Saturday, November 11, 2006

the suicides' cemetery

Happily she does not seem, in either case, to anticipate the subsequent years when her insight will often be blurred by panic, by the fear of stopping or the fear of going on. – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

In the Edwardian age, when the American tourist went to Europe, he or she was sure to take in the suicides’ cemetery in Monte Carlo. The story was that the population of the place was well prepared for suicide. A shot would be heard, certain figures would appear, the body would be disposed of. In John Polson’s decently shocked Monaco and its Gaming Tables, from 1902, cites a typical story is cited from a Menton newspaper:

Another gambling victim

Le Patriote Metonnais, dans son dernier numero, publie le terrible drame suivant qui happened Tuesday evening:

“A man with haggard eyes, and an upset countenance, came out of the gambling hall saying: I am lost, I have nothing more to do than die! I lost two hundred thousand france.”

The Casino guards sought to calm him, but the sad fellow wouldn’t listen to them, and coming upon the great staircase, he took a revolver out of his pocket and blew his brains out.
Some personnel arrived quickly to clean away the blood, and the gambling and ruin continued.”

Matilda Betham-Edwards – the very name comes to us through a heavy chintz cloud of couture, the rustle of all of those chaperones in the Henry James novels – in her France of Today (1894) gives her readers some sage advice:

The traveler … is advised to take the train to Monaco, and, arrived at the little station, whisper his errand in the cab-driver’s ear, “To the suicides’ cemetery.”

Once you get there, you see first the public cemetery – which Betham-Edwards informs us is not really up to American standards … and then – “quite apart from this vast burial ground, on the other side of the main entrance, is a small enclosure, walled in and having a gate of open iron work always locked. Here, in close proximity to heaps of garden rubbish, broken bottles and other refuse, rest the suicides of Monte Carlo, buried by the parish gravedigger, without funeral and without any kind of religious ceremony. Each grave is marked by an upright piece of wood, somewhat larger than that by which gardeners mark their seeds, and on which is painted a number, nothing more. Apart from these, are stakes driven into the ground which mark as yet unappropriated spots.”

But if the Americans, as usual, found that the seductive rumors of wickedness led to a dreary corner of broken bottles and nameless graveplots, the Russians found Monte Carlo much more thought provoking. Chekhov was so impressed with the gambling halls that he wrote home that he would like to spend a year simply gambling there. “This charming Monte Carlo is extremely like a fine… den of thieves. The suicide of losers is quite a regular thing.” Chekhov was as impressed by the expensive restaurants. ‘Every morsel is rigged out with lots of artichokes, truffles, and nightingales’ tongues of all sorts. And, good Lord! how contemptible and loathsome this life is with its artichokes, its palms, and its smell of orange blossoms! I love wealth and luxury, but the luxury here, the luxyry of the gambling saloon, reminds one of a luxurious water-closet.”

Chekhov’s hope that maybe someone could loser would blow his brains out right before Chekhov’s eyes is, of course, typical of the writer’s secret desire of being in the neighborhood when myth condenses into fact. Of course, there was more than just Puritanism plugging the suicides story – there was Nice, competing for tourists with Monaco, that emphasized the suicide angle every chance it got. But the suicide angle was not only a lesson about loss – there was a hidden lesson about capitalism as well. George Hole’s tourist book, Nice and her Neighbors, written two years after Marx visited Monte Carlo in 1882 (not, of course, that Hole had the faintest idea of Marx) recounts a conversation in a train with some young man who won 35 francs – and the remark of another man in the compartment that the winning of thirty pieces of silver has an evil sound: ‘A poor ruined gambler shot himself the other night in the grounds of Monte Carlo. I hope it was not his money you won, for, if so, it was the price of blood.” But one thing about money – the stain of blood wears off remarkably quickly.

Well, of course, for LI the suicides cemetery, with its numbers, stakes, and garbage, and its mythical status, and the cut throat of pure repetition quickly cleaned up by the help, is an allegory for…

Well, I’ll get to that later. One of these days.

Friday, November 10, 2006

elegy for the unibomber

Last night I was tired, so I dropped in at Waterloo’s for a drink and a bite. There was a boy band playing there – all pretty boys of @ 18-20 in age. Blond hair, rosy skin, perfect teeth, oh the excellent line of credit that had gone into their making, playing C & W about a quite other life of drinking and the degrading frisks of Eros in dubious locales. They all played well, and sang enthusiastically. The parents of one of the musicians were sitting there, with the Mom quite happily bobbing her head to it all. As I sat there and watched, the family of another of the singers came in, with two seventeen year old girls at that stalky, shoulders up age, and one of them happily flashed a smile at the group of singers, which the boys then industriously pretended not to see. A minute later through the entrance trooped three other boys, around 20 or so, wearing U.T. shirts and looking vaguely fraternity-ish, and the group immediately came to life, the singer giving them a happy shout out. Their buds were here! Validation!

And I thought, Freud had it so wrong. The interminably unanswered question is: what do males want?

That war is an organizing principle above the structures of the state has everything to do with male desire, the joker in the human pack, begging for it knows not what and quick to anger and long melancholic years when it doesn’t get it.

But… I don’t have time to go into this at the moment. Must get to work!

Oh, and the picture up there at the top of this post is my friend D., who raised me from a pup. D. is presently working on a masterpiece that crosses the boundaries of all medias and in fact pours gasoline on them and tops it off with a lit match entitled, Elegy for the Unibomber.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

That was quick! Conventional Wisdom continues walking off the cliff in Iraq

Now that the electorate has clearly spoken, it is time for the second phase to kick in. In this phase, D.C. Court society resolutely misinterprets or lies about what they said, thus allowing themselves to continue to be centrists (which is a compound of being for hollowing out Social Security via a fleabag sleight of hand trick and resolutely supporting the continuing influx of defense spending to swell D.C.’S real estate prices and steak dinner prices). The Washington Post has done a particularly excellent job in this regard, coming out with stories about how all of the Iraqis now fear the withdrawal of American support, which derives from talking to a handful of American paid Iraqi parasites and ignoring what is said in Iraq’s papers, for instance – for a rundown of which, see Juan Cole.

But to really see the genius mind of Conventional Wisdom at work, LI urges readers to go to the Q and A with WP’s politics journalist, Michael Fletcher. It is a piece of art not unlike Keat’s ode to a Grecian Urn, if that Urn were a tin chamber pot in which reposed the collected excreta of WP’s op ed belligeranti:

“New Haven, Conn.: Fletcher:
I still don't see a mandate from these elections, and I still don't see people clamoring for a troop withdrawl. This war is winable, so what if the President got rid of the Secty of Defense? He needed another quarterback, and history is filled with this happening. Why are Demcocrats acting as this is "proof" of something?
Michael Fletcher: I don't know that Democrats are acting as if Rumsfeld's removal is "proof" of anything. And exit polls found something like a third of voters want to withdraw from Iraq now--something that, of course, does not seem to be in the cards. The only proof evident in Rumsfeld's removal, to me, seems to be that the laws of gravity apply to the Bush administration as they do to everything else. The president has long ignored the clamor to remove Rumsfeld. But now he has. And he's replaced him with someone with more of a reputation for consensus building. So that's something.”

“New Haven: Over 55% of the electorate, according to exit polls favors withdrawing SOME or ALL troops. Even in Montana, 50% favors withdrawing SOME or ALL.
Michael Fletcher: Fair enough. I should have said about a third of voters favored immediate withdrawal of all troops. But either way, I doubt that either option is in the cards right now.”
Of course not. Once you have fucked up on the higher level, the course is clear. You go back to the teacher again and again. You point out how this is going to hurt your grade average. You show that in other classes, you got such high scores that the school paid your cocaine bill. And then you threaten.
The reality principle is about the fact that American soldiers will remain there and die and do nothing. Or rather, they will contribute to the killing of tens of thousands of more Iraqis, but these deaths will be in vain. Just as the American deaths will be in vain. Even Chalabi and the Meatman himself, Saddam Hussein, have figured out that the only course in Iraq at the moment is negotiations between all parties. You don’t have to read Thomas Hobbes to know that security is the foundation of any state – if you can’t go outside, you have entered a death spiral indifferent to the ideological labels you give it. But the Fletchers of D.C. are going to throw many more bodies – just not their own – into the death spiral:
“Huntington Beach, Calif.: I may be in a minority, but I think this election hurts McCain's chances in 2008. He is calling for MORE troops. Considering the mood of the electorate, I think that attitude is a non-starter. Giuliani is too liberal for the GOP. I think the money on that side is on Mitt Romney. Your thoughts?
Michael Fletcher: I think it's too early to say. What if more troops were sent and they were able to quell the insurgency and other bloodshed, however unlikely that may seem?”

Ah, always bet on the horse with the outside chance – especially if it has three legs and rickets. That’s why the Fletchers of the world are where they are, while the measly 55 percentile is laughable. What do those people know about world affairs?

the superannuated apocalypse now

LI talked with his brother, who is doing a job in a hotel in Florida with his other brother, tonight. I thought I’d lay my latest rap on him, but he found it unlikely. Actually, my bro was oddly out of the loop about this election – he’s feeling rather burned about America in general. But anyway, I told him that the Dems had won, and this and that and the other thing, and then we talked about Rumsfeld resigning and Gates taking his place.

That’s when I proposed that this was obviously a superannuated version of Apocalypse Now. The vanity war has made some folks some money, and they had to give it to Jr – he wanted a war – to get what they wanted. But the tax cuts and the legal restructuring of things like the bankruptcy law and environmental regulation are so yesterday’s news, and the damned vanity war is starting to upset people. Good contractor money there, but now we are coming down to dribs and drabs. And we are definitely going to have to pony up for Schumer to avoid major investigations of where that money went to or what it bought.

So Gates has a mission. He has one more mission. He has to go up the river again and he has to tell Jr. that the vanity war has to wind down. He has to convey that the message isn’t just that his father is concerned. Sure, his father is always fucking concerned. The message is that other people are concerned. Other people are saying that it is time to shut down this particular operation because, frankly, there’s nothing more to wring out of it. It is like, we need a new model war at least. Something quicker, something that won’t take up so much shelf space. Guys are getting restless. Nobody is saying stripping away that dividend tax wasn’t fucking manna from the Gods. Nobody is saying Jr. has let them down. And everybody knows that Jr. wanted his own war and he worked for it, and haven’t they been like supernice to give it to him? And everybody appreciates trying to pull the old pump and dump scheme with Social Security. But for example. Why didn’t the doggies eat the poisoned dog food? Maybe they are getting spooked with this fucking war for no reason. Is what guys are saying. And so Gates has to go up there, he has to reason with Jr. He has to go by the heads on the poles in the yard – there’s Colin Powell, there’s the fucker from Alcoa, Secretary of Treasury, what’shisname, and there’s 650,000 creepy Iraqis. Jr.’s sitting there, at first Gates is thinking shit, he’s going to read to me from Eliot and there’s going to be copyright problems with this movie and I am liable up to my ass, but no, its from the Stranger. It’s, Jr. says, French. The native woman he’s shacked up with, she gives him a French book. Do you read French, Gates, Jr. says and Gates doesn't know if this conversation is really about French. Gates only knows that everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.

And of course Jr. says, it’s my war. He says, Dad got his fucking war. He got his fucking missiles. Missiles like with nuclear stuff in them. So uberdangerous we were all supposed to piss our pants. That's the great George Bush for you. He’s never home, then he comes home, oh, let's move to D.C. and play Vice President, and then he’s all president and shit, and then he doesn’t even keep it. He doesn’t even know how to keep it, Gates. I stole it, okay? I did that. Me. Well, the boys helped me do that. But at least then I kept it. They love me. And he’s telling me what to do? Me? And of course Gates is thinking of the last time he talked to Condi, and how she said, What are they gonna say about him? What are they gonna say? That he was a kind man? That he was a wise man? That he had plans? That he had wisdom? Bullshit man! And Gates has to buckled down, he has to breathe out, let’s do it, he remembers Sr saying he's out there operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. And he is still in the field commanding troops, and so Gates says to him the guys are serious this time, Jr., and Jr is saying did they say why, Gates, why they want to terminate my command? Gate’s knows he has to go through with this dialogue:
Gates: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
Jr: It's no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?
Gates: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
Jr: Are my methods unsound?
Gates: I don't see any method at all, sir.

At which point we definitely have to cue to:

“The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on

He took a face from the ancient gallery

And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived, and...then he

Paid a visit to his brother, and then he

He walked on down the hall, and

And he came to a door...and he looked inside

Father, yes son, I want to kill you

Mother...I want to...fuck you”

But my brother didn’t buy any of it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the prophet jonah and his pet raven watch fox news

Readers of the Genealogy of Morals will remember Nietzsche’s quotes from Tertullian to the effect that one of the supreme pleasures of heaven will lie in watching the torments of the damned. In the first essay, Nietzsche introduces the concept of ressentiment as the key to the slave uprising in morals:

"The slave uprising in morals begins with that fact that Ressentiment itself become creative and gives birth to values: Ressentiment is natural to those to whom real reaction, that of the act, is forbidden, and who can only keep themselves guiltless through an imaginary revenge."

Well, darlin’, isn’t that just LI? whose reactions have to be swallowed – along with blood and shit and poverty – in a truly indigestible bolus, caught as we are like one of nature's most unlucky passengers - a passenger pigeon, a bison - in a nation that seems hell bent on mass murder and the mortal fouling of the planet as it careens here and there, throwing unparalleled pelf in the way of unimaginably vulgar plutocrats. Our only the power is that of writing stuff – a power compounded of vocables and saliva, and not much different in kind than a Bronx cheer.

So it was a great pleasure to see the governing class given a great slap last night. I watched the returns at a friend’s house, and got to see names on actual tv, live. Now I know what Katie Couric and Ken Olberman sound like. I finally got to see a Colbert routine. And I got to see Fox election central, with the puzzling succession of news hosts – each looking more Martian than the other. Was it just the reception on that particular tv set, or has Fox discovered a whole new breed of Caucasion male - with a skin color like some outer space alloy and the eyes of a Manga nightmare?

I was pretty bummed about the Texas Governor’s race, which essentially dooms hundreds of thousands of kids to further misery as the testing shibboleth rolls over their organisms, and all for squat. But besides that result, which was pretty much a strangling foretold, the night went well.

When I got back home, I decided to follow Tertullian’s advice and my own deep slavish instincts, last night I made the rounds of the conservative blogs, wanting to hear the shrieks of the justly punished, the gnashing of teeth, the moans. But though I longed to rejoice in the pain of mine enemies – hey, give me his head and I’ll scrape the skin off to make a drinking cup of his fucking skull – I couldn’t, for some reason, warm myself here. LI would have made up exactly the same excuses, and have exactly the same idea that really, really my friends all my ideas are agreed to by a vast majority of Americans.

Well, of course they aren’t. Tough titty for the vast majority of Americans.

I can only hope that the Senate falls, and that finally some real oversight kicks in – although it is about 500 billion dollars late. If, as I suspect, next year will contain the impact from the end of the real estate bubble, the discontent with Iraq and the Bush ideology, with its caste system veneration of the wealthy, might suffer for it. I’m going to entertain a hope (why not?) that a sense of reality will actually dawn among the D.C. dregs, that talks with Iran will lead to recognition of Iran, that the U.S. will encourage all Iraqi factions to negotiate while withdrawing American troops, and that the trillion dollars earmarked for the military this year marks the crescendo of the atrocity orgy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I want a good Daddy! and a Good Mommy!

There is a curious dream that is dreamt among my liberal brethren. Every election year it will be expressed, in a distressed tone of voice of a man invoking Miss Manners. In this dream, elections are not bloody things involving people, but rather, dressed up events involving earnest high school students debating the finer points of property tax law.

The NYT has an oped piece by Barry Schwartz that is as relentlessly programmatic in this respect as a clock is with regard to midnight and noon. First, of course, we begin with a lament about the election year party. This year, we asked everybody to bring healthful dishes and non-alcoholic beverages. We also tried to supply some hymn books and pamphlets on abstinence. But to no avail!

“SWARTHMORE, Pa. -- ANOTHER national election season has come to an end -- the sorriest, sleaziest, most disheartening and embarrassing in memory. The best one can hope for is a candidate who is a complete cipher. How has American electoral politics come to this?”

Sleaziness – as in actually looking up the records of the cut outs that we are going to send to Washington, D.C., on their all expense paid internship for various lobbying firms – is, contrary to the shocked Mr. Schwartz, not the problem with our system – it is the lack of willingness to be really sleazy. That is, to have a good, warts and all impression of the candidate, the kind of impression one has of one’s fellow employees. The system that doles out the power tries as hard as it can to deny us any glimpse into the backstage of its 24/7 impression management.

Schwartz illustrates the sad sadness of violating Mom’s rule (if you can’t say something good about somebody, don’t say anything at all!) with a psychological study showing that positives and negatives stand out given changing instructions in the way we are to evaluate people (via a hypothetical child custody decision balancing the traits of Parent A and Parent B) - even though the list of negatives and positives are stable. Now, one would think that this would reconcile him to humanity’s perpetual need for sleaze – or at least make him curious about the arts by which we do gain our impressions of people, and how these are reflected in elections. But not Mr. Schwartz. He goes from telling us about human nature to urging us to forget human nature and to treat elections as a technocrat would treat putting together a toy railroad set for the kids. Such is his love of humanity that he urges us to slough it off when electing our rulers. Such is LI’s contempt for the technocratic viewpoint, however, that we find this advice, to say the least, ludicrous.

“If somehow the cynicism lifted, and we saw ourselves charged with the task of deciding who to say yes to, we'd have more candidates like Parent B. Just one negative feature would not be enough to disqualify someone, in our minds. There would be little to gain by capturing and broadcasting ''macaca moments,'' or subtly invoking old Southern fears of black men cavorting with white women. Candidates would be able to take positions and speak their minds. This might lead to the arrival of candidates who actually have positions and minds. We might even be willing to risk generating a little enthusiasm at the prospect of being led by them.”

Actually, not only do I have little enthusiasm for being “led” by those I vote for – they can suck my big cock (oops - this is not tea party language) - they can, uh, kiss my ass if they think I’m voting for them as “leaders”. I vote for representatives, that is all. I can fucking lead my own self. That Schwarz can so easily equate the publicity given to a candidate given to uttering racist statements with a racist advertisement tells us all I need to know about his own ability to evaluate Parent A and Parent B. It sucks. And I’m not looking, myself, for a big Daddy or Mommy to govern me. I already have a Dad and a Mom.

The Schwartzes of the world - the snooty reformers, always looking to get politics out of the hands of the unwashed - inject liberalism with that reputation it seemingly can't shake: its allergy to the people it supposedly wishes to benefit. He is the perfect complement to the millionaire rightwing populist. The two of them drive me fucking nuts.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Electing a new heaven on earth - uh, someday

"Now God defend! What will become of me! I have neither consulted with the stars nor their urinals, the almanacks. A fine fellow, to neglect the prophets who are read in England every day! They shall pardon me for this oversight. There is a mystery in their profession they have no to much as herar of – “the Christian starry Heaven” – a new Heaven fancied on the whole earth.”

Thomas Vaughan, the alchemist, whose merit as one of the greatest writers of English prose is obscured because he wrote about, well, alchemy, wrote the above words in the 1650s, I think. Vaughan was quite a guy. He died of getting an overdose of mercury vapor up his nose, after a standard stormy life trying to balance natural magick, a clerical position, and reactionary politics. He was “ousted” from the clergy in Wales for “drunkenness, swearing, incontinency, and carrying arms for the king.” Well, how is LI to resist a compagnon de route like this? Before he died, Vaughan dreamed he was pursued by a stone horse – which is the same dream his wife had before she died. O for a life of portents and poetry.

Anyway, LI’s purpose in citing Vaughan is to disclaim any foresight into the results of tomorrow’s election, and to mildly decry the newspaperly madness of following the polls. For a political blog, we haven’t really spent a lot of time on the election, it seems. The reason is that our regular readers are no doubt going to vote, as we did last Friday, for liberal or lefty types, with here and there an exception, and those readers who aren’t going to vote that way are probably not going to be persuaded by us, and … we just don’t practice an election-centric politics.

In our own case, we are more concerned that the library here in Austin finally gets a shot of money (although the odds are probably against this) and that the highways don’t (although the odds are probably for this). We live in a district that the Stalinist Reps gerrymandered into a perpetual Republican fief, so our vote counts for nothing against the dickhead who represents us. And, finally, the one vote we were looking forward to – voting for Kinky Friedman for Governor – we didn’t cast, as K.F. turned sour in this election and displayed a peculiar tone deafness about racism. So it was back to voting for Bell, the Dem candidate, who actually did something that made us happy: he came out foursquare against the testing mania in the public schools. In fact, the only person who likes the test industry’s grip on the poor 1st through 7th graders is our utterly ridiculous Governor, Perry. May he suffer someday for all the miseries he has put these thousands of children through.

The races we were interested in were mostly elsewhere. We are especially happy that Eliot Spitzer looks like a walk in NY. In fact, New York voters have the luxury of voting strategically. We talked to a friend up there who is voting Green, and that seemed fine to LI – Spitzer’s win being pretty much locked in, the question is, how can you take your microscopic vote and use it to encourage a leftward tilt?

On the other hand, the race that would be difficult for us is also in New York. That’s the one between Pirro and Cuomo. On the one hand, Cuomo is undoubtedly the better candidate, even though we are fed up with inheritors of political capital running for office. On the other hand, Pirro seems to be one of those unique people who is happy about turning her life into a public sit com. We’ve totally enjoyed her pursuit of her wayward creep of a husband, Al – the detectives, the weeping to gossip columnists, the tapes and videocameras. As attorney general, Pirro would make her philandering hubby’s life a living hell. She’d be able to get favors from state troopers. Her so called best friend, that fucking bottle blonde, shamelessly flirting with Pirro’s hubby under her very eyes! Well, time to look at your tax returns, baby. On the other hand, the argument could be made that being the attorney general of New York entails other duties than exacting personal revenge on your spouse and the bitches that throw themselves in his way. Hmm. On the one hand, civic duty, on the other hand, the howl of the redneck in my blood, that fan of mudwrestling and the NY Post. I have no idea how I’d vote.

I do know that the urinal of the popular will, the polls, should not obsess any properly constituted mind.

sitting in the monad - The NYT celebrates its fave Iraqi, Chalabi, one more time

The horrendous Dexter Filkins is at it again. The NYT Magazine profile of Chalabi is an indulgence verging on an impudence – after all, why not devote that space to a basically meaningless story about Filkins fave guy? Here’s one of our favorite passages in this extended exercise in bosculating Chalabi’s golden fanny:

“When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out. His Iraqi National Congress received slightly more than 30,000 votes, only one-quarter of 1 percent of the 12 million votes cast — not enough to put even one of them, not even Chalabi, in the new Iraqi Parliament. There was grumbling in the Chalabi camp. One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: “We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn’t even get that many.” He shrugged.

But the truth seemed clear enough: Chalabi was finished. Chalabi, who could plausibly claim that he, more than any other Iraqi, had made the election possible, had been shunned by the very people he had worked so hard to set free.”

To set them free! Doesn’t it make you feel all Country and Western?

Having cast my lot with the black magicians, I've been trying to come up with a spell to launch a meme from this tiny blog. The meme would be about the failure of the MSM, from the beginning, to comprehend Iraq. The evidence for that failure would be the incredibly exaggerated role assumed by Chalabi in reports about Iraq after the invasion that kept appearing in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other major media. At the same time, the way Chalabi himself was perceived in Iraq didn't even figure in those reports. For instance: for years, LI has maintained that the legitimacy of the supposed American project of bringing 'democracy' to Iraq, still hailed by the belligeranti, was undermined from the beginning by trying to set up a notorious thief as our proxy in Iraq. Filkins remarks, sort of as an afterthought in one place, that he was amazed at how the Iraqis all seemed to know that Chalabi was convicted in Jordan of stealing up to 40 million dollars from the bank he founded. Now, this isn't a small and insignificant piece of information - even though Filkins treats it as such, devoting a total of four sentences to it. This is a huge piece of information. It is about how the Iraqis were seeing things. If the MSM were really curious about the supposed American project, this kind of information was vital feedback for Americans.

In fact, however, the MSM is simply an adjunct of the conventional wisdom of whatever court faction wants to bamboozle us this time. And so in all those stories about Chalabi, none of them were about the perception current in Iraq from the beginning that he was a huge thief. It is also true that he is a huge thief, but the perception was more important. You can't conduct an occupation that is legitimated on helping the occupied and then try to elevate a thief to the position of ruler.

Well, we were reminded by the sorry ass stroy of this post, filed after the Iraqi election, 1/26/06. I totally regret the severe underestimate of Iraqi casualties:

the shame of the press
Imagine that the entertainment sections of the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times had all devoted most of their coverage to the choice of Jessica Simpson as best actress in the run up to the Oscars. Suppose that they did this in spite of the fact that there was abundant evidence that Jessica Simpson was not considered even an outlying candidate for best actress by insiders. Suppose that she got not a single vote.

If this had happened, it would be a major media scandal. There would be questions about the honesty of the critics involved, and whether there had been some kind of quid pro quo with Simpson’s PR people, or some studio. Certainly there would be, at least, some comment to explain the bizarre behavior of the critics.

Now consider the Iraqi elections. Again. The results are now, semi-officially, in. In the run up to the election, did we have American papers running big profiles of, say, Abdul Aziz Hakim? He is the head of SCIRI. Or how about Ibrahim Jaafari? The head of Dawa. No. As has been the case for three years, the overwhelming amount of media in this country went to … Ahmed Chalabi. A man whose party did not earn enough votes to even give him a seat in the Iraqi parliament. Enter Chalabi’s name in the Factiva database, and you get 27, 925 entries. Enter Hakim’s name in the database, you get 1232 entries. The 27 to 1 disproportion between the man who couldn’t even gain a seat with the votes of the exiles and the man who the Washington Post calls “the most powerful Shiite politician” is an accurate reflection of the delusiveness of the media, which not only bought the Bush administration’s illusions and lies at the beginning of the war but has added to it their own so that Americans trying to understand what is happening in Iraq have as much chance of getting good information from, say, the U.S. Defense department – which is, remember, run by the worst and most mendacious Secretary of Defense in our history, and staffed with his appointees -- as from the NYT.

Let’s take a look, for comedy’s sake, at Dexter Filkins, the NYT’s Iraq reporter who is bad enough to surely merit some kindly nickname by our prez. Here, before the elections, is a typical Filkins lede. On December 12, 2005, under the headline, Boys of Baghdad College Vie for Prime Minister, Filkins wrote:

“The three Iraqi political leaders considered most likely to end up as prime minister after nationwide elections this week -- Ayad Allawi, Ahmad Chalabi and Adel Abdul Mahdi -- were schoolmates at the all-boys English-language school in the late 1950's, fortunate members of the Baghdad elite that governed Iraq until successive waves of revolution and terror swept it away.”

Imagine someone including, in a story about the three most likely Democratic presidential candidates, the name Dennis Kucenich. You get the picture. Filkins is the clown prince of the Iraqi reporting team for the NYT. Edward Wong is a better reporter – one doesn’t feel like he takes massive doses of acid before he files his stories. But his story before the election, with the headline Iraq’s Powerful Shiite Coalition shows Signs of Stress before the Election (9 December) goes on for ten grafs before we get the inevitable:

“This time, though, the rivalries have grown more heated and the potential for an irreparable split is greater, Iraqi and Western officials say. Many coalition members have broken away and started their own parties, and there has been a palpable drop in support among moderate voters and the leading ayatollahs, who are disenchanted with the performance of the current Shiite government.

“A fracturing of the conservative coalition could set the conditions for a realignment of Iraq's political spectrum, creating an opening for a more secular Shiite candidate like the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, or even Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite, to assemble enough allies to claim the top spot in the new government.”

On November 30, 2005, ABC’s Nightline did its duty to inform its audience of the impending election in Iraq by doing a whole show entitled: “THE POWER BROKER A LOOK AT AHMED CHALABI.” Of course, the advantage of this is you don’t have to hire a translator – translating is so boring on TV, and it might give the viewing audience the idea that Iraqis don’t normally speak English.

Here is a typical snippet from that show:
(OC) Terry, you've been spending lots of time with one of the more controversial and powerful figures in Iraq. And you have his story tonight.
(OC) Ahmed Chalabi, Cynthia. He is quite a character. He was in exile from this country for more than 40 years. Saddam Hussein's archenemy. He's now a candidate. It is election season here. You sense it in the air. People talk about it in cafes. There's posters and banners. And Chalabi wants to run the country he left for 40 years. No matter what you think of him, he's a man to be reckoned with.
(VO) There is no one else in Iraq like him. And that may be a good thing. Ahmed Chalabi is the canniest, wiliest, most effective, most elusive political player in the new Iraq. And he just might be the man best-positioned to help the US achieve its goal of a stable, secular, democratic government here. Or maybe not. You never know what Ahmed Chalabi could do next.”

Actually, to give a little credit where credit is due, John Burns, the pro-war NYT correspondent, did appear and say reasonable things on the Charlie Rose show – things that were entirely unreflected in the coverage of the election by his paper:

“CHARLIE ROSE: How does the election look today, and how do you measure that this new parliament or assembly, whatever they`re going to call it, might elect Chalabi?
JOHN BURNS: No, I don`t think. Personally, I don`t think that there`s the remotest chance of that. Mr. Chalabi`s party, I would think, would be lucky to get two seats.
What he will do with those two seats and with his own good self after that I don`t know. He envisages himself as a compromise candidate for prime minister. I think that`s probably beyond the reach of even so canny a politician as Mr. Chalabi.
I think that this election is likely to produce an unsurprising result. I think we`ve seen it before.”

The Washington Post, meanwhile, focused on an unlikely pro-Israel candidate running in Basra (wow, how about that for giving us a feeling about the country) and unleashed their no. 1 Iraqi expert and all around Middle Eastern savant – I am talking, of course, about the ever repugnant Sally Quinn – to do a 2000+ word profile of Chalabi on November 17, 2005. Quinn famously did a profile of Chalabi in 2003 in which he the varieties of his silky genius were highlighted, and contrasted, comically, with the boobish Iraqi pols that he brought with them – many didn’t speak English or possess table manners! And the grease in their hair! My how we laughed. 30-50, 000 Iraqi deaths later, we return to this always risible subject.

This is Quinn, speaking with the collective wisdom of D.C.:

“Spending time with Ahmed Chalabi is like disappearing down the rabbit hole. People are either throwing him tea parties or crying "off with his head."

Normally in Washington, people ask not to be identified when they have something negative to say about a person in the news. With Chalabi, it's the opposite. On the heels of his week-long visit to the United States, few want to be quoted by name saying anything positive. Yet suddenly many have positive things to say.
It was only a year and a half ago that his Baghdad office and home were raided and trashed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. He had gone from being the darling of the neo-cons to a pariah. Many thought he was dead politically.

But today he is a strong contender for prime minister in next month's elections, and highly placed sources say he has become the choice of many U.S. officials to lead the country. He has managed to resurrect himself because he is seen as the one person who can get U.S. troops out of Iraq, and Washington is pragmatic enough to recognize that.”

Can one love enough that last sentence? I don’t think so. Quinn is a rare human being: she is the local genius of the Washington Post, the very distillation of its editorial and journalistic attitude. Shameless, hubristic, triumphantly bigoted, privileged, and convinced that insider knowledge = real knowledge. Of course, insider knowledge is really a pack of the delusions and panics that make the governing class at this particular point in time a thing for the angels to both weep and laugh over.

Now, here’s LI’s bet. Our bet is that not once, not once in the next week or month will there be any discussion whatsoever of the curiously distorted coverage of the Iraqi election going into it, and the more than curious inflation of stories about a man whose main achievement seems to be to have gotten to know American journalists. Nobody will ask, why is it that there are not 2,000 word portraits of Hakim in the WP style section? Why isn’t there a series in the NYT, the men who run Iraq? The obvious answer is that the American public can’t bear too much reality – at least, that is what our guardians think. So much better to make up the country of Iraq lock stock and barrel and present it, a steaming pile of horseshit, to the American citizenry – just so we don’t get too worried about what we are sending Americans to die for, or to be head injured for, or to be legless for, or to have their spines broken for, or to be permanently traumatized for.”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

welcome to the rabies festival

A couple of days ago, LI made the argument that U.S. policy in Iraq had brought about civil war, instead of preventing it. And, furthermore, that the common view, which is that the U.S. has spent its entire time trying to prevent a civil war, was wrong – that the U.S. intention, per the criminals in the White House, corresponded to a weakening of Iraq that would entail, at the least, factionalization, and more probably, violence on a civil war scale. Brian, in a comment on this post, logically reduced LI’s argument to the one that the U.S. intended the partitioning of Iraq.

That made me think about the difference between intentions and conditions. And that made me think, golly, I’ll just write a whole fucking post on this intrinsically fascinating topic!

It is the LI position that the larger, institutionalized social forces, like the state, or businesses, or parties, operate in reality not to institute some rigid intention or goal, but to produce the conditions that will make push forward the self-organizing of a set of goals. But that this never seems to be the case. It always seems that institutions, like people, follow some intention.

Francois Jullien is the guy who has started LI thinking about these things, got us out of our shitty trance, shook us awake for a fleeting shitty moment. In “A treatise on efficacy” Jullien compares the Western and Chinese notions of how states and enterprises operate. For instance, he considers Sun Tzu’s notion that the general, before battle, should “ban omens and dismiss all doubts.”

“The whole of this Chinese thought is prompted by a single concept: whatever happens “in any case” “cannot not happen” (once all the conditions are ascertained); in other words, it is “ineluctable” (bi)

“This idea of the ineluctability of processes and so also of success for whoever is capable of profiting from it recurs constantly throughout all Chinese thinking. Even a thinker such as Mencius subscribes to this logic of consequentiality, despite the fact that he adopts a position altogether opposed to the theses of the strategists, since he considers that sovereignty depends not on the relation of forces and therefore the art of warfare, but on the sway exercised by morality. Or rather, morality is itself a force, and a particularly strong one, because it possesses great influence and uses this to effect, in a diffuse and discrete fashion. Be concerned for your people, Mencius tells the ruler, share your pleasures with them, and you will inevitably progressively come to rule over all other princes. That is because all peoples will desire to pass under your authority; they will open their doors to you and will be unable to resist you. Through violence, you will inevitably eventually come to grief, for the power at your disposal is limited and arouses rivalry.”

Okay. When we put up quotations here, we have this audio-visual image in our head – the quote hangs there, on the screen, as we mouth into the dark, Professor Unrath on his downers. In reality, of course, the quote falls behind us – like landscape revealed in the window of a bus, falling away from the passenger who tries to keep it in his visual space for the longest. Sorry Charley. Anyway, to illustrate the importance of the ineluctability of processes, LI is thinking: for a long time – for three years, actually – we have felt something like the very chiton scraped off our nerves whenever we read the inevitable sign off line of the pro-war or MSM set about Iraq. The deal will be some fucking essay or news report considering another fucking disaster. Or announcing the administration’s latest move, which has the integrity, coherence and logic of some mad male masturbator’s theory of bitches, caught on the q.v. as he retires to the institutions communal bathroom. And yet, after the careful, pawful consideration, with the utmost respect for the sacred powers that be, of this luminous turd, one that will have negative consequences even relative to the very goals it is supposedly designed to support, the belligeranti and the sheepsouled journalist then elevate themselves, as though they were standing above mere probability and bowels, and will pretend that war is some crazy ass amalgam of miracles and chances and write something to the effect that - but suppose Iraq gets better in the next three months, or – but things can still turn around in Iraq. Oh fucking A. Oh my right and left buttocks. Oh my very dick, let it gangrene and fall off me – for this is the crazy motherfucker of the thing that makes me think I have wandered into a vast den of the lobotomized, a zombie zone, where the disconnect between the conditions that are ascertained and the supposed uncertainty of what follows from them has become the gospel that we believe, in spite of the mounting pile of corpses (smell the magic!) in front of our very eyes. In this sad and idiot bombed zone, the zone of the mind, where the terrorists are D.C. courtiers and the target is your synapses, the melancholy of that sign off optimism is that, really, it is an invitation to lose it all right there. Take out cock, pussy, cerebellum, inner organs, and all the change and keys in your pocket, put it in the tray, and let the monsters of the governing class eat it all right before your astonished, or actually tranquilized, eyeballs. What the fuck? Why not believe anything? It is as if I decided to build a birdhouse, but couldn’t predict, before I finished it, whether it was actually a supersonic automobile.

Now, why - as we pass into the interns’ white chambers and calmly discuss today’s autopsy, stripping off our green rubber gloves – why have dialectics and structure, or the Way and process – why have they so utterly vanished in Middle Class America? White magicians and black know that dialectics and structure haven’t vanished from reality itself. But LI suspects that the disappearance of the political power of the working class is intimately related to the fall of dialectics and structure, or process and the way, and the rise of a peculiar seriality interiorized in the very heart of middle class existence. Our friend, IT, has written a dissertation that tells part of that history. The repressed, in the U.S., is dialectics and structure, and our great post-industrial growth industry is in managing the return of that particular repressed, which takes all kinds of threatening forms in the rabies festival (in which LI has a tent at least) outside the gated community.

A subject to which we will return later.

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...