Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Butler Class

They are undoubtedly (over-broadcast) everywhere.

Thomas Friedman: all-purpose phrases failing in Iraq
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman is considered by many of his media colleagues to be one of the wisest observers of international affairs. "You have a global brain, my friend," MSNBC host Chris Matthews once told Friedman (4/21/05). "You're amazing. You amaze me every time you write a book."

Such praise is not uncommon. Friedman's appeal seems to rest on his ability to discuss complex issues in the simplest possible terms. On a recent episode of MSNBC's Hardball (5/11/06), for example, Friedman boiled down the intricacies of the Iraq situation into a make-or-break deadline: "Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."

That confident prediction would seem a lot more insightful, however, if Friedman hadn't been making essentially the same forecast almost since the beginning of the Iraq War. A review of Friedman's punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer.

"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time."
(New York Times, 11/30/03)

"What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's the rush? Can we let this play out, please?"
(NPR's Fresh Air, 6/3/04)

"What we're gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 10/3/04)

"Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won't be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile."
(New York Times, 11/28/04)

"I think we're in the end game now…. I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that's my own feeling— let alone the presidential one."
(NBC's Meet the Press, 9/25/05)

"Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won't, then we are wasting our time."
(New York Times, 9/28/05)

"We've teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it's going to come together."
(CBS's Face the Nation, 12/18/05)

"We're at the beginning of I think the decisive I would say six months in Iraq, OK, because I feel like this election—you know, I felt from the beginning Iraq was going to be ultimately, Charlie, what Iraqis make of it."
(PBS's Charlie Rose Show, 12/20/05)

"The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful."
(New York Times, 12/21/05)

"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding. In which case, I think the American people as a whole will want to play it out or whether it really is a fool's errand."
(Oprah Winfrey Show, 1/23/06)

"I think we're in the end game there, in the next three to six months, Bob. We've got for the first time an Iraqi government elected on the basis of an Iraqi constitution. Either they're going to produce the kind of inclusive consensual government that we aspire to in the near term, in which case America will stick with it, or they're not, in which case I think the bottom's going to fall out."
(CBS, 1/31/06)

"I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq."
(NBC's Today, 3/2/06)

"Can Iraqis get this government together? If they do, I think the American public will continue to want to support the effort there to try to produce a decent, stable Iraq. But if they don't, then I think the bottom is going to fall out of public support here for the whole Iraq endeavor. So one way or another, I think we're in the end game in the sense it's going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there's an Iraq there worth investing in. And that is something only Iraqis can tell us."
(CNN, 4/23/06)

"Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we're going to have to just let this play out."
(MSNBC's Hardball, 5/11/06)

Thomas Friedman iv: the word is "Hack"

A series dedicated to those who still speak glowingly of Thomas Friedman, only God and gullible white liberal hawks know why.

Surely the definitive skewering (in case you had missed it, and were curious) was always here.

The Progressive Magazine deserves credit, I suppose, for being among the first (nearly a decade ago, if memory serves) to definitively place the whole episode, repulsive swaying sack of solipsistic cowardice. Their utterly devastating review of Lexus is sadly not available online, but in suitably weathered tone the editors are, I see, still at it as the times demand.

Thomas Friedman iii: Toxic Tourism

Kipling On the Loose
Thomas Friedman’s Toxic Tourism
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, July 5, 2006

LIMA, Peru—The best part of this job is being able to step outside of your routine and occasionally look at the world through a completely different lens. The Peruvian Amazon rain forest is such a lens, and looking at the world through this dense jungle has given me new perspectives on two issues — Middle East violence and the spread of the Internet.
—The first lines of Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column, July 5, 2006

From the doorway of La Crónica Santiago looks at the Avenida Tacna without love: cars, uneven and faded buildings, the gaudy skeletons of posters floating in the mist, the gray midday. At what precise moment had Peru fucked itself up?
—The first lines of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral (1974).

One quote appears to have nothing to do with the other. But neither do Friedman’s juxtapositions, or his quests for the soppy metaphor. You’d think the New York subway would be as good a place as any, jungle-wise, to “look at the world through a completely different lens.” There’s a subway stop half a block away from Friedman’s office. Timesmen who work on the building’s eleventh floor must think the underground peruvia non grata. So the juxtaposition begs the question: at what precise moment did Thomas Friedman go Peruvian on his own Amazon rear? Answer: January 1, 1995, the day he published his first “Foreign Affairs” column for the Times and heralded the age of imperialism with a liberal face. Or Rudyard Kipling minus the poetry, the style, the occasional substance, the ear for irony.

So we get sentences like Wednesday's: “What is so striking about the rain forest, when viewed up close, is what an incredibly violent place it is—with trees, plants and vines all struggling with each other for sunlight, and animals, insects and birds doing the same for food.” Funny. I could say the same about the copse of woods in back of my Floridian house, or any stage where two or more lobbyists compete for a legislator’s price. Seen up close of course the last thing any of this jungle stuff is is violent. It’s placid, well-mannered, immobile. It takes perspective, a bit of analysis, seeing the forest for the trees sort of thing—doing what Friedman seems incapable of—to reflect the ecosystem’s violence. It takes abandoning the very preconceptions and presumptions going to a place like the Peruvian jungle was meant to do. So he goes from vines and jungle animals competing “with an identifiable purpose” to describing the violence between Israelis and Palestinians as “utterly without purpose.”

Leave aside the subtle comparison of someone in this equation—certainly not the Israelis—to irrational jungle-bunnies (what Kipling would have called “lesser breeds without the Law”). Friedman’s conclusion, after two paragraphs profoundly reminiscent of the intellectual quotient of soldier beetles, is this: “Species that behave that way in the rain forest,” meaning like Palestinians, “become extinct.” And here we were thinking globalism’s fixation on rapid growth, untrammeled lucre and luxury (and global warming) were driving species to extinction! Silly us. I also recall my post-adolescence in early-Reagan America when becoming extinct at the drop of a Mirved missile had us marching in the streets in the shadows of Reagan’s turgidity for Pershing missiles and ICBMs, while the Soviets were pointing their own arsenals of mass extinction at us all the way up to the Berlin Wall. Compared to that, even the jungle’s most derelict species look like models of civility. And from that, Friedman jumps to this: “As for the Internet in the rain forest, my point is this: There is none.” This, ladies and gentlemen of the jungle, is what earns the man a twice-weekly perch on the world’s most august op-ed page.

And we wonder why he never had a doubting word about the “war on terror” (“Semper Fi,” is how he ended his first post-9/11 column) and the war in Iraq until it was pointed out to him, with the sort of repetitive insistence perfected by laboratories devoted to researching the abilities of simians to learn, that at some precise points in the genesis of both—namely, when the Bush administration declared both wars as their playground—both wars were, are, a sham. And still, he has doubts. His trips to the jungles of the world are not really attempts at seeing the world from different lenses. They’re exercises in reassertion, in exporting his unchanging, neo-imperialist world view to those places that have as yet been spared the reach of his religion (globalism), but not quite its effects. Friedman, in his travels to those lost corners, is not just Kipling without style. He’s America’s latest Lewis or Clark without enlightenment—the advance scout of civilization’s grasp and crass, its pretend humility wrapped in the wide-eyed props of the ingénue. It might have worked in the age of The Quiet American. It ain’t working now, not least because the American has become so loud.

Speaking of his jungle guide, Friedman concludes, unresisting before that last entomological pun: “He was totally disconnected from the Web, but totally in touch with the incredible web of life around him. I wonder if there’s a lesson there.” He went to college, too.

Thomas Friedman ii: the Geraldo Rivera of the NY Times

Edward S. Herman (read the whole thing):
The principal diplomatic correspondents for the New York Times, from Cyrus Sulzberger through Flora Lewis, James Reston, and Leslie Gelb to Thomas Friedman, have always and necessarily been apologists for U.S. foreign policy. The NYT is a self-acknowledged establishment paper and hardly makes any bones about its close connections with policy-makers. James Reston was greatly honored for his intimacy with high officials and even co-wrote one of his NYT opinion columns with Henry Kissinger. Another Friedman predecessor, Leslie Gelb, had stints in the State Department and Pentagon interspersed with his position as diplomatic correspondent.

Thomas Friedman has served consistently in this apologetic tradition. He differs from his predecessors mainly in his brashness, name-dropping, and self-promotion, and with his aggressive, bullying tone; e.g., WTO protesters are “ridiculous…a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.” In these respects he brings a now fashionable, Geraldo Rivera in-your- face touch to the NYT, which has borne his effusions stoically for the last three decades. Of course, Friedman has also brought honors to the NYT with his three Pulitzer Prizes—which some argue have done for the reputation of Pulitzer what the Nobel Peace Prize award to Henry Kissinger has done for the reputation of the peace prize...

Friedman has been a long-standing apologist for Israeli state terror and ethnic cleansing...

Friedman is also a racist, regularly denigrating Arabs for their qualities of emotionalism, unreason, and hostility to democracy and modernization...

In a widely quoted line from his book The Lexis and the Olive Tree (1999), Friedman says, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” This is not said with any hint that it might be wrong to use force to impose the market on people who don’t seem to want it. It recalls Kissinger’s famous line justifying the U.S. intervention in support of the Chilean coup and followup terror and mass murder, that the Chilean people had been irresponsible in voting in Allende.

Friedman is an enemy of democracy at home as well as abroad. The Lexis and the Olive Tree is a celebration of corporate globalization, which he sees as bringing the triumph of market ideology and market domination of both the economic and political world. Money and capital flows will prevent any policy deviations from “the core golden rules” of the market; “political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke” and any government trying to serve its poor people or protect the environment in opposition to the consensus of capital will be brought to its senses by capital flight. For Friedman these are admirable developments and he lauds Maggie Thatcher, who “should be remembered as ‘the Seamstress of the Golden Straitjacket’” (“All About Maggie, NYT, May 5, 1997)...

Isn’t it wonderful that the seemingly reactionary Bush administration, so miserly with money for its own civilian population, has invaded Iraq and is spending these huge sums for the liberation of the Iraqi people? All those pre-war documents by the Bushies that talked about geostrategic advantages to the United States in regime change in Iraq; all the evidence of Bushie officials’ and advisers’ links to Likud and eager service to Israel; the long Clinton-Bush sanctions policy that killed so many civilians and actually served to consolidate Saddam Hussein’s power. These all disappear for a Friedman, wallowing in crude apologetics.

Of course “liberation” must proceed slowly and Friedman agrees with Bush, rather than those traitorous French and an awful lot of Iraqis, that self-rule must not be bestowed too hastily. It doesn’t seem to cross Friedman’s mind that the Bush desire for a slow pace might be based on the desire to restructure Iraq in accord with Bush-Cheney-related economic interests and to make sure that control remains in friendly Iraqi hands. Those words “decent” and “modern-looking” are perhaps a giveaway on the Friedman-Bush approach. To be “modern-looking” requires privatization and entry into the global market, with foreign investment and free trade. To be “decent” means that respectable people who can win the trust of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the IMF should be in power. This might require a period of non-democracy that will keep out radicals and Islamists who have not seen the light, oppose privatization and U.S. bases on Iraqi soil, and want closer relations with Iran. We must keep in mind that Musharaff, Karimov, and Putin are apparently sufficiently decent and modern-looking to deserve support, and so was Suharto for 32 years. Once decency and the modern look prevail, the market will rule and, if there are elections, they will offer that choice of only “Pepsi or Coke” that Friedman finds quite acceptable. “Liberation”—for subservience to the market, at best...

Friedman reached what might be a new low in chauvinist apologetics for the invasion-occupation in his “Our War With France” (NYT, September 18, 2003). France, he tells us, is not just “annoying,” it is “becoming our enemy.” They made it “impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war” and they seem to want us to fail in the hope that France “will assume its rightful place as America’s equal.” What they should have done is agree to help rebuild Iraq, while asking for “a real seat at the management table.” But this intransigence is also to be expected because “France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world…”

The implication that the United States has been promoting democracy in the Middle East is almost too funny for words, given the U.S. record of support of the Shah of Iran, the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, and even Saddam Hussein when he was in a serviceable mode. Friedman’s further implication that that is what the Bush administration is aiming at in Iraq is also straightforward official propaganda, as noted above. The business about a “real ultimatum” and avoidance of war fails to take account of the fact that there were no WMDs and that the Bushies were using all those tricks as an excuse to invade and occupy. The “real ultimatum” would only have accelerated and put a UN gloss on the invasion that was going to happen no matter what. Friedman’s assertion that France just wanted to enhance its status in opposing the Bush program omits several facts and possibilities: one fact is that the French people and most people of the world opposed the Bush policy; the other fact is that the Bush invasion-occupation plan was a planned aggression in violation of the UN Charter. The French were speaking for many governments, most of the world’s people, and for the rule of law...

In sum, the diplomatic correspondent for the NYT supports ethnic cleansing and terrorism, but only when done by the United States or one of its clients; he repeatedly supports policies that involve the commission of war crimes, again only when the United States or one of its clients engages in them; he is hostile to real democracy at home or abroad, preferring a plutocracy and sharp market restrictions on popular sovereignty; he assails countries like France for failing to support the United States, always attributing dubious motives to the U.S. opponent, while putting a benevolent and chauvinistic gloss on the objectives and actions of his own country. His analyses of matters such as globalization and the current Iraq crisis are full of rhetoric, contradictions, ideological assumptions, and intellectually they barely make it into the featherweight class. That he is an institution at the NYT, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and is well-regarded elsewhere reflects the degraded state of U.S. mainstream commentary and intellectual life.

Thomas Friedman i

Friday, November 17, 2006

On not standing up, after being grabbed and tortured

Cell phone videos show LAPD identifying fully with the ideological apparatus. More citizen-surveillance likely to result.

One shows LAPD pinning a man to the ground with a knee to the throat, and beating him repeatedly in the face, after the man claimed he couldn't breath. Another shows a handcuffed, shouting man, already locked in the back of an LAPD police cruiser being blasted with pepper spray directly in the face, apparently as punishment for being homeless, and for screaming.

A third, spell-binding video has UCLA LAPD using a Taser stun gun at least 5 times on an overworked and underslept Iranian student who had forgotten his library card and, apparently, did not very much appreciate being manhandled over it, in the library. (Or for that matter, being shot and then immediately commanded to "get up, or you'll get tased again," including after already being handcuffed. Students coming to his aid, as well as those asking for officer names and badge numbers, were likewise summarily threatened.) (Corrected from Urtext here.)

Update: Massive protests are planned today at both UCLA and UC Berkeley. There is a petition you may sign. And here is the UCPD wepage: you could email or call to tell them what you think.

Video (as of this morning the most popular on all of YouTUbe) and story link via the excellent lnc listserv.

* A person may be physically immobilized for 5-15 minutes after being tasered, a practice from which 148 people have died in the last six years.

Update: It occurs to me that as soon as the student starts screaming, the police recognize they are in public relations/control the situation territory. All this superfluous, hypocritical command to "stand up" is just so much mantric cover, just what they've been trained to do.

As Angela states, some of the apathetic students found by local media are equally, if not more horrifying.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

'what matters now'

...will always be to insist, on something more than "now" ('now-time' does not simply celebrate the present, but on the contrary punctures it in order to redeem the past). And so in light too of this recent reminder, we turn to Heidegger's ghost explaining the true paradox of Marx's famous statement.

To which Zizek's comments in the "Theory Matters' section of his film are not, one wagers, entirely unrelated. Nor, for that matter, his Adorno-like loathing for all the "'trasgressive'...postmodernist...nomadic subjectivities" floating about (particularly evidenced, one might add, in certain literary circles, economies of interest), and so on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Communist Manifesto

and Disney, rather naturally. About either this or Milton Friedman's tardy demise I got nothing to say. Update: Oh, but then Crooked Timber gives us the ironic choir (one can only hope):

Sunday, November 12, 2006

further proof of the affinities shared

Timothy Deines on Dylan, Melville and Nancy:
Dylan will not, cannot, satisfy the calculated desire of the reporter to know him, or affirm what others may wish to know of him, of his ‘popularity.’ And even if he were to tell everything he knows or thinks he knows about himself, he could never satisfy others’ desire to know him, nor even his own for that matter. Besides, ‘others’--in this case a reporter surrounded by other media types--simply wish to capture the social phenomenon called ‘Dylan’ in a consumable, commodified form, a form they can put to work for the profit industry. But even if they wanted to know the ‘authentic’ Dylan, such desire would still know no satiation, since authenticity is also a fetish. Thus, there is no suitable reply; he literally must remain a secret to them, and to himself...

Today, immanent community is always at stake because where community unceasingly works towards the fulfillment of its own essence, or the confession of its secrets--for Nancy, this means liberal regimes as much as totalitarian ones--it extinguishes thought itself. Nancy’s sense of thought, however, is not that of calculation but of the intellectual experience of intellectuality’s limits. At this limit, in the experience of this limit, not only does freedom become available as its own kind of experience, but more generally the opening, in space and time, that thought frees is the opening through which futurity itself may enter. The alternative is, literally, self-immolation. Strong as this language is--language only possible, perhaps, after having endured the twentieth-century--it is the problematic Nancy invites us to share. The problem is thus how to think ‘community’ in such a way that remains a question of ‘resistance to immanence’ and ‘to all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ (Nancy, 1991: 35)...

Another reason for taking up these texts--and Bartleby, yet again--is to gain some perspective on what I perceive to be a developing tendency in Americanist literary criticism, a tendency that everywhere claims for itself the mantle of political activism, progressivism, and justice. It is in the work of Russ Castronovo, for example, who writes of recovering ‘material prehistories’ and ‘specificity’ of ‘the dead’ as ‘the first step toward thinking about democracy’ (2001: 23, 249). It is in Lauren Berlant, who seeks ‘a new form of American historical consciousness’ and the ‘counter-memory’ to fill up this form (1991: 38, 6). And it is in Priscilla Wald, who recognizes a ‘need for a new, an expanded, official [national] story’ (1995: 304). This concern with storytelling, national or otherwise, is not troubling in itself. But can such storytelling ever do justice to the finitude of singularities? Are these historiographical strategies capable of overcoming the violences of subjectivity for which Nancy expresses concern? In Americanist scholarship, is subjectivity the end of thought where community is concerned? I can only register these questions here. One thing is certain: after deconstruction, Bartleby can no longer be appropriated in the traditional ways. Deconstruction resists those readings that would reduce Bartleby to a narrative about existential humanist anxiety in a bureaucratized world or a psychoanalytic portrait of a split, even psychotic, personality. Nor can Bartleby continue to be read as a historically-inflected meditation on the alienating effects of modern American capitalism. Deconstruction even troubles recent Americanist approaches to literature that attempt to identify literary scenes of historical effacement in an empty, formalized world of statism and citizenship. At stake in all of this, then, is the imposition of a kind of revelation of secrecy, through the strategy of ‘history,’ upon the singular in the name of social justice, the full historical manifestation of subjectivity, so to speak, in the name of political activism. One can raise these concerns without also abandoning the ‘cause’ of justice.1

Bartleby, in short, can no longer so easily be read as a narrative about a subject. If Americanists are persuaded by Nancy’s critique of immanent community--particularly with respect to the strong claim that liberal ideology is as beholden to ‘all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ as the worst political regimes, even if the former are therefore not reducible to the latter--then they cannot affirm ‘the pragmatic workings of citizenship and democracy’ without the equal and opposite affirmation of what these pragmatic workings entail, which is precisely ‘all the forms and all the violences of subjectivity’ (Castronovo, 2001: 247). Too often, in my view, this affirmation of liberal polity is not sufficiently qualified by an equal and opposite denunciation and a refusal of the violence that such a polity presupposes. How is it possible to affirm ‘pragmatic’ community--‘citizenship and democracy,’ for example--while simultaneously denouncing the ‘violences of subjectivity’ that such pragmatism presupposes?

The entire issue is worth reading.