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friedman without lexus no olive tree neither

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It was like the start of one of those Thomas Friedman columns from the early days – the start but without the argument, without the world is now flat, the history is now over, the Dow 36,000 is inevitable.

I was walking down Tottenham Court Road on my way to work at midday when I decided to stop into the local McDonalds outlet and see how the product held up after its six hour flight from Newark.

Mmmm, reader, can report it was tasty good and justlikehome. Why the fuck do I bother with the weird sandwich varieties, the prawn, the “coronation chicken,” the mexican (don’t ask),  the hawaiian (who knew that philly cream cheese was so big on the big island – I guess they’re referring to the part during the luau when the pig is yanked off the spit and dropped into a big vat of cheezspread!) when I could have a medium Big Mac meal for £3.60 each and every day?

[Update: ooops. Another annoying NYT columnist, David Brooks this time, has beat me to the punch today:

The folks at Pew asked one other interesting question: Would you rather live in a community with a McDonald’s or a Starbucks? McDonald’s won, of course, but by a surprisingly small margin: 43 percent to 35 percent. And that, too, captures the incorrigible nature of American culture, a culture slowly refining itself through espresso but still in love with the drive-thru.

OK. Now I feel a little bad. Sated, but bad…. I’ll make up for it by going to Starbucks in a few hours….]

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February 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Posted in empire

makes nothing happen?

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Finally got around to reading the (rather fantastic) piece on 24 that was in the New Yorker back in February. There’s a lot to clip out of it, but let’s start with this paragraph:

Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week.” According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book “Torture and Democracy,” the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel “Les Centurions,” written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book’s hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of “Les Centurions” provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Lartéguy’s scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies—that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.

If you, like me, are a lit-person who occasionally (or not so occasionally) drifts into self-doubt about the importance or potential importance of whatever it is that we do, this paragraph (and all the paragraphs and pieces and tv shows and guantanamos that emerge, in part, from the described text) should make you feel a bit better… and, of course, worse. Narrative, in short, matters. Very little happens that isn’t wrapped in narrative. And in this case, narrative temporality matters most of all. This is clear, usually. But sometimes one forgets….

And weird… Check this out….

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April 26, 2007 at 11:13 pm

Posted in distraction, empire, novel, war

stylebook schizophrenia

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Swifty has a terrific post up over at Long Sunday. I won’t even preview it here – just go take a look….

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April 11, 2007 at 11:30 pm

Posted in america, empire


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Suddenly, I’ve seen the light, joined the “sensible left,” and set myself upon all the soul-selling that goes with it. TNR subscription inbound, Lieberman donation outbound, and in the middle, an ‘merican flag perched off the porch. Why? Well, the threat of a dry caliphate, of course…

The Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of Sunni Arab extremist groups that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, issued a statement on a Web forum vowing to continue its holy war against the West. The authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified.

The group said Muslims would be victorious and addressed the pope as “the worshipper of the cross” saying “you and the West are doomed as you can see from the defeat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere. … We will break up the cross, spill the liquor and impose head tax, then the only thing acceptable is a conversion (to Islam) or (killed by) the sword.”

After all this time, busily doing my academic leftist bestest to inaugurate the worldwide caliphate… only to find out that they’re going to, what, spill all the liquor? When you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers, Mujahedeen Shura Council… I do my liquor spilling well enough for myself, thank you very much…

It is funny, though, isn’t it, how both sides cooperate in telling the same ridiculous story…

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September 18, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Posted in empire, war

to show that it can

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Krugman has a nice one up, behind the firewall of course, at NYT:

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

In other news… Has my mother-in-law started consulting for the Pope?

I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.

That sure as hell sounds like her work – the patented passive-agressive pseduo-semi-projective-non-apology.

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September 18, 2006 at 9:59 am

Posted in america, empire, war

pass it on

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Homeland Security is after Greg Palast:

Fatherland Security has informed me that television producer Matt Pascarella and I have been charged with unauthorized filming of a “critical national security structure” in Louisiana.

On August 22, for LinkTV and Democracy Now! we videotaped the thousands of Katrina evacuees still held behind a barbed wire in a trailer park encampment a hundred miles from New Orleans. It’s been a year since the hurricane and 73,000 POW’s (Prisoners of W) are still in this aluminum ghetto in the middle of nowhere. One resident, Pamela Lewis said, “It is a prison set-up” — except there are no home furloughs for these inmates because they no longer have homes.

To give a sense of the full flavor and smell of the place, we wanted to show that this human parking lot, with kids and elderly, is nearly adjacent to the Exxon Oil refinery, the nation’s second largest, a chemical-belching behemoth.

So we filmed it. Without Big Brother’s authorization. Uh, oh. Apparently, the broadcast of these stinking smokestacks tipped off Osama that, if his assassins pose as poor Black folk, they can get a cramped Airstream right next to a “critical infrastructure” asset.

So now Matt and I have a “criminal complaint” lodged against us with the feds.

The charges, which apparently were initiated by Exxon, don’t, of course, have anything to do with the sort of reasoning that he performs in his new book

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September 11, 2006 at 10:13 pm

Posted in america, empire, war

Workers, with a capital

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Two passages from Heart of Darkness, the first a famous one and the second less so:

1) Still on the Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn, before the start of the story proper, Marlow’s just fantasized the life of a Roman imperial administrator in Britain and the “fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” – that he would have experienced. And then the turn:

“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower — “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency — the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

So a distinction grounded on something like a “just intervention” theory of imperialism. But he can’t, of course, define the “idea” that distinguishes “us” from “them.” Rather, it remains empty – fetishistic in the true sense of the word.

Marlow is mystified, but can’t quite come to terms with the fact. Instead, as he often does, he turns away from the problem – this time heading on the story of his time as a “fresh-water sailor,” the central narrative of Heart of Darkness.

2. A few pages into the story proper, Marlow turns to his aunt to find him some work on a ship. (This more or less really happened to Conrad himself…) And once she has pulled some string and found him a job, he returns to thank her before setting off to the Congo.

“One thing more remained to do — say good-bye to my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea — the last decent cup of tea for many days — and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature — a piece of good fortune for the Company — a man you don’t get hold of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital — you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.

“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.

“You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire.” Marlow’s aunt has slyly introjected the flipside of the “idea at the back of it” evoked above – she has voiced the logic that can never be named, the secret affiliation between the “us” and “them” denied in the first passage. She may have reversed the hierarchy of causes – she has the “hire” secondary to the “work,” while Marlow knows the opposite is the case – but how is it that Marlow is so able and ready to call his aunt out now, while a few minutes ago he was deploying an explanation of the work that was even more deluded and dishonest than this one?

The idea, it seems, so buoyant a few pages before, cannot survive even the most grazing contact with the realm of commerce, which instantly throws Marlow into a misogynist rant about the “facts” that men live with, what has always, ineluctably, been the case.

(Did you notice the echo of “set [it] up” in the two passages? A rhyme…)

At any rate, thank god everything’s better now…

Capition from wikipedia: “Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.”

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August 11, 2006 at 12:00 am

Posted in conrad, distraction, empire, war