“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

Thursday, May 05, 2011

A people's park

I live near the aristocratic parks. If I bike South for ten minutes, I hit the Tuileries, and in fifteen minutes, more or less, I can hit Luxembourg. These parks are watched over by statues, or ponds at the center of which one finds a baroque fountain, and are herded by the orangeries or palais or hotels to which they once formed a unit. The way the parks should be experienced is evident in the ground plan, laid out by those architects, gardeners and urbanists – like Perrault at Versailles – who adapted the grounds to the royal perspective. But the point was not just to keep these gardens for the king. There’s a famous story about this:

“When the gardens of the Tuileries were replanted by Lenostre, Colbert wanted to close them to the people, who for more than a century had become used to strolling there; he went to give orders to that affect, accompanied by Perrault, who said to him, as they were walking
-You would never believe, monsieur, the respect that everyone, down to the petit bourgeoisie, has for this garden; not only women and children would never think of plucking a single flower, but they wouldn’t even touch them. They stroll about there like well behaved people, the gardeners can vouch for it. It would be a public affliction not to come here to stroll around.” And to Colbert’s objection, Perrault replied: There comes here… persons who have left their sick bed to take the air; there comes those who speak of business affairs, of marriages, and of everything that can be treated better in a garden than in a church, where it will be necessary to go in the future and make appointments. I am persuaded that the gardens of the king are so great and spacious in order that all their children can stroll there.” (Musee des familles, 212 – my translation)

Similarly, the Bois de Boulogne, which I can only get to by metro or bus, was once a royal hunting preserve. And though the last king that hunted there lost his head, and though I associate it as much with Swann, damning the Verdurins and Odette as he rambled in it one night, after being excluded from the “clan”, I am aware of its royal past when I walk on its paths.

Sunday, I visited another sort of park altogether – the Buttes-Chaumont. The sign tells me that the park was designed under Napoleon III, and opened in 1867 as, according to Luisa Lumida, an extension of that years Universal Exposition. The area was at the time in a worker’s district. While Napoleon III was no democrat, by 1867 the spirit of the aristocracy had gone into terminal decline. Beginning in 1830, when the revanchist noblesse played their last turn, and lost, the nobility had lost its real place in France, and by 1867 it was utterly caught up with the corruption and money making schemes that marked the final period of Napoleon III’s rule. By the time Proust’s chronicle takes them up, around 1900, the aristocracy was well on its way to becoming a mere collection of celebrities – indeed, Odette is the emblem of that transformation. And so they would continue to warp in the rays of the new media. Zola, in a way, foretold what was going to happen in the horse racing scene in Nana, where nobles and great wealth are both caught up in the spell of her estrus, while Nana, the resplendent child of an alcoholic and a cripple from the Paris slums, grows metaphorically to giant size and swallows France’s virility – its railroads, steel, agriculture – as she spends the money that is showered upon her.

Zola was as little a democrat as Napoleon III. As the Buttes-Chaumont was designed as a people’s park, Zola showed exactly what happened when the people crashed the gates of culture in L’assomoir. There, at the wedding of Nana’s mother, Gervaise, the wedding party, out of pure idleness, goes to the Louvre. Oh these laboring classes! Once there, they discover to their great amusement, that the walls are covered with paintings of tits.

This party is surely one of the great moments in the Gnostic history of modernism, a moment of abundant intersignage. The great compact that had held from the Renaissance and even through the French Revolution had surrounded art with a neutralizing and glorious aura, variously interpreted as sublimation or sublimity, the brunt of which was that these representations, these colors and forms, these sculptures, these poems, were the higher things. Yes, British dilettanti could nudge each other when gazing at the phalli uncovered at Pompeii, not to speak of the frescoes there, but the erotic was meant to be felt only under the strata, so to speak, of classical scholarship – the great lava of philosophy and learning pouring out from Wincklemann and the Germans. And then the time of the Whig Lords came to an end, and with it a respectability settled over London, which had already received the shock of the puritans in the 17th century. This is why, I think, London seemed a little strange to me after Paris – there is no tribe of accompanying nude statues in London. They do not lurk over the great buildings, or around the corner, in the parks. Instead, there is, at best, hatchet faced clothed statues and nudes that are painful, painful allegories. Thus, Zola’s Paris proles already had the experience of tits and ass in the streets. But these tits and ass were still faintly ringed with the noble disdain for prole appetites, all of which comes crashing down in the age of Expositions and daguerrotypes, when one can purchase, for one’s wanking pleasure, less inapproachable pics of nudes in the appropriately louche tabac, and it becomes obvious that it is all naked forked humans, nothing special, and something to touch. Zola is not at all happy with this situation. And surely in a sense he is right – whether art tries to ‘transgress’ or is rolled out in the Frommer’s Guidebook or Art History 101 as something to photograph reverently, it is under the spell of having its spell broken.
All of which leads to this: when I entered the Buttes-Chaumont, I immediately felt at home. Here, there are no rococo marbles to police our mildly libidinous pleasures, and we see, grouped on various sloping lawns, families, friends and lovers, all clumped together separately, eating or drinking. I recognized the spirit of this park – it is the same spirit that presides over Zilker Park in Austin. It is the spirit of hotdogs and burgers on the grill. The attraction, here, is the mild natural aberration of a hill and a grotto and an artificial pond. True, one thing was missing – radio stations in France have still not discovered the joy of playing top 40 songs on ace speakers to a crowd that never asked to hear them and would probably like them to leave, even in spite of the free t shirts being handed out. Perhaps some blessed, paternalistic abridgement of all our freedoms forbids this – we know the French!
I was quite quite happy. Then I went to a nearby café and had a beer.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

cherchez the lobster 3

It wasn't a rock
Rock Lobster...!


Fourier wrote of analogy as a calculus in Le nouveau monde industrial:

“It is necessary to prelude this demonstration by some details of analogy. Our beautiful souls in making such pathos out of the great book of nature, its eloquent voice and beauties, don’t know how to explain a single line of that great book. For us, it is only a desolate enigma without the calculus of analogy that decomposes all the mysteries, and very pleasantly too, for it unveils all the hypocries and snatches off the civilized mask, It is with good reason that Bernardin de St Pierre names them frivolous and thespian virtues.“

The calculus of analogies, it turns out, is a mélange of folklore, etymology, and allegory – and yet it teases the brain that is aware it has been thrust, indeed, into the new industrial world, one in which we live among structures that seem to be built all independently, and yet continually form a pattern. A pattern of European cities that was decrypted, of course, by Allied and German pilots in the 1940s, and thereafter by the planners who carried the target diagrams in their heads as they drew lines on paper that became the great highways along which vehicles could drive to transport goods, to bring the worker to work or the vacationer to the beach, and that could, ultimately, empty the city when the bombs or missiles dropped.

That calculus forms one parameter of the dream of a universal science made up of an eccentric traversal of the sciences, trolling for resemblences.

In the definitive, 1937 version of his “The Praying Mantis”, Roger Caillois (whose candidate for the universal science he later calls ‘diagonal science”) investigates the insect within the precincts of two different registers. One of them involves an investigation of the kinds of mantis, its form and its characteristics. In other words, this is an investigation in animal ethology. On the other hand, Caillois investigates how the mantis has figured in the belief systems of various cultures around the globe. This research is recognizably the kind of comparative anthropology that his teacher, Marcel Mauss, practiced. What makes this double register unusual is that Caillois is searching for what we would now call a sociobiological approach, or level. The fact that the praying mantis female eats the male, sometimes in the act of coitus, is an ethological fact that irradiates out in symbols and meanings in various cultures that can be observed and collected by the anthropologist. In Caillois’ version of this search, it is not just overt references to the mantis that he seeks, but all kinds of narratives concerning devouring women, succubi, Giftmadchen (women who are loaded with a poison and whose embraces poison their partner – an oddly persistent motif in the James Bond films), and other femmes fatales, with the point being that we have, here, not simply a coincidence, but a unity. The unity arises, here, as evidence of much the same sort of thing that Geoffroy supposed he was getting at by looking at the unity of the body plan of the lobster and the vertebrate – that is, it arises as part of the of greater biological unity of descent. This biological function survives in the instinctual level of human beings (Caillois, at this point, adheres to a colonial anthropology that ascribes to the ‘primitive’ some closer relation to the instincts, as though the culture of the tribe had not developed the techniques of sublimation that the ‘civilized man’ possesses. This is a derivative of what Johannes Fabian calls ‘allochrony’, in which different ages or times are attributed to synchronously co-existing societies). Here is a key passage from Caillois’ essay:

“The present study seems to carry the confirmation of fact to his [Bergson’s] theoretical views: the praying mantis presents itself like the sort of objective idogram materially realizing in the exterior world the most tendacious virtualities of affectivity. There is nothing to be astonished about: from the behavior of the insect to the consciousness of man, in this homogenous universe, the path is continous. The mantis devours its male during coitus, man imagines feminine creatures devouring him after attracting him into their arms. There is a difference from the act to the representation, but the same biological orientation organizes the parallelism and determines the convergence. [My translation, Caillois Oeuvres 2008, 203]

It is against this background, one in which Caillois’ essay and later work (which I want to examine in another post) fit into a certain cultural pattern that shifted the great sorting terms of nature and culture, that we should understood Barthes’ allergy to analogy. Here are the first two paragraphs of “The demon of analogy”, a fragment in Barthes book on himself:

Saussure’s bete noire was the arbitrary (nature of the sign). His [Barthes] is analogy. The analogical arts (cinema, photography), the analogical methods (academic criticism, for instance) are discredited. Why? Because analogy implies an affect of ‘nature’, it constitutes the ‘natural’ as the source of truth: and what also adds to the curse of analogy is that it is irrepressible (Re, 1637 II): as soon as a form is seen, it is necessary that it resembles something. Humanity seems condemned to the analogy, which is to say, in the end, to Nature. From whence we find the effort of painters, of writers to escape it. How? By two contrary excesses, or, if you prefer, two ironies, which puts Analogy in derision, be it in feigning a respect that is spectacularly flat (which is the copy that saves itself), be it in deforming regularly – that is, according to rules – the mimed object (which is anamorphosis, V, 44 II).

Outside of these transgressions, which are opposed benificiently to perfid Analogy, there is simple structural correspondence, homology, which reduces the reference of the first object to a proportional allusion (etymologically, that is to say, in the happy times of language, analogy means proportion).”

Barthes often takes analogy as the perfid member of the a pair whose other member is this ‘simple’ structural correspondence, homology. And yet, as we have seen with Geoffroy, the law of analogues begins, with a distortion (a reconceptualization of how up and down refers to a creature, with the basis of the vertical dimension being an internal organization that can only be seen for what it is once we turn the creature one hundred eighty degrees) and then produces homologies that give us a different systematic sense of biotic space.

This is at least the sense that Charles Fourier took from Geoffroy. Baudelaire of course drew from Fourier, but latter on, Barthes at least sipped at him, the way a hummingbird sips at the dew in a flower, and from him Barthes took away the idea that pleasure could be, however derisively, systematized – that is, it could be introduced into the empire of criticism. And perhaps there is a specter here of the specter Derrida investigates in Marx.

Monday, May 02, 2011

OSAMA BIN LADEN DEATH DAY

Friday, July 28, 2006
Reprinting my blog posts

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, January 04, 2007
As faithful readers of LI know, we are stout conspiracy theorists. No, we don’t think the CIA took down the World Trade Center by implanting JFK’s assassin shattered brain in a comatose Mohammed Atta. Our theory, much simpler, has been that in December, 2006, somewhere in the U.S. government, the decision was made to allow Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora. We referenced Army Times reporter Sean Naylor’s account of the battle in this post. Recycling ourself (oh, the egotism!):
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.’

We bring this up because, thanks to the Tiny Revolution site , we went to an article in the Christmas Time Magazine and had one of those moments, you know, like when a Warner Bros. cartoon Tom Cat sees a shapely femme cat – all eyes bugging out, wowowowoweeee! For amidst the confab of the heavy hitting journalists Time had gathered to ruminate over what went wrong in Iraq, we read this, from Lawrence Wright, the (Austin) author of The Looming Tower:
“TIME: Did the failure to capture Osama bin Laden play a role in the decision to go to war?
GORDON: I was at Tora Bora at that point, in December '01. The desire to have a war plan for Iraq has already been telegraphed to [General] Tommy Franks at Centcom. Franks is actually struggling with Tora Bora, with his unhappiness with the results in Afghanistan, just as he is on the eve of returning for a very important meeting at Crawford with the President. I think they made a very quick decision that in principle Iraq was next on the agenda.
WRIGHT: Al-Qaeda essentially was dead after December 2001. The war on terror, you know, had succeeded. [If we had] captured the leaders, I think people would've felt a sense of finality and might not have had that impulse to roll into Iraq. I'm not sure [the Administration] would have had the public support.”


Of course, like paranoiacs, conspiracy theorists are aces at reading silence. Silence is a multiply intentioned text, and you can lose yourself in it and wind up on a drip in the State nuthouse quicker than you might think. Myself, I saw the Q and A shift from Wright’s comment with amazing quickness.

As I’ve said before, the Tora Bora conspiracy is almost perfect. The left pretends that Al Qaeda wasn’t even dangerous – it was merely a version of high spiritied Boy Scout Jamboree, with a harsher handbook. The right, of course, is hell bent on excuses to break into Iraq and shed some real blood – the little Keegan under the pants gets hard at the very thought of all that wondrous raghead blood being spilled by our F/X. Osama was always an excuse for them. As for the moderate to moderate liberal, why, conspiracy is out of the picture. No, society is one big SAT test, and though some of the players might cheat – those are the ones that have to go to jail again and again, and my, isn’t it just a coincidence that they are mostly black males, who have, by coincidence, been the subject to rancid and consistent bigotry in this country for four hundred years – the test is sound, the teacher is honest, and as for the guys who run the SAT – you couldn’t meet a sweeter bunch of guys. Honestly, listening to President Bush, a man who can really make you laugh (he owns a marvelous ranch, too, and the nicknames he thinks up! reminds me of my roommate back at UMass – some of those frat parties were really a lot of fun!) and not some broad who might be getting into a “catfight” (1) – well, you just don’t suspect people like that of letting slip the leader of the first attack on the continental U.S. since Pancho Villa took Columbus, N.M.

So it was a perfect crime. Nobody wanted to believe it was happening. And it was victimless - or the equivalent, since the victims were only the volunteers that have been sent to Iraq over the last three years, plus the Iraqis - dead that are, to be frank, culled from the Low Use population.

Saturday, July 05, 2008
Rashid
LI noticed, with resignation, that the press largely ignored Ahmen Rashid’s book on the war in Afghanistan. It came out last month, and we reviewed it in the Statesman. There must be other reviews around somewhere, but I haven’t seen them. This is because s Rashid handily dispatches the media woven legends of the war, and shows how appallingly the Bush administration conducted the war in 2001 – 2002, guaranteeing its continuance and expansion. The latter point is never, ever expressed with any energy in these here States. Over the years, I have developed a sort of instinct about the lines that separate the serious from the never spoken in this country that arises from the comments sections in political blogs. One thing that leads to complete lack of response – to silence – is to mention what happened in Afghanistan in 2001-2002. Luckily, campers, LI does have notes – on this very blog! – recording the deadly propaganda offensive. Our fave piece of thumbsucking vis-a-vis Afghanistan came from Jack Shafer at Slate. On the eve of the Iraq war (March 27, 2003) Shafer, a gung ho journalist who would really, really have liked to have been there, bullets whizzing by his head, but, sadly, had instead to take up the burden of informing us folks at home of our superduper victories, criticized the late Johnny Apple, a NYT reporter who had apparently worried that we were getting into a quagmire in Afghanistan, with a contrarian bolletino that was stuffed with the narrative the press stuck to for years:


“Apple's fear that dropping bombs on civilians wouldn't "win Afghan 'hearts and minds' " and that the country would prove ungovernable even if the United States won turned out to be unfounded. Two weeks after his comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam, the allies liberated Kabul, and 16 months later the place is at least as governable as San Francisco.”

Now, that Shafer thinks that if American bombed him, eviscerating his wife, burning the skin off his children, destroying his property, and perhaps incapacitating him for life, that he'd cheer them on, is a view that radiates from an inability to imagine that is so deep, has been nourished so long by a predatory lifestyle, that it can well be called a form of moral autism. To put Shafer’s screed in the proper perspective of evil, hubris, and warmongering, this is from the Slate of June 17,2008:

What is going on in Afghanistan?
In the past week, Taliban fighters staged a prison raid and freed at least 1,000 of their brethren. Soon after, they mounted offensives on seven villages and are moving in on the southern stronghold of Kandahar. One of the fiercest Taliban leaders, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a major U.S. ally during the days of resistance to Soviet occupiers, is bringing in foreign jihadists from all over the region to help his cause.
Meanwhile, Taliban attacks are up considerably from last year despite increases in NATO and Afghan troop levels. Gen. Dan McNeill, who recently finished a 16-month tour as NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last week that we need 400,000 troops to control the country. There are now just 110,000 (including 58,000 from the still-green Afghan National Army) and few prospects for recruiting many more—none for remotely approaching McNeill's desired head count.


Shafer wasn’t mislead by the subtle Bushies, but, instead, was one of the misleaders. He wrote well after the failure at Tora Bora, after the failures of the Anaconda campaign, after Kunduz. Kunduz? Rashid has a passage about the Kunduz airlift in his book. I’d bet 99.9 percent of the American population has no idea what that is. I’ll quote my review:

“The trouble began in the early phase of the war the press celebrated, back in 2001. Osama bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora has been well documented; Rachid notes that "Pakistani officers ... were amazed that Rumsfeld would not even put 1,000 U.S. soldiers into battle," and concluded that America was not serious about the war. This reaffirmed Musharraf's belief that the Americans would grow tired of Afghanistan and allow it once again to fall to forces more pliable to Pakistani ministrations, namely, the Taliban.

Less noted was another great escape. In Kunduz, in the northeastern part of Afghanistan, the U.S. surrounded 8,000 Taliban, Arab and Pakistani forces in November 2001. The Pakistanis were ISI, Pakistan's secret service, who were fighting with their Taliban allies against the Americans. At Musharraf's request, the Americans allowed Pakistan to send in two planes and airlift its people out. It's unclear who, precisely, was evacuated, but according to Rashid's sources, "Hundreds of ISI officers, Taliban commanders and foot soldiers belonging to the IMU (an Uzbekistan guerilla group) and al-Qaeda personnel boarded the planes."

So, I was pleased that someone was dispatched from the Olympian heights of the NYT to interview the guy.

It is still a bit of a kid glove interview. It doesn’t deal with what Rashid shows of Rumsfeld’s dealing, for instance, with Afghanistan, for which he should certainly be on trial right now. But it actually acknowledges he exists. Amazing!

Summing up: the disappearance of osama bin laden and the my pet goat presidency
The time seems ripe for going over the way in which the Bush administration deliberately let Obama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan to manipulate an unnecessary and disastrous global war on terror. We’ve done this before, of course. But since we are now in the passenger seat, watching the consequences rush forward through the driver’s window – and since the usual shitheads, the O’Hanlon-Kagan crowd, are suggesting their usual shithead policy to deal with it (send U.S. soldiers that are apparently created by magic to occupy a Pakistan that is just aching and shaking to have its nukes taken away by a loving ally) – it is always a fun and fitting thing to marshal the facts and inferences. Where at one time malign, fucked up behavior on the part of the Bush administration might have seemed implausible, after seven incredible years of devious behaviors, second and third rate thinking, and a consistently juvenile policy of thoughtless aggression, wrapped in an impenetrable aura of entitlement and impunity, our theory seems all the stronger. Dismayingly, it has never made a dent in the blogo-chatter sphere.

The facts are pretty simple. Six years ago, the CIA, which had the most connection with opposition groups in Afghanistan, had succeeded in using a limited American force, in conjunction with a number of Afghani warlord-headed forces (given a misleading unity as the “Northern Alliance”), and supported by heavy air cover, to force the fall of Kabul (November 13) and drive Osama bin Laden’s paramilitary force into the mountainous region southeast of the capital city. The fall of Kabul was greeted as a turning point in the quick war by the press. By December 10, the Defense department was treating the defeat of the Taleban as a fait accompli, and issuing misleading press reports, like this one:

“Al Qaida fighters near Tora Bora are reported to be putting up stiff resistance as the operation to dislodge them from their mountain stronghold continues. U-S officials say the operation is making moderate progress as anti-Taleban forces on the ground push forward on several fronts. The American military is still not sure where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is, but officials believe they have a general idea.
In the southern part of the country, Afghanistan's new interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has settled a dispute between tribal chiefs over who will control Kandahar, which the Taleban surrendered Friday.

Under the agreement, Kandahar's pre-Taleban governor, Gul Agha, will resume his position. He will be assisted by Mullah Naqibullah, who accepted the Taleban's surrender.

Pentagon officials says U-S Marines are having success in preventing armed Taleban and al-Qaida fighters from fleeing southern Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan.”

In actuality, the U.S. marines were not having success in preventing armed Taleban and al Qaida fighters from going into neighboring Pakistan. And in actuality, the U.S. had a pretty good idea that Osama bin Laden was in the cave system in Tora Bora.
Peter Bergen has written several articles about Osama bin Laden’s “disappearing act” – which is more act, obviously, than disappearance. In a 2004 article about Tora Bora, he underlines two things: one is that Tora Bora was a pretty well known location to the Americans – it had been extensively used during the guerilla war financed by the U.S. in the eighties; and the other is that far from the Pentagon throwing in its U.S. marines en masse to capture Osama bin Laden, the Pentagon was being curiously stingy about resourcing the end game:

For some perspective on Jalalabad, I spoke with Dr. Muhammad Asif Qazizada, the deputy governor of Nangarhar, the province that contains Jalalabad. In his office, in a splendid blue-domed nineteenth-century building that was once the winter palace of Afghanistan's kings, Qazizada explained why Jalalabad and the nearby mountainous redoubt of Tora Bora were the perfect places for bin Laden to stage one of history's great disappearing acts. In his early twenties Qazizada worked as a medic in Tora Bora when it was an important base for the Afghan resistance to the Soviets. At the time, he recalled, Tora Bora was a warren of caves and fortifications defended by machine guns and anti-aircraft batteries. Because it offered easy access by foot to Parachinar, a region of Pakistan that juts like a parrot's beak into Afghanistan, it was also an ideal place from which to mount hit-and-run operations against the Soviets. Indeed, bin Laden fought his first battle against the Soviets, in 1987, at Jaji, an Afghan village that abuts Parachinar.

During the 1980s, Qazizada said, Tora Bora was the object of several Soviet offensives, one of them involving thousands of soldiers, dozens of helicopter gun ships, and several MiG fighter jets; so solid were the fortifications that the Soviet offensives were held off by a force of no more than 130 Afghans. For this reason, Qazizada believes, bin Laden chose the region as his hideout and escape route in November of 2001. When the two-week battle of Tora Bora took place shortly afterward, in December, it was fought largely by the forces of local Afghan commanders, supported by small numbers of U.S. Special Forces, who called in intense air strikes against al-Qaeda's positions. But Tora Bora's mountainous topography worked to bin Laden's advantage. "It was difficult for the Americans to attack," Qazizada says, "and there was a way to flee."

What happened next was seen but not seen by the U.S. press. I’ll quote myself, here, from my more extensive post about this, July 28,2006:

“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.”

The military is still scratchin’ its head, apparently, as to when OBL ‘disappeared’. For years, the standard Bushie defense of what obviously happens when you saturation bomb an area in front of a force and leave its rear untouched by explosive and unguarded by any force was that OBL could be anywhere. Now, one of the things that we have been taught, over the past seven years, is to swallow verbiage that an average six year old could debunk, since that is usually the age, according to Piaget, in which the logical faculties kick in. The age in which the logical faculties kick in for war mongers is obviously much later - sixty-five? seventy-five? hard to put a number on it. Remember, though, that Piaget drop outs run this land of ours. And benefit enormously from their pseudo-incomprehension. It is the system of the big fix. And in that vein: we bet that not a single reporter will, at Bush’s next press conference, press the president on why the facts of the case seem to lead to the conclusion that the U.S. intentionally let OBL escape. And ask whether, now that Pakistan seems caught in an act we have all seen before, that was such a bright idea. In fact, Osama bin Laden is now not mentioned in our King’s present – it upsets his dainty mechanism.

On the other hand, we know that Osama bin Laden is not as dumb as the U.S. press. He made the logical conclusions long ago. And he has followed through on his end of the gentlemen’s agreement. Instead of attacking the U.S. on U.S. soil, again, he has aided in a series of attacks that tiptoe around U.S. soil. Attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Spain and the U.K. To attack, say, NYC again would be a dishonorable act against his host and protector, George Bush.

What a win win situation the two have produced for each other! The GWOT spawned a vast, unnecessary war that generated, in turn, an excuse for an unprecedented and pointless buildup of the military that in turn - oh the dominos! - generated unprecedented profits up and down the line for companies even only peripherally touched by the Santa Claus policy of the Pentagon; Bush sailed into a second term on the comical pretense that he had shown himself a strong leader (when, in fact, we have never had a modern president who is so paralyzed by panic in the face of critical situations - the man who kept reading My Pet Goat as he wondered who he was and why he was there on 9/11 is the same guy all the way through the past six years, a second rate golf pro’s mind stuffed into the body of another rich man’s prodigal son); and after an obvious down period following the disorganization of Al Qaeda in 2002, OBL reconstituted himself as a kingmaker in Pakistan, training the Taleban forces for edging into Afghanistan again, connected to a number of Islamicist groups who have ingratiated themselves with the Pakistani rural population in a number of ways, not least of which is a proto-social welfare system that is more efficient in rushing aid to, say, earthquake victims than the government itself. We are about to hit another harmonic convergence as Musharref increasingly looks like he is doing the dictator’s death spiral, a thing we have seen before. And we will continue to swallow lies and bullshit like troopers on our way to an ever more malformed relationship with the rest of the world.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Neo-liberalism and the insanity of the economists

Marx may be ‘out of date’ for some folks, but it is only by absorbing Marx’s way of thinking that you can really enjoy the high comedy produced by mainstream economists in a dither. In today’s NYT, Robert Schiller uses the ‘fact’ that few predicted the housing bubble’s collapse to moan about how we need a clearer crystal ball.
Well, prediction is pretty, but it is also cheap. What I'm interested in is the tactic of shifting the onus of the argument to the issue of prediction, for what this does is help us easily and comfortably misunderstand just how rational the housing bubble was. One of the commentors in Mark Thoma’s blog, Economist’s View, has linked to a August, 2002 column by Krugman which he thinks is discrediting because in it he discerned the advice that Bush should create a housing bubble. On the contrary, Krugman’s column is an excellent analysis of the state of play of the Bush economy in 2002. What Krugman saw is that Greenspan's excuse for blessing the Bush tax cuts was threadbare and ideologically driven, and that the tax cut therapy for the recession that resulted from the tech stock crash didn't work. What he did not see was the whole rationale between combining tax cuts, deregulating the credit markets, and maintaining abysmally low interest rates.

What this all means is that the bubble was engineered, in as much as you can engineer economic events using the powers of the state. It was a solution to a problem before it was a problem to be solved. Perhaps America solved the problem of our Puritan ancestors - the problem of bearing guilt from the very creation of the world - by nurturing a cult of amnesia, which would allow us to bear no guilt at all. But amnesia in this case is killing us. We have never seriously posed the question: what problem was the housing bubble solving?

I’m not saying that the Bush administration and Greenspan decided, lets have a housing bubble. Rather, the neo-liberal rules for the economy had, by 2001, outlived their usefulness. The old rule, under Clinton, was that one could have a liberal social insurance system and a deregulated private sphere through the magic of growth. The Clinton administration added a crucial liberal element in 1993, with its tax hikes and its expanded use of EITC. And it benefited from the coming to fruition of advances in computing that were partly the result of decades of government funding, via the pentagon and various universities, and partly the result of entities in the private sphere. It also benefited, it must be said, from a semi-rational foreign policy that was not built on using the military as the multiplier of last resort (although weapons sales did boom during the Clinton years – which is not good). But by 1998, when the capital gain tax was lowered and the Clinton administration was beginning to buy its own neo-lib propaganda - memorably encoded in Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree as the 'golden straightjacket" - things were starting to go wrong. The idea that the business cycle had been eliminated was being touted as a serious notion, rather than as one of the predictable hallucinations of a group intoxicated by greed. And in 2000-2001, the business cycle came back with a vengeance. If we depend on above average growth to take care of the endemic problem of inequality and less than average wage growth in the median household, then when growth is less than average, and when it plummets to negative growth, we obviously have reached the end of the neo-liberal policy paradigm.
At this point, the neo-lib synthesis shatters and the policy choice is simple. Either save the rich or save the rest. The one is conservative policy, the other is liberal policy.
Bush obviously took the first option, but to make this politically feasible, there had to be something done about the rest. Asset inflation was the perfect answer. Its anaesthetizing affect was such that the GOP actually won the 2002 midterms even as the incomes of Americans were either stagnating or being savaged. Who cared? You might make less, but you could buy a house with zero down and flip it. And though this was an extreme response, still - wealth, for most people, is measured in terms of their life styles, not in terms of the numbers they give to the IRS. If the lifestyles are big and the interest rates seem low, then they feel rich.
Well, the delusion lasted about as long as the delusion that we were 'winning' in Iraq. At this point, the 'save the rest' party came into power - supposedly. But a funny thing happened on the way to liberal utopia - it was de-liberalified. Mysteriously, liberal legislation couldn't pass, or wouldn't pass. When the malarky wealth built on asset inflation imploded, however, legislation passed awful quick to save the rich. And then of course Bush's successor, Obama, came in with a crew of old neo-libs and Bush era officials and did an amazing job os saving the rich. Fed policy in 2008-2010 is an excellent example of what a state that is determined to use welfare for the betterment of a segment of society can do. The rich have never been so coddled, so stuffed with money, so babied and made up to in the whole history of the Republic. Obama makes McKinley look like a communist.
Unfortunately, the only asset bubbles in sight at the moment are such that the rest can't benefit from them. Well, too bad - maybe the answer is to strip them of the benefits that they have enjoyed - via the power of the state - for the last 75 years. This seems to be the template in D.C. Liberalism is dead. The question is, what kind of plutocracy are we building? The kind that will strip the rest of everything, or the kind that will leave them with enough money to buy lottery tickets?

It is in this context that the questions the economists are posing themselves look, well, insane.