Thursday, July 17, 2003


This is irresistable. Jonathan Chait, on the TNR blog, disses Dean for his anti-war position like this:

"The antiwar left and the pro-Bush right, oddly enough, share a glaring misapprehension: Both believe that it can be true that Bush was lying, or that the war was a good idea, but not both. Of course this is nonsense. It's pretty clearly that the Bush administration cut corners (at the very least) in its case for war. But it's also clear that whatever the administration got wrong was only a small subset of its overall argument for war, and that the Bush administration's arguments for war were, in turn, only a small subset of the broader arguments for war. Readers of TNR should by now be familiar with lots of arguments for war that deviated from, or frankly contradicted, the administration's own."

The TNR has set up its blog about candidates in school marm style -- they get As or Fs, depending on whether they've been good or bad students. This is what one would expect from a group whose identity has been shaped so exclusively by their trivial abilities to answer true or false questions in a classroom, and avoid putting glue in one another's hair. Probably ratting out the bad kids in the back helped, too. The pathos, or bathos, of this is not something we are going to comment on here. It parodies itself.

However, Chait's paragraph, in a little nutshell, tells us everything that was nutty about the pro-belligerent case going into the war. The case simply ignored one of the warriors. In place of Bush's war, Chait substituted his own -- in much the way Hitchens substituted his own. This becomes clear when he talks about "arguments" for the war, as if every argument pro or con was equally going to effect the event of the war. It is hard to fathom the sheer ridiculousness and pretention of this kind of thing. It is as if Norman Mailer, in The Fight, had substituted himself for Mohammed Ali in the Ali-Frazier fight. It is wish fullfilment as serious commentary.

So -- let's be clear about who fought and is fighting the war in Iraq. On the one side, there was Saddam Hussein -- and not Arab Nationalism, Osama bin Laden, or the Beverly Hillbillies. On the other side, there were the American troops carrying out Bush's war under Rumsfeld's strategic plan.

The question of the war wasn't which war will you chose (oh, I want the darling little war of liberation! I do so adore crowds coming out and cheering for secular democracy and the civil society, don't you? And let me have, hmm, that tinsy bombing campaign to compliment it, and afterwards, I'll chose an election, and autonomy for the Kurds! That's just the cutest little ensemble I've ever seen!). There was one war on display. Chait gives an F to Dean, when he should give a D -- for Delusional -- to himself.

That said, that was the last War. This one is much more up for grabs because it isn't clear who the opponents are. On the one side is an incompatible, and adhoc, group of Iraqi resistors -- on the other hand is the discredited "post hostility" strategy of the Rumsfeld set, still determined to spin off a couple more wars -- against Iran and Syria -- and still clueless about the seriousness of the one they are in. The cluelessness is, of course, shared -- how else does one explain the unquestioning acceptance of one of Bremer's principles in this war, namely that the longer the occupation lasts, the more popular it will be?

So the Dems, and the Chaits, have a chance to make "arguments" that will actually make a difference -- rather than arguing about couture in the one size fits all aisle. Now is the time to push for speeding up the election process, and setting up a real Iraqi army and police force. The 40,000 man force Bremer wants won't cut it. It doesn't even make sense -- Americans are understaffed at 150,000, but the Iraqis are going to be fine with 40,000 troops? And as for breaking up the Iraqi oil industry into bite sized chunks just right for Exxon and Shell, that looks like a non-starter. If American soldiers are dying for that plan, it is not just a crime -- it is a futility.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003


Someone should buy Howard Dean a copy of Norman Mailer's Miami and the Siege of Chicago, because Mailer's description of Eugene McCarthy lands directly on what is wrong with the Dean campaign. Dean's campaign's problem has been diagnosed by various D.C. types as that classic one always being diagnosed by various D.C. types: too liberal. For these types, what Dean has to do is to appeal more to Southern Man -- by which is really meant, suburban white collar man. And suburban white collar man wants a Sister soul'ja moment; he wants lower taxes; he wants a strong military; he wants the end of welfare as we know it to mean welfare for poor people (not, say, traditional government supports for mortgages, agri-business, the defense industry and all the other fine things that employ suburban man).

But we think Dean's real problem is that he is way, way too white. Which is what Mailer saw about McCarthy. Just as he saw that Humphry had what he called the Mafia vote in his pocket. Humphrey was quite comfortable about divvying up the spoils with the devil. He was quite comfortable with what politics in America is about, which is pleasure. While McCarthy was quite uncomfortable about that -- for him, politics was about virtue.

Dean has the virtue racket down cold. The question is, can he subordinate virtue to pleasure? If he can't, he's unelectable. There are hopeful signs. Here's an article from San Antonio's paper today"

"AUSTIN � Speaking in smooth Spanish and fiery English, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said he is the person to lead the nation to a better economy, improved education, universal health care and real immigration reform.

The former Vermont governor spoke at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, a national advocacy organization devoted to Hispanic rights.In no-nonsense language, Dean told the crowd he intends to balance the budget and develop jobs, which will attract investment in the nation."No Republican president has balanced the budget in this country in 34 years," he said. "If you want to trust your hard-earned dollars, you'd better elect a Democrat because the Republicans cannot handle money."

Dean said close to 90 percent of the working poor and children have health care in his state, and he wants to do the same for the nation."

When Dean talks juicily about handling money, he taps into that part of Clinton's legacy that is all about making it. It is hard to imagine Eugene McCarthy using that language.

Here's Mailer on McCarthy's followers:

"If the face of Chicago might be reduced to a broad fleshy nose with nostrils open wide to stench, sink, power, a pretty day, a well stacked broad, and the beauties of a dirty buck, the faces in the crowd of some 5,000 Eugen McCarthy suporters out at Midway Airport to greet the Senator's arrival on Sunday, August 25th, could hve found their archetype in any one of a number of fairly tall slim young men in seersucker suits with horn-rimmed glasses, pale compleions, thin noses and thin -- this was the center of the common denominator -- thin nostrils. People who are greedy have extraordinary capacities for waste disposal -- they must, they take in too mucvh. Wehreas, the parsimonious end up geared to take in too little -- viz, Chicago nostrils versus McCarthy nostrils."

And here Mailer is on McCarthy's wilful lack of synch with black voters: "Negros in general had never been charmed with McCarthy. If he was the epitome of Whitey at his best, that meant Whitey at ten removes, dry wit, stiff back, two and a half centuries of Austan culture and their distillate -- the ironic manners of the tightest country gentry; the Blacks did not want Whitey at his best and boniest in a year when they were out to find every justification (they were not hard to find) to hate the Honkie."

Disregarding the "Honkie" -- a stylistic mistake, we think, quasi-indirect discourse broadcasting out from Honkie's own fear, and Mailer's extrasensory pick up of it, than any street lingo lying around in Chicago -- still, there is something very true about the country gentry remark. The strength of the Democratic party has always been its understanding of ethnic appetites -- that freedom, in this country, starts with the tongue's primal ability to wrap itself around something good before it gets to talking. There's a reason politics in this country is conducted over innumerable barbecue lunches and dinners. Matter is never more matter than when it is eaten (except, of course, when it is shit out). And politics is ultimately about matter. Dean doesn't have to know about the number of American troops; but he should know the names of the wounded and the dead in Iraq. He has to know that the economy, right now, particularly sucks for black America, and that this is no accident. Dean will be a contender if he can get in touch with his inner appetites.

Monday, July 14, 2003


Another week begins with a series of attacks. A U.S. soldier dies, a handful are wounded, and the headlines fill with the report that the Supreme Council, a group fo Iraqis, mostly exiles, picked by Bremer, has convened and decreed a holiday.

However, even though we view the Supreme Council as more of a tool of the occupiers than a legitimate government, we think that the UN representative in Iraq is right. He supposedly urged the people on the council to accept their appointments by saying that power will inevitably be accrued by the thing. The tools will take over from the toolmaker. We think that is, in essence, true. And we think that Bremer, who seems to view Iraq as his opportunity to employ the economic shock tactics so manfully and disastrously employed by the Harvard boys in Yeltsin's Russia, is going to face resistance if he keeps going down that course. The question will then be: will Americans back down, or will they simply replace and gerrymander the Council?

The Financial Times reports that there are sincere and deep differences between Council members on the status of the occupation. This is healthy.

"The body's first decision on Sunday was to ban all holidays associated with Saddam Hussein's regime. The council also declared April 9, the day Baghdad was captured by US forces, as a national holiday.

But at a rowdy press conference led by Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum, the council's representative, council members, while united in hatred of Mr Hussein, appeared divided on the subject of the coalition presence in Iraq.Disagreement on this fundamental issue raged between Abdel Aziz al Hakim, representing the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and Ahmed Chalabi (pictured), head of the Pentagon-backed Iraqi National Congress. Mr al Hakim referred to the coalition as occupiers while Mr Chalabi insisted they were liberators."

This is only one of several developments showing that a creeping rationality among the Bush people, who generally inculcate other forms of creepiness. Probably the lie about Niger uranium is a lesser story, in the long run, than the less publicized story of the cost of Donald Rumsfeld's excellent Iraq adventure: about 4 billion per month. The thing is, that cost is going to rise. Twice what the Pentagon originally estimated -- see LI's earlier posts for harping on this issue, pre the invasion -- it will have to rise if Iraq is not to sink. As a consequence of alienating the richer allies, Americans are not getting floated on this invasion. As ill feeling mounts towards the Americans, the wisest course would be to mix the occupying force and find international funds for Iraq, but that course requires giving up the dream of sole American hegemony. So far, the Bush-ites do not want to go there. A NYT article detailing our shadowy reach out efforts towards Old Europe, quotes some Pentagon muckety muck - Feith? Wolfowitz? - as saying that the international community needs to accept that the Coalition Provisional Authoritiy is the Government of Iraq. Period. Bush's people have been politically ept during the last year - although they have faced the soggiest of oppositions. We'll see if they are ept enough to redo their plan of making Iraq into Chili. Othewise, that plan is going to blow up in their face.

Autobiography of a Super-Tramp

Lately,due to our financial circumstances, we've been thinking of hitting the road with our labtop and a change of clothes in a backpack. For pointers on the life of a tramp, we've been dipping into W.H. Davies classic Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. The book is almost completely transcribed on-line. Here's a quote from it:


WE were determined to be in the fashion, and to visit the various delightful watering places on Long Island Sound. Of course it would be necessary to combine business with pleasure, and pursue our calling as beggars. With the exception of begging our food, which would not be difficult, seeing that the boarding houses were full, and that large quantities of good stuff were being made, there was no reason why we should not get as much enjoyment out of life as the summer visitors. We would share with them the same sun and breeze; we could dip in the surf at our own pleasure, and during the heat of the day we could stretch our limbs in the green shade, or in the shadow of some large rock that overlooked the Sound. However, we could no longer stand the sultry heat of New York, where we had been for several days, during which time we had been groaning and gasping for air. So I and Brum started out of the City, on the way towards Hartford, Connecticut, with the intention of walking no more than six miles a day along the seacoast. What a glorious time we had; the people catered for us as though we were the only tramps in the whole world, and as if they considered it providential that we should call at their houses for assistance. The usual order of things changed considerably. Cake-which we had hitherto considered as a luxury-became at this time our common food, and we were at last compelled to install plain bread and butter as the luxury, preferring it before the finest sponge cake flavoured with spices and eggs. Fresh water springs were numerous, gushing joyously out of the rocks, or lying quiet in shady nooks; and there was many a tramp's camp, with tin cans ready to hand, where we could make our coffee and consume the contents of paper bags. This part of the country was also exceptionally good for clothes. Summer boarders often left clothes behind, and of what use were they to the landladies, for no rag-and-bone man ever called at their houses. The truth of the matter was that in less than a week I was well dressed from head to foot, all of these things being voluntary offerings, when in quest of eatables. Brum, of course, had fared likewise, but still retained the same pair of dungarees, which he swore he would not discard except at the instance of a brand new pair of tweeds. It was this pair of working man's trousers which had caused a most regrettable mistake. We had just finished begging at one of these small watering-places and, loaded with booty, were on our way in the direction of the camp which, Brum informed me, was half a mile north of the town. When we reached this camp we found it occupied by one man, who had just then made his coffee and was about to eat. On which Brum asked this man's permission to use his fire, which would save us the trouble of making one of our own. The stranger gave a reluctant consent, and at the same time moved some distance away, as though he did not wish further intimacy. While we were gathering wood and filling our cans at the spring, I could not help but see this stranger glaring hatefully at my companion's trousers, and expected every moment to hear some insulting remark. At last we were ready and Brum proceeded to unload himself. He had eight or nine parcels of food distributed about his clothes, but in such a way that no one could be the wiser. It was then that I noted a change come over the stranger's face, who seeing the parcels, seemed to be smitten with remorse. In another moment he was on his feet and coming towards us, said impulsively-'Excuse me, boys, for not giving you a more hearty welcome, but really'- glancing again at my companion's trousers-'I thought you were working men, but I now see that you are true beggars.' Brum laughed at this, and mentioned that others had also been deceived. He explained that the said trousers had been given him against his wish, but on seeing that they were good, and were likely to outlast several pairs of cloth, he had resolved to stick to them for another month or two. 'I regret having had such an opinion of you,' said the stranger, in a choking voice, 'and trust, boys, that you will forgive me.' Thus ended in a friendly spirit what promised at first to become very unpleasant.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...