jeb bush's solution is that we need to raise "a sunni coalition", to go in and actually wipe isis off the map. that is the mccain-graham line too, and a mumbly version of it comes from obama. so, first question: who is in this coalition? the sunnis of anbar province? that's hilarious. the government of iraq? oops not sunnis, which is why there'll be no iraqi sunni army. the turks and saudis? no not at all. so, second: imagine that you raise some sort of sunni force, maybe involving jordan or egypt and kurds or something, with american and european air power. now this force confronts sunni islamists implicitly backed by turkey and the saudis on one hand (while terror explodes in their capitals), and a shia world (iran-iraq-assad-hezbollah) wielding or wielded by russian military forces. and you are proposing...what? a confrontation of these forces in northern syria? it's not only an unbelievable bloodbath with the possibility of spreading from africa to south asia to eastern europe, there is no plausible formula for victory.
listening to russian foreign minister lavrov's news conference on al-jazeera. now the rapid translation makes it a bit garbled. but he seems to have said that the russian plane was "shot down by american planes." that is, f-16s made in the usa. but then he asserted that any action taken with those planes had to be approved by washington. then he said that he just got a call from john kerry, who asked to meet as soon as possible. 'i told him that one more meeting about assad just wouldn't be useful.'
just to say the obvious, the nascent world war blossoms yet further today. turkey's shoot-down of the russian jet exposes a number of the fissures. meanwhile, putin is visiting iran. there can be no alliance against isis now that includes russia, and yet russia and iran are all over the field now, from damascus and beirut to baghdad. turkey may appeal to nato for a response to russia, as france to isis. as that happens, putin quietly increases the pressure on ukraine, which everyone is going to regard as the least of our problems right now unless it goes terribly wrong. that also engages all of nato.
meanwhile, as the kurds expand their territory along the syria/turkey border, the turks increase their attacks on the kurds. they will not permit the emergence of a kurdish state, which again aligns them with isis. we're backing the kurds, sort of, which would align us against turkey, or...with russia and assad? then we're allied with turkey to support anti-assad=anti-russia groups in northwest syria. that might sort of be why they shot down the russian plane. say the iraqi army, if there is one, takes the field. then i guess it'll be iranians sweeping in...with us advisors and air support, greeting the russians mid-desert i guess.
can you imagine the diplomatic/security chatter within nato, including turkey, and across to the russians today? the communications of heads of state and their staffs must be just furious. or imagine what things are like in the situation rooms in cairo, riyadh, london, tehran, brussels, berlin, tel aviv, kiev.
in saudi arabia right now, they're freaking out about the russia/iran/iraq/assad/hezbollah shia configuration. they're gearing up to fund every mode of sunni resistance, to make the cost of the russian incursion astronomical, which we might spell t-e-r-r-o-r. everything depends today on putin's restraint, which is never a good thing to depend on; if he responds belligerently toward turkey, or has various allied forces do so right now or disproportionately, all bets are off. meanwhile obama meets with hollande, then with putin, all of whom, along with the turks and saudis, have air forces operating in overlapping theaters where anything can go wrong at any moment, and they are all escalating their involvement.
the idea that you could shut brussels down day after day is not that surprising, but it demonstrates that a few people can bring europe to its knees, can shut down major cities. their own extreme hysterical security response will require the eu to attack isis in syria; anything else will soon make europe impossible. i hope i rarely make this assessment: things are even worse than they appear.
i do think obama has been sort of pathetic, extremely vacillating, talking belligerently one minute, the opposite the next, more worried about republicans than about isis or the russians. or what he's really worried about in a pitiful way is domestic politics, so his strategy is to make no mistakes by doing little while constantly portraying the rosiest possible scenario. but, on the other hand, i also do not see a constructive way for the us to be more fully engaged right now: all we could possibly do is add to the madness. so i have no advice and i even think basically that sitting on his hands, obama's best thing, is better than any envisionable alternative. the drumbeat for war coming from republicans and even dems is going to ratchet up though. one domestic terrorist attack...
I've been reading Mary Beards, SPQR-AHistory of Rome and it is fantastic. Imagine that you are public intellectual and on TV a reporter asks a little girl "Who do you want to be when you grow up?" and the girl just beams and smiles and says, "Mary Beard." Not Duchess Kate? Somewhere, a unicorn may have died, but I think the English Women's Rugby Team will continue to put the Men's Team to shame.
I was having a bit of writer's block and came upon a piece on Premier Guitar. Their Chief Content Officer, whatever the hell that is that's different from Managing Editor, Shawn Hammond had a great piece about shoulder devils and guardian angels and what to do when you are hearing a constant refrain of "You suck..."in your head. He recommends watching "The Young Ones" which might work for most people...especially if somehow you missed Rick and Vivian and Alexi and the Boys raising hell on BBC or PBS.
Anyway, I went through a couple of re-writes -- I never re-write; Crispin gave me a C- on a post just to get me to proof-read and edit, and produced this - part review of Beard's really good book; part discussion of her most key point, at least for me -- Rome provides a context and a model for us, but don't look there for solutions. We're on our own here, and trying to do a double envelopment like Hannibal at Cannae won't help with DAESH.
one lesson that we should draw from cases like this: power creates a field of distortion, an atmosphere full of falsity. power is a force that demands and creates falsity. that leads it into extreme practical blunders. and because power forges collectivities, fundamentally by coercion but by other means, the blunders and their disastrous results are widely shared.
the consistently falsely rosy picture that the obama admin has painted of the war against isis has been stupid and counter-productive. kerry thinks, or says, that here will be free and fair elections in syria within 18 months. partly, these people are trying to manipulate us to do or think things. but partly they're just living in the hallucinated world in which collectives swathe power.
as we banter about registering muslims, imposing religious tests on immigrants, and so on, i want hit us over the head with what i take to be a fundamental political/moral fact: we are the very same sort of people as the people who enacted the holocaust or the killing fields. those people were under the impression that they were doing something good and striking a blow for progress and civilization. whatever your political vision - especially right or left - what i want from you is a chastened sense of your own liableness to be wrong. a little bit of that might be enough to keep you from confidently imposing your nightmare on the world.
now that radical sunni islamism has a state, there is the potential for rival totalitarianisms to short-circuit all other political possibilities in a spiral of centralization. everyone is comfortable thinking about the world as a dichotomy, as in the fascist-communist squareoff of the 1930s, and in a way you're forced to take one intolerable side or the other. that's how people with seemingly decent values got sucked into being stalinists.
so, here we have people who are into decapitation and burning people alive or opening fire at a restaurant as against people who are attempting to put the whole world under surveillance, assassinate you with a drone strike, and arrange systematically the world economy into a hierarchy with themselves at the top.
the relief for me is that i'm not in charge on either side. i can afford to flip everyone the bird until the roundups actually begin.
i think one aspect of our nascent world conflict is a global totalitarian crackdown. so, this privacy/snowden thing: to whatever extent we ever floated the other way, total info awareness is back, attempting to monitor all the world's communications. think about that for a second. the portrayal of social media these days is interesting; a few years ago it was this liberatory force in the arab spring or the maidan, but now pundits and officials are in a moral panic about it: 'youth' are 'radicalized' 'by social media.' again the generality squashes all actual info. communication itself, social connections, become an amorphous threatening atmosphere or environment of wireless signals. if nothing else, people think someone should control it, because they don't really understand it, or no one can really comprehend it; it could always be a threat. jack up the hysteria enough and we will demand that our own communications be carefully monitored.
then, the anti-immigrant/refugee thing is oh so familiar, and i am telling you that there will be growing internment camps. france might do that right now, which might also require a permanent state of emergency/war. there is liable to be a wave of extreme militarist nationalism coinciding with the us presidential election and featuring an hysterical edge of bigotry, such as is emerging right now among republican governors. if there is one spectacular isis action in the us...
one thing that is particularly characteristic of contemporary discourse in many areas, including politics, is the transformation of the merest concepts, or even sheer general terms, into actors or forces or beings with causal effects in the material world. i am going to assert that in a wide range of cases, such an approach can explain absolutely nothing. this is also the language of advertising, for example. here's a pretty classic example:
how does optum help you out? it uses wellness to keep away illness. a medical breakthrough! like it was an aesthetic breakthrough when the beatles used grooviness to keep away suckiness. what can save us in our terrible predicament? innovation! that's why optum is an innovation company.
or here's richard cohen: our enemy isn't islam or immigration or something; it's 'intolerance': the very same force that caused catholics and protestants to war in the 17th century. it's like intolerance is a substance or entity with physical effects: cupid's nasty little twin. or it's a force, like gravity. unlike gravity, however, it operates intermittently and its mechanisms are not well understood at any level. what accounts for its sudden emergence, the way it suddenly takes over individual heads or drives movements or peoples and then fades as progress again takes hold? now that we say the enemy is intolerance and half-assedly trace the history of particular people and events here or there to their participation in intolerance - their manifestation of intolerance in physical reality - what do we understand that we did not before?
i'd say i've been resensitized to this problem by the works of bruno latour. but anyway, as soon as you focus on this, or try to spell out the ontological status of the abstraction so that it can have effects in the world, you see its emptiness and also its ubiquity. it's a general style of explanation, where we explain some specific event or object by its relation to or participation in an abstraction. we might call it contemporary platonism. i'm going to start collecting examples, for this is a dominant dimension of the nonsensical yipyap that is our public discourse.
it's hard not to do this: our languages suggest it especially when they permit converting adjectives into nouns. the germans have a fascist ideology. pretty soon, fascism is sweeping across the continent like a gas. then if you're kerry, the same gas is arising from the middle east: a chemical weapon, only with non-material chemicals. or: why the heroin epidemic? it's 'the economy.' why should we increase social welfare spending or something? 'progress', etc. in some cases it might be a relatively harmless shorthand. but in every case, we should immediately prick up our ears: ok, have i just formulated an explanation in any sense, or just posited a whole realm of dormitive virtues and fantastical beings? or: what might this be a shorthand for? if pressed, how might we give meaning in terms of specific phenomena to the abstractions we are tossing around? what do i understand by means of the abstraction that i could not understand without it, and is it distracting me from what is actually happening to specific things and people at specific places and times? a lot of these things just fall apart as soon as you press them at all.
kerry has doubled down on "a medieval and modern fascism, both at once." here, concepts are mating willy-nilly in the nether-world of platonic heaven, committing adulteries like the greek gods. how would someone reach such a point in their 'thinking'? well, you have a few categories in your head, a few periods, a few ideologies. then the new phenomenon has to be jammed into the existing taxonomy. someone like kerry is so inured to the idea that abstractions or concepts cause events in the world, that he works backwards from any given event to the concept that must cause it. but he has an extremely limited repertoire of concepts. he generates a god to explain the phenomenon, even if it is a bizarre chimera. then he feels that he has reached rest, that he understands something puzzling and can convey that understanding to us.
i remember when my son was 2, he had a vocab of fifty words or whatever. now, for whatever reason (he had some mild speech issues, perhaps), it narrowed down to two nouns: "dog" and "ball". everything was a dog or a ball: cars were dogs, whereas blankets were balls. his sister took to calling him 'dogball.' we finally figured out the principle: things that moved themselves were dogs, whereas things that had to be kicked or whatever to move were balls. but at least there are really dogs and balls and he was responding to actual aspects of the real world. still you're going to need a few more categories.
or like the bush admin was hypnotized by abstractions when they formed their iraq policy; they were fighting the war on terror and bringing freedom to the iraqi people. i think that the neo-cons were actually operating at that level of abstraction, and that it made them profoundly insensible to the particular events on the ground; i think these pseudo-explanations relying on non-entities often drive practical disasters.
eventually, the whole world looks like the playground for concepts, while particular things and events take on a flickering quality as themselves reflections of the abstractions, which are the real actors. then you'll be surprised when a particular bomb blows up your particular body.
jeb bush this morning: "this is a war for western civilization." then he said that we have to be extremely cautious letting in syrian refugees, except that we should immediately take all christians. this might be going extremely wrong. i don't think the kerry-technocrat frame that we face a war of now or the future against the medieval era is any better, and indeed it turns out to mean the same thing, more or less.
alright, meanwhile obama is meeting with putin. possibly the best-case scenario is everyone-against-isis: russia, the us, iran, assad, egypt, the kurds. and israel? but now notice the wildly different agendas of these groups, and the wildly different domestic political pressures they are under. whatever we yap, we have to have come off our insistence that assad be deposed in this process; everyone's priority has to be isis now.
but, however, notice the many wild cards; israel, turkey, and the saudis all have reasons to oppose a shia victory throughout the middle east, to say nothing of massive simultaneous invasion by nato and russia. isis has potentially regime-threatening insurgencies/civil wars going in afghanistan, egypt, libya, while a number of satellite battlefields could merge fully, such as yemen, where the saudis confront the iranians right now. all of north africa is in play, and across to pakistan.
if you do have nato or the us and the russians fighting on the ground, many things can go wrong, and if we are de facto allied there, i predict that russia will simultaneously put more military pressure on eastern europe; putin has his expansionist agenda that we cannot afford to feed too far. and yet we can't not, cause what are we or the eu going to do? they'll be dependent on russia in syria.
meanwhile, lord knows what happens now in the european 'refugee crisis.' that itself could turn violent, as hundreds of thousands wash up on borders as they close, and right-wing sentiment runs wild in europe. maybe you get some national front-type parties rising dramatically. three more paris-type actions and the roundups/camps begin. president rubio and defense secretary graham think it's going to take 500,000 troops and all the money in the world; the gao is already taking bids for the memorial on the mall.
once the thing is framed as a war for western civilization and of christians against muslims by both sides, and once the christian powers invade and start occupying, whole populations will endorse extremely violent resistance and the projection of terrorism into the west. then both sides will crank up the apocalyptic rhetoric more, and so on.
anyway, i'm not nostradamus, and i would take almost any way out, and there might be some. but man today this thing looks like an unfolding world-historical crisis a la the world wars.
kerry, lavrov, and a bunch of foreign ministers just reached an agreement in vienna on a 'political process for syria.' kerry described the agreement as an 'achievement' and said that there will be free and fair elections in syria within 18 months. i have no idea what these people are doing, or what world they are operating in.
watching the news last night had a certain cinematic quality; like the flashback that shows what they were watching just before the apocalypse. but i still think we might be getting a relatively slow but consistent rollout of ww3. the way europe is now embroiled is suddenly transformed; hollande says france is "at war" and is promising a hideous vengeance. well, that means throwing the french into the battlefield where already the russians, assad, iran, hezbollah, the kurds, turkey, the us, and the saudis are all active. i don't see the russian involvement as doing anything but escalating in the face of the plane. the knife attacks etc in israel should be connected up, and with more can pull israel into less covert involvement. egypt may well get into civil-war mode now, and since the plane bombing must themselves be planning an armed response to isis. i wonder how turkey is responding to the kurds taking sinjar, for a kurdish state is blooming along the border with turkey on one side and the islamic state on the other. this and the opposition to assad aligns the interests of turkey with the islamic state.
the islamic state really is a state now, with territory, borders, and so on. they have money, materiel, all sorts of resources, and i think can achieve spectacular terrorist attacks all over the world as well as defend themselves effectively. it's one thing to have a 'terrorist safe haven' in the caves of afghhanistan or rural somalia or mali or pakistan, quite another to have islamism as a belligerent nation in the middle of the middle east. i'm going to bet that they have intelligence services, an it department, document and munitions production, etc.
you are really going to see the rise of ultra-nationalist and anti-immigrant parties in europe now, and it could happen here too. you are going to see a rise in anti-immigrant or white suprematist etc violence. the relation of the french republic to its own muslim population just got even more dire and it's just as bad elsewhere. but these societies with millions of muslims could themselves get into low-level civil wars; the stance of france right now registers that. all of that might also give a goose to putin; if he had annexed eastern ukraine this morning no one would have noticed, and he can make common cause with parts of the electorate across europe, which is going to want a kick-the-terrorists' ass strongman. remember when i incinerated chechnya with thermobaric weapons?
there's no way of knowing where this is all going, but calming down any time soon is not one of the realistic scenarios. on the other hand, there are a good dozen scenarios where this thing just blazes from pakistan and xinjiang to libya to kiev to hungary to amsterdam with an ever-greater intensity. nor will we be sitting this one out.
john kerry on isis, or islamism: "we face a medieval and modern fascism, both at once." feel clearer now? man, it is amazing how people try to think about history, or time, or ideology. i'm trying to picture what is happening in kerry's head as he stirs up a formulation like that, or what process of thought something like that is a trace of. it's like trying to imagine what it would be like to be a bat. no, on the contrary, what we face now is a sci-fi falangism from the seventh millennium and a stone-age marxism, both at once.
well, let's retrace the steps. the first thing is that on the informal metaphysics of your average mediocre yalie, peoples and persons, all of whom exist contemporaneously, are to be understood as each located at different times: you've got stone-age people in the amazon jungle, natives lingering in africa, medieval talibans up in the hills, quaint brits from early in the twentieth century, white trash left over from the depression, and then super-progressive people from the future, like the extremely dead steve jobs. guess what? this conceptuality of time is insane, and invariably self-serving, and just a metaphysical colonialism, even or especially in its 'progressive' forms. perhaps the mediocre yalie has given up thinking that yalies are the peak of human evolution; now he just thinks he is the furthest along on a progressive timeline, that he's won the race to the future, though all the while time is grinding on all of us at just the same rate. there's nothing there but preening and incoherence. i heard tom ridge and several others this morning "the barbarians are at the gates. the barbarians are inside."
ok, so, anyway, people like kerry have been calling islamists medieval for decades now, and feeling like that explained something. it's only an insult. but then: they're all over social media! they have a shitload of c4! thus the 'modern and medieval both at once.' as to 'fascist'; oh man, that is just slapping an irrelevant insulting ideological label on someone. i do think that this degree of incomprehension leads to bad policy, as well as being a farrago of obvious jive. it cannot but represent a total and self-serving incomprehension of what you are dealing with; you understand them by fitting them into your a priori structure, and become insensible to actual information. and then the a priori structure is utterly confused, and you make terrible mistakes. the structure of thought is like a super-half-assed hegelianism or something. and yet teasing someone like kerry out of it would require erasing his brain and starting again.
i'm going to admit to a weakness for the shows of shonda rhimes. i haven't tried gray's anatomy, but i am uptodate more or less with scandal and how to get away with murder. she has a rare gift for keeping you going: it's hard not to head right for the next episode, which makes it a pretty compulsive binge-watch. there's usually a wild twist, reversal, or unbelievably dramatic yet enigmatic event at the end. things happen at a great rate. how to get away, with its flash-forward and catch-up structure, is intricately and beautifully plotted. the genre is 'melodrama,' i would say, and it's rarely been done better.
the superhyperdramatic atmosphere gets a bit incessant, though. scandal had to keep topping itself season after season. after it had recapitulated all the top political scandals of the last forty years, they moved on to the president and supreme court justices murdering one another, vice presidents repeatedly engaged in actual coups, wild affairs among all concerned causing wars in africa, and so on. gonna admit that i hopped off for a bit when the idea was that olivia's dad ran the world from his undisclosed location, while her mom was the world's top terrorist.
plus it suffered from something that might be true in shonda's shows overall; the straight male characters tend to be a bit uninteresting, or are just eye candy or something. but anyway, the flaw at the center of scandal is the character of president fitzgerald grant and the blank actor that plays him. this person (i mean the character) is both weak and actually evil, and worse, he's boring, and yet he's supposed to be driving a great love story with kerry washington. people have to keep saying how special and charismatic he is because it's indetectible in the script, the shots, the performance, the love scenes, etc. on the other hand, the show has finally come unstuck this season as we go straight to impeachment, and i would hope things are moving toward an interesting climax.
her soundtracks invariably lean on '70s soul. there have been worse ideas.
one thing that shonda is doing is giving us main characters that are almost beyond flawed. olivia pope is one thing; at least she spends a lot of time feeling bad for doing things like fixing national elections. annalise keating is something else: a borderline evil or insane person. but utterly fascinating too: maybe about as far in this direction as shonda can push.
i remember realizing something was changing when my daughter jane, then 9 or whatever, liked the highschoolmusical superbitch sharpay (ashley tisdale) rather than the lovely vanessa hudgins. well, sharpay was interesting, vanessa was boring. and above all, sharpay was active and vanessa was passive. girls were looking for powerful women, and that still makes them socially problematic women. well, now jane is 15 and she loves scandal; he favorite character is mellie grant, the sharpay of dc, soon to be the pres in the spin-off or successor show. shonda has made a science of that kind of heroine, and is part of an historical transformation in the role and depiction of women in media. for one thing, i think the audience for dramatic television as a whole skews female. and as a whole, the men are becoming ornamental, the women... interesting.
alright, here's an easy way to understand the basic relation of government assistance/dependence and power. my line is usually that a government that feeds you tells you what and whether to eat, and that is not theoretical; what can and cannot be bought with foodstamps is a constant political/dietary football. and, a government that gives you a place to live tells you how to live: reaches right into your living room and snatches the cigarette from your lips. you're straight at their mercy; they are making your decisions for you now. they want your every gesture.
probably check the debate tonight, but i'm not sure i'll blog it unless there is something that just must be remarked on. but if i manage to stay awake, i'll pull out some kind of assessment in the morning.
yeah maybe country is bouncing back from the bro nightmare. here's an excellent song that made #1, and the whole chris janson album is good in a neoneoneotrad vein; close enough to pop and to hank.
but what would theodor adorno say?
a profoundly hopeful development was the release yesterday of an ep by maren morris. the 25-year old from texas has taylor and adele on board, maybe a little bonnie raitt, and is throwing down a soulgospelblues thing which is simultaneously pop enough to roll up the country charts. there's even an interesting little phoebe-snow jazz thing in her voice, and i feel that the songs are extremely hooky and propulsive.
i don't know whether ben carson's account of his own violent childhood will hold up or not. but i do know the shape of his story, which is the classic narrative of redemption a la augustine or malcolm x. one makes one's own life into a parable of one's teachings, or crystallizes them in one's own body. indeed, you might hear a narrative of this shape at any given church service or twelve-step meeting. now, with regard to both augustine and malcolm, people have asserted or speculated that the sinfulness and degradation were exaggerated in order to heighten the redemption, but again i am not in a position to evaluate their factual truth. if you want to see the wrong version of this - the self-aggrandizing, self-authorizing slime side - recall the case of james frey. nevertheless, such narratives are necessary to hope if you are really suffering from yourself and often they are more or less factually true.