Friday, July 16, 2004

new site

Well, I've just about had it. For some reason Blogger won't let me link to anything. As a result, I've moved the transfer to my new site forward. Britain's top public intellectual and most prominent Moloch worshipper can now be found at:

do that thing with your bookmarks.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

i'm off

Sometime over the next few days, I'm going to shift off Blogger and set up elsewhere. I'll keep you posted.

zen governance

Prior to his report, there was much speculation that Lord Butler didn’t like the way the senior civil service had been put under the whip of various Blairoid arrivistes and cronies and was determined to administer a good kicking in response. Instead, he’s given our callow PM a smooth demonstration of what the Mandarin classes are actually good for.

Step aside Hutton, and look how a real pro goes about soothing troubled waters. “Doubtful” claims, “unsubstantiated” allegations, “vague and ambiguous intelligence”, “strain” between the government and the intelligence services. And yet no one was to blame. Failure was collective. In fact, it was a kind of platonic essence floating about the place until exorcised by Lord Butler ‘s report, at which point it evaporated with a faint hiss. Both sides of the argument can find satisfaction in the report, but neither are vindicated. Perfect equilibrium has been reached. Are chemical warheads a fantasy in the mind of Tony Blair? Or is Blair a simply a figment of the imagination of a warhead? Who can say? Shall we move on?

Well, maybe. The problem is that both Hutton and Butler have revealed a lot about how this government actually goes about its business, and specifically the business of taking the country to war. And it’s this, I think, rather than the war itself which has put people off the government. People have turned against Blair in the same sense that people who see sausages being made turn towards vegetarianism.


It's late, but...

"Danielle laughed: I know some Maoists. They had a conference on the French Revolution and their main spoeaker was a reclusive philosopher who'd spent years studying the period. He went to the podium, said nothing for the longest time and then announced - 'there was only one revolution - the French revolution'. There was thunderous applause."

From The Golden Age is in us.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ballard and Blunkett

Just finished Millennium People, which offers all that you might expect of the pleasures of Ballard: the benign tolerance of extremes; the humming of intense affectlessness; the peculiar way he has at communicating reassurance at the prospect of chaos. Wherever you go, you’re safe with Jim. And you go to some pretty strange places.

Many assessments of Ballard treat him as a prophet. This is sort of true, in an out of kilter way. Crash can be seen to anticipate road rage. Cocaine nights pre-figured the flagrant hedonism of Club 18-30. The thuggish overclass of Super-Cannes can be taken as a metaphor for the overall effects of the Washington consensus and global neoliberal economics. And the success of UKIP seems to echo the middle class revolt that is the subject of Millenium People.

And yet there’s a lot that’s out of alignment. Car culture doesn’t generate psychosexual adventures, but punch ups on the hard shoulder. The island hedonists in Cocaine Nights are retirees, rather than the gormless teens and twenty somethings infesting Zante and Faliraki. And UKIP represent the forces of militant nostalgia rather than the more nuanced and comprehensive revolt against the very idea of civic responsibility that drives Millenium People.

Ballard’s too good a writer to be a really accurate prophet. You get the feeling he wouldn’t have created a party like UKIP – too loud and puerile. On the other hand, Robert Kilroy Silk is a real Ballard character, a mass of cliches struggling to emerge out of a sort of primal blankness.

What would Ballard have done with the Home Secretary as a character? Here we have a blind man obsessed with surveillance, identification and order, a man with a guide dog who needs to know where everyone and everything is at all times. On the face of it, Blunkett is a highly Ballardian character. But then again… he’s a bit too crude and a bit too obvious.

Perhaps this is really what makes Ballard so appealing. In real life, Ballardian types are spiteful, career obsessed and status hungry wised up rabble. You have to go to the books to get the real thing. Britain’s just too mediocre to make a satisfying dystopia.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

ochre is the new black

Or something. Added Backword Dave, Stalinism, Chase Me Ladies and Explananda to the links, because that's the kind of public intellectual I am. I've deleted Chun the unavoidable, because he deleted himself.I've not put up comments yet and may leave blogger in the next couple of days. Or maybe not. Meanwhile, the site feed is working finally. You can see it on the right. I have a mild ache in my shoulder. My Jack Russell is sleeping on my lap as I type. Outside, it's bright with a strong breeze. I need to change the contents of the washing machine. I'm not sure whether to have another cup of coffee. I'm just going to buy some stamps.


got those must-find-a decent-comments-system, something-weird's-happened-to-the-RSS-feed, the-format-makes-the-print-size-look-tiny-on-a-mac, might-as-well-update-the blogroll-while-I'm-at-it blues.

Abnormal service resumed later.

Monday, July 12, 2004

a bit on the cute side

Sunday, July 11, 2004

moloch speaks!

In today’s Observer, Nick Cohen warns against the long term consequences of giving legal protection to superstition.

The evangelicals were mad and wanted to get even. But there was something more than that. Butler got to the heart of the difficulty of imposing censorship when he wrote in the Melbourne Age : 'If we believe our religion is the only way to heaven, then we must also affirm that all other paths lead to hell. If we believe our religion is true, then it requires us to believe others are false.'

Well, quite. To a devout Jew, what could be more hateful than Christianity's claims that Jesus was the son of God? To a devout Christian, what could be more hateful than Islam's claims that Jesus was only another prophet? To devout Jews, Christians, Muslims, and for that matter, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jains, Bahais, Mormons and Moonies, what could be more hateful than athiests' claims that there are no gods and they should grow up? To the fundamentalist, anyone who recommends another path is sending people to hell.

But Nick, they are going to hell. All of them. Now, as well as being Britain’s top public intellectual I am also a worshipper of Moloch, with all that this entails. It’s been a while since I’ve actually burned a child alive within the hollow statue of a brazen bull, but that’s cool. I realize that this is not permitted in these benighted times, and in the best New Labour fashion, I do not wish to be judgemental of those who do not understand that the screams of a burning child sound sweet to the ears of God and have a positive affect on labour productivity.

I would like to make this argument more forcefully. Look at Africa, once a great and powerful continent, fertile and forested. Then the Romans destroy Carthage, the Mecca of Molochianism. Since then it’s been nothing but war, famine, colonialism, desertification and starvation. How many children have died since the worship of Moloch was extirpated. How many would have been saved if even one was sacrificed?

Thanks to Mr Blunkett, soon I will be able to campaign openly and publicly for the burning of children, and take to court any who would profess to find this abhorrent. And I am not the only one. Mrs Granger from next door but one is a sturdy local businesswoman and devotee of Humwawa, who rides the South Wind, whose breath smells of entrails and who feasts on the heart’s blood of captured warriors. She, too, is looking forward to the new dispensation. This is truly an ecumenical matter.

We intend jointly to raise our case with Prince Charles, defender of faiths. We also have some advice on organic agriculture that may be of interest to him.

Friday, July 09, 2004


I'd like to take this opportunity to declare how disillusioned I am with the Kerry presidency.

unknown knowns

Various apologists have compared the events at Abu Ghraib to fraternity high jinks. Taking the higher road, others warn us not to drift into thoughtcrime. This is not the real America.

Slavoj Zizek says yes and no.

To anyone acquainted with the reality of the American way of life, the photos brought to mind the obscene underside of U.S. popular culture—say, the initiatory rituals of torture and humiliation one has to undergo to be accepted into a closed community. Similar photos appear at regular intervals in the U.S. press after some scandal explodes at an Army base or high school campus, when such rituals went overboard. Far too often we are treated to images of soldiers and students forced to assume humiliating poses, perform debasing gestures and suffer sadistic punishments.

The torture at Abu Ghraib was thus not simply a case of American arrogance toward a Third World people. In being submitted to the humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture: They got a taste of the culture’s obscene underside that forms the necessary supplement to the public values of personal dignity, democracy and freedom.

Article via Lenin’s Tomb, where Len also reviews Zizek’s latest at exhaustive length. Anyone would think he was a public intellectual or something.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

green shoots

well, it seems to be assassination day here at Blood & Treasure. From the LRB, Perry Anderson assesses what's probably going to be the next major international crisis. As an aside, he takes a look at a possible unintended consequence of liberalization of the gambling laws. Concerning the attempted assassination of Taiwan Presdient Chen Shui-ban:

For those in search of a more plausible explanation, the most popular scenario - widely bruited in Taiwan - points at the island's powerful gambling syndicates, which stood to lose huge sums of money if the Blue camp, on which all bets had been placed, won. They could well have calculated that winging Chen was the best way of unleashing a sympathy vote for the Green cause that would yield them an avalanche of cash in lost wagers. But how could they be sure that a bullet would not - counter-productively - actually kill him? A clue may lie in the embarrassed admission of Chen's security detail that, supposedly because it was a hot day, he was not wearing a bullet-proof vest, standard issue for a presidential incumbent on the campaign trail. An odd feature of the shooting was that aim was taken through the windscreen of an open vehicle, where a bullet was most likely to be deflected, and not at the candidate's head or upper body, which were clear of obstruction, unprotected above it. If a gang had assumed that Chen would be wearing an armoured vest, then a bullet slung low through the windscreen should have struck where it could cause a sensation without inflicting any real injury.

ghoul pool

With Ayad Allawi’s offices mortared by insurgents yesterday, this seems timely:

Each entrant picks five members of Iraq's 37-person Interim Government that s/he believes will be the first to be assassinated, blown up or otherwise martyred. Unfortunately, this means that no more than seven people can join a single pool. The pool is won by whoever is the first to rack up five points or, alternately, whoever has the highest score by January 31, 2005, when a popularly- elected government is scheduled to take the reigns of sovereignty (the same day that monkeys are set to be released from butts all across Iraq). We assume this will allow ample time to establish a clear winner, but there's no need to panic if the deadline rolls around and two or more contestants are locked in a dead heat. After all, by the time the deadline comes, the American elections will be long since over, and pretending that Iraqi elections are imminent won't be necessary to whoever's in the White House. The Interim Government will be around for quite a while yet -- although not in its current lineup. As long as a single member is still clinging to life support in a US Army field hospital, the Ghoul Pool is in effect!

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

or I'll kick your head in

My campaign to be voted Britain’s top public intellectual is gaining momentum. But to what model can I aspire when I succeed to my rights? Ah, but of course!

A fixation with the plight of the Palestinians, Levy asserts, diverts attention from suffering in forsaken corners of the world such as Sudan, where he wrote three years ago about combat in the Darfur region that has now become a focus of international concern about slaughter and famine.

"The Palestinian 'victimocracy' has a tendency to hide wars that are infinitely longer and more murderous," Levy said. "Because we all have our eyes locked on one war alone — well, two, the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian war. And this emphasis has the terrible effect of hiding, of silencing, of erasing from our memories and our mental map the other wars that are thousands of times more lethal."

This is pure genius! I too would like to state with casual authority which lives are worth public attention and which not. Who do I write to to get permission? Is there a training course of some kind? Implying that Palestinians and the people who support them are somehow responsible for the escalation of violence in Sudan is a masterpiece of legerdemain, a cheap and nasty trick done in the high style. I shudder in tribute, and aspire to think harder.

And let’s not forget that in addition to his amazing way with a pensee, Bernard Henri Levy is also a man of action.

Godin showed me a video of this last operation, which shows Levy - as famous for his chest hair, silk blousons and Christian Dior shirts as for his philosophy - arriving at Nice airport with his third wife, the actress Arielle Dombasle. As they check in, shadowy figures can be seen in the background, ladling cream.

"They pick up their boarding cards, as you can see," said Godin, who has clearly watched this shaky footage hundreds of times but, like a footballer reviewing the goal of his career, seems unlikely to tire of it - "then three entarteurs fall on them, with me leading the charge. They shout: "Oh no. Oh not again." I deliver my cake, and he responds with punches. One of my young female comrades flans him again, point blank, while a second woman crushes a layered chocolate gateau topped with creme chantilly over the head of Arielle Dombasle. It was at that point", he added, "that things got out of hand."


Few have been more outstanding flanees that Bernard-Henri Levy, a man so sensitive that he was once credibly reported as observing that "when I find a new shade of grey, I feel ecstatic". He has also famously remarked that he dislikes seeing a woman pay in a restaurant. "I think," Levy explained, "that money does not suit a woman; or rather that I would not fall in love with such a woman." His own varied talents constitute, by his own account, "a landscape which does not have a fixed place in the classic topography of culture."

These are the kind of observations that guarantee the philosopher express deliveries of creme chantilly for years to come. "He is the worst," says Godin, who, on the subject of Bernard-Henri Levy, tends to sound like Herbert Lom on Inspector Clouseau. "He is the worst this decade." He is especially critical of Levy's consistent urging of armed intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, given that the philosopher, unlike other intellectual militants such as Andre Malraux or George Orwell, has shown no inclination to enlist himself.

But if a taste for personal involvement has not been a feature of Levy's contribution to the Bosnia debate, he cannot be accused of having shrunk from unarmed combat once the pies have started flying. At Levy's baptismal flanning, in Liege 10 years ago, the author of "Testament of God" delivered an unambiguous response. "I didn't even feel the uppercut," Godin told me, "because I was so happy to gaze up from the floor and see the peak of French intellectual thought so thoroughly snowbound." Levy, who emerges from his books as a reflective man unshakably committed to qualities such as reasonableness and tolerance, was dismayed to find that footage of the incident, which shows him shouting to his prone assailant: "Get up, or I'll kick your head in," was repeatedly broadcast on French television.

On their second encounter, at a Brussels bookshop where a gathering of what Godin describes as "100 painted old trout" had come to hear the thinker, and pugilist read from his work "The Last Days of Baudelaire", Godin was laid out on a table and subjected to further blows. The film of ther latest incident, which shows Arielle Dombasle scratching and lashing out at the entarteur's woman companions, ends with an abrupt thump. "Levy broke the camera," says Godin, "then punched the cameraman on the nose. A few minutes later he had his hands round my neck while Arielle Dombasle thrashed at me with her handbag. The police got me out of there."

Such episodes have done little to enhance Levy's profile. His puppet on the French equivalent of Spitting Image struggles to advocate a military solution in the former Yugoslavia through a hail of dairy products. In Japan, Godin claims, footage of the French philosopher's viscous misfortune has proved so popular with game-show viewers that Godin is known as "a kind of Belgian Jerry Lewis". "Levy was flanned in Reims by a mysterious splinter group," said Godin, "and recently I heard that he also ran into difficulties in a bakery at Montpellier. If those reports are true, he is under fire from all sides."


On a recent operation involving Levy, Godin claims, the cream pies were carried through a security barrier strapped to Alfred, a performing dog. "Alfred is a pedigree," said Godin, "but I refuse to reveal the breed. I like the thought of Levy experiencing a feeling of slight unease every time he sees a dog at a public function."

Yes, it’s a tough life being a top public intellectual. But I can take it.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

oh, go on then

...I'll play. See also here and here.

1. Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly? Don’t care
2. The Great Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises? Gatsby
3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington? pass
4. Cats or dogs? Dogs. Cats are insects with fur
5. Matisse or Picasso? whatever
6. Yeats or Eliot? Eliot
7. Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin? Keaton
8. Flannery O’Connor or John Updike? pass
9. To Have and Have Not or Casablanca? Casablanca
10. Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning? pass
11. The Who or the Stones? The Who
12. Philip Larkin or Sylvia Plath? larkin
13. Trollope or Dickens? Mutual snoozathon
14. Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald? pass
15. Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy? Dostoevsky
16. The Moviegoer or The End of the Affair? You what?
17. George Balanchine or Martha Graham? Don’t like dance
18. Hot dogs or hamburgers? burgers
19. Letterman or Leno? Oh, behave
20. Wilco or Cat Power? Come again?
21. Verdi or Wagner? pass
22. Grace Kelly or Marilyn Monroe? Grace
23. Bill Monroe or Johnny Cash? cash
24. Kingsley or Martin Amis? Martin, for Money
25. Robert Mitchum or Marlon Brando? Mitchum
26. Mark Morris or Twyla Tharp? See 17
27. Vermeer or Rembrandt? No opinion
28. Tchaikovsky or Chopin? See above
29. Red wine or white? red
30. Noël Coward or Oscar Wilde? Oscar
31. Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity? Not seen either
32. Shostakovich or Prokofiev? pass
33. Mikhail Baryshnikov or Rudolf Nureyev? See 17
34. Constable or Turner? Turner
35. The Searchers or Rio Bravo? Rio Bravo
36. Comedy or tragedy? Comedy
37. Fall or spring? Autumn
38. Manet or Monet? No opinion
39. The Sopranos or The Simpsons? The Simpsons, emphatically
40. Rodgers and Hart or Gershwin and Gershwin? pass
41. Joseph Conrad or Henry James? Conrad
42. Sunset or sunrise? What’s a sunrise?
43. Johnny Mercer or Cole Porter? Porter
44. Mac or PC? Don’t care
45. New York or Los Angeles? Don’t know either. I’ll be contrary and say LA
46. Partisan Review or Horizon? No thanks
47. Stax or Motown? pass
48. Van Gogh or Gauguin? pass
49. Steely Dan or Elvis Costello? Steely dan by a mile
50. Reading a blog or reading a magazine? blog
51. John Gielgud or Laurence Olivier? Gielgud
52. Only the Lonely or Songs for Swingin’ Lovers? Not heard either
53. Chinatown or Bonnie and Clyde? Chinatown
54. Ghost World or Election? pass
55. Minimalism or conceptual art? Don’t like either
56. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny? Daffy
57. Modernism or postmodernism? Dunno. I’ll ask the postman
58. Batman or Spider-Man? I was a Marvel kiddie, so Spiderman
59. Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams? pass
60. Johnson or Boswell? Johnson
61. Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf? Spare me
62. The Honeymooners or The Dick Van Dyke Show? You what?
63. An Eames chair or a Noguchi table? Having any opinions about design is the sign of an unsound person
64. Out of the Past or Double Indemnity? Double Indemnity
65. The Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni? pass
66. Blue or green? green
67. A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It? Don’t like Shakespeare
68. Ballet or opera? neither
69. Film or live theater? film
70. Acoustic or electric? bass
71. North by Northwest or Vertigo? Psycho
72. Sargent or Whistler? Don’t care
73. V.S. Naipaul or Milan Kundera? Not read Kundera
74. The Music Man or Oklahoma? OOOOOOOOOklahoma
75. Sushi, yes or no? bollocks
76. The New Yorker under Ross or Shawn? Not a fan
77. Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee? Williams
78. The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove? Not read either
79. Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham? Who?
80. Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe? See 63, substitute architecture for design
81. Diana Krall or Norah Jones? pass
82. Watercolor or pastel? pass
83. Bus or subway? underground
84. Stravinsky or Schoenberg? pass
85. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter? neither
86. Willa Cather or Theodore Dreiser? Cather
87. Schubert or Mozart? pass
88. The Fifties or the Twenties? The age of Mencken, please
89. Huckleberry Finn or Moby-Dick? Read neither
90. Thomas Mann or James Joyce? Mann
91. Lester Young or Coleman Hawkins? Don’t care
92. Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman? pass
93. Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill? Lincoln
94. Liz Phair or Aimee Mann? Who?
95. Italian or French cooking? French
96. Bach on piano or harpsichord? Not heard either
97. Anchovies, yes or no? yes
98. Short novels or long ones? Don’t mind
99. Swing or bebop? swing
100. "The Last Judgment" or "The Last Supper"? pass

that it should come to this

The Guardian’s flashback feature today reminds me that I must be one of the few British people under 45 to have known a man who was later hanged.

Two Australian heroin traffickers, Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow, were hanged shortly before dawn today after a flurry of last-minute appeals to the Malaysian authorities for mercy or a stay of execution failed, prison officials said. The officials spoke to reporters through a peep-hole in the massive steel gates of Pudu gaol, Kuala Lumpur. Later an unmarked prison truck left the prison for the mortuary, witnesses in a crowd of some 200 reporters and onlookers said.

The two were the first Westerners to hang under Malaysia 's tough anti-drugs laws, which prescribe death for anyone convicted of having over 15 grammes of heroin.

Asked how he felt, Barlow's lawyer, Mr Karpal Singh, said: 'Pathetic, that it should have come to this stage. '

Chambers' mother said in a written statement: 'No one has the right to take someone else's life. It's inhumane. There is no more to be said, but he will be free forever. '

Chambers and Barlow, who was born in Stoke and who also held British nationality, were arrested on the resort island of Penang in November, 1983, with 180 grammes of heroin and given mandatory death sentences last July. An appeal failed last December.

I still remember Kevin Barlow, vaguely. His mother worked with mine at the North Staffs Royal Infirmary. When I was about five I was stuck on top of a slide at the old playground on London Road in Trent Vale. He was a couple of years older, and helped me down the chute. I don’t remember if his eyebrows met in the middle.

The Barlow family left Stoke after a minor bit of squalor. I believe his mother was caught stealing from patients. By that time, young Kevin was already marked down as a wrong un, though weak rather than malicious. At the time of his death, mum and I theorized that he’d been used and dumped as a mule – given a small amount of heroin and steered towards the cops, while people carrying much larger amounts escaped attention.

A few years later I happened to work with a woman who was formerly a reporter on the Star newspaper in Malaysia. She said that the mule theory was current at the time in Malaysia, but the government had decided to make an example of whoever they got, and that person was Kevin Barlow. At the time, the News of the World was making hay with the case, featuring pleas for mercy from Mrs Barlow and assorted family members, with strong undertones that a blameless Brit was being unjustly killed by sinister foreigners. The Star was operating the other side of the street: How dare these foreigners bring heroin to our country and then try and push us around. The Star’s circulation went up quite nicely, my friend said. I doubt the whole affair hurt the NoW’s print run either. The Malaysian government got to posture in an electorally satisfying manner and no doubt several kilos of white powder passed unmolested through the country while the furore was in full swing. Kevin Barlow swang, I think, because his death was more useful and profitable to interested parties than his life.

Monday, July 05, 2004

vote for me

Even though many of my fellow bloggers are apparently unable to resist a beauty contest, I’ve been resolutely ignoring a certain list, designed to facilitate networking and a generally pleasant life for a group of people whose existence is predicated on ideological respectability.

Prospect. Fucking Prospect. How do you feel when a magazine called Prospect flops on your doormat? Do you feel overcome by a tingle of moderate progressivism? What’s that like, exactly? Is it like mice gently nibbling your scrotum? Or is it like the gentle squeak of bats being popped in a microwave? Later, does one need the aid of a single glass of excellent Mer-lot to recover? Or does one go outside to Appreciate the Design Community, wherever it may lurk?

Anyway, I hereby enter myself as a write in competitor. You can see by the above that I am no stranger to letters, belles and otherwise. And look at the competition. There are plenty of actual thinking types here, but none of them are British. As to the Brits…

Richard Dawkins is a nice guy and fully on the side of the apes, but I’m not sure that jihad is the best way of promoting atheism. Linda Colley is less capable of expressing herself plainly than George Bush. Melanie Phillips is not fit to bite the scabs off my elbow, whatever her controllers in Tehran might think. Geoff Mulgan isn’t fit to bite the scabs off my other elbow. Yours neither.

And the rest? A pack of prehensile status monkeys, scribbling valets of power, thoughtless think tankers and vile ranting dogs.

So vote for me. Go on, do it. I’m an intellectual. I’m personally slovenly. I’ll nick any idea that’s not tied down and guarded with flamethrowers. I’m the kind of damn fool who prefers to be bribed with status than hard cash. I bear senseless grudges indefinitely. I have an overweening sense of intellectual entitlement. I have nothing useful to say and a frantic urge to make people listen. I'm not a woman, but winning this could get me enough op-ed commissions to pay for the operation.

I am the boss thinker. I was born for this job. You know what to do.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

i nearly forgot

It's July 4. As everybody kows, this is the anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, , the opening of the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Manchester and the Birth of Ottoman Emperor Murat III.

I believe something else happened too, but I can't for the life of me recall what right now.

Only joking. But no, you can't come back. Try Mexico.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

old news

But, for the record...

As the Iraqi regime was collapsing on April 9, 2003, Marines converged on Firdos Square in central Baghdad, site of an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein. It was a Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images — who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.

After the colonel — who was not named in the report — selected the statue as a "target of opportunity," the psychological team used loudspeakers to encourage Iraqi civilians to assist, according to an account by a unit member.

But Marines had draped an American flag over the statue's face.

"God bless them, but we were thinking … that this was just bad news," the member of the psychological unit said. "We didn't want to look like an occupation force, and some of the Iraqis were saying, 'No, we want an Iraqi flag!' "

via Atrios

i get responses

A while back, I linked to an Explananda dissection of a Paul Berman article on post-invasion Iraq, adding my own nasty little hoots and jeers to Chris' reasoned refutation. In particular, I balked at the following statement by Berman:

To understand Saddam Hussein and the history of modern Iraq, you have to feel anger--or else you have understood nothing.

Chris noticed, and responded:

Now, I think this is precisely wrong, and I found it interesting that although I disliked the Berman piece, I actually nodded along with the offending quotation. Two points: First, I don't think there's anything objectionable in the notion that some circumstances call out for certain kinds of emotional response. That does not mean that we have to script out every reaction to everything we come across. It means that we should recognize that a certain range of emotional responses will be more or less appropriate in certain circumstances, often because they will be associated with (part of?) moral judgments. There is typically a fairly close connection between moral judgment and emotional response. In general, where certain moral judgments are called for, so will the emotional responses that go along with them (shame, disgust, outrage, etc.). Indeed, it seems to me that the reductio might just as easily be run in the other direction. Is it really odd to say this: "To understand the holocaust, you must feel sorrow, or you have understood nothing"? I don't think that's odd at all.

Second, even if we think that my first point is usually mistaken, I think the reductio only appears to succeed because it fails to take the vileness of the Ba'ath regime sufficiently seriously. That is, even if in most cases, understanding and emotion are easily separable, we ought to recognize limit cases in which they will - for almost all of us - go together. Iraq was surely one of those cases. I opposed the war, but the reading I did on Saddam Hussein's Iraq made me helpless with anger. It also gave me nightmares. And I confess that it is difficult to imagine reading and understanding and not feeling this anger.

Damn. I'm going to actually have to think about this. OK, here goes with the counter-response:

What really irritated me about the original statement was the word nothing. Certain circumstances may call for certain kinds of emotion; it may be that lacking that emotion makes your understanding deficient in a moral sense. It doesn’t follow that this moral deficiency means that one fails to understand whether the invasion of Iraq is likely to succeed in its aims, whether the people undertaking it are sincere in these aims, or whether these aims are likely to be welcomed by the people on whose behalf one is feeling anger. That requires kinds of knowledge that are irrelevant to whether anger is felt or not.

Conversely, there are circumstances in which don’t require anger which might justify war. Significantly, these were the arguments put forward by the government, namely that Saddam was a serious security risk to the region and the world as a whole. Justification for war was presented as a concrete threat rather than a moral cause, because this was seen as a stronger argument. Therefore anger at Saddam is neither sufficient nor necessary cause for war. Without feeling anger, one’s understanding of Iraq and what is to be done about it are not harmed in any significant way.

Berman’s article as a whole struck me as fairly typical of the pro-war left’s response to their project gping off the rails: we were wrong, but in a wider sense we were right, therefore whatever the actual results we should do it again. This is a dangerous way to go about making foreign policy.

It’s all about moral one-upmanship. Unless you realize this then you have understood nothing about the pro-war left.

Friday, July 02, 2004

i print rumours

I print them from today's Popbitch

chemical_ali writes from Iraq:
"In a romantic postscript to a disastrous
occupation, newspapers here are saying that Paul
Bremer enjoyed "an emotional relationship" with a
35-year-old Iraqi woman who used to work for
Saddam's protocol department. His paramour and
her family are now in Jordan awaiting passage
to the US in Bremer's hasty wake, with talk of
marriage on the cards.

"Many of Bremer's colleagues also fell into bed
with their Iraqi translators and assistants,
while others could pick up prostitutes at the
private bars the occupation authority set up at
the Rashid hotel. Army grunts, however, had to
make do with banging their hookers in the
toilets of the Palestine hotel, right under
the noses of the press corps."

What's Arabic for "me love you long time"?

Thursday, July 01, 2004

now it's about the oil

Sovereignty this, puppetry that. The fundamental point was made in the piece by Bruce Ralston I linked to a few days back. the US has swapped military bases in Saudi Arabia for military bases in Iraq. Those troops are there indefinitely on the same mission that originally took them to the Kingdom, namely to secure oil supplies.

Yes, finally, at last and unambiguously – it’s about the oil. About time, too. If I have to have a war, I want it to be about the stuff that powers ambulances, rather than one undertaken for reasons of imperial vanity, or in Blair’s case, as an example of psychopathic altruism. He’ll kill anyone to show how good he is. And since we’re dealing with a tradeable commodity, there’s also more of a chance of making a rational settlement instead of getting lost in the fog of culture war.

Back on topic, it follows that the basic task of any Iraqi government is to guarantee the security of US army bases by ensuring the consent of the Iraqi people to their continued existence, by any means from state terror to elections. My bet is that we’ll get a combination of the two. If the elections go ahead as planned in January, I look forward to taunting the pro-death squad left sometime round December as “unacceptable” candidates and movements are weeded out.

More generally, the ability of the Iraqi government to deliver will depend on whether the US is prepared to settle for bases in the country or wants the country as a base. This latter was plan A, but that foundered on the insurgency and the sheer incompetence of Bremer and Co. Since Chalabi got defenestrated, the US seems to have gone for a more minimalist approach, rehabilitating the old Baathist power structure on the one hand and making overtures to people like Sadr on the other. Both the main currents of the Iraqi insurgency now have the opportunity to get involved in formal politics.

Whether the insurgent movements come in from the cold fully depends on the amount of actual control any future Iraqi government has over social and economic policymaking. We already know some details.Foreign troops in Iraq will be ubermensch as far as locallaw is concerned; the UN retains control of the oil revenues, such as they are right now. Every minister will have a friendly team of advisers breathing down his neck.

If Allawi is going to succeed in his fundamental task, he needs as much freedom in other areas as possible. He's going to have to ditch the small stuff. Here’s the recently exited exarch on his economic achievements.

Open economy. Bremer said the economy in Iraq is more open than ever before, particularly during the past 35 years. Specific improvements include free trade, a liberal foreign direct-investment law, and low tax rates.

Sounds great. I’ll be filling my boots as soon as the profits from my Ostrich Farm investments clear. I think stuff like this will go as soon as possible. A combination of foreign military occupation and foreign ownership of the economy is a recipe for general insurrection, just as Russian style economic shock therapy would plunge large sections of the population into permanent immiseration. This is why I think the idea that Iraq is a puppet state is inadequate. Allawi needs more freedom of action than that.

Specifically, he has to satisfy a number of constituencies, most of which are heavily armed, many of which oppose each other’s policies and none of which trust him. He’s also got to deal with intervention from neighbouring states, especially Iran. He’s got to be a democrat, while preventing any outcomes of democracy unacceptable to his foreign sponsors. He has to be tough, without activating the sqeamishness of those same sponsors. If he acknowledges popular sentiment, he needs to let Iraq become a more Islamic place without manufacturing jihadis. He's got to stop Sunni/Shia conflict breaking out seriously. He’s got to stop the country splitting up without generating the kind of nationalism which would lead to hostility to the US military presence. He’s got to make the presence of US troops a non issue by giving the public some form of business to mind, and satisfy Iraqi political movements with the rents from that business in the form of control over public spending. If he succeeds, he’s clearly a genius and I want him as Prime Minister right now.

More likely is a kind of resurgent mediocrity, a place that’s a cross between Egypt and Guatemala in a rough year. And this is a best case scenario.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

missed anniversary

of the shot heard round the world (via antiwar blog).

Lenin said of World War One that it was a conflict between slaveholders for a fairer distribution of the slaves. But the remote origins of that are in the desire of one of the slaveholders – Britain – to drag in the United States to help secure its property. The US, of course, had ideas of its own about the way the world should be ordered. Lenin’s quip is not a bad description of the war between the jihadis and the forces of Anglostan in Iraq and other places.

From AJP Taylor:

The First World War had none of the traditional outcomes. The Balance of Power was not restored. A single great power did not dominate the continent. There was not even universal revolution. The intervention of the United States overthrew all rational calculations. Henceforward, what had been the centre of the world became merely “the European Question”.

Proud anti-pro-American that I am, I wonder if, should Americans ever come to their senses on the matter of empire, they will ever forgive us? Of course they will, in return for the mineral rights.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

pleasantly of musk

via informed comment, a report from Fallujah by Nir Rosen.

My hosts showed me a leaflet that was circulating throughout the region. A blurry photocollage depicted a giant, spiderlike creature next to a pair of legs that belonged to a man in an American military uniform. The leaflet explained that the creature circles around Falluja, attacking Americans. It could run up to forty kilometres, screaming and biting. I had heard numerous fantastic stories like that. One told of a Kalashnikov that worked for four hours straight without reloading. An armory used by the mujahideen turned into a weapons cornucopia. Dead mujahideen were said to smell pleasantly of musk. “Unnatural things happened,” I was told over and over.

And a happy handover to you too.

Monday, June 28, 2004


Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11 inspire no opinions in me whatsoever. This is probably a sin against blogging. I'm sorry, but there you go. He's just, nothing's coming.

I've a sort of meta-idea about that though. There's a great big Michael Moore shaped hole in the culture, which he fits exactly, for better or worse. There's no room to winkle him out with words and examine him in detail. He was always there in a way, a big pie shaped ghostly presence that suddenly manifested itself, a representative of the angst and agitprop subset finally called into the mainstream.

Well, that's your lot. it's not much but it was still more of an effort than I wanted to make. So be grateful.