Friday, October 12, 2018

Patience and the restless sleeper

There’s a thing about living in France that always amazes some outward suburban zone of my American brain: I go into the store, I get checked out by the cashier, I pull out my credit card, I put it in the little credit card machine, and a word appears on the screen: Patientez.
Be patient. In the United States, when dealing with machines, the signs and recordings are rarely rooted in such a quasi-moral, such a Ciceronian admonition. Rather, they tell you that they are busy processing your information. Or maybe they tell you that all operators are busy and please wait on the line until the next operator is available. But to be asked to wait is a moral degree away from being asked to be patient. Waiting, after all, can be done impatiently – it is all physics, it is all being a body in a place in time. Patience, however, is being a certain kind of subject, having a certain kind of attitude.
I’ve long had a Barthesian revery that if I could just understand the “patientez” sign, I would grasp some larger mythological characteristic of France. See the rest here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

the trouble with the saudis and the trouble with the Americans

If I went to sleep in 2002 and woke up yesterday and read Tom Friedman's non-apology for kissing the ass of Saudi Arabia's young dictator - I would not know that it wasn't still 2002. The Middle Eastern "expert" clique is still morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt, roll over Beethoven and give Grandma the news.

Also relics of 2002 is the cry that the only reason we are allies with, or complicit with, or in bed with, or making passionate love to the Saudis is cause of oil.

This is a half-truth. If you check, you'll notice that the level of American imports of oil from Saudi Arabia are at 1987 levels. We could easily do without that oil - we could substitute oil from Iran in one diplomatic turn, or Venezuela.
But the truth of the chestnut is that, as a result of decades of oil sales, the Saudi royal house and its hangers on had trillions of dollars to invest. Since the seventies, one of the best places to park your money and see it grow has been in the American financial sector. Money followed the usual track, then, which is how Saudi money is mixed up in whatever giant enterprise or IPO is on tap at the moment. The Saudis were notoriously dumb about this in the seventies, and the princes are notoriously lazy, but the had some smart hangers on, and they were able to buy fleets of smart American MBA types, and so the learning curve and American foreign policy bent together. The Saudis definitely made a smart move by investing in American media - at one point, notoriously, al -waleed bin talal owned a hefty piece of Fox News, as well as bits of Times-Warner, et al., which didn't hurt. The money went out, as well, to think tanks, lobbyists, and the ivory towers. Oftentimes, this was touted as some multi-cultural opening to Middle East culture, with the subtext, that the opening would be subservient to Saudi sensibilities, being muted. Sometimes, as recently, it is just your open, convivial corruption, typical of the T-Rump era. As for instance Harvard and MIT's offering of their prestige to Bin Salman in return for a chance to get in on an academic gold rush.

Even these modalities of Saudi influence would not explain the Saudi-American lockstep. To explain that on the political level, it is necessary to look at how the US (and the UK, and France) has used massive arms sales to the Saudis as an offset to the de-manufacturing policies they have generally pursued to keep consumer prices low and the return on investment for the wealthy high. Here, one must doff one's partisan hat: the status of the U.S. as the leading arms seller in the world became policy under Bill Clinton. Since then, it has been sealed in place through all the changes in the white house.

Here's a report from 1995 about the beginning of it all.

"In fiscal years 1993 and 1994, the executive branch (and Congress) signed-off on a staggering $100 billion of government and industry-negotiated arms deals. Moreover, the administration actively assisted industry by subsidizing marketing activities, lobbying foreign officials to "buy American," and financing several billions of dollars of sales.

The "new" guidelines call for business as usual: "the United States continues to view transfers of conventional arms as a legitimate instrument of U.S. foreign policy-deserving U.S. government support when they enable us to help friends and allies deter aggression, promote regional stability, and increase interoperability of U.S. forces and allied forces."

The prosperity of the nineties was the coming together of many streams, and this was definitely a politically fruitful one. Arms sales doubled in Clinton's first four years in office.

One could tell similar stories about other countries. Britain is notorious for sucking up to the Saudis to keep its airplane manufacturing alive. And so on.

Let's round out this little screed with an even more depressing observation. In 2002, Americans accepted, without a qualm or a quiver, the idea that certain weapons were weapons of mass destruction and certain weapons weren't. As the biggest arms dealer in the world, the U.S. was in a moral pickle here, but admirably, through a lack of any analysis of the phrase whatsoever, we were able to thread the needle that allowed the U.S. to sell the jets that could deliver nuclear missiles and even the missiles themselves, but not the atomic warheads - and pat itself on the back for its liberal and democratic way of life. Back in those days, this drove me crazy. Around the time that Libya "gave up" its atom bomb program - in return for contracts with the west that would sell it other weapons - I wrote a little blog column about it all.

268. Why can't my right hand give my left hand money? -- My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt. -- But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift. When the left hand has taken the money from the right, etc., we shall ask: "Well, and what of it?" And the same could be asked if a person had given himself a private definition of a word; I mean, if he has said the word to himself and at the same time has directed his attention to a sensation. – Wittgenstein

The philosopher treats a question like an illness. – Wittgenstein.

The disarmament of Libya is the latest episode in the preposterous policies generated by the bogus classification, “weapons of mass destruction.” The moniker applies, ironically, to weapons that have very rarely been implicated in mass destruction. The Uzi, the tank, the bomber – these very vendable items, of course, aren’t weapons of mass destruction. Rather, with its right hand, the West has stocked every country that could afford it with a supply of such things. That right hand has been busy, as even a cursory look at the arms sales totals could tell you. It is here, especially, that the 9/11 lie – the lie that 9/11 ‘changed everything’ – is stripped of its plausibility. While political factions in America throw charges of lying at each other, they both are comfortable with the structural lie, the one that kept Bush 1 and Clinton in the arms sales business, and that keeps Bush 2 there too. And the Swedes, Brits, French, Germans … let’s not leave out anybody. The Russians, of course, primus inter pares.

Ah, but then we have the sweep of the punitive left hand, disarming rock n roll tyrants like Khaddafi and putting all the editorial writers of the NYT to sleep with sweet dreams.... Libya giving up its laughable nuclear capacity is being taken as a sign of disarmament. We suspect that, long term, this is really a move to re-arm – to buy all the conventional weapons that Khaddafi longs for, and that the EU and the US longs to sell him. It has, after all, been a moneymaker in the past. Libya’s interest is not to regain some international stature – it is to keep up with its neighbors, to which it has been hostile in the past. In fact, recently Khaddafi has been stirring up coups in Mauretania. This, of course, without using the weapons of mass destruction – weapons of conventional destruction will do very nicely, thank you very much. So much for the tie between WMD and aggressive behavior. "

So this is just to say: our problems long long pre-date Trump. We don't need resistance, we need transformation.

Lawrence's Etruscans

  I re-read Women in Love a couple of years ago and thought, I’m out of patience with Lawrence. Then… Then, visiting my in-law in Montpellie...