Saturday, March 03, 2007

I love to jerk off, but I don't love all jerk offs

“But if the personalities weren’t ridiculous by themselves, one wouldn’t be able to make up good stories.” – Rameau

Frankly, LI doesn’t like Atrios’ wanker of the day award, because it associates one of God’s greatest gifts – wanking – exclusively with the warmonger and the feeb. I guess it is the last gasp of the great onanism fear that swept over Europe and the States in the 18th century. But it has had one good effect at least – it is obviously driving Time Magazine’s Joe Klein crazy. Today, he published a You can trust a Communist to be Communist post on his blog, and it is a useful map of the parameters of U.S. reporting. Anything that seems to indicate that a reporter will be called a “left wing extremist” is excluded. Since Klein is an insider to these circles, I think we can trust his accuracy. Here are the rules, the things that are tabu for your average thumb up his ass D.C. scribe:

A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.
--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.”

While Joe Klein richly deserves Atrios’ scorn – if he is a wanker, he is the kind of masturbator who gives that glorious supplement a bad name – he’s done a service by spelling out the rules that run through the head of the press corps. One by one, the fear that one will show, for instance, that a corporation is acting evilly, or the fear of showing that fundamental democratic rights are violated by the governing class in the U.S., stifles the baby news story in its cradle. The item that particularly amused me was “believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.” Let’s see. The U.S. financed the Islamic radical fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s; the U.S. encouraged Saudi Arabia, from 1956 onward, to use its position as a fundamentalist Islamic state to fight Nasser and communism; the U.S. gave a green light, after the Iranian revolution, to the Saudi program of pouring millions into Wahabi controlled mosques, placed from Morocco to Indonesia, from Germany to Turkey; the U.S. went so far, in the 1980s, as to give the man who directed the first bombing of the WTC in 1993, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a CIA signed visa into the U.S. His air fare and travel arrangements were practically comp’ed by the CIA in the 80s, which he spent flying around on behalf of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. This is Robert Friedman’s article for that communist magazine, the New Yorker – which Klein, innocent of those vile red schemes, actually worked for himself! – published in 1995:

Here’s a snippet:

The Alkifah Refugee Centre, in addition to providing a hangout for the disaffected, distributed pamphlets and videotapes on the rebel war in Afghanistan. On any given day, a visitor to the centre might take martial-arts classes, or sign up for an automatic-weapons training course taught by instructors from the National Rifle Association. The club even had its own T-shirts: A MUSLIM TO A MUSLIM IS A BRICK WALL. But the highlight for the centre’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.

”One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel travelling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farooq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh Abdel Rahman, travelling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town. The blind Egyptian cleric, with his ferocious rhetoric and impassioned preaching, filled angry, discontented Arab immigrants with a fervour for jihad – holy war. This was exactly what the CIA wanted: to stir up support for the Muslim rebels and topple the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan.

The sheikh, however, had a somewhat broader agenda.

A former investigative counsel for the Senate Foreign Relatiosn Committee, now a private attorney in Washington, Jack Blum speaks bitterly but fatalistically. ‘After every covert war there is an unintended disposal problem,’ he says, as if he were talking about unexpected land mines and not potential Islamic terrorists living in Brooklyn. ‘We steered and encouraged these people. Then we dropped them. Now we’ve got a disposal problem. When you motivate people to fight for a cause – jihad – the problem is, how do you shut them off?’”

This, of course, is noway near as satisfying as Paul Berman's little book, that blames it all on the Nazis. Those nazis. Intellectual history as wanking - oh, wanking, so many crimes have been committed in your name!

And, according to Sy Hersch, the latest Bush folly is to … start the Saudis up again.
How does this work out as a parameter? when looking at the news, one has to have a sense of what isn’t being reported as opposed to what is. For instance, the reports about Iran’s supposed supplying of weapons to the Shi’a militias have taken up, I’d estimate, oh one hundred times more story space than the story of the Saudi and Gulf Sunni financing of the Sunni insurgents. Now – it isn’t that I don’t expect that the Saudis would operate like that, in their own self defense. That financing just happens to have contributed to a hundred times more deaths of American soldiers than the Iranians have. But… just as a hijacking that was manned mostly by Saudis and financed by a Saudi millionaire in close contact with Pakistan’s secret service operates as an excuse to invade Iraq, so, too, the dance around the obvious is a way of trying to lead us into a war with Iran. The truth, of course, is that the U.S. just isn’t powerful enough to take on the Saudis. Who wants them to? I don’t. I simply want the U.S. to recognize its real strength in the Middle East is weak at best, and operate accordingly. But to get back to the theme – sometimes, newspapers do stumble over reality. They do their best, at these moments, to move on. One of the funnier examples of this, recently, was a NYT story about the evil Iranians, supplying those evil Shi’ite militia those American killin’ weapons. Here’s an excerpt from this James Glanz piece, Feb. 27th:

In a dusty field near the Baghdad airport on Monday, the American military laid out a display of hundreds of components for assembling deadly roadside bombs, its latest effort to embarrass the country it contends is supplying the material to armed Shiite groups here: Iran.
Officers of the First Cavalry Division whose unit seized the components said they had been found in a palm grove just north of the Iraqi capital two days earlier, after a tip from a local resident. An explosives expert said the components were made to be assembled into the deadly canisters called explosively formed penetrators, or E.F.P.'s, which explode and hurl out a high-speed blob of copper designed to cut through tough American armor.
''I've lost good friends to these E.F.P.'s,'' said Capt. Clayton Combs, whose unit turned up the cache of weapons. ''And the fact that we found these before they got to the side of the road is just a huge win for us.''
The cache included what Maj. Marty Weber, a master explosives ordnance technician, said was C-4 explosive, a white substance, in clear plastic bags with red labels that he said contained serial numbers and other information that clearly marked it as Iranian.
But while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.'s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue.

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, ''plastic made in Haditha,'' a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.
The box marked U.A.E. provided a phone number for the manufacturer there. A call to that number late Monday encountered only an answering machine that said, ''Leave your number and we will call you back.''

Right ho. Why is it that the NYT isn’t going to call back? Joe Klein gave us the answer. I think I could pretty much predict the ratio of stories about reality - who supplies the money to buy the goods for the insurgents - as opposed to the Administration's soft soap story about Iran. I would guess one to fifty. I'll check this with Factiva some time. It is nice to have a propaganda criterion.

And people say wanking has never lead to anything good.

Friday, March 02, 2007

happy texas independence day, pardners!

Happy Texas Independence day!

"Today is the 171st anniversary of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 2, 1836." - Houston Chronicle.

This is a good time to remember one of my favorite American politicians, Sam Houston - friend of the Indian (they didn't call him the fuckin Raven for nothing), agin that bestial slavery system, pro-Union, and especially pro the bottle. Sammy, what happened? LI is going to commune with his ghost today.

Here's a bit of history. On April 19, 1861, Sam went to Galveston, which was like the Charleston of this state, pro-secesh, and from the balcony of the Tremont House Hotel he threw down, which was a dangerous thing to do in Texas. After all, at around the same time, round the Dallas area, Confederate hoodlums were lynching pro-Unionists (always remember, the Confederacy was founded on the blind criminal violence, and was a completely dishonorable enterprise from start to finish - a nation of lynchers, crosseyed nosepickers, and rapists, ruled by bearded retards). When Houston made the speech, someone in the crowd shouted: here's a rope, let's hang the old traitor. Ah, the peabrained descendents of the man who shouted that now run the country!

Being a man of some sense, Houston ended his speech with a prediction: "You may, after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure, and hundreds of thousands of precious lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence, if God be not against you: but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of State rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery impulsive people as you are for they live in cooler climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction, where great interests are involved, such as the present issues before the country, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche, and what I fear is they will overwhelm the South with ignoble defeat."

So you see, not all Texans are as retarded as the freak show specimen currently parading his baboon like hindquarters around the White House.

So GO OUT AND GET DRUNK TONIGHT! And sing the yellow rose of Texas, or - oh my favorite, I'm gonna cry - Marty Robbins El Paso: "Down in the west texas town of El Paso/ I fell in love with a Mexican guuuuurlll".

If you don't like that song - well, fuck you.

the art of the lickspittle

“A party of us were together one day – we’d been drinking, it’s true – and suddenly some one made the suggestion that each one of us, without leaving the table, should tell something he had done, something that he himself honestly considered the worst of all the evil actions of his life. But it was to be done honestly, that was the point, that it was to be honest, no lying.” – The Idiot

Dostoevsky is perhaps the greatest artist of the ugly story, the shameless and shameful anecdote. There are so many of them in his novels, and of course, Notes from under the floorboards is one big ugly story. It is obvious that Dostoevsky himself considers that he picked up the genre from the French. One usually thinks of Rousseau’s Confessions. Perhaps that is literally the source of the ‘game”, but, in broader historic terms, Rousseau’s Confessions emerge from a whole sub-genre of ugly stories. I could, perhaps, trace the psychology of these stories to the moralistes. But then I’d be here all fucking day, right? Rameau is, if nothing else, a fount of ugly stories. Of which, let me transcribe two.

The first story is funny, in a way. And the bones of it are definitely La Rochefoucauld. It is not about Rameau himself, but – like many stories – the telling of it sticks in a peculiar way to both the teller and the hearer - it creates a secret bond, the kind of bond that is pointed to, negatively, by the phrase, "I don't want to hear this." To hear is to have, to be entrusted with, to share and have a share in. In the Idiot, when Ferdyshtchenko suggests the game at Nastasya Fillipovna’s birthday party, the intent is a general degradation of all present, and for reasons intrinsic to that moment, it is what Nastasya needs to break out of the situation she finds herself in. But here is the thing - it is a degradation within the bounds of a game. It is the guise of the game that makes it acceptable, or makes it acceptable, at least, to suggest it. As a game, of course, it isn’t serious. But like the best games – like Russian Roulette – its non-seriousness penetrates what is serious, making the serious look shabby and shallow and suspect. As we’ve pointed out before, there is a game like, a ritual aspect to the dialogue between Diderot and Rameau. Here, then, is Rameau’s story.

It is about one Bouret. Fermier général Etienne-Michel Bouret – a tax gatherer. A man whose wealth allowed him to hope for social advancement in the complicated court circles of Louis XV. But there is a price to pay for not being born in the right class, there is always the price of birth. There is now, don’t kid yourself. Bouret, then, determines to win the affection of the keeper of Seals. This is a story that, with variations, could be applied to the Georgetown circles in D.C. at the moment, or – actually, to corporate achievers, going through the ranks, in any Fortune 400 corporate office. Variations of this happened at Enron. But let's get on with it, right?

I’m going to quote from the Penguin translation, as I don’t feel up to translating the whole bit at the moment. But I will make a few modifications:

Lui: “But if this role is amusing at first, and you find a certain amount of pleasure in laughing up your sleeve at the stupidity of the people you are hoodwinking, it ends up by losing its point, and besides, after a certain number of inventions you are forced to repeat yourself. Ingenuity and art have their limits. Only God and one or two rare geniuses can have a career that broadens out as they go along. Bouret is one such, perhaps. Some of his tricks really strike me, yes, even me, as sublime. The little dog, the Book of Happiness, the torches along the Versailles road, these are things which leave me dumbfounded and humiliated. Enough to put you off the profession.21
I: What do you mean about the little dog?
He: [What planet are you from]? What, you don’t really know how that rare man set about [scaring a little dog away from himself and attaching it to the Keeper of the Seals, who had taken a fancy to it?]
I: No, I confess I don’t.
He: All the better. It is one of the finest things ever conceived; the whole of Europe was thrilled by it, and there isn’t a single courtier it hasn’t made envious. You are not without sagacity: let’s see how you would have set about it. Remember that Bouret was loved by his dog. Bear in mind that the strange attire of the Minister terrified the little creature. Think that he only had one week to overcome the difficulties. You must understand all the conditions of the problem so as to appreciate the merits of the solution. Well!
I: Well, I have to admit that in that line the simplest things would catch me out.
He: Listen (he said, giving me a little tap on the shoulder – [he is chummy]), listen and admire! He had a mask made like the face of the Keeper of the Seals, he borrowed the tatter’s ample robe from a footman. He put the mask over his own face. He slipped on the robe. He called the dog, caressed it and gave it a biscuit. Then, suddenly changing his attire, he was no longer the Keeper of the Seals but Bouret, and he called his dog and whipped it. In less than two or three days of this routine, carried on from morning till night, the dog learned to run away from Bouret the Farmer-General and run up to Bouret the Keeper of the Seals. But I am too good natured. You are a layman and don’t deserve to be told about the miracles going on under your very nose.”

There are so many beautiful bits here (LI said, tapping you familiarly on the shoulder). For instance, the way the problem of brownnosing is laid out like a chess problem, just like the chess games going on around Diderot and Rameau. And the admiration demanded for something abject, something inhuman, something truly, in every way, shitty. To be willing to go to such lengths of humiliation in order to curry favor – the history of those humiliations will, of course, rise up again, ghosts that will torment the perpetrator. One can only assuage one’s own wounded pride by such success that one can enjoy the abasement of others – that endless chain. While much is said about masculine aggression contributing to that curious eagerness for war, there is also the revenge for the thousand humiliations that have to be crossed in order to get to be fermier general, or undersecretary of Intelligence in the Department of Defense – and that mass accumulation of humiliations among a group that considers itself the most powerful, the most just, the most benign grouping in history – ah, those are the boys to order the next bombing. The violence in this group is never pure, it is always muddied by obscure memories of toadying, the ingrown rancor. In another century, Bouret is Foley, Bouret is the gay evangelical preacher who gets the 100 percent heterosexual grade at evangelical redemption camp. Giving up the little doggie just for just a little taste of the highest level of cocaine - fame, power, acceptance by the guys who count. Being made. Ah, the bliss of it, the entire bliss.

The next story I reserve for the next post.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


LI recommends Gerald Howard’s book review of Philip Rieff’s posthumous My Life Among the Deathworks and CHARISMA: THE GIFT OF GRACE, AND HOW IT HAS BEEN TAKEN AWAY FROM US. Rieff’s sociology was entirely in the domain of what Mills called the sociological imagination - rooted in the novelist's sense of the moment, on the one hand, and philosophy, on the other, the latter coming to Rieff via a lifelong engagement with Freud. The review profiles the entire career, and the entire career sounds very much like Herzog’s in Bellow’s novel, down to the young wife – in Herzog’s case, Madeleine - who simultaneously divorces Herzog and starts on the threatening upward academic journey. In Rieff’s case, the young wife was Susan Sontag:

It was in a Chicago classroom in 1950 that he met and was instantly smitten with his beautiful student the seventeen-year-old Susan Sontag. Autres temps, autres mœurs, they were married ten days later. In the annals of miserable American literary marriages, only the misalliance of Edmund Wilson and Mary McCarthy can match this one for marriage-of-true-minds interest and, perhaps, reciprocal influence. She followed him as half graduate student, half faculty wife, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they had one child, the writer David Rieff. But they separated and were divorced in 1959, and the tenor of the marriage may be judged by Sontag's comment, years later, that after reading Middlemarch at age eighteen she "realized not only that I was Dorothea but that, a few months earlier, I had married Mr. Casaubon"…

Sontag’s putdown is so very awesome that it almost removes its sting – if one of my lovers could abase me with one punch like that, I’d be awful damn proud.

I want to discuss Rieff’s conservative social vision in another post. From LI’s perspective, the review brought home the troubled trajectory of the American sage – again, reminding me of Herzog. The American sage is well aware of being the peculiar object of an exterior negation at large in the culture. That negation is a characteristic compound of two of the enduring features of American life: anti-intellectualism and worship of success.

That awareness drives the angry movement from sage to buffoon, gets into the sex, the clothes, the dialogue with so called old neighborhood friends, the longing for power, the vendettas which figure in Herzog, Humboldt’s Gift, Mosby’s Memoirs – so many of Bellow’s novels.

However … before I get to Rieff and Bellow, perhaps I should finish up the Rameau thread. I will do one more post on that, translating two anecdotes that Rameau tells which contain a certain dreadful touch of the historically premonitory.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don't let it get you down, it's only castles burning...

Like all good Americans – and Russians, come to that – LI harbors apocalyptic fantasies and eagerly looks for the promised horror in the flotsam and jetsam of bad news in the newspapers. In The Idiot, you’ll remember, Lebedev is a buffoon/parasite of the Rameau type who insinuates himself into Salon society with his interpretations of the Book of Revelations. At one point, somebody accuses him of interpreting the star Wormwood as the railroads spreading through Europe. Actually, an excellent interpretation – it was, after all, the contention of the more sober historian, AJP Taylor, that the schedule of those same railroads was the driver for the mobilizations that led to WWI.

So – in spite of my worry about my brother’s investments – I got that certain vertigo from the 400 point stock market drop yesterday – although I in no way believe that indicates a permanent trend. And it made me think of posting a little story about the end of Carthage written as one of the Imaginary Dialogues by the always bizarre late romantic, Walter Savage Landor. Landor, of course, is now off the map as far as the canon is concerned, but remember – he was held in the highest esteem by Emerson, Swinburne, and other assorted literati in the 19th century.

The dialogue is imagined to take place between Scipio Africanus, Polybius, and Panaetius – ah, the air of mustiness is already collecting around your muzzle, lecteur! – but don’t worry, this isn’t some Victorian re-enactment of Roman virtues. Like Flaubert, Landor has a view of Carthage that is full of sexual imagery and violence. Scipio describes the razing of the city – shades of Fallujah – with a cynical view of the meaning of it all. Far from honor and dignity, it is a matter of business – Carthage offers a competitive advantage to Rome that can’t be tolerated. Then Polybius tells a story. He and a patrol enter the half destroyed city. They hear cries issuing unexpectedly from a part of it, and make their way through ash clogged streets until “two old men throw themselves on the ground” at his feet. The men are Carthage’s judges. One of the judges says, ‘the laws are yours, o Romans, and nobody judges treason and parricide more harshly.’ With that sentence, the old men led the patrol around the next corner. Here, I’ll let Landor take over:

‘We entered a small square: it had been a market-place: the roofs of the stalls were demolished, and the stones of several columns, (thrown down to extract the cramsp of iron and the lead that fastened them) served for the spectators, male and female, to mount on. Five men were nailed on crosses; two others were nailed against a wall, from scarcity (as we were told) of wood.

“Can seven men have murdered their parents in the same year?” I cried.
“No, nor has any of the seven,” replied the first who had spoken. “But when heavy impositions were laid upon those who where backward in voluntary contributions, these men, among the richest in our city, protested by the gods that they had no gold or silver left. They protested truly.”

“And they die for this! Inhuman, insatiable, inexorable wretch!”

“Their books,” added he, unmoved at my reproaches, ‘were seized by public authority and examined. It was discovered that, instead of employing their riches in external or internal commerce, or in manufactories, or in agriculture, instead of reserving it for the embellishment of the city, or the utility of the citizens, instead of lending it on interest to the industrious and needy, they had lent it to foreign kings and tyrants, some of whom were waging unjust wars by these very means, and others were enslaving their own country. For so heinous a crime the laws had appointed no specific punishment. On such occasions the people and elders vote in what manner the delinquent shall be prosecuted, lest any offender should escape with impunity, from their humanity or improvidence. Some voted that these wretches should be cast amid the panthers; the majority decreed them (I think wisely) a more lingering and more ignominious death.”

The men upon the crosses held down their heads, whether from shame or pain or feebleness. The sunbeams were striking them fiercely; sweat ran from them, liquefying the blood that had blackened and hardened on their hands and feet. A soldier stood by the side of each, lowering the point of his spear to the ground; but no one of them gave it up to us. A centurian asked the nearest of them how he dared to stand armed before him.

‘Because the city is in ruins, and the laws still live,” said he. “At the first order of the conqueror of the elders, I will surrender my spear.”

“What is your pleasure, O commander?” asked the elder.

“That an act of justice be the last public act performed by the citizens of Carthage and that the sufferings of these wretches not be abridged.”

Such was my reply. The soldiers piled their spears, for the points of which the hearts of the crucified men thirsted; and the people hailed us as they would have hailed deliverers.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

sources of disinformation: iran

The anonymous claptrap which, herded through the NYT, WAPO, LAT and the tv news helped Bush and his merry men lead this country into a most satisfying circle jerk of war in 2003, is happening all over again with Iran. But to get the full affect of the war aphrodisiac, you need a chosen set of experts to interpret the wisdom of anonymity.

None is better than a man in uniform – and we know how much the media loves a man in uniform – and so who better to push to the front for yesterday’s bogus story about a weapons cache “found in a palm grove just north of the Iraqi capital” than Maj. Marty Weber, who plumbed his infinite wisdom about Iran’s weaponry to explain that this cache, consisting of weapons easy to make in Iraq (and easy to buy, given the money flooding in from the Saudis for Sunni militias) had the high sulfur and brimstone smell of Iranian goods.

Yet then there was this: “But while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue.

Among the confusing elements were cardboard boxes of the gray plastic PVC tubes used to make the canisters. The boxes appeared to contain shipments of tubes directly from factories in the Middle East, none of them in Iran. One box said in English that the tubes inside had been made in the United Arab Emirates and another said, in Arabic, “plastic made in Haditha,” a restive Sunni town on the Euphrates River in Iraq.”

Marty Webb first appeared as our Iranian weapons expert yesterday, in a story about another weapons cache found in Hilla. In that story:

Major Weber said he doubted that Hezbollah — the group that the Mahdi militia leader Moktada al-Sadr has used as a model for his political movement — would have provided the material and technology to the Mahdi militia or to other Shiite fighters in Iraq. “It is possible, but based upon my experience we have not seen Hezbollah share information or technology on anything until they have been told to,” he said.”

That Major Weber – apparently he is on Hezbollah’s “Look what those crazy mullahs want us to do now” email list.

But the other Iranian experts and analysts are the dealmakers, not one overworked, weapons cache rushing Major. This is why LI was so pleased to discover the Right Web site – which we have included on our blogroll – it is the link entitled, DIRECTORY OF THE PSYCHOPATHS WHO RULE US - SMELL THE INSANITY. It is proving very useful. For instance – take an article like this thumbsucker from the Christian Science Monitor, “Iran's pursuit of nuclear power raises alarms ; Does access to fuel ease nations toward nuclear weapons? Rising demand has nonproliferation experts unsettled.” Four Iranian ‘experts” are quoted – although why we call them experts is left in the shadows. They sort out in classic thumbsucker fashion. Two are foreign policy moderates, lukewarm imperialists: a Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, and a Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for America Progress. Cirincione even goes so far as to gingerly reference reality:

“A problem for the international community is that many developing countries, no matter what they may think of the Iranian regime, perceive that Iran has a point when it speaks of developed-world favoritism, says the Arms Control Association's Mr. Kimball. Other analysts agree.

"Whether we like it or not, Iran is tapping into this issue of fairness and equality," says Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for America Progress and author of a new book, "Bomb Scare," on the future of nuclear weapons.”

That the U.S., which has used nuclear weapons in the past, is pushing an ABM defense aggressively at the present, and is stocked full of lunatics like our Vice President, intent on restarting bomb testing, does have that quality of begging the question of fairness and equality. Oh, and then there are the hundred or so bombs stockpiled by Israel, and the U.S.’s gladhanding of the Indian nuclear program. So I suppose the questioning of the fairness and equality, here, is rather like the questioning of the fairness and equality of Jim Crow laws in the South. A shocking eruption of common sense.

Balanced against the lukewarm imperialists are the running dogs: Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington and a former Pentagon nonproliferation official, and Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and an Iran expert. This is where the righweb directory comes in handy. You can look up Sokolski and find out, among other entertaining things, that he signed a letter from Project for the New American Century on September 21, 2001, which said: “Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” This non-sequitor has, of course, become the principle to which the U.S. has sacrificed 200-400 thousand Iraqi lives. And Sokolski is all over the place, at the moment, pushing the proposal that Iran has no right to enrich nuclear fuel at all – for it turns out that the U.S. is the only country that has the right to unilaterally withdraw from its treaty obligations, viz the limitations placed on the country by past ABM treaties. It is an asymmetric world for these people. As for Ilan Berman, you can learn that he is a freedom fighter. Yes indeed. This is what he has said about Iran: “A frequent invitee to congressional sessions covering Middle East and terrorism issues, Berman consistently advocates expansive U.S. intervention in the Middle East. At an October 2005 briefing for the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, Berman argued:

The fundamental problem facing the United States is that Iran's ‘nuclear clock' is ticking much faster than its ‘regime change clock.' Altering that equation—both through initiatives that delay and derail Iran's nuclear ambitions and through those that empower opposition forces inside and outside of the Islamic Republic—should be the starting point for any serious American strategy.

So, for those reading the papers, keep that invaluable link to the rightweb in mind. We will. As well as Berman’s comment, which pretty much sums up the wishful thinking of the Bush Administration. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. The starting point for any serious American strategy should be – throw away Berman’s advice, recognize Iran, let NGOs engage with Iranian dissidents, do business, grow up, realize that American power has shrunk in the Middle East, and realize that we aren’t in World War IV, there is no long long long war, we are on the edge of economic and environmental problems that will require resources that we are massively wasting, etc., etc. You know the words and the tune.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Locke vs. the Witch

This is a typical story from Edward Wingfield's Discourse of Virginia. Wingfield, one of John Smith's men, is talking about another expedition of starving, quarreling gentlemen up another hopeless river in a country seemingly infinite in expanse and strangeness. He and Smith meet a kyng of an Indian nation, named Pawatah. The Englishmen presented him with a hatchet.

“Monday he came to the water side, and we went a shore to him agayne. He tolde us that our hott Drynckes he thought caused his greefe, but that he was well agayne, and we were very welcome. He sent for another Deere which was roasted and after sodd for us (as before). Our Captayne caused his Dynner to be Dressed a shore also. Thus we satt banqueting all the forenoone, some of his people led us to their houses, shewed us the growing of their Corne and the maner of setting it, gave us Tobacco, wallnutes, mulberyes, strawberryes, and Respises. One sheewed us the herbe called in their tongue wisacan, which they say heales poisoned wounds, it is like lyverwort or bloudwort. One gaue me a Roote wherewith they poison their Arrows. they would shew us any thing we Demaunded, and laboured very much by signes to make us understand their Languadge.”

LI thinks there are fascinating things in the early stories of the colonists – (and reminds you to be on the watch for Matthew Sharpe’s Jamestown). We are bringing up this account of gifts to contrast it with a recent post on Crooked Timber by John Quiggen, which is about a recent survey of happiness and how one should interpret the results of it . This is a truly ponderable matter, although economists are only moved to spasmodically engage with empirical evidence about happiness once in a blue moon, as a sort of homage to Bentham.

Well, the post, and the assumptions, have made me ponder about the emphasis on the happiness parameter, and the neglect of others – among which, most strikingly, is generosity. And on this neglect hangs a tale of Weltanshauungs.

It really does make perfect sense for economists to be worried about happiness, just as it made sense, so long ago, for the Jamestown colonists to look at all those gifts and plan on seizing them – or just as it makes sense that one of the enduring American myths is of the “purchase” of Manhattan for a deal of beads. For here, the avant garde of the Early Modern Era, Lockians avant le lettre, encountered an ethos they had already overthrown in Southern England. They met it, too, in the Scots highland, and the wild country in Ireland. They met it and invariably they killed it. For this was the deal – the Lockian view was that liberty, that amazing invention of the Dutch and the English, consisted of the disposing of property. Freedom and owning property were synonymous. Whereas the Kynge Pawatah, the highland clans, the cattle raiding Irish, all saw liberty – not that they conceptualized it as such – as generosity. To be powerful was to give. Account after account of the first settlements tell us that the colonists, always seeming to be a miserable lot, survived, crucially, on the generosity of the salvages. The learning of planting techniques, the seeds, the food for the winter, the banqueting – it was all accepted without question by the settlers, who responded with maps, surveys, claims, and treaties. Of course, we are not talking of an unmixed capitalist ethos – these seventeenth century bravos were still too close to the older ways to be completely comfortable with the triumph of property. But so it went – the fall of one definition of freedom – transmuted into today’s terms, it is the freedom from the iron laws of economics, the remorseless gameplaying for profit – versus another: freedom of contract. While, from the Lockean viewpoint, generosity is nothing more than irresponsibility, a parasitic relationship to the production machine.

Poor Marx. He was born too late. If only he’d been there, at John Smith’s side.

Now, the thing about conservatives is that, no matter how they might go on about Aristotle and natural law, in the end, they are always going to come back to Locke. The Aristotelian virtue of generosity is absolutely foreign to the ethos of property based liberty. Try to imagine Americans, now, looking out at strangelooking, foreign tongued peoples straggling down their streets, and going out and – showing them all their wealth. Treating them to the best food. Giving them medicine. This is not going to happen.

The thing about liberals is this: we are nostalgic for the ethos of generosity, but aware of the amazing wealth created by the freedom of contract. Our idea is that eventually, the wealth will be so much that society will evolve, peacefully, into a thing more generous – generous beyond the belief of those Indians.

This is to tacitly ignore what “evolution” is all about. Marxists, of course, think that they can skip and seize, banking on a revolution that comes from outside history. And LI, ex-lefty, misfit liberal, only figured out, last year, that Red Riding Hood going up the path of pins is not the same as Red Riding Hood going back down the path of pins. That there are irreversible paths, and that the negation of the negation is best embodied in that moment in which the witch says the Lord’s Prayer backwards. Little Red Riding Hood can get eaten by the wolf, or have the wolf killed, or – back back back down that path – worship the wolf.

I imagine that, on the parameter of generosity, this country would show up as characteristically schizophrenic. If I close one crow’s eye and gaze at these here states, I see an astonishingly selfish place. Foreign aid has radically declined since the sixties, even as the country has become much, much richer. This is a country that calmly looked on in the nineties, watched Africa fight an AIDS epidemic that was, in its scope, like the Black Death, and moved only to make sure that the intellectual property rights of the drug companies were properly respected. This is a country that abolishes welfare, and substitutes the system of jails – jails being a two-fer – you can both enforce apartheid and sink the poor into such straits that they become absolutely demoralized. In these days of the long long war, World War IV, don’t you know, what country is taking in the million plus refugees from the Iraq war? Syria and Jordan – where the average income is, maybe, a tenth what it is in the U.S. The U.S. – the major cause of the death of the two to four hundred thousand Iraqis, and the flight of the million plus – will take in – 7.000 this year. Ideally. This is typical, however. Unless you are white, coming to the U.S. is always a fraught enterprise – from the coast card turning back starving Haitians all the way back to the policy of slamming the door in the face of the Jews in the 30s.

However, closing that eye and opening my other crows eye, I see evidences of generosity in another form. A restlessness and energy in the culture that is all about giving everything up. About second chances. The bold forging of new sexual relationships. A lot of things that I find incredibly moving, but would have trouble materializing it into questions on a generosity questionnaire.

Southern California Death Trip

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