Friday, September 27, 2002

notes from the future 2: the revenge
Well, apparently, yesterday's Bleat wasn't the final straw, because I went back and looked at it today. Apparently, Lileks is really digging this whole Hitlerian comparison thing. Repugnant though this habit is, it provides an irresistible call to parody and to the construction of a Polemical Future Scenario a little more plausibly parallel to our present one. With humble thanks to the originator, I offer Notes from the Future 2: The Revenge. You can find the original masterpiece here.

(Reuters) As President Ramirez spent the weekend on the holophone, continuing his efforts to assemble an international coalition to invade Bhutan and topple the regime of Ngawang Wangchuk, word from Moscow indicated that the Russian Federation would likely refuse to participate in the war. During the recent election, Russian incumbent Yevgeny Bogdanov campaigned on a strongly anti-war platform, revealing strains in a traditionally close relationship attributed by most observers to Russian resentment of Ramirez' earlier determination to "go it alone." Moscow has put distance between itself and the President in recent weeks, decrying the “Cheneyan adventurism” of the Ramirez Administration and insisting that the Global Commonwealth be allowed to send inspection teams to investigate allegations that Bhutan is attempting to build an "anti-proton torpedo."

Russia is not the only nation to raise questions about the war. The European Federation has strongly objected to unilateral military action as well -- though denouncing Wangchuk as "a miserable dictator who has brutalized his own people." The governments of Nepal, Bangladesh, Tibet, China and India have all issued statements that they do not regard Bhutan as a threat.

Wangchuk, whose Flowering Virtues party came to power during the Global Depression of the '40s promising to make Bhutan a "mighty and prosperous beacon," has held on grimly to power in the small Himalayan republic ever since an Indo-Tibetan coalition foiled his attempt to annex eastern Nepal. The Ramirez administration accuses Bhutan of having links to the Turkish terrorist group Kamal's Vengeance, believed responsible for the fusion bomb attack that destroyed San Diego last year.

“It's ridiculous,” noted Russian military analyst Yuri Koltov. “Bhutan has always been a secular, supranationalist regime, while Kamal's Vengeance has denounced supranationalism on numerous occasions and issues threats on Wangchuk's life for his interference with the growth of Islam in the Himalayas. There's no evidence of a link between the two.”

There was muted anger on the Hill, where some Congressmen remarked that the US should renounce its relationship with Russia altogether, ending 40 years of close strategic and economic cooperation. “Who really cares what they think?” said Rep. Borgum (R-ND) “Ever since we helped rebuild them after the Second Central Asian War, they've been nothing but ungrateful.”

Others in Congress, however, cautioned that the Ramirez Administration was embarking on a foreign policy disaster to rival the Second Gulf War or the Rumsfeld Administration's Korean Intervention. "We've been down this road before," said Rep. Guay (G-MN) "Remember the last time we ignored our allies and tried to launch an invasion without justification? It wasn't pretty."

Despite significant misgivings in all branches of government and among members of his own cabinet, President Ramirez continues to push for swift action against Bhutan, noting that "this dictator represents a direct threat to the libery of these United States that cannot, and will not, stand." White House officials claimed that Bogdanov's rhetoric had "poisoned the atmosphere" of Russo-American relations, and Secretary of Defense Marcus Washington pointedly avoided a meeting with his Russian counterpart at a recent meeting to discuss the admission of the Republic of Karkuk into the Persian Gulf Restructuring Authority.
comic relief
A psychotic work schedule will mean little posting for me in the next while. In the meantime, though, I'd like to put in a plug for Chester Brown's Louis Riel work, which drifted into my brain today. As good literature is often wont to do.

The Louis Riel series is fascinating as an attempt to write history using the "graphic novel" (or whatever one wants to call it) format. Virtually every panel is footnoted, and Brown goes into detail as to why he preferred one interpretation to another. The result: Brown's Riel work ranks with -- and I don't say this lightly -- Joe Sacco's Safe Area: Gorazde or Art Spiegelman's Maus. It's profoundly affecting work that uses well-placed words and well-placed images together to good effect, as a kind of technology of reading that forces you into accepting and relishing illusions of immediacy that otherwise are only available through television. I enjoy learning from those illusions, questioning myself and what I'm being told by the writer, engaging the text and being, what's more, invited to do so, drawn in to a form that's somehow escaped the fatal High Art - Low Art binary to become something singular and compelling.

Every so often, we glimpse what comics could be. And this stuff is it.

Apparently, I'm also going to have to check out David Choe's work now that I've been informed of this necessity by BKS. Mmmmmm. Bruised fruit.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

it seems almost certain there is possibly a reason for war, if...
Blair's dossier just doesn't seem to measure up. Shocking!
sad, really...
I used to like reading James Lileks. I hugely enjoyed his wry tribute to kitschy 20th-century America in the Institute of Official Cheer. I even used to enjoy the "Bleat," which was always well-written and usually witty.

Lileks the Pundit, however, just plain creeps me out of late. The final straw was this post, in which he compares Gerhard Schroeder to Hitler because, you know, he's German and he got elected. A pitiful thing to see, really.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

made in canada
Alberta's government is calling for a "made in Canada" alternative to ratifying the Kyoto protocol. Unsurprisingly, it's a plan carefully crafted to Look Like Stuff is Happening without putting a dent in business-as-usual for oil and gas.

Well, they're realistic about where this plan is likely to land us. They remind us that "any actions we develop must be compatible with [read: approved by] our largest trading partner - the U.S. - in order to ensure we maintain our competitiveness," and wind up with the recommendation that we all "support and invest in climate change adaptation research." That shows good forecasting, at least. (Hey, maybe they're looking at Alberta's farmers as a test case.)

In between those two statements are a motley grab-bag of cosmetic measures -- hybrid cars in the government fleet! wow! -- and vague chatter about taking action before emission levels get really dangerous in like, you know, 2050 or so. And they have the unmitigated gall to cap off this septic tank of mendacious rhetoric with a quote from Gandhi, piously reminding us that we need to work on "becoming the change we wish to see in the world."

Of course, there are those who might say the talk about preserving our "competitiveness" is pretty much straight fear-mongering. Such folks might suggest that the climate change disaster is in progress already and that waiting til 2050 to do something about it might not be the best idea. If those people are right -- and the vast majority of serious researchers agree with them -- this "made in Canada" approach to climate change somehow doesn't look so attractive.
men of the mind
The trouble with guys who think like this is that they're simply too arrogant to hide it. Hey, if it sounded good when you read it in Atlas Shrugged, why not repeat it as gospel at a public forum? Yeah. That's the ticket!

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Gary Leupp sounds off in this excellent article on Counterpunch.
practising for the lyttle lytton contest
I've got a few months to get match fit for this one. Maybe I'll start off with,

"Death," bellowed Graugr to his barbarian horde, "your love is hollow like an oak," and went back to his cooking, and so it began.

Hmmm, not there yet. But this is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end. Rather, it is the end of the beginning.

Monday, September 23, 2002

slap happy
This is why I read Penny Arcade, even though I have no interest in gaming beyond Sid Meier's Civilization games and occasionally pounding the buttons on a Soul Calibur machine at the arcade. It's a skewering of moronic PC-vs.-console arguments and one of the most hilarious parodies of barking-head talk shows I've ever seen. Fucking brilliant.

And when this old world is getting me down, I can always dig into the choice archives of Bubba's work on ScreamingMidget. It doesn't get much funnier than this...
one of these things is much like the other
By now, no one should be surprised by the aggressiveness of the National Security Strategy recently released by the White House. What seems to have escaped notice, however, is just how closely it resembles a certain increasingly infamous report. Much of the language sounds not-too-surprisingly similar.

Why is that report so important? It's important because it makes crystal clear certain facts about the conservatism practised by Bush&Co:

1. They've long ago formulated a view about who is and is not a threat to the United States. This view is as old as 2000, and probably much older, and (given how immune they've proven to inconvenient facts about Iraq) it's unlikely to evolve no matter what new facts are presented. Indeed, they're likely to deliberately avoid seeking new intelligence for fear that it might trouble this preset picture. This means that, though the present push for war is no doubt an election issue, Iraq will not go away after the elections are over. The agenda of aggressive warfare will not go away. Fighting and winning multiple wars in multiple theaters is a key military goal of the report.

2. Much of their political identity is tied up with the very specific brand and programme of militarism laid forth here. It's an identity likely forged, at least in part, during the Reagan administration and viewed as a necessary, manly antidote to post-Vietnam Carterian malaise. And it does so much to explain their otherwise inexplicable frothing hatred of Clinton, who frustrated this agenda. (In fact, hatred and contempt virtually oozes out of the report at any point where the Clinton Administration is mentioned.)

3. Using arguments akin to the infamous "missile gap" sophistry of the Cold War, they desperately want more high-tech toys for the military, especially in space and in the form of missile defense systems. (Yes, although they've played down the rhetoric of NMD over the past year, this too is likely still on the agenda.) In large part these arguments about the "Revolution in Military Affairs" seem convincing to them because they imagine competing nations simultaneously as: a) emerging juggernauts on the verge of seizing the high frontier and threatening America directly, and b) predictable robots who won't respond to aggressive weapons programs with an agenda of increased proliferation and militarism of their own.

4. When they wrote their report, the chickenhawks despaired of having a blank cheque to carry out their vision unless America suffered a dramatic security disaster, another "Pearl Harbor." It's not hard to see that they regard 9/11 as this divine, unlooked-for gift, a carte blanche to carry out the recommendations of their report page by page.

The report provides a chilling blueprint for American military policy well into the future. If they get their way, the picture isn't pretty. Iraq, for example, is far from the only candidate for "pre-emption." Iran, Syria and Libya are next on the list. They dream of putting forces into North Korea and generally stepping up American military presence in Asia, evidently oblivious to the strain this is likely to put on their relationship with friendly powers like Japan and South Korea but certainly not oblivious to the confrontation this will involve with China.

Iraq, it turns out, is only the beginning.
more on slorg
A couple more select theorists from the latter half of Dennis Redmond's list. (Incidentally, I just discovered he has a complete translation of Adorno's Negative Dialectics downloadable here. As they say in my country, "wow.")

Karl Marx: During the heady days of the bubble economy (which now seem improbably distant), it was fashionable even among leftists to wonder why anyone had ever taken Marx seriously, or why anyone still did. The reasons are fairly straightforward, though. Though there are disagreements about the flaws in his work -- some, like me, regard fundamental features of his thought (like dialectical materialism, frex) as insupportable -- there's no denying that Marx was one of the most coherent thinkers to connect capitalism to a social and political context. Secondly, Marxism, strenuously though people tried to forget it in the '90s, was often intimately intertwined with political movements whose causes later became basic features of modern liberal societies -- the most peaceful, prosperous and tolerant societies, by and large, in known history. That's why Marxism still lurks on college campuses today, to the fan-fluttering horror of neocons everywhere, though it's hardly the dominant intellectual force it once was.

On the other hand, it's no accident that societies ruled by revolutionary Marxists of various stripes tended to slide toward authoritarianism or totalitarianism. One of the left's most urgent theoretical tasks today is to confront the ambiguous legacy of humane triumph and unsurpassed horror attached to Marx's name, and to figure out exactly what was worthwhile in Marx while emphatically rejecting that which was destructive. It's going to be a long, slow process, though.

Friedrich Nietzsche: I've often felt that there were (at least) two Nietzsches. Nietzsche One was a thoroughgoing skeptic whose work on epistemology was second to none. Nietzsche Two was a paranoid aristocratic moralist who feared the consequences of Nietzsche One's insights, and sought to deflect the nihilistic possibilities he saw in the "death of God" by constructing a bizarre and destructive sort of ethics. Nietzsche One's work is reflected in the output of later useful theorists like, most notably, Michel Foucault. Nietzsche Two, though more sophisticated than many realize, nevertheless became an unwitting magnet for Vicious Political Movements like National Socialism (in Germany), or pitiful would-be VPMs like Randian Objectivism (in America).

Gayatri Spivak: Just adding to what Slorg says, which I agree with completely. It's also worth pointing out that though she draws heavily on Derridean deconstruction, Spivak is emphatically not a "deconstructionist" -- it's simply a strategy she applies within a framework that interests her. Like so many thinkers misleadingly labelled "postmodern," Spivak has acquired a bizarre host of acolytes and detractors who both seem to have only a passing acquaintance (if that) with the fundamentals of her work. Concepts like the subaltern and strategic essentialism were so commonly misused that they took on a life of their own. ("Subaltern" became a trendy synonym for "oppressed" in much the same way that Derrida's "deconstruct" became a trendy synonym for "analyze".)

More people who are missing from this list who shouldn't be: Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon (on account of his potent influence as much as anything else), and Edouard Glissant (much more interesting and challenging as a thinker than Fanon). And then there's Mikhail Bakhtin, the fascinating Russian theorist resposible for dialogism.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

a fireside chat with slorg
Dennis Redmond, a.k.a. Slorg, has plenty of interest on his fine website, including a useful FAQ about cultural theory and a guide to major theorists.

Some of Slorg's picks and comments I agree with, but I also have some quibbles and kvetches. Surprise, surprise. For the hell of it, I'll just go through the list and kvetch, or agree, or elaborate:

Theodor Adorno: Slorg rightly points out how enormous Adorno's contribution was. For the most part I agree with him, although I've often felt Adorno's aesthetics often drifted toward a kind of totalizing dogmatism that's been a key drawback of much Marxist thought throughout its history. When he was on his form, though, the sheer volume of useful, original insights in his work often manages to transcend that problem.

Roland Barthes: Yes. His earlier work -- Mythologies in particular -- is simply some of the best, most useful work on semiotics ever written. And semiotics is hugely useful to understanding certain phenomena in history that otherwise would be difficult to understand.

Walter Benjamin: An enormously impressive thinker who successfully synthesized an incredibly eclectic range of philosophies, though like others of the Frankfurt School I find it hard to buy into some of the fundamentals of his thought, and I'm not quite as keen on him generally as Slorg is.

Ernst Bloch: The implication of his contribution to thinking about utopianism, and especially to integrating utopianism into the study of aesthetics, are still being worked out. And any list that includes Bloch should also include the oft-neglected Herbert Marcuse.

Jacques Derrida: It's only more recently that I learned how similar deconstruction is to an earlier notion in mathematics, paraconsistent logic. In a lot of ways, I tend to think paraconsistency provides a more useful framework for the challenge to classical logic than Derrida's deconstruction, but he's still hugely significant as a thinker who found ways to directly implicate his writing practice in his philosophy. The notion of differance is similarly useful. Other elements of Derridean thought may be less useful -- the self-occluding "trace," for example, always struck me as a bit suspect.

Michel Foucault: His undeniable achievement was to build on Nietzche's epistemology and find approaches to history that allowed us to think beyond the traditional framework of humanist philosophy. He produced some enormously useful metaphors for thinking about the working of power in society ("panoptic power," for instance). On the other hand, it can be argued that he was a better philosopher of history than he was an historian -- I actually think the History of Sexuality is his best historical work, though it's the much more flawed (though still illuminating) Discipline & Punish that usually gets cited as his "classic" work. His theory of the discursive system was put to best use, perhaps, by Edward Said in Orientalism.

Fredric Jameson unintentionally demonstrated that even the most brilliant of minds couldn't rehabilitate full-blooded Marxism as a relevant system of thought; frankly, I think his hermeneutics and his idea of the political unconscious -- ingenious though they are -- ultimately aren't successful in their aims. Like so many other Marxist theorists -- and Marx himself -- it's important to separate the useful insights carefully from some of the damaging, even potentially disastrous fundamental assumptions they're entwined with.

Ludwig Wittgenstein didn't make the list, but he should have. He pioneered challenges to Cartesian philosophy which resonate in the post-structuralist stream of thought even today. Come to think of it, Antonion Gramsci should be here too. And Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari should definitely be here. And for filing under those whose influence is a bit more unfortunate but no less extensive, Jean Baudrillard and Jean-Francois Lyotard leap to mind (although Lyotard's idea of the differend is useful).