Saturday, October 27, 2007

bodies of iron

One of the strong influences on Heinrich Kleist was a scientist well known in the Germany of the early 19th century, G.H. Schubert. The man published a book entitled Views of the Night side of Nature. Fragments from this book were first published in a review of art and science, Phoebus, that Kleist edited. Here is one of Schubert’s fragments:

Among the most curious cases of so called human petrification belongs this one, to which Hülpher, Cronstädt and the scholarly Swedish almanacs have dedicated some notice. Here a corpse, which to all appearances had turned into a solid rock, fell into some sort of ash after a few years even though the attempt was made to put it under a glass bell in order to protect it from the incursions of the air. This antique miner was found preserved in the Swedish mine in Falun, as a break had been effected between the sinking of two shafts. The corpse, entirely saturated with ferric vitriol, was, in the beginning, pliable, but as soon as it was exposed to the air, became as hard as stone. For fifty years, at a depth of more than two hundred feet, in this ferric acid, the man had lain in the mine. Nobody had recognized the as yet unaltered features of the face of the poor lad; if it had not been for one old true love, nobody would have kept a souvenir of him through the time since he was laid down in the shaft. For as about the recently extracted corpse the people were milling, observing his unrecognized youthful features, there came an old mother, with gray hair and crutches, who with tears for the beloved dead man, who had been her bridegroom, sank down, blessing the hour that had given her, so far advanced on the path to the grave, this vision one last time ; and the people saw with wonder the reunion of this curious couple, of which the one, in death and in a deep pit, had preserved the youthful aspect, while the other, with the withering and aging of her body, had preserved that youthful love, true and unaltered. And as though at their fiftieth golden anniversary they were found, the still youthful groom, stiff and cold, and the old and gray bride, full of warm love.”

A deep message there for LI – for indeed, we have been trying to draw up from the past a vast body, preserved in its youthfulness but, indeed, dead: and that vast body is the way the people in the “West” once thought about their emotions; how they connected those emotions to their lives, their bodies, the way they worked and played and prayed. And what became of them as they became, over time, us. And if that body of thought and feeling is analogous to the dead miner, myself, I play two parts; one, the milling crowd; and two, the gray bride. The gray bride is, of course, my imagination, or my muse, tied to my aging body as a tin can is tied to a dog’s tail – to quote Yeats. Except that the marriage between this history in the fresh state and the imagination in a state of despair was made not on earth, but in some telluric vault.

On the other hand - isn't the whole and splendid vision of any work, which comes to the writer in a flash, like that body in the mine? As soon as you see it, it falls away, down black shafts, and you have to dig to get it out again, and when you finally do, it has altered into a mockery of what it was - and you are still not out of danger, for at the moment of at least extracting the thing, it is always possible that it will all turn to ash.

So - this is how I excuse myself for reanimating a seemingly endless series of half forgotten figures. One of whom is Madame Chatelet, Voltaire’s mistress, the translator of Newton, and a philosopher in her own right – actually, in possession of a much more acute metaphysical mind than Voltaire’s. Judith Zinnser recently wrote a biography of her, which was reviewed in the NYT. This relieves me of having to cobble together some biography.

Here are three grafs:

“Nonetheless, Voltaire could not resist the occasional joke at Du Châtelet’s expense. Belittling her devotion to physics (her ambitious translation of Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” remains, to this day, the only complete French edition), he nicknamed her “Mme Neuton Pompom.” He responded to her taking a new lover with “subtle mockery,” advising Jean-François de Saint-Lambert, the young poet with whom Du Châtelet became involved after Voltaire began an affair with his own niece, to take Du Châtelet “quickly to her toilette,” rid her of her “old black apron” and cleanse “her hand dirty with ink.” Only in abandoning her studies, the philosophe suggested, could the marquise hope to “reclaim all her charms” and obtain the love for which she was intended.

According to Zinsser, such “fanciful and subtly demeaning images” have distorted history’s verdict on Du Châtelet’s intellectual achievements, which were formidable by any standard. As a woman, Du Châtelet was deprived “by custom” of the formal collège (secondary school) education granted her male peers. (This privation later prompted her to declare: “If I were king, I would establish collèges for women.”) Undeterred, the marquise sought independent instruction from some of Paris’s most prominent scholars. In 1733, at 26, “she began lessons in advanced geometry and algebra.”

Over the next 16 years, working obsessively right up to her death from a pulmonary embolism in 1749, she became a respected authority in both these fields, and in physics and integral calculus as well. She translated Mandeville and Newton, was the first woman published by the Académie Royale des Sciences and was elected to a similar academy in Bologna. She also wrote a complex synthesis of Descartes, Newton and Leibniz that “formulated a ‘unified theory’... for the workings of nature.” All the while, she somehow managed to look after her children, please her husband and keep her lovers happy. This balancing act forced her to do much of her own work from midnight till 5 in the morning. Though she confessed to Saint-Lambert that her regimen “required a mind and body of iron,” it enabled her to fulfill the ambition that she experienced as “a frightening need.” And she never questioned her right to satisfy this need, even if she had occasionally to beg her loved ones “not to ‘reproach me for my Newton.’ ”

Friday, October 26, 2007


Margaret Scobey

If a big bug gets into your house from the outside, don't you sometimes try to help it back outside, instead of crushing it into its insect jellies?

In the case of butterflies and crickets, we often show some respect for life. So it is with mounting anguish that I have waited, since the news was first reported at the beginning of October, for charges to be raised against Andrew Moonen – you remember Andrew Moonen. Andrew Moonen reduced an Iraqi bodyguard of President Maliki to his jellies last December. It was a Christmas present to himself. Wanting to murder an Iraqi, and having the means and the proximity, being a hired employee of Blackwater in the Green Zone, he got drunk and hunted for one. And in cold blood he slew one.

This is first degree murder.

He wasn’t arrested. Rather, the State Department in the Green Zone in Iraq, having been informed that he was drunk, that he slew an Iraqi man, and that he was in the custody of Triple Canopy, another private military contractor, did deliberately and with malice aforethought contrive to have Moonen escape Iraq. The acting ambassador at the United States Embassy in Baghdad was fully informed of, and approved this operation. Her name is Margaret Scobey.

Andrew Moonen should be charged with murder in the first degree. Margaret Scobey should be charged with being an accessory to murder.

I’ve been waiting for a month for some action to develop. I’ve been waiting for some outrage to be expressed. Of course, I am not naïve. In the politics of contrived outrage, killing an Iraqi man ranks much lower than, say, calling the man a faggot among those of liberal sensibilities. If Moonen had been accused of hate speech, an outrage story would race from one fine liberal blog to another. Or if Andrew Moonen had said something mean about America’s fine soldiers. What if he called them phoney soldiers? That would be truly outrageous. But he only took the life of a so far unnamed Iraqi guard. It was only murder. And Andrew Moonen isn’t even a celebrity. He isn’t a Britney. He isn’t a Paris. He is only a ‘security’ employee. He only was having good American fun. He only wanted a fun Christmas, one in which he could dabble in Iraqi blood. He got his wish. And for his murder, they docked his pay.

Although it is a bothersome even to mention it, it is murder. And though it is even more exasperating in some circles to mention any crimes related to the elite, like Margaret Scobey – who isn’t, like, some hip hop trash that we can casually toss into prison as we would toss an empty beer can in the trash – she was an accessory to murder. Murder is a crime that, presumably, you can still get in trouble for even in D.C. It isn't like perjury, which you can only be charged with if you aren't Republican or connected to a D.C. powerbroker.

Charge them now. Please, if you read this and you have a blog, consider writing a post demanding that Andrew Moonen be charged with murder, and Margaret Scobey be charged with accessory to murder.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

vibrational man

My Name Burned In Your Skin
I Am Your Nasty Sin

LI has been mulling over the chapter on the sponge in Bachelard’s “The Formation of the scientific spirit”, because I think Bachelard is on to something that I want to steal.

A little backstory: Bachelard,in his book, distinguishes the scientific from the pre-scientific spirit. The latter is a grab bag of epistemological ploys, although the dominant ploy is the ‘they said” – the notion that knowledge grows out of authority, intuition, common sense. Images of that authority can be varied – it can be the Bible, or it can be Aristotle, or it can be your grandmother, the witch – but the causal structure is subordinate to an essential social fact: respect for authority. Scientific experiments do not occur in the pre-scientific framework – that is, there is no latent sense of tying trials to variations of the elements of the trial, and the comparisons engendered thereby – but are replaced by ‘common sense’ observation. This doesn’t mean that the pre-scientific spirit is a concatenation of untruths – far from it. It does mean that these are the truths of what Bachelard calls ‘general knowledge”:

“Nothing has slowed the progress of scientific knowledge more than the false doctrine of the general which reigned from Aristotle to Bacon and which remains, for many intellectuals, a fundamental doctrine of knowledge. Listen again to the way philosophers speak, among themselves, of science. You will soon acquire the impression that Mach was simply being malicious when he said, in response to William James’ statement, “Every expert has his philosophy”, with the reciprocal observation, Every philosophy has its very own science.” We would say more freely still that philosophy has a science which is only a philosopher’s science , the science of generality. We are going to strive to show that this science of the general is always a frozen bit of experience, a check on inventive empiricism.”

Taking a look at how the pre-scientific spirit views the world involves looking at those generals, as well as the system of images and associations within which those generals work. Which is why Bachelard took the examples of philosophical and scientific writing seriously (for it is important to note that the ‘scientific spirit’ as Bachelard construes it is not just science – rather, actual science often involves hybid products of the pre-scientific and the scientific). Thus, Bachelard takes us through how the ‘sponge’, interposed as an illustrative metaphor, can throw scientific discourse off the track – or at least point to the track in which that discourse flows. “Whether we like it or not, metaphors seduce reason. These are particular and distant images which by insensible degrees become schemas.” So the sponge – to take Bachelard’s particular tracking of an pre-scientific object – becomes, in the eighteenth century, an illustration of how the atmosphere holds moisture. But – to use a word Bachelard doesn’t use – every illustration has ‘affordances’ that are not under the control of the author. Bachelard cites Reaumer, who uses the atmosphere as a sponge image to explain the relationship between air and water, and, without noticing it, goes from on affordance of the sponge – that it can absorb water – to another – that it cannot absorb metals, or salts. And thus, Reaumer corrupts the level of abstraction that he is working on with the attraction of a concrete image - a seduction by sponge.

A derridean such as LI can’t resist pointing out that the chapter on the sponge generates, even in Bachelard’s criticism of using that image, a number of spongy terms, revolving around absorbtion. But I will not go into that, for the fun, here, is about the “generalized image”- the “leitmotiv of a valueless intuition.”

All of which has a bearing on the way LI has been trying to sort out Hartley’s vibrationism and the Lockean dispensation. As I’ve pointed out, Hartley took his suggestion from Newton. Newton explicitly wanted to replace the animal spirits of the Cartesians with vibrating chords. Now, this tells us, already, that we are talking about substitutions within a functional space. In a sense, you could say that the animal spirits had staked out an epistemological territory – a space which had to be filled in order to have a theory of the consciousness – and that the vibration theory took over that space.

Before I go into the implications of vibration as a generalized image – and why it is important to understanding this seemingly eccentric bypath to grasp the development of the culture of happiness – I need to reconstruct, briefly, Hartley’s theory of affections. Following Locke, Hartley does not find the principle of the affections to be radically different from thoughts, i.e., both are ideas. Affections are ‘aggregates of simple ideas united by association. For they are excited by objects, and by the incidents of life.”

That excitation is the clue to the core of the passions, which is pleasure and pain. There is a long philosophical tradition that makes this conjunction between pleasure, pain and emotion, as though a distinct emotion were a sort of cloud around a general nucleus of sensation. Hartley takes the pleasure/pain distinction to be a warrant for using love and hate as the primary emotional categories. Love and hate can be translated, in acts, to attraction and aversion. Yet there is a small gap in this series of associations, for love is taken to be the affection aroused by what pleases, and hate the affection resulting from pain, and yet pain and pleasure seem to be, simply, states of hate and love on a primitive level. Hartley doesn’t want us to make this identification. Pleasure and pain are primitives insofar as they are the primitives of association – they are the associative form in which the sensations are organized. That difference between love and pleasure and hate and pain gives us a psychology of the will – with love pursuing pleasure, and hate counseling us to fly from pain. And so the gratification of the will, associated with pleasure, should be the very mechanics of love. Yet it isn’t. For there is, it appears, a limit that emerges in sensation itself, or rather two limits: one is an upward bound, in which gratification makes us so hypersensitive that it makes disappointment intolerable. And there should be a lower bound, too, a descent to a null state, but Hartley doesn’t talk about that. Rather, he uses this schema to explain that “because mankind are for the most part pursuing or avoiding something or other, the desire of happiness, and the aversion to misery, are supposed to be inseparable from, and essential to, all intelligent natures. But this does not seem to be an exact or correct way of speaking. The most general of our desires and aversions are factitious, i.e. generated by association; and therefore admit of intervals, augmentations and diminutions.” By the logic of association, that second nature that usurps sensation itself, we can sometimes find ourselves pursuing what is painful. And, as Hartley puts it, “in the course of a long pursuit, so many fears and disappointments, apparent or real, in respect of subordinate means, and so many strong agitations of the mind passing the limits of pleasure intervene, as greatly to chequer a state of desire with misery.”

Now, myself, reaching for the “they’ in this story, I am very tempted to see the replacement of one body – the body in which animal spirits, hybrids of liquid and non-substantiality, quest about – with another body – the vibrational one, which folds, by the end of the 18th century, into the electrified one – as having some underground connection to the great transformation of the European economy. It is, in a sense, the body’s own industrial revolution. And yet there is a recognizable mythical narrative here, too. The animal spirits dry out, recede, before the mechanical spark. We are emerging from the flood, here.

But does symbol call to symbol, they to they, generalized image to generalized image, quite the way I am putting it here?

Hartley, in constructing the affections, found reason to think that man doesn’t have a natural tendency to happiness. If so, this would profoundly question the inference from the hedonic fallacy – that one should construct ‘happy’ social conditions – since those aren’t even in synch with what humans naturally pursue. Unhappiness can as naturally emerge from the associative mix that gives us love and hate in our happy circumstances.

Well, I want to return to that in a post on Madame Chatelan’s essay on happiness. But let’s return to the pleasure/pain schema in Hartley. Richard Allan, in his book on Hartley nicely summarizes how Hartley conceives of pleasure and pain:

“Hartley begins his discussion of sensate pleasure and pain (OM 1.1. 1.6) by observing that “the doctrine of vibrations seems to require, that each pain should differ from the corresponding and opposite pleasure, not in kind, but in degree only; i.e. that pain should be nothing more than pleasure itself, carried beyond a due limit.’ Vibrations, according to his theory, differ from each other in four ways: degree (i.e. amplitude), kind (i.e. resonant frequency), place of origin and “line of direction” (i.e. through which part of the nervous system they are received and travel to the brain). (121-2)

This view of pleasure and pain is, by the way, somewhat different than the way it was constructed by the Epicureans. That difference explains the place of non-activity in the Epicurean system – for if the quantitative view of pleasure and pain being on a continuum is true, and if it is also true that pain is on the side of heightened sensation, than one logic would imply that the highest degree of pleasure should be the lowest degree of sensation. This isn’t the modern view, though. One way of thinking of this is to think of the continuum, the sensation substrate, in terms of self organizing criticality. As pleasure increases, it approaches a critical cusp – a non-linear moment when it becomes pain. Actually, Hartley’s work sometimes still contains legacy traces of the Epicurean view, but on the main he conceives of pain and pleasure in the modern way.

I’ll use Henrik Jensen’s book to explain what I mean by self organizing criticality. According to Jensen – who is repeating the work of Per Bak, the grandfather of SOC – those systems that tend toward the extreme limit of their equilibrium are SOC. These systems tend to pass through metastable states – and Jensen has a nice illustration of that (ah, the images of general knowledge! kill me with this if you can, dear reader) in the moving of a piano over a floor. At first, if you are pushing on a piano, it resists – the friction forces between the piano and the floor are stronger than the force you apply to move it. But as the force continues to be applied, that stability of friction forces is broken. At a certain point, the piano moves forward. But it is not possible to calculate with certainty either the exact moment it will move forward nor the distance forward it will dart. It will, however, dart forward to another stable state, and so on. Hartley’s description of pleasure and pain gives us a similar picture. Thus, the Epicureans, who want a straight up and down continuum, misunderstood the operation of pleasure.

Admittedly, I am being a bit anachronistic to speak of metastable systems, a language that Hartley was unfamiliar with. But this language does stem from Newton, and it is basically what he is getting at.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

southern cal

I’d like to dream
My troubles all away
On a bed
of California Stars

Disaster always has a backstory. It's karma-like, or at least movie-like, in that way. Of course, what inevitably happens when you combine wind, drought, and forest, shake and bake – when the fire starts – is that it will appear to us as something unexpected, something that jumped out at us, the wolf’s hairy paw coming out of grandma’s sleeve and grabbing us by the throat. But this cycle is going a little faster, and now we are getting used to it. The 2003 fires burned up 740,000 acres and 2,000 buildings. Stephen Pyne, the fire historian, has pointed to the quiltwork of fire: in 1987, and in Northern California in 1996, and in 1999, and the worst ever recorded in Arizona in 2002, and the same year, the Biscuit fire in Oregon, another worst. Pyne calls the recent fires those of the Long Drought.

The water in the Los Angeles region that will be used to douse the flames will come, some of it, from Owens Lake, and some of it from the Los Angeles River, which the city laid claim to in the 1890s due to a quirk in its founding – L.A. claimed that the Spanish law under which the city was originally chartered superceded the California law of capture, which was being used by San Fernando business men in an attempt to claim the water of the Los Angeles river. L.A. won that court suit. William Mulholland, an Irish born engineer, came to L.A. in 1878 and saw the river and “it at once became something about which my whole scheme of life was woven, I loved it so much.” Indeed.

Chinatown, which is about the way L.A.’s oligarchs set about capturing Owens Lake, was originally entitled Water and Power. But L.A.’s Water and Power company scotched that – as it has successfully scotched most things that get in its way. For instance, much of the land that Hollywood studios like to do shoots on around L.A. are owned by the L.A. Water and Power department, which rather discourages any dramas that question the Water and Power’s own version of history. They also happen to have their own little army that guards the LA aqueduct, a structure that has attracted attempts to blow it up since it was built.

All of these facts are culled from a fascinating book by Karen Piper, who was raised near the toxic dust pit that is now Owens Lake. The book, Left in the Dust, is an attempt to show how the politics of race and class penetrate the politics of water in Southern California all the way down to the molecular level – literally. High quality Owens River’s water is the least polluted in the L.A. region, and is distributed to householders in Western L.A. and San Fernando Valley. The Central and Eastern districts, including Koreatown and Watts, get the back of the bus water – that is, a mix of polluted groundwater plus the aqueduct water. It is all in being close to the source.

As Piper shows, the aftereffects of the drying up of Owens Lake have fallen disproportionately on Indians and Hispanics. Because the lake was dried out suddenly and recently, the lake bottom has not become hardened yet (as it will in a couple of hundred years), and so is liable to lift up in the breezes, the many many breezes, and waft around, carrying with it things like toxic heavy metals: arsenic, nickel cadmiun, selenium. And it leaves a little bathtub ring of cardiac and pulmonary diseases, of deposits in the kidney and autoimmune disorders, in the populations closest to it. Thoughtfully, when the U.S. was interning the Japanese, they interned some of them in Mazanar, a camp near Owens Lake.

In a way, the template of U.S. history has always been settlers and Indians. As any child knows, anybody can play an Indian – or have that position thrust upon one. Once the Indian nations were displaced, the Indianization of other populations commenced. Piper quotes a masterful memo from the California Waste Management Board from 1984 – oh, year of the Magic of the Marketplace! Year of Ronnie, and of the glorious L.A. Olympics! The memo recommends criteria for communities to be on the receiving end of waste disposal, which include – that they have fewer than 25,000 inhabitants; that they have low incomes; that they have demonstrated ‘lack of concern with issues'; and that there is an elevated portion of the population that has lived there for twenty five years or more. Sometimes the truth just busts out of bureaucracies, and we can see their vision plain. In that vision, the world is divided between those who deserve everything – the successful, the experts the oligarchs – and human products. Or, as the AEC said long ago about the downwinders it was sprinkling with radiation, nurturing a world of cancers and misbirths – the low use population.

So much for the rough and tumble of Southern California history. And yet, all of its apocalypses seem somehow tranquilized. I admire that, the bland dismissal of the very idea that there won't be a future here. One can bash the region for one shortsided policy after another, but out of those policies has arisen something … new and strange. I was reading Edmund Wilson’s famous essay about California writers, the Boys in the Backroom, yesterday, and it ended on the cliché note that California seems unreal, and the literature is ultimately thin. But Wilson couldn’t even see how glorious the movies were back then. He’d been blinded by a certain kind of modernism. And so he missed the tough lilt that was being introduced to literature by Chandler and Hammett and Cain. He missed the traces of scarface in the vernacular, tracking into everybody's house.

Myself, I rather wish I was in L.A. right now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

in the land of drifty drift

In other news from the land of drifty drift – Bush just asked for 46 billion more dollars to throw into the sinkhole of his vanity war. To put that in perspective, that is 10 billion more than the s-chip bill. It is, of course, a characteristic of the authoritarian right to pursue a policy of impudence – to continually shock the temporizors, that vast media machinery which spends its whole existence trying to take plutocratic inputs of the most rancid injustice, the most feeble minded racism, and the most ostentatious theft, and process them out as bipartisan suggestions that are fun for the whole family. The settings in the machinery are moved by impudence, as the Bushies know well by now. So there is a beautiful convergence here between blocking child health care, spending more in various black boxes for puffing up GOP connected mercenaries, and ranting about World War III versus Iran – thus driving up petro profits. Harry Reid, of course, replied with a stentorian voice that they would, they would, well, they would want to know, if the White House would just be so kind as to tell them, really, what the money, uh, that they are voting for, uh, is going to be like used for if you have the time that is and it isn’t too much trouble.

And, on the impudent warmonger publicist front, Chris Hitchens told an audience of atheists in Chicago (sucker enough to give him some award, invite him to speak to them, and forced then to suffer through the exterminationist rant that has become his Coulter routine – he’s all for bombing Iran, now) that he is for Giuliani. This makes so much sense. Giuliani now has a sweep of the lunatic field, from Daniel Pipes to Hitchens. Horowitz is on the horizon.

I think the dems still don’t understand how much Giuliani appeals to the Southern peckerwood faction, and for one reason: they sense he hates blacks as much as they do. The liberals can’t understand, for instance, how somebody who supports gun control could get any support in Dixie. They should look to history. Dixie, during its glorious Jim Crow years, had gun control laws all over the place, specifically aimed at keeping African Americans from owning firearms. And the southern perception, which I think is correct, is that Giuliani was not supporting gun control laws so that cops could look for illegal guns on Staten Island, or the white West Side – no, it was simply a tool to arrest masses of black men in the Bronx, in Harlem, etc. The all American machine at work.

Monday, October 22, 2007

a schmuck visionary, a drifting nation

In a column in 2005 which, rather prematurely, announced the end of the Housing Bubble, Paul Krugman made an analysis of the form of the bubble – a form that puzzled me, at least.

“When it comes to housing, however, the United States is really two countries, Flatland and the Zoned Zone.

In Flatland, which occupies the middle of the country, it's easy to build houses. When the demand for houses rises, Flatland metropolitan areas, which don't really have traditional downtowns, just sprawl some more. As a result, housing prices are basically determined by the cost of construction. In Flatland, a housing bubble can't even get started.

But in the Zoned Zone, which lies along the coasts, a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions - hence "zoned" - makes it hard to build new houses. So when people become willing to spend more on houses, say because of a fall in mortgage rates, some houses get built, but the prices of existing houses also go up. And if people think that prices will continue to rise, they become willing to spend even more, driving prices still higher, and so on. In other words, the Zoned Zone is prone to housing bubbles.
And Zoned Zone housing prices, which have risen much faster than the national average, clearly point to a bubble.”

It wasn’t until 2005 that the inner Austin boom got started. This boom consists of building large multistory structures downtown, which are divided into condos, and sold off, theoretically, from 400 up. I have watched this happen with an open mouth, I must admit, since we are in Texas. Texas is flat land’s flat land. To get a house for 185, here, you simply have to go south far enough. This is not a secret, known to a few real estate columbuses – South Austin looks like, well, Dekalb county in Georgia, or Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, or any number of Southern metro areas, where you can see, from a plane’s eye view, similar housing units for human units stretch out for miles and miles. These particular human units, if you keep watching, often, oddly enough, sortie out of their housing units early, early in the morning, get into their little car units, and drive far north, queuing behind each other to get off on exits that will lead them to their office units. You can watch and watch, but you won’t see a lot of car unit to business unit activity downtown. There are a lot of offices downtown, and there are, always, the state employees, but – as is the way with land and living in these here states – the new towers along fifth street are not being built so that state employees can walk to their office units.

But they are being, relentlessly, built. And sold. All of which has made me rub my eyes, for either I am simply so out of the loop I can’t recognize progress when it hits me on my big nose, or… these highly expensive condos are being sold to people who are going to be working either in the North or the South. They are trading the boring housing unit lifestyle for the highly expensive inner city life style, meaning – they have views of the capital, and can go to many a fine club or bar. All of which indicates that these units are being sold to a younger crowd. Which further indicates, to me, that Austin is imitating zone land without being in zone land. And that, if I’m not mistaken, is an illusion, which will surely tug at those unit when the first buyers try to sell them.

However, the city’s bet is that the illusion, having become reality to the extent that the towers do surely exist, will keep generating reality for the next generation of buyers. I don’t see it – I don’t see how an imaginary zone will compete, in the long run, with the South and the more expensive but still less expensive than downtown North. This is why, in real estate terms, I am not a visionary. Instead, I’m a schmuck visionary.

The odd thing is that, from an environmental point of view, it is surely a good idea to pile people one on top of the other even in Austin. The collapse of housing, as one can tell by a glance at a map showing where the subprime properties are being repossessed and housing starts have collapsed, show two of the most environmentally stressed areas in the country, California and Florida, in the red zone. That stress is starting to pop up in odd ways – the suburbs of Atlanta, where my brothers and sister live, are experiencing a Western style drought that astonishes me. Nobody, in the Dekalb county of my youth, would take Atlanta as a place that would ever, ever have serious water problems.

But Georgia’s problems pale before what is happening in the West. If you are a water freak, John Gertner’s The Future is drying up in the NYT Sunday Magazine should make you orgasmatic.

Water freaks are a rare and selective band. Joan Dideon is one. The underappreciated Charles Bowdon is one. The key book, the book water freaks turned to as others turn to the Gospel, Freud, or Zizek is Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert Reisner, after writing it, abjured some of the ‘extremist’ views in it – but I still stick up for all of them. Water and its diversion made the West, of course – that land of Ronnie Reagan individualism was created by the most State concentrated project ever attempted by the Federal Government. It is, in a sense, a perfect example of what Karl Polanyi said about laissez faire economics – the laissez faire economy was planned, increment by increment, by the state. Of course, the beneficiaries then made up a heroic myth, advanced by such mythographers as Hayek and Von Mises and, on a vulgar level, Ayn Rand that substituted various Hercules for the state – building corporation headquarters, in Rand’s version, rather than the Hoover Dam, as in reality.

But creating the West in order to launch an economy based, as Polanyi says, on a fictitious commodity – land – was a more hazardous procedure than any of the original architects knew. Gertner’s understated point is pretty simple: everything points to the fact that the West as we have known it up to the 1970s is a West with water that won’t be there anymore in a pretty brief period of time. So, while the demographers claim that, given current trends, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and California might have as much as one hundred million more inhabitants over the next fifty years, the water that those human units need to function won’t be there.

I like the fact that Gertner begins with a threat that has been oddly put in the let’s not think about this category by the global warming denialists:

“Last May, for instance, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the United States government’s pre-eminent research facilities, remarked that diminished supplies of fresh water might prove a far more serious problem than slowly rising seas. When I met with Chu last summer in Berkeley, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, which provides most of the water for Northern California, was at its lowest level in 20 years. Chu noted that even the most optimistic climate models for the second half of this century suggest that 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear. “There’s a two-thirds chance there will be a disaster,” Chu said, “and that’s in the best scenario.”

What Chu says about the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada goes double for the snowpack in the Himalayas. There, we are talking about a water feed that irrigates a billion or so people, in China, India, Burma, Pakistan, etc. You will notice that China and India are producing enough pollution by themselves to significantly erode that water source. And that the industries that they are promoting are heavy water users. Hmm. Like the towers of 5th street, it seems that a bet is being made on the future that depends on an unlikely combination of lucky circumstances.

“One day last June, an environmental engineer named Bradley Udall appeared before a Senate subcommittee that was seeking to understand how severe the country’s fresh-water problems might become in an era of global warming…

The importance of the water there was essentially what Udall came to talk about. A report by the National Academies on the Colorado River basin had recently concluded that the combination of limited Colorado River water supplies, increasing demands, warmer temperatures and the prospect of recurrent droughts “point to a future in which the potential for conflict” among those who use the river will be ever-present. Over the past few decades, the driest states in the United States have become some of our fastest-growing; meanwhile, an ongoing drought has brought the flow of the Colorado to its lowest levels since measurements at Lee’s Ferry began 85 years ago. At the Senate hearing, Udall stated that the Colorado River basin is already two degrees warmer than it was in 1976 and that it is foolhardy to imagine that the next 50 years will resemble the last 50. Lake Mead, the enormous reservoir in Arizona and Nevada that supplies nearly all the water for Las Vegas, is half-empty, and statistical models indicate that it will never be full again. “As we move forward,” Udall told his audience, “all water-management actions based on ‘normal’ as defined by the 20th century will increasingly turn out to be bad bets.”

Bad bets, bad bets. In the bubble to bubble economy, everything is built on the proposition that even bad bets, for a time, are good ones. Now, when I cast a baleful glare on the towers of 5th street, doing my best to imitate Jonah’s view of Ninevah, I tend to emphasize the foolish and greedy nature of the bad bets in an architectural style that will age badly that I see rising before me. Yet, there is a part of me that is thrilled. The U.S. has taken bad bets and made them go good through sheer force of will before. Gertner’s article is a reportorial tour among water managers of Western cities, and you have to be in awe of these people. The hero of the piece is Peter Binney, the water manager of a town I admit to never having heard of - Aurora, Colorado. Well, Aurora is the 60th biggest city in the U.S., and it is watered through a series of Byzantine series of contracts, as per usual in the West. Binney came up with a rather brilliant idea which consists in getting the good householders of Aurora to drink their own pee. We all drink somebody’s pee, but Aurora is going to capture the wastewater it dumps in the South Platte and recycle it. Exciting, eh? Somehow, this pushes against the second law of thermodynamics, but it is a friendly tickle. Enough will evaporate and escape, and enough new water from precipitation and ground water will join the Aurora water supply so that the good folks won’t literally be locked in a closed system, one that has to be bad for the kidneys.

How odd it is, when you think about it, that the true and mindblowing changes that the U.S. is going to have to face have been systematically not faced, not even thought about, for the last six years. Drift, drift drift.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

terrorism on tap - is this the grimy end, or just another rerun?

The best writer on power was not Machiavelli or Clausewitz, but that little old state insurance employee, Franz Kafka. Among the things he got magically right was the odd relationship to time in authoritarian regimes. In the Great Wall of China, the narrator notes: “Our land is so huge, that no fairy tale can adequately deal with its size.” And then he tells a story that transforms that physical hugeness into time, a sort of Zeno’s paradox of power:

“There is a legend which expresses this relationship well. The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message into his ear. He thought it was so important that he had the herald repeat it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of the verbal message by nodding his head. And in front of the entire crowd of those who’ve come to witness his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald. The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forward easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. He will never he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years. And if he finally did burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes.

That’s exactly how our people look at the emperor, hopelessly and full of hope. They don’t know which emperor is on the throne, and there are even doubts about the name of the dynasty. In the schools they learn a great deal about things like the succession, but the common uncertainty in this respect is so great that even the best pupils are drawn into it. In our villages emperors long since dead are set on the throne, and one of them who still lives on only in songs had one of his announcements issued a little while ago, which the priest read out from the altar. Battles from our most ancient history are now fought for the first time, and with a glowing face your neighbour charges into your house with the report. The imperial wives, over indulged on silk cushions, alienated from noble customs by shrewd courtiers, swollen with thirst for power, driven by greed, excessive in their lust, are always committing their evil acts over again. The further back they are in time, the more terrible all their colours glow, and with a loud cry of grief our village eventually gets to learn how an empress thousands of years ago drank her husband’s blood in lengthy gulps.”

In the same way that the messenger has to battle through infinite heaps of bodies, and the message is delayed for centuries, and the battles of the past are received as news of the present in the distant villages – in that same way, the news is reported in the U.S. by a stooge press, subservient to the least whims of the dim and dangerous cartel that runs D.C., a mesh of petro-chemical and defense industry interests.

So it comes as no surprise to LI that the NYT has an article reporting on Pakistan full of details that should have been reported on, investigated, and headlined in 2003.

Here’s the first four grafs:

“The scenes of carnage in Pakistan this week conjured what one senior administration official on Friday called “the nightmare scenario” for President Bush’s last 15 months in office: Political meltdown in the one country where Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and nuclear weapons are all in play.

White House officials insisted in interviews that they had confidence that their longtime ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, would maintain enough influence to keep the country stable as he edged toward a power-sharing agreement with his main rival, Benazir Bhutto.

But other current and former officials cautioned that six years after the United States forced General Musharraf to choose sides in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, American leverage over Pakistan is now limited. And General Musharraf is weakened.

His effort at conciliation in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban plot and train, proved a failure. His efforts to take them on militarily have so far proved ineffective and politically costly. Almost every major terror attack since 9/11 has been traced back to Pakistani territory, leading many who work in intelligence to believe that Pakistan, not Iraq, is the place Mr. Bush should consider the “central front” in the battle against terrorism. It was also the source of the greatest leakage of nuclear arms technology in modern times.”

Which should give you a deep, refreshing draft of the idiocy that is the Bush foreign policy.

We have written about this often. So here’s a post, and a comment thread with LI’s friend, Paul Craddick, about Pakistan. This is from July 8,2005:

more froth for your buck

To sum it up: Tony Blair took a non-threat to the U.K., Saddam Hussein, implanted a continuing British presence in the Middle East, and for the return on the British investment got 50 some deaths, 700 some casualties, and the disruption of all of London.

Steven Coll, whose Ghost Wars is the best book I’ve read about the Reagan era financed adventure in creating the jihadi movement in Afghanistan, has a good article in the WP. Here are two grafs:

“Yet al Qaeda's chief ideologues -- bin Laden, his lieutenant Ayman Zawahiri and, more recently, the Internet-fluent Abu Musab Zarqawi -- have been able to communicate freely to their followers, even while in hiding. In the past 18 months, they have persuaded dozens of like-minded young men, operating independently of the core al Qaeda leadership, to assemble and deliver suicide or conventional bombs in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Spain, Egypt and now apparently London.

As in the Madrid bombings, these looser adherents sometimes copy al Qaeda's signature method of simultaneous explosions against symbolic or economic targets, an approach repeatedly advocated by bin Laden in his recent recorded speeches.

"No more 9/11, but lots of 3/11, especially in Europe," declared the final slide in a PowerPoint presentation about al Qaeda's evolution presented at numerous U.S. government forums this year by terrorism specialist and former CIA case officer Marc Sageman, a clinical psychologist who has recently studied al Qaeda's European cells.”

Terrorism on tap – it is evolving nicely in the direction of a constant structure. The war on terrorism, enacted with the incompetence at which the governing class is especially good, to create a continually mobilizable base of support; the occasional real explosions, to instantiate a strong psychological restraint on dissent; and the filtering of all discussion through an endlessly growing network of anti-terrorism experts, whose ideas, a junk shop of reactionary ideological clichés that would have bored a John Bircher meeting in the 60s, will be presented with suitable worshipfulness every time an incident happens. It is rather like interviewing the head of the Nuclear Energy lobby every time there is a Chernobyl.

The end of the Coll story is a nice example of this blindsided mindset:

“Even the relatively unsophisticated nature of the attacks in London has generated soul-searching about whether effective countermeasures exist against an Islamic extremist movement that appears able to "self-generate" new terrorists, as a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official put it. "The impact of it is significant. It shows they have been able to overcome a well-developed security architecture in London," the former official said. "It shows that al Qaeda and associated groups and fellow travelers still have the ability to conduct an effective operation."

A number of themes come out in this graf.

a. The self exculpation of the experts. Since the main fact, here, is that the U.S. spectacularly blew it both by encouraging Al Qaeda at the outset and renting out to a former Al Qaeda collaborator the job of handling Bin Laden, the main goal is to disguise this fact. Soul searching indeed. The job is just so complicated, it is just so intricate, it just requires so many brain cells, that we might need whole offices and bureaucracies to do it, and certainly many, many terrorism experts. It isn’t as simple as: removing the structure and removing the cause – taking down bin Laden and ceasing to occupy significant parts of the Middle East and blowing up Moslems every day on the tv in the name of … well, something. The job couldn’t have to do with exploiting the torture facilities of our ally states in the Middle East while loudly proclaiming our commitment to compassion. No, that is way too simple. The discontent of those young Moslems are because they hate us. They have hate in their hearts. We have compassion.

b. Then, of course, there is the absence, in that soul searching, of a pretty simple solution for the U.K. – withdraw from Iraq. Hey, it worked for Spain. And perhaps, oh just perhaps, a war that is opposed by the majority of the population shouldn’t be pursued by an isolated, arrogant elite – perhaps that was one of the reasons, in the eighteenth century, that the aristocratic/monarchic form of governance was either overthrown or reformed away.

c. Which is why we need a cover story. The “self-generation” one is nice. We know, to a t the kind of landscape that ‘self-generates’ terrorism, since we gleefully exploited that landscape in Afghanistan against the Soviets. And we’ve faithfully copied that landscape in Iraq, with the U.S. this time starring as the U.S.S.R., and with co-stars the Badr Brigade and Sciri imposing shari’a law in those areas ‘democratized’ by the British occupation, such as Basra, while our opponents, yesteryear’s freedom fighters, are showing what good pupils the CIA had back in the golden days.

Of course, LI’s criticism of U.S. policy in the Middle East shouldn’t overlook the good things we’ve done. For instance, we are cleverly bedeviling the ghost of Khomenei with irony. The man, from all accounts, did not take to irony. But what is his ghost to make of the fact that the U.S. has succeeded, where he failed, in spreading his revolution? This graf from the NYT is a juicy one, buried at the bottom of an Iraq story:

“While the United States has pressed hard for friendly Arab nations to upgrade their ties here, it has been wary of the new government's ties with another neighbor, Iran, and American diplomats and military commanders said on Thursday that they were still weighing an announcement that Iraq and Iran had reached agreement in Tehran on a military cooperation pact that will include Iranian training for Iraqi military units.

Iraq's defense minister, Sadoun al-Dulaimi, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as having told reporters after the signing ceremony, "Nobody can dictate to Iraq its relations with other countries."”

10:12 AM
" ... renting out to a former Al Qaeda collaborator the job of handling Bin Laden"


Do you mean Musharraf? I hope not, 'cause to not "delegate," to him, the task of managing affairs within Pakistan's own quasi-borders would have meant - what?! - going to war with Pakistan too.

"But there's no evidence whatsoever that Pakistan had a direct hand in 9.11," retorts the sideline sage.

Ahh, to be king for a day!
# posted by Paul craddick : 11:46 AM

There's evidence of an indirect assist, however, as well as the power sharing arrangement Musharraf has worked out with Islamic militants and militants in the ISI. I'm glad no one has seriously proposed doing something about that. The last time we tried to meddle in that region, we gave a big boost to what has become al Qaeda. I doubt even Donald Rumsfeld is silly enough to attempt something in a country with a semi-stable government and nukes.
# posted by Deleted : 1:27 PM

Hey y'all.
Well, to fully answer your comments about Pakistan would take another post, because it would be necessary to go into the pervasively corrupt relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan over the last thirty years, the convergence of a rigid anti-communist ideology and the interests of the junta and rent seeking Pakistan military in wiping out the communist-socialist space in Pakistan (as all over the middle east, squeezing the political choice into one between corporationist military rulers and bigots, which the U.S. blessed wholeheartedly), and the inability of the U.S. to clean out its channel of contacts with Pakistan in such a way that it avoided falling into the old client-capture routine: bet everything on a military despot, select our contacts solely from the intelligence and military sectors in the U.S. (who are most inclined to have erotic dreams about juntas according to an article by Strangelove and Strangelove entitled “Military emissions in the Nighttime” in Mercenary Psychotherapist Magazine) and watch as that capture leads to blindsiding by the coming coup, revolution, or what have you.

Obviously, to get back to a previous comment to you, Harry, the justification for a war isn’t the same as the necessity to wage one. That the deep Pakistani complicity in setting up and maintaining Al qaeda has not lead conservatives to call for a war (on the contrary, the call is to be aware that Pakistan has a large population and nuclear weapons – which has such a pacifying influence on hawks that I do wonder whether Iran’s getting them wouldn’t lead to peace in the Middle East) shows that it is possible to dicker with a country that has helped kill a lot of Americans.
# posted by roger : 5:58 PM

However, about the escape of Osama bin Laden, a., Pakistan did, according to newsweek back in May 13, 2002, allow U.S. forces across the border covertly. Here’s a graf about the operation from Scott Johnson and Rod Nordland:

“Pakistani officials hated to let the U.S. military operate on their soil. They ran out of excuses in late March, though, when American communications intercepts led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, one of bin Laden's top lieutenants, at a safe house in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, hundreds of miles from the Afghan border. Armed FBI and CIA agents accompanied elite Pakistani police on that raid and others that netted a total of 50 Qaeda fugitives. The arrests blindsided bin Laden's former backers at Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency--and mortified President Pervez Musharraf. After that, knowledgeable Pakistanis say, Musharraf decided he had no choice but to let the Americans in.”

But b., at that date, we already had other priorities. The Rumsfeld who exclaimed, like a Monty Python general, that he didn’t have enough places to bomb in Afghanistan, was getting his big birthday wish for a place with enough places to bomb. By December, 2002, when Bin Laden’s voice was heard again, Time magazine, which like most MSM is a lacky of the D.C. hawk crowd, wrote this:

“Bin Laden broke cover at a particularly awkward time for President Bush, raising doubts about the success of phase one of Bush's antiterrorism war just when he's pushing to launch phase two against Saddam Hussein. The news was rushed to him not long after experts at the CIA's bin Laden unit at Langley reviewed the audiocast on al-Jazeera, the network regularly used by al-Qaeda to deliver its messages. At around 8 p.m. that day, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Bush with the bad news while he was in the shower. Experts were almost certain they were hearing the voice of bin Laden for the first time since U.S. agents thought they picked up a radio message from him in Tora Bora almost a year ago. When the President walked into his staff meeting the next morning, a staff member says, "he was very intense." After all, this is a President who keeps a copy of the faces of key al-Qaeda leaders in his desk and crosses them out as they are killed or captured. “

That last image, by the way, is sorta precious. One thinks of the cretinous children in Far Side Cartoons.

In order to go after Iraq, Bush rented out the hunt for Bin Laden to Pakistan, plain and simple. There was no urgency in the hunt – glimpses to salivating newsmen, like the Newsweek story in May, 2002, were only planted to assure us that our leaders were action movie heroes, working for our interests. Instead of slackers, conspiring against our interest and for their own parochial obsessions.
# posted by roger : 5:58 PM


Despite an awful lot of bluster, I don't believe you addressed the question squarely.

If, ex hypothesi, Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan - and surely you're not insinuating that a burgeoning "obsession" with Iraq somehow allowed him to give American troops the slip - then how would it have been possible for the US to track their quarry relentlessly without undertaking actions which would entail de facto belligerence towards Pakistan? For, angrily tolerating troops crossing the border on occasion is most emphatically not the same as acceding to the freedom of motion required for responsive and effective military campaigning.
# posted by Paul craddick : 7:56 PM

Angry toleration? Where do you get that from, Paul? I really think that it isn't bluster. I really think, without reference to the actual history of what happens, one simply treads water.

What we have is clear negligence on the part of the American governing class, subspecies Bush. There is no barrier between Pakistan and Afghanistan here that we have to tremble at -- as is the convenient myth about how we just couldn't go into Pakistan because it was too dangerous. What there is is lack of will. If Pakistan is angry, all the better, then, to operate with efficiency and on point, n'est-ce pas? Unless, really, you don't think it is important. Unless you think Bin Laden is a mere scarecrow, and the really important thing is establishing a footprint in the middle east by occupying Iraq. In which case, Tony Blair and George Bush would have been more truthful in saying, we are going to sacrifice a few American and English and Spanish civilians here and there to bombing attacks to pursue what we think is the really important goal.
Which, in practice, is what they have done.

Further honesty would have compelled them to drop the phrase war on terror and insert the phrase -- war for preserving and expanding our spheres of influence. Or, war to preserve the Carter policy in the Gulf.

I've pretty clearly presented an opportunity cost, I think. And I don't see that your argument addresses it. The argument that could address it would say, hey, the risk of continuing that operation was so very great that we had to abort it. Which isn't true. Although it may be true now, after two more years of malign neglect.
# posted by roger : 9:07 PM

PS. Paul. One question. When you say, "If, ex hypothesi, Bin Laden had fled to Pakistan..." So you don't think Bin Laden is in Pakistan?
# posted by roger : 9:21 PM


Working from back to front ... I wouldn't claim to know where Bin Laden is. I assume that Pakistan is the most likely place, out of a host of possibilities. I say "ex hypothesi" to indicate that I will concede the point, for purposes of dialectic, in order to see what does or doesn't follow.

Agreed: I have not directly addressed the question of "opportunity cost" (if by that locution we mean the extent to which focus on Iraq detracted from the overall effort to nab Bin Laden et al) - that hasn't been the point on which I'm pressing you, and about which I'm seeking an answer. However, I alluded to it indirectly, in ridiculing the notion that a 'burgeoning "obsession" with Iraq somehow allowed him to give American troops the slip'. This ridicule is justified by looking at the timeline (which, perhaps, I'll examine in a future rejoinder).

As to the infelicitousness of the locution "war on terror," I would agree - although to an observer not out to score points, it's clear enough that it's a trope intended to convey a host of aims and exigencies; some of which it would be impolitic to state explicitly.

As to "sacrificing" citizens ... I do recall it being stated over and over again that, in confronting the exigencies entailed by 9.11, we are in for a long fight which will in all likelihood see further attacks in Western Capitals; in attempting to vanquish our enemies, they will fight back, hard - and their cachet is a gleeful disregard of the combatant/noncombatant distinction. Your point loses its punch if its rhetorical integument is peeled away.

Now, when you ask "Angry toleration? Where do you get that from, Paul?" I "get" it from paraphrasing Johnson/Nordland, whom you quote as stating, "Pakistani officials hated to let the U.S. military operate on their soil. They ran out of excuses in late March, though." The Pakistani officials allowed this to happen - hence they "tolerated" it; those same officials "hated" the incursions, hence they were "angry." There's nothing at all controversial about my restating, that I can see.

I take it that this is your answer to my question about belligerence vis-a-vis Pakistan: "If Pakistan is angry, all the better, then, to operate with efficiency and on point, n'est-ce pas?" Here is my paraphrase, and correct me if I'm wrong: if killing/capturing Bin Laden entails running roughshod over Pakistan's borders, disregarding their at least nominal claim to "sovereignty," then the Pakistanis be damned.

I'm actually sympathetic to that line, if that's really what you're prepared to say - would you extend it to other states in the region where Bin Laden might find a safe haven? (I'll be glad to be corrected, but my hunch is that you would look askance at any incursion into, say, Iran, if we had reason to think that Bin Laden had set up shop there).

However appealing the notion might be, I'm not convinced that putting it in to practice would be prudent, by any stretch - especially with respect to Pakistan. Clearly we've made another deal with a Devil, on the timeworn pretext that ambivalent cooperation from Musharraf - pushing things at times, holding back at others, getting cooperation at times, followed by duplicity - is better than undertaking actions/provocations which would probably issue in his overthrow, with him replaced by nuclear-armed ISI Islamists.

Hence, you're mistaken that not relentlessly pursuing Bin Laden, wherever he might be suspected of being, necessarily bespeaks a "lack of will." It might reflect a prudent (but undeniably tragic) statecraft - i.e., the least bad course of action. To me this is no surprise - it's part/parcel of operating on the internationl stage, where 3 steps forward are often followed by 2 backwards; especially in the Middle East, where it's difficult to find a palatable and reliable ally.

Do I consider Bin Laden a "scarecrow"? Good metaphor; in part, yes, though in my view it is needful for him to be killed, both because of his role as an enemy strategist and figurehead. Do our efforts to-date count for naught if he's still at-large? Not at all, but they're certainly vitiated. Here's the crucial point, though - do I countenance any action, however reckless, to bring him down: most emphatically not.
# posted by Paul craddick : 10:43 AM

It seems to me, Paul, that the point here that should be emphasized is:

"what we can do now in Pakistan has changed from what we could do in 2002."

Execution is obviously about time frames. Why is the time frame important? Because U.S. power is only partly dependent on the fungibility of its military technology (which, in itself, is not magical. You can prepare to invade Iraq or you can seriously occupy Afghanistan. You can’t do both). It is also dependent, vitally dependent, on world opinion, as well as domestic opinion. The ability to leverage cooperation between the European states, the Middle Eastern states, and U.S.'s own priorities was great in Spring, 2002, and had dissipated by Winter, 2002, due to the deliberately belligerant policies of the U.S. vis a vis Iraq.

For the Bush administration, the Afghanistan war was never considered in any way but as a prelude the war in Iraq.

It is often asked, by pro-war people, what alternative was there to war in 2003? Well, the question of alternatives cuts both ways. What were the alternatives in Afghanistan after Tora Bora revealed the style of the War Department to which we have now become accustomed (rhetorical overkill concealing tactical failure)? An exploration of those alternatives -- and successes in failures in pursuing them -- has to be tied to those ephemeral factors that made it possible for the U.S. to trespass on Pakistan with little cost during this time. As you know, I was pro-war in 2001 and 2002, the war in question being the one against the Taliban and against Al qaeda. Being pro-war doesn’t mean that you are pro any war, however. It means you are pro a war that is taken seriously by the supposed leaders of it, for one thing. For another thing, there is the conduct of the war, which should involve a minimum of terror bombing and torture; and finally, the aim of the war shouldn’t be auctioned off cheaply like some white elephant prize at a house party.

When the anti-war person says, well, there was no imminent reason to invade in 2003, the time frame issue suddenly becomes all important to the pro-war advocate. But in Afghanistan, on the other hand, time frames are suddenly slack. So we can press the advantage we had with the attention and urgency that the 'hunt' for Osama b. had in 2002, or we can just let it go, and satisfy ourselves with the pics of the prez, tongue out to the side of this mouth, magic marker uncapped, putting x-es over the pictures of terrorists. While you seem to object to saying we outsourced the hunt for Osama to a kleptocratic ally, in fact, you seem to think the same thing. You just seem to think it is a good thing. Alas, this is what comes of having a rubber stamp Congress in 2002, because these issues should certainly have been articulated then. But the D.C. eggheads in both parties certainly didn’t want that to happen.

Any recklessness in going after Osama bin is in direct proportion to the time frame I've presented -- it becomes more reckless the more time ticks away. And thus, a leadership that neglects the necessities that arise out of that time frame is either: a., incompetent, or b., disinterested. Or, to be fair, a mix of the two.

So, what was the cost of not completing the mission in Afghanistan and beginning another one in Iraq? Tracking the costs is like one of those negative space pictures, where you fill in the space around an object. The object so revealed is the structural inability of the Bush administration to comprehend terrorism. It has not changed its mindset from before 9/11 in the post 9/11 world. It still believes terrorism is a sub-branch of some x state’s policy. It still can't conceive of a shifting, entrepreneurial, state changing terrorist group. Even though, actually, these groups aren’t uncommon. The cellular, global, franchising illegal group on a black money dole is essentially of the same structure as the Mafia, but with a different incentive set. The mafia, too, started out as a political, not a commercial group. By the time it had evolved a global network, it had become a commercial group – but the omerta at the heart of it was a political legacy. Of course, the person who pointed this out in the nineties was John Kerry. Too bad he didn’t read his own book – whoever ghostwrote it did a decent job. Kerry, on the other hand, throughout his campaign showed only a pale grasp of the gross defects in Bush’s approach to counter-terrorism.

So what happened is: Iraq's state was cracked, its army disbanded (all in the lunatic hope that Chalabi, of all people, was the people's choice for Iraq -- or Allawi, after that hope had proven clearly misjudged), and an insufficient force, unable to guard an occupied population, was 'surprised' when jihadists came through the borders. Of course, those who go through one way can go through the other way, so it sets up a nice school for a franchising terrorist network. I guess the neo-cons, who have read their Marx, are trying to prove that the first time around is tragedy, the second time is farce. The first time around, in the 80s in Afghanistan, the Soviet's created an uncontrollable guerilla situation, with the U.S. operating as the insurgents logistics masters. Having learned nothing from the experience, the U.S. does the Soviet thing in Iraq. With the addition that, having left their flanks unprotected, the U.S. suffers the first defection from an alliance it has forged in its history after the Madrid explosion. Chalk another one up to the Bush counter-terror strategy. As well as to the long term political cost of taking to war countries that don't want to go to war.

Essentially, the Bush group’s thinking about terrorism is as obsolete as its latent dreams of imperialist glory in Mesopotamia. And the price we are paying for an unnecessary war is an amplified terrorist threat.
# posted by roger : 1:08 PM

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...