January 13, 2004

Brad Delong's blog makes me want to cry

This and this in particular, although this and this aren't exactly uppers either.

The entry on the failures of free international capital movement is awful when you realise how many lives and how much misery it implies, but there are at least alternatives. The failures of the neoliberal regime to create the growth its supporters usually quite sincerely desire can at least serve as the backdrop to some new synthesis. The same can be said of the collapse in employment growth in the US.

The Mahar Arar case is infuriating and threatening, not for the least reason because my passport was issued by the same people as Arar's. His case is pushing me more and to a decision I've been putting off: to end my legal relationship with the US Immigration service once and for all and not go back. I had hoped to procrastinate about it until November.

But the Benny Morris interview is too depressing for words. This bit is the bad one:

[M]y feeling is that [Israel] would be quieter and know less suffering if the matter had been resolved once and for all. If Ben-Gurion had carried out a large expulsion and cleansed the whole country - the whole Land of Israel, as far as the Jordan River. It may yet turn out that this was his fatal mistake. If he had carried out a full expulsion - rather than a partial one - he would have stabilized the State of Israel for generations.
My... well, disappointment isn't strong enough... new-found disdain and repulsion for Morris does not come from merely stating that a full expulsion might have left a more secure Israel. As a statement of historical and political judgment devoid of moral judgement it may, in fact, be true. What turns me against him completely is stuff like this:
"Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."

"But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."

"A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on."

"Remember another thing: the Arab people gained a large slice of the planet. Not thanks to its skills or its great virtues, but because it conquered and murdered and forced those it conquered to convert during many generations. But in the end the Arabs have 22 states. The Jewish people did not have even one state. There was no reason in the world why it should not have one state. Therefore, from my point of view, the need to establish this state in this place overcame the injustice that was done to the Palestinians by uprooting them."

"The Israeli Arabs are a time bomb. Their slide into complete Palestinization has made them an emissary of the enemy that is among us. They are a potential fifth column. In both demographic and security terms they are liable to undermine the state. So that if Israel again finds itself in a situation of existential threat, as in 1948, it may be forced to act as it did then. If we are attacked by Egypt (after an Islamist revolution in Cairo) and by Syria, and chemical and biological missiles slam into our cities, and at the same time Israeli Palestinians attack us from behind, I can see an expulsion situation. It could happen. If the threat to Israel is existential, expulsion will be justified."

Benny Morris' analysis confronts him with a clear choice between his nation and his humanity, and he has chosen his nation. I find that unconscionable. There are other analyses of Israel's circumstances that do not force such a choice, but Morris' puts it in as simple terms as I have ever seen. His claim that "[r]evenge plays a central part in the Arab tribal culture" without ever talking about how many Israeli reprisals are rationalised as "an eye for an eye", going on to make "Palestinian society" an actor in this conflict in order to justify expulsion, and painting Arabs as barbarians who must be kept at bay is just small potatoes for someone who has put his decency below his state.

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Posted by Scott Martens at 2:03 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 10, 2004

The undeath of cynicism

When irony, cynicism and critical sense were declared dead after 9/11, I assumed that that it was just an ironic and cyncial attempt to stiffle criticism and that it might last 'til Christmas. I assumed that by the time the Iraq war started, irony and cynicism were back to their full fighting weight and critical sense was well on its way to its formerr glory.

Which is why this post over at Abu Aardvark came as something of a surprise to me. I haven't posted anything about this muck at Abu Ghraib because, well, I've been busy with my real life, especially exams, but also because I just couldn't think of anything to say. The discovery that people in uniform - men and women alike - could so quickly and easily turn into monsters, and that given the conditions of this war they were so far from adequate oversight that this could happen without consequences... None of this surprises me. That the private contractors and CIA people aren't any better surprises me even less.

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Posted by Scott Martens at 9:07 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

Further evidence that we're living in a Ken MacLeod novel

From The Star Fracton by Ken MacLeod:

Another place, a place unknown except as a rumor [...] The Clearning House: a hierarchial hotline, the secret Soviet of the ruling class, a permanent party - in both senses, an occasion and an organization of the privileged - where everybody who was anybody could socialize in privacy. The place where the Protocols of the Elders of Babylon could be hammered out.

[...] He needed no VR gear to be there, to be out of it - he took it straight from the screens, his mind vaulting unaided into the lucid dream of mainframing.

A virtual reality chat room where the truly powerful can get together and plan that which cannot be planned in public. Just a science fiction conspiracy theory, you say?

From CNN Money:

Chat room kept London markets open

A secret Internet chat room run by Britain's financial regulators helped keep London's financial markets open after Thursday's bomb blasts, regulators said, while financial firms activated security measures in case of further attacks.

The Bank of England, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority switched on a secure section of their Financial Sector Continuity Web site to talk to major banks operating in the City of London's financial hub about how they were coping. [...]

The site, set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, allows regulators to coordinate and communicate with the financial services sector if there is a devastating event such as Thursday's bombings on a London bus and underground trains that killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds.

The Web site has a secure section where the authorities can communicate directly with big banks that are key to the stability of the international financial system. [...]

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Posted by Scott Martens at 10:29 AM | TrackBack

June 10, 2006

How is Al Qaeda like Louis Vuitton?

I know, I haven't blogged in a while. I... I well, I just haven't been able to.

Anyway, I saw this thing on ARTE just now. Yeah, I know, it's a warm Saturday and I should be out somewhere. But, the wife is in the States, and Leuven is dead on the weekends, and besides, MCM runs four episodes of Berlin, Berlin on Saturday night. I've become an addict of Berlin, Berlin. I don't know if there's any explanation. It's never been broadcast in the English speaking world as far as I can tell and they've only just started running it in French on MCM. It's a German show. Normally, I hate Friends-style sitcoms, so this is odd behaviour for me. Or maybe it's just that Felicitas Woll is hottie. But I digress.

I didn't catch what this show on ARTE was called - I missed the beginning, and the end is after Berlin, Berlin starts, so I didn't see the end. It discussed at some length "Al Qaeda in Iraq" and the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It said some things I'd never heard before, like that the terms of the agreement between Osama ben Laden and Zarqawi effectively made Zarqawi the boss of Al Qaeda.

It's not exactly a novel idea that Al Qaeda is pretty loosely tied together, and that there are no training camps or central management whatsoever. The whole thing seems to be organized by Internet for the television media. But the thought that occurred to me was this: What if Al Qaeda is nothing more than a brand name? Think about it for a moment. The Zarqawi/ben Laden connection makes more sense if you think of it as a reverse corporate takeover designed primarily to acquire control of a high-value global brand name. They talk about postmodern guerilla movements, but Al Qaeda seems to have gone one better than every other underground movement in the world and become pure brand, divorced from any precise party or any specific agenda beyond "kill the Jews and Crusaders and defend the umma".

How do you fight such a brand? How do you kill it? I get three English language news channels, BBC World, CNN International, and CNBC. BBC's people seem very doubtful that killing Zarqawi will have accomplished anything - maybe even make things worse since you can't kill a martyr. CNN International and CNBC seem to have a lot of commentors who think this might (maybe) be the turning of the corner in Iraq. But if you think of Al Qaeda as a brand rather than an organization, there is no leadership to kill. Anybody can take up the name and run with it.

I can't think of any successful anti-branding campaigns in the corporate world. Has an organized, targeted campaign - as opposed to some screw up on the part of the brand owner - ever succeeded in killing off a brand?

Looking at historical revolutionary movements, the only one I can think of that was at all comparable to Al Qaeda in resembling a brand name more than an organization was revolutionary Marxism. But this lends itself to a comparison: If Al Qaeda is the Louis Vuitton of global revolution, Marxism is Hello Kitty - nowadays only fashionable as kitsch. And that transformation took a century, and followed serious screw-ups by people who had taken control of the brand.

So, as I sit here and watch Felicitas Woll grimace at the state of her sex life, I keep thinking, how do you destroy a high-value, high-recognition global brand from the outside? Parody? Adbusters has been trying that for years without success. Offer an alternative product? Democracy and liberal, secular values as Pepsi to Al Qaeda's Coca-Cola? How well has that been working for Pepsi, since Coke is still the most valuable global brand according to most surveys?

Culture jammers and anti-corporate activists have been looking for an answer to this problem for years. Now, I wonder, is anti-branding the same problem as anti-terrorism?

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Posted by Scott Martens at 10:27 PM | Comments (3)

June 21, 2006

Lipstick and the Euston Manifesto

I can't say that I think highly of the Euston Manifesto. When I first read it, the thing that came to mind was the infamous 1914 Reichstag vote on war credits. The tone of the Euston Manifesto suggests that its signers are the kind of people who would have issued a manifesto in 1914 condemning German leftists opposed to WWI. Real leftists should oppose French aggression and defend the fatherland despite its failure to meet leftist ideals.

The War Credits vote turned out badly for moderate leftists. By supporting the war, the German Socialists broke definitively with internationalism and discredited themselves enough that after the war, the disaffected (who were legion) had only hard line communism or fascism to turn to as viable alternatives.

This post is motivated by Daniel Davies' critique over on Crooked Timber. If I might be so bold as to offer a Shorter Daniel Davies: "It's dishonest to talk about the universal imposition of 'Enlightenment Values' and not point out that you mean 'shoot them until they see the error of their ways.'" The historical lack of success of beating on people until they acknowledge the error of their ways is certainly a strong argument against such an outlook.

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Posted by Scott Martens at 4:08 PM