Saturday, April 12, 2003


Some crimes insist on remaining unsolved. Jack the Ripper's crimes are the paragon of such. The Black Dahlia case is another.

In the WP, see the article about Steve Hodel, an LA PI who claims to have solved the case. His solution is that... well, his Dad cut Elizabeth Short in two in 1947. Oddly enough, this is the same claim (although different father) made by another, earlier solver of the Black Dahlia case by Janice Knowlton.

The article exudes a jaded fascination not so much with the case as with the California obsession about murderous parents. Southern California has always advertised itself as a state of mind -- it came into being as a human entity only after it had been projected as a state of mind, notoriously enough. Perhaps for this reason, psychological aberrance so easily leaks into sociological norm. So this is the hotbed of repressed memory, the place where all the young and the restless -- if they are affluent enough - eventually remember that Dad murdered a playmate, or was an officer in the local Satanic Ritual Club and Rotary Cotillion. Who knew the conjunction of Freud and Raymond Chandler would lead to this? Still, there's an air of desuetude upon that meeting of Noir and the DSM. Haven't we rollerdexed our way through more fashionable syndromes? Repressing, on the way, the repressed memory one.

There is one paragraph in the piece that is unctuous and stupid and worthy of protest. Before describing what happened to Elizabeth Short, there's this sentence: "Children should stop reading here." As if. That children might be reading a newspaper, instead of playing the Black Dahlia video game or whatever, is improbable in itself. But that the paper feels called upon to censor the flow of its own information, such as it is, is bogus to the extent that any sensible child should mistrust the paper thereafter.

Of the essays I wish I�d written, one of them is by the Carlos Ginzburg, the Italian historian, and it has the wonderful title, Killing a Chinese mandarin. It was puvblished in Critical Inquiry in 1994, but I just came across it.

There�s a moral Gendankenexperiment that appears in several French texts. Ginzburg traces the figura in it to some texts of Diderot; he traces the idea of it back to Aristotle�s remarks on pity and distance, in time or space, in the Rhetoric.

The situation in Diderot is that a man murders another man in Paris. He then flies to China. At that difference, safe from the consequences of what he has done, does the murderer feel remorse? Would it be more natural to feel that the episode was simply closed, and unpleasant?

Ginzburg shows that Diderot recurs to this topic several times, most notably in Lettres sur les aveugles� There, Diderot makes the startling suggestion that if one is, structurally, incapable of distinguishing between a man pissing and a man bleeding to death, then the pity one feels is similarly diminished.

This is a variation of Aristotle�s point about natural law: it is natural to feel pity for those with whom one is close, but not for those who are far away. The largeness of the distance, or what I would call its familiarity or unfamiliarity, determines the moral emotion. And as the moral emotion is what is called upon in moral judgment, this makes it difficult to judge actions at a distance.

Ginzburg next moves to Chateaubriand, who gives us the classical form of the thought experiment in The Genius of Christianity: �Conscience! Is it possible that thou canst be but a phantom�? I ask my own heart, I put to myself this question: if thou couldst by a mere wish kill a fellow creature in China, and inherit his fortune in Europe, with the supernatural conviction that the fact would never be known, wouldst thou consent to form such a wish?

Balzac transforms this passage in several ways in Pere Goriot. Rastignac is tormented by the idea that he could become rich through a scheme that he knows will involve, indirectly, a murder. He meets his friend Bianchon and tells him of his doubts about this. Bianchon asks, �have you read Rousseau?�
�Do you remember that passage in which he asks the reader what he would do if he could become wealthy by killing an old Chinese mandarin, without leavihg Paris, just by an act of will?�

Isn�t this, in one striking image, the whole history of European colonialism?

Ginzburg is quite aware of this. He develops the idea, further, with quotes from Hume and Benjamin. However, you will notice that I have done a little transforming of my own during the course of this reprise of Ginzburg�s essay. For at no point does he make the leap, as I have, from distance to familiarity.

It is a subtle part of the thought experiment that the victim be a Chinese mandarin. And not a French merchant, for instance, in Canton. I think there is a reason for this hint of exoticism. The distance between Paris and China is simply a metric fact leaving its impress on the imagination. But what kind of fact is the distance between a Frenchman and a Chinese Mandarin? Familiarity, I would like to claim, is inseparable from some image of proximity and distance. But these images point to a certain work � the calculating, as it were, work of sentiment. And that seems to violate the idea that pity is an immediate response. That pity requires no extra energy. That pity is, in a sense, free.

When, in fact, distance has been abolished � when the lyncher is face to face with the victim, or the tv viewer is face to face with the obliterated Iraqi soldier (admittedly, a different kind of elimination of distance), why doesn�t the natural law kick in?

One of the odder features of the age of lynching in the South was that, far from being a dirty secret, postcards were made of lynchings and sold door to door. The image of a strung up, gutted, burned black man, which can�t be seen without horror even by, presumably, Mississippi senators, was once a familiar popular image. I would say that image contributed to the spirit of lynching by affecting a form of de-familiarization. By compulsively asserting a metaphysical distance between lyncher and victim, pity was, as in an odd behavioralist experiment on reactions in rats, erased by being overloaded.

I�m still not sure that all pity is like this. The immediacy of pity seems such a standard characteristic of it that I am afraid of violating an essential semantic norm by saying that pity requires some calculating function. Still, let�s say I am right. The art, then, is to stimulate the great rat, Public Opinion, in just the right way. That didn't happen before the war. The management of stimulus was, frankly, a disaster. The press assumed the rat had been sufficiently stimulated, and then one day looked out its window and beheld a million peace marchers.

So how is the rat being treated now? The thing to look for, if you do want to manage pity � if you want to create a kind of horror, and you want a population to go along � the thing to manage, then, is the initial moment in which the image is received. In this, the Bush administration has been pretty brilliant. The last three weeks, as we keep getting told again and again, the other parts of the world were seeing a different kind of war than we were. The images flooding the airwaves in Pakistan, for instance, were all of Iraqis variously blown apart. Suddenly, however, these images have started flooding the American airwaves, too. Suddenly it is all right for the Sun, in Britain, to publish a huge photo of a burned Iraqi child. Because we have been through a ritual period of blaming all violence on the other side. Even that the other side resisted, the message is, makes them to blame for violence. That period has been successful. The press has been cooperative. And, consequently, this has become a war without casualties. A cakewalk.

America is an odd country for such things. We have decided that the familiarity of the images of 9/11 are a kind of gold standard of pity. No American really feels obliged to remember, say, the deaths in the Moscow theater which the Chechen rebels took last year. Those who mention such things are treated as fools. It is as if they were turning around the moral thought experiment: in this one, the Chinese mandarin kills the European. An odd thing about the Western notion of distance: it isn't commutative.

Friday, April 11, 2003


We�ve just finished a review of Niall Ferguson�s Empire for the National Post.
Ferguson is a fascinating historian. We took a few potshots at him in the review, since we don�t view being merely laudatory as an interesting response to a book this good. One of the things the book did remind us of was that the first wave of globalisation, which gained force in the latter half of the 19th century, was broken by the Conservatives, not be anti-globalizing leftists. Joseph Chamberlain devised a tariff happy Conservative-Unionist platform that lost to the Liberals in the Post Boer period, but that ultimately pointed British policy in the direction of setting up cozy Empire trade barriers. Ferguson is no ideologue about this issue. He points out that the trade barriers probably cushioned Great Britain from the magnitude of slump that afflicted both Germany and the U.S.

We aren�t ideologues on this issue, either. We�d like to see labor and environmental groups internationalized on the lines of capital � so we want globalization to proceed on one level, at least. However, it is hard not to see that the fads of the moment � the boycott of French goods, the pressure to annul Saddam�s debt, etc. � are crystallizing into the traditional nationalist objection to globalization; and that that objection is always poisonous. The NYT has been running a series of little articles about the War views of various CEOs. The conventional wisdom is that the lack of War views stems from the internationalization of these CEO�s companies. Well, watch out for what you wish for. When the Battle in Seattle was shaping up, we were all for the anti-globalizing forces. But we were for them as a brake on the impoverishment of the American working class. We find it very worrisome that anti free trade rhetoric is now being appropriated by the right. In fact, the much vaunted re-building of Iraq, if it happens (and we have our doubts that Iraq will be rebuilt anytime soon, especially under Smilin� Jay Garner � rebuilding is notoriously hard to do in the midst of insurgency), might be a tipping point for the retreat from free trade, especially as the American government tries to game the rules to punish European companies for European politics.

Ronnie Lipschutz has a provocative essay on this topic which begins:

"At the beginning of the 21st century," the history books of the future may record,
"the United States made its bid for Imperium. The attacks of September 11, 2001
brought home to Washington, DC the very real risks of a largely self-regulating global
market system, including both the disaffection it generated and the openings it
provided to those disaffected. In the wake of September 11th, Washington has been
putting in place a new global system in which the United States is not only hegemonic
but also establishes rules that will bind all other countries. Within Imperium,
international law is unnecessary because there is no longer an international system or
global republic, and there are no sovereign territories. This essay is intended more as
a provocation than a systematic analysis of a process underway. It raises questions
about the policies, methods, and intentions of the United States and argues that the bid
for Imperium is connected with the processes of globalization and the vulnerabilities
that it has created. The self-disciplining structure of global neo-liberal
governmentality has failed and, to remedy this, the Bush Administration is seeking to
re-establish sovereignty abroad and, perhaps, a police state at home.�

We are far from a police state yet � but the thesis that the neo-liberalism of the nineties is under concerted attack by the Bush administration bears looking into. We were especially reminded of pre-1914 rhetoric by today�s meeting in St. Petersburg of the Coalition of the Unwilling. It doesn�t seem to occur to American commentators that France and Germany could accrue any advantages outside of the American sphere. It is as if America tacitly owned the world. This is evidently not true. While it is true that French investors, like investors world wide, have put a large bet on the U.S. economy, it is evidently a mature economy. The disadvantages for France in disobeying the dictates of the Bush-ites have been much publicized, but just the gaudiness of the use of force has the effect of making France, Germany and Russia that much more bound together. The idea of hostile trade blocs smells like the 1920s all over again.

The British Medical Journal has published a scathing denunciation of the American torture of various prisoners of war. Naipaul has written of the irony of third world revolutionaries depending on the liberality of the system against which they operate. That irony, at least, is being systematically broken in the case of the American torture of Al qaeda operatives in Cuba. While Bush can threaten Iraq forces for harming American POWs, who is going to ensure the humane treatment of Afghanistan POWs? Surely not the Al qaeda leaders, who have shed the forms of legitimacy that would have provided some protection for their followers. Protection should be provided by our second thoughts -- by those reactions to our first, immediate anger by which civilization continues. That isn't happening, though.

"The New York Times and International Herald Tribune last month published apparently well founded accounts of the techniques applied to Abu Zubaydah and other Al Qaeda suspects in US custody. These included deprivation of food, water, sleep, and light; covering subjects' heads with black hoods for hours at a time; forcing them to stand or kneel in unnatural positions in extreme cold or heat; keeping them naked; prolonged chaining or shackling; hooking them up to sensors during serial interrogations; and denial of medical attention. There have been persistent reports of beatings at some US operated centres, and a military pathologist has determined that the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram, Afghanistan, last December were homicides. At Bagram "disorientation is a tool of interrogation and therefore a way of life." At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where around 650 men continue to be held, largely in solitary confinement and beyond the jurisdiction of US law, there have been 20 suicide attempts so far."

The only good news, here, is that the barbaric treatment of these prisoners is consistent with the barbaric norm in the U.S. Our prisons are a standing scandal.

It is time to normalize the POW regime of these prisoners. And it is time to face up to the fact that, if they cannot be released, it is because the war in Afghanistan is still going on, in spite of the general media consensus that we won it in a cakewalk.
From our far flung correspondents

Our friend H. writes, from Germany:

"I am glad it is coming to an end. After all, as the old saying goes, tis
better to be rulled by a just infidel then an unjust muslim. But a few
points have been interesting for me. Folks oscillated between elation at
the fact that Saddam was gone and doing the traditional hitting of their
chest shi'ia rutine almost defiently. THen there was the matter of Iraqi
flag being toyed with by a few people at the base of the statue, and of
course the sand from Karbala or Najaf, can't quite remember (the exhibition
of which would have been a crime under Saddam) and yes, you are right in
observing that they know exactly what is expected of them. THis is standard
issue streetsmarts under authoritarian rule--something I was reminded again
while living in Tunis something still familiar to all working in any
American factory. And then, let us not forget the staged managed nature of
at least some of the activities for media consumption. Remeber, the Bush
and co were counting on these scenes to help dissipate the unprecedented
anger at the States. Don't think they would have left that to chance do you?
They are not called Psyops for nothing. Amazing what a few dollar bills
can accomplish.(same set up in Iran 1953)[an educated guess especially
supported by attack and looting today of the French cultural center and the
German embassy. Accidents? I doubt it.)

I would presume some are shell shocked, but this is the only thing that
truly puzzles me about the Iraqis. I can't read the faces of those damned
Iraqis. THey are calm, collected. I would have expected a bit more frenzy,
but they are proving inscrutable. And that, I was thinking, is a good sign.

I am assuming, in a few weeks, the Occupiers will find more than they
bargained for. Happens each and everytime you release pent up energies. I
sense they are conserving energy, and letting enemies duke it out. But once
the fear is shattered, no stopping the rapid explosion of hope, optimism and
want. THe only thing they appear excited about is looting...this is the
begining of a positive move and I doubt they can be easily
contained.(killing of the Shi'i clergies to start with).. Pity the price should be running in the tens of thousands(of dead). One thing
I am sure of. Stability is not what the neocons will get in the Middle

Arabs once again will realize the only thing their rulers are good for is
being parasites...enjoying all the priviledges and running at the first
sight of trouble. And soon as the Islamic idiots too realize that the
suicide missions and the rush to heaven is the Islamic version of the old
Middle Eastern habit of the leaders using them as cannon fothers, who knows,
what they'll do...perhaps something good will come of this after all.

So what is up with the stock market? There we have a honey of a victory, hanging right above them, CNN and Fox news anchors dancing in the streets, and all they can come up with is 20 some measly points?

Perhaps they aren�t into the whacked optimism purveyed in today�s Floyd Norris column. Floyd, who likes the middle, has jabbed to the left (his exposes about Tyco) and jabbed to the right (his cheerleading about the ever enduring consumer), and here he is definitely in full apologia mode. However, the optimism is always tempered by the conditional modal -- might, may, could -- because nobody believes in Dow 36,000 any more. His guess is that the economy is now set to roar back. The consumer is ready� the businesses are ready� and the international situation is ready�

But we have our doubts. Maybe the traders were leafing through their Fortunes this week. The traditional Fortune 500 issue is the big seller. This year�s included the kind of downer article on American capitalism that even Marxists aren�t writing any more. How�s this for a set of figures? The Fortune 500 profits sank a whopping 62% last year. The explanation Fortune favors is that the previous years were bogus � a lot of revenue and profit inflatin� going on. This is the kind of thing to give us all the creeps � that feeling of the presence of the impalpable which overcomes Hamlet on spying his dead dad. The figures are incredibly bad, the more you press them. Here�s another one for the record books: �In fact, it appears that at least $310 billion of 2001�s energy related revenues were overstated.�

The question is this: is there a lag between stock prices and the �new� accounting? If there is � if it gradually begins to dawn on investors that not only is next year not going to get any better, but, retrospectively, the past is getting worse and worse -- well, then we will see the bottom of the market. And we won�t like it.

This should set a fine limit on Rumsfeld's colonialist fantasies. Although Rumsfeldians throughout history have bankrupted states pursuing the holy grail of absolute power, and there's nothing to say that the US is immune. There's surprisingly little concern about the new coalition of the unwilling -- France, Germany and Russia. The idea that the US, with Iraq, is gonna be coming into the big bucks any day now is absurd. If France and Germany truly re-orient themselves to Russia and China, this could be bad news for the US economy in the long run. To imagine that the Russian market pales in comparison to what Smilin' Jay Garner is gonna sweat out of those Iraqis is the kind of delusion that we thought George Bush, sr., whooped out of his boy in George Jr. drunk drivin' days. Perhaps not. Which will make the next year bitter for all of us.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Our far flung correspondents

My friend Tom makes a Lacanian analysis of the Baghdad statue destroying party yesterday. We were corresponding about coining a new word for throwing down statues (he suggested de-erection -- we suggested tumescoclasm) - and we referred him to Fred Kaplan's article in Slate. This is his reply.

"The crowds seemed to know what was expected of them. A man went up to one of the marines, whose tanks now controlled the circle and both sides of Sadoon Road, a main artery in east Baghdad, and asked for permission to destroy the statue."

Thanks for the hint toward Kaplan's piece - not bad for an on-the-spot report; esp. his comparative recollections from 1991. Of course, of course, I am looking forward to a somewhat more Lacanian reading of this type of event from Zizek. Like I always say (rather: I promise to say it like this from this point forward, for this is the inaugural use): while you can have too much psychotherapy, you can never have too much psychoanalysis because you can always be dead wrong.

Yes, damned right Fred Kaplan, that Marine is a "moron" for draping the stars and stripes over the face of the statue (let's skip the obvious issues of The Face and erasure here; they aint that much fun), but not for reasons of painting a "picture of neo-colonialism"; no, he is a moron for therapeutic reasons.

Lets face it, the picture of colonialism, neo-, retro-or other, is quite complete; it is developed, mounted, framed and hung for exhibition.

Let me back-up, step aside and circle away from my point. I'm thinking now of Zizek's Introduction to his book Tarrying With the Negative. I'm envisioning an image similar to the one he recalls in this Intro.: the celebrations in the streets of Bucharest after the overthrow of Ceausescu; a national flag waving above the crowd; the red star, the symbol of Communism, has been cut-out of the field. Z. declares that this is a "sublime" (yes, Kantanian sense) image: a moment just following the departure of the Master-Signifier, when It has yet to be replaced, an "open" moment, a moment of "becoming" wherein the incompleteness of the Big Other became apparent.

There is somewhere else in Zizek's books where he gives his account (his imaginings) of the beginning of the Iranian revolt against the Shah. He imagines a provincial police check-point where some one Irani defies the police, he will not follow the order to leave the area. Therefrom, the assembled crowd confronts the police and attack the police station. This is proposed as the first (given ordinal preference merely for conveniences of logical sequence) instance of the demise of the power of the absolute injunctions of the Big Other; that it is only from one such moment that the revolution could take place at all. The falling of statues comes only much much later.

From a statue to a gap in the flag (thus my proposal: de-erection). Whether it was Lenin or Stalin, whether it was brought down by hand tools or cranes or Finnish engineers contracted by Estonians, without drinking too deeply of fantasia, I think that it was done locally, by some version of "the people". Thus, those Iraqis in Firdouz square were (they have been and will be) deprived their "open" moment free of the previous concrete contingencies of threat and collaboration; they are occupied, the Master-Signifier is torn by an invading force, they had to ask permission to be granted but a moment of pleasure. The psycho-social trauma is perverse and boundless: the only relief granted by the "taking" of Baghdad is a relief from a compound terror (arbitrariness compounded): life under S.H. and foreign military violence; but terror remains in town. One species of inhumanity immediately replaced by another; inhumanities of epic proportions. The US (in the guise of the military) is the evil therapist: the one who needs the needs of the analysand; the one who establishes new dynamics of dependencies; the one who authors new fantasies under threat of violence.

Took me a long time to get not very far; these things sometimes steep for days, and then finally saturate me. Really, I promise, I have not converted to or taken vows as an orthodox Lacanian; its just a way for me to keep seeing the world as filled with people and pleasures and pains and not merely architecture.

"For many years, the lodging-house where Hazlitt died - his landlady, eager to let his room, hid his body under the bed while she showed it to would-be tenants - has been known as Hazlitt's Hotel."

Run, do not walk, to Tom Paulin's piece on Hazlitt (which was given as a speech for the ceremony marking the erection of a monument to Hazlitt) in the Observer. It came out last week. We missed it. But we read it this morning, and we are still throbbing in the thrall of the thing. Appreciation -- and not the royal osculation of the ass practiced by blurb writers and friends of friends in the book reviews -- is a pretty rare and lonely art. It requires catching the writer both in the gloss of one's own fine perception of him, and standing enough outside that gloss to see him, or at least glimpse him, as alien. You have to tread a fine zigzag. Well, Paulin does. He's magnificent. And Hazlitt deserves every encomium, poor man. Hazlitt is the writer's writer, the one who dies for all of us who are choking to death on the miserable dribbles of freelance work upon which we expend every fine sentence, every formal tact, that we can, and get away with it.

We've been a Hazlitt reader for years. Like Paulin, the puzzle of Hazlitt is how he can be neglected when Coleridge, whose scholarly insusurrations weigh like lead on the heart of his readers, is studied all too multitudinously. Perhaps that is a bit unfair. However, to read Paulin on Hazlitt is to immediately want to read Hazlitt, whereas to read Richard Holmes on Coleridge is to think what a relief it is that we now don't have to read Coleridge.

One of Hazlitt's essays that Paulin mentions which sounds like fun for this War season is On the Connection between Toad-eaters and Tyrants -- especially as we have just experienced an immense hopping of toad-eaters claiming to be against tyrants. The essay begins with a pretty brisk jab:

" ...the progress of knowledge and civilization is in itself favourable to liberty and equality, and that the general stream of thought and opinion constantly sets in this way, till power finds the tide of public feeling becoming too strong for it, ready to sap its rotten foundations, and "bore through its castle-walls;" and then it contrives to turn the tide of knowledge and sentiment clean the contrary way, and either bribes human reason to take part against human nature, or knocks it on the head by a more summary process. Thus, in the year 1792, Mr Burke became a pensioner for writing his book against the French Revolution, and Mr Thomas Paine was outlawed for his Rights of Man. Since that period, the press has been the great enemy of freedom, the whole weight of that immense engine (for the purposes of good or ill) having a fatal bias given to it by the two main springs of fear and favour."

That seems exactly right, even, sad to say, about Burke. In 1792, Burke was in the process of turning his hatred of the French Revolution, a hatred sprung from his detestation of a government by theory, into a war against the principles of the French revolution, which was, clearly, the mirror image of government by theory --a war for the sake of theory. Hazlitt's summation of the "history and mystery of literary patriotism and prostitution for the last twenty years" is masterful: he understands how deadly the convergence between the polemical impulse and the interest of the powerful can become, and what disaster it can cause. We've seen that happen in the last year, with much, much more trifling men than Coleridge or Burke or Wordsworth. The horde of belligerati contain hardly one man who is worth reading twice; and most of them, like Andrew Sullivan, aren't worth reading once. No one would do it if they didn't agree with Andrew S.'s opinions -- and that is the lowest form of writing. Hitchens, Cohen, and Berman are on a higher plane, but --- except for Berman -- they have pretty much lowered themselves to the Sullivan standard.

But the most famous passage in the essay is one of those jets of political fantasia which remind us of Troilus and Cressida for its eloquence, bitterness, and partial truth:

"Man is a toad-eating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. It is not he alone, who wears the golden crown, that is proud of it: the wretch who pines in a dungeon, and in chains, is dazzled with it; and if he could but shake off his own fetters, would care little about the wretches whom he left behind him, so that he might have an opportunity, on being set free himself, of gazing at this glittering gew-gaw "on some high holiday of once a year." The slave, who has no other hope or consolation, clings to the apparition of royal magnificence, which insults his misery and his despair; stares through the hollow eyes of famine at the insolence of pride and luxury which has occasioned it, and hugs his chains the closer, because he has nothing else left."

Hazlitt wrote this at a dreadful time, from his perspective. The restoration of the Bourbons, the seeming burial of all the liberal ideals of the French revolution in England, made him feel that his time was being carried backwards into the abyss of brute force that, in Republican mythology, was the actual situation under Charles I, replayed in the worst days of George III. The thing was... Hazlitt was wrong about his time. Wrong in an interesting way.

But this would carry us into the depths of an essay that I am, as always, perpetually working on. We don't want to go there.


There's a mass illusion in the Lefty world that the Middle East bleeds for the Palestinians. We really don't think there's any evidence for this. Sure, there is some encouragement of those Palestinians who volunteer to make firecrackers of themselves, and there is much high flying rhetoric, but for the fifty some years of the diaspora there hasn't been any evidence that the Palestinian cause takes precedent over self interest. There is, in other words, a divergence between the symbolism of the cause and the realities of national interest.

We are moved to make these observations by the coverage of Arab disappointment with the end (or at least an image of that final horror) of the Saddam the Meatgrinder regime. If we were Pentagon imperialists, we would certainly encourage the juxtaposition of the reactions of Iraqis and the "Arab street." There is no better foothold for a divide and rule strategy. We can understand the pride in the resistance of the fedayeen, which is of a much more uncertain composition than the Republican guard, and can be plausibly made out to represent a form of feeling not bound up with Saddam's infra-infernalstructure. But for the Republican guard we can only feel what Trotsky felt about the Czar's police force: the military, he said, was salvagable, but as for the police, the only way to salvage them was at the end of a rope thrown around the nearest lamppost.

So -- this is a long winded way of saying we don't put a lot of stock in the idea that Smilin' Jay Garner's relationship with Israel has much bearing on his coming rule in Iraq. There's something rather miserable in rooting for popular antisemitic attitudes to kick in, anyway. No, what will, if not warded off by international pressure, spark the second phase of the war is the simple combination of Iraqi disgruntlement with occupation and the inevitable struggles between factions. As we said in some long lost post, the goal of the anti-occupation movement ought to be: 1. prevent the looting of Iraq by Americans; 2. prevent the deterioration of the civil society that has emerged in Northern Iraq; 3. support the immediate rule of Iraq by Iraqis; 4. enourage the accelerated pullout of Amerian and British troops.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003


There's an excellent little book by Italian researcher Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini , "Inevitable Illusions." P.P contends that our usual cognitive mechanism suffers from certain mental "tunnels," especially when it comes to probability, causal inference, and what I would call the narrative urge -- the drive to create, out of events, stories that are consonant with the pattern of stories we like. P.P's section on Predictability in Hindsight seems particularly apposite given the state of the War. The War evolved in two stages: resistance in the South, and less resistance in the center, followed by a wholly unpredicted collapse in Baghdad. The fedayeen, who nobody mentioned in the press pre-war, fought as well as they could; in contrast, the Republican guard, who accrued tons of print, were terrible fighters. The Republican guard fought the American war -- conventional confrontation between two armed forces -- and were wiped.

P.P reports an interesting experiment, comparing two cases. In one case, a real result, and real prior data leading up to the result, was given to the subjects of the experiment, who were then asked if they could have predicted the result from the prior data. In a second case, they gave the same data, but an opposite result (in other words, they lied). In both cases, the subjects were confident, from the data, that they could have predicted the result. As long as we think we have a certain result, we immediately create a plausible backstory; and in the creation of that backstory we become confident of our power to correctly appraise each piece of evidence.

It is this quality that Jack Shafer makes fun of in a recent hit on Johnny Apple, the NYT journalist. You'll remember that Jack Shafer's first hit on Apple made fun of his prediction that Afghanistan would be difficult to govern. You'll rememember we commented that Shafer's remark -- that Afghanistan is comparable to San Francisco in governability -- was the acme of dumbness. Given the firefights this last week in Afghanistan, and the government's own reports on the return of the Taliban, one would think that Shafer's newest piece on Apple would be tempered by the humility induced by his own rashness in pronouncing Afghanistan pacified territory. In fact, Shafer makes the odd assumption that results consequent to American victories are historically, and thus militarily, irrelevant. So for him, the taking of Kabul by the Americans has closed the book on Afghanistan -- an assumption that the soldiers of the British Empire could probably have told him something about. He makes fun of Apple for asking the common sense question about what defines the end of the War. Here is Shafer thinking himself a real cock of the walk:

"By April 6�a whole day later [from the first article Shafer analyzed]�Apple constructs new victory benchmarks for the coalition in "Allies' New Test: How To Define Victory." It's not enough that the Americans and Brits have encircled Baghdad and subdued Basra in less than three weeks of fighting and eviscerated the Iraqi army and its irregulars. His impatient lede asks, "How and when, it seems worth asking, will the United States and its allies know they have won the Iraqi war?"

Apple doesn't answer his own question directly but implies that the allies' recipe for victory pie would have to include a new, democratic government in Iraq; the elimination of Saddam Hussein; the uncovering of his weapons of mass destruction; and the departure of U.S. troops�sooner rather than later.

By defining victory "up," Apple subtly retreats to his original, March 27 position that nothing but quagmire, quagmire, quagmire awaits the United States in Iraq."

You'll notice that Shafer is accusing Apple of doing exactly what the subjects in PPs' experiment did. And you will notice he is making the accusation by ignoring evidence that Apple's original predictions about Afghanistan are coming true, since Shafer has decided that the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 was the definite end of the Taliban -- he's anchored his certainty there. Meaning that he's protecting himself from the Predictability in Hindsight problem by hemming and hawing on his own predictions, and editing facts to reflect badly on Apple.

This will happen a lot for as long as celebrations of the Meat Machine's demise are broadcast on tv and the radio.

"...war is at us, my black skin, war is at hand from today to tomorrow"-- Paul Bogle

In response to the perennial question War, what is it good for? we have an answer, from WSJ's Alan Murray. Murray writes a weekly column, Political Capital. In this week's column, he gives us a glimpse of the exciting work being done in D.C. Yes, it looks like Iraq is going to benefit not only from democracy, but from a speeded up version of the Reagan revolution!

Throwing off the trammels of the government. Letting the magic of the marketplace do its, uh, magic. Murray gives us historic scenes; Grover Norquist "working on intellectual property laws for a free Iraq.' Undersecretary Treasury secretary John Taylor drafting Iraq's new tax laws. Peter Fisher, yet another undersecretary, writing new securities laws. In fact, the Iraqi democracy has almost everything going for it, except Iraqis. This is a minor lacuna; no doubt, Chelabi is working on rubber stamping Grover's work. . Murray keeps his euphoria under control, but just barely... I mean, we are talking about Iraq becoming the Middle Eastern "Hong Kong!" Great things are in the offing, obviously.

Now, this could all be messed up. Natives have a tendency not to take the long view. Sure, they'll take our food and water, but then they get to resenting the American companies that are exclusively tapped to rebuild their country and begin skulking about with Uzis. As Grover Norquist would say, if he had the time, a free Iraq needs a transition period... yes, to gain the benefits of responsible freedom.

The ardor Murray describes is feverish, and a bit scary. Especially if you are an Iraqi with your own opinions about intellectual property law. Iraq's open moment will come and go before we see it.
D.C., of course, doesn't want us to see it. If the Democrats can shake off their apparent terminal state of stupor, maybe they should say something about that.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003


The traditional Greek tragic tetralogy would be ended with a fourth play, a mock tragedy, or satyr play. In the age of the speeded up News cycle, we've put them all on together. Thus, while all eyes are turned to the meatmaster's demise in Baghdad, at home the HealthSouth satyr play is strutting its stuff. And what stuff! Cornpone fraud, served hot and piping, just like Enron used to make it! Except that Richard Scuchy was no Ken Lay. And just as in Enron Rex, there's the accounting and investment banking auxilliaries forming a little chorus. The NYPost publishes a blaring, tabloid style glimpse of UBS Warburg's healthcare and biotech unit, led by Ben Lorello, which basically floated HealthSouth. It is interesting to compare the genteel tone of the NYT's Ben Lorello story and the Post's. The NYT titles its story, Conflict Issue Over Analyst's Deal. This is muffling your scoop in gray flannel indeed. The Post, on the other hands, screams UBS' OWN GRUBMAN. The parallel isn't quite Plutarchian, since it is unclear who plays the role of Grubman, here: Lorello or analyst shill Howard Capek, who kept HealthSouth at a buy when all around were otherwise suspecting that the robbers had taken the safe.

Meanwhile, we've heard a rumor that Scrushy is in hiding. Or in flight. Forbes, last week, published a piece that summarized what Scrushy is facing:

"Under the insider trading charges, the SEC is seeking as much as $743 million from Scrushy, including the return of profits, civil penalty and interest.

The Department of Justice will not settle for just financial penalties in this case, legal experts predicted.

"Federal sentencing guidelines would call for extremely harsh penalties," Nolan said. "There is almost a guarantee of substantial prison time."

Maris said Scrushy could be looking at 10 years behind bars.

"I think we are in a climate where the investing public is expecting to see corporate wrongdoers begin to do something other than pay back portions of the money they have wrongfully gotten," he said."

If Scrushy the satyr debouches into some Caribbean haven, Vesco-like, don't be surprised. Who knows, he might turn up next in Havanna, on the right hand of el jefe.

Chalabi has made his maiden speech. Supposedly he views himself as another Charles DeGaulle, leading the Free French into Paris. That is, if DeGaulle were willing to sell Paris to Walt Disney, and settle for a constitution written by George Patton.

The Independent carries a story about Chalabi's "I have returned" moment:

"The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has reportedly proposed to President George Bush that an interim Iraqi authority composed of exiled leaders should be installed quickly in the southern part of the country, partly to deflect international criticism that the US wishes to remain in control of Iraq indefinitely.

But in an interview, Mr Chalabi said he believed that US forces would need to remain in Iraq for at least two years before the situation was sufficiently stable for an Iraqi security force to police the country. He said it was essential that fair elections were held and that a democratic government was elected before the US forces pulled out.

"I'm not prepared to give a time frame. But we expect to have a constitution ratified within two years," he said in the interview last Thursday at a fortified complex in the Kurdish-controlled mountains of north-eastern Iraq before he flew to Nasiriyah."

A thumbsucker in the Globe includes, as does every story about Chalabi, the always interesting information that Chalabi is wanted in Jordan for fraud. The fraud charge is considered tres declasse by Chalabi's supporters, who always raise a stink when it is mentioned in, say, Congress. The Globe contains at least one hilarious graf illustrating Chalabi's brilliance:

"MIT-educated economist, Chalabi impresses friends and foes alike with his keen grasp of Iraqi and Islamic history. A London-based consultant recalled how the dissident once launched into a vivid dinnertime narrative of the seventh-century battle in which an army of the caliphate massacred a small band of revolutionaries led by Husayn, the son of the Prophet Mohammed's nephew. ''Chalabi is a secular Muslim, but he was as emotional as a cleric,'' the consultant said."

A keen grasp, eh? The story of Husayn's martyrdom is as obscure to Shi'a as, say, the story of the birth of Jesus is to Iowa Lutherans.

We have come to the endgame in this phase of the War. The real struggle, right now (the one, that is, without those pesky Iraqi civilian casualties piling up in the streets -- which figure neither in the calculus of meat machine Saddam, far gone in his pataphysical phase, nor the American press, which has lavished more ink on the rescue of one American POW than on all the crushed bodies of Iraq combined), is between the State Department and the Pentagon -- and the Pentagon's implantation of Chalabi is obviously a pre-emptive strike. Arab Gateway's Iraqi opposition site features a handy scorecard of all your favorite Iraqi revolutionary groups. Make your bets today!

The open moment

"Skepticism about American postwar plans is rising even among some of the Iraqis whom the U.S. favors. Adnan Pachachi, 79, Iraq's Foreign Minister from 1966-67 and a possible top leader in a new government, launched an effort on Mar. 30 to head off a colonial-style administration. "Very soon there will be a void in the power structure of Iraq, and Iraqis should fill that void," Pachachi told BusinessWeek. "It is not in the interest of the U.S. to prolong its military presence. Their soldiers will be exposed to greater danger as time goes on."

A chilling prediction, perhaps, which few in Washington would have heeded just a short time ago. But it's time for the U.S. to come to grips with what it doesn't know about Iraq. That attitude adjustment won't turn postwar Iraq into a model republic. But it may keep those surprises from multiplying. "

We are definitely in an open moment. But alas -- to look at the pressure exerted from the anti-war movement is to see blindness. To look at the Bush administration is to see monomania. And to look at Blair is to see .... well, Blair, in whom no man of sense could vest any hope. Saddam has turned into a pure meat machine, a maw for shredding Iraqi lives. The war goes on there, of course -- blood and human beings and all, even if they are not American POWs, merely Baghdadis -- but the real war has definitely geared up: the one between the State Department and the Pentagon. The Pentagon has made a strike against Powell with the shipping of Chelabi's INC to Southern Iraq. Supposedly they are going to embrace their brothers, and tell them of the good things coming under Proconsul Smilin' Jay Garner. The joys, the joys! Privatizing the oil industry, enjoying the Iraqocentric (and oh so coincidentally Pentagon approved) foreign policy of the various geriatric American military men who will fill that ministry, und so weiter. The Wash Times is onto the the involutions of this bureaucratic struggle:

"...the State Department has been working with Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi government minister now in his 80s who has been living in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Pachachi, a Sunni, was nominated Feb. 28 � at a meeting in northern Iraq attended by State Department and White House officials � to be part of a leadership council that would succeed ruler Saddam Hussein.
"There's a deep and messy war in the administration, and it's in the weeds" � hard to see and harder to figure out, said one Republican congressional aide.
Working feverishly to set up a post-Saddam government is President Bush's special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the man behind the rebuilding of Afghanistan."

Those credentials aren't exactly gold. Here's a recent AP story about Afghanistan:

"The soldiers and police who were supposed to be the bedrock of a stable postwar Afghanistan have gone unpaid for months and are drifting away.At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads, and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.

"It's like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan's president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."

Monday, April 07, 2003


Speaking of my omniscience, he modestly said... We were talking to a friend a couple of days ago about the debt that Iraq owes. And we said that given the amount, and the inability of Iraq to get out of that amount without significant imput from the American taxpayer, surely there will be a move to declare Saddam's debts null and void. Which will be a little hard to explain, since up until now, every nation that has emerged from a dictatorship has had to pay the debts accrued by the dictator. A policy supported vehemently, up until now, by the US government.

Well, congratulations to the New Yorker's Suriowieki to figure out that it was time to, uh, change the rules -- a tune which we are confident will soon turn into a chorus in the press. Since Surowiecki is, to put it mildly, a lackey for the most unbridled laissez faire policies this side of the Irish famine, the twist he undergoes is pretty humorous.

First, Suriowiecki quotes the polyvalent precedent of the liberation of Cuba which the US effected by an invasion that, at least, had the formal excuse that Americans could believe that they were attacked first. Cuba had a mountain of debt. The US, taking over the island, took over the debt. The US repudiated the debt on the grounds that it was unjustly accrued.

Now for the parallel case:

"In 1979, when Saddam Hussein took power, Iraq�thanks to the oil boom of the seventies�had a foreign surplus of about thirty-five billion dollars. A decade later, after the war with Iran, it had a foreign debt of some fifty billion dollars. And today, after more war and a dozen years of missed interest payments, the country owes, by many estimates, more than a hundred billion dollars. Its creditors, which include Kuwait, Bulgaria, and the Korean conglomerate Hyundai, are already jockeying for position to be repaid after the war."

Well, this isn't a situation that would normally stir the bowels of compassion in a man of Suriowiecki's iron trust in the terms of international finance. Yet he makes an uncharacteristically humane argument:

"Even if the Iraqi people could afford to pay back Saddam�s debts, it�s hard to see why they should. Most of the money that Iraq borrowed in the past twenty years went either to Saddam�s military misadventures in Iran and Kuwait or to his internal security apparatus. Asking the Iraqi people to assume Saddam�s debts is rather like telling a man who has been shot in the head that he has to pay for the bullet.

"Oddly, though, that�s pretty much what international custom seems to require. Lenders and borrowers still believe that debt belongs to a state, not to a regime. As a result, only a handful of countries have ever repudiated their debts. Even when tyrannical regimes have been deposed�Somoza in Nicaragua, Mobutu in Zaire, the apartheid system in South Africa�their successors have dutifully, if reluctantly, assumed their debts."

Notice -- this is a matter of "international custom." It has nothing whatsoever to do with official US policy over the last thirty years -- a policy that has benefited the biggest loaners, who just happen to be American banks and institutions. I wonder if the fact that these aren't the biggest creditors to Iraq has anything to do with Surowiecki's sudden concern for Iraq's fiscal health?

The obvious problem here is that "international custom" just might get a little upset over the US wiping the slate clean of debt Iraq owes in order for the US not to have to transfer the tremendous amount of money they would have to transfer in order to fullfill the promise to "reconstruct' Iraq. Surowiecki, of course, is aware of precedent, so he immediately separates out cases like, uh, Argentina, where no wiping of the slate is possible:

I"t might be time to change all that and consider an old idea that has recently been resurrected: the doctrine of odious debts. First articulated in the twenties by a former tsarist minister named Alexander Sack, the doctrine holds that a country is not responsible for debts incurred by a �despotic regime� and used for purposes �contrary to the interests of the nation.� Both criteria have to be met for the debt to be considered odious. (In other words, profligate Argentina couldn�t repudiate its debt, because it�s a democracy.)""

Profligate Argentina, eh? As we remember it, a lot of Argentina's debt in the eighties went to paying off military equipment bought by the military and paid for by loans from Citicorps. This money went repatriating back to the US by two routes -- since the US is the largest exporter of military hardware in the world. And Suriowiecki's same odious debt NGOs are well aware of that. On the Odious debt site,
Argentina's debts are indeed on consigned to the devil's portion.

"In July 2000, the Argentine Federal Court sent down a landmark ruling that will have far-reaching repercussions for odious debt campaigners worldwide. The court held that a substantial portion of Argentina�s foreign debt is rooted in fraudulent and illegitimate loans amassed during the country�s military period.
"In his decision, Judge Jorge Ballestero held that many loans to Argentina were part of "a damaging economic policy that forced [Argentina] on its knees through various methods . . . and which tended to benefit and support private companies - national and foreign - to the detriment of society and state companies." The ruling puts blame on the shoulders of corrupt civil servants as well as International Financial Institutions such as the IMF."

And here is a report on the situation from Arnaud Zacharie:

"Evidence now exists , resulting from a judicial enquiry over 18 years, following a legal process initiated back in 1982 by a journalist, Alejandro Olmos.; the Argentine debt crisis has its origin in wastage and fraudulent misuse of funds featuring the Argentine government, the IMF, private banks in the North and the American Federal Reserve. That is why the Argentine Federal Court has declared the debt contracted by the Videla regime"unlawful", as being contrary to the legislation and Constitution of the country. The court recommends Congress to employ this judgment to negotiate the cancellation of this execrable debt."

It is interesting that in the course of the War, various liberal claims have been suddenly taken up by conservatives -- such as the idea that the Iraqi sanctions were murderious -- but the idea of debt forgiveness has to be one of the oddest, as well as one of the most self-serving, instances of using progressive notions for imperialist ends. However, we do hope, as this train gets going, that it is hopped onto by the jubilee debt forgiveness people, the Indonesians, the Pakistanis, and many, many others.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...