Saturday, October 06, 2001


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 an easy victory. America's confrontation with terrorists is, similarly, a confrontation with a loosely organized group that relies on a context of sympathizers to retreat, and the low tech advantages of ambush to attack. The war against the pirates, in the Western Hemisphere, lasted two hundred years. It was never completely won, but piracy diminished because it became inconvenient for the states that had once sponsored it -- England and France -- and the object of piracy -- mainly the Spanish gold fleet -- became more of a cost to attack.The Barbary Pirates fell because they were easily located and routed.
Of course, piracy is ultimately driven by economics. Terrorism is driven by ideology. In that sense, only, one can find a Cold War parallel. As for the current salivating over the 'coming security state' -- I'll believe it when I see it. So far, we haven't even agreed to secure, at a minimum level, airports, although we were quick to secure the finances of airlines. I do sometimes wonder at the hysteria of intellectuals, who so much want there to be a moment beyond which 'everything is changed,' whether to satisfy their libertarian nightmares or their authoritarian daydreams. Those moments happen, no doubt. So far, though, the indicators are that the WCT attack wasn't one of them. Compare it to, say, the war on drugs, which kicked into high gear in the 80s after the death of basketball star Len Bias. You might think this is a grossly distorting comparison -- the WCT attack is certainly one of the great atrocities of our time. Alas, the shadows thrown by historic events can't be predicted by their gross emotional weight. While Bias' death kicked-started a disasterous set of laws punishing drug use, which in turn had a massive effect on American society, giving us proportionately one of the highest percentages of incarcerated people on earth, what has the WCT assault done? I see no comparable change in the domestic political landscape. TThere is a great desire for some great change, that is true. We want, somehow, to do something tthat is appropriately monumental as a sign of respect for the 6000 who died. But desire, here, has not yet found an object. As for the international landscape, Afghanistan can not long stay at the center of the world. All bets are off if Ben Laden is not captured or killed, but I'd certainly be cautious about predicting a forty year "Cold War."
Skip this post, it was an accident.

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 compression, what Schumpeter's work is all about.

Here's two grafs about Schumpeter that are worth reading even if you don't follow my link to the piece (but do -- it is the weekend, right? And there's a 120 billion dollar economics proposal floating around D.C. And, like, that's a chunk of change. It makes, what, four Gates. Which I do believe should be some kind of official metric).

"Classical economics considered innovation to be outside the system, as Keynes did, too. Innovation belonged in the category of "outside catastrophies" like earthquakes, climate, or war, which, everybody knew, have profound influence on the economy but are not part of economics. Schumpeter insisted that, on the contrary, innovation - that is, entrepeneurship that moves resources from old and obsolescent to new and more productive employments - is the very essence of economics and most certainly of a modern economy.

He derived this notion, as he was the first to admit, from Marx. But he used it to disprove Marx. Schumpeter's Economic Development does what neither the classical economists nor Marx nor Keynes was able to do: It makes profit fulfill an economic function. In the economy of change and innovation, profit, in contrast to Marx and his theory, is not a Mehrwert, a "surplus value" stolen from the workers. On the contrary, it is the only source of jobs for workers and of labor income. The theory of economic development shows that no one except the innovator makes a genuine "profit"; and the innovator's profit is always quite short-lived. But innovation in Schumpeter's famous phrase is also "creative destruction." It makes obsolete yesterday's capital equipment and capital investment. The more an economy progresses, the more capital formation will it therefore need. Thus what the classical economists - or the accountant or the stock exchange - considers "profit" is a genuine cost, the cost of staying in business, the cost of a future in which nothing is predictable except that today's profitable business will become tomorrow's white elephant. Thus, capital formation and productivity are needed to maintain the wealth-producing capacity of the economy and, above all, to maintain today's jobs and to create tomnorrow's jobs."

This is the shit. But it's implications for understanding business unfold when one understands that innovation can be tied to multifarious forms of profit-making -- including using the power of the State in various ways, from promoting regulation to using the judicial power, to make money. This simple fact of business life is systematically overlooked by the right and most of the left, who define themselves with regard to a false picture of state-private enterprise interactins.

Drucker goes on to talk about how WWI monetized economies. Read the essay. When the Web offers you stuff like this for free, you have to admit, it is pretty cool.

Friday, October 05, 2001

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.
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 dismissed any suggestion that the monarchy should be restored, while the Uzbek, Tajik and Shia have little loyalty to a Pashtun king who has spent the toughest years of the war in an Italian villa."

Thursday, October 04, 2001

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 confining political intervention in the economy to whatever Alan Greenspan decided was the case. And privatize electricity, water, transport, prisons, and just, hell, all government services. In both cases, what broke the back of the claim was the neglected political side of political economies. As the stock market slips away from the New Economy dream of Dow 30,000! - ah, James Glassman's bestseller, a true nineties monument! -- we have two great events in the field -- the California Power Crisis and the hijacking of four planes -- which seem to mark a moment.

But the politics of each event is confusing. In the case of the hijackings, the kneejerk reaction of the Bush Whitehouse -- the plan to shuffle money to the airlines -- is starting to have, I think, a subliminal political effect, because it is an extension of the 90s exception to the party line that free markets are self-regulating, in line with Greenspan's doctrine of "too big to fail." While the airlines throw their employees out the window without parachutes (reserving the golden parachutes for their management), Washington has been throwing public money at the airlines. So what does the public get in return? Does it get safety, at least?

No. The short answer is no. The long answer is that the security at airports and on airlines is still in the hands of the cheapest solution -- the temp guards, and the absurd proposition that pilots not only do the flying, but operate as tackles for any passenger problem as well.

Here's the NYT story:
Bush Differs With Bill Over U.S. Role in Screening

Two grafs that limn the politics of the thing:
"The federalization bill was drafted by Senators Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and John McCain of Arizona, the committee's senior Republican. Mr. Hollings said today that he was not likely to back down.
"When the president privatizes the Border Patrol, air traffic controllers and the F.B.I.," the senator said, "then I will privatize screeners."

But in its draft, the administration argues that federalizing all or most passenger and baggage screeners would require the government to create a "new federal entity, in excess of 20,000 employees." The Senate legislation "would create insurmountable transitional difficulties that would further threaten and possibly ground the aviation system," the proposal says."

Now, Senator Hollings is being rather hypocritical, since he was the New Democrat's new democrat, and has never before made a fuss about, say, privatizing prisons -- which is at least as dangerous as privatizing "the FBI" (and the record of the FBI is such that I wouldn't hold it up as a shining example of a successful government organization). But the emotion, which had never before been injected into the issue, except by the Free Marketeers, is now present on the other side.
For the best article on the shabby state of airport security, see this New York magazine piece, by Robert Kolker.
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 the banks' place (the small ones and the great ones, german or genevan), I wouldn't be celebrating. The wasting of Swissaire had practically been achieved when the catastrophe of the 11th September happened. As we all know, that launched, among the Americans, a veritable phobic reaction to banking secrecy. Friday the UN Security council voted as an agreed upon item, unanimously, a resolution demanding transparency in banking operations for fighting against terrorism. If this inquisitorial furor doesn't pass like a breath of air -- which is possible -- the swiss banking establishment will be called upon to lives some pretty dark hours.

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 Joseph Cornell did his boxes -- out of his intense loneliness, out of the garbageheap of Western culture, he produced these odd little worlds of pingponging signifiers. In any case, Don has emphasized that he liked my article on terrorism in the Statesman because it was very clear. He emphasized clear. The usual Gathman murkiness, thick as squid ink, was absent.

Talking about esoteric references -- there is a big storm around the Net about the W3C, the governing body (somehow) for the www, changing its rules on standards. I've read several articles on this topic, and have not the faintest idea what they are talking about. That doesn't mean have no opinion; of course I have an opinion. Ignorance has never stopped me from sticking my nose in other people's business. The issue is, apparently, that the big guns like Microsoft are after the W3C to allow the standards to subserve patent law. What that means, concretely, I can't imagine. But I know that if Microsoft is for it, and it means extending our rotten intellectual property laws in another domain, IT MUST BE A BAD IDEA.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001


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 determined by projecting the length of a nation's littoral out into the Caspian.

For obvious reasons Russia and Iran, which occupy the two narrow ends of the great rectangle which is the Caspian, argue in favour of a lake; Azerbaijan is for marine status, which would give it the bulk of the offshore reserves. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are instinctively pro-sea but, for political reasons, have been forced into the pro-lake camp. On 12 November 1996 Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan signed a protocol in Ashgabat affirming that the territorial waters of the Caspian states extended only 45 miles into the Caspian waters, the remainder of which would be exploited in a consortium. Azerbaijan has refused to sign. "

Ah, regional ontology meets geography in a Smackdown of epic proportions! Here's a game for you analytic philosophers out there -- analyze 'sea' as an intensional object. The winner gets a couple trillion dollars.

The objection to relativism, and its near cousin, nominalism, is that there are facts beyond our conventions upon which those conventions are ultimately based. I think that must be true in one sense; but in another sense, the "beyond" in which the facts are located is obscure, and spelling it out has always deepened, rather than clarified, that obscurity. To paraphrase Hegel, it has painted gray in black. Perhaps a better way of looking at the duality between 'fact/event' and description is to acknowledge that facts are weak things. They don't impinge on us so clearly as to exclude the possibility of dispute about any single fact. At the same time, disputes can't do without a lot of facts -- a whole pattern of them. Which implies, does it not, that there might not be any single fact, but that facts come in patterns.

I wonder if this is ever going to come before some International Court. And I wonder how I can volunteer to be an expert witness.
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 there are large swathes of American society in which seriousness was never out. Not everybody has lived as if the media is all there is. Not everybody has been consecrated only to cash and cultural signifiers. Not everybody has been a pawn of irony. "

Yes, Wieselthier and his homeboys (linemen of the county, hard working waitresses in Wichita Falls, and insurance men from Salt Lake City -- Wieselthier keeps in touch! He might read Isaiah Berlin in his working hours, but he's not above slapping the big shoulders of large swathes of the American populace and buying them a Bud!) are gonna be deep for us. And we are going to like it. It is going to be fashionable. Although wasn't the point that fashionable is bad? One of those paradoxes, I guess. A sign of depth if there ever was one.

Wieselthier, doing a fair imitation of Abe Rosenthal (who himself used to do a fair imitation of those crazier characters in Saul Bellow novels -- except that you never got the feeling that Rosenthal was making a reference -- he owned that seriousness, so pleasing to Wieselthier, of the mildly deranged), goes on to pick apart the latest New Yorker. He's especially incensed at Adam Gopnick for saying the smell, the famous smell of the Towers, is reminiscent of smoked mozzarrella. God knows why this was a red flag to Wieselthier's charging bull, but he focused in on that mozzarella. For Wieselthier, that smoked cheese was the sign of just this horrible cynicism that even the great Satan of the Vanity Fair is backing off from, now that that mag's discovered evil. Evil's important, of course. Gotta have evil. It's an anchoring thing. Bring me a good honest piece of cheddar cheese, you can almost hear Wieselthier saying. Or Swiss, but none of that damn gruyere, if you please. The French, as a fellow anti-ironist, Michael Kelly, has previously pointed out in one of his Washington Post columns , are as prone to irony and cynicism as a junkie is to hepatitis C.

So, let's talk a little about seriousness, shall we? A long time ago, when I was a philosophy graduate student, I actually wrote a whole master's report on seriousness. I took the against it position.

. Aristotle, in the Rhetoric, makes an interesting distinction, a social distinction, between irony and buffoonery:

"As to jests. These are supposed to be of some service in controversy. Gorgias said that you should kill your opponents' earnestness with jesting and their jesting with earnestness; in which he was right. Jests have been classified in the Poetics. Some are becoming to a gentleman, others are not; see that you choose such as become you. Irony better befits a gentleman than buffoonery; the ironical man jokes to amuse himself, the buffoon to amuse other people. '

I think seriousness (deep seriousness, of course) is also a matter of social coordinates, but coordinates so sunk into the pattern of everyday life that we don't see them. Why, do you think, is there no one word to cover the semantic field of seriousness? Besides seriousness, which is one of those non-words, those terms that attach to a -ness out of linguistic despair. Sincerity doesn't do it. The existentialists preferred authenticity, but that doesn't do it either.

Seriousness is harder to think about then irony because seriousness is the horizon which delineates the space in which irony becomes a possibility. Sartre has an interesting passage on seriousness in Being and Time:
'The serious man is of the world and has no resource in himelf. He does not even imagine any longer the possibility of getting out of the world, for he has given himself the type of existence of the rock, the consistency, the inertia, the opacity of being-in-the-midst-of-the-world. It is obvious that the serious man at bottom is hiding from himself the consciousness of his freedom: he is in bad faith and his bad faith aims at presenting himself to his own eyes as a consequence; everything is a consequence for him, and there is never any beginning. That is why he is concerned with the consequences of his own acts. Marx stated the original dogma of the serious when he asserted the priority of the object over the subject. Man is serious when he takes himself for an object."

Well, I'm not sure Carter Graydon, the editor of Vanity Fair, is quite up to the Marxian task of seriousness, but certainly the magazine has done a splendid job of taking man and woman as objects. Or let me change that -- actually, it has taken them as commodities, which is a whole superstructure above the object, a parody of freedom, in Sartre's sense. For the Vanity Fair Covergirl, responsibility is merely a form of clever contractual scripting, a triumph of one lawyer over another. These are objects that are free to be traded, but real freedom -- the freedom to choose your price - is sytematically denied them. They can only affect their price by effecting the demand for them as objects, or the supply of them as objects, and they know, to the camera flash, the contours of their possibility in that world. It is the parody of freedom, this tension between object and commodity. Wieselthier's call to seriousness is so bogus because it is attached to false and souped up theological terms (evil, for instance) as if these were somehow kept as rarities with the intellectual's Wunderkammer. Are you kidding me? Any reader of Vanity Fair knows that it provides a little bit of evil every month as regularly as a D.C. gourmet store provides bries. The evil murderer is a Vanity Fair special. The mass grave in lower Manhattan is a concentrated form of the serial mass grave provided by what, twenty years of murder stories set among the rich and the famous? Wieselthier does not understand the relationship between seriousness and Man, as Sartre puts it so 40ishly, as an object -- because he wants to jump to Man as a subject right away, evading the dialectical movement that would get him there, perhaps -- and for this reason, one can't really take his seriousness very seriously. It is, rather, self-satisfied outrage that views seriousness as a move in the game of power, and power in the very trivial, courtier's sense. Myself, I object to the moralism with which Sartre has infused the very idea of freedom, but I understand the disenchantment that makes a Covergirl take herself as a consequence. To be serious is to attempt a real valuation of your importance, to see it, finally, as a double relationship, on one hand between self and one's consciousness of self, on the other hand between self and Other. It is, in other words, to have a double consciousness both of one's extreme triviality and one's inability to ever fully emotionally accept that. In fact, in the end, the serious man always ends up ironizing his relationship to the world. Seriousness, as we all know, is a phase one grows out of.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001


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 to The Wall Street Journal report of yesterday that George H.W. Bush, the father of President Bush, works for the bin Laden family business in Saudi Arabia through the Carlyle Group, an international consulting firm. The senior Bush had met with the bin Laden family at least twice. (Other top Republicans are also associated with the Carlyle group, such as former Secretary of State James A. Baker.) The terrorist leader Osama bin Laden had supposedly been �disowned� by his family, which runs a multi-billion dollar business in Saudi Arabia and is a major investor in the senior Bush�s firm." If you read further in the article, you'll find that Judicial Watch, the public interest firm that spreads intellectual corruption like an infected rat spreads plague, has no evidence whatsoever that bin Laden's ties with his family's business haven't been cut. But witchhunting groups racial profiling happily through the Wall Street Journal don't care, really.

Actually, it wouldn't surprise me at all if O. bin Laden did have money in the Carlyle group, but it wouldn't surprise me, either, if he had money in Judicial Watch -- the way investment has been freed up from those national agencies that wish to track it is pretty well known among real public interest groups.
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 interpretation is different:

"No Peace, No Honor draws on recently declassified records to show that the true picture is worse than either of these perspectives suggests. The reality was the opposite of the decent interval hypothesis and far beyond Nixon's and Kissinger's claims. The record shows that the United States expected that the signed treaty would be immediately violated and that this would trigger a brutal military response. Permanent war (air war, not ground operations) at acceptable cost was what Nixon and Kissinger anticipated from the so-called peace agreement. They believed that the only way the American public would accept it was if there was a signed agreement. Nixon recognized that winning the peace, like the war, would be impossible to achieve, but he planned for indefinite stalemate by using the B-52s to prop up the government of South Vietnam until the end of his presidency. Just as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution provided a pretext for an American engagement in South Vietnam, the Paris Accords were intended to fulfill a similar role for remaining permanently engaged in Vietnam. Watergate derailed the plan.

The declassified record shows that the South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, and the United States disregarded key elements of the treaty because all perceived it was in their interest to do so. No one took the agreement seriously because each party viewed it as a means for securing something unstated. For the United States, as part of the Nixon Doctrine, it was a means of remaining permanently involved in Southeast Asia; for the North Vietnamese, it was the means for eventual conquest and unification of Vietnam; for the South Vietnamese, it was a means for securing continued support from the United States."

Air war. Nixon really was a visionary -- he realized that what America wanted was a war with zero American casualties. It took a while, but Clinton pulled it off in Kosovo. Of course, the question is: how long can you stick to that kind of policy?
Ah, the sickness of it, the sickness unto death.

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, and then joined the army of South Vietnam, a nation which emphatically didn't exist until ten years later? It is, perhaps, appropriate that in his passing, America add one more white lie to the pile we graciously bestowed upon him when he was the "democratically' elected ruler of our protectorate. America suffered from short term memory loss in Vietnam. We kept forgetting the pasts of the leaders we would periodically dredge up to lead our forces against the alien Ho Chi Minh -- we had that problem with Marshal Key, our favorite for a bit, who had the embarrassing habit of praising Hitler in public; and we certainly had that problem with Thieu. Thieu didn't really have a problem with his own place in the world. He had no quarrel with democratic theory, he just didn't see how it applied to him. In another time and place, he might have made a passable dictator. He wasn't overly brutal; I'd put him in the mid-brutal range. If he disappeared political opponents, didn't the PRI, in Mexico, do the same? Hell, didn't even Mayor Daley want to? Certainly among our allies he wasn't even in the league with, say, Sukarno. He simply wasn't the knight to lead our crusade, so the American government lied about it. They lied stenuously, they lied foolishly, and they even came up with prop elections, wonderfully managed even as we were supporting the Phoenix program in the villages. The cognitive disconnect was total. He wasn't lionhearted. He was instinctively anti-communist, and he was uncomfortably allied with some of the shabbiest persons (Nixon and the ever unbearable Kissinger) to ever run an American administration, which in the end undid him.

Monday, October 01, 2001

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 since the 1930's, this strategy has consistently worked. Specifically, interest-rate cuts have pulled the United States out of each of its big recessions over the past 30 years -- in 1975, 1982 and 1991. "

"Behind the first line of defense is a second line, fiscal policy. If cutting interest rates isn't enough to support the economy, the government can pump up demand by cutting taxes or increasing its own spending. "

Notice the dates in the first quoted paragraphs. You'll notice that they correspond with the dawning of the age of Friedman (truly the age of acquarius for neo-classical economists)-- and that Krugman is not counting the slowdown of 59-60, or even the slowdown of 73-74. Moreover, it is, to say the least, not evident that interest-rate cuts "pulled" the United States out of these recessions. Interest rate cuts are responses to economic slowdowns, certainly, but the experience of, for instance the stagflation-slowdown that started in 1980 doesn't have the electric switch characteristics Krugman wants to convey. As a corrective to Krugman's views, William Greider's The Temple, which is a journalistic account of Fed decision-making, is recommended. I recommend it the more given Krugman's notorious contempt for Greider.

The problem with his analysis is in what he takes to be the second line of defense. Notice how he confines fiscal policy, in the traditional time-honored fashion of economists, in terms of discretionary spending over a short-term time frame. What is missing, here, are long-term governmental fiscal structures - such as college loans, FHA, on-going infrastructural support for highways, R&D, the environment, and the rest of it -- which are, I would contend, the enduring vector of government intervention in the economy which, as a structure (apart from its yearly budgeting) has generated a stabilizing influence on the economy. It is upon these structures that the American economy has built an internal consumer market fueled by debt. In his whole article, Krugman never mentions consumer debt, but it is crucial to understanding how our present economy differs from the economy of the 30s, and how the dangers of recession differ, too.

However, even if I find Krugman's frame of analysis inadequate, his rehearsal of the woes to which the Japanese economy is presently heir is pretty good, even if his idea that America, unlike Japan, has a much smarter central bank is pretty funny. This idea is widespread among American economists, and it has its roots in vanity. They recognize kindred spirits on the board of the Fed -- hell, they are kindred spirits, coming from the same universities, publishing in the same journals, using the same models. This doesn't really mean they are smarter. This simply means they share the same delusions -- like the Glass family in Salinger's short stories. You can only be so smart in economics, because, pace Krugman, it is not and never will be a positive science.

Sunday, September 30, 2001

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 become cannon fodder in what appears to be a losing battle."


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 to restore the budget to this year�s level, the lack of political support within the administration could threaten the very survival of the program."

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 from the state. Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content. Indiscriminate murder is not a judgment, even obliquely, on the victims or their way of life, or ours. Any observant follower of the prophet Mohammed could have been on one of those planes, or in one of those buildings - yes, even in the Pentagon."

Falwell and Robertson have become a rhetorical convenience of the unity crowd -- you invoke them, you invoke some lefty protesting against US policy, and you say, same dif. Well, that's not really true ( - and I have to make a sidenote here: I have a theory that Pat Robertson bullies the roly-poly Falwell, making him say awful things that Falwell wouldn't say otherwise -- it is a playground dynamic widespread among first graders. I remember once being bullied by Jacky Barnhart, when I was six, to swear on a Bible. Now, I'd been told that you couldn't swear on a Bible, or you'd go to hell. Surely I wasn't told this by my mother -- I think it was some schoolkid superstition I picked up somewhere. And I definitely knew, back in those days, that hell was a lurid and awful place. I swore anyway, not because Jacky would beat me up, but in order not to lose face with Jacky and his cohorts.). Two groups can oppose one action for completely different reasons, and one of those reasons can be irrational, and one can be rational. That should be obvious to CH, since his notorious opposition to Clinton put him in the same group as the Newt Gingriches of the world, but the content of his opposition was at the other end of the political spectrum from Newt's.

Similarly, the fascism with an Islamic face line works as a jibe directed against, say, Saddam Hussein, with his oily embrace of Allah in the period of the Gulf War and the consciously fascistic structure of the Ba'athist party, but not against the hijackers. There was nothing really fascistic about their tactics or motives -- the assault upon unarmed civilians, the invocation of God, the alarmingly childish, self-hypnotic memo released by the FBI last week (apparently composed to put steel in the spines of the slackers among them), reveal a mindset that the term 'fascism' simply doesn't describe.

CH thunders about the pacifist Chomsky -- Znet axis. He's been a consistent critic of that line since the Serbian invasion of Bosnia. But Hitchens own view of the extent to which American interventionism is justified has a Wilsonian tone that is annealed against reality by the rhetorical heat of its idealism. Hitchens takes the view, practically, that American soldiers have a historical role similar to Napoleon's soldiers, spreading the enlightenment, by force, over the cobwebbed principalities of Central Europe. To make this case, he has to overlook the reality of American interests, which is a pretty big blind spot. And so every use of American soldiers is sure to produce some disappointed thunder from Hitchens.Reality betrays theory, the oppressed Albanians become the terrorist and drug-running Albanians, the American soldiers show a disconcerting carefulness about their own hides, and enlightenment is stymied once more. To be fair, if Americans consistently pay out of their pockets a premium to sustain a military in gross disproportion to their real needs, it is easy to see someone thinking, why not take that military surplus value and use it to right wrongs? but History has not annointed the Yank as today's crusaders, to be shuffled about the planet when evil rears its head, because a, there is no support for that kind of thing in this country, and b, like the reallife crusaders, the Yank is more interested in the profit motive than liberte, egalite and fraternite. This isn't really to criticize. The bright side of the profit motive is that it operates like a brake against the perils of imperialism, however idealistic. Fighting for money has a way of being a self-limiting enterprise.

The synthetic progressive

I have been searching for a term to encompass one of the great features of capitalism – the non-necessary synthesis. I guess I will call it ...