Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And the Winners Are...

The Guardian reports today on a Chatham House study--here's the acutal text--stating the result of U.S. adventurism is a resurgent Iran, which now exercises more influence in Iraq and Afghanistan than does the U.S., not to mention Syria and Lebanon. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a Egyptian democracy activist, makes a slightly different point in his op-ed for the Washington Post. arguing that the policies of the U.S. and its proxy, Israel, are strengthening Islamists across the Middle East and North Africa--and making them deeply anti-American. As he points out Hizbollah and Hamas scored big in their respective elections, as did Islamists in Egypt until Mubarak changed the rules, but rather than engage these democrats, the Bushies launched first a cold war then, through Israel, a hot one. That is, as Ibrahim points out, exactly the wrong approach.

I agree: That is the wrong approach unless you want to alienate and radicalize people, and then it is spot on.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gunter Grass

The Dog is puzzled--disconcerted is, perhaps, better--over Gunter Grass's confession that in 1945, age 17, he served in the Waffen SS--that he peed his pants in combat seems an irrelevancy. I don't expect artists to be any more pure than anyone else; in fact, I probably cut artists more slack than I do politicians, for example, because artists are not usually making decisions on whether someone else lives or dies. The exception to that rule is obvious, but I'll spell it out--an artist or academic who enters the public realm must be judged for their policies and for their artistic work--and sometimes the two get all bound up together. Or the artist turns propagandist, usually at the expense of the art, but not always. I won't go to war on the subject, but I seem to recall that a few of the great Renaissance artists took on religious themes because they needed the money and thus were willing to propagandize for the church. Well before that, Virgil was singing praises of Augustus--and on....That brings up the whole question of patronage, or sponsorship, especially, but not exclusively, in theatre and film and how it affects what is produced. so that the art becomes servant in one way or another to a particular ideology or cultural perspective. Science is not much different.

Of course, I'm talking here of a matter of degrees, because, as Marx observed, artists and intellectuals belong to the superstructure of society. By default, even the most radical among them will go only so far in their quest for artistic and intellectual freedom, although in certain contexts that far may be far indeed. Nonetheless in America it is an article of faith among the cultural elite--excepting the religious right--that ideology, morality and politics should not drive art or shape intellectual discourse, until the state of the nation or the world becomes too fucked up to be ignored. Then, it is time to bear witness.

Arguably, we have been in such a state since the Great War (I) and the advent of Modernism, although one would never know that by looking at contemporary American letters. There is much to do, even on these shores, over Samuel Beckett--the centennial of his birth, it is--and how he ripped what was left of narrative, plot, and character from the novel, which I applaud--Gina, too--that makes the sound of two hands clapping. But in America, narrative reigns supreme, as if Beckett and those other Europeans never happened--and by narrative here I'm talking about the simple story line running the length of the book, so beloved in fiction and non-fiction. Now, that reflects a society that doesn't want complexity or subtlety or paradox or, since September 11, 2001, barely irony. It's a society that wants the world to be a certain way and wants to be entertained.

Speaking of paradox and irony, Dog Bytes' readers will long since have commenced muttering to themselves that one high priest of Modernism was the virulently anti-Semitic, Mussolini propagandist, Ezra Pound, and another was the politically indifferent, at best, Picasso, Guernica not withstanding. I've long admired the poetry of Ezra Pound while finding abhorrent his bigotry and politics, but there are many people who won't pick up a book by him. Pound paid for his decisions, too--incarceration in a makeshift, open-air cell following the war and then impoundment at St. Elizabeth's as a nut case too incompetent to stand trial for treason. Still, believing that the responsible artist, writer, intellectual, human will always be in opposition to power, I tend to look askance at any writer or artist, Pound included, who touts the party line. Without endorsing a Gardneresque argument for moral fiction, I must nonetheless confess that I'm no fan of "literature" that preaches hate--misanthropy is another matter. That's finally why I'm not going to declare Pound my favorite poet or even place him high in the pantheon, despite the occasional brilliance of his verse--too much of the other crap washed into it, and he placed himself and his talent in the service of an evil that caused great suffering.

Gunter Grass has long stood in opposition to Germany's Nazi past, demanded confrontation with it in his fictions and in his public posturing. I initially read him in part because of his reputation and in part because the so-called Danzig Triology is an important cultural document, but I don't find him the best of the post-war German writers, who nonetheless were born under Hitler. I rate more highly Hans Magnus Enzensberger--Grass's exact contemporary--better as a thinker--he's an essayist and poet, not a novelist--and W.G. Sebald (this link's to his obituary in the Guardian) flat better, although his body of work is considerably shorter. Enzensberger, as the linked to interview reveals, caused his own flap in Germany, when he endorsed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, even while disavowing Bush's foreign (non) policy and the carnage that has followed. He simply hates all dictators, Enzensberger said.

Sebald died in 2001, age 57, a great loss to literature and the world. The Guardian began its obituary with a quote that seems pertinent now: "I don't think you can write from a compromised moral position," he told an interviewer shortly before his death.

Through concealment of his service in the Waffen SS, Grass put himself in a compromised moral position. It didn't stop him from 'writing,' but it perhaps did stop him from writing anything that will endure that will ultimately be considered immortal. In Sebald's poshumous Campo Santo is an essay "Constructs of Mourning,' devoted to Grass and Wolfgang Hildesheimer and the collective failure of postwar Germany to confront the devastation of the War--not just the destruction of Jews, Russians, Poles, Gypsies, political opponents, and social deviants but also the annihilation of German civilians in the firebombing of cities and the disappearance of German armies in POW camps. Writing about Grass's Diary of a Snail, a fictional account of the 1969 campaign that brought Willy Brandt, who actively resisted Hitler, and the Social Democratic Party to power, Sebald praises Grass for telling the story of the deportation of Danzig's Jews by the Nazis--while slyly emphasizing that he took the history from someone else--but Sebald also criticizes him for creating a "good" German, Hermann Otto, aka "Doubt." Sebald gives chapter and verse, but his point is to ask, politely but firmly, "whether the dominance of fiction over what really happened does not tend to militate against the recording of the truth and the attempt to commemorate it."

That raises the question of whether Sebald was writing fictions, as most American critics claim, or something closer to essayistic prose poems, my choice--and, yes, it's hardly a poetic phrase. But I digress.

In today's New York Times, Daniel Kehlmann, the young German novelist, writing from Vienna, suggests that at a certain point, Grass withheld public confession because he knew news of his service in the Waffen SS would keep him from ever receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature [this link takes you first to my sign in page, for some reason, but click in]. After he received the prize in 1999, he remained silent to preserve his reputation, coming forward now as a pre-emptive strike, Kehlmann says. That's to wrap hypocrisy in venality, but who's to say it's not true, since Grass himself is sayig little. He is further proof, however, that one can be a "moralist' without being moral; indeed, that's the story of our age. Sadly, as Sebald said, you can't "write [my emphasis] from a compromised moral position." You can tell stories, for sure, and they can even amuse and achieve great popular success, but they will finally fall short of what writing is about. The task of the writer in this age is to find the way to speak what must be spoken.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Terrior Plot, Again

The Dog promises no more of the British terrior plot until the thing shakes down. The Pakistani intelligence services floated out their third mastermind in as many days, and this one is the best of all--an unnamed son-in-law of Ayman al-Zawahiri. It's not easy to shoot holes in a ghost, and that's what this mystery man is, since no one even seems certain--among 'intelligence' agencies, that is--how many sons-in--law Zawahiri meets. There were also reports yesterday of 'martyr tapes' found on a few laptops and that at least eight of the suspects had traveled to Pakistan, 'perhaps' to receive training in making explosives. It makes one wonder just how much of substance the Brits had to go on in the first place?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Potential Terrior Attack, Take 2

In the interest of fairness, the BBC reported yesterday, 8/17, that police searchers had pulled a suitcase full of bomb-making equipment from King's Wood, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where some of the suspected terrior conspirators lived. No one has confirmed the report or offered an inventory at this time.

And the ever changing back story has changed again. The Daily Express and Guardian cite unnamed intelligence sources in Pakistan as claiming that al-Qaeda number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, "probably"--the Dog loves these qualifiers--sanctioned the airline plot of Rashid Rauf and his gain of feebs--who hides their bomb-making equipment in a suitcase in a park? At least al-Zawahiri's not in a secret prison, like the putative mastermind al-Libbi.

Meanwhile, the various bomb scares on board planes remind the Dog of mass-hysteria driven witch hunts past. The Bushbuckers and their opposite numbers in al-Qaeda have succeeded, it would appear, in dragging us down the rat hole into the cesspool of all that is vile about humans and their culture--and they have done so in the name of their 'noble' causes.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Terror Attacks Foiled (Revised)

The Dog's loyal readers need not be reminded of his deep and abiding skepticism toward most matters, great and small, although he can't match Beckett's skepticism toward the completeness of his own birth. For now, let it be said that today, approximately a week into MI5's and Scotland Yard's takedown of the terriors plotting to bring down 10 or so British to U.S. flights, using "liquid bombs" manufactured over the Atlantic, he remains as unconvinced as he was on first hearing the news. So where to begin--

--The timing of the bust, hard on the heels of primary election setbacks, most notably, it would appear, the pompous Joe Lieberman, diehard supporter of the slaughter in Iraq, not to mention continued bad news out of that American colony and the battering the Bushies were taking over their approval of the Israel attacks on civilians in Lebanon and the 5th anniversary of the Emperor Boy George's first August briefing, which he ignored, the timing sucks. There are indeed scattered reports that the arrests came when they did at the behest of the Bushbuckers. This detail alone is enough to make the Dog discount the whole sordid deal, but there is more.

--The beauty of using British agencies MI5 and Scotland Yard, which still have some credibility in the eyes of many Americans, who have no faith in their own FBI, the gang that spawned the Liberty City 7. Is that faith well placed? Consider that the Brits themselves seem skeptical of the threat posed by the "liquid bombers" and that Tony Blair is widely and correctly perceived as the Emperor Boy's Boy. In the excellent Seymour Hersh piece in the current New Yorker on the Bushies' approval of and collusion with Israel in its misbegotten attack on Hizbollah, a British offiicial is quoted that Blair "drinks the White House Kool-Aid as much as anyone in Washington." (For those who don't remember or were too young, here's the Wiki entry on Jim Jones and the People's Temple.) Every indication is that Bushy and Blair worked together on this one.

--Thanks to Wikipedia, I can provide some material and links on liquid explosives--acetone peroxide, aka "Mother of Satan" and hexamethylene triperoxide damine. Both are described as easy to manufacture favorites of terriors. Either or neither might have been used in last July's attack in London's tube. But "easy to manufacture" does not mean safe. They are highly volatile, which is why amatuers regularly blow themselves up, at least partly. Acetone peroxide is apparently best made at cold temperatures. Because they are unstable, it's a little hard to see all of these 24 bumblers conducting their chemisty experiments successfully on the fly. They were more likely to blow up the toilet than down the plane. In other words, they made a bad choice of weapons.

--But then, there is scant proof that these 24 people in England and some 26 more elsewhere actually had the capacity to do more. It increasingly appears that they were at best wannabes, perhaps slightly more together than the Libery City 7, perhaps. More than a few didn't even have passports.

--The purported mastermind in Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the putative al Qaeda number three whom the Pakistanis arrested last spring and turned over to the Americans for water boarding. It's been reported numerous times that the U.S. has the wrong dude. I suppose he masterminded this thing through telepathy with Rashid Rauf, as the Guardian reports today. So what, if the right al-Libbi's in isolation, he set this thing in motion more than a year ago and left it to Rauf, who seems largely feeble, but al-Libbi didn't spill the beans on this one despite torture. This trail gets too hard for the Dog to follow, but then all he's expected to do is follow the police and intelligence work of our friends in the UK and Pakistan.

--The terriors don't have to launch attacks anymore. They can scare the hell out of people simply by talking about an attack.

I'll post this draft, proof read, and add to it later. Now the Dog must see to the Dogs.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

War Crimes

The Bushbuckers are at work again, trying to undermine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners, in order to free themselves from the specter of prosecution for war crimes, R. Jeffery Smith reported in the August 8 Washington Post-- shows how far behind I am on this blog. The public rationalization--the need to protect forces in the field who were simply following orders and the best legal advice.. so they could produce successful prosecutions is exactly wrong. There is no best legal advice when it comes to abuse--nay, let use stop parsing the meaning of torture--Clinton's tortured definitions of sex were much more interesting--and say that there are minimum standards, upon which Common Article 3 is based. If you deny that, as the Bushbuckers do, you are either an idiot who thinks everyone else is an idiot, or a completely venal cynic who believes you can do whatever you damn please. Will the Congress go along and immunize war criminals against prosecution? Sadly, the dog thinks it will, with barely a sigh of protest emanating from its stuffy halls.

The Dog has to play catch-up here with bits and fragments. We watched the other night Occupation: Dreamland, the understated, devastating portrayal of part of the 82nd Airborne in Fallujah, Iraq, by Ian Olds and Garrett Scott. Several things batted the Dog over the head. First, US forces in full battle regalia resemble the Empire's storm troppers in Star Wars. Second, watching young American soldiers in English asking several older Iraqis, who only spoke Arabic, where such and such a suspected 'insurgent' was, the Dog was reminded of a certain type of exchange between De Soto and Coronado's forces and Native Americans in Florida and New Mexico, respectively. The Spaniards bulled through the countryside until they came upon an Indian town or village. Then they would demand treasure and, after finding there was none, or not enough, an inquiry that often involved unimaginable brutality, would demand to be told where was the 'city of gold' they, the Spaniards, knew was out there. The Indians understood enough to point the brutality toward the home of their enemy, off the Spaniards marched. So too, the Iraqis and Americans.

And then there are Israel's assault on Lebanon and the liquid bombers, which the Dog promises to get to tomorrow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Liberty City 7, or why we are losing the War on Terriors

The Miami Herald has a good article by Jay Weaver on Lyglenson Lemorin, one of the hapless Liberty City Seven, as the Dog calls them, who "planned" to blow up the North Miami Beach FBI headquarters, Chicago's Sears Tower and several other buildings. Here's a look at the leader Narseal Batiste overcoming his own doubts to fall for the line of an FBI informant and continue to do so after he's told he's playing with a stool pigeon. The whole sorry affair makes the Dog realize why the FBI can't get its computers to work right and has failed to capture the Anthrax mailer.