“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, December 11, 2004

What would the Gipper do?

In the devastated city of Falluja, the International Red Cross visited for the first time since the American-led military offensive last month, meeting with Iraqi engineers to discuss the city's sewage and water needs, The Associated Press reported. The Red Cross officials were unable to visit a potato-chip plant where several hundred bodies of insurgents and civilians are apparently being stored.

LI has been reading Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The secret history of the Cia, Afghanistan and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 11, 2001. We came across this interesting passage. Afghanistan, 1979:

A charismatic Afghan army captain named Ismail Khan called for jihad againt the communist usurpers that March and led his heavily armed Heart garrison into violent revolt. His followers hunted down and hacked to death more than a dozen Russian communist political advisors, as well as their wives and children. The rebels displayed Russian corposes on pikes along shaded city streets. Soviet-trained pilots flew bomber jets out of Kabul in vengeful reply, pulverizing the town in remorseless waves of attack. By the time the raids were finished, on the eve of its first anniversary in power, the Afghan communist government had killed as many as twenty thousand of its own citizenry in Herat alone.”

If you wonder how the Soviets justified a massacre like that, go to this article in Slate that glorifies the American war crime of razing Fallujah. It would have been right at home in, say, the columns of Pravda in 1980. Apparently the editors of Slate, who love to nitpick NYT journalists’ mistakes, swallowed this with a big piece of American apple pie and ice cream:

“… Most of the beheadings featured on the Al Jazeera news network were committed in the city, carried out under klieg lights with written instructions how and when the CDs should be delivered to make the evening news. The city's warlords, Janabi and Hadid, paid obeisance to the arch terrorist Zarqawi and competed for his favor by assassinations and bombings. They bragged their "martyr battalions" would cut to pieces any American force entering the city.

:Deciding otherwise, the residents fled the city, leaving a few thousand jihadists to their fate. In a swift offensive, American soldiers and Marines swept in and hunted them down, destroying every house and mosque where Zarqawi's soldiers stood and fought. Seventeen-thousand buildings were searched, uncovering cache after cache of weapons. The numbers were staggering: Over 100,000 explosives found in just one section of the city.”

An account that simply skips the American bombing of the city, the buildup to the assault, the American effort, announced for a month, to empty the city, the American blocking of the routes out of the city, the American culling of the males in the city, the American bombing of civilian sites in the city, the American refusal to put up any kind of refugee center for the fleeing population, the American refusal to let anybody in the now razed city except propagandists of the type that Slate favors, the American targetting of hospitals, etc., etc.

Although LI thought Reagan was a rotten president, he said something rather sweet about the Soviet war crimes in Afghanistan.

“The year 1984 was an especially hard one for the Afghans. The Soviets have become frustrated with their inability to crush the spirit of the Afghan Freedom Fighters and are increasingly turning their military might against the civilian population of the country, forcing hundreds of thousands more innocent people into exile away from their homeland.

Reports of Soviet atrocities and human rights violations are increasingly gaining the attention of the world's public. Respected organizations such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Helsinki Watch have recently released studies detailing the terror that the Soviets and the Karmal regime regularly inflict on the people of Afghanistan. Karmal's tenuous, and brutal, hold on power continues only because his rule is supported by more than 100,000 Soviet occupation troops.

All Americans are outraged by this growing Soviet brutality against the proud and freedom-loving people of Afghanistan. Moreover, the entire world community has condemned the outside occupation of Afghanistan. Six times, in fact, the UN General Assembly has passed strong resolutions -- supported by the overwhelming majority of the world's nations -- which have:

-- called for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan;
-- reaffirmed the right of the Afghan people to determine their own form of government and choose their economic, political, and social systems;
-- reiterated that the preservation of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and nonaligned character of Afghanistan is essential for a peaceful solution of the problem; and
--- called for the creation of conditions that would enable the Afghan refugees to return voluntarily to their homes in safety and honor.”

Transposing a few phrases, this accurately sums up what is wrong with the American occupation of Iraq. We particularly like the strong condemnation of terror tactics used against civilians – so civilized! So, in the name of Ronald Reagan, I think we can safely condemn as an act of American brutality against the freedom-loving people of Fallujah (wow, freedom-loving even back in 1984!), call for the immediate withdrawal of foreign, i.e. American and British and their coalition of the servile, from Iraq, as well as the creation of conditions that would allow refugees in Iraq to return voluntarily in safety and honor, with reparations, to Fallujah. We think reparations can be put at roughly 100 thou per person.

Do it for the Gipper.

Friday, December 10, 2004

LI has pondered the parodoxes of the upcoming election in Iraq. In the past, the U.S. has used fake elections to try to legitimize its foreign policy adventures. South Vietnam, El Salvador, Panama – the m.o. has a dreary consistency.

This case is different insofar as the Iraq occupation is different. While the election is being held in an atmosphere that renders it illegitimate as a democratic process – the massive censorship, the arrest of opposition leaders, the way American military strategy has normalized war crimes, etc., etc. – this matters less than the fact that the elections are the first step in relieving Iraq of its biggest problem: the Americans. On Ghazi Yawer’s latest trip to this country, he made that explicit – as he foresaw it, the elected government would ask for a timetable of withdrawal. Yawer was talking about a year. We’d like to see six months. In American eyes, the elected government’s biggest task is to write a constitution. Americans love constitutions. But the impetus gained from having a power, however weak, that had actually communicated with the Iraqi people opens up the possibility of doing many things: getting American hands off Iraqi oil money; negotiating, themselves, for the end of reparations to Kuwait; the introduction of Iraqi concerns into the internal governance of the country; destroying the last remnants of Bremer’s economic legacy to Iraq (all of that privatizing nonsense). The outcome for the Americans, over the next three or four years, isn’t going to be upbeat. We doubt the U.S. has a new, reliable ally in the region. But the U.S. has too much at stake to exaccerbate the natural hostility any Iraqi government would feel towards its recent oppressors.

While LI has viewed Allawi, throughout, as a thug, his latest suggestion about the election is a surprisingly good one: in Sunni areas, the election time must be extended. In fact, in all areas.

The withdrawal of American troops does have a definite downside. As long as they are tied down in Iraq, the Bush gang doesn’t really have the resources to bedevil the rest of the world. However, with combat ready troops available, we know that America, a perennially belligerant country being lead by a man whose popularity crucially hinges on making the American masses identify with his brand of acts of irrational violence, will be on the lookout for another deployment. This is partly why we are ambiguous about the Bush project of privatizing social security. On the one hand, it is class warfare that will, as always, continue the impoverishment of the average American as money is directed to the investment class – Bush’s version of Pinochet-ism. From the standpoint of the American citizen, it should be resisted at all costs. But the standpoint of the American citizen is no longer the standpoint of the cosmopolitan liberal. The gap between America and the rest of the world has widened to the point that what benefits the American economy feeds into the American imperial psychosis. The borrowing required to rob social security will almost surely sink the U.S. into a pretty deep recession. This is especially true insofar as the Chinese, eyeing the U.S.’s military, will be less than enthusiastic in financing another round of the Bush Saturnalia for the wealthy. The lack of money to maintain an aggressive foreign policy might well blunt the Bush gangs’ natural homicidal instincts. But there’s a large caveat hereL it is important to remember that the society Bush’s America most resembles – Peronist Argentina – was susceptible to war hysteria even in the grey tumult of recession.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Over at Crooked Timber, they are having another silly bout of deciding who was the great philosopher of the twentieth century. We don’t know why this compulsion to name the greatest philosopher has suddenly sunk its memish jaws into the Zeitgeist: Leiter did a similar thing a couple of months ago, and Mark Taylor, in his op ed piece about Derrida, was moved to call Jacques one of the century’s three great philosophers (the others were Moe and Curly).

The candidate from greatest of one of the CT-ers is David Lewis. David Lewis! It is like calling the greatest philosopher of the seventeenth century Antoine Arnauld.

One philosopher never mentioned in this embarrassing sweepstakes is Franz Rosenzweig. Yet LI would venture to say that, of those philosophic tomes composed on little notecards or in little journals by soldiers in world war one, only two have stood the test of time: The Tractatus-Logico and Stern der Erloesung. (pdf file)

We’ve been reading the Star of Redemption since we found it on the web. Shamefully, we read Heidegger and Benjamin in grad school and never picked up Rosenzweig. Yet, as everybody knows who reads the introductions to Benjamin, Rosenzweig was a big deal for both Benjamin and Heidegger. Karl Löwith wrote that Heidegger’s true philosophical contemporary was Rosenzweig. Heidegger claimed never to have read him.

Claim and counter-claims. This is a tissue that LI sees no sense in exploring. One thing is certain: Stern der Erloesung does not begin like a David Lewis essay. It begins: “The knowledge of everything begins with death and the fear of death. To shed the anxiety of the earthly, to take the poison needle from death, the breath of the plague from hades, is precisely what is missing from philosophy.” (Vom tode, voen der Furcht des Todes hebt alles Erkennen des All an. Die Angst des Irdischen abzuwerfen, dem Tod seinen Giftstachel, dem Hades seinen Pesthauch zu nehmen, des vermißt sich die Philosophie.” Rosenzweig ends this passage thusly:Man shouldn’t try to rid himself of the fear of the earthly; he should remain in the fear of death.

(Der Mensch soll die Angst des Irdischen nicht von sich werfen; er soll in der Furcht des Todes – bleiben).

It is pretty easy to imagine how the fear of death, and its image as the fear of an earthly creature, one on earth and made of earth, would occur to a soldier in the Balkans in 1916. There is a gap in our historical consciousness of what World War I meant – we transpose, in America, the realization among intellectuals that mass, mechanized killing is the unexpected fruit of Western culture, to a post Holocaust period. In U.S intellectual history, the erasure of the first World War operates as a necessary moralizing prelude to the anti-communism of the Cold War. Lenin is then reduced, by way of Churchill’s phrase, to a bacillus released in Russia – a pathogen apart from history. This is flattering to Churchill, whose history in World War I consisted of a rumsfeldian fuckup in Gallipoli. This is also flattering to the governing classes, directly responsible for the deaths of millions in that war.

Rosenzweig wrote the Star of Redemption after having been a part of the Neo-Kantian movement – after having written a well received book on Hegel and the State. He could witness how, within a liberal, rational culture that presented itself as the creator of organizations that operate with rules to create an optimum of tolerance, wealth, and liberty, the same organizations could apply the same rationality to create vast killing machines, that whole ensemble of hundreds of thousands of men, trenches, machine guns, barbed wire, tanks, and planes set in motion to kill each other again and again, for pointless gains, with an intensity and duration never before experienced on earth.

“The fear of the earthly must be taken from him only with the earthly itself. But so long as he lives on earth, he must also remain in the anxiety of the earthly. And philosophy betrays him in this “must”, insofar as it weaves the blue haze of the thought of everything (allgedankens) around the earthly. Because of couse: an All doesn’t die, and nothing dies in the All. Only individuals can die, and everything mortal is individual. This, that philosophy must make the individual vanish out of the world, this de-creation of the Something is the reason it must be idealistic. Because Idealism, with its denial of those things which divide the individual from the All, is the instrument with which philosophy works over its recalcitrant material until it no longer counters its general (Ein-und Allbegriff) concept with any resistance. Once this mist has been spun around everything, death is clearly swallowed up: if not in eternal victory, yet, even so, in the general night of nothingness.”

Eventually, we want to comment about the essay of Tom Nairn over at Open Democracy. Nairn is trying to understand the apparent seizure of irrationality in the U.S. philosophically – reclaiming the legitimacy of the nation (as opposed to the nation-state, that thing continually bartering itself to the IMF); tracing the working through of patterns that arise naturally from the hegemony of the American capitalist system, etc., etc. Nairn assumes – and we agree – that the major task in the world today is to curb American power. Americans are reckless, sporadically immoral, ignorant, and create much too little for the amount they suck out of the world system. There are, however, self correcting mechanisms at work that Nairn doesn’t mention. We’ll return to this later. We should say, Nairn’s article is written in an alarm clock style (which is something of an LI specialty): it is as if every sentence had to keep the reader awake. However, the style tends to get in the way of the sense. Metaphors keep being sent out to do battle in sentences that witness their melancholic last stands, over and over again (see – sentences like that). However, he racks up a good ratio of commonsense to drivel.

For later.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Chesterton and the "ownership society"

Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? - The Man who was Thursday

He defended the common man and his freedom; therefore he defended the institution of property and particularly defended and preached the doctrine that property to survive must be founded on so considerable a division of land and the instruments of production that widespread ownership should be the foundational institution of the state. He appreciated, of course, as all must, the immense difficulty in re-establishing property in a society which has become, as ours has, proletarian and controlled in every activity by an ever-narrowing plutocracy. He saw that the weapon to be used against this mortal state of affairs was perpetual influence by illustration and example upon the individual. It was his to change as far as might be the very lethargic mind of his fellow-citizens in these affairs. This political preoccupation of Gilbert Chesterton's was of special importance because it is the major temporal concern of our time.

The group to which he and I belonged recognized that the main social event of our generation was the destruction of freedom through the universal growth of Capitalist monopoly, and the ruin of economic independence in the mass. – Hillaire Belloc, On Chesterton.

I have been asked to republish these notes--which appeared
in a weekly paper--as a rough sketch of certain aspects of
the institution of Private Property, now so completely forgotten
amid the journalistic jubilations over Private Enterprise.
The very fact that the publicists say so much of the latter and so
little of the former is a measure of the moral tone of the times.
A pickpocket is obviously a champion of private enterprise.
But it would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that a pickpocket
is a champion of private property. The point about Capitalism
and Commercialism, as conducted of late, is that they have really
preached the extension of business rather than the preservation
of belongings; and have at best tried to disguise the pickpocket
with some of the virtues of the pirate. The point about Communism
is that it only reforms the pickpocket by forbidding pockets.
- Chesterton, An outline of sanity

Since LI has been writing so much about Voltaire – who did so much, perhaps more than any other single figure, to produce what the Vatican lamented last week as “Christianophobia” in Europe – I thought I’d write a little about the opposite mindset. Or opposite in the common view – Belloc, who managed to find Danton a perfectly respectable Roman Catholic, might have had another view.

Chesterton’s humor is the perfect opposite of Voltaire's wit. Humor always preserves sincerity as a virtue; wit always suspects it as a hypocrisy. A few weeks ago, my friend T. bought Chesterton's Orthodoxy to read on the train to work. He sent me some good bits in a couple of emails – Chesterton always made his prose a mine from which you could extract good bits – but I felt like his excitement with the book cooled as he read it. Or was it my imagination? I know with myself, reading Chesterton is an exercise in short term reading satisfaction. I go through the same cycle reading his Father Brown stories and his essays -- they lead me on, one to the other, until suddenly I am more than crammed with Chesterton – I am slightly disgusted. I am slightly appalled. It isn’t the fullness, say, of reading too many Sherlock Holmes stories. I permanently read too many Sherlock Holmes stories when I was twelve. Now I read them less for excitement than for the calm they give me, the familiar progress, the phrases that have grooved themselves into my mind, the way in which, mysteriously, they have become like Bible parrables. The Father Brown stories, on the other hand, I forget immediately – until I read them again. Then it all leaps back rather dismayingly into life. I forget by which trick Father Brown catches his man, but I don't forget (or forgive) that it will be a trick. Perhaps that is the genius of Doyle's Watson -- he absorbs Holmes' trick into his larger astonishishment, taking the sting out of them.

A few of Chesterton’s books don’t suffer like this. The masterpiece is, of course, The Man who was Thursday. I’ve read that three or four times, and will no doubt read it again one of these days. It is completely one piece – it doesn’t exhaust itself, or the reader, with self-enclosed passages of cleverness. There’s the History of England, which Shaw so much admired. A few tracts.

I suspect that the Bush slogan of the Ownership Society came into his speechwriter’s mind from some Chestertonian/Bellocian holdouts among the Right. Neuhaus, the presiding spirit of First Things, is of the school of Chesterton. The old National Review crowd, from the sixties, was packed with Chestertonians. Gary Wills, Buckley’s discovery, was one.

But the quotes above should disabuse anybody who seriously wants to back up “compassionate conservatism” with Chesterton’s defense of private property – or Belloc’s criticism of the Servile State. The idea of the workingmen of America investing their money in equities would have appalled them. Equities were the original evil – the crack that opened between ownership and presence. When the boss is an appointee, when the owners consist of mutual funds – it is this that Chesterton condemns as piracy and pickpocketing, without the flair of pickpocketing. When Chesterton wrote, “The practical tendency of all trade and business to-day is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth-- things that are at least collective if not collectivist,” he meant it. NAFTA wouldn’t have surprised him at all, although he would have found it funny that the same people who want ever more NAFTA turn around and criticize the U.N. for abridging American sovereignty.

Chesterton and Belloc were products of the late Victorian age – an age influenced, to a point very unappreciated today, by John Ruskin. Gandhi was in the same boat. The two former writers took, from Ruskin, a highly romantic view of the Middle Ages. While Ruskin progressively lost his faith, Chesterton and Belloc discovered a whole new faith – in Roman Catholicism – which they then decided was arch-English. Or rather, Chesterton did – Belloc was always longing for the old Catholic Europe. It goes without saying that the old Catholic Europe had no place for Jews. This is an old dispute: did Belloc influence Chesterton with his anti-semitism, or was Chesterton even an anti-semite?

He was probably the last popular English writer to believe in every bit of the traditional order, down to the political disenfranchisement of women and, of course, sexual mores that St. Francis of Assisi could swear by. Even Evelyn Waugh, ever the crusty, or even crustacean, conservative had his little male flings when he was at Oxford, and seemingly looked back with a becoming lack of shock at the whole thing.

D. Keith Mano, a novelist whose work is at present oddly neglected, wrote an essay about Chesterton, once, in which he quoted the passage from The Man Who was Thursday with which we started this post. The whole passage goes: "Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? ... So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter." For Mano, that was the most glorious creed of conservatism imaginable. In certain moods, LI would subscribe to it too. But we would insert a codicil about the particular order in question that would be very un-Chestertonian. You see, I am the real man who would be Thursday.
During his visit, Mr. Bush wore a specially tailored Marine tanker jacket, the all-purpose, all-weather jacket for officers and enlisted men, said Maj. Jason Johnston, a Marine spokesman. Mr. Bush's jacket had custom touches like his name and designation as commander in chief embroidered across the front. -- New York Times story, Bush visits Camp Pendleton.

LI just half listened to another NPR broadcast about intelligence reform. While we would like to investigate this thing in depth and come up with a meaty beaty analysis for our readers, basically we find the whole thing boring, stupid and vapid. We know, from the hearings last year, what happened in 2001:
1. neither the government nor the airlines wanted to come up with the money to finance a security system at airports;
2. various people in the FBI and other law enforcement agencies sniffed out that something was wrong, and were stifled by their higher ups;
3. in spite of not being in the domestic pipeline, D.C. was bathed with information from the CIA that an attack was coming, culminating with a warning to Bush in August, 2001, which he ignominiously ignored.

Knowing this, the public went ahead and elected the inept and dishonest Bush to take another whack at the American pinata. No reform is going to replace the man who, both pre and post 9/11, simply doesn’t get terrorism. The idea of reforming the intelligence agencies around him has the appropriate tone of the way you arrange your household when you have an alcoholic father – you try to find ways to keep it going in spite of him.

One wonders how OBL is assessing his last four years. A state of the disunion address from him, this January, would be interesting. He’s done well. True, opposing a gang composed of people who have wrapped their essential ineptness in ideological anger isn’t that difficult. OBL can look back with satisfaction at destroying 3 thousand some American lives without suffering too heavily for it. He’s extended his operations over the past four years too, from Morocco to Indonesia. Saudi Arabia is an on again, off again thing – a matter of getting the right personnel.

As for his home situation, that’s pretty comfortable. The trail has gone “cold” on him, according to his former ally, Musharraf. OBL benefits from the peculiar dirtiness of the history between Pakistan and the U.S. Since the 70s, when Americans supported genocide in Bangladesh, we have been in bed with the worst of Pakistan’s society – the perpetual putschists, the death squad intelligence service, etc., etc. – putting them in contact with the worst of our society – the CIA veteran, the Republican party operative – and have produced a synergy that keeps finding its equilibrium on lower and lower levels. That the Pakistan president could triumphally tour this country while basically lying through his teeth about Al Qaeda and the Pakistan’s government extensive collaboration with the spread of nuclear weaponry know how is a nice symbol of where things stand, vis a vis the ‘war on terror’ committed to by the Bush republic, at the end of 2004.

It isn’t that al qaeda is a particularly smart organization – the dream of actually implementing the al qaeda idea in some national territory is still distant, and would no doubt shatter in reality. For every move that al qaeda has made, its real enemy – the “shi’ite crescent’, as the King of Jordan put it in the WP this morning – has made two or three. It seems that al qaeda is fated to be the best man, and never the bridegroom. Also, al qaeda has had to bear costs itself over the last four years. You don’t run a successful terrorist organization without costs. That the Taliban was knocked out of Afghanistan is a cost, for instance; but not one that probably bothers OBL too much. Allies – the CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, Sudan – come and go. In a sense, he’s landed in a better situation – he’s protected by a country that has both subcontracted the ‘hunt’ for him and made it clear that it has no interest in actually capturing him. When the hunt for you is monopolized by a timid and disinclined hunter, you can start thinking of other things than mere survival.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

To return to the subject of the fanatic…

What LI finds fascinating is that the role played by the figure of the bigot or the fanatic in the Enlightenment is played, now, by the fascist. The fascist, in one sense, is useful to the degree that he doesn’t exist. In Italy, where there is a real fascist party, or in France, where La Pen plays with the fascist label, the cry of fascist has a different sense than it has in the U.S. The lack of existence, here, opens up a linguistic opportunity – such figures can become pure figures of discourse, filled in by the play of the language. Not that there are no criteria or determinants for creating a “fascist” – myth, in Barthes sense, is never that liberated from the social whole. But the strictures are those that adhere in the composition of a fiction – that is, the fascist can be reconstituted, his elements can be rearranged, new properties can be attributed to him, others can be erased, and so on. It is even possible to create fictions that use him – for instance, the absurd hybrid, Islamofascist, can carry a real weight. This is because nothing like an Islamofascist exists. In a sense, this inaugurates the real work of imperialism – the imperialist only fights those enemies over whom he first asserts the ethnographic primacy that consists in assuming a complete right to the Name. To plant your flag on the other’s name is the essential step in any conquest. The Spanish conquistadors made this a ritual – they would read, in Latin and Spanish, an official document claiming an area before some gathering of uncomprehending natives in order to legalize their theft. An amusing parallel occurrence: Jay Garner, in the first month of the occupation, gathering various American approved Iraqi politicians together and cobbling together some document and then comparing this bogus process to the "Convention of 1787" (see LI post, Tuesday, April 15, 2003).

Amazing how the pattern persists. In Western eyes, renaming officially negates, with all the sad comedy of an obsessive compulsive ritual, the history of the territories the imperialist claims.

Americans are especially good at negating the history of their various enemies, because they have applied the same operation so often and so consistently to their own history. Since our short term memory loss country only retains a few fragments of history at all, we use those fragments to refer, systematically, to other cultures and territories until we think we are talking about them the way they talk about themselves. Read any NYT report from Baghdad over the past two years for a comic instantiation of this national quirk.

On the Left, it is fascinating to see the constellation of authoritarian elements that collect around the Republican party transformed into the figure of the fascist by a conventional rhetorical transformation that leaps from analogy to political ontology.

While we think this kind of verbal aggression is intrinsic to the rules of polemic, we also think that these figures are strategically limited. Which gets us back to the career of the fanatic in the Enlightenment, for the fanatic – unlike the fascist – was a successful invention.

Voltaire was the great inventer of the figures of the Enlightenment polemic. In the fight against the power of the aristocracy and the church, his invention of the fanatic – not that he was alone, but he was the most persistant and creative purveyor of the figure -- did incalculable and wonderful damage to the ancien regime. To see how it gained its force, and how it gradually lost it, is a case study in rhetorical/political strategy.

It is also useful since the fanatic (in the Voltarian sense) is obviously on the rise in Red State America.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

LI does not own a tv. We haven’t for years. But we keep up as we can – watching the Simpsons in bars, spending Christmas vacation with relatives, soaking up Seinfeld re-runs, and the like.

From this amateur’s glance at tv, we have to rate Fox highly. Surely, the Simpsons is the best thing ever put on FCC regulated airwaves. That Fox news, and the man who owns Fox, strike us as comically ignorant (the former) and like Goldfinger, only with a less elevated sense of morals (the latter), just shows that capitalist enterprises are full of surprising interstices.

So we were cheered that Fox is challenging the FCC about the fine given to the network for showing some digitally obscured strippers being covered with whip cream on some show – Millionaire Bachelor Parties or something. This is one battle we hope Fox wins. We are solidly behind whip cream on strippers – except of course if the strippers have allergic reactions to whip cream, in which case we are sure there are soy milk substitutes that will do.

On the other hand, there is an irritating strain among progressives that is not all for putting whip cream on strippers. Not, that is, unless it is for the sake of art. Ah, art. Robert Scheer ‘s column in the LA Times Sunday castigates the American public for telling Gallup pollsters that they don’t go for sex, strippers, whip cream, or anything that doesn’t have bunny rabbits and suitably neutered angels in it, by a 70% margin. Or at least that is what I make of Scheer’s first graf.

“What does it mean that a whopping 70% of Americans, according to a recent New York Times-CBS News poll, believe that mass culture is responsible for debasing our moral values? It means, if the poll is accurate, that we are a nation of lascivious hypocrites. In fact, the lure of sin, as represented by Hollywood and the entertainment industry, is as tempting to Americans today as apples ever were to Adam and Eve.”

Scheer points out that, despite the Gallup numbers, Americans prefer Millionaire Batchelor Party to Grandmother Quilts For Abstinence, a Hallmark Hour special. This is good news. While I have expressed my skepticism about the cultural attainments of homo americanus, we think that there is something healthy about setting the channel changer to the channel with semi-nudity and heavy breathing after a workday criminally lacking in same. But Scheer doesn’t:

“On rare occasions, the good triumphs. Religious censors, for example, would have killed D.H. Lawrence's exquisite depiction of Lady Chatterley's affair with her gamekeeper if he hadn't been able to find printers who valued cash over the church's approval. Today, however, the admixture of greed and art allows "Desperate Housewives" to cash in on the same sex-with-a-hireling story line, with more cleavage and far less sincerity. Catering to our base desires also finds us eagerly paying for video games in which one can spend the afternoon slaughtering innocents and monsters alike, while our prime-time television is dominated by "Survivor"-style shows whose logical conclusion seems to be Piggy's execution by the mob in "Lord of the Flies."

My my, that Lawrence fella ain’t writing for TV any more? A shame. I remember his I love Lucy episodes. I particularly cherished the episode where Ricky and Fred wrestled naked in the light cast by the fire in the fireplace. Exquisite depiction, I said.

Scheer’s object is to label the evangelical set wrong, and their congregations hypocritical. The evangelicals blame liberals for Desperate Housewives, which is wrong, and the congregations watch it, which is hypocritical. We think Scheer is wrong, both in his strategy and his lack of sympathy with the great unwashed fantasies that float above the rooftops every night. By Scheer’s own reckoning, Desperate Housewives is number one even in Utah. So why should liberals disclaim the credit? Instead, liberals should welcome the evangelical charge. Yes, they should shout, we are responsible for the most charged up, sexiest tv you ever dreamt of. Give us a chance! Emmanuelle – the REAL X files – at 10! Fanny Hill’s College Days – oops, forgot that crucial digital distortion for a second! – at 11! Talk about an issue that we can ride into the White House.

Liberal culture has made sex one of the regular bourgeois pleasures. The evangelicals are right. Let them gnash their teeth in the dark. Two cheers for liberal culture.

ps -- Media week inveigled some truly timeless stats from the FCC, which has been acting like American sexual standards, circa 2004, should please Torquemada or your average Oklahoma senator, circa 1590:

"... For example, the agency on Oct. 12, in proposing fines of nearly $1.2 million against Fox Broadcasting and its affiliates, said it received 159 complaints against Married by America, which featured strippers partly obscured by pixilation.

But when asked, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau said it could find only 90 complaints from 23 individuals. (The smaller total was first reported by Internet-based TV writer Jeff Jarvis; Mediaweek independently obtained the Enforcement Bureau’s calculation.)"

Well, those 23 invididuals are getting Rolls Royce treatment -- unless, of course, one considers that the fines are part of the general sliminess of a corrupt Bush administration that panders to the lowest element in the electorate. But LI considers that only a hypothesis. You understand, we are trying to be fair to the junta that rules us.

However, what about other complaints about all that indecent tv?

"The number of indecency complaints had soared dramatically to more than 240,000 in the previous year, Powell said. The figure was up from roughly 14,000 in 2002, and from fewer than 350 in each of the two previous years. There was, Powell said, “a dramatic rise in public concern and outrage about what is being broadcast into their homes.”

What Powell did not reveal—apparently because he was unaware—was the source of the complaints. According to a new FCC estimate obtained by Mediaweek, nearly all indecency complaints in 2003—99.8 percent—were filed by the Parents Television Council, an activist group."

Well well. Who would have thought? Of course, Powell does have the courage, the dignity, to ignore complaints. For instance, the complaints that the FCC was rolling over like a pliant oenophile to allow media monopolies in metropolitan media markets, due to the fact that surely, all the Republican members of the FCC will find lucrative posts as members of boards of various of the major benificiaries of that permission.