Saturday, November 20, 2004

LI has been pondering our backlog. We’ve poured out at least a thousand posts over the last three years. Andre Gide liked to preen himself in his journal to the extent of revising and publishing it as he went along. What’s good for Gide is surely good for LI. Vanity is the writer’s better angel. In our case, we are going to publish, on Saturdays, selected former posts, exposing our track record in the hope that where we went altogether wrong and where we were presciently right amounts to evidence of real intellectual work. There is also, of course, the mad chance that some marvelous coincidences between past apercus and present disasters will leap off of the screen.

Here’s one we published on November 20,2001. The coincidence we like here is that: a., the same blank has been thrown up by the military in Iraq, and has been servilely acceded to by the U.S. Press, again showing the current vileness of the 4th estate; b., the sense that something wasn't quite right with the bombing in Afghanistan was later confirmed by what we know of Rumsfeld's plans in Nov., 2001 -- he didn't want to attack Afghanistan because he wanted a place to bomb, viz, Iraq; and c., again, the emphasis on the historic tie between Pakistan and the Taliban, a tie that has been systematically unexamined by the press even in the aftermath, when we know more about it.

”Steven Glover in the Spectator discusses what we didn't know and when we didn't know it in Afghanistan. Points for dispassion -- the current fashion in punditry seems to require that the writer bark, whine and growl on the page, and finally pee on his foes, all the better to show you his convictions. This has arisen from the point-counterpoint tv format for mixing together ideas and viewer interest, I suspect. Glover remarks that the press almost universally gave the Northern Alliance no chance, and credited the Taliban with a great, mystifying resilience. Both of those positions have been overturned by circumstances. He also claims that the bombing was much more efficient than the anti-war side gave it credit for being.

The latter is the only part of his article with which I have a problem. To assess how good the bombing is, one would have to get through the great blank thrown up by the American military. Actually, one would also have to have the desire to get through that great blank; given the servility of the press corps towards all things military since 9/11, this would be to expect supererogation on the part of some journalist, and honesty in his editor, which is the kind of fortunate conjunction we just haven't seen since, well, the high 80s. Those who did press into the country carried back pictures of kids and old people wounded by high explosives dropped continuously by American airplanes. Perhaps those high explosives did some military good in the beginning. And it might be the damage so inflicted on the Taliban was irreparable. One thing we can surely say about the Taliban is that it has no depth. Or rather, its resource was Pakistan. Cut off from Pakistan, it crumbled. Did the bombing hasten the collapse? If we rely on previous situations -- if we take Kosovo as a guide -- we'd have to say that bombing without let up a civilian population that is closely integrated with a military organization can lead to a military breakdown. But there might be a question of costs yet to arise -- because that kind of destruction can leave in its wake consequences that will bite our ass. There are advantages to processing territory by way of traditional soldiery that aren't considered by the TAC people in the Pentagon. One is that a population is more likely to consider its opponents honorable if they can see them.

In any case, it is worth pondering Glover's last graf:

"My feeling is that almost all of us - reporters, pundits, academics and politicians - know much less about Afghanistan than we think we do, and perhaps less than we give the impression of doing. Let us be frank: most of us had never heard of Mazar-i-Sharif until a few weeks ago, and yet we have been pontificating about its strategic significance as though we were familiar since childhood with the curve of its hills. In the absence of detailed knowledge, we have fallen back on theories and fragments of history about the Northern Alliance recycled by journalists who probably do not know what they are talking about. In short, we have been peering through a glass pretty darkly. The lesson I will draw from the rout of the Taleban is that none of us has much idea what is going to happen, and that the Sun�s celebrations may therefore possibly be premature."

Lately, our editorial service, RWG communications, is getting far fewer customers than it did this summer. We aren’t sure why – maybe it has something to do with the disgracefully untechy look of our site, which you can check out here. But we did recently get hacked – in a very curious way.

The case begins with our early flight back from Albany Wednesday. LI is not an early riser. Our preferred time of arrival in the realms of waking is around 9:30 a.m. In the order of pain, for us, having to get up at four to catch the six o’clock flight is the equivalent of an icewater enema. A real pain in the butt. So, we were stumblingly tired by the time we unlocked our apartment door here in Austin. We picked up the mail and actually opened all of it.

Now, usually we don’t open all of our mail – things that look like bills usually go to the trash immediately. If you start encouraging people to send you bills by actually opening them, you have only yourself to blame. We violated this life long precept because we were zonked. Which is how we came across an invoice from Psychiatric News. Psychiatric News is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Someone had placed two ads for RWG communications, at a cost of $1,700, with the Psychiatric News.

We squinted in disbelief at the salmon pink paper we held in our hand. The invoice was addressed to a Roger Wright. This, we surmised, was someone’s stab at guessing what the W in RWG stands for.

So, after refreshing ourselves with more winks than Ali Baba has thieves, we called up the APA. Monday we are going to receive copies of the contract that was apparently faxed to them from St. Joseph, Missouri.

Extremely odd doings. On the other hand, rather delightfully reminiscent of those departures from the ordinary that usually start a Sherlock Holmes story going. If anyone has any information about this case, please send an email to

Friday, November 19, 2004

The American media coverage of Fallujah is the usual amalgam of bubble gum, nylon and lies. On NPR the announcer, describing the escape of Zarqawi, called him responsible for most of the insurgent attacks – he’s a regular mastermind of the crime in Gotham, apparently. Since the era of the crusade makes contradictions all right, the announcer went on to say that few foreign fighters were killed in Fallujah.

Elsewhere, the general in command of the destruction of the city was so wrought up by the killing and destruction that he announced that the back of the insurgency has been broken. See your tax dollars at work breaking spines on this site.

It is good to count the many ways in which this war is strictly about business. Since many who still argue for the occupation as a liberation have petrified themselves around the carcass of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, endlessly arguing the inarguable fact that Hussein was a criminal mass murderer while avoiding looking at what the liberators did, any time one can open up the can of worms, one should.

Foreign Policy in Focus has an article about one of the bright occupation ideas that the U.S. wants to foist on the Iraqi farmers. It should be said, the article has defects. The point of the article is diluted by spending time arguing that genetically engineered seeds are bad. And it would be nice to know if Bremer's changes in Iraqi laws continue to be legally binding. The general thrust, however, is this: Bremer and Bremer alone decided to change Iraq's intellectual property laws to bring them into compliance with the US policy on intellectual property laws. That's an astonishing breach of sovereignty.

LI loves to death the language that the Bremer crew used. Here is the order ‘accomodating’ Iraqi intellectual property law to the U.S. preferred standard: “Order 81 explicitly states that its provisions are consistent with Iraq’s “transition from a non-transparent centrally planned economy to a free market economy characterized by sustainable economic growth through the establishment of a dynamic private sector, and the need to enact institutional and legal reforms to give it effect.”

Give us neo-liberalism or give us death, as they used to say in the streets of Baghdad. The effect of this law will be to destroy, in one swipe, the system by which Iraqi farmers get seeds, replacing it with a system by which they buy the seeds from American agribusinesses. Iraq's pre-occupation IP laws protected the traditional system of Iraqi agriculture. While the liberal pro war faction has made a great deal out of "rescuing" the marshes on the Euphrates and the way the Americans are "reconstructing" Iraq, what is really going on in that reconstruction is not to the average Iraqi's benefit. The law the FP in Focus people have singled out is all about benefiting Monsanto, and nothing more.

It would be nice to hear an explanation of how wringing advantages out of Iraq for the U.S. economy amounts to a liberation from one of the so called left defenders of the thing, like Nick Cohen. But don’t hold your breath. These people devote their time exclusively to the noble struggle against fundamentalism – of the Muslim kind. You will never hear word one criticizing the series of deals acceded to by the exile puppets that the U.S. has put in charge of our Mesopotamian slaughter-house. There is a certain sense to the lack of comment -- these people have no influence whatsoever with the Bush White House, or even with Tony Blair. Their only influence, really, is to be talked about by people like LI, and to get on tv with the usual rightwingers to talk up the war.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

To a philosophical student of politics, however, Irish history possesses an interest of the highest order. It is an invaluable study of morbid anatomy. – William Lecky

(LI wishes that Lecky’s prejudice against the Irish hadn’t produced such a beautiful phrase, since we’d like to use it about the U.S.A. We can only, weakly, substitute the name of one nation for the other.)

The political posts on this site are conceived to fit, ideally, into one of two modes: the polemical or the analytic. Therein lies a problem, both for LI, and, in general, for those who attempt to see the political things themselves (to the company of which LI flatters ourselves we aspire, and even sometimes succeed in joining). In the analytic mode, Bush is simply Bush, a president. His mental capacity is a variable that can be filled in by a man with a much greater mental capacity – that is, Bush’s ideas can be defended or proffered by much smarter men than Bush. In one sense, Bush shows a high mental capacity, insofar as he adheres, for the most part, to a consistent vision. We can say this even though the actual policies of the Bush administration have, on the micro level, a definite helter skelter look.

In the polemic mode, Bush becomes variously grotesque. His character is described with malice towards all of it; his friends and associates become cronies and gangmembers; his exploitation of Iraq, which is out of the norm, vis a vis relations between the U.S. and various third world countries, only by way of its outsized and monstrous proportions and horrendous management, becomes looting. And so on.

If analysis strives to mirror reality, polemic strives to animate it. There is no animal temperature under the tain until insult and praise, invidious description, the angle of incidence of the writer’s intentions, makes one.

It has struck us that our problem, in short, with handling Bush is the same problem Tennyson had with writing Maud.

We’ve been reading Maud – long, sporadically gorgeous, sometimes incoherent, sometimes music box-y Maud. Tennyson is known for having a certain genius for prosody – somewhere we read that he was the most technically brilliant poet, in that way, since Spenser. But Maud is an odd work, in that it tries all forms, and finds that some of them are definitely sounding brass. The work proceeds in obscure but brilliant bursts of commentary, and you definitely need the footnote to tell you that, for instance, at a certain crucial point the narrator has entered the loony bin. But we who have read the modernists have patience for this kind of thing. In fact, the joy of difficulty is our particular joy. Still, it is somewhat difficult to pinpoint just how we know that the narrator’s father was (probably) murdered, or at least driven to self annihilation, by Maud’s commercially successful father. We know, from a scene that distinguishes itself from the prophetic venting by being rather down to earth in the details, that the narrator shoots Maud’s brother dead in a duel. And somewhere in the thing Maud dies too.

Well, we are treating the poem with too little respect. But you get the idea. Tennyson apparently wanted the hodgepodge effect to convey the different stages of the narrator’s passions. Each dominate passion would be as another personage. This was, of course, in the days long before our fashionable therapeutic diagnosticians made money out of finding multiple personalities behind every suburban act of irresponsibility.

We are trying to do something a bit Maud-like with this blog, then.

Maud is interesting, too, because the mad narrator’s cure is on a nationwide basis: war. Tennyson, like Ruskin, thought that the besetting vice of Victorian commercialism was its ignobility. Nobility, the Victorian counter-liberals thought, could only be earned through a certain sacred violence. The Neo-cons, who have mixed up their history, have a vague sense that this was happening in Victorian times. Instead of nobility, they have it in their heads that the American commercial elite that fund their think tanks are the end of history, and we must crusading go to spread the news.

Maud, in Tennyson’s poems, both enchants and repulses the narrator. There is something in Tennyson that revolted at the iron rules of decorum that created, out of the great regency hostesses, an ideal of simpering idiocy as the proper behavior of a gentlewoman. Maud, when she is casting conventional smiles on all and sundry and dropping her glance demurely to the ground, is an enraging woman:

“All that I saw -- for her eyes were downcast, not to be seen --
Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null,
Dead perfection, no more; nothing more, if it had not been
For a chance of travel, a paleness, an hour's defect of the rose,
Or an underlip, you may call it a little too ripe, too full,
Or the least little delicate aquiline curve in a sensitive nose,
From which I escaped heart-free, with the least little
touch of spleen.”

This is a surprisingly Dostoevskian touch – one thinks of Nastasja Fillipovna in The Idiot. Like Nastasja F., Maud has another, wilder side. She likes to sing to the narrator songs of war.

As it happens, the poem was written, as Andrew Lang says, within earshot of British warships training to make the voyage to Sebastopol. The poem is a tissue of allusions to the war, including one clear hit at the Manchester school:

“When I thought that a war would arise in defence of the right,
That an iron tyranny now should bend or cease,
The glory of manhood stand on his ancient height,
Nor Britain's one sole God be the millionaire.
No more shall commerce be all in all, and Peace
Pipe on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
And watch her harvest ripen, her herd increase,
Nor the cannon-bullet rust on a slothful shore,
And the cobweb woven across the cannon's throat
Shall shake its threaded tears in the wind no more.”

Crimea was, in many ways, the Iraq invasion of its time. The cobweb woven across the cannon’s mouth was the devout hope of the free traders, who were represented in Parliament by Richard Cobden. Cobden opposed the war with his usual Benthamite imperturbability. Here’s an excerpt from a speech he made about the warmongering culture that maintained British morale during all the frightful and stupid slaughter.

"I claim the same standing-ground, in discussing this question of peace or war, as any other hon. Gentleman. I will deal with it as a politician, strictly on the principles of policy and expediency; and I am prepared to assume that wars may be inevitable and necessary, although I do not admit that all wars are so. We, therefore, who took exception to the commencement of this war on grounds of policy, are not to be classed by individual Members of this House with those who are necessarily opposed to all wars whatever. That is but a device to represent a section of this House as advocates of notions so utopian that they must be entirely shut out of the arena of modern politics, and their arguments systematically denied that fair hearing to which all shades of opinion are fairly entitled, no matter from what quarter they may emanate. I say, that we have all one common object in view—we all seek the interest of our country; and the only basis on which this debate should be conducted is that of the honest and just interests of England.
Now, the House of Commons is a body that has to deal with nothing but the honest interests of England; and I likewise assert that the honest and just interests of this country, and of her inhabitants, are the just and honest interests of the whole world. As individuals, we may act philanthropically to all the world, and as Christians we may wish well to all, and only desire to have power in order to inflict chastisement on the wrong-doer, and to raise up the down-trodden wherever they may be placed; but I maintain that we do not come here to lay taxes on the people for the purpose of carrying out schemes of universal benevolence, or to enforce the behests of the Almighty in every part of the globe. We are a body with limited powers and duties, and we must confine ourselves to guarding the just interests of this empire. We ought, therefore, to cast to the winds all the declamatory balderdash and verbiage that we have heard from the Treasurybench as to our fighting for the liberty and independence of the entire world. You do not seriously mean to fight for anything of the kind; and, when you come to examine the grave political discussions of the Vienna Conferences, you find that the statesmen and noble Lords who worked us into this war, and whipped and lashed the country into a warlike temper by exciting appeals to its enthusiasm, have no real intention to satisfy the expectations which their own public declarations have created. I say, we are dealing with a question affecting the interests of the realm, and one which may be discussed without any declamatory appeals to passion from any part of the House."

At one time, politicians actually spoke like this. Marvellous.

Trainspotting the cattle cars…

The writers of Pierrotsfolly are pursuing the noble cause of unmasking, via the Net, the torturer’s assistants who manage a supposed private company, Premiere Executive Transport Services, which transports prisoners to various pain centers on a standby basis. According to the info on the site, there are certainly reasons to believe that the company is another Air America – a CIA cutout.

The case cited -- the transport of prisoners from Sweden to Egypt for a session with the electrodes -- show how uncompetitive America is in this market. According to an NPR report on the Passaic facilities used to store immigrants who are being deported, Homeland Security has created its own little Abu Ghraib in New Jersey. We can now take your hungry, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, and feed them to our attack dogs, our sadistic prison guards, our homegrown Doctor Mengeles, and the whole consort of those who are willing to give, well, somebody else's life, but at least a beating throbbing life, preferably enclosed in a brown skin, in the cause of a freedom loving America.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

“I thought I knew Chile well, I had friends and acquaintances on the left and the right. Yet nothing had prepared me for the metamorphosis that the country went through in September 1973. People were absolutely silent, as though they had been struck dumb, cowed as much by a sense of failure as by the prevailing atmosphere of fear and repression. I travelled up and down the country, to find that there was in fact no resistance to speak of, certainly no civil war. Most people were exhausted by the previous three years of daily political struggle, and simply surrendered to the new regime. The first crimes of Pinochet's terror squads were committed against those who had given themselves up voluntarily. For more than a decade, they ruled Chile as though it was an occupied country.” – Richard Gott, New Statesman

In the Keynsian 60s, the think tank honchos turned to Sweden when they wanted to find a model of the welfare state. In the 00s, we imagine that the Bush gang are looking to Chile, circa 74. The commander in chief, significantly, is going to visit Chile soon – his first second term trip abroad. So much of what Pinochet did – the impoverishment of the working class, the stripping of elementary rights from unions, the privatization of every possible service – which led, in 84, to a program of nationalization that dwarfed Allende, as the IMF made it clear that the state would be punished for the perilous debts amassed by these same private services – and the use of the money in pension plans both private and public to float the whole enterprise must look like the future from the Bush perspective. A perspective of an ownership society, in which the top 5 percent of the owners are able to perpetuate their advantages over the bottom 95 percent by institutionalizing it, while deluding themselves with the image of a "dynamic" free market economy. It is an answer to the Schumpeterian nightmare at the base of every rightwing gesture -- that the liberal culture that emerges from liberal economics will subvert that very economic system.

It took the majority of Chile’s population up to the nineties to recover from Pinochet’s “economic miracle.” There’s a nice account of this in a book we were reading on the plane up to Albany last week – The Blood Bankers. James S. Henry, the author, a former analyst for McKinsey, concentrates on the amount of money that flowed from foreign banks and international agencies that kowtow to foreign banks into the hands of the worst and the most murderous in Latin America from the 70s to the 90s. We will probably do a post on his excellent account of the rip-off of Venezuala by its elite – an edifying tale that has not even been touched in American accounts of the “pro-democracy protests” against Chavez. Those accounts, of course, made the recent vote of confidence in Chavez incomprehensible in the usual places – the Economist’s Latin American desk, the New York Times, etc. In the case of Chile, the Chicago boys did pull off a real miracle – they created the greatest depression in Chile’s history in 1983, and then turned the slow ascent from the depths into a study in triumph. That ascent, not coincidentally, deepened the abyss between the owners and the producers. Inequality wasn’t just a side effect of Pinochet’s program – it was an intended consequence.

We imagine that kind of thing is what is behind the indifference with which Bush has dealt with inflation. Inflation, after all, will only wipe out the indebted class – and as the Bush people know, the members of that class can be satisfied merely by making sure that Janet Jackson is forbidden from showing her tits on tv ever again. And they always have their credit cards.

But there is another aspect of Pinochet’s program that has its counterpart in the Bush culture – making their self-created failures baselines to judge their ‘successes.” Failure, such as the failure to take seriously threats in 2001, are ascribed, ridiculously, to the malign after effects of some Clinton voodoo – so that Bush’s supporters seriously advance the proposition that the lack of another attack on the country is a sign of Bush’s anti-terrorist success. If an attack comes and it kills less than 3000 people, that will be taken as another triumph. In the era of the remedial president, the standards have to be suitably altered. In the same way, the rotten economic record is pumped up anytime some favorable monthly statistic comes down the pike – its favorableness depending on the comparison with some past failure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

In 1921, H.L. Mencken wrote an essay entitled "On Being an American" that begins: "Apparently there are those who begin to find it disagreeable -- nay, impossible. Their anguish fills the Liberal weeklies and every ship that puts out from New York carries a groaning cargo of them..." Mencken then pithily catalogues his own judgment of the poltroonish, goose-stepping American and his faux culture, including this passing swipe at American foreign policy: it is "hypocritical, disngenous, knavish and dishonorable." But he ratchets up the complaints only to say why he would live nowhere else: "here, more than anywhere else that I know of or have heard of, the daily panorama of human existence, of private and communal folly -- the unending procession of governmental extortions and chicaneries, of commercial brigandages and theroat slittings, of theological buffoneries, of aesthetic ribaldries, of legal swindles and harlotries... is so inordinately gross and proposterous, so perfectly brought up to the highest amperage, so steadily enriched with an almost fabulous daring and originality, that only the man who was born with the petrified diaphragm can fail to laugh himself to sleep every night."

LI agrees with old H.L. The third-worldization of the American empire has reached a new stage with the electorate's vote of confidence in the cretinous commander in chief and his krewe of subvillains, unworthy for the most part of even threatening Gotham City (although we have heard it reported that Cheney, in his private life, does sprout tentacles). We want to watch the cracks running up the columns, we want to watch the erasing of evolution and history from the textbooks, we want to watch Americans try to populate, with native stock, the engineering departments as the foreign students turn to other venues, we want to watch the Republicans pile up ever more debt and pay for it by shooting the dollar through the heart, much to the bemusement of Asia's Central Banks. Bloody mindedness and frivolity, torture and Imelda Marcos' shoe collection, go together, somehow. It is one of the mysterious poetic laws of history. And that law is earning overtime in D.C. as we write.

Speaking of bloodymindedness, we have tried hard not to pay attention to the latest episode of Chechnya-lite being implemented in the ruins of Fallujah at the moment. Liberation is such hard work, especially when you have to blow up the bodies of the liberated in such numbers. But what ordinance! No doubt, the same undertakers that designed such neat mass graves for Saddam H. are now on the American/Allawi payroll. Surely they are disposing of the gutted corpses in, perhaps, the same trenches. Such, of course, is the joy of "secularism", to use Hitchens' term.

Ourselves, we are searching for analogies, which is the blogic approach to war. Is Bush 2 channeling the drunken spirit of Yeltsin, 95, or the genocidal spirit of Putin, 99, in the American attempt to give Grozny a sister city in Iraq? On the one hand, the supposed 1,200 "insurgent" corpses, plus the turning away of the Red Cross (who proved a weak sister by actually protesting the Sunday tortures in Abu Ghraib, as well as the selected murders). We doubt that the stink of Iraqi civilian dead will be so easily hidden from the populace of Baghdad, even if the populace of the Red States is warmly reminded of lynchings past by the discrete bits they are made privy to by the cheerleading media. On the other hand, the comedy of an insufficient force prepared to win "battles" as the guerilla war spreads across Iraq; the comedy of watching the Americans restore pre-sanction levels of electricity by destroying the customers for it (how many occupied cities have we bombed so far); the comedy of the complete confidence with which Rumsfeld and co. pursue last months and the month before's mistakes, while the "mission accomplished" casualties of American GIs mount to pre-mission accomplished numbers, is something to hoot at.

In any case, LI's stance, at the moment, is that of a spectator at a cannibal's picnic: as one bloody awful thing after another comes out of the basket, we can't pull our eyes away. The next four years require a Goya like spirit to get through it all.

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...