I enjoy the idea that anything asked during a presidential debate, whether a tawdry spectacle or a snoozefest, constitutes a "tough question." I mean, guys: D'où venons-nous? Qui sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? I mean, I am all for embarrassing candidates for political office with cheap, inquisitorial, niggling, pestering cross-examination of the minutiae of past acquaintances and affiliations, but a tough question is not one that provokes embarrassment, but rather one for which intellect and empathy are required in the formulation of a reply.
Friday, April 18, 2008
You know, most Americans are imperialists. One of the reasons--the reason--that it so amuses me to find the occasional commenter here ask me why I offer no practical solutions to "our" problems, why the closest I ever come to advocating for direct action is to propose minor acts of cultural vandalism. Being an anti-imperialist in America is like being a Zionist in the Third Reich. I am a fringe radical. If you agree with even a tenth of what you read on this site, you too are a fringe radical. Your beliefs and opinions are not reflective of those of your countrymen. The question, "How do we stop being imperialists?" bears as much practical import as, "How do we live without breathing?" We don't. The United States of America is an empire. Maybe you think it's on the downhill slide? I certainly hope so. But it is what it is, nevertheless. The notions that within the body of empire lurks the heart of an egalitarian, constitutional republic, or a libertarian minarchy, or a parliamentary social democracy are the purest forms of political self-flattery. The subjects here may be largely political, but the program is purely perceptual. I am not a reformist.
For the sake of argument, imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers. That infinitely strengthens deterrence by radically degrading the possibility of a successful first strike. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might refrain from launching an arsenal of, say, 20 nukes if his scientific advisers showed him that there was only an 18.2 percent chance of any getting through-- and a 100 percent chance that a retaliatory counterattack of hundreds of Israeli (and/or American) nukes would reduce the world's first Islamic republic to a cinder.One of the favorite tactics of politicians and their spokescreatures is to dismiss "hypotheticals." "I'm not going to answer hypotheticals." In most instances, the question preceding the brush-off is not in fact hypothetical, but rather goes to some matter of broader principle, the outright statement of which would make the contingent behavior necessary for political survival and prosperity impossible, besides which most of them haven't got any principles to espouse in the first place. On the other hand, when arguing in favor of some kooky program or other, politicians and their mouthpieces have an almost uncanny ability to speak in the cosmic subjunctive, and thus do we have Krauthammer asking us "for the sake of argument, [to] imagine a two-layered anti-missile system in which each layer is imperfect, with, say, a 90 percent shoot-down accuracy. That means one in 100 missiles gets through both layers." Well, I can imagine a lot of things, as my grandfather used to say, but hoping doesn't make wishing so. The last time the government tested its antimissile technology, it actually dispatched a couple of guys with a wheelbarrow to push the kill vehicle across a paved lot to an unfueled mock-up of an ICBM, and they still missed. I suppose it's gracious of Krauthammer to grant 10% inaccuracy within the context of his fantasism, though. For the sake of argument, imagine that I have just won the Powerball, and each of you is entitled to a couple thousand bucks of it, except that I haven't, so you're not, suckers.
Of course, one can get around missile defense by using terrorists. But anything short of a hermetically secret, perfectly executed, multiple-site attack would cause terrible, but not existential, destruction. The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential.
We are, of course, dealing here with probabilities. Total safety comes only from regime change. During the Cold War, we worried about Soviet nukes, but never French or British nukes. Weapons don't kill people; people kill people. Regime change will surely come to both North Korea and Iran. That is the ultimate salvation.
"The retaliatory destruction, on the other hand, would be existential." I used to write sentences like this for my Theory and Postcolonialism seminar, just to see if I could get away with something so transparently nonsensical. (I could.) "Existential" is one of those words that doesn't really mean what its current fanbase thinks it means. All those Gauloises-smoking, Stalin-sympathizing, god-hating French bastards over on la rive gauche back in the day were talking about the nature of existence, the qualities of existence--in other words, as the dauphin likes to say, topics in philosophy. Being and Nothingness, it turns out, is not the same as The Omega Man. All the current talk of "existential threats" has, unintentionally, the tone of an undergraduate prank. "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits," wrote Camus. Amen, brother.
"Weapons don't kill people; people kill people," is a repackaged gun-lobby slogan, and what's amusing about it is that it removes from consideration the principle means that humans have of interacting with and altering their environment, namely through the use of tools. You would never hear a person argue that "skillets don't cook eggs; people cook eggs." Obviously human intention lies proximately behind the use of devices. Skillets don't decide to make you breakfast (yet), and missiles don't decide to launch themselves (yet). Yet skillets do effectuate the cooking of eggs, and weapons are in fact a major means by which "people kill people." Krauthammer's is a pretty low casuistry. He's trying to draw a distinction between the French having nukes and the Iranians, since we know that the French won't ever use their nukes . . . unless, of course, they do, unlike the Iranians, who will certainly use theirs . . . unless, of course, they don't. But since we cannot depend on the Iranians to refrain from doing whatever it is that they're not going to refrain from doing, we must hope for new people, who don't kill people, under the neologistic guise of regime change. This, friends, is the Ultimate Salvation. Don't tell the Pope.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Dear IOZ: I am a Progressive, and proud of it! But lately I've been getting nervous, because it seems that if Barack and Hillary keep tearing each other down, we will lose to McCain, who will only continue George Bush's failed policies in Iraq. My best friend tells me that I shouldn't worry, and elections are won and lost on the fundamentals, which seem to be in the Democrats favor. Should I be worried?
-Heartbroken Over Petty Exchanges
You surely fuckin' should. Who would've dreamed, even a few months ago, that with one of the lousier and most reviled presidents of all time malapropping his way through what ought to be a year of glorious lameduckery, and with the Republicans having selected as their nominee a geriatric lunatic who can't keep the most basic facts straight, that the Donk could lose. I mean, you'd have to pull off some pretty sick self-sabotage in order to let that sort of race draw close. Fortunately, your soi-disant opposition party quickly narrowed its candidates to a hollow-man messiah and a venal hatchet-job artist destined to knock against each other in a substanceless, bloody primary Ragnarok. By the time Obama wins, Hillary will have convinced America that he's one demitasse of espresso away from bin Laden, if you can imagine, and should Hillary by some miracle take him out at the knees and emerge victorious, she will reconfirmed everyone's opinion that she's really the Leona Helmsley of the political set. If I were you, I'd become a monarchist. Failing that, I'd bone up on my Thanksralphery, because you're gonna need it when John McCain whines his way through a gloriously martial inauguration come February.
Dear IOZ: I am against the War on Drugs, but I also think that really dangerous drugs like crack and meth should probably remain illegal. My girlfriend says that makes me a racist. Am I?
-Legalize the Soft Stuff
It doesn't make you a racist. It makes you a classist and a racist. Crack and meth are code words for niggers and white trash. When people argue that "hard drugs" should still be prohibited, what they're really saying is that their kind of people, white and college-educated for the most part, are perfectly capable of smoking a bowl from time to time, but at least they can hold down a job, unlike the sort of people who drink forties from paper bags or cook up meth in their dirty trailers. Denying the benefits of recreation the underorders is just the sort of petty totolitarianism that animates the spirit of managerial liberalism, an attitude of freedom for me and not for thee that grants the social engineers and their class compatriots great latitude of personal choice while using constructed notions about health and welfare and the "cost to society" to deny the same degree of personal choice to poor folks. This sort of mommy-knows-best attitude would be more compelling if it weren't for the fact that mommy spends her weekends on $12-dollar martinis and underweighed $70 grams of "cocaine." If yuppies are free to snort the B12 their dealers are passing off as coke, then by god the poor motherfuckers of this country ought to be able to cook up a fix from time to time.
Dear IOZ: I have a friend who claims to be a libertarian, but he also says he supports the war, and he even told me he was going to vote for Giuliani if he won the primary. Can you be a libertarian and support the war?
-Maybe I'm Stupidly Expecting Sense
You can be a libertarian and support anything! The term may once have referred to a fairly particular political ideology, but as happens with any political label, it passed first to uselessness and then to ridiculousness. Like "liberal" or "conservative," it still has its uses, especially if you define the term each time that you use it, but for the most part it is a heaping tub of bullshit to be slathered over the moldy bread of one's political incoherency. Mostly, it has been fodder for white people with vaguely John Birchista sympathies, a polite mask of opposition to redistributionist government that inevitably chips away to reveal a seething xenophobe underneath. More lately, however, it has come to typify a certain kind of liberal who wishes to indicate that he, say, owns a gun or believes that marijuana should be legalized (see above), although he rejects any of the economic tenets that used to underly libertarian thought, such as it was. A third type, who will soon grow fat, married, and move into the first category, is just out of college, has yet to divest himself of his youthful affection for the work of Ayn Rand, and believes that in the world where the shackles have been broken from the oppressed hands of the very, very rich, he will be counted among the Galtish Ubermenschen, even though it's perfectly clear that his pudgy little ass is going to be pasted to an office chair forever, seething with resentment at the "woman or minority candidate" who got the promotion first (see John Birchista sympathies).
As a sister Catholic, I have a plea to Nancy Pelosi this morning: Don't do it. Don't make the papal Mass about you or a political statement. The Vatican wants bishops to shepherd pro-choice Catholic pols--you can't be a pro-choice Catholic pol--and Pelosi (who was at dinner last night) insists on receiving Communion. If the pope, unknowingly perhaps, gives her Communion, the image will be a damaging one--in one picture, undoing what he's trying to ingrain in Church leaders. She knows this is a big deal. I know it means something to her--but she should have this fight another day.I think it's touching that the cannibals don't want any abortionists chowing down on their god. "No one wants to judge." Now watch this drive! The Tiny Tim conclusion is precious, really.
It's a tough thing. No one wants to judge. No one can know another's soul. But we know voting records and rhetoric and we know what it taught. And I just don't want to see a beautiful Mass become a political statement. We'll see. God bless all who will be at Nationals stadium today, Democrat, Republican, everyone.
-Kathryn Jean "It Isn't Mexican" Lopez
We pefer the term, Person of Embitterment
It's hard because -- like many other Americans -- I am still angry at what I just witnesses, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking.Ah my friends and oh my foes! The progressive heart is the most ceramic of muscles, forever shattering. Were Charlie Gibson and George Somethingopoulous embarrassing? Sure. But I love this idea that the largely substanceless proceedings somehow abrogated the possibility of a substantive discussion of "policy." Mr. Obama, what are your positions on the things that matter to America, like Taxes and the Economy and the War and Terrorism and the Border? Well, Gentlemen, my position is that America must pursue a path of debt-backed State Capitalism in the service of global hegemony while mouthing vague platitudes about rewarding companies that keep jobs in America and hitting poll-tested positive-associative words like hope and change as often as possible. Mrs. Clinton, what are your positions on the things that matter to America, like Taxes and the Economy and the War and Terrorism and the Border? Well, Gentlemen, my position is that we must never allow the debt-backed State Capital economy to falter in order to maintain our global hegemon, because the regular people who aren't elitists like my opponent want someone who will make sure to use poll-tested, strenght-associative words like experience and prepared as often as possible. Thank you, and good night.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
In an article that largely explains what makes me like the French, the Guardian examines the current French tempête over the semicolon. Jon Henley, the author of the piece, collects some priceless quotations about the mark, and although I disagree on the merits, the best observation belongs to a grouchy Vonnegut:
If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.
The larger point was, when we say to the Arab world that would stay in Iraq for 100 years even in peaceful circumstances, it feeds the assumption that we’re there to control their oil and to have a permanent military base. That’s what I meant when I say it feeds the conspiracy theory, the urban legend in the Arab street, that the only reason we were in Iraq in the first place and staying in Iraq is because we want to control their oil and have a permanent base in the region.”The conspiracy theory? Really? Let's see what Jimmy Carter has to say:
The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance: It contains more than two-thirds of the world's exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world's oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.Even were it not for the decades-long history of the American government explicitly acknowledging that the purpose of its presence in the Middle East, the "vital interests of the United States," is to "secure" the supply of oil, lest "outside forces," a category that cleverly excludes the U.S., which is evidently contiguous with the Middle East on some metaphysical, eschatological plane, seek to "gain control," the slightest effort at reductive reasoning reveals this plainest of facts: it is about the oil. But of course no reasoning is required, since the motherfuckers keep saying that it's about the oil.
This situation demands careful thought, steady nerves, and resolute action, not only for this year but for many years to come. It demands collective efforts to meet this new threat to security in the Persian Gulf and in Southwest Asia. It demands the participation of all those who rely on oil from the Middle East and who are concerned with global peace and stability. And it demands consultation and close cooperation with countries in the area which might be threatened.
Meeting this challenge will take national will, diplomatic and political wisdom, economic sacrifice, and, of course, military capability. We must call on the best that is in us to preserve the security of this crucial region.
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
I suppose Joe Biden would tell us that we are in fact in Iraq because "bad intelligence" led everyone, everyone!, to believe with total certainty that Saddam Hussein, that Saladin-manqué, possessed oodles of "Weapons of Mass Destruction," but since your unhumble IOZ, a mere youth and artfag laboring away out here in the provinces, was able to figger out that that wasn't the case, the Argument from Unanimous Wrongness falls pretty instantly apart. In fact nothing explains our Middle Eastern ubiquity other than oil, and the fact that we are fond of telling, say, podunk African pseudostates how to run their countries doesn't alter the plain reality that we don't launch two massive invasions, separated by an air-power-enforced pseudo-occupation, concluding in a jury-rigged ground occupation feating a hundred and fifty thousand Boys with Guns unless the motherfuckers have got some crude.
But folks like Biden get their windy selves up on the teevee and tell the Arabs and Persians and other assorted petropeoples of the world that they are mere paranoids to believe that imperial America seeks to influence and control the disposition of their natural resources. No!, Biden cries, We're merely there to civilize! Oh, I'm sure that will go over like ham sandwich on the old Arab Street.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Maddening day with Pittsburgh City Government Bullshit, so in honor of Barack Obama and the PA primaries, here are the lyrics to the Magnetic Fields' "Bitter Tears":
Bitter tears keep me going
through the years, freely flowing
What have you done
Only a gun
could stop these bitter tears
The endless streets I walk along
you made them seem pretty
but no I dress in country songs
and wake in New York City...
I cry because it looks so good
I cry, why not, it's free
and there's nothing more interesting
than crying constantly...
Monday, April 14, 2008
Weldon Berger, who runs BTC News is going to have to live under a bridge, muttering darkly about the interdimensional war between the Reptoids and the Greys if you don't visit his site and throw a brother some coin.
Democracy is pretty good at pushing scoundrels out of office, or checking them once they are in office. Democracy is also good at making sure enough interest groups are bought off so that social order may continue and that a broad if sometimes inane social consensus can be manufactured and maintained. We should expect all those things of democracy and indeed democracy can, for the most part, deliver them.I was just chillin tryin to synthesize this dialectic, yo, when I recalled Ghandi's best joke. Asked by a reporter what he thought of Western Civilization, he said, "I think it would be a good idea!"
-Tyler Cowen on the "virtues and limits of democracy"
The President of the United States has openly, proudly admitted that he approved the use of interrogation methods that are by every measure -- including the measure of United States law -- criminal acts of torture. It is one of the most brazen and scandalous confessions of wrongdoing ever uttered by an American leader -- and it has had no impact whatsoever. No scandal, no outcry, no protest, no prosecution.
-Chris Floyd on our "deep, virtually catatonic civic paralysis"
But maybe the better punchline, or at least the more germane, was Chou En-Lai's assessment of the historical import of the Revolution of 1789: "Too early to say."
To Cowen's contention that Democracy is pretty good at "pushing scoundrels out of office," the natural reply is that it's also pretty goddamn good at putting them in office in the first place. To Floyd's belief that our civic institutions have failed to prevent determined rulers from committing acts of aggression and atrocity, the proper reply is that democracy (in any incarnation) just isn't so exceptional as its proponents, and there are still plenty of 'em, would have us believe.
So although Cowen is cautiously positive about the benefits of democratic representationalism and Floyd increasingly bitter about its evident decline, they share a flawed premise: that democratic governance is fundamentally different than every other arrangement of rulers over ruled, states over citizens, in the short and bloody history of the human species. And I put it to you: any such premise is fundamentally untrue.
Whether examined on the basis of internal politics or relations with foreign nations, democracies in their various incarnations have historically behaved exactly as have all other nations: sometimes despotically, sometimes benevolently; sometimes liberated, sometimes tyrannical; sometimes peacefully, sometimes aggressively; sometimes inward-looking, sometimes expansionistic. The "freedoms" our self-satisfied civic culture associates almost exclusively with democratic governance are neither as unique to democracy as our mythology would have it nor as absolute in their application--presently nor historically--as our Founder-worshippers would ask us to believe. I have yet to encounter a "natural right" as broadly inviolable as gravity or the conservation of energy, and so I question the "natural." Rights are social constructs, and while I have an affection for most of those enumerated in our social documents, I don't kid myself in thinking that they derive from the natural order of the universe, nor do I flatter my chauvinism by believing that such rights and privileges are either uniquely granted or uniquely withheld in my own society.
This is not an argument I advance in the service of mere complaceny, although my innate tendency toward defeatism tells me that the benefits of "stealing company time"--sitting down on the job, such as it were--usually outweight the benefits of a riot, let alone an election. The fact that "this has all happened before, and it will happen again," as every internerd's favorite television show so lovingly engages the idea of eternal return, is no reason to accept without sorrow and outrage the manifold violations perpetrated on individual lives in this sorry world. The fact that the United States is not behaving uniquely among historical world powers, but rather as world powers have always behaved, neither excuses America's conduct nor the conduct of any other conquerers.
Nevertheless, it is not an American failure that drives us to war with Iran, that has driven us to war with Iraq and Afghanistan, and to countless horrors before them and more to follow them. It is instead a human failure, and to couch our criticisms of torture and aggression in strictly nationalistic terms--appeals to social tradition or legal history as bulwarks against atrocity--is to engage in a kind of conceptual failure. It presumes, I believe, that the solution to our current woes, and to the woe we bring upon others with such relentlessness and ferocity, is to return to our roots, to eschew the mechanisms of the empire and return to the republic that spawned it . . . as if the empire were not the foregone conclusion of the repblic, the inevitable outcome.
To harp again on my own coinage: the solution is dissolution. The question before us is not how to properly constitute polities, but how to deconstruct them; not how to restrain the war machine, but how to first dismantle it, and then dismantle its constituent parts.
Cowen via Henley
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Assuming one believes as I do that Dr. Stuckart offered bad ideas and even worse advice during his government service, that judgment alone would not warrant dismissal or even a potentially chilling inquiry.