Friday, March 28, 2008

real news from Iraq and fake American news from Iraq

The American press is stunningly bad at reporting on events in Iraq right now. CNN relies on Michael Ware, which is a bit like relying on Ollie North for an account of the Iran-Contra affair – Ware has all but come out in favor of McCain’s occupation forever line. The New York Times crew evidently is not only incapable of reading or speaking Arabic, but relies mostly on the Green Zone for its framework, and has no sources whatsoever in the Mehdi army. The latter is pretty much the condition of the whole of the U.S. press. In one way, it is understandable – establish a source with the Sadrists and watch the U.S. army take your ass to jail. On the other hand, it makes it impossible to trust the NYT or the Washington Post.

LI recommends the BBC news service translations of what is being said in the Arab press. At the present time, according to the Saudi owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat website, there is a dispute about a message being sent around from Sadr, which says:

In his message, a copy of which "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" has obtained, Al-Sadr said: "I advised you in previous statements to be patient and respect the orders of the Hawzah [Shi'i seminary]. I asked you to stand up to the onslaught by the occupier and his lackeys who are implementing his plans that aim to harm the sons of this noble line. Recent events in Basra, Al-Kut, and Al-Sadr City have proved that the Iraqi Government is pressing ahead, in cooperation with the occupation forces, with the implementation of its evil plan and which coincides with the approaching governorates councils' elections for the purpose of distorting the image of Al-Sadr Trend whose supporters are now suffering from continued arrests in all the governorates." The message added: "The violation of the truce we had announced when we froze Imam Al-Mahdi Army that is happening today... I said when we adopted the freezing of the Imam Army under the current conditions that we believed the interest required this freezing. If the resistance continues in this way, it will drain Al-Mahdi Army's moral and material resources and this might make many of our supporters turn against us in addition to the Shi'i public opinion's view of us." It said: "We believe that protection of Al-Sadri line can only be made by remaining silent at present as long as the occupation is in our territories. The events of Al-Diwaniyah and Karbala were the blows that made us think deeply, so to speak, that the confrontation would provide the government with the justification for exploiting the obnoxious occupier's plan and the pretext for imposing the law enforcement plan so as to strike Al-Sadr Trend's sons in Basra and Al-Sadr City. I say it with deep anguish, so to speak, and with much regret that there are renegades from our ranks who did not obey our orders and hid behind the Imam Al-Mahdi Army's cloak. They helped the government and the occupier against themselves and decided to rebel against our orders."

Rather oblique, but the idea has gotten out that Sadr is ordering a stand down. Which is disputed by a leading Al Sadr trend figure in Basra, Al-Bahadili, who put out his own press release:

“He disclosed that he had a meeting with National Guards elements after they surrendered to the "Martyr Al-Sadr" office in Basra, saying "those who surrendered" told him "they were ordered to come to Basra to pursue the oil and drug smuggling gangs and none among them knew they were coming to fight Al-Mahdi Army and that they would have resigned immediately had they known of this before coming here." He added that "the largest number of police and security forces in Basra are Al-Mahdi Army elements and they left their work and sat at home as soon as they learned about the battles' objectives."

This is from Iraqi tv:

“Privately-owned Al-Sharqiyah focused on military developments on the ground. It began its 1100 news bulletin with the news that forces loyal to Muqatada al-Sadr had taken control of the southern Iraqi cities of Al-Nasiriyah and Al-Shatra. The channel added that Iraqi policemen had "remained in their stations", suggesting that they had refused to fight. Although the channel, which broadcasts out of Dubai, did report statements made by a government military commander saying that 120 Mahdi Army fighters had been killed, it also quoted "medical sources" in Basra as saying that only 60 people had been killed throughout the four days of fighting, which served to contradict the military commander's death toll. Over pictures of Mahdi Army fighters dancing on top of a burnt-out Humvees, the channel said that food was running low in Basra and that a five-day ceasefire may come into effect to allow supplies to reach the city.
Continuing its clear anti-government message, the channel reported that the government had imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad after demonstrations took place there condemning the military campaign against the Mahdi Army and labelling the spokesman of the Baghdad Security Plan as a "the liar of Baghdad." Al-Sharqiyah then reported that Sadrists were banned from praying in the main mosque in Karbala and that "spontaneous demonstrations" had taken place in the city against the move. The channel concluded its morning bulletins with the news that soldiers of the Iraqi Army's Eighth Division stationed in the town of Al-Nu'maniyah had surrendered their weapons to the Mahdi Army. The channel then ran an excerpt from a telephone interview with an Al-Sadr Bureau official who confirmed this news.”

According to the “Government-owned Al-Iraqiyah” tv station, the name of the campaign is "The Charge of the Knights". Al-Iraqiyah showed clips of pro-government demonstrators, but also: “In its coverage throughout the morning, the channel stressed statements made by "his eminence" Muqtada al-Sadr calling for a political resolution to the conflict.”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Congratulations, North

As all space freaks know, the Shuttle landed safely yesterday. But what is less known is that the shuttle depends on a curious weave between science and the magic cast by Northhanger, who has been working hard to make sure that no evil ondulation threw them off course.

Congrats, North!

And don't be fooled by the disproportion to the all too human eye between high tech and magic. As Thomas Vaughn, that most unsuccessful alchemist, writes in Anthroposophia Theomagica:

“It is a strange thing to consider that there are in Nature incorruptible, immortall principles. Our ordinary kitchin fire, which in some measure is an enemy to all compositions, notwithstanding doth not so much destroy as purifie some parts. This is clear out of the ashes of vegetables, for although their weaker exterior elements expire by the violence of the Fire, yet their Earth cannot be destroyed, but vitrified. The fusion and transparency of this substance is occasioned by the radicall moisture or seminall water of the compound. This water resists the fury of the fire, and cannot possibly be vanquished. “The rose lieth hidden through the winter in this water” (sayth the learned Severine). These two principles are never separated, for Nature proceeds not so far in her dissolutions. When death hath done her worst, there is an union between these two, and out of them shall God raise us at the last day, and restore us to a spirituall condition.”

PS - Also, since we are going on about our bloc on pigosphere, we strongly recommend IT's reports on the Infinite Tour of America, in which IT discovers American currency.


- photo de C. Monin

LI has been reading a talk Caillois gave in 1963 on a conference on “the robot, the animal, man”. In it, Caillois does that thing which make LI both happy and uneasy – he uses ethology and zoology as though these were collections of myths. In one way, this is simply the kind of sociology that Bataille and Caillois did. And it seems to look back on romantic science, the leap from the feature to the analogy, and from the analogy to some universal force. But in Caillois’ case, he is not looking for some shaping force, or a series of Ur-forms, the kind of sequence that we can all too easily conflate with evolution, but that is, if anything, its opposite – relying on the necessity of a force on the model of the physical forces, rather than the statistical differences given in a population when a chance mutation leads to the spread of some trait. The closest Caillois gets to such thinking is his notion that humans, butterflies, ants and flowers all share a penchant for pleasing shape and color, but this isn’t reified into some odd theory of the universal need to expend energy, a la Bataille. Caillois’ method is much different from Bataille’s lightning like connections. Caillois spreads the animal world out before him, so to speak, on the table as a fortune teller spreads out the cards, and as the fortune teller turns over a card, Caillois turns over the case of an animal – the praying mantis, the squid. Both are concerned with “fortunes” – in Caillois’ case, the fortunes that have shaped human society.

In his talk, Caillois makes a neat point about opportunity costs. His notion goes like this: While the mosquito operates a syringe, or certain ants have developed a sawlike appendage, etc., every animal tool is organically part of the animal – and as part of the animal, can’t be substituted for any other tool. The tool monopolizes the animal. It is here that human beings are different than other animals – and the difference arises out of their animality. Caillois makes the anti-Darwinian point that humans are the animals that don’t adapt to their environment – rather, they make things that adapt them to their environment. Their tools – their syringes, saws, pliers, ropes, etc. – from outside of their bodies. In this sense, the “exterior” can be re-defined as the space of substitutions, a map of opportunities. Rybcynski called man the “prosthetic God” – but even more fundamental than the prosthesis, which is a particular tool for a particular function, is that we can find substitutes for the tool – it exists in a possible rack of tools.

I think this is a very nice point, and one that I’m going to use to talk about the sameness that was the unbearable aspect of capitalist society for the 19th and early 20th century figures I’ve been writing about in my other posts. The image of the ant society, the image of the insect, exercised a sort of negative power in criticizing what European societies were becoming – the disgust that this image was supposed to evoke is at least partly about the idea of the tool monopolizing the man – which would take away a material freedom, the freedom to substitute among tools, a freedom that gives value to one’s preference for a tool insofar as one has a choice to use other tools.

Caillois’ talk is divided into a descriptive and a speculative part. It is in the speculative part that he hypothesizes about this common element in man and flower and butterfly. Looking for commonalities between man and beast, he adduces the example of the mask, which, he says, is known among every human society – while the wheel, the lever, the bow, the plow might be unknown to a given people, every group known has employed masks. Which leads him into some lovely speculation:

It is as if man is born masked, as if one of the first tasks of primitive man had been, not to fabricate the mask, but to learn to take it off [s’en débarraser] , just as he learned, by standing on his two feet, to free himself from his quadruped destiny.

The mask has three principle functions: dissimulation: it helps to become invisible; disguise: it helps one to pass as another; intimidating: it is employed to elicit an irrational, and thus, an even more efficacious fear. I have just hazarded the supposition that the moeurs of the praying mantis explain certain religious myths, and deliriums and obsessions of the human species. In the same way, to these three functions of the mask (dissimulation, travestisement, and intimidation) corresponds among the insects some well known behaviors, and among humans, some permanent myths and preoccupations. For the dissimulation, I need only invoke the fables of the invisible man, from Gyges who turned his ring to escape the gazes of others up to the Invisible man of Wells and the kindred stories where the hero had to expropriate a coat, a hat or some other magic accessory which made it so that he couldn’t be seen as he continued to see others. In the second place there intervenes the taste for disguise, [travesty] that is the need to believe oneself an other, or to make other believe one is an other. This need is certainly the source of carnival, of theater and, in general, of all amusements or ceremony where disguise is an element, in beginning with the pleasure that every child feels in believing himself a conqueror, explorer, or cosmonaut, Indian or sheriff, locomotive, submarine or rocket ship, by virtue of the first at hand accessory. As to intimidation, to have fear and to make others fear, I am persuaded, is an essential resource not only of human behavior, but of the entire universe of animals. It is a question here of hyperbolic fear corresponding to no real danger, but which nevertheless provokes a decisive shudder. The fright produced by the mask – still a vain simulacra – remains the most striking example.

Mimetic insects color themselves the gray of bark, or the green of grass or the yellow of sand of the white of snow. Often they brusquely renounce dissimulation and suddenly exhibit ocelles, that is to say, enormous false yellow, black or red eyes. At the same time spasms shake them, they emit strident sounds, they adopt an attitude that magnifies them, they secrete a burning liquid. It is tempting to relate these manifestation of behavior to those of the sorcerer who arises suddenly from the bushes, who, also, extracts a mask garnished with enormous eyes, comparable to the ocelles of insects, surrounded like them with brilliant colors and with the same obscure wells in the middle, the black hole which disguises the eye of which one nevertheless feels the gaze, that is to say, one feels fascinated and terrorized by a pupil which one sees and doesn’t see.”

I leave as an exercise to the reader the connection between the mask arousing hyperbolic fear and American politics, circa 2008.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

liberal alienation 3

In the Fourth book of his Principles of Political Economy (1847), John Stuart Mill looked forward to the possible results of the progressive tendency of the free market industrial system, to the vastness of which he had dedicated his book. Among other things, he predicted that the number of servants would go down, and that a fundamental change would occur in the structure of business such that the divide between the owner and the worker would slowly wane. This change would, he hoped, come about by the rise of large scale associations. Perhaps he was sort of hinting at the absentee, stock owned corporations of today, but his words seem more hopeful - perhaps, in the end, capitalism would flow into the utopian scheme of the 1800-1820s, but on a sounder, scientific basis. In any case, the future belonged to large scale heavy industry, as well as larger scale agriculture.

“But, confining ourselves to economical considerations, and notwithstanding the
effect which improved intelligence in the working classes, together with just laws, may have in altering the distribution of the produce to their advantage, I cannot think that they will be permanently contented with the condition of labouring for wages as their ultimate state. They may be willing to pass through the class of servants in their way to that of employers; but not to remain in it all their lives. To begin as hired labourers, then
after a few years to work on their own account, and finally employ others, is the normal condition of labourers in a new country, rapidly increasing in wealth and population, like
America or Australia. But in an old and fully peopled country, those who begin life as labourers for hire, as a general rule, continue such to the end, unless they sink into the still lower grade of recipients of public charity. In the present stage of human progress, when ideas of equality are daily spreading more widely among the poorer classes, and can no longer be checked by anything short of the entire suppression of printed discussion and even of freedom of speech, it is not to be expected that the division of the human race into two hereditary classes, employers and employed, can be permanently maintained. The relation is nearly as unsatisfactory to the payer of wages as to the
receiver. If the rich regard the poor as, by a kind of natural law, their servants and dependents, the rich in their turn are regarded as a mere prey and pasture for the poor; the subject of demands and expectations wholly indefinite, increasing in extent
with every concession made to them. The total absence of regard for justice or fairness in the relations between the two, is as marked on the side of the employed as on that of the employers. We look in vain among the working classes in general for the just
pride which will choose to give good work for good wages; for the most part, their sole endeavour is to receive as much, and return as little in the shape of service, as possible. It will sooner or later become insupportable to the employing classes, to live in
close and hourly contact with persons whose interests and feelings are in hostility to them. Capitalists are almost as much interested as labourers in placing the operations of industry on such a footing, that those who labour for them may feel the same interest in the work, which is felt by those who labour on their own account.”

This was the optimistic side of the 19th century liberal dream. Mill is one of the few classic liberals who foreshadows the course of liberalism in the 20th century, with its comfort with state interference, but its ultimate belief in the social benefit of maintaining a large private sector.

The liberal alienation that Scheler sensed in his 1914 essay on the Bourgeoisie borrowed many of its tropes from the pessimistic tradition, because it was in that tradition that the revulsion against the capitalist order of life was most clearly expressed. Mill, I should say, felt it too – the danger of a certain social flatness. Herzen well understood the object of that revulsion: the first time he entered Europe, he wrote, he immediately saw how things were: it was a society choking on ennui. Tocqueville said the same thing about America: the overwhelming fact, he thought, was the monotony of tone, the sameness.

A certain program was being put together by the liberal critics of the system they had, at least ideologically, helped to create. It went like this. Everywhere, capitalist society produces a deadly sameness. The sameness of goods was the intentional product of the improvement of machinery. The mass use of machinery to produce goods was a dominant feature of the capitalist industrial system. Capitalism dissolved the social distances inscribed in tradition and law that structured the social hierarchy. One infers, then, that the sameness of goods and the leveling of the hierarchy are effects of the same will. Thus, the leveling of unnatural distinctions and the promotion of talent, the utopian liberal hope, produces a monotony of tone and a sameness that eventually covers everything like a pall. The working class, far from being opposed to this sameness, simply want to seize the industrial system and deepen its effects.

These propositions don’t exactly hold together or contain the entire truth of the 19th century social situation. In particular, the dissolution of unnatural distinctions and the leveling of hierarchy is, as one of the political goals of liberalism, contradicted by the economic ideology of liberalism, which supposes that the system works best when all maximize their self advantage – for one of the obvious ways of maximizing an advantage one has gained is to entrench oneself and one’s family in the system in such a way that the social competitor’s costs of entry become prohibitive. The never really realized anarchy of capitalism’s original position, in which all start off at the same place in the race to acquire wealth, contained an obvious flaw that could be deduced by glacing at the real social system in all the capitalist economies. Only the pre-1848 ideologues could naively supposed that all would obey the convention not to jimmy the system from within. So the panic about leveling was, in a sense, misplaced. But it formed a good mythic unity, against which one could weigh an image of some age of aristocratic heros – another pessimistic trope that infiltrated the writing of the alienated liberals.

However, even if equality wasn’t so tightly tied to sameness as in the program I present above, there was a real content to the horror of sameness noted by Herzen. That sameness had a center in the Adam Smith’s fabulous pin factory – lifetimes would bleed out consisting of nothing more than 14 hours a day of repeated, minute gestures. Paul Leroy-Beaulieu, a French economist who combined classical liberalism and imperialist, wrote:

“The wisest, borrowing images from the antique fable, have baptized modern civilization with a name that merits keeping, as the concentrated expression of all the griefs: the Sisyphism. We remember the unhappy soul, condemned by Pluto, as a punishment for breaking a promise, to roll a great stone right up to the summit of a mountain from whence it would immediately roll down again, obliging him to again push it up without resting: the sisyphism, that is, impotent and sterile efforts, ungrateful tasks which never diminish. What is meant by the writers who have had recourse to this image is that the more one succeeds in multiplying or perfecting the means of production, the more the duration, the intensity of the work, if not of physical effort than at least of attention, of moral and intellectual effort, increases.” ( Essai sur la répartition des richesses, 1888 411)

Interestingly, besides responding to Proudhon and Marx, Leroy-Beaulieu responded specifically to Mill’s prophecies. But I’ll get to that in my next post.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Lady Bitch Ray, in excelsis dea

For reasons unknown, suddenly Lady Bitch Ray fans have suddenly started flocking to Limited Inc – and no doubt leaving disappointed, as we don’t have the fabulous nude pics. But – never fear! Here's a link to one of the Bitch’s great moments on Austrian TV.

We have sent letters in to get Kino Fest to invite Lady Bitch Ray for her first English appearance – to no avail. What is sad is that, of course, you could get her to come relatively cheaply, now, but in a couple of years, Lady Bitch Ray can ask her own price.

Yes, LI is ahead of the curve in wanting Lady Bitch Ray to extend her empire to the Anglosphere. According to Bild:

Sie beherrscht insgesamt sechs Sprachen, kann neben Deutsch und Türkisch auch noch Portugiesisch, Französisch, Englisch und Latein.

How do I love this woman? Well, a little below the Queen B, of course, but she is rising in my estimate every day! Although – confession – I’m not as happy with Mein Weg as Ich hasse dich, or, joy of joys, Deutschland siktir.

For all your Lady Bitch Ray news, go to the Lady Bitch Ray shrine.


Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...