Friday, November 06, 2015

the mythological struggle between the hard and the soft

Ideology deals with concepts like power and order. Mythology deals with percepts, like the hard and the soft. Of course, the story is more complicated than that.  They are a duality, and like many dualities, they love to dress up in each other’s clothes. Ideological concepts disguise themselves in percepts, and mythology’s percepts disguise themselves as arguments.
I’ve just read a fantastically detailed biography of Wyndham Lewis. By the end of it, the reader will have a good sense of Lewis’s bank account balance, year by year. And yet, the reader won’t know why Lewis painted the way he did, thought the way he did, or wrote the way he did.
After Lewis’s death, many critics, following Hugh Kenner’s lead, swallowed Lewis’s version of modernism. It was a modernism that kicked out the Bloomsbury group, and in particular Virginia Woolf. It is as if they caught Lewis’s allergy to Woolf . Now, Woolf, it seems to me, was a much greater artist than Lewis, and her novels can’t be kicked to the curve as somehow not in the modernist spirit – on the contrary, they are modernist in the most cosmopolitan sense. They link up to Bely, to Joyce, and to Faulkner in the genius with which they slant plot, character, description, and the event of reading itself.
Nevertheless, Lewis is a fascinating writer. I’ve never been able to finish Apes of God, with its impossible mannerism, or Self Condemned, with its rather mysterious gloom, So I’ve decided to repair this by reading Tarr. Tarr is the essential Lewis book, where the material that became The Art of Being Ruled or Time and the Western Man is put to the test of being lived – that is, of being contested. Walter Allen, in an essay on Lewis, made the suggestion that Lewis wrote in the tradition of the Victorian sage – Carlyle, Ruskin, etc. What distinguishes the sage, Allen says, quoting  John Holloway on Carlyle, is a rather disquieting feature:
“One of the things that most disturbs a modern reader of his work is constant dogmatism. Through Carlyle’s work the nerve of proof – in the redily understood and familiar sense of straightforward argument – simply cannot be traced; and the sucession of arbitrary and unproved assertions tends to forfeit our attention. Yet this is only a subordinate difficulty, because although proof is clearly missing it is by no means clear  what would supply this lack, as it is by no means clear what needs proof. The general principles which would summarize Carlyle’s ‘system’ are broad and sweeping gestures, hints thrown out, suggestions which leave us quite uncertain about their detailed import. And what is clearly true of his work is also true of the others. “

It is the lack of proof – which I would interpret as an indissoluble overlapping of the mythological and ideological levels of the text - that makes Lewis’s politics difficult. He obviously flirts with fascism, but he is not a party member like Pound. Rather, I feel his fascism is expressed in his mythology, in which the hard struggles against the soft. The soft, for Lewis, is always disgusting, whereas the hard is always an admirable achievement. In a way, this mirrors the way, in the 21st century, the American establishment mythologizes. Toughness is always good, weakness is always bad. America’s horrendous foreign policy is based on this seemingly infantile binary – in fact, one could say that the foreign policy, tout court, is a case of homosexual panic. Uncle Sam must always present his butch side to the world.

In artistic terms, Lewis’s flight from the soft is what connects his entire career as a polemicist, satirist, painter, and novelist.  He associated the hard with vision. In a sort of primitive physicalism, the eye becomes a projector of rays – not the soft receiver that it actually is and has to be. What is truly seen is truly seen in hard lines.  The fetish of the hard is the fetish of the machine, which, in Lewis’s mythology, is never oiled, never uses weakness, the spring, the buffer, the tampon, but is always in a maximum state of hardness.  Such machinery is so strong, in fact, that it is always in peril of crashing. It can’t last. It is a machine that is built not to function, but to express the mythological state  of hardness.

to the GOP candidates: let's show some love to Carson today!

I don't see what is wrong with this. Carson is no different from all the rest of the GOP candidates. He turned down a scholarship to west point in his head. Rubio was a poor boy who climbed the social ladder through entrepreneurship and pluck in his head. Fiorina, in her head, saw bodysnatchers using their alien vehicle, Planned Parenthood, to make soup out of fetuses, And Trump has dreamt up a whole country named the USA which ranks, militarily and economically, with Albania, but, after a quick fixer upper, will rank with alexander the great's empire, and the Roman one too, In the most classical sense, the Republicans are running as idealists. I'm hoping they will show some love to Carson, who is just being attacked by the liberal press, After all. It isn't a lie if you can believe it just before going to sleep!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Dexter Filkens very poor, sham defense of Chalabi.

In the New Yorker, the old interventionist fellow traveler, Dexter Filkins, performs a pretty worn out magic trick, exonerating Chalabi for the lies and propaganda he spread in Iraq, and leaving the man's career at that. 

Of course, Chalabi was no seducer of innocents. The Bush administration was crowded with chickenhawks, anxious to "liberate" Iraq, reap a bountiful political score in the US, and Chili-ize the occupied country in the best shock doctrine fashion. Of course, they were afraid to risk the political capital that would come from really occupying the country, and they could hide behind Rumsfeld's screwy military science which told him that you could pacify Iraq with about five hundred thousand less soldiers than it would actually take to even begin. No Vietnams please, we are chickenhawks was the motto.
However, by trotting out the usual I interviewed Chalabi nonsense, and focusing all attention on the run up to the war, Filkins conveniently forgets Chalabis role in the occupation in 2003. Here, Chalabi was key. Because he was one of the main players to press for de-Baathification, which was realized by Paul Bremer's decision to unilaterally disband the army and ban Ba'athists from state positions. In one stroke, Iraq lost its governance. Imagine having half a million too few soldiers to actually continue the civic and social life of a territory and then stripping out the government that had served that territory for the last thirty years.
Sadly, Filkins, a terrible war correspondent, was chosen by the New Yorker as their man in the Middle East. This isn't surprising - Remnick, after all, published the wild tales of the 9.11 - Saddam Hussein connection, as designed by Jeffrey Goldberg, to turn up the pro-war heat back in the day. But I think that the readership of the New Yorker is probably much out of synch with the pap being fed it by such as Filkins.
For the story of Chalabi and the occupiers, a much better source is Aram Rosten's biography of Chalabi. Here, I'll quote from the pages devoted to Bremer's de-Ba'athification edicts.

As much as L. Paul Bremer and Ahmad Chalabi would come to
hate and despise each other, Bremer, who replaced Jay Garner as
America’s overseer in Iraq, danced unwittingly to Chalabi’s tune when
he issued the de-Baathification order on May 16, 2003. He carried out
Chalabi’s policy, although, he explained later, it was merely adapted
from a law handed to him directly by Doug Feith.

And then Bremer quickly installed Ahmad Chalabi as the head of
the commission to “de-Baathify” Iraq. On the top floor of the Iraqi
government building, in the Green Zone, Chalabi entrenched his De-
Baathification Commission, which assumed the aura and reputation
of an Inquisition. “They had tons of money,” explained one Iraqi involved
with the commission. “Their fortunes have risen and fallen
many times, but when they were first created, they were a much-feared
organization that occupied one of the floors of the building the government
used.And I know people quaked even going there. If your file
entered there, God knows what they would do to you.”

Chalabi had the extraordinary power now to end anyone’s employment,
strip away his pension even, leave him destitute. If Chalabi chose
to paint someone as a leading Baathist, that would mean his prospects of
government employment were over.And of course it left him open to arrest
by the Americans, who barely monitored the committee’s methods.

It was immediately clear to anyone who cared to know that not all
Baathists had blood on their hands and that patriotic Iraqis were being
pushed out of their jobs and turned into beggars because of the
process led by Chalabi. “It was like ‘de-Sunnification,’” said one diplomat.
The most competent administrators, who had been forced to be
Baath Party members, were banned from working in government
jobs. “De-Baathification appears to have gone some way toward dismantling
a state that had been left largely intact by the unexpectedly
swift war,” as The Economist put it."

As I wrote constantly at the time, you cannot separate the run up to the war and the occupation. To do so gives one an absurd picture of what went on - a picture that gives cover to incompetents, criminals, and, by no accident, their abettors in the press.
So why does Dexter Filkins still have a career explaining Iraq?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

chalabi is deader than dick cheney's heart

I've often written about Chalabi. He was a character who seemed to embody the madness of the first stage of the Bush era - the second stage, in which we live, is characterized by opoid addiction and suicide, which is another story. 

Anyway, he tires me. So I'm reprinting a post I wrote when the NYT Magazine did their postmortem on Chalabi after his party was wiped out in the first Iraqi election.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The horrendous Dexter Filkins is at it again. The NYT Magazine profile of Chalabi is an indulgence verging on an impudence – after all, why not devote that space to a basically meaningless story about Filkins fave guy? Here’s one of our favorite passages in this extended exercise in bosculating Chalabi’s golden fanny:

“When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out. His Iraqi National Congress received slightly more than 30,000 votes, only one-quarter of 1 percent of the 12 million votes cast — not enough to put even one of them, not even Chalabi, in the new Iraqi Parliament. There was grumbling in the Chalabi camp. One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: “We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn’t even get that many.” He shrugged.

But the truth seemed clear enough: Chalabi was finished. Chalabi, who could plausibly claim that he, more than any other Iraqi, had made the election possible, had been shunned by the very people he had worked so hard to set free.”

To set them free! Doesn’t it make you feel all Country and Western?

Having cast my lot with the black magicians, I've been trying to come up with a spell to launch a meme from this tiny blog. The meme would be about the failure of the MSM, from the beginning, to comprehend Iraq. The evidence for that failure would be the incredibly exaggerated role assumed by Chalabi in reports about Iraq after the invasion that kept appearing in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other major media. At the same time, the way Chalabi himself was perceived in Iraq didn't even figure in those reports. For instance: for years, LI has maintained that the legitimacy of the supposed American project of bringing 'democracy' to Iraq, still hailed by the belligeranti, was undermined from the beginning by trying to set up a notorious thief as our proxy in Iraq. Filkins remarks, sort of as an afterthought in one place, that he was amazed at how the Iraqis all seemed to know that Chalabi was convicted in Jordan of stealing up to 40 million dollars from the bank he founded. Now, this isn't a small and insignificant piece of information - even though Filkins treats it as such, devoting a total of four sentences to it. This is a huge piece of information. It is about how the Iraqis were seeing things. If the MSM were really curious about the supposed American project, this kind of information was vital feedback for Americans.

In fact, however, the MSM is simply an adjunct of the conventional wisdom of whatever court faction wants to bamboozle us this time. And so in all those stories about Chalabi, none of them were about the perception current in Iraq from the beginning that he was a huge thief. It is also true that he is a huge thief, but the perception was more important. You can't conduct an occupation that is legitimated on helping the occupied and then try to elevate a thief to the position of ruler.

Well, we were reminded by the sorry ass stroy of this post, filed after the Iraqi election, 1/26/06. I totally regret the severe underestimate of Iraqi casualties:

the shame of the press
Imagine that the entertainment sections of the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times had all devoted most of their coverage to the choice of Jessica Simpson as best actress in the run up to the Oscars. Suppose that they did this in spite of the fact that there was abundant evidence that Jessica Simpson was not considered even an outlying candidate for best actress by insiders. Suppose that she got not a single vote.

If this had happened, it would be a major media scandal. There would be questions about the honesty of the critics involved, and whether there had been some kind of quid pro quo with Simpson’s PR people, or some studio. Certainly there would be, at least, some comment to explain the bizarre behavior of the critics.

Now consider the Iraqi elections. Again. The results are now, semi-officially, in. In the run up to the election, did we have American papers running big profiles of, say, Abdul Aziz Hakim? He is the head of SCIRI. Or how about Ibrahim Jaafari? The head of Dawa. No. As has been the case for three years, the overwhelming amount of media in this country went to … Ahmed Chalabi. A man whose party did not earn enough votes to even give him a seat in the Iraqi parliament. Enter Chalabi’s name in the Factiva database, and you get 27, 925 entries. Enter Hakim’s name in the database, you get 1232 entries. The 27 to 1 disproportion between the man who couldn’t even gain a seat with the votes of the exiles and the man who the Washington Post calls “the most powerful Shiite politician” is an accurate reflection of the delusiveness of the media, which not only bought the Bush administration’s illusions and lies at the beginning of the war but has added to it their own so that Americans trying to understand what is happening in Iraq have as much chance of getting good information from, say, the U.S. Defense department – which is, remember, run by the worst and most mendacious Secretary of Defense in our history, and staffed with his appointees -- as from the NYT.

Let’s take a look, for comedy’s sake, at Dexter Filkins, the NYT’s Iraq reporter who is bad enough to surely merit some kindly nickname by our prez. Here, before the elections, is a typical Filkins lede. On December 12, 2005, under the headline, Boys of Baghdad College Vie for Prime Minister, Filkins wrote:

“The three Iraqi political leaders considered most likely to end up as prime minister after nationwide elections this week -- Ayad Allawi, Ahmad Chalabi and Adel Abdul Mahdi -- were schoolmates at the all-boys English-language school in the late 1950's, fortunate members of the Baghdad elite that governed Iraq until successive waves of revolution and terror swept it away.”

Imagine someone including, in a story about the three most likely Democratic presidential candidates, the name Dennis Kucenich. You get the picture. Filkins is the clown prince of the Iraqi reporting team for the NYT. Edward Wong is a better reporter – one doesn’t feel like he takes massive doses of acid before he files his stories. But his story before the election, with the headline Iraq’s Powerful Shiite Coalition shows Signs of Stress before the Election (9 December) goes on for ten grafs before we get the inevitable:

“This time, though, the rivalries have grown more heated and the potential for an irreparable split is greater, Iraqi and Western officials say. Many coalition members have broken away and started their own parties, and there has been a palpable drop in support among moderate voters and the leading ayatollahs, who are disenchanted with the performance of the current Shiite government.

“A fracturing of the conservative coalition could set the conditions for a realignment of Iraq's political spectrum, creating an opening for a more secular Shiite candidate like the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, or even Ahmad Chalabi, the former Pentagon favorite, to assemble enough allies to claim the top spot in the new government.”

On November 30, 2005, ABC’s Nightline did its duty to inform its audience of the impending election in Iraq by doing a whole show entitled: “THE POWER BROKER A LOOK AT AHMED CHALABI.” Of course, the advantage of this is you don’t have to hire a translator – translating is so boring on TV, and it might give the viewing audience the idea that Iraqis don’t normally speak English.

Here is a typical snippet from that show:
(OC) Terry, you've been spending lots of time with one of the more controversial and powerful figures in Iraq. And you have his story tonight.
(OC) Ahmed Chalabi, Cynthia. He is quite a character. He was in exile from this country for more than 40 years. Saddam Hussein's archenemy. He's now a candidate. It is election season here. You sense it in the air. People talk about it in cafes. There's posters and banners. And Chalabi wants to run the country he left for 40 years. No matter what you think of him, he's a man to be reckoned with.
(VO) There is no one else in Iraq like him. And that may be a good thing. Ahmed Chalabi is the canniest, wiliest, most effective, most elusive political player in the new Iraq. And he just might be the man best-positioned to help the US achieve its goal of a stable, secular, democratic government here. Or maybe not. You never know what Ahmed Chalabi could do next.”

Actually, to give a little credit where credit is due, John Burns, the pro-war NYT correspondent, did appear and say reasonable things on the Charlie Rose show – things that were entirely unreflected in the coverage of the election by his paper:

“CHARLIE ROSE: How does the election look today, and how do you measure that this new parliament or assembly, whatever they`re going to call it, might elect Chalabi?
JOHN BURNS: No, I don`t think. Personally, I don`t think that there`s the remotest chance of that. Mr. Chalabi`s party, I would think, would be lucky to get two seats.
What he will do with those two seats and with his own good self after that I don`t know. He envisages himself as a compromise candidate for prime minister. I think that`s probably beyond the reach of even so canny a politician as Mr. Chalabi.
I think that this election is likely to produce an unsurprising result. I think we`ve seen it before.”

The Washington Post, meanwhile, focused on an unlikely pro-Israel candidate running in Basra (wow, how about that for giving us a feeling about the country) and unleashed their no. 1 Iraqi expert and all around Middle Eastern savant – I am talking, of course, about the ever repugnant Sally Quinn – to do a 2000+ word profile of Chalabi on November 17, 2005. Quinn famously did a profile of Chalabi in 2003 in which he the varieties of his silky genius were highlighted, and contrasted, comically, with the boobish Iraqi pols that he brought with them – many didn’t speak English or possess table manners! And the grease in their hair! My how we laughed. 30-50, 000 Iraqi deaths later, we return to this always risible subject.

This is Quinn, speaking with the collective wisdom of D.C.:

“Spending time with Ahmed Chalabi is like disappearing down the rabbit hole. People are either throwing him tea parties or crying "off with his head."

Normally in Washington, people ask not to be identified when they have something negative to say about a person in the news. With Chalabi, it's the opposite. On the heels of his week-long visit to the United States, few want to be quoted by name saying anything positive. Yet suddenly many have positive things to say.
It was only a year and a half ago that his Baghdad office and home were raided and trashed by U.S. and Iraqi forces. He had gone from being the darling of the neo-cons to a pariah. Many thought he was dead politically.

But today he is a strong contender for prime minister in next month's elections, and highly placed sources say he has become the choice of many U.S. officials to lead the country. He has managed to resurrect himself because he is seen as the one person who can get U.S. troops out of Iraq, and Washington is pragmatic enough to recognize that.”

Can one love enough that last sentence? I don’t think so. Quinn is a rare human being: she is the local genius of the Washington Post, the very distillation of its editorial and journalistic attitude. Shameless, hubristic, triumphantly bigoted, privileged, and convinced that insider knowledge = real knowledge. Of course, insider knowledge is really a pack of the delusions and panics that make the governing class at this particular point in time a thing for the angels to both weep and laugh over.

Now, here’s LI’s bet. Our bet is that not once, not once in the next week or month will there be any discussion whatsoever of the curiously distorted coverage of the Iraqi election going into it, and the more than curious inflation of stories about a man whose main achievement seems to be to have gotten to know American journalists. Nobody will ask, why is it that there are not 2,000 word portraits of Hakim in the WP style section? Why isn’t there a series in the NYT, the men who run Iraq? The obvious answer is that the American public can’t bear too much reality – at least, that is what our guardians think. So much better to make up the country of Iraq lock stock and barrel and present it, a steaming pile of horseshit, to the American citizenry – just so we don’t get too worried about what we are sending Americans to die for, or to be head injured for, or to be legless for, or to have their spines broken for, or to be permanently traumatized for.

Monday, November 02, 2015

without an element of real terrorism, the Government would never grant women the franchise

We saw Suffragette last night. I found it a pretty good political flick. Its most brilliant choice was to focus on a prole, the laundry worker played by Carey Mulligan. The word about this movie and the way it is being advertised has created a faux controversy. Apparently, publicity pics show the Mulligan, Meryl Streep and some other stars of the film wearing tee shirts across which is emblazoned the slogan, I’d rather rebel than die a slave, a phrase from a Pankhurst speech featured in the film. This turns the film’s sympathy for attacks on property into a slogan no better nor worse than I’m with stupid. In other words, activism becomes consumerism, and consumerism is then considered from the standpoint of whether it sets off twitter storms of offended comments.
This is too bad. The film is all white, as has been pointed out; what hasn’t been pointed out is that the all white movement appropriated strategies from the anarchists and from a long line of labour protest going back to the Luddites. Personally, I think there is material here for the black lives matter movement – the shattering of windows in zones of luxury consumerism  Instead of the uplifting but empty slogan that the movie is marketing, I prefer Emmeline Pankhurst’s line: ‘The argument of the broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics’. The current disposition allows people to go out in the street with signs, as long as the police approve, but would jail any leader who went around saying such things now as a terrorist.
Many reviews I have read of the film – including an astonishingly tone deaf one in the New Yorker by Richard Brody – have gone at it with how the story of the Suffragettes should have been told. As with Selma (or War and Peace, for that matter), some material must be left out, and others must be turned and shaped by the the dynamics of the story. Myself, I was dissatisfied with two points: one was the depiction of the laundry factory as a world of silent passivity. Have I been mislead by L’assomoir, or did the film substitute an isolation tank for a much less respectable, more raucous, more resistant scene? And my second bone to pick was the dialogue around “telling the king” that Pankhurst was in danger from her fasting – I didn’t think it plausible that this servile idea would have been born in the brain of the working class Carey Mulligan character.
I went back and tried to look up some of the history that the film covers. I didn’t know it. History is, as always, messy. The Emmeline Pankhurst of the movie, who welcomes the support of all women, does not exactly correspond to the Pankurst of history, who seemed, at least in the time frame of the movie, to agree with her daughter, Christabel, who actively opposed giving working class women the vote, and felt so strongly about this that she split the movement. Her sister, Sylvia, took the opposite, radical side. At the same time, perhaps because of Christabel’s class arrogance, she was not afraid of radical action. I came across Christabel Pankhurst’s leaflet, Window Breaking: to one who has suffered, and I liked it. I  thought about what we would think if this were a contemporary leaflet from a Palestinian on the West Bank, or an African-American activist in Ferguson, Missouri. Some controversy has whirled around the lack of people of color in the movie, Suffragette, but to my mind, what is missing is that the kinds of weapons used by the oppressed today are condemned by the people of whiteness in positions of power when those same weapons were used, at one time, by the people of whiteness in positions of social weakness.
Here’s the beginning of the leaflet.
Dear Sir, You, a prosperous shopkeeper, have had your windows broken and your business interfered with, you are very angry about it, and no wonder. But you are angry with the wrong people. You are angry with the women who broke you windows, whereas you ought really to be angry with the people who drove them to it. Those people are the members of the present Government.” 
In an unpublished fragment found by Sylvia Pankhurst’s biographer, Mary Davis, Sylvia is frank about both her opposition to her sister’s views and tactics and her unwillingness to oppose them in public to avoid splitting the movement.  “My sister… declared that, without an element of real terrorism, the Government would never grant women the franchise.”
Put that on a tee shirt or twitter it and see what happens.

Southern California Death Trip

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