Sunday, October 31, 2004
words have no meaning
There are many who believe George Bush is a liar, a President who knowingly and deliberately twists facts for political gain. But lying would indicate an understanding of what is desired, what is possible, and how best to get there. A more plausible explanation is that words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real. It is a terrifying possibility.don't forget to vote tuesday.
Saturday, October 30, 2004
a call to arms
note that the creators reside at gnn, the makers of "battleground", a brilliant film which i previously blogged about.
a soldier's story
i'm not in a military family, so i don't have much perspective on it. but chance granted steven clemons at 'washington note' a look into a soldier's life. what results is a moving story of disillusionment, fear and resignment.
cult of personality
"I want you to stand, raise your right hands," and recite "the Bush Pledge," said Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt. The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: "I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."without delving fully into the hyperbole that comes rushing into my head, i'll simply note that bush isn't the first leader to ask for personal loyalty.
i have no commentary.
Researchers have estimated that as many as 100,000 more Iraqis -- many of them women and children -- died since the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq than would have been expected otherwise, based on the death rate before the war.
The scientists who wrote the report concede that the data they based their projections on were of "limited precision," because the quality of the information depends on the accuracy of the household interviews used for the study. The interviewers were Iraqi, most of them doctors.
The survey attributed most of the extra deaths to violence and said airstrikes by coalition forces caused most of the violent deaths.
"Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children," the researchers wrote.
Richard Peto, an expert on study methods who was not involved with the research, said the approach the scientists took is a reasonable one to investigate the Iraq death toll.
However, it's possible that they may have zoned in on hotspots that might not be representative of the death toll across Iraq, said Peto, a professor of medical statistics at Oxford University in England.
Lancet editor Richard Horton wrote in an editorial accompanying the survey that more household clusters would have improved the precision of the report, "but at an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of interviewers."
"This remarkable piece of work represents the efforts of a courageous team of scientists," he wrote.
To conduct the survey, investigators visited 33 neighborhoods spread evenly across the country in September, randomly selecting clusters of 30 households to sample. Of the 988 households visited, 808, consisting of 7,868 people, agreed to participate. Each household was asked how many people lived in the home and how many births and deaths there had been since January 2002.
The scientists then compared death rates in the 15 months before the invasion with those that occurred during the 18 months after the attack and adjusted those numbers to account for the different time periods.
Even though the sample size appears small, this type of survey is considered accurate and acceptable by scientists and was used to calculate war deaths in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
In the households reporting deaths, the person who died had to be living there at the time of the death and for more than two months before to be counted. In an attempt at firmer confirmation, the interviewers asked for death certificates in 78 households and were provided them 63 times.
There were 46 deaths in the surveyed households before the war. After the invasion, there were 142 deaths. That is an increase from 5 deaths per 1,000 people per year to 12.3 per 1,000 people per year -- more than double.
However, more than a third of the post-invasion deaths were reported in one cluster of households in the city Fallujah, where fighting has been most intense recently. Because the fighting was so severe there, the numbers from that location may have exaggerated the overall picture.
When the researchers recalculated the effect of the war without the statistics from Fallujah, the deaths end up at 7.9 per 1,000 people per year -- still 1.5 times higher than before the war.
Even with Fallujah factored out, the survey "indicates that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is more likely than not about 100,000 people, and may be much higher," the report said.
The most common causes of death before the invasion of Iraq were heart attacks, strokes and other chronic diseases. However, after the invasion, violence was recorded as the primary cause of death and was mainly attributed to coalition forces -- with about 95 percent of those deaths caused by bombs or fire from helicopter gunships.
Friday, October 29, 2004
bin laden's message
that was the hopeful statement of a desperate but rational man who is trying to go over the heads of ridiculous barking american politicians and appeal to the american people to give him a way to stop.
i'll quote what i said earlier today before i saw this thing:
why do you think... al-qaeda fights us and the fundamentalists resent us? it isn't religious -- that's propaganda for simpleminds, theirs and ours. they hate us because of our years of diplomacy -- the shah, the house of saud, all the oppressors we maintained, all the armies we placed in arabia. al-qaeda is an insurgency against indirect american misrule, real and perceived. this is key to understanding their motivation.
now, how does landing an army and conquering iraq and afghanistan and invading (de facto) north pakistan quell those insurgent concerns? -- and quelling the concerns is PARAMOUNT, as it is known to be the only effective way to control an insurgency.
there is an implicit assumption that kicking ass and taking names makes you safer in this environment. it does not! it puts you in greater peril -- this is not a war, it is a popular insurgency -- and this is the fundamental misperception among an american majority, including (possibly) the white house.
many suppose that al-qaeda are totally irrational. i don't. osama & co haven't done a thing yet to make me believe they don't understand the game they're playing. mistakes, sure -- but they have stated aims and want to accomplish them. much like hezbollah or hamas, if they were negotiated with and given a measure of success and access to real power to affect change, they would take it -- as the ira and irgun did before them.
continue imperializing their homelands, though, and we may get it in the head after all. what the united states needs is not "hard diplomacy" or the limited war of Global Democratic Revolution -- such militaristic forays serve only to undermine the pro-western muslim liberals who agitate for reform and empower the fundamentalists who oppose them, feeding fuel to the enemy's furnace.
what is needs is *better* diplomacy -- addressing the insurgency's base for sympathy among the muslim masses by rectifying their complaints while we still can on our terms.
instead, we're in the process in iraq of proving al-qaeda prescient and making them sympathetic figures to all muslims. this is a program for failure not only in iraq but globally.
until we begin to understand that al-qaeda is a rational insurgency against indirect american misrule (both real and perceived) with massive popular support -- because they honestly address real grievances! -- we will continue to fail miserably and dramatically increase the odds of american tragedies at the hands of blowback.
now, what osama said (abridged):
and there's more that al-jazeera only hinted at: (bin Laden) pointed to the contradiction which considers oppression and killing of innocents a legal act... Bin Laden pointed to the millions of pounds of explosives dropped on Iraqi children as bush his son had done, as he said to remove an old agent (saddam) and install a new agent to help in stealing the oil of iraq. And bin Laden said the events of 9/11 came as an answer to this oppression and said that if the answer to this oppression is considered bad terror, then we need to do it. And he stressed that he wants to deliver this message to the Americans in words and in deeds since the 9/11 events. He reminded Americans of a few warning messages through various news media like Time Magazine and CNN and other Arab and correspondents since 1996. He warned them of the consequences of their countries policies...
American people, my speech to you is the best way to avoid another conflict about the war and its reasons and results. I am telling you security is an important pillar of human life. And free people don't let go of their security -- contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom -- he should tell us why we didn't hit Sweden for instance. Its known that those who hate freedom don't have dignified souls... But we fought you because we are free people; we don't sleep on our oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation. As you spill our security, we spill your security.
We never thought of hitting the towers. But after we were so fed up, and we saw the oppression of the American Israeli coalition on our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind -- and the incidents that really touched me directly goes back to 1982 and the following incident: when the US permitted the Israelis to invade Lebanon with the assistance of the 6th fleet. In these hard moments, it occurred to me, so many meanings I can't explain, but it resulted in a general feeling of rejecting oppression and gave me a hard determination to punish the oppressors. While I was looking at the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it came to my mind to punish the oppressor the same way and destroy towers in the US to get a taste of what they tasted, and quit killing our children and women.
Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your hands. Each state that doesn't mess with our security has automatically secured their security.
we get this message from this man -- a message that is clear and strong, but also potentially quite conciliatory -- speaking directly to the people, appealing for help in inciting the changes in the brutal aspects of american foreign policy that would satisfy al-qaeda's demands. he is *asking* us to remove the causes of the insurgency -- and improve the lives of many muslims besides.
and what do we get for analysis? so much bellicose antagonistic bullshit that i cannot believe it. i read osama's bit and was amazed and hopeful. then i turned on msnbc, listened to olberman, listened to bush and kerry, and that hope evaporated instantly.
hey, i don't know if you can take osama at face value; i know for certain you can't take bush or kerry that way, so why him? but i was struck by the simple candor of his words. "this is why we're doing this; it's something we never dreamed of; this is how you can make it stop, so that you and we can be secure."
imo, there was probably more honesty and philsophical intelligence in that few minutes than in 18 months of presidental campaigning. and i've yet to hear anyone in the pack of crazed dogs that is the american politimedia scrum say anything more intelligent than "he is evil!"
america in the throes of an election is simply disgraceful.
new manifestation of the same problem, part 2
josh marshall has collected the evidence about missing explosives, and it appears definitive now that the stuff was there when we invaded; that the IAEA told us it was there; that our troops stumbled on it *on video* with embedded reporters -- and left it unguarded; and now it's gone, stolen by insurgents or on the iraqi black market.
why leave it unguarded? because this is rummy's war:
After the bunkers were opened, the 101st was not ordered to secure the facility. A senior officer told ABC News the division would not have had nearly enough soldiers to do so.in other words, it's a new manifestation of the same problem we've had all along.
it's also brought to the fore the other old problem we've been dealing with -- an integrity-challenged administration that cannot tell the truth about seemingly anything. lie, smear, obfuscate, destroy evidence -- anything but candor.
i thought clinton was bad on this count -- and he was. but he was, at least, more devious. bush and his men are *brazen*. they're lying, they know a lot of us know it, and they don't care -- they don't even put on the pretense of truth.
that such men still get widespread political support is a sign of a democracy failing into demagoguery. everyday activities at the top now make teapot dome look like a speeding in a school zone.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
global warming and the limits of science
scientific method is an extremely powerful weapon for the recognition of reality -- truly, it is the powerhouse that drives techne and, to some degree, western civilizational development. but that is a very different thing than "science", that unfortunate catchall under which we agglomerate a great many things. science, imo, has come to mean a point of view, more than anything, in which the world is recognizable, rational and explainable.
it should be noted that this is not necessarily the whole truth; what it is, however, is a deep, fundamental belief of the modern west -- one that has grown to underpin the way we see everything. it's difficult for a modern westerner to conceive of a medieval viewpoint, to whom existence was metaphysical and mythological. objects were ethereal to the medieval man, and their physical presence only a manifestation of their spirit. the entire world and everything in it was mysterious, beyond explanation and driven by angels and devils whose inscrutable and capricious methods were examinable only in the reflections of catholic philosophical scholarship.
most moderns see this as silly -- as though medievals were stupid, or at least brainwashed by a catholic conspiracy. but were they?
modern thought from the renaissance forward (hitting stride in descartes and bacon) increasingly examined the world in a different light -- one that attacked medieval mythos by reviving and elevating classical notions of logic and physicality. the philosophical detrius that had accumulated around the physical world started to be cleared away. a new world, in many ways, was built by scientific method.
but the method has limitations. its application to complex processes relies on analysis -- by which one assumes a complex process can be broken into simpler parts that can be explained on established principles; that the explained parts can be reconstituted and the explanations interact in predictable ways; and the complex mechanism thus explained. an apple, for instance, consists of skin, seeds, meat and stem. we can explain how each component functions individually, how they interact with each other, and reassemble them into a working, explained apple.
this is, however, not always true. the parts reassembled do not have to behave as they do independently, and their combined behavior does not have to change in ways we can explain.
moreover, application of principles depends on abstraction -- the defining of the qualities of an object or process by defining similarities to known quantities. one abstracts an apple by saying it is red, round, soft and sweet; but it isn't any of those things strictly. red is a wavelength; round a mathematical definition; soft a structure; sweet a chemical reaction. in describing an apple abstractly, one only approximates the apple -- in other words, abstraction is reductive and does not fully capture reality. and this reduction underlies all of science. one of the tricks of good experimental science, in fact, is close approximations.
but in running experiments that are reductive abstractions of reality, it is often impossible to control all variables, to understand all the differences between the experiment and the reality. it is a fundamental weakness of science that cannot be fully resolved.
and beyond that, there are also our limitations in mathematics. few who haven't studied higher math know that the equations we know how to solve -- and therefore, the systems we can abstract into usable mathematical models -- are far outnumbered by those we don't know how to solve. it is a fact that most natural phenomena are beyond really effective modeling. this of course includes complex systems, whose outcome is widely variable dependent on immeasurably small changes in initial conditions.
little of this is considered by the modern westerner as he analyzes his apples. it is assumed by many of us, when someone says something has been "proven scientifically", that thorough analysis has been done, close abstractions made, and significant experimental verifications have been observed to remove doubt.
increasingly in western society, however, this is not the case with "science". the rise of scientism -- the now widespread belief in science as an avenue to determine the mechanisms of all things definitely -- has led us to apply scientific method to processes it cannot explain. stock markets, psychology, and global environment are all systems which defy effective application of scientific method because effectively abstracted and controlled experimentation cannot be conducted on them. the systems, or some important parts of them, are irreducibly complex and unpredictable. they are, on some level, unknowable.
but that doesn't stop myriad believers in scientism from abstracting loosely, ignoring reproducible experimentation for empirical observation, and modeling complex systems in vastly reduced linearity. they thusly derive conclusions that -- while sounding "scientific", couched in jargon and math -- are at best philosophical and at worst deceitful.
what motivates such scientism? and why is it widely believed? i'll philosophize on that another day, but i think it quite fundamental to being human.
the rise in scientism has become so pervasive that much of what we think we know "scientifically" constitutes a popular mythology. i pick on global warming today because some poor statistical analysis has been shown to be at the heart of all the scientism that underpinned global environmental concern over civilizational greenhouse gas emissions and led directly to the kyoto protocol. but i could be ridiculing elliott waves or what has been found to cause cancer today (but will be reversed tomorrow) -- any bit of the suffusion of scientism in which we live.
sadly typical context is added by ronald bailey at reason:
Earlier this year, I spoke with Ross McKitrick, one of the researchers who questioned the "hockey stick." McKitrick was surprised (dismayed?) about how much resistance his analysis was getting from the "scientific community." McKitrick also told me that climatologist Michael Mann, the creator of the "hockey stick," started pulling his data from his website when he found out that McKitrick and McIntyre were re-analyzing it. So much for scientific reproducibility and openness.unfortunately, what mr bailey leaves out is that "further research" will be highly unlikely to effectively explain the random small fluctuations of a ridiculously reductive metric like "global temperature" or the relationship (if any) between it and the amount of fossil fuels mankind consumes.
The fact that the "hockey stick" is hooey, doesn't mean that there is no man-made global warming, but it may well mean that natural variations in global climate are much greater than the perturbations caused by human activities. As many scientific papers often conclude: Further research is needed.
an honest republican
as an erstwhile libertarian, i laughed out loud. bagge is so on point that he certainly must have done exactly what he illustrated.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
predictions, round one
kerry 49.6%, bush 48.5%
If we are talking only 1.1% difference in the popular vote that means the loser will fight losses in every battleground state. Do James Baker and James Carville have their bags packed ready to go from state to state claiming victory? This election will be UGLIER than even we can imagine.
BTW: Am I allowed to use uppercase in my comments?
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i've long wondered how such poor intelligence became the basis of decision-making. i had assumed it was a poor intelligence system. hersh has debunked that assumption.
against the advice of CIA, DIA and the state department, neocons like john bolton and douglas feith intentionally cirumvented intelligence "scrubbing" mechanisms designed to keep bad intel from getting to decision makers. this practice is known as "stovepiping".
bolton, feith and their lot stovepiped uncriticized intel to the cabinet level, ostensibly to "get what they hadn't been seeing". they assumed that they could evaluate for themselves which intel was good and which was dubious. that incredible arrogance has since been shown to be completely wrongheaded, of course, as they used plainly fraudulent info (niger/yellowcake) as well as much other simply disreputable info to make decisions.
the question that may be asked is "was that intentional -- were they interested in simply cherry-picking any intel, valid or not, that fit their preconceived ideology?"
the answer to that is a resounding yes, imo -- but even if you don't want to think that, the incredible arrogance of these men that allowed them to circumvent a mechanism that had been developed over 50 years to keep bad information from becoming the basis of policy is reason enough to remove them from office. such irresponsibility has no place in good government -- and that is the position of intelligence professionals in CIA, DIA, and state, as well as flag officers of the military.
UPDATE: please note hersh's article in the new yorker regarding stovepiping.
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
but there are dark warnings out there from knowledgeable sources about what is happening to our armed forces as a result of iraq and afghanistan and the imperial overreach that has become for the united states -- like so many empires before it -- a symptom of reaching their apex.
the latest came tonight, from a "frontline" interview with gen. thomas white, secretary of the army from 2001-2003 (when he was relieved by rumsfeld for backing gen. shinseki's congressional testimony about troop deployment):
Is the Army broken?i don't know what will happen, and there are many routes to go. one is conscription. another is increased reliance on mercenaries, a habit the united states has already grown accustomed to even in combat operations. another is territorial armies, as the british used to conscript from the sikhs and gurkhas -- it is possible that the future iraqi army, should iraq remain an american territory, will become essentially a division of the american army.
Yeah, I think so. We're on the brink. We are in a situation where we are grossly overdeployed, and it is unlike any other period in the 229-year history of the Army. We have never conducted a sustained combat operation with a volunteer force, with a force that we have to compete in the job market to hire every year. Every other force that we've ever done this with, going back to the Vietnam period to something comparable, has been a draftee conscript force.
So what we are all worried about is that the manpower situation will come unglued. ... The Army is people; it's not weapons or platforms. Somebody once said, "A soldier's not in the Army; they are the Army."
And the quality of the soldiers [has] been the enormous advantage we've had since the volunteer force was put in place, and the quality of the noncommissioned officers corps. Well, that is a married Army, among other things. You may recruit soldiers, but you retain families. And I think we're all concerned that we are teetering on the brink here and that if we can't get to a lower operational tempo, or at least have some point in the future that we can set our sails against where it might occur, that the Army on the manpower side's going to come unglued.
So that Army that we talked about at the beginning that was happy to see the grown-ups finally come, that military is how different than the one the next administration will inherit?
Enormously different. The one that they inherited had very low Reserve component mobilization, for example. That Army maybe had seven or eight brigade-sized units deployed overseas. So maybe one brigade in five was deployed; now we have two brigades out of three, or three brigades out of four. ... So while the good news is you have a veteran, higher level of combat experience between the active component of the Reserve of any Army since the Second World War, the price is that particularly Reserve component people will say, "I'm as big a patriot as anybody else, but I've been gone three years out of the last four, and that's not what I signed up for." And I think we're all concerned that that's where we're
but the intersection of systemic overdeployment and the pre-emptive military posture of an aggressor nation has not yet found an equilibrium. until it does, conscription remains in play -- regardless of rumsfeld's lying about what he cannot know.
as of october 28, the entire hour and a half video will be available by streaming media from this site. if you're pressed for time, or don't have the inclination to read any of the revealing books on the internal affairs of the bush white house that i'm constantly recommending as a means to educate yourself as a voter and a patriot, please take the time to watch.
republican civil war
so it's news, then, that olsen cannot support bush's re-election.
this despite the fact that kerry's understudy is a personal-injury and medical-malpractice attorney (with regards to whom they are rightly skeptical). the notion that edwards -- who is financially supported by personal-injury law firms -- will meaningfully reform the system that enriched him and enriches his supporters is fantastic. (to credit olsen's integrity, he advocates a libertarian protest vote.)
but it speaks with immeasurable gravity that olsen, who was an advisor for the 2000 bush/cheney campaign, is so disappointed in what has become of the bush presidency. he joins what must be millions of erstwhile republicans.
suskind's article of last week quoted characteristic "libertarian-republican" bruce bartlett at some length:
Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that ''if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.'' The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.between unprovoked and mismanaged foreign wars, truly massive entitlement-program spending increases, and cultural policy shaped by a personal relationship with god that some warily see as a messianic mental illness, there are certainly several reasons for unease in the republican ranks among both libertarians and traditional conservatives, who feel their party co-opted at the highest level by a small cadre of trotskyite neoconservatives.
''Just in the past few months,'' Bartlett said, ''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'' Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . . "
whether or not that will provoke a great schism in the GOP, i suspect only time will tell. but it sure is a long way from the 2000 campaign trail, when bush was marketed as "compassionate" and a "uniter" who could cross the aisle -- the man has proved so divisive that he is fractionating his own party and is considered nothing less than an enemy of the people by half the nation.
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new manifestation of the same problem
it's been said before -- rumsfeld willfully, in an effort to recreate the american military along his ideological lines, refused the advice of his generals and underallocated resources and manpower in both afghanistan and iraq. rummy wished to successfully run the war on the cheap because cheap wars means more wars -- and rummy feels we have many wars to fight. he (and we) are now finding just how wrong he was to do so.
the details are laid out in seymour hersh's book (which should be mandatory pre-november 2 reading):
several senior war planners complained to me in interviews at the time that... rumsfeld and his inner circle of civilian advisers, who had been chiefly responsible for persuading president bush to lead the country to war, had insisted on micromanaging the war's operational details. rumsfeld's team took over crucial aspects of the day-to-day logistical planning -- traditionally an area in which the uniformed military excels -- and rumsfeld repeatedly overruled the senior pentagon planners on the joint staff, the operating arm of the joint chiefs of staff. "he thought he knew better," one senior planner said. "he was the decision maker throughout."while a small american strike force supported by JDAMs and cruise missiles can clearly win a battle, it cannot win a war -- and it is now in the process of losing wars on two fronts. all of this -- an expanding iraqi-nationalist insurgency, endless looting of sites military and cultural, open borders over which men and arms can freely travel -- is part of how these wars are being lost.
on at least six occasions, the planner told me, when rumsfeld and his deputies were presented with operational plans... he insisted that the number of ground troops be sharply reduced. rumsfeld's faith in precision bombing and his insistence on streamlined military operations has had profound consequences for the ability of the armed forces to fight effectively overseas. "they've got no resources," a former high-level intelligence official said. "he was so focused on proving his point -- that the iraqis were going to fall apart."
and they are being lost because of rumsfeld's delusions on points of warfare and war planning he cannot admit he doesn't understand as well as the generals he contemptuously belittles and insists on micromanaging without utilizing their expertise.
and irrelevant besides. regardless of when they were lost, they were a known quantity for years prior -- and should have been tracked, as with all such caches, meticulously in the run-up to invasion. that this was not done speaks volumes about the misguided priorities of the bush administration in this invasion.
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Friday, October 22, 2004
"what does it mean to be safer?"
Bush conducts the war on terrorism above all as a global hunt for a cast of evil men he knows by name and photograph. He tracks progress in daily half-hour meetings that Richard A. Falkenrath, who sometimes attended them before departing recently as deputy homeland security adviser, described as "extremely granular, about individual guys." Frances Fragos Townsend, who took the post of White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser in May, said in an interview that Bush's strategy -- now, as in the war's first days -- is to "decapitate the beast."how americans have gotten themselves to believe that another four years of this idiocy will make them safer is utterly beyond me. he may not behave more intelligently or prosecute terrorists more effectively -- but could kerry possibly be *less* intelligent and effective?
krauthammer would say anything -- and i mean anything -- to ensure the popular mandate that the neocons would make of a second term. (his november 3 column, should bush win, is sure to say something self-congratulatory -- shortly followed by some variation of "we're obviously doing something right -- on to iran!") forays into wishful thinking are not unusual for this man when he badly enough wants what he says to be true.
it isn't that his ilk will have no outlet under kerry, who has positioned himself to continue most of the american militarist/interventionist foreign policy that they adore. it's that krauthammer is in a sweet spot where he is, and wants nothing less than to jeopardize it with change.
antisemitism has been a recurrent epithet hurled at those who question the rise of the neoconservative movement -- not because anyone knows or cares that some members (such as krauthammer, kristol and wolfowitz) happen to be jewish, but because they feel they need to suppress with polarizing charges any challenge to their doctrine. moreover, the charge is doubly effective in any criticism of american policy toward israel.
and it's quite sad, as it dissipates the damning power that the charge of antisemitism should surely retain.
kerry is, and always has been, one of many senators closely aligned with israel and attentive to aipac, the israeli government lobby in washington. there's no reason to believe kerry would change decades of american support for israel.
what he might change, however, is the bush administration's unquestioning support of likud, the israeli hawk party led by ariel sharon which has relentlessly pursued a murderous but futile solution to the palestinian resistance in the occupied territories with bush turning a blind eye. there is an israeli left, messianic zionism is not the only israeli viewpoint, and we can engage both left and right.
moreover, kerry might free DoJ prosecutors to look into possible spying operations being carried on by israel through aipac, which could prove very damaging to neoconservatives like douglas feith and michael ledeen, who have incorrectly conflated likud's political interests with america's national interests and funneled sensitive information on american strategy to israel.
would either of those changes constitute antisemitism? hardly. and yet krauthammer screams like a child stung: accusing kerry of enacting policies he hasn't even discussed, accusing kerry of (what else?) supporting terror by talking with power centers on both sides, accusing kerry of "sacrificing israel" as though he would hand over israeli sovereignty to arafat.
this propagandistic blather is designed to scare those americans (like myself) who view friendship with israel as an important part of american foreign policy into voting for bush. and why? so that investigation of the aipac spy scandal can be repressed; so that likudnik policies can be promoted; so that the neoconservatives who have betrayed their country can be unaccountable for their treason. and yet glenn reynolds says without qualification: I think he's probably right.
no wonder bush still draws 47% in the polls.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
the death of jacques derrida will not be lamented by many. incorrigible, unscientific, inscrutable -- all of these apply. yet the man was an incarnation of his age, his ideas resonating throughout modern western thought -- though few seem to understand why.
the economist has a quick life. derrida's contribution to the humanities, deconstruction, was a method of examining the language of a text in such a way as to "reveal" its "unintended" meanings. emerging from the shock and futility of world war one, deconstruction postulated that all texts were written as a set of hierarchical dualisms -- opposing ideas in conflict, a theme inherited from the trench warfare of france that has since come to dominate western conception. these dualisms were based on assumptions made unconsciously by the author; these assumptions could, once exposed, be subverted; and subsequently alternate, unintended meanings in the text could be revealed to supersede the intended ones, which were left to collapse into a useless pile of relativism.
deconstruction thus claimed that text was not representational but abstract -- and this method of abstraction was applied by derrida to all western philosophy and morality to reject a thousand years of accumulated thought and accepted interpretation. suddenly, nothing was as it was. whether or not he was correct to do so is, i think, immaterial; that derrida thought it honest to void the entire product of western intellectual life -- that is why he is important. that antifoundational nihilism (which i mean not in its perjorative sense) which deconstruction advocated is at the core of modernism and postmodernism.
but there was more. to the infuriation of critics and advocates alike, the only aspect of deconstruction that derrida ever did seem able to clearly define was that he disagreed with every definition forwarded. while deconstruction perhaps wanted to be science, and aspired to sound scientific, it clearly was not -- there was no rigor, no experiment, no definition and no rule. it was in fact irrational scientism at its height, and that satisfied him. such views showed derrida was beyond skeptical to antagonistic, and an inveterate individualist -- he did not please his critics, and did not care -- a paragon of the modern antisocial man.
moreover, much of derrida's own work is itself unreadable. given that any intentional meaning the text could impart was by definition secondary or even useless, his writings assumed an astructural character that was entirely unknown before the modern era.
... from the invisible inside , where I could neither see nor want the verythis is prima facie absurdity, a sort of meditational poetry -- and derrida knew it and embraced it. the meaning lay not in the words but in its unrevealed dualisms, he said -- and left interpretation to the reader, which would be different in every eye.
thing that I have always been scared to have revealed on the scanner, by
analysis - radiology, echography, endocrinology, hematology - a crural vein
expelled my blood outside that I thought beautiful once stored in that bottle
under a label that I doubted couldavoid confusion or misappropriation of the
vintage, leaving me nothing more to do, the inside of my life exhibiting itself
outside , expressing itself before my eyes, absolved without a gesture, dare I
say of writing if I compare the pen to a syringe, and I always dream of a pen
that wouldbe a syringe, a suction point rather than that very hard weapon with
which one must inscribe, incise, choose, calculate, take ink before filtering
the inscribable, playing the keyboard on the screen, whereas here, once the vein
has been found, no more toil, no responsibility, no risk of bad taste or
violence, the blood delivers itself all alone, the inside gives itself up and
you can do as you like with it, it's me but I'm no longer there, for nothing,
for nobody , diagnose the worst...
this validation of the absurd -- when viewed with his anticivilizational subversion of tradtional western literature and philosophy, nebulous scientism, relativistic debasing of accepted moralities, utter individualism -- make derrida completely representative of the 20th century and the modern age, just as voltaire embodies the 18th century and the age of reason.
there is always, with a man as complex as derrida, room for disagreement even among disciples. (the obit i link first refuses to call derrida a relativist.) yet some question why this man was important -- or even refute him out of hand. to do so is, i think, to misunderstand much of what is transpiring in the western world.
The driver called after mid-day, said he is back in Baghdad, that the situation in Fallujah is very tense, but today it is a ghost city.
Fallujah is a bomb about to explode any minute, the man said… most houses are empty, the families left for fear of what is to come. I didn't find my sister and her sons; some other relatives took her to a nearby village, for safety. I sent her the money with my cousins in Fallujah; they will go to her this afternoon. I gave the medicine to the hospital, and the Emergency Doctor wrote you a list of medicine needed in there, I'll bring you the list later. The Emergency ward is full of blood, corpses, and wounded Iraqis.
I said to him: Where is Al-Zarqawi?? The Government demands he should be handed over, and his gang, lest they should bomb the town.
He said: There is no Zarqawi…there is an Iraqi resistance.
I found myself silent, with no comment…
I said: This is Ramadan…GOD be with you, I hope you face no harm….
gaming the election
with the presidential election being as close as it is, i'd expect scads of accusations of fraud and worse to come hailing in from all quarters. even in illinois, where the stalwart GOP is collapsing under the two ryan scandals, i suspect the unscrupulous will be pulling out all the stops.
but the whole piece resonates with any cub fan -- the love of futility has often been a topic in the sixth and seventh innings, after a few old styles. many cub fans, we speculate, would abandon the team if the cubs ever really won it. futility is what makes the cubs unique now. would they be appealing if they suddenly no longer embodied each of us in our stoic struggles against the ironic world?
"No one can accuse you of being a lightweight fan," Dr. End said. "You've creatively changed the dimensions of comparison to include not just the outcome, the score, but measures of character."seneca could have said it -- as a cub fan, you transcend the fiery tests of the superficial and the random to engage a higher plane of human morality. experiences like game six become affirmations of virtue; steve bartman becomes a sort of saint, an implement of the gods.
the spirit of the law
as context for our times, ekirch's work can be enlightening, but it is limited in its scope, imo. he bemoans -- as he should -- the loss of federal minimalism that the constitution had intended, and his view of the civil war as the genesis of the united state (no plural) is seminal. (indeed, preserving the union meant, in many ways, killing the federalist constitution.)
but i think ekirch, like so many 20th c. american historians, perhaps incorrectly conflates the american revolt with the french revolution and its rousseauian values. the founders were Enlightened, yes -- but they were also readers of burke and at heart -- with the exception of jefferson -- english parliamentarians. the freedoms of the bill of rights are descended of the magna carta far more than "social contract".
ekirch, possibly from that false rousseauian starting point and viewing the increasing centralization of american government from 1865 onward, views individualism as declining:
"Since the time of the American Revolution, the major trend...has been in the direction of an ever- greater centralization and concentration of control--politically, economically, and socially....The liberal values associated with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment--and especially that of individual freedom--have slowly lost their primary importance in America life and thought."this is true insofar as the encroachment of government into our daily lives -- americans today forget that new york had no police force prior to the 1880s, and indeed government policing was then considered by many incompatible with the preservation of freedom.
but the advance of emancipated individualism has progressed unchecked even as this encroachment has built up. why? much of government being given responsibilities (and, consequently, rights) once held by the people is in response to the demands of the individual to be free to do exactly what they want without any culpability. tasks that are the onerous duty of truly free men are given to the state in order to free the individual to pursue any wild dream that comes to them -- hence the rise of government savings programs for retirement, government-chartered mortgage facilitators and federal health insurance. this transfer of responsibility from individual to state has progressed so far as to make the state responsible for smoothing outcomes -- evening the differences that arise, by talent or luck, between the wealth of citizens through tax manipulation.
in short, while the independence of men from the state has declined, individualism has progressed unchecked and in fact underpinned the rise of the state.
such historically extreme, conflicted behavior -- proof of a pendulum swung to the apex -- is characteristic of a decadent society that has pursued the ideas of its founding beyond any reasonable limitation to an impasse and is bound to experience a reactionary response.
that reaction can be seen operating today in neoconservatism, which is at its core a jacobin revolt against the fear and frustrations of american decadence and decline; again, the example of michael ledeen is useful.
to gillespie's optimistic conclusion to his review, i responded:
our ardent desire to preserve the spirit of the law ironically leading us to destroy it -- shakespeare would cherish such irony.
"i submit that it isn't cynicism about the ideological purity of government that is the bulwark against tyranny. like the romans of the 1st c. bc, i think, we're appropriately jaded in this way.
it is the inevitable attempts to resolve such cynicism in the idealistic restoration of such past purity as may be mythologized that ultimately usher in tyranny.
to the extent that catastrophes befalling the republic galvanize cynical people to desperate ideological action and can be blamed on the weaknesses of what the republic has become, fear becomes the motive to act against the words of the constitution (ironically, in order to ostensibly save the mythologized "spirit" of the constitution, as well as diluted abstract notions like "freedom" and "liberty").
caesar and particularly augustus, after all, justified and defined their rulership as a *return* to the old, conservative, mythologized roman values that the later republic had lost (even though it wasn't and couldn't be anything of the sort).
and the people ate that shit up because it's exactly what people wanted to hear -- people are inherently idealistic and primitivist even in the face of evidence, and it puts the locus of control where you can do something to save yourself.
and THAT's just what we're seeing today in the aftermath of 9/11, imo, and what should inform our view of what is happening to our democracy."
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
It's become an action movie; the qualities that served Harrison Ford's cinematic conception of the president (toughness, aggression) are the qualities they think are necessary to win this confrontation. But the grit and aggression that allowed Ford to triumph in hand-to-hand combat against the evildoers isn't analogous to the strategic mind, long-term view and patience required to oversee a transnational conflict. That those are the first traits Dick Cheney's mind jumps to, as if a president will, Die-Hard style, be required to run and jump and kick and swing and shoot and bleed to keep the bomb from the buildings, shows how fundamentally unprepared this Administration is to face a threat as serious as Al Qaeda.one can argue that this anti-intellectual sort of philosophy is a product of a democracy whose voters can often understand little more than emotion. i think it is not completely by accident that the installation of plebiscitarian government in the west has coincided with the rise of zealously ideological politics and parties. investing the mob with power means necessarily making base simplicity -- lust, fear and greed, most often, at the expense of reason -- the prime mover in politics. mussolini, is it said, called le bon's "the crowd" one of his favorite books (le bon wrote of the emotional irrationality of the mob), and michael ledeen himself views the fascist model of nationalist appeal as the invigorating tonic that will redeem western civilization. in such a context, the theatrical presentation of terrorism that cheney invokes seems studied.
but is it simply the disingenuous public philosophy that we're talking about -- or is such reductivism what cheney and his lot really believe?
Definitely worth some full time thinking about.
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seeing all of iraq
irony, in the aftermath of world war one, has become the outlook of western man. virtually everything we observe we see in the light of irony, futility, and ultimately self-defeat. any social observer has to admit that optimism is a rare commodity these days -- and that goes double for the news, where optimism is usually seen as shameful.
As I wrote a while back, the problem with the constant barrage of coverage on the latest mortar attack or car bombing is that it's not only a ceaseless assault of bad news, but it's both unrepresentative (because it's only the bad news) and, just as bad, it's probably the wrong bad news. If there are serious things going wrong, they're not so much that people who don't like us are trying to attack us, as that more serious things (like the CERP matter I've mentioned here regularly) are going unaddressed.
but there is a blindness in irony, and i fear we are suffering for it in iraq. as a matter of reason, we should be able to see that not everything that is happening in iraq is awful -- indeed, one can see, if one looks, that many of the changes taking place there are treasured by many of those they are happening to. but that isn't an impression you'd get by reading american newspapers.
does that mean i support our imperial affair in iraq? god, no. but i can acknowledge as a reasoning man that, against whatever has been awful, some good has come of it.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
an undeserving dismal scientist
start with who he is: prescott is not only a professor but also an employee of the federal reserve bank of minneapolis (his photo on left). this precludes him from saying anything much that contradicts the government propaganda on the current state of affairs -- so he instead promotes generally the widely-accepted washington consensus viewpoints condoned by the fed, with no reference to context. (note that kerry is highly unlikely to shit upon the washington consensus -- yet prescott finds room to denounce him.) when he has been more specific, he's been adamantly pro-administration in his words.
understanding that prescott is so oriented -- an employee of greenspan's and ostensibly an economic republican -- should make it easy to understand why he doesn't address in any the united states' burgeoning debt, which (public and private totalled) now amounts to 400% of GDP -- a level no industrial nation has ever approached before -- or its fiscal deficit (5% of GDP) or its current account deficit or its foreign public debt ownership or its currency. all of the imbalances contained therein are affected - indeed, severely aggravated -- by the complete inability of the bush administration to cut spending along with taxes.
instead, of course, the bush administration has ratcheted up spending faster than any white house since vietnam while aggressively cutting revenues.
understand, i've no issue with prescott's assertion that tax increases mean slowing the economy -- i'm sure he's right. but that argument is meaningless until one acknowledges that such keynesian manipulation of business cycles by government over time effectively prevents the creative destruction of complete cyclical debt reduction, thereby allowing structural debt to accrete on balance sheets -- and moreover builds a moral hazard that encourages excessive private risk (which we see today in rampant consumer and mortgage debt by millions of blithe americans, who ask but cannot answer the question, "what's the worst that could happen?"). worse still, when refusal to cut spending yields massive public deficits and public structural debt in the interest of keynesian stimulus, the net effect may be to mitigate recession today at the irresponsible expense of intensifying depression tomorrow.
and yet that truth has not prevented greenspan and bush from combining to imperil the economic future of the country in ways inconceivable not long ago, in order to lessen the pain felt right now.
of course, humans being rational machines in his view, prescott would argue that we discount such information with our every decision, effectively pricing into our borrowing the risks involved. informed, rational people? i beg to differ. take a look at your electorate!
this sort of dislocation from reality infects much of the dismal science -- prescott has proven himself something of a ridiculous theoretical idealist in the past by adhering to the notion that NASDAQ 5000 was a rational event in accordance with efficient market theory. that's a point of view i find clinically insane, in defiance of both common sense and the emergence of behavioral economics.
nonetheless, the imprimatur of prescott's prize will coincide with his shallow promotion of only half an argument to reinforce the ideology of many in the bush administration who drew from the heavily-mythologized reagan years the perverted, stupid lesson that "deficits don't matter". that's all the more reason to hope that some other party than bush is placed in the white house.
"apprehend" zarqawi and bin laden out of the iraqi prison they've been in for months? another carrier landing -- but this time in the green zone in baghdad? how about a dubya parachute drop instead? whatever your method of choice, it's good for a laugh -- until it happens, of course... :)
what went wrong
the best argument, imo, for voting against bush remains gross managerial incompetence. leaving ideology aside, if bush can't fire stubborn repetitive failures like rumsfeld, he must be dismissed himself as a matter of ensuring the government is, at minimum, competently run.
kerry's improving prospects
this is really good news for kerry, i have to think, further augmented by the numbers on the terrorism question:
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they had a lot or some confidence that Mr. Bush would make the right decisions to prevent another terrorist attack - compared with 62 percent who said they felt that way about Mr. Kerry.that is massive progress over the last several months on bush's core issue, the one he bases his entire campaign on.
there's a lot of talk about how undecided voters -- the key determinant of the outcome -- will go. the received wisdom is that undecideds break for the challenger -- and some analysis bears out that this is in fact what's happening, by a 2-1 margin. with bush consistently polling near 47%, kerry is starting to look very good indeed -- compounded by the probability that in 70 years of polling, no incumbent with a job approval number averaging under 50% has been re-elected.
kerry's stump speeches lately have pounded on domestic issues like health care -- which hasn't been a huge election topic, next to security. but the reason why is revealing: undecideds think health care matters. turns out that many undecided voters are women, and women feel "venus issues" such as health care and insurance (domestic issues generally) are more important than "mars issues" like terrorism or iraq. men, on the other hand, rarely see health care as a voting issue -- something i can confirm from personal experience as a male knowing other males. so while health care frequently comes in well down the list of voter concerns, it often polls first or second among undecideds -- and kerry is addressing them directly.
bush, on the other hand, has a strategy aiming for base turnout over wooing undecideds he probably can't get. so we're seeing him hammer on his core theme -- fear and security -- and making statements designed to rile up his base.
the endgame is upon us -- and if all goes according to hoyle, kerry is likely to be the next president of the united states. i can't say i think kerry will be a great president; what i can say is that, as a man who tries to see american politics in their historical context, i will be grateful if bush is put out.
then, of course, even if kerry wins, the next important day becomes january 20, 2005 -- for the peaceful transfer of power in an increasingly radicalized society cannot be assumed.
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an essential condition of installing a dictatorship is a degree of popular complicity. you don't need everyone on your side (that never happens, of course) but you do need a significant minority, anyway, and general disorganization and apathy among the opposition.
our apathy is well documented, but one of the most enlightening aspects of the last several years has been the revelation (to me) through observation of the comfort level most americans have with dictatorship.
we know they would never admit it; americans are religiously attached to the word "Democracy", even if they plainly don't really understand what that means anymore. but i think most americans -- 80%? -- would now welcome a dictatorship if the dictator was their man. indeed, increasingly, the president is just that. that's a radical change from a century ago, but has been slowly and subtly achieved by gradual transition.
the election season has made it more apparent. everywhere i look these days, people are calling for Leadership in the presidency -- which essentially means the unification of decisive authority in one man. people are asking for dictatorship without understanding it. when was the last time anyone rallied around empowering senators or having an longer period of debate? over time, as that sentiment has taken hold, we've given more and more discretion to the executive -- usually at the expense of the legislative (and the constitution).
and i think it's a broad-based civilizational phenomena. simplicity is valued, as is speed and leisure. what is new, quick and painless is best. few people think about the future deeply, and almost no one considers the past. a sort of wishful primitivism has taken over in our culture, politically but also generally, as a relief from responsibilities -- including difficult debate and extended thought. it's a different manifestation, imo, of the much-deplored but utterly embraced "dumbing down" of our nation.
anyway, my point is that the end of the republic seems to me much closer than anyone is inclined to believe (if they think about it at all). history shows us that it is a matter of time; there are no thousand-year democracies. the conditions for devolving to tyranny along the well-marked lines of the athenian and roman societies are in place, i think.
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again, we wait for an october surprise -- but if none comes, it's kerry's ballgame.
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Monday, October 18, 2004
his outlook on the bush administration is, as it is with many investigative reporters of the "reality-based community", very dark. the failings are everywhere evident to a man as knowledgeable as hersh -- but he has been particularly affected, it seems, by american war crimes committed under bush as part of the white house's policy to ignore the geneva conventions (not to mention christian ethics, results and common sense) in pursuing what seems an emotional vendetta against all of arabia, in defiance of any valid rationale or useful plan.
as others continue to expand on his insightful research (as in this interview of an abu ghraib interrogator,) we are learning more and more exactly how america has -- under this white house -- become an terrible approximation of the global demon it purports to fight. in so doing, i fear we have put ourselves in far greater, not lesser, jeopardy.
in this webcast of an interview with hersh (sometimes difficult to follow, as thoughts come faster than he can finish sentences), words of indictment for american soldiers under orders and the political offices from which those orders emerge are not spared. if you don't want to sit through the whole thing, this condensation of what is going on in iraq will suffice to shock. it is too easy to view what is transpiring in iraq and hersh's reporting on it as a bookend, over thirty years later, of my lai.
in my opinion, in light of abu ghraib, guantanamo and the rest, the united states is unlikely ever again to be the globally-recognized home of rousseauian idealism in practice. the american soul is, i think, irreparably soiled in all eyes -- even, perhaps among the thoughtful, our own.
hersh often laments the frittering away of such indispensable moral capital at a time we need it most. so do i.
the dementia of power
if anyone needs a reason to fear what the bush administration has become -- a paranoid nexus of cash, faith, ideology, empire and unbounded personal ambition -- that quote should give them one.
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
if the white house isn't part of a "reality-based community", what is it part of?
a community of impossibly arrogant self-delusion, apparently.
these are words that could have fallen from the mouth of any of history's great egomaniacal dictators. that they eminate from the american white house bodes ill for all americans. lord acton's words have never been more appropriate.
UPDATE: the full text of suskind's piece is kept (for a while) in two parts at a blog.
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Sunday, October 17, 2004
his confrontation with the disingenuous tools of "crossfire" should be mandatory viewing for every voting american. whatever informative signal these shows -- not just political hate-talk, i'm afraid, but the nightly news -- can be said to possess is drowned in a noise of spin and salesmanship that no decent person can parse.
the BEST thing that could happen to the american democracy would be if we all stopped feeding the animals of the press. and when that is the case, how healthy can one consider our form of government?
Saturday, October 16, 2004
(i'm fairly certain no one else is going to see this -- lol -- but i'll talk openly about the film hereafter, so don't read more if you don't want spoilers.)
the plot centers on the people of a berber village in the atlas mountains of morocco, but the underlying theme is a familiar and potent one in arab film -- a society in the throes of change. the protagonist, a berber man named said, has left his pregnant wife, aicha, and son in the village for work in casablanca. though illiterate, they correspond by tape and intermediary, trying to stay close despite the distance. the village is deathly, abandoned of its young men, its proud, ancient equine culture destroyed. the women who stay there do so with their children in an attempt to protect them from casablanca and the corruptions of modern urbanity.
said has two friends, ismael and ottman, working with him in near-poverty, each in a similar situation of dislocation. the film poses the question prominent in much of the arab world today: how does an arab proud of his cultural heritage confront and incorporate modern life without either destroying his past or humiliating his family and himself? each of the three takes a different path to a solution.
ottman, devoted to the pride of berber tradition of horsemanship, has kept with his mother the only remaining horse in the village despite the burdens of its care and its uselessness in a land turned arid and unfarmed. ultimately, he attempts (in one of the film's most majestic and symbolic sequences) to bring his traditions with him to casablanca -- with a futile, heart-rending result.
ismael, impetuous and beguiled by modernity and the city, succumbs to the temptation of a finely crafted pair of shoes -- only to find that the rejection of prudence and tradition for the modern makes a fool of him, as he finds himself not a richer man for owning them but simply a poor man afraid to lose what he has invested, financially and emotionally, so much in. predictably, perhaps, his investment is comically but cruelly and painfully lost along with his dignity.
yet the story of said -- the dedicated, serious pragmatist of the three -- is most tragic. as his employer's best worker, he finds it difficult to get away from his responsibilities to spend time with his family. aicha pines for him, and curses casablanca and modernity for stealing him, despite his promises and intentions, as it has stolen so many others. when aicha gives birth to a second son, said is not there; when she fails to recover from the childbirth, he hurries home to find her gravely ill. too late, he vows never again to leave her -- instead, she leaves him.
if ottman's horse symbolizes the impossibility of idealistically keeping both the ancient and the modern whole; and ismael's shoes the hazards of submitting to the new without reservation; then aicha's lonesome life and death demonstrate the danger of playing both sides -- what seems a practical, even necessary compromise between both worlds leaves said without either.
perhaps it's the fact that my wife has been confronted with these same questions that made this film resonate so strongly with me. perhaps it's the ironic view i've taken of modernity in my own life. as i've said, as a film, "in casablanca" might have been more.
nonetheless, the lessons it portrays are at the crux of the hardest decisions made in many modern lives. understanding the views of the director not only informs a westerner on the nature of the love-hate emotions felt by the east towards the west -- but also of the questions in his or her own life as each of us make compromises for the sake of reconciling modernity with whatever tradition and history we have been imbued with.
the film was shot by two guys working for an agitation outfit known as "guerilla news network" as part of a book deal they had with penguin (the book, "true lies" is out now). the idea was to spend three weeks in the second half of 2003 in iraq, find out what they could outside of any organization -- just see what happened seems to have been their idealistic plan -- and film it on a 24p.
stephen marshall, director/cinematographer/auteur for the film, was there to present it and Q&A with us, a lot of 40 or so. he and we got a lot more question time that we thought -- maybe an hour -- because of projection problems that stopped the film for repairs. (lucky us, it turned out.)
there's some degree of spoilers within -- if you think you'll see the film (please do!) you may want to skip all after this.
he explained that he had gone to iraq an antiwar radical, ready to tear it all down -- and came home utterly changed. on the plane to amman, he met an iraqi-american named frank, who had fled iraq in the 1990s as a 16-year-old after being caught as an insurgent, shot (in the back, while hanging from his feet) and left for dead by the iraqi government. they traveled over the border with frank, and followed him (they were free to, having no plan) through parts of his homecoming. the film also includes comments from a young american woman who worked as a producer for al-jazeera in iraq before it was shut down by the CPA, candid footage taken with united states army officers and soldiers in meetings and on patrol, explorations of radioactivity as a result of DU ammunition use -- and, most importantly, many conversations with ordinary iraqis of all types and kinds.
from early on, the picture of the american war and occupation sprang to life in some manifestation of its full complexity. instantaneously, my perception of what iraq is basically like changed -- it is essentially peaceful. people walk the streets and laugh. children play. there is no constant gunfire, no sound of war -- danger was very rare, says marshall. they went along on a "presence patrol" through samarra (i think) in the sunni triangle (a mission whose object is to be shot at) and could not find anyone to fire at them, though they sometimes do.
the press obviously don't give that impression in america -- and that is a result, it turns out, of none of them leaving their hotels in downtown baghdad. they get rumors and reports from outside, talk amongst themselves, and phone it in as news. the only reports they get are of gunfire -- so that's the news.
most powerful for me was the unguarded interviews with people on the street -- some friends, some frank's relation, some people stuck in traffic jams, some men in cafes, some kids selling gas (20L = $1) to make a buck. these people are profoundly happy that saddam is gone, and the vast majority have no fundamental problem with the american invasion itself. that basic fact amazed me.
but it is also much more complex than that. many people attempted to explain for the camera the humiliations that they've suffered as a part of the invasion -- which, they explained, has nothing to do with saddam. most of these people have no desire to be americans or be americanized, and balance the immense good that has come of the war against the dislocation and frustration and depression that came with sweeping away of a period and paradigm of iraqi culture. marshall explained that what often enrages iraqis most is not the american army -- though many hate them -- but the halliburtons, the exposed and obvious american corporate interests which have instantly come to dominate the iraqi economy. many of them want some kind of capitalism; many (far more, i think, including many who want it) fear it terribly as a one-way avenue to americanization. many expressed some desire for a law derived of the sharia in an effort to retain iraqi ways and traditions.
one american commander expresses (and one must remember, all of this was shot nearly a year ago) that a broad-based insurgency is not really happening -- the people, he says, are on the american side. most were at least tolerant, it seemed, and indeed the film nowhere indicates a hot guerilla war underway. but the interviews painted a more nuanced picture -- one if increasing impatience and a certain restlessness. it was said that many of the iraqis, even as american ground forces rolled up for the first time, surrounded the tanks cheering -- and simultaneously asking when the water and electricity will be turned back on. this was all filmed at a point some 3-4 months after the invasion. it's now been over 15 months, and basic utilities are still sporadic. there was plainly a gradation in antipathy for the occupation that, in time and with cause, would slip into more and more support for the resistance -- many iraqis openly praised the resistance as patriots fighting for their people and culture. in response to my question, marshall admitted that he wished sometimes that he could ask all his questions again now.
against that, one had to balance the films most powerful scenes -- those of frank finding his family and coming home. seeing his now-widowed mother for the first time in 13 years. watching his cousin, an imam, come to be interviewed and having frank ask him questions about his old relatives who fought saddam -- until the smile of recognition suddenly leapt to his face. watching his brother convulse in tears, pick up an ak-47, fire off several rounds to call his neighbors to celebration. those scenes are being replayed thousands of times as the exiles of saddam's despotism return home. there is an incontrovertible good within all of this. marshall stated pointedly that, for every evil, the average iraqi saw a hundred good things. virtually all were truly grateful to be rid of saddam.
there's much more to the film, and more to marshall's generous comments -- and i wish i could convey the experience of the evening to everyone. go see it. while the film hasn't made me pro-war -- because it wasn't designed to address the american cost-benefit analysis, which remains the foundation of my opposition -- it enlightened me immensely about the thoughts and opinions of normal iraqis, and gave me reason for optimism. at least at that point in time, things in iraq were not nearly so awful for them as i had feared.
Friday, October 15, 2004
on the cardinals
everyone knows the yankees are the microsoft of baseball, but what is less well known is that the cardinals are rather like the ibm -- faded glory, perhaps, but still titanic by any measure. nine world championships runs second only to the yankees gaudy 26, and is nearly twice as many as any other franchise (five being good for bronze, split among several teams). moreover, they've won the NL pennant 15 times, second best in a squeaker over the new york/san francisco giants (16).
the reawakening of the cardinal franchise is something every cub fan (including yours truly) dreads -- and yet we are amid it. the renaissance of the cardinals is something to behold, having now won their division four of five years. their five year win total -- 475 -- falls behind only the yankees (487), oakland (483) and atlanta (481). yet worse, many of their core players -- pujols, rolen, renteria -- are young, and eight of their top nine in innings pitched in 2004 are 31 or younger.
and worst of all, it gives the appearance of adding to the "legend" of the man (god?) known simply as The Genius. if i have to listen to one more cardinal fan wax poetic about The Genius carrying four catchers or hitting the pitcher eighth -- thereby giving the *weakest* hitter in the lineup a greater probability of more at-bats, you retards, not the three-hole batter -- i'm going to vomit. one wonders how such naked pseudointellectual fraud carries the day with so many people. four manager of the year awards (maybe now five) are proof, however, that there's one born every minute and that great talent can overcome quixotic leadership.
could it be that saint louis now resembles not venerable ibm -- but modern proletarian powerhouse wal-mart? it's a fitting analogy -- take a look at their fan base:
these people ain't shopping at saks fifth avenue.
anyway, go houston, even if i lose no love for you and you play in Corrupt Failed Corporation Field. save us all from microsoft versus wal-mart in a battle of the corporate stars.
(and boston -- get off the mat, willya?)
season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease;
For Summer has o'erbrimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river-sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
-- keats, "ode to autumn"
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
a poor empire, part one
one of the weaknesses ferguson examines -- and, indeed, as an advocate of imperial governance, laments and would correct -- is evident among isolationist old-line conservatives most prominently, and that is the need to get the hell out. buchanan's american conservative magazine ran a cover article titled "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists" in an effort to show where things have been going wrong in iraq and afghanistan under the direction of "dilettantes" like douglas feith.
unfortunately, point 6 -- Leave quickly and set up a puppet government -- while being what any american conservative would want, is exactly the opposite of what successful imperialists do, in ferguson's convincing analysis. the british in iraq, having invaded in 1914, promised to leave no less than 66 times subsequently -- but tellingly stayed, machinated, enforced and de facto ruled as an open secret. not until 1958 did they go, forced out.
america, on the other hand, is always looking for the door. as ferguson noted in this exchange with david kennedy:
Unfortunately what they positively do is to impose a model--a political model on the world which is disastrous. And that's the model of self-determination, of independent nation-states. That's what creates the instability that requires another World War to settle it.yet so deeply ingrained is the need for american imperial armies to stay out of the field to hide from ourselves the fact that we are, in fact, an empire of global span and massive significance, that short deployment is the bylaw of american military operation. we need to establish these ostensibly free-acting states because we cannot maintain the will to fight. (in this respect, when bin laden calls the united states a paper tiger, he is not wrong.)
the "deep ambivalence", in ferguson's words, of the american population toward an overseas empire is a function of the penetration of our ideology -- essentially individualist rousseauian plebiscitarianism -- into the mythology of the united states. indeed, most americans conflate what i describe as a colonial tax revolt with the much more powerful french revolution because our history has been so effectively revised by a rousseauian viewpoint. (the british, having a deep parliamentary tradition championed by burke to lean on, were much more resistant to such populism in their imperial age). having put the people in power, as opposed to the aristocracy that we began with and which dominated britain for all of their run at the top, i think we have effectively made impossible the sort of imperial construction that britain (and rome, for that matter) was able to undertake with the oversight of the aristocrats.
this isn't something that can be fixed, any more than americans would willingly give up any of their freedoms to "the rich" or "the special interests". the only manner, in fact, in which one can get the american proletariat to put aside their compunctions for any length of time is making them very afraid. this was the manner in which all the major post-ww1 american military engagements came into being, and it is how these came into being. once that fear and anger wears away, however, the resolution evaporates and we all start asking about exit strategies.
as i've examined before, there are some (the neocon cabal) who believe that this selfish attention-deficit disorder can be remedied by resorting to the propaganda of mythological nationalism -- turning the united states from a self-conscious, self-obsessed, distracted nation of wafflers into a state with the sort of unipolar, unstoppable political will that germany exhibited in the 1930s -- essentially using plebiscitarianism against itself. is this sort of solicitation of the mass hysterias of jingoism and fear really an enduring solution? i think probably not.
there's more to this story, of course -- the fiscal conditions that accompany the current state of affairs in america is a yet more devastating achilles heel, one that ferguson does not ignore. i'll save that for another post.
tripolitana rimoamus est
anyway, much of ancient roman history from the late republican period onward was played out in north africa -- from carthago delenda est to jurgutha to the destruction of the roman fleet in carthage harbor by the vandals in 467. and the remains of the roman empire there are some of the most spectacular in all the mediterranean.
the jewel of the trip would have to be leptis magna, i think, or perhaps sabratha -- but the truth is that i won't know unless i go there.
that's all become much easier, as of september 20, 2004, when the bush administration (in desperate need of some good news from points east) lifted all sanctions and travel restrictions to libya. this was much anticipated by the lonely planet set (to which medium must certainly belong), even though only participants of organized tours are granted visas. italians have been vacationing in tripoli for decades, and consider tripoli the civilized star of north africa; one only hopes to get there ahead of the rush of ugly americanism.
as drudge says, "developing...."
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