Friday, January 24, 2003


Well, Donald Rumsfeld's crack about "old Europe" has created some odd alliances. For instance, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung actually soliticted an opinion from Jacques Derrida, hero of this site, on the matter.

Here's the story from Liberation:

"Even the very conservative and traditionally pro-American Fr. Allgemeine Zeitung consecrated two pages of editorials to Rumsfeld's remark, with contributions from philosophers as well known as the German Jurgen Habermas and the French Jacques Derrida.

Their criticisms with regard to their European friends put them in contradiction with the great American ideals of the 18th century, estimates Habermas, making reference to the influence of the great European thinkers of the Enlightenment on the "founding fathers" of American Democracy.

Derrida, for his part, wrote in the FAZ: my reaction can be summed up in a few words. I find this declaration (of Rumsfeld's) shocking, scandalous and typical. These remarks show how important the unity of Europe is."

My friend Tom in NY sent me a link to a review of the movie Derrida on the National Review site. The review is funny. Here is a graf:

"Zeitgeist Films, distributor of the documentary Derrida, currently in limited release in select cities across the country, poses the following rhetorical question on its promotional website: What if you could watch Socrates, on film, rehearsing his Socratic dialogues? The insinuation, of course, is that Jacques Derrida, the contemporary French thinker sometimes called the "father of deconstruction" deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the ancient Greek thinker sometimes called the "father of philosophy." This is true only insofar as a firecracker and a hydrogen bomb both go pop. Otherwise, the comparison is ludicrous."

This is of course true. The comparison, however, is made not so much, we think, for the reasons that Mark Goldblatt suspects -- that is, a high reverence for Derrida -- as for the usual advertising dilemma: how many people recognize philosophers' names? Derrida could, rightly, be compared to Brentano or Meinong, for instance -- solid names, but not exactly as important as Husserl or Russell. Frege would be another apposite comparison.

Goldblatt has a good time knocking down Derrida's pretentiousness:

"The high point of the film, judging from the comments of several notable reviewers, comes halfway through and consists of Derrida's five-minute meditation on the concept of love. After a token demurral and his customary song and dance about the difficulty of the topic � including the self-contradictory howler "I'm incapable of generalities" � Derrida hones in on the dilemma of whether love consists of our being drawn to the "singularity" of another person or to a set of specific qualities possessed by the person we love. In other words, do I love you for your essential you-ness or for the sum of characteristics I associate with you? He provides no answer, naturally. But, at the screening I attended, as Derrida wound down his discourse, an audible gasp rose from the sparse crowd in the theater."

Anyone who has ever heard Derrida knows that he has a weakness for his own yarn-spinning. What begins as Mallarme often ends up sounding like second rate Derrida. A pity, but not a surprise. He requires paper -- like most philosophers, actually. The Socratic exception is not going to occur again. A philosopher speaking philosophy is much like a dog speaking dog -- you have to be a dog to catch it in the latter case, and you have to be a philosopher to interrupt it in the former case. LI can understand the attraction of the idea that you will film a philosopher thinking -- it is like the idea of filming a writer writing. The witless Adaptation, which we saw last week, falls into the trap of doing the latter, and the results are both boring and insulting, to anybody who writes. The best film that shows Philosophy (that LI knows) remains The man who envied women, with that excrutiating pas de deux at the end as a man and a woman recite almost impenetrable Foucauldian speeches at each other.

Goldblatt's trope -- of Derrida as a sort of rascal, a grifter, as he calls him, more important for what some future audience (the future, you know, is always on one's side) will make of him -- a symbol of our present decadence -- is designed to say nothing about Derrida's work. The advantage is that you don't have to read it, then. Derrida has said enough about the nature of the inability to read himself. But I don't expect the National Review's guest film critic to make it through Marges de la Philosophie. Actually, if he did, he'd find many things in it reminiscent of Hayek. Ah, but that assumes he's read Hayek -- and his review gives LI no evidence that he has that degree of literacy.

Thursday, January 23, 2003


The best comment on the looming war this morning comes from an Independent columnist, Mark Steel. Steel zeros in on the logic of this caper. Here are two delicious grafs:

"Blair admitted how pointless the inspections are when he justified military action by saying "The inspections can't go on forever." Which seems to miss out the point that the reason the inspectors are asking for more time is they haven't found anything. So another way for Blair to have put this would have been to say, "Saddam continues to try and hold up this war by not having weapons of mass destruction, and that is something we simply cannot allow. He consistently flouts the inspectors by not having a secret cave full of chemical warheads, with Tariq Aziz laughing loudly next to a giant map with a ring drawn round Chicago while a digital clock counts down, and that is, frankly, intolerable.

"Blair went on to say he wasn't prepared to play "hide-and-seek" with Saddam, which again assumes the only possible reason why stuff hasn't been found is Saddam must be hiding it. You could apply this to anywhere and come up with a reason for war. After Iraq, Blair could send weapons inspectors into the Blue Peter Garden, and after six weeks announce that as no nuclear devices have been found, the only way to ensure peace was a full-scale invasion. Then, when the presenters started running round the studio with rifles and shouting "We're ready to make you die," Blair could say "See, it's working because they're rattled."

The Independent is full of jewels this morning. While Steel intended to be funny, the serious news report about Iraq is even funnier. Here's the latest in the Blair government's attempt to justify its synthesis of sycophancy and belligerence:

"British sources said there was further evidence of internal opposition to Saddam's regime as the military build-up and diplomatic pressure on Iraq increased. They said graffiti, slogans and underground activity had increased sharply in recent weeks. Slogans such as "Down with Saddam" and "How long will the Iraqi people sleep?" were appearing on statues and photographs of Saddam and on the walls of public buildings. Opposition groups, including the Iraqi Communist Party and National Liberation Movement, had also stepped up activity."

There you have it, folks. Surely Rumsfeld should mention the sharp spiking of the grafitti factor in his next broadcast to the "real Europe" ... the Europe of our allies ... the Europe of Poland, Italy and Spain. (We have the finest allies, you see. Rumor has it that Slovenia itself is about to join our mighty coalition).

Wednesday, January 22, 2003


Yesterday, LI went downtown and witnessed the remains of the inauguration parade that heralded the enthronement of Rick Perry as Governor -- surely one of the luckiest politicians in Texas history; surely, also, one of the dumbest. Perry is at the crest of the Republican tide in this state. LI was delighted to see old men, in coonskin caps, carrying rifles, walking down Congress avenue. These had surely come from pockets of Perry's warmest supporters -- little villes in East Texas where lynching is looked back to, nostalgically. We nearly bumped into two cowgirl cheerleaders, who flashed very, very pearly smiles at us.

While one governor of Texas was whooping it up, our gift to the world -- the current commander in chief -- was pouting. Or at least for the cameras. As the war Bush has been planning on is about to take off, there are these last minute hitches. The American press has been especially kind about this. How often, in the last four months, have we been assured that, in secret, the Europeans and the Arabs are one hundred percent for us? The commentators explain this by saying that nobody wants to miss out when the U.S. occupies Iraq. However, it never seems to occur to them that France, for instance, might get more out of opposing that occupation. After all, positioning itself to oppose the U.S. might be more popular with not only the Middle East's street, but be welcomed by Middle Eastern leaders as a tool to redress the balance with the states. As has been the case since the get go, the scenarios go only one way in the U.S. press. The deluge of foreign news items that, over the past year, have assured us that Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, or France, or Germany, or Ireland, or whoever, was privately assuring the Bush administration of their undying love and devotion has started to shut off as it becomes more and more implausible that this is the case. To guage the deluge, go back to, say, July of last year. The US News published an analysis of Europe by Michael Barone that assured readers of European compliance with the Bush foreign policy. Barone points out that the chattering classes -- and oh yes, the popular majority -- is against war with Iraq. But he breezily continues:

Interviews and talks with government leaders and political insiders in London and Berlin leave a different impression. The leaders of major European governments would not have chosen on their own to require democratic reform among Palestinians before pressuring Israel to make concessions or to insist on regime change in Iraq--policies set forth by Bush and supported by large majorities of American voters. But they are going along with the first and will go along with the second--although both are opposed vociferously by articulate elites and not supported by popular majorities in their countries. America is leading and European governments, although grumbling that they have not been consulted on what will come after a war in Iraq, are following.

... Britain, as after September 11, will be on our side.That is true as well of major countries on the Continent. Italy's Defense Minister Antonio Martino, as reported here three months ago, is confident that his government can muster its majority in favor of military action in Iraq. Germany's Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, interviewed July 4, says that his government would very likely do so too, a view that is echoed by the foreign affairs spokesman for the Christian Democratic opposition, which has been leading in polls and may take office after the September 22 elections. These European leaders are careful to say that the United States must make a convincing case that it has exhausted nonmilitary alternatives. But they argue only perfunctorily if at all that inspections can limit Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps reluctantly, they accept what their chattering classes are busy denouncing."

That was at the summer height of Bush's propaganda offensive. Now we have the frustrated Bush. Perhaps we are witnessing a charade, as the European nations fold and the coalition invades Iraq. But what if we are not? What if the advantage is in opposing the US invasion?

There's an editiorial in the Nouvelle Obs that makes a timely point about opposition to the war: it shouldn't be support for Saddam Hussein.

Un h�ros de Malraux (un anarchiste dans �l�Espoir�) finit par se demander s�il n�est pas aussi important de savoir avec qui l�on se bat que contre qui on le fait. Mais on pourrait dire aussi qu�il est important de savoir aux c�t�s de qui on renonce � se battre. Lorsque le pape, comme il vient de le faire avec force, rappelle que toute guerre est une d�faite de l�humanit�, il stimule la r�flexion. Mais lorsque, le m�me jour, nous apprenons que des �pacifistes� europ�ens, et surtout fran�ais, acclament dans Bagdad le r�gime et la personne de Saddam Hussein, alors on se sent pris d�un immense malaise. Et c�est un euph�misme. Ce que je ne pardonnerai jamais � George Bush, c�est de para�tre justifier par sa politique tous ceux qui, en se pr�tendant les champions des victimes et des faibles, confortent le pouvoir des oppresseurs et des bourreaux. Il n�en manque pas, je le sais depuis longtemps, du c�t� de ces pr�tendus amis de la cause arabe, qui ont toujours �t� plus soucieux d�obtenir les faveurs des gouvernants que de contribuer � l��mancipation des peuples.

"One of Malraux's heros (an anarchist in Man's Hope) ends by asking himself if it isn't as important to know who one is fighting with as to know who one is fighting against. It could be said that it is also important to know on the side of whom one renounces to fight. When the Pope, as he just said with force, recalls that every war is a defeat for humanity, he stimulates reflection. But when, the same day, we learn that european pacifists, mostly french, have acclaimed, in Baghdad, the regime and the person of Saddam Hussein, then we feel an immense malaise. And that's a euphemism. What I will never pardon George Bush for is to appear to justify, by his politics, all those who, pretending to be the champions of the weak, comfort the power of the oppressers and the hangmen. There are plenty of pretended friends of the Arab cause who are always more careful to obtain the favors of their governments than to contribute to the emancipation of their people -- that I know."

Tuesday, January 21, 2003


The Bush administration, in pursuit of its policy of why not the worst? is pushing for tax credits for SUVs. Of course, many of you think LI is pulling your leg, but we aren't. Here's the story in the NYT:

"ETROIT, Jan. 20 � The Bush administration's economic plan would increase by 50 percent or more the deductions that small-business owners can take right away on the biggest sport utility vehicles and pickups.

The plan would mean small businesses could immediately deduct the entire price of S.U.V.'s like the Hummer H2, the Lincoln Navigator and the Toyota Land Cruiser, even if the vehicles were loaded with every available option. Or a business owner, taking full advantage, could buy a BMW X5 sport utility vehicle for a few hundred dollars more than a Pontiac Bonneville sedan, after the immediate tax deductions were factored in."

Surprisingly, this is not surprising, considering that the Bush administration is beginning to look exactly like the Enron management team, circa 2000. The same hasty looting of resources, the same arrogance, the same accounting shenanigans. This is about it for the Bush energy plan -- endless war in the Middle East to provide endless oil for the most gas guzzling of vehicles that emit endless pollution into the atmosphere. Infinite Justice, indeed.

"And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."



Martin Luther King's holiday weekend was appropriately chosen as the time to protest by about a hundred thousand anti-belligerents in D.C. -- although the press coverage has been typical. The Washington Post quoted the police as saying that "three people and a cat" showed up; then they quoted a man, claiming to be David Bowie's Martian twin, who said a million people showed up; then they sagely opined that it might have been in the middle, say, six men and two cats. The NYT claims the number of cats was, well, chuckle, sorta exaggerated, and then respectfully quoted an unnamed Bush administration official on the problem of using nuclear tactical weapons against protesters and their cats. The Democratic leadership denounced the idea of nuclear weapons being used against the cats -- although Lieberman, saying he was a "different kind of Democrat," admitted to being fascinated by the possibilities of blasting protesters with nuclear tactical weapons, saying that more weapons and less protesters might be acceptable if the nuclear tactical weapons industry gave stock options to its workers.

Here's the Guardian:

"On Saturday, a great throng stretched from the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and along the National Mall back to the Smithsonian Institution for a rally in bitter cold. U.S. Park Police no longer gives estimates of rally attendance. In the past, crowds taking up similar space were thought to be 70,000 strong or higher, but any parallels with other events were highly inexact. A much smaller group from the rally, but still numbering over 30,000 by police estimates, marched to the Washington Navy Yard. Rally speakers offered varying estimates of the crowd size, with one telling the crowd that 500,000 had come, but even some supporters of the event thought that was wildly exaggerated."

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