Saturday, November 20, 2004

I'm Always the Last to the Party

Okay, so I'm 2.5 years late to this. Nevertheless, it deserves recognition of its own.

The cosmetics thing at the beginning - i'm sure my unimaginative office neighbors would see this as western cultural imperialism, or false consciousness or SOME shit, but that just means they don't read enough. Prettification is a truly universal human instinct, for all genders - and only Viva La Muerte! a/o Akbar! psychos (and now, apparently, their v. special confluence, the ba'ath [who by the way have metastasized to Paris - c'est apropos, non?] would try to stamp it out.

Now, Aerik and others will surely object that this has nothing to do with Iraq.
And for large parts of the country you may be right. But Fallujah was apparently a Revlon-free zone as well.

"How depressing was it," asked Anna Quindlen in a December Newsweek column, "to see Afghan citizens celebrating the end of tyranny by buying consumer electronics?" Apparently, if you’re somebody like Quindlen -- who confessed in the same column that "I have everything I could want, and then some" -- the spectacle was pretty dispiriting. Liberty itself descends on the land, and the best thing its people can do is go shopping? It was just too vulgar.

Read ze 'ole, 'ow you zay, 'zing?


Okay, one more bite. Now go read it.

What, then, is the appropriate cultural path to democracy? Barber told the Post that if the U.S. must export culture it should at least export its "best." There’s an obvious problem with the list Barber offers, since many of his examples of cultural quality -- jazz, novels, Broadway theater -- were themselves assailed as intolerably vulgar by contemporary critics who were disgusted at their appearance. But Barber surely realizes that, so we can assume he’s getting at something else. He’s singing in praise of culture that doesn’t pander, of culture that teaches and leaves us thinking, of visionary art that lifts us morally and makes us better by challenging us. In short, he’s a champion of what might be called contemplative art. That is not an art of commerce; it is an art of patronage, of enlightened taste. If you can imagine those Afghan video smugglers loading their mules with fewer copies of Titanic and more dubs of PBS programs, then you can imagine Western liberal critics being more optimistic about the prospects for Central Asian democracy.

Is Barber right? He is about one thing: The issue here is taste. But taste in this case has nothing at all to do with perceived quality. To approach it that way is to run an endless round of Hell’s nine circles, only to arrive back at oneself. Thus Barber concludes that what the world should do now is attend his favorite plays.



The point of the various musical countercultures under the Soviets was not simply to hear music. What the authorities never understood, and what many cultural critics in the West similarly don’t understand, is that the fans who inhabit such "vulgar" and disruptive subcultures are not being exploited. It is the fans who are using both the music scene and the paraphernalia that surrounds it for their own expressive purposes. If there is no one to sell them the paraphernalia -- the clothes, the imagery, the recordings -- then the members of these subcultures will not go without it. They will create it themselves.

There was simply no way for the Soviet system to come to terms with this and remain true to its authoritarianism. In the end, it wasn’t the musical subcultures that were delegitimized but Soviet authority. The inability of such a system to allow its citizens to construct their own cultural identities -- that is, to meet their "consumer demands" -- was a major factor in robbing communism of credibility among its own populations.

Isn't that inevitable in Iran etc. also?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Green Swastika

Them's Fightin' Words

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fear and Loathing

CNN's exit polls have Kerry at 61-38 among white males.

That was the Nixon/McGovern split among the whole electorate.

Kerry, all things to all people. Including George McGovern, apparently.

This ain't mine, but I'm-a steal it

"Bruce Reed and many other Democrats want to blame their loss on an inability to communicate with religious conservatives. To me, that seems as silly as Republicans berating themselves over not being able to communicate with Berkeley professors. I don't think that trying to fool the other party's base into voting for you represents a reality-based election strategy."

- Arnold Kling, today, I guess. Forgot to grab the URL. Too lazy to hunt for it again. Sorry, Mr. Kling.

Maybe I could help the Republicans talk to Berkeley professors ... ?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Where do we go from here?


The scariest thing, to me - and I know you agree, Aerik, and I'd be interested to know what everyone else thinks - is how the two lobes of America's brain, i.e. conservative and liberal intelligentsia, have entirely split apart and rolled off into opposite corners of the room.

There are now two parallel realities - from the ground-floor of news-gathering and quote-collecting (the right is finally muscling into this in a big way), all the way up to Shields and Brooks.

Look at, say, and If you read the former, you dread worldwide Jihad, and you're afraid of the bubbling lunacy on the left. If you read the latter, your dread is directed inward - at the Rethuglikkkans.

[This, on a side note, is why I have to end up siding with the former, if they're my only choices. They are at least looking for dangers internally and externally. The latter sees danger located only in the GOP. Plus Israel. Think I exaggerate? Hang out on their comments board for a week].

Okay, both these sites are massively popular "forum" dealies, where a scattering of interesting and substantive posts bob among a sea of grunting. So let's look a little further up the intellectual chain.

Take and, run respectively by Glenn Reynolds and Joshua Micah Marshall. Both smart guys, both relatively honest. Marshall is much more of a *party* hack, Reynolds more an *ideological* one, if you see what I mean - Marshall is very much a Clintonista by temperament if not employment (don't know his history except that he's got a PhD in it - history, that is. I think. Could be poli sci). Reynolds is a registered Libertarian who voted for Al Gore (as did the littlegreenfootballs guy, and

They just aren't speaking the same language. They have completely different concerns. Part of this is natural, since Marshall is the standard-bearer for those out of power, and criticism comes more naturally; Reynolds risks becoming a jingo. But again, this frees Reynolds somewhat to see the forest for the trees.

When these gods o'net, or even we humble but fairly info-hungry mortals, come to polemical blows, we inevitably end up in stalemate. Sure, on factual questions we can be proven wrong all the time (though even that rigid empiricism is fading, not due to either "side" but due to technological/information evolution),

but on questions of strategery, it becomes Link Fu, and the 51-49% grind on the macro level comes down to the micro of us going at each other, all like a fractal, and prevents the argument from ever terminating in conversion of one or the other of us.

Politics is no longer in the streets (and thank god for that - Germany, anyone?), but plays out increasingly through words. Look at cable news - not just a market evolution, it also provides a safety valve function, like monkey grooming-talk to curb nervousness.

This is the Dark Night of the Logos, when sophist rhetoric and professional wordsmiths sieze so big a space in society that a culture goes schizo by simultaneously

a)questioning and critizicing itself relentlessly, if selfishly and navel-gazingly
b) asserting its superiority and trying to Save the World.

Oho, what's going to happen to us - not Roman imperial decadence. Rather, Athenian imperial fragmentation - an Oedipus or Pentheus played out on the world stage.

Gentlemen, welcome to 430 BC. Enjoy your stay.


At the base Fear-ridden root of it, isn't it a leap of faith either way. A choice to buy into one narrative or the other. No, I don't mean Creation Science vs. Darwinism, or even "right vs. left" in any other sense, since I reject the post-1968 hijacking of the Democratic party re: the use of military force (though Bubba did his best to reverse that). I'd love to be a Democrat, if they'd get their act together on those issues.

I mean the narrative that 9/11 was a "tragedy." That the best defense is first responders. That since we didn't find a picture of OBL signed "BEST FRIENDS 4 EVER" in any of Saddam's palaces, Saddam was just some run-of-the-mill Pinochet with a penchant for bizarre outfits, who could continue to bubble on the UN's back burner (with ample skimming of of le jus, no? oil-for-whaa?)

This is stupid.

But the alternative, that we are Chosen to Save the World and End History, is not stupid - it's crazy.

[again - I'm not talking about who we voted for. It cuts across that - or rather, *almost* everyone who voted for Bush is on one side of this, and the Dem.s are more split. Which does not bode well for their medium-term prospects].

Stupid vs. crazy. What a fun choice. And by not choosing, you have chosen to be stupid.

(Vidal! can hopefully tell us: is this kind of like what Kierkegaard was on about?)

That's what I'm talking about

Old but worth a read

Saturday, November 06, 2004

How did YOU spend Wednesday night?

Friday, November 05, 2004

And then there were 4

(quick context here)

Israel, India, us - and now Holland.

It's not the biggest coalition in world history (that'd be Gulf War I, the Virtual War), but it's a start.

Even though I criticize Andrew Sullivan, I'm not above shamelessly stealing links from him:

"I know for sure that you, Oh America will go under;
I know for sure that you, Oh Europe, will go under;
I know for sure that you, Oh Holland, will go under;
I know for sure that you, Oh Hirsi Ali, will go under;
I know for sure that you, Oh unbelieving fundamentalist, will go under."

Aerik, we need your historical knowledge: how were the original Hashish'ins stopped?

And why, again, should I be disappointed that we're not going to get to experience JFKII's "fresh start" approach to this fun-loving bunch of guys?

Right now they're in the freaky-mystic Pan-Slavic international terrorism network - priority one has to be preventing them from taking root in host nations. Afghanistan was like that. Iran and, apparently, Sudan? (please clarify based on your recent research) are now.

If we fail in Iraq, that's what we'll be left with. But surely your position is now reduced to agreeing with George H. W., or Kissinger - Saddam was a useful barrier beween the soft Gulf underbelly and the howling Borglike fundamentalist Next Stage of History beyond. Keep the lid on, because if we take it off it'll blow up in our faces.

We cannot act like this. If we fear rather than hope, we watch horrified as this ideology spreads and gains power. This is, of course, happening anyway, and the longer we chase it around without definitively defeating it, the worse the overall picture becomes.

Maybe we can't defeat it. If not, and I regret sounding like a broken record, get ready for another century like the last one.

This is the Russo-Niponnese war of 1905. What's next?