Saturday, February 11, 2006

zombies in love

Iraq, I rack 'em up and I roll,
I'm back and I'm a hi-tech GI Joe.
I pray for peace, prepare for war
and I never will forget ~
there's no price too high for freedom
so be careful where you tread. – Clint Black.

LI is sickly fascinated by the sixth Bush budget. Six years in a row of what some muckety muck’s might call pathological lyin’ by our Rebel in Chief ©, not bein’ as well trained as he is in the big picture. Although there is no price too high for freedom, we have not been putting that exactly square in the budget for the past three years. Our bold Rebel in Chief ©. learned, in the secret years of his training as one of America’s great guerilla warrior (after the big one himself, Sylvester Stallone) to clothe boldness with discretion – hence the song of the supplemental that has tripped shyly through congress, year after year.

Our Rebel in Chief ©. has grown so enamored of fictitious numbers that he could market his budget as a his own personal memoir. Part of the wonder of the thing are his zombie groupies. It is sorta like a cult in which the leader’s failures become tests for the follower’s faith. The more the Rebel in Chief © fucks the pooch, the more you acquire credit in heaven by believing in him. It’s even an incentive to fuck the pooch – I’m pretty sure that the big man sometimes just fails in certain ways to see just how his zombies will figure out how to kiss his ass. Idi Amin used to do the same thing. The ritual of the approach is very important. There’s a wonderful article in the NYT yesterday where the journalists run right into Bush’s lies and lies about Katrina, and the embarrassment of the reporters is visceral – you can feel them suddenly euphemizing up a storm. Because if you say here’s a lie, the zombie will eat you. It is scary out there in the cable show dark, where jowly men in suits, like human gastric ulcers, maunder on threateningly about politics.

So how much more will the war’s supporters go for? How wide the failure, and how often will they tell themselves like battered woman going back to bozo, we just ain’t getting’ the good news yet! And, after all, don’t you want to be a hi-tech GI Joe in the biggest budget flop ever made? It’s like Waterworld on crack. Sure you do, honey. Burn down the studio. Order more sets. 400 billion dollars for F/X, and here’s the good one: we could probably just cut that by 200 billion if we just gave every terrorist 10 million bucks, free and clear. But that would show lack of vision! Those terrorist extras create the ambiance! No expense should be spared!

The reason why is freedom. The reason why is the wind of freedom. Man just gots to be free. It is in his nature. Actually, it is in his left testicle, according to medical science. All that good news is just pent up and waitin’ to flood out. Iraq is gonna look so good any day now that we will all want to move there – and that just might be a good idea, since this fuckin’ country is approachin’ bankruptcy fast! Plus the dozen or so hurricanes that are sure to drown this or that ho hum metropolis this summer, interrupting our Rebel in Chief©’s vacation – what kind of country is that, anyway?

Since the Congressional Budget Office now puts the cost at 500 billion, and they are not including medical costs for wounded vets or other disguised costs which Stiglitz claims raises the cost another four to six hundred billion – well, we are finally realizing Clint Black’s romantic dream. And to think, we coulda paid for that Social Security shortfall and national health care with the money we are spendin’ and have a little left over for carfare.

I guess that the idea is: fuck that. Our country is about freedom and the ownership society, not about fuckin’ dental care for the kiddies, man. So let’s rack up another 600 billion chips and all sing, like zombies in love:

“If everyone would go for peace/
there’d be no need for war/
but we can’t ignore the devil/
he’ll keep coming back for more!”

I’m psyched!

Friday, February 10, 2006

let it all come down

Some days, you read the papers and you think, surely this dirty regime is about to fall.

Item: Vice President Cheney directed his assistant, Scooter Libby, to leak what seems to be classified information.

Item: The CIA officer who coordinated intelligence on Iraq in the run-up to the Bush vanity project says that the administration cherry picked the intelligence to make its case.

Item: Bush’s news conference comment that he not only did not know Abramoff, but thought for a long time that he was a brand name of cleaner, like Easy-off, is contradicted by Abramoff’s own memory of good times with George.

Item: old news, but again, the Crawford ranch White House was quite aware that NOLA was drowning as it was drowning. Panicked, Bush went to the West Coast and played a little back stage guitar.

Item: even Republicans agree that this year’s White House Budget has as much chance of being realized as the Aristocrats has of being named the 700 Club Movie of the Year.

But the machine keeps grinding madly on. It becomes more and more obvious that we are trapped in one of the minor moments in history – hemmed in, on one side, by Danish cartoons, and on the other side, by a claymation POTUS, preparing for our obvious problems – global warming, a warming trend in the gulf and the Atlantic that is going to lead to more severe storms, a transportation technology centered around a nineteenth century invention, a serious reckoning with a post-manufacturing economy – by closing our eyes.

Perhaps hibernation is the only good political answer to this moronic inferno. But aesthetically, this is the trifecta. The gold rush. The Klondike of irony. This is the era of yahoos, and there’s no excuse for a writer not to watch it with extreme interest, pad in hand. Watch the yahoos shit on each other. Watch the zombies mouth the slogans. Watch the press make itself into a bodyguard of lies for systematic injustice, and then blandly preen itself on its objectivity. Watch the big pieces drift.

I love the smell of stupidity in the morning.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

the machine that eats your brain

As the Muhammed-as-Snuffy-Smith controversy continues, it is interesting to watch the politics become a veritable machine to produce idiocy. I suspect that there is some mystical law that governs these things. But, one wonders, what is this law? Is it something in the nature of opposition itself, some diabolical dialectical germ that is slipped into that moment in the discourse which ends up producing those magnificent retards, the left and the right, the point and the counterpoint, the defenders of civil liberties (with exceptions) and the defenders of the oppressed (no matter what they do)?

If this is so, it would subvert my idea of progress, the good society, the goals of art, the use and purpose of philosophy, the true, the beautiful and the just. It would make my life a mockery and the minimum life style I’ve chosen the door prize of the lowest order of sap. It would make my words no more rational than the foaming of a poisoned rat.

… Well, at least it would be all about me. There’s always a bright side for your true American narcissist.

In this case, on the one side, we have the every brilliant Teheran government paper, with its Auschwitz cartoon contest; on the other side, we have the calls in Britain to jail the demonstrator who dressed up as a suicide bomber. And then there are the guys in Afghanistan who have died for the sake of… uh, what? rushing an army base that represented in their minds a cartoon published by unbelievers in an unbelievers kingdom by the sea.

Myself, I went, via Le Colonel Chabert, today, to Democracy Now and discovered, to my dismay, that the idiocy may be terminal. The conversation between As’ad Abikhalil is and Irshad Manji is enough to make you pull out your hair. Abikhalil should be representing my line: he is a non-believer who nevertheless wants to defend a degree of outrage among the Moslems who are outraged. So far, so good. But he immediately goes into a riff of free association that has little to do with anything. Israel, of course, pops up. And he can’t get over the fact that Manji has appeared on Fox news. This seems to be a mortal sin. Manji, on the other hand, is full of the kind of gotcha tactics that make me turn off the radio.

Yet both could have helped each other a little bit. This is the thing about discourse, and opposition. It is not a zero sum game. The beauty of opposition is to keep it on the highest possible level, not to take advantage of the referee looking away to foul your opponent. Manji makes a good point, and ruins it by making it into a description of Abikhalil’s position, when it isn’t a description of his position at all:

“And speaking of dissent, you know, I find it interesting that your other guest suggests or actually emphasizes that there is a targeting of Islam, but that no other religion, you know, can be mocked. How then does he explain the routinely and viciously anti-Semitic programming that comes out of the Arab world. And I would remind him that we Muslims never protest that kind of atrocity. So, how do we have integrity demanding to the rest of the world that they completely respect our religion, when we ourselves have trouble respecting other faiths?”
And while it is true that you don’t find a lot of Christian fundies protesting about the oppression of Buddhists in Tibet, you do find Christians and non-Christians in Western countries protesting. And it is also true that a repulsive anti-semitism has been emitted as a salve by Arabic countries for the “cause of Palestine.”

Unfortunately, Abikhalil decides, (instead of saying, that doesn’t represent my point, but I think I can connect what you are saying to my suspicion that Islam was selected for mockery for reasons that aren’t being admitted) to attack Manjil for various crimes of political correctness, plus not being an Arab speaker. Nobody asks if there are any Danish speakers in the room. And -- let me guess -- they didn't serve Danishes in the Green Room. Maybe they can rename them Holy Cream Cheese Pastries.

As'ad Abikhalil: “Well, Amy, that’s very easy to respond to. First of all, I am aware of the pontification of the other guest on FOX News, among other outlets that relish the opportunity to have somebody like her –“

I haven’t watched a political show on tv for around fifteen, twenty years, but I imagine this is just how they all operate. I don't get it -- why does anybody watch them?

Then my man Abikhalil gets involved in this discussion:

“AMY GOODMAN: As’ad AbuKhalil, would you say this is an overreaction, what is happening?

AS’AD ABUKHALIL: I mean, first of all, Amy, it’s not up to me to decide. I have my own sensibilities, and for me, I mean, as a secular atheist, you know, I would love to have people who mock and ridicule all religions together, but it is the inconsistency that’s striking, as well as hypocrisy…”

Well, LI has no problem deciding. If ever there was an over-reaction, we are seeing it. If ever there was a predictable over-reaction, we are seeing it. I've considered how I want to die -- whether I want the total package, the pain, the cancer, the death agony going on for days, or the in-and-out package, heart attack, death. But one thing I definitely know: I do not want to die over an insulting cartoon.

I’d quote more of this illuminating discussion (partly because it is, apart from being stupid, genuinely funny), but since I am sick this week (with a cough that starts up and goes in my throat like the howls of somebody's chained and abandoned dog, God damn it) I figure I’ll write about this in another post.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff from Die Zeit penned an op ed in the WAPO about the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of Muhammed. His account of how this began doesn’t, actually, make much sense:

“It's worth remembering that the controversy started out as a well-meaning attempt to write a children's book about the life of the prophet Muhammad. The book was designed to promote religious tolerance. But the author encountered the consequences of religious hatred when he looked for an illustrator. He could not find one. Denmark's artists seemed to fear for their lives. In turning down the job they mentioned the fate of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist for harshly criticizing fundamentalism.

When this episode percolated to the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, the paper's cultural editor commissioned the caricatures. He wanted to see whether cartoonists would self-censor their work for fear of violence from Muslim radicals.”

How, pray tell, do you write a book to promote religious tolerance while at the same time breaking one of the taboos of the religion? It is like writing a children’s book about a tribe that has a taboo against photographs, and sending a photographer down to photograph them. A little honesty would be nice here about the real motives involved.

From the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung we learn that the children’s book author is Kare Bluitgen, who is described as living in an immigrant’s quarter and having immigrant friends. Three artists refused to draw Muhammed not simply because of Theo van Gogh, but, according to the FAZ, because they didn’t want to break the Islamic rule that forbids the prophet’s image. Since that taboo is fundamental to the whole issue, it is weird that Kleine-Brockhoff skirts around it.

The FAZ reports:

“It is really not an accident that it was the Jyllands-Posten that decided to take this step. For one thing, in its pronounced opinions in its columns and in its reader’s letter column it does not restrain itself. The left liberal Danish paper “Information” doesn’t hestitate to classify the Jyllands-Posten as the “faschist Jyllands-Pest” in which you find islamophobit witchhunts, while other papers in the western world are announcing their solidarity with the press in the name of freedom of opinion.”

And the Guardian reports

“Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.
The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.”

Now that a Danish paper dislikes Islam and deliberates ways of insulting the religion is well within the right of any paper. It is misleading, however, to speak airily of the freedom of opinion and leave the content of the opinion void.
As it happens, Denmark is, on the one hand, one of the Coalition of the Willing which has sent soldiers into Iraq, and on the other hand, going through a period of rejection with regard to immigrants. Now, when a major paper deliberately insults the religion of the country one’s soldier’s are occupying, it would seem prudent for the Prime Minister of that country to offer the kind of soothing pap that comes automatically out of the mouth’s of Bush and Blair’s representatives. And should – when government officials proclaim their horror of offending religious sensibilities, they are applying a convention – they aren’t legally restricting the domain of opinion. But Denmark’s p.m., whose party ran on an anti-immigrant platform, refused to do the conventional repair work. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declined to meet Muslim foreign ministers in Copenhagen over the issue.

Max Weber draws the contrast between Recht (law) and Convention as a matter of boycotting. The violation of a convention engenders the chance that a boycott of some kind will take place. You lose a friend, or you lose a customer. You do repair work. Etc. Certainly convention concerning Christianity, in most Western countries, requires that ministers pretend to take, say, the Pope seriously. That the force of convention was not even powerful enough to lure Rasmussen, who has put Danish soldiers at risk, to do conventional repair work reveals a certain contempt for Muslims, or at least a weakness. And that contempt is pretty close to the surface in this dispute over freedom of opinion.

Of course, this isn’t all there is to the issue. I am obviously bending over backwards, here, to see things as they are seen by a Muslim. But I am not a Muslim. I’m not a Christian either, but I was, at one point, and I’ve spent my entire life in a community dominated by Christianity. I’ve had plenty of atheist, Jewish, and Buddhist friends and acquaintances, but of the people I’ve known who come from dominant Muslim communities, almost all of them have rejected Islam. In fact, the dirtiest joke I ever heard about Muhammed came from a Turk.
Which gets us to the ritual zigzag of these things. For surely there is something admirable in the papers of Europe publishing the cartoons in solidarity with the besieged Danish paper?

Well, there is. I think that the reaction in Europe is a lot more courageous than the reaction to the Satanic Verses back in the 80s, or the reaction to Death of a Princess, the documentary that the Saudi’s pretended was an insult to Islam. But there is something odd about simply reprinting the cartoons, since the majority of the readers of these papers are going to feel the sacrilege involved at second hand, as it were. As an intellectual apprehension. Why did the papers not intersperse the Muhammed series with some cartoons about Jesus, and about Moses – with the same kind of visceral dislike? Since convention, as Weber shrewdly remarks, rests on a sort of Pavlovian visceral response, the newspapers should try to translate that visceral response into terms that really do try the limits of freedom of opinion.

This, I think, is at the root of my tendency to see this issue with much more sympathy for the rioting crowds in Damascus or wherever. There is something hollow about an iconoclasm directed towards a religion one doesn’t believe in, or have any feeling for beyond dislike. And, on another level, towards a people who believe this religion who are, almost invariably, the poor working class in Denmark, Germany, France, etc. Insulting the god of the woman who cleans your toilet doesn’t strike me as one of the great blows for freedom. That you should legally be able to do it, and be guarded from any violent consequences for doing it by the state, I take to be self-evident. But spare me the story of faux martyrdom and the braving of conventions.

P.S. Since the Philadelphia Inquirer has had the courage to publish the Muhammed cartoons, may I humbly suggest testing the freedom of speech limits with another cartoon. In this one, Jesus is shown holding a baby. Jehovah is next to him with a match. A big grill is in front of them. The Jesus character goes, you light the grill, I’ll throw on the unbaptized infants. To make it funnier, Jesus can be grasping one of those big barbecue forks.

Monday, February 06, 2006


Yes – LI was hasty, yesterday, roundly condemning this administration. Today, we have to eat our words, because the Bush administration released a budget that is obviously a highly literate satire, on the order of Dead Souls or A Modest Proposal. Just as we were attacking Bush for boldness, he comes up with this truly postmodern classic, which can be enjoyed by the whole family.

There is, for instance, the halving of the deficit, which is achieved by pretending hundreds of billions of dollars just aren’t being spent. This in itself is a terrific satiric swipe at Enron’s accounting methods, which, by being adopted wholesale by the government, are exposed in all their ridiculousness.

Then there is the 6 percent increase for the military and the 3 percent decrease for education. Let’s see, the six percent raise is, what – 10 million per terrorist? 30? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter anyway, as we all know that the war on terrorism is a wink wink job. The real battle is to get as much cash in the pockets of the defense industry as possible. And that education, so funny, so delicious. As somebody said, not long ago, we need to produce the best scientists and mathematicians to meet the challenges of the future – not! This made LI laugh until we had to change our clothes. It’s a bit of Lenny Bruce humor, a fuck you, America, but all in good fun.

Global warming? Addiction to oil? Future hurricanes? What me worry? There are priorities and then there are priorities. In the aftermath of Katrina, cutting the budget of the corps of engineers by some ten percent represents pure genius. The administration has always had a sharp eye for real time TV satire. Their version of it is to throw so much money at the wealthy that they go, literally, hog wild and do the darnedest, most unbelievable things – steal from poor Iraqis, cheat the government on defense ware for those laughable losers, the American soldier, and … and this is crème de la crème – load their own pockets as they ‘stabilize’ wages for their workers. Bye bye pensions is the motto of the kreative krewe known simply to the administration as the Pioneers. Sure, it isn’t pretty, but – just as in real tv – there are lessons to be learned among the laughs. Continuing this comedy feat and fiesta, the budget is loaded with tax breaks for the wealthy that will make your eyes water with laughter. An administration that has played one of the great practical jokes of all times – the medicare bill that forbids the government from dickering with the big pharma for lower prices, thus criminalizing efficiency – isn’t quite up to its old standard, but this budget tries in every way.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll wonder how the locust became king! Like an alternate reality, like the confederacy winning the Civil war and rammng its small bore, pathological ideas down our throat, this budget season looks to be as spicy as anything we’ve ever seen.

The best part is coming up, as “earmarks are good” Boehner and his merry men dig in.

And the way the newspapers report this thing – pulling a face as serious as Buster Keaton’s as they report one lie after another – is also a tickle.

We loved this from the NYT:

“The plan includes $50 billion for covering the cost of military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan into the next fiscal year, although administration officials said last week that requests would be submitted soon for supplemental spending for the current year for the wars and for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The budget office released a new estimate saying that the deficit for the current fiscal year would be $423 billion, a record high, up from its midyear estimate of $341 billion. The new budget projects the deficit to fall to $354 billion in the 2007 fiscal year, and to $183 billion in 2010.”

What was it that the old Cold Warriors used to say about Pravda? I think they said something about it printing government lies, and being an example of totalitarianism, and yada yada yada. My how we used to laugh when the Soviet Union would say something one day and something totally contradictory the next day, and their official newspapers would just put it out there without blinking. My that Soviet Union was a corker.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

political advise (caution, totally useless)

This is a waste of time, another useless political fantasia. But what the hell. We look like we are going to plunge into a prolonged contest in all venues between the Dems defending our civil liberties (meaning that they want to pass laws to take them away before the president does it unilaterally) and the Republicans defending our national security (can you look into the video camera, Osama? What’s the message for America again?)

Forgive me, I need some release.

The President’s newest and funniest defense of the NSA wiretappings is this: if we had had those wiretappings before 9/11, everything would have been different.

Now why doesn’t a Dem, one Dem, one little Dem, ask: how would things have been different? Would Bush have pressed the FBI? Directed the secretary of transportation to contact the airports? Done the type of things that, say, you do when you are warned that a terrorist attack is imminent?

Gee. It turns out that we were warned – or at least Bush was – that the chance was extremely high of terrorist attack. I suppose he wanted more info. Mohammed Atta’s address book. A map of New York city. Three years to think about it. After all, this is what Bush actually said about the memo he received on August 6, 2001:

"I read it and obviously was discomforted by the fact that Osama bin Laden hated America," Bush said. "But as I mentioned yesterday, we already knew that."

The farcical image of Bush as a bold leader, propagated by the press ever since we saw the real Bush, on 9/11, freeze and act with characteristic indecisiveness, is not so much political as psychopathological. It seems that the 9/11 attack hurt the country’s narcissism so deeply that we collectively -- or at least the media, on our behalf - decided that we have a bold, maybe even a reckless leader.

We don’t. We have a man with a character flaw as a leader. It isn’t a bad character flaw if, say, you are a bank teller. If you swing on a trapeze or lead a country supplied with 15,000 ICBM missiles, however, it can be deadly.

The flaw is this: Bush freezes up when meeting a crisis. We saw this plainly on 9/11. We saw this plainly with Katrina. And, I think, we saw this in the summer of 2003, when it became evident that Rumsfeld’s Iraq plan had failed and we needed new leadership if even a fifth of what Bush wanted to happen in Iraq was going to happen.

People who freeze up in crises do two things. First they lie. We know about the Katrina lies, Bush’s claim that nobody saw that the levees would bust when he had been informed 48 hours before Katrina that the levees would bust. We know about the 9/11 lies, the fight the Bush administration put up not to release the fact that Bush was informed, basically, that Al Q was ready to go soon. We know all about the lies in Iraq, from Mission Accomplished to the news about the thousand points of light in Iraq, an area in which American power is now pretty much irrelevant.

You'll notice that with Katrina, as with 9/11, Bush specifically flew away from the target area. This is a sad indication of the kind of behavior you would expect from someone who fails in crises. To use the military lingo, he doesn't have the guts to face up to these things.

The second thing people who freeze up in crises do is prolong. Having failed to address a situation at the crisis point, the person who freezes up can, by prolonging the situation, normalize it. A normalized bad situation melts the distinction between the moment of failure and all the failures that came afterward. So, for instance, it is normal for us to see Al Qaeda nesting in Pakistan, dabbling, according to the Bush people, in Iraq, blowing up a train station here, a synagogue there. It is so normal we don’t even think that Tora Bora was, uh, a fuckup, a massive fuckup, followed by the fuckup of not guarding the borders into Pakistan (lack of manpower being Rumsfeld’s m.o.), followed by the fuckup of allowing A.Q. and related Islamist groups to form a second power in Pakistan to the point where they are going to be that much harder to uproot. And of course the fuckup in Iraq, the prolongation of a pointless, pointless struggle. And the fuckup in New Orleans, the months of an emergency response that would have shamed Sri Lanka.

So, where’s the Dem to ask the simple question: okay, what would you have done with those wiretaps, Mr. President? Let’s hear it. Let’s hear the list. This ought to be good – a nice, big list of things that you do when you believe that you are in imminent danger of attack. Love to, love to hear it. Really. Take your time. Go on a vacation, perhaps, to get your bold thinking, freedom loving head around the idea.

Led by a contemptible putz who is opposed by a clueless bunch of political nitwits – America, circa 2006. Makes me feel all Walt Whitmanish inside.

ps -- surely someone will write LI to tell us that they had the famous San Diego apartment bugged -- that Bush's suggestion that they didn't is an error or a lie. Surely pursuing the minor fault relentlessly, dotting every i and beating the bushes for every bit of evidence, while letting the major fault -- the outstanding, public failures of leadership, intelligence, and responsibility -- go unquestioned, has been the whole sad pattern the past five years. I'll grant the President his buggings as a counterfactual. Again and again we swerve away from the obvious to forge our political weapons out of the esoteric. Since this has never, ever, worked, I guess the idea is: why not try the tactic one more time? Let me politely disagree, or more impolitely yell: fuck that. My idea is: hey, why don't we try to forge our weapons out of the obvious? Radical, eh?


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...