Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Get a fucking spine and go anti-war, you fucking Dem cowards!

I like this dude Juan Cole. He has a blog and all and he writes great sense. I first heard him on NPR. Here's his latest, which was on

The "American Street" Speaks: Will the Democratic Party Listen?
As more and more Americans turn against Bush's Iraq war, Democratic politicians remain silent. Their play-it-safe strategy isn't just cowardly, it also won't work.
-- by Juan Cole

The antiwar mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan, protested with hundreds of others outside the White House on Monday. She and the others approached the gate of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue three times, and each time police warned them that they were trespassing. On the third approach, Ms. Sheehan was arrested and carried from the scene, as were the others. She left behind, in the fence, a picture of her dead son Casey, who died fighting the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in spring of 2004. Ever since, Ms. Sheehan has been asking the U.S. government to explain what exactly he died for.

On Saturday, well over 100,000 demonstrators, including Ms. Sheehan and the "Gold Star" families of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, had rallied in Washington against the ongoing Iraq war. Such numbers are difficult to verify, but this minimum was admitted by the Washington police, and supporters of the event claimed at least twice that. This large and impressive demonstration was accompanied by other protests, in London, San Francisco and other cities, though on a smaller scale. Critics of the event derided it as a carnival, but what popular movement in history has not been Rabelaisian? Crowds and their performers clown and mug, ridicule the sacred and celebrate the deity all at once. Carnivals of protest create their own bubble of consciousness, in which the unspeakable can finally be shouted, the powerful parodied, and the status quo turned upside down.

Brian Bender of the Boston Globe described the scene: "Many wore T-shirts calling for President Bush's impeachment, including 'regime change begins at home,' while others held photos of fallen American soldiers and shouted 'Bush lied, people died.' Demonstrators held signs reading 'College not Combat,' as relatives of soldiers who died in Iraq held one another and wept for their loved ones."

Since Sept. 11, large demonstrations have been rare. A huge antiwar crowd turned out in January 2003 in San Francisco. In spring of 2003, just before the Iraq war, some 100,000 protested in Washington against it. The protest in New York during the Republican National Convention in 2004 was even larger. So Saturday's rally was among the largest in the past four years. But it was hardly covered by the corporate mass media, which favored instead running endless loops of the same tape of hurricane damage in the Gulf of Mexico.

The permits for the protests and some sort of basic organization were provided by small far-left groups, but anyone who took the time to do an Internet search in student and local newspapers could find accounts of ordinary students, churchgoers and municipal peace groups chartering buses for the nation's capital. Surely no one thinks that International ANSWER or the Workers World Party of Ramsey Clark has more than a handful of members. They were good for setting a date and getting a permit. Popular discontent with the war supplied the demonstrators.

Indeed, members of the Republican Party provided some of the protesters in Washington. The St. Petersburg Times reported on Sept. 25 that among the attendees was Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., a Republican who said, "President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on." Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford support Bush on other policies, and both termed the removal of Saddam Hussein "a noble mission." But they said that when no weapons of mass destruction were discovered, the U.S. troops should have left. Opinion polls suggest that a significant percentage of Republicans have come to agree with the Rutherfords.

In a mid-September CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, about a third of respondents wanted to bring at least some troops home, and another third wanted a complete withdrawal. Only 26 percent wanted to just keep the same number of soldiers there, while a gung-ho 8 percent were in favor of sending yet more troops. Many of the protesters on Saturday were similarly divided between those who wanted immediate withdrawal and those, like, that advocate beginning a phased withdrawal next year.

The American movement to withdraw from Iraq is being called "the American street" on the Arabic satellite news networks. Although many Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis have mixed feelings about it, other Iraqis have taken heart. Khalida Khalaf, 52, told the Los Angeles Times of Cindy Sheehan, "Of course she's a mother, and just like our people are hurting, she's hurting too ... Just as she wants America out of Iraq, so do we." Khalaf, a Shiite of Sadr City in Baghdad, lost her Iraqi son, Majid, to the same clashes between the U.S. military and the Mahdi Army that took the life of Casey Sheehan. About 120 members (out of 275) of the elected Iraqi parliament have called for a short timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The Sunni Arab political elite wants the U.S. to get out of Iraq yesterday, as does the puritanical Shiite Sadr movement. There may be an increasing convergence of opinion on the prospect of the U.S. troops staying in Iraq, between the Iraqi public and the American.

As her supporters chanted, "Not one more," Ms. Sheehan thundered, "We're going to Congress, and we're going to ask them, 'How many more of other people's children are you going to sacrifice?' We're going to say, 'Shame on you.'" The necessity of going to Congress was underlined by the virtual absence of sitting legislators at the protest. Only Rep. Cynthia McKinney among Democratic representatives addressed the rally, though Rep. John Conyers of Michigan attended.

Although freelance journalist and former National Security Council staffer Wayne Madsen alleged that the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, pressured senators and representatives to stay away from the demonstrations (which included speeches critical of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians), the more likely explanation for the absence of leading Democrats lies elsewhere. John Judis and others have reported that behind the scenes, the Democratic Party leadership has decided that it should simply avoid saying much about Iraq.

At first glance, this position makes a certain sense. The Bush war has clearly become a huge disaster, and what is more pertinent in Washington, it has become a public relations nightmare for the Republican Party. And Democrats who criticize the ongoing war open themselves up to charges by the Republican sound machine that they are soft on national defense at the least. What pass for news shows in the corporate media are not above carrying scurrilous charges that those who oppose the Iraq war secretly sympathize with al-Qaida or are card-carrying members of the Baath Party. But since the war is sinking in popularity with dizzying rapidity, most Democrats feel that they can simply passively benefit from the Republicans' quagmire, without taking the risk of speaking out. Some Democratic senators have even talked about increasing the number of troops in Iraq, something less than 10 percent of Americans say they would like to see.

The Democrats on the Hill may in some instances be anxious about criticizing the war because they had voted for it, and fear being tagged as inconsistent. But they have other options than silence. They could point out that they were misled by the Bush administration, which menaced them with visions of mushroom clouds from Iraqi nukes, visions that now seem likely to have been outright lies. When Bush wanted to put the bogus story of Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger in his State of the Union address, Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet knew that his analysts didn't believe it, but being a dutiful administration hack he allowed Bush to source the story to British, not American, intelligence. Later, when Joe Wilson revealed the Niger claim to be false, Tenet apologized. That kind of administration dishonesty, abetted by a complicit and fatally flawed intelligence service, pervaded Bush administration briefings of Congress in 2002 and early 2003. Behind the scenes, many representatives and senators are still furious about having been lied to and misled. They should put aside their fear of looking like dupes (most Americans were duped) and be frank with the American people. They should put the blame on Bush for hyping unreliable intelligence (intelligence which his administration drummed up) and point to his having been the dupe of ambitious Iraqi expatriates such as Ahmad Chalabi (now enjoying cushy offices in Baghdad as vice premier while Americans are taxed to pay for his rise to power).

The frankly pusillanimous tactic of declining to speak out on the war will ill serve the Democratic Party, which has managed to lose both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court. The American public is not generally antiwar, it is simply impatient with any long-term, highly expensive governmental endeavor that does not appear likely to succeed. Especially in the wake of the natural disasters in the Gulf of Mexico in August and September, the idea of spending over $1 billion a week in Iraq is increasingly distasteful to them. Even Bush's Republican base is beginning to have second thoughts about the Iraq misadventure. It is increasingly clear that Islam and Muslim clerics will have an unprecedentedly powerful role in the new Iraq, that Assyrian and Chaldean Christians are under much worse pressure than before the war, that the position of women is being undermined, and that the country is simply not going to be the missionary field of which the evangelical Christians had dreamed. None of this news strikes Bush's Christian supporters as good.

The potential of a strong antiwar stance striking a chord with the public has already been demonstrated by Paul Hackett. A Marine who recently served in Iraq, Hackett became a civilian and ran in August as a Democrat for Congress in Ohio's 2nd District, traditionally heavily Republican. He lambasted George W. Bush as a chicken hawk and said he should never have begun the Iraq war. Yet Hackett is no peacenik. He says, "I love the Marine Corps. I happen to think it's being misused in Iraq." He only narrowly lost the election, and the Democratic leadership is seriously thinking of putting him up for an Ohio Senate seat, according to the Hill.

Even Democrats who are not veterans of Iraq need to find the courage to speak out on the war if they are effectively to challenge the Republicans. Simply waiting around for things to get worse in Baghdad is a dangerous strategy, not so much because the situation is likely to improve any time soon but because the American people want real leadership on this issue and they know they are not getting it from Bush.

(Juan Cole is a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan and the author of "Sacred Space and Holy War.")

Bookplanet: Nobel for Literature announced soon - will a Major Chick Writer win it?

Three speculations about the Nobel Prize for Literature, to be announced next week sometime (maybe Thursday).

1. From, of all places:

Women writers, long overlooked by the Swedish Academy which each year awards the Nobel Literature Prize, could be well-placed to take home the honours this year, observers said, citing Algeria's Assia Djebar, Joyce Carol Oates of the United States and Dane Inger Christensen as potential winners.

Among the usual suspects whose names have surfaced year after year are US novelist Philip Roth, Albania's Ismael Kadare, Czech author Milan Kundera, Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer.

All of them worthy men, no doubt, but perhaps not what the Nobel committee is looking for this year.

"In Stockholm there has been a lot of talk, and it has intensified this year, that there are so few women who have won the prize," Svante Weyler, chief editor at Norstedts, one of Sweden's biggest publishing houses, told AFP.

The Academy has honoured only nine women since the prize was first handed out in 1901. Most recently, it went to Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska in 1996.

Before her, there was African-American writer Toni Morrison in 1993 and South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in 1991, but before that you have to go all the way back to 1966, when Nelly Sachs of Sweden won.

While the Academy is as tight-lipped as ever about this year's laureate, Stockholm's literary circles are abuzz with speculation as the clock ticks down towards the big announcement, expected either this Thursday or the next.

Among those also mentioned as possible winners are poetesses Friederike Mayroecker of Austria and Vizma Belsevica of Latvia, Russian poet Gennady Aygi, Spanish author Alvaro Pombo, Hungarian novelists Peter Esterhazy and Peter Nadas, Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah and an old favourite, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood

Last year, the honours went to J.M. Coetzee of South Africa, and the year before to Hungary's Imre Kertesz.

"If the past two winners had not been so unanimously accepted then the subject (of the prize going to a woman) would have come up much sooner," Weyler said.

He said he believed the Academy was "sensitive" to public opinion, and said he could see the prize going to Inger Christensen. "She's one of Europe's leading lyricists whose name has been mentioned many times."

She could however be precluded from the Nobel after having won the Swedish Academy's Nordic Authors' Prize in 1994, often seen as the "little Nobel" for the region's writers.

Jonas Thente, literary critic for Sweden's largest daily Dagens Nyheter, said he was putting his money on Algerian novelist, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar, whose books deal with post-colonial identity issues.

French philosopher-writer Jacques Derrida was also seen as a possible winner of the 10-million-kronor (1.37-million-dollar, 1.10-million-euro) prize.

"He is one of the biggest names in post-structuralism," Thente said. "And Academy secretary Horace Engdahl and member Katarina Frostenson are known to be big fans of his."

Dutch-language authors Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus have long been mentioned as possible laureates, as has Peruvian writer Mario Varga Llosa.

But Weyler suggested they had probably been taken off the short list.

"Their names have been mentioned for so long and they've never won, so the Academy has probably been unable to reach unanimity and dropped their names," he said.

Thente said he would like to see "the great American postmodernist authors Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon" take home the prestigious award, but Weyler said he didn't think they had a chance.

"They are great epic writers, but they are considered very mainstream. They're not very experimental, pushing the boundaries of literature," he said.

Weyler said German poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger was however one such writer. "He's a totally genius author, very erudite, and he moves the boundaries all the time."

He said the Academy liked to put the spotlight on lesser-known writers.

"They are very good at lifting up those writers who are known to the literary crowd but that ought to be known to a broader audience," Weyler said.

Meanwhile, Scandinavia's largest bookstore, Akademibokhandeln in Stockholm, said it was busily preparing for the big announcement, preparing a special table displaying potential winners -- and hoping for Joyce Carol Oates.

"She's our favourite here," assistant manager Agneta Lind said.

And for the gambling crowd, Adonis is the given winner. Online betting site Ladbrokes gives the poet six-to-four odds, edging out Joyce Carol Oates with nine-to-four odds and Tomas Transtroemer with four-to-one odds.

2. From Sweden S.E.:

Nobel Literature Prize: could a new twist win over tradition? -- by Nina Larson

The Nobel Literature Prize has for decades gone to fiction writers and poets, but just days before this year's winner is revealed some say the prestigious prize could be awarded within a different genre altogether.
While the list of usual suspects appears to be largely the same as in recent years, featuring US novelists Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, Ismael Kadare of Albania, Israeli Amos Oz and Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer, the Swedish Academy might just have a surprise in store this year.
"The Academy has spoken of wanting to broaden the prize, which could open the door for instance for literary journalists like Polish Ryszard Kapuscinski," said Eva Bonnier, head of Sweden's Bonnier publishing house.
"Kapuscinski is a possibility. It would be very exciting if the Academy decides to go in that direction," agreed Ola Larsmo, a freelance literary critic who writes for Sweden's paper of record Dagens Nyheter.
He acknowledged however that "there are no clear-cut signs that this will happen", pointing out that the Academy has been tight-lipped about this year's laureate ahead of the announcement, expected on October 6 or the Thursday after.
If the Academy does decide to embrace a new genre, Larsmo said a prominent literary critic might also win.
"Someone like Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot or Susan Sontag. But they are all dead now (and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously), so I'm not quite sure who would be the most appropriate candidate today."
Head of the Swedish Academy Horace Engdahl acknowledged that "it is important that the prize develops as literature develops".
And if the award ends up going to a non-fiction writer it would not be the first time, he said, pointing out that Alfred Nobel did not specify in his will that it had to go to a fiction writer.
Since the first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, several non-fiction writers and non-poets have won, including Bertrand Russell in 1950 for his philosophical writings and Winston Churchill three years later for his historical texts.
"It's been a long time since the prize has gone to someone like that. Esthetic literature has dominated because, I think, the modernist trend has been to frown upon scientific literature," Engdahl told AFP, adding that it might be time to reevaluate the scope of the award.
Once prone to leaks, the Academy has in recent years been careful not to let the laureate's name slip out in advance.
"We have a very strict discipline now. No documents leave the building and the (Academy) members are not allowed to discuss the choice by email or with members of their family. So far this year, I have not seen any sign that there is a leak," Engdahl said.
As an indication that the system works, controversial Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek's name was not even mentioned among the possible laureates before she won the prize last year.
"I think this year's choice will be a much more expected choice than last year. Jelinek was extremely unexpected," observed Svante Weyler, the former head of Sweden's largest publishing house, Norstedt.
"The Academy tends to like to mix the expected with the unexpected choices," he said, putting his money on the likes of Roth, Oz and Algerian novelist, poet and filmmaker Assia Djebar.
Other clear candidates, according to Bonnier, include Dutch-language authors Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus, Somalia's Nuruddin Farah and Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.
Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, who was recently charged in Turkey with "public denigration of the Turkish identity" for remarks he made about the country's massacre of Armenians, might also win the award, Weyler said.
"Pamuk is an obvious candidate," he said, adding however that the 53-year-old author's young age may count against him.
"The Academy may not want to give the prize to another young author" after honoring 57-year-old Jelinek.
Also making an older winner more likely is an Academy rule that it never gives the prize to someone figuring for the first time on its short-list of five potential winners.
"Candidates must figure on the short-list at least two years running to win," Engdahl said, insisting that the final vote is not influenced by considerations such as gender or geography.
"Fortunately it's not about such silly demands for fairness and balance but about good books," Larsmo said.
"The Academy is a bit unpredictable, and that's a good thing. The more unpredictable they are the better it is for literature," he added.

3. From Reuters:

"At last!": literary Nobel to confound critics again -- by Stephen Brown

Bookworms will once again smile over their reading glasses or snort with contempt at next week's Nobel literature award for 2005 by a Swedish panel seen variously as standard-bearers for quality or a bunch of snobs.

Second-guessing whom the Swedish Academy will pick for the 10 million crown ($1.28 million) prize on Oct. 6 is difficult as the shortlist is a jealously guarded secret.

"The Nobel committee has been very good at coming up with names that were not expected. They will surprise us again," said Frederik Tygstrup, a literature professor in Copenhagen.

The political climate always colours speculation about who will win. The Iraq war has created a lobby for an Arab winner -- Syrian poet Adonis is the bookies' favourite followed by poets Ko Un of South Korea and Thomas Transtromer of Sweden.

For the past five years, journalists at the Academy ceremony have greeted the announcement with a sarcastic cry of "At last!". The cry was first uttered by Swedish journalist Gert Fylking in protest at "intellectual snobbery".

"It's the 'Oscar' of literature, televised all over the world, but they pick the weirdest authors," said Fylking.

But, while even Austria was surprised when Elfriede Jelinek won last year, winners are often deemed obscure for being outside the mainstream of widely translated Anglophone authors.

The Academy -- motto "Genius and Taste" -- is resolutely highbrow but has crossed cultural divides since the prize began in 1901.

Recent winners include writers in Chinese, Polish and Hungarian. Some, like poet Gao Xingjian, were not even widely read in their homelands. Others, like Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, already enjoyed huge popularity worldwide.

Academy head Horace Engdahl contrasts the "vivid" interest from countries with varied tastes to the "perfunctory" interest from Britons and Americans, who largely read their own authors.

"A French or a German reader, or writer or critic, is more likely to have access to the great dialogue of literatures that Goethe called 'Weltliteratur'," he told Reuters.


Engdahl blanches at the comparison to the Oscars, saying the Nobel prize "ranks higher and is remembered longer".

"I prefer the old-fashioned set-up of the Nobel ceremony (in December) with king and queen and professors in tails to the plastic surgeon glamour of the Oscar Gala," he told Reuters.

The Nobel selection panel is often accused of favouring left-leaning writers, though Engdahl denied this.

Franck Nouchi, Le Monde's literary editor, said that too often the selection was "politically correct".

"I'd like to be surprised by ... an audacious gesture. That doesn't mean awarding it to an Uzbek poet or novelist whom we would discover through the Nobel, but someone not necessarily considered 'Nobel-isable'," said the French journalist.

He suggested American novelist Philip Roth, author of "The Human Stain", or an Israeli writer such as Aharon Appelfeld.

After Jelinek won, the conservative U.S. Weekly Standard stormed that the "infamous snobs" of the Academy had again given the prize to "an unknown, undistinguished, leftist fanatic".

There is a fair spattering of leftist laureates, but there are also conservative icons, like Rudyard Kipling, eulogist of the British Empire, and Winston Churchill.

Going further right, Norway's 1920 laureate, Knut Hamsun, was later convicted of collaborating with the Nazis in World War Two.

The most controversial choice were Swedes Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson in 1974: not for trumping Graham Greene, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, but because both were on the Nobel panel.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Brothers in Paris and Peter Starck in Copenhagen)

LADBROKE MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING. This could be the year for Arabs, since the US is causing so much shit there, in which case Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis will win. Be nice if Joyce Carol Oates wins, because she's such a small, bird-like cute little chick (I guess that's sexist of me, but hey, that's what I think of her) yet she's written so many books, what the fuck by her should one actually read? Is there an agreed-upon single masterpiece?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Why we're fucked, fucked, totally fucked; and why we're not

First the good news. We're the second most competitive economy in the world, after Finland. Finland!? Yes, fucking Finland. Read this from the Washington Post:

Northern Europe and key east Asian countries are the most competitive economies in the world, retaining their positions in the top 10 of a survey released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum.

For the third straight year, Finland has the most competitive economy, followed by the United States, according to a survey of almost 11,000 business leaders in the "Global Competitiveness Report." The poll was conducted for a 26th consecutive year.

Rounding out the top 10 in the survey -- expanded this year to include 117 countries -- were Sweden, Denmark, Taiwan, Singapore, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Australia.

The success of the Nordics is based on their "very healthy macroeconomic environments and public institutions that are highly transparent and efficient, with general agreement within society on the spending priorities to be met in the government budget," said Augusto Lopez-Claros, chief economist and director of the Geneva-based institute's global competitiveness program.

Lopez-Claros said the Nordic nations were disproving the common belief that high taxes hinder competitiveness.

"While the business communities in the Nordic countries point to high tax rates as a potential problem area, there is no evidence that these are adversely affecting the ability of these countries to compete effectively in world markets, or to provide to their respective populations some of the highest standards of living in the world," he said. "Indeed, the high levels of government tax revenue have delivered world-class educational establishments, an extensive safety net, and a highly motivated and skilled labor force."

Finland, home of mobile phone giant Nokia Corp., topped the study because of its swiftness in adapting to new technology and the quality of its public institutions, the report said.

The United States ranked second because it "demonstrates overall technological supremacy, with a very powerful culture of innovation," the World Economic Forum said. But it suggested the United States might have been kept from the top spot because of its low scores for contractual law and macroeconomic management.

"The country's greatest weakness concerns the health of its macroeconomic environment, where it ranks a low 47th overall," the organization found.

OK. SO WE'RE not TOTALLY fucked. But now read this from CounterPunch:
Iraq War Winners: Al-Qaeda, Iran and Military Contractors -- by Paul Craig Roberts

    George W. Bush will go down in history as the president who fiddled while America lost its superpower status.

    Bush used deceit and hysteria to lead America into a war that is bleeding the US economically, militarily, and diplomatically. The war is being fought with hundreds of billions of dollars borrowed from foreigners. The war is bleeding the military of troops and commitments. The war has ended the US claim to moral leadership and exposed the US as a reckless and aggressive power.

    Focused on a concocted "war on terrorism," the Bush administration diverted money from the New Orleans levees to Iraq, with the consequence that the US now has a $100 billion rebuild bill on top of the war bill.

    The US is so short of troops that neoconservatives are advocating the use of foreign mercenaries paid with US citizenship.

    US efforts to isolate Iran have been blocked by Russia and China, nuclear powers that Bush cannot bully.

    The Iraqi war has three beneficiaries: (1) al Qaeda, (2) Iran and (3) US war industries and Bush-Cheney cronies who receive no-bid contracts.

    Everyone else is a loser.

    The war has bestowed on al Qaeda recruits, prestige, and a training ground.

    The war has allied Iran with Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

    The war has brought soaring profits to the military industries and the firms with reconstruction contracts at the expense of 20,000 US military casualties and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties.

    The Republican Party is a loser, because its hidebound support for the war is isolating the party from public opinion.

    The Democratic Party is a loser, because its cowardly acquiescence in a war that is opposed by the majority of its members is making the party irrelevant.

    The latest polls show that a majority of Americans believe the US cannot win against the Iraq insurgency. The majority support withdrawal and the redirection of war spending to rebuilding New Orleans. Despite the clarity of the public's wishes, the Republican Party continues to support the unpopular war.

    With the exceptions of Reps. Cynthia McKinney and John Conyers, Democrats fled the scene of the Sept. 24 antiwar rally in Washington DC. The cynical Democrats are apparently owned by the same interest groups that own the Republicans and are refusing the mantle of majority party that the electorate is offering to the party that will end the war.

    The Bush administration is churning out red ink in excess of $1 trillion annually. The federal budget deficit is approaching $500 billion. The US trade deficit is approaching $700 billion.

    The budget deficit is being financed by foreigners, primarily Asians who now hold enough US government debt to exercise power over US interest rates and the value of the dollar whenever they decide to use the power that Bush has placed in their hands.

    The trade deficit is being financed by turning over the ownership of US assets and future income streams to foreigners, making Americans forever poorer from the loss of accumulated wealth.

    For the time being, China is willing to accumulate US assets as a way of taking over our consumer markets, attracting US manufacturing industry with cheap labor subsidized by artificial currency values, and gaining our technology. China's strategy is to over-value the US dollar in order to encourage the transfer of US economic capabilities to China. China's strategy gives artificial value to the dollar and keeps US interest rates at an artificial low.

    The values of US stocks, bonds, and real estate depend on the support that Asians' economic strategies provide the dollar and US interest rates. As Asia achieves its goal of preeminence in manufacturing, innovation, and product development, the strategy will change. Once China completes its acquisition of US capabilities, it will no longer have a reason to support the dollar.

    When the dollar goes, it will affect costs, profits, interest rates and living standards in dramatic ways. Costs and interest rates will soar, and profits, living standards, equity values, bond prices and real estate will plummet.

    These unpleasant events await only Asia's decision to curtail its support for US red ink. That will happen when this support no longer serves Asia's interest.

    When Asia pulls the plug on the dollar, the US government will find that monetary and fiscal policy are powerless to offset the consequences.

    Compared to US budget and trade deficits, terrorists are a minor concern. The greatest danger that the US faces is the dollar's loss of reserve currency role. This would be an impoverishing event, one from which the US would not recover.

    An intelligent government sincerely concerned with homeland security would find a way to halt the global labor arbitrage that is stripping the American economy of high value-added jobs and manufacturing capability, thereby causing the US trade deficit to explode. The loss of tax base that results when US companies outsource jobs and relocate production abroad makes it ever more difficult to balance a budget strained by war, natural disasters, and demographic impact on Social Security and Medicare.

    Global labor arbitrage is rapidly dismantling the ladders of upward mobility and thereby endangering American political stability. This threat is far greater than any Osama bin Laden can mount.

    Time is running out for Republicans and Democrats to escape from the distraction of a pointless war and to focus on the real threats that endanger the United States of America.

(Paul Craig Roberts has held a number of academic appointments and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. His graduate economics education was at the University of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.)

WELL, ARE WE FUCKED or what? If you add that we're the biggest debtor nation in the world, and depend on the good graces of China not to start selling all our dollars they own, I'd say, hey, we're totally and utterly FUCKED. Like, RIGHT IN our butts, way past our sphincters. At least for the next three years, with The Incompetent Chimp as our esteemed prez in charge -- an asshole Pied Piper leading us, a bunch of moronic fucked butts, over a big stinking cliff into a river of shit. This president of ours wastes more money than any Democrat in the history of the world. It's borrow and spend, borrow and spend, like there's no tomorrow. When he goes, maybe we can go back to being competitive; maybe even beat out Finland in five years' time. Don't expect us to get unfucked while Bush is still in charge. We've had four disasters during this administration: 9/11, the Iraq War, Katrina, and Bush himself. And Bush has been our biggest disaster by far.

Pussy Fodder 5

Question for you gals: would soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo make the same face when you bring him to orgasm?

Prof Juan Cole: why we have to leave Iraq NOW

From Prof. Cole's Informed Comment:

The hundreds of thousands of protesters who came out throughout the world on Saturday were demanding a US and British withdrawal from Iraq.

The protesters are right that we have to get US ground troops out of Iraq.

The issue is not the rights and wrongs of the war. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no nuclear program, and the mushroom clouds with which Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice menaced us were figments of their fevered imaginations, no more substantial than the hateful internal voices that afflict schizophrenics.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

The issue is not the lack of operational cooperation between the secular, socialist, Arab nationalist Baath Party of Iraq and the religious fanatics of al-Qaeda. There was no such operational involvement. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Abu Zubaydah were captured before the Iraq War, and told their American interrogators that al-Qaeda had refused to cooperate with Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration deliberately hid this crucial information from the American people, and puzzled US intelligence officials who knew about it were astounded to see Cheney and others continually go on television and assert that Saddam and Bin Laden were in cahoots in the build-up to the war.

But that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

That US soldiers are dying in Iraq, with the number approaching 2,000, is a tragedy. But it is not in and of itself a reason to get the troops out of Iraq. We lost some 1700 at Guam alone in World War II. The question is whether a war is worth fighting, not its human toll, since a much worse human toll may result from giving up the fight (if the US could have launched D-Day in 1940, the Holocaust might never have happened).

So that is not a reason to get the ground troops out now.

The first reason to get the ground troops out now is that they are being fatally brutalized by their own treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Abu Ghraib was horrific, and we who are not in Congress or the Department of Defense have still only seen a fraction of the photographs of it that exist. Sy Hersh learned of rapes, some of them documented. Human Rights Watch has documented further prisoner abuse by US troops in Iraq. Sometimes the troops just go in and break arms or legs out of frustration. It has long been obvious that the Abu Ghraib scandal was only the tip of the iceberg, and that the abusive practices were allowed and encouraged by Rumsfeld and high officers, and weren't some aberration among a few corporals. (Even Senator Frist may be involved in a cover-up of the torture.) There is also no reason to think that the abuses have ceased. The denials of the US military, based on its own internal investigations (which apparently involve looking at official reports filed and talking to officers in charge) are pretty pitiful. The brutalization of the US military and of its prisoners is a brutalization of the entire American public. It is an undermining of the foundational values of the Republic. We cannot remain Americans and continue to behave this way routinely. The some 15,000 Iraqis in American custody are all by now undying enemies of the United States. Some proportion of them started out that way but perhaps could have been won over. Some of the detainees were probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a time in US prison camps, they will hate us forever. And they know where thousands of tons of hidden munitions are.

The second reason is that the ground troops are not accomplishing the mission given them, and are making things worse rather than better.

When Saddam Hussein first fell, the Sunni Arab elites were mostly quiet, and were waiting to see what their relations with the US would be like. Fallujah was less troublesome than Shiite Najaf in the first weeks of April. But the US insisted on garrisoning troops in a local school, which alarmed parents that their children might be endangered. They mounted a demonstration, and green US troops panicked and shot 17 civilian demonstrators. That began a feud between the clans to which the dead belonged and the US army, which, in the way of feuds, grew over time. By March of 2004, anti-American feeling was so virulent that crowds attacked, killed and mutilated four private security guards, one of them a South African. George W. Bush took the attack personally, and ordered an assault on Fallujah. (Norman Mailer thinks the Iraq War is about white guys making it clear that brown guys are not going to be allowed to lay a glove on them.) The spring attack on Fallujah, however, was extremely unpopular among Iraqis, and members of the US-appointed Interim Governing Council began resigning or threatening to resign. Even the Shiites in Kufa sent aid. The US backed off Fallujah.

In summer of 2003, there had been a growing, low-intensity guerrilla conflict in the Sunni Arab areas. But large areas were relatively quiet, including the city of Mosul (with a population of about a million). A lot of Sunnis were still on the fence.

Then after Bush won reelection, in November of 2004, Bush sent the Marines into Fallujah. He emptied a city of 300,000, turning the residents into refugees and the homeless no less surely than the hurricanes have done to the inhabitants of New Orleans more recently. The American assault damaged 2/3s of the buildings in Fallujah and left it a ghost town. In the past few months, some Fallujans have been allowed to return, and a few neighborhoods are functioning (shown, like the facade in the Jim Carrey vehicle, The Truman Show, to gullible Western journalists as evidence that everything is hunky dory). Other Fallujans are living in tents atop the rubble of their former homes. There are still bombings and daily mortar fire in the area. I noted an Aljazeerah report of a mortar shell falling near a US position not so long ago, and asked here why the US press did not report it. Someone with a relative serving in the US military in that area wrote to say that they take mortar fire all the time and it was unremarkable. The propaganda line was that "Fallujah is the safest city in Iraq." But US troops have been killed there not so long ago, and the slogan is clearly not true.

The reaction among the Sunni Arabs to the Fallujah campaign was immediate and explosive. They mounted large-scale urban revolts and rebellions virtually everywhere. Ramadi, Samarra, Qaim, Heet, you name it. The coup de grace was Mosul. Some 4,000 Iraqi policemen abruptly resigned. Masked men appeared on the streets and set up checkpoints. Mosul went over to the guerrilla movement, and substantial portions of it are still unstable.

Mosul contains about a fifth of the Sunni Arabs! It had been quiet. It was a model, under Gen. Petraeus. Now it had exploded. It became unsafe.

The Great Sunni Arab Revolt of November-December 2004 was a direct result of the Fallujah campaign.

It was a disaster, and not just on security grounds. The Great Revolt made it impossible for the Sunni Arabs to participate in the January 30, 2005 elections. Their areas were too insecure, or too sullen, to vote. The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group descended from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, had announced a slate of 275 candidates for parliament. They were withdrawn. The cooperation vanished.

The Sunni Arabs only managed to elect 17 deputies to the Parliament on Jan. 30, out of 275 seats. Three of the 17 were gifts from the major Shiite coalition (which led the more hard line Sunnis to decline to cooperate with those 3). The Sunni Arabs were virtually absent. Who was present? The election was won by the religious Shiite parties, especially the Da`wa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Even the Sadrists, most of whom were lukewarm about involvement in politics under Occupation, had more deputies than did the Sunnis! The Shiite religious parties despise the ex-Baathists (i.e. most of the Sunnis). The other winners were the Kurds, who wanted to safeguard their semi-autonomy and if anything hated the Sunni Arabs more than did the religious Shiites.

And now the elected parliament drafted the constitution. The Sunni Arabs were included in the negotiations, rather as an eccentric uncle might receive a half-hearted invitation to stay for dinner, but would then be politely ignored, as he twittered on about some conspiracy theory, or sometimes greeted with giggles by the ruder children.

The constitution that was fashioned by the religious Shiites and the Kurds unsurprisingly contains all sorts of goodies for Shiites and Kurds, but cuts the Sunni Arabs permanently out of the deal. Substantial proportions of the oil income will stay in the provinces (i.e. Kurdistan and the Shiite South) rather than going to Baghdad. All future oil fields that are discovered and developed will be the sole property of the provincial confederation in which they are found. Most such likely fields are in the Shiite areas. (There are rumors of a field off Fallujah, but it is not a sure thing).

All the major Sunni Arab organizations and respected political and clerical figures have come out against the constitution.

In the meantime, the US has now attacked another Sunni city, this time the Turkmen stronghold of Tal Afar. In the continued "scorched earth" policy of the US military in the Sunni areas, a joint US/ Iraqi (mostly Kurdish) force appears to have levelled entire neighborhoods in Tal Afar, a northern Turkmen city, making most of its 200,000 inhabitants refugees living in squalid tent camps or with friends and relatives elsewhere. The operation yielded relatively few arrested terrorists. There is a news blackout on Tal Afar imposed by the US and the Iraqi authorities. This move is draconian and anyway unnecessary, since the American cable news channels have already imposed a global news blackout in favor of playing "Weather Channel" 24/7. Members of a Red Crescent delegation reached Tal Afar, but had their cell phones confiscated, were told to distribute aid in a remote and little known part of the city, and ended up mainly giving help to the displaced persons in their tent settlements: ' Hasan Bal, a member of the Red Crescent team that went to Tal Afar, stressed that theirs was a very difficult mission. ''The people and especially the children in Tal Afar are living in miserable conditions. Their conditions are indescribable. It is practically impossible not to cry for them,'' noted Bal. '

Basically, if all the US military in Iraq is capable of is operations like Fallujah and Tal Afar, then they really need to get out of the country quick before they drive the whole country, and the region, into chaos.

Even as they are chasing after shadows in dusty border towns, the US military is allowing much of Baghdad to fall into the hands of the guerrillas.

And that is why we have to get the ground troops out. Counter-insurgency has to have both a military and a political track. Even as the enemy is being pressed, you have to reach out to the civilian leadership and try to draw them into a truce.

The US military has had no political successes in the Sunni Arab areas. Mosul and some parts of Baghdad could have been pointed to in summer of 2004. In summer of 2005, these earlier successes have evaporated like a desert mirage toward which thirsty soldiers race.

The situation in the Sunni Arab areas was worse in summer of 2004 than it had been in summer of 2003. It is worse in the summer of 2005 than it had been in 2004. Even the Iraqi political groupings that had earlier been willing to cooperate with the US boycotted the Jan. 30 elections and are now assiduously working to defeat the new constitution.

Things in the Sunni Arab areas are getting worse, not better.

I conclude that the presence of the US ground troops is making things worse, not better.

Let's get them out, now, before they destroy any more cities, create any more hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, provoke any more ethnic hatreds by installing Shiite police in Fallujah or Kurdish troops in Turkmen Tal Afar. They are sowing a vast whirlwind, a desert sandstorm of Martian proportions, which future generations of Americans and Iraqis will reap.

The ground troops must come out. Now. For the good of Iraq. For the good of America.

More on Bob Dylan

Saw the second part of the Dylan documentary. Not as good as the first (mostly about the much-hashed-over folkie gone electric fracas at Newport Folk Festival) but enlightening for one thing: the journalists of the time were totally clueless and asked Dylan the most inane questions you can imagine.

It was as if they had not learned how to interview an artist yet. They were trying to interview a political figure or something -- an idea of him they had in their own heads that bore no relation to who he actually was. Those were the days when rock critics were just getting started. You'd think Dylan might've have had the luck to have been interviewed by one of them.

No wonder Dylan checked out for 8 years after his motorbike accident. He sounded pretty fed-up. Here he is, soaring like a comet, and people ask him the stupidest questions.

The stuff with Joan Baez was fascinating, especially when she said she expected Dylan to ask her to join him on stage during his tour in England, as she had invited him to join her on stage on her American tour, but that he didn't. He was a pretty self-absorbed bastard; typical artist.

I liked the part where someone said that in those days art wasn't "dollar-driven." People asked, "what did he have to say?" You talked to somebody who saw Ornette Coleman, and asked, "What did he say?" Jeez, things have changed since then. Nobody wants to know what Britney Spears has to say. Who today in popular music has anything to say?

The moment when Allen Ginsberg says he wept when he heard "Hard Rain" the first time, because he thought the torch had been passed from his Beat generation to the next, was quite moving. Problem is, there was only one guy to pick up the torch from the Beats: Dylan. No one else. I can only think of Hunter Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" as another cultural artifact from that time that picked up the torch of Kerouac et al.

I posted my previous piece on Dylan at Blogcritics here, and there's a fairly interesting comment thread happening there for those interested. Especially about Scorcese's involvement, with pretty scathing comments about his having the gall to call himself the director, when he didn't shoot one inch of footage, but merely edited all the footage handed to him, and used an interview with Dylan's manager as a main through-line.

I was actually left with the wrong impression that Scorcese had conducted that interview. From the interview Charlie Rose had with Scorcese afterwards, it appears that Scorcese was rather unfamiliar with Dylan until he saw all the footage.

I think it would've been way better if some Dylan aficionado of some stature, like Oxford Poetry Professor Christopher Ricks, had been given the footage to make sense of. Also, it would've been interesting if some rock critics of the time had weighed in on Dylan's stature, instead of all the other rather dull folkies. Though I dug the folkie who said "Everyone wanted to get high with Bobby. Everyone wanted to sleep with Bobby." To get laid is one of the basic motivations of wanting to be a star.

Here's an interesting article I found on Dylan as a poet:

In 2004, a Newsweek magazine article called Bob Dylan "the most influential cultural figure now alive," and with good reason. He has released more than forty albums in the last four decades, and created some of the most memorable anthems of the twentieth century, classics such as "The Times They Are A-Changin," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Blowin' in the Wind."

While Dylan's place in the pantheon of American musicians is cemented, there is one question that has confounded music and literary critics for the entirety of Dylan's career: Should Bob Dylan be considered a songwriter or a poet? Dylan was asked that very question at a press conference in 1965, when he famously said, "I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man."

The debate has raged on ever since, and even intensified in 2004, when Internet rumors swirled about Dylan's nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature, and five well-hyped books were released almost simultaneously: Dylan's Visions of Sin , by Oxford professor of poetry Christopher Ricks, who makes the case for Dylan as a poet; Lyrics: 1962-2001 , a collection of Dylan's songs presented in printed form; Chronicles , the first volume of Dylan's memoir; Keys to the Rain , a 724-page Bob Dylan encyclopedia; and Studio A , an anthology about Dylan by such esteemed writers as Allen Ginsberg, Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Moody, and Barry Hannah.

Christopher Ricks, who has also penned books about T. S. Eliot and John Keats, argues that Dylan's lyrics not only qualify as poetry, but that Dylan is among the finest poets of all time, on the same level as Milton, Keats, and Tennyson. He points to Dylan's mastery of rhymes that are often startling and perfectly judged. For example, this pairing from "Idiot Wind," released in 1975:

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol

The metaphorical relation between the head and the head of state, both of them two big domes, and the "idiot wind" blowing out of Washington, D.C., from the mouths of politicians, made this particular lyric the "great disillusioned national rhyme," according to Allen Ginsberg .

"The case for denying Dylan the title of poet could not summarily, if at all, be made good by any open-minded close attention to the words and his ways with them," Ricks wrote in Dylan's Visions of Sin . "The case would need to begin with his medium."

The problem many critics have with calling song lyrics poetry is that songs are only fully realized in performance. It takes the lyrics, music, and voice working in tandem to unpack the power of a song, whereas a poem ideally stands up by itself, on the page, controlling its own timing and internal music. Dylan's lyrics, and most especially his creative rhyme-making, may only work, as critic Ian Hamilton has written, with "Bob's barbed-wire tonsils in support."

It is indisputable, though, that Dylan has been influenced a great deal by poetry. He counts Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine alongside Woody Guthrie as his most important forebears. He took his stage name, Bob Dylan, from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (his real name is Robert Allen Zimmerman). He described himself once as a "sixties troubadour," and when he talks about songwriting, he can sometimes sound like a professor of literature: "I can create several orbits that travel and intersect each other and are set up in a metaphysical way."

His work has also veered purposefully into poetry. In 1966, he wrote a book of poems and prose called Tarantula . Many of the liner notes from his 1960s albums were written as epitaphs. And his songwriting is peppered with literary references. Consider, for example, these lyrics from "Desolation Row," released on 1965's Highway 61 Revisited :

Praise be to Nero's Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which Side Are You On?"
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers

Professor Ricks is not the only scholar who considers Dylan a great American poet. Dylan has been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature every year since 1996, and the lyrics to his song "Mr. Tambourine Man" appeared in the Norton Introduction to Literature.

So do his song lyrics qualify as poetry? Even Dylan gets the two genres confused sometimes. He once called Smokey Robinson his favorite poet, then later backpedaled and said it was Rimbaud. He has alternatingly avoided this question and mocked it, as in his song "I Shall Be Free No. 10":

Yippee! I'm a poet, and I know it
Hope I don't blow it

However, the best, most straightforward answer may have appeared in the liner notes of his second album, 1963's The Freewheeling Bob Dylan , where Dylan said, simply: "Anything I can sing, I call a song. Anything I can't sing, I call a poem."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

We've got a nation of the poor as big as Canada living in the U.S.

From The Nation:
Why Bush is Wrong on Poverty -- by Katrina vanden Heuvel

In his September 15 speech to the nation, President Bush asserted that poverty in America is mostly restricted to the nation's Southern states. Like a lot of right-wing ideologues when it comes to issues of race and poverty in America, he's in denial.

Many Republicans seem to believe that poverty is confined to one region of the nation, that the past (i.e. what Bush called a "history of racial discrimination") should shoulder the blame for the problem, and that individuals make choices that determine their station in life. Bush's supporters hold the White House and the Republican agenda blameless, and argue that the president's vision for building an "ownership society" will enable America's poor to build a better life for themselves and their families.

The first thing wrong with such arguments is that poverty is not simply found in the deep South, as Bush suggested in primetime. Poverty is a fact of life in every city and state nationwide. Sociologist Andrew Beveridge (at the request of the New York Times) recently conducted an economic survey of New York City and confirmed what other studies have already shown--that New York is divided between the rich and the poor. This fabulously wealthy city has more than its share of entrenched poverty and racial economic disparities.

In the Bronx, the poverty rate is 30.6 percent, outranked only by three border counties in Texas where living costs are far lower. Overall, New York City's poverty rate was 21.8 percent, and people of color are more than twice as likely to be poor as non-Hispanic whites. Beveridge's study revealed as well that the bottom fifth of Manhattan's income-earners are paid two cents for each dollar that the top fifth currently earns. Economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute argues that Manhattan by itself is actually "an amplified microcosm" of poverty in the nation at large. (Manhattan is also leading the way when it comes to another ominous trend: as the Fiscal Policy Institute recently warned, the city's middle class is being wiped out.)

America's claim to shame is that it has the highest level of poverty in the industrialized world. Bush's four and a half years of trickle-down theories have failed miserably. The poor have become even poorer. The nation's poverty rate has climbed from a 27 year low of 11.3 percent to 12.7 percent last year. Thirty seven million Americans are living below the poverty line, a group so large, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter pointed out in a post-Katrina cover article, that it amounts to "a nation of poor people the size of Canada or Morocco living inside the United States."

Bush may talk about addressing poverty in this rich nation, but his coldhearted agenda has made the problems much more pronounced. His administration gave a massive tax break to corporations and the wealthiest individuals in his first term; since then, despite evidence of rising income inequalities, a growing sea of red ink, and $200 billion needed to fight the war in Iraq and another $200 billion we will spend to rebuild the Gulf region, Bush has ruled out repealing any of his tax cuts for the rich.(And this while household incomes failed to rise for five consecutive years--for the first time on record.)

Bush leads a Republican party that has refused to increase the minimum wage (stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997), tried to cut Medicaid, food stamps, housing for the poor, Social Security, and promoted "faith-based initiatives" to rally "armies of compassion" that are supposed to assist the poor through the right-wing panacea of charitable, religious giving. His Gulf Opportunity Zone is a sham. And while this White House tries to cut worker's pay in rebuilding the Gulf region, it lines the pockets of those poster boys of corruption--Halliburton and KBR--with no-bid contracts. As Derrick Jackson wrote in the Boston Globe last week, Bush's plan "will squeeze yet more pulp out of the poor."

If there is a bright spot amidst the despair and catastrophe, it is that some in the mainstream media have started addressing issues of poverty, race and class in America. I don't know how long this moment will last. But if some in the big media consistently and aggressively report on poverty and class as central issues in US politics and society --and a few leading political figures find the political will, the imagination and the courage to fight for policies that have proven to work in tackling such an intractable problem--maybe we will see some progress.

Nude Thoughts 30

So, you never had the courage to ask a woman for a tit-fuck before? So what gives you the courage now? My tits do? They’re so magnificent you can’t help yourself? How cute. Well, let me tell you something. I’ve never had the courage to ask anyone to lick my butt before either. So let’s make a deal. You lick my butt, then you can screw my tits. How about it?

Poor, poor Africa; poor, poor African women

One in 18 Nigerian women dies during childbirth, compared with one in 2,400 in Europe. And many of the teenage moms who survive childbirth, end up with the horror of torn insides and fistula, which renders them totally incontinent -- cast off by their paramours, shunned by their families.
It's a condition that can be reversed at $300 an operation. But Mozambique, with 17m people, has just three surgeons who consistently perform the operation. Niger, population 11m, has six. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 137m people, has eight fistula repair centers.
A Dutch doctor, Kees Waaldijk, who does fistula repairs in Africa, and trains others to do them, tells this story.
One patient managed to push out only her baby's head before collapsing from exhaustion in her hut. Her brother carried her, balanced on a donkey, to a road, where a bus driver demanded 10 times the usual fare to take her to a hospital. She half-stood, half-sat for the trip, her dead baby's head between her legs, her urethra ripped open.
Read the whole report here, and weep.
Sweet Jesus, the horror so many women in the world go through, especially in Africa. And I'm off to see a movie this afternoon, and then on to a friend's book party. What lives of privilege some of us lead -- but what lives of preventable deprivation and suffering most of us lead.
That's the problem: "us" doesn't include those poor girls in Africa. There's something horribly wrong with a world in which those who have it OK -- like me -- feel no responsibility for those of the human race who don't. If we all end up in hell, I hope we're not so blind as to ask the devil why.

The woes of our President: his precipitious decline and inevitable fall

From Common Dreams:
George Bush in Hell by David Michael Green

You would not want to be George W. Bush right now.

Not that you ever would anyhow, but especially not now. Indeed, there are indications that not even George W. Bush wants to be George W. Bush right now.

That second term in office, the one that just a year or two ago seemed so precious that he was willing to launch a war just to obtain it, now feels like a life sentence. Plans for four years spending political capital now look a lot more like endless months of capital punishment.

The Bush Administration has nowhere to go but down, and that is precisely where it is headed. Poll data show that even members of his solid-to-the-point-of-twelve-step-eligibility base are now deserting him as his job approval ratings plunge like so much Enron stock, lately crashing southward through the forty percent threshold. With almost his entire second term still in front of him, Bush is poised to set new records for presidential unpopularity. That scraping noise you hear? It's the sound of sheepish voters creeping out to the garage late at night, furtively removing "Bush-Cheney 2004" bumperstickers from the back of their SUVs when no one is looking.

Meanwhile, as the scales fall from the eyes of the hoi polloi, even the one constituency which could plausibly make the claim that Bush has been good for America (read: their wallets), is speaking the unspeakable as well. Robert Novak, of all people, wrote a column last week chronicling his experience watching rich Republicans at an Aspen retreat bash the idiocy of Bush administration policies on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, stem-cell research and more. Perhaps these folks realized when they saw Trent Lott's house go under that Mother Nature doesn't care whether you're rich and well-connected any more than does al Qaeda. You may be on Karl Rove's Rolodex, but now Bush is taking you down and your yacht too, not just forgotten kids from the ghetto who enlisted in the Army as the only alternative to a life of poverty.

Even conservative columnists like David Brooks (though not Novak) are writing articles nowadays accurately describing the changed mood of the American public. Where those powerful currents are heading is unclear, but given the radical right experiment of the present as their point of departure, there would seem to be only two choices. We can either go completely off the deep-end and finally constitute the Fascist Republic of Cheney, or we can turn to the left, toward some semblance of rational policymaking. The latter seems far more likely, especially as America increasingly regains its senses after a long bout of temporary insanity. These are bad bits of news for poor George, but worse yet is that they are only the first signs of the coming apocalypse. The real fun stuff is just around the corner. I'll confess to more than a little schadenfreude as I contemplate the ugly situation staring Republicans officeholders in the face right now. They are tethered to a sinking ship, and have only two lousy options to choose from as November 2006 approaches. One is to stay the course and drown. The other is to start renouncing Bush and his policies, appear to voters as the complete hypocrites and political whores many will prove to be, and then still drown anyhow. Nobody could be more deserving of such a fate, with the possible exception of Democrats like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry who have been even more hypocritical yet in facilitating many of the president's disastrous policies.

Watching these GOP opportunists jump ship will certainly be fun, but the greatest fun awaits the president himself. Bush has now lost everything that once sustained him. That includes 9/11, now safely in the rearview mirror for most Americans. That includes his wartime rally-around-the-flag free pass, as he has failed to capture America's real enemy, while lying about bogus ones to justify an invasion pinning our defense forces down in an endless quagmire. That includes, post-Katrina, the ridiculous frame of Bush as competent leader, and the former reality of the press as frightened presidential waterboys.

And that's the good news for W. The bad news is all the chickens coming home to roost. The economy is anemic and fragile, and yet Bush has played the one card in his deck ostensibly (but never really) intended to remedy the country's economic woes. (Remember during the 2000 campaign when times were flush and tax cuts were the prescription? Remember in 2001 when the economy was in a recession and tax cuts were still the prescription?). In any case, Bush's one-note economic symphony has succeeded in producing precisely the cacophony of disaster that progressive commentators have predicted all along: massive deficits, little or no economic boost, a hemorrhaging of jobs overseas, and a vastly more polarized America of rich, poor and a disappearing middle class.

Another angry chicken, of course, is coming home in the form of devastating storms and a grossly incompetent administration to deal with them. Bush is not entirely responsible for Hurricanes Katrina or Rita, of course, but he is partially responsible for them by his willful ignorance of the global warming issue. And he is more than a little responsible for the carnage and damage done, because of his budget-slashing on preventative structural projects, because of his deployment of needed-at-home Guard forces to Iraq, because of his staffing of the government with completely incompetent crony hacks, and because of his and their astonishingly lame performance in responding to a known crisis. Where I come from, a president who remains on vacation during possibly the worst natural disaster to hit this country, praises his FEMA chief for doing a "heckuva job" when the guy doesn't know what any American with a TV set has known for 24 hours about New Orleans, and then later fires him for poor performance, is a president who should be impeached for those reasons alone.

The other demons awaiting George W. Bush just around the bend are multiple and grim. One of these days (right?), Patrick Fitzgerald is actually going to move on the Treasongate story, and signs suggest that multiple heads will roll within the White House. The political damage will be even worse than the legal, though, as Bush's clean and patriotic image will be smashed beyond repair, as no one will believe that he himself didn't know all along who committed treason by outing an American spy, and as he will likely lose the key magicians who have kept him afloat for five years and more. Oh well. W's loss will be Leavenworth's gain.

And there is more. The Jack Abramoff investigation has now been tied to the White House. There are also presumably an infinite number of other scandals waiting to explode (can you say 'Halliburton'?) should the Democrats capture either branch of Congress next year, not least of which being those concerning the Downing Street Memo revelations. Gas prices are off the charts and home heating bills are supposed to soar this winter. Jobs are disappearing, along with pensions and healthcare coverage, inflation is likely to rise, and voters are surly already.

But, of course, the biggest cross for Bush to bear is the one he built for himself, and thus the most richly deserved. In Iraq, simply put, there are no good options. None for America, that is, but even fewer for George W. Bush.

What can he do?

He can't win. America (or, more accurately, America's oligarchy) is clearly losing the war as it is. It is a fantasy to imagine that, at this late date, more troops could pacify the resistance. But even if that were so the political consequences to Bush, especially given his promise of no draft on his watch, would be devastating and rapid. American public opinion has already turned decisively against the war. Imagine if there were a draft and all the bumper-sticker patriots across the land had to actually make a sacrifice for their president's transparent lies. All hell would break loose, and the Republican Party would be dead for a generation.

He can't lose. The major downside to wrapping yourself in the flag, landing on aircraft carriers, labeling yourself a "war president", and being marketed in an election campaign as the reliable national security choice is that you had better deliver. Egged on by the likes of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Perle, Bush no doubt thought Iraq would be a fine little walk in the park from which he would benefit politically for the rest of his presidency. (Nor, assuming this president possesses anything resembling a conscience, need he have concerned himself with resulting deaths, since he told Pat Robertson "we're not going to have any casualties", and he may have even believed it.) Unfortunately for all concerned - most especially the Iraqis and American soldiers - Bush's presidency would be one very real casualty indeed should he decide to pick up his marbles and leave the arena, and so he will not, no matter the carnage or the futility. Doing so would be effectively admitting that there was no legitimate reason for the war in the first place. Everyone now knows that, of course, but were Bush ever to even hint at it, he would be committing instant political suicide. He can't draw. One option is to find some - any - kind of stability, declare victory and go home, saying we got Saddam, we brought democracy, yada, yada, yada. But how many Americans are now going to be fooled by calling an Iraq ruled by militants of one stripe or another a victory, after all the hooey about fighting for democracy in the Middle East? How many think replacing Saddam with a brutal dictator of another name is worth the price of 2,000 American troops and two or three hundred billion dollars? How many will be convinced that Iraqi women having fewer rights than they did under Saddam Hussein, of all regimes, represents a win for the home team? How many will still be unschooled enough to look at a Iranian-dominated theocracy in Iraq and call that a triumph? Moreover, even these total disasters presume a stability of some sort which may be little short of fantasy at this point. When the Saudi foreign minister goes public with his concerns that Iraq is careening toward civil war, you know you're in deep, and no amount inanities sanctimoniously uttered by Scotty McClellan can keep the truth at bay.

He can't get help. Now there's a good one. Maybe the French have finally seen the light and realized what a mistake they made by not bringing something to the party in 2003, eh? No doubt there's a long queue of countries behind them wanting to commit forces to the farces that are decomposing in the Cradle of Civilization. Luckily for George Bush you can still thumb your nose at the rest of the world and have them come to your rescue afterwards. Just think of what a pickle he would be in if that weren't the case...

He can't divert attention. Time was, a government in trouble at home could throw a little war in some hell-hole abroad and divert public attention away from their domestic or other foreign failures. Kinda like Reagan in Grenada, or the Argentinians in the Malvinas, or Thatcher in the Falklands. Yet, while the American public has managed to massively and repeatedly disappoint still sane observers in recent years, it doesn't appear to be in any mood for more of Mr. Bush's Fun With Foreign Policy antics. Not that the country any longer has the available military force to pull it off anyhow, but it hardly seems that an invasion of Iran right now would have much effect diverting attention from Iraq, even if it could somehow successfully be done, another fantasy in its own right.

In short, George W. Bush is toast, as is the whole regressive conservative movement of which he is but the most egregious exemplar. Not even another 9/11 would be likely to help him, as the security president who fails to provide security is the nothing (but simply failed) president. The demise of the right is now likely be true even if Democrats continue hurtling down their current path toward breaking all world records for political cowardice by a major party. Indeed, the worst of the Democrats may now also be in trouble amongst the base - as well they should be - for their cozy associations with the right, enabling its destructive march to the sea these last years.

It is thus too bad, as we emerge from the nightmare of the last quarter-century, that so many of us lefties are atheists, agnostics or otherwise debauched secular humanists. Not only have we had to suffer the reign of Bad King George here on Earth, we can't even have the satisfaction of knowing that he'll be spending the rest of eternity rotting in Hell.

The good news, though, is that he's already there, and the flames are only beginning to warm him up. Perhaps that is why Time describes the dry heaves of a young staffer who had to breach the fantasy bubble and tell this "cold and snappish" president the unhappy truth about an issue, or the National Enquirer's report that Bush, who according to a family member is "falling apart", is back to drinking.

Thus does a new possible ending to the Bush administration suddenly emerge as a real possibility. Previously, I had assumed that our long national nightmare would be over in one of three ways, either with Bush somehow managing to finish his term, with him being impeached, convicted and run out of Washington, or with him being impeached, convicted and then refusing to leave, precipitating a constitutional crisis and even, possibly, a civil war. Now I see a fourth very real possibility.

It was all fun and games when everybody loved him. When the guy who had failed at everything in life except having the right last name all of a sudden was showing those elitist snobs who was tops after all. When the man with a Texas size inferiority complex got to be adored by millions as if he were some kind of religious icon.

But what if that all changes? What if Diminutive George, just like LBJ before him, can't leave the completely scripted bubble his staff manufactures, just as such set-pieces become increasingly difficult to sustain? What if the Peevish President can't escape - even by going to Crawford or Camp David - the mothers of dead children, the baby-killer taunts, the stinging-because-they're-so-accurate chickenhawk accusations, the calls for his own daughters to go to Iraq, the possibility that everyone was right about him all along when they dismissed him as the family clown? What if all of a sudden, it sucks being president? Why bother, then?

It is clear now that one way the Bush administration might end would be with the president's resignation, in order for him to duck into more tranquil quarters. Who knows, maybe he could spend his days getting tanked in Crawford, not writing another book, or going into exile, perhaps in the south of France.

Of course, a pardon deal would have to be prearranged with Cheney, if they haven't convicted him yet, or with Hastert if they have. And, equally certainly, the resignation would be put down to "the president wanting to spend more time with his family", or some such ludicrous McClellanism, no more or less plausible than the rest of his daily fare. But the truth would be plain for all to see. The frat-boy party-time president who condemns kids less than half his age to the hell of futile battle in support of his lies would himself be deserting as commander-in-chief when the fun part ended. Kinda like he did last time he wore a uniform.

History, it would seem, all too rarely delivers justice. The privileged few go out of this life richer than they came into it, while the poor often leave even poorer, not to mention sooner. Those who commit unspeakable crimes sometimes become presidents or prime ministers, while those who dare speak truthfully of those deeds are crushed owing to the threat posed by their honesty.

Even more rare yet are the cases in which history delivers justice with a deliciously deserved irony. But George Bush has provided us with just such a case. And the very delicious irony is that he is now being undone by a cynical choice he himself made to go to war in Iraq with other people's blood and other people's treasure, for the purpose of enhancing his tenuous self-esteem and the power of his presidency.

Goodbye, George. May you know precisely the rest and precisely the peace someone who would do such a thing deserves.

(David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. Email:

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Quote of the week

"There is not one single social or economic principle or concept in the philosophy of the Russian Bolshevik, which has not been realized, carried into action, and enshrined in immutable laws a million years ago by the White Ant." --Winston Churchill.

Bookplanet: a movie about a writer

The movie Capote is here. Not often one gets a movie about a writer, but here is one. From this review in the NY Times, it sounds pretty good. So if you want to see a movie about something real -- not about explosions, superhero powers, or surgically-enhanced tatas -- check it out. The central mincingly queer performance looks Oscar-worthy. That's what you get Oscars for: playing mental defectives, Hannibal cannibals, holocaust victims, and screaming gender-benders. Now if you were to get the role of a queer Mongoloid holocaust victim in a wheelchair with a cleft palate, you'd be a shoe-in at Oscar time. Having to wear a colostony bag will cinch it.

After Iraq, Halliburton gets another chance to cheat US tax payers

Hello, hello: is this cronyism or corruption or both? More than 80% of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by FEMA for Katrina work were awarded without bidding or with limited competition. And of course, Hailliburton is there. Having fraudulently billed us for $100 a bag of laundry in Iraq, Halliburton is getting another chance to bilk us on the Gulf Coast. Really, Bush & Co is out of control, and more arrogant than ever.

Bush urges us to drive less to conserve gas; proposes other novel solutions

What a great idea. Let's drive less to conserve gas, Bush tells us. Wow. Hey, it's not as if our government hasn't pitched in themselves. Ever since Bush came to power, his administration has been working night and day to fund and promote alternative energy sources, and gone out of its way in heroic efforts to make us less dependent on Mid-East oil. Didn't you know that?

Some other solutions we can expect soon from our wise, sagacious, prudent, do-less (like taking 5 weeks vacation) President:

1. Fuck less. That way we'll make fewer children, and with fewer children, we'll need less education, so that's how we can solve our education problem, by fucking less.
2. Invest less. Cut down on Wall Street chicanery by buying fewer stocks.
3. Buy less. That way we can cut down on crime, because there'll be fewer things to steal.
4. Shit less. That way we can save water, because we'll flush less.
5. Chew less. Save your teeth. Stop high dentist bills.
6. Breathe less. That's the best way to fight air pollution. Just breathe less of the air.
7. Tax less. That way we won't have to expect government to actually do anything to solve any of our problems. Oh, that's been done already.

President Bush: what a total, complete and utter asshole. I firmly believe that if we put an actual asshole up there with the ability to speak in mellifluous farts, we'll have a better president than The Incompetent Chimp. Bush talks out of his ass anyway, so we might as well have a real hairy, stinky asshole as President. I'd be inclined to trust a real live asshole more than the phony White House asshole we've got now. And now that he appears to have run out of an agenda, I urge him to start drinking again. What can he lose? The Russians had a drunk as a president in Yeltsin, should't we have one too? It's not as if it's going to affect Bush's job performance. And it'll be much more entertaining than his dumb-ass speeches. Our last President fucked chicks: why can't this one hit the bottle at least?

Bob Dylan, an American Master

I watched Martin Scorcese's documentary about Bob Dylan in his Greenwich Village and Newport Folk Festival days on PBS last night (second part tonight at 9pm on PBS). Two hours, with many, many interviews with ancient people who knew him then: Dave van Ronk, Joan Baez, a Clancy brother, Maria Muldaur, his girlfriend Suze Rotolo (lovely face, still) and record execs.

One of the record execs said that in those days the song was the big thing you sold, and they made sure that Bob Dylan's songs were recorded by everyone, because that's how they made money. Blowin' in the Wind was recorded by just about everybody it seems, even the Staples Singers. That's why Dylan got famous: he wrote the best songs.

There's also some amazing film of Dylan singing. Singing? He kind of redefines singing: who sings more demotically, more conversationally, more vernacularly? He's like a Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady on amphetamine cut with heroine. A crazy bard. His style is so distinctive, it's like he's from another planet, some weird Appalachian New Orleans Creole region where the people speak in sneers and innuendo and mumbles -- method actors who've forgotten their method -- and drop the words out of their mouths like unwieldy insect pebbles with stings in their twitching tails.

Three songs stand out: Blowin' in the Wind, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Masters of War. Protest songs they were called. There's also an exceptional live version of the exceptionally strong Ballad of a Thin Man, with Bob sitting at the piano and knocking out the chords, and belting the lyrics so animatedly, he seems like a doll spinning down from maximum windup. Also, nice versions of Desolation Row and Bob Dylan's Dream.

He looked like such a baby then. Joan Baez talks about how they both had so much puppy fat in their faces.

A much older and grizzled Dylan is interviewed throughout. He says that it was very easy for him to write songs then, because it was new to him, and he felt he was doing something in an arena of his own that nobody was doing.

His songs of those days have the unique air of a Biblical prophet about them. The language itself is Biblical, or shall we say high-toned St. James, ex cathedra from on high, and morally inflamed with righteous anger, scorn and remonstrance. Very biting, highly damning. Yes, he outright damned -- for example, in addressing the Masters of War:
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
Pretty fierce, huh? Not for him the goody-goody, sappy-soppy love lyric either:
I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
But goodbye's too good a word, gal
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right
He was a supremely sarcastic bastard, the most sarcastic, negative, and darkest songwriter ever. And he took song lyrics where they'd never been before and never have been since:
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',
I saw a white ladder all covered with water,
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall
No songwriter has come anywhere close to what Dylan does with language. He is the only songwriter ever whose lyrics can comfortably pass as powerful poetry. You don't find English professors writing about Beatles lyrics the way they do about Dylan's.

Dylan is the best songwriter who ever lived, on lyrics alone; his melodies rank with the best, too.

(A stellar constellation of songwriters worthy of his company would include, from the classical era: Schubert, Verdi and Puccini; from the era of musicals and Frank Sinatra: Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weil, Sigmund Romberg, Georges Brassens, Charles Trenet, and Richard Rodgers; from the rock era, the arty ones like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, John Lennon, Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell, and Peter Sarstedt; and the pop/rock ones, like Paul McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Leiber/Stoller, Pete Townshend (sometimes arty), Brian Wilson (can also be arty), Holland/Dozier/Holland, Elton John, Neil Young, Ray Davies (shades of arty, too), Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond (nothing arty about him), Roy Orbison, Serge Gainsbourg, Gordon Lightfoot, Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Paul Williams, and maybe one could throw in Chuck Berry and Neil Sedaka -- ever heard Sedaka's Solitaire? Perhaps even Billy Joel and the brothers Gibb. I don't think Springsteen makes it. If he did, you'd have to start adding the likes of Bowie and Sting before you got to him.)

What was most odd about watching the Dylan doc: Blowin in the Wind, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, and especially Masters of War stood out not only as very powerful protest songs of their time, but also as very appertaining to now.

It made me wonder why we don't have our own Dylan. The time calls for another Dylan, but he just ain't there. The time calls for another Martin Luther King, but he just ain't there either. Who've we got? Al Sharpton. Even an Allen Ginsberg, but he just ain't there. Who've we got? Billy Collins. There were some giants in the 60s, who summed up their time, who were the authentic voices of their generation.

Who are the voices of our generation? Rappers. Who among them is great? Who among them will be remembered? Will people in the future be singing their 'songs'? What does it say about us that songs about gangstas and hos and bling represent us? We appear to be living in a time of fantasy and satire and jokers. Eminem and Al Sharpton and Billy Collins, for chrissake. Witty people, for sure, but with the social relevance of a People cover. The rappers pride themselves on authenticity, but authentic is the last thing they are. Playing a thug is authentic? Please. Edward G. Robinson, George Raft and James Cagney did it way better. Rappers sell us the BS relevance of gangstas and hos, a social fantasy world that's as unreal as any Hollywood movie about Spiderman or a Forty-Year Old Virgin. They've made up a world in which guys kill and gals fuck, a world of videogames for hormone-charged teens. Many of these street cred guys went to prep school, for chrissake.

Anyway, watch Bob Dylan tonight. Scorcese covered maybe the first three years of Dylan's songwriting and cultural significance in two hours last night, and he has the rest of a long life to cover in tonight's two hours. Actually, I'm wrong about that. I've just googled the whole damn thing, and the documentary only covers Bob Dylan up to 1966, when he went electric, at the time of Highway 61 Revisited, before the unbelievable double-album Blonde on Blonde, which ended his first burst of creative songwriting in a total masterpiece. He kind of coasted along then, at a high level (Nashville Skyline is very high-level, and very strange too, because he sings sweetly, like he took singing lessons), until the magnificent mid-seventies albums Planet Waves, Before the Flood, Blood on the Tracks and Desire, when he probably did his best work. Nothing since stands up to those two creative bursts of the 60s and the 70s.

Dylan strikes me as very unlike the Beatles and the Stones, who managed their careers as much as they did their own thing. He's like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell in that he never bothered to manage his career. He doesn't sing his "hits" in performance like he does on the record, for example. Half the time you have to guess what "hit" he's singing because he does it so completely differently. Unless it's Like a Rolling Stone, his greatest hit single, though I'm sure he's butchered that one to befog his fans, too. He's never done anything to foster a relationship with a fan base. He lost me completely when he went Christian for a while, for example. (A disappointment more profound than Robert De Niro promising to become the next Brando with Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, but instead turning into just another actor, or Salman Rushdie never writing another novel half as good as Midnight's Children.) We, his fans, are here, and he's over there somewhere out of our sight, doing his thing. He's still touring, and people go to see him, and apparently he can give a very lousy show, too. Why is he still touring? It's probably in his blood. He wouldn't know what else to do. He's played out, but he's still playing.

I sure wish we had singers and songwriters of his artistic standard doing much-needed social relevance for us today. We're involved in a stupid war again, and we have the repressive movements of the Radical Christian Right and Greedy Fraud-Prone CEOs under whose heels our poor and blinded-by-Fox News and dumbed-down-by-Entertainment Tonight suffer.

There's plenty to protest about, but nobody's doing it. I guess Springsteen is the closest we have, but how many people are recording Born to Run, or taking his new album to their hearts like an entire generation did with Dylan? Sure, NPR will mention Springsteen's latest, and offer it as payback to station contributors, because NPR's audience is ex-sixties boomers with a taste for good folky pop and rock, but that's about it. Springsteen has written some great rock standards, but not many actual coverable songs. They live and die with him and him alone.

Dylan's songs, on the other hand, are for the ages. They're part of our cultural history. They very much mattered. They still do. People will be singing Just like a Woman and All Along the Watchtower and Mr Tambourine Man and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue and Don't Think Twice, It's All Right and It Ain't Me, Babe and I Shall Be Released and Tears of Rage for millennia. Check out a little-known Dylan song like One More Cup of Coffee from the Desire album; the melody of both verse and chorus will stick to your cortex like Crazy Glue forever. Verse and chorus are radically different from each other, yet they go together. If John Lennon learned anything from Dylan, it was to make his verses as strong as his choruses, which is one of the great things that Dylan does as a matter of course. Come to think of it, inasmuch as John Lennon is great, it's because he stands in Dylan's shadow, the closest in spirit to Dylan out of all our other great songwriters. Working Class Hero and Hey, You've Got to Hide your Love Away are pure Dylan.

Dylan is to songwriting what Bergman is to film and Matisse is to painting; head and shoulders above the rest.

More Dylan thoughts after I've seen part two of the documentary tonight. Meanwhile, two good links about the two-parter: here (Observer lit editor Robert McCrum) and here (historian Simon Schama).

Monday, September 26, 2005

Nude Thoughts 29

I have no idea why the photographer put me in this stupid position. I think he may be a reincarnation of Euclid. I’m here to create triangles and parallel squares with my limbs, so he can work out his geometrical obsessions. Complicated chap. I hope he doesn’t complicate my life by giving me a check instead of paying cash. I don’t want to have to declare the income I get from illustrating stupid Euclidean proportions. Jeez, you'd think he'd have the good sense to showcase my excellent tits instead.

Who the hell are we, America?

Who are we Americans? What do we stand for?

We used to be exceptional, a bastion of freedom, even though in the 50s, 60s and 70s we had a terrible foreign policy, backing horrible thug dictators everywhere as long as they were against Communism. But we had the good fortune of splitting the world between us and Russia, who were nowhere near as attractive as us -- so we looked good by comparison. Nobody was clamoring to immigrate to the Soviet Union.

America was sold as a place where you could come to realize your dreams. Maybe get rich. At least give your kids a better start in life than in most other places.

America was also the world's honest broker of world problems. Clinton did a pretty good job in Ireland, and even in the former Yugoslavia, when he bombed the Serbians into stopping their ethnic cleansing. He also tried to solve the problem of Israel and Palestine, but Arafat didn't turn out to be the negotiating partner the moment needed when Israel had a leader in Barak who was willing to make compromises.

Our terrible foreign policy finally came back to bite us in the ass -- rather belatedly and unfairly, really, since our track record in the 90s was not nearly as horrible it had been before. Anyway, this weird guy Osama Bin Laden struck at us on 9/11 because of the presence of our troops near Mecca in Saudi-Arabia -- his home country that gave his family much riches and props, but didn't give him any. After that, we pretty much played into his hands when, instead of getting out the Middle East, we actually invaded an Arab country and acted like the arrogant imperialist we'd been back in the 60s. So now the Arabs in the street hate us, even though we seem to be trying our level best to install democratic governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan we found an OK leader for the country, something we haven't managed in Iraq. The man we originally backed there, Ahmed Chalabi, just didn't have Iraqi support, even though he's managed to install himself as the overseer of the country's oil. The biggest leader in the country, Al-Sistani, is a cleric we cannot control -- in fact, he controls us: he forced us to have elections there and give the choice of leadership to the Iraqis themselves, quite a novel solution that we now find acceptable. None of our nominated leaders have met with popular acclaim there (unlike our choice of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, whom its warlords don't seem to mind, perhaps because he's always had the good sense to leave them alone).

So now, where are we? Well, we're hobbled by a rather peculiar administration, who are driven by ideology and cronyism to the point of incompetence. They've ducked our responsibility as the leader of the world from the start: in the first place by letting the Israelis and the Palestinians try to work out their own problems -- which may have been a good policy, even if it was an abdication -- and in the second place by walking away from our global responsibility as the world's biggest polluter, when Bush tore up the Kyoto protocols.

Our Administration had an agenda that it concealed from the public when it ran for office -- an agenda of invading Iraq, of cutting taxes for rich people, of being business-friendly to the point of destroying the environment, and of trying to starve government itself by dismantling social programs and even getting rid of Social Security, the most popular and effective social program we have. Bush ran as a "compassionate" conservative, arguably the most outrageous and bizarre bit of bullshit ever perpetrated on American voters.

Events have both helped and hindered Bush policy. 9/11 helped sell the Iraq war. But Enron, Worldcom and other scandals have hindered business-friendliness, even though the already flourishing energy, pharma and credit card companies have gotten a lot of help from this Administration. One shudders to think what other pieces of corporate welfare may have gotten through if Enron and Worldcom hadn't exposed the fraudulent greed of some of our leading capitalists. As for the Iraq War, if it was an attempt to establish another friendly puppet government in the Middle East because the Saudi royal family may not be able to hold on to Saudi-Arabia forever, it blew up in our faces.

Our military leadership of the world is about the only piece of US leadership that the current administration has been able to exercise, but at the same time it has shown that the most our military leadership can do, is get us into trouble. If military leadership doesn't come with an acceptable moral point, it gets you nowhere these days. Iraq is now an economic burden instead of a strategic asset. It has become a moral test, and in Abu Ghraib we lost any moral leadership we may have had. Now Katrina has shown that we can't even take care of business at home properly either, let alone be a credible world leader. In the Far East we seem to have just about ceded the whole region to Chinese leadership, letting them deal with the problem of North Korea. Other measures of our world leadership also show declines. Our universities, still the best in the world, don't attract foreign students like they did before. Our anti-science policies have left new inventions in the hands of nations like South Korea, who've taken a leading role in stem-cell research.

What is there left for us to do in the world? I'll be damned if I know. Perhaps the next administration may concentrate on domestic problems, of which our current administration has saddled us with many. It seems to be the job of the Republicans to make ambitious messes, and the task of the Democrats to clean up after them. The Republicans have certainly left us with the biggest mess to clear up since 1929, what with a stupid war and an almost insurmountable debt load.

Maybe out of the mess we're in now, like the one in 1929, some more socially responsible legislation may emerge. It would be nice to feel proud of being American for a change again, a pride we may only win by doing good things for our own citizens, like addressing the problems of race and class exposed by Katrina.

Whether we'll ever be able to assume the leadership of the world again, is doubtful. We've made the world too suspicious of us. We've used our power stupidly, not prudently. And now there are huge counterweights to our hegemony, in Europe and China. I can see the world gradually moving to the point where everyone is trying to curry favor with the Chinese -- a fourth of the human race, after all -- and here Europe is already doing better than us. In any event, we're really in the world's hands, and at their mercy, since we owe them so much money. Today we're the sick man of the planet.

Maybe we were destined to cease being the world's leader at some point anyway, but the Bush administration has certainly hastened the process. From world leader to world skunk in one administration -- it's been quite an achievement, and it's going to be quite a challenge to see if we have any role left as world leader. Let alone being a country we can be proud of again, or one that actually attracts people looking for a better life.

The time has come for a redefinition of who we are as a nation. We're floundering at the moment, and we may be ready for a good look in the mirror. Who are we? What do we stand for (besides making money, or being intolerant of poor and gay people)? Is there someone who can give us back our pride, our optimism, and our idealism? I'm with those who see not much short-term light for the next ten years. Our current crop of pols, both Republicans and Democrats, don't afford any hope whatsoever for the future. The notion of public service, as opposed to political opportunism, seems to be deader than FDR. Talk about a bunch of special-interest blowhards -- we have a collection of hapless bullshitters and partisan bickerers, who appear to be more detached from real people and our real problems than ever before in our history. When you have one party playing up something like the Terri Schiavo affair, and inserting themselves into a family affair for political gain, and the other party so spineless and agenda-less as to go along with this repulsive charade, you can only shake your head in profound disgust.

Let's hope we're entering a period of self-examination, at the very least. Perhaps a consideration of our real problems as well, like our screwed-up, underfunded public school system. At least our present administration recognized that the way we do education is preparing us for third-world status, even if they don't know how to solve it.

Will we ever attend to our real problems again, however, when the rich control the public agenda through the effect of money on our political process? Perhaps the private sector will have to step in, the way private citzens have stepped in with Katrina. GE has committed itself to environment-enhancing technologies, for example: they see a big profit opportunity there, while the administration still thinks global warming is an unproven theory, like evolution.

Expect America to flounder for at least the next ten years, as we come to grips with reality again, and with our much-diminished influence in the world. It may be quite an adjustment to get used to being just another country on the planet, as screwed-up as everyone else, and maybe more so. After that, someone like Barack Obama might take us back to the higher ideals and places from which we've fallen so hard. Or is it too much to hope that we will one day embody the world's hopes for a better world again?