Sunday, September 30, 2007

Weapons of Crass Distraction

Lesser among the unfortunate results of the rise of the Fox News/talk-radio complex of Republican media emplacements (as I write Fox succeeds at terrifying me with its weekend war propaganda, Iran, The Ticking Bomb, though it's the spectacle of power's hand so carelessly, almost contemptuously, disguised, and not wily Persians, alarming me), is that it necessitates its corrective counter-spawn, Keith Olbermann. And make no mistake. We need Keith Olbermann. It is as dire as that.

Last Friday Olbermann's Countdown newscast led with a report on a fine essay by Andrew Bacevich in the upcoming American Conservative, and an accompanying provocative cover, critical of General Petraus. The contents of Bacevich's article, the facts of General Petraus' alliance with the Administration, and the diversionary purpose behind the phony outrage over criticism of Petraus (this canard would be denounced, and perpetuated) went unmentioned.

The news item, such as it was, took the form of Olbermann challenging the Republican Party to repudiate the American Conservative for this supposed offense to Petraus, consistent with criticism of MoveOn's "Betray-us" ad. Olbermann condemned Republican hypocrisy, presumably because the magazine is one of their own. Olbermann evinced (or affected) an unlikely ignorance of the vast gulf between current Republican Party leadership and the American Conservatives' valiant insurgency, deliberately encouraging the misunderstanding that the magazine and such Republican boosters as Rush Limbaugh are intellectual and political kin. Similar to the neocon's creative categorization of Shi'ite Hezbollah along with Sunni Al Qaeda.

What Olbermann, in his haste to engage his adversaries on their terms (terms, as far as I can tell, delineating a contest of public professions of sentiment and gaffe-exploitation/evasion), did not take the time to mention (or worse, to learn) was that the small but excellent magazine was launched in 2002 in opposition to the war, when Olbermann's own inspired (and invaluable) anti-Bush campaign had yet to launch in response to his being singled out by the Administration for criticism (nothing like a personal insult and professional threat to provoke outrage at a disastrous and criminal war).

The magazine has been attacked by the Republican establishment, long before Olbermann's self-serving sideshow set up camp, and when that establishment was riding high on poll figures, intoxicated on its first taste of blood, and swinging the axe of pre-war hysterics at any who dared raise their voice in dissent, most infamously and embarrassingly in David Frum's "unpatriotic conservatives" record of public dementia preserved in National Review.

Olbermann is either so ill-informed and professionally derelict that the mere presence of the word "Conservative" in the magazine's name leads him to assume it is a Republican Party organ with not so much as a look at the masthead, or he is so corrupted by his zeal to engage in the repulsive vanity warfare that is cable news (sadly, far more likely), that he chose a minor misrepresentation of omission (minor, that is, to the advancement of Keith Olbermann and his pleasure at hearing the lamentations of his enemies' women and children) of the proud publishing record of the American Conservative.
A name made estimable by the heroic and principled stand of the last five years (and individual professional sacrifices by people enduring everything from outright slander to Olbermann's callow, lazy disregard) becomes fodder in an ego-battle between Olbermann and O'Reilly, men wearing pancake make-up and powder. Something is wrong in our time.

But there is a point to the ongoing skirmish between Olbermann and his enemies. The nation is distracted by the battle of personalities (and what sad excuses for personalities are our would-be Olympians), a proxy war sideshow to prevent the emergence of a frank debate about the coming assault on Iran. We're brawling in the stands as the war faction just keeps moving the ball, even with a little help from Hillary (imagine if she was willing to risk the White House using her stature to question the hostilities with Iran--too much to expect in America at the moment, decency will have to wait), tossing her lot in with the Iran-must-be-stopped panic (meanwhile, Olbermann and--perfect! pretend not to notice).

Olbermann would spend much of the rest of the broadcast reporting of "racist" remarks made by Bill O'Reilly (Olbermann is keen on uncovering evidence of racism in public speech, and no doubt looks forward to concentrating more on this sort of thing after the war becomes a Democratic property).
Promising more damning and relevant evidence of O'Reilly's racism, he played clips of O'Reilly in an interview making the now familiar verbal contortions of a public figure trying to free himself of the implications of an original impropriety (and even here O'Reilly manages to be thoroughly unsympathetic, and actually entirely in his element, brandishing the greatness of Bill, superior tolerance mode); and my own dull redneck racism renders me embarrassingly incapable of discerning the appalling bigotry that I'm assured is there. The ultimate importance of Bill O'Reilly's private opinion of blacks is likewise lost on me. But it must be, if the nicely dressed people on the television are so concerned.

I flipped next door to find O'Reilly making the case for his purity and persecution, in PowerPoint. The accompaniment. Oh for a net of sufficient size to cull the lot of them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We are the music makers...

More on lucid dreaming. I regaled you with a tale of lucid dreaming here. The Wikipedia article on the subject is here.
Thanks to J Orlin Grabbe (see links).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Alternative America Phrasebook

"Your Guide to the Idiom of Mass Delusion."

Political Terminology
speaker: "We don't have the votes."
definition: "We don't want the votes."
alternatively: "Thank God we don't have the votes."
sometimes, implied: "Careful, or we may find we have the votes."

Cultural Terms

Liberal, n.
One who suffers from the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happier than someone else (alternatively, more capable than someone else; also more worthy than someone else)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday Sermon

Triumph of the Shill

"There are times of famine and poverty coming, for all the nation as well as for each one of us...for no matter what you say, it is upon the soul that the body depends. How then, without heeding it, can one expect to have everything go right?"
"The point is the time has come for us to save our native land; the point is that by now our country is perishing not because of any invasion by nations speaking twenty alien tongues, but because of our own selves; the point is that, outside of a legitimate government, another government has formed itself, far more powerful than any legitimate one."
--Dead Souls

" There may be honour among thieves, but there's none in politicians. And let's have no displays of indignation. You may not have known, but you certainly had suspicions. If we've told lies, you've told half-lies. And a man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it."
--Mr. Dryden, Lawrence of Arabia

The President speaks the truth. We have not failed in Iraq.
Beneath the political tumult over its outward contours, the endeavor proceeds as planned, if orders of magnitude over budget. What we have is less a failing war than a committed government enterprise experiencing cost overruns.

Despite an ever-rising cost and uncertain future, there has been no wavering from the mission to permanently occupy Iraq for the purposes of lifting the interwar sanctions on our terms, effectively privatizing its oil industry so we can get on with developing it, replacing our military presence vacated in Saudi Arabia ("putting the police station next to the gas station"), and the eventual subjection of Iran. We remain on plan, in fact at each pause digging deeper into the nation's wealth of blood, treasure, and international prestige to cover its perpetually rising cost.

We cannot level with ourselves over Iraq, entailing as it does only two choices: to acknowledge our goals as criminal and proceed, or to accept the limitations of justice and stand down. Accepting the same decent self-restraint we expect of others, becoming a nation limited in its rights and privileges, merely a nation, begins the end of our of global era. This we fear.

So we proceeded on a fiction. Not a conspiracy, wherein things might have gone better for us, implying as it does someone in charge. By willful negligence we deluded ourselves about Iraq, but worse, about ourselves. The delusion failed, which is to say the reality was not willed, and we are unable to explain not only why we're in Iraq but how we got there. Thus the surreality of it all. The neocons spiked America's apple pie with peyote and now she's come to, naked and disoriented in the desert, drawing a blank.

We dodged the question why before we acted. Those who understood and concealed this depended on that question going away, subsumed by a new reality willed into being through force and audacity. Iraq would be thankful, only too thankful to garrison our troops and welcome our oil expeditions. The world would recognize a debt to us. Well, perhaps we're not quite on plan.

We cannot "win" in Iraq precisely because we cannot acknowledge what that means. We are engaged in a conquest that must, by virtue of the modern electronic age submitting these questions to public sentiment (more sentiment than opinion, which implies a certain level of information and unemotional engagement), masquerade as an intervention. To accomplish this we have had to habituate ourselves into believing a lie.

We are burdened with the demands of colonialism but are denied its full means. Waging aggression disguised as liberation has rendered that aggression half-hearted. The result is not, sadly, less bloodshed but far more. Rather than a quick and brutal suppression of the nation followed by a return to a repressive authoritarian order (employing, of course, the successful methods of Saddam Hussein) Iraq's misery is prolonged as we submit it to the last four years of our play-acting (at this point one is to rhapsodize about purple fingers).

So the question why remains (in fact was still being asked with pathetic earnestness during the current hearings); and the ruse we assented to is the source of much of our troubles now. Because had the question been honestly asked, and the moral limitations implicit in its answer heeded, we wouldn't be here, in possession but not control of this foul, masquerading enterprise, trapped in the circular logic of the false language we've created.


Actions no longer have consequences. In the hands of a authoritarian elite skilled at its manipulation, reality is entirely subjective, malleable, and defined by power. The physical world is irrelevant. All is narrative, signification, and a human consciousness with no relationship to, and hence no limitations from, the natural world. Legality and convention the tools of a tyrannical elite, patriotism is kitsch to keep the masses in line. Morality, well, you know the rest. How ironic the anti-Gaullist neocons would bring to fruition the once crazy ideas of Foucault, Derrida, et al. This is an overstatement, not a misunderstanding.

Enter the ambitious General Petraeus, an aspiring Augustus escorted by a virtual Praetorian guard of fetishistic sanctimony and hype. The merest suggestion that he has been compromised elicits more ironic, affected outrage than a sex scandal, despite the fact that he was promoted to his position by virtue of being the last man both standing and willing to tell the Administration what it wants to hear, and his open initiation into Cheney's Coven:
In a highly unusual political role for an officer who had not yet taken command of a war, Petraeus was installed in the office of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in early February just before the Senate debated Bush's troop increase. According to a report in the Washington Post on February 7, senators were then approached on the floor and invited to McConnell's office to hear Petraeus make the case for the "surge" policy.
The drift from republic to partially militarized pseudo-democracy continues, as the weary, confused nation, conditioned by the mythologizing of the military that is a key element of our mass self-delusion, turns to one of its most corrupt and inept institutions, our military leadership. "The nation trusts the generals" read the headlines, comically unaware of the dire consequence of that (the headline begs for an exclamation point).

The generals have been generally very bad, and they have been bad largely because they have been politicized. Those who've spoken up--that is those who have showed this modicum of competence and responsibility--have been eliminated, ultimately to make room for the shill Petraeus, presented as an unquestionable moral authority. You have to admire the audacity of it.

(Among the more giddily absurd assertions: the General "risks his life every day for this country." We no longer have men literally on horseback, but we can still pretend. They would have us believe that the General is leading cavalry charges. Meanwhile, Guiliani humps the General's leg under the table while glaring at Hillary, who is giving him that testicle-shrinking look, white knuckled fist clutching her rolled-up focus group analyses.)

The General is the Administration's newest It Boy, hyping the disingenuous Iranian threat for which he offers no evidence (another inaccessible, vague Curveball-like character waits in the wings with remarkable credentials and tales vast and sordid--we can all sleep now), and a red herring regardless; getting caught like a schoolboy passing along the Administration's dissembling on troop withdrawals; brandishing charts too slick to be believed; and, as if momentarily rendered honest by exhaustion, admitting that he can't coherently describe where our strategy in Iraq is ultimately leading, nor say if the war makes America safer (I don't recall if the Senator then asked him if he could say if the war makes us less safe).

Petraeus, to embark on a Cesarean conquest that, in his fevered, ambitious imagination, begins in Iraq and ends in the White House, has in fact allied with the Administration against put-upon CENTCOM chief William Fallon, who is desperately trying to preserve the military the Administration's occupation is gutting. The outrage over criticism of the General is all the more disturbing because it appears to be earnest, suggesting that veteran U.S. legislators and a potential president haven't a clue about the nature of the government in which they serve.

The General is the Administration's latest convert to its cult of personal pride, where the prayers resemble pipe dreams: " became known as the Petraeus Plan, and would serve as the model for nation-building...The USS Petraeus...The Petraeus School of Counterinsurgency...the man who saved Iraq... President Petraeus..." The certain ignominy for which he is destined is little consolation, but it will be somewhat satisfying, years from now, watching him take his turn at a McNamara-like mea culpa.

But for the moment the mission advances, enshrining in place the permanent occupation of Iraq, with a gloss of perfunctory Congressional oversight.
Our representatives now dazedly negotiate the details of a permanent military occupation the nation never had the chance to challenge. So while the debate centers on whether some 9600 GIs get to come home by Christmas, and the shuffling of brigades, the ink dries on the sellout, and the occupation is ensured to survive into the next administration. Cue Dick Cheney's sinister laugh.

Consider that Congress, complicit in the original crime and brought to reason only by its horrific (political) consequences, and from the beginning in assent with plans for a permanent military presence, albeit much smaller and presumably at the invitation of a grateful government, is then in fact not so much lamenting that we are unable to bring our troops out of Iraq, but that keeping them there is proving so costly.

The Senate is reduced to a carnival lined on either side with barkers touting dubious games and elixirs: "do twice as much with half the effort, "redeploy" those aching troops with 'force protection' and 'peacekeeping!' "..."See our cockstrong-man Joe split a hostile nation into three neat pieces!"..."Who among you dares enter the ring against General Gargantua? You there, did you just insult General Gargantua?"; the freak shows, gruesome moral deformities: "we'll put the sluggard Iraqis on notice!"..."Maliiki has to go!", and a red light tent, enter around back: "psst, hey, flyboy, ever been to Iran?"

No conspiracy is required when most of a democratic populace and its representatives delude themselves. So the endeavor proceeds apace, including in all likelihood plans for Iran, and is only threatened by the fact that we eventually will simply run out of troops. Therein lies our next difficulty.

The original plan has survived the last four years of ever-increasing bloodshed and cost by working through the list of specious claims and bogeymen, reaching the end and beginning again at the start. Having gone this far, it stands to reason that it will attempt to survive the looming manpower crush by instituting a draft. It has already adapted to the draw on other resources, and every presidential candidate with even an outside shot has committed to increasing the size of the military to keep up with its new, aggressive mission.

This is where we are now.

The government and its allied media have come to believe the very fiction they perpetuate. They cannot see that they have rendered language meaningless, having only the gutted language itself with which to understand. There is no conspiracy--sadly, perhaps, as this would imply someone is in charge, and events will follow a predictable logic. But no one is really in charge. The language has been made into a harness for power. Events are in charge. The nation drifts. We have lost hold of reality, having habituated ourselves to misrepresenting it. We are wandering lost in the illusion we've created.

We've gotten lost, having detoured around the question, why. There is a way home. But we have to reverse direction on the path of hubris that brought us here, back toward decency. From this end the journey also begins with a question, only we see it is the same question, never really dodged or willed away, and the belief that we could do that is the real illusion. The question's been at our side the whole time like a phantom, and it, like the nation, has been altered some by the journey, now weary and disillusioned beneath the weight accrued along the way. What will we do, America, about our sins?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bathrobe Wisdom

Here Sara Silverman steals an old National Lampoon bit for use as a promo (I don't know if that makes it better or worse) for her show. I refer of course to the classic 1973 "If you don't buy this magazine we'll kill this dog" cover. In Silverman's version, she is wearing a princess costume, petting a small dog; "watch my show or I'll kill my dog" she says. Perhaps there's a reference in there, or a statute of limitations on material over thirty years old.

Another classic. (By way of explaining the joke to the kids, Volkswagen used to run ads highlighting the Bug's buoyancy--they were said to float) This one was written by Anne Beatts, maybe the only woman on the masthead of the pioneering magazine.

What was great about the National Lampoon of the seventies, beside such work as this (which at the time was downright ground-breaking satire), was that it was a sort of underground publication--for WASP men. They were far more "politically incorrect" (before the term was coined) than the most foul-mouthed, falsely "edgy" (a faint tremor up the back of the neck ["douche chill"] at having to write the word) comedian now. Suffer through two hours of Chris Rock pacing the stage sweating and shouting hoarse cliches at you, and then go pick up a copy of the National Lampoon dated in the seventies, and decide for yourself who's "keeping it real"--and if we are really more frank about all things now than we were thirty years ago.


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