Friday, February 27, 2009


Obama announced his withdrawal plan today and it looks very very good. Many people are upset about the 50K "residual forces" troops that will be left behind, but considering the political, economic, and military situation this is creating momentum toward the rest of them being gone. Unless Iraq explodes it will be very difficult to increase troop levels and total withdrawal will come to seem inevitable.

So 100K troops leaving over the next 19 months. Then between August of '10 and December of '11, everyone else leaves as per the Status of Forces Agreement. As far as I can tell, that means everyone: troops, mercenaries, contractors and bases closed or turned over to Iraqi's.

If that is what it means then this is really awesome news. Really fucking great. Unbelievable.

Not only that, but apparently he's also restoring progressive taxation with the new budget. So as the heads have been saying, if that passes Reaganism is dead. Also tentatively great news.

I can't even imagine a world in which Reaganism is dead. I mean, I've read about it in history books, but living in it? Mind. Boggles.

Also awesome: Al G. explains the future.


Of course:

'From 1882 until 1922, the British promised the international community 66 times that they would leave Egypt, but they never did.'

D'oh! Well, at least I got to feel vaguely good for a second!

Defense of Slumdog 

I disagree with Scats' take on Slumdog Millionaire. Here is my case for the film:

As in the movie Y Tu Mama Tambien, the seemingly incidental social oppression that Scats sketches that is in fact the center of the film. Why, then, the cloying and forced love story, and the giddy dance number at the end?

One clue is in the text that begins and ends the film: "it is written." This should not be read as some new age mumbo-jumbo, but a reference to the -form- of the film itself-- written, fiction-- and to that of popular films that are indeed intended to be "feelgood" spectacle. But how can we possibly feel good about the world we see here? And how does the protagonist possibly turn out ok? How could such insanely improbable fortune be bestowed upon a child of the slums? ONLY if it is "written"-- only in fiction.

My reading of SM is that its actual subject is the role of Bollywood in Mumbai and India in general, in providing fantasies for a population largely beset by the nightmares of poverty, corruption and crime. Boyle is constantly signaling that what we are watching is completely impossible. To me the film is a tragedy that incorporates the power of popular culture into its expose of a culture, its fantasies, and the fantasies we might want to project upon it.

Friday Cat Blogging 

The President: The Mona Lisa of Cats.

whoo hoo 

Any day that Graeber puts up some writing is a good day. Apparently in order to understand what the fuck is going on, you have to understand the anthropological history of money. Who knew?

There seems little doubt that history, widely rumored to have come to an end a few years ago, has gone into overdrive of late, and is in the process of spitting us into a new political and economic landscape whose contours no one understands. Everyone agrees something has just ended but no one is quite sure what. Neoliberalism? Postmodernism? American hegemony? The rule of finance capital? Capitalism itself (unlikely for the time being)? It’s even more difficult to predict what’s about to be thrown at us, let alone what shape the forces of resistance to it are likely to take. Some new form of green capitalism? Knowledge Keynesianism? Chinese-style industrial authoritarianism? ‘Progressive’ imperialism?


One of the traditional roles of the economic anthropologist is to point out that the standard narrative set out in economic textbooks – the one we all take for granted, really, that once upon a time there was barter; that when this became too inconvenient, people invented money; that eventually, this lead to abstract systems of credit and debt, banking, and the New York Stock Exchange – is simply wrong. There is in fact no known example of a human society whose economy is based on barter of the ‘I’ll give you ten chickens for that cow’ variety. Most economies that don’t employ money – or anything that we’d identify as money, anyway – operate quite differently.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

dog eat dog 

When I walked out of Slumdog Millionaire I remember feeling confused, disoriented, nauseated, and angry. Quickly on the heels of that I also remember thinking that this was not going to be a socially acceptable response when discussing it in mixed company. Sure enough, when I hesitated to praise it at one outing there was...a very awkward silence and very contentious stares levelled at me that demanded justification for my heresy.

Well, finally I stumbled across someone who was able to pen something that more or less captured my sentiments:

What I remember most vividly are the scenes of homicidal communal violence, universal indifference to the fate of helpless children, their blinding, maiming and daily exploitation (all presented as normal features of life in the big city) the routine use of torture on the merest suspicion by everyday police (this little station keep electrical equipment on hand for the purpose) and a general, straightforward, unabashed level of social snobbery so smarmy as to register in the pit of the stomach.

This is, however, no expose. The extensive scenes noted serve only as background for a facile and ultimately silly romance devolving on the conceit described. The action is camera driven. The tension relies on manufactured delay and forced uncertainty. The characters aspire neither to depth, texture, nor personality. The girl is typically beautiful notwithstanding the dreadful scar inflicted by her vedddy vedddy bad tormentors.

Most strikingly, the creative sensibility betrays no larger or principled interest in its depiction of abominations. The fiendish use of small children is mere local color.

Those with strong stomachs and a taste for formulaic melodrama in distant lands may buy it. Many have and no doubt will. I found it the creepiest motion picture I have seen in a long, long time. Creepier still is the popular practice of describing – and, I must conclude, experiencing – Slumdog Millionaire as a “feelgood” movie.

fuck THAT guy! 

A really nice critique of Chavismo from the left.:

What do you think of this argument that “despite everything, these régimes are better than what there was before”?

I. - Solidarity is something that has to develop among communities of workers, based on their own desires. But if everything is run according to a state-imposed agenda, collective needs are not met, only those determined from on high. Look at the so-called grassroots organisations the régime talks about so much and which are often portrayed as “People’s Power” or even “the Fifth Estate”. The organisations have always been dependent on the state. After the 1989 caracazo we saw an independent current among community organisations, but as we have said, these same organisations have been incorporated into the new state and have become vehicles of the Chavista project. Abandoning their autonomy in order to strengthen a so-called revolutionary government, they legitimise their stance by saying “but now things are going to get better!”. All this expresses a number of failings. People have to understand that they can organise independently of the state. But there is an enormous political polarisation which dominates all these activities: you are with Chavismo or against it. The Chavista grassroots organisations against the oppositionist ones. The new communal councils should, in principle, represent the communities who elect them. But in reality there are Chavista ones where there is no place for critics and anti-Chavista ones where Chavistas are not allowed. The form of these councils is determined by the state. So where are the real, concrete interests of collectives represented?

M. - For my part, I am not afraid to say that living standards have not improved; people are living in ever worse conditions. This despite the fact that Venezuela now has the highest GNP per capita in Latin America, a figure comparable to some European countries. The working classes rely on the help the government gives them. Of course, the existence of health centres in the barrios is a good thing, when they’re running. But in this country the situation of poor women, in particular as regards childbirth, is deteriorating. The public health system is in a disastrous state. Venezuelan prisons reproduce societal violence to the extent that they are among the most violent on the continent. In 2007 alone there were 427 deaths in jails, out of a prison population of 20,000. This aggravation of social problems is the expression of a social fragmentation which our famous “revolutionary process” does nothing to combat. On the contrary, it reinforces individualist attitudes. We are told that we are building “21st century socialism” and yet what we see is an increased number of shopping centres. Luxury car sales have never been so strong… All this shows the flowering of values which have nothing to do with the attitudes socialists have expressed throughout history. To conclude: there are slogans and propaganda, but this does not correspond with the concrete results and is not related to the means actually used. The Chávez government disposes of enormous financial means thanks to its oil wealth, and also has immense political capital. So all the official discourse can to explain the lack of results is that one little word: imperialism….

As for Barry's speech yesterday, I got nothin' much. Keynsianism, WIN! The bullshit about "ending the war", FAIL! The American exceptionalism and all the necessary pieties that go with these sorts of spectacles are pretty hard to stomach even when they are in complete sentences. Hearing how world-historically awesome we are when we are so world-historically fuxxored doesn't inspire me, it makes me feel like everyone's gone mad.

But great. Whatever cheers you up. Thanks to spellbinding oratory the polloi are becalmed in their pitchfork sharpening and looking forward to putting shoulders to the grindstone to prove they're no quitters! Polls are up! Marvelous. As always Obama treads lightly around true accountability.

As a side note, I was also surprised to learn that dropping out of high-school constitutes treason.

Normally, I look to Al G for some perspective and corrective to my jerking knee, but I'm finding his response just doesn't do it for me.

I suppose you can snipe wonkishly about his healthcare, energy and education plans. (Well, you may be able to, I can't. I'm too busy with my shitty wage job (just got a pay cut!) to educate myself properly about it.) And I'm sure that some of these programs will make real people's real lives a bit better. Again though, restoring our national preeminence, using different fuels, but in the same amount to do the same shit, and reorganizing education and health care to better restore the international competitiveness of 'Mercan capitalism just doesn't get me misty.

Although Kunstler is creepy and reactionary on many things, I think he put it well:

Among the questions that disturb the sleep of many casual observers is how come Mr. O doesn't get that the conventional process of economic growth -- based, as it was, on industrial expansion via revolving credit in a cheap-energy-resource era -- is over, and why does he keep invoking it at the podium? Dear Mr. President, you are presiding over an epochal contraction, not a pause in the growth epic. Your assignment is to manage that contraction in a way that does not lead to world war, civil disorder or both.

More "bold" please.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the hell, it freezes over 

Wow. David Brooks is saying something vaguely sane!


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