“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 28, 2003


I have never read a novel by William Harrison Ainsworth. LI's vast readership is astonishingly literate -- you all are out there devouring Alain Badiou's difficult essays on Dedekind's mathematical ontology and such, I know -- yet it is a good bet that none of you are familiar with the thrills of Rookwood, or the clever drama of Jack Sheppard.

Is this because of the Courvoisier murder?

Phillip Allingham provides a potted bio of Ainsworth on the Victoria Web site. It's an impressive 19th century life. As a boy, Ainsworth was inspired by the romances of Walter Scott, along with all of literary Europe and, to its misfortune (according to Mark Twain), the South. Ainsworth even knew Charles Lamb. He scored a big success with Rookwood, a historical that painted, among other things, a dashing highwayman, Dick Turpin. The money poured in, Ainsworth bought the appropriate gaudy pile, and then the wife dies. Beloved, of course, and young, of course, providing the standard unities for that pious exercise of melancholy Victorians liked in widowers and widows. Then came an even greater success, Jack Shepherd. Here Ainsworth makes the conscious artistic decision -- at least according to Allingham -- to break with the picaresque. This was especially interesting since Jonathan Wild is one of the main characters, taken less from history than Fielding -- or perhaps one can say that Fielding's Wild is more historically real than the historically real Wild himself. Such is the form of fate that generally befalls the celebrity.

Jack Shepherd has not been transferred to the less than silver screen by the good elves at Gutenberg, so I am relying on Allingham here:

"Jack Sheppard (1839) reveals Ainsworth at his best in terms of characterisation and plot construction. Wishing to avoid a loose succession of incidents in the picaresque style, Ainsworth introduces two characters (the historical Jonathan Wild and the fictional Thames Darrell) to create a unifying thread in this tale set in eighteenth-century England. In a manner reminiscent of various television and film versions of The Fugitive, the thief-taker Wild relentlessly pursues the subtle and cunning Jack Sheppard, thief and house-breaker. Because Jack's mother has rebuffed Wild's sexual advances, Wild seduces Jack's father and then Jack himself into committing crimes that will inevitably lead them to the gallows. While Jack chooses the path of vice, his foil, Thames Darrell (like Jack in youth apprenticed to Mr. Wood the carpenter, and like Jack, the son of a father who has died violently after abusing his wife) chooses the path of virtue. Thames ultimately prospers with the aid of Jack's second-in-command, Blueskin, and wins the hand of the lovely Winifred, his master's daughter. Although the protagonist, Jack, is reconciled with his mother and saves both Thames and Winifred from Wild, he is ultimately hanged for his crimes. Poetic justice, however, is served when the narrator reveals that within seven months Wild himself is hanged.

Thus, the book illustrates the Hogarthian theme of the lazy and diligent apprentices that Dickens vivifies in Great Expectations and elsewhere, and which had already been dramatised in George Lillo's The London Merchant, or the History of George Barnwell(1731), a domestic tragedy based on the seventeenth-century ballad which appears on Percy's Reliques. In the ballad, young Barnwell is a London apprentice who falls in love with a Shoreditch prostitute (Sarah Millwood). In return for her favours, the apprentice gives her �200 which he has stolen from his master; again to supply the harlot with cash, he robs his uncle, a Ludlow grazier, and beats him to death. The hussy and the varlet impeach each other, and are subsequently hanged at Tyburn. The literary progeny of the tale is the so-called Newgate Novel, popularized by Thackeray, Dickens, Ainsworth, and Bulwer-Lytton."

Allingham doesn't mention the ill consequences of Jack Sheppard. But this amusingly account of the murder of Lord William Russell -- amusing because it drops noble names and titles like some dotty butler doing door duty at a ball - does. We take this up because we are still in search of a response to Oscar's contention that art has no moral effect. Or, rather, we are in seach of the kind of moral panic that art can provoke.

If it is true that Ainsworth was shunned after the rumor circulated that Lord Russell's murderer was unduly excited by Jack Sheppard, then this explains, perhaps, why he never made the canon. We aren't totally satisfied that Jack Sheppard backballed the man, but after the Courvoisier trial, he certainly had to fend off charges, and he seems to have been deserted by the ever timid Dickens.

So consider this an effort to make some headway towards a rather Wildean truth -- which is that just because art has no moral effect doesn't mean that morality has no artistic effect. That effect is less in the text than in the selection -- the unnatural selection that evolves a canon.

To get to the case -- Courvoisier, like Sheppard, was a servant. And like Sheppard, he considered himself held down by brute force, and that force embodied in the riches and life of his employer, Lord Russell.

The crime and its detection are described amply by McCann. We like his description of the scene of Courvoisier's execution:

"The execution was carried out at Newgate, on the 6th of July, 1840. The hangman was the notorious Jack Ketch and the trial was attended by both Charles Dickens (a regular at these events) and William Makepeace Thackeray. The latter published an article about the execution in Frazer's Magazine later in the month. A third novelist of the period had a rather different experience. This was William Harrison Ainsworth, then famous for his nlovel about the higwayman Dick Turpin. However, he had also published, in the previous year, a sensational novel about another notorious criminal, Jack Sheppard. The latter had been a violent robber who escaped from Newgate four times before he was finally hanged at Tyburn in 1742. The novel was adapted to the stage by John Buckstone and it opened at the Adelphi in the Strand on October 28 1839. It was the hit of the season and ran for 121 performances finishing the run on April 11th 1840. It went on a tour of the Provincial theatres in May, not long after the murder. During Courvoisier's trial it was put about that he had either read Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard or attended the play before committing the murder. This provoked a wave of concern at the effects of cheap, theatrical adaptations on working-class youth culture. The popular opinion was that the charge against Ainsworth seemed incontrovertible. Unfortunately, his status as a good Victorian and a serious literary novelist never fully recovered even though he went on to write some of his more famous historical romances in the following years. Dickens managed to avoid similar problems, but, despite the fact that Ainsworth had been a major influence on his early career, with his characteristic selfishness he publicly and privately distanced himself from Ainsworth."

Thackeray's account, entitled "Going to See a Man Hanged", is on the Net -- oh, there are so many things on the Net nowadays. It is an interesting piece. For one thing, Thackeray politicizes the crowd -- it is odd that Benjamin never, to my knowledge, referred to this piece, but it would have done his heart good. Or perhaps not -- unlike Hugo, Thackeray was completely secular. No messianic moment in the character, just that puzzling English confidence in Good Will . Thackeray is a writer who always surprises us -- both by his accesses of sentimental swill, and his hard-edged comedic vision. Here's a bit of a rather long political passage re the crowd:

Throughout the whole four hours, however, the mob was extraordinarily gentle and good-humoured. At first we had leisure to talk to the people about us ; and I recommend X-'s brother senators of both sides of the House to see more of this same people and to appreciate them better. Honourable members are battling and struggling in the House; shouting, yelling, crowing, hear-hearing, pooh-poohing, making speeches of three columns, and gaining "great Conservative triumphs," or "signal successes of the Reform cause," as the case may be. Three hundred and ten gentlemen of good fortune, and able for the most part to quote Horace, declare solemnly that unless Sir Robert comes in the nation is ruined. Throe hundred and fifteen on the other side swear by their great gods that the safety of the empire depends upon Lord John; and to this end they quote Horace too. I declare that I have never been in a great London crowd without thinking of what they call the two "great" parties in England with wonder. For which of the two great leaders do these people care, I pray you? When Lord Stanley withdrew his Irish bill the other night, were they in transports of joy, like worthy persons who read the Globe and the Chronicle? or when he beat the Ministers, were they wild with delight, like honest gentlemen who read the Post and The Times? Ask yonder ragged fellow, who has evidently frequented debating clubs, and speaks with good sense and shrewd good-nature. He cares no more for Lord John than he does for Sir Robert, and, with due respect be it said, would mind very little if both of them were ushered out by' Mr. Ketch, and took their places under yonder black beam. What are the two great parties to him, and those like him? Sheer wind, hollow humbug, absurd clap-traps; a silly mummery of dividing and debating, which does not in the least, however it may turn, affect his condition."

And so it goes, Thackeray capturing the political as a question of the balance between two crowds -- a thought that is much deeper than he himself could plumb. Still, there it is.

Famously, at the end of the essay, Thackeray reflects on his repugnant participation in killing a man:

"There is some talk, too, of the terror which the sight of this spectacle inspires, and of this we have endeavoured to give as good a notion as we can in the above pages. I fully confess that I came away down Snow Hill that morning with a disgust for murder ; but it was for the murder I saw done. As we made our way through the immense crowd, we came upon two little girls of eleven and twelve years. One of them was crying bitterly, and begged, for Heaven's sake, that someone would lead her from that horrid place. This was done, and the children were carried into a place of safety. We asked the elder girl - and a very pretty one - what brought her into such a neighbourhood? The child grinned knowingly, and said, "We've koom to see the mon hanged!"

Tender law, that brings out babes upon such errands and provides them with such gratifying moral spectacles!"


"The bodies of two U.S. soldiers missing for days were discovered early Saturday northwest of Baghdad, as the toll rises past 200 for Americans killed since war started in Iraq.

News of their killings came amid a torrent of guerrilla-style attacks and sabotage that has marred U.S. efforts to re-establish order since Saddam Hussein's ouster. About a third of U.S. troops killed in the Iraqi conflict have died in attacks or accidents since major combat was declared over May 1." -- Washington Post

And, to add to our casualties, this is the latest brilliant scheme from our resident representative in Bagdhad, Mr. Bremer:

U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders. -- Washington Post

From another graf:

'The most recent order to stop planning for elections was made by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of Iraq. It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.In the capital, Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections for a city government, but have said they are forming neighborhood councils that at some point will play a role in the selection of a municipal government."

The guerilla war is being lost at the outset. Can the US adopt a worse stretegy? Well, wait till they unroll their economic nostrums, and a seemingly permanent strata of Iraqi unemployed gets to mull over the American meaning of democracy.

As anybody with a memory that is larger than a flea's will remember, in 91 the Bush administration made the fatal mistake of calling for an intifada and then not backing it up. Why? Because that administration was petrified by the idea that Shi'a power might be installed in Iraq. The present colonial administrator seems to suffer from that same fear. This time, the intifada will be against the Americans.

How many times do we have to make the same mistake?
I guess as many times as there are Bushes around to make it.

"I come to Vienna to refresh my ambivalence," he said.

The profile of Frederic Morton in the NYT this morning is a little gift for us. Morton is the type of person LI looks up to absolutely -- the type of person we have tried to be, alas for our well-being, since the age of 20. The Viennese intellectual, who sharpens his teeth by savaging the Viennese intellectual -- which is the way of Karl Kraus.

Morton does seem less acerbic, less prone to bite, than such as Canetti or Musil. But that his books are being taken so seriously by Vienna says a lot about that place. Including why it isn't the Vienna of the Nervous Splendor that Morton writes about.

Perhaps Thomas Bernhard was the last of those savages -- the ones who tore, with bleeding claws, at a splendor they found to be half criminal in its beginnings and half rotten in its endings. Sentiment and petty pilfering, leading up to the auto de fe of the Jews -- that was pretty much the Bernhardian view. And the view of Canetti, I think. We are closer, however, to the geniality of Morton. We see less animal in the menschlische Maul than those three.

Nice article.

Friday, June 27, 2003


We quoted Oscar, for obvious reasons, yesterday. We want to get back to one of those quotes today -- this bit of repartee:

"C--You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C--May I take it that you think "The Priest and the Acolyte" was not immoral?
W--It was worse; it was badly written."

Now, we have been on mild kick about murder, and we've also been thinking of the peculiar immorality of public moralists. We were planning a post comparing William Bennett to Will Hays, the man who ran the Hays Office that censored films from the thirties to the sixties. However, Will Hays is a very hard man to pin down.

The Hays office has often been studied. It was actually started in the twenties, and was a mask for the studios, who were currently going through a cycle of scandals -- most notably, the railroading of Fatty Arbuckle for the rape of Virginia Rappe, a thing he was never convicted of doing. So the studios pulled Harding's postmaster general to Hollywood. According to an entertaining internet book by Paul Sann on the Lawless decade, the salary was more than decent for 1922 -- 100,000 dollars per year. And Hays knew that Harding's cabinet was ready for a fall. .

Will Hays, according to the interesting account in Allen's book on the "Lost Decade," knew what was going to come down because he'd got a piece of it. Hays was the last link in a long chain of graft, stretching back to a deal for leasing oil rights -- the Teapot Dome scandal. He accepted 150,000 dollars in liberty bonds that were bought with scammed money from a deal hatched between Standard Oil and a dummy Canadian company, one of whose beneficiaries was Harry Sinclair, president of the Mammoth Oil Company -- which was in secret collusion with the Secretary of Treasury, Fall. It isn't clear whether Hays profited personally from the deal -- he accepted the bonds on behalf of the Republican Party, of which he was chairman. He'd run Harding's campaign. He was also Postmaster General. A man of many hats. Perhaps he also knew that the orgies and intoxication of Hollywood were more than matched by the parties of the White House. We know more about the Harding administration since Mrs. Harding's diary was found a couple of years ago. There's an excerpt from her biography, published in the style section of the Washington Post, that is, well, a little unbelievable. We find this paragraph fascinating:

"The Strange Death of President Harding," written in 1930 by the notorious perjurer and former FBI agent Gaston Means, implied that Florence Harding poisoned her husband in retaliation for his adultery, but the book has long been dismissed as a fabrication. New evidence shows that while Means lied in details, he told general truths. He said that he was part of an FBI effort to seize and destroy a small, privately printed book, "The Illustrated Life of Warren Gamaliel Harding," that revealed Harding's affair with Carrie Phillips, the RNC blackmail payoff and Florence's out-of-wedlock child by a common-law first husband.

This turned out to be the only book suppressed by the government in peacetime. The entire action was illegal, and thus the boxes of books and updated manuscript inserts were taken not to any government property but to the McLean estate [Mclean, a friend of Harding's and a companion when they went, as they frequently did, to the whores, was the owner of the Washington Post], where they were all burned. Well, not all: An original with the author's notes sits with none other than Evalyn McLean's papers at the Library of Congress."

Will Hays seems to have been the most influential advocate of the idea that art must be moral since the Chamberlain's office started censoring theater in 18th century England -- driving Fielding to write novels, according to Shaw, and thus destroying English drama for the next one hundred years. But of the man himself, the footstep seems to be unclear.

We want to do one more post about this topic -- considering Ainsworth and the Courvoisier murder.


We quoted Oscar, for obvious reasons, yesterday. We want to get back to one of those quotes today -- this bit of repartee:

"C--You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C--May I take it that you think "The Priest and the Acolyte" was not immoral?
W--It was worse; it was badly written."

Now, we have been on mild kick about murder, and we've also been thinking of the peculiar immorality of public moralists. We were planning a post comparing William Bennett to Will Hays, the man who ran the Hays Office that censored films from the thirties to the sixties. However, Will Hays is a very hard man to pin down.

The Hays office has often been studied. It was actually started in the twenties, and was a mask for the studios, who were currently going through a cycle of scandals -- most notably, the railroading of Fatty Arbuckle for the rape of Virginia Rappe, a thing he was never convicted of doing. So the studios pulled Harding's postmaster general to Hollywood. According to an entertaining internet book by Paul Sann on the Lawless decade, the salary was more than decent for 1922 -- 100,000 dollars per year. And Hays knew that Harding's cabinet was ready for a fall. .

Will Hays, according to the interesting account in Allen's book on the "Lost Decade," knew what was going to come down because he'd got a piece of it. Hays was the last link in a long chain of graft, stretching back to a deal for leasing oil rights -- the Teapot Dome scandal. He accepted 150,000 dollars in liberty bonds that were bought with scammed money from a deal hatched between Standard Oil and a dummy Canadian company, one of whose beneficiaries was Harry Sinclair, president of the Mammoth Oil Company -- which was in secret collusion with the Secretary of Treasury, Fall. It isn't clear whether Hays profited personally from the deal -- he accepted the bonds on behalf of the Republican Party, of which he was chairman. He'd run Harding's campaign. He was also Postmaster General. A man of many hats. Perhaps he also knew that the orgies and intoxication of Hollywood were more than matched by the parties of the White House. We know more about the Harding administration since Mrs. Harding's diary was found a couple of years ago. There's an excerpt from her biography, ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������

Casualty Report:

Two American soldiers have been taken prisoner in Balad. A soldier was killed in an ambush in Najaf. And finally this, from the NYT:

"In another report, a United States soldier was shot in the head while buying digital video discs at a shop in the Kazimiyah neighborhood of northwest Baghdad today, the shop owner and witnesses told Reuters. It was not clear from witnesses if the shot was fatal, the news agency said."

The military has decided that this is not guerilla warfare -- this is just a 'spike." Well, we will see how long that euphemism lasts. The Irish times has an interesting report: "a truck full of Americans driving to Baghdad to phone their families ran over a bomb." The Irish have, shall we say, seen a bit of guerilla warfare. The Times report continues: "Attacks on the occupation forces in Iraq have escalated at such a rate in recent days that fresh reports have been coming in almost hourly."

Thursday, June 26, 2003


And finally, a sensible article about deflation. As we've said before, what is really happening is that the Fed and the Bush administration are pushing us into a seventies style situation: inflation plus high unemployment.

Excellent little piece by Noam Scheiber, who seems to have a head on his shoulders. Greenspan is operating like Nixon's Burns. Pump up the economy, no matter what, for the big election. We don't think this is gonna work. And we think, given the deficit and the trade deficit, that we have parlayed ourselves into a disaster. Ending graf:

The Fed's Open Market Committee cut short-term interest rates by an additional quarter-point when it met this week--even though the previous 1.25 percent rate was already at a 42-year low and Fed officials continue to insist the possibility of deflation is remote. The move was widely expected on Wall Street, if for no other reason than that Greenspan had foreshadowed it while addressing a meeting of heads of the world's central banks earlier this month. "We perceive [deflation] as a low probability, ... but the cost of addressing it is very small indeed," Greenspan told his colleagues, before comparing the Fed's decision to overcompensate against deflation risk to a "fire break," in which firefighters clear land as a buffer for more valuable property. But the Fed is the one starting the fires. And pretty soon that could send America's economy up in smoke.


On this day, of all days, it seems apposite to glance at Oscar Wilde's trial. The libel charge that Wilde foolishly brought against the Marqise of Queensbury concerned a typically misspelled note left at Wilde's club, accusing him not (in Scalia's terms) of having a homosexual agenda, but of being a posing Somdomite. Oddly enough, from newspaper accounts, at least, we don't hear of Scalia, Rehnquist of Thomas evoking Queensbury, but surely they should. The man is an emblem of their cause and mentality.

Famously, the trial was as brilliant a performance as the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest. Alas, it was a fatal mistake on Wilde's part to think that an English court would appreciate a brilliant performance -- you might as well do juggling tricks for a herd of walruses. Everything went bad, and Wilde, as is well known, lost, only to be then condemned for being more than a posing Somdomite and thrust into prison.

Here's one of Wilde's first sallies. It's characteristic. Reading it, you wonder who he thought he was talking to. He's been asked about some letters he'd written the unutterable Alfred Lord Douglas. The letters were stolen, and then a man appeared who wished to blackmail Wilde. This is the stuff

"I said, "I suppose you have come about my beautiful letter to Lord Alfred Douglas. If you had not been so foolish as to send a copy of it to Mr. Beerbohm Tree, I would gladly have paid you a very large sum of money for the letter, as I consider it to be a work of art." He said, "A very curious construction can be put on that letter." I said in reply, "Art is rarely intelligible to the criminal classes." He said, "A man offered me �6o for it." I said to him, "If you take my advice you will go to that man and sell my letter to him for �6o. I myself have never received so large a sum for any prose work of that length; but I am glad to find that there is some one in England who considers a letter of mine worth �6o."' He was somewhat taken aback by my manner, perhaps, and said, "The man is out of town." I replied, "He is sure to come back," and I advised him to get the �6o. He then changed his manner a little, saying that he had not a single penny, and that he had been on many occasions trying to find me. I said that I could not guarantee his cab expenses, but that I would gladly give him half-a-sovereign. He took the money and went away. "

Here's Wilde in cross examination by a Scalia type:

"C--You are of opinion, I believe, that there is no such thing as an immoral book?
C--May I take it that you think "The Priest and the Acolyte" was not immoral?
W--It was worse; it was badly written."

Here's another:

"C--Listen, sir. Here is one of the "Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young" which you contributed: "Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the curious attractiveness of others." You think that true?
W�I rarely think that anything I write is true.
C--Did you say "rarely"?
W--I said "rarely." I might have said "never"�not true in the actual sense of the word.
C--"Religions die when they arc proved to be true." Is that true?
W�Yes; I hold that. It is a suggestion towards a philosophy of the absorption of religions by science, but it is too big a question to go into now.
C--Do you think that was a safe axiom to put forward for the philosophy of the young?
W--Most stimulating. "

Of course, Scalia would have seen the homosexual agenda there in all its poisonous glory. Next thing you know, they'll ban drawing and quartering!

Here is the meat of Scalia's objection, a moan that would do well coming from Baron Charlus:

"Today's opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct. I noted in an earlier opinion the fact that the American Association of Law Schools (to which any reputable law school must seek to belong) excludes from membership any school that refuses to ban from its job-interview facilities a law firm (no matter how small) that does not wish to hire as a prospective partner a person who openly engages in homosexual conduct. See Romer, supra, at 653. One of the most revealing statements in today's opinion is the Court's grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is "an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." Ante, at 14. It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed. Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter. So imbued is the Court with the law profession's anti-anti-homosexual culture, that it is seemingly unaware that the attitudes of that culture are not obviously "mainstream"; that in most States what the Court calls "discrimination" against those who engage in homosexual acts is perfectly legal; that proposals to ban such "discrimination" under Title VII have repeatedly been rejected by Congress, see Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1994, S. 2238, 103d Cong., 2d Sess. (1994); Civil Rights Amendments, H. R. 5452, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975); that in some cases such "discrimination" is mandated by federal statute, see 10 U. S. C. �654(b)(1) (mandating discharge from the armed forces of any service member who engages in or intends to engage in homosexual acts); and that in some cases such "discrimination" is a constitutional right, see Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U. S. 640 (2000)."

Oscar, where-ever you are, I wish I could hear you reading Scalia's dissent. Anyway, this one was, belatedly, for you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Perry Anderson's piece in the LRB -- Casuistries of Peace and War -- is good, straightforward Marxist analysis. Every piece of it is right -- it is just the whole thing that is wrong.

Shall we start from the ending?

"What conclusions follow? Simply this. Mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's crudity, is merely saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war would do better to focus on the entire prior structure of the special treatment accorded to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over the secondary issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or to put it out of its misery quickly."

This, in dismissing the issues of the current peace movement in order to focus on attacking the underlying pattern. A politics depends, of course, on there being an underlying pattern. And so the piece is rife with the old images that evoke the real and the apparent, the veil and the God behind it, such as this graf which affirms, simultaneously, the writer's more acute sense of reality -- those x-ray eyes -- and the really frivolous issues that trouble the mere masses:

"Cultural dislike of the Bush Presidency is widespread in Western Europe, where its rough affirmations of American primacy, and undiplomatic tendency to match word to deed, have become intensely resented by public opinion accustomed to a more decorous veil being drawn over the realities of relative power."

Of course, public opinion, like the legendary Indians on the isle of Manhattan, is always willing to trade real value for beads and veils. Female items, in fact -- when what we need are hard headed, hard hatted thinkers. However, we suspect that public opinion, stupid as it may be, is not so stupid as to think itself as wise as Anderson thinks himself.

The war in Iraq, in Anderson's view, is simply an extension of the war as Clinton pursued it. A change in quantity, here, does not lead, for him, to a change in quality. He begins the article by listing six arguments against the war and six counter-arguments for it. His contempt, of course, is for the prudential argument -- after all, in Anderson's view, the war will be short, victory is assured, and occupation will be a snap. Oddly, no consideration is given, at all, to the costs of occupation -- it is the oddity of political analyses of the 'stand-off" between the U.S. and Iraq, as the Washington Post calls it, that each side considers the cost, and the willingness of both sides to bear the cost, a moot point. It is as if there were no consideration whatsoever that wars and occupations require quite a lot of cash to sustain, and the morale to get that cash. We're going to go into this on another post, soon.

The more we hear that Iraq will be a pushover -- an assumption that we make, ourselves -- the more we wonder whether that is going to be the case. Similarly, the idea that public opinion in Britain and the U.S. will swing unanimously behind the war once it starts -- another assumption of the pundits -- while it seems likely to us, becomes everyday less likely to us as it sinks from an hypothesis into a pre-supposition. For almost all pre-suppositions about this war, so far, have turned out wrong.

And to go on with wrong... Anderson makes a number of points that fall in that category. For instance, presenting the Bush side of the equation on the war, he writes: "You also forget that we already have a very successful protectorate in the northern third of Iraq, where we have knocked Kurdish heads together pretty effectively. Do you ever hear dire talk about that?" Now, who has ever represented the point of view that we knocked Kurdish heads together pretty efficiently? Nobody that we've read. We suspect this is Anderson infusing his own p.o.v. -- which tends to Realpolitik in jackboots -- into the Bush position. In fact, the knocking together of Kurdish heads has been done pretty much by Kurds -- although saying such a thing is disallowed by Anderson's worldview, in which everything must reflect great power hegemony. That makes perfect sense when public opinion is simply a dupe, decorous veils are manipulated in Salome fashion to distract all but the eagle eye of our Marxist Sherlock Holmes, and we can just thank the Bush administration for admitting, honestly, that international institutions are simply tools to administer American hegemony. In Anderson's odd view, power has total control, so the only thing to do is to arouse total resistance. Of course, who these total resistors are is a bit of a problem, and how they are to resist is another one. Perhaps they are the spirits of the marxist dead, and they will wing there way to us from some Ouija board manipulated by the editorial board of the New Left Review.

However, LI will stick with the dupes in the street for now.

Lately, for the prose of it, we've been reading Thomas De Quincey's essay on the Fine Art of Murder. That is one of the scarier real murder accounts -- up there, we think, with In Cold Blood. In Cold Blood was scary in part because, in that farmhouse in Kansas, we know that the head of the household made a crucial initial mistake that he couldn't get out of, and witnessed the murders of all he loved before he was killed, too -- which is about the worst thing that can happen to a person.

George Orwell wrote a famous essay on the English Murder. In fact, murder is a rather unexplored theme in Orwell's work -- he wrote several essays about crime novels, a famous essay on execution, and in an examination of Auden's poetry on the Spanish Civil War -- examination in the sense that the floroscope lamp was turned on the patient and he was pronounced terminally ill -- there is this wonderful passage on these verses in Auden's "Spain":

"To-morrow for the young, the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;
To-morrow the bicycle races
Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

To-day the deliberate increase in the chances of death,
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder;
To-day the expending of powers
On the flat ephemeral pamphlet and the boring meeting."

Here's Orwell, casually jumping all over this cake:

"All very edifying. But notice the phrase
'necessary murder'. It could only be written by a person to whom murder
is at most a WORD. Personally I would not speak so lightly of murder. It
so happens that I have seen the bodies of numbers of murdered men--I
don't mean killed in battle, I mean murdered. Therefore I have some
conception of what murder means--the terror, the hatred, the howling
relatives, the post-mortems, the blood, the smells. To me, murder is
something to be avoided. So it is to any ordinary person. The Hitlers and
Stalins find murder necessary, but they don't advertise their
callousness, and they don't speak of it as murder; it is 'liquidation',
'elimination', or some other soothing phrase. Mr Auden's brand of
amoralism is only possible, if you are the kind of person who is always
somewhere else when the trigger is pulled."

Now, that is admirably rigorous, but the fact is, Orwell does write that lightly about murder, just not as a state enterprise. Here's the beginning of his essay on the Decline of English Murder:

"It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already
asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice
long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on
your nose, and open the NEWS OF THE WORLD. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or
roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home,
as it were, by a cup of mahogany-brown tea, have put you in just the
right mood. Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft
underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In
these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about?

Naturally, about a murder."

While newspapers might reveal fraud, opine about politics, announce weddings and funerals, they are of course built centrally around murder. The murder story fascinates us -- it is a unique combination of fright and the intellect -- fright for the integrity of our own integument, intellect in the judging of guilty or not. Orwell contended that the great murders were behind us -- they were late Victorian things, much like the stories of Kipling. And it is true, late Victorian murders have a texture. We surfed around looking for odd Victorian murders, and immediately came up with a handful. For instance, the mystery of Pimlico, described with admirable relish and coolness by Michael Farrell in this article in Past and Present. The first two grafs of Farrell's article grab you the way few contemporary murders do:

"In 1886 Adelaide Bartlett stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of her husband, Thomas Edwin Bartlett. The court witnessed sensational evidence and the case left questions which remain unanswered.

Adelaide's origins are mysterious. Born illegitimately in Orleans in 1855, she was christened Adelaide Blanche de la Tremouille. Her father was probably Adolphe Collot de la Tremouille, Comte de Thouars d'Escury. Her mother may have been an obscure English girl, Clara Chamberlain. After a childhood in France Adelaide was dispatched to England to stay with her maternal aunt and uncle in Kingston-uponThames. Here in 1875 she was introduced to Edwin Bartlett, who became infatuated with the poised Anglo-French beauty and resolved to marry her. Aged 30, 11 years Adelaide's senior, Edwin was a comfortably off proprietor of grocery stores. Adelaide's parents in Orleans approved the match and her father provided a modest dowry."

From there, a complex story unwinds: of Thomas Edwin's bad breath; of his peculiar sexuality,which took in the encouragement of kissing between his young wife and a young Weslyan minister, George Dyson; of Adelaide's purchase of chloroform thru said Dyson; of the mysterious contraceptives found in Thomas Edward's pockets; and of the enigmatic application of chloroform as a poison that convinced the jury that Thomas Edward's death could have been a suicide. You simply can't match that today -- we sex up murders by magnifying those that Hollywood has beens commit, but really, without the names, who would ever have found the O.J. case even slightly interesting?

Another interesting Victorian murder was that committed by a French manservant, Courvoisier, on his boss, a certain Lord Russell. Maybe we will get to this one in another post.

Ah, LI wants a break from Iraq -- but Iraq apparently doesn't want to give LI a break.

The latest marvel coming out of the Coalition authority is the backtracking on the military. After dissolving it, someone figured out that angry unemployed men with guns might be a bit of a danger out there on the range. To address this, the Coalition first thought that shooting a few protesters in Baghdad would do the trick. Well, for some reason that didn't seem to calm that legendary Iraqi passion -- they make such a fuss about their casualties, you know -- so then an adhoc measure was crafted to indefinitely pay half of the disbanded army. Which means, you'll be happy to know, that only 150,000 pissed off, armed men are ranging their own territory. Patrick Tyler in the NYT reported yesterday that Bremer's latest brainstorm is to create a very shrunken Iraqi army -- no air force, and a military strength of about 40,000. In a phrase that we wish we'd hear more of from the Bush administration, the Bremer people said Iraq was grossly over-militarized.

That's nice. Except that the Bush people have guaranteed the preservation of the Kurds forces, which number 70,000.

And this is the group who we are expected to believe can bring an economic renaissance to the country. Hmm. I'd send them back for a little remedial math, first. You know how those pesky math problems can add up fast -- to civil war, in fact.

Second Iraq item of the day:

The Judith Miller affair, at the NYT, seems much more significant than Jasyn Blair's scenesetting. Miller is the woman whose imaginative, nearly fictional reports from the field in Iraq seem to come straight from the mouth of Chalabi.

The Post has a damning story about her work. Embedded with special unit, the unit, according to the article, became "her" operation. Kurz, who wrote the article, is usually a hale fellow kind of writer, slagging the left and quoting his buds among the rightwing bloggers. But occasionally he gets off his butt. He obviously smells blood here. We loved this graf in particular:

"Miller formed a friendship with MET Alpha's leader, Chief Warrant Officer Gonzales, and several officers said they were surprised when she participated in a Baghdad ceremony in which Gonzales was promoted. She pinned the rank to his uniform, an eyewitness said, and Gonzales thanked Miller for her contributions. Gonzales did not respond to a request for comment."

It appears that embedded journalists don't need to be seduced into spin the news from Iraq -- reporters like Miller are self-spinners.

And... hey, this post will be a grab bag, sorry -- and moving away, for a second, from Iraq -- please read Nicholas Hoffman's column about Martha Stewart. Hoffman's weapons of indigest indignation are often trained clumsily on the wrong things, and he's prone to the "decline and fall in everything I see" school of writing. But his piece on the ridiculous crushing of Martha Stewart is completely correct -- targetting her for her celebrity and her gender, the fed's case is really about the fed's being able to make a case against anybody. The case is a cover for not going after the Republican funders list of criminal CEOs, and it stinks to high heaven. The Feds defend themselves by claiming that the Martha S. prosecution will have a deterrent affect. Hoffman throws as much acid as he can manufacture against that one:

Even if it were something, how many thousands out of the hundreds of millions in the United States would be in a position in which they could ever contemplate doing what Martha is supposed to have done? When was the last time you resisted committing some kind of arcane stock fraud? No, there is no deterrence here, but there is discipline, there is the instilling of fear of the government, of intimidation by the authorities.

If they can do that to Martha, think what they can do to you. They can squash you like a little white louse between thumb and index finger. In a matter of hours, your job, your life savings and your house are gone.

But why would they do that to Martha? She�s a tried-and-true free-market party-liner who never got lippy and never sassed back. Why her? Why you, for that matter? You never got out of line, either, but who better to administer public discipline on than somebody who never did anything? So random, such innocent bad luck�so much the more frightening. Just tell me what it is and I�ll stop doing it. Just tell me. Squashed like a louse.

They call it the "deterrent effect." There must be another word for it."

Tuesday, June 24, 2003


It is Jessica Lynch's fate to be a poster-girl -- first for American heroism, then for the lies of the Pentagon, and now for the rightwing accusation that criticizing her "myth" is akin to hatin' America.

While we were surfing rightwing blog sites, it occured to us that Jessica Lynch should properly be a poster girl for the ambiguity of the term "accident" in a combat zone. This blogger, Omnibus Bill, dramatizes the accident that sprained her spine and takes out his ire on various leftwingers. The leftwinger part we don't care about -- but we did find that the dramatization makes a simple point: we have no idea how the military classifies 'accident.' The papers regularly report a very high number of fatalities due to accidents in Iraq -- 41 to 51. Since one of LI's monomaniacal points for the last couple of weeks has been that the media is consistently underplaying our casualties in Iraq in order not to undermine our Commander in Chief's foolish declaration that the hostility was over, we have been wondering whether Omnibus Bill's description doesn't apply to other wounded and dead soldiers.

Our friend, T., in New York City, writes:

"I once used to drink with a guy occasionally who was in the marines for a time (he was quite proud of his time in "service" to his country). He was a very sad man (as many of the people one drinks with occasionally often are): amongst a host of other complaints, he felt he was double damned to ridicule - while participating in the "war" in Grenada, his leg was badly messed-up in a jeep accident. Thus, for too many barflys, he wasn't a real soldier because he wasn't in a real war and he didn't suffer any real harm because he didn't suffer a real wound. He felt quite the contrary - whatever the boys in DC might have called it, from where he was it was a war and during that war his leg was mangled - by jeep or by bullet was an academic difference."

The Dod website offers very laconic notices of what it calls "cases of mishap." Here's one, for instance:


The Department of Defense today identified the four Marines killed on May 19 in the CH-46 Sea-Knight helicopter that went down shortly after take-off in the Shatt Al Hillah Canal, in Iraq. The helicopter was conducting a resupply mission in support of civil military operations. They are:
Capt. Andrew David LaMont, 31, of Eureka, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Jason William Moore, 21, of San Marcos, Calif.
1st Lt. Timothy Louis Ryan, 30, of Aurora, Ill.
Staff Sgt. Aaron Dean White, 27, of Shawnee, Okla.

There's no explanation of the cause of the helicopter crash; everywhere we searched, the same story was repeated. They simply crashed. Were they under enemy fire? No clue. Was it a misfunction of the helicopter? No clue. As we know, supporting soldiers only counts when the country needs a little tv entertainment -- but not when the deaths get to be annoying.

As Jessica Lynch's injury, capture and rescue gets the magnifying glass treatment, it becomes obvious that certain words -- crash, conducting a resupply mission, etc. -- seem to nail down facts that are really fluid -- quicksilver, full of nuances that the media, sated with their successful war, are unwilling to investigate. It will happen, though. There will be plenty of time. We seem to be in the first phase of a long guerilla war. As the accidents mount into the hundreds, one of them, at least, will attract some reporter's interest.


Mark Fitz, AP's ace reporter, sent in a story we quoted Saturday about the exaggerated picture of violence in Iraq given by the news media. The media has also been all about the Sunni Crescent, contrasted with the peaceful Shi'ite south.

So we should expect that it is the Shi'ite south where the casualties will eventually pile up. Casualty report this morning, from the Guardian:

"The MOD statement said: "There have been two incidents today near Amara. We very much regret to confirm that in one incident, six British personnel have been killed. Arrangements are in hand to inform their next of kin."

The NYT story carries a little more information about the two attacks, which look like battles. A helicopter was attacked, most of its crew was wounded. At the bottom of the story, it carries this info:

"An American soldier was wounded, three Iraqis were killed and two were wounded in a firefight at a checkpoint in Ramadi today, the Central Command said, though did not offer further details about the incident or whether the Iraqis were soldiers or civilians."

The Times also carries, with that superb, Times-like aplomb, a graf that makes no sense:

"According to a United States Central Command statement today, coalition forces have conducted 1,068 day patrols and 837 night patrols since yesterday."

Right. And they juggled three million balls while doing so.

The BBC quoted a sensible man -- which will attract the usual Bush n Blair-ite complaints:

"Dan Plesch, a defence analyst the Royal United Services Institute, said UK political leaders and military commanders would be monitoring the situation very closely.

"One has to ask whether we are talking about people loyal to Saddam, or Iraqis that simply think that the UK and Americans are occupying their country and should leave. Those are two very different propositions," Mr Plesch told BBC News 24."

An American citizen might be forgiven for thinking Plesch is out of his gourd -- because there is little reporting, in this country, of what the Bremer regime is doing. The shutdown of critical media, the raids on the Shi'ite political party hq, and the drumroll of announcements of major changes, to be effected in Iraq without even the facade of consulting with a few Iraqi stooges -- this is what Iraqis are witnessing, every day.

Patrick Cockburn in the Independent -- by far our favorite reporter on Iraq -- reports that Saddam Hussein's nearest and dearest might be trying to flee to Belarus. Now, being opposed to the death penalty even for crimes against humanity, we believe that punishments for those crimes must be appropriately awful. Living in Belarus almost fits that standard.

Monday, June 23, 2003


Casualty report today: At the bottom of a report on the blowing up of another oil pipeline near Hit, there was this tossoff: "Also near Hit, U.S. soldiers Saturday evening opened fire on a car that failed to stop at a checkpoint, killing one Iraqi and wounding another, said Kievenaar. The troops fired warning shots first, he said."

Another oil pipeline going into Syria was blown up today. A report on the situation in Oil and Gas News is a bit more dire than what we are reading in the regular newspapers:

"NICOSIA, June 23 -- Even as Iraq began loading its first oil for export in 3 months on Sunday, saboteurs blasted an Iraqi natural gas pipeline at Hit on Sunday and another oil pipeline early Monday near the border with Syria, raising more doubts about US-led efforts to get the country's petroleum industry back to full operation.

"People are questioning if Iraq can sustain exports in the foreseeable future unless the security situation improves dramatically," said Steve Turner of investment bank Commerzbank. "The explosions illustrate the problems of maintaining security on very long pipelines."

The 880 km Syrian pipeline is Iraq's second largest cross-border export link after the 965 km Kirkuk-Ceyhan line. The US stopped 200,000 b/d of oil from transiting the Syrian pipeline after bombing a pumping station during its invasion of Iraq in April."

But the main casualty of the day --well, it is an on-going wounding -- is Iraq's autonomy. J-Lo Bremer has decided that, as an unelected conqueror with no knowledge of the place, he is the perfect person to remake the economy. Here's what he had to say to an economics forum:

"He made it clear that he wanted to start privatizing more than 40 government-owned companies that make products ranging from packaged foods to steel. Many of those companies, he acknowledged, would not be able to survive in the face of real competition.

"A fundamental component of this process will be to force state-owned enterprises to face hard budget constraints by reducing subsidies and special deals," he said. "Iraq will no doubt find that opening its borders to trade and investment will increase competitive pressure on its domestic firms and thereby raise productivity."

Senior officials in the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which Mr. Bremer heads, have said they hope to agree on a plan in the next few weeks to sell state-owned companies to private investors. But they are vague about how quickly the process should proceed, acknowledging that new owners would almost certainly slash the work forces at many companies and that some companies would not survive."

Of course, since the Iraqis are, on the word of Time magazine itself, a collection of abused children, they might make some kindergartenish protest along the lines of "no economic re-organization that increases unemployment without representation." A little baulkier than the slogans of the Tea Party group in 1775, but these are more complicated times.

Iraqis might want to view the wonders of free enterprise by gazing at Argentina, about which the NYT had another article. Right now, there's a little dispute with the IMF about mortgages:

"So nearly a year ago, at the peak of the crisis, the Argentine Congress approved a bill that suspended mortgage foreclosures for 90 days on homes that were a family's "sole and permanent residence." That law has since been renewed three times, but will expire in August unless Congress extends it again.

It has, however, brought the Argentine government into conflict with the I.M.F., whose managing director, Horst Kohler, is scheduled to arrive here Monday for a two-day visit. Though Argentina now has a budget surplus and has taken numerous other steps urged by the I.M.F., government officials say that the fund is insisting that the freeze on foreclosures be lifted as a pre-condition for any comprehensive agreement.

In January, the fund agreed to reschedule payment of nearly $7 billion that it was owed by Argentina. But that accord expires in August, around the same time as the mortgage foreclosure bill. The new president here, N�stor Kirchner, who took office late last month, wants to negotiate a long-term agreement with the fund that would restore credit lines and bring back the foreign investors who fled the country when the economy imploded."

The IMF, like the Cosa Nostra, and like, apparently, the US authority in Iraq, believes a little pain, or a lot of pain, distributed to a lot of little people, can't help but be a good thing. The theft of value from the Argentine working and middle class is not unprecedented, but it does look rather ominous. As we approach the largest budget deficit in our history, it is good to know that we are trying to keep competing deficits to a minimum. Apparently, this is the Bremer plan for Iraq.

Bremer is softening it by advocating a Norwegian style share-the-oil-wealth plan. This sounds great. But it is, of course, the kind of plan that the Iraqis themselves should consider, and adapt or not, as they see fit. The occupation of Iraq should aim at minimal goals -- getting the Iraqi social structures up, getting a government going, avoiding factional fighting. That US soldiers, and Iraqis, are going to die for Bremer's economic restructuring is obscene.

Sunday, June 22, 2003


First, the casualties:

A fuel pipeline exploded and caught fire west of Baghdad, a possible act of sabotage that sent flames high into the sky, as Iraq returned to world oil markets Sunday with its first crude oil exports since the U.S.-led invasion.

Meanwhile, a grenade attack Sunday killed an American soldier and wounded another just outside the capital, the latest violence to plague U.S. forces, who have launched a large crackdown aimed at putting down persistent resistance."

The NYT also reports that it is all the work of foreign agitators. That is, the Pentagon says it is all the result of foreign (by which they don't mean American -- Americans in Iraq are officially not considered foreigners) agitators. If it is good enough for the Pentagon, who have proven to be a fount of true stories over the last two months, it is true enough for the Times. There's no report, as there is in the excellent Asia Times, about the "Iraqi Resistance Brigades" -- here is Pepe Escobar's story about that group:

"This Tuesday, the "Iraqi Resistance Brigades", an unknown group, has even claimed the authorship of "all combat operations" against the Americans - at the same time dismissing that they are working in tandem with Saddam Hussein: as Asia Times Online reported on May 28 (The Saddam intifada), Saddam has set the official beginning of an anti-American intifada for July 27. In a communique broadcast by Qatar television station al-Jazeera, the Brigades qualify Saddam and his followers as "enemies who have contributed to the loss of the motherland". The Brigades refuse to be regarded as Islamist extremists, and describe themselves as "a group of young Iraqis and Arabs who believe in the unity, freedom and Arabness of Iraq"."

Now, LI hardly has the resources or the Wizard of Oz cerebellum to clear up these matters; but we do suspect that something like the Iraqi Resistance Brigade will emerge as the American occupation continues. Everything in Iraq's past history points to it. Bremer has been regularly slathered with praise in the American press, even though every story carries, as a casual bit of information, the fact that Bremer seems to know nothing about Iraqi history. But like some CEO from Nabisco taking over Oracle, we are to believe that what's to know? Oreos or Chips, Americans or Iraqis, it is all the same product.

Here is Bremer revealing the wonders of the deeps in the NYT yesterday:

"As for the economy, he said his interim administration had begun paying pensions and financing emergency construction projects. "This is at least the beginning," he said.The priority, Mr. Bremer said, is to shift resources from the state industries to the private sector. But shutting down money-losing state industries - or keeping ones shut that have stopped functioning because of the war - poses a problem for the United States.Iraqis will have to choose, he said, which of the "several score" state enterprises that run the country's economy - from oil to food to supplying commodities - could become profitable, and which would be hard to shut because of the hardship for their employees.

"Whatever happens, he said, employees cannot suddenly be thrown out of their jobs without some sort of safety net. He is soliciting Iraqi experts to make decisions like these."

In a country with a fifty percent unemployment rate, the idea of shutting down various government enterprises borders on the ludicrous. Bremer should look across the ocean, at the US, where the current administration is going to run 400 billion to 500 billion dollars in debt this year. The application of an economic regime that wrecked Argentina, Turkey, and many, many other countries in a time of reconstruction is about the dumbest idea that a conservative think tanker has come up with since the old privatizing the social security idea -- now, of course, called reforming social security. But there it is.

This is playing well in the American press, of course, which salivates at the very word, privatization. Time magazine gives us the funniest pro-Bremer article of the week. Although LI stoutly maintains that America is no empire, that doesn't mean that imperial rhetoric is not all around us. Time drags out that old standby -- the Wog as child. It worked for the American Indians, didn't it? So we get such delightful quotes as this one:

"Freedom can be a frightening thing. The end of the Saddam regime means Iraqis like Kheithem are facing a future they never anticipated or prepared for. During more than two decades of totalitarian rule, a great many aspects of Iraqi public life - from politics and commerce to education and the arts - were twisted and corrupted. Now the people who filled those roles are trying to learn new ones. "Iraqis are like children with abusive parents," says Professor Behnam Abu al-Soof, an archaeologist and politician in Baghdad. "They beat us and starved us and they didn't teach us anything. Now we have to learn how to be a normal society. We have to go back to what I call the kindergarten of life."

Of course, this being an age in which therapy masks racism, it isn't that we are saying that the Iraqis have the mental capacity of children ... oh no, they are abused children, you see? And as we've witnessed in this country, where there are abused children, Satanic ritual cults must be not far behind. That role is being played by Saddam -- although there's also the fundamentalist Islamicists, too. It's a rather incoherent compound, but that's how it goes. The great thing about the abused child metaphor is that it precludes having to listen to Iraqis, or pay attention to their behavior. Poor things just don't know what they are saying. So why consult them? We know you expect charity, not the rigors of Daddy's capitalism -- I mean, shockingly, that's even true for people in Old Europe. Only the World's Adults -- the Rumsfelds, the Bushes -- have peered into the real thing and come back to tell us that it can only come to life with massive tax cuts and/or massive bombings.

Ah -- now on, as they say in Wolfowitz's circle, to Iran.

L'humanite runs an article about the recent "rafle" in Paris. The most interesting graf, to our mind, is this one --

The Iranian Association for the defense of political prisoners and prisoners of opinion in Iran -- a structure without a tie to the Association for the support of the OMPI [Moudjahidin], which has just been created in Paris -- says it regrets these arrests, while underlining the antidemocratic character of the organization based in Auvers-sur-Oise. It's president, Bijan Rastegar, is sorry for the hardening of the attitudes of French authorities. "If the Mudjahidin had been called in by the police, they would have gone to explain themselves..." According to him, "it has been a long time since France was considered a secure land of refuge." Bijan Rastegar evokes the loss of confidence of Iranian opposition groups vis-a-vis Paris, who remember the assassination of the ex prime minister of the Shah, Chapour Bakhtiar, in 1991. At that time, certain members of the community didn't hesitate to accuse France of passive complicity in the affair."

Well, this reference intrigued us. What happended to Bakhtiar? The Iranian published a comprehensive article on the the shadowy policy of assassination followed by the Iranian state by Cyrus Kadivar, which summarizes the Bakhtiar affair like this:

On a stormy night, August 6, 1991, in one of the most shameful acts of terrorism a three-man commando team sent from Tehran and posing as his supporters brutally murdered the 77 year old Dr Bakhtiar and his secretary, Soroush Katibeh. Both men were stabbed to death under the very noses of their French security.Bakhtiar's corpse was found the next morning at his villa in Suresnes. He was lying on his leather couch, his throat and wrists cut by a kitchen knife. In the sensational trial that followed in Paris in late 1994, it became clear that Bakhtiar's assassination was planned and carried out with Tehran's direct involvement.

Two of the killers fled to Iran, another was extradited from Geneva but was later acquitted. Many Iranians, including the families of the victims, blamed France's diplomatic rapprochement with Tehran for the deaths.

Two years earlier, in February 1989, Roland Dumas had visited Iran to discuss trade opportunities and on July 27, 1990 President Mitterand had ordered the release of the Lebanese terrorist, Anis Naccache, who had led the first attempt on Bakhtiar's life in 1980."

As for the present state of discontent in Iran: we have always, around here, ardently hoped for the downfall of all theocracies, and Iran's is one of the worst. Much as Bush would like to make Iraq a staging ground for the invasion of Iran, we don't think this is going to happen. It might -- on a rational basis, who would have guessed that Bush would value the taking of Iraq more than the preservation of the Atlantic alliances? But in our personal opinion, for what it is worth, the amount of money needed to invade Iran would come out of very popular programs in the US in 2004 -- not something Karl Rove would approve of. Besides which, the military has already stretched itself to its limits.

Of course, these limits on American intervention can change.
The main thing is that the left in this country, justly suspicious of the belligerents, not confound their shabby goals with the goal of getting rid of the clique of rapacious religious men that run Iran. However, we don't hold out much hope for that.