“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, January 15, 2005

This week, I listened to a little debate between a Court Liberal – he’d been freeze dried on the Washington Post op ed page in the Clinton years, and is regularly perked up to make concessions and hew to a “centrist’ position on NPR – and a conservative. The NPR commentator sometimes came in with incisive questions, such as: do you want cream with your coffee?

Hey, I’m exaggerating!

Anyway, the debate was about Social Security. The Court liberal didn’t say anything like, the President is lying through his ass. Such remarks get you kicked out of the Court. He did point out that the idea of Social Security going bankrupt in 2040 was at some, ahem, variance, ahem, from the real state of affairs. Then, having the eagerness to compromise that D.C. induces in establishment types, he muttered that the real reform should be done on Medicare. Real reform doesn’t mean – finding ways, in the wealthiest nation in history, to make sure that there is a minimum level of health care for every citizen, guaranteed by the state. No, it means cutting into those nasty entitlements, and making health care that much more harder to afford among the populace.

The conservative then remarked that Bush had a chance to really appeal to young people, who can see just what the prez means. They are eager to daytrade their cool little privatized accounts, unlike the braindead Old.

The NPR guy asked, do you want sugar with your coffee?

And that was the end of that. I did have to laugh. This idea of ‘young people” going out, gung-ho, for eviscerating Social Security so obviously fails the ‘unit of analysis’ test that it could only pass muster in the U.S. press.

While it is true that FICA is paid individually, the benefits do not accrue individually, as even the most casual survey of American households would show. Some scientists have postulated the radical theory that young people come from other human beings. Many of them, it is thought, were born. Moreover, they not only have mothers, sometimes they have fathers too. Furthermore, and sadly, these young people are so ill versed in economic rationality that if Mom and Dad are rotting out there on the sidewalk, due to unavoidable cuts in those retirement entitlements, some of the young people might even cut them a check, or even (horrors!) allow them board in the house! Yes, it is called the family structure.

Now, of course, family in the Bush vocabulary and on NPR exists only in terms of something called “family values,” which can be defined as an allergic reaction to the sight of Janet Jackson’s tits that causes bleeding of the gums, a disbelief in evolution, and voting against same sex marriage. But (due to the perversity of humankind), families also exist as economic units. This, of course, goes against the hardy Bush Economic theory, which sees human beings sort of as individual mountain climbers, all without connections to each other, scrambling up the slopes. The highest, of course, must be the best climbers. By coincidence, some of the highest were born to best climbers. Must be genetic.

In reality, however, individuals don’t act in the economic system like disconnected mountain climbers,. but like connected ones, bound by a complicated series of ropes with all kinds of other climbers. Somehow, I don’t see young people as rejoicing at the thought of being in close proximity to their parents during their parents’ golden retirement years. In spite of the fact that they will be daytrading their FICA money like mad, watching it climb climb climb on the next tech bubble, which is what we know will surely happen.

I was reminded of William Hazlitt’s excellent essay on Bentham. Bentham very much saw human beings as individual climbers. As Hazlitt points out, Bentham’s lack of compromise did give him rather an air of grandeur, rather like Milton. Here’s Hazlitt’s charming passage:

“When any one calls upon him, he invites them to take a turn round his garden with him (Mr. Bentham is an economist of his time, and sets apart this portion of it to air and exercise)—and there you may see the lively old man, his mind still buoyant with thought and with the prospect of futurity, in eager conversation with some Opposition Member, some expatriated Patriot, or Transatlantic Adventurer, urging the extinction of Close Boroughs, or planning a code of laws for some “lone island in the watery waste,” his walk almost amounting to a run, his tongue keeping pace with it in shrill, cluttering accents, negligent of his person, his dress, and his manner, intent only on his grand theme of UTILITY—or pausing, perhaps, for want of breath and with lack-lustre eye to point out to the stranger a stone in the wall at the end of his garden (overarched by two beautiful cotton-trees) Inscribed to the Prince of Poets, which marks the house where Milton formerly lived. To shew how little the refinements of taste or fancy enter into our author's system, he proposed at one time to cut down these beautiful trees, to convert the garden where he had breathed the air of Truth and Heaven for near half a century into a paltry Chreistomathic School, and to make Milton's house (the cradle of Paradise Lost) a thoroughfare, like a three-stalled stable, for the idle rabble of Westminster to pass backwards and forwards to it with their cloven hoofs. Let us not, however, be getting on too fast—Milton himself taught school! There is something not altogether dissimilar between Mr. Bentham's appearance, and the portraits of Milton, the same silvery tone, a few dishevelled hairs, a peevish, yet puritanical expression, an irritable temperament corrected by habit and discipline.”

Hazlitt had an unformed and unsystematic objection to Bentham’s system:

“Every pleasure, says Mr. Bentham , is equally a good, and is to be taken into the account as such in a moral estimate, whether it be the pleasure of sense or of conscience, whether it arise from the exercise of virtue or the perpetration of crime. We are afraid the human mind does not readily come into this doctrine, this ultima ratio philosophorum, interpreted according to the letter. Our moral sentiments are made up of sympathies and antipathies, of sense and imagination, of understanding and prejudice. The soul, by reason of its weakness, is an aggregating and an exclusive principle; it clings obstinately to some things, and violently rejects others. And it must do so, in a great measure, or it would act contrary to its own nature. It needs helps and stages in its progress, and “all appliances and means to boot,” which can raise it to a partial conformity to truth and good (the utmost it is capable of) and bring it into a tolerable harmony with the universe. By aiming at too much, by dismissing collateral aids, by extending itself to the farthest verge of the conceivable and possible, it loses its elasticity and vigour, its impulse and its direction. The moralist can no more do without the intermediate use of rules and principles, without the 'vantage ground of habit, without the levers of the understanding, than the mechanist can discard the use of wheels and pulleys, and perform every thing by simple motion.”

Hazlitt was on the losing end of the quantifying argument, whose pale descendents are just those atomically loosed young people frolicking about the new National Lottery/Social Security office, buying tickets. We think, however, that Hazlitt’s premonition that the stoniness at the heart of Bentham’s pleasure would bring something bad into the world turned out to be true.

But give Bentham credit for honesty: he would be shocked and appalled at the conjunction of the rhetoric of an unctuous Christian familialism and the parallel attempt to openly shed the economic ties of family.


Friday, January 14, 2005

In our post yesterday, we hung the blame for the collapse of poetry, which is surely one of the salient features of our time, on academia. This is way too easy. Perhaps the blame should be fixed, rather, on the end of walking.

Most adult Americans do not notice the landscape in terms of walking. But those of us who don’t own cars (LI is of that miserable number) have a keen sense of the difficulties thrown up by roads. Absurdly, a system that theoretically shunts people from one place to another at speeds that were impossible before the twentieth century also creates a prison. This prison, like all prisons, simply by containing certain spaces renders them unfit for human habitation. It erects areas the passage of which is forbidden on pain of death. The walker is hemmed into certain areas and certain routes, not because these routes are naturally difficult – mountains and jungles and such – but because they are humanly convenient – concrete, asphalt, and lots of metal hurling about at bonecrunching speeds.

Ben Jacks, in the Spring, 2004 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education, penned a brief for walking: “Re-imagining Walking: four practices.” Re-imagining might be a portentous word for what, to LI, is simply getting to the grocery store without a bicycle. Before we re-imagine walking, we might want to imagine not-walking. We all know the beneficial consequences of being On the Road. Freedom, for one. The concrete embodiment of the bill of Rights is getting in your car and traveling two thousand miles, alone. Recipe here depends, crucially, on having the right selection of CDs, mixed with a certain random selection of radio stations along the route. At no point is listening to news or talk radio allowed – although Gospel is. We have done this – we do drive. We like driving.

But the death of the walker’s landscapes, obesity, and the withering away of poetry – these , too, might be aspects of the hegemonic transportation grid that we’ve tattooed on the hide of the continent.

Jack'S essay mentions Francesco Careri, an Italian situationist whose stalker’s manifesto is here.

Here’s a sample graf:

“Perceiving the discarded territories, in completing such a route, between that which is secure, quotidian, and that which is uncertain, generates a sense of dislocation, a state of apprehension. This altered state induces a perceptual intensification unexpectedly giving the space a meaning, making "everywhere" a place for discovery, or instead a dreaded place for an undesirable encounter. The gaze becomes penetrating, the ear becomes keen to every sound.”

We’ve recently been around an infant, a little boy. A friend’s kid. The boy showed, from the first, a desire to stand like we’ve never seen in a baby before. He learned to walk early, and does well at it. He likes to stumble through a room, he likes wandering after his Mom, he likes being given a mission – getting his shoes, for instance. Although he fastens on any shoes he finds in his path. Walking is obviously part of a very intense, sensual experience, inseparable, in infancy, from the explosions in the neural pathways, the REM sleep, the marvelous mineral of the tooth, etc., etc. Yet we know that, in all probability, by the time this boy is forty, the walking will be gone. That is, the bliss of it, or the utility of it.

For LI’s money, the best modern walker-artist is Iain Sinclair, the man who walked around the London Orbital. He invented a phrase for how he works: psychogeography. Although Sinclair doesn’t make the connection himself (that I’m aware of), he is the latest in a fugue tradition that Deleuze identified in Mille Plateaux (the ‘schizo out for a walk” section) and that Ian Hacking studied as Mad Travelers. Hacking’s book (Mad Travelers) has been reissued as a Harvard U. paperback. This is from the UVa Press site, which originally published it:

"It all began one morning last July when we noticed a young man of twenty-six crying in his bed in Dr. Pitre's ward. He had just come from a long journey on foot and was exhausted, but that was not the cause of his tears. He wept because he could not prevent himself from departing on a trip when the need took him; he deserted family, work, and daily life to walk as fast as he could, straight ahead, sometimes doing 70 kilometers a day on foot, until in the end he would be arrested for vagrancy and thrown in prison.

Thus begins the recorded case history of Albert Dadas, a native of France's Bordeaux region and the first diagnosed mad traveler, or fuguer. An occasional employee of a local gas company, Dadas suffered from a strange compulsion that led him to travel obsessively, often without identification, not knowing who he was or why he traveled. He became notorious for his extraordinary expeditions to such far-reaching spots as Algeria, Moscow, and Constantinople. Medical reports of Dadas set off at the time of a small epidemic of compulsive mad voyagers, the epicenter of which was Bordeaux, but which soon spread throughout France to Italy, Germany, and Russia.”

Hacking's book is becoming one of those philosophic texts that artists digest in their own bizarre ways -- like Deleuze's work.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

On New Years day, LI had dinner with a group of very literate folks in Mexico City. One of them, our friend L., was talking about poetry – we were all trying to think of appropriate poems for New Years Day – and she mentioned that she considered, at one point, translating Dylan Thomas into Spanish. But then she learned (she sadly said) that critics say that Thomas is a bad poet.

I know that feeling: the fear of having bad taste, of some soft spot in one’s intellectual armor. Taste, one imagines, is corrected by the larger experience. There are critics I admire who have condemned Thomas’ poetry – Kenner, apparently, couldn’t stand it, or separate it from the man who made it. We respectfully disagree.

Jan Morris, in a review of a bio of Dylan Thomas in the New Statesman, quotes two disparagers:

“Dan Davin of Oxford University Press thought that Thomas's brain was not of the first class and that he spent "a great deal of noise on perceptions which are either obvious or absurd". Stephen Spender once dismissed his art as "turned on like a tap ... no beginning or end, shape or intelligent and intelligible control". Thomas spoke no foreign language, first went abroad when he was 32, and had a taste for westerns and cheap thrillers.”

One feels, like a chill coming on, that sooner or later someone will roll out Johnson’s judgment on the poems of Ossian: "Sir, a man might write such stuff forever, if he would abandon his mind to it."

In fact, of course, nobody has ever successfully written a Dylan Thomas poem except Dylan Thomas – and even he lost the knack at the end of his life, poor sod. What academics suspect is that Thomas’ poetry is all effect – the marvelous words end up echoing no larger substance. While I have some sympathy for the idea that poems should be separated from their mere effects, a little moderation, please. Academia has now created, in creative writing programs all over the world, poetry that has no effect whatsoever. Striving to be pure, it has become purely forgettable. Too often, very very smart people will confess that they read no poetry whatsoever.For which, frankly, I blame contemporary poets, who should make a collective prison break out of the world of teaching. Do anything else.

I like a poem that, at some point, I can say to myself. That moment of saying the poem to oneself is not all a poem is about, but without it, the poem has no skin, no place where the nerves end. Anatomical dolls are not our idea of beauty.

J.S. Mill, as we know from his Autobiography, was saved from the horrid erudition shoveled on his head by his pa by poetry – specifically, Wordsworth’s. He tried to define poetry in an interestingly wrong headed essay, making, among other distinctions, this one between poetry and fiction:

“Many of the greatest poems are in the form of fictitious narratives; and, in almost all good serious fictions, there is true poetry. But there is a radical distinction between the interest felt in a story as such, and the - excited by poetry; for the one is derived from incidence, the other from the representation of feeling. In one, the source of the emotion excited is the exhibition of a state or states of human sensibility; in the other of a series of states of mere outward circumstances. Now, all minds are capable of being affected more or less by representations of the latter kind, and or almost all, by those of the former; yet the two sources of interest correspond to two distinct and (as respects their greatest development) mutually exclusive characters of mind.

“At what age is the passion for a story, for almost any kind of story, merely as a story, the most intense? In childhood. But that also is the age at which poetry, even of the simplest description, is least relished and least understood; because the feelings with which it is especially conversant are yet undeveloped, and, not having been even in the slightest degree experienced, cannot be sympathized with. In what stage of the progress of society, again, is story-telling most valued, and the story-teller in greatest request and honor? In a rude state like that of the Tartars and Arabs at this day, and of almost all nations in the earliest ages. But, in this state of society, there is little poetry except ballads, which are mostly narrative, --that is, essentially stories,--and derive their principal interest from the incidents. Considered as poetry, they are of the lowest and most elementary kind: the feelings depicted, or rather indicated, are the simplest our nature has; such joys and griefs as the immediate pressure of some outward event excites in rude minds, which live wholly immersed in outward things, and have never, either from choice or a force they could not resist, turned themselves to the contemplation of the world within. Passing now from childhood, and from the childhood of society, to the grown-up men and women of this most grown-up and unchild-like age, the minds and hearts of greatest depth and elevation are commonly those which take greatest delight in poetry: the shallowest and emptiest, on the contrary, are, at all events, not those least addicted to novel-reading. This accords, too, with all analogous experience of human nature. The sort of persons whom not merely in books, but in their lives, we find perpetually engaged in hunting for excitement from without, are invariably those who do not possess, either in the vigor of their intellectual powers or in the depth of their sensibilities, that which would enable them to find ample excitement nearer home. The most idle and frivolous persons take a natural delight in fictitious narrative: the excitement it affords is of the kind which comes from without. Such persons are rarely lovers of poetry, though they may fancy themselves so because they relish novels in verse. But poetry, which is the delineation of the deeper and more secret workings of human emotion, is interesting only to those to whom it recalls what they have felt, or whose imagination it stirs up to conceive what they could feel, or what they might have been able to feel, had their outward circumstances been different.”

This seems to me to get one of the main things right – the last sentence especially – but the main thing wrong, as well as the anthropology. Children love verse that tells no tale, but sounds funny or interesting, for one thing. As for the rude people's line, our friend at Brooding Persian probably could tell us a little bit about that. The main thing, though, is that Mill gets entangled in the distinction between emotion and incident. This is a familiar and endlessly tugged against trap. I think it is just the wrong way to talk about poetry. Mill is not alone, of course – Eliot has a similar notion, and the distinction has had a long and hale life that continues today. With nefarious consequences, insofar as it empties out what we can say when we talk about a poem.

Myself, I prefer to think of poems in terms of orientation, or maps. Pound's periplum. What does this mean?

Let me explain by way of an illustration. There is a story in Oliver Sacks The Man who Mistook Himself for a Hat. A music professor was examined by Sacks. The professor was, according to all tests, physically blind. The blindness was caused by the deterioration of the retina. Yet the man claimed to be able to see. In order to understand the case, Sacks went to the man’s home. And, indeed, he seemed to get around the house, and to say things about the house, which only a man with sight could similarly do and say. Or so Sacks thought. Then they had dinner, and Sacks noticed, during dinner, that the professor was “singing” the dinner to himself. He had a song, a sort of hum, that he used to orient himself to all the things on the table.

This is what poetry does for me. Bruce Chatwin, in The Song-Lines, recounts (with, perhaps, some exaggeration) that Australian aborigines, who have widely varying languages, are nevertheless able to sing directions to each other, since the directions are encoded in the intonations, and not the words, of their songs. Chatwin cites an anthropologist who was so fascinated by this cultural ability that he began to apply the song-line principle to poetry in Europe, claiming that the Odyssey was a song-line.

Well, the latter seems a little fantastic, but as a principle, this corresponds to part of what I get from poetry. And this orienting moment is what I would call the "poetry" in fiction -- not sentences highly spiced with adverbs, or that drift from specificity into spindrift.

At this point in the post, I wanted to get to Mina Loy, some of whose Lost Lunar Baedecker is published on the web at this site. But I’ll postpone that – since humanity can only bear a certain length in blog posts, n’est-ce pas?
....

As we splutter to set up the LI donation week, or month, we were pleased to get fifty dollars from a donor yesterday. We will soon be putting up more info. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Looking around the blogosphere, I see many fine and solid whacks at the Bush administration’s plan to gut social security. On all the standard left leaning sites -- Angry Bear, or Max Sawicky, or Brad DeLong, or Matt Yglesias – arguments are being forged that will surely be at the heart of the Democratic counter-attack. They all conclusively demonstrate that the Bush administration’s figures are outrageously cooked to make social security seem like it is in crisis. They demonstrate that the figures are also internally inconsistent, cranking out returns on private investment that depend on robust growth in the GDP and at the same time cranking out anemic and dire growth in the Social security fund, based on bad or no growth in the GDP over the same period.

Yet, LI has a sinking feeling that this strategy won’t work. Why? Because it hasn’t worked before. Combating a Bush program by saying it isn’t so seems to have had zero success in the past.

Meanwhile, in another world – the real one – there is a real pension crisis. Elaine Chow (Bush’s labor secretary – how’s that for a Trivial Pursuits answer?) unveiled a startlingly sensible plan to deal with the 23 billion dollar deficit in the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Here’s the beginning of the Time’s story from yesterday:

“Overhaul Plan For Pensions Is Outlined. (Business/Financial Desk) Mary Williams Walsh.

The Bush administration outlined an ambitious plan on Monday to shore up America's pension funds and the federal agency that insures them, calling for a sharp increase in premiums for pension insurance and new controls on how companies with poor credit ratings should handle their plans.

Under the plan, the premiums that companies must pay to insure their defined-benefit pension plans would rise for the first time since 1991, to $30 a year for each active worker and retiree in the plan from the current $19. In the future, the premium rate would also be indexed, to rise with wages.

That would make a dent in the record $23.3 billion deficit of the insurance program, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. But the administration also intends to charge even higher premiums to companies with credit ratings below investment grade. Such a move would further increase the agency's revenue and give companies an incentive to keep their pension plans in line with what they can afford to pay.
Companies with below-investment-grade credit ratings would also have to meet a higher standard for funding pension plans.”

In LI’s humble opinion, a successful strategy to fight for social security would begin with an attack, not a defense. The attack would outline the crisis in pensions at all the Fortune 500 companies, mentioning the bigger ones by name. It would rack up the deficits accrued by these companies with the zest of a carny shilling a shooting gallery. It would point out that those deficits were accrued by companies that hired the brightest investment experts. It would point out that, due to unexpected shifts in the investment landscape, the government, i.e. the taxpayer, is ending up paying out for the mistakes of the best and brightest, while millions are getting 10 cents to the dollar on their supposedly secure pensions. And it would then accuse the Bushies of turning Social security over to the same daytraders.

You’ll pay for it three times over, this campaign would intone. Once in the budget deficits the plan entails, putting the country a trillion dollars more in the red. Once in the losses compounded by daytrading your FICA. And once in covering those losses through your taxes. Three strikes and this plan is out.

That, of course, is the most malicious way to look at Bush’s proposal. And the catchiest.

This suggestion will not, we predict, be used by the Democrats. Why? Because it would involve naming, however delicately, real corporations as mismanagers of their workers’ money. It is one thing to fight vaguely named “corporate interests”. Corps smile upon that, and will still shell out for campaign donations. But the rule in contemporary America, with two parties representing primarily the Fortune 500, and only distantly the unwashed, is that you never ever ever name a corporation. You never out it. You never shame it. Unless it is already bankrupt, like Enron, and thus unable to hire your relatives, your friends, your spouse, and, potentially, after your ‘retirement from public service”, yourself, you treat it like the apple of your eye and the best thing that ever came into your community to garner tax benefits, bust your unions, and pay you minimum wages.

Oh well. LI will throw out the idea, anyway.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Polls

Normally, we don’t read David Brooks column in the NYT. However, because the discontinuance of the failed U.S. effort in Iraq is going to depend on how the right paints a smiley face over the retreat, we read Brooks column today – Brooks being a specialist in smiley faced conservatism.

We were surprised to read this, however:


“The newspaper Sabah recently published a poll of 4,974 Iraqis living in and around Baghdad. Nearly 88 percent support military action against the terrorists. A survey by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies suggests that the insurgents' archfoe, the prime minister Ayad Allawi, is the most popular prospective leader in the land.”


So we went to Al-Sabah. Admittedly, the site LI went to was obviously translated into English, which made the article summaries seem amateurish. However, the English doesn’t seem to be the problem in the way Al-Sabah does polls. Here’s a report on an Al-Sabah poll:

MOST IRAQIS PREFER CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: POLL
Baghdad , As-Sabah, Sept8 , Page1


The general polls held by different parties and centers interested in studying the directions of the Iraqi public opinion indicated that the majority of Iraqi people %84 , 56prefer strong central government in Baghdad while %56 , 26prefer a government in Baghdad consisted of representatives of different regions , nationalities , tribes and Iraqi sects.The polls added that %55 , 7support granting great authorities for the Iraqi regions . Finally about63 , 3are willing to dissolve the central government and connect Iraqi regions with treaties .The polls are further indicated that the majority of Iraqi people %06 , 56prefer an integrated Iraq . Meanwhile,80 , 7said that Iraq is an Arab country on the1 st position . The majority of Iraqi people held the government grand responsibility in interesting in the citizens' causes.”

The confusions of that paragraph are nothing compared to the confusions surrounding who runs Al Sabah. Last February, most of the team running Al Sabah resigned. They were protesting the takeover of the newspaper by a CPA hired consultant, Harris communications.

“When on February 14, 2004 Harris took over from its predecessor SAIC, Al-Sabah was ready to stand on its own feet. In the last days of SAIC in Baghdad, a new printing press was bought to replace the 35 years old machines of the former regime.
With that printing press Al-Sabah could start its life without any further financial support.

Pseudo-independence

To our surprise Harris Corp did everything to prevent Al-Sabah from becoming independent and tried to sell us the idea that Al-Sabah would be independent as part of the IMN. On paper, Iraqi television and radio have been declared independent through decree 66, and with them, on Harris' request, Al-Sabah. In reality the so-called Iraqi Public Service Broadcasting will be not only dependent on foreign funding but run by a foreign company that has refused from the beginning any transparency in its dealings with Iraqi entities.

Al-Sabah newspaper can also not accept to be under the control of a Board of Governors appointed first by governor Bremer, and later Iraq's prime minister, let alone accept, as decree 66 stipulates, that the Director General of the IMN will also be the formal editor in chief of Al-Sabah.”

The flurry of stories about the U.S. funded Al Sabah died down, however. Forgetting is always a stage on the way to healing. And healing, here, is promoted by blowing back a U.S. government founded and funded propaganda organ as a real newspaper, and spreading news from it in the U.S. via the biggest newspaper in the U.S., the NYT.
There is some dreadful rock song in the back of my mind which contains the lyrics, Smiling faces. Ah, I’ve found it – Joan Osborne! What am I saying, dreadful.

And the lyrics go:

I tell you, you can't see behind smiling faces
Smiling faces sometimes they don't tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof


Monday, January 10, 2005

Via a clever blog we are adding to our links (the King of Zembla), we came upon this article from Newsweek about the “Salvador option” in Iraq – train death squads, murder selectively and unselectively. In general, the plan, as Newsweek describes it – including the incursions into Syria – is to act like Americans have traditionally acted in Central America.


LI put it like this, back in November of last year:

“Given that the model in Iraq is the same model the U.S. has pursued in Central and South America, LI’s hope, floating somewhere in the distant future, is that Iraq will go through the furnace of the American occupation with its major industry and structure intact – a state owned petroleum company at the center of it – and resolutely and democratically break with the logic of neo-liberalism. It is a continuing astonishment to LI that Vietnam (or, on the right, WWII) have been the template comparisons for a black bag op that has all the indices of the usual slimy Latin American intervention, right down to Negroponte, the mollusk pulling the strings from the American embassy. In fact, we are pretty confident that the most successful American reconstruction project in Iraq will be the CIA’s cheerful attempt to get the torturers rolling again with its hands on aid to the Mukhabarat.”

...

This morning we read Nick Cohen’s usual romp n stomp against the Stop the War people for not denouncing the killing of one of Iraq’s major labor leaders. Of course, glancing around the Net we found a different story, best told by the U.S. Labor Against the War site, which, contra Cohen, condemns Hadi Salah’s murder even as it preserves Hadi Salah’s message, compassionately suppressed by Cohen.


“The ultimate source of violence in Iraq is the US occupation. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war. Salih's murder does not bring this end one step closer. Instead, it seeks to terrorize Iraq's labor movement, and other parts of its civil society, to keep them from seeking any peaceful means of gaining political power in the interest of its working people.

In the past three months, IFTU members and rank-and-file workers have been murdered and kidnapped as they tried to carry out normal union activity, or simply do their jobs. On November 3, four railroad workers were killed, and their bodies mutilated. On December 25, two other train drivers were kidnapped, and five other workers beaten. On the night of December 26, the building of the Transport and Communications Workers in central Baghdad was shelled. Together with the assassination of Hadi Salih, these horrifying crimes are making Iraq as dangerous a place for union activists as Colombia.”

It is interesting to watch the coalition between certain left intellectuals and the most reactionary elements in the U.S. and Britain. The intellectuals have zero power of leavening the reactionaries with progressive ideas; rather, the larger mass exerts its inevitable gravitational pull, and down the lefty spirals, in a serial surrender of one conviction after another, like a shot pigeon losing feathers.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

LI, having a soft spot in our lungs, er, our heart for unfairly treated corporate behemoths – takes up the case of two victims today: W.R. Grace and Dresser.

W.R. Grace is mentioned by an article in this week’s Chemical Market Reporter, in an article hailing – or salivating over -- the coming breakthrough in Tort “Reform” legislation, in which little litigants everywhere will be forced to cram their iron lungs, their expensive pills, and their seedy little declining lives, as well as those of their worthless children, up their asses. These people have the gall to expect justice in a system that is built for profit. But as the CMR explains, breathlessly:

“Over 70 companies have been forced into bankruptcy by asbestos, including W.R. Grace & Co., and the problem seems to be growing as new claims continue to pour into the legal system.”

Now, that must hurt Bush-ites everywhere. Remember Reagan’s favorite entrepreneur, J. Peter Grace? Remember the award for ceos – the Grace award – given for outstanding service in the ripping off of the citizenry? Remember the town of Libby, Montana? That state that went whole heartedly for Mission Accomplished in the last election?

Here’s the first three grafs of a review of a book about Libby, written by a Mother Jones staffer, Andrea Peacock.

“It's never been easy to make a living in Libby, Mont. Citizens in this town of 12,000, tucked into the dense, damp conifer forests of northwestern Montana, have long scraped by on seasonal logging jobs and other sporadic work. So in the 1920s, when local entrepreneur Edward Alley discovered that a nearby vermiculite deposit yielded an efficient, lightweight insulation and fireproofing material, Libbyites were thrilled.

For decades, the mine -- dubbed Zonolite, like the brand-name insulation it produced -- offered the best jobs in town. Townspeople bragged that their local product had "a hundred and one uses"; they put it in their garden soil and their Little League ball fields, and said it could even be used to make mold-resistant whole-wheat bread. When the Zonolite mine was sold to the multinational company W.R. Grace in 1963, not much changed for the Libby workers. Vermiculite mining and processing was hard work, and terribly dusty, but the mine jobs continued to pay better, and last longer, than anything else around.

In the 1970s, some current and former mine workers started to notice some shortness of breath; gradually, they became tethered to oxygen tanks and bound to their homes. Some developed rare, excruciating cancers. Worse, their wives, kids, and even some Libby residents with no connection to the mine started to develop similar symptoms. Only a few doctors recognized the lesions on their patients' lungs for what they were: the signature symptom of asbestosis. It took dozens of painful deaths for Libby residents to admit that "their" company, W.R. Grace, had knowingly allowed its mine workers, its mine managers, and their families and neighbors to be poisoned with tremolite, a particularly nasty form of asbestos contained in Libby's vermiculite deposit.”

The disaster at Libby was revealed by a series of Seattle Post-Intelligencer articles . Excuse me for mentioning a po-dunk newspaper from Seattle – we should be keeping our eye on sophisticated news analysis of trial lawyers and such, as is purveyed by the Washington Post’s excellent Peter Baker, who has taken the simple expedient of not mixing tawdry stories of asbestos death with the really important news about the funding of political parties. I mean, that’s like mixing up Jerry Springer and some PBS news show! Let’s keep these things separate.
But LI, redneck to the last, doesn’t understand that program. We think that when, say 500 or so people die in a town due to a danger covered up by that town’s major employer, W.R. Grace, we should even look outside established news sources towards the po-dunk and the kooky. The editors of the WP must laugh to think that 500 or so people drowning in their lungs could even compare, in tragedy, to 70 corporations going bankrupt – why, the latter is tragedy on a national scale.

That is why we are blessed with a president who knows what is fair and what is “unfair.’ And when something is unfair, we must reform it. Reform is such a nice word. We are eager to see the Bank Robbery Reform act get through congress this year, too – you know, the one that doesn’t punish bank robbers for the unfortunate collateral casualties caused in the course of their profitable activities. It is, as our President would say, unfair to blame them – plus, look how many bank robbers have to spend thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves in court!

As for poor Dresser – well, it all goes back to another Red State, the reddest – Alabama. Dresser was sued by five lousy employees of U.S. Pipe. This crew of weaklings developed cancers of the colon, asbestosis, and other so called diseases and some of them croaked before Bell vs. Dresser could finish. They had the gall to claim that spraying asbestos products sold by Dresser using equipment by Dresser had something to do with the obviously naturally occuring disease, asbestosis, and got a jury of gulls to believe them. If our president has had to walk the Stations of the Cross (and surely, as a son of Jesus Christ once removed, he has had to take up his cross, as a good Christian), his heart must have been wrung at the ungodly sum of 138 million the jury charged Dresser. And Dresser was only partly responsible, after all – it was their wholly owned and then spun off subsidiary, Harbison Walker Refractories, that mined the asbestos and used it in its products! HW, by the way, kindly put warning labels on its products in 1979 – although they had, admittedly, just a teensy bit of knowledge years beforehand that asbestos led to cancer

Well, company officials must feel pretty rueful. If they had just shelled out enough for a paint job on those peoples' trailors, that should have been enough. These aren’t golden parachute people, after all. As it is, Tort Reform is now more necessary than ever – otherwise, we will be taking money from productive people, people who run derivatives, people who have inherited wealth, blue bloods, Harvard graduates, and giving it to icky people from God knows where who are merely dying from asbestos poisoning. What type of economy would do that?