Saturday, May 31, 2003

From Buzzflash.

"A growing number of U.S. national security professionals are accusing the Bush administration of slanting the facts and hijacking the $30 billion intelligence apparatus to justify its rush to war in Iraq"

I called it the lede but after walking back up to the newstand for a look -I left my copy at the donut shop hours ago- I realized it had only become so in my imagination. My other comments about Powell himself are the same.

From the Times this morning: "Powell Defends Information He Used to Justify Iraq War." Have the Times editors read The Guardian?
"Secret transcript revealed: Jack Straw and his US counterpart Colin Powell had deep concerns about the quality of intelligence on Iraq's weapons programme."

How much longer will he be able to stand the humiliation? Powell is lying to himself if he thinks that he can do more good by staying. It's clear at this point he's suffering from Potomac Fever by Proxy: he wants to be near the power. He needs it for his self respect. He's a good servant; he doesn't want to be president, only nearby. He's the chorus in his own greek tragedy.
I've made a few comments over the past couple of days that I should clear up. Conservative, liberal and left wing academics who are not hip have spent a good deal of time complaining about the popularity of "Continental" rationalism on college campuses. The "tenured radicals" were all assumed to be influenced by Derrida, Foucault et al., and were commonly accused of being caught up in a sort of estheticized nihilism as a result. Alan Sokal had a lot of fun with this, while missing the reason for his opponents' interests, which began with something perfectly reasonable. Philosophical ambiguity is like gin, and at this point the only people willing to defend it in this country are drunks, and when you're arguing with a minister intent on drying out the town entirely, as Sokal was and is, it becomes difficult to defend having one glass of wine. Give an anxious puritan one drink and in a week he'll be an alcoholic. That's what happened in much of American academia.

Continental rationalism has a double edge. Foucault's writing acts as a critique of democracy, and Derrida owes much to Heidegger. But so did Derrida's friend, and fellow tribesman, Emmanuel Levinas. There are tinges of fascism and of reaction everywhere. Sokal might say that elevating such language games to a philosophical level has to be considered reactionary, because the result is to deny the efficacy of political action, but to Derrida they are meant to protect us against the language of those who would speak for us. Does this result in passivity? Not necessarily. Derrida, who comes from family of Algerian Jews and who admits to getting teary eyed when he hears the Internationale, has never been silent. But as I mentioned in a post below pendulums are always going too far one way or the other, and wisdom gets used as ideology - rendering it no longer wise. I'm making no blanket defense of Derrida. History will decide the value of his work. I'm arguing with his fans and their accusers.

Neocon ideology is as simplistic and programmatic as the syllabus from anything from a 1980's course in literary criticism. Whether it is an assumption about the relation of intellectual activity to the culture at large, the relation of homosexuality to heterosexual culture, the relation of Saudi Arabia to it's neighbors, or the relation of the United States to the rest of the world, the faithful begin with the assumption that best serves their purpose and stick to it until the walls cave in. The popularity of this, and the idiocy, drives me nuts. I'd love to have some conservative critic call it for what it is.

There's something wrong with a country when its intellectual population is unwilling or unable to accept that ambiguity is central to any valid understanding of experience, and when that country's artists and writers end up so anti-intellectual almost in response. What is American art but empiricism run amok?

Friday, May 30, 2003

I've been having a distateful thought recently, since Sharon used the word "occupation." He's a smart man, and a survivor. If he thinks he's gotten all he can out of Bush, will he pull a De Klerk, and agree to real negotiations? Of course he'll expect the Nobel Prize if he does, and the idiots will give it to him.
Is he smart enough?
This mornning on NPR: Homeland security is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Money earmarked by Congress for port security is being redirected to airports. Patty Murray, who fought for the money to begin with, is now fighting to get it reinstated. And Gen. Eric Shinseki's statement before the invasion of Iraq that 200,000 troops would be needed after the big fights ended- and which Rummy mocked- is in the news almost every day. Soldiers are tired and want to go home. Families are frustrated. Again, what Joan Didion in the NY Review called "Fixed Ideas" rule the day. Rumsfeld is preoccupied with the idea of victory. He's a rationalist and a conceptualist. And an idiot.
More of the same from London.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

"WMD just a convenient excuse for war, admits Wolfowitz." This is disgusting. When did Wolfowitz begin to lie, and to whom? Did he lie to congress, or just to us?

"Most striking is the fact that these latest remarks come from Mr Wolfowitz, recognised widely as the leader of the hawks' camp in Washington most responsible for urging President George Bush to use military might in Iraq. The magazine article reveals that Mr Wolfowitz was even pushing Mr Bush to attack Iraq immediately after the 11 September attacks in the US, instead of invading Afghanistan.
There have long been suspicions that Mr Wolfowitz has essentially been running a shadow administration out of his Pentagon office, ensuring that the right-wing views of himself and his followers find their way into the practice of American foreign policy. He is best known as the author of the policy of first-strike pre-emption in world affairs that was adopted by Mr Bush shortly after the al-Qa'ida attacks."

Do we have a Zionist Occupation Government after all? White suprematists are going to eat this all up. Soon we'll be hearing Eric Alterman say, "It's bad for the Jews," and he'll be right.
Wolfowitz et al. are arguing from first principles. To them reliance on empirical evidence is a dodge and an avoidance of responsibility. It's a denail of faith. So they lie to others and to themselves. They're fascists, and they've sent people to their death... for a dream.
Atrios pointed it out but Josh Marshall has been pretty good on Blumenthal and "The Clinton Wars". It's amazing how far we've come when members of the mainstream press can express dismay and even anger, and still be ignored by the majority of their compatriots. I keep thinking Watergate must have moved faster, but Vietnam was 10 years on and Nixon won by a landslide; I shouldn't be amazed at all.
There's no conspiracy in the press. Reporters who behaved like idiots a few years ago are now waiting for the storm to blow over rather than admit their mistakes. The corruption is so petty.

"WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court gave the Bush administration a major legal victory in the war on terrorism Tuesday, rejecting a challenge to secret deportation hearings for hundreds of foreigners."

"The [British] Government admitted during the war on Iraq that the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets would 'not be legal.' " But they were used anyway.
For no reason, except that I was thinking about it today:

Hokusai, Dream of the Fisherman's Wife,  1814

Monday, May 26, 2003

A day or two ago, Samira Makhmalbaf won the Jury Prize at Cannes. Today, our government is considering taking steps to destabilize the government of her country. In her acceptance speech, she said:

"My film is about an Afghan woman who has no power but who wants to be a president one day. I don't want to be a president myself if the best-known president in the world is George Bush."

It still amazes me how stupid thugs are. Our leaders have the arrogance of Nazis before a Russian winter.

More on Samira Makhmalbaf and her family here.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

The banality of much of the the New York cultural scene is beginning to get to me. Holland Cotter manages to mix glib cynicism and politics in his piece on an exhibition of photographs from the late 60's of the Black Panthers, and Sarah Boxer is a parody of a teenage girl, writing about Warhol's screen tests.

I heard from a friend about Roger Kimball's screed against Minimalism and Michael Kimmelman. As with politics, so with culture: Do I really have to choose between a celebration of the hip or of the moribund? I have plenty of problems with the taste, and the politics, of the Dia foundation, but do I have to cite a hireling of Hilton Kramer for a response to its excesses?

With the Warhol and the Panther articles, the two critics have a similar confused perspective. They each write as if we were once supposed to take people—as actors, whether on a small stage or a large one—merely at their word. But now that we may not, we can at least have some fun at the expense of others less self-aware than we are. Is there a fascist tone to the Panther esthetic? Why yes dear, there is. Is it sexy? Yes dear, very. So, if we reduce everything to fashion and style, we can still use our chic cynicism to critique the political kitsch of George Bush? Ooh! That sounds fun. And with both our ignorance and sense of superiority intact.
So we've run the course from puritanism to decadence—from one version of simple-mindedness to another—with nothing, that we recognize as such, in between.

Here's Sarah Boxer on one of Warhol's screen tests.
"Nobody beats Dennis Hopper. One eye is lighter than the other, almost transparent. The light must be blinding him. He smiles; he looks down. A worry furrows his brow. A dark shadow has pooled right in the middle of his forehead. He blinks a lot, turns to the right, looks up, then to the left. What to do? He begins singing to himself, "Ba-ba-ba." His head beats time. He rocks, shuts his eyes, then stops singing and looks ahead. Gorgeous. He's troubled again. He looks left and up. Time for another song, with lips closed. "Bum-bum-bum." Give that man a contract."

As with the Cotter article It's a dilettante's critique, of everything.
Callie Angell, the curator in charge of collating Warhol's films, taught me years ago that with the screen tests Warhol became one of the best portraitists this country has ever produced. With Nadar and August Sander he completes a troika of the greatest photographers of the human face. To watch one of his 3 minute movies is to watch every pose and posture, every pretension of his sitters, disintegrate. Any viewer who looks at them without bias—without the baggage that accompanies the Warhol brand—can recognize and be entranced by this. Does Sarah Boxer know that some people who do not read Interview or Vogue take Warhol seriously? Can we expect a little more from the Times? Which Brings me to Michael Kimmelman.

I've written about Kimmelman here before. If Roger Kimball wants to compete with him in the high-brow olympics he'll lose in the first round, as anyone who has read the Times' critic in the NY Review (where he writes on classical music) will admit. Kimmelman was headed for a career as a concert pianist before injury made that impossible. As an art critic he is both serious and open minded. And he brings what I can only call an amateur's sense of curiosity. The problem is that he doesn't have a very sophisticated eye.

I'm going to write more on this, but not now.
Senator Pat Roberts on Meet the Press this morning, when asked about the our lack of preparedness in post war Iraq: "How can you be peacekeepers if there's no peace to keep?"
"That fucking Texas geezer".

Saturday, May 24, 2003

Josh Marshall says the Tom DeLay story is here to stay for a while. We all hope so.
A quick rundown before I go back to my sickbed.
There has been some praise for William Safire opining that power corrupts. "The concentration of power — political, corporate, media, cultural — should be anathema to conservatives." Of course he's referring only to domestic policy, not foreign policy. I'd love to hear him argue how such a contradiction is moral and necessary. He obviously believes it is, but I want to hear him defend it in public. As the thinking man's George Will he should be up to the task.

One of these days the assholes are going to pick on someone who can fight back.

On the arts front:
So the pendulum swings back. How stupidly predictable. I don't read much contemporary fiction, specifically avoiding the hipster kind. Thomas Pynchon ruined it for me when I read Gravity's Rainbow, and now the genre's past its prime. People tell me Delillo's good, but anything made after 1973 with Lee Harvey Oswald as a subject gets an automatic pass. It keeps things simple.

There comes a time, always, when someone argues for throwing out the baby with the bathwater. James Wood, "has called Mr. Pynchon's characters 'not human' and 'serfs to allegory.' " In and of itself, what's wrong with a character in a novel being a serf?

I hope the book is good. Perhaps Wood's simplistic argument comes from a need to arm himself against the acolytes of hipsterism, I don't know. Frank Stella is a perfect example of an artist who makes intellectual arguments that contradict the works they're meant to defend. It's only a problem when critics who hate his ideas choose to hate the work as a result. And of course Stella's old fans defend the ideas instead of the work, which makes it worse. Wood seems to understand the need for a work to exist on its own terms. Apparently he's broken a few of his rules already, so who knows.

There is an article in the Times on The Matrix and philosophy. I haven't read it. All I can say is that illustrating someone else's ideas only gets you... illustration; so why should I be interested?
Maybe the movie is good, but that's not the question at the moment. The question is "why?" and my response was to that.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Given the incompetence they have displayed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the absurdity of their economic policies, given the failure that is the department of Homeland security, the recent events in Texas and the questions about the behavior of Tom DeLay, this administration should be in terrible shape. It isn't, but there's still time to hope they will be soon.

The Horse is still sucking Bill Clinton's cock, which is a shame, considering his legacy. It should not be necessary to defend him to attack the Republicans or the press coverage of his antics. Blumenthal is an ass, and Marc Rich should be in jail. Am I not allowed to think these things in good conscience?

In the Times today Richard Eder reminds me why I have contempt for Israeli doves. I find it disgusting when people try to claim, with looks on their faces similar to that which I see on the face of David Grossman in his PR headshot- looks of earnestness and pity- that the the people who drove women and children from their homes had some sort of moral right to the land that they stole. This is the ideology of Zionism, and it is only less than truly vile, is made only slightly forgivable, by acknowledging the memories that drove it towards its victory.

" Mr. Grossman is a profound believer in Israel as the Jewish homeland. (He argues, for instance, that any unqualified right of return for Palestinian refugees would be fatal.)"

It was an unqualified right of return that has proven fatal already to others. How such a shallow condescension can survive such an obvious parallel is beyond my comprehension.

The Jewish state exists. In it's conception it is racist and reactionary, but there you have it, it's a fact. Generations have been born that have known only that state as home, and have a moral claim to do so. But this does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that their grandparents had any right to conquest, any more than the American descendants of the puritans can lay claim to Liverpool or Brixton.
I'm tired of repeating myself, but I still get enough new readers, thanks to google at least, that I suppose it's still worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The genius of American culture is not shown in its art, in the sense of high or noble art, but in its entertainment. Anyone who doesn't understand that is an ass. I've just spent the evening watching TV crap, the finale of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and then "24," neither of which is that great all things considered (Chaplin? Keaton?). TV is cinematic prose, and whatever Britain lacks in cinematic poetry—British movies being akin in general failure to British painting—the British seem to understand television more than we do. Nonetheless, and regardless of all the offensive drek that comes accross the screen, there's unpretentious vulgarity and popular cynicism on American television that's almost heartwarming compared to what we have to put up with in the serious media. I read The Guardian because I watch The Simpsons, and vice versa.
I'm burnt and drunk. Enough for now. It's been a running joke over the last few years that though I'm sick of New York, I can't make up my mind whether to move to Europe or LA: to delay the inevitable or take the plunge into honest absurdity.
The occupation is becoming a Fiasco.
We just have to wait to see how long it will take for this awareness to trickle down, or drip -if it ever does- into the minds of the M'rcan People. What I'm still impressed by, after a fashion, is Rumsfeld's insipid arrogance: it seems designed to self destruct. I'm just worried that it won't happen fast enough.
It's all too similar to Israel, which we seem destined to emulate. Sharon is like a horse swatting at flies until he goes mad. Rumsfeld is just a little behind the curve, but not much.

"Troops 'vandalise' ancient city of Ur"
It's not only the theft and defacement that are offensive, nor the insult of building an airport right next to such a site: what about damage from the construction and the air traffic itself? It's disgusting.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Atrios refers to the Hitler miniseries is 'important.' I hope not.
Last night I was flipping the channels at my ex-girfriend's apartment in Brighton Beach. For a few minutes we watched Mr Smith Goes to Washigton, the scene where Jimmy Stewart gives his awed little monologue of his first visions of the Capital dome and the Lincoln Memorial. It's "Capra corn" at its worst: every moment choreographed to produce the appropriate response, the audience and the cynical secretary won over by the earnest naivete of the newby senator. I cringed and begged to switch the channel. We ended up with "Hitler: The Rise of Evil", but it was the same thing: the audience being told what emotions to feel, whom to love and whom to hate. Once again, it's us versus them. But history is never us versus them; it's us versus us. To claim otherwise is fall into the trap of political kitsch, of which fascism is the first example. It helps no one and should not be defended, especially those whose of us who claim to be aware of the stakes.

Jack Balkin is still arguing with Larry Solum on the subject of Constitutional change.
Solum refers to himself as a "neoformalist" and lays out some principles as to what that description means. That's all well and good, but he's talking to others who are not neoformalists. And there are plenty of others of various other persuasions who are involved in debates on the same subject. In this case a neoformalist is debating a hybrid historicist textualist social constructivist liberal. Never mind how change should happen, how does it happen? What are the terms of the debate they are already having? We need a little less theorizing and a little more sociological observation. Balkin understands this; after all I think it fits in with his philosophy, but Solum seems not to, and is simply trying to invent ways to justify his moral conservatism with a veneer of logic. But if history is anything other than repitition, it's dialectics. As a simple matter of fact, Solum's ideals, even if they come and go in popularity, simply fail as a description of why they do so.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

People, specifically those with intellectual occupations, spend their time creating or forming logical systems based on their occupations. Mathematicians, economists, historians and lawyers are all specialists of one sort or another, interpreting the data they gather according to their chosen system. Mathematics and the hard sciences, however, have the advantage of an objective reality. Nonetheless, for all intents and purposes, in regards our experience of the world, the following is true:
Before there is logic, there is sensibility. Before there is mathematics, there is a taste for mathematics. Before economics, there is a taste for the values of economic logic. Art, however, has as it's subject matter, sensibility itself. What is it that I like, and why do I like it? What does it mean that I care about this thing? People preoccupied with art are sometimes in the position of someone existing in one of Zeno's paradoxes: he can't get half way to anyplace. Some like Proust, can't even get out of bed.

This sort of preoccupation can be subdivided into two categories, one of connoisseurship and one of historicism. "How do I like thee? Let me count the ways." would be a good description of connoisseurship. "How is this like different that any other like" describes historicism. You could also say that the connoisseur is making the journey half step by half step, spiraling down into infinitesimal detail, while the historian is looking at two people making their half steps in opposite directions and comparing the two. Once you begin using comparisons, you have decided to escape, or to ignore, the paradox. And art history is therefore a subject like any other, like mathematics, law or economics, with it's own academic logic. One is obviously more intellectual than the other, and two competing forms of snobbery are the result. I am not sure, even when I'm making my own work, if I'm a historicist- I'll quibble and say I'm not a historian- or a connoisseur, whether it's more important for me to follow my train of thought wherever it goes, or to compare it with others'. I know I'm constantly looking over my shoulder at something. But then again, I'm deeply paranoid, so perhaps they're the same thing.

I'm describing this now, though I think I've done it before, because I'm still amazed at the degree to which the educated in this country, I think far more than any other, live their sensibilities without acknowledging that those sensibilities actually affect their behavior. I thought my two posts below were fairly straightforward in the way they describe the coyness of economic language, and the contradictions in people's response to restrictions on their freedom. But I get the impression, judging by what small response I've had, that the logic just passed people by.

The aftermath of the war is going just as I and a lot of others predicted. Anybody who comes here by now knows my opinion; if not they can click on the archives. I'm still paying attention, but there's no use me adding my two cents on this every day. Go read Robert Fisk

Friday, May 16, 2003

A retired lobsterman named Ted Buswell owns a lot of land on the small island in Maine where he lives. He wants to sell off some of the land but the state has laws to protect the coastline from overdevelopment. One law says he can't sell his coastal land in less than 4 acre lots, and whoever builds there can only build one house per lot. This is one of two things that have been bothering Ted recently. His other concern is for the preservation of the way of life on the island. Summer people have been moving in more and more and the economy is changing. The world he knew and was a part of is fading away and being replaced by a community of servants. This makes him sad.

Ted Buswell has never known a day of freedom. He has lived his entire life within boundaries that he did not choose. He is uneducated. He was a lobsterman for 50 years on an island that 40 years ago he laughs, you could pick up for $10,000 (the Rockefellers bought half of it.) Now $10,000 wouldn't buy you an outhouse. Ted has a wife and 4 grown children. He has a church. He has a community. He has lived his life in a controlled political economy, not one controlled by a government, but by an enclosed system. Let's just call that system: "The way things are."
Ted has never had too much of a problem with this system. He bitches a little. It's been a hard life, but he never expected anything else. He's a proud man and he's done pretty well. He's 92 years old, and happy.

Ted has had his entire life circumscribed by a system over which he had little control, but he has accepted it, and loved it, because he was not alone. He may have spent his life locked in a cage, but everyone he knew or cared about was in that cage with him. But the law that pisses Ted off, that says he can't sell the land he wants to the way he wants to, is someone else's law, made by someone outside the cage. It angers him, even though it is meant to help him keep the island the way he wants it to be. Ted has always worked for the rich, but he has not been their servant. They haven't told him what to do. Economies have been manipulated and rules have been changed, but for Ted all of this has occurred by an indirect process. Things are not "changed", "thing's change." Is the distinction clear?

A controlled economy is one where there is someone outside the cage, telling you to stay in it. A manipulated economy is where the control is indirect and therefore psychologically acceptable.
As I said yesterday: "What is the difference between the cutting off of nourishment to a terminally ill patient, which is allowed in some cases, and the administering of an overdose, which is not? The difference is in the sense, perhaps illusory, of a buffer zone between the act and the result."

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

In most writing the passive voice is considered a weakness. There's a sense that the author is removing himself from responsibility, the classic weasely example: "Mistakes were made".  Economists don't seem to mind. 'Inflation' is as a thing that occurs, while greed is an action. The last time someone chose to describe one as the other was in the Soviet Union, but either way the choice serves a purpose. Still, people often avoid the obvious. A few days ago I heard a report explaining that although retail oil and gas prices rose quickly in response to the war's effect on the wholesale market, the decline in the retail price always lags well behind a decline in costs. There was no question why and not even an ironic shrug of the shoulders from the commentator. Greed in this case is considered merely a natural phenomenon.

The fact that the difference between inflation and greed is often rhetorical doesn't mean it's not substantial. In human interaction rhetoric is substance. What's the difference between cutting off nourishment to a terminally ill patient, which is allowed in some cases, and administering an overdose, which isn't?  The difference is in the sense of a buffer zone, illusory or not, between act and result. It's an example of the same passive voice represented by the term "inflation". It's amazing what people will put up with if everything is done to them according to such regulations, rather than by individuals acting on their own. People are distrustful of the power of others but someone who claims to speak for god will gain the respectful audience that someone who claims to be god will not. Doctors who allow patients to die in some circumstances are not the same as doctors who are seen as having killed by action. Is it logical? Psychologically and sociologically, maybe it is.

Anyone who's been reading me for a while knows that systems one way or another are my life. Language, history, craft and art are all systems. Any human communication is the result of them, and my hatred of fascism, and libertarianism, comes from my disgust with people who think freedom from systems will do anything but render us barbarians, though barbarism too has its rules. One system is not as good as another. I'm not an Eisenhower Republican. I have no undue fondness for Gary Wills, though I take him seriously after a fashion. I'm not a monarchist. At the same time freedom as such, as a romantic ideal or a basic goal, is something I've grown tired of.

Serious moral conservatives understand the weight that accrues to any system over time. People allow themselves to be incorporated into systems that regulate them, but rebel when forced to become mere cogs. What else does the failure of hard communism show but that? Survival is not enough. Nonetheless, as I watch history slide by I have to force myself to remember how to shrug. The fact that people become acculturated to their situation means that the notion a 60% (or higher) tax rate on the wealthiest Americans is now considered absurd. The fact that states can be held hostage by corporations is a fact of life. The logic or illogic of such things in any absolute sense is irrelevant.

I've been typing this while listening to Motörhead's "1916." The songs range from descriptions of working class macho theatrics to illustrations of nightmarish grandiosity. And all the songs but the last are hard and loud. But the last song, "1916," describes the life and death of a British soldier in the trenches in WWI and the tone and voice sound as if they're coming to you from the stage of a music hall.

16 years old when I went to war,
To fight for a land fit for heroes,
God on my side, and a gun in my hand,
Counting my days down to zero,
And I marched and I fought and I bled
And I died & I never did get any older,
But I knew at the time, That a year in the line,
Is a long enough life for a soldier,

We all volunteered,
And we wrote down our names,
And we added two years to our ages,
Eager for life and ahead of the game,
Ready for history's pages,
And we fought and we brawled
And we whored 'til we stood,
Ten thousand shoulder to shoulder,
A thirst for the Hun,
We were food for the gun, and that's
What you are when you're soldiers,
I heard my friend cry,
And he sank to his knees, coughing blood
As he screamed for his mother
And I fell by his, side,
And that's how we died,
Clinging like kids to each other,
And I lay in the mud
And the guts and the blood,
And I wept as his body grew colder,
And I called for my mother
And she never came,
Though it wasn't my fault
And I wasn't to blame,
The day not half over
And ten thousand slain, and now
There's nobody remembers our names
And that's how it is for a soldier.

It's a great sad way to end an album that otherwise alternates debauchery and mock dread. The fear of an amoral—because absolute and otherworldly—horror, described in ways mixing barbarism and camp, is supplanted by a specific and explicitly political narrative of absurdity and class cruelty. If the cruelty of a god is seen as comic indifference, the cruelty of man is criminal. In combination the songs describe our conflicting relations to systems, at least those experienced by the working class (or their famous representatives.) There's nothing new here; Johnny Cash did the same thing. So did Biggie Smalls, though perhaps he was more serious than most. Rock and Roll is capitalism.

I can't say why I popped Motörhead into the stereo this morning—maybe I just needed to wake up in a hurry—but it fits my argument.  '1916' reshapes the songs before it in a very smart and subtle way. I'm not using it as fodder for my intellectual amusement, it works on its own. And since I've taken it as my job to explain the importance of culture to policy wonks, including those who read Eric Alterman, I thought it would be a good way to wind it all up.
I read the response to Richard Goldstein's article without reading the piece itself, until this morning. I could barely get through it: nothing but self-righteous anger on a foundation of ignorance and elision. In March I wrote two or three posts on Anthony Swofford, one of which included this:
War only can be used as entertainment in two ways by two groups of people: those who treat it as a game played by choice -a deadly game but one that can be left and rejoined- and those who know only war. The most important difference is that the former have never been the victims of a war, only the warriors. They didn't learn to kill by feeling pain.
Goldstein doesn't understand the difference, so he attacks Eminem. His critique of hyper-masculinity is laughable; as if gay culture only appropriated masculinity to undermine it. Where to begin?

Tom of Finland spent his life memorializing his escapades with German soldiers, and now Goldstein is complaining about the homophobic violence of lower class machismo.
I'm sitting at my desk listening to a CD Mix-tape: "Street Wars Volume III" a product of the underground musical economy. Rappers toss insults at each other and settle scores from their pasts and from the street. Every major and minor figure in the industry ends up recording tracks for these cd's. In a sense they have to; they have to prove themselves, and continue to do it after they get big. The rivals never meet, the producer sends tapes back and forth. I doubt if Sony or any other big label gets any money. Interestingly, unlike Napster, lawyers don't seem to get in the way. I've heard there aren't many being made right now; 50 Cent is the man of the moment and he makes rivals nervous, and he's backed by Eminem and Dre.
I'm listening to Dre and Eminem from a year ago in a battle with Jermaine Dupri, and the homoerotic undertones in Eminem's language and voice, in his spitting anger at Dupri seem clear. Dupri attacks Dre for being Gay -using that word, not "faggot" or any other- but neither Dre nor Eminem respond. Fans seem to take for granted that Eminem and Dre are lovers. It's been written about, but I'd never understood the context before I picked up the CD from a street corner sale table.

My point is the same as it was with Swofford: to understand everything in its context. I don't approve of violence but even pacifists need to understand, and Helena Cobban does, the difference between Sharon and Hizbollah, between what each represents to those who support them. As to sexuality and power: masculinity is problematic, moralizing self-absorption is worse.

May 2008. Reworked. I've been getting a lot of hits off google for the Tom of Finland images. I'd never liked the way the post was written.

Johann Hari 2004: []"With the exception of Jean-Marie Le Pen, all the most high-profile fascists in Europe in the past thirty years have been gay"
2008: Updated with a discussion of Jorg Haider.
Robert Fisk is great today.
"If the Americans expected submission, they didn't get it in Beirut yesterday afternoon. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran – whose election gave him a far more convincing majority than George Bush received in America – insisted that Tehran's support for the Lebanese Hizbollah would remain firm, that Israel must leave the last square miles of Lebanese territory and that – here was the old, familiar Khatami refrain – there must be a "dialogue" of civilisations.

The Shia Muslims of Lebanon, the largest if largely unacknowledged community in the country, flocked to see their hero in Beirut, women in chadors and great bearded men weeping with delight at the mere sight of the thin, ascetic but humane cleric who once offered a real hope of democracy in Iran.

Alas for hopes. The religious hierarchy in Tehran has crushed President Khatami's spirit of freedom – it tore up two parliamentary bills demanding yet more freedoms this week – but his message to the Lebanese contains a powerful emotional charge: don't give in, trust in God, believe in humanism. It is very much the message of the Renaissance with which the West was blessed but of which the Middle East – we are talking here about Islam – was deprived. Vincent Battle, America's unimaginative ambassador to Lebanon, has been preaching the lessons of Israeli submission to the Lebanese for weeks: disarm the Hizbollah fighters, put the Lebanese army on the border with Israel, learn the lessons of the "war on terror".
The Independent

In the photos of my work you can see the contraption that I use as a rigging. It's made out of the metal strut that is used for hanging and bracing pipes, the most common brand name for which is "Kindorf." With a little welding and machining I've got a $200 version (excluding labor) of a $2000 easel that can hold a painting from 12 inches square to 12 feet. The only actual limitation is the size of the room. (I've removed the photographs that were here. Follow the link below)
The vertical members each roll on two ball bearings. A small piece can be clamped in place at any height and a larger one simply hangs on two movable posts that click into the verticals. I've been told I should market it, but I'm too lazy. I'll add more detailed instructions later. The clear bracing is not plexi, which is too fragile, but "Lexan." The toggle clamps are from McMaster-Carr. See the link under "misc(ing)" at the bottom of the page.

Here's a full page of images: "Kindorf" Easel

Monday, May 12, 2003

"State troopers and the elite Texas Rangers were ordered to track down and bring in 59 Democratic lawmakers who brought the Texas House to a standstill Monday by going into hiding"

"Most of the missing lawmakers said they planned to leave the state to avoid arrest, and late Monday the Texas Department of Public Safety asked the public for help in finding the lawmakers.
In New Mexico, Attorney General Patricia Madrid said her state has no authority to arrest lawmakers who show up there.
"Nevertheless, I have put out an all-points bulletin for law enforcement to be on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy,'' said Madrid, a Democrat. "
Goya's Caprichos

Atrios and Eric Alterman are having a discussion about the relationship of art to political intention. It's sort of my field, so I'll put in my two cents.
Here is an image of Picasso's famous "Guernica" from 1937.

Last year I made a similar painting, on a similar theme. I'm reproducing it below.
It's called "Dresden."

Think about it for a few minutes before you decide I'm being simplistic or glib.
From Thom Merrick: Links on the left, or here, and here.
Why wasn't this in The Times this morning?

"Local agencies have been denied information that would help them be more effective. First-responders and the American people do not have the information upon which they can hold the administration and responsible agencies accountable," Graham said, adding: "I call that a cover-up."

The only defense I can think of is that the editorial staff think it's too political, that Graham is only out to score points, but I have a hard time thinking they'd give Clinton the same deference.
That's about it for my Atrios imitation. I got the link from him. Still, defending Bill Clinton is not something I enjoy much.
Clare Short says goodbye.
Atrios links to this post by Digby on Rove, gay rights and the neo-confederates, in what amounts to a refresher course on the divisions within neo-conservatism between economic and social conservatism. I have no problems with any of it except to complain, as I have been recently, of the strange blindness in American political discussion when it comes to psychology.

Digby did some research on the southern heritage movement and its obvious racial underpinnings:

"But, strangely, I found that they also spend a vast amount of time spewing the most vile commentary about gays and lesbians. Who knew this was such a huge part of America’s Southern heritage? These confederate historical associations are so obsessed with the “gay rights” agenda that you can only conclude that the “threat” of homosexuality was the most hotly debated issue in the pre-1860 south. Why else would these benign heritage societies spend such an inordinate amount of time and energy detailing the dangers of the “gay lifestyle?”

Unless, of course, discussing gays and lesbians as if they are less than human is a convenient way of signaling your bigot credentials in all things. Then, it makes sense for these historical organizations to take a bizarre stand against gays, while proclaiming their mission is a simple desire to celebrate their heritage. Trent Lott broke the rules. Santorum didn't."

These two paragraphs are just odd to me. Anxiety about homosexual desire as about anything else, is no more than a sign of its prevalence within the community. It seems obvious that a regimented and sexually restricted society- where the men are men and the women are ladies- should have a large homoerotic subtext. Ever seen Gone With the Wind, or Deliverance? Anything by Tennessee Williams? The relationship between racial and sexual insecurity predates politics, or rather it's where politics begins.

I'll amend that: It's not political commentators who ignore psychology, it's liberal and left wing commentators. I've harped on it too often to forget about it now. Reformers ignore our frailty in order to offer us a way out of the dilemmas we invent for ourselves. Conservatives assume the opposite, allowing them both the opportunity to indulge in sin and then in the punishment they believe themselves so deserving of: Bennett the gambler, Sullivan the bareback bottom, Thomas the chronic Masturbator, Bork the drunk. They all loathe themselves for their failings, and they hate those who don't feel the same self-disgust.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

"One key argument for war was the peril from weapons of mass destruction. Now top officials are worried by repeated failures to find the proof - and US intelligence agencies are engaged in a struggle to avoid the blame" The Guardian/Observer
Before I quit this rant (for now) I need to add a little more- from this morning. Four white kids from the midwest. In their late 20's; dressed in various incarnations of suburban 1970's preadolescence; dressed like fucking 12 year olds; fat-faced and neotenous; talking a little too loudly, from inexperience, about almost everything. I'm sitting between a young man and woman whom I think are Guyanese, and an old neighnorhood couple. We are all embarrassed. What can you say to or about people who seem to have no sense of social obligation? That they're being rude; and that, by their isolation, having been rendered without history, they are incredibly unsophisticated. Aside from their ineffectual desire to be liked, albeit entirely on their own terms -whether in Brooklyn or in Rome- there is no difference between them and our president.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

So we have a thinly based economy that produces isolated communities of well educated and well fed and therefore liberal city dwellers involved in various aspects of paper pushing and "symbolic analysis" (or in the businesses that sate their appetites for new experience); and in the economically depressed rural areas we have a population that makes its living doing the drudge work the urban sophisticates won't touch, and which is scared of losing what little independence it has left. The group is uneducated and its membership often looks for simple answers. Nonetheless, can't someone come up with a better response to this situation than to celebrate the condescension of those who can pay four dollars for a cup of fucking coffee towards those who can't ? And what does it say that I have to remind you assholes once again about the urban lower middle class, who are just as backwards as their rural brethren. Oh we don't condescend to them, unless they're white. We may hate cops, but we love negroes. They're earthy but, oh I don't know, they're just different I guess. They're not like the mooks in Bay Ridge. My son loves hip-hop.

I'd like to thank personally every fucking liberal white ass college boy who has ever used his parents' money to move into Brooklyn. Little old ladies are getting thrown out of their homes but why should I care? The bitches all vote republican. Don't you just love the fucking Catholic Church? It's a peasant making machine.

An isolated, alienated and self absorbed 'intelligentsia' is no healthier for democracy than an angry, uneducated, and inarticulate base. For fascism to work, you need both.

It's important to remember that the whole point of the working class is that they have no freedom. They are raised to have unfulfilling jobs and unfulfilling lives. Someone has to take out the fucking garbage. Self fulfillment is a luxury. Most people have no time. Or if they do it means abandoning everything they know: family, friends, neighbors. Can you understand what it means to a 50 year old man who had his dreams, if he had any, crushed years ago, to witness the invasion of his neighborhood by a bunch of ill mannered disrespectful -but free thinking and liberal- teenagers who waltz around like they own the fucking world? Do you think the locals in any midwestern college town feel any differently? They don't. What hope do any of these assholes, in the city or the sticks, have?. None. And how odd does it seem to these people when the kids start handing out Nader buttons? Oh, the ironies of gentrification.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

If this is what passes for intellectual seriousness in liberal circles I'll stick with communists and bankers. How many ways can such arguments be demolished? I can't even begin to count. It's an embarrassment

Rummy in 2000: director of a company which wins $200m contract to sell nuclear reactors to North Korea.
Rummy in 2002: declares North Korea a terrorist state, part of the axis of evil and a target for regime change.
The Guardian
As with Bennett, it's not the money it's the hypocrisy. But to the republicans, I suppose, it should be treason.
Thank you, "Red Ken".

And I'm really sick of Alterman's love hate relationship with pop stars.
"Everybody get the new Lucinda? I was right, huh?"
His tone runs from intellectual superiority to fandom, but if it's not contempt tinged with jealousy, it's jealousy tinged with contempt: a Yeshiva bucher trying to be down with negroes and white trash. It's painful.
"Is there gas in the car?"
It's a song about Ken Kesey, asshole.
Another addition:
Pop Art and Banality in Picasso

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Josh Marshall calls the Bennett flap 'over' since Bennett has admitted his 'innappropriate' habit -was that the word?- and said that he will quit. If he weren't such a cheap moralizer I might agree, but the problem for the rest of us was not gambling per se but hypocrisy. And if the issue hadn't caught up with him, Bennett would still be doing losing money at the slots.
Besides that, when did his biggest habit, greed, become a virtue? Shouldn't someone have called him on that years ago?
But this is America.
A few images from the past year at my day job:
an office, an apartment, and some restoration/renovation in a private house in Manhattan; two mid-range, and one high end.
(As I've said before, if perhaps not recently, I'm a carpenter and construction mechanic.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Today I feel like voting for Kerry, if only because of his wife. She's not helping him with anyone who has no sense of humor, which means more than it should. But if we have to be ruled by millionaires...
Nathan Newman on the same SC decision
I have to admit that the notion of an intellectual conservatism is something that I find hard to take seriously. Jack Balkin has been having a discussion with a couple of people about Bush v Gore and constitutional change. The whole thing seems odd to me. That there is a distinction between High and Low politics should be obvious, and I'm at pains to understand how an educated person could imagine otherwise. The debate between liberals and conservatives, and between all parties in any sort of structured proceeding, is over where to draw the line beween civil argument and civil war. Balkin quotes from an argument made by someone [Larry Solum] against his simple logical points
"[T]he distinction between high politics and low politics .... [is a] conjuring trick. If the universe consists of decisions that are either high politics or low politics, then it's all politics. But it isn't all politics. The crucial distinction is not between political decisions that favor your ideology and those that favor your party. It isn't even between political decisions that are based on general principles you believe in and those which adopt principles you abhor to get to the results that you like. The crucial distinction is between decisions that are based on the law--on things like texts, history, and precedent--and decisions that are based on politics."
This is absurd.
Yes, it is beyond discussion, the [social] universe is entirely politics. But there is a difference between politics within a community and politics among communities. We have come together to form a union and have constructed a system of principles and rules, and we have agreed to allow these rules to regulate our political debate. Does this mean these rules aren't political? Not at all. Does this mean that legal debates are unpolitical? Go back to high school. It's a valid question whether Roe v. Wade or Miranda were political in such a way as to be beyond civil discussion at the time they were decided. To imagine, however, that the law is and should be apolitical is to confuse law with theology. I have no response to such illogic.

There is a need in some people to base everything on an absolutely solid foundation, even where none exists. The devine right of kings is such an illusory foundation. All that exists is our decision to form a union on certain principles, and to continue the line of those principles—which after all we did not invent—into the future. How we define them, how to enact legislation furthering them over time, that's the job of all three branches of our government, in various degrees of friendly partnership and antagonism. IT'S ALL POLITICS.

And on the subject of what's fair. The character from Volokh who calls Miranda "outrageous" (!?) might be interested in this unsigned SC decision made without even hearing argument. Texas Court Rebuked on Illegal Arrest
WASHINGTON, May 5 — The Supreme Court delivered an unusual rebuke to a Texas appeals court today by unanimously setting aside the murder conviction of a teenager whose confession, the justices found, was the product of an illegal arrest and should not have been introduced at his trial.
The decision... viewed the Texas Court of Appeals as having made such obvious errors in upholding the conviction that the justices overturned its decision in an unsigned opinion, without even bothering to hear arguments in the case.

Mr. Kaupp, who was then 17, was suspected of having taken part in the murder of a 14-year-old girl, but the Harris County Sheriff's Department lacked evidence to obtain a warrant for his arrest. Instead, six police officers went to his home in the middle of the night and, after his father allowed them in, roused him from his bed by shining a flashlight on him.
"We need to go and talk," one officer said, to which the teenager replied, "O.K." The officers then handcuffed him and took him to the police station, barefoot and in his underwear. There, after receiving his Miranda warnings, he implicated himself in the murder.

...While the opinion was unsigned, the tone resembled that of Justice John Paul Stevens. Although Mr. Kaupp received his Miranda warnings at the police station and waived his right to counsel before talking to the police, the court said, it is firmly established under the Supreme Court's precedents that Miranda warnings alone cannot erase the taint of an unconstitutional arrest.

Monday, May 05, 2003

I just reread this piece for the first time in years. It rehashes what I've been saying here -though more precisely the opposite is true- but it comes off as one of the best and most reasonable things I've ever written.
From the mid 90's: Our Friend Freud

Sunday, May 04, 2003

"A US firm is being paid millions by the Bush administration to collect detailed personal information on the populations of foreign countries." The Guardian
I'm going to be adding more older writing, some published, most -and that means almost all- not. Some pieces are full scripts, others are outlines, notes, letters etc. There will be a few actual essays.
I'm rewriting thngs a little as I go.
The Conquest of Spain (The Sin of Pride)
Prosecutors are cutting corners even in cases when it serves no purpose. There is a systemic lack of respect for the notion of the rule of law. When the police, rather than being seen as servants of the legal system become conflated with the law itself, we've reached the definition of authoritarianism.

Friday, May 02, 2003

I can't link to the individual post so I'll cut and paste:
A friend desribes her life in England

"The thing with being a non-white obviously immigrant people, Is that most people will already have an opinion about you, before you’ve even opened your mouth. I have been lucky, in the most part, I have experienced little racism. I imagine it depends on where you live, but in my area, most are pretty tolerant and friendly.

Racism can come from all sides. To keep out of trouble with the black kids, I’d let them believe I was half black (believable considering how curly my hair was). The Asian (South Asian) kids would speak to me in Punjabi or Urdu and I’d just nod blankly. The white kids..well I couldn’t really pass for meditteranean olive skin, because I didn’t quite have the look.

However in the last two years or so I have started to grow uneasy. Asylum Seekers, refugees, immigrants, racial riots, the rise of the BNP (British National Party- fascist, racists), September 11 th, muslim extremists. I feel like I have to be constantly on the defensive, apologetic. But I’m a British citizen like everyone else, I break no laws, I work, I pay taxes. I love Britain, it’s the only place I want to live in, I know how to live in. I have lived here all my life. I consider myself a British Arab. I should belong.

I look at the former Yugoslavia, and German history in WWII, and think, never in England! Nothing like that could ever happen here. Then I see Combat 18 stickers on the bus stop, Keep Britain White grafitti on the walls. I hear how angry people get about Asylum Seekers, and notice when they stop saying Asylum Seekers, and start saying “those people” taking our jobs, bleeding our economy. I notice the bus drivers who scowl at me when I step on the bus, and then soften alittle when I say “thank you” without a foreign accent. I walk past the back to back newspaper frontpages that show the faces of mad, crazed looking muslim fanatics.

I see all this, and I feel uneasy, and a little afraid."

Thursday, May 01, 2003