Friday, April 27, 2012

wanker moment 5: Exxon scepticism, a b c

The most important thing that happened in the double 0s, as we all know, was that more than 700 –800 million people were born in that decade. Of that group, at considerable number will live the lifestyles of the developed world. The lifestyle I live as I type this. Considered as a phenomenon of natural history, this is quite a strange lifestyle – a biped who stands 6 feet tall, and weighs in at between 145 and 165 pounds, uses every day the amount of energy that a blue whale, who stands at 95 feet and weighs 238,000 pounds. An expert on these matters, about 6 A.D., asked, what man by taking thought could add a cubit to his stature? About 1800, the answer was, any man with the a rudimentary sense of geometry and mechanics. By 1900, by taking thought a man could fly. But all bets are not off. Having taken thought and added 237,850 pounds to my stature – along with about a billion and a half fellow humans – I may well be part of a historical circus stunt that has not long to go.

Of course,  one can well ask whether any man was taking any thought at all in the 2000s, the decade in which the big environmental idea was to make the SUV a tax deductible item. It was another decade of la la la, acidifying the oceans, pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, getting dangerously close to an underwater mining of methane pockets that were last disrupted during the Eocene era (also known as the big crash for the downer effect it had on everything except certain peculiar forms of bacteria), and promoting various housing booms in desert areas, for instance in the Western U.S., where even in normal circumstances all signs speak of the change to the sixty year drought cycle endemic to that region of the country. It is a distinct problem with homo sapiens even of normal size that he must drink fresh water.  70 percent of the freshwater on earth is now being diverted, in one way or another, to irrigate crops, leading to the massive desertification of land from the Imperial valley in California to the Andhra Pradesh – since irrigation makes the desert bloom,  first with plants,  and then with mineral salts that leach up to the surface of the earth (where the wind sweeps them in vast poisonous arcs) and down into the groundwater.
This is of course nothing new. To cut it short, in the developed world, populations  continue to live on the earth like meth fiends in a cheap apartment – and if the earth did have a landlord, he’d be kicking us out about now. We’d find our shit on Mars, and a large sign posted on the Himalayas: YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO EXIT THE PREMISES.

But, let’s face it, meth is the only life we know how to lead. And since we aren’t going to change anything, the next best thing is to find wankers to assure us that we, a., don’t need to, b., couldn’t even if we did need to, and c., hey, did you see that thing happening across the street?

As is appropriate with long events, they allow us to say, lo, wankery here, and lo, wankery there, and enjoy, if we want, a corporation funded 24/7 surroundscape of wankery on this issue. Public intellectuals, so to speak, are added simply as sprinkles on the cake, the wonderful towering cake of shit that we are baking ourselves. But public intellectuals there must be, according to a rule first whispered by the snake to Eve  in the days when homo sapiens used up the energy that any other ape would use, and nobody, by taking thought,  could gain an inch. I like to think that the  master moment in 00s wankery on this topic are spread out between the appearance of Bjorn Lomborg in 2001, and the freakowankery spread by the holly jolly freakonomists from the school of Chicago in 2008.
 When I read the profile of the “skeptical environmentalist” in the NYT in 2001, I realized that here was a cat on the road to stardom. I knew that he going to be quoted, infinitely, to a,b, and c his way across our sad news landscape, and to be the counterpoint inserted into every environmental story by our good buddies, the petro-industry financed think tanks and foundations (and such are the surprises of the plutocracy that by the end of the decade, even the Sierra Club was on the dole of the natural gas companies). In my blog I wrote one of my first posts, on 8/8/2001, about the future I saw for Lomborg. I was frankly envious. At the time, I was freelancing – a conman’s game, for low low stakes – and it was as if I saw a pro step up to the table and proceed to three card monte the shit out of everything. Lomborg and the failed Texas oilman and cheerleader who was hoisted into the presidency eight months before by the cutest coup you ever saw, made such a good cultural couple that I thought for sure their sleazy, implausible, and irresistible ways would be the most we would have to deal with. Of course, as I was writing, Bush was dismissing reports about the Al qaeda operatives in the country with the memorable phrase: okay, you’ve covered your ass. He of course didn’t, and we saw plenty of his bare bottom later, on 9/11, and we didn’t care. Cause he was a hero!

But to return to Bjorn Lomborg: the cool thing about the con was the way he played according to character. For Lomborg, you see, wasn’t some oil type from Houston. No, he’d been a genuine Greenpeacer, a Scandinavian one at that, and then – he was converted. The 00s were, among other things, the decade of the conversion story. Americans love conversion.  There he was, according to himself, your average know nothing Greenpeace schmoe, kvetching about mass extinction and Global Warming on Planet Gaia, when he got knocked down (spiritually, that is) by libertarian skeptics of the environmental model. No doubt, like Saul, he had his days of reclusion and blindness, the night sweats, the fever - but a vision of Gale Norton apparently visited him, saying, in an unearthly voice, go and tell all mankind about the wonders of cost benefit analysis! So he arose from his bed and now he's come out with a book, and at such a convenient time, too! What with the trashing of the Kyoto accords and all, which looks so terrible in the press. The book plays a theme dear to the corporate mindset - that is, that environmentalists exaggerate, and that such things as climate change, or environmental damage, are myths generated by inaccurate or skewed stats and projections of enviro- Nazis. Of course, modern day converts never convert all the way - they want to bring their cultural capital with them, otherwise they become just another Jack in the Pack. So instead of taking the mantle of libertarian debunker, Lomborg, of course, is still describing himself as an environmentalist. He is of that less dogmatic type, undisturbed when they blacktop those pristine redwood forests in California. Plenty more where that came from! Hell, wonders of biotech nowadays, we'll just fix us up a batch in a laboratory. So come on down, Butterfly!!!

To go through Lomborg’s view that the environment is better today than it was in 1850 would be a waste of space. Scientific American, bless em, took care of the details – but in so doing locked the debate into a matter of mikiwiki-facts. What is needed in these cases as well is… the higher literary criticism! Or something like that.  Criticism that takes up the curious case of ‘scepticism’ in the anti-environmentalist discourse. It is curious that skepticism is a virtue touted by the dubious, and foisted off on the credulous, to prove the incredible. At the same time, in the same decade, in which the overwhelming power of Saddam  Hussein’s secret weapons of mass destruction were accepted as fact by the establishment and the population in the face of the fact that Saddam Hussein could not,  manifestly, even threaten the breakaway Northern part of Iraq with any real force (sure, he could attack the U.S., but not fearsome Kurdistan!), the same people went into the lab and poured over the science to understand, in as neutral a way as possible, whether pouring Mississippi’s of CO2 into the atmosphere was a good thing or not. Such was the thirst for skepticism that petro companies, in their scientific  fervor, funded think tank intellectuals to find out all about it.

As with so much of the 00s, it was like amateur comedy night at the moron’s club. And it blackened and generally shit one of the truly good things about the conservative temperament, which is real skepticism –real resistance to technocratically induced social change. The greatest single conservative book ever written by an American bears the title: Scepticism and Animal Faith. Santayana’s chapter, Knowledge and Faith, threads the needle for the conservative epistemologist. I’d have to quote the whole of it, but I’ll content myself with this paragraph – which, distinguishing the skepticism that affirms faith from the skepticism that affirms solipsism,distinguishes, as well, the conservatism of Burke, Yeats and Eliot from the for profit skepticism of Exxon and Lomborg:

Plato and many other philosophers, being in love with intuition (for which alone they were perhaps designed by nature), have identified science with certitude, and consequently entirely condemned what I call knowledge (which is a form of animal faith) or relegated it to an inferior position, as something merely necessary for life. I myself have no passionate attach ment to existence, and value this world for the in tuitions it can suggest, rather than for the wilderness of facts that compose it. To turn away from it may be the deepest wisdom in the end. What better than to blow out the candle, and to bed ! But at noon this pleasure is premature. I can always hold it in reserve, and perhaps nihilism is a system—the simplest of all —on which we shall all agree in the end. But I seem to see very clearly now that in doing so we should all be missing the truth : not indeed by any false assertion, such as may separate us from the truth now, but by dumb ignorance—a dumb ignorance which, when proposed as a solution to actual doubts, is the most radical of errors since it ignores and virtually denies he pressure of those doubts, and their living presence. Accordingly, so long as I remain awake and the light burning, that total dogmatic scepticism is evidently an impossible attitude. It requires me to deny what I assert, not to mean what I mean, and (in the sense in which seeing is believing) not to believe what I see. If I wish, therefore, to formulate in any way my actual claim to knowledge—a claim which life, and in particular memory, imposes upon me—I must revise the premisses of this nihilism. For I have been led to it not by any accidental error, but by the logic of the assumption that knowledge should be intuition of fact. It is this presumption that must be revoked.”

This presumption has a tendency to be assumed within the hierarchy and planning of all large organizations, including science, even as science officially renounces it for the play of probabilities – probabilities that are much like Santayana’s essences, variable places more real than the values that are inscribed into them. But enviro-scepticism is no such glorious intellectual bird -  it is, rather, that familiar species, the American buzzard, even if it wears a Scandinavian haircut.

Americans however have no need to import Danes to fill our buzzard quota. So the next wanker moment, the freakowanker moment, involves two pundits in the American grain.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

wanker moment 4: hero John Kerry, come on down!

The Dems had a problem in 2004. Was the problem that they had shown zero integrity in opposing Bush tax cuts, the rich vein of corruption that clogged the arteries of the administration like the cholesterol that clogged the portals of Dick Cheney’s heart, indefensible fecklessness pre-9/11, indefensible fecklessness post 9/11 in Afghanistan, the pill company bill, the vicious and unacceptable invasion and occupation of Iraq, the torture, the massive civil rights violations, the orgy of debt resulting from the deregulation of the mortgage market? Of course not. Basically, these were things they were for before they were against, and were things they might be for again.
No. Their problem was they needed someone as heroic as George Bush.

John Kerry as a young man did not become famous because, on a swift boat speeding through the jungles of Vietnam, he was the model for all Rambos and Hulk Hogans to come. John Kerry as a young man became famous because he courageously came back from the war and organized the Vietnam Veterans against the War to, among other things, shut the war down and make it known through the length and breadth of America that the American military had committed massive atrocities in the course of its actions in Vietnam. To that end, he organized investigations – it was called the Winter Soldier project – to expose what was happening on the ground: the torturings, the burning of villages, the arbitrary shootings of civilians, and all the rest of it. 

This is what Kerry said in 1973, testifying to the U.S. Senate:

I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that severalmonths ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”

With strong words like these, Kerry should have gone down with those unpleasant truthtellers in the American tradition, such as William Lloyd Garrison, who opposed with all their might the most powerful social evil of their time.

But William Lloyd Garrison did not have a magic formula to get him out of his former positions. John Kerry, of course, did. For looking in the face of the invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, Kerry uttered his immortal credo: “I was for the war before I was against it.”

Actually, that is unfair. Kerry never said the remark attributed to him by legend. Instead of using the plain speech of the young John Kerry, unafraid to call rape rape and torture, torture, Kerry’s comments and votes on the Iraq war went something like this:

"In October 2002, he supported the current war in Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq took no aggressive action against its neighbors.

In announcing his candidacy for president, in September 2003, he said his October 2002 vote was simply "to threaten" the use of force, apparently backtracking from his belief in 1991 that such a vote would grant the president an open-ended ticket to wage war."We should not have gone to war knowing the information that we know today," Kerry said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Knowing there was no imminent threat to America, knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, knowing there was no connection of Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, I would not have gone to war. That's plain and simple."

But on Aug. 9, 2004, when asked if he would still have gone to war knowing Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Kerry said: "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." Speaking to reporters at the edge of the Grand Canyon, he added: "[Although] I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has."

The Kerry campaign says voting to authorize the war in Iraq is different from deciding diplomacy has failed and waging war.”

The nuances, the nuances! The Democratic party fell into a vat of nuances somewhere around 1982, and has never climbed out of it since. What could be better, for such a party, then a hero?

And so the sausage was made. Kerry’s tour of duty in Vietnam was given the JFK PT-1 treatment by Douglas Brinkley in 2004. I don’t recall JFK leading the WWII Veterans Against the War – but don’t worry, John Kerry was hoping that nobody would remember his own anti-war activity, and decided, by hocus pocus, to nuance himself back the medals he had once thrown away in perhaps real disgust in a demonstration against the war.

And thus Kerry went onward Christian soldiering through the primaries and to the convention. The Democratic Convention of 2004 was a spectacle to make the angels pull out their H.L. Mencken books and crack wise. The magic moment of the coronation was preceded by a bit of hokum that I remember to this day – for, not having a tv set, I had to wait patiently while my dialup internet connection downloaded the clip, and thus I got to see it slowly. And I got to hear this. And hear it again. Because I couldn’t believe it the first time:

“''To every little girl her father is a hero -- it's taken some getting used to, that my father actually is one,'' Alexandra Kerry said.”  

Cutting the wankery cake, here, I would need a samourai’s sword. As I remember it – and my memory flees in horror before the impression – this remark was made after the campaign film nicely basted our Kerry in the stews of a Vietnam that had been filtered through the yearnings of John Milius in Red Dawn.  Somehow, this grown up little girl forgot to mention that he father was a hero in a war in which, as he said, American forces “cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.” I guess that is way too x-rated for little girls!

The con game of American politics is light on nuance. Nuance scares the mark. Nuance creates a moment of, well, distance,  instead of little girl stickiness to big Daddy.

At the time, I did not foresee the comeuppance that would result from that hero act. But come it did. And this is what I wrote back in those dear, damned days:

August 29, 2004

A friend of mine who is pretty far to the right sent me an email about Swift Boat Veterans about a month ago. I thought, at the time: you gotta be kidding me. Bush, with an incredibly bad military record, can’t afford to open this little can of worms up.

I was wrong. The Bush campaign correctly gauged Kerry’s weakness – a massive, senatorial vanity that makes Oedipus’ hubris look like the shrinking modesty of a closet virgin. Kerry’s response has been, throughout, a comic exercise in hauteur. It is as if Kerry feels that we will all feel his pain that he, John Kerry, a senator, a presidential candidate, is being unfairly attacked in a tv ad. Wow – a presidential candidate attacked in a slimy way! That he has made this into an issue of Bush condemning or not the ads shows …. well, a pretty bad instinct in Kerry. Hardball does not consist of insisting that your opponent dominate the game. Surely even in the incubator of egocentricity and bad but expensive hair that is D.C., surely someone around Kerry could have gently said: get over it. But no: this utterly boring and irrelevant issue is bearing beautiful fruit for the Bush campaign. Kerry’s partisans are all in a lather – all of them amplifying the vanity response, all of them insisting on the utterly godlike heroism of the young Kerry, deigning to become a grunt from his position of privilege in the Ivies – we all should be so honored! I'm weeping in my whiskey! All of them determined to stick with the story of Kerry the hero unworthily blemished to the very end.

If, instead, Kerry had accepted being attacked, and attacked back – if he hadn’t sanctimoniously “condemned” moveon’s quite mild ads on Bush – he’d be in much better shape. Liberals have a tendency to confuse their arrogance with decency – they love that word decency – when, in reality, their niceness is all context dependent. I say: bring on the dirty campaigning. If I had inherited a million bucks, I could afford to be decent too. Or indecent. The truth is, most of us don’t have any choice about it – that’s what a restricted income does for ya. So we plug up the interstices with a few moral acts, gorge on superstitions in response to our dim awareness that we are vulnerable to everything in this universe and are going to die without having eaten enough, fucked enough, thought enough, or enjoyed any one moment enough, and plug along from one besotted moment to another thinking about sex, if we are lucky and our libido hasn’t been broken by our exhaustion. I really believe that the Dem establishment doesn’t have a clue. Hence, a small town Babbitt like Rove can look like a genius just for acting like a redneck drunk, since this provokes the most maddening, and unintentionally hilarious, responses from Dems. Their noses immediately go in the air. They act sullied. They begin talking about honor, by which they mean – I, me, my ego, my preciousness, was actually INSULTED by that lout. Can you imagine? This righteous indignation plays out as a particularly nauseating blend of petulance. The mask comes down. The hoi polloi insult and are insulted all of the time. It is our art form. And if you can’t deal with that, how are you going to deal with things like, uh, war?

It has still not resonated with the Dems that they are no longer the default party. Incredible as that seems, they still respond to these things as though they were still number one. This happens. Many American manufacturers, faced with competition from the Japanese in the seventies, folded not because the Japanese could make stuff cheaper, but because the Americans were arthritic about service, produced crap, had an executive structure that was stuck in cement, crushed innovation, and had so constituted themselves around a Pavlovian routine – put out crap, get back money – that they were unable to understand the changed circumstances.

This would be extremely funny if we had some other opposition party we could go to. Alas, the Dems are it, and their screw ups are threatening to land Bush, once again, in an office he so richly does not deserve.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

A lament for the french elections

Pity the decline of France. At one point (alright,in the 1790s), campaign platforms had some zing to them. Here's Babeuf's proposal for the communist state: ‘this government will make the boundaries disappear, the hedges, the walls, the locks in doors, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all the crimes; the tribunals, prisons, gallows, penalties, the despair that causes all calamities; envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deceit, duplicity, and all the other vices; more (and this point is no doubt essential) the gnawing worm of general disquiet, particular disquiet , perpetually there for each of us on our fate for tomorrow, for the month, for the following year, for our age, for our children and their children.” 
This is what I call a campaign promise...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

wanker moment three: the killing fields

Christopher Hitchens had a good war. In the beginning, he imagined a beautiful war, and decided that it was identical to the war being machined into place by the oil oligarchs and Cold War relics of the Bush administration; then he supported his friends – and who had more friends than Hitchens? He was facebook before facebook – who fell into different categories: there were the Kurdish smugglers, the Iraqi financial frauds, the petro-criminals, the sneaks, the spies, and those promoting a National Front cleansing of Eurabia. And of course, the D.C. press corps, who, like the Arkansas rubes watching the Duke and Dauphin perform their version of Shakespeare, were bowled over by pisselegance proffered in a nurseryroom martinet voice. Then the war came, and it was good. The invasion was good. Then the war went slightly out of kilter. Then the fifth column at home raised traitorous questions. Then the clubman’s yelps he was reliably grinding out started getting boring, even when, like the ever heroic Orwell, he ventured into the very belly of the beast by visiting the mansions of a few Kurdish millionaires (friends!) and the green zone (where there were more friends!).Then, realizing that the thrill had gone in this war between “everything I love versus everything I hate” (Hitchens’ narcissistic cri de coeur summing up his impression of the attack on the World Trade Center), he turned to drumming up a war against Iran, supporting McCain mainly on the strength of McCain’s bomb bomb bomb Iran song. Finally, Hitchens passed away as the American troops were reluctantly marching out of Iraq, due to the failure of the American government to successful manage an invitation from the Iraq government to stay – and, incidentally, violate ten years of promises about the war.

Given this record, to find one shining moment of wankery is no mean task. The river is broad. There is, for instance, the column in Slate (where he did his best contrarian wanking) when he described, with a smartness of tone that would bring tears to Bungalow Bill, giving a talk at the Pentagon (on the invitation of friends!); there were the numerous moments when he dared the entire world to find any spots on Ahmed Chalabi (his friend!); there was the stern and stirring shot over the bow of anyone daring to question the relationship of Paul Wolfowitz (a friend!) and his mistress, Shaha Riza (a friend!) when Wolfowitz, made the president of World Bank, oversaw raises to Riza’s salary that hiked it up past the salary pulled down by the secretary of State; and there was, of course, the grave moral fault Hitchens saw in those who complained that the hawks on the war seemed chicken about fighting it themselves, or having their children fight it – which of course was an attack on the entire civilian command structure over the Pentagon.

Out of this unceasing stream of buncombe, I should pause especially for Hitchens’ defense of Chalabi, which is a formula for his journalistic m.o.

"Yet every journalist feels compelled to state, as a matter of record, that Ahmad Chalabi was once convicted (by a very bizarre special court in the kingdom of Jordan) of embezzling money from a bank that was partly controlled by Iraq. I am not an accountant, and I admit that I don't know what happened at the Bank of Petra in 1972. I am not sure, after exhaustive inquiries, that I know anybody who really does know. But I do know what happened at the Iraqi Central Bank a few weeks ago, and I don't have to be an accountant or auditor to understand it.”

Exhaustive inquiries here means – asking friends! And lo, behold his instant understanding of what happened at the Iraqi Central Bank! This, of course, relies on second hand intuition, which was pretty much the way Hitchens did everything in the double Os – running on gas fumes.  In fact, three days before  Hitchens wrote these sentences (on May 14,2003), an L.A. Times story laid out the details of the Petra Bank gig as clearly as, well, anything that transpired at the Iraqi Central Bank.

However, my own intuition is that none of these bloodthirsty rants quite equals the killing fields moment.

Maestro, a little music, please: back in the middle of the Iraq’s glorious liberation, the Lancet published an article that presented the results of a survey attempting to measure, in lives lost, the cost of it – to the happy Iraqis. The team making the survey was not employing any very novel technique. Rather, it was close to the techniques that had been used to measure the cost in human lives of the civil war in the Sudan and the Congo. It included not only battlefield casualties, but casualties due to lack of food, warmth, shelter, medical care – that is, the burden of violence on non-combatants as well as combatants. 

The report calculated that by 2006, there were "654,965 excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war.” This worried the American media. They had a nice correct ratio in their heads of virtuous war-to-deaths, which was more like 40 thousand Iraqis killed (and all of them no doubt deserving it!). Thus, the media gave a lot of space to conservatives and warhawks who shot spitballs at the report (which allowed the media to split the difference, in the preferred He said she said manner – NYT decorum calls for trotting out “from 100,000 to 150,000 victims” at the moment). It will astonish all and sundry that the American media does not give a lot of space to, say, the Sudanese government’s counterclaims on the number of the dead resulting from the attempt by Khartoum to crush the people of the South, but  can easily be accounted for by the ‘friends!” rule – the owners and editors of the papers don’t normally go to cocktail soirees where the leaders of the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation are hanging around the wine bar. Also, see under Power, Establishment use of; Fourth Estate,corruption of; and various other like entries in the Encyclopedia of the double ohs.

Hitchens came to the plate at this grave moment and wrote an immortal column about the statistics of it all. As Hitchens himself, back in the nineties, relied beaucoup on stats to prove that Clinton was committing an enormous crime by starving the Iraqis through sanctions, he had a sticky wicket to navigate. And so he pulls here, and he pulls there. He notes: “And it's been noticed that Dr. Richard Horton, the editor of the magazine, is a full-throated speaker at rallies of the Islamist-Leftist alliance that makes up the British Stop the War Coalition.” He stops short of accusing Horton of making his wife wear a burqua, but this is because Hitchens has a humane side. Of course, Hitchens does not mention that the war he is fullthroatedly supporting had reached a stage in which our liberated Iraqis were being led by the Islamic Da’wa party – this would discouragingly muddy the invective, as of course that would make him a supporter of the Islamicist-Rightist alliance. In the dream war that Hitchens was fighting, that was unacceptable. 

Then Hitchens, in a moment of inspiration, realizes that starting a war means that people on the other side kill people on your side, so that you have to really count the people you save by killing the people on the other side. It is a moment of Alice in Wonderland brightness:

“Make the assumption that some percentage of those killed by the coalition are the sort of people who have been blowing up mosques, beheading captives on video, detonating rush-hour car bombs, destroying pipelines, murdering aid workers, bombing the headquarters of the United Nations, and inciting ethnic and sectarian warfare. Make the allowance for the number of bystanders and innocents who lost their lives in the combat against these fanatics (one or two, alas, in the single case of the precision bombing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, just to take one instance). But who is to say how many people were saved from being murdered by the fact that the murderers were killed first?”
This is painful. At about the same time Hitchens was spilling these words onto some screen, he pulled himself together for an interview with Reason Magazine concerning the war, and there he regained his valor:

“Did you support the invasion of Iraq?
Yes: I was an advocate before the fact, not a supporter.
2. Have you changed your position?
Not in the least: I wish only that Saddam had not been able to rely upon Russian and French protection and the influence of oil-for-food racketeers and other political scum.
3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?
The United States and its allies should continue to stand for federal democracy, while making Iraq a killing-field for jihadists and fascists and a training ground for an army that will need to intervene again in other failed state/rogue state contexts.”

Who knew that the U.S. was standing heart and soul, chickenhawk and hero, for federal democracy in Iraq? But such are the wonders of liberation, I suppose, that the casus belli changes as fast as the top ten hits on Melody Maker. However, "the killing ground" phrase is truly immortal. It is the martinet mind finally freed from all scruples, and taking wing. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Hitchens, in the 00s, was also reveling in one of the laws of heredity he had forgotten: because his father was an navy man, which made Hitchens almost into a veteran. 

I confess that I rather lost sight of Hitchens after 2006. The bubble of cretinism was bursting around the globe, and Hitchens brand of it seemed as outmoded and out of touch as the horrendous Fighting Words column, which Hitchens himself must have known was a mistake. Although perhaps the man whose increasingly leaden touch for language made him ever more popular in D.C. (where all were friends, and friends, and friends) could not understand the death of his talent underneath the avalanche of his verbiage.   

For those who want to make the tour of the mock killing fields, here are some references:

Hitchens on Chalabi. John Dizard in Salon on Chalabi’s thievery


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...