Saturday, February 18, 2006

JIF GTMO Op Enduring Freedom

We were recently attracted to an article in the Omaha World-Herald about a small businessman, Tom Hogan. Hogan, according to the paper, designed “a sort of wheelchair, … that people can be strapped into to keep them from harming themselves or others.” Hogan, a sheriff, was inspired to do this by an incident involving an intoxicated man at a jail.

He now makes these chairs and sells them for $1,200 apiece. He doesn’t have a large factory. His clients are institutions, usually. But he did ship 25 of the chairs recently to a client in Norfolk, Virginia – “the orders were marked "JIF GTMO Op Enduring Freedom."

Hogan seems like a decent kind of man:

“Under most situations, Hogan said, he doesn't consider it abuse to force-feed someone.

"If my chair is being used to save somebody's life . . . that's fine by me," he said. What concerns him, he said, is whether the feeding is done in an abusive way. "I don't want my chairs to be used to torture people." “

And so it creeps in – our Homeland decency, and our need to fight the long war. That long, beautiful war in which, what with one twist and another, we have to gradually throw off our freedoms – temporarily of course – and ditch our scruples – for a good purpose, of course – and generally become a more depraved and in every way worse country. It looks like Hogan’s chairs were found by some clever person at the Pentagon, and turned out to be just the addition needed to break a hunger strike at America’s Buchenwald in Guantanamo Bay.

Rupert Cornwall in the Independent has a nice column about Guantanamo in the light of the U.N. condemnation:

“The justifications advanced by the US authorities are now absurd. Four years on, whatever intelligence value these individuals once had has surely long since been exhausted. Many of them, it is known, were caught in the American net by accident in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sometimes handed over by rivals, for reasons that had far more to do with bounty collection than the "war on terror". Lawyers say that only 8 per cent of prisoners have been classified as al-Qa'ida fighters, and that less than half, according to Pentagon documents, have committed a "hostile act" against the US.

But we can't release them, intone Donald Rumsfeld and his minions' once freed, they would revert to doing "bad things against America". As if an extra 490 "bad guys" - assuming they are "bad guys" - would make much difference, when in Iraq alone active insurgents number at least 20,000, and when the very existence of Guantanamo Bay is among the terrorists' most potent recruiting agents.

But, in this White House, no one seems to care about that. No one seems concerned by the unanimous feeling of America's allies - let alone America's enemies - that Guantanamo should be shut down. Even by this administration's standards, Mr McClellan's contempt was remarkable. The UN report was a "discredit" to the organisation. Did it not have better things to do?”

Cornwall should look at where Bush hails from – Texas, the state with the fifth or sixth largest prison system in the world. And a prison system that, as has often been noted, self-organizes by way of rape – it being a way of breaking in those unfortunates who’ve been swept up in the often racist policing we see in Edna, or Tulia. Pliability enforced by the stronger inmates brings about a more peaceful prison, and – it being a private enterprise kind of thing – helps to guarantee recidivism – nothing like sending people out into the world with worse criminal attitudes than they had when they came in to ensure that Wackenhut does not take a hit from falling crime rates. This virtuous circle, this convergence of the public and the private, is the governing philosophy at work in D.C. at the moment.

But another day, another UN condemnation, another channel changer speech by our Secretary of War. There are two monuments to the American paralysis that goes by the name, “the war on terror:” one is the uncaptured status of Osama bin Laden; the other is the continuing employment of Donald Rumsfeld. Between the two, we have the story of the American crackup. Here’s Rumsfeld, making Bush seem, by startling contrast, almost connected to reality:

“U.S. public affairs operations tend to be "reactive rather than proactive," Rumsfeld said, operating slowly during standard working hours while "our enemies are operating 24/7 across every time zone. That is an unacceptably dangerous deficiency."
To remedy this, he called for increased communications training for military public affairs officials by drawing on private-sector expertise, noting that public affairs jobs in the military have not been "career enhancing." He also called for creating 24-hour media operations centers and "multifaceted media campaigns" using the Internet, blogs and satellite television that "will result in much less reliance on the traditional print press."

Rumsfeld criticized the U.S. media for hampering such initiatives, however. He said the press "seems to demand perfection from the government but does not apply the same standard to the enemy or even sometimes to themselves," contrasting the coverage of the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse with that of mass graves in Iraq.”

The endless, endless drivel that comes out of Rumsfeld is, as always, a source of wonder to us all.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rouze up o young men of the new age!

Lovely. The NYT doesn’t even put the condemnation of the U.S. for torture by the U.N. on the front page. It isn’t as big a deal, apparently, as the non-breakup of Times Warner. No, that the United Nations condemns the torture of the young men who, from every study done of them – the latest by the National Journal – are largely innocents sold to the Americans by villagers with a grudge in Afghanistan and kept in appalling Pit and the Pendulum conditions because the leadership of this country has fallen into the hands of a unique combination of moral idiots and feeble intellects – no, that is not news. For heavens sake, let’s not hear about reality in this world until reality drops on our heads.

Well, as Blake put it: “Rouze up O Young Men of the New Age! set your foreheads
against the ignorant Hirelings! For we have Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could, for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.”

That about sums up the syncophantic press in the age of the great Rebel-in-Chief.

Speaking of depressing mental war, we are also witness to the spectacle of Britain’s P.M., a man who should quietly have taken the message (adios! leave! go!) from the last election but has instead decided to put the stamp of his claustrophic self righteousness on the decline and fall of the Labour party ramming through a law, rejected in an access of mental clarity last year by the House of Lords, against “glorifying terrorism.” Louise Christian’s article in the Guardian makes the case against it:

“In the original draft of the terrorism bill, glorification of terrorism was a new stand-alone criminal offence. After widespread condemnation and ridicule that it would be unworkable the government did not abandon it, but tacked it on as part of another new offence of indirect encouragement of terrorism. It is part and parcel of the over-the-top government approach to legislation in this area that vague new transgressions which are not viable on their own are being stuck on to other offences to shore them up.”

And further
“We already have offences of incitement to murder, and the Terrorism Act 2000 specifically created a new offence of incitement to terrorism. Abu Hamza was prosecuted under the existing law, and it is to be hoped that the jury trying the case were rigorous about whether there was incitement, as opposed to only encouragement. If indirect encouragement is to be prosecuted as well, it is not going to be used just for those who incite but for the relatively powerless who are not inciting but making remarks which are simply foolish.
The very wide definition of terrorism espoused in legislation since the Terrorism Act 2000 means that an offence of indirect encouragement - with its glorification add on - can attach to support for all kinds of foreign resistance movements and causes, from Hamas, the democratically elected main party in Palestine, to the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe. Many of these movements are part peaceful and part engaged in violence of which one may not approve while still approving the cause.”

All of which reminds me of the quite un-Blakeian conservative, Henry Maine.
Maine is not a well known figure outside of the esoteric precincts of legal anthropology. He was a wizened Tory who, in the 1870s, contributed, along with Fitzjames Stephen, to create the intellectual structure of modern conservatism as a mixture of laissez faire and imperialism. Maine had an almost French reactionary’s distaste for democracy. The many – by which he meant the unwashed, such as moi – struck Maine as a sort of flood, washing away the monuments of civilization. But given that perspective, he was able to see truly on many points. One thing he was quite clear about: much of politics is entertainment. That isn’t a bad thing, or a good thing – it is simply characteristic of politics, and a thing that must be calculated upon when discussing political orders. So – when discussing the democratic order, one must look towards the aspect of popular entertainment in politics. One of the populace’s perennial delights is to give itself a good scare. In political terms, the political entrepreneur should always remember that the horror show, the pumped up moral panic, is one of the easiest ways to gain power, even though the power thereby gained is as precarious as the terror is ephemeral.
Maine made a point about legislation with which LI is in complete agreement: there really isn’t a need for a lot of it. This is one conservative principle that should be evoked any time congress is in session. But it never is.

“It is not often recognised how excessively rare in the world was sustained legislative activity till rather more than fifty years ago [Maine was writing in 1880], and thus sufficient attention has not been given to some characteristics of this particular mode of exercising sovereign
power, which we call Legislation. It has obviously many advantages over Revolution as an instrument of change ; while it has quite as trenchant an edge, it is milder, juster, more equable, and sometimes better considered. But. in one respect, as at present understood, it may prove to be more dangerous than revolution. Political insanity takes many forms,
and there may be some persons in some countries who look forward to " The Revolution " as implying a series of revolutions. But, on the whole, a Revolution is regarded as doing all its work at once. Legislation, however, is contemplated as never-ending. One stage of it is doubtless more or less distinctly conceived. It will not be arrested till the legislative power itself, and all kinds of authority at any time exercised by States, have been vested in the People, the Many, the great majority of the human beings making up each community. The prospect beyond that is dim, and perhaps will prove to be as fertile in disappointment
as is always the morrow of a Revolution. But doubtless the popular expectation is that, after the establishment of a Democracy, there will be as much reforming legislation as ever.”

Many, many are the laws that merely repeat laws already made – and often, in that repetition, glide over prudent restraints in the former laws, extending the power of the state insensibly – and with that spider like creep, the state comes more and more into our private lives.

The moral panic about terrorism has long been about anything but terrorism. While, of course, the terrorist group that we all know about practically has an email address in Pakistan where you can complain about your Osama bin Laden tape if it doesn’t come with the special features, terrorism as the bugbear that can prolong the horrid rule of Tony Blair, and our own Rebel in Chief has become one of the abidingly depressing features of the current political landscape. They are addicts of fright, but my sense is that the population they have successfully frightened is beginning to come out of it – and may even ask, one day, why the real, small core that is frightening is allowed to exist and flourish, while these paragons of national security attack windmills and imprison the innocent.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

the historians against the war

I’m definitely planning to attend the Empire, Resistance and War in Iraq symposium sponsored by the Historians against War at U.T. – Austin this weekend. Here’s the schedule. I’m not sure I necessarily want to see the Friday opening talk with Howard Zinn – a fine fellow, but my eye is more on the Saturday panels, especially the one on the U.S. in the Middle East. According to the site,

“As of Wednesday afternoon, February 15, on-line registration is no longer possible. To register for the conference, please come to the registration table in Sid Richardson Hall before the Friday evening event, preferably by 6:30 or earlier. If you aren’t coming to the Friday evening event but want to register for the conference, a registration table will be up in the Thompson Conference Center starting around 7:30 am Saturday. (The first Saturday panel starts at 8:30, and there will be coffee and bagels.) On-site registration is is $45 (or $30 for students or low-income/unemployed), and includes admission to the entire conference, including the Friday and Saturday night plenaries, and all the panels. It also includes a coffee break, lunch, and afternoon cookies on Saturday. (IF you only plan to come to one or both of the evening plenaries, and not attend the rest of the conference, the fee is $5 each evening, payable at the door; there is no need to register in advance.) “

I’m hoping that I can finagle admission to one or two of the panels without spending 45 dollars – a little much for this month’s budget.
Check it out if you are in Austin.

the nyt ... behind LI by merely a year

The NYT reluctantly recognizes reality.

Since the pre-election reporting from Iraq was almost wholly misleading, telling its readers that basically Allawi, Chalabi and Mahdi were the three big contenders for the prime ministerial post, the paper has slowly assumed a more realistic position. In fact, today it is catching up with LI – from January of last year. Before the election in January, 2005, this is what we said:

“The post election situation is going to show how good a games player Muqtada al- Sadr is. Sadr has staked out a position that is both anti-exile (meaning Iranian exiles, as well as American ones) and anti-occupation. If, as seems likely, the crew that comes into power after the election is distinguished by the amount of real estate they own in Southern France or the United States, and if those politicians continue to follow a compliant line with the Americans, we expect that Sadr will have a great window of opportunity. What he does with it is the question. The appeal to poor Shi’ites would seem to be the right appeal in a country with a forty to sixty percent unemployment rate.”

Interestingly, a month after the election in 2005, the NYT published perhaps its most sci fi like article about Iraq ever, even throwing in Judy Miller’s classroom lovenotes to Ahmad, with a piece by James Glanz in which, after talking to numerous upper class Iraqis, he worked himself into a lather about Basra becoming a Singapore like city state, all business and free enterprise and working with American oil companies the way Mickey Mouse worked with Walt Disney. At that time we said:

“What isn’t mentioned in Glanz’s article? Hmm, let’s start with the fact that the South is the stronghold not of a Singapore-ist faction, but of a theocratic faction. There were local elections in the South which somehow didn’t get into Glanz’s article. Pity, that. He has a nice dreamy sentence about an American friendly, free enterprising Southern Iraqi state: “Several different versions of a southern Iraqi republic have been proposed. One would include only the three or four southernmost provinces - Basra, Muthanna, Dhi Gar and Maysan” Funny, not mentioning that Sadr’s political party won the local election in Maysan, and came in second in Muthanna. Well, Sadr of course is one of those problematic characters outside the Narrative, and it is best to ignore him. Especially as he seems to have the weird idea that Americans have come to exploit Iraq instead of liberate it. How much nicer to find people who understand our way of life – so civilized! such dealmakers! Surely these are the kind of people an empire that runs on oil can rely on.

There’s a kind of rule of thumb, here. When the NYT announces something definite about Iraq – say, for instance, the announcements last year that the army had completely destroyed the insurgents in Samarra – one should expect a completely contradictory next announcement - as in, Battles in Samarra, ten dead in Samarra, etc., etc. Glanz’s article is an ill omen for poor Basra.””

Wow. I’m impressed with myself in that last line. A little intuitive leap there.
So, in a way, the NYT seeing that Sadr has played his part so that he has become, in their words, a “kingmaker” does, at least, get the NYT to the point LI was a year ago. Nice work, boys!

“Even on the issue of Iranian influence, Mr. Sadr's position is no worse from an American point of view — and may even be better — than that of his Shiite rivals who have been running the government for the last year. Although Mr. Sadr recently traveled to Tehran and cast himself as a defender of Iran, part of his popular appeal comes from his stance as a homegrown nationalist.
"Sadrists often define themselves as anti-Iranian and accuse Sciri of being Iranian stooges," said Rory Stewart, a former Coalition Provisional Authority official in Amara, a poor southern city where the Mahdi Army holds immense sway. "It's the main reason why people like them."”
Bingo! Something that could have been discovered, oh, two years ago, when the U.S. was chasing the Mahdi army around and its stooges in the U.S. were saying, bizarrely, that Sadr was an Iranian ally.
“Mr. Sadr had decided to back Mr. Jaafari after his followers met with the prime minister and presented him with a 14-point political program, said Bahaa al-Aaraji, a member of Parliament and spokesman for Mr. Sadr's movement.
"We saw that Jaafari was closer to implementing this program," Mr. Aaraji said, than Mr. Mahdi was.

The 14 demands, he said, include a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq; a postponement of any decision about creating autonomous federal regions; more action on releasing innocent detainees from Iraqi and American prisons; and a tough stand against Kurdish demands to repatriate Kurds to Kirkuk, an oil-producing city in the north.”

The question in the Iraqi war really is this: when will the Americans realize just how irrelevant they have become in Iraq, and what will they do about it?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

be... all that you can be... in the army!

Surely there should be a word for this. We have kleptocrat. We have mafia. But we need a word honed to the multiple splendors exhibited by a new species of capitalist that has flourished under our Lord the Rebel in chief. These are MBA style go getters who have everything – the networking ability, the ambition, the sense of opportunity. The only thing they don’t have is the ability to contribute a single useful idea or good to the stock of humankind. Even con artists, rightly considered, have an aesthetic status: they are sort of like walking divine judgments, prophetic sarcasms, tropes in Caddies.

But no. The Lincoln Group is something different, is generated by another station in the history of consciousness.

And so this is how the NYT article begins:

“Two years ago, Christian Bailey and Paige Craig were living in a half-renovated Washington group house, with a string of failed startup companies behind them.
Mr. Bailey, a boyish-looking Briton, and Mr. Craig, a chain-smoking former Marine sergeant, then began winning multimillion-dollar contracts with the United States military to produce propaganda in Iraq.

Now their company, Lincoln Group, works out of elegant offices along Pennsylvania Avenue and sponsors polo matches in Virginia horse country. Mr. Bailey recently bought a million-dollar Georgetown row house. Mr. Craig drives a Jaguar and shows up for interviews accompanied by his "director of security," a beefy bodyguard.”

It was inevitable, perhaps, that the fog of MBA rhetoric would eventually produce a creature made entirely of fog. The Lincoln Group is it:

“In collecting government money, Lincoln has followed a blueprint taught to Mr. Bailey by Daniel S. Peña Sr., a retired American businessman who described Mr. Bailey as a protégé.

Federal contracts in Washington can supply easy seed capital for a struggling entrepreneur, Mr. Peña says he advised a youthful Mr. Bailey in the mid-1990's when the two men started a short-lived technology company. "I told him, 'When in trouble, go to D.C.,' and the kid listened," Mr. Peña said.

Mr. Bailey defends his company's record, saying, "Lincoln Group successfully executes challenging assignments." He added that "teams are created from the best available resources."”

Yes, this is a best practices group, a sigma six group that is on time and on line with the best best practices executable in this rapidly globalizing world, using its competitive advantages to compete as its challenging assignments challenge. This is a power point ready, young and hungry company hungry to be even hungrier, helping the wind of freedom lift all boats as we tell our side of the story that is an inspiration to millions.

And then there is this. Oh for a Thackeray. Oh for a Zola. Oh for a Dreiser. Oh, even, for the young Tom Wolfe, before he was covered with fungus.

“Little in Mr. Bailey's background indicated he would end up doing propaganda work in Iraq. Born in Britain as Christian Jozefowicz, he changed his name when he graduated from Oxford University and moved to San Francisco during the late-1990's dot-com boom.

There he founded or advised several companies and plunged into the Silicon Valley social scene, according to Mr. Bailey and several friends and former business associates.

Among the companies were Express Action, a company that planned to develop an Internet service to calculate duties on overseas purchases, and Motion Power, which intended to invent a shoe that would generate its own electrical power to run portable consumer devices.

"You would have been proud had you seen this 23-year-old kid pitching, with no product, no customers, no business plan," Mr. Bailey wrote in a letter to Mr. Peña, describing how he raised $15 million from investors for Express Action.”

America! My newfound land! Yes, it is a continent of low rent Prosperos, Calibans who changed their name and attitude after the year abroad and realized that with a dynamically planned, revolutionary shoe breakthrough and growth potential potentiating in every market, with Dow 35,000 in the headlights, impossible is a word we don’t recognize. It is a go for it country, with a real estate deal on line 2 that will break your heart. And if you have to drop your electric powered shoe when you country calls to you – well, we know the mindset of sacrifice and service of the Bush culture. We respect it deeply at LI, as our readers know.

Lincoln started out helping the winds of freedom blow by devising a scheme to export Iraq’s “scrap metal.” That scheme didn’t get off the ground. Then there was the scheme to build a brickbuilding factory in Mosul. Ditto. And then, oh, the magic of the marketplace! Caliban finds the Prospero’s books:

“Eventually, Lincoln began working with the American military, which was spending millions on contractors for a broad range of services.

The firm rented a one-story house inside the Green Zone, the heavily fortified government compound in central Baghdad. Furnished with two sofas and a sheet of plywood that served as a desk, the house had a single telephone and an overloaded electrical outlet.

Lincoln formed a partnership with The Rendon Group, a Washington company with close ties to the Bush administration, and won a $5 million Pentagon contract to help inform Iraqis about the American-led effort to defeat the insurgency and form a new government.

One contract requirement was to get Iraqi publications to run articles written by the military, according to several ex-Lincoln employees.”

It is a pity that Iraqis so seem to resent this war. The 30- 100,000 dead, the air sorties that have increased now to what, 160 per week? Bitch bitch bitch. Because there is so much good news that they should be looking at. The inspiring rise of Christian Bailey and Paige Craig brings tears to my eyes, at least, and I think many Iraqis, burying their dead, in lockdown in Baghdad, Falluja, Ramadi, in the ruins of bombed out cities in Western Iraq, in Basra dodging the new religious police, they should ask themselves: haven’t we helped a new generation of Americans be all they can be? Ask not what you can do for your country, as the man said, but ask how much ($$$!) your country can do for you. Talk about idealism to inspire the generations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

“A few years ago, a coalition of 60 corporations -- including Pfizer, Hewlett-Packard and Altria -- made an expensive wager. They spent $1.6 million in lobbying fees -- a hefty amount even by recent K Street standards -- to persuade Congress to create a special low tax rate that they could apply to earnings from their foreign operations for one year.
The effort faltered at first, but eventually the bet paid off big. In late 2004, President Bush signed into law a bill that reduced the rate to 5 percent, 30 percentage points below the existing levy. More than $300 billion in foreign earnings has since poured into the United States, saving the companies roughly $100 billion in taxes.”
-- Client’s Rewards Keep K Street Lobbyists Thriving, Jeff Birnbaum, Washington Post

Manners are a political thing. The manners of the Americans in the early part of the nineteenth century were much discussed. Stendhal, in the Red and the Black somewhere, makes a casual remark about the barbarization of the people brought about by Democracy in America. And of course we have the indefatigable Fanny Trollope, who catalogued a veritable Niagara of tobacco juice spitting on her own journey to these States in The Domestic Manners of the Americans. This is her account of a typical American get together:

“The gentlemen spit, talk of elections and the price of produce, and spit again. The ladies look at each other's dresses till they know every pin by heart; talk of Parson Somebody's last sermon on the day of judgment, on Dr. T'otherbody's new pills for dyspepsia, till the "tea" is announced, when they all console themselves together for whatever they may have suffered in keeping awake, by taking more tea, coffee, hot cake and custard, hoe cake, johnny cake, waffle cake, and dodger cake, pickled peaches, and preserved cucumbers, ham, turkey, hung beef, apple sauce, and pickled oysters, than ever were prepared in any other coun- try of the known world. After this massive meal is over, they return to the drawing-room, and it always appeared to me that they remained together as long as they could bear it, and then they rise en masse, cloak, bonnet, shawl, and exit.”

And here is Ms. Trollope on a celebration that has fallen into desuetude:

“In noting the various brilliant events which diversified our residence in the western metropolis, I have omitted to mention the Birthday Ball, as it is called, a festivity which, I believe, has place on the 22nd of February, in every town and city throughout the Union. It is the anniversary of the birth of General Washington, and well deserves to be marked by the Americans as a day of jubilee.
I was really astonished at the coup d’oeil on entering, for I saw a large room filled with extremely well-dressed company, among whom were many very beautiful girls. The gentlemen also were exceedingly smart, but I had not yet been long enough in Western America not to feel startled at recognising in almost every full-dressed beau that passed me, the master or shopman that I had been used to see behind the counter, or lolling at the door of every shop in the city. The fairest and finest belles smiled and smirked on them with as much zeal and satisfaction as I ever saw bestowed on an eldest son, and I therefore could feel no doubt of their being considered as of the highest rank. Yet it must not be supposed that there is no distinction of classes: at this same ball I was looking among the many very beautiful girls I saw there for one more beautiful still, with whose lovely face I had been particularly struck at the school examination I have mentioned. I could not find her, and asked a gentleman why the beautiful Miss C. was not there.

“You do not yet understand our aristocracy,” he replied, “the family of Miss C. are mechanics.”

“But the young lady has been educated at the same school as these, whom I see here, and I know her brother has a shop in the town, quite as large, and apparently as prosperous, as those belonging to any of these young men. What is the difference?”
“He is a mechanic; he assists in making the articles he sells; the others call themselves merchants.’”

These travelers, and the Americans themselves, knew that the political system pervades the system of manners – the cultural system.

And so, as democracy has been replaced by plutarchy in the U.S., manners change accordingly. Cheney’s hunting accident on Ms. Armstrong’s ranch was interesting, beyond its humorous aspect, for the door it opens to the aura of entitlement that Cheney and Bush bring not just to the operations of the executive branch, but to their domestic life, as it were, their ecological, stock option padded niche. The same entitlement that would manage, in broad daylight, the theft of one hundred billion dollars (to be paid for by cutting the amount this republic is going to put out for today’s descendents of Trollope’s mechanics), demands every servility in the private sphere from their lessers – the waiters at the restaurants, the factotums that run their errands, the drivers and maids and police, the latter in the cleaning business too -- cleaning up embarrassing messes. Happy to talk to aides sent out to lay down the real law. Plutarchy requires that the plebes take pride in obeying, in eating the VP's shit, in being told at a time and place of Cheney’s convenience what happened to Whittington, as if it was their business; immediately, of course, ending any investigation and going home with that touched by greatness glow. The servility from the press is in line with the usual servility they get from the press.

I was interested, though, in Katharine Armstrong. The woman who owned the ranch.
According to the invaluable Whitehouseforsale site, Armstrong’s parents are deeply connected to the Republican establishment in Texas. Her father, Tobin, is one of the owner’s of the King Ranch (and an ancestor of his captured John Wesley Hardin). Her mother, Anne:

“… served as: a close advisor to President Nixon; President Ford’s British Ambassador; and approved covert actions on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Reagan. A veteran of blue-chip corporate boards, Anne Armstrong was a Halliburton director when that corporation hired Cheney. She is Kay Bailey Hutchison’s best friend, having helped launch the senator’s career as Republican National Committee co-chair in 1971.”

The site’s bio of Katherine is instructive:

“Warren Idsal and Katharine Armstrong both worked for major investment firms at the time of their 1982 wedding, with the Paine Webber (see Joseph Grano) groom marrying a Smith Barney bride. During the 2000 Bush campaign the then-married couple still romantically shared a common Pioneer tracking number. Katharine is the daughter of Pioneer Tobin Armstrong, an heir to the fabled Armstrong and King Ranch fortunes. Her mother, Anne Armstrong, who is Kay Bailey Hutchison’s best friend, helped launch the senator’s career as Republican National Committee co-chair in 1971. As Texas Treasurer in the early 1990s, Kay Bailey Hutchison returned the favor by hiring Armstrong’s son-in-law, Warren Idsal, as a top aide. But Hutchison fired him after a short tenure. Warren Idsal also was an executive at health and life insurer United Insurance Companies (UICI) for several years in the late 1990s. Then-Governor George W. Bush appointed Katharine Idsal to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 1999. The Idsals divorced and Katharine reclaimed her maiden name after Bush’s gubernatorial successor appointed Katharine chair of the commission. This heir apparent to the Armstrong Ranch resigned her state post in 2003, citing her need to make a living for her three children. Armstrong cited lobbying as one possible career move.”

And there is her by now famous account of the accident:

“Armstrong said she was sitting in a vehicle and watched as Cheney, Whittington and another hunter spotted a covey of quails. Whittington shot a bird and left to look for it as Cheney and the other hunter located a second covey and walked ahead of Whittington to take their shots.

At that point, Whittington "came up from behind the vice president and the other hunter and didn't signal them or indicate to them or announce himself," Armstrong told Associated Press in an interview.

"The vice president didn't see him," she said. "The covey flushed and the vice president picked out a bird and was following it and shot. And by God, Harry was in the line of fire and got peppered pretty good."”

This bio makes me dream of the domestic manners of the rich. In particular, Armstrong reminds me of Alysse, the monster in Susanna Moore’s wonderful novel, The Whiteness of Bones. The heroine in that novel, Mamie, who has been raised in an upper class but eccentric Hawaiian family, flees her last semester of college to go to stay with her aunt Alysse, who she barely knows, in New York. Of Alysse one of the first things we are told is “you might have the saturation bombing of small, neutral countries or made your fortune selling missiles to an African government or, on a less dramatic level, you might enjoy having sexual congress with persons no longer living, but if you could hold your own at one of Alysse’s dinners, and by that is not meant anything so elementary as knowing what fork to use, you became a dear friend.” Mamie becomes a dear niece, and is instructed in the arts of being a rich wife, ex-wife, socialite when Alysse has time and is tipsy enough. The world of the book is the seventies, when Babe Paley was still queen.

There are some nice lunches. Alysse, of course, adores lunches, and at one of them Mamie catches the way Alysse and one of friends (the heiress to all the high heels in Brazil) look around one of their restaurants after a lunch in which the friend had explained all about being raped by her guides in Morocco (“I wasn’t able to screw for weeks afterwards”) and Allyse had explained about Lady Studd, a skinny woman who is eating up her companion’s lunch at a table near them (“Oh, she’ll be home in an hour vomiting”):

“… the two older women, pleased with the world, gazed contentedly around the room. They did everything but lick their paws and velvet muzzles. People were finishing lunch and standing to say goodbye, and there were blown kisses and pantomimed promises to telephone and soon meet. The women held their eyes open very, very wide, which gave them a startled, slightly insane expression, as if they were feigning extreme interest in something that bored them very much, and the men had a benign, sated look, as they took out their cigars for a quiet smoke on the drive downtown, more than delighted to leave all the fuss and exaggeration and exclamation to the animated women. The men were there as angels, as theatrical investors: the show that day simply being “lunch.””

This society crowned itself when Reagan became president – or, as I like to think of it, when the locust became king. Not that I would put Katharine Armstrong entirely in Alysse’s category: Texas wealth, especially old Texas ranch wealth, is a distinct culture. It might love Cheney, but he is not of them. And of course there is his wife.

ps - after I wrote this, it occured to me that I was not applying the simplest rule in journalism. When a politician does something weird in his private life, cherchez la femme. Surely some inquisitive reporter should check the guest list -- and, if he can find them, the licence plates -- of Armstrong's little party. There's a great chance of extracting our Elmer Fudd's sugarplum. Not that any paper would publish that.

on the recent snowe

LI received a letter about the great Frosty dump from our correspondent, T., in NYC:

"The snow? Well, it was lovely; Sunday morning in particular - just lovely and quiet under a grey sky; everything moving slowly and fluidly; all the sliding rather than the usual striding. Tonight the streets and sidewalks are clear, but there is a nice ambient light through the window: streetlights reflceted in snow. But for me the charming aspects of the atmosphere are lost once the snow falls from the trees - already gone. Tonight is more about the 'hangover' of the snowstorm: crunching salt under foot and street corners deluged with slush and hardpacked billets of once snow now ice (perhaps the Eskimos have a word for that last awkward construct).

What is that loveliness that transpires in this city during a strike, a blackout, a snowstorm or the blowing-up of buildings? Well, probaly no such loveliness to a garbage strike, but I've never experienced one, so..... Perhaps it is a sudden realization of the scale of this place - perhaps some assurance that IT can be stopped, if only momentarialy; a reassurance that one is not merely grist for the wheel. Perhaps also it is a warm feeling of home, this is where I live. I remember clearly conversations with other transplants like myself in the months after 9/11/01 - those who wanted to "get out", it was all too much. Many of them did leave. Me? My want to stay was stronger: this is my place.

There is a strange formula that is thrown about in the news and in conversation: that it costs the city about $1 mil per inch of snow: so neat, so tidy. There are things to like about Mayor Billionaire, but when he assures the citizenry that Dept of Sanitation workers are pulling 12 hour shifts trying to clear the streets of snow, I think: do I really want to walk the streets when a guy is in the later part of a 12 hour shift, behind the wheel of a three ton truck with a four foot tall plow affixed to the front? No, I look both ways when crossing the street.

You know, I'm a Wisco kid so most of all of that is ado of nothing."

Monday, February 13, 2006

i fought the war, I fought the war but the war won

First, go here. If you have a slow computer, go elsewhere, and wait fifteen minutes while the Quicktime downloads. this little song and the three minute video with the cheap effects says everything I’ve been trying to say on this blog for a year. Better.

2. This, from the NYT business section:
Iraq War’s Virtues May Be Debatable. The Profits Aren’t.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush called for the nation to back the war in Iraq and to "stand behind the American military in this vital mission."

No matter how one feels about this particular conflict, war always has winners and losers — on both sides. There's the human toll, of course, which Mr. Bush acknowledged. Whether democracy and freedom will, over all, be winners, only history will divulge.

But some indisputable winners are clear now: military contractors. Suppose an investor were endowed with that golden instinct for spotting bargains and bought 100 shares of each of the top six military contractors at their lows of the last six years — lows reached by four of them in March 2000, before the election, before Sept. 11 and before any hint of war. That basket of shares would have cost $12,731.50. On Friday, it would have been worth three and a half times that: $44,417.
In the table the NYT lists the top military companies:

Boeing, 2.6 billion dollars profit, up 37.4% from 2004
Lockheed Martin, 1.8 billion dollars profit, up 44.2 % from 2004
General Dynamics, 1.5 billion, +19.1%
Northrup Grummen, 1.2 billion, +29.2 %

3. There is a mysterious type of music. It is hard to make, although it seems easy to make. It requires a lot of noise. It sends me into nihilistic rapture. Listening to this music, I both want to commit suicide and want to commit suicide again – which, in an odd way, makes the music life affirming. After all, you have to be alive to enjoy your own suicide.

4. Given my exhaustion with the world at the moment – do I live in some richer version of Idi Amin’s Uganda? Do I live in the Monster hospital? As the world is made visibly worse to feed the insatiable greed of upper class gangbangers, and as we tilt towards the environmental terra incognita of a planet without ice (enjoy these storms, Northeasterners), is there any justification for any of it? The laughable freedom. The on the road and through the ozone layer lifestyle. And the brute fact that a thing, a state, is spending as much money on war every year as was generated by the entire world in 1890. I think this song gets that across. We live both in hell and paradise at the same time. But as hell’s upper echelons direct things, year after year, paradise is disappearing before our eyes. If only… if only I were a genetic engineer, and were able to develop a bacteria that I could slip to the stockholders of the largest military companies. This bacteria wouldn’t hurt them. It would just make everything they smoked, drank and ate taste like human blood. My own little chanson de Maldoror.

5. I used to be in a band. In Santa Fe, in the early nineties. My roommate Melanie and I found a sultry sexpot, S., with a raspy, little girl voice. Mel taught her lover to pound the drums – we all loved pounding the drums. Mel was the only real musician, and had been in several punk bands. Me, I wrote the lyrics and did the styling of the songs with Mel, who played guitar. Our band played in clubs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe until Mel wanted to go to a bigger scene: Chicago. Myself, I didn’t want to commit myself that much. I wanted to go to NYC.

So Mel, if you ever come across this silly blog, check Metric out, man! This is just what we envisioned – as dark as classic NIN (which I wanted back then -- not realizing Trent Reznor was going to become a therapy groupy) with just a hint of that underlying Breeders’ sweetness. Sorry it didn't happen.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Our man Jafari.

Well, with the news that the Shiites are going to re-nominate Ibrahim Jafari as prime minister, the major American media have scored a perfect zero in interpreting the Iraqi elections: first, by telling us that Allawi and Chalabi were major contenders for the office (before the election), then by touting Abdul Mahdi, Sciri’s candidate and incidentally (oh, this flooded love into the hearts of the WAPO and NYT editorialists) a strong advocate of privatizing Iraq’s oil industry.

LI is better at interpreting the American media than outcomes in Iraq, but even we saw that the buildup to the elections, as seen through the prism of American journalism-speak, was so full of false premises that it was laughable. One of the things we laughed about then was a poll commissioned from Oxford Research by the BBC and ABC. That poll showed Allawi as one of the most popular politicians in Iraq. At the time, we remarked that the poll seemed so skewed that it had to have heavily sampled the rather small middle and upper class, and simply ignored the too dangerous to poll Iraqi working class. In the event, that proved correct. But though a poll that predicted, for instance, that Kerry would win with 60 percent of the vote in 2004 would become a laughingstock, the BBC poll will undoubtedly be used over and over again in the states. And there will be no questioning of the policy of writing more about Chalabi than about any other Iraqi politician, despite the fact that he has a constituency of about 0.1 percent in Iraq, largely made up of journalists and stringers for the Times. As for Jafari, the man who will represent the reason that the next two thousand Americans will die, the next 10,000 will be crippled, and the next 20 thousand or so Iraqis will be killed (collateral casualties, that. But sometimes, I do like to remember those freedom loving Iraqis we are doing so much to help), I’d predict a number of rehashing articles that tell little about the man, and then some fastening on some American friendly face. I would imagine that a mere five percent or less of the American population knows about the guy. Many would be surprised that his party not only helped invent suicide bombing in the Middle East, but were involved in setting off explosions in the American embassy in Kuwait and were supportive, and may be involved with, the destruction of the Beirut embassy in 1983. It would immediately occur to Americans, if they knew this, that the governing class in this country is fucked up. So they will never know this.

The media, after all, has a responsibility to keep Americans from knowing that the governing class is fucked up. Isn’t that the motto of the American Society of Journalists or something?

surely thou art the great God...

LI has been reading James Mill’s History of India. James Mill is known to most of us as the Gradgrind who brought up his boy, John Stuart, on a migrainous diet of Greek and Bentham. But of course Mill was a high clerk in the headquarters of the East India Company. His History is famous for its systematic contempt for its subject – to Mill, the whole problem with India was to root out any veneration for its civilization expressed during the 18th century Then one could set about the task of Anglicizing the natives, while rationalizing their laws. Mill’s History is one of the classic moments in the history of the imperial effect.

It’s an audacious book. Mill’s preface is full throated confession that the author had neither seen India nor is conversant with any of its languages. But, he argues – prefiguring the argument that runs through the whole book – it isn’t as if anything important would be gained by assimilating the native’s knowledge of the place, considering the worth of that knowledge and the relatively mean cultural level of even the most glorious native. Everything worth knowing about India can be gained from European books about the place, and in better order too.

Anyway, I’ve been reading Mill’s account of the Hindu religion. It’s rather funny, since he so disapproves. But it has some nice, 18th century features. For instance, Mill accounts for monotheism in terms of the dialectic of flattery. Because the rude mechanical figures that the gods are as he is, he at first showers them with adulation and flattery, just as he’d like to be flattered. But flattery repeated falls short. Other, more violent excitements and endearments have to be added to the mix to move the gods. Eventually, one settles on a god and begins to prune the tree of other deities, as those deities take something away from the splendor of the deity to which you’ve dedicated yourself. Eventually you simply demote the deities wholesale, and presto-chango you have one god and a whole roomful of metaphysics. This is not quite the psychology one would expect from a utilitarian.

Interesting. But this is what I want to excerpt. It is a fable that I like, even though I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ story of the goldfish, too:

“At the close of the last calpa, there was a general destruction, occasioned by the sleep of Brahma; his creatures in different worlds being drowned in a vast ocean. The strong demon Hagyagriva came near him and stole the Vedas, which had flowed from his lips. When the preserver of the universe discovered this deed, he took the shape of a minute fish, called sap'hari. A holy king named Satyavrata then reigned. One day, as he was making a libation in the river Critamala, the little fish said to him, How canst thou leave me in this river water, when I am too weak to resist the monsters of the stream who fill me with dread? Satyavrata placed it under his protection in a small vase full of water; but in a single night its bulk was so increased, that it could not be contained in the jar, and thus again addressed the prince: I am not pleased with living in this little vase; make me a large mansion where I may dwell in comfort. The king successively placed it in a cistern, in a pool, and in a lake, for each of which it speedily grew too large, and supplicated for a more spacious place of abode; after which he threw it into the sea, when the fish again addressed him: Here the horned sharks and other monsters of great strength will devour me; thou shouldest not, O valiant man, leave me in this ocean. Thus repeatedly deluded by the fish, who had addressed him with gentle words, the king said, Who art thou that beguilest me in that assumed shape. Never before have I seen or heard of so prodigious an inhabitant of the waters, who like thee has filled up, in a single day, a lake 100 leagues in circumference. Surely thou art the great God whose dwelling was on the waves.”

That little fish reminds me of the transformations of my own obsessions. They, too, first appear as little threatened things. And I coddle them. I fish them out of dangerous places and put them in protective places. And they grow. It isn’t their fault they grow – it is what obsession is supposed to do. And I put them in larger containers: I put them in a crush, I put them in a notebook, I put them in the plan for a novel, I put them in a social life, I put them in a move to a new city, I protect them and protect them. And then I look and see and lo: my obsessions have filled up twenty years or more. My so called life.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...