Saturday, September 30, 2006

week of torture stories: day one

Picture showing S.S. Doctor Sigmund Rascher immersing prisoner at Buchenwald in Ice Water. The United States has now declared its intent to perform similar tortures.

“To extort a confession this beast in human form did the following: He forced the prisoner to put his testicles first into a bowl of ice-cold water then into a bowl of almost boiling water. This procedure was repeated several times until the skin was inflamed and blistered. Then Sommer painted the testicles with iodince, causing excruciating pain.

The corridor of the cellblock between the rows of cells was locked with a barred door. Sommer would place the head of a prisoner between the wall and the barred door, then he would slam the door with full force so that the head was crushed.

In many cases Sommer suspended the prisoners with chains from the window bars, with their arms bend backward. Often he let the unfortunate victims hang in this painful position for three to four days. Then he threw a blanket over their heads and strangled them. – The Buchenwald Report

We’re the future your future – Sex Pistols.

Quite a week. I admit, I have not paid that much attention to the politics around the CIA torture cells. That’s because, dummy that I am, I am inured to American torture. The prison system is so rife with it, and the prison system is so large, that I took the quantitative view. That is, that there was nothing to see here. You want torture, just go down and look how any state prison is run.

But the quantitative view isn’t all embracing. It can’t really explain itself. That is why it is dumb. The torture in the prison system is a scandal. The torture that President Bush pushed for and got this week is a law.

We have had slave holding presidents before, but until now, we have not had a slave making one. We have not experienced a leader who brags about ordering torture. Who openly claims that he will order torture. Who glories in destroying, to the extent he can, our oldest liberties. And as he does it, there is simply a vast numbness, as though these tyrants were slicing bits off a corpse. As if Americans are a people so drugged that they are giving up their liberty for nothing. In the past, peckerwoods and black panthers both had one thing in common, at least, the motto – don’t tread on me. Live free or die. That this should pass from the scene so easily, that the old joyful violence of not simply refusing, but trampling down illegitimate restraints is not there anymore – well, it fucking amazes me. Far from being a “campaign winner”, the law that was just passed should be the type of thing that would cause a general rush on the pigs who wrote it and passed it. The vitals of American democracy depend upon a constant threat that, pushed too far, our enraged populace will put the torch to the Congress and the White House.

No rage. Not the fire this time, and no threat of the fire next time. No bare scorched columns.

What puzzles me in all of this is what it is, exactly, that Bush’s base – gated community America – is so scared of?

The world has never gazed upon a group more pampered and protected. Their every shit is ringed with bodyguards. In the last five years, through the manipulation of the tax system and a fake war on terrorism that allowed for frauds that, in amount, are equal to the GDPs of sizeable countries, they have fattened until they have almost become unbelievable, like Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade figures, inflated grotesques. This is a strata of society – the upper 10 percent – that has to its credit, as its one cultural monument over the last ten years, the collected films of Paris Hilton. We are talking about an absolute nullity. All of the Fortune 100 richest are now billionaires. Many should be stripped of every nickel, and none should be billionaires at all – a billionaire is a walking crime in a well run republic - but that’s neither here nor there. The impetus in the country is towards the powerful. Their pump and dump scheme, using the U.S. treasury, has worked beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. Labor has long been broken. Outside the gated communities, the rest of us our bound hand and foot by wilder and wilder amounts of debt. And the accumulation, year after year, of the message from the media, of which the general and only purpose is to deaden the revolt in each and every heart. To turn us into “idiots” – that is, private people. The media exists to service the governing class. In the interstices, one can make a few spicy remarks now and then, but the media’s job, in the end, is to create an atmosphere of overwhelming conformity and triviality to make the yahoos governable. Even the yahoos know that. So, in general, we are broken either by our ignorance or our cynicism, and won’t even think of throwing sticks and stones at our rulers. We will merely throw words, and words will never hurt them.

So why, then, are Bush and Co. so afraid?

PS - A long passage from a document that we can now throw into the garbage can: the Federalist. No. 48:

''The other State which I shall take for an example is Pennsylvania; and the other authority, the Council of Censors, which assembled in the years 1783 and 1784. A part of the duty of this body, as marked out by the constitution, was "to inquire whether the constitution had been preserved inviolate in every part; and whether the legislative and executive branches of government had performed their duty as guardians of the people, or assumed to themselves, or exercised, other or greater powers than they are entitled to by the constitution. '' In the execution of this trust, the council were necessarily led to a comparison of both the legislative and executive proceedings, with the constitutional powers of these departments; and from the facts enumerated, and to the truth of most of which both sides in the council subscribed, it appears that the constitution had been flagrantly violated by the legislature in a variety of important instances. A great number of laws had been passed, violating, without any apparent necessity, the rule requiring that all bills of a public nature shall be previously printed for the consideration of the people; although this is one of the precautions chiefly relied on by the constitution against improper acts of legislature. The constitutional trial by jury had been violated, and powers assumed which had not been delegated by the constitution. Executive powers had been usurped. The salaries of the judges, which the constitution expressly requires to be fixed, had been occasionally varied; and cases belonging to the judiciary department frequently drawn within legislative cognizance and determination. Those who wish to see the several particulars falling under each of these heads, may consult the journals of the council, which are in print. Some of them, it will be found, may be imputable to peculiar circumstances connected with the war; but the greater part of them may be considered as the spontaneous shoots of an ill-constituted government.

It appears, also, that the executive department had not been innocent of frequent breaches of the constitution. There are three observations, however, which ought to be made on this head: FIRST, a great proportion of the instances were either immediately produced by the necessities of the war, or recommended by Congress or the commander-in-chief; SECONDLY, in most of the other instances, they conformed either to the declared or the known sentiments of the legislative department; THIRDLY, the executive department of Pennsylvania is distinguished from that of the other States by the number of members composing it. In this respect, it has as much affinity to a legislative assembly as to an executive council. And being at once exempt from the restraint of an individual responsibility for the acts of the body, and deriving confidence from mutual example and joint influence, unauthorized measures would, of course, be more freely hazarded, than where the executive department is administered by a single hand, or by a few hands.

The conclusion which I am warranted in drawing from these observations is, that a mere demarcation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.

who elected pol pot president?

LI has always hated the comparison between Hitler and Bush. It's ridiculous.

With his success in legalizing torture, Bush is much more like Pol Pot.

Here's a painting by Cambodian artist Vann Noth, which we copped from Andy Brouwer's site. Inspired by CT's site, which links to David Corn's site, showing what water torture is. Good idea.

We live in a rogue state. We need to take it back. Bush is comfortable taking this country, which, with all its faults, kept lynching illegal for two hundred fifty years, and bringing it into the moral orbit of Idi Amin's Uganda, Pol Pot's Kampuchea, apartheid South Africa. Oh, what have you. I used to be against impeaching Bush, but now I am for something different -- a war crimes tribunal. It worked for Milosovic.

I need to find some other water torture pics suitable for putting up on my side bar. This, by the way, is an anti-torture site.

Friday, September 29, 2006

paleolithic dreams

Often, to take our mind off unpaid bills and the unhallowed gov’mint, we will sit in a coffee shop – or in Whole Foods – and take out our little book and draw. We don’t draw chairs, or food, or coffee cups – we draw people. LI loves drawing people. Always has. Now, lately we’ve been reading a beautiful book about cave art for an upcoming review for the Austin Statesman. Reading it, we were struck like by 100 000 volts that during the Upper Paleolithic – that wonderful time when there were, max, 150 000 people in Europe, and life was good for around twenty thousand years - the cave artists generally didn’t draw or paint or engrave people. There were your stray vulvas, the masked bird man, many hand prints, but generally – no people. Instead, there were mammoths. There were lions. There were rhinos and horses. Oddly, much fewer reindeer, even though reindeer meat was the spam of the Paleolithic – it was always poached reindeer for breakfast, fricasseed reindeer for lunch, and reindeer pudding for dinner. We are often told how to evolution stories about this or that human habit, but in reality, the way those how to stories are formed is that evo psychologists extrapolate back from ‘primitive people’ of today to those wandering around 200,000 years ago. However, this habit is in serious disconnect from archeologists, who have long held that ethnography of people today, in no matter what state of society they live in, is essentially unhelpful when trying to reconstruct the way the inhabits of the Eurasia 30,000 years ago lived. It is impossible not to imagine back using our PBS/National Geographic images, but what tribe do we know of that doesn’t draw people? Deleuze and Guattari talk of the special faciality of the West – this seems right, on all accounts – but to show so little interest in people when one has mastered perspective, and the expressive character of animals? That seems quite significant. But of what? Well, this is where speculation is dumb, but irresistible. The cave art of 30,000 years ago, perhaps – just perhaps – precedes the period when humans assumed they were superior. In fact, the assumption at that time was that they weren’t. The assumption was that mammoths were in every way superior creatures – or, to erase the whole superior/inferior notion, the assumptions in the paintings flowed from a life in which humans were as much prey as predator. The dreams we have of this percolate through hundreds of generations back, so it seems entirely dim. Of course, humans as prey is our favorite story, but now the story features our favorite predator, who is still human – hence, the infinite crime shows. We can of course think of grizzlies or sharks or whatever preying on humans. But what we can’t think is that this is just the way it is. That thought makes us think, wow, this is to live in misery. We seem unable to fully immerse ourselves into that form of life as a norm. We can only indirectly, vaguely wave at that notion. To find human beings relatively uninteresting compared to horses is funny – which is why Swift was able to use that shtick. But it wouldn’t even have been controversial in 17,000 b.c. The movies we make trying to touch this – say Alien – always, ultimately, focus the camera on the humans. What would Aliens be like if the same story were told, except the humans were incidentally – took up ten minutes of film time – the rest being the things the Alien monster did. Although, admittedly, Alien didn't have the hair and muscles and eyes the Paleolithics loved. They didn't paint fish, though they ate em. But the human figure was mostly boring. I mean, one at least figures that there will be considerable smut, but no. Mostly, cave art is chaste. Dick, pussy, fucking -- ho hum, seems to have been the word. But bison -- why, the world can't get enough bison. And so for almost twenty thousand years, the cave painters, generation after generation, gave the people what they wanted - more bison. Nietzsche hints that the story of civilization is the story of humans becoming interesting. Ah, the Paleolithic dream did come to N., didn’t it?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Iraq -- the reign (or is it rain) of shit

In February, 2004, the Secretary of War, Donald Rumsfeld, visited the Baghdad Police Academy and gave a truly inspiring speech to the recruits. According to the State Department release, he said, "I know that you're all volunteers. Each of you have raised your hand and said you want to help your country."

In the distant future, he said, Iraqis will look back at the police during the current period, "and know in their hearts that what you've done is to help build a new Iraq, an Iraq that's free, an Iraq that's whole, an Iraq that's at peace, an Iraq that is a friend to its neighbors."

Rumsfeld also thanked the academy instructors, many of whom came from countries making up the Coalition Provisional Authority.

"They've come halfway around the world to be here with you and to work with you and I appreciate it and the American people appreciate it," he said.

Then, in March of 2004, Reuters issued a news story that must have warmed many pro-war hearts. In spite of the naysayers, not only was the war going fabulously, but America was taking revenge on the countries that did us wrong – Europe, you know. And doing good at the same time! That was the month that Parsons construction was awarded nine hundred million dollars in contracts from the Pentagon:

“California's Parsons Corp., one of the most active U.S. companies in Iraq, said on Tuesday it won a contract worth up to $900 million from the U.S. military for security and justice work in Iraq. The privately-owned engineering and construction company said the latest deal includes the restoration and construction of bases for the Iraqi security forces, police stations, border control stations, fire stations, courthouses and prisons. The project for two years with three one-year options has a potential value of $900 million and is the second contract the Pentagon has awarded Parsons in a batch of $5 billion worth of heavy construction contracts funded by $18.6 billion appropriated by Congress to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. Last week the Pentagon awarded a $500 million contract to Parsons for the construction and renovation of public buildings in the war-torn country.”

Deep in the story, two other paragraphs signaled that we, as a country, may be fair, but we won’t be pushed around:

“Other lucrative Iraq business includes building military bases as well as a $1.5 billion contract Parsons obtained with the U.S. military for construction and engineering work in Iraq and other hot spots where the military is active.

"Bidding for the latest batch of heavy-duty construction contracts was restricted to companies from nations that supported the U.S.-led effort to overthrow former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.”

If you will remember, it was important to the heartland out there, looking for the good news out of Iraq, that we not allow Old Europe, that insufferable peanut gallery, to profit from our sweat and blood. Ours – because symbolically we were the men and women in Iraq. It was a good symbolism, and shouldn’t be taken to mean that these recruits, the economic casualties of the greatest boom in history, should expect us to do anything for them. On the other hand, Parsons execs – well, let’s just say their patriotism paid off in spades. A great Republic deserves great Republicans getting greatly greased in the Pig Trough!

As we know, to supervise the work of great companies like Parsons, we had great, recently graduated sons and daughters of Republican donors and honchos in D.C., sent over selflessly so that they could campaign for the president, take in some of that vibe in the green zone, hang out, chill, and lower taxes and stuff. Then they could come home and write for the Corner. Patriotism, ideology and featherbedding -- the D.C. way.

If you’ll remember, 2004 was the year stories started appearing about how childlike the Iraqis were. Why, they didn’t know nothing about modern policing! and soldierin’! and democracy! they were children, warmhearted but needing a guiding adult hand – an American hand. And American hands meant private American companies. In November of 2004, after our fine Rebel in Chief won again – proving conclusively, in D.C. circles, that he is a genius and a watershed – the Police Academy was again gifted by a company named… oh wait for it …. FATS:

“FATS, Inc. has been awarded a contract valued at approximately $1.7 million from the U.S. Government to deliver law enforcement training systems to the Baghdad Police Academy.

"This contract provides significant support for the U.S. Mission in Iraq," said Ron Mohling, FATS Inc. chairman and chief executive officer. "The success of Operation Iraqi Freedom hinges on the ability of Iraqis to provide their own internal security. FATS understands the challenge of getting new recruits up to speed quickly and our products are ideal for this situation."
The contract calls for the provision of sophisticated police training systems with multi-user configurations and judgmental scenarios for training Iraqi security forces. The system has the ability to monitor weapon diagnostics for instructional feedback. FATS BLUEFIRE(TM) Glock 17 - - the first sensored, patented, wireless firearm simulator - - is also included in the contract.”

Life, by this time, was so unbearably good for the Iraqis, what with the shit we were raining down upon their child-like heads, that Americans had to take a break and waste a city. So we ended the year with an R and R war crime, the razing of Fallujah, and life was sweeter and sweeter as the Purple Revolution took hold. Carol Williams, a Los Angeles Times Reporter, on June 25th, 2004, for example, found the Iraqis taking control of their own lives as Americans were winning the war, and the terrorist insurgents were in their death throes:

“A new willingness of Iraqis to cooperate with authorities has enabled police to gain some ground on violent extremists. At least six car bombs have been found and defused this month because of timely reports from the public, said the bomb squad's deputy director, Mustafah Ahmad.

Authorities have no comparative statistics for the time when U.S. officials were in charge, but they say Iraqis are far more eager to cooperate with fellow Iraqis than they were with the occupiers.

"They've become much more willing, and as a result we've become much more effective," Mouwafak Rabii, Iraq's national security adviser, said of Iraqis tipping off police to militant actions aimed at undermining the new leadership. Pointing to the discovery of a car-bomb factory in Baghdad this month, Rabii said the informant was "an ordinary peasant."

Officials attribute the surge in information to growing public trust in and respect for the Iraqi Police Service, made up of new recruits and retrained remnants of the force that served former President Saddam Hussein. As the number trained in special weapons and explosives demolition rises, Iraqis are seeing their countrymen tackling threats to peace, which boosts their confidence in domestic forces' ability to protect them, Aziz said.

Iraq's security formally remains a responsibility of the 160,000- member U.S.-led multinational force in the nation, but Baghdad street patrols are almost exclusively the domain of the 15,000 Iraqi beat cops on duty. By year's end, 20,000 police recruits are to finish specialized training in Jordan or at the Baghdad Police Academy, funded by a $3.2-billion U.S. budget outlay for Iraqi security improvements.

The image of Iraqis handling their own security matters has vastly improved police abilities to get people to play a role in their own protection, officers said.

In addition to the expanded and better-equipped bomb squad, the police have recently added a major-crimes unit, a crime-scene investigation force and a national emergency-response team. The last is being formed to combat terrorism and wide-scale civil unrest.”

As we know, life in Iraq -- good news Iraq, the Iraq covered by patriots like Glenn Reynolds -- achieved a quality rarely seen outside the Garden of Eden. This was all due to the superpowers of the Rebel in Chief himself. However, there were a few flies in the ointment. There’s a story in today’s Washington Post about the Parsons special, the very building in which Rumsfeld gave his heartwarming talk. Apparently, to use a Rumsfeldian expression, the policemen are in deep doo doo:

“As top U.S. military commanders declared 2006 "the year of the police," in an acknowledgment of their critical role in allowing for any withdrawal of American troops, officials highlighted the Baghdad Police College as one of their success stories.

"This facility has definitely been a top priority," Lt. Col. Joel Holtrop of the Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division Project and Contracting Office said in a July news release. "It's a very exciting time as the cadets move into the new structures."

Complaints about the new facilities, however, began pouring in two weeks after the recruits arrived at the end of May, a Corps of Engineers official said.

The most serious problem was substandard plumbing that caused waste from toilets on the second and third floors to cascade throughout the building. A light fixture in one room stopped working because it was filled with urine and fecal matter. The waste threatened the integrity of load-bearing slabs, federal investigators concluded.”

Ah, and that is not all. Parsons management should be mighty proud of their stock options this year – they cut costs to the bone:

“Phillip A. Galeoto, director of the Baghdad Police College, wrote an Aug. 16 memo that catalogued at least 20 problems: shower and bathroom fixtures that leaked from the first day of occupancy, concrete and tile floors that heaved more than two inches off the ground, water rushing down hallways and stairwells because of improper slopes or drains in bathrooms, classroom buildings with foundation problems that caused structures to sink.

Galeoto noted that one entire building and five floors in others had to be shuttered for repairs, limiting the capacity of the college by up to 800 recruits. His memo, too, pointed out that the urine and feces flowed throughout the building and, sometimes, onto occupants of the barracks.”

The American people, as the Sec of War said, appreciate the, well, heck of a job the Pentagon’s contractors have done for the police who Americans are training to get blown up in the streets of Baghdad.

“The Parsons contract, which eventually totaled at least $75 million, was terminated May 31 "due to cost overruns, schedule slippage, and sub-standard quality," according to a Sept. 4 internal military memo. But rather than fire the Pasadena, Calif.-based company for cause, the contract was halted for "the government's convenience."

Col. Michael Herman -- deputy commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Corps of Engineers, which was supposed to oversee the project -- said the Iraqi subcontractors hired by Parsons were being forced to fix the building problems as part of their warranty work, at no cost to taxpayers. He said four of the eight barracks have been repaired.

The U.S. military initially agreed to take a Washington Post reporter on a tour of the facility Wednesday to examine the construction issues, but the trip was postponed Tuesday night. Federal investigators who visited the academy last week, though, expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the buildings and worries that fecal residue could cause a typhoid outbreak or other health crisis.”

Iraq – overthrowing a tyrant, instituting a rain of shit. Literally. Is it any wonder that America is so popular in the Middle East?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dick Cheney sits on my face -- and yours

Bagehot, in a study of Gladstone published in 1860, before Gladstone’s prime ministerships, said that the question was, would Gladstone ascend to the pinnacle of power, or would he simply go down in history as one of the great Parliamentarian orators without ever achieving power: “whether, below the gangway, he will utter unintelligible discourses; will aid in destroying many ministries and share in none; will pour forth during many hopeless years a bitter, a splendid, and a vituperative eloquence?”

Which are the lines that occur to me after reading the excellent vivisection of Dick Cheney performed, last week, by Joan Didion in the NYRB. Didion remembers - she has been on this beat for thirty years now, a disillusioned Goldwater-ite watching from the sidelines as executive power and the D.C. Court system enlarged cancerously, casually destroying our individual liberties to service the greed (for everything) of an increasingly gated governing class. She observes the resistable rise of Cheney through the Behemoths blood system with a dry, diagnostic detachment – the privileged avoidance of a war that Cheney supported, politically; the exploitation of the resentment that came in the wake of that war; the valet’s groping for favors in D.C., to which the young Cheney headed, much like a parasite aiming for the tender meats it favors in a host body; the alliance with Rumsfeld in the Ford White House, where they replayed the Haldemann/Erlichmann shtick invented, originally, by Rosencranz and Guildenstern; the beliefs of convenience, and the continuity of style – swaggering bully, paranoid official, liar, cheat and, in a final flash of malignity, conspirator in the murder of almost 3,000 American soldiers and perhaps 40,000 Iraqis. The numbers just keep going up. All the while, Didion keeps her temper – her style spreads a sort of concentrated hush around the infinitely complex sussing out of corruptions that are then presented to the reader with a certain tired but militant respect for the reader's own free will -- it is our choice whether to be provoked or not. The J'accuse avoids the obvious manipulative rhetoric of the courtroom summation in order to appeal to what Vico called the political fantasy - I think it was Vico. Fuck it, it was someone. Our sense that politics is a struggle among narratives as well as among bodies and the claim on things. Our choice to make sense of it.

And yet… I felt, somewhat, like this was the beating of wings in the dark. The link between the rulers and the ruled has always, in some ways, to be made sense of by the ruled. It is our job to make up the myths and excuses that allow the rulers to do what they do. It is our job, at the moment, to explain why a man like Cheney, an utter mediocrity, a vapid CEO type, should be able to settle his capacious, pale buttocks over this country, stifling us all beneath those intolerable globes. We know the vice, we know the extent of mendacity, we know that the government is being used as a front to borrow money to line the pockets of a very small group of men and women at the very top of the income bracket, we know that this is so weakening a nation that is deep in debt, personal and national, anyway that we are, in reality, hemmed in, not the world’s biggest superpower but the world’s first superpower dupe – and yet nothing happens. LI has been thinking, lately, that the typical Southern redneck's motto should be changed to: DO tread on me. I don't give a shit, as long as I can make my next credit card payment.

A liberty loving land, this one.

Well, let’s end with this. I loved this:

“Together, Cheney and Rumsfeld contrived to marginalize Nelson Rockefeller as vice-president and edge him off the 1976 ticket. They convinced Ford that Kissinger was a political liability who should no longer serve as both secretary of state and national security adviser. They managed the replacement of William Colby as CIA chief with George H.W. Bush, a move interpreted by many as a way of rendering Bush unavailable to be Ford's running mate in 1976. They managed the replacement of James Schlesinger as secretary of defense with Rumsfeld himself. Cheney later described his role in such maneuvers as "the sand in the gears," the person who, for example, made sure that when Rockefeller was giving a speech the amplifier was turned down. In 1975, when Ford named Rumsfeld secretary of defense, it was Cheney, then thirty-four, who replaced Rumsfeld as chief of staff.
Relationships matter in public life, until they do not. In May, during a commencement address at Louisiana State University, Cheney mentioned this long relationship with Rumsfeld by way of delivering the message that "gratitude, in general, is a good habit to get into":
I think, for example, of the first time I met my friend and colleague Don Rumsfeld. It was back in the 1960s, when he was a congressman and I was interviewing for a fellowship on Capitol Hill. Congressman Rumsfeld agreed to talk to me, but things didn't go all that well....
We didn't click that day, but a few years later it was Don Rumsfeld who noticed my work and offered me a position in the executive branch.
Note the modest elision ("it was Don Rumsfeld who noticed my work") of the speaker's own active role in these events. What Cheney wanted to stress that morning in Baton Rouge was not his own dogged tracking of the more glamorous Rumsfeld but the paths one had possibly "not expected to take," the "unexpected turns," the "opportunities that come suddenly and change one's plans overnight." The exact intention of these commencement remarks may be unknowable (a demonstration of loyalty? a warning? to whom? a marker to be called in later? all of the above?), but it did not seem accidental that they were delivered during a period when one four-star general, one three-star general, and four two-star generals were each issuing calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as secretary of defense. Nor did it seem accidental that the President and the Vice President were taking equally stubborn and equally inexplicable lines on the matter of Rumsfeld's and by extension their own grasp on the war in Iraq. "I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation," George W. Bush said in response to a reporter's question during a Rose Garden event. "But I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." “

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Embrace the contradiction

Out of the bowels of our compassion, LI has some advice for the Dems running in this upcoming election.

The Dems perennially run as cowards, and the Republicans as bullies. This is partly because the world is upside down. Dems feel that they have to sneak their support for programs that are actually widely popular – such as nationalized health care – while Republican testosterate about doing things that are widely unpopular – such as shrinking the government. In the event, the Reps expand the government every chance they get, while the Dems hunker down with K street’s finest insurance lobbyists.

Given these inversions, if I were the Dems, I’d run against the war in Iraq under the slogan: “We won.” Or: “Mission accomplished.” Since the war was popular enough (wars, like blockbuster movies, start out popular among bored Americans), the Dem message should be that the Bush administration’s problem is ‘they won’t take yes for an answer.’ Say that last phrase in a pithy, husky way, just like President C. would say something about that dog not hunting. What was popular about the war, in true blockbuster style, was finding last year’s Hitler in a spider hole and manfully frogmarching him to prison. What is unpopular about the war has been the hanging around uselessly for the last two years. One of the things about being anti-war is that you can always usurp the moves of the most bullshit prone of the hawks, since – as anyone who has brushed against Marx’s notion of the dialectic would expect – the rhetoric encodes the contradictions on the very surface. Just as one wants to universalize the chickenhawk notion that somebody else should actually fight the war, one can also take up the banner of the ignoramus Bush fan club – the Instaborg cheering, the AEI’s brownnosing, all the propaganda spewed by all the D.C. types – and use it against the inevitable seductions of the Rep testosterators. The Dems can say that the war they (patriots all!) voted for, the war against S.H., was the war that we all just loved. Every act of it. Remember Jessica – was it Jessica? – the martyred woman bravely rescued from a hospital, just as brownskinned fiends were about to do her unspeakable harm? Yeah, sure you do. It was the most significant thing ever reported in a newspaper, and immediately made docudrama of the week. And remember how they cheered when we pulled down the statue of whatshisname in Baghdad? It was like the Berlin Wall coming down plus the fourth of July. We cheered until we shit! It was that touching.

But the key to victory is to modestly accept it, goddamn it. We won, everybody loves us, goodbye. That should be the motto of the marine corps. So, Democratic candidates if you are out there, gnawing your nails, not sure if you should even talk about the war – maybe you should talk about, say, your support for school uniforms! – embrace the contradiction. Oppose the war by supporting it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

"It's a very candid assessment," one intelligence official said yesterday of the estimate, the first formal examination of global terrorist trends written by the National Intelligence Council since the March 2003 invasion. "It's stating the obvious." – Washington Post

To understand why an unnamed source would say, of an intelligence report, that it was “a very candid assessment” – as if it were an act of super-human courage for intelligence agencies, which are paid the big bucks, to 'state the obvious' – one has to understand the system in which the obvious is not stated. In that system, as LI has been cawing about, flattery holds a special place.

Yesterday I threatened to quote some Hegel. Hegel very cleverly puts a certain kind of speech – Schmeichelei, flattery - at the center of the logical culmination of absolute monarchy. Hegel’s references are to the Court of Louis XIV, or so say his commentators. But LI is thinking of the court of King James, which had the distinction of witnessing the abasement of its most able minister, Francis Bacon, and the trial and execution of the last of the Elizabethans, Walter Raleigh. And fortunately, we even have the letters to King James from those two, as the axe loomed. For which, I will reserve some future post.

But for now, Hegel. Hegel sets up the problem of the self-alienated spirit in terms of a conflict between the extreme of State power and the noble spirit. As always in Hegel, there is a Finnegan’s Wake problem – the historic narrative is narrated as though it were happening in some gigantic consciousness in which everything is doubled by its logical description in the dialectic. In Finnegan’s Wake, H.C. Earwicker, the ostensible protagonist and hero, becomes Here Comes Everybody, the protagonist as variable. It is best to think of the Phenomenology of Spirit as being the pre-quel to Finnegan’s Wake, with Here Comes Everybody being a sort of infinitely divisible Schmoo.

Hmm. Well, this is the way one gets lost in a post. LI will leave aside the temptation to discourse about giant stories (Pantagruel and Gargantua, Leviathan) and get down to the conflict inherent to the state:

“The spirit holds this reality, because the extremes of which it is the unity are still immediately determined by having their own reality for themselves.”

The extremes here are state power, embodied in the monarch, and the noble spirit, embodied in the nobility. The monarch’s function is to enforce obedience, and the nobility functions to obey – but obedience, for the nobility, has to be consonant with honor. Flattery depends on there being some code of honor – for to flatter is to take a distinct existential stance towards the thing flattered. What mediates the conflict between obedience and honor is speech. However, speech is a tricky thing for both the noble spirit and state power. Once state power makes up the rules, obeying the rules is primarily a dumb thing – cops don’t generally stop you to congratulate you about stopping for a red light, very few stores have “thank you for not shoplifting” signs, etc. Similarly, your average householder doesn’t signal a cop to ask for praise for having stopped at a red light, and LI doesn’t ask the liquor store clerk for praise for not having succumbed to the temptation to put that bottle of single malt under his shirt and walked out of the place.

All of which gets us to this passage from Hegel. Here’s the Baillie translation, with a few adjustments by LI

The noble consciousness, being the extreme which is the self, [appears as that from which language is produced] by which the separate factors related are formed into active spiritual wholes [beseelten Ganzen – more like living, or animated wholes] . The heroism of dumb service passes into the heroism of flattery. This reflexion of service in express language constitutes the spiritual self-disintegrating mediating term, and reflects back into itself not only its own special extreme, but reflects the extreme of universal power back into this self too, and makes that power, which is at first implicit, into an independent self-existence, and gives it the individualistic form of self-consciousness. [or “makes the in-itself into a for-itself”] Through this process the indwelling spirit of this state-power comes into existence--that of an unlimited monarch. It is unlimited; the language of flattery raises this power into its transparent, purified universality; this moment being the product of language, of purified spiritualized existence, is a purified form of self-identity. It is a monarch; for flattering language likewise puts individualistic self-consciousness on its pinnacle; what the noble consciousness abandons as regards this aspect of pure spiritual unity is the pure essential nature of its thought, its ego itself.”
It would be foolish to think that American Court society corresponds exactly to the model Hegel has in mind, here. The American honor culture, for instance, is a bit different. But the giving up of thought, of the ego itself – that is exactly what has happened over the past five years in area after area – the war; the insane tax cuts and fiscal policy; Katerina; the right to torture prisoners; the war against terrorism – all are enacted and defended in terms that separate themselves from thought, and appeal to faith in the monarch. The American rightwing has become a purveyor not so much of stupidity, but of flattery as the only language in which one can speak of policy. It is stupidity only if one steps out of the circle of state power. The system is set up so that to think is to betray, and to obey is to flatter.

Well, I’m not sure I want to do another post on this at the moment – I’ve hammered this to death, I think we can all agree.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

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