“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, July 02, 2005

Geneology of suicide bombing

Usually, the history of suicide bombing draws a straight line between kamikazes and Palestinians with bombs strapped to their belt. What this skips is the defense postures of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R in the pre-intercontinental period. Watching Fail Safe last week, it struck me that the whole posture depended on delivering bombs from aircraft manned by soldiers who accepted the fact that bomb delivery would be equivalent to suicide. In other words, suicide bombers.

These were the avant garde. After the development of long range missiles, they were replaced by suicide populations. One assumes that the posture died – but it is amazing what can be carried forward, all unconsciously – history is, after all, in Marx’s image, and Kafka’s, and Bataille’s, the great burrowing mole, operating under our feet. The commitment to suicide was tied by a thousand economic incentives to the commitment to prosperity. Live longer through suicide – the motto of the twentieth century.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Why LI is no radical:

LI has been pondering a question: when Jack White screams “Take… take … take” in the song of the same name on the latest White Stripes album, why is it that I would trade that moment for the collected works of Jorie Graham and Jonathan S. Foer and a half a dozen other writers? Why is it that that scream seems to me to come from the tumultuous collective parasitic heart – the heart that beats in me – in this epoch of the American decay, in this culture that has ensured that your average Babbit can get through, year after year, using up as much energy as the largest beast ever to stalk the landmasses and leaving behind, as his little value added to the betterment of all nature’s kingdoms, excrement and crushed to-go cups?

Oh, and hypocrite lecteur, I’m that beast too, the leech in my heart keeps screaming take… take… take, as if this was the natural order, and I was actually owed. Owed. Nobody believes that it will someday end, that the account will be finished. No, we are the end of evolution, we are going to live nano-afterlives. Right. I don’t really need some putative survivors to tell me that the life more abundant has turned into the cruelest joke that ever stifled generosity in its crib. LI knows it. Every peasant Jesus’ dream is realized, now, in any destination store you want to aim your SUV at; so why is it all so much value added excrement? Why is it that something better didn’t happen?

It didn’t, though. Take… take… take…

another fine mess...

In the preface to Heartbreak House, Shaw wrote:

“Only those who have lived through a first-rate war, not in the field, but at home, and kept their heads, can possibly understand the bitterness of Shakespeare and Swift, who both went through this experience. The horror of Peer Gynt in the madhouse, when the lunatics, exalted by illusions of splendid talent and visions of a dawning millennium, crowned him as their emperor, was tame in comparison.”

Ah, but if Shaw had lived through a second rate war by a first rate power led by fourth rate con men – then he would have been able to brag. Not the earth opening up to eat the European generations, perhaps (the earth has only opened up to eat the Iraqi generations, after all ): but not all cataclysms come on the same scale. Ford Maddox Ford’s phrase, in the Good Soldier (a mouse dying of cancer is the whole story of the fall of the Roman Empire) is, perhaps, more apposite. It is the small lump that sometimes announces the upcoming death.

So it is not a wonder that a story like this – a story that indicates what mad, bad people ride mankind, at the moment, with their D.C. cocktail party plans for world domination coordinate with such halfwit organizational skills as to render them unfit for planning a child’s birthday party – is passed over in silence. This is from two days ago, in the Washington Post. Of course, it was buried on page A19:

“The Bush administration disclosed yesterday that it had vastly underestimated the number of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and warned that the health care programs will be short at least $2.6 billion next year unless Congress approves additional funds.
Veterans Affairs budget documents projected that 23,553 veterans would return this year from Iraq and Afghanistan and seek medical treatment. However, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson told a Senate committee that the number has been revised upward to 103,000 for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. He said the original estimates were based on outdated assumptions from 2002.”

Oh, and of course, the Administration knew all of this as they watched Senator Murray’s attempt, a month ago, to add money to the V.A. go down in Republican approved flames. They simply didn’t want to disclose the underestimate during a period when it would get publicity.

Why they bother puzzles me. As if the media has not, by now, become organically incapable of exercising any critical power whatsoever. The terrible beauty of the Iraq war is in how it makes us see the immense rot at the heart of America’s ‘meritocracy’ – this is an elite that well deserves its inevitable downfall, even if it is paid for by other people’s deaths. These people have passed all the tests in the American system. The tests are, as we suspected, absolutely worthless.

Let’s see, what did the oracles at the WP last say about Iraq?

“Fortunately, most Americans appear to have a hardheaded appreciation of the problems and stakes in Iraq. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that most do not believe the administration's claims of progress, but a majority still is willing to support an extended stay by U.S. forces.”

Ah, that ‘fortunately’ – shored up by the systematic misinforming of the American public by papers like, well, the Washington Post. Reading the WP editorial board on Iraq is like reading a review of a cookbook by a convicted poisoner – it is an essay in moral obliquity enlivened by grotesque juxtapositions.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

old fashioned family values

LI is a pro-drugs site. It is a pro-sex site. It is a pro-hedonism site. We stand upon the principle that you should be able to put whatever chemicals get you high in your bloodstream once you reach the age of maturity; and that you should be able to sell said chemicals, under the kind of regulations common to such commodities, without fear of arrest. No ifs, ands or buts.

The history of drug bans goes back to the temperance and progressive movements in the 1900s in the U.S. – the country that drove the whole international prohibition movement. Certainly the Brits and the French, with their lucrative opium businesses, were not enthusiasts for the regime of coercive sobriety that enthused the Yankees. Recently, we’ve been reading a very entertaining history of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (remembered, if at all, for whipping up the reefer madness hysteria). The Strength of the Wolf by Douglas Valentine, is a gold mine of the old weird America – the legendary weave of national security thugs, narcs, drug dealers, Mafioso, and politicians which conspiracy groupies love to ponder, the world within a world of the Lee Harvey Oswald character in Libra, the fascoid underbelly of the American Dream, if your version of the American Dream is the Black Dahlia.

Valentine makes us realize that the government and business derived two advantages from the banning of narcotics. One was realized early on: black money could be used to support surreptitious foreign policy. As early as the twenties, the U.S. government was cooperating with the Nationalist Chinese government to import opium into the U.S., washing the money back to our anti-communist friends among the Nationalist fascists. If Mao Zedong had failed to unseat the Nationalists, we would look back on Chiang Kai Shek as one of the great mass murderers of the twentieth century, behind Hitler and Stalin. Unfortunately for China, his millions are cast into the shadow by Mao’s more millions. Typically, the tension between the American policy of supporting the Nationalists and supporting prohibition created a structurally disastrous system of corruption that ultimately helped destroy the Nationalists, but not before it had spread the network of abetting narcotics and banning them all over Southeast Asia. Poison tutti frutti. The U.S. has pretty much gone with the same model ever since: the Mafia in Sicily in WWII, the Laotian warlord/opium dealers, the Contra coke-runners, Afghani poppy farmers – it is all a golden braid.
LI naively thought that the other advantage was mere coincidence – the proliferation of true dope by way of “legitimate” pharmaceutical companies. Apparently this wasn’t just an unexpected synergy – the FBN cultivated its contacts with big pharma. Every dope head tells some story about how driving out marijuana and letting in tranquillizers is a sort of master plan. This is not a myth – or not only a myth – but a dim memory, much as the memories that collected around barrows over the cliffs near the Bosphorus sorted themselves out in a tale of gods and heroes. In an age in which big pharma routinely reaches down to the elementary school level (in schools that put up signs with the wonderfully brazen lie, Drug Free Zone, under which the dispense colorful attention and mood alterers like M and Ms to the six year old to twelve year old set), I suppose it is naïve to suppose this has all been a big coincidence. Still, it is a bit shocking to realize that Anslinger, the head of the FBN, was instrumental in revising the League of Nation’s accords on pharmaceuticals to open up the international market. There is nothing like knowing that yesterday’s narc was moonlighting for yesterday’s makers of prototype barbs and diet pills to make the paranoia and night sweat of someone like Burroughs seem like the most naturalistic and reasonable response to the historic circumstances.

PS – the counter-recruitment folks out there shouldn’t be too worried by this Washington Post story that the Army met its recruitment goals in June. It met them by cutting down the goals to meet them. From an earlier WP story:

"The Army will make a "monumental effort" to bring in the average 10,000 recruits a month required this summer, said Maj. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, head of the Army's recruiting command. An additional 500 active-duty recruiters will be added in the next two months -- on top of an increase of 1,000 earlier this year."

If the 10,000 mark is used, the Army fell short by about 4,000.

Starving the beast is a long journey, but step by step will stop the flow of WMD to Bush and his criminal gang.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

be like Bush!

Although LI thinks William Saletan is mostly a (what is the polite word here?)… an idiot, he has written the only sensible article about Bush’s speech. Basically, Saletan gets it:

“We're "helping Iraqis rebuild their nation's infrastructure and economy," Bush said tonight. "Rebuilding a country after three decades of tyranny is hard, and rebuilding while at war is even harder. ... We're improving roads and schools and health clinics. We're working to improve basic services like sanitation, electricity, and water. And together with our allies, we'll help the new Iraqi government deliver a better life for its citizens."

Deliver a better life for its citizens. Is it any mystery why polls have turned against the occupation? The people being polled are Americans. The people deriving a "better life" are Iraqis. Bush spent half the speech obscuring this gap. He equated Iraqi terrorists with the 9/11 hijackers and kept insisting that we're fighting for "our" freedom and security. But that spin lost its force long ago, when Saddam's weapons of mass destruction failed to materialize, forcing Bush to reframe the war as a democracy-spreading project. It's a noble war, but it's noble because it's altruistic. And people get tired of altruism.”

Now, LI thinks that it is an imperialist war, not an altruistic one, an ignoble piece of political grandstanding in ocean’s of other people’s blood enacted by a pampered, preening crowd of D.C. eggheads and carnivores – but the main point stands. The U.S. has absolutely no reason to be delivering a better life for Iraq’s citizens. Any old time conservative who has read Hayek could tell you that the U.S. is unlikely ever to deliver a better life for Iraq’s citizens – that Iraq can do that much better. In fact, under Saddam Hussein, Iraq recovered from a much more devastating war with Iran quicker than it is recovering today. This isn’t because the Ba’athist command and control regime was more efficient, but because it was more embedded – it could capture Iraq’s tacit knowledge, which is the way systems work.

When LI is in a generous mood and not viewing the leadership of the Democratic party with the disgust we usually reserve for those bizarre species of parasites that life cycle through pigeons and mosquitoes, we realize that the Dem paralysis stems, partly, from a kneejerk reaction to Bush’s old fashioned liberalism in Iraq – it gets the old New Deal juices flowing. LI is a fan of the New Deal too. We are strong believers, around here, in the Keynesian economic model. We think the libertarian dream of a stateless economy has been shredded by history – in the same way that the socialist dream of a command and control economy has been shredded by history. But New Deals can only be carried out by the natives – be they American, German or Japanese.

The Downing Street memo should have made it plain to all by now. In 2001, the Bush administration decided to spend any amount on an adventure in Iraq. That amount will probably be around half a trillion dollars, if not more. Why the Dems don’t simply run on this fact is an astonishment and a proof of their terminal condition, an institutional tabes dorsalis. Why any taxpayer in Missouri should devote a goodly chunk of their salary to the installation of an electric generating plant in a place that could easily borrow the funds to do so itself (having one of the great oil reserves on earth) is beyond comprehension. At the same time, of course, we are being told that we can’t afford social security, and that the government that borrowed from the Social Security fund, i.e. the U.S. government under George Bush, just might not pay it back.

As we wrote yesterday, we are going to try to remember to advertise the counter-enlistment program in every post. Here’s the link to Counter Recruitment.net. Remember, just advise people who are thinking about enlisting to listen to what the President had to say about Vietnam: “The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions…” George Bush was right about that. Use your President as a role model and DO NOT enlist for this war.

After all, Bush's successful career shows that if you put raw and rancid self interest over sentimental patriotism in your life, you too, can become president of the greatest country in the world, and help to systematically destroy it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

the just say no resistance

If you want to know why the Democrats will most likely blow the best chance they’ve had in a decade in 2006, read the Kerry op ed in the NYT. It is of his special “I voted for it before I voted against it” brand of politics – one that so delights the D.C. power pointers. Basically, Kerry is taking the position of supporting everything Bush stands for, in Iraq, behind pseudo-tough talk about the Bush mistakes. As for a timetable to leave the country – like in the next six months – forget it. The Kerry plan is an infinite process plan, a perpetual filibuster filled with Iraqi and American corpses.

However, much more interesting is the op ed by Lucian Truscott about the coming apart of the military’s middle ranks. Truscott wrote a memoir of his West Point training, which occurred just as Nixon’s ‘secret plan’ for Vietnam was in its Cheney-esque “last throes.” Truscott’s idea is that West Point is special because of the code to which officer trainees must swear:

“But the honor code was not just a way to fight a better war. In the Army, soldiers are given few rights, grave responsibilities, and lots and lots of power. The honor code serves as the Bill of Rights of the Army, protecting soldiers from betraying one another and the rest of us from their terrifying power to destroy. It is all that stands between an army and tyranny.

However, the honor code broke down before our eyes as staff and faculty jobs at West Point began filling with officers returning from Vietnam. Some had covered their uniforms with bogus medals and made their careers with lies - inflating body counts, ignoring drug abuse, turning a blind eye to racial discrimination, and worst of all, telling everyone above them in the chain of command that we were winning a war they knew we were losing. The lies became embedded in the curriculum of the academy, and finally in its moral DNA.”

And this is what he thinks is happening all over again:

“The mistake the Army made then is the same mistake it is making now: how can you educate a group of handpicked students at one of the best universities in the world and then treat them as if they are too stupid to know when they have been told a lie?

I've seen the results firsthand. I have met many lieutenants who have served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, practically back to back. While everyone in a combat zone is risking his or her life, these junior officers are the ones leading foot patrols and convoys several times a day. Recruiting enough privates for the endless combat rotations is a problem the Army may gamble its way out of with enough money and a struggling economy. But nothing can compensate for losing the combat-hardened junior officers.”

Resistance by way of the established parties is futile. There isn’t enough courage in the whole of the House and Senate to fuel the revolution of an oiled wheel in a gerbil cage. Tearful apologies about offending the chickehawk crowd are more in order. Remember, the best resistance is simply not to go along. Here, again – perhaps LI should make this our sign off line – is the counter-recruitment site: Youth and the Military.
To paraphrase the VP, "We have other priorities in the '00s than military service." Remember, joining the army is simply another opportunity for hawks at home to get ahead: they will take your jobs, your education, and your comfortable life. They will leave you with bitterness, medical bills, and recurring trauma. It isn’t worth it. Friends don't let friends sign up.

ps -- LI wrote that post and then went to Slate, where we had the pleasure of seeing this site's resident scarecrow and jack of all popinjays, C. Hitchens, has written a nice little column that should be entitled, "let the servants fight the war while I drink with Bungalow Paul W. in Georgetown." Totally funny. It is almost an anti-recruitment ad in itself.

Die bungy cord jumping. Die drinking and driving. Die in a drug deal gone bad. But don't die for this filthy crowd. They aren't worth a hangnail.

Monday, June 27, 2005

the bush culture version of free enterprise

This Sunday, the Austin Statesman’s A section (which should be called, 'the scrapbook of two day old news from the Washington Post, the NYT, and Knight Rider' section, since there is very little original reporting in it) did have a nice big story about Buda’s new attraction: a Cabela’s.

Buda is a country town maybe a fifteen minute drive from Austin, in Hays County. Cabela’s is an outfitter store – but it bills itself as more than a store. It is a store experience, with aquariums, an in the store mini-mountain, and the like. The story is a good example of what the Bush culture means by free enterprise. Enterprise should free itself of costs by putting them on third parties – notably, the state.

With admirable lobbying skill, Cabela has received both positive payment from the state – in cash -- and negative inkind benefits from tax breaks. Plus, there are the agreements to extend Loop 4 for access to Cabela. Plus the various complicated clauses having to do with land use ceded to Cabela by Buda on which Cabela has the option to buy. It has been, all around, a beautiful deal.
One could put together the pieces from the Statesman article, and admire the jigsaw puzzle of corporationism, cronyism and boomerism coming together in one trifecta. First, of course, the state has to convince itself that it needs to give a corporation money. And to do that it needs a study. A study it got. This study said that Cabela’s in Buda would become the second biggest tourist attraction in Texas. That we are supposed to believe that an outfitter store in Buda will become a Disneyland like magnet, given that Texas is now starting to crawl with outfitter stores, is one of the ways that business is like poetry: the suspension of our disbelief is strongly advised.

Now, if I make a study that shows I’m going to make a heap of money and attract millions of customers to my store, according to Economics 101, I ought to be able to get money on the private markets and go ahead with my gangbuster plans. This is why Economics 101 is about useless as a map to modern capitalism. Instead, such studies are the wonderful excuse needed by state lobbyfed legislators to take the money that they can’t find for, say, healthcare and shovel it into a profitable enterprise. So Cabela’s gets a little Texas sugar right off the bat: $600,000 from the state. Just to show our appreciation. But the study implies that Cabela’s has magic powers. Anywhere a Cabela’s lands, apparently, people flock to it and how. So the Buda location has to compete. Can’t get those sweet sites without a little more sugar.

There's something a little disconcerting about this. Surely San Antonio could drum up its own outfitter destination store for half the price. And how deep, exactly, is Cabela's magic spell, given that it is setting up competition for itself all over the Southwest? In fact, this seems to be Cabela's business plan. It is the kind of business plan that could have been designed by an old fashioned leech (Hirudo medicinalis). Cabela’s, it appears, while magically attractive, does have an odd view of where its money comes from, according to SEC filings published by the Texas Observer:

“In SEC filings, the company admits that it counts on government at both the state and municipal level for “free land,” “monetary grants,” and economic development bonds for the “recapture of incremental sales, property or other taxes.” So reliant is Cabela’s on generous government handouts and tax breaks that “the failure to obtain similar economic development packages … would have an adverse impact on our cash flows and on the return on investment in these stores.”

Hays country is using an instrument called tax increment financing in order to put Cabela’s on the welfare train. This allows a local government to publicly fund “needed structural improvements.” Ah, and if those needed structural improvements happen to be a parking lot for the millions of happy tourists flocking into this destination store, so be it. There is nothing odd about any of this. The state is ordinarily used by private enterprises to amplify their profit margins, or to achieve a competitive advantage over their rivals, etc., etc. Positive externalities like this only become controversial when the state wants payback – when, for instance, the state regulates pollution. At this point, the libertarians and conservatives come pouring out of the woodwork, talking about private enterprise and state tyranny. After all, aren't all those fortune 500 ceos self-made men?

Unfortunately, Texas hasn’t yet financed a state tourist destination dedicated to its own hypocrisy. It should. It would attract millions of visitors.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Starve the beast

Starve the beast

There’s a nice interview with a counter-recruitment activist, Clint Coppernoll, at Counterpunch. LI has been behind the curve – we are adding a link to youthandthemilitary which lists counter-recruitment organizations . We were happy to see two groups in Austin, but ... it is frustrating that there are none in Houston, Dallas, S.A. or El Paso. Texas is a big generator of military personnel, and it would be nice to shut down the tap.

Coppernoll is admirably dismissive about the anti-war movement, which has been a vacuum and a comedy, a sort of reductio absurdam of what has been lost as left movements have been institutionalized or annexed by the Democratic party. The results are comparable to what would happen if the Mafia annexed Gamblers Anonymous.

Coppernoll makes an interesting point:

“Dealing with Delayed Enlistment: Most young people enter the military through the Delayed Enlistment Program (sometimes called the Delayed Entry Program). This program allows youth to sign up with a military recruiter for one of the service branches, but receive a report date for basic training for up to a year later. When entering the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), youth sign an enlistment agreement and take an oath of enlistment.

It is very common for young people to change their minds after enlistment in the DEP. A young person may re-evaluate their decision. It is important to realize that up until a young person actually reports for basic training, they can be released from any military obligation.

The official way to gain release is to write a letter to the commanding officer of the recruiting station, explaining one's decision not to report to basic training.”

So, if you know someone who has already enlisted, clue them in: they don’t have to go. The vanity project in Iraq is on its last hundred billion dollar legs. Don’t throw yourself on the funeral pyre. Follow the President's example. He didn't allow a false sense of patriotism to lure him to Vietnam. Sensibly enough, he realized it was a snafu, and he could better spend his time birddogging babes and doing some mild drugs. What better advice could you give to the young people of America today?