Friday, June 16, 2006

the power of bazooka

There are the business stories that horrify; the business stories that make you despair; and then, every once in a while, business stories that make you think that there are few ticks left in the old capitalist heart.

Of the last is this story in the New Yorker about Topps, the bubble gum company that sells Bazooka bubble gum: “Last fall, a couple of candy men took a lunchtime stroll around South Street Seaport. The younger of the two was Paul Cherrie, a confectioner who had recently tripled the sales of Dubble Bubble and sold the company to Tootsie Roll Industries for a hundred and ninety-seven million dollars. The older man was Arthur Shorin, the chairman of Topps, which in 1947 created the iconic bubble gum Bazooka. "I am a bubble-gum maven," Cherrie said recently. "You can't help but be in awe of Mr. Shorin. There's only a few of him left."

They were wandering through the Seaport, eating hot dogs, when Shorin turned to Cherrie and said, "You know how good this thing could be." Cherrie knew that he was talking about Bazooka. Once Topps's prize product, the brand had lost its cachet. Cherrie responded, "Mr. Shorin, not only do I know it but I have been coveting this brand my whole career. Nobody understands the power of Bazooka better than I do."”

The power of Bazooka. Cold War culture was, also, children’s culture. It was only after WWII that it became the norm to finish high school. And all the technology build up was coming on line in the 50s, after being frozen out in the 30s and being shoved aside for military tech in the forties. TVs, the household appliance house, the drugs. The infinitely fine threads between world wide political struggle and millions of kiddies, with the intermediaries, the world historical myths, being superheros. The atom bomb was kiddified into atom balls, those little hot red balls of sugar; and the dogfaced GI’s weapon of choice, at least in the movies, the bazooka – that bizarre name – was kiddified into a bubble gum comic figure. But the kiddies knew they came from a scary world, no matter what they put in their mouths. Randall Jarrell's poem was the lullaby in their bloodstream, and many grew up to find, in Vietnam, that the lullaby was God's truth:

"From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

LI doesn’t totally understand the power of Bazooka, but we understand Cherrie. Obviously, the man has something all too rare in the business field: respect. Lack of respect is inscribed in the bones and knitting of the current age of the CEO. The top management is trained to have no respect from day one at business school. They aspire to the morals of a rabid dog, and the time horizon of a car accident victim. The economy they are building reflects those salient qualities.

“So Joe, who began life fifty-three years ago as a crewcut boy with an eye patch, sprouted a few inches. His blond hair grew out and became fashionably tousled. He kept the eye patch but started wearing his cap backward. To keep him company, Topps artists developed five new sidekicks, including an excitable German named Wolfgang Spreckels. "We want Joe to be beyond this Americancentric guy," Cherrie said. "We have aspirations for him to find his way across the world. What better way to accomplish that than with an exchange student?"

Another of Joe's new pals is Casey McGavin, a tomboy. She likes bleacher seats and watching "SportsCenter." DJ Change, who wears headphones around his neck, is a slouchy music snob. ("You've gotta have somebody who's into the tunes," Cherrie said.) Cindy Lewis is an environmentalist. She likes to hike and volunteer, and she hangs out at the farmers' market. Cherrie said, "A lot of little kids are like this.

"Approximately thirteen per cent of the American population is African-American," he went on. "We'd be foolish to ignore it. But we didn't want to have some stereotypical urban black kid." So Topps created Kevin Griffin, a science geek who travels with an iguana on his shoulder. The only old friend Joe was allowed to keep was Mort, with his spiked hair and trademark turtleneck pulled up over his mouth. "Mort is Kramer for kids," Cherrie said.”

LI finds few news stories, nowadays, that don’t point to the heat death of the civilization and a blankness as of death creeping over the culture. That’s because LI is a bit of a depressed putz. But this story cheered us up: a infinitesimal progress in the kid kulture. Bazooka Joe for a better tomorrow.


There’s a nice review of “Argentina rebels” in Le Monde today.

Raimbeau et Daniel Hérard. Alternatives, 144 pages, 20 €.

Raimbeau and Herard were in Argentina when the economy suddenly collapsed in 2000, and they watched as people simply took over factories, stores, and private property of the rich and the worthless and re-started the economy. A heartening story – and who knows? Since hyper-Peronism is in the saddle in these here states, we might have to be picking up the pieces in much the same way – rummaging in the fallen columns of the investment bank impact trail.

“If you loved the film, you will adore the book. The documentary, “memoirs of a sacking” by Fernando Solanas has planted the décor of the Argentine crises: the pillage of wealth in the wake of the wave of privatizations launched by peronist president Carlos Menem in the 90s, the impotence of his successor, Radical party president Fernando de la Rua to close the gates, then the economic collapse, followed by the moratorium on foreign debt in December, 2001.”
The merit of the book by Cecile Raimbeau and photographer Daniel Hérard is to recollect that period’s effervescence, and to describe the forms of social innovation put in place against the bankruptcies and closing of enterprises, the dizzing augmentation of unemployment and the fall into poverty of a population used to enjoying a level of life superior to the Latin American average.
Argentine rebelle presents the typology of forms of experimental struggle, from the demonstrations of pot bangers to the putting back into functioning closed enterprises or public services thanks to cooperation and other forms of autogestion, going though barter on a national level.

Facing a crisis of traditional political representation, neighborhood assemblies became the place of deliberation and mutual aid. The extension of barter and the blocking of bank accounts entrained the apparition of parallel currencies. The taking over of elementary needs, like transportaton or the distribution of water, the more or less fraudulent failure of a ceramics factory or a hotel, brought about forms of popular organization and transformed the participants.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Beinart again

Jonathan Swartz has been doing a nice job of slice and dice exegesis on Peter Beinart’s claim, made in an interview with Kevin Drum, that

“Jihadism sits at the center of a series of globalization-related threats, including global warming, pandemics, and financial contagion, which are powered by globalization-related technologies, and all of which threaten the United States more than other countries.”

Schwarz’s pithy summary of this farrago is: “Peter Beinart Finally Achieves 100% Gibberish.”

From a logical point of view, Schwartz is right. However, there is more going on here than logic.

Beinart and the court D.C. set are not completely crazy to have decided to make jihadism the object of a ‘long war.’ First, however, one has to say that logically, this is one of the funnier isms ever – consider that it fits into a series including prayerism, meditationism, and reflexionism, or, ratcheting up the fiercesomeness, Iron Johnism (from the 90s male liberation movement). I imagine that at this assembly of apocalyptic movements our readership is already trembling like tapioca in an earthquake. But for those who can keep their teeth from chattering, you will notice that the main threat posed by this series is that each encloses its acolytes in such time consuming practice that it takes away from quality time better devoted to sexual congress. That’s about it, as far as the threat level goes. These aren’t even first person shooter games.

Politically, however, there is some subgenius thing going on. The cold war is obviously so hardwired into the D.C. mindset that the nineties, our glimpse of a world without a long war, caused actual physical agony among the think tanks – daylight seeped through the windows of the New American century, the Heritage Foundation, the Brooks Brothers Institute, the Psychotic Robotrons for a Stronger America Institute and other well funded and well staffed booby hatches, and many vampires, reportedly, died. To this day, it is said, Richard Perle has scars on his body.

But never let it be said that these low lights and paragons of political science were not thinking hard about strategy, geo-politics, the state of exception, tactical warfare, and the sweet taste of nymphette blood on a full moon night.

The problem with the Cold War, in a nutshell, was that the enemy actually had a few very attractive notions up its sleeve. Like the social welfare state. Like social and economic justice. Like equality. Like public investment. And the response in the West, up until the social welfare states were entrenched, was to compete partly by diluting the bloody capitalist order to accommodate the social welfare state. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement just didn’t coincide in time – they operated in the same political continuum. At the time, this was openly acknowledged. The investment made, for instance, in science education in the U.S. after 1957 was attributed directly to the Sputnik scare.

Hence, the genius of a long war on a non-existent enemy whose program is almost completely repulsive, insofar as you simply make it up on the spot of various exotic and repulsive items. Double bonus -- you can then justify the most repulsive behavior on the part of the anti-Jihadist forces -- razing Fallujah, say -- by claiming that these jihadists must be fought without moral compunction.

Jihadism isn’t even a Wahabi form of Islam – the closest thing to it that I can imagine is the Taliban in Afghanistan. The idea that the long war is on varieties of the Taliban (while, of course, the U.S.’s great ally in the Middle East remains Saudi Arabia and we spoonfeed billions to the Pakistani government that created the Taliban and, according to the current Afghan government, still sustains it) is, from the vampiric view of the defense industries, simply stunning – it is thinking out of the box, as the vampires like to say, with a chuckle – oh, they know about those long boxes in which the Peter Beinart types like to lie around, during the day. In one brilliant flash, it justifies pouring hundreds of billions into defense industries, allows for a prospective infinity of debates, white papers, meetings, and high level appointments, and undermines any metric of success. It is as if the U.S. declared itself rigidly, passionately, and completely committed to hunting unicorns.

Thus, the perfect war, in which the profit going to the plutocrats would not have to be balanced in any way by any act of economic justice to tame the potentially restive masses. And icing on the cake is the whole new world of executive branch mercenaries, the synthesis of ‘private military forces’ and the volunteer army, with no congressional restraint upon their deployment anywhere, at any time. This is Beinart's Utopia: Bushism forever.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

“It is a very kingly, honourable, and frequent Practice, when one Prince desires the Assistance of another to secure him against an Invasion, that the Assistant, when he hath driven out the Invader, should seize on the Dominions himself, and kill, imprison or banish the Prince he came to relieve. Alliance by Blood or Marriage, is a frequent Cause of War between Princes; and the nearer the Kindred is, the greater is their Disposition to quarrel: Poor Nations are hungry, and rich Nations are proud; and Pride and Hunger will ever be at variance. For those Reasons, the Trade of a Soldier is held the most honourable of all others: Because a Soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill in cold Blood as many of his own Species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.” – Jonathan Swift

Surprise. For three years, the media salivates about killing people – the recent flurry of stories glorying in the fact that the bomb that eviscerated Zarqawi did leave him a number of hours of pain to give us bystanders that extra soupcon of pleasure, provides us with a recent example. And then we have a ‘volunteer army’ – which means, really, one half composed of shanghai-ed National Guard, who are properly supposed to serve only domestically, sent overseas in order to avoid disturbing the jammy comfort level of the people back home who are reveling in their high gas prices, their stagnant wages, and voting for their tax cuts. These kidnapped troops are being cycled and recycled through the killing fields, with the usual high rate of injury, and the mental terror of themselves having to kill Iraqis, since to kill always puts a dark spot on the brain; killing comes back, in dreams, in sudden starts, riding down the street in a car, arguing with the wife or the husband or the son or daughter. And of course the price is paid ten times over by the Iraqis themselves. So the mix has been made, we’ve all danced to the music, and just like the old Vietnam days, crime is starting to rise. Wow, is that a surprise?

No, it isn’t even a consideration. WAPO, giving us the figures, isn’t deigning to match the rise in crime in the Midwest with the figures showing the majority of recruits are coming from the Midwest. Nor are they going to attribute the rise in crime to anything like the bloodthirsty culture they indulge in, editorially, day in and day out. So it is just a big, big coincidence that the end of the Cold War marks the downturn in crime – from 1991 – and the beginning of the mock war on jihadism marks an upturn in crime.

“The rise in violent offenses nationally represents the largest overall crime increase since 1991. Violent crime peaked in 1992, before beginning to plummet to its lowest levels in three decades.”

One hears the old suburbanite complaint in the background here. Can this be? Can’t American turn our jails into more permanent hellholes? Can’t Americans encourage more prison rape, longer sentences for ever more absurd offences, and – most of all –the march of black men in particular through those slaughterhouses, allowing the good citizen to vicariously and deftly strip these men of their civil rights, inheritors of a history of being boggled, chained, and lynched from American times immemorial of glorious freedom lovin’ history? Which history spills out into Iraq, where again, dark skinned men are the target of opportunity. But there is always a price to pay for killing as many of your species as possible. There are echoes and reverberations. There is the moral plague that is carried home.

“Criminal justice experts said there were a number of possible explanations for the increase, including an influx of gangs into medium-size cities and a predicted surge in the number of inmates released from U.S. prisons. The jump could also represent a lingering effect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, some experts said, because governments at all levels have diverted resources away from traditional crime fighting in favor of anti-terrorism and homeland security programs.

"One possibility for the rise overall that we will want to watch is whether the shifting of law enforcement priorities to various kinds of homeland security duties accounts for any of this," said David A. Harris, a University of Toledo law professor who studies homeland security and criminal justice issues.”

We’ve searched our damn archives for the post – alas, we haven’t found it – in which LI cawed prophetically about the rise in crime that would inevitably follow war in Iraq. Nobody is going to connect those dots, though.

In fact, the media, feeling awful bad that it even reported on the massacre at Haditha – and in some articles hinted that the techniques used there were perfected in Falluja, that war crime of blessed memory - has decided to go along with the Bush publicity offensive of the moment. Thus, we are being served the rewarmed, optimistic pablum of 2003 all over again. LI wonders when the choking point is finally, finally going to come.

Instead of Harris, LI has consulted another expert on homeland security and justice issues – the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah wrote:

And say, Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that
sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and
thy people that enter in by these gates:

Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness,
and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and
do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless,
nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.

For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of
David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants,
and his people.

But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith
the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.

Monday, June 12, 2006

on the schmitt fest

Long Sunday is hosting another symposium, this one on Carl Schmitt. We found the last symposium on Gayatri Spivak thought provoking – but our own preoccupations at the moment don’t jibe with Schmitt. We are bored with Schmitt talk. We disagree with the motivation for it – that is, that there is a philosophy behind the fascist state like there is behind the communist state. While Mussolini actually had your usual pundit-philosophical mind and liked people to see the collected works of Nietzsche in his office, he operated on the hop; as for Hitler, fascism in Germany was a matter of the continuation of institutional changes, for instance Van Seeckt’s in the military, combined with the reinflation caused by military keynesianism. The institutional innovations really did have a future – and then of course there was the mad streetdog stew of bigotries.

The funny thing about Heidegger applying, basically, for the job of National Socialistic philosopher is how incomprehensible his gibberish must have seemed, next to the flow of clear spring water coming out of Alfred Rosenberg. Such simplicity! Decadence comes from the Jews. Strength is good. A leader is good. A strong leader is gooder and gooder. Etc. Save for the pathological aggression and the (by this time) eccentric version of social Darwinism transposed to ‘races’, this is the kind of pap that would pass for common sense at any chamber of commerce meeting in Sinclair Lewis’ America. The job Heidegger applied for, in other words, was much better filled by dropout.

This, at least, is how we see that history. Nor do we see Schmittian themes as especially pertinent in America or Europe at the moment. Schmitt’s political philosophy actually seems more suited to another moment in German history: the beginning of the West German government. In that moment, a nation in which the bureaucracy and court system were still full of former Nazis did need a philosophical justification that went beyond the expediency of defeat. And that was the Schmittian moment, if there ever was one.

Now of course, all of this all might just come down to our idiosyncratic blindness to Schmitt’s je ne sais quoi.

Anyway, one of Schmitt’s mentors does interest us more and more – Georg Simmel. Institutions were the genius of the Nazi state; the institutionalization of war was its legacy to the post WWII world. We were reading Simmel the other day about war and socialization. Simmel was, like many a German intellectual, swept up in the war fervor of 1914. His pupil Ernst Bloch was shocked by Simmel’s idea that the war would lead to cultural elevation, and broke with him. Simmel wrote to Weber that Lukacs didn’t get it – a slight Lukacs, who indeed didn’t and also broke with the Webers over the war, resented.

Simmel gave a talk in 1916 in Vienna (surely the object of some derisive gloss by Kraus in the Fackel) in which he lays out his critique of modernity and his speculation that war, war, war is the answer. The critique of modernity derives from his analysis in the Philosophy of Money. Here it is in extremely compressed form:

“Thus every attitude that it is desirable to cultivate is bound to the form of a end and a means. But this But this attitude is split into countless partial orientations. Life is composed out of actions and productivitiess, for which a unified direction is recognizable, or even exists. only partially.”

Simmel, like Marx, was impressed by the new social distances capitalism created – the distance between the making of the product and the consumer, for instance. These distances were ingrained in the habits and impressions of everyday life. It is as if that life absorbed a huge omission – the omission of the actual means of production –in its everyday consciousness. In this way, real life moves closer to the movie and the movie to the mall, insofar as movies are enacted around the props of opulence that come from somewhere elsewhere – that are the givens -- and the department stores were a staging of those props for the movie goer. The way life is conducted in a movie becomes the ideal for conducting life. At least, this is one way of understanding Simmel’s view of the peculiar character of alienated modernity. Here is a world in which final goals, or the ends of man, were hidden behind the middle elements of the series of means to those goals. Most notably, of course, that middle series is governed by money. The crisis of culture comes about as the individual falls behind the structures he – or at least Man, der Mensch, the Paul Bunyan of German philosophy – has created. In a telling phrase, Simmel writes:

“The total hastiness, the exterior greediness and search for enjoyment of this age are only consequences and reaction phenomena, because the personal values are sought on a level in which they simply don’t exist: that technical progress without anything else is valued as cultural progress, that in the mental doman the methods often are valued as something holy and more important that the substantial results, that the will to money leaves the things, of which it is the means of payment, far behind it; this all proves the gradual submersion of ends and goals through means and ways.”

(Sorry if those semi-colons lead us on a bit of a wild goose chase – Simmel is a weird writer to translate).

Into this world comes the war. So, what does war do? Well, war has an odd authenticity, according to Simmel. In war, the inverted world rights itself – once again we can properly sort the means and the ends out. Modernity’s ripped soul – its ability to add book to book and technique to technique in a growing network of means, and the consequence obsolescence of ends -- is overcome in battle. He even makes this odd claim – although not so odd for anyone who has seen a Hollywood war film in the past couple of decades:

"War seems to shrink that rip [in modern culture] from two sides. Behind the soldier sinks the whole apparatus of culture, not only because he must actually dispense with it, but instead because the sense and challenge of existence in war relies on a performance, the moral consciousness [Wertbewusstsein] of which does not first take a detour through objects.

His force and morale, skill and endurance are immediately authenticated as the values of his existence, and obviously the ‘war machine’ has a whole other, and infinitely more living relationship to what he serves than the machinery of the factory."

Simmel’s claims have been routinized in the U.S. He could be writing ad copy for the Army, or commenting on the scene in Full Metal Jacket where it is explained that the rifle is your wife. This utopia of immediate ends and authentic objects should be put in context, however. Simmel’s idea that the ends of man could be found in the trenches was founded on a hopelessly out of date image of war. In last fall’s War in History there is a passage in Matthias Strohn’s essay on von Seeckt that makes the class coordinates of German military formation clear. The drivers for the Germans were, pari passu, the drivers that were in place in the remaking of the post-Vietnam American army:

“However, Seeckt drew different lessons from the war. In his campaigns he had seen that small, well-trained and mobile forces could overcome an opponent who was numerically stronger. Moreover, he realized that the army’s enlargement in the pre-war years and then during the war had had impacts on both the military and the political value of the army. The Volksheer’s discipline and morale had proven fragile, and Seeckt was worried about the inherent dangers of democratization. This was of course not an entirely new point of view. The question of parliamentary influence and democratization had been at the core of the Prussian state crisis of the 1860s, and only the arms race of 1912–14 and the general staff’s war plans had finally convinced the Kaiser and the Prussian war ministry of the necessity of the nation in arms.11 They had believed that the army should be recruited from the
more conservative rural people, instead of drafting the towns’ workers, who would bring socialist ideas and thus social unrest into the army. Seeckt was therefore in accordance with the pre-war opinion of the military when he stated that the masses, especially the cities’ proletariat, were lacking in military spirit. As brilliant and original as Seeckt was in his thinking, he was still a product of his class and highly critical of democratic ideas.

Moreover, the war had shown that the short training of conscripts could no longer meet the demands of modern, increasingly technical warfare, and it therefore appeared logical to Seeckt that the longserving, professional soldier would be the ‘more valuable warrior’.”

Seeckt's doctrine is undergoing a bit of a crisis in Iraq. And if LI has anything to do with it, democracy's revenge will be to squeeze the supply of professional soldiers until the army yells uncle.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...