Trip to New York. Shopping. Grilled octopus at Pastis. Golas at Lounge. Bazillion-dollar entry fee at MoMA. Etc.
Back in action on the blog on Monday/Tuesday.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Trip to New York. Shopping. Grilled octopus at Pastis. Golas at Lounge. Bazillion-dollar entry fee at MoMA. Etc.
Friday, May 26, 2006
WASHINGTON, May 25 — President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, two leaders badly weakened by the continuing violence in Iraq, acknowledged major misjudgments in the execution of the Iraq war on Thursday night even while insisting that the election of a constitutional government in Baghdad justified their decision to go to war three years ago.When you think about it, it's only the temporal proximity of the Iraq War's misbegotten beginning that mitigates against the cosmic absurdity of this sort of talk. Think of your own work, whatever it is; imagine launching some ill-conceived endeavor and three years later appearing before your board to say that while, sure, some stuff got totally fucked along the way, at least something entirely different from what you intended to accomplish had been, at last, accomplished. (I apologize for that last sentence, but even American English, the most flexible of languages, lacks the sytax for conveying the logical contortions of the so-called "Bush" Administration.)
The New York Times
Forget that. I sort of like to imagine Victor Davis Hanson or some such fantasist proclaiming that the Sack of Rome was retroactively justified by the relatively peaceful transition of power from Berlusconi to Prodi. Ya know?
Anyway, George W. Bush's further descent into general incoherence is often taken in this country as one more piece of evidence of an ongoing Great Conservative Crackup, as is the attempts of other conservatives to throw mama from the train, as it were, by claiming that our Dauphin was never, in fact a conservative. As very bright bloggers like Digby at Hullabaloo have pointed out, there's a pattern at work here: Conservativism doesn't fail; it is only failed.
I don't disagree with that assessment, but I do think it takes a too narrow view. As evidence, I've got two words: Tony Blair.
Making the generous assumption that words like conservative have specific enough political meaning to be applicable (or not) to any particular person or politician, it's perfectly clear that Blair is not a conservative. Whatever Clintonian third-wayism he's practiced in Britain (with education, for instance), he is, by American standards, a social and economic liberal--far to the left, in terms of policy, of all but the most liberal Democrats. And yet his star is also falling; his party is also locked in internecine quibbling and recrimination.
Moreover, in this country, folks like Peter "God Willing We Shall Prevail in Purity of Our Prescious Bodily Fluids" Beinart and all the counselors at Camp New Republic are locked in the same ontological meltdown, slashing willy-nilly with the dull rapiers of their dullards' wits at anyone and anything arrayed against their beyond-discredited belief in Democracy-as-a-Protection-Scam.
So it's hardly a Great Conservative Crackup.
In Giving Offense, a collection of essays on censorship, J.M. Coetzee turns his eye on the anti-pornography crusading of Catharine MacKinnon. How, he asks, could a feminist and ostensible liberal make common cause with the moral censors of the right? How does MacKinnon's feminism ally itself with gender traditionalism in calling for legal limitations on expression?
Coetzee is too good a writer and disciplined a thinker to offer a single answer, but if I may abstract his conclusions: ideological differences pale before methodological sameness.
So George Bush and his allies (or, increasingly, new enemies) may claim the mantle of conservativism, and Blair and his allies may claim the mantle of Labor-Liberalism, but both proceed from from structurally similiar assumptions about the capacity of the state to do affirmative good under proper stewardship. Their belief in this ability is so resolute as to become ineluctable, and ineluctable beliefs tend naturally toward missionarism. Why, after all, should the rest of the world be denied our access to Paradise? It falls to us to Save them.
What we call left and right are two sides of the same statist coin; it isn't a wall that separates them, but an aisle.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Folks are all up in arms about David Broder's disappointingly small hard-on for Hillary Clinton's pantsuit . . . or something. This on the heels of a tabloidy Times piece which points out that since the Clintons spend more time together than partners in the average political marriage, therefore there lurks beneath the surface a seething, murderous unhappiness . . . or something.
[Washington's] social leaders have all the style of Pyongyang combined with the sophistication of Fresno. And like busybodies in all bourgeois backwaters, when the leading denizens decide that somebody's a little bit too human, they viciously tear them apart for pure sport.True, but not totally accurate.
Look. Washington is a backwater. France has Paris; the UK has London; Germany has Berlin. We've got . . . Canberra. Or, worse yet, Brasilia. Our capital city was born of regional compromise, shoehorned onto swamp-land that happens to sit at the fulcrum point of the old national North-South teeter-totter, designed as a second-rate pastiche of High Roman Imperial--laid out, ultimately, as a national parade-ground surrounded, in Tony Kushner's memorable estimation, by mausoleums. It's a depressing, terrible, second-rate city with no indigenous industry save the inexorable self-replication of our mold-like governing class. It isn't a city with character--Chicago, say, or even a Cleveland or a Pittsburgh. It certainly isn't a sophisticated international city like New York or LA. Washington is like a redneck Versailles, a palace housing the royals, their courtiers, their staffs, and their rotating stock of guests and creditors.
Bloggers express shock that these people spend more time peering up each other's skirts than steering the ship of state. I find such habit hopelessly naive. These fuckers will go right on partying on the back of the breaching Leviathan until the beast decides to dive and drown the lot of them . . . and of us. Do you imagine that Louis Quatorze's gajillion hangers-on wiled away the hours discussing the finer points of the War of Devolution? Sinon, why do you imagine that the courtiers of our own petit dieudonné would behave any differently?
Good golly. It's not the enemy-of-the-month club anymore; it's not even the enemy-of-the-week club.
It's like, Buy One Terrifying Foreign Enemy for Just $0.69, Get Another 100 For Just a Penny Each!
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Much-discussed today on the internet: John McCain's high-school-gym-teacher plan to bring peace and prosperity to Iraq:
"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit.'"Ah, memories.
When I was a mere yute in high school, I had an godawfully ill-mannered, vulgar, pothead friend named Tommy Z. Tommy lived with his obsessive-compulsive brother (who kep a bucket of cleaning supplies in his bedroom closet), his Vietnam Vet alcoholic dad, and his harried, put-upon, crazy-as-the-day-is-long mother, Betty.
Invariably Tommy would commit some horrific, stoned impropriety--whipping out his dick the parking lot of a fast food restaurant and pissing on the ground; stealing his brother's cleaning bucket and writing "Danny Tanner's Faggot Cleaning Supplies" in indelible marker; leaving a half-eaten hamburger sitting on a table in the basement for so long that it transmogrified into some kind of alien homunculus. Etc.
Invariably, Betty would call him down: "Tommy!"
"What the fuck, mom?"
"Tommy, your language."
"Fuck my language. Make me a sandwich."
"I'm not makin' you a sandwich, Tommy."
"Fuck that shit."
"Tommy, the language. I'm sick n' tired of it. It all starts with the bullshit, Tommy. It all starts with the bullshit!"
Needless to say these exchanges ended worse and more tearfully than Betty than for Tommy, whose hazy incapacity to see beyond the immediate needs and desires of himself and his clan of stoner friends rendered him incapable of heeding warnings, whether serious or not, however artfully or inartfully delivered.
Candidate McCain, you stand warned.
America's Most Hysterically Enraged Homosexuals™ are aghast that Senate Democrats on the Intelligence Committee "supported" General Hayden's nomination as Inspector-General Clouseau of the No Such Agency. Money pull:
If the Democrats want support from their base, this vote is bullshit. If we wanted a rubber stamp for the millionth time, we'd just vote Republican or not vote at all.Again? Must we reply? Again?
There may be some minor truth in the "not vote at all" claim; I do expect that Democratic turnout will be depressed in the 2006 midterms, although to be fair, I don't expect Republicans in droves either, and in any event midterms, regardless of the crisis-mongering endemic to the professional political class, aren't exactly known for turnout at the polls.
But seriously, bolting the party?
I quit voting for national Democratic candidates entirely in the last election. I'd previously voted principally for Democrats not out of any particular attraction to the various and sundry quasi-thoughts cobbled together as a "platform", but simply because I judged Democrats to be slightly less venal than Republicans, slightly less corrupt, slightly more competent, and, since their principle quality in office is fecklessness, slightly less capable of defending their incumbencies in the next election--a big plus in my book. But post-AUMF-Afghanistan, post-Iraq-war-vote, post-PATRIOT Act, I quit. It gained me nothing; it preserved no liberty; it had no effect on any issue in which I had the slightest interest, except perhaps insofar as the Democrats' boneheaded obstruction of the Republicans' even more boneheaded Social Security schemes cut off any inchoate discussion of just why the hell the government is in the pension business anymore at all. I digress.
No one really believes that AmericaBloggers or Kossacks or Eschatonians or, as John Cole calls them, the Jane Hamshers of the Left are going to leave the Democratic Party, nor even withhold their votes in one measly midterm. This all has something to do with Ralph Nader, Patrick Buchanan, and Florida, but I'm not Joan Didion and haven't the guts to wade into the morass of Florida-2000 resentments, except to say that the conviction that a minor 3rd-Party candidate cost their boy his inheritance has driven contemporary Democrats to nigh six years of incoherency. "We hate Democrats, ergo we are Democrats." It's as if they're using the "Ballad of Reading Gaol" as an election stategem.
Their principle error isn't mistaken fidelity, however, but false expectations. It seems to me that many, many Democratic activists and bloggers hold onto the delusional belief that the next Congress, if Democratic, or the next President, if a Democrat, will swiftly, concisely, and uncompromisingly disavow the dictatorial tomfoolery of the current executive; that Hillary or whomever will head up to the Hill in early March of aught-nine to give some version of the Secret Speech. And in fact, s/he might.
Recall the blossoming of liberty in the USSR, post-1956 . . .
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Recall that during the bad old days of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall stood as a despairing symbol of East-West confrontation with the potential for conflagration, but for those of us in the West, it simultaneously provided a symbolic and practical confirmation of the essential preferability of our system. The wall, after all, couldn't stem the flow of East Germans fleeing squalor and repression for better lives across the democratic divide. Slow it, perhaps, but the human longing for freedom (etc., etc., blah, blah), a decent wage, and bread without lines trumped walls, razor wire, and machine guns.
Nonetheless, there is emerging consensus among the renascent cold warriors of the American political right that a wall must once again be built to keep out those damnable Mexicans.
I haven't a particular position on building a wall, which, speaking of symbols, would be an appropriately useless bit of non-functional, imaginary-utile bric-a-brac cluttering up the southwestern landscape. Anti-immigration forces at both beginning and end of America's political-spectrum-as-hula-hoop object to the talk of jobs Americans don't want or won't do--of course Americans want and will do them, they say. How it's positive social policy to free up more dead-end, below-subsistence employment options for American citizens escapes me. But, as I said, I haven't got a dog in the fight.
I do, however, find this opening salvo from Jonah Goldberg's recent "A wall, a wall, my kingdom for a wall!" piece in USA Today:
The U.S. Congress — the seat of American democracy — is surrounded by a giant wall, concrete barricades, armed guards and German shepherds. You need to pass through layers of security to enter the Capitol. Has this diminished American democracy? No. Have the rules of the Senate or the House changed? No. Has the Constitution been altered as a result? No. Are lawmakers less tolerant of each others' views than they were before the walls went up? OK, maybe, but not because of the security outside.For clarity and for the record: he's not kidding.
In fact, except for it taking a little more time to get in and out of the Capitol, one would be hard-pressed to point to a significant change in the daily operations of our democratic system as a result of the “militarization” of Capitol security. You can play this game with universities, museums, hospitals, day care centers, many of our own homes and even churches and make the exact same point: Walls do not a prison make, nor do they magically “betray” all of the principles an institution represents. It's only when you talk about putting a wall, or even some extra fencing, along the U.S. border that — abracadabra — walls crush all that we as a people stand for.
Even the most authoritarian conservatives I know, read, or listen to lament our state of national lockdown, particularly as regards our supposedly democratic institutions, as at best a very regrettable necessity for a uniquely dangerous age. (The more rational among us suggest that it's a very regrettable non-necessity for a not-so-uniquely dangerous age.) Turning the White House into a castle and the Congress into a garrison has most certainly changed the nature of those institutions and of the people who occupy them. Goldberg pooh-poohs it as symbolism; it is symbolism, but it's not inconsequential. Architecture and community design deeply affect our relationships to the environments in which we live and work; our cultural and social lives are inextricably linked to topographies. The militarization and securitization of our hospitals, our schools, and our homes does matter. Goldberg is the sort of conservative who writes panegyrically of the mythical American age when we were united as a people in communitarian harmony, everyone living in a nice house on Main Street, front door always unlocked . . .
Well, if the nature of society is itself altered by the installation of deadbolts and home security systems, then surely it's altered by the reinvention of the grandest forums of our public and political life as sequesters, the recasting of our schools and hospitals as forts, forever bracing for attack. If you wonder why the American people, who are fat, rich, and comfortable compared to just about everyone else in the world, seem so beset by impregnable anxieties and fears, consider that we live in a society in which schools, hospitals, homes, day-cares, police stations, government offices, regular office towers, ad inf. proclaim by their very design and orientation that the Outside is fraught, and only by passing through a gauntlet of metal detectors, dogs, and armed polce--only by shedding implements of danger down to the last toenail clipper and commemorative matchbook--can we acquire safety, security, and ease.
Monday, May 22, 2006
WASHINGTON, May 21 — Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is heading the national Democratic effort to capture the United States Senate this year, has signed a book deal, the senator's office announced on Sunday."Schumer Plans Book Showing Both Parties Are Out of Step."
Mr. Schumer said he was writing about what he contends is the failure by both Republicans and Democrats to articulate a vision of government that addresses contemporary concerns.
At the heart of Mr. Schumer's critique is the idea that the political system has failed to provide answers at a time when Americans are increasingly alarmed about how technology is reshaping their lives — for example, by making it easier for workers in China and India to compete with Americans for jobs.
In every American electionat almost every level of government, but especially in congressional and presidential elections, the opiners in the press demand that candidates or, more bizarrely, parties, which in the United States are non-ideological and so uniquely unsuited to the task, "articulate a vision." "He has to articulate his vision for the next 4 years." Or, "The party has to articulate its vision in order to restore trust in government." Or, in Mr. Schumer's case: "Republicans and Democrats [fail] to articulate a vision of government that addresses contemporary concerns."
The phrasing itself is strange. How does one articulate a vision? What is a "vision of government?" How can a vision of government address concerns, contemporary or otherwise? Whose concerns?
The opiners demand; the politicians produce; the non-opinion press then reports: "Last night in his convention speech, so-and-so articulated his vision of a goverment that does this, that, and the other thing, while standing firm on longstanding principles like such-and-such."
Or, lately, as midterm congressional elections approach, the media hark back to the 1994 elections, in which Republicans led nominally by Newt Gingrich retook the House of Representetives by "articulating a vision" in the form of the so-called Contract with American, a collection of pablums whose few bits of enactable "policy" were mostly not enacted. Still, it's taken to be true that it was this articulated vision which put Gingrich et al. over the top. The public was "tired" of "politics-as-usual." The Contract was fresh, "a new vision."
The purpose (of whom? of what?) is not to govern, but to envision governance, by which is meant not only proposing or predicting a series of actions to be taken by legislatures or executives, but also expressing in often ineffible terms a sort of broad raison d'être for the entire project of government. The language of vision is inherently prophetic, and the language of prophecy is what the media demand of these visionary politicians, who readily oblige because, after all, it's very easy to articulate a vision of government, far easier, of course, than it is to govern.
Articulating a vision of government requires only mastery of a relatively small collection of standard tropes and clichés:
"[T]he political system has failed to provide answers at a time when Americans are increasingly alarmed about how technology is reshaping their lives — for example, by making it easier for workers in China and India to compete with Americans for jobs."You couldn've read the exact same sentence twenty years ago, substituting only "Japan" for "China and India." In the narrative of visionary government Americans are always "increasingly alarmed" about something that is "reshaping their lives." Usually the identified cause of such change bears only the most tangential relationship to the identified change, which is itself presented in the vaguest of terms. What precisely does it mean to "reshape a life"? How is "technology"--whatever that is--the causative agent? Here, the workers in China and India are enabled "by technology" to compete with Americans for jobs. But Chinese workers, for instance, aren't enabled by "technology." They sew on machines whose fundamental designs haven't changed in decades; they work on assembly lines that would be largely familiar to factory workers from fifty or sixty years ago; their products are packed on pallets, sent to ports, shipped on boats. Where is the technology? Likewise, the most common image of the "Indian worker" is the call-center employee who took customer service positions once held domestically by "American workers." Is the implication that telephones and overseas switching didn't exist until some very recent breakthrough? Of course not. Indian workers are Anglophone and cheap. It is not technology that allows them to compete for jobs; it's wages.
A "vision of government" always "addresses new realities."
The average American realizes this in his gut — that the world has changed, but the political parties have not," Mr. Schumer said in an interview on Sunday.What is a "belief in government"? What is a "distrust of it"? The offered dichotomy is false. Distrust isn't the inverse of belief.
Mr. Schumer said that government had a role in addressing these new realities, but that neither party had outlined that role.
He argued that both parties, for starters, should free themselves from outmoded political approaches, Democrats from a New Deal belief in government and Republicans from the Reaganite distrust of it.
And anyway, the "New Deal" didn't "believe in government," whatever that means, but rather, the architects of the New Deal crafted a series of domestic economic policies in which the Federal Government acted as an employer and as a subsidizer of certain commercial and industrial activities, in an attempt to spur economic activity for the purpose of recovering from an economic depression. But our current discourse doesn't actually use "The New Deal" as a synecdochic subsititute for a collection of discrete policies. In the current discourse, "The New Deal" was a vision, articulated, of government--of belief in government. This is a closed, entirely self-referential language. Politicians, who are the government, are charged with seeing and articulating a vision of government. In other words, the purpose of government is simply self-definition. The "Reaganite distrust of [government]" is an early apotheosis of precisely that principle. What can it mean to say that Reagan or "Reaganites" distrust government. They were government. Is it to imply literally that they distrust themselves? No; it is, rather, to imply figuratively that their vision of the project of government is for the government, which is a categorical identity beyond Reagan and any associated individuals, to commit suicide. From which some benefit will presumably accrue.
So Schumer identifies "New Deal belief" and "Reaganite distrust" of government as the two principle "approaches" to government, which are "outmoded," and suggests (a few paragraphs later in the article) that they must located, somewhere, a "new paradigm," which is a telling choice of words, since a paradigm is here used entirely as a synonym for "vision." The parties will find a vision by finding a vision, and then they must articulate it . . . in the form of a vision.
The article concludes with Mr. Schumer's observation that "the party able to confront the new changes facing America would be 'the dominant party for the next two decades.'" What "new changes" will the party, whichever it is, "confront"? Are these changes, like "technology," "reshaping" American lives? Does a life have a shape? Does it make any sense even to speak in these terms.
Clearly not. As I said, it's a language composed entirely of self-reference; it operates beyond tautology, even. It makes governmenance into a fundamentally ontological exercise whereby the governing class explains its existence to the non-governing public by telling the public that change is occuring, their lives are being reshaped, but that there is a vision of government which, once articulated, will "address new realities" and "face challenges" and "recognize change."
That's just the paradigm we have to work with.