“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 19, 2007

The exacta - For North

Go Rimbaud and go Johnny go!

The exacta: 1. Street Sense 2. Curlin 3. King of the Roxy

The last named didn’t race at the Derby, and I know, I know that Hard Spun will be out there, biting Street Sense’s flank. Deep in my gut, I have deep doubts about my horsey’s chance of winning this time. On the other hand, he’s a balanced horse. I like his views about getting out of Iraq now, nationalizing health care, and the hydrogen fuel cell. Street Sense is also all about Jackson Pollack, his favorite painter, and mine.

Curlin is a strong horse. Everybody knows he’s a strong horse. He does one hundred push ups every night before he goes to bed. If somebody is going to beat my horsey, it will be Curlin. It might be a KO. Curlin not so secretly wants to be a boxer, having once said, "fuck racin'! I can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." He has also stolen milk money from other horseys in the stables. Bad pony!

Finally, King of the Roxy. Since all eyes are gonna be on the Derby horseys, King of the Roxy is getting’ no kind of look in. Unfair! He’s fast, and he’s got nothing to lose.

Finally: song for this race is Patti Smith’s Horses, of course:

Do you know how to pony?

Friday, May 18, 2007

abusing president backbone

An old friend and foil of LI wrote us an email the other day, asking how we were doing and whether we were still lobbing insults at the president.

The question made us hang our head in shame. In fact, a quick survey of LI backpages lately will show an astonishing paucity of commentary about that human equivalent of the green garbage fly, the POTUS. President Backbone. Or, as he was known to the prophet Isaiah, a drunken man who staggereth in his own vomit.

We might as well confess: we’ve reached the limit with the old pissingpost.

The burden of the torchsinger’s song needn’t be some magnificent object, nor does it need to arouse the deepest sentiments. A song I learned as a lad and could still sing for you on a long car trip, as my friend D. can testify, commemorates a bad day at the races for some slack rounder who didn’t bet on Old Stewball, but took the odds on favorites, the gray mare and the bay. Now, this isn’t the kind of news that should lend its impress to the collective memory of all mankind, but – conveyed by Peter Paul and Mary and then distributed a thousandfold by humdrum strummers in every weekend pizza joint in suburban Atlanta, when they weren’t building a staircase to heaven, Old Stewball has refused to be dislodged from my braincells, and will probably still be ghosting me when, in some public charity ward, I’m trying to figure out where my penis is so I can piss out of it or at least know my I still have my valuables about me.

Yet here I am with one of the great subjects. A rich and semi-educated Republic. A population reveling equally in short term memory loss and its dream of f/x military action, with Doby surroundsound. A man whose sum total of talents would gain him only sporadic employment as a second rate golf pro at country clubs in midsized Southern cities, who descends, fortunately enough for him, from one of those families wealthy in exact proportion to their worthlessness. A suspect, not to say sinister elevation; a lack of interest by our crowned golf pro in leadership so incredible that he simply waves away warnings of an attack that does come because they interrupt his cypress trimming and sleep – besides which, they challenge him to do something, and he has never and will never know fuckall about doing anything; a senseless, vain, cruel war, in which gradually every member of the said yo yo Republic becomes complicit – all of these are surely themes for a satiric epic, an unending Dunciad. Yet LI has eaten the ashy fruit of this for six years, and we have finally had enough. What new insults, shocks, jeremiads can one haul out of the cellar? Isaiah only had to do with uncircumsized armies worshipping Baal in the place of the Lord. He never had to confront the deadly horror of modern mediocrity riding in its nasty little triumph (o, the moralizing of the well fed!) over the necks of taste, sense, sensibility, reason, truth, and the hardwon virtues of the little humanity we might have gained to get us through various bilious nights of the soul – if that is we can’t find sleeping tablets.

So LI has broken the covenant of perpetual abuse which we once pledged to our readers. Cursing and shrieking bores the fuck out of us.

The witch of Endor is dead.

The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and
fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish.

The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof;
because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance,
broken the everlasting covenant.

Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that
dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the
earth are burned, and few men left.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wolfie goes down

Headline in the NYT: Wolfowitz to Leave the World Bank

Come out/Come out
Whereever you are!

holy and unholy fools in the streets

- Sophie Calle, Les dormeurs

Okay. To summarize our last post, Fred Hirsch proposed that, enfolded within the material economy, there is a positional economy, one derived from and dependent on social hierarchy. This is a broader notion than Ann Krueger’s rent-seeking, which was also being floated by the neo-classicals in the 70s, but you can see how they dovetail with one another. While Krueger thinks the extraction of rents is ‘non-productive’, Hirsch is saying, in effect, that Krueger is using the criteria of the material economy to analyze the positional economy, and that won’t do. In fact, there are positional goods and services, and one of the key drivers of the material economy since the dawn of capitalism has been positional competition.

Well, LI could spell out the current political implications of Hirsch’s notion – but we’d prefer to apply Hirsch’s notion to the little thread of history that LI has made its little theme over the past six months. If you take the positional economy as the lens through which you view the history of the early modern era, Foucault’s L’age classique, one possible interpretation leaps to mind – or to a mind ready to catch the larger leapers. In the early modern era, the great bourgeois project was to liberate the positional market, as it were. Much of the work of the enlightened philosophers was to that end. At the same time, by one of those fateful pieces of dialectical luck, their identity as philosophers was undermined by their success at this task. In other words, the philosopher as a type was tied to a certain kind of positional market – a highly rigid one. Far into the 18th century, the philosopher as a type really had a strong influence on the real philosopher, be he Locke or Condorcet. This figure was a sage. As a sage, he was bound to the ascetic ethos that developed a sort of hole in the rigid positional economy – proposed a way out of it. Renounced it. And here’s where the dialectical luck comes in – the culminating point for the liberation of the positional market was encoded in Jefferson’s phrase, the pursuit of happiness. Now, as it happens, the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of wisdom had been rivals – well, since Socrates was a pup. As the pursuit of happiness came to dominate the tenor of the positional market, the space in which the sage could exist was squeezed shut. The sage, in that space, took up a relation to the buffoon – his figural other, partner, foe – as well as to a way of thinking of the spacing of human life (how one should age) and practices consonant thereto.

So yeah, ha ha – we’ve come back to sages and buffoons. You didn’t think I was letting them go, did you?
More on this in a later post.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

a gloss on the political hocus pocus of our time

Back in the 70s – the era that suckled LI, and that provides the whole framework for Bolano’s great novel, which all should read, The Savage Detectives, and all should talk about, bringing an end of all talking about 300 and Spiderman, enough enough enough! – an economist named Fred Hirsch wrote a tract reflecting the time and the mores entitled The Social Limits of Growth. And then, of course, they came from nowhere – or from Pentagonia – the Reaganauts, and for the past thirty years the only discourse about Growth is how we are blessed its many wonders to behold. Meanwhile, we laid claim to another piece of the atmosphere to store our car exhaust and coal exhaust shit, destroyed the Aral Sea, depleted the Ogallala Acquifer, and etc., etc.

This week, LI is going to say some things about Hirsch’s idea of positional goods. It is an idea that has its ancestry in institutional economics and Veblen, but Hirsch was a post-World War II economist, a quantifier, and he wanted a more specific way to talk about a certain kind of social good and service.

Hirsch distinguishes between between the Material Economy and the Positional economy in order to describe the post WWII economic order in the developed world. The material economy is that one familiar to neo-classicals and Marxists. it is deined “as output amenable to continued increase in productivity per unit of labor input: it is Harrod’s democratic wealth. The material economy embraces production of physical goods as well as such services as are receptive to mechanization or technological innovation without deterioration in quality as it appears to the consumer.” On the other hand, you have Harrod’s “oligarchic wealth”: it “relates to all aspects of goods, services, work positions and other social relationships that are either (1) scarce in some absolute or sically imposed sense or (2) subject to congestion or crowding through extensive use.” The question posed by Hirsch is: “What happens when the material pie grows while the positional economy remains confined to a fixed state?”

In a sense, this problem is all around us now, the effect of the growth plus increase in inequality that describes the Reaganomic era. Hirsch had the foresight to see that the economy in the developed world was tending towards positional competition. On the one hand, unless there was robust economic growth, there would be increasing privation. On the other hand, the concomitant to growth would be increasing inequality, which would re-define the terms of affluence. To give one of a number of examples: take a social good such as education. On the one hand, for a democratic, capitalist society to continue, it must invest in human capital – it must educate. On the other hand, positional competition imposes on that education its logic – in order to be rewarded within the educational system, it isn’t enough that a person actually be educated, but it is also important that others be less certified – that others be excluded from certain institutions of education and the like, what Hirsch calls a “competition by people for place, rather than competition for performance.” Hirsch discusses a number of sectors – real estate, education, jobs – and then makes a fine, although dense, summary:

‘… material growth intensifies what may be termed positional competition. By positional competition is meant competition that is fundamentally for a higher place within some explicit or implicit hierarchy and that thereby yields gains for some only by dint of losses for others. Positional competiton, in the language of game theory, is a zero-sum game: what winners win, losers lose. The contrast is with competition that improves performance or enjoyment all round, so that winners gain more than losers lose, and all may come out winners – the positive sum game.”

And – an important point – positional competition is about scarcity: "… competition in the positional sector serves as a general filtering device through which excessive demand has to be matched to available supply. This aspect – which I seek to isolate by the term positional competition – at best yields no net benefit and usually involves additional resource costs, so that positional competiton itself is liable to be a negative sum game. Competition in the positional sector, however, may still yield net benefits if its contributions to individual efficiency and allocation of resources outweigh additions to resource costs and misallocation. But this cannot be judged from the conventional measures of economic output, since these measures gloss over the negative or deadweight elements of positional competition.”

Well… yeah. That last sentence is a gloss on the political hocus pocus of our time, friends and fiends. About which we will have more to say in another post.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Fallwell goes to heaven

In other news - Jerry Fallwell did make it to heaven. He was admitted as part of an affirmative action program for the delusional. "We try to encourage diversity among our heavenly hosts," according to Peter, a spokesman for Heaven. "Oftentimes people have the most astonishing preconceptions about our admission system. Jehovah is going to be unveiling an advertising campaign this fall to reinvigorate interest in the Heaven brand. Heaven: it's not just for losers! There's a whole generation out there who think, well, I'm scorin' dope, I'm fucking anything that moves, and I voted for gay marriage. I'm bound to go to hell. Au contraire! If people only knew: our older alum were whacked out on anything from morning glory seeds to starvation in the desert - that's a real high! - and as for sex, well, we've assimilated cultic prostitutes, self castrators and everybody in between! In fact, we are trying to combat the idea that Jehovah is particularly interested in human genitals. As he said only the other day at dinner: "when I designed those things, tell you Jehovah's honest truth, I was not thinking about where they went or what you could do with them. This is a little bogus, but I've had some wine, I'll confess: I was thinking of something else entirely. I was thinking, damn, I should not have signed off on the wisdom tooth design."

According to the Pearly Gates Express, Fallwell was mostly pleased with everything. To get around with the wings, of course, he is going to have lose a few of those earthly pounds. "The diet of rice and seaweed will tone him up nicely," according to Gautama, one of Heaven's premier dieticians. However, Fallwell was reported to have been "astonished" to meet the son of God and discover that the son of God is...

Tinky Winky!

Come back!

If you see any of these little things humming around, tell them how very very very very very grateful you are, and that you want them to come back!

God in the Zoo

At various points in my life, I’ve called myself a Christian, an atheist, an agnostic, and a Spinozan. I have never found God an indifferent proposition in any guise, although I have often thought that the habit of attributing the name God to objects of such vast and conflicting variety must say something about, at the very least, our systems of classification. I won’t get all deconstructive on your ass (as the policeman said to the monkey), but it is no accident that the signifier which floats so freely in a system built, ostensibly, to fix the meanings, is that of the creator of the structure itself. From the speaker of the word comes the word 'confusion'.

As a middle aged man working on being a sage, of course, my meditations naturally turn to the Gods or Goddesses. And being a perennial, low carat, glue sniffing punk, my inclination is to mix and match my divinities, scratching the cosmic record – which is why, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot of the spirits at the portals of each sense.

Which is by way of pointing LI readers to Anthony Gottlieb’s review of the recent spate of atheist books – by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sam Harris in the New Yorker.

It is much more learned and witty than Terry Eagleton’s mishandling of Richard Dawkins. Gottlieb is less eager to show his cards, or to try to make books on religion automatically into books on theology. Gottlieb’s handle on that contretemps reflects LI’s own attitude:

“For example, when Terry Eagleton, a British critic who has been a professor of English at Oxford, lambasted Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” in the London Review of Books, he wrote that “card-carrying rationalists” like Dawkins “invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.” That is unfair, because millions of the faithful around the world believe things that would make a first-year theology student wince. A large survey in 2001 found that more than half of American Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians believed that Jesus sinned—thus rejecting a central dogma of their own churches.”

That is a neat little paragraph, partly because one of the themes of Gottlieb's piece is that you can't trust the polls about people's religious beliefs - while, at the same time, Gottlieb does like to quote polls about people's religious beliefs. There is a slight inconsistency there, but the real point is that religious belief is not about yes and no responses to questions that are formed in order to facilitate quantification. When the questions are left open, the responses then become much more difficult to quantify over. So the contradictory attitude towards polls is - almost- justified.

Gottlieb is an editor at the Economist, a magazine that likes to think that it is still plugged into the Edinburgh enlightenment. The tone he strikes is Humean – that is, Gottlieb is repelled by zealotry more than he is attracted to advocating one or another belief about God’s existence. He approves of Hume’s openendedness about the whole God question – although of course that openendedness is derived, partly, from a justified fear of legal and professional prosecution on Hume’s part. After all, in his youth a man was actually executed for disbelief, a fact given great play in James Buchan’s excellent book on the Edinburgh enlightenment. Here’s Gottlieb’s Hume:

“Voltaire, like many others before and after him, was awed by the order and the beauty of the universe, which he thought pointed to a supreme designer, just as a watch points to a watchmaker. In 1779, a year after Voltaire died, that idea was attacked by David Hume, a cheerful Scottish historian and philosopher, whose way of undermining religion was as arresting for its strategy as it was for its detail. Hume couldn’t have been more different from today’s militant atheists.

In his “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” which was published posthumously, and reports imaginary discussions among three men, Hume prized apart the supposed analogy between the natural world and a designed artifact. Even if the analogy were apt, he pointed out, the most one could infer from it would be a superior craftsman, not an omnipotent and perfect deity. And, he argued, if it is necessary to ask who made the world it must also be necessary to ask who, or what, made that maker. In other words, God is merely the answer that you get if you do not ask enough questions. From the accounts of his friends, his letters, and some posthumous essays, it is clear that Hume had no trace of religion, did not believe in an afterlife, and was particularly disdainful of Christianity. He had a horror of zealotry. Yet his many writings on religion have a genial and even superficially pious tone. He wanted to convince his religious readers, and recognized that only gentle and reassuring persuasion would work. In a telling passage in the “Dialogues,” Hume has one of his characters remark that a person who openly proclaimed atheism, being guilty of “indiscretion and imprudence,” would not be very formidable.

Hume sprinkled his gunpowder through the pages of the “Dialogues” and left the book primed so that its arguments would, with luck, ignite in his readers’ own minds. And he always offered a way out. In “The Natural History of Religion,” he undermined the idea that there are moral reasons to be religious, but made it sound as if it were still all right to believe in proofs of God’s existence. In an essay about miracles, he undermined the idea that it is ever rational to accept an apparent revelation from God, but made it sound as if it were still all right to have faith. And in the “Dialogues” he undermined proofs of God’s existence, but made it sound as if it were all right to believe on the basis of revelation. As the Cambridge philosopher Edward Craig has put it, Hume never tried to topple all the supporting pillars of religion at once.”

Gottlieb’s taste is towards just such ‘cheerfulness’ – but one man’s jovial Hume is another man’s lukewarm countenancer of religion’s many and varied oppressions. And those oppressions, in turn, are about the class composition of society. There is a cheerfulness that comes with eating well and disbelieving the credo that supports the social order one both benefits from and defends, and that cheerfulness can turn vinegary and cynical if the order is shook the least bit. Oddly, Gottlieb doesn’t mention Paine. Hitchens has to be understood, or at least, I suspect, understands himself, as working in the tradition of Paine – and definitely Paine dispensed with the elite culture and cheerfulness of Hume and the discussions of the philosophe and spread light as he saw it in vulgar language among the vulgar. But Paine was never an atheist, and was offended by the term. Of course, the Age of Reason was used to batter his reputation into dust in America, which was just starting to flirt with one of cycles of panic revivalism. On the other hand, The Age of Reason sold astonishingly well. It competed with the Bible in the first decades of the 19th century – and of course, the Bible is always being given away, so it has an unfair advantage. The notion that churches, mosques and temples – and the whole order of clerisy – are oppressors whose very bread and butter depends on imposture is something that Paine, more than any other historical figure, spread abroad. Of course, anti-clericalism was a standard tenent of the philosophes, and it became a mark of ‘liberalism’ in Spain, Italy and France in the 19th century, but it was Paine who gave it the vernacular it had in working class culture.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Iraq was not a doomed enterprise, but a U.S. crime

It has become fashionable for those who originally supported the war but turned against it – like Matt Yglesias – to push a strange sort of deterministic anti-war critique that has caught on elsewhere as well in the liberal side of the blogsphere.

Yglesias’ version is smart in many ways. Today, he uses a version of it to defend Bremer:

“I think Bremer has essentially been turned into a scapegoat for very broad intellectual errors and policy mistakes that affected a wide swathe of the American elite from 2002-2005. Rather than acknowledge that this is what happened; that certain stupendously wrong ideas gained widespread adherence in the two years after 9/11, there's been an enormous willingness to believe that, hey, no, everything's fine, it's just that Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld are really dumb.

The trouble with trying to defend Bremer from this unfair position, however, is that every time he opens his mouth he's refusing to adopt the only really viable defense he has -- that he was the fall guy for a doomed enterprise. It's not that disbanding the Iraqi Army wasn't an error, it's just that having done things the other way 'round wouldn't have produced the desired unified, democratic, and yet willing to be used as a platform for US power-projection throughout the region Iraq that Bremer was supposed to produce.”

Now, if the idea is that the catastrophe in Iraq is just due to a few bad American leaders, then of course that isn’t true. But the notion of the “doomed enterprise” is romantic nonsense, and has the additional negative externality that it washes away all responsibility from the actors involved. While the U.S. had no business, right, or need to invade Iraq, once Iraq was invaded, there were a number of courses of action that presented themselves. Not every action braided into the disaster that has impacted with such mind boggling force on the Iraqis. Allowing Iraq to be looted and calling it the price of freedom, and then disbanding the army and most of the security forces was not forced upon the U.S. by the gods above. In fact, in Gulf War I, the U.S. devised a coalition that actually had force – the members of the coalition could impact and even change U.S. actions. The French basically forced George Bush I to protect Northern Iraq from Saddam’s army. The lesson that his pea brained son took from this was never involve the U.S. in an arrangement in which the U.S. does not have supreme power. That, of course, was at the root of the evil of the occupation. The U.S. had a responsibility, once Baghdad fell, to consult with the U.N. and submit to the appointing of a U.N. approved interim government. At that point, the U.S. military should have been subordinate, taking orders from, that interim government. Almost surely, that interim government would have been more interested in the security of the Iraqis than the benefits accruing from giving them a flat tax – one of Bremer’s comic opera achievements.

It is definitely true, as Yglesias points out, that the U.S. war goals were internally incoherent. They were logically incoherent, insofar as they promoted democracy in Iraq and the supreme rule of a foreign occupying power in Iraq. They were psychologically incoherent as they premised paying for the foreign occupying power with Iraq’s own money while at the same time promoting the alliance of Iraq and the U.S. – as though massive resentment about the looting of Iraq’s wealth to go to the richest country in the world wouldn’t be the result of that plan. The second plan was scotched, the first was never meant seriously. But the U.S. miscalculated, as it became apparent in 2004 that the American forces would simply be fighting everybody if they didn’t start on the road to elections. When, as I have lamented until I am tired of lamenting, the anti-war party fell apart, refusing to become an anti-occupation party and freezing time in a perpetual quest to go back to Spring, 2003, the chance for pushing back against U.S. policies in Iraq in the country was missed. The reason for this was the palpable fear of seeming anti-American. But that reason was fucking lame. The Iraqis became the victims of the inability of the anti-war movement to scream out loudly about the looting of Iraq, the deadly insouciance and moral turpitude of disbanding Iraq’s security forces, the thrusting of insane shock therapy economic policies on the country. It won’t do now to look back at those things as inevitable concomitants of the occupation, for which nobody is to blame. The blame is with the U.S. Let’s all say that in a rousing manner. The blame is with the U.S. This fucking country was directly responsible for the violence that ensued in Iraq. This fucking country promoted sectarianism by way of the usual occupier’s divide and conquer methods it introduced from the minute it touched Iraqi soil and airlifted the comic opera militia of Chalabi into the country. This fucking country was the first to make a mockery of Iraq’s judiciary by using it as an instrument of arbitrary arrest, as per Bremer’s hard on against Sadr. This fucking country couldn’t seem to gather the army together in POW camps and demobilize and remobilize it, but had plenty of time for herding ordinary Iraqis en masse into prison camps like Abu Ghraib. As a general rule, when a state invades a second state and the first state is absolutely unfamiliar with the language and culture of the second state, the first state is going to make a hash of governing the second state. However, this doesn't mean that it is necessarily going to unleash mass murder on an unprecedented scale in the second state. For that, you need to be especially bad.

There was no deterministic doom at work here, as in a Faulkner novel. Let’s cut the crap.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Always read nir rosen

Right after the invasion of Iraq, Lujai told me, Shiite clerics took over many of Baghdad’s hospitals but did not know how to manage them. “They were sectarian from the beginning,” she said, “firing Sunnis, saying they were Baathists. In 2004 the problems started. They wanted to separate Sunnis. The Ministry of Health was given to the Sadr movement” — that is, to the Shiite faction loyal to Moktada al-Sadr.

Following the 2005 elections that brought Islamist Shiites to power, Lujai said, the Sadrists initiated what they called a “campaign to remove the Saddamists.” The minister of health and his turbaned advisers saw to it that in hospitals and health centers the walls were covered with posters of Shiite clerics like Sadr, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Shiite religious songs could often be heard in the halls. In June of last year, Ali al-Mahdawi, a Sunni who had managed the Diyala Province’s health department, disappeared, along with his bodyguards, at the ministry of health. (In February, the American military raided the ministry and arrested the deputy health minister, saying he was tied to the murder of Mahdawi.) Lujai told me that Sunni patients were often accused by Sadrist officials of being terrorists. After the doctors treated them, the special police from the Ministry of the Interior would arrest the Sunni patients. Their corpses would later be found in the Baghdad morgue. “This happened tens of times,” she said, to “anybody who came with bullet wounds and wasn’t Shiite.”

On Sept. 2, 2006, Lujai’s husband went to work and prepared for the first of three operations scheduled for the day. At the end of his shift a patient came in unexpectedly; no other doctor was available, so Adil stayed to treat him. Adil was driving home when his way was blocked by four cars. Armed men surrounded him and dragged him from his car, taking him to Sadr City. Five hours later, his dead body was found on the street.

As she told me this story, Lujai began to cry, and her confused young children looked at her silently. She had asked the Iraqi police to investigate her husband’s murder and was told: “He is a doctor, he has a degree and he is a Sunni, so he couldn’t stay in Iraq. That’s why he was killed.” Two weeks later she received a letter ordering her to leave her Palestine Street neighborhood.

On Sept. 24 she and her children fled with her brother Abu Shama, his wife and their four children. They gave away or sold what they could and paid $600 for the ride in the S.U.V. that carried them to Syria. Because of what happened to her husband, she said, as many as 20 other doctors also fled.
- Nir Rosen, NYTM

Once conventional wisdom congeals, even facts can't shake it loose. These days, everyone "knows" that the Coalition Provisional Authority made two disastrous decisions at the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: to vengefully drive members of the Baath Party from public life and to recklessly disband the Iraqi army. The most recent example is former CIA chief George J. Tenet, whose new memoir pillories me for those decisions (even though I don't recall his ever objecting to either call during our numerous conversations in my 14 months leading the CPA). Similar charges are unquestioningly repeated in books and articles. Looking for a neat, simple explanation for our current problems in Iraq, pundits argue that these two steps alienated the formerly ruling Sunnis, created a pool of angry rebels-in-waiting and sparked the insurgency that's raging today. The conventional wisdom is as firm here as it gets. It's also dead wrong.
Like most Americans, I am disappointed by the difficulties the nation has encountered after our quick 2003 victory over Saddam Hussein. But the U.S.-led coalition was absolutely right to strip away the apparatus of a particularly odious tyranny. Hussein modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler's, which controlled the German people with two main instruments: the Nazi Party and the Reich's security services. We had no choice but to rid Iraq of the country's equivalent organizations to give it any chance at a brighter future. – L.Paul Bremer

LI was impressed that Nir Rosen touches, however lightly, on the story of class in Iraq – for the peculiarity of the Iraq war, as we have often emphasized and expect, one day, some heavier honcho in the punditosphere will pick up, is that the U.S turned against its one natural constituency in Iraq – the upper class – from the beginning of the occupation, thus rapidly making itself irrelevant as anything more than a random force in Iraq. Rosen’s article is great. Bremer’s article is why the Washington Post needs competition. When a paper uses its editorial page as a white house corkboard, pinning up the self-serving lies penned by self-deluded failures to actions that were near that fine edge between dumb and pathological imbecility – well, that paper needs competition. Fred Hiatt and Marty Peretz are, I suspect, one person, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is very depressing that Hiatt has the ear of the public with his position. Is there a worse editor in the U.S.?

ps - Rosen's piece also contained a paragraph of such pure Bushism that LI must quote it. It is a treat, in a way. Since Idi Amin and Mobutu, there have been few world leaders willing to venture so far into the most impudent of excuses for mass murder. Lucky Ducky Americans are seeing, in their leadership, a resurgence of the rhetoric of Kampala in the 70s. Truly refreshing.

“What I find most disturbing,” Bacon went on to say, “is that there seems to be no recognition of the problem by the president or top White House officials.” But John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the Bush administration, and later ambassador to the United Nations, offers one explanation for this lack of recognition: it is not a crisis, and it was not triggered by American action. The refugees, he said, have “absolutely nothing to do with our overthrow of Saddam.

“Our obligation,” he [John Bolton] told me this month at his office in the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, “was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.” Bolton likewise did not share the concerns of Bacon and others that the refugees would become impoverished and serve as a recruiting pool for militant organizations in the future. “I don’t buy the argument that Islamic extremism comes from poverty,” he said. “Bin Laden is rich.” Nor did he think American aid could alleviate potential anger: “Helping the refugees flies in the face of received logic. You don’t want to encourage the refugees to stay. You want them to go home. The governments don’t want them to stay.”

The United States is really just beginning to grapple with the question of Iraqi refugees, in part because the flight from Iraq is so entwined with the vexed question of blame. When I read John Bolton’s comments to Paula Dobriansky — the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs — and her colleague Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, they mainly agreed with him. Sauerbrey maintained that “refugees are created by repressive regimes and failed states. The sectarian violence has driven large numbers out. During the Saddam regime, large numbers of Iraqis were displaced, and the U.S. resettled 38,000 Iraqis. We would take 5,000 a year at given points in time. After 2003, there was great hope, and people were returning in large numbers. The sectarian violence after the mosque bombing in February 2006 is what turned things around. The problem is one caused by the repressive regime” of Saddam Hussein. She did add, “We take the responsibility of being a compassionate nation seriously.

Ah, that last sentence is such whipped cream! One does so wish that there were some curse that would cause vampires like Sauerbrey, Bolton, Bush, Cheney and the rest of the horde to fall, frothing, on the ground, crumbling as the rays of the sun hit their disgusting bodies. Alas, they will end up well fed and having their assistants pen nice little op ed pieces for the Washington Post. America, Night of the Living Dead, 2007.