“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, January 16, 2014

more warhawk shit in the new yorker

Jon Lee Anderson  has a reputation  as one of the finest foreign correspondents in the US. He thoroughly trashed that reputation during the Iraq war, and yet, astonishingly, he is regularly published in the New Yorker as an “expert” on what is happening in Iraq. The recent and wholly predictable eruption ofviolence by the Sunnis against Malaki’s government is subject to one of thisthumbsuckers on the  New Yorker site thisweek, and it is typically dreadful. Mark Danner, in 2006, wrote something simple and essential about the American  image of what was happening in Iraq. After retailing the story of a state department official who assured  him that the people of Falluja would turn out in surprising numbers to vote for the Iraq constitution, who seemed wholly convinced of his own story and who proved wholly wrong, the dime dropped for Danner:
“You know, though you spend your endless, frustrating days speaking to Iraqis, lobbying them, arguing with them, that in a country torn by a brutal and complicated war those Iraqis perforce are drawn from a small and special subset of the population: Iraqis who are willing to risk their lives by meeting with and talking to Americans. Which is to say, very often, Iraqis who depend on the Americans not only for their livelihoods but for their survival. You know that the information these Iraqis draw on is similarly limited, and that what they convey is itself selected, to a greater or lesser extent, to please their interlocutor. But though you know that much of your information comes from a thin, inherently biased slice of Iraqi politics and Iraqi life, hundreds of conversations during those grueling twenty-hour days eventually lead you to think, must lead you to think, that you are coming to understand what’s happening in this immensely complicated, violent place. You come to believe you know. And so often, even about the largest things, you do not know.
Before  we get to Anderson’s post about al qaeda in Falluja in 2014, let’s go back to the way he  "explained" the insurgency in 2004, while Falluja was being devastated by the Americans. In an interview with Amy Davidson published on the New Yorker website he said:

"In a sense, the Iraqi insurgency began in advance of the arrival of American troops in Baghdad on April 9, 2003. Arab jihadis from other countries—volunteer would-be martyrs, mostly religious Muslims—had been flowing into the country, at the instigation of Saddam’s government, in the weeks before the invasion. The idea was that they would carry out suicide operations as part of Saddam’s strategy to hold the capital and to weaken the Americans, as what Saddam imagined would be a siege of Baghdad began."

This is, of course, almost pure Cheneyism, a desperate attempt to save an ill-motivated war of aggresion by sprinkling it with the terrorist-bogeyman fairy dust. In fact, Anderson has evidence for no such thing.  The discredited link between Saddam and al qaeda is replayed here as propaganda to divert the attention of the American public from the fact that the Iraqis did not feel "liberated" by the Americans.

Flash forward ten years and you will see that Anderson is still a great believer in what Danner correctly labeled the “imaginary war”. That is the war which Americans fantasized, and sought collaborators among Iraqis to validate their fantasies. (Danner made this point in 2005, while I made the same point on my blog in 2003, before the war started.
Anderson anchors his piece to a quote from his 2005 interview with the American ambassador to Iraq. He then asks if, in terms of the Ambassador’s remark – that the thought of a violent Sunni-Shiite war made him shudder – we should now be taking stock. Taking stock? Where was the stocktaking in 2005? The two "battles" of Fallujah were in many ways the most inhumane thing the Americans did in a long and criminal war. Not only did they practically raze the city in Grozny-esque fashion, but they forced 200000 to flee it without providing a tent or a cot. Of course, this isn’t how Anderson remembers his famous battles – rather, in his current post, he has the audacity to provide casualty counts solely on the Americans killed in Falluja. In other words, Anderson still does not understand the most basic thing about the war in Iraq – that it was about the Iraqis. Maybe, in the stocktaking mood in 2005, could have asked the American ambassador how a former Ba'athist torturer, Allawi, got dubbed our De Gaulle in "liberated" Iraq - after the sad failure of our other de Gaulle, Chalabi, to, well, gain traction.
Well, there are endless stocktaking questions that Anderson is ten years late in asking. And he still doesn’t understand why. Myself, I don’t understand why David Remnick’s foreign correspondents in the Middle East have been taken from the same tired hawks who were wrong about Iraq: George Packer, Dexter Filkins, George Packer. Danner once wrote for the New Yorker. Maybe they should put all the Iraq news in his account.  

Or perhaps me. Danner’s revelatory moment that made him realize that the American image of the war in Iraq was very different from the war in Iraq came in 2005. But I knew this even before the war started. The debate about the war in the press at the time was unbelievable, in as much as the part of the belligerants were defending the upcoming war in terms that had nothing to do with the war that Bush was proposing and that the Americans were supposed to enact. I picked on Hitchens at lot at the time, since he was the worst of the pro-war polemicists. In February23, 2003, I wrote on my Limited Inc blog:
“One of the oddities of the upcoming war (may Popeye avert it!) is that those opposing it are accused of having no "solution" to the situation in Iraq. Usually this accusation is made by supporters of the war, like Salman Rushdie , who support an entirely different war than the one justified by Bush and Blair. LI thinks it is fair to assume that Bush and Blair will not invite Rushdie, or Hitchens, or any of the rest of them, into their counsels of war when the invasion begins. So arguing about the Rushdie/Hitchens war is a pointless exercise: that war is neither contemplated nor likely to be fought.

However, the idea that we, who speak no Arabic, or Kurnamji, who have no stake in Iraq, and who have no sense of the fabric of the culture, come up with "solutions" to how Iraq should be governed is... curious. It is one of those problems that remind me of why, in spite of my overall disagreement with Hayek, I am sympathetic to some of his grander themes. Hayek's objection to centrally planned economies was that planning diverges from reality at just that key point where reality is lived -- because that is the point of accident, of emergence, of unexpected outcomes, of intangible knowledge, of everything that falls in the domain of acquaintance, as William James puts it, rather than propositional knowledge.”

It turned out that I wasn’t wholly right to dismiss the imaginary war, because this is how the American establishment not only justified itself before the public, but also how, in one part of their mind, they actually thought. Like all monsters, they became terminally prey to doublethought.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


So two months ago, to reward Adam for undergoing a visit to the doctor and shots, I bought him a ball, a blue plastic thing I’d spotted in a shop window near the pediatrician’s office. When I brought it home and rolled it to him, however, he let it roll by. He had other business to attend to. Then, suddenly, last week, he starts getting interested in the ball. He clips after it when I roll it. He likes to see it go down the stairs. The ball, it has connected.
The ball.
“Your toddler is starting to have a ball – first by rolling that curious round thing you’ve handed him or her… and then by attempting to throw it – or more likely, dropping the ball and watching in delight as it moves across the floor.”
What to expect the second year: from 12 to 24 months, by Heidi Murkoff
Since we joined the Y, I’ve decided to make a go of living a healthier lifestyle. The first week that meant swimming – and I’m not a good or dedicated swimmer – the running machine, the rowing machine, this torture machine in which you move your thighs to make some weights go up a bit in the air. However, in the back of my mind I was thinking of the racket court. Unfortunately, I don’t know anybody in Santa Monica who plays racketball, but I decided to get some balls and today I just played myself for an hour. Winded myself. I was surprised by how slow I was. On the other hand, I play racketball with instincts shaped by tennis, which I played manically between the ages of 11 and 21, and thus there was always this phantom length of racket that the racket ball would go through, there were these angles and speeds that were twists on the tennis ball, enough like it to fool me.
There is a tremendous literature about sports in the 20th and 21st century, but really little about the ball. The ball itself. Yet the ball is fascinating. The hardness, the compression of the racket ball balls is satisfying, but I can’t get myself into one of those balls. By contrast, that is what I spent my time trying to do between 11 and 21, playing tennis. I was a steady player, but mediocre. I was paired with another such player on the high school team – not for me the thrill of starting as a single. On the other hand, I was good enough that I could sometimes defeat our single player – not the Swedish ringer, but my buddy, W. – in a match. In tennis, sometimes you have a growth spurt – you play above the level of your play, you get it in a new way, the ball is your second self. But I could never climb to that level and stay there. Not enough dedication. Even so, I knew that when I played well, it was about the ball. The racket, the beautiful racket, followed, obeyed, it was a part of you, but it wasn’t idiosyncratic, it didn’t have a free will, it wasn’t a ball.
It is odd that economists don’t consider the ball. All the activity, the immense labor, that is woven around balls. Because why? Because you want to win, and to win means doing your thing with the ball, which is the thing – the object and the symbol – between you and your opponent.
Balls have evidently been around a long time, but they don’t get the study that, say, coins do. They should, though. Take, for instance, the American football. That ball is grotesque. It is less ball than projectile. If Adorno had had a sportif bone in his flabby kritikdrenched body, he would have recognized the intimacy between the football and Hiroshima. In fact, football is a tremendously interesting game, but it is interesting the way the war in the Pacific, circa 1941-1945, is more interesting than the Thirty years war.
On the other hand, you have the baseball, which is all Renaissance, a thing of beauty that would have been recognized by Alberti or by da Vinci. The stitching and the whiteness and the generally regal bearing of that ball, the great materials it is made of, mystically color the entire game.
Yet even so – there is the ball – not the individual balls. Oddly, all of these balls are inter-substitutable. One doesn’t play a ball game with the individual ball in mind. There are, of course, balls that are fetishistically claimed – bowling balls, for instance. But mostly the balls are disposable in their very essence. You might try to live on the tennis ball during the game, you might try to clear your mind of everything else, but in the end, you have no affection for the ball qua that particular ball.
Children’s encyclopedia’s retail glorious myths about the invention of fire, or of the wheel, or the pully, or bronze – but they never both to imagine the invention of the ball. The ball, in fact, seems part of nature. A pebble, a nut. Yet the ball is surely the very symbol of culture – it is the very symbol of the symbol. In itself, it is nothing. But in play, it becomes more than itself. It starts to mean. It is Victor Turner’s symbolic object, and as such, it defines spaces and limits. It creates a passage, traversing a space that is charged with meaning. But unlike those objects – human beings – who also go through passages, the ball can mean but it can’t express. This, of course, brings us back to the afore mentioned fact that balls do not earn our affection, as say a piece of furniture, a house, a car do. A ball is always being subsumed into the great collective of balls.
Enough about balls.