Monday, February 27, 2006

Fisk on Rumsfeld

Just a quick cut and paste job I'm afraid. It's an angry broadside from Robert Fisk, focusing on the obscenity of the Neo-Cons' claims to be spreading democracy and liberty to the Middle East - lies circulated and maintained by a largely compliant US media apparatus (and, it might be added, a gaggle of 'left' and 'liberal' UK and US 'humanitarians' prostrating themselves before the seductive altar of US military might).

"[Rumsfeld has] ...been taking a leisurely trip around North Africa to consult some of America's nastiest dictators, among them President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, the man with the largest secret service in the Arab world and whose policemen have perfected the best method of gleaning information from suspected "terrorists": to hold them down and stuff bleach-soaked rags into their mouths until they have almost drowned.

The Tunisians learned this from the somewhat cruder methods of the Algerians next door whose government death squads slaughtered quite a few of the 150,000 victims of the recent war against the Islamists. The Algerian lads - and I've interviewed a few of them after their nightmares persuaded them to seek asylum in London - would strap their naked victims to a ladder and, if the "chiffon" torture didn't work, they'd push a tube down the victim's throat and turn on a water tap until the prisoner swelled up like a balloon. There was a special department (at the Chateauneuf police station, in case Donald Rumsfeld wants to know) for torturing women, who were inevitably raped before being dispatched by an execution squad.

All this I mention because Rumsfeld's also been cosying up to the Algerians. On a visit to Algiers this month, he announced that "the United States and Algeria have a multifaceted relationship. It involves political and economic as well as military-to-military co-operation. And we very much value the co-operation we are receiving in counter-terrorism..." Yes, I imagine the "chiffon" technique is easy to learn, the abuse of prisoners, too - just like Abu Ghraib, for example, which now seems to have been the fault of journalists rather than America's thugs.

Rumsfeld's latest pronouncements have included a defence of the Pentagon's system of buying favourable news stories in Iraq with bribes - "non-traditional means to provide accurate information" was his fantasy description of this latest attempt to obscure the collapse of the American regime in Baghdad - and an attack on our reporting of the Abu Ghraib tortures. "Consider for a moment the vast quantity of column inches and hours of television devoted to the detainee abuse [sic] at Abu Ghraib. Compare that to the volume of coverage and condemnation associated with, say, the discovery of Saddam Hussein's mass graves, which were filled with hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis."

Let's expose this whopping lie. We were exposing Saddam's vile regime, especially his use of gas, as long ago as 1983. I was refused a visa to Iraq by Saddam's satraps for exposing their vile tortures at - Abu Ghraib. And what was Donald Rumsfeld doing? Visiting Baghdad, grovelling before Saddam, to whom he did not mention the murders and mass graves, which he knew about, and pleading with the Beast of Baghdad to reopen the US embassy in Iraq."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Baudrillard's 'The Pyres of Autumn'

Jean Baudrillard has a very interesting and very short essay in the current edition of New Left Review - 'The Pyres of Autumn'. Generally speaking, I think that Baudrillard is a bit of a wanker. He's an ultra-poststructuralist notorious for breath-takingly stupid hyperbole and deeply unconvincing claims about the nature of 'postmodernity'. However, I must say that I quite like this little essay of his - it's almost sensible. His focus is the recent rioting in the French banlieues.

The essay starts with what I think is a really fantastic little paragraph. I keep reading it again and again because it's so good. See what you think:

Fifteen hundred cars had to burn in a single night and then, on a descending scale, nine hundred, five hundred, two hundred, for the daily ‘norm’ to be reached again, and people to realize that ninety cars on average are torched every night in this gentle France of ours. A sort of eternal flame, like that under the Arc de Triomphe, burning in honour of the Unknown Immigrant. Known now, after a lacerating process of revision—but still in trompe l’oeil.

Unfortunately I think it rather goes downhill from there. Still he makes some interesting claims. Baudrillard appears to argue that the social explosion came as a violent reaction against (impossible) 'integration' into 'a banalized, technized, upholstered way of life'. It was, it appears, a certain manifestation of a much wider current of social resentment and reaction against a kind of unsatisfying, technocratic integration/social normalisation driven from above and outside the control of ordinary people. Baudrillard also refers to the 'No' result of the European referendum - suggesting that this is a different manifestation of the same disatisfaction.

He also claims that French and, more widely, European identity is necessarily defined against non-integrated 'others' - both external and internal. That is, the European/Western liberal identity requires excluded non-Westerners outside its borders ("Africans storming the barbed wire at Melilla") and non-integrated immigrants within its borders in order to have some sense of its own existence. These non-integrated, different others are necessary Baudrillard suggests for the West's 'own survival and superiority.' 'The superiority of Western culture' B says 'is sustained only by the desire of the rest of the world to join it'. There is some kind of radical nothingness or absence at the core of liberal society, he seems to suggest, and in the absence of some radical other (and radical others many of whom seem desperate to join the West) the West would simply disappear or cease to be. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what Baudrillard means here - what is this radical absence?

'When there is the least sign of refusal, the slightest ebbing of that desire, the West loses its seductive appeal in its own eyes', Baudrillard continues. The 'pyres of Autumn' were of course a 'sign of refusal' and so have set in motion, or exacerbated, a serious loss of self-confidence in France and the West more widely.

B argues that the 'disaffiliated' - the necessarily non-integrated moved onto the offensive in the banlieues :

it is a short step from disaffiliation to desafío—defiance. All the excluded, the disaffiliated, whether from the banlieues, immigrants or ‘native-born’, at one point or another turn their disaffiliation into defiance and go onto the offensive. It is their only way to stop being humiliated, discarded or taken in hand.

Well, those couple of lines I can agree with (even if I'm slightly unclear about this constitutive absence at the centre of French/European identity). But then Baudrillard goes onto say something with which I disagree quite strongly:

In the wake of the November fires, mainstream political sociology spoke of integration, employment, security. I am not so sure that the rioters want to be reintegrated on these lines. Perhaps they consider the French way of life with the same condescension or indifference with which it views theirs. Perhaps they prefer to see cars burning than to dream of one day driving them.

It seems to me that the implication of this is that the inhabitants of the banlieues really are 'other' - Baudrillard advances something similar to the 'survival and superiority' ideology that he previously claimed was necessary for French/European self-identity. That is, he suggests that the disaffected of the banlieues do not want employment, or security and so are, in some way, barbarians who share little or nothing in common with 'integrated' Europeans. This has quite an unpleasant ring about it I think. I think, actually, the 'mainstream political sociology' Baudrillard criticises got it right. Why shouldn't the excluded and the marginalised want security, employment and a better standard of living?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Iran, Humanitarianism, Napalm Substitute

Iran, as every sane person of even mildly liberal and leftish opinion is well aware, is not a very democratic country or, for many of its population, a very nice place to live. It is a theocratic authoritarian state in which many women are systematically oppressed and in which it is a capital offence to be homosexual. The President of that country is a holocaust denier and an anti-semite. This much is clear.

Of course, there are many nasty regimes in the world at present - but like Iraq in 2002-2003 - this illiberal state in particular appears to have caught the attention of assorted Western humanitarians (Politicians, Generals, Harry's Place). The main reason for concern appears to be that the mad Mullahs are are 'engaged in the development of nuclear weapons'. No matter that there is no evidence for such development and no matter that, by western estimations, Iran is at least several years away from the ability to start building a bomb. Suddenly, however, the US and the UK have decided that this potential to start building a bomb sometime in the future, is, right now, an immediate problem. At the same time the humanitarian band-wagon is starting to roll again (falling in behind the revving US armoured columns) - we must be prepared to bomb this country in order to bring democracy. Now, more democracy and more freedoms in Iran would not be a bad idea at all. But, you'd have thought that after the not so successful attempt* to export democracy to Iraq, they might have learned some lessons by now. Democratisation if it is to come, must come from within - it's quite difficult to spread it by means of shrapnel and napalm substitute.

Now what might be the possible reasons behind this apparent drive to another war? It sure as hell ain't humanitarian concern in the Pentagon and the Whitehouse. One of the painful lessons of history is that democracy and human rights have only ever been of secondary concern at most in US military action - an optional extra, incidental or accidental by-products - nice if it happens, but never the primary, motivating matter. What drives the US (and every other state) is economic and political self-interest. Humanitarian concern is today's useful ideological smokescreen. This is completely obvious isn't it? Only a fool would believe otherwise. There are a lot of fools.

One thing which distinguishes the liberal from the socialist is that the liberal tends to take the ideological/moral pronouncements of liberal democracy at face value. Contrary to the hoary old myth of the socialist as utopian dreamer (and the liberal as practical realist) the socialist tends to think like a cynic. As any socialist knows one should never take any government's pronouncements at face value and one should always suspect the worst. Pessimism of the intellect and all that.

Another thing which tends to distinguish the political liberal (political/moral theorists) from the socialist is that the political liberal tends to be dreadfully ignorant of all things economic. That states have pressing economic imperatives to fulfill, that states must guarantee both short and long run profitability for their capitalists (and therefore economic and political stability for the state) is something of which most liberals - attempting to construct intricate theories of 'just desert' and contractual moral social obligations - remain blissfully unaware. With such general ignorance, then, it goes without saying that political liberals are for the most part totally unaware of the specific economic-political pressures and tensions which shape state action and strategy today. Witness the tripe churned out by political liberal philosphers, 'cosmopolitan democracy' theorists, and all the rest of them in regard to the Iraq war. None of them (as far as I'm aware) have much to say about global political economy and economic-military rivalry between capitalisms. Without any mention of the US's huge deficit, its utter reliance on sucking in foreign capital and an understanding of the ways in which it must continually strive to secure hegemony in the absense of industrial competitiveness then, it seems to me, that a knowledge of Mill, Rawls and Just War Theory, (though very nice), is not going to get you very far beyond banal platitudes.

The sabre rattling over Iran (as in the case of the war on Iraq) cannot be explaned by reference to humanitarianism, or concern for human rights and democratisation. Bush is not reading up on Mill, Rawls and Just War Theory. He is looking at what needs to be done in order to safeguard the US's economic and political domination in the short, medium and long term. He has armies of useful idiots to provide the ideological cover.

The big P has this to say about the drive to war with Iran:

"Next month, Iran is scheduled to shift its petrodollars into a euro-based bourse. The effect on the value of the dollar will be significant, if not, in the long term, disastrous. At present the dollar is, on paper, a worthless currency bearing the burden of a national debt exceeding $8trn and a trade deficit of more than $600bn. The cost of the Iraq adventure alone, according to the Nobel Prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, could be $2trn. America's military empire, with its wars and 700-plus bases and limitless intrigues, is funded by creditors in Asia, principally China. That oil is traded in dollars is critical in maintaining the dollar as the world's reserve currency. What the Bush regime fears is not Iran's nuclear ambitions but the effect of the world's fourth-biggest oil producer and trader breaking the dollar monopoly. Will the world's central banks then begin to shift their reserve holdings and, in effect, dump the dollar? Saddam Hussein was threatening to do the same when he was attacked.

While the Pentagon has no plans to occupy all of Iran, it has in its sights a strip of land that runs along the border with Iraq. This is Khuzestan, home to 90 per cent of Iran's oil. "The first step taken by an invading force," reported Beirut's Daily Star, "would be to occupy Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province, securing the sensitive Straits of Hormuz and cutting off the Iranian military's oil supply."

Of course the humanitarians and liberals will respond that this is 'economically reductionist' (as opposed to their not in any way reductionist idealism one supposes). Don't we know that states are not driven by economic imperatives - that things are 'much more complicated than that'** and that in this post Cold-War order, humanitarian intervention is an autonomous and driving force in inter-state relations?

Well, no, we don't think that because, you see, we're not fucking idiots.

*I say the 'attempt' to export democracy - what I mean, of course, is that the humanitarians tried to export democracy through some immense act of will, some heroic hope against the odds. The Coalition forces weren't really all that conscientious about it in their actual, concrete activity. I picture the humanitarians concentrating very hard, willing the US on to set up democracy - [ fingers pressed to temples - nnnggghhh!! ngggghhh!!].
** Well yes, of course things are complex and of course they are not wholly reducible to economic concerns (who says they are by the way?) but what they mean by this, of course, is that economic imperatives have nothing to do with anything - they don't exist you see.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Aaro Watch on Nick Cohen

Aaronovitch Watch ('incorporating Nick Cohen Watch') have launched a new competition focusing on the continuing rightward trajectory of top 'decentist', Nick Cohen - to 'name the remaining Seals of Dacre.'

"For a while now, we've had a running joke on AW that Nick Cohen is in the process of gradually turning into Melanie Phillips. We have motivated this joke by claiming that he is breaking, one by one, the Seven Seals of the Vaults of Dacre. The idea is that every time you adopt a bizarre and counterfactual view which is also believed by Melanie Phillips, a seal breaks open, and when all seven are broken, the Vaults open and an army of ghouls rush out and drag you off to write a column in the Daily Mail."

According to Bruschetta Boy and chums, four seals have already been broken. Worth a look and probably worth a punt.

A Digression

All this irresistable seal breaking and sense of impending doom reminds me, by the way, of a rather fine work by M.R. James - the all-time daddy of ghostly short story writers. (I can't think why I've never written about M.R. James before - I'll add it to the 'to do' list). The story I'm thinking of is 'Count Magnus.'

You can find the story on-line here. Nick Cohen as 'Mr Wraxall'.

The thing to remember about M.R. James' ghost stories is that they are not, in the slightest bit, frightening. On the face of it, this might seem rather a fatal flaw - but James' tales are incredibly well put together and always entertaining.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rick Witter and Me

You know before, in a previous post, when I suggested that York doesn't have any celebs? Well, I was wrong. How could I forget the city's resident indie rock god - Mr Richard Witter? At least, Rick Witter is the closest thing to a resident rock god that York is likely to get.

You may remember him as the cheeky, waif-like scamp who used to sing in Shed Seven. He's also famous for having the world's stupidest haircut 1995-98*. He had big hair. Big helmet hair. It looked like a heron had built a vast nest on his head when he wasn't looking. Famously, in 1998, Rick's haircut went on the rampage in the city centre - at one stage abducting a young woman and climbing to the top of the Cathedral spire. It was all over the news. Sadly, after having captured the rampant beast in a large net, the authorities felt there was no other option than to have it humanely destroyed. Rick's haircut is now on display in a specially designed glass cabinet in the city's Natural History Museum and is, in fact, York's number 2 tourist attraction (after that medieval street where the butchers lived or whatever).

Anyway, I digress. The real point of this post is to impress you all with the fact that I know a music star**. Sort of. You see Rick lives not far from me, and he shops in my local shop. We're on very good terms. I often see him out and about on the glam streets (or should I say.... magic streets... a ha hahahaha hhha) of Micklegate or in Sainsbury's/Jacksons (very upmarket - they sell fresh vegetables sometimes). I'm not stalking him or anything. The other week, he was in the shop with his pram and sprog and had just paid for his shopping and had to walk right past me through the very narrow space between checkout and baskets of tat (the baskets of tat these shops always keep near to the checkout). Naturally, being a gentleman, I moved slightly to one side to let the great man and pram through the gap - 'Cheers mate' he said, with a cheeky little smile.

'Alright mate'. I said.

You see it's like that. There's a natural affinity between us. An unspoken, quiet, mutual respect. I have absolutely no doubt that in a few days I shall be living it up with Rick and all his rock star mates. In fact they'll probably get me to front a new super cool indie group for them. I suppose I'd do it, but I do have quite a lot of commitments at the moment. I probably wouldn't be able to do any world tours for a while. Anyway, you heard it here first. I'm starting to grow my hair in anticipation.

* The title is currently held by Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh.
** For legal reasons I have to point out that this is, technically, misleading. I do not actually know him.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Yessss! Suck on that One Smokers!!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

At last, New Labour have done something I can support.

I realise that my views here may not be particularly popular amongst many comrades on the Left, but I really do think that smoking should be banned in all public places - just like child murder and aggravated assault are.

And if anyone comes on here and gives it some ultra libertarian, (puts on whining voice) 'ooh you mustn't ban anything... ooh you're violating my right to do as I choose... this is political correctness gone mad... nanny-statism', bollocks I will personally go round to their house and kick them hard in the nuts. And I will do that simply because 'I choose to do it' and because 'you can't stop me from exercising my right to do whatever I want' and because if you say I can't kick you in the nuts then that's 'simply political correctness gone mad' etc etc yadda yadda.

Now I'm off to taunt some dirty, filthy, smokers.

A To Do List

I have a whole load of blog posts planned, but do not really have the time to do them at the moment. So here's a list of planned blogposts for your perusal.

Rick Witter and Me. (Shed Seven fans take note).
The Winter Olympics (sporty).
Captain Caveman Vs. Battle of the Planets (unwise childhood nostalgia).
Politics Stuff.
My favourite Pencil.
David Dimbleby's Loveable Haircut (light comedy).
More Politics Stuff.
Whatever Happened to Terry Badu? (an investigation).
Peter Gowan's The Global Gamble.
The Strange Death of 'Tiger', My Guinea Pig (a tear-jerker).
Is Your Arse Sometimes, Unaccountably, Wet For No Reason, Too?
Some More Politics.
The Day My Cat Went Mad and Had to be Put Down (anecdote).
Liberals Revisited.
Jumpers (factual).

Fair and Balanced.

On both the BBC News and ITN last night, news presenters informed us (putting on their most sombre, measured and sensible faces) that of course we can't condone British soldiers kicking and bludgeoning the shit out of unarmed stone throwing youths in southern Iraq but we have to remember that our boys are under enormous stress out there. In fact both news programmes put an amazing amount of effort into showing just how much stress British soldiers are under. In fact just as much, if not more, time was put into explaining how it was really only to be expected that British soldiers should be beating unarmed teenagers unconscious (because of the enormous stress they are under), than was given over to discussion of the actual beatings.

Of course, neither the BBC or ITN reporters condone the beating of unarmed youths by British soldiers. They were at pains to stress that, everytime they explained what enormous stress British soldiers are under.

I'm sure, if pictures were obtained of British soldiers being beaten unconscious by an Iraqi mob armed with batons, BBC and ITN presenters would explain to us (in their most sombre, measured and sensible way) that, though they would never condone this sort of behaviour, we have to remember what enormous stress Iraqi civilians are under.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

90s Comedian Turns Socialist Radical

You see that... inhabitant of an unsustainable economic system caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of climate change and peak oil?.... That's you that is.

Nazi Fucktoads Walk Free

Mr Griffin was met by supporters and said the outcome was a "tremendous victory for freedom, [the Aryan Volk and the new Reich]".

Mr Griffin told supporters outside the court that the verdicts were a "fantastic day for the [white, racist, stupid] people of this country [especially Melanie Philips]".

He said: "This evening, millions of people in Britain will be holding their [shaven] heads a little higher and [goosestep] walking a little taller.

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