“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, March 18, 2006

d.c. linguistics

There was a story on the radio the other day about a new movie, "thank you for smoking," that features a cigarette industry lobbyist as its hero. The cigarette lobbyist does funny things, like, for instance, trying to brand anti-tobacco programs aimed at children with cigarette company names – this anti-smoking film is brought to you by R.J. Reynolds, for example.

In actual fact, the cigarette lobbyist in the film is a tame and pallid version of the real life wild wild D.C. variety. Example:

There’s a story in the WAPO today about the D.C. Federal court overturning one of Bush’s responses to Global Warming – making it easier for coal plants to pollute.

“Under the revised policy that was rejected by the court yesterday, power plants and other industrial polluters would not have to install new pollution technology if they modernized less than 20 percent of their operations.”

What this means, in layman’s terms, is that coal plants simply cannot shift those costs of operations to third parties. As the court put it about the Bush administration’s argument:

“EPA's approach would ostensibly require that the definition of 'modification' include a phrase such as 'regardless of size, cost, frequency, effect,' or other distinguishing characteristic," Rogers wrote. "Only in a Humpty Dumpty world would Congress be required to use superfluous words while an agency could ignore an expansive word that Congress did use. We decline to adopt such a world-view."

And now, here is where the vocabulary of the lobbyists comes in.

“The EPA's statement did not indicate whether the administration intends to appeal the ruling. Both Walke and Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the utilities industry, said it would be difficult for the administration to forge ahead in light of the appeals court's strong ruling. Walke said the decision is tantamount to the court "burying the rule six feet under, where before it was just in a casket."

Segal said the ruling will make it more costly for plants to operate. "This is a missed opportunity for reform that would have made it easier to improve power plant efficiency and workplace safety, and that's bad news for consumers and the environment," he said. "We believe it is a step backwards for the protection of air quality in the United States."

That last sentence is a joy and a treasure, obviously forged in one of the most advanced laboratories in hell. The WAPO wisely ends the article with these words:

So stretcht out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chain'd on the burning Lake, nor ever thence
Had ris'n or heav'd his head, but that the will
And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
Left him at large to his own dark designs,
That with reiterated crimes he might
Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
Evil to others, and enrag'd might see
How all his malice serv'd but to bring forth
Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shewn
On Man by him seduc't, but on himself
Treble confusion, wrath and vengeance pour'd.

Friday, March 17, 2006

our long national nightmare is over

The only thing more frightening to the Iranians than the U.S. leaving Iraq, would be -- and this is my preference -- the U.S. succeeding in Iraq. – Thomas Friedman

These are the times that try men’s souls, but then along comes a man with a message. A surprising message, a message of hope. Sometimes it is Jesus. Sometimes it is Einstein. But this time it is Tom Friedman. His message is a shocker, but it will certain buck up LI’s readers, mired as some of us may be in doubt. The message is: the U.S. should succeed (!) in Iraq.

I mean, it is almost incredible that he was able to print that in the NYT. That’s a supersecret strategy. Apparently he was rushed to the Pentagon right away, and as we write he is putting, in big, bold chalk letters right there on the blackboard for Rumsfeld to see: S-U-C-E-D. This is next to a chalk cloudy S-C-U-D and frantically half erased S-E-C-U-D – our messiah is no pussy speller, bitches. But he is going to get it right, and then, oh heavens, the lights over D.C. will be celestial, the angels will sing, and the cuckoo clocks will cuckoo.

Our long nightmare is over. In a sentence that will ring the chimes forever, like Blessed are the poor in spirit, or E=mc squared, he drives this message home: “So getting out of Iraq would be a good anti-Iran strategy. Succeeding in Iraq would be even better.”

Glory glory hallelujah. Thanks, Tom!

the bloody third -- part 2

Another post (re my post below) from the travelogue of the beginning of this war. A home movie. I'll entitle this clip, "what do you get when you have a sick and narcissistic left?" You get debate on a level that would make the angels -- the departed souls of the babies on the Gerber jars, those boomer emblems -- weep.

March 13, 2003


Comrades one and all....

There's a rather genteel exchange between Doug Ireland and Christopher Hitchens in this week's LA Weekly. It begins, unpromisingly enough, with Ireland writing: "My old friend Christopher Hitchens will be in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 15, for a debate at the Wiltern Theater." The phrase "old friend" pops up with distressing frequency whenever anti-war media people start writing about Hitchens. It's the friendship that blinds them, perhaps, to the kind of figure he is. This kind of transplant from the left to the right is a familiar figure in times of violent reaction. In France in the thirties, Drieu de la Rochelle moved from a radical branch of the Communist party to Nazi sympathizer, leaving behind a similar trail of "old friends." In Drieu's case, his politics had an echo on the national level in Doriot. The political fault lines aren't as hyper-charged at present, but the phenomenon Hitchens could prefigure some similar authoritarian politician -- somebody like McCain.

Ireland is 'shocked' to read that Hitchens gave an interview in which he remarks, casually, that he would have voted for Bush. No surprise there. Ireland, though, finds this all too upsetting, and sets down at his computer and mails his old friend some woolgathering emails that are pallid even by the low standards of the baby boomer New Left. Here, for example, is Ireland arguing that Bush, being against condoms, is for AIDS, and thus for "millions" of more deaths than can possibly be contrived by evil old Saddam.

"The effects of denying people access to condoms and science-based sex ed, not to mention the continuing efforts by the U.S. to blackmail countries on access to AIDS drugs and sabotage the WTO agreement at Doha that public-health crises take precedence over patents, means that millions and millions more will become infected and die between now and 2050, the earliest possible date by which (the scientists now tell us ) we might reasonably begin to hope for an AIDS cure.These are not just people who’ve had sex, but their many children. That’s more than Saddam Hussein has killed, more than will be killed in the coming war (unless Dubya starts chucking around the nukes he has now authorized). There would be a huge difference on this issue between Bush and the likely (from here) Democratic nominee, Kerry. Just in terms of sheer numbers of dead, Kerry trumps Bush (and Saddam) on that one. Yes, I have been a sharp critic of the Democratic leadership, and will continue to be. But to go from that to supporting Bush in ‘04 and publicly urging others to do likewise seems to me to be a rather dangerous excursion into full-blown Stephen Spenderism, and very shortsighted to boot. So I’d ask you a further question: Since you suggest your commitment to social justice is undiminished, from what I have seen of your public expressions, how do you square that with this undiluted support for Bush’s re-election? Do you no longer believe in creating a democratic social-justice movement to work for change (however hopelessly)?I remain your affectionate friend, Doug (for regime change and revolution abroad and at home)"

The lather, the lather. Plus the revolution remark, in perfectly comic juxtaposition with the support for that old Jacobin, Senator Kerry -- an enemy of capitalism if there ever was one! Eventually, Ireland gets over the rubbers issue and down to the war, and Hitchens fills in the blanks with his usual debased rhetoric, which is all about Bush fighting a war against theocracy. Which prompts this kind of reply on the part of the hapless Ireland, always trying to figure out if Hitchens is just making some super-clever Marxist chessboard move:

"I still have trouble discerning a coherent politics of a progressive hue behind your support for the re-conduction of Bush in ‘04, as you claim."

Well, that's because there IS no progressive hue. There is, however, a huge amount of dishonesty. Hitchens simply substitutes one war for another. This is Hitchens' role. Like a lot of the DC commentariat, his propagandist function consists of putting a consistently moral interpretation on a consistently immoral policy. Because such a policy requires a maximum of secrecy, Hitchens is just as happy to discuss and debate the war as if it were his war. He is not tied to the reality of the war -- to the war that is supposedly going to cost two hundred billion dollars, to the war that is going to use up the blood of American soldiers, to the war that is going to be crowned, according to the administration, with the appointment of Jay Garner as crown prince of Iraq -- and so can defend the war of his fantasies. Slowly those fantasies will converge with reality -- the collapse of an ideological position usually involves some transition period in which you defend a radically different politics by claiming that your only real sin is a rigid consistency. Because Ireland is much too highminded to mention things like the cost of the war, the national interest of the U.S., and other technicalities -- because he wants his wars and his protests against them to be conducted on the purest ethical plane -- he's rather flummoxed by Hitchens. It is pretty easy to convince Ireland that roosters lay eggs. But, after searching high and low for Hitchen's subtle ultra left theory that would make even Vladimir Lenin's head spin (and we know he, too, was forever signing his emails "for regime change and revolution abroad and at home" -- what a fierce change agent that Vladimir turned out to be!), even Ireland is forced to face the fact that his buddy is a reactionary not that different from Charles Krauthammer or Karl Rove.

"Well, Hitch, I shall always love my friend, but I mourn the loss of my comrade. To see such talent as yours put at the service of a truly repugnant crowd like the Bushistas makes me weep. No doubt we�ll have occasion to continue this debate, even if we’ll soon be squabbling about whether all those coming deaths in Iraq have helped shape a better and more secure world."

Let's hope that debate never comes off.

March 21, 2003

So where are those weapons of mass destruction, anyway?

Well, like a rich man ordering up the fine wine, Saddam Hussein apparently serves only his special guests his rich, toxic brews. He's saving them for when he's really in trouble, you see.

Iraq is collapsing like a puff pastry in the path of a bull dozer. The cheerleading from the press is also on schedule, including yesterday's ridiculous craze for asking various and sundry people whether that was really Saddam Hussein on tv, including an archivist at the Richard Nixon library -- as if all these people were Saddam's friends. NPR had a great time with that one. At one point they annouced that Saddam Hussein's mistress, apparently given shelter within the friendly walls of the Pentagon, had put her thumbs down on the video: no, that was not her sweetie.

No question is ever asked, no heresy is ever contemplated, that would disturb this seemless flow of misinformation from their mouths to your ears. When a government feels no pain for its lies, it will spin ever more elaborate ones. We have reached that Pavlovian strata towards which, all winter, we have been traveling, as though in a ship driven by a drunken Captain Nemo: we have a naked government, a junta, that responds solely to pain or pleasure, to galvanic shock or tax cuts. All human things -- in the lines of Yeats' poem,

"Beautiful lofty things; O'Leary's noble head;
My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd.
"This Land of Saints", and then as the applause died out,
"Of plaster Saints"; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back."

are dissolved into mere current at this level. The voltaic replaces hard, tensile thought and, as Yeats said in another poem, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world; in the shape, this time, of a creature slouching first towards Basra, then towards Baghdad.

So yesterday yours truly went downtown to the demonstration, to get my fair share of depression. The demonstration built over an hour, but it attracted, in the end, a crowd that looked like what would happen if you took a college area coffee shop at rush hour and tipped it on its side. There were few solid suburban types, and the people speaking made no attempt to appeal to them, anyway. There were some old hippies playing old hippie anti-war songs, the well spoken UT professor, Bob Jensen, and another UT professor who thought that it was now high time to denounce capitalism. In other words, one felt like the choice was between playing in a sandbox or joining the ever more compliant booboisie at their tv sets, complaining that the war had interrupted their favorite reality tv show. One felt, in other words, once again that the real weapon of the powerful is their ability to define what is and what is not serious. We, the demonstrators, bore the curse of non-seriousness on our very foreheads.

Nevertheless, I moved with the masses, such as they were, down Congress. I lay in the intersection of Congress and 6th street, a die-in moment, then got up, dusted myself off, moved with the masses again (a damned helicopter on the horizon, spotting us -- which affirmed the insanity of the moment, since we were being taken seriously, apparently, by somebody, some uniformed somebody. I should also take a moment to point out that, on my way downtown, three busses for the police stood ready on 5th street), and made it to the bridge. There a bunch of 19 year old college students, ardent with antiwar feelings -- and with the breath of high school still on them -- formed a circle and sat down and chanted. It is one of the ironies of demonstrations that they attract the kind of people who have never learned to chant at pep rallies or football games. The anti-cheerleader type. And yet, what do we all do? We chant.

Someone, after a while, suggested that we take the bridge.
So I pondered whether I could afford to go to jail. I haven't yet paid all my rent for the month. I am on the brink, every day, of having that awful, foodless moment, when zero settles on your bank account and you have to live on that food substitute, coffee. And of course various of my jobs -- my scribblings for the press -- have not been paid for, one of them now going on three months. So no, I decided, I could not afford to go to jail. Because I didn't know if I could get out.

I'm not sure if I pussied out, thinking back on it. But there's a bleakness in my heart this morning.

the bloody third

The bloody third anniversary. There is a demonstration in Austin tomorrow, starting at eleven. Myself, I'd advise --as a protest -- reading MacBeth, today. Take this passage as your guide to Iraq:

MALCOLM

Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.

MACDUFF

Let us rather
Hold fast the mortal sword, and like good men
Bestride our down-fall'n birthdom: each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland and yell'd out
Like syllable of dolour.

MALCOLM

What I believe I'll wail,
What know believe, and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend, I will.

In honor of this anniversary, we are going to publish a little travelogue of posts. A travelogue from a man who never budged, a pocket Cassandra.

This is from March 09, 03:


March 09 03

The Exile's Temptation

"C'est une chose infiniment plus dangereuse de révolutionner pour la vertu que de révolutionner pour le crime. Lorsque des scélérats violent les formes contre les hommes honnêtes, on sait que c'est un délit de plus. On s'attache aux formes, par leur violation même ; on apprend en silence, et par le malheur, à les regarder comme des choses sacrées, protectrices et conservatrices de l'ordre social. Mais lorsque des hommes honnêtes violent les formes contre des scélérats, le peuple ne sait plus où il en est ; les formes et les lois se présentent à lui comme des obstacles à la justice" " -- Benjamin Constant, quoted in Lucien Jaume, Droit, Etat et obligation selon Benjamin Constant

It is infinitely more dangerous to revolutionize for virtue than to revolutionize for crim. When the scoundrels violate the forms against the honest people, we know that it is just one more of their crimes. We are attached to the forms, even by their violation: we learn in silence, and by the weight of mischance, to regard them as sacred things, the protectors and conservators of the social order. But when honest men violate the forms against the scoundrels, the people no longer know where they are; the forms and the laws present themselves then as obstacles to justice.”

How would I see the War if I were an Iraqi exile?

LI has been reading Benjamin Constant's essay on the "Spirit of Conquest" thinking of that question this weekend. Constant wrote the essay in 1813, in Germany. He'd been in exile from Napoleon's France for five years, following in the wake of his lover, Mme. de Stael. He'd had to flee Napoleon's troops in Germany more than once. From this viewpoint, he could see just what was wrong with revolutionary expansionist wars. Which, oddly enough, is how our War is being advertised.

With less mandarin reference, the NYT Magazine article about, mostly, Kanan Makiya, the intellectual architect of the Defense department favored blueprint for Post-Saddam Iraq, thrusts the question under our noses. George Packer, who wrote the article, has been on the edge about these issues. If, like me, you feel the War will be a disaster, you still have to stop and consider the position of the politically active Iraqi exile. LI's politics, before it fits into an ideology, requires "fantasia" -- a term O'brien uses to describe Burke's politics. It means the ability to imaginative project oneself. For Burke, and I think, although O'Brien would disagree, for Marx, fantasia is the horizon that conditions politics -- not justice.

So, what would I think?

Here, after all, is a bloody tyrant. Here are millions of people demonstrating against the War, against, secondarily, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and leaving absolutely unmentioned the Kurds, the Shiites, the massacres of the last twenty years. And the thing is -- he isn't just bloody -- he's incompetent on a scale unparalleled by even the region's notably incompetent rulers. He has, in his quest for military supremacy in the region, spent untold amounts of the country's wealth on futile projects that are now coming down on his head.

And then here's the strongest country in the world, offering its full military might. What would you do?

Packer's article begs that question, but it should definitely be read in conjunction with this article in Business Week that surveyed the Iraqi shambles, since no questions were asked about how Makiya's 'democratic government" was going to, well, support itself. Here are some central grafs from the BW article:

"Two decades of war plus 12 years of U.N. sanctions have slashed gross domestic product per capita by over 70%. The U.N. Development Programme calculates that on a purchasing-power-parity basis, Iraq's per-capita income is only $700, making it one of the poorest nations on earth outside Africa.

Saddam's economic policies have made matters worse. Since 1991, the regime has been churning out local currency, which it uses to soak up whatever dollars are available in the local market. This practice has created hyperinflation and destroyed the value of the dinar. On the black market, the currency has plunged from about 8 per dollar in 1990 to 2,000 per dollar now. Members of the once thriving middle class can feed themselves only by selling their jewelry and household goods and by receiving transfers, typically $100 per month, from relatives abroad. Crime is soaring, and girls and women from respectable families are increasingly turning to prostitution--a deeply humiliating trend in a conservative Arab society.

Even Iraq's oil reserves are unlikely to be a panacea. The fields are in a decrepit condition, with equipment broken and missing. Oil production--currently about 2.5 million barrels per day--may have to be cut in the short term while contractors replace antiquated hardware and stabilize pressure in the reservoirs. That could cost $3 billion to $4 billion--assuming Saddam doesn't sabotage the fields.

Unless oil prices stay at current high levels, Iraq's oil income of around $15 to $20 billion per year isn't likely to be enough to pay for food and other needed imports as well as rebuilding and development costs. That tab is estimated at $20 billion a year over several years."

As we've pointed out, with ever greater tediousness, the war as envisioned by the War Intellectuals -- Hitchen's war -- and the war as planned by the U.S. and British governments are two different things. Packer's article gives a sort of synthesis of the Makiya scheme for a democratic Iraq and the Wolfowitz scheme for an expansionist Israel -- an Israel that gets to keep the occupied territories, or "so called occupied territories," as Donald Rumsfeld calls them:

"The story being told goes like this:
The Arab world is hopelessly sunk in corruption and popular discontent. Misrule and a culture of victimhood have left Arabs economically stagnant and prone to seeing their problems in delusional terms. The United States has contributed to the pathology by cynically shoring up dictatorships; Sept. 11 was one result. Both the Arab world and official American attitudes toward it need to be jolted out of their rut. An invasion of Iraq would provide the necessary shock, and a democratic Iraq would become an example of change for the rest of the region. Political Islam would lose its hold on the imagination of young Arabs as they watched a more successful model rise up in their midst. The Middle East's center of political, economic and cultural gravity would shift from the region's theocracies and autocracies to its new, oil-rich democracy. And finally, the deadlock in which Israel and Palestine are trapped would end as Palestinians, realizing that their Arab backers were now tending their own democratic gardens, would accept compromise. By this way of thinking, the road to Damascus, Tehran, Riyadh and Jerusalem goes through Baghdad. "

Parts of this scheme seem reasonable to LI. The part about Palestine is simply nonsense. But the central idea, that a democratic Iraq would act as an attractor to other countries, is in a sense our idea too. We believe in the power of creating a democratic, or more democratic attractor. We simply disagree on the facts on the ground and the means to achieve this goal. This is happening in Northern Iraq. We think that for Iraq to become a democracy this attractor has to be allowed to work -- that is, the exile's temptation to strike, in one blow, against the dictator using, as a sort of forgettable instrument, a foreign power's might, should be avoided. The reason is simple -- the means resonate in the result. Constant's words make terrible sense: "when honest men violate the forms against the criminals, the people no longer know where they are: the forms and the laws are presented to them as obstacles to justice." Constant said this in 1798, before Napoleon destroyed the remnant of the Revolutionary Republic. The destruction of the future Iraqi Republic is written in its very genes if it is parented by Pentagon hawks on a coalition of Iraqi exiles. After distorting international law, bribing or threatening allies, and endorsing the fuhrer prinzip in regard to popular discontent with the War (see the utterances of Bush's poodle, or the American press about the latest vote in Turkey), to think that the hawks' ends are democratic is a delusion -- they have simply re-defined democracy. It now means "friendly to the administration of George Bush.". The new governors of Babylon will be American puppets, and they won't last long without Americans. The mentality of the coup can dress itself up as a splendid dream, but enacting an armed dream upon the waking life of a distant population is my definition of a nightmare.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

their every word is a lie

Later Thursday, Rice was twice shouted down by anti-war protesters as she spoke to students at Sydney University's music school.
"Condoleezza Rice, you're a war criminal," a young man shouted minutes Rice began her address. "Iraqi blood is on your hands and you can't wash that blood away," he repeated until guards led him away.
Rice drew applause with her response: "I'm glad to see that democracy is well and alive at the university," she said, adding that democracy is now also alive at universities in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. – Washington Post

BBC report, 10 January 2006

“Text of report by Ali Ajjam headlined "Shi'i and Sunni extremists tighten grip over the cities of Mesopotamia, Iraqi religious parties have secured control over Basra and turned its universities into centres of mourning for Al-Husayn and its department into mobilization centres" published by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat website on 6 January

When the young female engineer who works in a government department in Al-Kut Governorate (180 km south of Baghdad) arrived at work, she was surprised to find that her male and female colleagues were absent. Soon she discovered that most of the employees had gone down to the parking lot of the office building. The department's director had called an "electoral allegiance" meeting, and every employee was told to participate in the meeting to show allegiance to the "Shi'i list" just four days before the last elections.

The scene stunned engineer "HA". Government employees, who had grown beards following their director's orders, were chanting slogans and reciting inflammatory vernacular poetry to raise enthusiasm among the audience. The director had also banned neckties. She recalled a similar scene with her former director. Almost three years ago, the former director stopped work in the same department and gathered the olive-uniformed employees who were carrying their weapons in preparation for the war, which ended with the fall of the former regime.

Exactly as she did before the war, when she decided to leave her job, once again she collected her papers and personal belongings and returned home. The picture of her director among his employees while chanting "Ali... Ali..." was chasing her. In addition, his harsh words urging her to wear a headscarf were reverberating in her ears.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

remember, remember

It has been a long time since I bothered with Norman Geras’ blog, or others in the supposedly left pro-war camp. But I did go to the Geras blog tonight, and found a reply to Madeleine Bunting’s op ed in the Guardian. Bunting's article is a j'accuse, directed against the pro-war intellectuals -- the belligeranti.

Geras’ reply comes in several parts. Here are three of the Iraq parts:

“Ingredient 4 This one concerns the distribution of blame. It's totally forthright, but only in one direction: '[T]he most catastrophic blunder in half a century of British and American foreign policy. Ill-conceived and spectacularly badly implemented...'; 'the politicians who made the decisions, who lied, and ignored and manipulated expert opinion are still in power and still uttering the same meaningless platitudes.' As for the daily carnage being perpetrated by political forces actively opposed to any democratic process and bound by none of the recognized moral constraints in their choice of methods and targets, here Bunting is coyly indirect. It's just 'blood and brutality' and 'nightmare scenarios', and even then it's because (borrowing the words of Zalmay Khalilzad) 'we have opened a Pandora's box'. But even if 'we' are to blame, in Bunting's judgement, for having done that, why does she have no word of blame to direct at anyone else, as if there were no other forces - former Baathists, just for example, jihadis - determining where Iraq is headed? The anger is all reserved for 'the politicians who made the decisions' and so forth - as if there were just one culpable party.

Ingredient 5 Is there any positive side to what has happened in Iraq? Is Bunting pleased at least for the Kurds? Who knows? She offers no word to enlighten you. Is it at all material, as far as she's concerned, that despite everything 'Iraqis have continued to say by decisive margins that, on balance, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was still worth it'. Given Bunting's way of drawing up a balance sheet on Afghanistan, one shouldn't expect her to say anything about this when it comes to Iraq, and she doesn't.

Ingredient 6 And that brings us to the heart of things here - the heart of things being that Bunting doesn't allow that the differences over the Iraq war were a matter of judgement, in which not all the considerations pointed in the same direction. The only look-in this gets from her is this: 'One can understand the eagerness to topple Saddam might have blinded some into backing a recklessly foolish war.' You see, it 'blinded' us. It couldn't have been, could it, that for people of left and liberal outlook this was a genuine and extremely powerful consideration - to terminate the rule of a genocidal tyrant, to close down the torture chambers and the murderous processes feeding the mass graves? Writing as if there was only ever one arguable or legitimate side of the story, as if the future was from the start completely transparent, and as if there were no human costs in not going to war against Saddam, is a piece of the purest demagogy, if it isn't (as it usually isn't in such things) outright dishonesty. In this latest piece of hers, Madeleine Bunting speaks for all those in the anti-war camp who have simply silenced the 'other' considerations, disallowing that they carried any weight. They have been, unfortunately, many. There were ways of opposing the war, ways that did not indulge in this silencing, this disallowing, and these can and should be respected. The Bunting-style concoction is something else.”

This is the kind of intellectual sleight of hand that we can expect from the belligeranti as the death spiral plays itself out -- the irrelevance of American power, the unpredictable direction of Iraqi violence, the shedding of all credibility by the Coalition. In essence, the belligeranti re-writing of history will make everything depend on the moral rightness of wanting to “terminate the rule of a genocidal tyrant, to close down the torture chambers and the murderous processes feeding the mass graves.”

Unfortunately for this argument, it makes no sense. America and Britain could as well have invaded Indonesia in 1990 – after all, Suharto murdered easily 500-800 thousand Indonesians in 1966 and 1967, and if I wished to divide those by the years, I could easily come up with a per year figure of deaths. But the latter would be a lie, just as Geras' remark about Saddam Hussein is a lie. There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was feeding the mass graves in 2003. To have smashed him in 1991 would, indeed, have prevented that – but not to have smashed him then casts as much doubt on the moral dimension of the invasion as would be cast if we invaded Serbia today for having invaded Bosnia in 1992.

That Geras clings, still, to the idea that 2003 was 1991, and that invasion was the only way to stop the ‘feeding of the mass graves” is merely the usual farce. But I’d like to concentrate on Ingredient 4, since one of the things that will slip by in the coming battle of recriminations is how much the pro-war party did, actively, to worsen the situation once Iraq was invaded. The mistakes here came fast and thick, and are indicative of the stew of intellectual corruption in which these characters are steeped. A small bill of particulars would go like this:

1. The de-legitimation of secular democracy. The first and most lasting damage done to post Saddam Iraq by the neo-cons and the war supporters happened indirectly. Even as Iraq was being invaded, the Pentagon flew a known swindler, Ahmed Chalabi, with the nucleus of a paramilitary (the first of so many) to Iraq. Not one war supporter I know of blanched. None protested that putting the face of a criminal on the American supported Iraqi force was a tremendous mistake, and would wound any attempt to create a democratic faction in Iraq. Imagine, if you will, gathering a party to support feminism and putting a former rapist at the head of it. Imagine appointing Ken Lay the head of the SEC. Imagine appointing George Bush to some commission to repair New Orleans. In all of those situations, the grotesque disparity between the record of the person so appointed and the ostensible purpose of the organizations to which they were appointed would have immediately created an outcry. Chalabi, the first of a number of sinister American clients in Iraq (Allawi having, perhaps, an even worse record), was placed in Iraq as though it were the most normal thing in the world. This should reveal, pretty much, the massive bad faith of the pro-war side’s ostensive and gaudy “concern for the Iraqi people.” It was the typical colonialist gambit of finding a criminal for a dark skinned, conquered population that can keep enough order to allow looting to proceed in a peaceable manner.

2. The next opportunity for the pro-war crowd to actually make a difference was in the first couple months of the occupation. Those months planted the terrible seeds of what has come after. The refusal to consider immediate Iraqization of the government; the appointment of sub-competent Americans to positions of authority in Iraq; the attempt to redo the Iraqi economy to the benefit of the U.S.; the disbanding of the army; the laissez faire attitude to looting. At no point did the pro-war people flinch. Even when the policy was clearly insane – the disbanding of the army was, obviously, insane, and LI wrote about it as early as May 30, 2003, to say so – the pro-war people never raised a single peep. Of course, what we wrote then was not the CW it is now, but it was pretty easy to guess. But of course, that isn't all. When Halliburton came on the scene like a devouring locust, Christopher Hitchens wrote a column praising the company. For some reason, he didn’t write a column recently, about the Pentagon overruling their auditors and allowing Halliburton to collect 200 million dollars in gouged profits. Surely he should have. The whole attitude of the pro-war party was either smug or organizing themselves in absolute lockstep behind the Bush plan.
3. As the occupation got under way in earnest, and it was evident that an insurgency was taking place, the pro-war people did their best to lie about this. It took months for them to unglue themselves enough from following every jot and tittle of the pronunciamentos issuing from the Bush white house to even notice that something might have gone a teensy bit wrong. Instead of operating, then, in terms of their supposed love for erecting a ‘liberty loving’ Iraq – which would clearly require internationalizing both the coalition force and the governing structure, kicking out Bremer, and speeding up the transition to an all Iraq government – they continued the childish and stupid project of spitting at the French – what they were hired for in the first place, I suppose. This was probably the last chance to transition from the occupation into an Iraq that could have connected with the strong traditions of its pre-Saddam past. However, this was certainly not in the interests of the Americans, who were determined to knock down one of those traditions – Iraq’s seminal role in nationalizing oil and starting OPEC – and so this never happened.

4. After that, of course, the crimes come thick and fast – the air strikes, the massacres of crowds, the outlawing of Sadr, the attacks in Najaf, and the crowning war crime of sacking Falluja, all celebrated by a crowd that now had wandered so far from supporting anything but colonial oppression in Iraq that they had simply become a joke. A joke whose main indignation was directed at George Galloway. The disgusting left in pursuit of the irrelevant left.

5. So, let us not forget what the pro-war group has wrought. And let’s not get caught up in pointless conversations about the worth or non-worth of toppling Saddam Hussein, since regime change and occupation are two different issues -- one did not have to flow into the other, after all. That they did -- that it was obvious that the bogus D.C. warriors were going to invade to stay -- delegitimated the attack in the first place. But the questions should be separated, anyway, for maximum clarity. The question is the worth or non-worth of the occupation of Iraq, and the guilt, the indelible guilt of the pro-war intellecutals is built on that dark and bloody ground.

ps -- I exempt, from the above five points, Johann Hari -- one of the few belligeranti who actually consulted something other than his own moral superiority when writing about Iraq. While disagreeing with Hari's notion of feedback - especially the curious reverence in which he holds obviously flawed polls of the Iraqi people -- at least he has a notion of feedback, and it extends beyond what is being cleverly expressed on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal or the latest Hitchens screed in Slate. LI understands the moral grounds that would move someone like Hari, or even Geras, to support an invasion to knock out Saddam Hussein. But a morality so doped up on its own righteousness that it mainly functions to produce a smokescreen of invective and sophism behiind which a gang of corporate hustlers and imperialists are trying to impose an unpopular order on an unwilling populace soon passes into immorality. Hari, to his credit, realized this early on.

Monday, March 13, 2006

the world historical tinkerer

"To invent useful and successful inventions, those with inventive minds should take up individual advanced work and study along some worthwhile line. One should not be afraid to look far, far into the future and visualize the things that might be. . . . Remember, the things which are so commonplace today would have been the ravings of a fanatic a few years ago .”—Earl Silas Tupper

LI had promised, last week, to surprise the world by delineating the features of the tinkerer, considered dialectically. Well, the world yawned, days passed, LI went to the rodeo, and – as our readers can see – there is still no earthshaking tinker post, to put beside that moment, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, where Hegel finds the embodiment of self-consciousness rising up as a narrative moment involving emblematic figures draped in the rich white vocabulary of abstraction.

This morning we are dosed with the proper amount of coffee, and we successfully pieced together a post for another site that is, in some ways, a side-effect of our obsession with the tinker, and so we thought we’d give it another shot.

Let’s first remember Hegel’s figures. The Lordship and bondsman section begins with a movment from life to thinghood:

“In this experience self-consciousness becomes aware that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness. In immediate self-consciousness the simple ego is absolute object, which, however, is for us or in itself absolute mediation, and has as its essential moment substantial and solid independence. The dissolution of that simple unity is the result of the first experience; through this there is posited a pure self-consciousness, and a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another, i.e. as an existent consciousness, consciousness in the form and shape of thinghood. Both moments are essential, since, in the first instance, they are unlike and opposed, and their reflexion into unity has not yet come to light, they stand as two opposed forms or modes of consciousness. The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman.

The master is the consciousness that exists for itself; but no longer merely the general notion of existence for self. Rather, it is a consciousness existing on its own account which is mediated with itself through an other consciousness, i.e. through an other whose very nature implies that it is bound up with an independent being or with thinghood in general. The master brings himself into relation to both these moments, to a thing as such, the object of desire, and to the consciousness whose essential character is thinghood. And since the master, is (a) qua notion of self-consciousness, an immediate relation of self-existence, but (b) is now moreover at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through an other — he [the master] stands in relation (a) immediately to both, (b) mediately to each through the other. The master relates himself to the bondsman mediately through independent existence, for that is precisely what keeps the bondsman in thrall; it is his chain, from which he could not in the struggle get away, and for that reason he proved himself to be dependent, to have his independence in the shape of thinghood.”

Interpreting Hegel is like sticking your hand into a beehive for honey. There’s a lot of stinging, unknown variables you have to grope your way past. But my purpose in quoting the Venerable is to bring forward, first, the relationship of self-consciousness to life – which, in Hegel’s terms, has an order to it that moves from the unity of irreconcilables – the absolute object and the absolute mediation seen as one thing – to the division of the perpetually to be reconciled. In that movement, historically, mastery has migrated to the control of the vision of the those irreconcilables, and their administration, while bondship – stuck in thinghood – has no immediate higher level to spare itself its immediacy, and so its dependency. The dependency is a trick, since the thinghood is never perfect, but is at best the simulation of thinghood. And, as we all know, this moment is followed by the struggle for recognition, which Blake summed up best in the notbook verses beginning:

"Then old Nobodaddy aloft/
Farted & belchd & coughd/
And said I love hanging & drawing & quartering/
Every bit as well as war & slaughtering..."


But for the tinkerer, the irreconcilability can actually be put to one side if we just stop with the self-consciousness and begin with self-improvement. Self-consciousness we can leave to the teenagers.

Which brings me to the title of one of Hugh Kenner’s books: The Homemade World. The book was about American modernist writers. But confining that phrase to writers is, LI thinks, a waste of its capaciousness. The homemade world is goal towards which treks the tinkerer as well as the Europe addled modernist. While the phrase works for Robert Frost, it also works for another North of Boston man: Earl Silas Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware. About whom we will have more to say in another post.