absolutely genuine. I had little doubt that I had come to the end of my career when I perceived the somewhat sinister figure of the late Professor Moriarty standing upon the narrow pathway which led to safety. I read an inexorable purpose in his grey eyes. I exchanged some remarks with him, therefore, and obtained his courteous permission to write the short note which you afterwards received. I left it with my cigarette-box and my stick and I walked along the pathway, Moriarty still at my heels. When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went. With my face over the brink I saw him fall for a long way. Then he struck a rock, bounded off, and splashed into the water."

I listened with amazement to this explanation, which Holmes delivered between the puffs of his cigarette."

And one imagines, too, Judith Miller, NYT's ace reporter, listening to the Defense Department officials, the ones that had pointed her to Saddam's nefarious lab for creating the End the world bomb -- the one's that had told her about Saddam's x-ray pistol -- the ones who had told her how a vast conspiracy, an interstellar conspiracy, had been hatched between Saddam and the inhabitants of Venus -- but never before had the immensity of his evil and his genius been revealed in such terrifying detail! It was like being pushed into the abyss! Immediately she lept in her car, and sped to her favorite unnamed source, who will go under the name A*** Chalab*, to ask whether it could possibly be true! An elegant man of the world type (who, Miller ruefully remembered, had a careless habit of picking her pocket -- those credit card bills that came in from that Saville Road tailor! Luckily, the World's Greatest Paper could afford a few silk jackets.). Chalab* pulled out his cigarette holder, screwed a peculiar cigarette in it -- Judith couldn't help thinking that its smell reminded her of something she'd smelled once in high school, when she'd accidentally turned into that hall with the burnt out bulbs where the bad girls hung out, but what was it?...- and said you Americans, always underestimating our little Iraqi Stalin. Yes, bien sur, I happen to have the details of his escape in my coat pocket. First let me explain about the car he had made with... VANISHING PAINT! Yes, my dear, Saddam's super powers have been augmented by an ancient Chinese formula that allow him, and vehicles in his entourage, to seemingly disappear, as it were, into thin air -- while all the while retaining the mass and density of a visible object. Imagine the horror! Walking down a seemingly empty street, suddenly you are smashed by an object whose presense has not been indicated by any disturbance to your retina. My countrymen are, alas, addicted to the superstitions of their forebears, as you must have noticed. Imagine the impact upon minds all too inclined to attribute the workings of causality, directed by science, for the intervention of spirits, directed by magic. Staggering! Of course, it all has to do with lowering the refraction level of material surfaces... but I won't bore you with the details, except to tell you -- the only POSSIBLE way the Western World will avoid a holocaust is to IMMEDIATELY attack Iran! Or at least plan an attack to coincide with the Republican Presidential Convention. Are you sure you don't want a puff?

PS -- In the WashPost, a story that reveals, a little late, that the morale of US forces is being impacted by the fact that they are being deployed with the most callous disregard for their environment since the Korean War -- although of course it doesn't go to such radical lengths. We liked this quote from an unnamed soldier, since it succinctly summarizes our attitude towards Iraq:

"What are we getting into here?" asked a sergeant with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division who is stationed near Baqubah, a city 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. "The war is supposed to be over, but every day we hear of another soldier getting killed. Is it worth it? Saddam isn't in power anymore. The locals want us to leave. Why are we still here?"

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Bollettino

Today's casualty report:

"An American soldier was killed south of Baghdad today in an attack with a rocket propelled grenade on a military ambulance, the United States Central Command said."


LI's casualty reports are all so stinkin' anonymous. The military doesn't release names in their first reports, and when the names are released, they drift into the lower reaches of the news -- the Decatur, Illinois Herald and such -- and sink into that most newsless category, the private griefs of the unfamous. Which is something we don't even have to think about. The Iraq Body Count project is trying to recover the names of the Iraqi dead. They have a difficult to use site, in our opinion, but if you go here, and skip over the massive verbiage, you'll come to a table that lists 100 Iraqi civilians who have died in the conflict -- even, amazingly, post-conflict -- and what they died of, and when they died, and where it was reported.

As for post-hostile American deaths -- to find those names, you do have to trawl. The Houston Chronicle is a good place to look for announcements -- so many of the soldiers over there come from Texas. This weekend, for instance, according to the Chronicle, it was Pvt. Jesse M. Halling of Indianapolis who was shot to death Saturday in Tikrit. "On June 3, Sgt. Atanacio Haromarin, Jr., 27, was shot to death while manning a checkpoint near Balad. He was part of Battery C, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment at Fort Hood." And so the roll call goes -- to be greeted by the entire oblivion of an American population that has the sleepy idea that we won in Iraq, and that it is all over now. Last years hit. A golden oldie.

In the WashPost, a phrase of LI's -- used during the Hostile phase of the now post-hostile, 'tank lying down with the anti-tank gun' phase of the War -- returns from the lips of a man who never read it. We said that we were in danger of making the Iraqis Our Palestinians. And in Fallujah, the WashPost reporter captures this, from the mouth of a disgrunlled villager:


"I'm angry! I'm angry at this filthy life!" shouted Adnan Mohammed, who was wearing a soiled blue tunic called a dishdasha."We're becoming like the Palestinians," added another worshiper, 27-year-old Khaled Abdullah."

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Bollettino

First, the casualties:
"An American soldier was killed and another was wounded today in a drive-by shooting in central Baghdad, the latest in a series of assaults on the United States military.In a separate incident, two Iraqis were killed when a United States soldier fired into a crowd of protesters this morning.
A United States military spokesman said today that attackers fired on soldiers from the First Armored Division from a passing vehicle. On Tuesday, a soldier from the same division died after being shot in the back by a sniper while on patrol in northern Baghdad."


The Guardian reports a remark from Bremer, who is getting high marks from the likes of Tom Friedman -- a sure sign of incompetence. "Mr Bremer admitted he had too few staff but said: "I don't accept the proposition that we don't know what we are doing."

Now onto Scandal.


Go to NY Magazine to read the delicious summer souffle of an article detailing the feud between Robert Kennedy Jr. and the man who would be Winchell, Dominick Dunne. Dunne, apparently, is in trouble. As readers of Vanity Fair know (and if we did a Venn diagram, would we find LI readers and VF readers in the same circle?), Dunne is the man on the spot when it comes to celebrity murderers. Others have taken the road more travelled, going after who killed the Bob Cranes of the world --but not Dunne. Dunne's daughter, Dominique, was murdered by a semi-celebrity, and Dunne was encouraged to vent, therapeutically, in VF by the ever ingenious Tina Brown. Since then he has gone on to persecute O.J., Kennedy cousins -- innumerable and felonious, all of them, apparently -- and Gary Condit. About Condit he speculated, on a radio show hosted by Clinton's blondie persecutor, Laura Ingraham, that Condit's own special intern was disposed of by being dropped from a plane into the Atlantic -- shades of the Capers case in Delaware! Alas, nothing so gaudy was done to the murdered intern, and Dunne is now seeking an out of court settlement with Condit.

Scandals are interestingly unprobed by the social scientist, who perhaps still believe, a la Daniel Bell, that they are "pseudo-events." . This point is made by Ari Adut, a University of Chicago professor, in a brief, scintillating essay entitled SCANDAL AS EVENT, SOCIAL FORM AND EPISODIC PROCESS: PRELIMINARY NOTES FOR A PHENOMENOLOGY OF SCANDALS. "Phenomenology" might not provide the best set of tools by which to describe or analyze scandal -- as LI readers know, we are Deleuzians around here, with our own idea about event ontology. But the essay is well worth reading. Here is Adut's idea:

...scandal seems to be a perfect total social fact --located at the
intersection of transgression and moral condemnation, group solidarity and social conflict - all privileged objects of sociological imagination. Moreover, scandal is a truly multi-dimensional social phenomenon: a disruptive event, a general social form with a proper grammar, and a distinctive episodic process with identifiable trajectories. It erupts, evolves and dies off in the most disparate social settings and involves the most heterogeneous contents. Scandal feeds on, links and problematizes the standard dichotomies of social theory: micro and macro, the private and public, the subjective and objective, the individual and group, the event and structure..."

For our money, the sociological imagination has failed to grapple with scandal because it has insufficiently problematized seriousness itself. Without understanding how seriousness is instituted, it is impossible to see how scandal has the effects it has. But Adut is still very suggestive about the phenomenon:

"The grammar of a scandal - consisting of specific actor positions, rules and strategies of conjugation between these positions, the objectives of aggrandizement and diminishment, and the antagonistic as well as collective management of contagious disgrace that a scandal disseminates - is autonomous from its content. Distinct performative
acts like denunciation and provocation seem to be the core of any kind of scandal. Furthermore, there seems to be established scandal genres and scandal scripts available for the participants that differentiate the scandal from related phenomena, like gossip and rumor."

Scandal, it seems to us, has played an essential role in generating the order that currently rules us -- that odd combination of populism and conservatism. That ideology seems to create liminal figures who operate as scandal attractors while at the same time remaining fundamentally immune to destructive force of scandal. We are thinking, in particular, of Reagan and Bush. The reason for this is the difficulty establishment organs -- the press, academia, etc. -- have with the attack on the canons of seriousness which these organs have generated. The populist conservative synthesis generates its own canons of seriousness -- in a sense, its own "facts" - and its own system for degrading or elevating agents. When the organs of the establishment encounter the liminal figures of the synthesis -- like Reagan -- they naturally apply those measures (degree of intelligence, responsibility, competence, etc.) to them which are consonant with the structures that make for success of failure of agents within the establishment. Scandal is an inevitable result of the failure of the liminal figure to measure up to the establishment's norm. But scandal takes a peculiar course with these figures -- instead of undermining them, the establishment organs themselves are undermined.

This is why we think that the scandal of the missing WMD is not going to harm Bush in itself -- while we think that Blair, whose legitimacy is intimately bound up with establishment norms, is really threatened by the intelligence deception he was a party to.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Bollettino

LI wrote a little post a while back in which we claimed that the great deflation scare was being used to promote the traditional policy of an American government that does not want to pay for its wars -- and its tax cuts. This policy amounts to stoking inflation. Along with the falling dollar, we claimed that the Bush-ites, with Alan Greenspan's compliance, had unleashed the monster -- and that we are going to feel that monster in the year ahead.

The latest figures on inflation seem to bear us out. The figures are skewed by rising house prices -- but the inflationary bubble is headed towards middle class and working class America, and it is coming at a time of high unemployment -- which equals stagflation. When it arrives, we do wonder what Greenspan, who has given up thinking long range in order to serve his master, will come up with, by way of excuse.

This, we think, is the wave of the future -- or the wave of back to the future. The Great Giveaway of the Bush years, like the Great Society of the Johnson years, is going to be on our back for the next decade.

Bollettino


Casualty report for today: a sniper killed an American soldier in Baghdad -- an incident that has received a surprising amount of news space. Perhaps it is gradually dawning on the news agencies that post-hostility Iraq is full of... hostility. Still no discussion of the condition of American troops in Iraq -- by all accounts they are very bad. The military is forced to recycle tired troops into campaigns of local repression; at the same time, the troops are being used in various "reconstructive" projects for which they are not trained, and for which, frankly, there is a huge pool of Iraqi labor. And still, there is not a peep about this from the Dems.



Now let's talk about archaeology.



There's a startling story in the Guardian about the putative looting of the National Museum. This story, for the belligerents, has assumed the same function as the story of Jessica Lynch, for the anti-belligerents: an example of suspicious media hype. In brief, the first accounts of looting at the Museum stated that there was a huge loss, and these reports got amplified through the usual channels -- like NPR. In Sunday's Washington Post NPR's favorite lachrymose source, John Malcolm Russell, a professor of art history in Boston, acknowledges that he wept a little too copiously over the losses:

"For two weeks after the looting I must have been known as the weeping archaeologist, regularly breaking into tears on air when asked to describe my favorite things lost in the looting, pieces I have come to cherish in more than two decades of visits to the museum. As it turns out, some of my favorite things are still missing."

I remember him comparing the loss to the burning of the library of Alexandria. The Wash Post article is a little bizarre -- Russell keeps referring to his favorite pieces, "some of my favorite things" - as though he were the Bernard Berenson of Babylon, or that woman in the Spoils of Poynton. The National Geographic, god bless em, mounted a loss survey which showed that the real looting was at various important Iraqi sites outside of Baghdad.

LI interpreted the re-interpretation of the National Museum looting as proving that Saddam was, at least, prescient enough to secure his nation's stuff against the assaults of bombs. There is one fact in this mess that is beyond dispute -- or at least it hasn't been disputed so far: the US military refused, in the first days of the Baghdad occupation, to guard the museum. So one figures that the looting was, ultimately, profitless to the profiteers because the staff of the museum was vigilant and smart. But the Guardian article disabused me of this confidence. This was, after all, Saddam's Iraq. In the end, dictatorial regimes depend upon a complicity in corruption that is positively fractal, seeding mirror images of the central debasement in little cells of activity all throughout the society. The looting seems to have several levels, one of which might just be the sale of various pieces by higher ups in the Museum directoriat to various international dealers. In particular, the Guardian fingers the director, Dony George:

"Iraq's national museum, home to many priceless artefacts which were thought to have been looted after the fall of Baghdad, has been plunged into a new crisis because of a revolt by staff. More than 130 of the 185 staff of Iraq's state board of antiquities office in Baghdad, which runs the museum, have signed a petition demanding the resignation of its directors.

Staff said they believed that some of the thefts from the museum were an inside job. They also accused Dony George, the board's head of research, of arming them and ordering them to fight US forces."

The news we get from Iraq, and the way we interpret it, reminds me of that Kafka story, At the building of the Chinese Wall. The narrator of that story observes that the wall's piecemeal construction seems counter-intuitive, especially in the face of its ostensive purpose: to guard against the invasion of the Northern People. He also observes that, in the South, the Northern People are only known through old books and tales. He adds that even if they invaded, the South is so far away that the horsemen of the North would die trying to get to the South. And then he contemplates the intersection between distance, power, and knowledge:

"If you ask me, one must inquire among the people, since it is among them that the kingdom has its final supports. Here I can clearly only speak of my own home. Outside of the Field Gods and the beautiful, seasonal ceremonies that fullfill the requirements of our worship, we think only of the emperor. But not the present emperor; or rather, we would think of the present emperor if we knew him, or knew anything specific about him. Of course, the curious among us are always trying to learn something about these matters, but curious as it may sound, it is hardly possible to learn anything -- for it can't be learned from pilgrims, even if they traverse distant lands, and it can't be learned from neighboring villages, or even ones further off, and it can't be learned from ships, even the ones that sail not only our own streams, but the sacred distant rivers. One hears a lot, but one can't really comprehend a lot. Our land is so great, no folktale spans its borders, and even the sky has a hard time spanning it -- and Peking is only a point, and the emperor's palace only a point within that point. The emperor as such manifests his greatness through all the structures of the world. But the living emperor, who is a man like any other, probably lies on his richly appointed bed -- or possibly it is a narrow and small bed. He stretches out his limbs like us, and he is very tired, he yawns with his tenderly drawn mouth. But how are we supposed to know anything about it -- when here we are, thousands of miles to the South, bordering on the Tibetan highlands. And besides, if a report happens to reach us, it will arrive much to late, it will be, in all likelihood, obsolete by the time we hear of it. The emperor is surrounded by a sparkling, and yet somehow obscure, mass of courtier bureaucracies-- evil and hostility garb themselves in the clothes of friends and servants -- the counterwieghts of the Empire, always trying to knock the emperor from the scale with poisoned arrows. The Emprie is imortal, but individual emperors fall and decline, even whole dynasty sinck lower, in the end, and breath their last. From these struggles and sorrows the People never learn anything, like those who come to late, or like strangers in the land, who have wandered down to the end of winding side paths and sit there, quietly eating their little messes, while their masters are at that very moment being executed in the center of the town square.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Bollettino

Lawrence Osbourne in the NYObserver remarks, acidically, on the Che mystique. Now, LI would welcome a withering look at that mystique, since it has done nothing but put lefty causes back in Latin America -- the emphasis on gesture instead of goal, the poetry of action promoted above the prosaics of providing, well, a decent system of production, etc., etc.

But Osbourne isn't after a Casteneda like critique. No sir. According to Osbourne, we are about to witness a fad for Che, with Hollywood bringing out a version of the Motorcycle Diaries. Much as a doctor prepares a shot to prevent infectious diseases, Osbourne loads his article with the hygenic doses of anti-communist rhetoric, applying them to that 'totalitarian terrorist" Che. Osbourne quotes every righwingers favorite historian, Robert Conquest, who quotes the British ambassador to the effect that Castro was a loveable rogue, while Che was a murderous hypocrite.

He also includes this graf:

"Of course, it was Che�s role in the Cuban Revolution that turned him into the poster boy we all know. But it was a quixotic participation in many ways. Che was known inside the revolution as a strict disciplinarian, ready to sign death warrants and mete out sundry brutalities. And yet, for all that, he was spectacularly ineffective. From 1961 to 1965, Che was Cuba�s Minister for Industries; before that, from 1959 to 1961, he was the head of the national bank. Both stints ended in farce."

Well, murderous hypocrisy, eh? Perhaps we should look to what our good old US of A was offering as the alternative to Che's death warrant signing (really? signing death warrants during an insurgency isn't a common thing -- but if Osbourne thinks Che was death warrent happy after the installation of Castro's government, he is surely misinformed) -- so we went to Brazil. A happy land in which, in 1964, a coup was staged. A coup that drove out commie symp president Goulart, who was elected (just because the people make a mistake, as Henry the K. once said, disguising his death warrants as policy positions, is no reason not to correct it), with the US making its own position known by sending the U.S. Navy to lurk off the coast. Here's a summary of a book on the subject, one of the few in English:

"Unlike its role in Chile from 1970 to 1973, the U.S. role in Brazil in 1964 was more subtle. The U.S. Air Force was ready with six C-135 transports and 110 tons of small arms and ammunition, and a "fast" Carrier Task Group was ordered to take positions off the Brazilian coast. They weren't needed because the U.S. had been subverting labor groups, reform-minded populists, and big media for many months, while pumping up the police and military. The coup was almost bloodless since everyone knew it was unstoppable; the military took over and Goulart fled to Uruguay. Most of the blood came later -- by the time this book appeared [1977], Brazil had a well-deserved reputation for political repression and torture."

Perhaps Mr. Osbourne (who writes about the CIA installing an "amenable" regime in Guatamala) should put down one of his Conquest books -- fascinating as they no doubt are -- and bone up a little bit about who killed whom in Latin America. The BBC has intermittently covered a story not covered at all in the NY Observer -- the discovery of mass graves in Brazil. The press, which has recently rushed to the mass graves in Iraq, might want to make a world tour. It would certainly make for interesting stories:

"In 1990, a mass grave containing 1,200 bodies was discovered on the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. It is thought that most of these were poor people and vagrants, but political dissidents were also buried there. Now British scientists are helping to identify the bodies, which are believed to date from the days of military rule, which ended in 1985."

Ah, but these were the processed deaths of responsible military men, Rumsfeld types, not the 'terrorist" punks of Castro's outback band. Probably -- I'm just gonna make a wild guess here -- no death warrent was wasted on those 1200. Brazil has an organization dedicated to researching the disappeared, but there are still currents that long for the good old days -- as Osbourne, who knows the only good terrorist totalitarian is a dead one, will no doubt be ;leased. Back in 1996 the courts found that the military government had, uh, caused the deaths of two leftist guerrillas. Brazil News reported on the incident with a revealing little quote from an officer:


"The Brazilian military didn't like the decision. Some of them, in anonymous comments, called it a "historical toad," but apparently they didn't have any other choice but to swallow the Justice Ministry's decision that guerrillas Carlos Marighella and Carlos Lamarca were murdered by the military dictatorship in a situation where had no way of defending themselves. Until now, the official version was that Marighella, leader of ALN (National Liberating Action) and former Army captain Lamarca, the leader of VPR (Revolutionary Popular Vanguard), had been killed while resisting arrest. Lamarca was killed in 1971 in Bahia and Marighela in 1969 in S�o Paulo. Now the families of both will receive a state pension. After the decision by the Justice Ministry's Special Commission on Political Dead and Disappeared People, retired deputy-captain Jair Bolsonaro, probably expressing the feelings of some of his colleagues in the military, commented: "Our mistake was not having eliminated all the traitors, including President Fernando Henrique Cardoso."

A remark Mr. Osbourne might well mumble a version of (if only Batista had crushed that little cockroach shit!) when he's munching his popcorn, watching Che's exploits on the screen this winter.

Bollettino

LI remembers reading about Willi M�nzenberg long ago, in his teen years, when LI was an ardent student of the National Review, absorbing its manichean conservative politics, its columns from old European tacticians of dubious ancestry, its wonderful, at that time, cultural pages -- Hugh Kenner, D.Keith Mano -- and generally getting an education. The National Review is still around, but it has become a trashy travesty of what it used to be. Today's teen would be better advised to go to National Enquirer for an education than Buckley's mag. Alas.

In any case, M�nzenberg's name often came up among the knowing Anti-Commy Euro set. He was, supposedly, the great genius of propaganda -- Stalin's right hand man -- friend to Gide and Yagoda, or was it Beria? -- and maker of fine, cynical phrases about the Western Intellectuals that he lassoed into making Oh-ing and Aw-ing sounds about the Great Soviet Experiment. Stephen Koch has written his biography in the high manner of the Right -- that is, with a rather unbalanced choice of adjectives (borrowed, it would seem, from the strained vocabulary of 1900 era adventure stories) gradually skewing the very possibility of exposition. Like a novel or a poem, a history can mean more than its style -- but not too much more. There's an essay by Koch about his biographical subject at the online archive of the New Criterion . Here's a typical passage, as ripe as Limburger cheese:

"Among Lenin�s men, the bond that held Dzerzhinsky, Radek, and Stalin together is an affiliation of the very greatest interest. Taken in their ensemble, they represent three of the essential strands that bind the knot of the terror state. Dzerzhinsky was the true believer, the sanctified fanatic of absolute state power. Stalin on the other hand was its ultimate politician, its grand tactician and bureaucrat. Radek was the new state�s propagandist and apologist, the creator of its intellectual rationale, the man who fabricated its �human face,� and much of its lie."

Now, in the context of his essay, Koch is only in 1915, with Lenin in Switzerland, showing Trotsky introducing the budding evil genius, Munzenberg, to the satanically bearded one; the evil trio are, very properly, nowhere in sight. This is because the terror state only exists as a glimmer in the eye -- Czarist Russia, at the moment, was doing its best to live up to the standards of the incompetent authoritarian state by facilitating the slaughter of a couple million of its peasants in its war against Germany. But prolepsis, in mannerist history, is fate; and context is some whimpy liberal thing made up by fellow travelers. So Radek, whose affiliation with Stalin is arguable; and Dzerzhinsky, who died before Stalin took power, are thrown together as partners merely because they fulfill Koch's need for dramatic functionaries. Incidentally, Koch displays another of the traits of the right wing Anti-Commie by attributing to his villains such amazing powers that it is a wonder that we won the Cold War without some real life equivalent of Spider Man fighting on our side -- or was Ronald Reagan secretly half arachnoid? According to Koch, the young Munzenberg had already formed several networks and penetrated the Vatican. Amazing. What these networks, in 1915, were doing, who they reported to, remain pesky questions for Koch, but ones unlikely to find speech bubbles in the heads of his convinced readers.

Willi M�nzenberg is in our thoughts this morning because one of his great inventions, supposedly, was the "trip to the future." He would arrange, or one of his multiple organs would arrange, a trip to the Soviet Union by some bigwig Western intellectual -- H.G. Wells, Lincoln Steffens. It was after such trips that the Oh-ing and Aw-ing would commence -- the comparison of the Soviet's Shining Heights to Capitalisms gloomy depths. If Munzenberg were alive today, he would be startled by how much easier things are today, propaganda-wise. Today's Bush-ite has no need to go to Iraq -- has no need to consult journalists who are in Iraq -- has no need to even dispute stories, or pay attention to stories, about Iraq. So the story of the missing WMD are explained away as being, after all, an unimportant part of the Bush rationale for getting us into Iraq; the official cessation of hostilities, announced by Bush with great pomp and fanfare in the first week of May, and undermined since by an increasing casualty rate and daily attacks on US troops, warrants not a thought; and the spike in military operations (in combination with Bremer's increasingly weird announcements, for all the world as if Iraqi was some small satellite of the U.S. instead of a liberated country) hum away in the distant background.

Saturday, Knight Ridder journalists Tom Lasseter and Drew Brown penned a nice piece summing up the last week. Here's the first three intro grafs:

"RAWAH, Iraq - Hassan Ibrahim walked the narrow space between the fresh graves and shook his head. There were 78, some of them packed with more than one body, with rocks as markers. The air stank of death. The names of the dead were written on paper and folded into soda bottles stuck in the ground.`

`This town was safe before the Americans came here and made a lot of blood,'' said Ibrahim. ``Is this the democracy they were talking about?''

The graves were all that remained after U.S. forces struck a suspected terrorist training camp 5 1/2 miles from town Thursday, raking the earth with missiles and machine-gun fire."

So it goes. In this country, by the fine stroke of declaring the War over, Bush seems to have silenced any discussion of the on-going War. Certainly you hear nothing from the Dems. They are, supposedly, riven by conflicts over whether to examine the reality, or lack of it, of the WMD threat. Seriously, LI doesn't care that much. We care that Bremer is heading the US committment in Iraq in a fatally wrong direction. We care that no Dem is questioning a strategy that has taken a turn towards sporadic, heavily lethal repression -- a strategy that we believe is sowing the seeds of disaster for Americans in Iraq. There are still options, still ways of avoiding the drift into becoming the third party and target in the country. Unfortunately, Dems would just as soon forget that the War happened, making them complicit in the War that is happening. The NYT ran an interview Saturday with Adnan Pachachi, one of those Iraqi elder statesmen who has not been rubbing shoulders with Chalabi. The Bush people are aggressively deaf to Pachachi; they shouldn't be. Here are two grafs from the interview:

"Mr. Pachachi said that military sweeps through civilian areas with mass arrests, interrogations and gun battles, intended to suppress the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and military command, were inflaming sentiments against the American and British occupation.

He predicted that if such sweeps continued, they would be "exploited by the Baathists," and he added, "It would be much better if we didn't have these operations.'"

Now this is not just an issue for Dems -- it is an early warning that the vampiric drip drip of American blood is going to turn into a daily, Vietnam like thing if Bremer and his kind aren't stopped in their ambition to "reform" Iraq. It is needless to say that we were against the war; but since the fall of Baghdad, we've been impressed with the degree of goodwill shown towards America by Iraqis; this goodwill stems from the collapse of Saddam's machinery of repression. This is all the more impressive in the face of the massive casualties incurred by the Iraqis during the hostilities. But the bungling of Smilin' Jay Garner, and the petty tyranny of Bremer, are obviously dissipating that good will, as we re-install our own version of repression. The question is: to what end? We believe that the Bush people want to institute their version of "free enterprise" in Iraq, which is why we are the sole principalities and powers in the place right now. This is unworthy of one drop of blood, Iraqi or American. Meanwhile, the Peace Movement is on a wild goose chase after the WMD lies. Resentment does not make for good politics -- defeated in the effort to prevent the war, the Anti-War people understandably want a recount. But actually, this will simply further obscure what is happening in Iraq right now.

Not that we really expect serious consideration to be given to the more salient problems in Iraq right now by anybody on either side. These are simply our woodnotes wild, pipings at the gates of despair.