“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 31, 2005

sentimental post

Happy New Years to all our readers. We realize that sometimes LI goes off on tangents. That we exaggerate. That we exhibit symptoms of mania that would do Dr. Caligari proud. That we misspell. That the complex grammatical structures into which we are sometimes forced (like troops retreating in disorder over a hostile landscape) sometimes collapse upon themselves and surrender without reaching the magical moment of meaning.

But many of you come here anyway, if not day after day, at least with enough frequency that I am sometimes interviewed by people who want to know about blogs. Giving me an ersatz importance that I can look back upon with pride as I creep from day to day like one of Beckett’s tramps.

Especially heartening are all the comments, the emails, and the financial support. Paul comes here and gives me a corrective Augustinian karate chop every once in a while, and I hope he isn’t disappointed that I have STILL not left off my Gnostic politics. Mr. T, LI’s far flung correspondent, overflows with suggestions and comments – even though he is currently betraying LI by posting at The Cool Scene. Thanks to Alain, Brian, Winna and Patrick for all the great comments – I think that I have convinced Brian, at last, that I am not now nor have I ever been a cardcarrying anything, but I’m just a mildmannered Keynesian liberal – in political terms, a Mr. Peepers currently in a desperate hole, due to America’s being captured by bastards. Mr. Kmort, too, who sometimes rides into my comments like a desperado riding into a mining town for a three day drunk – still, I appreciate it. Harry, who has unfortunately had to liquidate his site, has now become a Net legend – if the Blogosphere was Gotham city, Harry would be one of those characters who, while outwardly a playboy millionaire, is inwardly fighting Gotham’s most feared evildoers. Although sometimes I wonder whether he isn’t outwardly a superhero and inwardly a playboy millionaire – I can never be quite certain. But the uncertainty principle is his crime fighting M.O.! And many others – Dave and the gravedigging crewe, Scott holding the fort out in Berkeley – who has definitely had an excellent year, my friend Derek in N.C., and Miruna, to whom I send these things, and who I am missing a lot this holiday season. IT, Bernat and Cheryl in Barce -- hey, this has gone on too long...

Ernst Mach, making a point long ago about the myth of the given, wrote the following to break up our sense of the always the same.

My table is now brightly, and now darkly lit, and can be warmer or colder; spots of ink can appear on it. Its foot can break, it can be repaired, polished, it can be replaced one part after the other, and yet it remains for me the table I do my writing every day

My friend can wear another jacket. His face can look serious and then become cheerful. The tone of his face can change due to the lighting, or to emotional feelings. His shape can be altered, either by some incident or by movement. The sum of the enduring particulars remains but the gradual alterations are always so great, that the former recede. But it is the same friend with whom I make my daily stroll.”

Words that have a bit more pathos when you know that Mach, after writing them, had a stroke that immobilized half of his body. Anyway, the particulars at this blog may alter, but you can always take your daily stroll with …


Friday, December 30, 2005

When my family got together for vacation last month, my niece implied that she found her uncles – me and my brothers – were so darkly sarcastic at times, so pessimistic, that we were real bummers. I could see her point of view. This is true, this is a bad trait. I resolved to be a little less negative. But I keep falling into old habits, since there are so many temptations...

So when I read the NY Observer profile of Fareed Zakaria, I tried really hard. I tried not to laugh with that hollow laugh that signifies something that is so not funny that it is really funny, like an ICBM falling right on your head. I tried not to produce that self defeating, shit always rises to the top laugh, even as the details of l’enfance de la neo-con leaned out at me, begging to be throttled, begging for me to go into one of those sessions a la James Cagney in White Heat: manic potshots, delusion, the cops boiling up the ladder to take you down. Yes, I read this account of the asskissing, the jetsetting, the patriotism in the limousine, and tried, really, to hold myself in.

So I suppressed my laughter here:

While Mr. Zakaria is very focused on broadening his media platform—expanding his “reach,” as he likes to call it—he is also busy navigating the social one, the dinners, speeches and charity events through which he cultivates powerful mentors and allies. His patrons include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who invites him over for eclectic dinner parties, and Pete Peterson, the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, whose journal Foreign Affairs provided Mr. Zakaria with his first publishing job.

“I look up to people who really make you think seriously about the big issues that are going on, that confront the world, either historically or today,” said Mr. Zakaria. “What I like are ‘idea’ books and ‘idea’ people.”

His affinity for such people revealed itself early on. As an undergraduate at Yale, where he took hold of the college’s political union, he brought in outside speakers such as William Buckley, George McGovern, Bob Shrum and Caspar Weinberger for debates and discussions with students. They would often leave as future Friends of Fareed.”

I tried hard not to take those debates and discussions with idea people, those dinners with Henry Kissinger, as marks that Mr. Zakaria had sold his soul to the devil even before he was an undergraduate at Yale. The eclectic dinner parties – I thought, how sweet for him. I thought this through gritted teeth.

And then, of course, there was this, out of Bouvard et Pecuchet, by way of the Weekly Standard:

“I’m not a reporter—I never have been. I don’t come out of that tradition at all, and I have a lot of respect for it,” Mr. Zakaria said. “I do a kind of analytic journalism—you know, public-intellectual kind of work—and what I like about the journalism part of it is, I’m trying to raise issues. I’m trying to do stuff with a purpose.”

Trying to lie, or do stuff, rather, with a purpose. I wish I had thought of that. I bet you that the respect, the deep, deep respect, for the journalism that Mr. Zakaria is willing to boldly proclaim is repaid, in kind, by the Cokies, the Howies, the Chrises, the Broders – all of that clique which we all admire for their indepth - can I call it indepth? – coverage of the p.o.v. of various Men in Full. So I did shuck off that dark sarcasm and I was really getting into the People target audience mode. And in that mode, I felt, reading the next passage, like… well, like someone who admires and cherishes, deeply, both Brad and Jennifer in this moment of crisis:

“Optimistic” is one word that could be used to characterize Mr. Zakaria’s positions on many subjects. For example, he said that concerns about a crisis in the news media are unfounded. “I think that in the world as I view it, journalism by and large is better today than it’s ever been,” Mr. Zakaria said. “Let’s be honest: The New York Times made plenty of mistakes 30 years ago. What’s different now is that people constantly catch them at it and correct them on it. I think the nostalgia for the good old days is completely overblown.”

Similarly, Mr. Zakaria doesn’t fault the press for its erroneous reporting during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. “We were wrong, the media was wrong, but I guess I don’t see it as a symptom of a kind of bad journalism, or journalism that was insufficiently skeptical or questioning of the administration,” Mr. Zakaria said. “Maybe there wasn’t enough debate about the war—that I might concede. But that’s a different issue.”

The “we” there made me feel so included! And yet, in the back of my mind, I was thinking that that we didn’t include, well, silly people who protested and such, but people who were important and had the brains of ostriches while reciting propaganda that wouldn’t fool a child of ten. But wait: these were people who counted. People who are optimistic. People at Sally Quinn’s parties, for instance. People who are go to people. People on tv. People who might even make the cut, when they write some simply fabulous thing, for having their stuff be selected by Laura to hand to George. Which is simply heaven.

As the article continues, the reader is in for a treat. The NY Observer reporter, who must have felt much like someone witnessing, say, Coleridge and Wordsworth, or Goethe and Schilling coming together, witnessed true history in action when she got to see Zakaria interviewing Tom Friedman, a very close, personal friend, for his show, Foreign Exchange, a show of bullshit and propaganda touting a delusional imperialist… um, well, that is what my dark, pessimistic side might say. It might go on to meditate on how a show can actually be broadcast on PBS with these two clowns in it and PBS keep its supposedly liberal audience. But my brighter side, the one that would love to sip some wine with idea people exchanging ideas, thought no. No, this is an informative, fact filled show on PBS that indicates how far Public Broadcasting has moved into the mainstream, with mainstream shows that count for mainstream audiences that matter. I would obviously have been thrilled, and perhaps peed in my pants, to just be part of this entourage:

“In many ways, Mr. Zakaria’s immigrant success story shapes his worldview. A few minutes later, in the town car on the way from Reagan National Airport to the studio, he said: “I basically am a big fan of this country and its potential.”

That day, Mr. Zakaria was taping two back-to-back episodes of Foreign Exchange, something he does to minimize his trips to D.C. The concept of the show is to have Mr. Zakaria interview only foreigners in order to introduce Americans to the outside world (although the Americans that Mr. Zakaria likes also seem to creep in). The result is that there are a lot of people with unfamiliar accents on the screen. The first segment was a roundtable discussion with three foreign journalists—Katty Kay, the BBC News correspondent; Hisham Melham, a Washington correspondent for the Lebanese newspaper Annahar; and Nayan Chanda, the editor of YaleGlobal Online. After that, there would be a wonk-off: a full-episode one-on-one interview with friend and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.”

Nothing says in depth like your sign off line. Like Naomi Campbell, who not only did not have time to write her recent hot and trendy book, Swan, but also confessed that she didn’t even have time to read it, Mr. Zakaria is a little too busy, as a public intellectual engaged in analytic journalism, to do what he so very much likes to do:

“I’ve never had five-year plans or 10-year plans,” Mr. Zakaria continued. “I don’t at all mean to be immodest, but I feel like I’ve achieved some level of success, and now I’m sort of asking myself, ‘So what do I do with this now? What messages do I want to get across?’ I don’t want to just write for the sake of writing or write to become famous …. ”
When asked why he does so much if it isn’t due to some sort of motivation, Mr. Zakaria said, “No, it is a drive. But I guess what I mean is … I probably have a restless side to me where I move forward, but I don’t have a goal. I’m not trying to get to a place.

“The thing I miss most is the ability to read books,” he said.”

I betcha….

Thursday, December 29, 2005

no pardon for gang leaders

This was, what, in 1988? Around then. I was biking home, home being at that time Newning street in South Austin, and I passed a group of demonstrators around the bank building just before the Congress street bridge. I naturally stopped and joined them, since at this time in my life I was always psyched to protest something. The something I was protesting, I learned from one of the demonstrators, was the destruction of the Barton Creek Watershed that was currently being supported by a consortium of developers under the leadership of Freeport McMoRan.

At that time, Austin knew all about James R. Moffett and the notorious corporate gang that he headed. As is the way with all rich thugs, his name eventually was plastered to a college building – in fact, a building at U.T. I believe his name and an ex wife’s are still chiseled into the side of some building on that campus.

Unlike other gang/corporations, however, Freeport McMoRan is not just a danger to its employees pension fund and its investors. It is a true gang, much more dangerous than, for instance, the Crips. While the founder of that gang recently had the plugged pulled on him by the State, Jim Bob Moffett has enjoyed all the usages and accoutrements that come to those who contribute heavily to political parties. He will not be damned in this life. Meanwhile, his gang has committed perhaps the greatest environmental crime ever committed against the earth by a private entity.

The NYT, who we often knock, did a great job of scratching at the surface of that crime in its article of the other day by Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner. The crime has been carried out since the eighties in Indonesia, on Papua. It is there that the Freeport-McMoRan gang landed, under the regime of the man Wolfowitz praised as a truly great leader, President Suharto, in the sixties. This was just after Suharto was cleaning up the blood of the later half of the 20th century's third largest state sponsored massacre, which killed, according to the CIA, about 500,000 people. The CIA should know – after all, they were sponsoring the guy. Freeport McMoRan adapted its best practices to those promulgated by Wolfowitz’ buddy, so as the years rolled by Suharto’s family showed up on the payroll, another jet set family of kleptocrats. Meanwhile, FM was digging the world’s biggest hole, with no environmental protection in place, in Papua. A paradise was turned into a hell by a bunch of American neandrathals so wired for greed and so lacking in morals that if you cut them, they bled sewage, tailings and hundred dollar bills.

What are they doing there? Mining:

“At one point last year, a ministry scientist wrote that the mine's production was so huge, and regulatory tools so weak, that it was like "painting on clouds" to persuade Freeport to comply with the ministry's requests to reduce environmental damage.
That frustration stems from an operation that, by Freeport's own estimates, will generate an estimated six billion tons of waste before it is through - more than twice as much earth as was excavated for the Panama Canal.
Much of that waste has already been dumped in the mountains surrounding the mine or down a system of rivers that descends steeply onto the island's low-lying wetlands, close to Lorentz National Park, a pristine rain forest that has been granted special status by the United Nations.”

You can’t go to see what they are doing, of course. In the globalized, transparent, free trade and free people world, the restrictions come from the truly sacred sources – the plutocrats and the military – and we must bow down.

“Freeport says it strives to mitigate the environmental effect of its mine, while also maximizing the benefits to its shareholders. The Times made repeated requests to Freeport and to the Indonesian government to visit the mine and its surrounding area, which requires special permission for journalists. All were turned down.”

The article does a little panning for sleeze in the various FM operations – the bribery of the military, the secret surveillance of environmental groups, the ‘administration of its own security force” – Yes, these are the new Lord Jim Bobs. Perhaps, though, the reference should be to that other Conrad novel, Victory, with its three villains, Mr. Jones, Pedro, and Ricardo who come to a remote island in the Indonesian archipelago to rob, steal and kill.

“In the middle, Mr. Jones, a starved spectre turned into a banker, faced Ricardo, a rather nasty, slow-moving cat turned into a croupier. By contrast, the other faces round that table, anything between twenty and thirty, must have looked like collected samples of intensely artless, helpless humanity -- pathetic in their innocent watch for the small turns of luck which indeed might have been serious enough for them. They had no notice to spare for the hairy Pedro, carrying a tray with the clumsiness of a creature caught in the woods and taught to walk on its hind legs.”

The analogy doesn’t work completely, however. Jim Bob seems more like Pedro than a starved spectre. Literature has its limits.

“An Australian anthropologist, Chris Ballard, who worked for Freeport, and Abigail Abrash, an American human rights campaigner, estimated that 160 people had been killed by the military between 1975 and 1997 in the mine area and its surroundings.”

LI is not going to summarize the amazing charges in the article, but you should – the evidence of bribing the military should be enough to get dormant American regulators to fine the company, but remember – we live under the Bush Regime, where the crimes of the oligarchs rapidly become state policy…

Eventually, destroying the Papuan cultures and leaving behind a landscape like some Martian disaster, FM will leave. One can only hope that the investors in the company choke to death on their gold.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Touchatout, c'est moi

Continuing from yesterday:

Berenice’s Gardens begins with the narrator, Philippe, a thinly disguised version of Maurice Barres, overhearing a conversation between Renan and Charles Chincholle. Chincholle is an obscure personage who supported General Boulanger, the rightist leader who was trying to overthrow the French Republic. Philippe hears them speak after the ‘celebrated election of General Boulanger in Paris’.

Renan, of course, is the author of The life of Jesus and a man who, at that time, had a reputation as the purest French stylist. He much impressed Henry James, for instance – although not Nietzsche, who found him vapid and saccharine.

Chincholle begins by asking the cher maitre if he is pro or anti Boulanger. Renan’s answer anticipates Chou Enlai’s famous comment about the French Revolution: that it is too early to tell what to think about it. This is what Renan says:

"Have you leafed thorugh Sorel, Thureau-Dangin, my eminent friend M. Taine? At the bottom of each page you will find thousands of small notes. Ah! According to recent methods there are so many sources to consult, so many contradictory documents, to do history! You have to gather together all the testimonies and then subject them to your critique. I haven’t undertaken that considerable task. I can’t claim to have a clear and documented idea of the revisionist party… The Jews, my dear monsieur, didn’t have universal suffrage, which gives to each his opinion, nor the printing press that receives everything, and yet I am having a devil of a time untangling their quarrels, which I have studied each morning for the past ten years. Would M. Reinach [an anti-boulangist] himself want to turn me away from the monument I am erecting to his ancestors? and where I am at least a little competent, and collaborate on his politics, where I would bear scruples to which he would have no answer?”

Then Renan makes a little point about being a boulangist or an anti-boulangist:

”It is the faith that I lack. That a true priest could have himself impaled in order to prove to the Chinese watching about him the truth of the catholic rudiments, this only half astonishes me. He is sustained by his great knowledge of roman martyrology: ‘so may pious confessors, he might tell himself, since 33 A.D. could not have suffered such varied torments for a vain cause. I might have a few reservations about the logic of the saintly gentleman (and I’d gladly discuss them with you one of these mornings) but in the end it is very human. I understand the martyr of today; the astonishing thing is that there was a first martyr.”

And then Renan says something very cute, which is why I am translating this. He says that in himself, as in his dear interlocutor, General Boulanger inspires curiosity. He links that curiosity (and it is curiosity to see not only if the General will succeed, but obviously, what can be done by an intellectual, a think tanker, with access to such power) to scholarship and says:
“Curiosity! It is the source of the world, it continually creates it: from curiosity is born both science and love… I have seen with some displeasure a children’s book where curiosity is disparaged: maybe you know this vividly illustrated opuscule called “The Misadventures of Touchatout? [Touchatout – touch everything]. It is the most dangerous of libels, a veritable pamphlet against the superior human spirit. But such is the force of a true idea that the author of that culpable text makes us see, on the last page, Touchatout tasting yeast and floating away out of his father’s window! Let the vulgar laugh – it is an exaggerated but striking image: Touchatout floating above the world. Touchatout is Goethe; Touchatout is Leonardo de Vinci; Touchatout is you, too, monsieur!”

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

the elegant protofascist

“The generation of 1890, however, only took from Nietzsche the elements it wanted and needed. 'All this modernity is what I am fighting against, modernity as defined by Nietzsche ...', said Maurice Barrès , the chief intellectual leader of French nationalism, the father of the French political novel, and one of the most intelligent founders of the fascist synthesis. His entire opus is devoted to the struggle against the 'rationalist idea', which he considered 'antagonistic to life and its spontaneous forms', and he berated Rousseau for sterilizing life by attempting to rationalize it. For a quarter of a century, Barrès waged a Nietzschean struggle against the French Enlightenment, Cartesian rationalism, the Kantian categorical imperative, the rights of man, humanism, liberal democracy, the idea of progress and democratic education. But where Nietzsche favoured an extreme individualism, Barrès advocated the complete subordination of the individual to the community; where Nietzsche declared his horror of the masses and extolled an aristocracy of thought and will, the primacy of culture, intellectual independence and nonconformism, Barrès took the side of the multitude, the sole depository of great collective values. Nothing could be more foreign to Nietzsche than the historical, cultural and racial determinism of Barrès , his tribal nationalism, his cult of a strong state. Nothing was more agreeable to the nationalists of the generation of 1890, than a national, Catholic, Proudhonian, xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-semitic state." – Zeev Sternhall, “Fascism: reflections on the fate of ideas in twentieth century history.”

One thing sticks out in French literature, distinguishing it at first glance from English literature: French literature is illuminated by its shits. First rate authors, but shits. The French have Baudelaire, the English have Swinburne. The English have Kipling, the French have Maurice Barrès.

Barrès isn’t well known in America. At most, he is known from his fake trial staged by Breton in 1921. For the hotheaded young men, Barrès represented a certain strain in the French culture – revanchist, ultra-nationalist, anti-cosmopolitan – that had buried so many poilu in so many trenches. At that trial, he was defended by Aragon, who later – in the 1940s, of all times – once said: S’il faut choisir, je me dirais barrésien. » Talk about emptying your revolver into a crowd.

In the eighties, Barrès became a sort of intellectual football in a political backlash against the Foucaultians of 68 among historians. Led by Zeev Sternhall, the “new” idea was that fascism originated not on the right, but on the left – that it emerged from populist Proudhon socialism, and that the anti-semitism that one could easily find on the left became concentrated in the kind of ‘nationalist socialism’ represented by Barrès -- who actually used the phrase when he was running for the French parliament in the 1890s. This debate, which became rancorous, was, to our mind, too narrowly focused on France – a glance at what was happening in Britain, where the liberal hegemony fragmented at the same time – and ignores the imperial effect. However, it did revive interest in Barrès. Aragon was quite right to see him as the inventor of the political novel – the modern political novel.

Which brings me to La Jardin de Bérénice. LI has been reading Le jardin de Bérénice this week. The novel is one in a series that Barres named le culte de moi. Barres politics was limited by his expressed sense that politics was the form in which he was shaping his ego, which had as much to do with his anti-Dreyfusardism, his nationalism, his loyalty to France’s pantomime of a pantomime of Napoleon, General Boulanger, who was promoted by various financial interests in the 1890s as a possible French dictator – his campaign was endowed with some of the same kinds of resentments and hopes that went into Perot’s presidential campaign in 1992.

The beginning of Le Jardin de Berenice presents a dialogue between Renan, who Barres was considering as his master (an odd compliment, since, in the perspective of the Barresian ego, the discipline here very clearly has the ultimate say so about mastership) and a friend. I’m going to translate a bit of that in my next post, as … well, an exercise in translation.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

winter's tales

It is an interesting and somewhat terrible time to be poor in the developed countries. Poverty is not just deprivation, of course – it is a form of life. I know all about it, in one way. I’ve been poor for the last six or seven years, and I’ll probably get poorer as time goes on. So I have a day to day acquaintance with the how-to-get-by that makes up poverty in America. But I have no acquaintance with the culture of poverty for the simple reason that the culture of poverty has been so penetrated by cultural forms generated by the middle and upper classes that the older forms have disappeared. My only knowledge of them is from the vast literature that either touched on the poor or sprang directly from them between around 1600 to around 1930. In the U.S., the last bit of this culture fed into the flowering of the American novel in the 50s and 60s. Read Augie March or Native Son, and then pick up your average American literary novel today – on the recommendation of someone I met, I’ve been reading Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, Lunar Park. The latter has no down – or its downs are all chemical and emotional. It isn’t that the point of view of down has totally disappeared from the national consciousness, but when it does emerge – say, in Rap music – it pretty quickly merges with middle class norms, adopts the middle class way of seeing itself.

On a world wide scale, I’d call this (to use an ugly, sociological term) the sqalorization of poverty. The erasure of forms in question is about liquidating the dignity in how-to-get-by, and with the loss of that dignity goes the loss of a point of view. The point of view is then turned into something that is simply want. This suits the intellectual norms of the governing class to a tee – all sides of the ideological divide essentially define poverty in terms of want. It is a consumer group at low ebb.

Hmm, depressing stuff for the holidays there, Mr. LI. But it is important to remember certain cold human truths when reading economists. As in the article by RBA that we referenced yesterday.

RBA’s point in the article is to shoot down a few of the recent myths about international trade, aid, and less developed countries –LDCs, as they are known among the international headhunters. These myths fluctuate. Although RBA doesn’t point it out, the current controversies over agriculture demonstrate how the right can shift left and the left can shift right without anyone knowing or caring. In the fifties, when the literature on LDCs were born, there was one truth that was held to be self evident – the path to wealth was paved by diminishing the labor pool attached to the agricultural sector and building up the industrial sector. It was right wing economists, notably Peter Bauer, who criticized the nascent Cold War model – a model very influenced by what seemed to be the Stalinist success in industrializing a supposedly moribund and stagnant economy. Now, of course, it is the left that defends the indigenous structures that make up the agricultural sector, while the right calls for the end of trade barriers in order to bring about international agricultural efficiencies. In essence, the liberalization argument is that the wealthy economies, by subsidizing their agricultural sectors, are penalizing farmers in the third world by making third world goods too expensive to compete.

RBA shoots down this argument with relative ease, I think::

“Yet the reality is that liberalizing agricultural trade would largely benefit the consumers and taxpayers of the wealthy nations. Why? Because agricultural subsidies serve first and foremost to transfer resources from consumers and taxpayers to farmers within the same country. Thus, citizens of developed countries would derive the most benefit from having those subsidies cut. Other countries are affected only insofar as world prices rise. But the big, clear gainers from such price increases would be countries that are large net exporters of agricultural products-rich countries, such as the United States, and middle-income countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Thailand.

What about the poorer countries? For one thing, many poor countries are actually net importers of agricultural products, and so they benefit from low world prices. An increase in prices may help the rural poor, who sell the agricultural goods, but it would make the urban poor-the consumers--worse off. Net poverty could still be reduced, but to what extent depends in complicated fashion on the working condition of roads and the markets for fertilizer and other inputs, on how much of the gains are captured by poor farmers versus intermediaries, and on the poverty profile of each country.”

Underneath this reasoning, one sees the old idea still working away. To gain the technostructure of modern agriculture in order to capture the benefit from the liberalized regime, farmers would be subject to the same invisible hand that has swept across the U.S. and other developed countries, making it almost impossible for the family farmer to compete with agribusinesses. Not that it is absolutely impossible: niches are still viable: organic foods, some kinds of truck farming, etc. That hand has already moved across the third world, which is why the third world has gone to the cities. Stalin’s collectivization of the Ukraine was a criminal variant of the current of history, perhaps the most important current of history, of the past one hundred years: the collapse of the peasant culture. Perhaps it is this collapse that has lead to the squalorization of poverty – perhaps there is an intrinsic, but hard to suss out connection between peasant culture and the poverty’s former forms of life. The underground connection between these worlds – worlds of the urban masses and the rural masses – can be seen in Giovanni Verga’s wonderful novel, The House by the Medlar Tree, which chronicles the fall of the house of the Malavoglia. Malavoglia are fishermen, not farmers, and so inherently more mobile. But the mobility between the village and the metropolis is on very old routes of custom that you can see underneath all the realistic and naturalistic novels of the nineteenth century – from Lucien de Rubempre’s trip to Paris to Eugenie Grandet’s encounter with a dandy.

Wow, I’m not sure I want to keep going on such a downer subject. And it’s Saturnalia Eve!

Sorry. Good night, sweet ladies, good night, sweet ladies, sweet ladies good night.

Friday, December 23, 2005

a grim gray cloud in the form of a post

RBA – as I am going to call the collective authorship of How to Help Poor Countries – begin their article with a comparison between Nicaragua and Vietnam.

This is a clever comparison. Both countries were majorly fucked with by the U.S., both were Cold War hotspots, and each went a separate path – the Vietnamese went supposedly left, with the victory of the communists, and the Nicaraguans went supposedly right, with the victory of the anti-Sandinista forces.

So what has happened to these two countries? The small summary goes like this:

“Vietnam faced a U.S. embargo until 1994, and it is still not a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Despite these obstacles, it has found markets for its growing exports of coffee and other agricultural products and has successfully begun diversifying into manufacturing as well, especially of textiles. Nicaragua, on the other hand, benefits from preferential access to the lucrative U.S. market and had several billion dollars of its official debt written off in the 1990s. Yet its coffee and clothing export industries have not been able to compete with Vietnam's.”

The large summary would emphasize a couple of other features. For one thing, Nicaragua has never had the resources, size, educated population, or leadership that Vietnam has had. For a while, under Somoza, the most flourishing export industry in Nicaragua was, literally, blood. The largest blood bank in the world was located in Managua, and through that blood bank, as sloppy and corrupt affair as everything else Somoza touched, was diffused little gifts to the world – HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis.

Douglas Starr, in Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce,
penned that little history, although few economists have pondered the fact that paying for blood significantly increases the chance that the blood will be infected. (But see CT’s Kieran for an interesting paper here ). I could go on with another depressing tale from Central America that mingles magical realism and fact – for instance, the fact that the revolution against Somoza, which is usually dated to the assassination of the editor of the one opposition newspaper in Nicaragua, could be laid at the feet of the plasma center, since the assassination was carried out by “Pedro Ramos, a Cuban American entrepreneur whose business had been attacked by La Prensa. Mr. Ramos owned a plasma processing clinic—Plasmaferesis—which used to buy blood from any Nicaraguan and then send the plasma products to the United States. Plasmaferesis was commonly known by the people as the "House of the Vampires."

In any case, the situation of Nicaragua, looked at from the view point of the international economy, is, to say the least, challenging. Besides blood, what can the country export? And is it the case that export is its only hope? These questions are generally not asked when people write about Nicaragua, since the concern is with land reform, free markets, democratization, and the whole NGO neo-liberal nine yards. But as so often, cutting to the chase is sorta difficult, since the chase is in a maze of economic jargon and agendas that are developed for constituencies far from Nicaragua. The chase for this post is measured by whether the average citizen is getting richer or poorer. By that standard, according to the EU, Nicaragua is in bad shape: the average person has gotten poorer since 1993. But you wouldn’t know that if you read a gung ho Country report about Nicaragua. The latest one, issued in June, 2005, reads:

“According to the latest revision of official data, the Nicaraguan economy grew 5.1% in 2004; a remarkable recovery when compared with the sluggish 2.3% rate recorded in 2003. The Central Bank explained that one-third of the economic growth was due to public and private construction, and was fueled by the tourism sector. We forecast economic growth of 3.9% in 2005, backed by public and private investment,
consumption stimulated by family remittances, and an expanded supply of private credit. Political conditions, however, prevent a faster recovery. During the rest of the forecast period, we foresee continued growth driven by DR-CAFTA (assuming that the National Assembly approves the treaty).

We foresee a larger trade deficit in 2005, due mainly to the faster growth of imports related to higher prices and volumes. In the medium term, the reduction of interest payments on external debt tied to the debt relief and faster disbursements of external loans would offset the trade imbalance. Therefore, we can expect a drop-off of the current-account deficit in 2005 and beyond, which would strengthen international reserves, and comfortably manage the exchange-rate path toward its continued deceleration.”

You can access the current stats on Nicaragua here.

That the GDP growth rate can be divorced entirely from the average person’s own average person domestic product is the result of the usual policy of squeezing the orange. The Country Report is bubbling with enthusiasm that the government is cutting its deficit. In fact, many of the loans out to the government, which it is paying back, are tied to the government cutting its deficit. Now, do you wonder where the burden of that deficit reduction miracle is falling? Do you think the government is raising the amount it applies to education, and cutting any construction program that is merely graft, shunting money to a corrupt elite? Do you want to buy a bridge I own in Brooklyn?

We’ll end this post – a sort of laying out the problem in the style of Tristam Shandy, as it were - with a quote from RBA’s article, citing the experience of another country:

“Witness the case of Mexico. It has the advantage of sharing a 2,000-mile border with the world's greatest economic power. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, the United States has given Mexican goods duty-free access to its markets, has made huge investments in the Mexican economy, and has continued to absorb millions of Mexican laborers. During the 1994-95 peso crisis, the U.S. Treasury even underwrote Mexico's financial stability. Outside economic help does not get much better. But since 1992, Mexico's economy has grown at an annual average rate of barely more than one percent per capita. This figure is far less than the rates of the Asian growth superstars. It is also a fraction of Mexico's own growth of 3.6 percent per year in the two decades that preceded its 1982 debt crisis. Access to external markets and resources has not been able to make up for Mexico's internal problems.”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

prolegomena to a snoozer

LI has noticed a holiday decline in readership, which is just as well, since we have a yen to write extensively about the problem of primary product exporters finding their niche in the world economy. This topic will definitely put the kids to sleep.

Still, Brian’s comments on our Bolivian post express a certain understandable weariness in the developed countries (which used to be called the industrialized countries – but industrialization is no longer the sine qua non of wealth, right?) about the resiliency of poverty, and the cycle of ideological policies that have been put in place to “cure” it in underdeveloped countries. Countries like Bolivia.

I am not nearly so pessimistic. Which brings me to the article in August’s Foreign Affairs, How to Help Poor Countries, written by three heavyweights in the development economics field: Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, and Arvind Subramanian. Actually, Subramanian is not a name I am as familiar with as Birdsall and Rodrik, but what the hay.

In my next post, I’m gonna dive into the article. It should be a real snoozer – but I am compelled by a strange power, like the hero in an Edgar Alan Poe story, to seek out the more bizarre realms of Morpheus as the house of Usher crashes into picturesque ruin behind me.

Oh, and a note for readers, if you please. This has been a terribly slow month for editing. My last job was last week, and it was a small one. If anyone knows of upcoming academic conferences anywhere, mail me the details. I’m mailing out my own spam/advert to the organizers of conferences in the vague hope that these people might post it, and I might gather a clientele.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

the Vacation

"We but teach / Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return / To plague th' inventor. This even-handed justice / Commends th' ingredience of our poison'd chalice / To our own lips" -- Macbeth, I, vii, 8-12

One of the more fascinating aspects of Macbeth is how Macbeth’s deed becomes embodied in various ways – as a ghost, as Macbeth’s wife’s madness, and as a prophecy about Burnam wood. The return of the repressed, here, cannot only not be repressed, but can’t even be predicted.

This multiple embodiment of a crime, an event that won’t act like an event and go away, has a lot of psychological plausibility. We can see a certain MacBeth like pattern in the way Bush operates. Whenever Bush truly fails, does something colossally bad, he will always return to it as an excuse for further action. I’ve never seen a president so use his failures to legitimate his demands. It is scary. And it has happened again. The LA Times is reporting that Bush is trying to justify his overriding of the legal procedures for wiretapping by referring to his greatest failure while in office:

In his radio address Saturday, Bush said two of the hijackers who helped fly a jet into the Pentagon — Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar — had communicated with suspected Al Qaeda members overseas while they were living in the U.S.

"But we didn't know they were here until it was too late," Bush said. "The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities."

But some current and former high-ranking U.S. counter-terrorism officials say that the still-classified details of the case undermine the president's rationale for the recently disclosed domestic spying program.

Indeed, a 2002 inquiry into the case by the House and Senate intelligence committees blamed interagency communication breakdowns — not shortcomings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any other intelligence-gathering guidelines.”

LI has been thinking of doing a temporary blog project. It would be called: the Vacation. Like those blogs that track Pepys day by day, this would be a day by day account of the Bush’s Vacation in 2001. Each day would track what we know Bush did, and what we know was happening in the country and the world at the time – what Atta was doing, what was happening in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, etc. It would begin, of course, a little before the vacation: on August 6, of course, the day Bush might have read, or – if it was too difficult – might have had explained to him the Presidential Daily Brief he received entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S." This would be an interesting project, since we still don’t know – and the Press has no interest in – what was happening in the intersection between the administration and the bureaucracy after Bush was alerted to the possibility of Al Qaeda attack. A little mapping of that time would reveal, at least, holes in our knowledge. For instance, we still don’t know if Bush directed Secretary of Transportation Mineta to be in the loop after he had supposedly absorbed the brief. A minor but telling thing, since we do know that the case of Ahmed Ressam, the man who was planning on blowing up the L.A. Airport, was well known. In Bush’s lie about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar we certainly have a MacBethian moment – for don’t their ghosts, and the ghosts of the people they killed, haunt the Oval Office? The return to those ghosts again and again, and the attempt to redo that history, is a rather pathetic thing, instancing as it does not the determination of a strong leader but the fugue of an unprepared and, it turns out, naturally unpreparable one. I am surprised that there haven’t been any books about The Vacation – it would make a great little attack book.

But I suppose that would be unseemly. Journalists, as we know, don’t want to be unseemly or partisan. Because it wouldn’t be right. But it might be just the kind of blog that would be fun – at least as much fun as licking the blood from a wound. Because blogging isn't seemly -- as the Political editor of the Washington Post said, it is just being part of the crankosphere.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sympathy for the militias

Reading the blog conversation about the President’s illegal wiretaps, I don’t know what is more frightening: the President’s action, or the liberal critics who are crying out that, after all, a rubber stamp court will pretty much allow the executive branch to do what it wants to ride roughshod over our rights. The liberal criticism seems nuts to me -- the point should be that are rights have been shamefully eroded by this secret court anyway.

Again and again, we have to bring ourselves back to the lodestone of reality. In reality, the threat posed by the terrorists has produced this: nineteen guys, for less than a million dollars, were able to take flying lessons, make some homemade bombs, get some box cutters, and take four planes. Now, in terms of war, the threat for forty seven years after 1945 was that planes or missiles would appear in the sky – expensive planes and missiles, costing billions of dollars – and wipe out city and town, to the tune of 40 million to 100 million deaths. Yet, during that time, the U.S. was able not only to preserve the fundamental civil rights, but expand them greatly. The various House and Senate investigations in the seventies created the impetus to create a whole new barrier against encroaching on the citizen’s right not to be spied on, and it made not one dime’s worth of differenc to the Cold War.

The war on terrorism is, of course, not a war at all, but a metaphor. The war on a particular group of terrorists, conducted by Bush, has been so out of sight that we are calmly watching small terrorist organizations build up again. They will no doubt strike on their own cycle. Big news: they exist in Pakistan and in Bangladesh. Other news: we could have crushed the core of them in Afghanistan. And still other news; we didn’t because they are not a priority. They have never been a priority. This administration does not believe for a second that Al qaeda poses a threat to the U.S.

On the other hand, there is the greater threat that the Republican dominance dreamt of by Karl Rove might be overthrown. We’ve already seen Tom Delay use the office of Home(exceptforthegulfcoast)land security to put in place his redistricting theft in Texas – a theft that, incidentally, took away my, and Austin’s, representative in the House.

So here is a question for ya. We recently saw Pat Robertson threaten the President of Chavez with assassination. And we recently saw the FBI admit to “infiltrating” Peta for “terrorist” activity. Here’s a pop question: whose overseas calls do you think will be wiretapped?

It is at times like these that I must admit to supporting the right to bear arms from more than rational, market-driven reasons. We have right bastards in office, and they are definitely gnawing on our rights for their own slimey political ends.

And let’s end this, well, the President already has and needs every power in the world to violate our rights so that 19 guys don’t hijack another 4 planes. If the 19 guys come, it will be due to the fact that the taps are worthless, the commander in chief is clueless, and the ability of the FBI to really integrate its investigations with, say, those of European police agencies is still at Grade C. We already know what this president does when presented with a memo that says Al qaeda attack imminent in the U.S. He takes a vacation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

five points about iraq

To understand what is happening in Iraq through the medium of the American press is much like estimating the height of a distant mountain through a heavy fog. But sometimes the fog lifts. This election, for instance, has thrown a startling, and no doubt ephemeral, contrast between the agencies of projection – the media, the D.C. clique, and the Snopes cocoon - and reality. The NYT today, which had based its delusional reporting on John Burns’ paen to the latent Americophilia in the Baghdad streets on election day and an account, echoing an account in the WP, of an obscure secularist candidate in Basra to which reporters had been herded, no doubt, by U.S. army spokesman, now gives us this hilarious phrase:
“What was also apparent was the staunchly religious nature of the electorate, in a country that many experts had proclaimed before the American-led invasion to have a large secular middle class.”

Ah, the passivity of experts, and the coyness of reporters. The machine has written, and having written, passes on.

Still, for that vast, vast minority that actually pays attention, a few things to note.

1. The election was proceeded by the publication of a poll, conducted by the Oxford Research Institute and supported by the BBC, ABC, etc. The poll was much discussed on the blogs. LI thought that the poll vastly overcounted one segment of the Iraqi population – that “large secular middle class.” Well, LI can gleefully say we were right. The ORI poll isn’t even within shooting distance of the results. While that seems a small and parochial thing, it indicates a large and non-parochial matter – the American press, and the American political establishment, simply can’t penetrate to or establish any relationship to an Iraqi populace that, at the moment, is undergoing incipient civil war plus incipient Great Depression. If Iraq really is suffering a rate of unemployment of 60%, the underlying and real American policy towards Iraq – privatize the oil – is a pipe dream. It is not only a pipe dream, but it is being pursued by means that are blowing up in our face.
2. The neurotic pattern for discussing this war is to ignore these moments of clarity and delve, infinitely, into the American cocoon. That is why the hot issue remains the invasion itself, instead of the occupation. LI was opposed to the invasion, but our opposition was not based on what was good for Iraq. It was based on what was good for America. It was good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein fall – that was obvious, and has been obvious. It would have been good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein be captured by Iraqi partisans and be given the Mussolini treatment.
3. However, what was bad for Iraq from the getgo, and is now a disaster for America, was acceding to the imperialist impulse and occupying a country that could handle its own affairs better than any foreign proconsul could. Immediate elections, a cancellation of Iraqi debt and war reparations, and withdrawal of the Coalition forces by the end of 2003 – that would have been the wisest course for both parties.
4. We know how Iraq has suffered due to American incompetence and war crimes. But take a look, for a second, at how American interest has suffered. American interest can’t be to liberalize and seize the oil sources in the Middle East – that will lead to less oil, for one thing, as oil becomes a victim to violence. American interest should be to stabilize the Middle East to the extent that two of the region’s main players, Iran and Israel, come to some non-hostile accord. Instead, this happened: just as the Iranian revolution led to a surge in Islamic fundamentalist violence throughout the region, the American incubation of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq has been the predictor of the hard line victory in Iran. First Basra, then Teheran – that is the structural logic here. It is, of course, not even seen by Americans who think the world is watching American Idol with breathless anticipation. The world isn’t.
5. To those who think that it is good that America loses in the Middle East, I would ask who bears the cost of that loss. True, American prestige is probably fated to either diminish or transform as time goes on – this is what happens to debt-ridden empires. But American power is a wild card, and simply baiting it is a game in which other people – millions of people – are hurt. And, frankly, living inside the Behemoth, I have no desire for the Behemoth to be scattered to the winds. Jeremiah was ascetic enough to like living in the well into which he’d been thrown – but yours truly likes his trips to Whole Foods. The idea that American losses under Bush give us room to jibe at Bush is, well, a contagious infantile disorder. There is more going on here than sticking it to the retarded Texan. American narcissism knows no ideological boundaries.

PS - those who like their news from Iraq to be all happy and pro-war might be interested in this column in the New York Sun -- which is somewhat to the right of the NYPost -- written by one of those adorable Iraqi bloggers cultivated by the Neocon crowd. Lovely stuff like this:

"Iran's mullahs, who are increasingly getting belligerent across the board, pulled off a coup in Baghdad right under the very noses of the United States."

We also liked the comment about Sistani being a communist. Wow, and I thought the Iraqi communists, solidly supporting Allawi, were proof positive of the new, democratic wave sweeping through the Middle East! I guess it is time for the old switcheroo, and bringing out the commie menace card. We are menaced by the commies that we are fighting for... A little confusing, no? I'm just so... surprised that Chalabi has a constituency of 0.00001 percent in Iraq, when it comes down to it. Gee, besides having guessed it in almost every post I've ever written about Iraq, I gotta say: who coulda guessed it? Especially as the NYT and the Washington Post have featured him with a monomaniacal intensity every time they talk about the political leadership of Iraq. How to put the whole ridiculousness of that? It is as if one were to include a discussion of Jerry Brown in every article about the political leadership of the U.S.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

between the devil's capitalism and God's own country

The election to watch this week is … the one in Bolivia. Those looking for some good Bolivian blogs should check out the Evo Morales leaning Blog from Bolivia. The guy who runs that blog, Jim Schultz, is one of those astonishing, tireless lefties willing to work in obscurity and discomfort for years to see the People, united, will not always be defeated.

Mapp is another Bolivian blog with useful, worms-eye view of the election, to the right of Schultz.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Bolivian election, to my mind, is the growth of a indigenous reaction, long in coming, to forty years of narco-repression in Latin America. Bush’s favorite government, Uribe’s in Colombia, just made a deal with narco-growers that the U.S. is winking at. The deal is: Colombia will not allow judicial extradition. In return, these growers – most of them on the paramilitary right – have “agreed” to stop producing the one thing that makes them money. Agreements like that are very useful, if you have run out of tissuepaper in your bathroom – otherwise, they are just the kind of joke that makes the American war on narcotics such a frustrating imperial experiment. In order to support the old semi-fascist elite so dear to the D.C. heart, the U.S. has always gone out of its way to support the biggest narco exporters and their political stooges. But in order to continue placate the conservative forces of coercive moralism in the U.S., the D.C. crowd is forced to periodically whip up the anti-drug frenzy.

In Bolivia, things are easier. Evo Morales is a former coca grower and an ally – shudder – of Hugo Chavez. This is a quote from the Guardian article about Evo:

“Coca is at the centre of Bolivia's election campaign. Mr Morales, 46, comes from a mining family, but when the mining sector collapsed at the end of the 1970s his family, like many others, moved from the high plains in the east near La Paz and turned to agriculture in the lower, central lands. Coca was the most lucrative crop, a plant revered for its curative properties and role in indigenous rituals; but then the US cracked down on drugs, coca growers became criminals and the sector collapsed. Today a limited amount of coca is grown in Bolivia.
"I want to make an alliance with the US, with others, a real alliance against drug trafficking, but not against the cocaleros [coca growers]," Mr Morales says, sitting in his campaign headquarters at La Paz. "Zero cocaine, but not zero coca." A handsome man, with a mop of black hair, he is usually clad in black jeans, T-shirt and fleece and has a reputation as something of a swinging bachelor.
He fidgets, looking around the room as questions are asked, but when it is his turn to talk, he engages. "For the US," he continues, "the war on drugs is an excuse to better control other countries. In Latin America it is narco-terrorism. In Iraq, preventative wars and weapons of mass destruction. And what do they really want? To control the oil."

Oddly, Evo Morales is campaigning both to do something stolidly capitalistic – reinstate the market in a highly competitive product – and against capitalism. However, the against capitalism motif may be highly exaggerated -- and exaggerated by two sides -- touristic lefties in search of a Che Guevara high, and beefchewing righties in search of a coup -- according to this analysis in Open Democracy. Myself, I wouldn't put the odds on Bolivia in the wrestling match between Bolivia and the Behemoth, which is why I hope that Morales just neglects all enforcement of anti-coca law, without overturning it explicitly. The bigger question to my mind is: can the old path of dependence that comes from being a primary product producer be modified, even overturned, by smart economic policies? Of course, the U.S. will try its best to make that an academic question by subverting democracy in Bolivia, if the outcome goes to Morales. Look for two things: the natural gas rich region of Bolivia has a separatist movement that will be receiving a mysterious influx of money, soon; and then the traditional coup, preceded, of course, by the Washington Post editorial about what an undemocratic dictator was elected by the democratic process. Perhaps the WP can have its old fave, Henry Kissinger, write another op ed piece.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


The NYT article about Jack Abramoff’s covert payments to a Cato Institute columnist, Doug Bandow, includes this interesting graf:

“A second scholar, Peter Ferrara, of the Institute for Policy Innovation, acknowledged in the same BusinessWeek Online piece that he had also taken money from Mr. Abramoff in exchange for writing certain opinion articles. But Mr. Ferrara did not apologize for doing so. "I do that all the time," Mr. Ferrara was quoted as saying. He did not reply to an e-mail message seeking comment on Friday.”

We were a little heartened by Ferrara’s damn the torpedoes attitude because.. and we say this with great sorrow in our hearts – LI, too, has been on, or can be construed by some pink liberal commentator as being on, Abramoff’s retainer. In our position as policy coordinator at the libertarian “Abolish taxes and borrow money until 2100 comes around” institute – known around D.C., affectionately, as the Raw Steakeaters thinktank and mudwrestling extravaganza – we, well, we had a little gambling problem developed when we were scientifically researching the exciting field of Public Choice theory in Reno at The Golden Spur. As a result of this unfortunate shortfall, we were more open than we perhaps should have been to Jack Abramoff’s suggestion that we rename our institute “Abolish taxes and make gambling illegal except on Indian Reservations and borrow money until the Year 2100.” By the way, we have now gone back to our old name. And we – or at least me – LI – is going to return every hot cent of that inducement that, in the new era of puritanical morality, is being called a bribe. Returning that money will require a brief trip, in the spring, to the Preekness, but we have a pretty good line on a couple of ponies recommended by Bill Bennett. In the meantime, we’d like to issue an apology, and assure our base of supporters that we will continue to issue our fine white papers, such as the one coming out: “How lowering the tax rate to 0 percent for incomes over 200 thousand actually increases government revenue: the latest napkin graph.” We are scotching the one entitled: “Much wampum, make woopee, why Ralph Reed is good for America.”

ps -- continuing on the corruption note:

If you wonder why the American perception of Iraq is confused, consider this: a minor candidate in Basra whose party leader just happened to go to Israel last year gets profiled as a sort of representative of Iraq not just by the Washington Post, but by the New York Times, too.

Neither article voices any criticism of him at all. Neither paper accompanies any non-secular candidates at all. Imagine two newspapers in France covering the American election in 2004 by concentrating on a socialist candidate for mayor in Burlington, Vermont, and you get the feeling for the propaganda outlets that the major media have become.

Amazing. No wonder the AEI crowd still thinks we “won the war’ in Iraq.

Our major newspapers can only become the garbage outlets for Bush propaganda for so long before they will simply disconnect from their readership altogether. I wonder if the journalists and editors think it is worth sacrificing the business in order to be counted among the movers and shakers in D.C. I guess I shouldn't wonder, though. The governing class has little interest in telling the truth to the governed, and every interest in keeping America confined in the bubble of its projection -- that projection that sees little wannabe Americas all over the world.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Darwin's funeral

LI received hundreds of protests by maddened Arnold-ites because of yesterday’s post, all asking: where is the link to Arnold’s Science and Literature, you putz?

To regroup, then. Huxley’s charge that learning the inflexions of the Latin verb for "the sex act from the rear” might not be the best preparation for the sprat bourgeoisie in Oxbridge has been amplified, over the years. Our concern, however, is with the unraveling of a certain liberal compromise deftly mapped by White. The Arnold – Huxley friendship/controversy set canonical limits to the gradual replacement of the religious worldview as having truthful reference to the material makeup of the world by the scientific worldview. Consequently, the question of the value of the material makeup, and the question of value itself, shifted, so that the gentleman’s agreement became: science tells us all we need to know about the facts; but the humanities – and in an extended sense, liberal religion – should monopolize the question of the good and the beautiful. This is an odd division of labor for a culture to come up with. Perhaps all the odd and frightening Christian fundamentalist rhetoric in the U.S. – with the Republican party becoming very much like, say, SCIRI for Americans – shows that that division no longer functions.

Actually, LI doesn’t think so. The strange events that occurred in Dover, Pennsylvania show, I think, how useful that division is, and how far it has sunk into the consciousness of late capitalist societies. While the average Dover burger attends church and participates in the savage rites of evangelical Christianity with a degree of froth that would satisfy any of the impresarios of ignorance headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, the same burgers are not, apparently, willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of the All to well known God and his book of fairy tales, otherwise known as the Book of Genesis. So the board of education that was eager to subject Dover’s kids to the same invigorating education received by Kabul’s kiddies under the late lamented Taliban were all dumped from office as unceremoniously as yokels dump the poor unfortunates that sit on those seats at the country fair shys into tubs of water when a well aimed ball hits a certain electrically charged target. It is all just good, knockabout fun in Dover, I'm sure.

Usually, the religion/science divide in the States takes the Scopes trial as a defining point. But White’s article recalls us to another defining moment – one that occurred in an actual civilization, not the whatever-it-is we have in the U.S. This was Darwin’s interment in Westminister Abbey.

This is what Arnold wrote about Darwin in his reply to Huxley:

“I have heard it said that the sagacious and admirable naturalist whom we lost not very long ago, Mr. Darwin, once owned to a friend that for his part he did not experience the necessity for two things which most men find so necessary to them,— religion and poetry; science and the domestic affections, he thought, were enough. To a born naturalist, I can well understand that this should seem so. So absorbing is his occupation with nature, so strong his love for his occupation, that he goes on acquiring natural knowledge and reasoning upon it, and has little time or inclination for thinking about getting it related to the desire in man for conduct, the desire in man for beauty. He relates it to them for himself as he goes along, so far as he feels the need; and he draws from the domestic affections all the additional solace necessary. But then Darwins are extremely rare. Another great and admirable master of natural knowledge, Faraday, was a Sandemainian. That is to say he related his knowledge to his instinct for conduct and to his instinct for beauty, by the aid off that respectable Scottish sectary Robert Sandeman. And so strong, in general, is the demand of religion and poetry to have their share in a man, to associate themselves with his knowing, and to relieve and rejoice it, that, probably, for one man amongst us with the disposition to do as Darwin did in this respect there are at least fifty with the disposition to do as Faraday.”

Arnold’s use of Faraday is the ancestor of all the polls those tedious conservative commentators are always brandishing telling us how many scientists believe in God, and how many believe in Tinkerbell. Of course, these polls depend upon a very liberal interpretation of scientist, such that the coach who teaches industrial arts in high school gets in on the set on equal footing with Richard Dawkins. The more interesting thing, to me, is that Arnold’s hint that Darwin was a bit of an unbeliever did not influence the Westminister Abbey scene. The mover of that scene was a popular Anglican divine, Arthur Stanley. Stanley’s type has since become the joy of satiric novelists like Waugh. He is ecumenical to a fault. This is from White:

Stanley’s vision of a broad Anglican culture was announced in a sermon preached in 1865 on the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Abbey by King Edward the Confessor. Its pavement and walls, Stanley declared, refl ected the interests of the commonwealth throughout its stages, with “Roman, Puritan, Non-conformist ... [and] doubting sceptic hard by the enthusiastic believer ... opposing parties both in Church and State co-existing, neutralising, counteracting, completing each other, neither by the other subdued, each by the other endured.... Here, at least, all Englishmen may forget their differences, and feel for the moment as one family gathered round the same Christmas hearth”. The representation of men of science in this pantheon was substantially increased during Stanley’s offi ce, with the interment of John Herschel, Lyell, and Darwin, among others. The suggestion of a Darwin memorial had apparently been made by Farrar, who described having broached the subject with Huxley and William Spottiswoode at the Athenaeum, and who assured Huxley “that we clergy [are] not all so bigoted as he supposed”. Farrar consulted with Stanley on the
matter, preached the funeral sermon at the nave service, and served as one of the pallbearers, along with Lubbock, Huxley, Wallace, Hooker, Spottiswoode, and others.

In Historical memorials of Westminster Abbey, Stanley described individual shrines of the great and the good, with chapters on the Ladies of the Tudor Court, Modern Statesmen, Philanthropists, Poets, Theologians, Men of Letters, and Men of Science.
Of the latter, Stanley remarked that, because of the slow, gradual growth of science in England, it had no special place in the Abbey but rather “penetrated promiscuously into every part, much in the same way as it [had] imperceptibly influenced all our
social and literary relations elsewhere.”

For all the ridicule Stanley type has attracted, the religious ceremony over the man who destroyed, once and for all, the credibility of the divine creation of man seems to LI to be a pretty good compromise. The Dover burgers are right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

science and culture

LI is reviewing a book that was chosen by the Conservative book club for the Austin Statesman. We won’t go into the book too much here. What has struck us, however, in this book and the author’s previous books is an odd, barely concealed hostility to science that crystallizes around evolution. The author of the book has a theory, which we think is untenable, that science is the linear descendent of Christian theology. His ideas echo those put forth by Steve Fuller in the Dover trial, with Newton’s theological concerns being exhibit number one. Permit us to politely dissent. The decisive separation between theology and science occurred in Newton’s work as Newton worked out the principles of his idea of not feigning hypotheses – essentially bringing Baconian theory of inductive ascent into natural philosophy. Newton himself had plenty of theories about Jesus, but used a conception of God in his natural philosophy that allowed for the absolute discovery of truths in nature without hypothesizing anything substantial about God. In other words, Newton’s science is absolutely translatable into other contexts – into Confucianism, into Hinduism, etc. Perhaps one can say that is true about much of Galileo – but Galileo is much still under the shadow of Aristotle enough to spend much time on refuting or dealing with him. Newton simply isn’t.

To understand what Newton did – to understand the beginnings of Natural Philosophy – means understanding the difference between literature and science. One of those differences is that Newton’s theological works, while telling us much about the context in which he did his work, do not help us very much in interpreting the work. There are no secrets in Newton’s natural philosophy texts. The last alchemist, as Keynes called him, saved his secrets for other texts. As an example, consider how Newton calculated the age of the earth. He did not refer to the bible. He did not refer to some hidden alchemical tradition. He simply imagined a ball of iron the size of the earth. This is a mode of thinking that is divorced from teleological considerations.

The Victorian controversy between science and the humanities is nicely explored in an article in the Summer, 2005 History of Science by Paul White. White’s article, MINISTERS OF CULTURE: Arnold, Huxley and Liberal Anglican Reform of Learning, explores the exemplary debates between Arnold and Huxley about the cultural value of science by asking about the common suppositions about culture held by both Arnold and Huxley.

Now, LI is a great fan of Thomas Huxley. He is greatly admired elsewhere on the Web, too, so it is easy to get ahold of his great essays. Go to the Huxley archive, for instance, at Clarke University. Arnold is an iffier figure. An anti-democrat, a great but narrow poet, and certainly the kind of Tory who had a lot of influence on the beginnings of modern conservatism, which (as we have pointed out in other posts) stuck out its baby lineaments in the 1870s.

The locus classicus of the Huxley-Arnold debate were two addresses made in the 1880s. But White points out that the two men were friends, members of the same Victorian liberal elite:

“The Huxley–Arnold debate has most often been viewed as an isolated event crystallizing the divisions of learning and the divergence of worlds. Yet these two public addresses delivered in 1880 and 1882 formed part of series of exchanges on the comparative value of science and literature, extending back to the mid-1860s. In fact, by the 1880s this debate had become a kind of ritual performance, with a well rehearsed script and agreed scope and agenda. One thing that might be said of Huxley and Arnold that cannot of Snow and Leavis [the two later debaters of the "two cultures" thesis] is that the men were friends. They met regularly in London, corresponded, and exchanged published work from the mid 1860s through the 1880s. Topics of discussion ranged from the education of Arnold’s eldest son, Arnold’s latest attack on middle-class Philistinism, and the moral integrity of Christ. As couples, the Huxleys and Arnolds dined together on many occasions.
One evening after dinner at Arnold’s home, Huxley was called upon to exercise his medical training with an examination of Blacky, Arnold’s cat, enveloping the creature in his table-napkin in order to examine a broken hip-joint.13 A number of letters survive from Arnold to Henrietta Huxley, conveying invitations, sympathy at times of illness, and, particularly from the late 1870s on when the couples saw each other less, Arnold’s deep regard and respect for her husband. The families were brought still closer when Huxley’s eldest son Leonard married Arnold’s niece, Julia.”

In order to understand White’s essay, I’m going to have to violate that 500 word rule about blogs and quote some Huxley at length. And, in the spirit of unfairness, I'm not going to quote Arnold. This is a long quote, from his lecture on Science and Culture. I think the quote is entirely contemporary, and puts into canonical form an issue that is still with us. I’ll get back to the rest of White’s essay tomorrow.

Here’s the quote:

“Mr. Arnold tells us that the meaning of culture is "to know the best that has been thought and said in the world." It is the criticism of life contained in literature. That criticism regards "Europe as being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound to a joint action and working to a common result; and whose members have, for their common outfit, a knowledge of Greek, Roman, and Eastern [143] antiquity, and of one another. Special, local, and temporary advantages being put out of account, that modern nation will in the intellectual and spiritual sphere make most progress, which most thoroughly carries out this programme. And what is that but saying that we too, all of us, as individuals, the more thoroughly we carry it out, shall make the more progress?"3

We have here to deal with two distinct propositions. The first, that a criticism of life is the essence of culture; the second, that literature contains the materials which suffice for the construction of such a criticism.

I think that we must all assent to the first proposition, For culture certainly means something quite different from learning or technical skill, It implies the possession of an ideal, and the habit of critically estimating the value of things by comparison with a theoretic standard. Perfect culture should supply a complete theory of life, based upon a clear knowledge alike of its possibilities and of its limitations.
But we may agree to all this, and yet strongly dissent from the assumption that literature alone is competent to supply this knowledge. After having learnt all that Greek, Roman, and Eastern antiquity have thought and said, and all that modern literatures have to tell us, it is not self-evident that we have laid a sufficiently broad [144] and deep foundation for that criticism of life, which constitutes culture.
Indeed, to any one acquainted with the scope of physical science, it is not at all evident. Considering progress only in the "intellectual and spiritual sphere," I find myself wholly unable to admit that either nations or individuals will really advance, if their common outfit draws nothing from the stores of physical science. I should say that an army, without weapons of precision and with no particular base of operations, might more hopefully enter upon a campaign on the Rhine, than a man, devoid of a knowledge of what physical science has done in the last century, upon a criticism of life.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

a parable -- or the origins of Twister

A parable of the relationship between the White House and the Press.

I found this story in Eraly’s history of the Moghuls:

Humayun, the son of Babur, was a prankster. He invented a game called the “carpet of mirth.”

“It had circles marked out on it in different colors to represent the planets, on which the courtiers positioned themselves according to the planet that was appropriate to them, and played a curious game, in which they either stood, sat or reclined according to the fall of the dice -- this, according to Abu Fazi, “was a means of increasing mirth.”

The problem with this parable is that it is much too pretty to apply to the court in D.C., which is one of the more degraded forms of civilization. But, in the week that the Washington Post is standing, sitting and reclining in order to please the Karl Rove faction in the court regarding their 'liberal' White House blogger, Froomkin, --it seems appropriate.

the allawi strategy

So far, we have seen no analysis of the timing and nature of the American’s sudden interest in torture centers in Iraq. On the principle that fools rush in where the lackies of imperialism fear to tread – a saying that is in the Bible, or is it the Little Red Book? – we have a strong hunch that this shows the Americans have learned something in the last year. A year ago, the brilliant idea was to make Allawi seem palatable to the Shiites by staging a massacre of Sunnis in Fallujah. This strategy, let’s say, didn’t work. This year, the strategy seems to be more on target: de-legitimate the Islamist sector of the current government, and presumably Allawi will profit.

This may work to some extent. There is no lawful figure at the moment protecting Sunni interests. The reminder of what a fully Shiite government can do (hence, the cynical American discovery of the torture centers) might overshadow Allawi’s record of massive corruption and complicity in American war crimes. Corruption is a small price to pay for not having a drill applied to the side of one’s head, after all.

On a further eve-of-the-Iraq-elections note, the fake “democracy” in operation in Kurdistan is given some rare bad press in the WP today, which gingerly notices that the region is divided between two parties that are extensions of the personalities of two Kurdish war lords -- and that attempts to get into the space between the war lords and the electorate are dealt with in accordance with the old, one party tradition, same as in Uzbekistan. Since the “friends of the Kurds’ – the Peter Galbraiths and the Christopher Hitchens, et al. – formed the core of the pro-war party in the media and are always marveling over the Kurdish democracy, we rather wonder why not a peep is heard from them as the people they supposedly cherish are being dragged further into the warlord state. No – we’re kidding. We don’t wonder about that at all. Shills are shills.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


LI has been reading The Crisis, David Harris’ book about the fall of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis. It is not a great or startling account – Harris is much too brief about the Shah, and his viewpoint is shaped, to a certain extent, by his access to his informants – thus Bani-Sadr comes off as a much better figure in this book than I believe he should. Harris is an ex American radical who is now utilizing his reputation and network to create these kinds of books, but one doesn’t feel he is informed enough to work against his sources’ biases.

Looking past the author’s deficiencies, however, the hopelessness that emanates from this story has to do with the peculiarities of the American relationship with the Middle East. The inability to learn anything from past experience; the shaping of policy to meet the needs of the governing elite, even when those needs clearly conflict with national interest; and the insufficiencies of taking a colonialist point of view to nations that aren’t colonies (which results in an evil pattern: Americans continually become the captives of their proxies) converged to make the Hostage crisis America’s classical theatrical moment.

Harris’ account points a finger at the malign influence of Carter’s foreign policy advisor, Brzezinski, who fully shared the governing elite’s infatuation with the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and at the same time believed that he could order the Shah about like the manager of a McDonald’s directing a slow high school hire. It was Brzezinski who believed that the Shah simply had to bloody the streets of Teheran up just a little more in order to restore the status quo ante. At one point , the Iranian ambassador to America conferred with the Chilean ambassador about instituting the Pinochet solution: stadiums to be used as prisons, salutary executions of ten to twenty thousand. This was the type of thinking encouraged by an administration that put on the public face of being concerned with “Human Rights.”

However, the same government elite that could gameplan killing thousands of Iranians couldn’t bear to keep the Shah out of the U.S. when he was making his long, pointless pilgrimage around the world, seeking shelter. Brzezinski, Kissinger and David Rockefeller essentially overruled the best interests of the U.S. to let in their pal. Carter, before the Shah was admitted to the U.S., made a bitter joke about hostages – these people knew what was coming.

Today I read the review of Robert Fiske’s book by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the NYT. Wheatcroft’s review has a nice, I like the taste of blood in my mouth graf about Iran:

“Nor does he [Fiske] allow for historical context. He denounces, for example, the 1953 coup in Iran, engineered by Kermit Roosevelt of the C.I.A. and his British buddies to oust the government of Mohammed Mossadegh and install the shah. As it happens, one of the conspirators is a neighbor of mine, a charming and courteous old gentleman who was a wartime hero before he swapped a Royal Navy uniform for the cloak and dagger of MI6, and to this day he is impenitent about that power play in the cold war.
He and his fellow plotters didn't delude themselves that they were trying to bring good government to the Persian people, nor did they "call too loud on Freedom / To cloak your weariness," as Kipling had it. The object of the exercise wasn't to "democratize the Middle East" but to keep the Soviets from reaching the Indian Ocean, and it succeeded. If anything, I have more sympathy with that kind of realpolitik than for the weird mixture of ideology and deception we get from the present administration.”

Courteous old gentleman indeed. One could imagine the same being said about Osama bin Laden’s crew. They didn’t delude themselves that they were trying to bring good government to the Americans, but felt the object of the exercise was to wake up their fellow Arabians. All in good fun.

What a bunch of complete and utter shits. Statements like that make one actually sympathetic to the students who took the American embassy personnel hostage.

Monday, December 12, 2005

there we go again...

Over at the Valve, there is a disturbing post about blogging. The writer claims that there is some convention that says that posts over 500 words are a waste of time, and that those who read blogs continually get impatient with reading longer matter.

Now, LI’s posts regularly come in a bit over the 500 word limit – sometimes by 500 words – and we are always referring to longer reading matter.

So the question here is: are we fucking up?

I notice that the Valve post says nothing about re-reading posts. That might be our out from having gotten the whole culture completely wrong. I hope so – we at LI are starting to feel like the elves that built the broken toys that ended up on broken toy island. We are talking mass despondency. One of our writers tossed the two hundred page post responding point by point to Petroski’s history of the paper clip (with many amusing details culled from the various memoirs of King Louis XV’s court)in the garbage can today. But …Many of our most popular posts are popular long after they have faded into the archives. That’s one thing. Especially the one's mentioning Aisha Qaddafi, for some reason. Let’s see. Oh, and we have always considered these posts to be like a cronica on hyperdrive, rather than seeking the mere comment-on-a-link comment. That’s another thing. Also, also many of our posts exist to amuse my friend, D., in the Portland area, and the crew of grave diggers that he works with at a public cemetery there. Grave diggers want the real thing, they don’t want 200 word balderdash – or dashed off balder, as it may be. D. tells me that the common complaint is that LI didn't dig deep enough, or square off the corners.

Also, we don’t get out enough. And also, also we have this graphomania problem…

Sunday, December 11, 2005

poor richard's almanac, revised

The newest talking point by the pro-war side is to compare the irrationality of getting into the war with the irrationality of withdrawing from it. There was a post on Crooked Timber making this point, and I’ve read it in the Washington Post. My favorite, however, is Noah Feldman’s NYT Magazine piece

Now, the logic of this argument is pretty much the logic of Bush culture in general. For instance, 9/11 happened, as we all know, after Bush was warned about an upcoming attack, after he failed to take it seriously enough even to communicate his info to the Secretary of Transportation or ask the FBI for any further information. In fact, he went on a month long vacation. Now, in Bush cultural terms, this makes Bush the ideal leader in the fight against terrorism. Failure is the new success. Indeed, Bush went on to make a botch of capturing or killing Bin Laden, and then went on to make an epochal botch of Iraq.

To do this, of course, you need failures to help you. In Bush’s case, there is Rumsfeld, commonly felt to have grossly mismanaged the number of troops required to hold Iraq and thus kept around while he grossly mismanaged the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, from which failure he rebounded by the massive failure to pacify the budding insurgency in the Sunni sections of Iraq – in fact, he is poised for even greater failures in the next year, which is why he is indispensable. There is Wolfowitz, whose failure to come within a magnitude of the cost of the Iraq war is just the kind of thing to elevate him to the head of the World Bank. Etc.

Given this kind of background, a man educated into being competent to mouth the complacent idiocies that pass for foreign policy in D.C. like Feldman has leaped into the gap of defending our course to complete victory. Because he and his like massively failed to understand Iraq in the pre-invasion time and were fooled, or self-deceived, time and time again, they have a portfolio we can surely trust:

“A little less than a year ago, in the aftermath of the first Iraqi elections, the most irresponsible thing being said in Washington was that everything was going to be fine. Now, with the next set of elections scheduled for Dec. 15, the new irresponsibility is the increasingly respectable assertion that the war has already been lost. Irrational optimism has been replaced by unjustified pessimism. This is not some triumph of experience over idealism. One a priori ideological standpoint is simply giving way to another.”

I wonder, sometimes, whether it is right to name this the Bush culture, Bush being a minor politician and all. But statements like this reassure me. Bush may be a minor politician, but he is a major symbol of the Zeitgeist. Feldman’s utter lack of embarrassment reflects a certain narrative impudence that Bush specializes in. Who can forget the guy, after borrowing to an unprecedented extent in order to give tax breaks to the rich, claiming that the money he borrowed from FICA could bankrupt Social Security – since who knew if the U.S. was going to pay it back?

Poor Richard's almanac needs a new proverb to represent the new American wisdom. I propose this one: Keep hammering a crooked nail and it will straighten out all by itself.

How can you not love the Bush culture? It is drunk driving every day, with the whole nation – loads and loads of fun and casualties for the whole international family!

lies, the press, lies, the press

LI is struck by the lack of U.S. reporting on this story that comes, via Today in Iraq, from an AP report in The Hindu:

“Baghdad, Dec. 9 (AP): A group of Shiite and Sunni parties has signed a declaration condemning terrorism, urging a timetable for the end of the US military presence, and vowing never to normalise relations with Israel.
The parties to the "code of honour" included followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Sunni Iraqi Consensus Front.
The code also declared that resistance is a legitimate right and condemned "terrorism, violence, murder and kidnappings." The code is non-binding but it indicates what parties might choose to work together after the new parliament is elected next week.
Officials said al-Sadr was the driving figure behind the yesterday's pact.”
So, let’s get this straight. The prime minister of Iraq, for whom the U.S. is fighting, signs a declaration declaring that it is open season on U.S. fighters, as long as the shots and bombs don’t injure Iraqis. Of course, since this counters the D.C. clique’s perception of what the prime minister of Iraq should say, it will get no publicity. Further, the alliance between Chalabi and al-Sadr will get no publicity. Meanwhile, the U.S. papers will talk up Allawi and chuckle a bit about where he is getting his money from – yeah, that is a huge puzzle.
I read this in Homage to Catalonia the other day:
“The fact is that every war suffers a kind of progressive degradation with every month that it continues, because such things as individual liberty and a truthful press are simply not compatible with military efficiency.”

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I was reading William Everdell’s superb book, the First Moderns, the other day, and came across an unfamiliar name: Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau. Everdell’s book explores the emergence of the “vortices” of modernism by tracking the various conjunctions of theory and practice not only in the obvious places, the big metropoles, but on the periphery. And, indeed, even in the metropoles modernism was a negotiation between outliers and the establishment. One of the monuments of modernism, Everdell claims, was invented by Weyler y Nicolau: the concentration camp. Or campos de reconcentraciòn, as he named them.

It is an interesting story. According to Everdell, Weyler y Nicolau, fighting against the Cuban insurgents in 1897, decided to experiment with an American invention, barbed wire. Why not string barbed wire around areas that were insurgent strongholds? Since insurgents weren’t formally organized, it seemed like a good way to contain them, a sort of cordon sanitaire. No sooner thought of then done. Soon camps sprang up, thousands of potential insurgents were surrounded by good, healthy barbed wire, and the dying started. The U.S. decided to protest the inhumanity, sending a note to Spain on June 24, 1897. The Spanish reply was interesting: the Spanish government noted that the cruelty of the camps was not different from the cruelty exercized by Sherman on his march to the Sea in 1864. Everdell digs up a clever conjunction of names, here:

“But Secretary Sherman [John Sherman, the man who had penned the American protest to Spain] probably knew better than any Spanish journalist how "cruel" Weyler's policies were, for he was the brother of William Tecumseh Sherman, the general who had become famous by marching from Atlanta to the sea and becoming the first to treat civilians as combatants in a modern war. The Spanish knew it, too. With a fine sense of irony, Madrid replied to Secretary Sherman's protest against what Spain was doing in Cuba by calling attention to what the Secretary's brother had done in Georgia and Carolina thirty years before.

We don't know who in the Spanish foreign ministry put that reminiscence in the note, but the odds favor Weyler himself. At the time of the March to the Sea, the future Captain-General of Cuba had been twenty-five, serving as the Spanish military attaché in Washington, and writing home about how impressed he had been by General Sherman's remarkable new interpretation of the laws of war.”

We like Benjamin’s image of human history as a multiplying pile of ruins observed by an appalled but impotent angel, but in many cases history seems more like a frightened monkey making its way over the trapeze equipment hanging from the ceiling of some big top, a matter of hairy leaps and enormous swings.

Weyler’s invention soon caught the eye of the British, who tried it out in South Africa; soon that caught the eye of the Americans, who were fighting a pesky war against the Filipinos.

“As near as we can tell, the first American concentration camps were built for the Filipinos in that month of November 1900, which means that the British were just ahead of the Americans in adapting Weyler's invention. By December 20, when General Order Number 100 on the treatment of civilian "war rebels" was issued by General MacArthur (this was Arthur MacArthur, whose son Douglas was to follow in his and Weyler's footsteps as proconsul of the Philippines), the ''reconcentration camps" were there to receive them.”

And so one aspect of modernism was launched. An aspect that has been with us persistently ever since, although Americans don’t like to notice their own use of reconcentration camp – how much more comforting to read, for instance, about nasty Lenin and his proto-gulag than to contemplate the fact that William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt were responsible for more deaths in a lager than Lenin ever was. Bringing us, of course, to present day Falluja and the new American notion of the high tech reconcentration camp, all about getting your pass, plucking out genetic information, and in general treating the non-American human being like a hog prepared for slaughter.

Talking about which -- the Americans are up to their old tricks again. Another election looming. Another series of military actions, based in Anbar province, motivated by little more than the desire to prevent Sunnis from going to the polls. Last year, the game was to reconcile the Shi'ites to the American tote in Iraq, Allawi, by showing that Allawi was willing to slaughter Sunnis without compunction. This time the game has changed. The Americans have given up the idea of a minority ruling the Shi'ites, and are being used as tools by the present government. Having no choice, the Americans are embracing an obviously dubious bunch, hoping that allies like Chalabi will emerge to rescue the plan to steal the oil and make Iraq an American military platform. But we think the last named are yesterday's options -- they aren't going to happen.

For comic relief, the AEI publishes a ripe load of garbage by Ur-neocon, Fred Kagan, that is a joy to read. This is how these people talk to each other. It is a little weird reading this article in a publication that proclaimed, just six months ago, that the war was over and America had won -- apparently this is the afterimage of Mission Accomplished, the part of the trip where we slaughter -- or 'clean and hold' merrily merrily merrily. It is thinkers like Kagan that have made D.C. what it is today -- a rat's nest of second-raters.