Wednesday, August 27, 2003
Good stuff from Josh Marshall:
Before the war, I had many conversations with war-hawks who said something like this. "If this is a good war, it really doesn't matter if you hype up the arguments to get the country into it. It's a good thing. And a little rallying the country is okay, if the goal is a good one and a necessary one."
The thinking was that once you've got the country into Iraq you can rely on American gumption to stick it out till the job is done, even if you weren't completely honest about what that job really was going in.
But there's a problem with that kind of thinking. Once it becomes clear what sort of enterprise you've gotten the country into, it may turn out they really don't have the stomach for it. And then what do you do?
Or, actually, that's an unfair way to put it. Let's try this instead ... Once it becomes clear what the stakes really were and what the costs really are, you may find out that the country doesn't think it's a good bargain and doesn't support it.
The reasoning of many war-hawks on this point was extremely cynical. In essence, it went like this: Once we're in, we'll have the wolf by the ears and it really won't matter what people think. We'll have created a fait accompli. They'll have no choice.
Of course, there's another possibility. The public might start wanting to pull the troops out when the effort has barely even begun.
Today those same war-hawks are arguing that it's a moral failing for the public not to want to follow through on the enterprise that they bamboozled the public into.
Now, let's draw back and make a few points ...
The war still has a lot of public support. And the situation is far from irretrievable. War-hawks want to portray the situation as something akin to the late stages of Vietnam, with a defeatist press and establishment, a war-weary public, and a few brave souls who've read their Churchill and remember the lessons of Munich wanting to stick it out.
But that's not where we are. What you've got is a lot of people who are unhappy about the administration's dishonesty, an equal number who don't think the current plan is working, and a pretty broad consensus that we need to make some course corrections if we're going to be successful.
So let's make those course corrections and give ourselves a shot at an outcome which is good for us and the Iraqis.
One thing we shouldn't do is give those liars a chance to question people's moral fiber for not signing on to their latest fairy-tale, the never-ending-story about why we did all this in the first place. Let's write those folks out of the conversation entirely.
Amen! Read the whole thing.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Brian Blades is a bad motherfucker. Anyone who has heard Josh Redman's new album "Elastic," or Wayne Shorter's "Footprints Live" knows that Brian Blade is just about the most innovative and explosive young drummer in jazz. (Anyone who hasn't heard "Elastic" must go and buy it right now.) Check out this page which has some astonishing video clips of Blade at work with Redman and organist Sam Yahel (there are 4 streams of each clip, depending on your connection speed).
Monday, August 25, 2003
Every modern war opens another window on the progress of conflict. In Vietnam, war burst from black and white newsprint into garish, horrible color; the correspondents lived with the G.I.s, saw the wounded, and sometimes turned war into art. The country reeled in horror. In Gulf War I, pool coverage shut out the Vietnam model of war correspondence, but we marveled as nosecone cameras let us piggyback on our bombs as they introduced themselves to their targets. In Haiti, the troops hit the beach, and were greeted by a crescent of cameras, as the U.S. media had arrived in force hours before the troops did.
Gulf War II was a strange contradiction, a combination of openness and profound control, as "embedded" reporters either did or didn't report freely. At the same time as unvarnished and profoundly shocking reports were being sent from the very front lines in Nasirya and other flashpoints, multiple stories of press manipulation filtered out, from the Jessica Lynch drama to the allegations that Judith Miller of the Times manipulated the unit to which she was assigned and presented an intentionally dramatized portrait of Saddam's WMD in the run up to the war. Add to this the real-time coverage from such non-US voices as Al-Jazeera, among others, and the tangible sense that the Arab world was watching their own coverage and rooting strongly for the other side, gave a new dimension to the notion of spin: al-Jazeera anchors told of monumental victories by the Iraqis over the US troops, while the US media downplayed the stiff resistance. The US sources were, for the most part, closer to the truth, but in the midst of war, the forces generated by all the spin sometimes made the ground seem to move unpredictably. The media legacy of Gulf War II is, therefore, a confusing one, and does not easily fit into any of the storylines one might expect. It is not accurate to say that the media environment was either entirely open or entirely closed, or that the media was unleashed or silenced.
There is another unique source of information about the current situation in Iraq that technology has enabled, and that shares in the queasy uncertainty that surrounds all of the information about this war - weblogs maintained by Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers. Several weblogs have been running throughout Gulf War II, and contain some of the more interesting writing about the war.
The estimable Salam Pax is, of course, the original Iraqi blogger, and has continued to update and inform. Since his provenance has been confirmed by American journalist Peter Maass, one can be reasonably sure that Salam is telling his story as he sees it. More recently, Baghdad is Burning has emerged, a so-called "girl blog from Iraq." There are only a few posts up, but they are pretty harrowing; apparently a computer programmer before the war, the pseudonymous Riverbend tried to return to her job, only to find that the old company was riven by faction, and in agreement on only one thing - it was too dangerous and inconvenient to allow women to work there.
Also interesting, though more difficult to parse as a phenomenon are the blogs sustained (apparently) by U.S. troops. On the one hand, we have LT Smash, who is a funny, likeable officer in the Army who has turned in wry critiques of Army life, but has never deviated from wholehearted support and articulate defense of the war on humanitarian grounds:
the people of Iraq had been trying to overthrow Saddam for twelve years before we decisively intervened, and had repeatedly requested international assistance. But Chris [a critic of the war who emailed the site] asserts that no intervention would be valid without the blessing of the United Nations (Kosovo?), ignoring the “serious consequences” clause of Security Council resolution 1441.
All of this is beside the point.
How many more villages had to be destroyed before an intervention was justified? How many women raped? How many families massacred? How many more children had to die?
From the verdant green forests of peaceful British Columbia, it’s easy for Chris to argue that the war violated Iraqi sovereignty, the principle of self-determination, and the UN charter.
But in the grim reality of the Iraqi desert, such arguments ring hollow.
LT Smash is also home now, so good luck and god bless. The archives are worth reading.
By contrast, "moja" from turningtables ("Spelling and grammer: atrocious, Content: supreme") has had a harder time keeping up morale, and has had a profoundly different reaction to his experiences in Iraq:
it's a 'war on terrorism'...kind of like a 'war on drugs'...and we know how well that one is panning out in america...unwinable...because the more you fight it...the smarter the enemy gets...the more you try to squash terrorists and terrorism...the more martyrs you create...the more troops yo send...the more symbols of rebellion against 'unjust occupiers' you spawn...the longer you 'occupy'...the more people will want to step up and take action...they want a higher meaning...and they want to do what they think is right...i'm terrified of this cycle...and it all seems so simple to me...i wonder why others can't see it...
americans like to think in terms of we...or i...or us...and them...and those...and you...they don't see both sides of the fight...they only perceive right and wrong...good and evil...america and terrorists...many many arabs think america is evil...and they think along the same terms as those americans...only in reverse...so who is right...who is misguided...is there even such a thing as good and evil...
i laugh when i hear americans spouting off with what they think the terrorists reasons are for hating america..."they hate our freedoms"..."they hate our religions"..."they hate our capitalism"..."they hate our s.u.v.'s"...i think they hate us because we make them our business...we come to their countries...and we bomb them...they then come to our country and fly planes into sky scrapers...we then send more troops to their countries...and we drop more bombs...i'm not sure who started this cycle...and does it even matter any more...what is important...is how will we end it...and when i say we i mean all of us...everyone...because it is our problem...
many of those arabs think up conspiracies...they try to figure out our real reasons for dropping bombs...and many of them think that we americans laugh and dance in the streets each time another arab child is killed...they think we rejoice at their demise...they think that all of us are 'zionists'...it's all so sad...the level of misconception...
part of me is so relieved...my time is almost up...and i will head back to the states...i will be reabsorbed back into the ignorant masses...i've wondered hard about how i will continue my life...and i know for sure that the first thing i will do is unplug my t.v. for at least 3 months...well maybe i'll watch 'the simpsons'...because that is the best show on television...but i'm not sure if i even will want to care...i thought along these same lines when i returned from afghanistan...i thought that if i even saw a picture of that country on the news i would change the channel...but i watch them now any way...because i've been there...and i know that place...
people throw around terms like 'brain washed'...and 'misguided'...and 'wrong'...they do this a lot when they them selves are brain washed...by such things as politics...and patriotism...and religion...because how could 'they' be right...that would mean that every thing that 'i' believe in could be wrong...it's easier just to blame others then admit your own misconceptions...
It's hard to sort through all of this and arrive at a conclusion about the reliability or veracity of these sources. It is certainly possible, given the technology, that turningtables is being written by a spotty 16 year old Goth kid in Muncie, Indiana. LT Smash may be written in a basement office of the Pentagon by information control officers. But I don't think so. It's just like anything else - read the posts and come up with your own gut feeling about the reliability. Salam Pax is real, anyway. If nothing else, his observations on the current state of play are well worth reading. For example, this post in the wake of the UN bombing:
bad scene, very bad scene.
was there about an hour after it happened. really bad. very quick response from the American military, the helicopters with red crosses on them were going back and forth and there wer always three waiting to get the poeple to hospitals. ambulances going back and forth. the whole area cordoned off. the worst was having to talk to people who have relative and family in there. it is a car bombed there is no question about it.
you realize this is the second car bomb, the jordanian embassy.
there is a friggin' Iraqi idiot now on Jazeera saying that the security responsibility should be given over to the Iraqi Governing Council. Fuck off, this is not about American presence in Iraq. these attacks have nothing to do with the so called resistance. These are fucking idiots who destroying all the efforts to help this country get back on it's feet. the fucking Governing Council could not control this mess the moment the Coalition Forces move out we are plunged in chaos. We have entered a dark dark tunnel and we have no idea what will happen now.
Then, a few days later, he's back, and still trying to work out what's next:
The best Iraqi newspaper in english, I actually wish they would have an Arabic edition. Tell you a secret, the NY Times office here makes sure they have a copy of that paper in the office all the time they scooped them a couple of times: IRAQ TODAY : The Independent Voice of Iraq. I wish they would ask me to work for them, I am planning to go and beg.
Myself and thousands like me are just solipsistically sending our little musings into the ether, vanity publishing on the cheap. But folks like Salam Pax make up a fascinating back-door media window into the war, with all the uncertainty and baggage that comes with that; gonzo journalism for the modern age.
UPDATE - also worth a look are the various photo pages from Iraq. moja from turningtables has one. G. in Baghdad, a blog I forgot to mention up top, also maintains a photo page. According to his friend Salam Pax, G. (whose real name is apparently Ghaith) was recently detained and beaten by U.S. troops, but no entry has yet been posted on G.'s site about it. Salam Pax's account is quite interesting:
When talking to Ghaith about what happened to him he said that he doesn’t want this to sound that he is against their presence here.
But I used to feel safe when around them, if it looked like trouble go stand by the Americans but now I don’t feel this safe anymore. I hated myself for having the same feelings and fear when I was being detained by the Americans as when I was being detained by the Iraqis. I was worried about the space they would put me in and was hoping someone I know would come by so that I don’t just disappear.
someone somewhere wrote that if it were the old regime he and his family and friends would have to worry about their safety. I do need to say that the people who are arrested by the Americans on check points disappear just as they used to do before; this was one of Ghaith’s fears. The Red Cross has access but it is slow. And it takes the Americans ages to “process” you. I am not whining these are facts. Check the Human Rights Watch reports. And Ghaith’s issue should be seen as a broader issue, journalism and this war. This is not the first time a journalist has been harassed by the military. A British friend and an Iraqi who were out reporting got detained for five hours for filming a tank, the film confiscated and of course the Iraqi reporter gets the rougher treatment, the british has the passport to protect her.
And NO it was not a super secret facility.
Yes I know, before you say it this is what I am saying, you don’t have to believe it if you don’t want to. I am a crybaby and a whiner as some like to describe me. Whatever. And I am keeping my anonymity because I want to, most of you do that as well. Sometimes what I have written and still writing puts me in awkward situations with people I must talk to now and then, and I don’t feel very safe about voicing my opinions about certain parties and groups. We still don’t have a First Amendment.
Ghaith keeps insisting that what has happened to him is a small price to pay to get rid of saddam, but you see this is a bright young man talking. And he knows the difference between general policies and the individual reaction of a soldier who feels all Iraqis around him are out to get them. I am slowly reconciling myself to the idea that the Coalition forces will pull out in a year’s time (around election time I would say) and we will be left here to learn a lesson in rebuilding. I hope the UN will still be around.
Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Apropos of yesterday's post, I should say that while I think Instapundit's idea of a separate Iraqi anti-Saddam underground taking vengeance on the UN for foot-dragging before the war is pretty much ludicrous, I don't think you can rule out third party involvement altogether. As Tony Andragna points out, there is another, far more credible third party suspect: Al Quaeda.
[C]ar/truck/boat bombs are the prefered choice from their bag of tricks i.e. Khobar Towers, first WTC bombing, East Africa embassies, USS Cole, etc. And going after the UN humanitarian agencies makes perfect sense — it's not just an assault on Western "hegemony," but also is meant to turn Muslims off of dependance on Western magnanimity, and cause a turning back to Islam.
Certainly one can see the logic - the Ba'athists would likely focus primarily on military targets, seeking to defeat those that defeated them so soundly and so recently, while Al Quaeda is involved in a top-level cultural war, and views the destruction of cultural icons as equal in importance to destroying military targets, if not more so. Check this out, from one of the taped speeches attributed to bin Laden in the wake of 9/11:
Are not our tragedies but caused by the United Nations? Who issued the Partition Resolution on Palestine in 1947 and surrendered the land of Muslims to the Jews? It was the United Nations in its resolution in 1947.
Those who claim that they are the leaders of the Arabs and continue to appeal to the United Nations have disavowed what was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him.
Those who refer things to the international legitimacy have disavowed the legitimacy of the Holy Book and the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him.
This is the United Nations from which we have suffered greatly. Under no circumstances should any Muslim or sane person resort to the United Nations. The United Nations is nothing but a tool of crime.
I still believe that there is no overriding need to search for any third party in these circumstances. The same people who are shooting at US troops in Iraq hold grudges against the UN: as I mentioned yesterday, the UN was the US's partner through Gulf War I, the sanctions period, and the intrusive weapons inspections. Given the fact that state controlled media works, it is likely that many, many Iraqis see the UN as an actively imperialistic entity that has been trying to get control of Iraq for years. And, as has become clear, the UN HQ did present a softer target.
But if this attack is the responsibility of a third party, I think that Al Quaeda is a much more likely candidate than any new anti-UN, anti-Saddam hybrid group.
By the way, If you haven't seen it already, Josh Marshall points to 5 minutes of video taken inside the UN HQ during the bombing (the CBS site has changed since he posted his link - use mine). It's pretty horrifying, but riveting nonetheless. As a last note, anyone who watches that video and then agrees with the sentiments posted here or here is a fucking horror of a human being.
(Andragna link via Instapundit's updated post from yesterday. Check it out - apparently people who think Reynolds' idea is balderdash are being...get this...reflexively partisan: "This event seems to be inducing an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance in lefty antiwar bloggers, who are responding -- as always -- by blaming the messenger. I guess it's like the Hitler/Stalin pact all over again, or something. . . . Get over it guys. You may hate Bush -- but it's not about Bush, and you're trying to make it about Bush so that you don't have to face what it's really about -- people who want you just as dead as they want John Ashcroft, and don't see any difference anyway, except that you might serve their cause as useful idiots, for a while, before they kill you, too." Okaaaay. Easy, tiger.)
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
I don't generally indulge in Instabashing, because, (a) it's kind of pathetic - like a kicker on a Pop Warner team standing outside Dallas Stadium screaming "You guys suck!"; and (b) it generally requires one to link to the smug fucker, and I don't want to be part of the problem.
But, I have to say, Jesse at Pandagon is right - this post is absolutely fucking ludicrous. Essentially, Mr. Reynolds hints at a possibility that today's truck bomb attack on UN Headquarters in Baghdad was carried out by "anti-Saddam" guerrillas with an axe to grind because of the UN's foot-dragging on the war.
You heard right. In this particular fantasy, anti-Saddam forces are so furious at the UN for interfering with/objecting to the US's war plans that they would commit suicide, by driving a truck stuffed with high explosive into UN Headquarters, and guarantee reprisals against the surviving plotters by a US military whose worst fear they have just realized. I'm sure that they feel sick about this - they must love the G.I.'s as liberators, seeing as how these guerrilas are so anti-Saddam and all . . . head hurt yet?
This is a flip and stupid response to a frightening escalation of the guerilla war in Iraq.
UPDATE: Upon a reread of the post, I think I'm overstating Reynolds' point a bit. I'm still not sure what he's talking about, though. It is certainly true that lots of people in Iraq have reasons to dislike both the US and the UN; they were partners in enforcing the sanctions that really fucked up Iraq for a while there, and there's no telling how the UN inspections teams played on Iraqi state TV - I'm guessing not as disinterested arbiters. But why does Reynolds believe that a "third party" is required to explain this attack? Is it so jarring to him to imagine that to the remaining pro-Saddam forces, the US and the UN are seen as pretty much two fingers of the same hand?
Friday, August 15, 2003
Ralph Nader hit by pie, Green Party nominee blames Democrats.
Not Geniuses finds the story (with video!) of Ralph Nader getting slapped with a cream pie while endorsing Green Party candidate Peter Camejo for governor:
Camejo later suggested the pie assault was the work of Democrats who may feel threatened by the Green Party's growing popularity.
Why didn't Camejo think it was the work of Republicans, who clearly stand foursquare against his agenda of "universal health care, legalizing marijuana and raising income taxes on businesses and top wage earners; oppos[ition to] the death penalty and corporate involvement in campaign finance?" Oh, yeah, that's right, I forgot, that's because the Republicans don't give a shit about the Greens, and aren't at all threatened by them.
Stranger than fiction.
President Bush arrives in California today with his political fortunes increasingly tied to the powerful but unpredictable figure of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Scientists in China have, for the first time, used cloning techniques to create hybrid embryos that contain a mix of DNA from both humans and rabbits, according to a report in a scientific journal that has reignited the smoldering ethics debate over cloning research.
And, finally, this:
NEW YORK, Aug. 14 -- A massive power outage shut down businesses, disrupted travelers and left millions of people from Manhattan to Detroit and north into Canada without electricity on this hot August afternoon.
It's in revelations, people!
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
I'm not an economist, but I am pretty sure that every bill comes due eventually, either in specie or in suffering. Or, how about this - if my 20's taught me anything, it is that debt is like milk. The longer you wait to get rid of it, the more likely it is to spoil. Picture, if you will, a disregarded half-full plastic milk container, in the back corner, invisible behind the pitcher of lemonade you made 4 months ago but never drank. Months after the expiration date, a tiny crack in one corner, spoiled, noxious debt seeping into the inner workings of your financial refrigerator, and no amount of fiscal baking soda will get rid of the stink. So this is about as close to an economic principle as I can arrive at - short term debt is good for you - primes all kinds of pumps, keeps money moving, lots of calcium. Long term debt is poison, for people, companies, and governments. Or how about this - debt is like red wine. Have a dinner party. See what everyone does. One teetotaller has nothing but a glass of water. This is Switzerland. Screw him, he needs to live a little. One couple shares a glass or two, then drives home at 10:30 and goes to bed. Okay, still a little stiff, but no big deal, living and enjoying a healthy life. This is, say, Ireland, or Denmark.. Then, of course, there is the big sloppy drunk, who brings one bottle and drinks three, and winds up snoring on the floor in the living room, burning a hole in the rug with a cigarette. This is us.
Via CalPundit, we find this surprising column in the Weekly Standard, in which Hudson Institute wonk Irwin Stelzer paints a picture of a Bush administration that is absolutely hammered:
In the Micawberesque world of Bushonomics, these are all free lunches: Taxpayers will simultaneously get these and other benefits, and tax refunds, and tax reductions to boot. Never mind that the due date on untold billions in unfunded liabilities lurks just around the corner.
Better still, we are on the verge of getting a restructured Middle East consisting of vibrant, prosperous democracies, and on the cheap. How is this latest feat of economic legerdemain to be financed? Why, with Iraqi oil, of course.
Both Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Office of Management and Budget director Josh Bolten managed straight faces when they told a congressional committee that it is impossible to estimate the cost of our nation-building adventure in Iraq.
Of course, if one believes that there is no price too high to pay for a peaceful Middle East--a perfectly credible position--then one need not bother with anything so trivial as estimating the cost of attaining that objective. But, at least so far, the administration has declined to take such a position. Indeed, when former White House economist Larry Lindsey suggested that achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East might be worth the expenditure of 1 percent of our GDP, or about $100 billion, he ran into a firestorm of criticism from White House pols who believe the American people will back any war so long as it is costless.
It turns out that Lindsey may have been a wild-eyed optimist. The administration reckons that the postwar effort to restore security (read: pay our troops) and provide some semblance of public services to Iraq is costing nearly $5 billion every month--and due to rise. And that includes virtually nothing for major rebuilding of the Saddam-shattered infrastructure. When civil administrator Paul Bremer came to Washington to explain to the White House and Congress that a muscular foreign policy isn't to be had on the cheap, and that merely repairing the infrastructure would cost "maybe $100 billion; it's a lot of money," he was sent back to Baghdad with his begging bowl empty. Just get all that Iraqi oil onto the market, he was told, and our foreign policy would be self-financing.
Enter Philip Carroll, our man assigned to Iraq's oil ministry (rumored to have resigned last week). He is guessing that by investing about $2 billion, Iraq can get its exports up to 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by the end of 2004, after satisfying domestic demand, which is estimated to be about 500,000 barrels daily. (All of these figures are estimates: Some say domestic consumption is only 350,000 barrels a day.) That target is about in line with what Iraq claims its prewar output was, but many experts consider it optimistic, given the inability of coalition forces to prevent the looting of computers, the hijacking of the cars and buses that oil field workers need to get to work, and the sabotaging of electric power supplies.
But let's be wildly optimistic and assume that Carroll hits his target, and that profits from Iraqi oil sales come to $20 a barrel. A bit of arithmetic shows that those sales would yield well under $20 billion a year, about enough to cover current outlays on our troops for four months, or to provide funds needed for only one of the many reconstruction tasks, the construction of adequate water-treatment facilities. But certainly not enough to cover reconstruction needs and the $30-$40 billion Iraq needs "to rehabilitate active wells and develop new fields," according to a study prepared for the Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
In short: Revenue from the sale of Iraq's oil cannot begin to finance the reconstruction of the country. Bremer, in what may be his ticket out of Baghdad and into the private sector with Lindsey, knows this: "We are going to have to spend a lot more money than we are going to get revenue, even once we get oil production back to prewar levels." Which means that Wolfowitz is either innumerate (unlikely), or is being economical with the truth when he says, "We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."
I'm sure lots of lefties will be citing to this, because its a conservative unreservedly bashing Bush and his inner circle, and hey, I'll admit it, that gives me a charge. The article is also notable in the sense that it does not fall back on a curse-both-your-houses routine, where every criticism of Bush must be followed by a smack at a Democrat. In an environment where the Republicans run the whole show, this is really a disingenuous tack, and Stelzer avoids it, to his credit. But more importantly, it just seems credible, and resounds with the "don't spend what you don't got" which was the only part of the message of 1980's-style Republicanism that ever resonated with me, after the age of, say, 12.
Remember Bush, Sr.? Bush I was a consummate political operator, and a liar (I don't care what he says - he was neck deep in Iran-Contra, and every journalist in the country knew it. But he was smart, and didn't leave a paper trail for the Tower commission. He was director of the freaking CIA, for god's sake. Do you really think that he of all people was "out of the loop" regarding an intelligence operation running out of the White House? Me, neither.). But he knew when it was time to cut bait and get some money in the door before the milk spoiled. He knew perfectly well that he was going to get absolutely fucking ripped by the press and the Democrats, but he raised taxes anyway, because he had to. I have no faith at all that Bush II has the ability to tear off that band-aid. It is some measure of why I don't like him: I think he lacks the pragmatism of his forebear.
Bush I was a fixer - Bush II is a fanatic. Given a choice, I'll take the fixer every time.
Friday, August 08, 2003
No. No, no, no, no, no, no, NO.
Via Dana, who may not be linked.
Thursday, August 07, 2003
Germany beats France, 1-0. Giovanna Borradori has just released "Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida," in which these two European giants of modern philosophy wrestle with the meaning and legacy of 9/11 from a philosophical perspective. Two excerpts:
The monstrous act itself was new. And I do not just mean the action of the suicide hijackers who transformed the fully fueled airplanes together with their hostages into living weapons, or even the unbearable number of victims and the dramatic extent of the devastation. What was new was the symbolic force of the targets struck. The attackers did not just physically cause the highest buildings in Manhattan to collapse; they also destroyed an icon in the household imagery of the American nation. Only in the surge of patriotism that followed did one begin to recognize the central importance the towers held in everyone's imagination, with their irreplaceable imprint on the Manhattan skyline and their powerful embodiment of economic strength and projection toward the future. The presence of cameras and of the media was also new, transforming the local event simultaneously into a global one and the whole world population into a benumbed witness. Perhaps September 11 could be called the first historic world event in the strictest sense: the impact, the explosion, the slow collapse—everything that was not Hollywood anymore but, rather, a gruesome reality, literally took place in front of the "universal eyewitness" of a global public. God only knows what my friend and colleague experienced, watching the second airplane explode into the top floors of the World Trade Center only a few blocks away from the roof of his house on Duane Street. No doubt it was something completely different from what I experienced in Germany in front of the television, though we saw the same thing.
Le 11 septembre, as you say, or, since we have agreed to speak two languages, "September 11." We will have to return later to this question of language. As well as to this act of naming: a date and nothing more. When you say "September 11" you are already citing, are you not? You are inviting me to speak here by recalling, as if in quotation marks, a date or a dating that has taken over our public space and our private lives for five weeks now. Something fait date, I would say in a French idiom, something marks a date, a date in history; that is always what's most striking, the very impact of what is at least felt, in an apparently immediate way, to be an event that truly marks, that truly makes its mark, a singular and, as they say here, "unprecedented" event. I say "apparently immediate" because this "feeling" is actually less spontaneous than it appears: it is to a large extent conditioned, constituted, if not actually constructed, circulated at any rate through the media by means of a prodigious techno-socio-political machine. "To mark a date in history" presupposes, in any case, that "something" comes or happens for the first and last time, "something" that we do not yet really know how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar, that is, a supposedly universal calendar, for these are—and I want to insist on this at the outset—only suppositions and presuppositions.
As my friend Paul (who sent me the link) noted, "[I]t strikes me that Habermas is a lot less of a wanker than Derrida." Click on the link to see more extensive excerpts. Read the Habermas, it's quite interesting. The Derrida is a mind-numbing waste of time.
UPDATE: From the wilds of Bloomington, Indiana, and our special correspondent, Ryan Lewis:
Hallo, I yam Jacques Derrida, I'll be sairving you thees evenninge...
Le soupe du jour, as you say, or, since we have agreed to speak two languages, "The soup of the day." We will have to return later to this question of language. As well as to this act of naming: a course and nothing more. When you say "Soup of the Day" you are already salivating, are you not? You are inviting me to speak here by recalling, as if in quotation marks, a soup or an appetizer that has taken over our public space and your private table for five minutes now. Something fait le menu, I would say in a French idiom, something makes a meal, a meal in your stomach; that is always what's most striking, the very impact of what is at least felt, in an apparently immediate way, to be an event that truly marks, that truly makes its mark, a singular and, as they say here, "unprecedented" menu. I say "apparently immediate" because this "feeling" is actually less spontaneous than it appears: it is to a large extent conditioned, constituted, if not actually constructed, circulated at any rate through the body by means of a prodigious gastro-entero-cultural machine. "To order the soup of the day" presupposes, in any case, that "soup" comes or happens for the first and last time, "soup" that we do not yet really know how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable culinary technique in the shared archive of a universal cuisine, that is, a supposedly universal cuisine, for these are-and I want to insist on this at the outset-only the first and second courses. Unrefined and rustic, or else carefully simmered, reduced, seasoned, and strained, -or all of these at once. For the formula pointing toward this soup, the bare ingredients, the minimal broth, the minimalist aim of this china cap, also marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this "soup" that you may soon order, this supposed "course". A "set menu" for example, and we will return to this, is anything but a rigorous concept that would help us grasp the singularity of what we will be trying to order. Some "order" might be placed, we will have the feeling of not having seen it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the "ticket". But this very thing, the place and meaning of this "ticket" remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for an expediter that admits his powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a waitress' name, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing who's soup is actually in the window. We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: Soup of the Day, le soupe du jour, Daily Special. The brevity of the appellation (Soup of the Day) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy-a dupe, a table number-points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to properly enter the order into the new computer, that we do not know what we are talking about....
Ryan adds, by way of postscript: "[It's] funny, because [Derrida] seems to suggest at the end that we abandon old philosophical constructs to help move society forward through all this post-9/11 brouhaha. However, the way he says it... well, it makes me think, what if someone were to say, "Let's make baseball more interesting by employing unconventional tactics and better players." Wrong. Baseball is not interesting. Period. The only way to make baseball interesting is to turn it into hockey. So, to Jacques, I say, stop playing f'ing baseball, or you'll get us nowhere."
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
Explains a lot. King idiot John Derbyshire from National Review Online (see here for a typically Derbyshirean combination of Brahmin harrumphing and mean-streak bigotry) gains a deep and rapturous peace from doing jigsaw puzzles. That is itself nothing notable of course, but what must be read to be believed is the soulful pomposity with which he describes himself retreating from the battle to steal a moments surcease. . .
RIDDING MYSELF OF THE DAY [John Derbyshire]
[. . .] I do occasionally slip into neutral for a half hour. My favorite way to do so is with a jigsaw puzzle. I am sorry: this sounds either infantile or senile, depending on your own experience of jigsaw puzzles, but I find them irresistible. Pretty much addictive, in fact--though fortunately I am blessed with superhuman powers of self-control. I have just finished (after a week of occasional half-hours) a lovely one: a 1,000-piece rendering of Thomas Kinkade's "Flags Over the Capitol," which I brought home from my trip to DC last week. Now, of course, I am suffering from post-jigsaw-ial tristesse. I note that the ranks of fellow addicts include the late great president Calvin Coolidge, who left a jigsaw puzzle (of George Washington) unfinished when he died.
Not bad, eh? A bit of self congratulation for his own busy life and self-control, followed by a pointless bit of French-dropping and an offhanded comparison of himself to a U.S. President (although, it must be admitted, not exactly a world-beater.) But the masterstroke here, and the window into Derbyshire's soul that is referred to by the title, is the fact that he is a member of the Kinkade cult. If you don't know about this particular cancer on our nation's aesthetics, I highly recommend reading this article by Susan Orlean, first published in the New Yorker, about the Kinkade phenomenon. Kinkade is the most popular and widely sold artist in America, a schlocky, greeting card hack who has gathered unto his lightly stippling brush all of the elements of the Norman-Rockwell-without-the-balls, Hummel-angel-figurine-displaying, 45-year-old-beanie-baby-coveting American escapist idyllism, like some kind of Aquaman of American corn. And the people love it. An excerpt from Orlean's article:
My grandmother just passed away," the young woman said. "The money she left for me -- it wasn't quite enough to invest, but I didn't want it to just disappear. My sister also inherited money from my grandmother, and she bought a Kinkade, too."
"Well, that's wonderful," Glenda said. "You picked a great one."
"I just wish I'd heard of him sooner," the young woman said, twisting a piece of her hair. "There are so many that I love now that are already sold out."
"Oh, yes, that does happen," Glenda said. She dotted some white paint on the underside of a cloud.
"I can't believe I never knew anything about Thomas Kinkade before this," the woman went on. "I had passed the gallery before, but I didn't really know anything about it or about how...huge he is. I mean, he's just this really huge thing! It's almost like a whole world."
The painting that the young couple bought was called "Evening Majesty." It is one of Kinkade's most popular images. It features mountains and quiet shadows and the purple cloak of sunset, but it could just as easily have featured a lavishly blooming garden at twilight, or maybe a babbling brook spanned by a quaint stone bridge, or a lighthouse after a storm; it's hard to distinguish one Kinkade from the next, because their effect is so unvarying -- smooth and warm and romantic, not quite fantastical but not quite real, more of a wishful and inaccurate rendering of what the world looks like, as if painted by someone who hadn't been outside in a long time. In a Kinkade painting, if there is a bridge or a road or a gate (as there often is, since Kinkade likes visual devices that carry you into the picture frame) the bridge or the road or the gate is finely detailed, and the burr on the cobblestone or the grain in the brick is so precise it could have been drawn with a whisker. But every edge and corner is also slightly softened, as if someone had stuck it in an oven or left it in the sun. The effect is wee and precious -- the cottages look as if they had been built out of cookie dough and roofed with butter cream, more suited to elves or mice than to human beings. Even big things, like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Yosemite Valley, look tiny and darling, like toys.
Kinkade's paintings are filled with lampposts and windows and images of the sun, and the lampposts are always lit, the windows are always illuminated, the sun usually in a dramatic moment of rising or setting. Light is Kinkade's hallmark. His pictures have a weird glow even in dim settings. If you go to a Kinkade gallery, you will be taken into a special room where the picture you're interested in will be shown to you under bright light and then the light will be slowly turned down, and, as it gets darker, the dark areas of the painting will get lighter, an effect Kinkade has said is produced by layering the paint on the canvas. Kinkade has trademarked the slogan "Painter of Light," and receptionists at Media Arts Group, in California, the company that produces all Kinkade art-based products, answer the phone, "Thank you for sharing the light!"
By and large, art critics consider Thomas Kinkade a commercial hack whose work is mawkish and suspiciously fluorescent, and whose genius is not for art but for marketing -- for creating an "editions pyramid" of his prints, each level up a little more expensive, which whips up collectors' appetites the way retiring Beanie Babies did. This view annoys Kinkade no end, and he will talk your ear off -- even talk through the company's strictly enforced one-hour interview limit -- about the ugliness and nihilism of modern art and its irrelevance compared to the life-affirming populism of his work. He will point out that he has built the largest art-based company in the history of the world, and that ten million people have purchased a Kinkade product, at one of three hundred and fifty Thomas Kinkade Signature Galleries that carry his limited-edition prints, or through his Web site, or at one of the five thousand retail outlets that sell Kinkade-licensed products, including cards, puzzles, mugs, blankets, books, La-Z-Boys, accessory pieces, calendars, and night-lights. Last year, Media Arts Group had a hundred and thirty-two million dollars in revenues. It has been traded -- first on the Nasdaq, then on the New York Stock Exchange -- since 1994, making Kinkade the only artist to be a small-cap equity issue. He owns thirty-seven per cent of the company, which makes him, by his calculations, one of the wealthiest artists in the world.
Considering that this type of hardheaded marketing operation gauzed over by patriotic and distracting images of a country that never was is pretty much the defining characteristic of the New Right that Derbyshire and his crew work so hard to lionize and fetishize, it just seems...appropriate. Illuminating, if you will. George W. Bush. Politician of Light.
Derbyshire gay-bashing post via CalPundit.
Monday, August 04, 2003
U.S. News interview with Howard Dean. A quick hit, and not terribly substantial, but frankly, I think it's hard not to like the guy:
College, Vietnam, and the Clintons
U.S. News Political Editor Roger Simon recently interviewed Howard Dean on the campaign trail:
You were at Yale from 1967 to '71. What were you like?
I had long hair. My drug of choice was beer. I didn't generally engage in an excessive lifestyle. I mean, you know, I dabbled in a little of this and a little of that. We did some heavy-duty partying, but I didn't do anything outrageous.
Did you ever break the law?
I'm not going to answer that.
Were you ever arrested for drunk driving?
No. Never arrested for anything.
You graduated with a degree in political science. Did you envision a career in politics?
I wrote a paper for a sociology course in my freshman year that said when I was 40 I'd be in my third term in Congress–so obviously, I must have done some thinking about it. But I probably became pretty disillusioned with government because of the conduct of President Johnson and President Nixon over the Vietnam War, so I thought that the way to save the world was one life at a time.
After you graduated you became a ski bum in Colorado, then went to work on Wall Street. How did you get into medicine?
I decided to seriously figure out whether I really could be a doctor. So I went to work as a volunteer once a week at night at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. Mostly, I wanted to see if I could deal with the blood and gore without passing out. And for the most part I did.
What did you like best during your medical training?
The three things I liked the best were psychiatry, surgery, and medicine. I decided against surgery, which I love, because I didn't want to be married to the hospital. And I decided against psychiatry, because I didn't think I could listen to everybody's problems eight hours a day. Which, of course, is what I do now. Except it's 13 hours a day.
During the debate in Vermont on civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, which you supported, did you have to wear a bulletproof vest?
Would gun control laws in Vermont have made that unnecessary?
No, because in Vermont gun control laws would have no effect whatsoever. They certainly don't seem to have much effect in New York. Although my position is New Yorkers can have as much (gun control) as they want.
You were once a supporter of Bill Clinton and stayed over in the Lincoln Bedroom in 1995 with your wife. What do you think of Clinton now?
I still think that Bill Clinton has more talent in his little finger than anybody else in America, and really, I think, Bill Clinton is the most politically talented president of anybody since FDR.
What about Hillary?
Hillary was the only person I went to talk to before I decided I was going run for president. I just wanted to make sure she wasn't going to run.
What accounts for President Bush's current popularity?
I think people like the president. I like the president.
Yeah, I do. He's an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him.