“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, May 06, 2006

a small theory

Once again, the liberal press, the naysayers, the blame America first crowd, the Politically Correct a-holes, the academic jerkoffs, the ones who say happy holidays, the Islamofascists, the useful idiots, the Marxo-anti-semitic-stopper supporters of Saddam are refusing to publicize the good news from Iraq. Oh, they say, look at all declining stats – fucking electricity, fucking petroleum. Oh, like we are supposed to shit in our pants. Well, here’s something that shows Iraq is on course, steady as she goes:

Kidnapping has flourished here since the fall of Saddam Hussein, as insurgents, militias and criminal gangs have taken advantage of the breakdown in social order. Iraq has caught up with the traditional world leaders in kidnapping — like Colombia, Mexico and Brazil — and may have surpassed them. The vast majority of victims are Iraqis. Between 5 and 30 are abducted every day, according to figures maintained by the American Embassy in Baghdad, though Iraqi and American officials acknowledge that any estimate is merely guesswork, since most kidnappings go unreported.’

So, they thought they would hold Iraq down below Mexico, eh? And Brazil – it is such a coup about Brazil! Brazil is like twice as big as Iraq, but the brave, liberated Iraqis have actually surpassed their kidnapping stats like it was nothing. Rumor is that Tony Snow’s first day on the job will concentrate exclusively on this statistic, and that generals are to be made available to explain that kidnappers imply money, money implies wealth, hence, Iraq is getting wealthier every day! The problem, of course, is a little security problem. Some say it isn’t there at all – as is well known, the AEI, Mark Steyn, and the Weekly Standard now sponsor cookouts in Samarra with Girls go Wild and tequila, without a care in the world! Most of what we see on tv is old Soviet Afghanistani clips redubbed by the well known communists who run the media. But I think we have to be honest here: we have killed every insurgent three or four times – since, of course, there were only about 2,000 deadenders to begin with, I believe. I think that was the secretary of War’s estimate. And the department of war has claimed to have killed, now, around 24,000 insurgents, give or take a corpse. So what gives?

My theory is that Iran has developed a special undead medicine which it has distributed to its worldwide network of terror – Iran being the world’s number one financer of terrorism – and that they are using this Iranian medicine (did I mention that Iran is the world’s number one financer of terrorism?) in Iraq to terrorize. Flagrantly. Also, Iran is the world’s number on financer of terrorism. The merciful way to handle this – the thing that the youth of Iran cry out for – is for us to lob numerous atom bombs, or as we like to call them, bunker n house n yard n dog n cat n baby n man n woman n car n tv n telephone pole n street n yard n restaurant n tower n office building busters, to break up the nefarious mullah ring. Since Iran is the world’s number one financer of terrorism. This solution will make us totally popular in the Middle East, since Middle Easterners like a strong hand. They like to be justly punished for what they did wrong. If they did something wrong, they hang around and say, I wish someone would irradiate me and my immediate family, striking me down for generations to come. That’s what they say.

Wolfowitz for CIA Director!

LI is sad, today, about the resignation of Porter Goss. For years our opinion of the CIA has been like Cato's opinion of Carthage: Delenda est CIA. Destroy the fucking place lock stock and barrel. Birthed by a clearly illegal extension of executive authority -- the very decree by which Truman founded the CIA was secret for years - the CIA has been one of the great anti-communist machines, its purpose being to manufacture paranoia in order to keep the perpetual war ethos alive.

Goss was, if anything, a product of that. But he was something more. He was a product of the Bush culture. High idealism, in the Bush culture, is yoked to that pure strain of incompetence which brings a smile to Three Stooges fans everywhere. And thus, upon an agency that has long outlived its usefulness, Bush sicced a man destined, in a mere two years, to gut the place.

According to Dana Milbank's post mortem story:

"In public, Goss once acknowledged being "amazed at the workload." Within headquarters, "he never bonded with the workforce," said John O. Brennan, a former senior CIA official and interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center until last July.

"Now there's a decline in morale, its capability has not been optimized and there's a hemorrhaging of very good officers," Brennan said. "Turf battles continue" with other parts of the recently reorganized U.S. intelligence community "because there's a lack of clarity and he had no vision or strategy about the CIA's future." Brennan added: "Porter's a dedicated public servant. He was ill-suited for the job.""

Now, anyone who trawls through the Net knows that the rumored understory is that it was Porter's dedication to pussy in the limo and call girl scandal that completed his downfall. The WAPO, a company town paper that has no desire to insult the Bush Court, headed by a genuinely likeable, and funny, oh so funny king, doesn't entertain these rumors... at least yet. But the story of Goss's tenure, from his attempt to transform the CIA into a retirement haven for Republicans to his own brand of isolationism, cutting off America's intelligence interaction with foreign intelligence agencies, brought the rare hurray to our lips. If the CIA can't simply be destroyed by Congressional writ -- after all, in Bush's America, Congress is a mere advisory board, delegated to the lesser job of larding the wealthy with tax dollars -- the second best thing is to have it commit hari-kari. Putting Goss and his minions (with their incredible, frat boy names -- that a man named Dusty Foggo was his close friend and fellow limo user shows something about the culture. I'm just not exactly sure what. Are we merely the dream of Thomas Pynchon?)operated upon the place the way termites treat a Stativarius.

Thus, we are completely saddened by Goss' departure. Surely, there is only one man out there who can complete Goss' valuable work. One man out there whose career shows an almost mystical level of incompetence. One man out there with the idealism to mistreat and mutilate experience in the quest for his own personal contact high.

Paul Wolfowitz, come home!

Friday, May 05, 2006

wolf to wolf, wolf to man, man to wolf

...
This post attaches to yesterday's post, where I meant to draw a dance diagram with three positions – hating – being hated – being hated for hating – in order to choreograph the romance of hatred...

Bringing me to Richard Bessel’s article, Hatred after War, in the Winter History and Memory.

“This essay is a brief, admittedly speculative, attempt to suggest that examining hatred after war, and viewing public and political behavior as an expression of that hatred, may offer insights into what occurred in both the public and the private spheres in post-1945 East Germany. The suggestion is that hatred, arising from the violence and brutality of war and Nazism, was a major factor motivating both the leaders and the led in East Germany after World War II. Not just their rational calculations of how to deal with the challenges they faced and the political commitment that framed their actions, but also their emotional responses to what had occurred determined how Germans behaved in the physical and psychological rubble left behind by war and Nazism. This essay, therefore, is a tentative attempt to approach the history of Germany after World War II as a history of sentiments and emotions.”

Brief the essay is, but full of interesting and, to LI, startling observations. The first and most startling observation is this: after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Germany was swept by a wave of mass suicides. It is part of the racist code in which our history is given to us that this fact is, I think, pretty much unknown in the U.S. – and, actually, it seems pretty repressed in Europe as well – while the fact that Japan was swept by mass suicide is very well known in the U.S. In fact, the politics of suicide in war is a strange thing. Thus, the condemnation of suicide bombers is pretty much a standard editorial gesture nowadays – but that condemnation remains outside of the fact that the defense posture of the U.S., for fifty years, has depended on our potential for suicide bombing. SAC pilots and crews knew that they had little chance to survive delivering to their targets. In essence, they were asked to be suicide bombers on a much bigger scale. The risk of dropping an bomb on Moscow is undoubtedly close to the risk of being killed delivering a rigged car to be exploded in front of an embassy. But the higher American morality, here, apparently rests on the fact that the bomber has a perhaps 5 percent chance of getting away unharmed from delivering a nuclear holocaust.

The inability to accept that war is an equal opportunity barbarizer goes along with the strange colonial mindset that attributes atrocities to those barbarians one aims at exterminating – that part of the romance of hatred in which hating is a cause for being-hated. So the Japanese, being Asians, set a different value on life – that was the kind of thing that was said, even in the sixties, about Asians (i.e. – the Vietnamese) by American military men. Meanwhile, back back back in Deutschland:

“One of the most remarkable features of the collapse of Nazi Germany is the huge wave of suicides that accompanied it. This surge of suicides included not only much of the regime’s political leadership—Hitler, Goebbels, Göring, Himmler, Thierack and Ley—but also dozens of Wehrmacht generals and many lesser Nazis and lower-level functionaries, as well as thousands of civilians who killed themselves as Allied forces pushed their way into Germany and occupied the country. Already in early 1945, as the roof was caving in on the Third Reich, many Germans contemplated killing themselves; according to a report of the German security service about popular morale in the dying days of Nazi Germany, “many are getting used
to the idea of making an end of it all. Everywhere there is great demand for poison, for a pistol and other means for ending one’s life. Suicides due to genuine depression about the catastrophe which certainly is expected are an everyday occurrence.”10 The gruesome sight that greeted American soldiers when they arrived at the Neues Rathaus in Leipzig—littered with the bodies of Nazi officials who had killed themselves and their families— was but a spectacular example of a widespread phenomenon.”

And:

“After the German military collapse, the atmosphere in entire communities was colored by such events, as suicide became almost a mass phenomenon. A particularly extreme example is that of the Pomeranian
district town of Demmin, where roughly five percent of the entire population killed themselves in 1945;13 when the Landrat, who had been installed by the Soviet authorities in May 1945, surveyed conditions in Demmin in a report for the Interior Administration of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in November 1945, he noted: “365 houses, roughly 70 percent of the city, lay in ruins, over 700 inhabitants had ended their lives through suicide.”14 In Teterow, a town in Mecklenburg numbering fewer than ten thousand inhabitants in 1946, the burial register included a “Continuation of the Appendix for the Suicide Period (Selbstmordperiode) Early May 1945,” containing details of 120 suicide cases, listing how the act had been carried out: people shot themselves, hanged themselves, drowned themselves, poisoned themselves; frequent reports noted how fathers killed their entire families and then themselves.15 After years when they had been able to aim massive violence against other people, Germans now turned violence on themselves.”

Then, of course, there was the phenomena following the mass rapes of 44 and 45. The soviet army’s advance, as we now know, was accompanied by the greatest concentration of raping that we know of – the estimates go as high as 2 million women raped. The Western advance had a lower number of rapes – but this is due less to the higher moral standards of the Allied army, and more to the “opportunity”, under capitalism, to exchange sex for money. Prostitution was the Western allies answer to rape.

Here’s Bessel again:

“No less emotionally charged were the abortions carried out on women who had been raped by Soviet soldiers in 1945. Some idea of the emotional consequences may be gained from the account of Heinz Voigtländer, who had been a consultant surgeon at the Stift Bethlehem hospital in Ludwigslust, of the turmoil that the hospital staff faced in 1945:

It was particularly dreadful ... with the pregnancies that dated from the first half of 1945.... I remember a figure of 150 to 180 abortions that we had to carry out at that time. Frequently this was a matter of pregnancies in the fourth, fifth and even in the sixth month....Sometimes, in the seventh or eighth month, this help no longer was possible. Then the nurses promised to look after the child after the birth. But once we observed that a woman left the hospital after the birth and drowned her child in the brook that flowed right by the hospital. We spoke as little as possible about these matters.”

Bessel’s notion is that we should pay more attention to the literal truth Goebbels enunciated:

“Germany’s war was fought, as Goebbels boasted in a radio speech on 28 February 1945, not long before his own suicide, “with a hatred that knows no bounds.””

Simmel, in his Sociology, modeled sociological processes on what he took to be the fundamental elements of society – on the one hand, the individual, and on the other hand, the universal. In some ways, this is a dubious translation of medieval logic, that eternal game of the particular and the universal. One wants some meso-level between the I and the community. In Simmel’s schema, however, the third entity is conflict. It is neither a quality of the individual or a property of the universal, but a third thing – a socializing process. The thirdness of violence has been taken up by other thinkers – notably, Rene Girard – and given other directions. The important thing is that it lifts hatred out of its supposedly privileged and limited place as a wholly private and interior affair. Unlike Girard, however, I don’t think the endpoint of the logic of hatred is Christ on the Cross, but the Werewolf – the wolf as the hunter of men becoming inhabited by a man. The wolf image was peculiarly important in Nazi Germany. But the soldier of any army almost instinctively drifts to the imago of the predator.

This is my own drift, my own Nazi like fugue. At the moment, I too, dream of being a were wolf – of exacting some infinite revenge on my enemies. Bessel talks about the violent intention encoded in suicide, its use as an instrument to hurt “the important other.” This is an old cliché – and it covers up how the other is already eaten by the suicide. The suicide eating his victim, the wolf eating the man, the werewolf living in and on the wolf that lives on people.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

the path of the pins or the path of the needles

“Once a little girl was told by her mother to bring some bread and milk to her grandmother As the girl was walking through the forest, a wolf came up to her and asked where she was going. "To grandmother's house," she replied. "Which path are you taking, the path of the pins or the path of the needles?" "The path of the needles." So the wolf took the path of the pins and arrived first at the house. “

He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed. "Knock, knock." "Come in, my dear." "Hello, grandmother. I've brought you some bread and milk." "Have something yourself, my dear. There is meat and wine in the pantry." So the little girl ate what was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, "Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!"

The wolf said, "Undress and get into bed with me." "Where shall I put my apron?" "Throw it on the fire; you won't need it any more." For each garment--bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings--the girl asked the same questions; and each time the wolf answered, "Throw it on the fire; you won't need it any more." When the girl got in bed, she said, "Oh, grandmother! How hairy you are!" "It's to keep me warmer, my dear." "Oh, grandmother! What big shoulders you have!" "It's for better carrying firewood, my dear" "Oh, grandmother! What long nails you have!" "It's for scratching myself better, my dear." "Oh, grandmother! What big teeth you have!" "It's for eating you better, my dear." And he ate her.

- From Little Red Riding Hood: Werewolf and prostitute, by David Teasely and Richard Chase.

In the emotional pattern of LI’s life, the big change, in the last five years, has been the importance of hatred. Indeed, if it is possible for hatred to be at the center of any life – that center which is the field of affection, insofar as affection has gotten down among the tropisms, is the first human response, antedating consciousness – hatred has crept into the command of mine. Hatred for the governing class; hatred for the onward rushing into what I see as the destruction of, indeed, the world, the physical globe; hatred of a self perpetuating order of violence in which I seem condemned to live. Hatred every day.

And this isn’t uncommon. Mine isn’t an unusual case. Which is why it is odd, when one comes to think of it, that the consideration of hatred as a social fact so quickly dissipates into consideration of hatred's effects. And those effects, in turn, are quickly distanced from the emotion -- quickly structuralized. There is a journal now dedicated to hatred – the muses have been replaced by the academic journals, and their domains are infinitely sub-divided – but hatred, conflict, the configuration of the enemy, are all still mercury to the touch of the intellect.

So, I thought I'd start with Little Red Riding Hood.

Teasely and Chase’s article about Little Red Riding Hood, which applies close reading to the tale in the tradition of Darnton (and, though not mentioned, of Febvre), mentions an interesting fact:

“Two folklorists have analyzed Red Riding Hood to demonstrate that a nineteenth-century source, despite being altered from its original and unrecoverable earlier versions, can provide credible insights into an earlier period. Moreover, the variants reveal remarkable consistency. Folklorists have argued that a tale's symbolic features are retained and transmitted through the centuries because they remain meaningful to their users and because they refer to features of the real world as experienced by the members of the storytelling communities. If this were not the case, tales would have no function and would be forgotten.(3)

Paul Delarue, in analyzing the variants of the story, has found that the greatest consistency occurs in French tales that originated in a region encompassing the Loire basin, the northern Alps, northern Italy, and the Tyrol. In this area where the greatest number of werewolf trials occurred during the period of witch persecution, three symbolic features of the tale were frequently repeated: the choice of the path that the wolf and the girl selected, the cannibalism that occurs when the girl eats her grandmother, and the savage ending when the wolf eats the girl.”

If LI were going to do a “history” of hatred in the Western World, we’d certainly make a long excursus to consider the wolf and the werewolf. In Teasley and Chase’s telling, the story’s giveaway (in a version they prefer to the one in which we are happily delivered by the woodsman) is given to us by the enigmatic path of pins and path of needles. The path of needles, according to T and C, goes back to the needle worn as an emblem of the prostitute; the path of pins – by a much more obscure act of exegesis – is associated with the werewolf. The werewolf is, of course, the wolf times two – the intentional wolf, the man become wolf. The werewolf in the movies is such usually be accident – the disease model takes over from an older tradition, in which the werewolf is such by pact with the devil.

“The issue of the paths alerts the reader to the presence of a false choice: between the path of the pins and the path of the needles. The girl defies the social order by selecting prostitution, a non-procreative act. Explicit in the wolf's choice of the path of the pins is a similar threat to creation through the attacks of witches on children either born or unborn. By choosing similar paths, the wolf and the girl enter into an unnatural pact from whence the rest of the story, including cannibalism, unfolds.”

Elizabeth Lawrence, making a survey of the werewolf in literature and cinema, begins with the first literary werewolf tale, which is in the Satyricon. A servant goes out of a lodging house to visit his girlfriend. One of the lodgers, a soldier, accompanies him. Halfway there, they both stop in a cemetery to rest. The soldier then peels off all his clothes, pisses in a circle around them, and turns into a wolf. He goes off howling. As Lawrence remarks, taking off the clothes is taking off humanity – the human being the private animal, the one that hides or distorts its privates in various and sundry ways. And of course the doglike peeing, the marking of territory, is another threshold feature – the movement towards being something else – and not Rimbaud’s autre, not someone else.

Lawrence considers what that something else is:

"In order to understand the werewolf and the emotions it evokes, one must take a close look at the extraordinary history of human relationships with the wolf and the crusade of annihilation. The species was long ago extirpated in the British Isles and Scandinavia and wolf populations were decimated in its former range throughout the world (Lopez 13-14). As one wolf researcher points out, the destruction of that animal represents "the first time in the history of the planet [that] one species made a deliberate organized attempt to exterminate a fellow species." Ingrained hatred of the wolf was brought with the colonists to the New World. The American war against the species was "one of the most successful programs ever carried out by the federal government." The original wolf population in what is now the lower forty-eight states before the arrival of European settlers is estimated to have been two million. "By the 1950s, except for isolated populations of a few hundred wolves in the Upper Midwest, the gray wolf had been exterminated in those areas" (Mcintyre 69, 77).

"Ironically, at least "since the advent of death certificates, there have been no verifiable records of unprovoked attack on humans by [healthy] wolves in the North American continent" (Thiel 35). Yet countless injuries and deaths attributable to wolves have been recorded from the Old World. A partial explanation may be that these attacks were related to rabies epidemics. There is also the plausible theory that some of the aggressive encounters involved wolfdog hybrids, which are much less wary of humans than wolves. In particular, the eighteenth century attacks in southern France by the so-called "Beast of Gevaudan" can likely be traced to a wolf-dog cross (Trotti 126). Another factor is that wolves can tell when a person is armed. Modern wolves have had many generations' experience with firearms, and thus are much more cautious than their ancestors (Russell and Russell 158). Numerous causes underlie the hatred that motivated brutal wolf-exterminating campaigns throughout the animal's range. Culturally ingrained superstitions imbued the animal with mysterious frightfulness. Anti-wolf sentiment was inspired by the desire to protect vulnerable livestock and also to preserve the species preyed upon by the wolf, such as deer and elk, for human sport-hunting purposes. But ignorance of the actual ecological role of the wolf, and its value, also accounts for much of the tragedy. Overall, the issue at stake has always been a lack of knowledge about humankind's relationship to the universe, the age-old dilemma relating to determining "man's place in nature." “

Lawrence is right. That is an extraordinary history. It charges the whole notion of the desire to be a wolf, which is also inscribed in that history. Lawrence points out that the when the Boy Scouts came to the Lapp part of Finland, “… the Boy Scout movement was resisted by the children, who "objected strongly to being called Wolf-cubs."

All of this is simply an animalistic preliminary to what this post is really supposed to be about -- Richard Bessel’s extraordinary article, in last winter’s History and Memory, Hatred After War: Emotion and the post war history of East Germany. However, it looks like this post has gone on long enough. We’ll return to that article in our next post.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

oedipus jr. and the paper tigers!

The dustup between Christopher Hitchens and Juan Cole would be worth commenting on if Hitchens were still worth commenting on. At one time, LI was fascinated with him as, at least, the most articulate of the belligerents. But now he is taking his stylistic cues from old Evans and Novak columns. Style to Hitchens is what Dorien Gray’s portrait was to Dorian Gray – it is where the damage shows up.

But – there is a bit in Cole’s defense upon which I’d like to hook this post.

“As for the matter at issue, Ahmadinejad is a non-entity. The Iranian "president" is mostly powerless. The commander of the armed forces is the Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei. Worrying about Ahmadinejad's antics is like worrying that the US military will act on the orders of the secretary of the interior. Ahmadinejad cannot declare war on anyone, or mobilize a military. So it doesn't matter what speeches he gives.”

I wonder whether that isn’t a huge underestimation of Ahmadinejad. I wonder because of the article in this Spring’s National Interest by Ray Takeyh: “Being Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”

The National Interest used to be a beehive of neo-conservatives, so it is interesting, now that the Nixonian realists have cleaned them out – with much clucking all around – that the Spring issue practically coos. The consensus among the authors of four articles about Iran is that the U.S. is fucked. And being fucked, the sensible thing is to initiate détente – although the word isn’t thrown out there. Takeyh’s article, however, made me think that things are going to get worse between the U.S. and Iran because Ahmadinejad is not only not a non-entity, but represents a certain recognizable current in Iran. The same rightwing current that emerged in the U.S. when the Vietnam vets started taking political office – the Top Gun boys, the Duke Cunninghams:

“AFTER 27 years, the complexion of the Iranian regime is changing. An ascetic "war generation" is assuming power with a determination to rekindle revolutionary fires long extinguished.

For Ahmadinejad and his allies, the 1980-88 war with Iraq defined their experiences, and it conditions their political assumptions. The Iran-Iraq War was unusual in many respects, as it was not merely an interstate conflict designed to achieve specific territorial or even political objectives. This was a war waged for the triumph of ideas, with Ba'athi secular pan-Arabism contesting Iran's Islamic fundamentalism. As such, for those who went to the front, the war came to embody their revolutionary identity. Themes of solidarity, sacrifice, self-reliance and commitment not only allowed the regime to consolidate its power, they also made the defeat of Saddam the ultimate test of theocratic legitimacy. War and revolution had somehow fused in the clerical cosmology. To wage a determined war was to validate one's revolutionary ardor and spiritual fidelity--the notions of compromise and a "ceasefire" were anathema to this point of view.

Suddenly, in August 1988, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini declared the conflict to be over. After eight years of brutal struggle and clerical exhortations of the inevitability of the triumph of the armies of God, the war ended without achieving any of its pledged objectives. For veterans like Ahmadinejad, not unlike post-World War I German veterans, there was a ready explanation for this turn of events. It was not the inadequacy of Iran's military planning or the miscalculations of its commanders, but the West's machinations and its tolerance of Saddam's use of chemical weapons that had turned the tide of the battle.”

Whether this analysis is true or not, it is certainly true that Iran lies under the shadow of a war that killed 500 thousand to a million people. It is not that long ago that missiles were coming down in Teheran. And surely memories of that experience are being prodded by all of those heavy handed American threats.
Happily, Takeyh’s tack is not to keep up the World War I analogy, but to point out that, after thirty years of having no relations with the U.S., people in Ahmadinejad’s circle don’t really see the need. In fact, they dismiss the U.S. as an irrelevance.

“For the aging mullahs such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the more pragmatic head of the Expediency Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani, America remained the dominant actor in Iran's melodrama. For those hardliners, the United States was the source of all of Iran's problems, while for the older generation of more pragmatist conservatives it was the solution to the theocracy's mounting dilemmas. In either depiction, America was central to Iran's affairs. Given that this cohort came into political maturity during the reign of the shah and his close alliance with the United States, was engaged in a revolutionary struggle that was defined by its opposition to America, and then led a state often in conflict with Washington, it was natural that they were obsessed with the United States.

In terms of their international perspective, Ahmadinejad's generation of conservatives does not share its elders' preoccupation with America. Their insularity and their ideology-laden assumptions about America as a pernicious, imperial power lessen their enthusiasm for coming to terms with a country long depicted as the "Great Satan." Even a cursory examination of the younger hardliners' speeches reveals much about their view of international relations: that power in the international system is flowing eastward. As Ali Larijani, the head of the Supreme National Security Council, noted, "There are certain big states in the Eastern Hemisphere such as Russia, China and India. These states can play a balancing role in today's world." In a similar vein, another stalwart of the new conservatives, the current mayor of Tehran, Muhammad Qalibaf, declared, "In the current international arena we see the emergence of South Asia. And if we do not take advantage of that, we will lose." From the perspective of the new Right, globalization does not imply capitulating to the United States but cultivating relations with emerging power centers on the global landscape. It is hoped that such an "eastern orientation" might just obviate the need to come to terms with the United States.”

That is a terrible delusion, but an understandable one. As LI has been saying over and over again, there is a price for being a paper tiger. American irrelevance in Iraq, combined with the apparent carelessness about Al Qaeda, (so reminiscent of the aborted Carter era rescue of the hostages) combine to make American power seem not only defiable, but on a downhill slope. The Iranians can see every day who pays and who gains in Iraq. The Americans can loot the place, but they can’t even repair the fucking oil pipelines. And while the American papers always like to trumpet comments from their favorite Iraqi leaders that are anti-Iranian, that is window dressing. Oddly enough, Americans believe their own bullshit on these kinds of issues. Infinite are the paths of gullibility. In any case, instead of using Europe as the proxy for talking with Iran, we should surely be using China. Alas, Bush’s rude and frankly stupid behavior during the visit of the guy who has been paying our bills, the Chinese president Hu Jintao is a bad sign. It is always a bad sign when the neo-con agenda (China is the rising enemy!) converges with Bush’s bad Oedipal problems (Dad liked China!). Our royal nonesuch has a tendency to act out, then, when rationally, he should be heavily medicated and stored in a hangar somewhere at -10 degrees fahrenheit.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

peak privatization

The Wall Street Journal’s David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba turn in a good article on Bolivia’s nationalization – it puts it in the broad picture of the global trend away from privatization. The least LI can say about this is that we wrote an article for the Austin American Statesman a long time ago – in November, 2001 – predicting that the tide had turned on privatization. It is nice to be proven right. And Daniel Yergin can eat his hat.

However, while it makes sense from the standpoint of a country that depends on a primary product export to make as much off that export as possible, there are various problems with doing so. The Gulf states long ago nationalized their major export, and nobody calls the Gulf states hotbeds of communism – it is, in fact, a mistake to take the ideological tenor of nationalization too seriously. Whether Bolivia’s nationalization will just be a passing affair, or whether it will take, will depend on whether Morales’ government can attract the capital to build up a supervisory structure. And the time really is fortunate, insofar as Venezuela, if it was so inclined, could be a source of seed money.

"Chavez and Morales are both playing a game of chicken with foreign oil companies," said David Mares, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego who studies the regional oil industry.
It remains to be seen whether the moves by Messrs. Chavez and Morales will lead to a broader regional backlash against foreign oil companies and further complicate the global energy market. "Obviously there are concerns" about a ripple effect, "but we don't know what the future impact is going to be," said Bob Davis, an Exxon Mobil Corp. spokesman.”

Interestingly, Ecuador, mistaking itself for a free and autonomous country, has recently tried to put a surplus tax on oil companies sucking out Ecuador’s petroleum wealth. Of course, the Bush White House has decided that decision just won’t stand:
“Proposed legislation will increase the Ecuadorean government’s income from oil revenues by some US$600m a year at current prices, but could ruin the chances of a bilateral trade agreement with the US, which must be initialled by a May 15th deadline. Negotiations between the two countries have been in abeyance since March.
As have other oil-producing countries, Ecuador has moved to capture a greater share of the windfall earnings arising from a tripling of oil prices since 2002. Talks on a free-trade agreement (FTA) deal with the US began two years ago, at the same time as Andean neighbours Peru and Colombia. The latter two have both now signed agreements, which must now be ratified by their respective legislatures (as well as by the US Congress).

In all three countries there has been substantial domestic opposition to freer trade with the US, largely from producers such as farmers who see it as prejudicial to their interests but also from a vociferous nationalist lobby that considers it a capitulation to US pressure. In Ecuador, however, indigenous groups form the backbone of opposition to the trade accord. They have proven to be a potent force of protest in the recent past, contributing to direct action that has given rise to successive bouts of extreme political instability.

Although the US government is not bound to interfere in the foreign dealings of its domestic companies, the issue is closely tied to FTA negotiations because rules guaranteeing the enforceability of contracts are a central part of bilateral trade deals. FTA talks were suspended when the oil plans were first announced, and are yet to resume. Unless a comprise solution can be worked out by mid-May, a trade deal is unlikely to be brought before the US Congress for ratification before the mid-term elections later this year. Manuel Chiriboga, Ecuador’s chief trade negotiator, denies Ecuador is reneging on its commitment to investment protection clauses in established contracts, but has acknowledged that completing the trade deal on time is now a remote possibility.”

The Bush White House position is simple. In order to become independent of foreign oil, we have to start thinking of companies where American hq-ed oil companies work as secretly American. That way, it isn’t foreign anymore. And as American hq-ed companies do a lot for America – they lower the taxes they pay, they cycle money through offshore banks, and they send American legislators on very fun junkets – it is all to the good of your average American citizen.

One does have to laugh a bit, though. Here the biggest collection of senile cold warriors in the world sit on their asses in the Executive branch, losing a war in Iraq, while under their noses Latin America has tilted so far to the left that it makes the late seventies, when Carter was president, look like reactionary heaven. Plus, even Mexico has recently passed a reasonable law decriminalizing private possession, within reasonable limits, of most drugs.

All of the seams are coming out of the baseball.

Monday, May 01, 2006

hurray for the swinish multitude

For who can tell but the Millennium
May take its rise from my poor Cranium?..


LI has been reading a lot about the English radicals around Tom Paine in the 1790s. Interesting lot of characters, and very a propos for May Day. One of them, Thomas Spence, was a refugee from the North of England, coming to London after being expelled from a Dissenter congregation for publishing a pamphlet proposing that land itself was common – land, like air, could not be bought. A proposition that John Stuart Mill entertained, later, and that made up the bulk of Henry George’s radicalism. In London, Spence continued to emit his radical views through a wonderfully named weekly journal:

“Edmund Burke's reference to "the swinish multitude" provided Spence with a title for his greatest publishing venture. Between 1793 and 1796, he issued a weekly paper called "Pigs' Meat; or, Lessons for the Swinish Multitude," consisting of excerpts from many writings on liberty, attacks on despotism, and frequent verse. These papers were later issued as complete volumes; there were three in all, each with an engraved frontispiece by Spence's son.

The frontispiece for Volume I depicts a well-fed missionary and three graceful Indians. The missionary says: "God has enjoined you to be Christians, to pay rent and tythes, and become a Civilized People." One Indian replies: "If Rent we once consent to pay, Taxes next you'll on us lay, And then our Freedom's poured away;" at which the Indians chorus: "With the Beasts of the Wood We'll ramble for Food, And live in wild deserts and Caves; And live poor as Job, On the Skirts of the Globe, Before we'll consent to be Slaves, My Brave Boys, Before We'll consent to be Slaves!"

The frontispiece for Volume II has two Indians gazing at an unhappy donkey. One Indian says: "Behold the civilized Ass, Two pairs of Panyers on his Back; the First with Rents a heavy mass; With Taxes next his bones do crack." To which the donkey brays in response: "I'm doomed to endless Toil and Care-I was an Ass to bear the first Pair."

Spence apparently grew rather disgusted, at times, with the swinish multitude. While pigs “squeal most seditiously,” Spence found the people much too passive and compliant to live up to the piggish standard. Well, here’s to a May Day of squealing seditiously. Here’s Spence in a more satiric and bitter mood (from Carl Fisher’s essay on Politics and Porcine Representation):

“Ye swinish multitude who prate,

What know ye `bout the matter?'

Misterious are the ways of state,

Of which you should not chatter.

Our church and state, like man and wife,

Together kindly cuddle;

Together share the sweets of life

Together feast and fuddle.

Then hence ye swine nor make a rout,

Forbearance but relaxes;

We'll clap the muzzle on your snout,

Go work, and pay your taxes.”

Sunday, April 30, 2006

galbraith, RIP

Loneliness. John Kenneth Galbraith is dead.

In the NYT obituary, which is generous (as it should be), there are two paragraphs on the matter of Galbraith’s isolation from the economic community which cast a broad light on why Galbraith is generally right, and the mass of economists, drudges of rightwing ideology, are generally living in outer space:

“Mr. Galbraith argued that technology mandated long-term contracts to diminish high-stakes uncertainty. He said companies used advertising to induce consumers to buy things they had never dreamed they needed.

Other economists, like Gary S. Becker and George J. Stigler, both Nobel Prize winners, countered with proofs showing that advertising is essentially informative rather than manipulative.”

Adorno and Horkheimer, in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment, said that De Sade’s vision of a world of universal prostitution is a dystopian version of capitalism. Gary S. Becker’s neo-classical analysis of the family unit as essentially a matter of efficient transaction costs cast the world as a matter of universal prostitution and pronounced it good, and in doing so founded the Law and Economics field that has swallowed the justice system. Galbraith never liked the idea that we should live in a world of universal prostitution. For this, he got rocks thrown at him by the economics professors.

Not all, however:

“Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, maintains that Mr. Galbraith not only reached but also defined the summit of his field. In the 2000 commencement address at Harvard, Mr. Parker's book recounts, Mr. Sen said the influence of "The Affluent Society" was so pervasive that its many piercing insights were taken for granted.
"It's like reading 'Hamlet' and deciding it's full of quotations," he said.”
Well, LI searched for the proper poem to commemorate JKG. Here is Donald Davies’ Obiter Dicta,

Trying to understand myself, I fetch
My father's image to me. There he is, augmenting
The treasury of his prudence with a clutch
Of those cold eggs, Great Truths---his scrivener's hand
Confiding apopthegms to his pocket book.
Does mine do more than snap the elastic band
Of rhyme about them? In an age that teaches
How pearls of wisdom only look like eggs,
The tide, afflatus, still piles up on the beaches
Pearls that he prizes, stones that he retrieves
Misguidedly from poetry's undertow,
Deaf to the harsh retraction that achieves
Its scuttering backwash, ironies. And yet,
Recalling his garrulity, I see
There's method in it. Seeming to forget


The point at issue, the palmer tells his beads,
Strung by connections nonchalantly weak
Upon the thread of argument he needs
To bring them through his fingers, round and round,
Tasting of gristle, savoury; and he hears,
Like rubbing stones, their dry conclusive sound.

Himself an actor (He can play the clown),
He knows the poet's a man of parts; the sage
Is one of them, buffoonery like his own,
Means to an end. So, if he loves the page
That grows sententious with a terse distinction,
Yet lapidary moralists are dumb
About the precepts that he acts upon,
Brown with tobacco from his rule of thumb.

'Not bread but a stone!'---the deep-sea fishermen
Denounce our findings, father. Pebbles, beads,
Perspicuous dicta, gems from Emerson,
Whatever stands when all about it slides,
Whatever in the oceanic welter
Puts period to unpunctuated tides,
These, that we like, they hate. And after all, for you,
To take but with a pinch of salt to take
The maxims of the sages is the true
Great Truth of all. To keep, as you would say,
A sense of proportion, I should portion out
The archipelago across the bay,
One island to so much sea. Assorted
Poetic pleasures come in bundles then,
Strapped up by rhyme, not otherwise supported?

Turning about his various gems to take
Each other's lustre by a temperate rule,
He walks the graveyard where I have to make
Not centos but inscriptions, and a whole
That's moved from inward, dancing. Yet I trace
Among his shored-up epitaphs my own:
Art, as he hints, turns on a commonplace,
And Death is a tune to dance to, cut in stone.