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

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

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

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bela Tarr

Taking advice from our reader, Amie, LI went out and rented Damnation, the Bela Tarr film, the other day. We’ve watched it twice. …

I’m a reviewer of books, not film. I don’t know how to approach the medium. But let’s say something about Damnation anyway. Or one sequence. The sequence begins in a torrential rain – the rain beats down upon the coal mining city where the film is located, with few let ups, all through the film. You see the lights – this is a b&w film -- announcing the Titanik Bar. A car pulls up. A man gets out of it. We see all this from a camera that is mounted just behind the back of another man’s head, which looms in the shadows of the foreground. The camera is watching the bar at approximately his angle. Then the camera goes into the bar. In Goodfellas and Mean Streets, Scorcese made going into a bar or club a virtuoso fugue for camera, fluidly moving into the Copacabana (I think it was, in Goodfellas) through the kitchen and out into the show area with the faces of the people in the kitchen, first, and then the lit tables in the dark all turning to greet Henry and his date, and Henry greeting or stuffing money into the pockets of waiters and busboys. It was a perfect reflection of the giddiness of Henry’s date, but in its uninterrupted flow it stitches that giddiness into a larger glamour - Scorcese's camera seems to be making a liquid dive into the 'night' part of the nightclub, Peggy Lee's night, downtown. Tarr is so different. His camera is infinitely slow, and it will advance by millimeters on some completely trivial detail. There is a sequence, a really great sequence, later on, when the camera just shows a concrete wall sluiced by rainwater for almost two minutes. Going into the Titanik, we slowly go around, examining the patrons, who are often in odd angles and seemingly stunned. The camera has an ancient slowness – it is like an old man carefully examining his surroundings. The patrons and the bus people are like Brueghel’s peasants after the Industrial revolution and two world wars – they work in filth and rain, and outside of work they search for oblivion, escape from all thought, sprawled in stupor in chairs in the corners. We see them, at various moments, throughout the film, until we reach a sequence at the end of the film showing a dance that becomes a collective, linked arm dance, in which the stupor is completely cast off. A man – probably the lover, a man we have seen at the beginning of the film – has his hands over his face. And then the music begins. A deathly slow camera approach to the singer, a blonde woman with a big face, who holds the mike with one hand and holds a cigarette in the other – against which she is also leaning her head. She wears a cheap, crumpled black vinyl raincoat, and her big eyes with the big fake eyelashes are closed. She croons a love song that repeats variations on “its over/there’s no end, no end now.” At one point she does open her eyes, the song goes into a sort of small speaking chant – “he has the upper hand/without him life is barren” – then closes her eyes, and finishes the song. Not only her lover is gone, but he has taken her life. She really does seem to be at the lowest point, that point at which a person realizes that there actually is no lowest point, and that hell is simply an accurate representation of the human nervous system, with its infinite capacity for new and different shades of pain and its limited, even stunted, capacity for pleasure. Bottomless hells, sentimental heavens. The singers thin, exquisite voice – only exquisite in this one sequence, otherwise we only hear her harsh voice, talking, or her angry screams, in future sequences – seems to be trying to strip off not only the tatters of a superficial individual dignity which, offered to her lover, is weighed by him and found wanting, (as though it were the fatal law of the economy of love that the gift offered by the lover loses, in the moment of its surrender, the only value it ever had, which is precisely that it would never be offered) but the tattered dignity of the whole system, the filthy bars, eternal coal mine, the cheap clothes, the wretched faces that have been pounded by the years and years of futile labor.

Now, I am a huge fan of torch singing in movies. Obviously Tarr’s reference point is not Scorcese, but the Blue Angel. Just as that movie ends with Lola’s (Marlene Dietrich’s) lover doing an imitation of a cock crowing, Damnation ends with the lover doing an imitation of a dog. Everything is prefigured in the sequence that shows the song. The Barthesian question is: why do I want to see this sequence over and over?

Friday, July 28, 2006

the tora bora conspiracy

"Osama bin Laden turned Blackwater into what it is today," Clark said. – Virginia Pilot, series on Blackwater, the mercenary company, July 24, 2006

In one of his weirder essays, “Secret Societies,” De Quincey claimed that at the age of seven (an important age for de Quincey – the age when his father died, and the age when he started dreaming vividly), he was introduced to the literature on secret societies – specifically, the dreaded Illuminati – by a thirty four year old woman. She loaned him Abbe Barruel’s Memoires pour servir a l’histoire du Jamcobinisme, a book that recounted the “dark associations” of a vast society organized to over throw Christianity. De Quincey was particularly – or perhaps morbidly – fascinated by Barruel’s use of a disease metaphor that has perennially clung to the conspiracy discourse

“I had already Latin enough to know that cancer meant a crab; and that the disease so appalling to a child’s imagination, which in English we call a cancer, asoon as it has passed beyond the state of an indolent scirrhous tumour, drew its name from the horrid claws, or spurs, or roots, by which it connected itself with distant points running underground, as it were, baffling detection, and defying radical extirpation.”

De Quincey, at seven, asks the right questions: ‘Then, also, when wickedness was so easy, why did people take all this trouble to be wicked? The how and the why were alike incomprehensible to me.”

“The mysteriousness to me of men becoming partners (and by no means sleeping partners) in a society of which they had never heard, - or, again, of one fellow standing at the beginning of a century, and stretching out his hand as an accomplice towards another fellow standing at the end of it, without either having known of the other’s existence, -- all that did but sharpen the interest of wonder that gathered about the general economy of Secret Societies. Tertullian’s profession of believing things, not in spite of being impossible, but simply because they were impossible, is not the extravagance that most people suppose it. There is a deep truth in it. Many are the things which, in proportion as they attract the highest modes of belief, discover a tendency to repel belief on that part of the scale which is governed by the lower understanding. And here, as so often elsewhere, the axiom with respect to extremes meeting manifests its subtle presence. The highest form of the incredible is sometimes the initial form of the credible.”

Albert Pionke, in Plots of Opportunity, his study of conspiracy literature in Victorian England, highlights the notion of a general economy of secret societies – the phrase being marked, for the literatus, by Bataille’s notion of general economy. But LI loves those last two sentences – English eccentricity finding its metaphysics.

Myself, I take a literary interest in conspiracies. I’ve noticed, however, much talk about conspiracy theory lately on the blogs, including a post on Charlotte Street contrasting conspiracy theory and incompetence. I think Mark Kaplan is responding to the conspiracy theories that still revolve around 9/11. In fact, there are nothing but conspiracy theories that revolve around 9/11. The orthodox view, which I share, is that the 9/11 attack was the result of a conspiracy devised by the leadership of Al Qaeda. Other theories finger other devisers of the attack – none of those theories seem to me to be convincing on any level. De Quincey’s question to the woman who gave him Barruel’s book was, why are the illuminati conspiring to overthrow Christianity? Her response was that then they could commit all kinds of wickedness, to which the wise child replied, but they could commit all kinds of wickedness anyway.

On the other hand, I have nursed my own conspiracy theory about another incident in the “war on terror … ttt-terrorism… ttt-terrorists.” In fact, I am very surprised that this incident has attracted so little attention. Perhaps it is because the Lefty side that opposes Bush has such ambiguous feelings about the Afghanistan war that it doesn't want to investigate what it means to leave a terrorist group on tap. I’m talking, of course, about the battle of Tora Bora, and the escape of Bin Laden into Pakistan.

Here is an instance, I think, when incompetence and conspiracy are two faces of the same coin. What really happened at Tora Bora has been reported, as most of the fuck-ups of the non-war have been reported, long after it really happened. To disarm the news, simply delay it for enough years that people don’t care any more – that does seem to be the strategy of the Big Fix in D.C., and it certainly works on the journalists. None of them, so far, have taken the hint from Suskind about Bush’s meeting with the CIA in August, 2001 and deepened it, so we still don’t know have a complete sense of our unpreparedness due, almost uniquely, to the apathy of the reigning potentate.

Anyway, I recently came across Army Times reporter Sean Naylor’s account of the battle. According to Naylor, the incompetence factor (although he doesn’t put it so bluntly) can be laid at the feet of General “Kick me in the ass” Franks, who operated in our heroic Afghanistan war as a conduit for the senilities of Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld, of course, didn’t want the Afghanistan war to involve regular troops, on the theory that that is where the Russians went wrong. No, we’d used bombing and our super duper special forces – initial decisions that we are paying for today. Anyway, the American force that approached Tora Bora at the end of November, 2001 was extremely small, and depended on Afghan allies that were busy feuding with each other. According to Naylor, as the siege proceeded, the Air Force flew over the twenty mile passage between Tora Bora and Pakistan and recorded “hot spots” on their heat sensing equipment. Now, CENTCOM, unbelievably, had never considered the possibility that Al Qaeda’s forces could escape from Tora Bora – thus, there were no guards on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the hot spot data did provoke some consultation:

“The Generals in Kuwait recommend[ed] bombing the positions as soon as possible. But Franks [who, you will recall, bravely lead our heroic troops from a boat in Florida] and his staff did not see it like that. “They might be shepherds,” was Control Command’s attitude, according to two officers who sat in on the video-teleconferences in which the matter was discussed. At CFLCC that theory didn’t wash. The idea that scores of shepherds were tending to their flocks at 10,000 feet in the middle of winter was implausible.”

Implausible is a kindly word. Let’s recall what was happening back at the scene in Tora Bora. This is from the NYT Magazine’s rather thorough article about it in 2005:

“The American bombardment of Tora Bora, which had been going on for a month, yielded to saturation airstrikes on Nov. 30 in anticipation of the ground war. Hundreds of civilians died that weekend, along with a number of Afghan fighters, according to Hajji Zaman, who had already dispatched tribal elders from the region to plead with bin Laden's commanders to abandon Tora Bora.” – Mary Ann Weaver, NYT, 9/11/05

Recall, also, that at the time Franks was displaying this untoward shepherdophilia, the U.S. was accepting payment from the Northern alliance in captives gathered at random – the camel driver, the Avon salesman, the cab driver – and subjecting them to the waterboarding, beatings, and sometimes murder that they obviously richly deserved.

So if it wasn’t kindness that drove Franks, what could it be? Well, LI’s search for a theory would begin by asking who would gain an advantage by a stripped down force of Al Qaeda escaping to Pakistan. Hmm. Well, they would provide a ready reminder of “terror” if there were people in the military and in the White House who intended to use the 9/11 attack to provoke, for purely political reasons, further wars that would aggrandize their shaky political position and – oh joy – unleash the fruits of the war culture, giving the government an excuse to spend hundreds of billions of dollars, especially in the Red States, and sweetening the retirement of every general who went along.

The problem with this theory is that it implies that the White House is full of cretinous, treasonous creatures who would flush the interests of the country down the toilet if it gave them an extra meal or two at Signatures restaurant.

Hmmm.

In any case, how nice and thoughtful of OBL to be around, and popping out whenever needed, at the small cost of a few collateral deaths in Casablanca, London, and Madrid.

One of the very grateful people should be the founder of Blackwater, the mercenary company. The Virginia Pilot’s JOANNE KIMBERLIN AND BILL SIZEMORE have written a six piece series on that company. Here are highlights from different articles in the series.

“Blackwater wants all doors open. The company says it has more than two dozen projects under way, an almost dizzying pursuit of new frontiers.

“Among them:

-- In addition to its ongoing assignments guarding American officials and facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater has won contracts to combat the booming opium trade in Afghanistan and to support a SEAL-like maritime commando force in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic.

-- On the home front, Hurricane Katrina's $73 million purse has persuaded Blackwater officials to position themselves as the go-to guys for natural disasters. Operating licenses are being applied for in every coastal state of the country. Governors are being given the pitch, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom a Blackwater official recently visited to discuss earthquake response.

"We want to make sure they're aware of who we are and what we can bring to the table," said Seamus Flatley, deputy director of Blackwater's new domestic operations division. "We want to get out ahead of it."

-- Last year, the company opened offices in Baghdad and Amman, Jordan. More recent expansion plans call for a Blackwater West in Southern California and a jungle training facility at the former Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines.”

From the first article:

“The company had spent its first three years struggling for an identity, paying staff with an executive's credit card and begging for customers.

"But in 2000, in the fallout from the terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, Blackwater found its future: providing security in an increasingly insecure world.

"There is nothing humble about the company today. In March, Fast Company business magazine, under the heading "Private Army," named Blackwater President Gary Jackson No. 11 in its annual "Fast 50" list of leaders who are "writing the history of the next 10 years." It made special note of the company's estimated 600 percent revenue growth between 2002 and 2005.

Blackwater has rocketed from obscurity to the big time in less than a decade. Peter Singer, author of "Corporate Warriors" and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says that although Blackwater might not be the biggest player in the private military industry, "they've certainly gained the biggest profile."”

“While the company had struggled early on, its timing was excellent. Several forces had created a perfect storm for the rise of the private military industry.

"Instead of peace, the end of the Cold War created a power vacuum and a chaotic world order, putting millions of former soldiers out on the market. At the same time, there was a growing trend toward privatization of government functions. The result: a $100 billion-a-year global business.”

Ah, all the disgusting details. Definitely check out these articles at the Virginia Pilot’s site. Yes, who did benefit from OBL’s escape? Hint – it wasn’t shepherds.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

stuff about lebanon, israel, and why the washington post editorial page is to laugh

LI must confess that we haven’t been doing the rounds of the blogs lately. We go to the news, and wonder how to make comments that are at all equal to the task – watching the rightwing in Israel, which has grown in tandem with the right wing in the U.S., commit the kind of crimes and blunders that are so characteristic of the Bush era, is painful to watch – more painful, I imagine, if you are watching from under the burning wheels of a van struck by an Israeli bomb, after the kindly dropping of pamphlets to tell you that Israel is going to violate the sovereignty of Lebanon and destroy all you possess, so flee down the road. Then we go to our new secret vice, the Google Book search. We look at Walter Savage Landor, or Ruskin’s Praeterita, instead of looking at Atrios, or Crooked Timber.

So: the best opinion piece about Israel/America’s war against Lebanon is, surprisingly, an op ed on the NYT: The Tribes of War by Abbas El Zein. He does a coldly angry rundown of Israel’s last war with Lebanon – the dead, which number more than the richly valued, much reported Israeli dead over the past fifty years – the Israeli insouciance about national boundaries, about proportional force, etc., etc.

El Zein begins with a faux pas – the story of how Israeli planes murdered his grandmother. Please, we can hear the letters now, how about the suicide bomber who blew up my aunt? Those are the polite ones. The others will be of the LGF/Washington Post editorial kind, where the blood is never washed out of the mouth. Even though, curiously, it is proxy blood – no rightwing yahoo in his right mind is going to be fighting in this war, or any other, but some will make brave little tourist trips, like Michael Totten, to assure the lobotomized at home that democracy is our cause, and the people are with us! Except the 90 some percent, the extermination fodder. Of course, the exterminated, nowadays, have something to say about their extermination. Ambushes and nuclear weaponry seem to be on the rise. Globalization, you know. First you get the mcdonalds, then you get the nuclear tipped missile.

El Zein:
“When the civil war in Lebanon ended, in 1990, we took a while to believe it. It could restart at any time, an inner voice told us. A few years later, peace became the norm. Everyone believed in it and belief made it more real. We never suspected that, years later, our original skepticism would be cruelly validated, and the fragility of collective sanity in the Middle East would be exposed once again.
The estimated death toll from the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was 18,000, about 0.5 percent of the population. Twenty-four years later, I have yet to hear any sign of remorse emanating from Israeli society. Nor were there any reparations for the carnage wrought by the Israeli Army. When the Israeli press, politicians and intellectuals speak with regret about the ''Lebanon War,'' it is usually to say the cost to Israel was too high or to point out that the invasion failed to achieve its objectives. The Lebanese fatalities are rarely discussed.
A joke went around during the civil war that it was safer to be a target of the Israeli warplanes than to be exposed to the ineffectual anti-aircraft fire directed against them. Lebanese bullets seemed certain to hit you if you fled, whereas if you stayed put, the Israeli missiles would probably land in your neighbor's house, not yours.
Since then, air strikes have grown more precise and the Israeli Air Force appears to have expanded its range: planes now target your neighbor's house and your own. Recent images from Lebanon are chillingly familiar -- fathers watching their children die, mothers expiring in children's laps. Dozens of stories like my grandmother's are being re-enacted. Dozens of new graves are being dug.”

I would contrast this with something from the WAPO editorial page, but I don’t have the proxy poxy heart at the moment. The Washington Post has been a good crusader for years, and the El Zein’s of the world aren’t worth a good Georgetown chuckle – how could the plaints of the barbarians even be heard when you are a D.C. mover and shaker, privileged perhaps, to lunch with Charles Krauthammer himself on oysters, martinis and rabies medicine?

For laughs, however, I recommend reading Peter Baker’s analysis, a GOP sob story written as though by a high school YAF member about Bush’s bounce and why the third coming of the Crawford messiah has been delayed. A shame too, for, as Baker observes often in the piece, the President needs to rally the world – for instance, against Iran. The president has successfully created rallies in many parts of the world, at least that part is true. But Baker, being a dimwit (imagine a writer who makes Adam Nagourney look like A.J. Liebling), is in many ways a good reporter to read – the childish superhero motif isn’t hidden in his prose, but comes right to the surface. These people think like ten year old boys. Alas, they are equipped with real thermonuclear weapons.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

rwg communications

He was a shiftless person, roving and magotieheaded, and sometimes little better than crased. – Anthony a Woods on John Aubrey.

LI is jonesing due to lack of customers for his ‘umble writing services. Unlike Tom Taylor the Water Poet, who liked to take trips without carrying a single pence in his pocket and see who’d put him up for the betterment of all mankind and the sweet English language, LI has so far not convinced Austin power to contribute to the deathless tradition of literature. So, we’re going to advertise two things today. One is the writing service, about which we’ve written a new flyer. And the other is this gig we are doing Sunday.

First the gig, for which this is the official flyer:





PRESS RELEASE

July 26, 2006
Contact: Robert Hicks (512) 936-4600,
robert.hicks@TheStoryofTexas.com

TEXAS AUTHORS SHARE THEIR PASSIONS AT
WRITER'S BRAGGIN' RIGHTS AT
THE BOB BULLOCK TEXAS STATE HISTORY MUSEUM
ON SUNDAY, JULY 30


What: Writer's Braggin' Rights
When: Sunday July 30, 7 - 9 pm
Where: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Texas Spirit Theater
Admission: Free; reservations required
Public Contact: (512) 936-4649 for reservations

Austin, TX -- Visitors to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum will find that there's no lack of braggin' when it comes to writing about the Lone Star State. On Sunday July 30th from 7-9 pm in the Texas Spirit Theater, visitors are invited to a free program called Writer's Braggin' Rights where Texas authors will share their stories supporting the exhibit themes of Perseverance, Pride and Vision found in the special exhibition It STILL Ain't Braggin' If It's True.

The program will be moderated by Roger Gathman, an independent writer, translator and editor, and will feature three diverse writers. Texas novelist and historian James L. Haley will present his new book Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas; author of Sonnets and Salsa, Carmen Tafolla will discuss her work as a screenwriter and poet; and award-winning journalist Denise McVea will present her new book Making Myth of Emily: Emily West de Zavala and the Yellow Rose of Texas. The authors will be available to sign books and a reception will follow the presentation. Call (512) 936-4649 for reservations.

The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is located at 1800 N. Congress Avenue at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. For more information call 512-936-8746 or visit us on-line at www.TheStoryofTexas.com.


The second advertisement is for the writing service. This is my latest advertising/annoying letter.

I am writing to inform you of a writing service especially designed to suit the needs of college students, academics and professionals.

You need my editing services if you are:
· creating texts to meet the highest academic standard
· having trouble achieving the degree of clarity you desire for your work
· writing to meet the particular stylistic requirements of either an academic publication or a dissertation
· or needing help in shaping texts to reach a general audience.

Rates are negotiable, depending on the specifics of the project. I charge per page -- not per hour or per word. Minimum charge is $25.00. If you are working with a tight budget, I can negotiate a lower fee for you. Student fees for papers start at $4.00 per page, with higher cost depending on research required, deadlines, and extent of editing needed. Otherwise, per page cost is from $6.00 on up, depending on complexity, deadline, and amount of research work involved. Independent writers involved in larger projects -- for instance, books - can negotiate aggregated fees outside of my usual per page charges. For instance, if you have a 300 page manuscript, I will charge a total fee, rather than per page. The same offer holds for larger academic projects, like dissertations. Graduate students are often advised to receive researching and editorial help on the literature review section of dissertations. Some chose to extend that help to the whole dissertation. In all such cases, the total fee is lower.

You can go to the following RWG Communications link for further information on our past projects and company philosophy

http://www.geocities.com/rogergathman/writing.html

If this is of interest to someone you know, can you send that person a copy of this letter? 10% off for those clients who mention limitedinc. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Roger Gathman
rgathman@netzero.net

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

if the blind lead the blind...


“Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the
blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” – Matthew, 15:14.


The phrase comes out of a society and historic period in which the sight of the sighted leading the blind must have been no uncommon thing, just as glaucoma, the effect of parasites, the wear and tear of age, and the clinamen of the genetic arc must have sprinkled the blind and nearsighted over the landscape pretty abundantly. Jesus’ saying has a characteristic starkness – it is in the decisiveness of his inversions and metaphors that one feels the messianic impulse, the making of the first last and the last first. Brueghel’s painting, which multiplies the number of the blind into a small band, much like the bands of beggars one would encounter in the war ravaged low country during the long Dutch revolt against the Spanish, thrusts upon the observer the utter violence of Jesus' phrase. Yet the observer is himself in a peculiar position: he is at the point where, in effect, he is catching the stumbling leader of the pack -- putting him, the observer, the one outside the picture, in the ditch.

But here's what Jesus didn't imagine. Jesus didn’t imagine was that the blind would demand to be lead by the blind, and only the blind. This is an American refinement on stupidity. LI is its prophet.

For an entertaining glimpse into the blind demanding blind leaders and deeper ditches, LI suggests reading the WAPO Q and A with Thomas Ricks, the author of two WAPO articles criticizing the American military strategy in Iraq for being… oh, I suppose the term is disastrous. The articles are derived from Ricks’ book, Fiasco. Here’s the first question:

“Scottsdale, Ariz.: I have not yet read your book. However, just from the titles of your articles, the tone is negative, negative, negative. What has the US and its military done RIGHT..not just tactical activities but strategic decisions and events? In the profession of journalism today, can a journalist be positive and not be viewed by their peers as a cheerleader, or must all critical reviews be critical?”

That is indeed what we need to know. We need more blindness, deeper darkness, another level of hell. And Ricks is well aware of this. Far be it from him to act the part of the sighted. He rushes here, as throughout the Q and A session, to assure all and sundry that far from being gifted with 20/20 vision, he is loyally, absolutely stone blind, blinder than most:

Tom Ricks: “To turn to the first question, from Scottsdale. I think this is a good way to start. Why write a book called "FIASCO" about Iraq.
The short answer is: because I want to win in Iraq. I don't know a lot of officers who think the current posture is sustainable, especially as the chaos continues in Baghdad. But I still think it is possible to win in Iraq, if we get better at recognizing mistakes and adjust better and faster.”
Of course. He wants to win. Win win win. America is about winning. We’re winning all the time. Not losing. Not a debt ridden, addled empire with a load of half educated barbarians, led by a corrupt oil man and his crony, a perpetually adolescent ignoramus who is in it for the superman suit (or the Mission Accomplished suit) that he always imagines himself wearing.
So Ricks wants us to win. So reassuring. Except … questioner no. 2, you are on line:
“Washington, D.C.: Your first answer (..because I want to win in Iraq) illustrates the problem that has plaqued this war from the outset, i.e. what constitutes "winning", and how has whatever was originally intended as constituting winning, changed over time?
Tom Ricks: Thanks. You put your finger on an important question.
I think we could win in the sense of prevailing. But it would not look like victories in some other wars. In this war, for example, it would be a victory if, say, a leading insurgent agreed to put down his weapon and become, say, minister of agriculture.”
So that is what winning is about. It isn’t winning, it is prevailing. And it isn’t prevailing, it is about getting an insurgent to become, say, minister of agriculture. So, uh, what is the cost of this marvelous victory that we must achieve, come hell or high water?
“Salina, Kan.: You did a great job on "Meet the Press." In your opinion, how much longer will our troops be in Iraq?
Tom Ricks: I would bet a loooong time. Maybe 10 to 15 years.”
So, our amazing victory, our win win proposition here, is that we spend between 2 to 3 trillion dollars and lose around 20,000 soldiers, and (sorry to even mention it, it is so unimportant) participate in killing around 300,000 Iraqis so that we can get an insurgent to put down his gun to become, say, minister of agriculture.
Is this wonderful news or what? Ricks is right, this wouldn’t look like victories in other wars – it would look exactly like the worst defeat ever suffered by the U.S. Even worse than Vietnam, being a magnitude more senseless. In fact, the win win policy and the lose everything policy pleasingly converge in one policy – the policy of feeding the War Culture. Thus, the governing class moves from triumph to triumph, or ditch to ditch if you will, each ditch getting bloodier and more expensive, as the jerkwater crowd out there, Bush’s base (a word that, translated into Arabic, comes out – al qaeda) lynches those who can see, rooting them out wherever they are. Remember though – their kids, the children of WAPO writers, their think tank and lobbyist cronies, all the meritocratic idiots, will go to great colleges and get the great jobs they so richly deserve, whereas your kids – well, sorry about that, but if they are patriots they will throw themselves headfirst in the meat grinder. So that we can win!
But what I think is that sometimes, when the blind form an occupying army in, say, D.C., with blind paramilitaries in the hinterlands, that it is alright to resist them. For I come not to bring peace, but the sword – as somebody once said. These people will not be voted out, for these people are on both sides, Blind party one vs. Blind party two. It is other decisions at the grassroots level – talking to friends about Iraq, pointing out the uselessness of fighting there, supporting anti-recruitment efforts, seeing if there are anti-recruiters in your town, etc., etc. – that will knock the block of this vile contingent.

Monday, July 24, 2006

dogs, considered philosophically

I usually comment on Long Sunday symposiums, but a symposium on democracy is a little bit too much like high school civics class book reports for me. I think those guys are, at the moment, symposiumed out.

Since these are the dog days of summer, the time when, traditionally, LI’s financial life passes before our eyes – summer is Motha Hubbard bare indeed around here – we are more interested in the philosophical topic of the dog. As in – when you walk a dog, whose free will is exercised, yours or the pooch’s? And does this depend on the size of the dog? We’ve been reading Roger Grenier’s The Difficulty of Being a Dog (we have a sideline interest in the literature devoted to dogs, from Cervantes Colloquy to Ackerley’s My Dog Tulip). Grenier’s first essay, enigma, begins with a nice anecdote about Paul Valery. It seems that when people would come to see Paul Valery’s grave, the man who ran the cemetery would tell his dog, “Paul Valery,” and the dog would guide them to the sacred spot. The Ministry of culture caught wind of this, and finally decided (no doubt after several meetings and memos), that the man would have to cut it out. Grenier, who knew Valery, says that in all probability Valery would have liked his grave stone being tour guided by a dog. And after all, in all probability, the dog knew as much about Valery’s poems as the man did.

My own experience has not been with genius dogs, but I’ve known some bright ones. Bliss, my friend S’s dog, is a personable mongrel bitch who can cast the slyest glances, so that it is impossible not to wonder what she is thinking. In fact, thinking is the question monomaniac philosophers always put to the animal kind – can you think? However, dogs make you wonder, instead: what are you thinking about? What, for instance, does a dog plan to do when it gets up in the morning? What, in fact, is a morning to a dog? I have a feeling their divisions of time aren't like ours -- where I see day and night, I imagine the dog sees other divisions of the natural flow. However, I do know that, like me, Bliss’ first thought is to pee. The arrangements that lead to relief, for Bliss, are a bit more complex than my matitudinal stagger towards the toilet. A ritual has evolved. S. must find the leash. She has to find the poop bags. Bliss helpfully either points to the door, or sometimes goes down to nose it.

Now, once the walk has begun, if it is a nice day, surely the dog plans to not only take care of her natural functions, but make the round of her favorite places. Dogs get bored, but they are also compulsive creatures, always wanting the same thing. Also, she looks for messages in the dirt and grass, odors left by other dogs, or humans, or cats. There’s an itinerary. So the plan is to go through with the itinerary, then back to the house. But some would say that dogs don’t plan at all, even though they are clearly leading on the leash. But then, these same people would probably bridle at saying dogs improvise. So in general, I don’t pay attention to those people. It is recommended that they content themselves, if they feel the need for pets, with guppies. Goldfish. A few bottom feeders. Generally, this kind of backbiter and sceptic is sniffed out by dogs straightaway, and barked down the street when they pass. Unhappy sods.

Grenier writes: When I’m in the prescence of a dog, I always ask myself a lot of questions. I may be naïve, but I’m in good company, for Paul Valery himself shared my naivete: “The animal, that inevitable enigma, is the opposite of us in its very likeness.”

And he further writes:

“How can such an understanding exist between two species? I t seems more miraculous, more precious to me than any relationship among humans. At the same time, what could be easier? You come across a dog. A word, a caress, and it responds with no further ado. It is the mystery of these exchanges that led me to write this book. But I know it will resolve nothing and that dogs will never cease to amaze me.”

I must recommend the University of Chicago Press cover of the book – the dog on it looks amazingly like Bliss.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

our bright and shining lie in Iraq - or, stabbing this war in the back, let me count the ways

First, a beggin’ preface: anyone who has been thinking about supporting LI should do it in these dog months. Keep us up with the phone and electric bills, and we will keep writing the bad trip prose that makes reading this site as pleasurable as a visit to a cold fingered proctologist! Check out the pay pal button.

Now, onto today’s s…s…s…schmatter – which is this WAPO article by Thomas Ricks, analyzing the American military failure in Iraq. Ricks details the chronicle of errors, shadowing, all unconsciously, the LI storyline. We are happy to report that he actually captures a few home truths. Unfortunately, at the moment he’s screwed himself to the sticking point, he… unscrews himself. He can’t quite get past the one big conventional D.C. lie, the motherlode of American misadventure. In the end, he stays tamely within the precincts laid down by D.C.’s court society. Like the court society of many a past declining empire, it has crystallized around a few gross misconceptions about the world that it cannot, without dissolving itself, surrender – and which, consequently, lead it to repeat the same disaster over and over again.

What Ricks gets right is that the occupation of Iraq, enacted in spasmodic, blind bursts of violence by the occupiers, was badly designed from the get go, using maximum force when maximum finesse was required. The proconsuls never understood that the advantage, in a state where a certain language is spoken and certain cultural norms adhere, is to the native. Especially when the natives can manufacture IEDs with ease, the world having been flooded for fifty years by the American and European weapons makers to the extent that it is more likely some ravaged area of the planet will run out of food than out of automatic rifles. Plus, having major stockpiles of weapons that the occupying force is too stretched to really guard allows for stop n go resupply.

The specific, personal root of the American malfunction was in the Pentagon. Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, between the two of them, have been the worst duo to hit the military since McLellan and Edwin Stanton managed to bungle a simple advance with overwhelming force through the Virginia countryside in the spring of 1862. Franks makes Westmoreland’s tenure as chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff look like the Golden Age. Franks is the General who couldn’t fight. Luckily for Franks, America spends a trillion dollars every four years – and now, every two – on creating a monster battle machine. A three year old couldn’t go wrong, in classic battle field conditions, with that thing. Unfortunately, if he isn’t facing ducks all lined up in a row, as in a cheap carnee tent, Franks is nonplussed. Which is why he only acts in one way: to do more of what he has been doing. More is the alpha and omega of his military strategy. Bomb more. Use more white phosphorus. Knock down more doors. Imprison more Iraqis. Say, all the military aged men in a village.

Oh, but there is one limit – no more troops, of course. Ass licking Rumsfeld on the troops issue is the first bullet point on the Chief of the JCS job description.

As for Rumsfeld, by now we know the old story. Rumsfeld is insane.

So Ricks rehearses the mistakes made by the occupiers as though it were a clinical study in classical compulsive disorder – which it is. They overreact and retreat. An insufficient force using its technological advantage to, basically, stir up shit.

“"When you're facing a counterinsurgency war, if you get the strategy right, you can get the tactics wrong, and eventually you'll get the tactics right," said retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a veteran of Special Forces in the Vietnam War. "If you get the strategy wrong and the tactics right at the start, you can refine the tactics forever, but you still lose the war. That's basically what we did in Vietnam."

"For the first 20 months or more of the American occupation in Iraq, it was what the U.S. military would do there, as well.

""What you are seeing here is an unconventional war fought conventionally," a Special Forces lieutenant colonel remarked gloomily one day in Baghdad as the violence intensified. The tactics that the regular troops used, he added, sometimes subverted American goals.”

B..bb…but just as you think Ricks is creeping up on the unwritten truth of the matter, the heart of what has gone wrong in Iraq, (a symptom of the political compromise between a metastasizing war culture and the credit card lifestyle in Uncle Sam’s green and pleasant land), he bogles it.

"“The U.S. military took a different approach in Iraq. It wasn't indiscriminate in its use of firepower, but it tended to look upon it as good, especially during the big counteroffensive in the fall of 2003, and in the two battles in Fallujah the following year.

"One reason for that different approach was the muddled strategy of U.S. commanders in Iraq. As civil affairs officers found to their dismay, Army leaders tended to see the Iraqi people as the playing field on which a contest was played against insurgents. In Galula's view [Galula wrote a counterinsurgency handbook], the people are the prize.

""The population . . . becomes the objective for the counterinsurgent as it was for his enemy," he wrote.

"From that observation flows an entirely different way of dealing with civilians in the midst of a guerrilla war. "Since antagonizing the population will not help, it is imperative that hardships for it and rash actions on the part of the forces be kept to a minimum," Galula wrote.

"Cumulatively, the American ignorance of long-held precepts of counterinsurgency warfare impeded the U.S. military during 2003 and part of 2004. Combined with a personnel policy that pulled out all the seasoned forces early in 2004 and replaced them with green troops, it isn't surprising that the U.S. effort often resembled that of Sisyphus, the king in Greek legend who was condemned to perpetually roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.”

This misses the bloody crux, the structure, the very moral economy of the American way of warfare. If forces are kept to a minimum and if force is proportioned to some threshold point beyond which you antagonize the population, you will, inevitably, suffer much higher casualties. If American soldiers winnow through a village, looking only for insurgents, they are much likely to be injured or killed than if they plow through the village in the balls out, mega-American way. And the soldiers know that. The American soldier has been trained to think that the preservation of his life is the prime objective. He has been raised in the spirit of McLellan, and advances with the firepower of Grant, which is why America always wins the wars that it loses. This is why the American soldier is good in a battlefield situation such as presented itself in WWII, or in the First Gulf War, and entirely sucks at counterinsurgency. And will always suck. Because the higher risk brings with it the question: what am I doing here? Since American interests have nothing to do with the Iraq war – it was commenced and continued solely to serve the vanity of a small D.C. clique – the only way to keep waging it as what it is in reality – the usurpation of American forces for mercenary purposes on the part of a power mad executive – is to wage it with as few American deaths as possible. The Bush doctrine converges with the Powell doctrine – overwhelming force = lucrative contracts to war contractors + lack of visible sacrifice to the Bush base.

The logic here is inexorable. Either a greater number of Americans die, or a greater number of Iraqis die. Americans have decided to pretend that the greater the number of Iraqi deaths, the more the Americans are winning. That, of course, is bullshit. Which is why the argument that the U.S. troops should stay in for humanitarian reasons is bullshit – the logic of American strategy will continue to maximize the number of Iraqi deaths, or it will have to face the repulsion of American public opinion as American deaths go racheting up. It won’t do the latter. The rulers actually fear the American population in their nasty, prolonged wars. Fear that the population doesn't want to fight. This is their worry. This is what they work at. Both parties, it goes without saying. This is what all the bogus talk about "will" is about.

They are afraid of us. Doesn't that imply that they have something to be afraid about?

Stab this war in the back.

PS - Re taking the power back -- a heartening story, in the NYT, about First Lt. Ehren K. Watada. Lt. Watada volunteered for the army after 9/11. LI has no problem with that -- quite the contrary. Unfortunately, the army that is supposed to be defending America is defending no such thing, and has ended up being illegally planted in Iraq, mainly for the purpose of providing a photogenic war for the Rebel in Chief. This came to truly bug Lt. Watada, so much so that he has refused to deploy to Iraq, risking court martial. The NYT goes to one of the usual talking heads to give the Fix's view of the case:

"“Certainly it’s far from unusual in the annals of war for this to happen,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in military affairs at the Brookings Institution. “But it is pretty obscure since the draft ended.”

Mr. O’Hanlon said that if other officers followed suit, it would be nearly impossible to run the military. “The idea that any individual officer can decide which war to fight doesn’t really pass the common-sense test,” he said."

O'Hanlon has been no mean promoter of the Iraq war, of course. And for the Fix, that government by clique and egghead which sits on our face, it passes the common sense test to get a loser like O'Hanlon to give us his two cents about this case. In the 'meritocracy,' you never have to apologize for being wrong 100 percent of the time. No pain, a lotta gain -- that's the think tank motto. Now, O'Hanlon has consistently displayed the reasoning powers of an old baggie filled with decaying lunch meat over at the Brookings institute -- he particularly likes gathering together dubious numbers to promote the idea that Iraq is a boomin' country, full of happ happ happy participants in Bush's experiment in free enterprise. Being a war mongering pin head has won him bipartisan respect, which reason he will no doubt be happily moving into some position of responsibility in the next Democratic administration. A Beinart Democrat, a patriot, a easy chair killer.

LI, of course, stands totally behind Lt. Watada. A real hero