Glenn Greenwald makes the case—again—that the dauphin and his chorus-line of Tzarettes in the various and sundry offices of the Executive have set the course for a previously discovered country called divine-right monarchy.
To which I respond: well, yes and no.
It seems to me an error to interpret the gaseous lawyering that reads Article II of the US Constitution like a piece of experimental fiction open to endless reinterpretation as an intentional program to remake this nation in the image of The City on the Hill as imagined by Pasolini. I’m alternately as frightened, appalled, angry, weary, resigned, and saddened as the next guy by the antipathy of this particular administration for the fruits of classical Liberalism, which is, if I might drop the pose of the cynically disinterested observer for just a moment, the only foundation of governance worth one goddamn in this world: the only value system that I admire; the only social compact I’ll sign onto; the only good and decent way to run a civilization and still let a sneering, self-superior homo like myself get up and do pretty much what he pleases with his life, his conscience, and his fortunes.
But people are venal and afraid. They desire security above all things. They’re averse to risk. They’re averse to responsibility. The precursors to modern liberal governments—and plenty of modern liberal governments themselves—all eventually collapsed under the weight of their own inevitable militarism and authoritarianism, not only because evil governors conspired to strip men of their freedom, but because men demanded that their freedom be taken from them. The archetype of the protective patriarch, the king who is benevolent at home and victorious abroad, is one of the most deeply embedded in the human psyche, and no ponderous declarations of limited government and universal rights will forever withstand the desire of the people to wake up knowing their enemies are being slain and their borders are secure. Men don’t tire of wars; they only tire of losing them.
What I’m saying is that George W. Bush is attempting to fulfill a popular wish, and his unpopularity isn’t the result of an American people slowly waking to the fact that their rights are being taken away by an ad-hoc dictatorship, but because their enemies aren’t being slain and their borders aren’t secure.
What people dislike about Geroge W. Bush isn’t that he’s reinventing himself as an American potentate, but that he’s an impotent potentate, and that the violence he’s projected onto our perceived enemies isn’t awesome and victorious but tawdry and pathetic, enacted on the bodies of helpless prisoners with a brutality made worse because it’s so damnably sophomoric.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Glenn Greenwald makes the case—again—that the dauphin and his chorus-line of Tzarettes in the various and sundry offices of the Executive have set the course for a previously discovered country called divine-right monarchy.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Not that this sort of thing comes as a shock anymore, but it's still pretty damn depressing. I suppose the abysmal ratings only fuel this sort of pharonic nonsense. What's the pitifully unpopular dauphin got to lose, having already lost a war and a public?
It amuses me, though it occasionally frightens me as well, that the legions of so-called conservatives in this country read "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States" to mean that so long as we get our war on, the president can do fuck-all what he pleases, which is precisely the sort of "strict constructionism" (as the black-is-white phraseology goes) and respect for "original intent" that makes conservativism such a respected and respectable ideology, firmly rooted as it is in the healthy soil of Nixonian harumphery.
Meanwhile, section 3 of Article 2 notes that "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." This sort of convoluted Johnsonian English is hard to sort out for the av'rujj Joe, so I shall translate, as only I and John Yoo are able: [President Bush blows a raspberry. Exeunt.]
It appears likely that Afghan authorities will avoid murdering Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert, despite cleric agitation to the contrary, by declaring that he's mentally unsound. Shouldn't be too hard.
"Your honor, this man believes that the disincorporate spirit of an invisible deity impregnated a virgin, that this 'son of god' performed all manner of frankly silly miracles that you could see in any auditorium in Vegas, that he was killed and then rose from the dead, only to further rise bodily and corporeally into heaven. Of course he is insane."
Faith healing, which is the sort of backwater tent-revivalist claptrap currently on the upswing in America, is apparently the subject of some "scientific" inquiry. In some broad aggregation of positive indications of physical health, it seems, there is some minor correlation with some broad aggregation of prayer-related programs activities, as the locution might have gone a few years back. I eagerly await a study showing that vegetarian practioners of ritual Crowleyan sex Magick have longer mean life expectancies.
Honestly, though, religionists are so schizophrenic. On one hand, you've got Leon Weiseltier and his ilk inveighing against "scientism" and decrying "naturalistic materialism" or what-have-you as impoverished, inadequate, unfair applications of booooooring rational inquiry to the Great Mysteries. On the other hand, you have their coreligionists trying to make claims that the physical and social sciences prove that the hand-ah-healin' cures cancer and the love-uv-Geezuz prevents criminal recidivism.
Meanwhile, you nonbelievers, you'll be better off converting to Islamofascism, or whatever the going phrase is. At least if you do Little Suzy McHotpants' daddy will let you take her to the prom.
From the admirably patient John Cole at Balloon Juice, who requires far more evidence than IOZ before pronouncing something Totally Fucked, there's this little number, with which I totally agree.
"Foreigners?" It was bad enough when the very same people who invented "no operational relationship" to describe the patently phony Iraq-al-Qaeda connection started harping on the Dubai World Ports deal because Emir al-Muslim once shook hands with one of the 17 jillion members of the bin Laden family. Now Hong Kong isn't good enough either? Because of what? The Yellow Menace?
Hong Kong, I note, is one of the busiest ports in the world. By container volume, it appears to be the single busiest. So one presumes that there are some folks over yonder who know a thing or two about the business.
Jesus. In its search for a candidate for '08, perhaps the Democratic party should look into the possibility that there remains some distant, living relative of Charles Lindbergh.
I hate populism, but I like Jack Cafferty.
His eyebags and shirtsleeves are a lot more reflective of the current popular mood in America than western wear, cowboy boots, and brush-clearing on an inland Texas estate the size of Luxemborg. He's the sort of guy who you might run into in the bar, sitting alone at the far end with a beer, talking to no one, but if you catch his eye, he'll raise his eyebrow skeptically at nothing in particular--he's skeptical about the whole goddamn thing: life, work, the game on the TV above the bartender, the Pabst-drinking hipsters crowding the bar around him. He's even skeptical about you, the guy he's sharing that moment of brief connection with. Because you might be a big fake too.
Cafferty is hardly the most sophisticated thinker out there, and his populism is surely in large part an affection, as is all populism. But he says some downright sensible things sometimes, and here's one of them. The ever-unctuous Howard Kurtz has just finished saying something or other; I find him difficult to understand or tolerate, but he seems to be suggesting that David Halberstam was the proximate cause of the last, ignominious evacuation from that rooftop in Saigon.
Anyway, Wolf "I Shall Transform this Declaration into a Question With a Rising Tone" Blitzer then turns to Cafferty, who, with eminent sensibility, says:
You know, I just have a question. I mean, part of the coverage, they don't like the coverage, maybe because we were sold a different ending to this story three years ago. We were told that we'd be embraced as conquering heroes, flower pedals strewn in the soldiers' paths, a unity government would be formed, everything would be rosy this--three years after the fact, the troops would be home.I expect that within a few days, someone on FOX News-&-Abuse will start inveighing against Cafferty for suggesting that terrorists destroy St. Patrick's.
Well, it's not turning out that way. And if somebody came into New York City and blew up St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the resulting days they were finding 50 and 60 dead bodies a day on the streets of New York, you suppose the news media would cover it? You're damn right they would.
This is nonsense, it's the media's fault and the news isn't good in Iraq. The news isn't good in Iraq. There's violence in Iraq. People are found dead every day in the streets of Baghdad. This didn't turn out the way the politicians told us it would. And it's our fault? I beg to differ.
America's Most Indignant Homosexuals™ are crabby because Cardinal Richelieu requires that the palace be prepared prior to his arrival.
I'm not usually one to defend the nasty sonuvabitch, but having worked in the performing arts and conference planning for some time, I feel I ought to disabuse these hysterics of their present outrage so they can return to advocating . . . whatever it is they advocate.
It's called a hospitality rider. It's a document(s) designed to minimize the need to make indiviaul arrangements at every stop on the tour. The details aren't there to satisfy the Veep's hunger for imperial luxury, but to make it easier for the hotel staff, the theater staff, the conference center staff, et al. to put together their damned shopping lists and instructions to the building engineers.
Dick Cheney's hospitality requirements are about what you'd expect for a third-rate stand-up comic playing 800-seat theaters in County Seat, USA. You want to see extravagent, wait till David Bowie comes to town. That guy has a prescription for oxygen. I totally shit you not.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Via Roy Edroso at alicublog, we find ourselves at The Corner, which, for my fellow urbanites, is not where you go at 6:00 AM when your coke dealer has stopped answering his cell and you need to score some rock to keep the party going, but rather is where you go to find Stanley Kurtz (a fellow native Pittsburgher, to our eternal shame) opining on "the most potentially stable form of multi-partner union: a man and two bisexual women."
I read that blog bit as well as Kurtz’s Weekly Standard piece, ”Here Come the Brides, and I still can’t figure out if he’s for or against or something darker, sicker, and altogether more likely. And by darker, sicker, and altogether more likely, I mean that I suspect Kurtz is twirling that Harvard-Divinity, social-scientist fancy talk around the more basic American male concept that fags are gross but lesbians are, like, totally hot, especially when they’re into dudes.
That is to say, I suspect that Stan manages to keep up that air of dispassionate inquiry precisely because, in the back of his mind, his hoity morality pixelates and is replaced by a soft-focus image of Stan Kurtz himself, in all his paunchy, tumescent semi-glory, bouncing into a bedroom already occupied by two purring cast members from The L-Word, who will look up from their cunnilingual divertissements and be so overcome by crypto-Freudian phallophilia that they'll drag him to carnal delights like a pair of Calypsos mounting Odysseus.
I repeat: Threesomes are hot, as long as there aren’t any other dudes.
And that’s as many translations as I can manage for a day. As a gay man myself, and currently a monogamous one, I find the whole issue of gay marriage and its slippery slopes (or lack thereof) preposterous and frustrating, having no desire to contractually oblige myself to love the man I love forever. I will love him forever, but the notion that we should legalize and solemnize ourselves into an unalterable compact is an insult to our autonomy as human beings. Each day we wake up and choose to live together, pay bills together, fuck only each other, and so on. One day one or both of us may desire to alter those arrangements, and at that point we’ll alter them as rational adults, not in contravention of any love we have for each other, but for the purpose of strengthening and preserving it. This is called Being an Adult. Advocates for the expansion of marriage and opponents likewise have a lot of high, windy talk about a gajillion legal rights and a bazillion years of tradition, but at its heart both Stan Kurtz and whatever phantoms he’s wrestling with want the same thing: security and the approbation of their fellow man.
Both, frankly, are highly overrated.
"It is deeply troubling that a country we helped liberate would hold a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another," Bush said on Wednesday.Although he's never displayed any actual knowledge of or familiarity with, say, the Bible, and although he doesn't appear to attend church, George W. Bush does claim to be a Christian, and a "born again" Christian at that.
"We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values."
So here you have a man who ostensibly subscribes to the (incredibly preposterous, and therefore extremely popular) belief that Jesus Christ is the sole source of and avenue to salvation; that one must be "born again" through some intense conversion experience of personal connection to God; and that to those who don't come into the fold in this manner, no amount of good works, decency, kindness, prayer, etc. can forestall the eternal, unspeakable agony of damnation. I don't think that the Petit Prince has given that doctrine a whole lotta thinkin', but those are the doctrines of his professed religion.
Now, it seems to me that what we have here is a doctrine that, to put it mildly, "hold[s] a person to account because they chose a particular religion over another."
In the meantime, just to prove that I truly do believe all of the monotheistic death cults to be equally vicious, bloodthirsty frauds, I leave you with IOZ's Tolerant Statement of the Day™, from the judge in the guy's case:
"We will try to see if he converts to Islam, for Islam is the religion of compassion. But if he does not, Islamic law will be enforced."
In my original bah-humbug to V for Vendetta, I wrote:
And in any event, future dictatorships will be so much more Madison Avenue. The High Chancelor's backdrops and insignia and party flags are downright hokey. Compare them to the on-message backdrops employed by Bush or Blair, and you realize just how primitive is the conception of future Authority in V for Vendetta.Regretfully or not, depending on my capacity for optimism at any particular moment, I'm reconsidering.That's about as hokey as it gets, especially with the secret service guy looking like he's ready to give DJ G-dub the ol' shepherd's crook send-off.
In that inimitably passive newsvoice, questions are now arising about Kathleen Troia McFarland, the lady who would be Hillary. From whence doth such questions arise? Alas, alack, along the riverrun . . .
If ever you doubt the indubitable truth that Republicans don’t wish to govern, but rather to wage a ceaseless campaign game-show in which victories pile up like the detritus of infinite catastrophe in the eyes of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, then consider Hillary. She’s a perpetual target for derision by a ruling party with which she generally cooperates. She’s a pro-Israel hawk. She’s a supporter of the Iraq War—a stauncher supporter, if we’re honest, than many a wobbly GOPer. She appears to be a more regular churchgoer than George W. Bush, who is not, in fact, a churchgoer, and she’s on the vanguard of the movement to append Jesus to the Democratic party like some kind of prosthetic cudgel against the loosey-gooesey po’ black gals who simply do not pray hard enough that the Lord descend and run perpetual cock block. She used to be somewhat more liberal on economic policy, but that’s hardly an impediment to cooperation with the GOP, who, regarding the economy, have taken the phrase ad hoc, caged it, fed it on raw steak doused in human growth hormone and the blood of Barry Bonds, and poked it with a stick for ten minutes each morning in order to create a super-hypertrophied man-killing debt machine.
In other words, the fact that the GOP keeps digging in the tar pits for even more and even more pathetic challengers to their favorite bogeyman sans Saddam bin Laden al-Hitler ibn Stalin, is prima fasciae evidence, as far as I’m concerned, that it really is all just a game.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I was writing this little piece in response to Jacob Weisberg’s rather questionable assertion that since the bloody farce for which he advocated with phony reluctance has wrecked the volunteer military, it must be time for a draft. And I thought to myself, it must be nice to be an opinion journalist. I know of no other vocational field, and I include life as a British royal, in which it’s so difficult to disgrace yourself.
Now, I’m not under the illusion that these people actually influence policy. Too often I see otherwise incisive minds acquiesce to the illusion that the ladies and gentlemen who populate newspaper op-ed pages and newsweeklies and the pontifical monthlies have some causal effect on the powers in our government, as if the gouty musings of Charles Krauthammer get rushed into the Oval Office in the morning for the President to sound out over his Ovaltine. While I’m sure that there are a couple of Intelligently Designed GOP backbenchers taken in by that sort of thing, the people who hold real institutional power in the government don’t take their cues from gelded journalists, failed psychiatrists, sob-sister papal fetishists, or any of the other subspecies writing all that shitty PR copy for Dow Jones and the Sulzberger clan.
I know that they produce saturating information that obscures the actions and operations of the apparatuses of government. That’s their purpose. That’s the source of their access to the powers of government, their friendships in the government, and their enmities in the government as well. Because they crave influence, they’re easily manipulated into endless squabbling over absurd ideological set pieces; the interlocutors of the ostensible ruling party goad themselves into revolution-in-permanence, and the opposition rallies itself into an equally permanent, if usually vapid, counterrevolutionary posture. Permanent, that is, until Americans, those famously ruminative folk, decide for no reason other than vague dissatisfaction with the “direction of the country” that it’s time to let the other bums steer for a while. It’s strictly verboten to talk about getting off the goddamn bus. Brilliant people turn into slavering lunatics when they defend the two-party system. The defense is always the same as well: to express some generalized regret and then snap out some defense of the absolute, ineluctable necessity of voting within the system, usually with the same haughty idiocy of Peggy Noonan defending a Doctrine of the Faith that she dreamed up on a Zoloft-fueled vision quest.
So I’m not saying that there’s any real moral consequence to anything any pundit says, except insofar as it enables the continued viciousness of what’s become—if we’re truthful—an American government of unusual savagery and disregard for that thin tissue of a Republic that’s still left. But—I say this as something of an aspiring socialite—just because the repercussions are limited to your inclusion or exclusion on the better guests lists (and even then, you know you can just make a phone call) . . . well, that doesn’t mean you ought to go running your death-hungry yap all up and down America.
So if you happen to see pundit sulking about the woods behind your house like that poor coyote in Central Park, give him something hot to drink and politely suggest that he refrain from speaking, or, if he insists, ask kindly that he speak something other than his unfortunate mind.
Ladies and Gentlement, Jacob Weisberg, starring in If We're Gonna Fight These Dang Aggressive Wars, We're Gonna Need a Draft.
Weisberg's thesis, so far as he draws near to something resembling a thesis, is that while it was just dandy to have an all-volunteer military back when we were just dickin' around in Mogadishu, we've moved on to bigger and better things. Or, in the maestro's words, "Iraq changed all that."
There's a depressing tendency among supposedly serious political writers to affect the tone of fashion journalists. Iraq changed all that? It's like André Leon Talley noting a trend away from distressed denim. I presume that Jake recalls that he advocated for this brand-name No Palatable Solutions conflict back when the all-voluntary army was working out just fine, thank ya vury much.
It's true: our all-volunteer military isn't don' so hot as an occupying power. Rational minds might tell you that George, Dick, and Uncle Crazy over at the DoD have more to do with that than the particular demographics of the military on any given Sunday. But rational minds, alas, are rarely employed as opionists, who are vocationally obliged to treat their past positions less like a palimsest than like a raging fire from which they must forever flee . . . and never turn back.
"The scale of death and injury" in Iraq, Jake says, justify the draft. Nary a mention that they justify a reconsideration of the policy that put us there in the first place.
See if you can follow. The Washington Post hires a so-called conservative blogger who uses his first post to bash the mythical MSM, of which the Post is presumably a charter member, for its institutional failure to pay attention to so-called conservative voices.
In discussions with his new employers, the Pachyderm-in-Training-Pants explains that Red Dawn, is, like, totally the greatest flick evuh.
The Post’s Entertainment Blog picks this up, and discovers that, according to the National Review, it sher-as-shit is!
What’s so . . . interesting is that the very first movie officially lauded in the National Review bit is A Man for All Seasons, as one of the "Best Pictures Celebrating Religion and Faith."
I don’t know about all that, but I do recall a certain memorable exchange:
WILLIAM ROPER: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!Offered without comment as the Unintended-Cosmic-Political Irony of the Whole Fuckin' Day.
SIR THOMAS MORE: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
I didn’t much like V for Vendetta, but this is just absurd. Walking out because of its politics? I struggle for an analogy. It’s like walking out of a Chardin exhibit because you’re a vegetarian.
In the meantime, I eagerly await The Da Vinci Code, which I shall walk out on in protest of its sympathetic portrayal of the Albigensian Heresy.
Since I spend a good deal of time bashing so-called conservatives, let me take an opportunity to bash a guy on the other side of the aisle. (I won't say spectrum, since that implies actual, ya know, breadth.)
Mark Kleiman is a multi-credentialed guy with a blog and a UCLA sinecure as a professor of policy studies. The most frightening line in his bio reads, "Professor Kleiman's primary research interests are drug abuse and crime control, with special attention to illicit markets and the design of deterrent regimes."
And if you think that's got a vaguely (father forgive me for this egregious modifier) Orwellian tone, try this fella on for size:
I'm still very much a law-and-order hawk. That is, I believe that crime is so damaging and socially corrosive--especially so for poor people and members of socially disadvantaged minority ethnic groups--that it is worth inflicting great suffering on offenders and their families and friends to reduce the criminal riskiness of various social environments.That's from a post about Cory Maye, no less!
Think about that: a professor and man of not-unconsiderable influence in his field, which is crime and criminal justice, believes that it is not only permissable, but also desirable to inflict "great suffering" on convicted criminals and on their families and friends. I believe the term for that is "collective punishment." It's extraordinary: a liberal professor of the law is making the claim that it should be morally and legally acceptable to sanction and punish innocents based solely on their relational proximity to a criminal, for the vague purpose of reducing "criminal riskiness of various social environments."
That's just to give you a nice, firm footing on the moral wastelands into which the good professor sees fit to cast us all. In a post of considerably more topical interest to me, he discusses the general unfairness of the current anti-drug legal regime through the not-so-prismatic prism of Prohibition as a least-bad, bad policy option.
The Gods of unexamined premises must be having a field day. Americans are probably the most heavily-medicated people on earth. How many people do you know taking SSRIs and MAOIs or crazy benzodiazepines like Klonopin? The Professor talks about "illicit drugs," but I suspect he hasn't a clue as to the radical neurological effects of perfectly legal, commonly prescribed mood inhibitors, anti-epilectics, antidepressants, and a host of other drugs. I suspect he never considers that illegal hallucinogen LSD hardly holds a candle to the extreme dissociative effects of the dose of dextromethorphan hydrobromide accessible to any teenager with a strong enough stomach to down a bottle of Tussin.
So while I'm glad that the Professor calls penalties for "illicit" drug use horrifyingly severe and argues for their mitigation, I wonder if he considers that the drug problem in this country is most decidedly not a problem of illicit drugs, but of their vastly more numerous and entirely licit kin.
Jim Kunstler tells a story about being told a story:
An acquaintance told me a weird story yesterday. Let's call him "E." He runs an Internet consulting company here in Saratoga Springs. It employs about twenty-five people in a downtown building E put up a few years ago.Meanwhile, over at Balloon Juice, Tim revisits Jared Diamond’s latest.
Last month a freak windstorm ripped through here and took down the electric power for three days. E lost communication with the payroll service (a separate company) that issues his employee's salaries. The storm happened in the middle of the day, Friday, payday.
The power came back on Sunday night, and on Monday two of E's employees each asked for private meetings with the boss. Because of the storm, they said, the payroll company had failed to make electronic salary deposits in their checking accounts. They were concerned because they were late on their mortgage payments and without the past week's electronic paycheck, they couldn't pay their mortgages.
E told me that these were "high-level employees" with substantial salaries who were both living in "very high-end homes," which around here would mean around a half-million dollars (and I know that in some parts of the US, like Washington, DC, or San Francisco, a half-million barely gets you a "pre-owned" raised ranch). He said he was shocked to discover that his executives were living from paycheck to paycheck, in houses that by normal criteria (i.e. pre-bubble standards) they probably couldn't afford.
I first encountered Kunstler while suffering from a near-post-adolescent infatuation with The New Urbanism. I’ve recovered somewhat; I’m far too big an aesthete and fan of great modern and contemporary architecture to buy into the stylistic atavism that always seems to accompany New Urbanists. Is it possible to combine sustainable, mixed-use, community-fostering planning with innovative design? Yes. The Spanish certainly seem good at it, if recent history is any indication. (The US . . . not so much. Look at the godawful mess in lower Manhattan, where the only thing that anyone seems able to agree on is that whatever gets built will be shitty, but at least there’ll be a shopping mall.)
But the obsessions of New Urbanism are still near to my heart. I’m a proponent of urban living and, to the extent possible, a proponent of regional agricultures. That’s partly because I’m a fag (urban) and a foodie (the other thing). It’s partly because I believe communitarian values necessary to civil society are best fostered by relatively high population densities, whereas good land-use policies are best fostered by giving actual farmers and ranchers vested interests in long-term methods of sustainable agriculture. I’m speaking in generalities here, but you get the picture.
Anyway, the intersection between Kunstler’s tale and Jared Diamond’s Necromonicon of Most Disapperèd Civilizations occurs way out in the David Brooksian exurbs, where despite a few recent news pieces on shrinking houses, Americans go on building farther and bigger, not entirely unlike the Easter Islanders, who, Diamond explains, competed to erect the biggest monuments until, in pursuit of that preposterous end, they chopped down every goddamn tree on their island. Then they all died.
Ours is a more complex society, of course, and larger. If our collapse comes (there are days I suspect it’s already here), it will occur all around us and in slow motion—over the course of decades and perhaps centuries. It will come as a result of the bizarrely concurrent extenuation and super-sizing of the physical America, in which the bonds that tie us together as a polity are worn ever-thinner by our sheer distance from one another, even as distance and size necessitate endless increases in our rapacity for resources and fuels. I don’t mean to sound Malthusian, and I recognize that technological innovation has in the past mitigated what seemed like coming environmental or demographic doom. But let’s be frank: technological progress is neither infinite nor assured, and our rate of consumption clearly outpaces our rate of invention at present.
Meanwhile, Kevin Phillips recently appeared with Lou Dobbs and made a very interesting, very scary comparison:
[I]f you look at two previous leading world economic powers, Britain, 100 years ago, and the Dutch after New Amsterdam […] In each case what happened was an erosion of actually making things, as the society shifted towards trading things and moving money around and all of that sort of stuff.So David Brooks et al. ("an elite that is then a vested set of interests?") can happy-talk all they want about how exurban McMansionism is the first true re-expansion of the American identity since Frederick Jackson Turner pronounced the frontier closed, and E.’s execs can keep living mortgage-payment to mortgage-payment in those McMansions, and George W. Bush can pronounce at a press conference that Americans’ household net worth is now higher than it has ever been (largely based, one presumes, on part-ownership of those very soon-to-be-un-salable McMansions).
Once you start to make that transition, there doesn't seem to be any way to go back because you create an elite that is then a set of vested interest[s] in the new way of doing things. And they don't much care whether or not they're still making steel in Sheffield, or in Pittsburgh.
Frankly, I don’t like the odds . . . or the resemblances.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
When I said that Christopher "Sleeping It Off" Hitchens aspired to become the hopped-up Rudyard Kipling of our time, I didn't expect to find that he'd published something called "My Ideal War" the very same day! The Lord giveth, but he doth not take.
Hitchens, you're mad, mad I say! Here's a guy willing to retroactively re-prove all the disproven relations between bad, bad Saddam and bad, bad al-Qaeda based on the reportage of Stephen Hayes (sic). I quote: "a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia." Throw the kitchen sink at 'em, Hitch, and slosh your drink on the nearest suede while you're at it. This is a man who writes for Vanity Fair. Who has published books!
Somehow I imagine him vastly fat, drunk, and in the costume of a barrister, his wig slightly askew as he harangues the court: "My Lord, the accused stands before you linked to a number of actions through a series of linkages and connexions to a list of groups responsible for a host of activities!" John Cleese pounds a gavel. A cartoon foot descends from the sky. Benny Hill dashes at double-speed across the ceiling pursued by women in burkhas with the breasts cut out. Dr. Who emerges from his telephone booth. God laughs. Jesus ressurrects. Elton John sings "Candle in the Wind." A man in a Guy Fawkes mask blows up parliament.
Hitchens says that after George Bush did his Topo Gigio routine at the UN in 2002, the member nations should've...
said: Mr. President, in principle you are correct. The list of flouted U.N. resolutions is disgracefully long. Law has been broken, genocide has been committed, other member-states have been invaded, and our own weapons inspectors insulted and coerced and cheated. Let us all collectively decide how to move long-suffering Iraq into the post-Saddam era. We shall need to consider how much to set aside to rebuild the Iraqi economy, how to sponsor free elections, how to recuperate the devastated areas of the marshes and Kurdistan, how to try the war criminals, and how many multinational forces to ready for this task. In the meantime—this is of special importance—all governments will make it unmistakably plain to Saddam Hussein that he can count on nobody to save him. All Iraqi diplomats outside the country, and all officers and officials within it, will receive the single message that it is time for them to switch sides or face the consequences. Then, when we are ready, we shall issue a unanimous ultimatum backed by the threat of overwhelming force. We call on all democratic forces in all countries to prepare to lend a hand to the Iraqi people and assist them in recovering from more than three decades of fascism and war.And then, friends, Hitchens sucks in a deep breath and exhales, "Not a huge amount to ask, when you think about it."
I believe the abbreviation is QED.
You know, I don't believe in deities, but thank God for Walter Kirn, who's an okay novelist but a fantastic reviewer.
The linked review is of Harvey C. Mansfield's new screed (to use the Wall Street Journal editorial page's third-favorite word), Manliness. That mansfield/man's field/manliness rhetorico-cosmic-semiotic intersection is the sort of thing that Thomas Pynchon might have dreamt up if he'd taken time off writing The Crying of Lot 49 for some serious experimentation with iboga bark.
I am going to acquire this book, preferably without paying for the fucker, and I am going to review it on the strength and recommendation of this single short paragraph from Kirn's hilarious review:
In just which far-off galaxy has Mansfield set up his telescope to scrutinize the doings of us earthlings? Or, if he dwells among us, when was the last time he left the faculty club? Let's put these mysteries aside, though — as well as the puzzle of how a writer can purport to analyze human humor (even flat-footedly and badly) while remaining personally immune to it — and move on to the essence of Mansfield's argument, to the hot sweaty groin of it, the manly crux.
At Crooks and Liars (via The Carpetbagger Report via Balloon Juice), we find ABC News' Jake Tapper explaining what happens when you try to cover the, ahem, good news in Iraq.
Thank God they didn't try to cover one of those schools that are apparently popping up all over Iraq like crocuses in spring. I can just imagine the Howie Kurtz interview:
KURTZ: So what happened?But perhaps this is all part of Glenn "Win" Reynolds elaborate strategy for final victory.
REPORTER: Well, we were trying to cover the opening of a new elementary school, which was going great until the insurgency rolled up and burned the principal alive on a pyre of executed school children.
In a recent post, I said only half-jokingly that what Americans really need are critical reading skills—far more, certainly, than they need caped crusaders. It’s easy enough for the elections-and-policy crowd to sneer or snicker at deconstructionist bogeymen wrapped up in navel-gazing analyses of "texts," and needless to say the specter of David-Horowitzian post-Trotskyite sour grapes haunts any professor of literature who dares invent himself as a cultural theorist.
But one of my favorite poets, H.D., wrote in Trilogy, her long poem and meditation on the Blitz (and plenty else besides):
...if you do not even understand what words say,Those lines are ostensibly responses to an earlier voice in the poem that accuses poets of inutility in the modern world—players with language in a universe of bombs. And doesn’t that sound familiar.
how can you expect to pass judgment
on what words conceal?
Of course our whole culture, and every culture, is wrapped up in words, images, and signs. Each person and each society defines itself through them; each government defines and propagates itself through language and image, whether in laws or speeches or classic propaganda or photo-ops or transparently planted puff pieces explaining how some new tactic is brilliant and forward-looking and totally avoids the errors of the past and will surely defeat enemies and win friends. Listen to the linked piece and consider how doubts are carefully deployed in order to suggest critical content and then dispatched with equal care in order to subvert their capacity as critique. Listen to the reporter, Deborah Amos, take on the voice of an advocate for a military program because the military says it’s an improved program. Listen to the familiar sound of every second-chancer in every profession and industry ever: "Well, we mighta been wrong back then, but we totally learned from it, and now we’re right."
Interrogate—to use the slightly obnoxious lit-crit term—the dual premises of the piece:
At the end of the report, Amos hints at, but doesn’t examine, the possibility of civil war in Iraq. She mentions it, then pivots immediately to "American commanders have turned a cold, clear eye to the problem." What problem? The insurgency that was the problem three years ago.
Permit me a Hunter S. Thompsonism: When will it end, oh Lord, when will it end?
The underlying assumption of the entire counterinsurgency training program described in the report is that insurgents join up and act in response to discreet acts by the American military: "breaking into a guys house and scaring his wife and family in the middle of the night" and so forth. Through our tactics, the military interviewees say over and over again, we will prevent this from occurring and "win them over to our side."
This naïve paternalism is the hallmark of the entire American occupation. Iraqis speak that funny language and can’t possibly have the political-historical sophistication of Western counterparts. What the military refuses to admit is not that the insurgency exists, but rather that an insurgency exists as a political actor whose goal isn’t simply to exact reprisals for American excesses, but to end the occupation and end the occupation regime, no matter how many goddamn town hall meetings and cultural exchanges your newly-sensitive officers commission in Iraq. Let’s not even mention civil war. Allah knows, we haven’t got a clue what to do about that.
Insurgents aren’t simply fathers radicalized by midnight raids; they aren’t simply sons radicalized by the imprisonment of their fathers. Those sorts of acts may be catalysts, but the political chemistry was already present. The core of the successful native insurgency is clearly comprised of men who are opposed to the occupation qua occupation, and who have further political ambitions besides.
And that, my friends, is why when Jim Henley says, "There are only bad options and wishful thinking at this point. An orderly, complete disengagement is the least bad from the US perspective, though it will mean real costs to us and bigger ones for Iraqis," he is most certainly not just fuckin’ witchya.
Monday, March 20, 2006
If you were the Gilbert and Sullivanian character piloting the H.M.S. Preternatual Self-Indulgence through the rolling seas of electronic media, you could find no more affable port of call than one of America's newsweeklies, though such publications are less like safe harbors, frankly, and more like Davey Jones's locker: where conventional wisdom goes to drown. Anyway, Andrew Sullivan now blogs at Time, as everyone knows, which isn't good for his swollen head (perhaps a poor turn of phrase for a fellow who spends his summers at P-town), but I digress.
Apparently, Paul Krugman, locked away behind the New York Times' iron curtain, has launched a couple of broadsides against the long-suffering Sullivan in recent columns, saying that he and the rest of the Utilitarian-Relativist Wing of the Republican Party were a little too eager to either suborn or ignore the dauphin's dishonesty on pretty much all matters economic in order to advance their own pet causes--from tax cuts to Iraq. I'm not a big fan of Krugman, but when he says, in essence, that plenty of "prominent" "conservative" "intellectuals" were willing to brook dishonesty-in-governance while their petit prince was still riding high, whereas now that the bottom is falling out of the polls they're rushing in with all sorts of critiques . . . well, let's just say it's not really a debatable point.
Sullivan's hilariously piqued response includes the following pot-and-kettle pas de deux:
It's important for the left to knee-cap conservative critics of this administration in order to discredit conservatism as a whole by conflating it with the Bush debacle.The (charitably put) argument fails on its own nonexistent merits: what, pray tell, was the proximate electoral cause of said debacle if not political conservatism? And who, pray tell, were the public voices back when the Bush Whitehouse was playing like Gatsby South, lights all ablaze, never to go out.
Well now that George and Dick have done the Nick and Daisy routine and smashed the whole goddamn thing to pieces, Andy wants a free pass for driving up behind the wreck and acting like a regular ol' rubbernecker, an uninvolved observer of the disaster. Nice work if you can get it. Were I to respond seriously, I'd suggest that the accurate inverse of Andy's argument is that it's important for conservative former allies of this administration to knee-cap George W. Bush in order to prevent the conflation of his debacle with conservativism. Throw mama from the train, in other words.
Anyway, in a later post, a reader calls Andy a damned homo leftie, and not without reason says me, a damned homo myself. Sullivan gets his man-titties all in a twist at that. "[A]ll of this now makes me part of the 'left,' equatable with individuals who betrayed their own country for Stalin's Russia," he cries! I confess, I don't know who the fuck he's talking about, though knowing Andy, it may well be the guy in the cape in the middle.
V for Vendetta is a bad movie disguised as a good one and a morally simplistic movie disguised as a morally complex one. It's very skillfully produced, and it nods in the direction of the diffuclt task of rendering its murdering anarcho-revolutionary as, at least, unforgivably murderous. But it fails.
It fails in part because its imagined future dictator is a screeching, bad-toothed, Fu Manchu-ish British Hitler forever haranguing his high-ranking minions via a video feed. It fails because its "Finger Men"--secret police enforcing curfews and the like throughout London--are also bad-toothed British louts forever seeking to rape young girls. It fails because it proposes a coming totalitarianism that will resemble totalitarianisms past.
Of course, the moralizing religiophile currently turning Britain into the most surveilled society on earth has neither bad teeth nor portentous facial hair nor a hyperventilating style of speech. His party is not a rightwing Christian reconstructionist party, but a soft-center-left party that supports State-Capitalism and a culture of platitudinous multicultural tolerance toward all but the enemy-of-the-month: currently, Islam in some form or other. It isn't a rare surivivng industrial society in a post-plague world, but a wealthy, politically stable, first-world nation among many.
And in any event, future dictatorships will be so much more Madison Avenue. The High Chancelor's backdrops and insignia and party flags are downright hokey. Compare them to the on-message backdrops employed by Bush or Blair, and you realize just how primitive is the conception of future Authority in V for Vendetta. Scientific marketing has obviated the need for Big Brother posters; it's obviated the need for Big Brother.
I am, admittedly, a bit parochial as a student of literature and criticism, but it seems to me that what Americans, Britons, and the rest of the slow-drifting peoples of the world need is less a masked hero to bomb us back into awareness, but better education in the artful skill of close reading and the sciences of signs. Sadly, a vigilante savior is probably more likely.
Having failed to convince Bill O'Reilly to spend Spring Break vaccinating coeds in Darfur, Nicholas Kristof does the next best thing, which is to offer a Heart of Darkness tour package to some lucky undergrad, who will presumably learn how to tether his moral outrage to a Times expense account.
Graham Greene is dead; long live Graham Greene. As I imagine it, Kristof would be a lapsed Catholic just one tragedy away from redepmtive re-rosary-ification; the super-duper-lucky college student would be a beautiful woman who is more than she appears; their affair would be at once torpid and langourous; the setting would be the knife-point fulcrum between decadence and decay; a priest would have the final word, and it would not be kind to anyone.
Lordy, what nonsense! Every few years, it seems, some Madeleine Albright character discovers a previously unknown Jewish ancestor and makes a ritual trip to Auschwitz. May we call a thing what it is? The sole purpose of these monstrous photo-ops is to wrap a tissue-thin connection to past atrocity around oneself in order to gain immunity from your political opponents moral condemnation. This is what I like to call the "Charlotte York Rule," after the Sex in the City character. Charolotte is in bed with her lover, who says he can't marry her because she isn't Jewish; he promised his mother. She presses him. He says that tradition was very important to his mother; after all, she had relatives who died in the Holocaust. She screws up her face: "Well, now I can't say anything, because you brought up . . . the Holocaust." Kristof's trip is the moral equivalent of these.
Whatever unlucky prospective journalist stuck on the Grand Tour with Nick K. is sure to get a hearty heap-o-horror. Meanwhile, I'm uncertain as to what Kristof is actually advocating for when he yammers on about how the West has forgotten or ignored Darfur, child prostitution, conflict diamonds, ad inf. Sometimes he says that the West--whoever that is at the moment--ought to send troops. To do what? He can't say, and neither, dear readers, can I.
I urge you to read the whole letter linked at the Times page. Its creepy, peculiarly flippant tone--"I'm looking for a masochist" or "And no purchases of Cambodian sex slaves this time"--is indicative of something awful, though I'm not as yet certain precisely what.
Christopher Hitchens aspires to become our Rudyard Kipling, had Kipling not, like, totally pussied out after World War I. Soon he shall turn from essayism to verse:
If any question why we died,What his prosody lacks in elegance, it makes up for in bombastic disregard for proportionality, moral decency, and reason.
Tell them it was because
their fathers liedwe continued to stand for federal democracy, while making Iraq a killing-field for jihadists and fascists.
All Hitch needs now is a Cary Grant for his Douglas Fairbanks. I'm sure they can find some Kurd to die heroically in the role of water-carrier. The Thuggees would be Baathists, Saddamists, and dead-enders.