November 30, 2006
Sending A Message
Daniel Davies disposes of the latest argument for "staying the course":
[S]ince game theory in general provides the analyst with so many opportunities to twist himself repeatedly up his own arse like a berserk Klein bottle, if a given real-world course of action appears to have nothing going for it other than a game-theoretic or strategic justification, it’s almost certainly a bad idea. Thus it is with that bastard child of deterrence, “credibility”.I'd quote the whole thing, but then you'd miss out on the fun of clicking the link.
The idea is that the war is costing huge amounts of money and lives with no real prospect of success and a distinct danger that it is making things much worse. However, to do the logical thing would send the signal to our enemies that we will give up if fought to a pointless bloody standstill. Therefore, for strategic reasons, we must redouble our efforts, in order to send the signal to our enemies that we will fight implacably and mindlessly in any battle we happen to get into, forever, in order to dissuade them from attacking us in the first place.
It is certainly true that one of the benefits of doing something stupid is that it saves you from having to spend money on maintaining your reputation as an idiot. However, is the reputation of an idiot really worth having?
It turns out that it can be proved by theorem that the answer is no. If the game of being a belligerent idiot with no sensible regard for one’s own welfare was worth the candle, in the sense of conferring benefits which outweighed the cost of gaining it, then everyone would want to get that reputation, whether they were genuinely an idiot or not. But if everyone wanted that reputation,then everyone would know that simply acting like an idiot didn’t mean that you were one, in which case it would be impossible to establish a reputation as an idiot in the first place. The point here is that it’s one of the more important things in game theory that a signal has to be a costly signal to be credible; like membership of the Modern Languages Association, a reputation in deterrence theory is something that is worth having, but not worth getting. People who use the word “signal” in this context ... don’t always seem to realise that they are explicitly admitting that the costs of being in Iraq are greater than the benefits.
November 22, 2006
A work colleague just e-mailed round an article on "coping with change" - never a good sign. The whole thing's here, if you're interested, but it's pretty much the usual boilerplate managerial gibberish until you get to the last few paragraphs:
The "new normalcy"Great analogy, Sparky!
Ultimately, we may discover that the current state of flux is permanent. After the events of September 11, Vice President Richard Cheney said we should accept the many resultant changes in daily life as permanent rather than temporary. "Think of them," he recommended, "as the 'new normalcy.'"
You should take the same approach to the changes happening at your workplace. These are not temporary adjustments until things get "back to normal." They are probably the "new normalcy" of your life as a company. The sooner you can accept that these changes are permanent, the better you can cope with them all--and enjoy their positive results.
It's a wonder Giuliani didn't ensure his traumatised citizenry were all issued with a copy of Who Moved My Cheese?.
November 14, 2006
More quoting - here's an example of why I read Roy Edroso:.
[I]f there's any justice, David Letterman will one day be recognized as the father of our era. As with the Taibbi piece below, one shouldn't imagine the use of the term "American" here prevents a wider application.
Like other great men, Letterman knew that Americans were dumb as rocks but still had their pride, so if you were going to feed them the intellectual equivalent of hogslop, you had better flatter their intelligence at the same time.
While genii such as Cecil B. DeMille managed this trick by festooning their slopfests with Biblical and historical trappings -- making anti-culture look like culture -- Letterman found a much cheaper, much more insidious angle: let the rubes in on the gag. Call the pet tricks "stupid," make the showbiz flash-and-rattle even stupider than it needed to be, and cheerfully represent yourself as the hollowest of hollow men, and the suckers would applaud not only your twaddle, but the label on the twaddle that said it was twaddle.
Thus we began to accept lack of sincerity as an American equity, if not a virtue. This threw commercial culture into reverse gear: stupid and ugly were no longer absolute negative virtues... Nowadays the only negative virtues have to do with being a Loser: indicted, dumped, disgraced. But with enough money and a sufficiently energetic image handler, I'm sure even Kevin Federline can come back from exile.
As a liberal baby-killing sodomite, I can accept moral relativism in most things, but it breaks my American heart to see public relations, advertising, and celebrity management unmoored from the verities.
November 13, 2006
Politics is a Game of Two Halves
Matt Taibbi makes a point about the news coverage of elections:
With each passing election season the format for political coverage on TV morphs even further in the direction of sportscasting. Most of the networks on this election night quite baldly copied the NFL Countdown format... and the general topics of discussion -- who would win the big game, whose prospects for next year were better, which coaches needed to be fired, what halftime adjustments needed to be made -- were virtually indistinguishable from the real football shows...Or perhaps I should say "reiterates". 'S OK, it bears repeating.
Any reporter worth his AFTRA card can see that this is the same job, that there is absolutely no difference between pointing out that Indy has a soft second-half run defense and that the Knoxville and Nashville precincts, if they come in late, will come in hard for Harold Ford.
The thing that people should be concerned about isn't that the news networks are choosing to cover politics like a football game. It's the idea that both televised football games and televised politics might represent some idealized form of commercial television drama that both sports and politics evolved in the direction of organically, under the constant financial pressure brought to bear by TV advertisers. Both politics and sports turned into this shit because this format happens to sell the most Cheerios, regardless of what the content is. If you work backward from that premise, and start thinking about what the consequences of that phenomenon might actually be, your head can easily explode.
There were really only a few genuinely interesting things that happened on this election night, but all of them were blown off by the TV goons because they didn't fit into the winning-and-losing sports narrative. The Sanders win was one story, but another very interesting one was the Kent Conrad/Dwight Grotberg Senate race in North Dakota. This one was never in doubt, as Conrad completely wiped out Grotberg, but what was interesting was that both candidates agreed not to run negative campaigns and went to great pains to comport themselves like gentlemen in their public appearances. In a world where social responsibility actually played a role in editorial decision-making both candidates would have been extolled at length on the networks and celebrated for their positive contributions to the political atmosphere -- but given what a catastrophe a return to dignified campaigning would be for the TV news business, it's not at all surprising that these guys didn't even get their own blurb in the CNN baseline crawl.
McCain appears on CNN, broadcasting live from his Arizona office. He's got American flags on either side of him and you can almost see his boner straining against his pants. His smile is unseemly. He's talking about Republican losses and trying to look sullen, but he's not fooling anyone...
For what it's worth, the dual appearances of McCain and Obama on TV tonight marked the unofficial beginning of the 2008 presidential race...
It's not a coincidence that the early White House hopefuls were all herded on the air the instant the polls closed. Once the last vote is counted, the next story is the next race. All politics has to be contained within the parameters of that who's-winning narrative.
What the Congress actually does, how it actually spends its money, what happens in its committees -- it's all irrelevant, except insofar as that activity bears on the next presidential race. That's why the "experts" on these panels are so unanimous in their belief that the Democrats should lay low for the next two years and not push their subpoena powers. They all think pushing it in Congress would negatively affect the Democrats' White House chances. In other words, it's bad strategy for the next football game, just like Howard Dean's crazy antiwar stance was deemed "too liberal" for the gridiron by the same geniuses a few years ago -- even though history ultimately proved Dean right on that score, for all his other flaws.
Our national political press is narrowly focused, schooled in inch-deep analysis, and completely results-obsessed. It's a huge and expensive mechanism bedecked with every conceivable bell and whistle ... and designed to roam the intellectual range of a chimpanzee. It also has no sense of humor. When the Daily Show spoofed the networks with its "Midterm Midtacular," dragging the venerable Dan Rather out and coaxing a scripted piece of instant "homespun" analysis out of him (he said Hillary Clinton ran away with her race like "a hobo with a sweet potato pie"), the real journalists freaked out. Joe Scarborough led a panel of experts who denounced the show as not that funny; one guest compared Rather's bit to Muhammad Ali's crudely scripted appearances on Diff'rent Strokes, saying it was "awkward."
The reality is that Stewart's array of grotesquely pointless special effects and intentionally buffoonish commentary is an improvement on the real thing, and the real thing is an accurate reflection of our actual politics. Which means, basically, that we're fucked, stuck in an endless cycle of retarded lottery coverage -- 300 million people watching a bunch of half-bright millionaires in ties guess the next number to come out of the chute. I hope we're all insane. Otherwise, what's our excuse?
November 12, 2006
You Will Notice A Distinct Lack of Dark Red
From the NYT.
At Limited Inc., Roger posts about the Suicides' Cemetery at Monte Carlo:
Matilda Betham-Edwards – the very name comes to us through a heavy chintz cloud of couture, the rustle of all of those chaperones in the Henry James novels – in her France of Today (1894) gives her readers some sage advice:More. I wonder if Monaco has much vampire lore.
The traveler … is advised to take the train to Monaco, and, arrived at the little station, whisper his errand in the cab-driver’s ear, “To the suicides’ cemetery.”Once you get there, you see first the public cemetery – which Betham-Edwards informs us is not really up to American standards … and then – “quite apart from this vast burial ground, on the other side of the main entrance, is a small enclosure, walled in and having a gate of open iron work always locked. Here, in close proximity to heaps of garden rubbish, broken bottles and other refuse, rest the suicides of Monte Carlo, buried by the parish gravedigger, without funeral and without any kind of religious ceremony. Each grave is marked by an upright piece of wood, somewhat larger than that by which gardeners mark their seeds, and on which is painted a number, nothing more. Apart from these, are stakes driven into the ground which mark as yet unappropriated spots.”
November 06, 2006
Riley Bats Frum
If I start merely linking to other people's posts on a regular basis, I'll likely get even lazier about writing something myself, but Doghouse Riley is very good today.
November 05, 2006
From Dexter Filkins' piece on Ahmed Chalabi in the NYT:
When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out. His Iraqi National Congress received slightly more than 30,000 votes, only one-quarter of 1 percent of the 12 million votes cast - not enough to put even one of them, not even Chalabi, in the new Iraqi Parliament. There was grumbling in the Chalabi camp. One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: "We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn't even get that many."Via atlas commenting at Lenin's Tomb.
November 04, 2006
Other People's Guff
As an alternative to actually posting something, here's links to some interesting stuff from what I've been reading the last month or so. Mostly political, I'm afraid.
The Chinese Face of Neoliberalism by Peter Kwong in Counterpunch
In 2006 Shanghai held a "millionaire fair," featuring displays of luxury sedans, yachts, a piece of jewelry priced at $25 million, and a diamond-studded dog leash valued at $61,000.The similarities to the Russian transition to a "free market" are instructive.
To be sure, the wealth that can afford such luxuries was not created by enterprising efforts of individuals with unique abilities or skills. According to a report by the China Rights Forum, only 5 per cent of China's 20,000 richest people have made it on merit. More than 90 per cent are related to senior government or Communist Party officials. The richest among them are the relatives of the very top officials who had used their position to pass the laws that have transformed state-owned industries into stock holding companies, and then appointed family members as managers. In this way the children of top party officials --China's new "princelings" --took over China's most strategic and profitable industries: banking, transportation, power generation, natural resources, media, and weapons. Once in management positions, they get loans from government-controlled banks, acquire foreign partners, and list their companies on Hong Kong or New York stock exchanges to raise more capital. Each step of the way the princelings enrich themselves not only as major shareholders of the companies, but also from the kickbacks they get by awarding contracts to foreign firms. To call this "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is a joke. Even capitalism is not the appropriate term. A Chinese sociologist has defined it as "high-tech feudalism with Chinese characteristics."
Also from Counterpunch, Alan Dershowitz's Sinister Scheme, a British perspective on Professor Dershowitz's arguments for legal torture, by Tim Wilkinson.
His message is that the "old" model of freedom under law is unworkable. The "relatively new phenomenon of mass-casualty suicide terrorism", we are told, demands a new approach.The Spy Who Loved Us, Thomas Bass' piece from the New Yorker on Pham Xuan An, Vietnamese double agent and journalist during the war.
But this does not ring true to British ears. Our response to three decades of IRA mass-casualty attacks was a phlegmatic disdain for the killers, combined, crucially if belatedly, with a willingness to address genuine injustice through negotiation. Blair would no doubt have claimed that we faced an irrational death cult driven by a twisted form of Catholicism and motivated only by an unreasoned hatred of our freedoms. But we are well aware that terrorism is a tool intended ultimately to influence public opinion and policy. We know just as well that the strategy aims to instil a degree of fear disproportionate to the actual increase in risk of harm. Even the well-confirmed risk imposed by IRA bombs was dwarfed by the ambient risk we face daily from unscary sources like accidents, disease and Ordinary Decent Criminals. Terrorists achieve this leveraging of low-level risk by their graphic and arresting means of death-dealing. It is our duty to retain a sense of perspective and overcome the temptation to panicky and ultimately counterproductive over-dramatisation. That means resisting the hysterical rhetoric bandied about by politicians irrevocably committed to the increasingly surreal Neo-Con view of the world.
Describing to Ngoc Hai the similarities between journalists and spies, An said, “Their food is information, documents. Just like birds, one has to keep feeding them so they’ll sing.”Next we have Nixed Signals; Seth Ackerman of FAIR reports how the US media habitually ignores evidence that Hamas is willing to negotiate, preferring the message that the organisation is stubbornly sworn to Israel's destruction. This makes a nice companion piece to Nir Rosen's recent article on Hezbollah and Virginia Tilley's piece arguing Western distortions of the public statements of the Iranian president. Not having heard of Ms Tilley before, I did a search of the web and found this interesting review by Yoav Peled at the New Left Review of her book The One State Solution
“From the Army, intelligence, secret police, I had all kinds of sources,” An says. “The commanders of the military branches, officers of the Special Forces, the Navy, the Air Force—they all helped me.” In exchange for this steady stream of information, An gave his South Vietnamese informants the same thing he gave his Communist employers. “We discussed these documents, as the South Vietnamese tried to figure out what they meant. They had a problem. How were they going to deal with the Americans?” An then turned around and advised the Americans on how to deal with the Vietnamese. It was a high-level confidence game, with death hovering over him should he be discovered photographing the strategic plans and intelligence reports slipped to him by his South Vietnamese and American sources.
And political in its way is this essay from 1978 by Michael Moorcock, "The Starship Stromtroopers", about right wing ideology in science fiction and fantasy.
Through the fifties Campbell used his whole magazine as propaganda for the ideas he promoted in his editorials. His writers, by and large, were enthusiastic. Those who were not fell away from him, disturbed by his increasingly messianic disposition (Alfred Bester gives a good account of this). Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology (first proposed by one of his regular writers L. Ron Hubbard and aired for the first time in Astounding as 'Dianetics: The New Science of the Mind'), a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed. I sat on a panel with him in 1965, as he pointed out that the worker bee when unable to work dies of misery, that the moujiks when freed went to their masters and begged to be enslaved again, that the ideals of the anti-slavers who fought in the Civil War were merely expressions of self-interest and that the blacks were 'against' emancipation, which was fundamentally why they were indulging in 'leaderless' riots in the suburbs of Los Angeles! I was speechless (actually I said four words in all -- 'science-fiction' -- 'psychology' -- Jesus Christ!'- before I collapsed), leaving John Brunner to perform a cool demolition of Campbell's arguments, which left the editor calling on God in support of his views -- an experience rather more intense for me than watching Doctor Strangelove at the cinema.This post from Arthur Silber caught my eye (*cough* a month ago). In a detailed jeremiad against the appalling U.S. Military Commissions Act, Mr Silber quotes from Milton Maher's They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945.
One day, when we had become very friendly, I said to him, "Tell me now--how was the world lost?"Also on history, here's an interesting post from len on the Berlin Wall.
"That," he said, "is easy to tell, much easier than you may suppose. The world was lost one day in 1935, here in Germany. It was I who lost it, and I will tell you how.
"I was employed in a defense plant (a war plant, of course, but they were always called defense plants). That was the year of the National Defense Law, the law of 'total conscription.' Under the law I was required to take the oath of fidelity. I said I would not; I opposed it in conscience. I was given twenty-four hours to 'think it over.' In those twenty-four hours I lost the world."
"For the sake of argument," he said, "I will agree that I saved many lives later on. Yes."
"Which you could not have done if you had refused to take the oath in 1935."
"And you still think that you should not have taken the oath."
"I don't understand," I said.
"... If I had refused to take the oath of fidelity, I would have saved all three millions."
"You are joking," I said.
"You don't mean to tell me that your refusal would have overthrown the regime in 1935?"
"Or that others would have followed your example?"
"I don't understand."
"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."
One item of historical renown is the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948-9, and the magnificent, heroic flights of fuel and food by C-54s into Tempelhof airport to break the blockade...And returning to finish with Counterpunch, who, back in September, ran a number of articles attacking 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Revisionist historians have long debunked this tale: Carolyn Eisenberg, one of the better historians of the Cold War, has through careful and forensic research through the diplomatic archives shown that in fact the blockade was in reality a part of the process by which American leaders (often to the immense discomfort and chagrin of Western European politicians) pursued the division of Germany. That pursuit brought with it blockade, counterblockade, heightened military tensions and the threat of nuclear war.
Alexander Cockburn: The 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts
It’s awful. My in-box overflows each day with fresh “proofs” of how the WTC buildings were actually demolished, often accompanied by harsh insults identifying me as a “gate-keeper” preventing the truth from getting out. I meet people who start quietly, asking me “what I think about 9/11”. What they are actually trying to find out is whether I’m part of the coven. I imagine it was like being a Stoic in the second century A.D. going for a stroll in the Forum and meeting some fellow asking, with seeming casualness, whether it’s possible to feed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.Joshua Frank: Proving Nothing
While some BYU physicist rattles his brain over the intricacies of WTC #7's collapse, our government is dropping toxic gas on poor peasants in Colombia in attempts to eradicate coca production. While David Ray Griffin pens his next best seller, forests in Alaska and Appalachia are being obliterated in the name of corporate profit. While so many truth seekers attempt to convince us (how they can seek the truth when they already think they have all the answers is beyond me) that the Jews who worked in the WTC were told ahead of time not to come to work on 9/11, Lebanon is being invaded and destroyed by Israel.JoAnn Wypijewski: How Far We Have Fallen
Some of the black T-shirts told me they believed that if only Americans did the research there would be a mass uprising in this country and all the other things I was talking about would suddenly be on the table. But about a third of Americans already believes 9/11 was an inside job. I asked if they really thought "Do the Research" was a galvanizing slogan, to which I was corrected that the more popular slogan was "Ask Questions, Demand Answers".Alexander Cockburn: Flying Saucers and the Decline of the Left (follow up)
Richard Aldrich's book on British intelligence, The Hidden Hand (2002), describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that "interesting declassified material" such as information about the JFK assassination "could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a 'diversion,'" and used to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for 'secrets' by providing good faith distraction material". Aldrich adds, "If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome."Hani Shukrallah: The American Mind
Having gone to considerable detail to absolve my companions at the Italian Club of any suspicion of being blighted by, God forbid, an Arab mind, I might now reveal that they were the source of the most persuasive 9/11 conspiracy theory I had yet to come across. It was all about steel structures and impossible cell-phone calls and an unlikely hole in the Pentagon and a disappeared fourth, or was it fifth, plane. I was referred to Web sites and to American scholars who have organized to question the whole edifice of reasoning and evidence presented by the official investigation.Dang, throwing that together took longer than an actual post.