Saturday, June 02, 2007

the alleged despair of Georg Büchner

“Philippeau, welch trübe Augen! Hast du dir ein Loch in die rote Mütze gerissen? Hat der heilige Jakob ein böses Gesicht gemacht? Hat es während des Guillotinierens geregnet? Oder hast du einen schlechten Platz bekommen und nichts sehen können?” - Herault in Danton’s Death

“Philippeau, what sad eyes! Did you rip a hole in your red cap? Did St. Jacob give you the evil eye? Did it rain during the guillotining? Or did you get a bad seat and couldn’t see anything?”

In 1939, Georg Lukacs, who was living, I believe, in Moscow at the time, published an essay about Georg Büchner with a typically tendentious Lukacs-ian title, Georg Büchner and his Fascist Misrepresentation. It was another potshot in Lukacs’s shooting war on European irrationalism, of which the leading philosophical figure was, of course, Heidegger – although as we all know, Lukacs, in his Weber days, writing things like Soul and Form, got pretty fuckin close to irrationality – thought that yearns to be appreciated for its yearning to be thought - himself. Like a cuckoo in the nest, the yearning pushes out content – but in reality, according to Lukacs, the vacuum of content reflects a plenitude of class interest.

Lukacs’ attack is on Büchner ’s alleged despair, and he alludes to the evidence for it that has been pondered by all Büchner scholars – the letter he wrote to a friend about the French Revolution, which he researched before writing the play.

“For several days now I have taken every opportunity of taking pen in hand, but have found it impossible to put down so much as a single word. I have been studying the history of the Revolution. I have felt as though crushed beneath the fatalism of History. I find in human nature a terrifying sameness, and in the human condition an inexorable force granted to all and to none. The individual is no more than foam on the wave, greatness mere chance, the mastery of genius a puppet play, a ludicrous struggle aganst a branzen law which to acknowledge is the highest achievement, which to master, impossible. I no longer intend to bow down to the parade horses and bystanders of History. I have grown accustomed to the sight of blood. But I am no guillotine blade. The word must is one of the curses with which Mankind is baptized. The saying: It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to him by whom the offense cometh” is terrifying. What is it in us that lies, murders, steals? I no longer care to pursue this thought.”

Of course, as Lukacs pointed out, to make this letter Büchner’s final statement on the matter is unfair. Buchner wrote it – and his play – when he was twenty two. And he had already been active in revolutionary politics. . Lukacs thought that the despair of the letter was, indeed, laced through the play, but that it was absorbed by a dialectical message that formed the real political intelligence of the play. Now, say what you will about this interpretation – and, in his defense, it must be said that nobody had better reason to feel the full fatalism of history than Lukacs in 1937! so his rejection is, in its own way, a little heroic – it is useful for seeing a pattern in the play, a conflict that shatters the temporary synthesis of wisdom and happiness embodied – once again! – in the image of Epicurus. As Camille Desmoulins puts it in the first scene: “Der göttliche Epikur und die Venus mit dem schönen Hintern müssen statt der Heiligen Marat und Chalier die Türsteher der Republik werden.” (The divine Epicurus and Venus with her beautiful hind end must become the gatekeeper of the Republic, instead of St. Marat and Chalier.”)

Lukacs points out that the epicurean materialism of the philosophes, which is the philosophical perspective broadly represented by Danton, can’t endure, instinctively opposes, the call to class struggle issued by Robespierre. Lukacs has two very useful grafs on this topic, which I’ll quote, and then return – in another post – with more:

The central dramatic and tragic significance of the figure of Danton resides in the fact that Buchner, showing exceptional depth of poetic insight, not only laid bare the socio-political crisis in eighteenth century revolutionary endeavours at its turning point in the French Revolution but – and the two are inextricably bound up with each other – at the same time portrayed the ideological crisis of this transition, the crisis of the old mechanistic materialism as the ideology of the bourgeois revolution. The figure of Danton, indeed Donton’s fate, is the tragic embodiment of the contradictins generated by historical developments in the period between 1789 and 1848, contradictions which the old materialism was not able to resolve.

The social chacter of epicurean materialism gets lost along the way. As a result of the objective situation, eighteenth century materialists were in a position to believe that their theory of society and history – and both are essentially idealist in philosophical terms – arose from their materialist epistemology; indeed they belived that they could really derive the course their actions should take from their epicurean materialism. Helvetius says: “Un homme est juste, losque toutes ses actions tendent au bien public (sic).” And he judged himself to have derived the substance of such sociality, and its necessary connection with an ethics of the individual, from Epicurean egotism.”

At which point I am reminded of one of the sayings of Epicurus: “don’t engage in politics.” Or in the Vatican sayings: “We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.”

more on the National Committee for Withdrawal from Iraq

LI apologizes if our earlier posts on the Withdrawal project have been cloudy. But I am still working out the parameters.

So, here’s where the project is, thought-wise.
1. First, we need to found something like: the National Committee for Withdrawal from Iraq. Or at least creating a website sponsored by such a thing. Every project needs a website to reference.
2. The actual Withdrawal parties will be in two parts. The first hour or so is presentation and q and a. As I wrote before, the presentation would be a slide show of some kind – a power point show, with the speaker being a person of gravitas and stage presence. On the q and a the speaker would be joined by the Withdrawal team – designer and researcher – to answer the q. At the end of this part of the party, there will be no form letter to sign to send to congress. There will be no money to contribute to a fund. Rather, if somebody wants to sign a form letter, that person can go to the site. Instead, people will be urged to think up their own letters, forms of creative activity. Most importantly, people will be asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable. That’s it. Talk to somebody at work or after work. Join a demo. Start a demo. Write an op ed piece. Write something in a blog. Confront a war supporter in your family. The bottom line, the only thing that the whole withdrawal movement should have in common, is the slogan: zero American soldiers in Iraq in 2009. The point of the slide show will be to show what is necessary to make this happen – how to change the focus of the war from the military solution – the killing of all those who disapprove of the occupation – to the peaceful solution – the creation of some kind of board of reconciliation, the creation of a truce in which the militias on the ground self-police. The latter, of course, recognizes reality – that there are militias on the ground, and that the Americans aren’t going to kill them all, nor any army of Iraqis trained by Americans.
3. The second part of the party would vary according to site, it could be fruit juice and conversation, it could be ecstasy and a Dj playing some techno-heavy dance mix (I’m listening to Hanin Elias’ War a lot lately). I think for the prototype, a DJ and music would be best, and, alas – no illegal substances.
4. Paraphernalia. Every movement needs posters, buttons, and stickers. Every member of the audience should get a button with some design proclaiming Zed in 2009 over a stamped image of Iraq. Or imagine peace, 2009. Something like that. This kind of thing needs to be designed – and I’m no designer.

Ideas are more than welcome. I have, naturally, a very limited budget. In June, I hope to contact some actors/actresses and – keeping my fingers crossed – an actual computer literate designer who can transform script into images and graphs. Of course, if this actually gets on its feet in Austin, it could get on its feet elsewhere in a much different form. The National Committee for Withdrawal from Iraq is, after all, National. I don’t really care what the form is, the only rule is the goal: zero American soldier in Iraq by 2009.

Here’s a story: In 1963, Bertrand Russell wrote a letter to the New York Times “accusing the United States of waging a war of annihilation in Vietnam and of “suppressing the truth about the conduct of the war,” which he said involved the use of “napalm jelly gasoline” and “chemical warfare.” The Times huffily editorialized that Russell live in Never Never land… and that his letter showed an “unthinking receptivity to the most transparent Communist propaganda.” – from Who Spoke Up: American Protest against the War in Vietnam.

This project might fail. But some project will succeed it. The elite has always been for war. The parties have always been for war. So what?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Withdrawal Project

A friend of this site wrote us and asked, LI, what is this Withdrawal Project?

So, here is what I have been thinking. I need to talk to an animator for the graphics, talk to an actor or actress - preferably not a white male, but a voice and presence that has the multi-culty appeal - and then do a script that would basically take us through Iraq - here's how we got here, here's what is happening, here's how we can get out. I'm best scripting this and spotting what would need to be done. I can imagine power pointish episodes like: dancing around the hole, or, not enough soldiers is always going to be not enough soldiers, which would briefly revisit the early plans, point out that the undermanning back then was not a mistake of the warplanners but grew out of an essential assumption of the war – that the U.S. could host a long range war without making any sacrifices – and that the undermanning has lasted up until this day, and is never going to be fixed. (To fix it would mean throwing in manpower that we don’t have, at a cost we won’t accept, for a time period that is extended past the breaking point, especially as this diversion of resources really will leave the U.S. vulnerable in o so many other ways). The presentation would find ways to emphasize the size of Iraq and the littleness of the American presence. The episodes, as per Gore’s power point presentation, would be graph and comparison heavy. I’m pretty sure one can now embed vid clips in a presentation – and they are abundant.

Half of the presentation would be scenarios, starting with
what was just vetoed, going into having zero American soldiers in Iraq
by January of 2009.

If this happened, the point would be to get people to do withdrawal
projects on their own, in their own communities. It would be filmed, ideally, but the main thing is to put it on, have people come out to see a presentation. Get on their feet. Not look at this at home, or send another donation to another organization – which is just a way of being lazy. It would be open source, some group wanting to give a Withdrawal party could simply use the materials and add others. It be
nice, if this actually worked, to contact Iraqis, to have withdrawal parties in both countries. As the materials circulate, of course, people add to or change them.

This just occured to me while I was jogging the other day. At the moment, I’m living on saltines and hoping for payday from this big project – but the lovely ready will give me some free time, and maybe I can put up a notice, see if I can get some bites. I like the idea of Withdrawal parties, of it being open sourced. Fantasizing, if this really did get to prototype stage then I'd send off, perhaps, a few begging letters. Jane Fonda is perhaps a person I'd target for donation. I don’t know, I imagine there is some Hollywood liberal willing to put in 2-5 thousand dollars to see if this would work. Withdrawal parties springing up in the spring of 2008 would certainly be nice. So far, the political forms have all been – pay attention to me. And the Bush response, much like its junta beginnings, has been not to play that game. So the very form of the demonstration has been an impediment to action. This form is simply – let’s pay attention. It would operate on different tracks and trails, like rave culture. And if done right, it will attract attention in itself.

That's it. Simple, but perhaps I should do this. What do you think?

ps - I've talked to a few people about what I should do - where I should look for a power point expert, or if power point is what I am even looking for. It still looks like I will be going to the RTF department next week and putting up some notices. Tomorrow I will post ( I think) about an un_Iraq related topic. Those of you who are my regular readers, though - I beg you, take this seriously and lend me your thoughts. I am serious. Though it may sound wildly improbable, this country really is waiting for something like Withdrawal parties. The failure of the politics that would have kept this country from getting into the war, or kept the occupation short, or have questioned, by the end of May 2003, the outlines of the occupation program - which was there for anybody to read - has been a failure that keeps on giving. Every six months another failure, every election a failure, every successful election a failure. The policy elite has triumphed in this country over everything except reality - reality has smashed all of their schemes to bits. But far from poisoning the words in their mouths, they still lie like barbie and ken dolls with lie recorders in them. Read the Washington Post - a fascinating adventure in deconstructive detection work - any day in the week and you can track the lies and the further lies to cover the older, worn out ones. And - contravening the sticks and stones law about words - these words have broken bones, heads, a culture, a state. These lies have ripped up families, have produced the social breakdown leading to the present Thugocracy in both Iraq and D.C., and stick to us all, day and night, like curses. It's a night battle, and it has to be joined simply by getting out of your fucking seat and joining it. Like the hokey pokey - that's what it's all about!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Always leave a trail

Other important qualities in the urban guerrilla are the following: to be a good walker, to be able to stand up against fatigue, hunger, rain or heat. To know how to hide, and how to be vigilant. To conquer the art of dissembling. Never to fear danger. To behave the same by day as by night. Not to act impetuously. To have unlimited patience. To remain calm and cool in the worst of conditions and situations. Never to leave a track or trail. Not to get discouraged. – Carlos Marighella

So much for the sixties.

Never to leave a track or a trail – to be the mystery man, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter, the hero of a Dylan ballad – was the politically charged thing at one time. Go with the Weather. Go with the RAF. Go down the rabbit hole.

Times and strategies and fantasies change. LI has, for those of you who’ve read some of these here posts, an obsession with trails and tracks. Instead of the guerilla’s disappearing footsteps, our model is Little Red Riding Hood’s path of needles – the whorish path, the path on which the going forward and the going backward are radically different experiences. As a political act, however, LI thinks it is important to leave a track or trail, rather than the opposite. To be so open and so trackable that there can be no doubt about it – for political magic, today, should take place where there are no shifting shadows and no disappearing Clint Eastwood figures – in spite of the fact that the motto of this site - that the U.S. should have a big picnic, elect a midget mayor, and be painted red - does come from High Plains Drifter.

So I’ve been thinking about Withdrawal. As a show. As a power point program. Much like Al Gore’s Global Warming show.

I’ve been trying to finish this rather big editing job. At the end of the job is a big reward – at least, by LI’s standards (I had a conversation with my editor at the Austin Statesman, who gingerly asked me if I had any plans for the future, in which I told him that I might have money for the next two months when this is through. And he calmly told me that normal people, uh, would think that not knowing if they will have any money two months from now an indicator that THEY WERE FUCKING LOSING IT.) With the bit of free time I might have, I’m thinking that I might put up a notice at the U.T. campus, looking for people to put together some such presentation and film it. The traditional forms of protest are dead. The demonstration has become a ritual for ersatz politics – go out, march, be ignored. So it goes. At the moment, that forum just doesn’t work, at least in the Anglosphere. But there are other forums. This is a make your own tv era. I am appalled at the emptiness at the center of the Iraq war ‘debate’ – withdrawal. There seems to be a complete lack of any sense of what it means, how to do it, how to do it completely, etc., etc. “Withdrawal” as a power point show would fill in the blanks. It wouldn’t be hard to do – or rather, it wouldn’t be hard to research. The material is superabundant. LI wouldn’t, of course, be the speaker – the project wouldn’t work without someone who could do that job well, an actor or – better – an actress (I’d dearly like to lower the testosterone on this issue) so I’ve been thinking of U.T.’s theater department or radio and film.

This may be a passing fancy. I don’t know.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Bush has in common with other carnivora

The New Bathory and Fitko

The image of the bloodbath – usually of virgins or of children – seems to be an extension of a folk medical idea about the rejuvenating properties of blood. Supposedly, the emperor Constantine was afflicted with leprosy and was about to try a course of blood baths to cure it – with the blood coming from stray children – when he had a vision that God would cure him if he converted to Christianity - and that seemed like a better deal to Constantine. The most famous blood bath in history was taken by Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory, a Hungarian countess. Sabine Baring-Gold introduced the story into English in the Book of Were-Wolves, in the chapter on natural causes of lycanthropy. Baring Gold begins with a thesis that was of his Victorian time and place, with the overtones from Darwin:

“Startling though the assertion may be, it is a matter of fact, that man, naturally, in common with other carnivora, is actuated by an impulse to kill, and by a love of destroying life.

It is positively true that there are many to whom the sight of suffering causes genuine pleasure, and in whom the passion to kill or torture is as strong as any other passion. Witness the number of boys who assemble around a sheep or pig when it is about to be killed, and who watch the struggle of the dying brute with hearts beating fast with pleasure, and eyes sparkling with delight. Often have I seen an eager crowd of children assembled around the slaughterhouses of French towns, absorbed in the expiring agonies of the sheep and cattle, and hushed into silence as they watched the flow of blood.”

Here’s Elizabeth’s story:
“Michael Wagener[1] relates a horrible story which occurred in Hungary, suppressing the name of the person, as it was that of a still powerful family in the country. It illustrates what I have been saying, and shows how trifling a matter may develope the passion in its most hideous proportions.
"Elizabeth ------ was wont to dress well in order to please her husband, and she spent half the day over her toilet. On one occasion, a lady's-maid saw something wrong in her head-dress, and as a recompence for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spirted on to her mistress's face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautiful--whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.
"Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty. Two old women and a certain Fitzko assisted her in her undertaking. This monster used to kill the luckless victim, and the old women caught the blood, in which Elizabeth was wont to bathe at the hour of four in the morning. After the bath she appeared more beautiful than before.
"She continued this habit after the death of her husband (1604) in the hopes of gaining new suitors. The unhappy girls who were allured to the castle, under the plea that they were to be taken into service there, were locked up in a cellar. Here they were beaten till their bodies were swollen. Elizabeth not unfrequently tortured the victims herself; often she changed their clothes which dripped with blood, and then renewed her cruelties. The swollen bodies were then cut up with razors.
"Occasionally she had the girls burned, and then cut up, but the great majority were beaten to death.
"At last her cruelty became so great, that she would stick needles into those who sat with her in a carriage, especially if they were of her own sex. One of her servant-girls she stripped naked, smeared her with honey, and so drove her out of the house.

The Countess

"When she was ill, and could not indulge her cruelty, she bit a person who came near her sick bed as though she were a wild beast.
"She caused, in all, the death of 650 girls, some in Tscheita, on the neutral ground, where she had a cellar constructed for the purpose; others in different localities; for murder and bloodshed became with her a necessity.
"When at last the parents of the lost children could no longer be cajoled, the castle was seized, and the traces of the murders were discovered. Her accomplices were executed, and she was imprisoned for life." [1. Beitrage zur philosophischen Anthropologie, Wien, 1796.]”

The term bloodbath has come up a lot, lately, usually used by the apologists of the Iraq war to warn about the dire consequences of American withdrawal. Here’s some examples:

“President Bush warned Thursday that pulling out of Iraq too soon would trigger a bloodbath akin to that of the Cambodian killing fields of the 1970s…

"I want to remind you that after Vietnam, after we left, millions of people lost their life," Bush said here when an audience member asked about comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. "The Khmer Rouge, for example, in Cambodia. And my concern is there would be a parallel. . . . The same thing would happen. There would be the slaughter of a lot of innocent life. The difference, of course, is that this time around, the enemy wouldn't just be content to stay in the Middle East; they'd follow us here." – Washington Post, 20 April 2007”

“Once we leave Iraq, America's enemies will still reside in the Mideast; and they will be stronger if we leave behind a failed government and bloodbath in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal editorial page 6 April 2007”

Commentary’s ever bizarre Arthur Herman: “If they [the anti-war Dems] succeed in their ultimate goal of forcing a withdrawal, they will take their place in another "long line," joining the shameful company of those who compelled the French to leave Algeria in disgrace and to stand by as the victorious FLN conducted a hideous bloodbath, and of those who compelled America to leave Vietnam under similar circumstances and to similar effect.” 1 April 2007.”

That it is shameful to stand by while a blood bath is pretty much the message. It is a compassionate message that should reach every human heart. The only exception, of course, is if the bloodbath is caused by American carnivora. Then the only thing to do is – dicker about the numbers. As we know, the bloodbath in Iraq has been mapped by research published in the Lancet magazine last year. To refresh your memories, this is from last month’s New Statesman – commenting on a story that revealed that the British Government was advised that the Lancet’s methodology was good:

“Now, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that British government experts backed the methodology used by the scientists responsible for the study. If the Lancet estimate is correct, it means 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population--an average of more than 500 people a day--have been killed since the invasion. Of these, 601,000 died in violent acts--the majority involving gunfire.”

The New Statesman quotes an unnamed government figure: "We do not accept the figures quoted in the Lancet survey as accurate", but [he] goes on to say: "The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones." The documents advise ministers to use figures from the Iraqi health ministry, which estimates the number of deaths at less than 10 per cent of the Lancet's figure.”

And in fact, the shameless bystanding as the present bloodbath goes on, in proportions tht would sate even Elizabeth Bathory, is encouraged and engaged in by, of course, the warmongers themselves and their intelligent-as-a-garbage-fly president. Here’s the whole reply of the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett to the Lancet study:

"Every death in Iraq is a tragedy for those affected. The Government of Iraq represents all communities and is committed to tackling sectarian violence. We are supporting this effort and will continue to do so. The numbers that the Lancet has extrapolated are a substantial leap from other figures. What is important is that we bring an end to the violence and death in Iraq."

That takes care of that. Time for crumpets and a nice cup of Iraqi infant blood for Ms. Beckett.

Instead of the Lancet study pointed to the need for a radical change in policy in Iraq, it was taken as a provocation to – arguments about methodology. The National Post ran a story about the Lancet study last year which studied the methodology of it – the only response to the study that occurred at all.

“A spokesman for Tony Blair retorted that the excess civilian death figure reported in The Lancet is "not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate." George W. Bush declared the study's "methodology is pretty well discredited." In this newspaper, David Frum wrote a column on October 14 dismissing the Lancet study in similar terms.
Why the disagreement over the number of civilian deaths? There are basically two ways of counting the war dead -- active and passive.
In the active method, which was used for the Lancet study, researchers fan out and sample random clusters of homes, interviewing occupants about deaths in the family. This kind of demographic survey is not unusual -- hundreds of such studies are done each decade, tracking the epidemiology of all manner of diseases. In the case of the Johns Hopkins and Iraqi teams, they interviewed 12,801 people in 47 clusters. Doing this, they found 82 deaths pre-invasion, and 547 post-invasion -- a huge increase, with most of the increase in deaths occurring among young men, as is typical in civil wars.
The researchers extrapolated from their sample, as pollsters do, to all of Iraq. They also verified the respondents' claims of deaths, where possible, with death certificates. They thereby concluded that the post-war excess civilian deaths are 655,000. Since asking about the dead in a war zone is trickier than, say, quizzing voters in downtown Toronto about their voting intentions, the researchers concede the margin of error to their study is higher than usual, ranging from 392,979 at the low end to 942,636 at the high end.”

Morality runs infinitely into accounting when, of course, the bloodbath is rising up over the top of the tub and it is the U.S. merrily splashing around inside the tub. What have the Americans done? They've caused those deaths, indirectly (by providing no security) and directly (by bombing the shit out of cities, razing Fallujah, inciting sectarianism and openly training death squads) for a nice, rejuvenating red pool.

Bringing us to the last quote of this quotehappy post:

“Neither the fact of the war nor its intensity will likely abate upon the
disengagement of U.S. forces because Iraq’s Sunnis will continue to fear the ultimate
consequences of the reversal of fortune that they perceive the Shia as seeking to
complete. The real question is how much worse the bloodshed can get. A credible—
although many might say optimistic—forecast is that the lack of organizational capacity, broad communal consent, and heavy weapons on either side militates against a drastic increase in the already appalling casualty rate. Crucially, the largely Sunni areas are of little interest to the Shia as objects of desire or conquest. And without artillery, armor, and attack aircraft, Shia forces will be far less capable of reducing Sunni majority cities, such as Falluja, to rubble, in the way that Serbs dealt with Croatian or Muslim urban areas in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic cleansing in mixed areas will continue to advance, the large flow of refugees and internally displaced will continue to mount, massive bombings and death squads will continue to claim many lives, but crucial conditions for nationwide genocidal violence are as yet absent. This probabilistic judgment is hardly a cause for rejoicing: It only suggests that a bloody stalemate between similarly equipped adversaries is somewhat more likely than the annihilation or expulsion of Iraq’s Sunni population. Nevertheless, the consequences of such escalation are so extreme that the United States should begin working now with the UN, NATO, coalition members, and neighboring states on plans for a rapid multilateral intervention in the event that genocidal warfare breaks out after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.” – Stephen Simon, After the Surge.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Washington Post will now present this brief advertisement from the Saudi Embassy. Readers are advised to turn off their brains.

The Washington Post article about the abaya in Saudi Arabia gives us a wonderful example of the pap and propaganda that the MSM pumps into the system. From the headline forward, this is an article in that heartening vein beloved by the American media of an American ally “reforming”. The rules are: the ally is undeniably corrupt. The ally’s government is undeniably tyrannical. The ally’s society is undeniably riven with corruption and dysfunction. Substitute Chang Kai-Shek’s “Free” China or South Vietnam into the equation, or a multitude of other countries, historically. In this case, the ally – Saudi Arabia – is a bit more embarrassing than most, since eleven of their citizens attacked the U.S. lately. This is a definite faux pas, but luckily we were able to attack a bystander country that had nothing to do with it, so all is forgiven.

Recently, Tony Blair made the rounds of the Gulf countries and Egypt, all of which are ruled by autocratics, none of which have working parliaments, not to speak of bills of rights, free presses and the lot – and he addressed them as a Democratic coalition, urging them to take on tyrannical Iran. It is rather like mistaking a hyena for a goldfish to call Saudi Arabia democratic, but the nonsense spewed out by our rulers everyday does have the purpose of creating such a thick layer of cognitive dissonance that discussion of the reality of American foreign policy, including those of its adjuncts, like the U.K., are impossible to hold.

With this in mind, let’s look at the Washington Post article. First, of course, there is the headline: “For Cloaked Saudi Women, Color Is the New Black”. Already we have that American favorite, the mixture of fashion trend and politics. To get to the mythical substrate we should, as Barthes once did, look at the structure in terms of what can and cannot be substituted, and what the substitutes would be. The best substitute here would, of course, be Iranian. If the title read, “For Cloaked Iranian Women, Color Is the New Black”, we know that the tone would be: rejection by the great mass of the good Iranian people of the terrible oppression of the mad mullahs. A problem would be, of course, that the clothing code required by the Saudis is, of course, much much more oppressive than the Iranian dress code. Here’s a little film clip of a documentary about Saudi women:

Here’s a little film clip of pics of Iranian women. You will notice that the dress code is widely various. Now, this isn’t an argument that the lesser dress code isn’t oppressive, but that the Iranian code is much less oppressive than that effected by our ‘democratic’ ally, Saudi Arabia. In fact, there is another documentary out there I haven’t seen concerning six women who signed up to run for the presidency in Iran in 2001. It is at this site. That you can actually run for the presidency in Iran, unlike Egypt or Saudi Arabia, has to be overlooked as the U.S. battles for democracy in the Middle East.

These grafs set the tone of the story of the new, swingin’ Saudi Arabia:

“Saudi women have long been known in the West for their all-enveloping black attire, widely considered a mark of their oppression. But Sharif and Fageeh are among a growing number of women and girls here who are rethinking and reinventing the abaya to more closely reflect their personalities and religious beliefs.
The change is most striking in Jiddah, the kingdom's most cosmopolitan city, where many young women now wear their head scarves around their shoulders and leave their abayas open to reveal pants and T-shirts. Medical students here often forgo the abaya altogether, frequenting malls and coffee shops in brightly colored head scarves and white knee-length lab coats over jeans.
Abayas with patches of fluorescent color, floral patterns, animal prints, embroidery and even zodiac signs have started to show up in other cities as well, prompting clerics to criticize the trend and reiterate that abayas were meant to deflect attention, not attract it.”

The “growing numbers” is a popular form of journalism numerology. It alludes to the quantifiable, always the brand for fact, tm, without really being exactly quantification. In other words, there is a trend, but the trend is in the eye of the beholder.

Now, if the substitution of Teheran for Jiddah was made, then we know that the structure here, would respond by fronting the third paragraph. “The change is most striking in Teheran, where clerics have been criticizing and threatening to put in place measures to curb these newfound freedoms…” But not in the kinda free swinging city of Jiddah. In fact, the Post goes out on the limb and tells us:

“Until several years ago, members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the enforcement arm of the Wahhabi establishment, patrolled streets and malls with sticks, making sure that women were properly veiled, that men and women who were not related did not mingle and that stores closed during prayer times. But the committee's influence has waned since the Sept. 11 attacks, and its bearded members are rarely seen in Jiddah these days”.

Is that impressive or what? And is it – true or what? The Promotion of Vice patrols are rarely seen on the streets of Jiddah these days? Well, it is interesting that this comes on the same day as this news item:

RIYADH, 28 May 2007 — The president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, said yesterday that several suspects from the Riyadh commission were being questioned by authorities regarding the alleged beating to death of a Saudi citizen last Wednesday. “The Commission for Investigation and Public Prosecution as well as the Governorate of Riyadh are still investigating the matter,” Al-Ghaith said. He did not give the number of suspects from the virtue commission who are being interrogated. Several newspapers have reported that as many as eight are being investigated.

The Governorate of Riyadh issued a press statement yesterday about the alleged murder. It said that it had received information from the commission that the deceased, Sulaiman Al-Huraisi, was selling alcohol from his apartment. The statement also said that authorization had been given to the local police and the commission to raid the house according to regulations.”

But that is Riyadh, kinda not so swinging. Which is why this story, with its Riyadh location, can also be ignored:

“RIYADH, 28 May 2007 — Maj. Gen. Ali Al-Harithy, the director general of prisons, said yesterday that prisoners in the Kingdom were not tortured or beaten on a large scale, and that beatings were “individual cases,” which should not be generalized.
Al-Harithy was referring to a report released last week by the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Saudi Arabia. “Regulations, directives and the constitution state clearly that there should not be any violations against prisoners. ... There are, however, individual mistakes, but that rarely happens. And if it does happen, then prisoner rights are fulfilled by punishing offenders,” he said.

In its first report on human rights in Saudi Arabia, the NSHR said some people remain in prison even after they have completed their term. It said in some cases inmates were beaten or tortured for confessions and sometimes they missed appeal court hearings because prison authorities forgot to remind them.

Al-Harithy criticized visits by foreign human rights groups to the Kingdom, which recently included prison visits by Human Rights Watch. “We do not need foreign organizations to come here and teach our sons and daughters human rights. We are obliged to protect human rights by ourselves without anyone coming from outside and implying that we have to care about human rights in ‘the land of humanity’,” he said.”

So untrendy! And here is an interview with Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, the head of the Vice Commission, who gives us insight into the liberal, free, swingin’ Saudi Arabia with answers to questions like this:

“Q: What is your position on families going out together?

A: We always request restaurants and recreation area managers that they have separate areas for men and women, or separate areas for women and their children and other separate areas for men alone. Or that a place be designed where a family, women members and male members who are mahrams (brothers, sons, uncles) can sit alone. As for different families sitting together with mixed men and women, who are non-mahrams, then this is the basis of corruption.

Q: What is the commission doing to catch sorcerers in Saudi cities. And what is their fate after they are caught? Could you tell us how many of them were caught this year and their locations? And what about the magic spells that are thrown into the Red Sea? How are these spells broken?
A: The commission plays a large role in capturing people who practice sorcery or delusions since these are vices which affect the faith of Muslims and cause harm to both nationals and expatriates. The commission has assigned centers in every city and town to be on the lookout for these men. As for their fate, they are arrested and then transferred to concerned authorities. The commission also has a role in breaking magic spells, which are found in the sea. We cooperate with divers in this aspect. After the spells are found, they are then broken using recitations of the Holy Qur’an. We do not use magic to break magic spells, as this is against the teachings of Islam as mentioned by the Supreme Ulema. But we use the Qur’an as did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”

Luckily, questions and answers like that will never clutter up the Post, which would check with the Saudi Embassy just to make sure that such things never really are at issue in trendy, democratic, reformist Saudi Arabia - now with better privatizations than ever before! It has better things to do. Like urging the tough line on Iran, the center of deadly, deadly UN-democracy in the Middle East. We just can’t tolerate that. America is, after all, a benign hegemon.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

the class war in Iraq and in the U.S.

LI’s old far flung correspondent, T. in NYC, called us to buck us up about our new direction on this blog – our turn to the vehement language and shocking images of German dada.

Well, the venom is temporarily out of our system. I won’t put any cracked open mouths and eyeless, bloody faces up to illustrate these here paragraphs. I’ve thought – rather than just rattled and put my fangs out – a lot about the current state of moral and mortal play in America since the Democratic cave in.

One of the things that is most striking about this war – and striking about post-Cold War kultcha in general – is the lack of any reference to class. When Marx analyzed the civil war in France, after the French defeat in 1870, he naturally turned to class analysis. Somehow, this handy and hardy tool has become obsolete. Googling for some reference to class analysis of the situation in Iraq, I found zip.

So let me take it out of my ass here.

I could make a joke, and say that the sectarianism really is a big problem in the Iraq war – sectarianism in the U.S. of A.., that is. But that would be inexact. More coldly, the class segmented structure of Iraq has been shattered by the war, and that shattering has been the prerequisite to sectarianism. It is an odd American colonial venture, precisely for that reason. American foreign policy has consistently sought out its natural constituency – the management and upper class - in other countries for at least the past one hundred twenty years. The shift from supporting ‘republicans’ was going on even in the late eighteenth century – hence, Tom Paine’s disgust with George Washington over the French Revolution. However, it wasn’t until the domestic U.S. scene had assumed the plutocratic cast we are familiar with, under McKinley, that this was reflected fully in U.S. foreign policy. And even then, there were big exceptions. Wilson’s foreign policy is always defined by WWI, but as important, during the Wilson years, was the reaction of the Americans to the revolution in Mexico. That reaction was internally conflicted by the struggle between the progressive side and the plutocratic side. Add, of course, the idiosyncracy of Wilson’s own Puritanism – he truly disapproved of the personal lives of certain Mexican generals – and so the struggle went forward, and in a way forged the patterns that then became apparent on a world wide scale after 1918. The progressive side was looted for its rhetoric, while the plutocratic side was exploited for its internationalism – for plutocrats are, among other things, the truest internationalists. And the Wilsonian Puritanism always provided a wild card – for instance, the outsized influence exerted on the U.S. china policy by Christian missionaries.

In Iraq, however, everything quickly reversed itself. Rove was right to admire McKinley – Bush’s administration is the most plutocratic since McKinley’s – but on foreign policy, there is nothing McKinley like about the Iraq adventure. The merger of the Christian faction and the plutocratic faction created a contradiction that couldn’t sustain itself in Iraq, since the Christian side had no interpretive grid through which to understand Iraqi society. Consequently, the U.S. fucked up in its outreach to its natural constituency. Instead of getting the middle and upper class on its side – and one has only to read the Iraqi bloggers, the ones who write in English, who are mostly from that strata, to see how much they truly longed for the U.S., how much trust they had in America – the U.S. unleashed all the forces that scared them to death. In essence, the U.S. underwrote the expropriation of the upper class in Iraq without even knowing it. Contra those who think that every mistake that the U.S. makes is part of some devilish, conspiratorial plan, this unleashing of forces is precisely the kind of thing that upsets the plutocratic vision of Iraq. To see this, look at the place where the class structure remains intact, in Northern Iraq: characteristically, there, the plutocratic, ruling sector is adamant about privatizing oil resources. But this is a program that could only be carried out by a confident, ruling upper class. It couldn’t be carried out at all by the U.S.’s supposed ‘allies’ in the rest of Iraq. Such is the incompetence of the Bush administration that it even fucked up its relationship with its ‘base’. This isn’t a small thing. While the U.S. will no doubt, one of these days, get some version of its oil law through, I very much doubt that law will endure. Meanwhile, the professional class and their capital leave Iraq every day.

What about the U.S.? One of the things that discredits class analysis is its use as an inflexible tool. Class doesn’t determine everything. We know a lot more about how strata endure, how they self-identify, how they communicate now than we did in Carlos Marx’s time.

There was a striking Gallup Poll that came out a couple of week’s ago, which categorized support or opposition to the war according to age and sex. Unfortunately, they did not include either race or income as an indicator. The poll showed that support for the war is strongest in the male group, from 18-49. It is merely to speculate – but I would guess that within that group, race matters – more white support than black – and income matters – more upper income support than lower income. Who knows, there might be a peckerwood factor here, but that is the general pattern in American wars. What is striking about that is that in the upper ranks of the supposed opposition party, the Democrats, we find an overabundance of the white male group, aged 18-49. It is this group that is most convinced that the war is somehow still popular. It is this group, on the Dem sides, that still holds a fearful respect for Bush. And that makes sense. This group talks to itself. It goes to lunch with itself. It watches tv made by itself. It sees itself on the political shows. It reads newspapers written by itself. It is living in the bubble of its own exhalations. Thus, even when members of it come out and shit, and speak up against the war, they consider themselves to be doing something daring.

As you go up from 49, however, you find that opposition grows and support shrinks even among the male segment. This is where the real American strategy is being fought out. On the one hand, the plutocrats have seen, for a year at least, that Iraq is not only a foul mess, but that it is fouling up a lot of potential money in the Middle East. It is going to be much harder to privatize enterprises in the Gulf states – a bonanza awaiting a lot of private firms – if the war is going on. Privatization is a soft soap job anyway – a population, being robbed of its resource, has to be in a tranquil state where it will swallow the minimum number of lies necessary to affect the heist. The spillover from Iraq is very bad for that business. On the other hand, it is even worse for business for America to be weak. To track the real economy – that mix of the material and positional one – you have to have a sense not just for dollars and cents, but for the symbolic systems that support dollars and sense. And most important for that system is the illusion of America’s strength.

Thus, there is a push and pull that blurs the plutocratic line on Iraq. The Democrats, who have made compromise itself into a universal solvent and policy to meet all ills, reflect that push and pull. The withdrawal from Iraq is not going to be built within the Democratic party at the present time, but… there is no antiwar movement to build it outside of that party, either.

About which, I will have more in a future post.

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...