Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Weekend into a computerless Monday

A bit of a weekend roundup, with some bits and pieces of today’s occurrences, skimmed and poorly characterized.


Beginning with what I consider to be politics proper, (election-related news, really), NYT’s Week in Review had this interesting piece on the recent assent of populism as a central strategy of contemporary liberalism. It focuses on the disparity between the relative health of the economy and this ideology borne out of fiscal anxiety, but is particularly prescient in its closing paragraphs where it undercuts the supposed momentousness of recent congressional bills (minimum wage, college loan rates, etc…) and points to the necessity of more progressive, truly comprehensive reforms in order to preserve populism as a legitimate and powerful tool for Democrats.

This article from The Nation profiles a more neglected facet of populism: its notable resurgence in the South. The midterm elections revealed the traditional Democratic comprehension of the South as a place of homogenous, religiously zealous, conservative politics to be terribly inaccurate, with Democrats winning critical seats in those places where, instead of ignoring the South all together or placating some imagined body politic, they managed to effectively re-contextualize the economic and political concerns of even moderately evangelical Southern voters. I think this is a powerful lesson as 2008 looms: Democrats can win when they move beyond standard Beltway and Mainstream Media generalizations and draft strong, inventive and nuanced policy. It’s all about re-containment. The epistemological gap has been opened by the violent decline of Bush. All we need is the advantage-taking narrative. Insert and go.

Speaking of 2008, the Washington Post argued today that Hillary’s recent campaigning in Iowa did more to question her candidacy than affirm it. Though not entirely surprising, (there’s never been anything wholly electric about Hillary), it was interesting to see the brief references to Edwards and a host of other candidates as fairly uninspiring. Don’t know whether that’s a worrisome indicator or nothing at all. The sample size of those interviewed was, after all, 14.

While Sen. Clinton may not be unimpressive, the Slate is prepared to argue that Obama is Jesus. This oughta make the xenophobic evangelicals happy.

For some good discussion of 2008, I read the Fix, which every Friday ranks various races.

Now for the more serious political articles:
1) From the New York Review of Books, analysis of how and why the ending of tyranny worldwide became America’s mission and why it will ultimately fail.
2) From Harpers, a lengthy (really lengthy) essay about how fundamentalism is co-opting American history, as well as terribly misappropriating Orwell quotes (and attributing them to the wrong person). Most interesting in this piece is the introduction of the term “maximalism” to describe today’s religious culture as one that attempts to link as many social institutions to Biblical word as possible.
3) Who rules Iran? the NYT asks. It seems that popular support for Ahmadinejad is eroding over questions of his ability to lead Iran into the future (or the past, as it may be).
4) This is very exciting to hear: a columnist for the Guardian suggests it may be time, based on California and host of other states’ recent legislation, for universal health care. (Mind you conservatives, universal does not equal federalized).
5) Lastly, from the LA Times, a columnist argues that 9/11 as a watershed moment in history may be little more than a myth and one worth reexamining critically in our culture of terrorist-related hysteria.
6) Nearly forgot about these: a collection of China related cartoons from Slate. Easily plays to my pet foreign policy interest.


Quickly now, because I’m getting tired:
1) Prince Charles comes to Harlem, and makes a basket, in a blue suit, with black shoes. Also, amusing comments from children.
2) The 100$ laptop is back in the news, this time as billionaires at Davos squabble over how to best wire the third world. I’m partial to the $100 laptop as you all know, particularly because it caters to children, whereas Intel and Microsoft seem so technically oriented.
3) And in Britain, porn is replacing sex-ed proper. It seems the yobs are winning.


1) Nielsen ratings will now account for college audiences, which will hopefully mean that good shows (i.e. NBC’s lineup, in general) will finally get their due.
2) Feminist art actually is getting its due, with several enormous exhibits in the coming months. I particularly like the assessment of feminist art as critical precisely because of its outright rejection of modernism and its pretensions of avant-gardism.
3) I haven’t read 100 Years of Solitude. To feel less like a philistine, I post this retrospective by Hitchens on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. I’ll pretend to know.
4) Slate finally gives Tina Fey her due with a profile of her character Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Though I agree that Alec Baldwin steals the show, so to speak, its nice to see Tina Fey get at least some of the credit she deserves for the shows critical success.
5) Nymag.com does an interview with paterfamilias of indie-everything, David Byrne.
6) Lastly, something that should be art, as it belongs in cinema and nowhere else: the military has developed a heat ray that makes people feel like they are on fire in order to disperse unruly crowds. Let history cycle on.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thursday and Friday at Once

With both yesterday and today spent traveling and at home, an abbreviated entry must suffice.


It seems Bush made a strategic error in his State of the Union address. By so significantly emphasizing his stubborn stance on Iraq, which has been largely played in the media, he left his few domestic promises open to meticulous analysis and criticism. Especially in regards to his energy promises, with so many large corporations announcing this week their desire for a comprehensive cap-and-trade emissions program Bush’s agenda seems not only timid, but ultimately empty. That being said, some issues, like global warming and fuel standards are at least on the table, but it remains to be seen exactly how they will be tackled, and whether Detroit especially will continue to wield unfortunate and discouraging power in Washington. The NYT ran this editorial yesterday, which gives a sufficient summation of the immediate flaws of Bush’s “ambitious” programme.

To make matters worse, instead of letting the Iraq issue die, Bush petulantly announced today that he is the “decision maker” on Iraq matters in an attempt to rebuff the bipartisan congressional efforts to derail his ultimately flawed escalation-via-troop-surge. The media seems to playing the story against Bush right now, but I am growing increasingly concerned that Bush’s inflexibility and monomania is actually a strategy meant to turn the issue against the Democrats again. It occurred to me after reading this otherwise unexciting editorial from the Rocky Mountain Times about the dangers of populism for the Democrats.

I now worry that the more hyperbolic and extraordinary Bush’s resistance to change seems, the more it will encourage Democratic lawmakers to speak out against him in public. Once the media starts to run this story, the next story is “what will the Democrats do?” And while America may be opposed to Bush’s escalation, there is no indication that they are for a Democratic plan, the reason being that there isn’t one. There is a hodgepodge of theories about how to withdraw, and what seems now a strong, unified congressional body against Bush, will quickly seem a divisively syncretic and fragmented heterogeneity with little answers once the story has flipped. Be careful Democrats, be very careful. Best to stay quiet for the time being on this one (while surreptitiously working on a plan of course).

More frightening than the prospect of Bush regaining power on the Iraq issue, is this story from the National Journal which seems to suggest that there is a behind the scenes escalation occurring with Iran and that it is only the efforts of some rational Executive Branch insiders who are keeping the hawks away from the military planning rooms. I’ve always considered Iran to be merely the coy mistress of the Mideast, constantly testing limits, playing games, but with little momentum or ambition towards real conflict. Pretense, all pretense. Either way, anything beyond diplomacy is a frightening endeavor.

Last, two brief pieces regarding 2008. One, from the NYT, details the recent rush of states to obtain early spots in the primary calendar, meaning that elections will increasingly be about media budgets and money in general with far less of a chance for darkhorse candidates, which is a shame, because they are often the strongest candidates and most successful leaders. Finally, the central election story these days seems to be Barak Obama’s appeal to black voters. To appease this interest I provide a Washington Post article on the subject, though, to be honest, I’m not sure this all amounts to more than racial cold feet or, at the very least, just an attempt to fill the airwaves with something.


Women aren’t funny, says the self-reflexive iconoclast Christopher Hitchens. And the requisite rebuttal by mildly amusing female author who, no doubt, Christopher Hitchens, misogynist extraordinaire alongside Martin Amis, will respect greatly.

In a follow-up of sorts to Tuesday’s article about the so-called “wild child” found after being raised in the jungle, Slate features an equally problematic brochure offering Baudrillardian vacations to the ultra-rich. Tour the indigenous cultures of the world. A cross-cultural Disneyland for the rich. Its like the Trail of Tears all over again, only this time the smallpox is delivered by a private jet and comes in an epistemologically bacterial form.

That being said, this is quite a brilliant article I think about the dissolution of group structures in the Western, postmodern state. I think it tacitly makes a nice space for some sort of Nietzschean collective politics, and also makes a strong analysis of radical Islam as a reaction to “deterritorialization” and the leeching effects of diasporic movement.

Closer to home, the Unabomber is in the news again, this time making constitutional arguments in order to keep his writings, which prosecutors are attempting to sell in order to recoup the civil settlement money he owes his victims’ families. I’ve always found the Unabomber fascinating and remember reading his manifesto in highschool and finding it surprisingly lucid. Obviously he’s a psychopath, but nevertheless.

Lastly, the Japanese filmed a weird creature, which then died and is now extinct. And when I say weird creature, I mean nightmarish fish-thing that will keep me from the oceans for the rest of time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


A busy day, and thus an especially laconic survey of Wednesday’s news-of-note.


With little time to move beyond the New York Times, I offer you only the articles of note from their front page, with last night’s State of the Union obviously dominating coverage. The Times ran a transcript of the speech online with mildly interesting audio commentary attached for those wishing to interface their sensorium more properly with the marvels of technology. And, from the other side, Senator Jim Webb’s response was made available by the Democrats today for perusal, though oddly it was nearly impossible to find by the end of the day, buried beneath several press releases and responses from Chairman Dean, which perhaps attests to rumors that Webb tore up his party speech last night in favor of his own. Maybe he upset the party elite?

Lese majesty or not I think Webb’s rebuttal was quite impressive last night. His rhetoric certainly captured the bold romanticism of Democratic populism at its best, without falling into overly sententious or cloying language. He certainly outdid Bush, though that was mostly predicted. Bush’s speech was underwhelming in both content and form – somewhat stilted and certainly unevenly weighted. His overture to Speaker Pelosi was certainly admirable and he does in my opinion deserve credit for the seeming sincerity of that gesture, but the rest of the speech seemed an entirely weak and disingenuous attempt to appear bipartisan before launching into another public, lengthy defense of his failed “surge” in Iraq, which again suffered rebuke today. Where Webb was good to avoid platitudes, I’m actually surprised Bush didn’t resort to more in an effort to guise his failures with mellifluous chatter. Stubborn ‘till the end though, it seems.

In other political news, I was made euphoric by the late afternoon news that John Kerry has made the decision to not run for President. Hopefully reason will continue to trump hubris and he will focus more of his not-insubstantial energies on the Senate where he does have a reasonably powerful position and a reasonably strong track record of legislative accomplishment. In other 2008 news nymag.com was reporting today that Giuliani is selling off some of his political liabilities. This doesn’t bode well for Giuliani, because if he is worried enough about something to get rid of it, then it must be really, really sordid and awful. After all, nearly every moment of Giuliani’s life is somehow connected to scandal, and for this to stand out as urgent is alarming. And yet he still polls the strongest for the GOP, again and again and again. I hope the national stage crushes him, because I couldn’t bear for the country to be run by someone whose entire political career was rescued and rebuilt around his being in the right place at the right time, especially when that right place was perhaps the most gruesome and tragic day in our nation’s history.

Three final items of note: it seems the 100 Hours stands to become irrelevant as one of the first major house initiatives before the Senate, raising the minimum wage, stumbles and stands to be watered down significantly in floor debate. Hopefully the Democrats can leverage enough support from their GOP counterparts to get a few of the 100 Hour initiatives through in the Senate. As always, I’m skeptical. Secondly, an interesting article from Slate about sentencing guidelines and a number of recent and upcoming cases that stand to greatly change the constitutional interpretation of the 6th amendment among other things. And lastly, a front page story from the NYT today paints a far bleaker picture of Iraqi Democracy than I had originally imagined.


First, meat stealing. Attention piqued?

Second, an amusing piece from McSweeney’s that almost perfectly captures my own relationship to the world of sports, football in particular.


Can’t remember if I posted this in my barrage of film-related pieces yesterday, but perhaps my biggest surprise upon reading the Oscar nominations was the notable absence of both Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men from the major categories. As such, I was pleased to see this Slate piece when I awoke this morning.

Perhaps the most compelling film story of late however, is the furor over 12 year old Dakota Fanning’s rape scene in recently-premiered Sundance film, Hounddog. The usual collection of religious zealots and conservative psychopaths is demanding a federal investigation and alleging child pornography. This article succinctly disagrees and makes a strong argument for the film’s legal and proper exercise of free speech.

Switching towards design, or urban planning really, the NYT ran a piece early this week about a host of Robert Moses exhibits around the city in the upcoming weeks. Interesting to read even without the ability to see them. Moses was the principle architect behind the city’s last major growth period, especially notable for pushing through major highway systems in the five boroughs and especially dubious for having left out public transportation from most of his “greatest” work and for forcing thousands of residents out of their homes in the process. As the article mentions, with New York’s current push towards development, a close analysis of Moses is quite timely.

As for criticism, Slate had this interesting biopic on art critic Robert Hughes, notes for his vicious, outside attacks on the art world and its indulgent veneration of less than deserving artists. (I’ve also been desperately searching for a copy of the poem mentioned in this piece, “SoHoiad: or, The Masque of Art”, which sounds like a terrifically amusing and sardonic take on one of Pope’s finest works).

And, in finding this review of Martin Amis’s new book in New York Magazine, I found myself wishing some of Hughes’s shrewd iconoclasm was mandatory for reviewers. Too easy to dismiss Amis, I say. Yellow Dog may have been a literary failure, but to attack his bibliography with such gratuitous self-indulgence (ironic really, given the subject) is irresponsible and terribly, terribly ignores the acute level of narrative awareness in Amis’s books. To accuse him of anything is to deny his narrative near-omniscience which is always masterful and disconcerting at once.

John and Marx talk about art

The idea of art as the mark of “civilization” inasmuch as it arrives out of leisure, the ability to be capable to produce all which one needs without expending all of one’s energy, relies on a class-based subordination of all necessary labor, and either issues from or begets an existential neurosis wherein the dominant class effectively denies the very necessities of living and expects to receive the necessities of life, the fetishized items of an apparitional commodity world.

This reminds me of a passage in Agamben about the eccentricizing of the artist type and how this enforced distance allows people to live in the presence of art without feeling any necessity or responsibility to create it themselves.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Tuesday's Suggestions


Remiss in my posting, I am now after the State of the Union and thus irrelevant. Unless of course the State of the Union didn’t articulate a revolutionary political paradigm for the next century and promise to bring us into a new future of rejuvenated Democracy. In which case I’ll be ok.

Nevertheless, I offer you a pre-State of the Union assessment that, as might be expected emphasizes the lemmas standard to Presidential ceremony, those of respect and bipartisanship. Evidently universal assent is needed to guide our nation through these treacherous times, and even the impotent symbolism of the Democratic moiety failing to clap while their Republican (and now lesser) moiety does so (or vice versa of course) is detrimental to our project of Universal Freedom.

In some respect, this pre-State of the Union peacemaking irritates me especially this year as it only compounds Washington’s recent fascination with so-called centrism. It seems, and more on this later, I promise, that our cultural and political institutions have abandoned that key premise in democracy, or in any plural system – that of the dialectic, or mutual impact. Perhaps it’s a loss of courage, the ease of articulating the status quo in favor of invention and a will-to-power. But either way, the loss of true ideological contest and dialogue is the most glaring deficiency of our contemporary, degraded political system, and I was glad to see Alterman tackle the issue in his piece for The Center for American Progress.

Despite increasing concern (on the left, of course) over the disappearance of dialogical democracy, today’s news that Hillary Clinton will forego public election monies in favor of her own fundraising certainly sounds some sort of death toll for a system that, at its best, encourages diverse, syncretic, heterogeneous, whatever politics in an election cycle by allowing those without personal millions or close friends with personal millions to participate in a presidential race on a national scale.

The New Yorker had an interesting piece this past week, prior to Hillary’s announcement, regarding the foreign policy stances of the top three Democratic candidates (Hillary, Obama, Edwards) but through the lens of Bayh’s concerns over a liberal base made reluctant to confront real international problems (Iran) with military force by the failures in Iraq. In a way, it substantiates the commonalities of the three major candidates, though nuances do appear, all of which are threatening to the candidates, in my opinion. That being said, Edwards seemed to take the most pragmatic line, with Clinton appearing overly hawkish and Obama appearing, well, immature and undecided (and perhaps also a bit duplicitous, if a split between rhetoric and action can be said to be that).

Also in the vein of 2008, Slate has a fantastic article currently that argues that Obama is, for white bourgeois voters, a sort of safe “black”, or, to use the article’s preferred language, a “white” “black”. While I typically cringe at such essentialist and metaphysically rooted descriptors, this article makes strong, strong arguments about the phenomenon of Obama’s stardom and its relationship to the particularities of his racial background and context.

And, of significant personal interest as I go to work writing speeches, a Slate interview with a so-called Republican “word-doctor”, though I think architect is the more apt euphemism. He’s not entirely intolerable, especially since I really do revere his profession in the abstract as something critical to politics, (my politics anyway).

Finally, something depressing: a BBC study that shows international opinion of US’s global role is at its lowest ebb. But, to compensate, two mildly amusing items: one, this profile from last week’s NYT Style section about several senators rooming together in a Washington, DC apartment; and two, a cartoon on the “surge”.


The items here are only vaguely related to one another, and thus grouped under the equally vague subheading “culture”. Make of them what you will.

First, from New York Magazine, Jack Welch’s ire at the media’s obsession with overly-high CEO pays. Leave them alone, he says, and even suggests that they are deserving of more. Oh, NBC, how I would resist you if you didn’t have some of the only good television programming in the country.

Second, a Center for American Progress article on somewhat new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin whose ethics seem dubious and thus will no doubt herald another new era of media conglomeration and homogenization. Hooray.

Thirdly (awkward diction, yikes), some mildly philosophical (academic, even!) items. The Guardian today had an article ripe for dissection by even the least apt cultural theorists. Baudrillard is no doubt crying (if he’s read the article), though given the self-importance that permeates his essays, its difficult to tell why. But in all seriousness, ethnography kills its subjects. And as a reprieve from praxis, we shift to the abstract and this article on Pessimism vs. Existentialism. Nietzsche will have his day yet.

And lastly, David Sedaris deals with birds.


From my favorite design blog, an interesting piece on an old book “Quintessence” which examines the social value certain products accumulate. What with the 100% likelihood of me owning an iPhone and my refusal to buy generic cereals, the post seemed relevant to me.

In television - no doubt all of you have seen this on youtube or elsewhere: O’Reilly’s appearance on Colbert’s show and vice versa. If not, read this review from the NYT. And maybe tomorrow I’ll muster the energy to seek out the video clips for you.

Monsieur Mulligan wrote about OJ’s book several weels ago, before it was abandoned by its publishers. Somehow, however, Vanity Fair managed to find a copy (and I believe Newsweek printed a chapter last week). Anyhow, Vanity Fair has an interesting review of what still seems to me a disturbing, disturbing piece of…literature.

Now for film. First, a review of Doug Aitken’s “Sleepwalkers” exhibit currently at MoMA. I have promised myself I will see it before it closes, but with the knowledge that many such promises have been broken. But now I’ll feel the collected guilty of this readership (does it exist?) if I don’t. So that’s something.

Last, suggestions for movies here, and here, and, if you’re way behind in things, here.



Monday, January 22, 2007

Some things worth looking at...


Hillary Clinton and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced their presidential aspirations over the weekend, following Obama’s announcement last week and Edwards’ immediately after Christmas. Clinton, Obama and Edwards are polling the highest thus far, though that is likely to change, and especially in the 2008 election cycle as the early intensity forces candidates to speak out on issues sooner and a proliferation of debates and forward-shifted primary schedules demand vicious fundraising and near-profligate expenditures of campaign coffers in key media markets.

The Democratic side is especially crowded this year, and with significant talent at that, though it remains to be seen if any of the top contenders truly have the gravitas to endure the ferocity of the campaign trail. Lucky for the Dems, polling this week shows that Bush’s “major” policy shift on Iraq has had little effect on his support, which is now at an all time low.

I still say, and this NYT Week in Review article suggests its concurrence with me, (always a dubious honor), that this election will be about re-describing the American political landscape, or, to be more academic, inventing new discursive practices. Whoever can describe the future best, wins. In accordance, a similar piece from Atlantic Monthly on several ex-politicos determined to disrupt and transform America’s increasingly polarized two-party political system using that much-touted panacea of our generation: the “internet”, formerly known as the “world wide web” and prior to that, the “information super highway”. (Such euphemistic aplomb.)

On the foreign policy front, I think the ascent of China makes an interesting case study for this post-baby boomer paradigm sketching (as well as good populist politics), and, luckily enough, has almost nothing to do with the Middle East or Islam.

Culture Wars:

Now onto Islam: two recent pieces from the Guardian, one analyzing a racist remark made on popular British program “Big Brother” which has caused substantial furor in Southeast Asia, and another looking at the embedded, though not always subtle racism of Western border policies. On the opposite side of things, another Guardian essay, (how dialogical of them), about the failures of contemporary liberalism and, in particular, its increasing blindness to the danger of “contemporary Islam”, whatever that may be.

And for the true xenophobes in our midst, something closer to home as American Conservative Magazine does violence to the discomforting and somewhat alarming (though not altogether surprising) results of a Harvard professor’s research that shows multicultural communities bear more prejudice than homogenous ones. And to really make you, liberal readers, angry: a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s new book which blames September 11th on the opulent, carefree lifestyles of the American left. Yes, he continues to be an asshole, and an idiot. And, to turn his rhetoric against him with parodic self-awareness, also probably responsible (in the abstract of course) for much anti-Americanism in Western Europe.

But, lest you think now that sectarian violence is inevitable and our world is headed for chaos, a letter from ex-patriot Iranians condemning their country’s recent (sort of) sponsorship of a Holocaust Denial conference.


It seems the university system in America is languishing, as evidence by the proliferation of articles offering suggestions for its rehabilitation or complete overhaul. Three from the Wall Street Journal: 1 | 2| 3 ; and one from the Hoover Institution, which critiques our college’s contemporary state through the lens of J.S. Mill. Also, it seems there is a burgeoning trends towards the elimination of middle school as such. Will it make that time any less awkward for those enduring it? Probably not. (An erection is an erection after all). But maybe, just maybe, kids will learn more.


Note: elision of “wars” from above subtitle by no means suggests my complicity with the hegemony of Western aesthetic and discursive practices or the intentional burying of the political charges of such practices.

With that out of the way: Pynchon vs. Pynchon. Personally, I think New York does a better job here, though I am consistently impressed by the brevity with which London articulates a point.

To contextualize Pynchon in the narrative of narratives, Zadie Smith offers this somewhat pessimistic assessment of fiction and what makes great novels great (and what makes most “great” novels failures if not just plain shit). And for all those former literature students in our midst, an impressive though ultimately and significantly flawed critique of Theory’s hegemony in the academy. (I will offer this caveat though: while the author’s assessment of theory in general is quite flawed, I will say that his assessment of the way it has come to be understood beyond the academy is quite accurate – all those hipsters out there paralyzed by the infinite web of deferred meaning within which Derrida has so violently placed them. Such melodramatic and self-indulgent rationalizations for apathy. My the masses have matured.)

From literature to movies, a historically doomed shift. Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men. Saw them this past week. Extraordinary the both of them. A zealous, though belated, (I’ll never quite be in the vanguard, will I?) recommendation on both counts. See them NOW. Though be warned: fascism in all its forms (historical and predicted) is absolutely fucking terrifying. And if you can’t find any of these films near you, this article conveniently dissects why.

Finally in culture this week, an article from New York Magazine on the reborn and evidently flourishing art scene in the Village (in Manhattan for those further than a few miles from me). Frankly, I think the artists profiled seem transparent and quite unimpressive, but I’m no art critic. I just judge people personally.

I leave you with these two stories (one, two) which I found interesting are beyond the conventional boundaries of my knowledge base. That is, they are vaguely scientific.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

One Good Thing About Gore Losing in 2000...

One more thing: this man needs to go.

The Politics of Failure

"The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me."

Thus began President Bush's address to the nation last night. Anticipation of the address arose from two well-circulated and well-confirmed rumors: that Bush would admit the failure of existing Iraq policy and that he would propose a significant troop increase in Baghdad and other insurgent strongholds.

Strategically, it seems, the Bush camp hoped to allow the latter by offering the former. By admitting to failure, admitting to mistakes, for once seeming unsure and humble before the camera, Bush seemed to be offering a political gift to his opponents: vindication, and smug vindication at that. But the strategic magnanimity was not limited to the Congressional elite, to politicians and public figures. The rhetorical pivot was really meant for the nation.

It was well-orchestrated artifice - a convincing simulacrum of remorse and human frailty juxtaposed against a noble belief in the eventual perseverance of American values and an unwavering support and love for American troops toiling in this far off war. Or so it read anyway, as the quote above so artfully demonstrates.

Look at how wonderfully Bush expresses his frustration, framing it within the constellation of American ideals. He is frustrated because America is not all she can be - despite trying so hard, America is failing in its construction of equal democracies abroad. But wait, he says, we as Americans must not feel badly, must not bear the burdens of this failure, this inability to be perfect. He, our President, our Commander-in-Chief will bear it - he will strap himself to the crucifix and suffer for all of us, as long as we promise to, upon resurrection, support this final endeavor. And thus, we are inducted into the cult of Bush, or such was the plan anyway.

Not surprisingly however, his resurrection was transparently hurried, unconvincing in the speed of its arrival. His toes had barely touched the fire before the delusional monomania resurfaced (it had never truly absconded had it?). And boy, did it resurface with undue vengeance.

Admittedly, there seems to be no workable solution to problems of Iraq. To summarize grossly and with little nuance: we can leave, or we can stay. Both options are fueled by the knowledge that, whether leaving or staying, we can't stay as we are now. So, staying hinges upon something more – additions, multiplications, exponents.

Leaving is fraught with problems, both logistically and ethically. In terms of the former, leaving is always a dangerous military proposition. Its when our troops are increasingly likely to be killed and, more avariciously, though perhaps justly so, its when we lose a fuck-ton of money, leaving it to depreciate in the acrid heat and sectarian violence of a once-promised (though never all that promising) democratic state.

Ethically it's about guilt and human connection (a Freudian romance, it seems). Do we feel comfortable leaving behind a situation that will undoubtedly devolve into a murderous, structure-less abyss or, worse, a murderous, over-structured Shiite autocracy whose only motivation seems to be vicious recompense against their historical oppressors? We once cared enough about the Iraqi people to free them from tyranny and build them a fancy-new Democratic state. Has that all evaporated? Doesn't seem quite right to me. (Though perhaps it wouldn't look all that bad sitting on top of the historical pile I call " America's Geo-Political Misadventures" just above Vietnam, CIA Activity in South America, Neo-Liberal Trade Policies and the like.)

And so we return to the something more, the offering of yester-evening. 21,500 more troops to be deployed to Iraq's most bitterly conflictual areas. Most to Baghdad itself where even America's Green Zone is looking perilously contested. 96,000 more troops added to the military over the next 5 years. Billions of dollars invested in Iraq's economy. Increased diplomacy with Mid-East neighbors, especially Iran and Syria.

In some ways, it actually sits quite well, but then gastronomically this Adminstration has never sat that well and perhaps our expectations have just been lowered. Either way, last night's change of course wasn't gruel.

With Rumsfeld gone, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense actually had a joint-press conference, significant in its actuality but also in, well, its signification. No longer it seems is Iraq strictly a military problem to be approached with strictly military solutions. The complex, syncretic nature of the problem is reflected in this new plan: diplomatic, economic, political and military efforts will work simultaneously towards the same end. Monomania gives way to mature nuance, though mind you, this is still as teleological as ever. It's all channeled through the same religious visions of triumph as before; we're just now getting to heaven a different way.

I don't mean for my distaste to be so pointedly brusque here. I think these are all positive developments, some of them significantly so. But before I get too congratulatory, let's list everything that's wrong:

- How is a "troop surge" not escalation? The stated objective is to root terrorists out of violent neighborhoods, and then occupy those neighborhoods to ensure terrorists won't return. This means American troops will only leave once terrorists disappear, completely. Afghanistan is the most valuable example of this: after claiming to have defeated the Taliban, increased opium crops this year led to their resurgence and significantly increased violence in the once nearly restful state.

- We aren't wanted in Iraq. Maliki and his Shiite political elite want us out. Though this hasn't been voiced publicly, NYT has top Maliki aides on record expressing his discontent with increased American involvement in Baghdad. This means, like our attempts to make Baghdad safe this summer, that Iraqi promises will probably fall through and the needed level of troops, if we can suppose for a second that such a level exists, won't be provided.

- Iraq is too sectarian. Maliki is a Shiite who garners the majority of his political support via the religious and military muscle of al-Sadr, the radical cleric behind the most violent Shiite militias in the country. Saddam was not allowed to be executed on a religious holiday according to new Iraqi law. Guess which holiday he was executed on? That's right, a Sunni one. The new government in Iraq is too willfully sectarian and all past Iraqi police/military surges have been infiltrated by various militia organizations: in sum, it is impossible for the United States to occupy a position in Iraq that doesn't exacerbate religious and tribal tensions.

So, where does this leave us? Nowhere I suppose, but where we already were. Answerless, on the precipice of a more violent, protracted, and altogether dangerous epoch in the war. It seems that all there’s left to do is play politics.

Bush is hoping to solidify (or rescue, at this point) his political legacy. Democrats are secretly hoping this is a failure so as to more ably condemn John McCain’s foreign policy record in the 2008 election cycle. Moderate Republican’s are diverging from the Bush camp to avoid a Chafee-esque defeat in the future.

Sadly enough (and somewhat disappointing too, after reading this long), I don’t have a better solution. The politicking all seems a bit disingenuous if no material gain is possible, but perhaps in some divine dialectical fashion a solution will emerge from the political squabbling in Washington.

But what does emerge, and returns us to the title of the post, is the possibility of a new political discourse in American politics. While Bush’s admission of guilt, failure, etc… smacked of disingenuous artifice and Machiavellian strategy-making, I do believe it is an epistemologically interesting gesture. The ability to start-over, to rethink is something that rarely exists, but perhaps should in Washington.

There is the odd perception in our democratic, pluralistic society that our political culture must be absolute, that it must be steadfast and resolute, must be inscribed indelibly in the history of our nation, with all the metaphysical, originary pomp of the Constitution.

But failure allows change. It gives us the opportunity to reformulate language, to invent new discursive fields, to revolutionize the way politics are discussed, and hopefully, to ultimately shift the way politics are done. The moment of failure is the moment of revolution. Without such moments we remain in bed with our sordid past, unwilling to call it the letch it is.

Particularly in this moment of “warring cultures” where the absolutism of religion confronts the contingency of democracy, or so it is said, we need to abandon our old diplomatic, political, rhetorical, economic, historical tools. They need to go. Wholesale.

If the world truly is a different place, it needs to be re-described as such, instead of defined according to its deviation from a moment in the past. Rooting out terrorists and waiting for them to disappear from the face of the earth in this case is just waiting around for the world to go back in time to when there weren’t terrorists. American cannot be involved in such a Beckettian farce.

I still don’t know what the answer is, but I know its not going to come from politics as usual.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

All for Public Execution!

Apparently we all are.
Here's my thought: one of the 'practical' objections to the institution of capital punishment is just how much it costs to put someone to death. The lengthy appeals cost the taxpayers of a given state a staggering amount. Take this case study:
"The North Carolina study estimated that a capital trial takes roughly four times longer than a non-capital murder trial. Based on the data collected by the authors of the North Carolina study, they found that less than a third of capital trials resulted in a death sentence. Nevertheless, each of these trials had the extra expense associated with death penalty proceedings. The trial costs alone were about $200,000 more for each death penalty imposed than if no death penalty was involved." (full article)
Crazy, huh? Why would we spend so much to put people to death?
Because apparently, our society thinks it's right, thinks it's worth it.
Hell, you want a democratic look at it? Well over 400,000 people have viewed some incarnation of it on YouTube (No, I'm not counting the SouthPark cartoons) at the time of this writing. So I got interested. Why is nobody advertising on YouTube on these pages? It's all search-term sensitive: you buy up keywords and your ad appears on relevant videos. That's a lot of hits with no competing bids! Lots of bang for one's buck.
Aha. There we are. Try this on for size: if our society wants so badly to murder its deviants, and if it's already paying for it through the nose, why not lessen that burden by showing these as pay-per-view specials? We could even have the broadcast limited to residents of a certain state, to make sure that only those who were benefiting from the security guaranteed by the executions were watching, that nobody was taking any questionable or even pornagraphic pleasure out of it.
Sponsorships would help, too. It could be "the Army Air National Guard execution of Willie Mack Moddon, this Friday!" or, "This sloppy lynching of ex-iraqi president brought to you by British Petroleum."
We've already done it. Commercials were running, though I haven't been able to figure out whose yet, during the major news outlets' airing of the execution, and don't think people weren't pouring over the numbers after the fact.

Here's a serious article on Saddam, by someone a little more controllably disgusted.