Saturday, March 26, 2016

sure vs. absolutely

Somewhere in Delmore Schwarz’s journals he remarks on the brilliance of the American “sure”.
He doesn’t say anything more, but I’d speculate that Schwarz intuited that certain words are novels – and not just novels, but state of the nation novels, U.S.A. novels.
Like so much in the U.S.A, the word has mutated since the forties. It has become the bogus absolutely. Of course, this mutation is not unrelated to other mutations abroad in the land – for instance, the systematic skinning of the working class, from their place in the popular arts to their dignity to their paychecks. Sure was both the extended hand and a word to be spoken out of the side of the mouth by private dicks and mobsters. Sure was off the farm – as was the population, draining into Detroit and Chicago and Los Angeles and Cleveland, making steel in Youngstown and Pittsburg, waging labor war in Flint. Sure was familiar with numbers runners and the overflowing toilets in neighborhood taverns on Friday night. Sure had all beef hotdogs in its teeth and the ball game on the radio.
Absolutely doesn’t. Absolutely is the fated, that is, planned erosion of the manufacturing sector. Absolutely is the relentless rise of the service sector. Absolutely is waitresses setting out jauntily to make money while going to college and ending up three jobbing it to make payments on the college loan.  Absolutely is the cool music played at starbucks. Absolutely is emotional labor, while emotional surplus value is hauled off to be plasticized in the cultural industries. But absolutely never reaches into the now dominent upper reaches, who invaded every crannie of the popular arts in the U.S.A. and made it a mirror of their own vanity. Absolutely is said to them. They never say it back. Instead, they say things like, I’ll have the Chilean sea bass.

I sure hate absolutely. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

there will be blood - reflections on the present state of the human meat grinder

Jeremy Harding’s long review essay about Angola in the LRB is a fascinating exercise in the history of the Cold war as pursued in one of its side pockets, even if Harding recounts it at a cold blooded jet fighter height, mainly. Clearly, one of the many things Obama could have congratulated Castro for in Cuba was his strong contribution to the end of apartheid. Without Cuban troops and Soviet weapons in Angola in the seventies and eighties, the South African apartheid forces and the Americans would have rolled over Namibia and Angola, and apartheid might still have its leather gloved grip on the region.
I read it with some memory of the events that it went through. However, I found it suprisingly relevant to today’s politics. Reagan’s under-secretary of state, Crocker, was the author of the doctrine of linkage and constructive engagement with South Africa, which meant, generally, supporting the racist regime.Its the same cynical, immoral and ultimately futile policy that Clinton seems to have pursued and to want to pursue with Saudi Arabia. Clinton’s pretense to have made women’s rights a presence on the world stage was undermined by the warm ties and weapons sales that she advocated while Secretary of State. More weapons were sold to the Gulf state, I believe, during the brief period of Clinton’s stay at State than have ever been sold to them before. This, in a period in which the Saudi’s imprisoned numerous immigant workers, mostly female, for sorcery, executed various “sorcerers”, and made only the most cosmetic of attempts to impress the West with civil rights. The West, in the person of a press that is tightly connected, on the corporate level, was always cooperative with the propaganda project. The New Yorker recently published a celebratory article centering on one fabulously wealthy Saudi woman who is bravely going out there and driving herself. This is treated as a blow for human rights on par with the march at Selma. Meanwhile, we pretend that our moral justification in Afghanistan is fighting for the country’s oppressed women, who are treated by the Taliban exactly how the Saudis treat women.
Clinton, like Reagan, has her eyes on the prize: the untrammeled use of American power to promote capitalism and various cherrypicked moral principles – the latter not too closely. It took Obama six years to start quietly undoing a foreign policy founded on brainless toughness and a penchant for doing ‘stupid stuff’. Clinton, by all accounts, wants to undo Obama’s undoing.
I suppose I should say that “Clinton” and “Obama” represent pieces on the chess board, functions more than personalities. Clinton stands in for the longstanding complex of money and military power that has transformed the DC metro area into a real estate agent’s wet dream. This is an old American disease.
And like any disease, there will be blood. There always is. The pundits are hungry for it. O, the wars we have missed! In Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen… oops, not quite Yemen. There we are still pounding the shit out of civilians, and nobody that I know of is selling any t shirt saying Je suis Yemen. No, in Brussels the death of 35 is two days of headlines, while in Aden, another bomb strike, another hundred civilian deaths is a real yawner. And so the pundits, like ticks, cheer for the opening of another jugular somewhere. It will be good for us. It will demonstrate our resolution. We will be tough.
In Angola, maybe a million died. A Cold war story with twists and turns and a nice O.Henry ending: the white apartheid soldiers who did such damage to Angola, and who were ultimately defeated by the Cubans, are now mercenaries defending the once Marxist state, and the “freedom fighters” there, so beloved by Reagan, have been tracked down with the encouragement of the Americans and Total Oil and murdered.
Such is the state of the human meat grinder on the cusp of major global climate change.

Monday, March 21, 2016

rom com imperialism

A and I set out to enjoy a fun, forgettable movie last night. The movie we chose, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, will, eventually, be forgettable, but its not-funness was very wrapped up in memory: the memory of that corrupt and vile decade, the 00s in these here United States. The overwhelming Orientalist stereoptypes, from Gunga Din to Savage to Wise Native; the political blankness (this is a movie that locates one of its first scenes at the Bagram Airforce base in 2002, which is famous for containing a torture chamber in  which at least two Afghan civilians were tortured to death by American interrogators, without pausing to allude to it)); the ridiculous intrusion of a sort of lean-in feminism as our moral justification for being in Afghanistan (real feminism was introduced by the Communists under the PDPA in 1978, which began a revolt that was stifled by Soviet soldiers. The US then funded the mujahedin freedom fighters, as Reagan called them, who put the subordination of women at the top of their list of complaints, and, in power, quickly purged the hospitals  of women doctors and the schools of women students); and the unquestioning subordination of the press to the military and the Bush narrative (although the movie carefully never mentions George Bush), created, for me, an hour andd fifty minute time trip back to the America of that decade.

Hollywood, of course, with a small deviation in the seventies, has always kissed the ass of the Pentagon, recognizing the Defense department as another smoke and mirrors laboratory, covering itself in the rhetoric of uplift as it goes about accruing money and power.  In this movie, the soldiers are all polite as pie, the generals crusty. No rapists here. No commander as bad as Richard Myers, who missed Osama bin Laden riding away on his little pony – apparently, they could bomb the peasants around the base of Tora Bora to their hearts content, but they couldn’t bomb the paths out of Tora Bora and through the mountains because they might hurt some innocent shepherds.  The American government here, so well intentioned that it positively squeaked, could never have countenanced the airlift of Taliban leaders and fighters and ISI commandos from Kunduz  to Pakistan. No, they were much too busy doing, in their clumsy, loveable way, good to the country.  In this Afghanistan war, the Taliban are the ultimate evil. The Northern Alliance, the warlords the US teamed up with, are only obliquely mentioned in a scene that hints at what they were famous for – kidnapping and raping boys.
The end of this thing was in the same spirit as the rest of it.. A cheerful vet, his legs blown off but not at all bitter about it, expresses the view that nobody is responsible for the war in Afghanistan. Its causes are too far back in history to even think about. The unsuccessful, 14 year, trillion and a half dollar war was just one of those things, like a mountain or a bad case of diarrhea. So sweet! For if nobody is to blame, why, we can do it all over again!
Oh, and on a final note: the movie is advertised as a rom-com. Cause of the Tina Fey main character and such.

In a sense, this does express the American self image about its imperialism. Big, brutish but ulitimately sweet Uncle Sam meets demure, backwards Middle Eastern country and in a hilarious and romantic courtship, bombs the shit out of it and introduces it to the cell phone and dating! Loveable hijinx for the whole family.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My theory, which is mine, which I have, cough cough

Ever since I was knee high to a mockingbird, I’ve been reading about the lamentable state of American innumeracy. Seems like we Americans, unlike Koreans, Finns, and Albanians, just can’t find our way in even the lower mathematics. Many theories have been advanced. Many studies, at great expense, have been launched.
Well, I was sitting out at the playground today, watching Adam and other kids and parents, and it struck me that it might have something to do with the way us parents threaten.  More specifically, the way we say: I’m going to count to five and you better get in your seat, eat your dinner, get off the jungle gym, etc.
Nobody ever says, I’m going to go to “e”.
It is perhaps for this reason that the alphabet really does seem composed of friendly little mountaineers, each with its little hammer, all of them climbing up one after the other the cliff face of language. Whereas numbers always have the whiff of the disciplinarian, as if they all waved rulers at us threateningly.
To prove my theory, I’d only need a couple of million dollars from Zuckerberg or Gates or one of the other billionaires. I would raise three groups of kids, one threatened, traditionally, with numeration, one with the alphabet (I’m going to go to e, and you better be over here: a b c d e) and one raised with varied threats (I’m going to go to mo and you better get over here  -eenie meenie minee mo; or, I’m going to go to paper and you better get off that jungle gym – rock scissors paper). Then we’d overload these children with various repeititive and intrusive tests and find out whether the alphabet menaced read at a lower level than the number menaced, and so on.

I’m getting on the phone to the Ford foundation tomorrow.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...