Comments: Five Dollar Friday

What we got heah is a failyah ta commun'cate

After reading Greenwald's critique of Benjamin Wittes, headlined "Brookings 'centrist' opposition to the rule of law",

I went to read Wittes' non-reply reply at the link Greenwald gives in his Update II. After doing so, I sent an email to Wittes, with the subject line

Your reply to Greenwald - Congratulations

However, I was being a bit tricksy, as I sometimes am, because the text of my message was

You demonstrate conclusively that he is correct.

I wrote him at 9:09 PM Eastern time yesterday, and eleven minutes later he responded, as follows:

I'm sorry you think so.

So, although Wittes is unwilling to attempt to respond to the devastating arguments Greenwald marshalls against him, he is at least willing to reply politely to a somewhat sarcastic expression of opinion. Although he might be sarcastic himself - he may not actually be sorry I disagree with him - by email, no one can see your nonverbal expression of emotions.

So, the policy intellectuals of Versailles-on-the-Potomac may endorse torture, mass murder, and targeted assassination of citizens and others, but at least they are polite when they decline to consider criticism.

Is that glass 3/16ths full? Or 7/128ths full?

As Rilke wrote, in Stephen Mitchell's translation of The Archaic Torso of Appolo,

You must change your life.

To be more prosaic about what I mean: small adjustments and regular party politics will not move us very far from the status quo, which reeks of rottenness. We need a metanoia, and the embiggening of spirit which this requires will not come about without repentance, which cannot occur in a culture of impunity.

In my opinion.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at January 15, 2011 11:13 AM

Apollo, not Appolo

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at January 15, 2011 11:20 AM

I agree wholeheartedly that we desperately need a new metanoia and an embiggening of spririt, and I am not being sarcastic, even though at this precise moment I cannot quite remember what metanoia is and will have to look it up. Mostly, I think 'embiggening of spirit' is fantastic, and 'embiggening' all by itself is terrific too.

I wish I had read more Rilke, because somebody who can write great poetry in German AND French is awesome, and anybody dressed as a girl until about the age of five and then sent to military school probably learned how to see things in the world that the rest of us miss.

I don't read enough Glenn Greenwald. I like him more in Act II of the farce than I did in Act I, back when I still thought maybe this was just a tragedy, which for some stupid reason I preferred.

Posted by N E at January 15, 2011 10:01 PM

N E observes I don't read enough Glenn Greenwald. I like him more in Act II of the farce than I did in Act I, back when I still thought maybe this was just a tragedy, which for some stupid reason I preferred.


[The following appeared on my eponymous blog three years ago. Chances are you haven't seen it.]

I see dead people - but I'm not the only one

a close personal cyberfriend writes:

i know that for many boomers of a certain age vietnam and military war/peace are the defining issues of their lives. but for me it will always be AIDS, and the treatment of women and gay people, the culturally enforced hatred of them for simply existing. not for having bad or stupid ideas or creeds. just for daring to exist at all and for not knowing their place as subhuman objects. and for letting them die in droves as punishment.

i'm not being hyperbolic when i say that there were long stretches in the 80s when i attended several funerals every week. week after week for years on end. when, in that interview, james speaks about his emotions at the vietnam memorial, realizing that (at that already very early date) more americans had already died of AIDS than had died in the entire vietnam war i nod my head and feel that horrible truth.

my politics are completely shaped by that experience (or were till 911 which dovetails with those issues), in much the same way that many boomers' politics were shaped by vietnam.

it's why i can never have any respect for people who follow creeds that inculcate that hatred and subjugation. why i will never be quiet or polite about my raw return hatred for the people who propagate it. whether it's fred phelps or some turbaned freak it matters not to me. their hate is the same hate. and it is why, perhaps, i get less worked up about overt military war. because i lived thru a war, by another name. long before 911. where more than half of the people i knew were killed. where we didn't lose one or two brave young boys from whatever town, but lost half the population of my town, or my part of town anyway. where they were made to die for being themselves. for loving other people.


my reply:

i admit it, there is no question that for me vietnam and war/peace is a defining issue of my life - the Vietnam war was not a bug that was fixed, it was a manifestation of a persistent feature, seemingly hard-wired into the system - a feature that is activated again and again - the Spanish-American War, the Reagan-era wars against the people of Central America (paid for by the US, using money Oliver North got by selling stolen weapons to Iran, although mainly fought by local hirelings), Panama, Iraq I, Iraq II, etc. etc.

my bachelor's degree was in political science at MIT - some of the professors in that department were making big bucks (for polisci professors) consulting for the so-called Department of Defense on things like the "strategic hamlet" program - the last couple years i was there armed guards searched our briefcases and backpacks as we went into the building (there had been a small-scale bombing at someone's office overnight - by extremists, or by agents provocateurs - who knows?)

i'm not arguing that the suffering produced by yankee imperialism is more - or less - than that caused by the HIV pandemic - the 20th century was full of dramatic and exciting experiences, and there's no shortage of corpses to count - but one difference i see is that AIDS is caused by a virus, although clearly worsened by the way people mistreat each other

whereas war (what is it good for? business, my boy - it's real good for business - and for keeping and increasing political power) is a purely social phenomenon (one could say 'man-made' - although there is plenty of female participation in the norm-inculcating processes that promote mass murder)

may the Creative Forces of the Universe have mercy on our souls, if any - and assist us in the long process of guided self-observation said to bring such souls into existence - and stand beside us and guide us through the Night with the Light from Above [speaking metaphorically]

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at January 16, 2011 10:05 AM

Capital could be directed out of the Corporate Prison System.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 16, 2011 02:12 PM

Mistah Charley

As to "AIDS is caused by a virus"--see Edwin' Hooper's provocative book The River, his website, and as to the kind of question that most interests me, Australian scientist Brian Martin's paper "How to attack a scientific theory and get away with it (usually): the attempt to destroy an origin-of-AIDS hypothesis."

I just read an article in the NY Times about how we have sabotaged Iran's nuclear program with advance softwar viruses, and it seems to me that the farther we advance technologically, the more we develop the ability to solve problems with solutions that turn out to be even worse. (That conclusion is very related to Hooper's work.) I really don't think developing information warfare technology that coulf, for example, cause reactors to fail is a big step forward even if nobody has done that to us yet.

With regard to the AIDS tragedy, as with wars, the official story of the causes of the tragedy ended up hiding many of the ugly truths that, if they were recognized, would threaten too much. That is the most general problem that I have come to see everywhere, maybe because it has been burned onto my retina.

If we don't come up with a solution to that general problem, about which I'm not optimistic, then the parade of horrors that we've been marching in over the centuries is bound to get even more gruesome.

So let's hope those Creative Forces of the Universe start getting more merciful soon.

Posted by N E at January 16, 2011 02:23 PM

One of my numerous traffic school classes was taught by a Vietnam vet who kept repeating that "more people die in traffic accidents every year than have died in all the wars." I believe he was omitting a certain adjective.

Of course, America has long been pretty good at minimizing the relative number of war dead who are American, although we've obviously gotten more proficient since Vietnam.

Posted by godoggo at January 16, 2011 04:43 PM

I think AIDS is caused by Fort Detrich, Maryland.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 16, 2011 05:32 PM

Mike Meyer

I've never seen any credible evidence that AIDS was intentionally created by anyone, including the military, and I used to go to unusual lengths to find that sort of stuff.

Hooper's book reads like a mystery, by the way, and he makes a compelling case, but his theory threatens Powerful Interests like vaccine manufacturers, governments, universities, etc. etc. etc.

Posted by N E at January 16, 2011 08:58 PM

NE: My opinion still stands as is I'm afraid. I'm not the only one. (re: Frank Zappa)

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 17, 2011 02:41 PM

Well Mike, what you say does make a cynical sort of sense in an ugly world, and Frank Zappa sure could rock, but I didn't see it. The River really is fantastically readable if you ever ever stranded somewhere and happen to have a copy of it with you, by the way.

Posted by N E at January 17, 2011 07:37 PM

I would like to see how I could grab your rss feed to stay updated of any changes on your website, but I cant find it, where is the link for it?

Posted by louboutin shoes at January 17, 2011 07:53 PM

NE: Zappa's Father worked in the defence labs. He speaks at length about it in several youtube strips.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 17, 2011 08:23 PM

Speaking of Greenwald, did anyone else listen to his interview with Gulet Mohamed a few days ago? I don't know about you, but I found it pretty disturbing.

Posted by godoggo at January 17, 2011 11:41 PM

I'm afraid that (outside of this sentence) I can't be as clever as the above posters. At most I can add that a conspiracy theory services ego-centered culture freaks, so get cracking on a good one or get ignored! Take or get took.

Glenn Greenwald is a good case for a legitimate source of seeing some kind of conspiracy, but it seems a lot of the left often looks at him and those like him with contempt (see the tirades in the Nation against Chomsky, for example). Typically, though, they are not really "left" so much as Democratic party members posing as such, so I guess it is not as unfortunate as it seems. Were Mr. Greenwald to get their endorsement, he would probably not be able to write the considerably insightful pieces he does now. The last I've read being his polemic against Justice Kagan's recent appointment, and it should go without saying that were Obama to approve of his ideas, considering the appointment both practical and stupid, I would start fearing for my life in earnest.

To tie this back (somewhat) into what Schwarz was saying, Greenwald is the type of person who handles these situations (pardon the expression) with class, and without appeals to prejudice. He argues passionately (sometimes bordering on submitting to vanity, I feel) but manages to wed that with a unique co-opting of self-interest in the service of ethical claims that aren't too complex to be testable. That's a mouthful of an idea, but I think it should give people a lot of hope. Still, we should recognize that he is quite rare these days in that he seems to know when he says something profound ahead of time, and won't back down when its challenged, though I might be underestimating the cleverness of the reporters who manage to get the truth out to us with what could very well be a veneer of bias.

Posted by LT at January 18, 2011 07:33 AM

The co-opting of self-interest in the service of ethical claims that aren't too complex to be testable is a mouthful of an idea, to be sure, but I think I can swallow it before the mouth-watering content dissolves upon contact with my saliva, and maybe the sublime difficulty of identifying what exactly it was in my mouth that just disappeared would inspire me to put on some Frank Zappa and read an essay by Glenn Greenwald about something he knew would be profound even before he said it, like an ancient Oracle, the Oracle of Glenn, which is said to be covered in a veneer of a material that glistens like cleverness even if it is really just polished bias.

Ego-Centered Culture Freak

P.S. If you read Hooper's book, you'll see that it is possible to say something complicated in a way that makes it possible for someone else to understand it without exhausting himself.

Posted by E C C F at January 18, 2011 08:27 AM

and now for something somewhat different

Tom Engelhardt has an essay on how, while we're learning in great detail about the persons involved in the Tucson shooting, other killings of the innocent, equally horrific, but paid for by our tax dollars, are happening on the far side of the world. These do NOT penetrate our sphere of consciousness. Instead of being the acts of a grinning madman, these are just "mistakes" - and yet, they add up, and up, and up. All in all, there are quite a lot of them.

In the Crosshairs

Posted by mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at January 19, 2011 04:13 PM

AMERICANS WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE, always have and, right now, Looks like WE always will. I Gots no answer to the world about it as last year, Old Mr. Ernst the saddle maker, 70 yrs old and JUST turned up clean after a long battle with prostate cancer, gunned down by KIDS with guns breaking in on him. THAT'S MY neighborhood.

Posted by Mike Meyer at January 19, 2011 10:03 PM

"killings of the innocent, equally horrific, but paid for by our tax dollars, are happening on the far side of the world"

true enough mistah charley, but on this side of the world too. Englehardt is great.

A year after Citizens United, Comcast and NBC have been approved for merger, and soon everything on the other side of the walls of little gated communities will be the other side of the world

Posted by N E at January 19, 2011 10:35 PM

godoggo: I too found the interview with Gulet Mohamed very disturbing - and what is happening to him even more disturbing.

And I don't think America has become more proficient at killing since Vietnam - we killed off 2 or 3 million in that nasty little war of aggression, and I rather doubt we hit a million in Iraq (although, to be fair, we are still working at it).

So, all the innocents we have killed since WW2 leaves the USA in second place in the killing game - behind D.R. Congo. I hear they have killed off 4 or 5 million. They are not done yet either.

Posted by Susan at January 20, 2011 11:40 PM