Friday, March 26, 2010

Magical thinking -- a scary survey of the present crisis

Allan Gregg talks to Chris Hedges on his book Empire of Illusion. Thanks to Arabist.net for drawing my attention to this TVOntario interview.


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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and the official version

At the Harper's site is an article by Sam Smith called The revision thing: A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies. with a further subtitle, "All text is verbatim from senior Bush Administration officials and advisers. In places, tenses have been changed for clarity."

I have to wonder how many ancient monuments are the exact equivalent of this, except they were meant to be taken seriously. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ramses II.

Thanks to Randall Winn for the tip.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Celebrity intellectuals


If you want to be known world-wide as wise and insightful, being wise and insightful is not enough -- or maybe even necessary. Consider the case of Bernard-Henri Lévy, a French philosopher currently being pummeled for making a dumb mistake in public. From Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed.: :
Ten years ago, Pierre Bourdieu coined a term for certain French intellectuals whose writings counted for less than their TV appearances. He called them “ les fast-thinkers.” Everyone knew who the sociologist had in mind as the prototype of this phenomenon. Long before the American public got used to hearing references to J-Lo and K-Fed, the French press had dubbed him BHL. His books, movies, TV appearances, political interventions, and romances have been a staple of the French media for more than three decades. But only in the past five years has he become as much a fixture in the U.S. media as the French....

The role of the intellectual as famous, full-time spokesman for the Universal is well-established in France. It began with Voltaire and culminated in Sartre, its last great exemplar. (Not that other philosophers have not emerged in the meantime, of course, but none has occupied quite the same position.) From time to time, Lévy has mourned the passing of this grand tradition, while hinting, not too subtly, that it lives on in him. Clearly there is a steady French market for his line in historical reenactments of intellectual engagement.

It seems surprising, though, to find the BHL brand suddenly being imported to these shores after years of neglect -- particularly during a decade when Francophobia has become a national sport.

But like the song says, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Lévy has capitalized on American ambivalence towards France -- the potential of fascination to move from “-phobia” to “-philia” -- by performing a certain role. He is, in effect, the simulacrum of Sartre, minus the anti-imperialism and neo-Marxism.

“Lévy plays on both registers,” explains Goldhammer. “At the height of anti-French feeling in the U.S., in the period just before the Iraq War, he positioned himself as a philo-American. He made himself the avenger of Daniel Pearl. Arrogant he might be, airily infuriating in just the right way to confirm the philistine's loathing of the abstract and abstruse that philosophy is taken to embody, and yet there he was, pouring scorn on "Islamofascism" and touring the country with the New Yorker reader's nonpareil Francophile, Adam Gopnik.... Lévy chose his moment well. He insinuated himself into the American subconscious by playing against type.”


"Historical reenactments of intellectual engagement." Wow! That is the most cutting thing I've heard since...ever. This implicit characterization of life at the "top" of the intellectual "heap" (or is it "intellectual" heap?) may console you for not being part of this particular club.

Image: Voltaire -- bad example?



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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I believe the war is over...

If you are old enough, name that tune. And the singer.

Back to the present, sort of. Juan Cole argues in a post that the Iraq war is over, and that Obama's policy has worked, but we have not noticed it because media attention has been elsewhere. Bolding indicates my emphasis.

The Iraqi military and police, over which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had largely gained control, proved able to keep order about as well as had their American and British colleagues. In July, 2009, with the US no longer patrolling, attacks and deaths declined by a third, and went on down from there. Despite two dramatic bombing waves in the capital, in August and November, the situation has in most places calmed down on an everyday basis. Flashpoints such as Mosul and Kirkuk remain, but had been violent when the US military was there, too.

Most Americans do not realize that US troops seldom patrol or engage in combat in Iraq anymore, accounting for why none were killed in hostile action in December. The total number of US troops in Iraq has fallen from a maximum of 160,000 during the Bush administration's 'surge' to about 110,000. After the early March parliamentary elections, another big withdrawal will begin, bringing then number down to 50,000 or so non-combat troops by September 1.

Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq War. But there is no longer an Iraq War. There are US bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little US involvement. Obama is having his troops leave exactly as quickly as the Iraqi parliament asked him to. Most US troops in Iraq seem mainly to be in the moving business now, shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment.

The last 4,000 Marines will hand over responsibility for al-Anbar Province, once among the more violent places on earth, to the US Army on Saturday, and shortly thereafter the Marines will depart the country.

...

Contrary to the consensus at Washington think tanks, Obama is ahead of schedule in his Iraq withdrawal, to which he is committed, and which will probably unfold pretty much as he has outlined in his speeches. The attention of the US public has turned away from Iraq so decisively that Obama's achievement in facing down the Pentagon on this issue and supporting Iraq's desire for practical steps toward sovereignty has largely been missed in this country.

...

Obama was handed a series of catastrophes. He has done better in handling some than others. But his decision on Iraq was the right one, the one that allows the US to depart with dignity, and allows Iraqis to work out their own internal problems. It is in this sense that Obama won the Iraq War.


What really struck me about the post is the video clip from Al Jazeera on "Sovereignty Day;" I like to think that I read a bit deeper and wider than many people, but the situation depicted here mostly passed me by:



Or maybe it's the fact that video gives you a whole different feel than even good analytical prose.

This indicates to me that I've got to read more news from outside the USA.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Juan Cole explains the limitations of the US media

Discussing coverage of yesterday's coordinated bombings in Baghdad, he makes this worthwhile point:

Aljazeera notes that some US media outlets did not bother to cover these attacks in Iraq, and wonders if the story will return. I think the answer depends on the journalistic integrity of the outlet. For many, the answer will be no. Many US media are nationalist media, and cover stories having to do with US national projects. Americans have already decided that Iraq was a mistake, and they know the US military is leaving, and so what happens there is not "news" as much of the corporate media defines it (i.e. a story that generates profits because of wide public interest in it).
This may strike some readers as too charitable, but I think it captures one dimension of the problem of the US media. If you really want to know what is going on in the world, you've got to sample other sources.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Imperial decadence -- the Fisher King bleeds

I have been trying to keep most of my political commentary off this blog (by putting it on the even more ephemeral Facebook) but sometimes, like Sir Percival, you have to say something about an event that seems to indicate what direction things are going. Why is the Fisher King bleeding? Better find out!

The event today is about Today -- the US TV news show. It has just hired the eminently qualified Jenna Hager, daughter of George W. Bush, as a reporter.

Two comments from other bloggers pretty much nail the significance.

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon
:

They should convene a panel for the next Meet the Press with Jenna Bush Hager, Luke Russert, Liz Cheney, Megan McCain and Jonah Goldberg, and they should have Chris Wallace moderate it. They can all bash affirmative action and talk about how vitally important it is that the U.S. remain a Great Meritocracy because it's really unfair for anything other than merit to determine position and employment. They can interview Lisa Murkowski, Evan Bayh, Jeb Bush, Bob Casey, Mark Pryor, Jay Rockefeller, Dan Lipinksi, and Harold Ford, Jr. about personal responsibility and the virtues of self-sufficiency. Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson and John Podhoretz can provide moving commentary on how America is so special because all that matters is merit, not who you know or where you come from. There's a virtually endless list of politically well-placed guests equally qualified to talk on such matters.

About this latest hiring by NBC, Atrios observed: "if only the Villager values of nepotism and torture could be combined somehow." The American Prospect's Adam Serwer quicky noted that they already have been: "Liz Cheney." Liz Cheney is really the perfect face of Washington's political culture, a perfect manifestation of all the rotting diseases that define it and a pure expression of what our country has become and the reasons for its virtual ruin. She should really be on every political TV show all day every day. It's almost as though things can't really be expressed thoroughly without including her. Jenna Bush as a new NBC "reporter" on The Today Show -- at a time when every media outlet is firing and laying off real reporters -- is a very nice addition though.

UPDATE: Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear.


Note: if you don't follow political geneology, you may want to look up Greenwald's panelists on the Web.

And from Patrick Nielsen Hayden:


Our children and grandchildren will remember these strutting second- and third-generation media peacocks they way we look back at the White Russian officer corps—as examples of astonishing decadence. They will wonder how these people, out of all those who could be discussing the day’s events, were the ones chosen to be on television, day after day, as the world careened toward ruin.
Just to be clear, I don't think that either of them is overstating the case. This really is the news of the day, the item you have to know and think about.

Thanks to Brad DeLong for these links.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No wonder political dialogue seems so stupid


You don't actually get to hear it!

Last night I turned on the TV to watch the Democratic National Convention. On CPAC it was straight coverage of the speeches, all of them, and some were very interesting and informed me about what Democrats think is important this year. But then the satellite signal stopped working and I switched over to CBCs News World where it was nothing but media talking head followed by academic talking head followed by professional commentator talking head until they got to Hillary Clinton, when they actually showed her speech. None of the information that I got from watching on CPAC got through this screen of really obvious commentary.

If you didn't know anything about what's happened in the campaign so far, all those talking heads would have given you a little bit of background. But that could have been done in five minutes, and if you really care about American politics you'd want to see the speeches.

I am really ashamed of the coverage by the CBC. They are supposed to be a lot less brain-dead in the American media, and a lot less superficial.

Image: Joseph Faber's exhibition of his "Wonderful Talking Machine" at the Musical Fund Hall in Philadelphia, 1845. More here.

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