Monday, February 26, 2007

West Bank Story


An Oscar Hangover Cure

And now it's time for a bunch of catty nonsense about the Oscars. It's the same bad review every year. It's as if the bitchiness of the red carpet rubs off on everyone: "oh, what a horrible outfit; oh, what a horrible Oscars." What poor taste it would be simply to enjoy it!

I don't think the pundits actually know whether they enjoyed it or not; they know how they're supposed to feel.

Apparently there were not enough "big, emotionally rewarding moments". And:

"the most international Oscars ever," and that prediction seemed to come true. But it meant that many of the films cited were largely obscure to the national audience. Weren't the Oscars invented to honor American films? Apparently not anymore.

More nonsense:

I almost never think this, much less write it or say it, but, at the risk of sounding smug, I have to say I could have written a better monologue.

(But couldn't you have written a better article?)

Americans increasingly demand that their philistinism be catered to: racier jokes, more American movies, more "big" moments, more crying, and for God's sake couldn't we have done more to honor the troops?

Actually, it was superb, and Ellen Degeneres supplied it with the required self-deprecating minimalism. Yes, it is a four-plus hour awards show, a wide target for your criticisms: stop being so lazy.

It's Not Evidence of Absence

More bogus weapons claims from an administration that has no shame:

officials call the best evidence yet that the deadliest roadside bombs in Iraq are manufactured in Iran, but critics contend that the forensic case remains circumstantial and inferential.

Sound familiar? We get it, we get it: "I want to go to war: here's some contrived bullshit (my reasons -- you see, reasons are just the things I say when I want something, and don't have anything to do with actual reasoning)".

It's the job of the press to take every little thing, every one of these "reasons", seriously, even when they are sopping with ulterior motives. And now the pundits can trade words about them. You can practically see the sheep being herded into their pens -- with "reasons".

But critics assert that nearly all the bomb components could have been produced in Iraq or somewhere else in the region. Even if the evidence were to establish that Iran is the source, they add, that does not necessarily mean that the Iranian leadership is responsible.

Ahem: "inferential evidence is not evidence of absence; if we have to swallow global warming and evolution, then ...."

Nietzsche Family Circus of the Day


"Not by wrath does one kill, but by laughter."

More here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Iran-Qaeda Scandal

I wish they would just make up their minds:

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coƶperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

I guess we're between Iraq and hard place. But seriously, folks, Cheney is running an Iran-Contra style scheme that ends up putting money in the hands of Al Qaeda in order to thwart Iran.

The man just missed his calling using piano wire in the special forces, that's all. Just because you're vice-president doesn't mean you can't kill lots of people.

What Cheney needs now is to provoke Iran:

Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Administration National Security Council official, told me that “there is nothing coincidental or ironic” about the new strategy with regard to Iraq. “The Administration is trying to make a case that Iran is more dangerous and more provocative than the Sunni insurgents to American interests in Iraq, when—if you look at the actual casualty numbers—the punishment inflicted on America by the Sunnis is greater by an order of magnitude,” Leverett said. “This is all part of the campaign of provocative steps to increase the pressure on Iran. The idea is that at some point the Iranians will respond and then the Administration will have an open door to strike at them.”

Of course, all you need to get Americans behind a war is just a dash of hawkish rhetoric and use of Iran and "evil" in the same sentence. But don't forget to torture:

The U.S. military also has arrested and interrogated hundreds of Iranians in Iraq. “The word went out last August for the military to snatch as many Iranians in Iraq as they can,” a former senior intelligence official said. “They had five hundred locked up at one time. We’re working these guys and getting information from them.

Bush and Cheney are far more dangerous to the world than islamist terrorists.

But We are Sisters!


Bill Kristol: You Can't Just Suddenly Use Force

I just heard Bill Kristol use the phrase "you can't just suddenly use force", talking about Iran and the recent Bush administration rhetoric trying to lay the foundation for a bombing campaign.

He said it of course, with that usual smugness: a voice so relaxed into the back of his throuat that it sounds almost like the churning of gears. It's not a smuggness that comes from being right, as the anonymous liberal and Glenn Reynolds point out. Here's Kristol before the war:
 We are tempted to comment, in these last days before the war, on the U.N., and the French, and the Democrats. But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam's regime. It will produce whatever effects it will produce on neighboring countries and on the broader war on terror. We would note now that even the threat of war against Saddam seems to be encouraging stirrings toward political reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a measure of cooperation in the war against al Qaeda from other governments in the region. It turns out it really is better to be respected and feared than to be thought to share, with exquisite sensitivity, other people's pain. History and reality are about to weigh in, and we are inclined simply to let them render their verdicts.

Lesson learned: you can't just suddenly use force.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Persecution of Competence

It's one thing to get rid of people because you want political syncophants, but sometimes one gets the feeling that Bush and Friends simply dislike competence:
Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent,” a review of the evaluations shows.

For Republicans, it is a matter of putting loyalty above truth: or the truth is seen merly as a matter of loyalty to a certain creed, to friends, to country. The world is composed only of friends and enemies, the pseudo-Straussians like to intimate. And whether Iraq is relevant to terrorism isn't the point: it's the thought that counts. All the better to have the members of your tribe consecrate their blood loyalty by embracing falsehoods and outlandish notions; by being made complicity in crimes; by celebrating everything as its opposite (Iraq is a great success, says Cheney, or the provisions that gut environmental regulations constitute a "clean air act"). Every spectacular abomination inflames the bonfire of power. And in the minds of people like Cheney and Bush this just is good old American success: to fashion by force of will any reality they out of facts on the ground (this is one of the purposes of torture); but above all to show that loyalty, not competence, is the foundation of power, and that no one ever got anywhere by succeeding -- it's breeding and connections, what you are and who you know. That is real power -- unconditioned by the baseness of work or reflection, unweakened by nuance.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”

To put it another way: the reviews didn't take into account whether these personnel were the kind of fuck-ups the Bush administration could really count on.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Little Houses


I want one.


Britain increasingly looks like America:
The London Evening Standard reported Friday that Billy Cox was killed in a turf war between rival crack cocaine dealers. It published a photograph of the teenager before his death wearing a pearl-like ear stud and a white hood around a face too young for shaving

Conservatives are respnding by lamenting the
individualistic and materialistic values that underpinned Conservative thinking in the Thatcher era. “We used to stand for the individual,” he said. “Now we stand for the family, for the neighborhood in a word, for society.”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Drew Gilpin Faust

Heather MacDonald, whom a reader calls a "right-wing hit-woman", complains about the new president of Harvard:
Faust runs one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country

I have no idea whether this critique is accurate; I just like the name "Drew Gilpin Faust".

UPDATE: the antidote.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth on the Art of Torture


In Bomber Harris' description of the effect of aerial power on Kurds, and Barry Lando's comparison to Guernica, I am reminded of the recent film by Guillermo Del Toro which has its setting in Franco's Spain.

Pan's Labyrinth is about torture, broadly conceived: there is the literal torture of a rebel by a sadistic Captain in Franco's army. But torture is also a legitimate part of a child's fairy-tale imagination in its connection to the natural world: mythological creatures are like hybrids of what is human and what is alien to humanity: a praying mantas becomes a faerie, a goat a faun. These creatures are what nature looks like when it is appropriated as a possible key to ourselves.

As Hume points out, these sort of metamorphoses are just what the imagination is about:
The mind has the command over all its ideas, and can separate, unite, mix, and vary them, as it pleases

And here we see hints of the sinister possibilities for the imagination: unlike the senses, it is not resisted (or rebelled against) by the world; it has absolute power to cut apart and reassemble its subjects. In Pan's Labyrinth Captain Vidal punches in the face of one victim with a wine bottle; and severely deforms the face of a captured rebel, whose hand he also lacerates until it looks more like a tree than a hand. The Captain has command over all the body parts of his victims, and can vary them as he pleases.

And in fact, there is a certain resemblance between the rebel torture victim and the Faun that gives the film its name. This grizzled creature looks to be an ent-like cross between a Faun and a tree; his body is gnarled, tortured in that way that trees become. And here we have crossed from the imagination back to the unwieldy-ness of vegetative form: there is not necessarily a symmetry to trees, whose shapes nature bends and varies as it pleases.

The point is that in nature, and in the creatures of imagination that connect us intimately to nature, the distorted forms of the victims of war and torture and other human maladies are evoked more or less vividly. These evocations are important to telling the story of our place in nature, and inevitable return to it; but also imporant is the palpable unnaturalness (and "evil") that ensues when human minds are put to deforming human bodies (as opposed to elements of the imagination or objects of art).

Hence the Grimm-ness of fairy tales and the aptness of Picasso's surrealism to the portrayal of the war in Guernica. He separates, unites, mixes, and varies his shapes as he pleases.

Air Power and "Them"

To revisit Bomber Harris' description of use of airpower to supress rebellion: it describes an approach to war that might be called cowardly. Most surprising is his glee over
four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors

Of course war has long been about more than defeating the enemy: it is also about conquering the spirit. Caesar, thought to be mercificul, gives his own accounts of massacring civilians of Gallic towns that held out for a siege. Caesar was frustrated, but he also understood that his enemies would not be defeated unless they were "terrorized". As Edward N. Luttwak points out, the United States cannot "win" in Iraq without terrorizing its enemies into submission, something it does not have the will to do.

But Americans were willing to believe with almost utopian naivete in the precision of airpower accompanied by a minimalist groundwar and a libertarian approach to security. We were to put ourselves in the abstract position of the airman, for whom the enemy and the landscape are difficult to distinguish. The inhabitants of the land remain an ineffable "they" ("they bombed us"), and merely by hovering at a distance we will unleash their innate love of freedom and democracy.

Of course, the idea of of the un-terrifying, precise use of airpower is a myth that has been disproved many times by the many accounts of the results of the reckless use of airpower by the United States. On recent video, however, is especially telling. It shows an attack by Americans on a British Convoy; it is disturbing in its own right, as a documentary of a mistake. But it is also a disturbing lesson about the nature of war: American pilots joke about the consequences of killing what they think are the enemy. There is the guy "hauling ass", who could have been an Iraqi conscript is not a cause for concern; that it turns out to be a British soldier that is killed makes one pilot almost physically ill.

Of course, the thought of killing any human being should make us physically ill, unless we are psychopaths. It is not novel that war changes this condition dramatically; but air power multiplies this element of circumstantial psychopathy. Flying high, the pilot is in a position of abstraction in which indifference to human life and silly rationalizations about precision can be entertained at the same time.

When the American pilots decide to attack the British convoy when they are obviously unsure of its identity (and even rationalize the orange panels that identify friendlies as "orange rocket launchers") they are doing what pilots have done over and over again in Iraq and what they do in every war: they kill indiscriminately, because at a distance they cannot make fine distinctions, and at a distance they have been disarmed of the natural reaction to killing, which is repulsion. If the British convoy had been feeling Iraqi conscripts or merely Iraqi civilians, we would never have heard about it -- just as doubtless we have never heard about countless similar events.

The myth of benevolent precision is a masterful reversal of the true nature of air power, which is indiscriminate terror.

The Fate of the New American Century

From the frighteningly titled Project for the New American Century June 3, 1997:
American foreign and defense policy is adrift.... We aim to change this.

And change it they did. Code-name: "hubris". And aptly, here is the fate of the Project as an organization:
PNAC now only has one employee and is seen as nearly defunct.

Compare what one of my readers calls the Project for the New British Century, as described by Barry Lando:
Rear Admiral Sir Edmond Slade wrote in a report to the British
admiralty in 1918, “It is evident that the Power that controls the oil
lands of Persia and Mesopotamia will control the source of supply of the
majority of the liquid fuel of the future.” Britain must therefore “at
all costs retain [its] hold on the Persian and Mesopotamian oil fields.”

It's still unclear to me why they hate us. I remember -- it's not because of a century of brutality, but because "they" are crazy islamofascists.

The Ineffable "They"

Barry Lando, whose book Web of Deceit I have on order, reminds us of the brutality of the British in putting down Kurdish uprisings with air power. Here is Wing Commander "Bomber Harris" in 1924:
[T]he Arab and Kurd … now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they now know that within 45 minutes a full sized village … can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.

Harris' sadistic glee is not tempered by any notion of the innocence of the inhabitants: they are the great "they" of war, as in the reponse I typically hear from supporters of the Iraq war when confronted with its brutality: but "they" bombed us (i.e., flew planes into buildings). "They" meaning, of course, the Arab, but it is the Arab broadly conceived, and includes Persians and Kurds and so on. (Harris is only a little more precise distinguishing Arabs and Kurds).

Of course, the use of "they" is not tempered by appeals to evidence. It is of no use to point out that Iraq is unconnected to 9/11, or to talk about the varieties of ethnicities, religious belief, and political views in the Middle East. Likewise, I have had trouble convincing anti-American Europeans of the variety of American beliefs and temperments. But the notion of temperment really is the key here -- "they" is a term of ethnic and religious indictment. As in the very nasty Instapundit:
Christians who want similar consideration from Google will presumably have to start blowing things up and beheading people.

It is the Oriental "they" that is guilty of such crimes, not particular idividuals who happen to be Arabs.

Consider how very different this is from the expressed views of most conservatives that they embrace "color-blindness" as one of the tenants of individualism and "individual responsibility." Of course, historically there is no tension between conservativism and jingoistic nationalism.