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Showing posts from September 30, 2001
Remora There's an outstandingly dumb op-ed piece in the nyt today The 40-Year War Someone named Bill Keller has grabbed the wrong analogy and rides it to its frothing conclusion. The analogy is that we are in the New Cold War. He gets rid of the inconvenient fact that, really, we aren't this way "There is, of course, no Soviet Union of terrorism, but as John Lewis Gaddis, the dean of cold-war historians, has been telling his classes at Yale since Sept. 11, there are striking parallels." Striking parallels between a world wide clash between two nuclear armed nations and a disparate group of terrorists scattered about the Middle East with, at most, maybe 10 to 15,000 agents? Right. The striking parallel is between the thirst for some grand, unified thing like a Cold War among deans of cold war history and Georgetown cocktail diplomats. Actually, there is a parallel with an earlier 'war' in American history. That war, against the Barbary Pirates, was
Remora In these days of shadow war and shadow recession, the Bush administration is suddenly turning on a Keynsian dime -- or is it 120 billion dollars? with a vengeance. Question is: does this mean that the reign of Schumpeter, of creative destruction, was all a big mistake? The Web, in its wisdom, offers up a digital festschrift in honor of Peter Drucker that contains Drucker's essay, Modern Prophets: Schumpeter and Keynes ? It's a brilliant piece. I disagree with Drucker's summary dismissal of Keynsian economics, which makes especial use of two time periods and, at least as he glides over the 81-82 period, is magisterially unfair; on the other hand, Drucker draws a mean geneology. He does net the connections between Keynes and the whole classical school, and unlike other conservative economists, gives the devil (aka Marx) his due as an economist. But since Drucker's heart is in Schumpeter's differance ; the meat of the piece is laying out, with maximum
Remora Sometimes you come upon a fact that you know has an essayistic depth to it, if you only had the time, or the mental capacity, to write the essay. For instance: last night I read this anecdote about Hans Christian Andersen. Since he lived in fear of awakening in a coffin, "he always carried a card with him saying, "I am not really dead," which he put on the dressing table whenever he stayed at a hotel abroad, to prevent some careless doctor from wrongly declaring him dead." -- Buried Alive, by Jan Bondeson. Now the Walter Benjamin in me takes that as an image applicable to every modernist artist -- didn't they all carry with them, at least metaphorically, some card saying 'I'm not really dead?' And what kind of sentence is that, anyway? Who, after all, is the speaker? What kind of truth claims can the dead make? There's a good reason that wills begin with a declaration of health -- we only trust the living.
Remora Did you know that war reporters have their own association? Well, now you do. This link is to an article by Michael Griffin laying out the depressing Afghan specs: a famished country, bickering warlords with onerous pasts, and the Taliban, a far from medieval creation -- as everybody likes to call it. It is, instead, an ultra-modern creation, a faith based militia wrung from the despair of the poor. Institute for War & Peace Reporting Griffin's assessment of the Northern alliance sounds alarmingly like those groups that the US propped up to resist Saddam H. in Iraq. They are simply without a vision, or any support beyond the money they can get from somebody to pass around. . Rabanni, one would think, would have learned a few things by being dumped by the Taliban army. Last graf, and one hopes that the US is taking this to heart: "And they are far from unanimous in supporting Zahir Shah, the former king, as the UN-recognised president, Rabbani, has bluntly d
Dope. Let's talk about airport security. Not a hot issue for yours truly, until recent unpleasant events sort of put it right under my nose. And yours. We all got a deep whiff of it. I interviewed Adam Gopnick yesterday, for a Chronicle profile. In the course of the interview, we agreed that one of the ironies of the WTC assault was that it might signal the end of privatization. The irony, here, is that will to privatize is reaching its limit, and perhaps retreating, under a president who is more committed to privatizing the commons than any president we have ever had. Or at least any president since Herbert Hoover. Economists are peculiarly prone to hubris. The Keynsian school in the sixties were vocal in their claim that they could micro-manage the national economy with little more than a slide rule (remember slide rules?) and up until 1969 this looked to be the case. The neo-liberal school of the nineties were making the same claim of mastery. This time the idea was co
Remora Interesting article about the fall of SwissAir from a Swiss point of view: [ Article - ATTACK ON SWITZERLAND - Les banques et la fin de Swissair ] Last graf, explaining that Swiss banks, even though profitable, decided to pull the plug on their nation's airline, sounds an interesting premonitory note: A la place des banques (grandes et petites, al�maniques ou genevoises), je ne me r�jouirais pas trop. Le flinguage de Swissair �tait pratiquement achev� quand est intervenue la catastrophe du 11 septembre. On sait qu'elle a d�clench� chez les Am�ricains une crise de phobie du secret bancaire. On a vu vendredi le Conseil de s�curit� de l'ONU voter au pas de course et � l'unanimit� une r�solution demandant la transparence des op�rations bancaires pour lutter contre le terrorisme. Si cette fureur inquisitoriale ne retombe pas comme un souffl� � ce qui est possible �, la banque suisse sera appel�e � vivre des heures tr�s sombres. If I were in t
Remora Lately my friend Don has been driving me mildly crazy by praising some articles I've written. Why would this drive me crazy? Because the more he praises them, the more I seem to hear him saying, I stink as a writer, but these articles he likes are an exception. Probably paranoia on my part, but Don likes to refer to the habit I have of multifariously referring -- which the implication here, folks, is that I cultivate an arcane set of names and facts that nobody knows. And why don't they know them? because, really, they are unimportant. Now, I'm a belles lettres type of guy, I admit. And I like to think my writing is in communication with the great works of the past. It is what Breton meant by vases communicants, right? Oh oh, I'm doing it again, aren't I? Maybe I just don't get out enough. Anyway, I was raised in late eighties academe, where intertextuality was groovy, and that stuck with me. Actually, I like to think that I write the way Josep
Remora While all eyes are clapped on the Persian Gulf region right now, there are events brewing in the Caspian Region. Olivier Roy claims that the Caspian is set to become the world's second largest supplier of petroleum. I recommend Crude Maneuvers , his (pre-WCT) article detailing the strategies at play in getting the oil out of the Caspian region. There is one bit I found particularly piquant: the importance of the semantics of the term, Sea. "Russia and Iran have some interests in common. The first concerns the legal status of the Caspian. For Moscow and Tehran, it is a lake while Azerbaijan, strongly supported by the USA and more discreetly by Turkmenistan, regards it is an inland sea. The stakes are clear: if the Caspian is a lake, then its resources would have to be divided equally among the surrounding states, whatever the extent of their territorial waters. If it is a sea, its resources would be divided according to a state's territorial waters, which are d
Leon Wieselthier, the book editor at TNY, fancies himself a sort of denunciatory prophet, but when I read him I think less of Ezekial than of some apoplectic clubman pounding his fork and knife on the table to get more dessert. His prose exudes the indignation of the stuffed at the slowness of the service. He's a man in search of someone to fire- ergo, he must be important. His latest is on a topic that has been perennially hot with right wing types since the death of outrage killed the fellatio impeachment: irony as a sign of social degeneration . "The man who edits Vanity Fair has ruled that the age of cynicism is over. He would know. I always wondered what it would take to put a cramp in the trashy mind, and at last I have my answer: a mass grave in lower Manhattan. So now depth has buzz....The on dit has moved beyond the apple martini. It has discovered evil and the problem of its meaning. No doubt about it, seriousness is in. So it is worth remembering that
Remora Judicial Watch, a site whose motto is because no one is above the law! -- by which they mean, we'll smear people who are too famous to sue us for libel -- has aligned the decent impulses in my soul with a man I usually consider indecent ab ovo, George Bush I. But the mccarthyite association of GBI with everybody's archeterrorist, O. bin Laden, Judicial Watch: Because no one is above the law! , is too ridiculous to stomach. Judicial Watch takes Bush's investment in a company in which bin Laden's family has invested as some absurd complicity with O. bin Laden himself. For those fans of the internicene Clinton wars, Judicial Watch was continually intruding itself into the public notice by dogging Clinton for such crimes as were attributed to him by the paranoid right. Using the same poor logic, they are going after GBI: "Judicial Watch, the public interest law firm that investigates and prosecutes government corruption and abuse, reacted with disbelief
Remora. More about Thieu's passing - here's the first chapter of No Peace, No Honor . Larry Berman's book shows that the previous two schools of thought about the end of the Vietnam war are both wrong. Nixon's version was that Congress lost the war, by stripping him of his power to intervene after the 73 treaty was signed. The "decent interval" theory, of Frank Snepp - whose last book I reviewed here - is that the treaty was forged with the utmost cynicism by Kissinger and Nixon, fully conscious that under the terms of it, South Vietnam was doomed unless the US intervened, long distance, with the utmost brutality -- a futile brutality too, as would seem self-evident to anybody else. Remember, though, this is the administration whose bombing planners in Cambodia didn't even have current maps of the place. Random bombing didn't bother them -- chances were you'd kill some enemy somewhere if you dropped enough tonnage of explosives. Berman's
Remora Blues for President Thieu He dead, as they said of Kurz. Except that he was not, like Kurz, a product of some Western power shipped out to one of the dark places of the earth, as the colonial officers put it pretentiously on their various veranda. What he was -- an obituary can't tell us that. In fact, in his adopted home town, Boston, the obituarist in the Globe has a surprisingly distant knowledge of where Nguyen Van Thieu came from. Here's an astonishing graf: Boston Globe Online / Obituaries / Nguyen Van Thieu, 78 "Born April 5, 1923, the youngest child of a struggling farmer, Mr. Thieu worked in rice fields as a boy and went to a French Catholic high school. At 23, he briefly joined Ho Chi Minh's anticolonial struggle, but he left the movement that would become his enemy and joined the army of South Vietnam." Simple math should have made the Globe deadhead re-read his factsheet. How could he have briefly joined the Viet Minh in 1946, an
Remora Paul Krugman is not my favorite economist. I think of him as the Economist from Glib -- he's absorbed monetary theory into a highly attenuated Keynsianism, resulting in that sweet sleep of reason, Clintonomics. However, his article in the NYT Magazine this Sunday is definitely worth reading, even if its potted history of How we learned to Make Macroeconomic Policy seems pretty suspect to me. He uses a military/ sports metaphor to adumbrate our two "lines of defense" against a Depression -- which, by the way, he defines wholly in terms of consumer demand. To quote from his article: "The first line of defense against an economic slump is monetary policy: the ability of the central bank -- the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan -- to cut interest rates. Lower interest rates are supposed to persuade businesses and consumers to borrow and spend, which creates new jobs, which encourages people to spend even more, and so on. And si
Remora Speaking of the bulletin of the atomic scientists, there is a truly brilliant bit of reportage by Jessica Stern, listening to the Muj, from January of this year. Meeting with the Muj | The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Here's two grafs: "As part of a research project on violent religious extremism, I have been interviewing Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim militants around the world for the last two years. Last June I returned to South Asia to visit the Line of Control, the always tense and often bloody border between Indian-held and Pakistan-held Kashmir. I wanted to meet with mujahideen and to learn more about Pakistan's radical madrisas, which churn out so many of the mujahideen, boys who court death in the name of god. I also met with families of "martyrs," Pakistani boys who have lost their lives fighting in Kashmir. I had been communicating with a few mujahideen over the past two years, trying to understand what motivates them to
Remora Nice article in last month's Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Surveying the nuclear cities | The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists It makes more compelling reading, now, for obvious reasons. It is amazing how careless we are about the abandoned coral reefs of the Cold War -- the chemicals, germs, nuclear weapons, the stockpiles of Apocalypse. Here's the final Graf: "The results of Tikhonov�s study and the apparent conditions in the cities make it all the more difficult to understand the Bush administration�s move to cut funding for the Nuclear Cities Initiative, a U.S. program designed to help create new jobs in several of Russia�s nuclear cities. The administration favors reducing last year�s already reduced budget of $25 million to a request for only $6.6 million. Experts within the program question whether this sum is sufficient to maintain operations in even one of the cities, let alone expand to new areas. While congressional supporters will try
Remora I like Christopher Hitchens, even if sometimes I think he is batty. His latest blast at the "no-brain" pacifist left has produced some small echo, and it is definitely worth reading, even if I felt it was fueled by temper working on the nerve more than by the painstaking charcuterie of H.'s analytic intelligence at its best. Guardian Unlimited | Archive Search Especially as he lets loose in the penultimate paragraph, he loses his grip on what he usually does very well -- making sure that his invective is undergirded by a strict sense of definition: "But the bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there's no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about "the west", to put it in a phrase, is not what western liberals don't like and can't defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion fro