“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, June 10, 2006

buzz buzz

Zarqawi’s death is giving a much needed boost to the media appearances of the terrorist experts who for three years have been consistently wrong about Zarqawi’s life. Because Zarqawi' convict-lawyer genius for gimcrack publicity coincided with the American military's need for a scapegoat (since in Iraq, unlike Vietnam, they can't really conjure up big, scary HQs just across the border in Cambodia, brimming with VC -- thus they have to make due with a reject from the Jordanian prison system), the Washington Post analysis (a thing of such breathlessness that it gives LI a nostalgic twinge – it sounds ever so Mission Accomplished, a flashback to 2003) written by Craig Whitlock rolls out sentences like these: “The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could mark a turning point for al-Qaeda and the global jihadist movement, according to terrorism analysts and intelligence officials.”

The error in Whitlock’s logic is given to us by any fairy tale: you don’t have to be a giant to be a giant killer. That the U.S. failed to take Zaqawi seriously, except as a propaganda excuse to link together Saddam Hussein and OBL, and then found him impossible to capture or to counter has more to do with the incredibly bad occupation planning by the our tenured and very senile War Minister than any particular genius of Zarqawi, who I’d rank up there with Clyde Barrow, but not, certainly not, Osama bin Laden.

Other self satirizing sentences from Whitlock:

“He was also a master media strategist, using the Internet to post videotaped beheadings of hostages and assert responsibility for some of Iraq's deadliest suicide attacks, usually in the name of al-Qaeda.”

“Zarqawi gave a boost to the al-Qaeda network by giving it a highly visible presence in Iraq at a time when its original leaders went into hiding or were killed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.”

And this one is particularly good: “But whoever succeeds him will be hard-pressed to achieve the same level of notoriety or to unite the foreign fighters in Iraq under a single command, analysts said.”

Actually, notoriety seems pathetically easy to achieve in Iraq. Since there is no security to speak of, except in the Green zone, the dullest nitwit can purchase a police uniform and weapons, which are more available than electricity or water, stop the random car filled with foreigners, snatch them after a firefight, and behead them on camera in one's own good time. Russian embassy officials, journalists (who are fewer on the ground all of the time), engineers, etc., etc. The constant stream of war mongers going to Iraq to proclaim how wonderful things are are not so deceived by their own lies that they are going to make the experiment. I wish they would. Mark Steyn, in 2003, made a very touted tour of Iraq in a car, and suffered no injury. LI wishes he’d try the same stunt again, just to see if there are any deadenders out there. He can take Presidential aide Zinsmeister with him, and they can pull up at suitable stops in Ramadi and Mosul and read Zinsmeisters definitive essay, The War Is Over and We Won, to adoring crowds.

But here’s the reality: after three years of occupation, the occupying forces have failed to such a deep extent that even Basra has now become murder city. When I talk to people about the war, even those violently opposed to it, I often hear: but we now have a moral obligation to Iraq to stay. This, of course, drives me mad. It is like saying that some drunk and crazy doctor has a moral obligation to stay with the patient he has butchered -- perhaps this time, he'll pull out just the right organ with his trusty scalpel. No and no and no, our moral obligation is to do no more harm. There's no point in trying to repair harm already inflicted, but we can and should withdraw now. Withdraw at the end of 2005/2004/2003. Ah, but the brainless monster lurches on, for the movie must end with the peasants, torches in hand, burning him out.

I imagine the drones will buzz and buzz about Zarqawi for another week or so. Much better to have headlines about our miraculously intelligent forces offing a man who was apparently in such bad odor with the insurgency itself that he was no longer safe in Anbar province than to have headlines about, say, the recent announcement of the Iraqi government that 6,000 murdered people in the last six months in Baghdad have been processed through the city’s morgue (which probably understates the number of the dead).

As LI pointed out in 2004, we have already reached the turning point in Iraq: the return of Sistani to Najaf. It is at that point that the Americans essentially became irrelevant, except as a sort of praetorian guard of ethnic cleansing -- a bigger, better equipped militia.

Now it is all turning points -- because we are going around in a complete and flawless circle, one fuckup feeding into the next.

PS – My comparison of the Americans in Iraq to a mad, drunken surgeon may have been too harsh … to mad, drunken surgeons. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon quietly announced that private contractors have the right to bag Iraqis any time, way, or place they feel like it – oops! I mean, they announced that after a solemn weighing of the incident in question, given the gravity of the situation, and factoring in the necessity to fight terrorism in the long, long war, no action is going to be taken against the Aegis contractors who were filmed firing at random Iraqi vehicles in a video that was then put on the internet, to a improv sound track of Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train (although the department did warn that future videos showing mercenaries massacring Iraqis will be investigated if they violate copyright law again – you just can’t rip off Elvis Presley’s estate, you know!)
We particularly liked this graf:

“No security contractor has been prosecuted for such incidents, in part because of an agreement forged soon after the U.S. invasion in 2003 that made it impossible for the Iraqi government to prosecute contract workers. While several contractors have been relieved of their duties for shooting without cause, actions taken against contractors are generally carried out quietly and rarely, if ever, disclosed.”

Forged is good. Forged doesn’t tell us who the forgers were, or who the forged were, -- but we sure know who the fucked are, in this case – those corpses that aren’t wearing blue suede shoes. Nothing but dead hounddogs here, boss!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

beinart

It had been a phobia of his for years that someday he would fall into the hands of madmen—in particular, madmen who seemed sane up until the last moment. – Philip Dick

LI knows exactly what Dick is talking about. Or perhaps I should say – America in general knows exactly what Dick is talking about. Except – do we? Do we, Walt-Whitman-Alan-Ginsburg-Muddy-Waters' America? Case in point is Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight. We ignored the excerpt in the NYT magazine, but we knew it wasn’t going to go away.

Beinart has taken a page and a phrase from the Weekly Standard, and issued a call for a liberal foreign policy of ‘American greatness.’ To make his case, he unfolds a narrative of stalwart cold war liberalism – Truman, Kennedy and (not mentioned in the TPM post, but surely a presence) Henry Jackson. Beinart proposes to be our modern Kennan. Kennan’s memo about Russia gave an intellectual blessing to Truman’s anti-communist/security state program. Out of that fountainhead issued the CIA, the expanded and never contracted Pentagon, SAC, the interventions starting in Greece and ending in Angola, etc., etc. Beinart correctly sees that this liberalism had a double face, with the domestic side using foreign policy as an excuse (or, I suppose Beinart would say, as a platform) for expanding the role of government in the economy, gradually forcing the governing class to expand civil rights, and construct a welfare society. Beinart does like to lard his punditry with the kind of prophetic vistas that real estate salesmen selling houses near paper mills put in their pitches.

“In the liberal vision, it is precisely our recognition that we are not angels that makes us exceptional. Because we recognize that we can be corrupted by unlimited power, we accept the restraints that empires refuse. That is why the Truman administration self-consciously shared power with America’s democratic allies, although we comprised one half of the world’s GDP and they were on their knees.
Moral humility breeds international restraint. That restraint ensures that weaker countries welcome our preeminence, and thus, that our preeminence endures. It makes us a great nation, not a predatory one. At home, because America realizes that it does not embody goodness, it does not grow complacent. Rather than viewing American democracy as a settled accomplishment to which others aspire, we see ourselves as engaged in our own democratic struggle, which parallels the one we support abroad. It was not the celebration of American democracy that inspired the world in the 1950s and 1960s, but America’s wrenching efforts—against McCarthyism and segregation—to give our democracy new meaning. Then, as now, the threat to national greatness stems not from self- doubt, but from self- satisfaction.”

Beinart realizes that this vision isn’t shared by all liberals – in fact, it is increasingly scoffed at – and responds to that scoffing much like Mildred Pierce finally owning up to the moral flaws of her daughter:

“This vision has sometimes divided liberals themselves. Recognizing American fallibility means recognizing that the United States cannot wield power while remaining pure. From Henry Wallace in the late 1940s to Michael Moore after September 11, some liberals have preferred inaction to the tragic reality that America must shed its moral innocence to act meaningfully in the world.”

America shedding its moral innocence is a phrase that Mencken would certainly have loved – it concentrates, in one butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth phrase, a flabbiness of vision so comprehensive that one could run a think tank on it for a year.

For good and ill, America has never been morally innocent. The unjustified transfer of the qualities of a human being to a nation can insensibly lead to the idea that nations are also, at one time, babies. But nations are at no time babies. Nations are conceived in fire and blood, and they would not survive for a day if they were not so designed that they served the interests of the most powerful class within them. Rather than innocence, America suffers most from moral ignorance –from an inability to deduce, from the chain of actions that constitute its history with other nations, the co-extensive tendencies and structures that have been built up inside this country. If I continually find myself with a hangover on waking up in the morning, I should, as a rational person, deduce that I have a tendency to drink too much – and not that I think so much about virtue and God that my brain hurts.

Unfortunately, in the twentieth century, the culture and political economy of war has become so strong in America that the country has a hard time shedding it even when, as now, it has become counter-productive. Beinart’s problem actually is in seeing that war has a price – even wars that are won have a price that they exact from the victor nation. That is what makes the phrase ‘good war’ so satanic – it attaches people to war under false pretenses. While it might be good to win a war, it is never good to wage one – it is, at best, necessary. But when you have promoted the habit of war, both by grossly inflating the war related economy within your country and by childishly refusing to examine your country’s interests in the context of military conflict –substituting rhetoric about national greatness for the reality of the compromises between justice and economic and political interests that must determine any nation’s foreign policy – you have ceased to analyze at all. You have started to maunder.

In his response to Beinart, Max Sawiky takes out a sawed off shotgun and puts a load of double ought in the quivering jello of the national greatness thing. Myself, I wish only to indicate that Beinart's argument is part of a larger argument that is not being joined. The larger argument is that the Cold War is not a model, but a deleterious compulsion to which the elite go back because they have lost their sense for alternatives. In fact, the thing America needs to do least, at the moment, is hold fast in the long war against ‘jihadist totalitarianism’ – Beinart’s comic phrase for the barely controlled anarchy that has, so far, infested only one state that we know of, Afghanistan during the 90s. Unless he is subtly suggesting we should sneak attack Saudi Arabia. That we should orient our whole foreign policy to preventing other Afghanistans is perhaps the dumbest thing he suggests – it competes with the inability, at least in the excerpts, to recognize that the Cold War mentality actually vitiated America’s war against Osama bin Laden, since that war was fought, as it were, absent-mindedly – while the troops were closing in on Tora Bora, the commander, in Tampa, and the Secretary of War, in D.C., were dreaming of Iraq. And so the best of all possible worlds was formed, by accident and intention – Osama escapes, terrorism is on tap, and the ‘jihadist threat’ can be pulled out of a hat anytime to justify more military malarkey. It really is a minor threat, but, frustratingly, the last people who will treat it as a threat are the same people who continually tell us it is a major threat. They treat Al Qaeda the way the producers of Friday the 13th treated Freddie Krueger – as a dependable monster generating an infinite amount of sequels.

Beinart’s history – his idea that we should revive cold war liberalism now, rolling out the references to Truman, to Kennedy, to the Missile Crisis, etc., – reminds me of what Gibbon said about Constantine’s arch. Constantine, to celebrate himself and his new capital city, demanded a triumphant monument. But there was a small problem in building one from scratch:

“To revive the genius of Phidias and Lysippus, surpassed indeed the power of a Roman emperor; but the immortal productions which they had bequeathed to posterity were exposed without defence to the rapacious vanity of a despot. By his commands the cities of Greece and Asia were despoiled of their most valuable ornaments.The trophies of memorable wars, the objects of religious veneration, the most finished statues of the gods and heroes, of the sages and poets, of ancient times, contributed to the splendid triumph of Constantinople; and gave occasion to the remark of the historian Cedrenus, who observes, with some enthusiasm, that nothing seemed wanting except the souls of the illustrious men whom these admirable monuments were intended to represent. But it is not in the city of Constantine, nor in the declining period of an empire, when the human mind was depressed by civil and religious slavery, that we should seek for the souls of Homer and of Demosthenes.”

Depressed by the civil and religious slavery of the Bush era, I don’t think we should seek for the souls of FDR and John Kennedy in the bodies of Hilary Clinton and Joe Liberman.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

just like king Nebuchnezzar's blues

Well, LI is on a tight schedule due to work this week. So we are going to have to be uncharacteristically close mouthed. We do recommend the Peter Popham article about Venice – since, obviously, the aim of this site is to highlight every fucking depressing fact we can cull from the World disaster and howl before it – or at least low, like Nebuchnezzar among the grass blades.

“The only practicable way to keep out the high tides, engineers decided, was to have gates fixed to the lagoon floor that would hinge upwards to close it off to at times of emergency. And so the Moses scheme was drawn up, envisaging 78 massive gates, each 28m wide and 18m long, fixed to the lagoon floor.

The politicians then sat down and chewed the idea over. For the best part of 30 years. There were a hundred different views on the project, and the damage it could do. It wouldn't work at all. It would cause the lagoon to fill with stagnant water, it would kill of the lagoon's ecological diversity. It was a scam by capitalist corporations to make a killing at the city's expense. Governments in Rome came and went - at the rate of about two per year - without taking the difficult decision.
Finally, three years ago, then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi cried "Basta!" and set the project in motion. The first stone, bearing his name and ceremonially set in place by him, is now at the bottom of the lagoon.”

Popham gives his undivided support to this project to save Venice. Things are bad in several ways in Venice. For instance, the population in the city of Venice proper is at the lowest point since –well, the 13th century? Unfortunately, the object of ire in Popham’s article, the new mayor of Venice and his opposition to Moses, isn’t properly described – he is only decried. Popham concedes that 20th century ‘improvements’ have played havoc with Venice:

“The man-made Venice Lagoon has three inlets from the sea. The industrialisation of the lagoon during the 20th century, the destruction of sand banks and their replacement by concrete ones, and the digging of canals to allow big ships to enter, have made the lagoon far more vulnerable to floods, experts say. Conditions inside and outside are today more or less the same.”

However, he seems to view the Moses project as unquestionable. We wonder. We do think that John Kay’s proposal that Venice be turned over to Disney – much as Times Square, at least in spirit, has been – must be making Ruskin turn over in his grave. This is the way the world ends/not with a bang but with Goofy, Pocahontas and the Lion King. As Eliot might have said – although, stuffing his pockets with cash from Cats, who know what he would have really said.

Monday, June 05, 2006

the sycophant's dilemma

No American writer would have fit as easily into court society – whether in Idi Amin’s Kampala or in Caesar Borgia’s Rome – as Fred Barnes. The man is not just your average D.C. ass kisser. He is somehow beyond that. He is to flattery what de Sade was to cruelty: there is a sexual relish in his praises of our present Commander in Chief that was embodied by that wonderful crotch shot pic on the cover of his last book, Rebel in Chief. Latent homoeroticism be damned – the sexual excitements of other people are, of course, sealed by seals even the angels in Revelations can't unlock, but obviously the zipper of our Rebel in Chief and the sacred object found behind it fills Barnes with an eagerness, a reverence that he has as much difficulty mastering as I have comprehending. But there it is, unabashed, unashamed. His career of abasement before right wing thugs (two thumbs up, Benito Mussolini!) has created a prose style that is the equivalent of a dog wagging its tail while it begs for a biscuit, except that dogs have constraints built into their body talk from which Barnes, who is rumored to be human, is free, using as he often does something like language.

Which is all by way of recommending Barnes’ article on Jeb Bush in the Weekly Standard. In it, Barnes has created a new philosophical conundrum: the sycophant’s dilemma. It is a variant of the Buridan's ass problem. You remember, there are two equally delicious piles of hay put before an ass, one on the right, one on the left. Which will the ass prefer, and why? In Barne’s version of the conundrum, we have two male, oh so testosteroni, oh so rockstar, squeezingly male Bushes put before the ravished eyes of our groupie. Now, which shall receive the higher praise? Is it to be our Rebel in Chief – so precious, so manly, so mission is accomplished? Or is it the leaner, meaner Jeb? So Christian that one remembers the sexy pictures of Jesus from Sunday School, so cut the government and cut taxes that one can almost imagine him stepping over the starved and dessicated bodies of poor people (but then, Rebel in Chief one ups him – for who has done more to kill off poor people than our Katrina Kommando!). So you can see, Barnes is in a sexual stew:

“Friends of Jeb compare him favorably with his brother, but they're wary of doing it on the record. One former Republican governor insisted that Jeb Bush "is far more gifted than his brother or his father," the elder President Bush. A consultant who knows both Jeb and George says, "Jeb is excellent and George is above average."
The conventional wisdom is that Jeb is the smart one who thinks through issues, and George is merely savvy and acts on instinct. That's a media myth. Both think alot before they act. And they agree on many things. JebBush has visited Iraq and backs the policy there. He agrees with his brother on immigration and taxes and soon.
But there are significant differences, so many that conservative activist Grover Norquist says, "Jeb Bush is adopted." There's no "genetic mix" with his father or his brother, according to Norquist. He is joking, of course, to highlight the ideological gap between Jeb and the Bush family. Jeb Bush is a small government conservative. He was feted in Washington in 2003 by the libertarian Cato Institute and talks about having a "libertarian gene." President Bush has no such gene. He's what I call a strong government conservative and others refer to as a big government conservative. True, President Bush is closer ideologically to President Reagan than to his father, a moderate. But Jeb Bush is closer to Reagan than his brother is.”

Delight and anguish deliciously mix here in much the same way they mixed in the soul of Humbert Humbert, bringing bad domestic news to his step daughter, Lo.

Here are other Barnesisms from the article:

“But Jeb Bush has turned out to be the superior governor of the two. He's the most powerful chief executive in Florida in modern times and has had a positive impact on the state in almost every conceivable way--economically, fiscally, educationally, politically, and the list could go on and on.”

“In this state, he is the guy," House Democratic leader Dan Gelber told Wil S. Hylton of GQ magazine. "Everybody else is not even in the ballpark. He's a rock star."”

“Bush, after handling eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has become the undisputed national leader in emergency management.”
“…his command of the intricacies of policy … a hands-on governor, Bush is a workaholic…he learned how to project his charm and likability …He's not only a limited government conservative, but a social and religious conservative as well…”

The list could go on and on... LI has read Penthouse Letters that are less heated. (In fact, we did an article, years ago, about erotica writers, and mostly they were a glum crew. But somehow I think Barnes' loves his fantasies even in his off hours). It is, in its own perverse, disgusting way, inspiring. While I’d say that the last five years of Bush culture have rank up there with the last five years of Ceauşescu’s rule for tawdry failure, corruption, and an indictment of the country’s civilization as a whole, it is a little cheering to know that one man, getting to share body space in the same room, sometimes, some record-it-in-your-pillow-diary-times, with the Rebel in Chief (oh, and he shook my hand. I will never wash this hand again! Ever! I swear it diary.) is living his dream life, shuttling between Bush brothers. These are the best years of Fred Barnes' life, make no mistake about it. That he is a prominent media personality, on TV whenever he wants to be, is the sad thing – his dream life being our national nightmare and all, you know.