Saturday, October 09, 2004


Curious omission

LI has just finished reviewing a rather depressing novel set in Liberia. This summer, we were supposed to review another depressing book by Douglas Farah, the WP reporter, Blood From Stones, about the “secret financial network of terror.” Farah’s beat was West Africa, and he links the arms and diamond merchants in that area to both the Hezbollah and Al Qaeda networks. We were not totally convinced by the story line he is pushing – evidence for a strong alliance between a Shi’ite group and a group well known for massacring Shi’ites in Pakistan and Afghanistan seems to me, at best, shaky, a matter of individual initiatives and an attempt at Pan-Islamic solidarity is rhetorical rather than real, and at worse, tendentious, an attempt to drag into America’s scope enemies who are really enemies of Israel and various factions in Lebanon. However, in the course of the report, Farah extensively describes the horrors of the West African breakdown and its financing through slave labor in the illicit diamond trade, as well as lumbering, and of course the ever present trade in drugs.

If our mind hadn’t been so focused, perhaps we wouldn’t have noticed that in two debates, there has been no mention whatsoever of the U.S. joke “intervention” in Liberia. This summer, Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon made a documentary showing U.S. forces waiting in the coastal waters while Liberians were slaughtered by militias. Here’s the first graf from the Times review of the documentary:

“In their brave film ''Liberia: An Uncivil War'' Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon make us witnesses to the continuing implosion in one of Africa's failed states. But they do something else as well in the documentary that has its premiere tonight on the Discovery Times Channel. They also show how the United States has turned its back on the land it created as a colony in 1821. In one of the film's many riveting images, three United States warships loom in the haze off Liberia's coast while thousands of civilians are slaughtered on shore by a ragtag army wielding American-made weapons.’

There wasn’t a question for Bush about this. Here are a two other grafs from that review:

“When President Bush embarks on an African trip in July 2003, he comes under pressure to resolve the Liberian crisis and vaguely promises to send in peacekeepers after Mr. Taylor has left. But Mr. Taylor perfectly plays President Bush, asserting that to leave before the peacekeepers arrive would be irresponsible. Buoyed by his countrymen's hope that United States marines are on the way, Mr. Taylor maneuvers himself into a position to buy time for a better deal (he's eventually given asylum in Nigeria) while blaming the United States for not intervening (the marines wait for Mr. Taylor's departure before landing shortly after the bloodbath and staying for about a month).

The film makes clear how easy it would have been to prevent the spasm of violence that swept through Monrovia, Liberia's capital, in July 2003. With President Bush in Africa and United States troopships in Liberian waters, the stars seemed aligned for the United States to help the people of its historically closest African ally. Rebel youths on bridges aimlessly firing a few mortars and grenade launchers would certainly have been no match for the heavily armed marines for whom the streets were lined with cheering, expectant citizens. But all hopes were dashed when the rebels arrived.”

The free people of a freedom loving Liberia have two strikes against them, however, insofar as the democracy loving people of the Pentagon are concerned. They are black – which means, as far as the U.S. is concerned, who cares. And they made the mistake of living in a country without significant reserves of petroleum.

Searching around for more about the recent history of Liberia, I came upon a fine article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is a pre-9/11 article by Michael Klare entitled :The Kalashnikov Age. It makes the same point that LI has often made – the bogus classification of some weapons as WMD and some weapons as not responds more to the Western need to market weapons than any real mass destructiveness. So far, the most mass destructive weapon unleashed on the planet is the AK-47.

“ON CHRISTMAS EVE 1989, CHARLES Taylor marched into Liberia with a ragtag invasion force of some 150 amateur soldiers--members of the self-styled National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)--and set out to conquer the country. In the months that followed, Taylor seized control of the Liberian hinterland, exacting tribute from its inhabitants, recruiting additional soldiers, and killing all who stood in his way. As many as 200,000 people died in the cataclysm, and millions more were driven from their homes. Taylor had unleashed the most deadly combat system of the current epoch: the adolescent human male equipped with a Kalashnikov--an AK-47 assault rifle.”

Klare’s statistics graf bears out my hyperbole:

“Most of the casualties in these conflicts are non-combatants. Civilians constituted only five percent of the casualties in World War I, but they constitute about 90 percent of all those killed or wounded in more recent wars. Children have been particularly victimized by these conflicts: According to the U.N. Development Program, as many as two million children are believed to have been killed--and 4.5 million disabled--in armed conflict since 1987; another million have been orphaned, and some 12 million left homeless.”

It must be admitted that the disabling of these children was accomplished not only by weapons sold to various criminals and criminal governments by western arms dealers, but also by the handy machete. There’s nothing like a machete or an ax to sever the arms and hands of human beings. As we known, in Sierra Leone and in Liberia, child soldiers were ordered to do such things. Here’s a graf from Farah’s book:

In April, 2000, in front of her battered plastic tent at the Amputtees and War Wounded Camp in Freetown, Kadia Tu Fafanah, a forty-one year old mother of nine, described how two preteen boys of the RUF used an ax to hack her legs off above the knees, leaving only two stumps:….

“It was Wednesday, January 20, 1999” Fafanah said as she sat facing a small cooking fire… “They put us in a house to burn, about one hundred of us, but it wouldn’t light. So they put the men in one line and shot them. I tried to run away, but I fell in a gutter. The children caught me. The amputated five others, but I was punished more for trying to run away. The took both my legs. They were small boys and they held me down while one cut me off.”

Here’s how they prepare the kids for what they call ‘mayhem days”: “They [children interviewed by Farah] said they were given colored pills, most likely amphetamines and razor blade slits near their temples, where cocaine was put directly into their bloodstreams. The ensuing days would be a blur: the children often remembered only the feeling of being invincible, before the drugs wore off.”

It would be interesting to Kerry and Bush talk about Liberia, but we doubt the subject is going to come up. Here’s a link to recent news from the country.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Say, how much is the interest on that debt?

LI won’t watch tonight’s debate. Our last non-watching of the debate was an outstanding success – our candidate romped. We aren’t going to jinx Kerry now.

However, we have been succumbing to a bad case of ISD – Internal Speechmaking Disorder. This is a disease that strikes thousands of talk radio listeners and bloggers every year. Tragically, there is little that can be done about it. Symptoms are uncontrollable daydreams about speaking oneself on the podium, or having one’s candidate speak on the podium saying terribly clever and devastating things that one makes up oneself. Usually, the opposing guy in the daydream is struck dumb. He’s shown up. He’s ashamed forever and ever.

Under our ISD compulsion, we’d recommend that Kerry’s people look at the stark article about Bush’s fiscal policy in the WP this morning. It really just recaps what we know: that the surplus, which was estimated at a trillion dollars when Bush came into office, and that was still estimated at 300 billion dollars after his first year in office, when he pushed through the first rounds of tax cuts, have turned into a 450 billion dollar deficit. One figure, though, was striking:

“When Bush took office in January 2001, the government was forecasting a $5.6 trillion budget surplus between then and 2011. Instead, it is now expecting to accumulate an extra $3 trillion in debt -- including a record $415 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The government has to borrow an average of more than $1.1 billion a day to pay its bills, and it spends more on interest payments on the federal debt each year -- about $159 billion -- than it does on education, homeland security, justice and law enforcement, veterans, international aid, and space exploration combined.”

We hope one of Kerry’s handlers clipped that graf. What does it mean? It means this. The lion’s share of the tax cuts, as we know, went to the top ten percent income bracket. Those are tax cuts on income, on dividends, etc. Estimate that as at around 500 billion to a trillion dollars. The other tax cuts went to the below 200 thou a year crowd – bottoming out at the ones who made 20 thou or so. The poorest, of course, got next to nothing.

What this means is that, of the taxes that remain, the middle class is paying about 2 to 3 percent of its tax dollars on nothing but interest. And who owns those government bonds? The wealthiest ten percent. So, in one of history’s sweeter deals, the same people who got the largest tax cuts used some of that money to loan to the government, which went into debt to make the tax cuts, in order to gain even more money now that the government can’t afford to pay for its operations on interest. Is this the exacta or what?

And what operations that same Government, manned by a Republican executive and a Republican legislature, has bequeathed to us:
“The four tax cuts account for about 30 percent of the change. The remaining 20 percent was spending, including the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the preemptive invasion of Iraq. Since 2001, government spending has risen 23 percent, from $1.86 trillion to $2.29 trillion this year. Defense spending increased 48 percent, while non-defense spending went from $343 billion in 2001 to $436 billion, a 27 percent increase.
Congress has allocated $174 billion so far for the Iraq war alone, with another emergency spending request expected early next year. Among the larger non-defense items Bush signed were a multiyear extension of agriculture subsidies and a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, the largest expansion of an entitlement program since the 1960s.”

Enron had a few good years when it was doing this kind of thing – but it all unravels sooner or later.

In the last debate, Bush said that Homeland Security would just cost too darn much. In the WP story, they confirm that, in the belt tightening measures the Bush people are planning for 2005, Homeland security will get a cut.

Remember, though, the world is safer now than it was three years ago!


LI intermittently tries to see things from the view of the Bush supporter. This isn't from any impulse to fairness, but from the same novelistic curiosity that makes a man slow down to look at a car wreck.

Now, here's the problem: Any non-Bush supporter looks at the news from, say, about January of this year, and asks: how can anyone support the contention that: a, the war was justified, and b., that it is going well, when all the evidence seems to be against it.

We think we know where to look for an answer: not in evangelical Christianity. Not in Dick Cheney's brainwashing powers. But in sports. That's right. We need to look at Bush's belief that the war is chugging along splendidly not in the light of information we have about the war, but in the light of the metaphysical belief, in sports, in the streak.

There’s an interesting paper by Bruce Burns, at Michigan State, on “heuristics as belief and behavior.” It is Burns contention that:

a, the hot hand belief in basketball – that is, the belief that there is a dependency between a player’s shots such that it makes empirical sense to talk about a “hot hand”, or a winning streak, has been disproven; and that

b., it nevertheless might be an advantageous strategy for a basketball team to operate with the belief that there are hot hands.

Burns states his thesis from the outset:

“The aim of this paper is to make this point by presenting an analysis of a
behavior that can be shown mathematically to improve the outcome for a decision maker, and thus is adaptive. The fact that the behavior may be supported by a false belief is irrelevant to whether the behavior is adaptive or not, though the false belief may actually be beneficial to the extent to which it helps to maintain the adaptive behavior.”

Burns makes a distinction between normative and adaptive views of heuristics. It is interesting, because the divide between them reflects almost exactly the divide between those who can’t understand how anyone could see the war as going well, and those who think that those who think the war isn’t going well are making the war go badly. The two sides are divided by mutual exasperation. Interestingly, when Gilovich, Vallone, and Tversky showed, in 1985, that hot hands don’t exist as statistically valid entities, the hottest objections they received were from basketball players and coaches. There is an ethos around sports that would make this kind of statement not only unbelievable, but, in itself, a kind of bad luck. It is that sports ethos that Bush, an owner, after all, of a baseball team, and a cheerleader in his prep school days, reverts to in his stump speeches, which the journalists all cover for their religious aspects.

Burns thesis, it would seem, would bulster the pro-war case. He divides his paper into five sections:

“The aim of this paper is to demonstrate how the hot hand behavior is adaptive, to
examine what general implications this analysis has for understanding people's reactions to streaks, and more broadly what implications this has for different approaches to decision making. Therefore the remainder of the paper is divided into five sections. The first section explains the adaptive approach to decision making and what it means to say that the hot hand behavior is adaptive. The second section supports the claim that the behavior is adaptive by showing this must be true if Gilovich et al's (1985) data are accurate. Most importantly, this is done by developing a Markov model of basketball shooting. In the third section this model is generalized to sequences of choices so as to determine the conditions under which following streaks should be adaptive. From these are generated empirical predictions regarding the conditions under which people will be likely to follow to streaks, and some empirical evidence regarding these is described. The implication of this analysis is that a belief in streaks may arise because following
streaks is adaptive, so in the fourth section is reported a study of people's attitudes regarding the hot hand belief in basketball and the hot hand behavior. This study examined the connection between the belief and the behavior as a function of basketball experience. The final section discusses how treating the hot hand as a belief or a behavior highlights the importance of a critical difference between the different approach to decisions making: that what is normative is not necessarily what people should do.”

The last sentence, of course, is the shocker. It is absolutely shocking to the liberal sensibility, which is built on precisely the opposite idea. We will explore that a little bit in another post.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


‘… in the dunghill of despotism among the other yet unhatched eggs of the old serpent.'
- Coleridge

The Spectator, the right wing British rag, has a great book review section (and hey, I got another book review to do for the New Yorker – so give LI a break. We do know from our book reviewing). It is definitely worth registering with those guys, because it is one of the treats of the Net.

The Spectator has a nice review of William Hague’s new bio of William Pitt the Younger. Hague, you’ll remember, used to be a Tory up and comer. Didn’t he run against Tony Blair back in the stone age? He still sits on the opposition bench. Apparently, the boredom of sitting out in 32° F draft year after year took its toll. An American politician would try to get a part in a cop drama. The British always turn to writing long bios. Michael Foot did H.G. Wells. Hague has done Pitt the Younger.

Pitt a revolting character, a sneaking, pallid man with all the charm of a snake farm operator. He enacted Burke’s mad reactionary fantasy of opposing the French Revolution and putting half the aristocracy of Europe on the dole, thus striking a precedent for today’s corporate welfare. And of course Pitt was a great squasher of the romantic poets. We grudgingly admit, however, that he had a certain financial touch.

“William Pitt the Younger always was the politician’s politician: an MP at 21, prime minister at 24 and dead at 46, with only two years out of office in between. Pitt dominated British politics for his entire adult life. He lived for the House of Commons and for the daily grind of government service. He was the greatest political orator of his day. Yet he had few recreations, and virtually no experience of the world. His friendships were distant. He wrote no intimate letters. He read little. He knew nothing of music or painting. He never loved any one. His was a life at once unfulfilled in private and triumphantly successful in public. One has heard of such people at Westminster today. But, on the whole, the 18th century could do better than that.”

We were reminded of another fortunate son in this graf:

“Hague’s main weakness is the same as Pitt’s. He is not really at home with the complex diplomatic and military manoeuvres among the states of Europe during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Yet these were the dominant events of Pitt’s later career, and proved to be the tragedy of his public life. Pitt’s skills were in the arts of peace. He was an outstanding administrator. He brought to the government’s finances a combination of imagination and intellectual rigour which had never previously been applied to them at that level, and would never be applied to them again until the time of Peel. But he was obliged to deploy the resources which he had so carefully husbanded in a long and destructive war.”

Indeed. Piqued by the review, we looked around for other recent articles about Pitt the Younger. We found an article in History Today, Sept. 1998, by Stuart Anderson about the Anti-Jacobin hysteria of 1798.

“The inaugural issue of the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine for July 1798 carried an engraving of a famous Gillray cartoon. It depicts the `High Priest of the THEOPHILANTHROPES, with the Homage of Leviathan and his suite'. Leviathan has the face of the Duke of Bedford, on whose back ride Charles James Fox, John Thelwall and other figures waving revolutionary caps. Some appended verses help to identify other participants: the `wandering bards' Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey, Charles Lloyd (their protege) and Charles Lamb; the Unitarian chemist Joseph Priestley and those exponents of the `New Morality', Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Gilbert Wakefield and Thomas Holcroft. Mary Wollstonecraft's Wrongs of Woman is among a pile of pamphlets spilling from a `Cornucopia of Ignorance', while representatives of the radical press cluster round Louis Marie de La Revelliere-Lepaux, the `holy hunchback' of the French Directory. A sack stuffed with ecclesiastical mitres and communion plate, labelled `Philanthropic Requisitions', implies the imminent confiscation of church property in order to relieve the poor.”

Canning, Pitt’s friend, wrote for this rag. It is nice to think that the crew Gillray pilloried have long outlived their detractors, and that Canning is more famous for being satirized by Shelly than he is for his Tory slanders. Not that the Anti-Jacobin was totally devoid of talent – Cobbett wrote for them.

Pitt, goaded by the tragic promptings of Burke, subvented reaction in England during the French Rev. The rhetoric of reaction has a distinctly contemporary feel.

“The year 1797 had not only witnessed the Nore and Spithead mutinies in the Royal Navy's own fleets, but also saw French armies triumph all over Europe--except in Wales. The French landing at Fishguard in February had been a fiasco, with their surrender two days later, but, as publication of Admiral Hoche's orders in the Anti-Jacobin show, only a contrary wind had diverted them from attacking Bristol. The editor's stated aim at this critical time was `to invigorate the Exertions of our Countrymen against every Foe, Foreign and Domestic'. Among the domestic foes, it seems, were the Romantic poets. The first two issues of the weekly focused on `Jacobin poetry'--poems of social protest such as Robert Southey's `The Widow'--where the poets were accused of demanding an increase in misery in order to make political protest more effective.”

Shades of Hitchens! – the accusation in the last sentence has gone directly into the Bush-ite playbook. No wonder Gingrich has expressed an odd affection for Pitt the Younger.

LI hopes that England was a little more groovy for our blogging pal Paul Craddick, who has just returned from the archaically sceptered isle.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


So Sahib Bremer, late of Baghdad, tells a bunch of Indiana insurance men that there were too few soldiers to occupy Iraq back in the beginning, and that maybe the eight billion dollars worth of looting that Donald Rumsfeld thought was such a joke, back in May 2003 (Hey, I musta seen the same vase on tv bein’ taken out of the museum fifty times! and all the cued and oiled press goes, badda badda bing, wow, that’s a hot one!) just might have led to a general air of lawlessness.

No shit, Sherlock.

There are, in LI’s opinion, two options for the U.S in Iraq.

One option is simply retreat. Getting out of there, in an orderly fashion, by the end of next year. The second option is a huge increase in the U.S. force in Iraq.

The option that is unacceptable is the current Bush plan: the indefinite stay of a relatively small force. Let’s call this the let it bleed option.

To see why this is so, let’s look at Samarra, the victory the U.S. is currently touting – right on the smoking heels of our great victory in Najaf. Basically, holding Samarra for the length of a photo op is worthless. The insurgents, at this point, aren’t in search of a permanent base – they can be satisfied with securing a permanent possibility of return. So far, nothing I’ve read about Samarra tells me that they’ve lost this possibility. If, going with option no. 1, we seriously want to have an Iraqi force strong enough to hold the villes in the hinterlands, our guess is that we are going to have to accept the resurrection, in modified form, of the Ba’athist party – that mix of secular nationalism and Sunni Islamism that has traditionally recruited from the army. In other words, given the current political fracturing in Iraq, a big, efficient army is going to be a hell of a political attractor. The 2003 plan seems to have been to let Chalabi fill the secular vacuum created by the fall and decimation of the Ba’athists. That was never going to happen. It shows that, contrary to appearances, the problem with Bush isn’t that he is dumb, the problem is that he let intellectuals – the Wolfowitzs, Perles, and even Hitchenses – play far too big a role planning the war. These people have no experience running big projects of any sort, and so no notion of how to do it.

Allawi is now supposed to play the Chalabi part, but nothing, so far, tells us that he is going to succeed. The American fantasy is that we are going to create a modern but non-political army. This hasn’t happened in Northern Iraq, where the major Kurdish parties evolved from militias and are still tied to warlords, and it isn’t going to happen in Iraq.

The bloodier option is to increase American forces in Iraq. The increase would be for the purpose of suppressing the insurrection. In order to do this, however, the Americans are going to have to abandon their current military strategy. Samarra, again, is a good illustration. To take Samarra again, the Americans killed at a minimum 200 Iraqis – maybe up to 500. They lost one soldier, I believe. This is typical of the American style – overwhelming force. This style has been developed to win battles, and indeed, if there are battles to be fought, it will be successful. However, this isn’t that kind of war, and the immediate military success leads to long term disaster. As, for instance, in the however many Iraqi relatives of the dead in Samarra who are now prepared to help, in some way, the insurgents. The unspoken problem in Iraq – unspoken by the U.S. press –is that, to successfully engage with the insurgents – to specifically target them -- means sacrificing those tactics that maximize the preservation of American lives.

The calculus in a normal war is to take out as many of the enemy while preserving as many of your own men as possible. But in a war of ambushes and spotty advances, that strategy has to be redone from the bottom up. So far, the military has rigidly pretended that they are fighting the war game that says, here are the vast Nazi forces, and here are the good guys, and here is the convenient plain on which we can mass our artillery. So, we are admirably following the second part of the conventional principle – but, alas, for every American soldier preserved some x number of Iraqi are killed who are not part of an enemy army. And given the composition and tactics of the Iraqi insurgents, we know that this will be the case. The greater part of the dead will be Iraqi civilians. To the Americans these are collateral casualties, to the Iraqis these are Mom, Pop, Sister and Brother. The number of the collateral casualties is going to rise dramatically if the Americans continue to fight the way they’ve been fighting. This means that either the morale of the population as a whole will collapse – which has happened after ten years in Liberia -- or that the morale of the population will stiffen into the resolution to throw out the occupiers, no matter what.

Now, here is what we are told is happening. We are going to create simultaneously that mass of casualties AND an American-loving democracy. This is a psychological long-shot that only Judith Miller would be gullible enough to believe. If the Americans are going to do crowd control by, in effect, machine gunning the crowd, they will be forced back into the old pattern of finding a puppet – a Thieu like figure – who they can pretend is somehow legitimated by grossly fixed elections. The effect of that legitimation will be merely to pacify the American public, not to convince the Iraqi public. We can already see that pattern forming with Allawi.

To sum up, then – option two is costly, and – if it is pursued rationally, without regard to maximizing the preservation of American life – bloody. There will be a definite rise in the number of American deaths in places like Samarra, and a definite fall in the number of Iraqi deaths. You can’t jigger these numbers, you can’t make them go away, if the goal actually is to “let the free people of Iraq have their freedom,” in the inimitable speech of the Prez.

Given these parameters, and given the fact that there is no courage in D.C. to accept that these are, indeed, the two options, we imagine the "Let it bleed' option will be pursued until the helicopters are evacuating personnel from the rooftop of the American embassy in the Green Zone. As for Allawi – he better not sell his exile apartments. He’ll be needing them.

Monday, October 04, 2004


What country actually financed Al Qaeda and got special thanks in the bipartisan commission on 9/11? What country’s secret service was connected with the hijackers, and might even have wired them a bit of bread now and then, to keep them going in those cold nights that sweep down from the American hinterland? Not Iraq. Not Iran. Not even Saudi Arabia. Pakistan.

Since then, the U.S. has given the Pakistan government a premium perverse incentive to look for Osama bin Laden at least until 2050, at which point the IP rights on Osama’s Buns of Steel video run out. Check out this Slate story about the latest Pakistan arms fair. You can’t get better than an arms fair – you can smell the death of the peasantry in the air! Cotton candy and mustard gas for everyone!

As delegations from a veritable Who's Who of pariah states—North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sudan—make the rounds, a Pakistani company shows off its new cluster bombs (which, the company press release notes, "can be used against soft targets"). A Bangladeshi delegation looks approvingly at a display of Pakistani tanks.

Pakistan's missiles, including the nuclear-capable Shaheen II, are displayed outside, behind a sign reading "Technological Demonstration—Not for Sale." It seems to be an oblique reference to the most notorious past IDEAS exhibitor—A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program and now the apparent mastermind of a global nuclear smuggling network. Four years ago, his company, Khan Research Laboratories, was at IDEAS handing out glossy brochures advertising specialized equipment for making a nuclear bomb.”

Bush claims that he does know Saddam Hus… Osama bin Laden attacked us. He knows that! He was told it on that scary plane ride he had that day. But he seemingly doesn’t know that our great ally is a big backdoor for arms to every regime he ever marked down as evil. Or, rather, he doesn’t care. Because the truth is, nothing changed in the Bush White House on 9/11. For those guys, terrorism is still small potatoes, and the real deal is the same plan Wolfowitz hauled out for Daddy in 92 – hyperpowerdom, concentrating on making sure that no “rival superpower” emerges to challenge the U.S. In other words, through the murk, the great neocon fear is still Russia and China. But by one of those ticking contradictions by which the coyote in the Road Runner cartoon is undone, the “easy conquest’ of Iraq has made the U.S. much more dependent on China, which has basically floated the financing of the war and the tax cuts by buying U.S. dollars and t notes.

Another floating bit of news for the past couple days has amused LI: Chalabi, according to a couple of stories, is courting Muktada al Sadr. And so Hitchen’s Lion of Freedom lies down with the Shari’a lamb of God, while Islamofascism comes full circle. Or something like that. It was all nonsense anyway. But the neocons, who have the sense of reality of Kamenev and Zinoviev in 1936, don’t really care. They do care about retaining courtier’s status in Bush’s court. They do intend to keep on the Wolfowitz course. And if this country gets ruined on its way to greatness, well, it is a survival of the fittest world out there.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore – Isaiah

For long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds;
but you said, ‘I will not serve.’
yes, on every high hill
and under every green tree
you bowed down like a whore.
Yet I planted you a choice vine,
wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate
and become a wild vine? – Jeremiah

A plea for whores

The poetic revolution, in contrast to the political one, sinks to the very bottom of language, its lowest level, where the neurons are barely firing in the sludge, where it is perpetually 3 am in the stall in the bar’s bathroom, down, down to the era that invented agriculture, the just out of Eden moment when insults were designed, to render its essential act. The derangement of all the senses, the transvaluation of values, has to begin somewhere. I begin at the word “whore”.

Interesting, that word. It has been adopted enthusiastically, I’ve noted, by bloggers on both the left and the right. The media are whores. The lawyers are whores.

Myself, I think the media, the lawyers, the celebrities, the politicians, the all in all, wander around with the same zombified relation to sex, the same splitting headach fear of orgasm, that makes the system work. I would not call them whores, although I might call them johns.

The word whore comes out of the King James Version of the bible. Now, 17th century England was not quite the same as 4th century B.C. Judea – 17th century whores were caught up in a system of exchange that was, in many ways, significantly different. But across the two thousand years there were still enough similarities that tyou could still put your fingers on the word and feel the vibe, the fear of Babylon, in it. For Isaiah or Hosea, for the prophets, the whore spoke in the tongues of pussyland of different Gods, the gods of other people, and that was the burden and the curse that went into the whore, that made her particularly unclean. Yahweh didn’t disbelieve in those other gods, but he certainly didn’t want them poaching among his people. His were a people who obscured, by a system of taboos, the secretions and glimpses of the flesh, and had built a story about those taboos that sited them at the center of the cosmic order, the dawning moment when Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked. A story, admittedly, handed down from other sources in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but a story that loaned its emblematic force to their prohibitions and insults.

Some of that mana has survived through the millennia. The whore is not yet totally exchangeable with the prostitute. The whore’s power is also to give sex – a power that implies a system of giftgiving that has been officially buried beneath capitalism, except at Christmastime, where the dread has been drained, with a marketer's precision, from the gift. Psychologically, the dread is, of course, very much alive, a Caspar the Ghost who is not at all friendly and stinks like a corpse, which is why Christmas is the true holiday of depression. In the universe of the blues, Baby Jesus is really baby Melancholia, world without end.

The whore’s power, of course, systematically enrages the outliers, whose very existence is on the border between the supposed givens of the official ideology and the givens of our experience of the system itself. The outliers can’t manage that much schizophrenia, but they function to guard the borders for us. Thus, the whore becomes the perpetual target of the serial killer and the cop.

Myself, I am for the whore. I am for the party that uttered the Non serviam: Henry Miller’s party, Rimbaud’s, Joyce’s, the devil’s.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...