Monday, November 29, 2004


Headlines Posted by Hello

We have been ruled more by deceit than by force, and we have been degraded more by vice than by superstition. Slavery is the daughter of darkness: an ignorant people is a blind instrument of its own destruction. Ambition and intrigue abuses the credulity and experience of men lacking all political, economic, and civic knowledge; they adopt pure illusion as reality; they take license for liberty, treachery for patriotism, and vengeance for justice. If a people, perverted by their training, succeed in achieving their liberty, they will soon lose it, for it would be of no avail to endeavor to explain to them that happiness consists in the practice of virtue; that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of tyrants, because, as the laws are more inflexible, every one should submit to their beneficent austerity; that proper morals, and not force, are the bases of law; and that to practice justice is to practice liberty.”

Read more of “George Washington of South America” or “El Liberator,” General Simon Bolivar. We now have his statue adorning our city. Hugo Chaves has been in Tehran meeting and discussing expanded bilateral ties and greater cooperation, particularly in the agricultural sectors.

I tell you, if our quality of life were measured solely on the basis of the unfamiliar taste buds revealing themselves and singing hallelujah, the outcome of this contest of the self-absorbed, aka the clash of civilizations, would certainly be settled in our favor in a blink. Persimmons and pomegranates must simply be some of the sexiest fruits ever!

And an interesting leftist exposé of the Mujahedeen Organization (National Council of Resistance) in Dissident Voice. (via Payvand)

Friday, November 26, 2004

The problem with Ledeen

I am thinking two more posts on Ledeen before I drop the subject. I know Mr. Ledeen doesn’t much care for those who “dither and debate.” But I am going to try to grabble with something he wrote a while back because one gets the impression that just as surely as he dislikes anyone’s excessive babble, so too is he aversive to “ skullduggery!” So we try to test his claims.

I normally follow what he writes easily as he is a clear thinker. But there is a passage of his that is not intuitively clear to me much in the same way as Euclid’s fifth postulate has never been quite as immediately transparent to me as the first four. So try to imagine my dismay and the precise number of the back flips I had to do in fury when I first encountered the following paragraph which I noticed again recently buried in my notes from a couple of years ago. (Feb. 18 of 2003 or 2002?! Feeling lazy tonight):

“The current paralysis is eerily similar to the one that gripped Jimmy Carter's administration in 1979, as the fall of the shah became ever more likely. Then, too, it seemed imperative for us to act. Then, as today, the actions required were political, not military: We should have encouraged the shah to fight for his throne. Instead, we wrapped ourselves in the mantle of political correctness, warned him about the use of violence, insisted that his troops use rubber bullets, demanded that he permit freedom of assembly, and mumbled reassuring words about the Ayatollah Khomeini. Andrew Young remarked that he was, after all, "a religious man." Then, as today, we told ourselves that it was their country, not ours, that the shah was fully capable of acting, and that he undoubtedly would. Why should we take the political risks involved in vigorously supporting him? […] Why should he get his hands dirty by fighting the mobs in the streets?” (emphasis added)

I have omitted two crucial sentences that he ends this section with. In fairness, I will add it on before I am through. But I want all of us to carefully consider what he is saying here. He has made, after all, a great deal of political capital by relentlessly defending the “suffering people” of Iran.

So, let us grant Mr. Ledeen the country he so intensely feels entitled to. If he wants it that badly, he can have it-- the dirt, pollution, false piety and all. And so we give him the golden key and proceed to make him an honorary citizen--albeit a most delightful kind, a self-hating one:

In Iran, where treachery has long been the national sport and superstition the bedrock of political analysis, the people are casting runes and reading entrails, searching for certainty about the American strategy. Once they know it, they will act accordingly.

I should emphasis here that I see no personal malice in what he says. That’s simply who he is; a very good natured Iranian at heart and also very consistent,

He [George W. Bush] seems to have extraordinarily good instincts and the kind
of faith-based courage that makes for good leadership under terrible circumstances.

But like most good Iranians, he is revealing a fear of confrontation with the past. And the fear of the past is also a sign of an inability to deal with the challenges of the present.

There are two fundamentally conventional modes of critiquing the present, remember. One can always criticize the present by appealing to the golden past. Or one can denounce the present in the name of some non-existent future. That’s what the Stalinists meant, I suppose, by the oxymoron “inevitability of history.” And that’s the sort of language we hear from all the interventionists these days.

To change the present, however, one has to understand the past that has given birth to it. The refusal to deal with the past, however, in its own terms might be, what I fear, the source of the spiritual emptiness that he seems to be detecting everywhere.

In essence, what we see here is Ledeen trying to account for our present paralysis—a paralysis that I think fundamentally rooted in cynicism, by rewriting the past. And so his answer becomes thaumaturgy. What makes him different is his desire to send the signals rather than read them. What he shares with most of the rest of us here-- his fellow citizens-- is the penchant for indulging illusions and false hopes.

For you see, a part of him is fully aware of what’s going on here:

Sometimes I think there's a kind of racism at work when we discuss Arabs, or, more broadly, Muslims, as if they were lacking a "democracy" or "freedom" chromosome or something. It's not genetic, it's something that has developed over time. And since nobody (myself in the forefront) knows what produces the collapse of civilizations and/or empires, we can't foretell what will happen if we liberate them from their current tyrants.

But that’s exactly what happened more than twenty five years ago here. There was an omniscient little Father then who had come to power through a coup, and had proceeded to monopolize power, deprived people of their freedoms—speech, assembly and association, among others.

Our good Father had initiated a not so very thoughtful land reform which displaced millions of peasants without the structure in place to absorb the new comers who flooded the cities en masse. There were shantytowns everywhere. I clearly remember , on my way to school as a boy shortly before the revolution, images of men, woman and children lining up with buckets to get drinking water from the street pumps no more than five hundred meters from our villas that had everything we wanted, because their houses had no running water. And this was in Tehran’s more affluent northern parts!

The rapid inflow of oil money had exacerbated the class distinctions with displays of obscene avarice next to the scenes of heart wrenching poverty. Our gentle Father and his cronies stole from the coffers of this nation, tortured and maimed and at some point “the suffering people of Iran,” decided they’d had enough.

They collectively organized and chose to take matters into their own hands. Then, as now, no one knew how the future was going to turn out. It was no where nearly as obvious that the Islamists were going the get the upper hand. The year immediately after the revolution saw the publication of hundreds of journals and mushrooming of political and other forms of organizations. People were in the streets excitedly trying to carve out time and space for self expressions.

In essence, what we witnessed was how millions of people stopped “casting runes, and reading entrails,” and taking the matter into their own hands. They cooperated, organized and tried to, as Machiavelli would say, “subdue fortune.” But they failed. We all failed. Was it clear then, as it is now, how things would turn out?

The citizens who chose to participate in the historic “experiment,” of that revolution are simply “mobs” to Ledeen who still thinks they should have all been shot with real bullets. Many were, but apparently not in as large a number as Ledeen had hoped.

But nowadays, all of the sudden, we’ve become the “suffering people” to him needing liberation from the tyrants.

It is all a game to him and none of us are real. Does he really think we are that dumb?

That’s Ledeen’s fundamental problem, you see. Our dear leaders have the exact same attitude. What we are to them is the extra’s in a passion play. But most of us have finally figured out that game. What Ledeen pitches is a no brainer here! It is a (not so deceptively) disguised instrumentalization of the silliest kind:

[…]our most devastating weapon is the suffering people, who hate the regime. Our most lethal weapon is political, not military. I am talking revolution, not invasion.

What Ledeen seems to have missed is the liberating education of the past twenty five years! Learning the hard way has a way of disabusing people of their innocence. We have had enough of the kind of “faith based courage,” which caused young boys to be horded into trucks, given an imported “key to heaven,” and made to walk on land mines.

Once some of your neighbors and relatives have been used as a mine sweeper, you have no idea how quickly folk naturally develop an aversion for becoming any other kind of living weapon. Notice, for instance, that none of us have become suicidal bombs either.

We (some) have grown wary of being lectured by leaders in direct communication with the Almighty. Some of us have had enough of of a sort of leap of faith that our saviors demand from us and all the normal sacrifices they expect in return for empty promises.

Some of us are tired of being expected to follow marching orders and the delusional directives of our quite numerous self appointed guardians, leaders and leader wannabes. We insist on answers to our why questions before we move. Some of us remain skeptical of Ledeen’s many claims-- like this old one for instance:

There is a very good Iraqi Government in Exile, the Iraqi National Congress et. al., with a very good leader, Ahmad Chalabi. He has held this leaky ship together for more than a decade, despite repeated betrayals by the United States--Bush the Elder, Clinton, and the State Department always. I believe he'll be, at a minimum, an excellent leader of the transition period (just as I expect Reza Pahlavi will be an excellent leader of the Iranian transition period).


What has Mr. Pahlavi Jr. ever done to warrant this trust? Has he done a single honest day’s work since he left Iran? Where does he get his money from? What has he ever accomplished? Would anyone hire him to manage a McDonalds, let alone to lead of a country of 70 million in transition?

I’ll cut this short. Time to add those two sentences I told you I’d omitted:

He [the Shah] was overthrown, we suffered a monumental setback, radical jihadism
took root, and the Iranian people began 24 years of misery.

True enough. But that’s the risk we all take in violently fiddling with the present. That’s the risk he wants everyone to take in the Middle East these days, doesn’t he? But then, as now, there was no way of knowing how things would turne out. And that’s why I am gradually more perturbed by what’ happening all around me. I constantly re-play the various “what if” scenarios in my head.

What if more people had spoken up insisting on the need for the due process when the father of those young playmates of ours in the neighborhood was summarily executed? What if more people had spoken up when the Kurds were attacked? What if the moment the American hostages were seized and life militarized, people had insisted upon setting them free, thereby preventing the centralization of power which ensued shortly afterward, which only empowered the pressure groups and assorted goons which came to constitute the backbone of this regime.

What if Saddam hadn’t attacked utterly disrupting the organic flow of life in the aftermath of the popular revolution of 79? What if there was no Mujahedeen instigated campaign of terrorism, which gave the regime the excuse it needed to clamp down and butcher tens of thousands?

And countless other what ifs?

And so the future could have been different, yes, but this miserable present is all we’ve got now. And that’s the grand mystery of all presents, don’t you think? We can never know for sure what will turn up twenty five years down the road.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The trio’s draft resolution

Via Payvand from Vienna, full text of the big three’s draft resolution on the nuclear activities in Iran:

"Iran: Elements for a November IAEA board resolution

The Board of Governors:

a) recalling the resolutions adopted by the Board on September 18, 2004, June 18, 2004, March 13, 2004, November 26, 2003 and on September 12, 2003 and the statement by the Board of June 19, 2003,

b) noting with appreciation the Director General's latest report (GOV/2004/83) on the implementation of Iran's Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement,

c) noting specifically the Director General's assessment that Iranian practices up to October 2003 resulted in many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply with its Safeguard Agreement, as listed in paragraph 86, of the report, but that good progress has been made since that time in Iran's correction of those breaches, as described in paragraph 87 of the report, and in the Agency's ability to confirm certain aspects of Iran's current declarations,

d) also noting specifically the Director General's assessment that all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and that such material is not diverted to prohibited activities, but that the Agency is not yet in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,

e) recalling the Board's previous requests to Iran to suspend all enrichment related and reprocessing activities,

f) noting with concern that Iran has continued conversion activities, including the production of UF6, in spite of the request made by the Board in September,

g) noting with interest the agreement between Iran, France, Germany and the UK with the support of the High Representative of the EU, made public on November 15, in which Iran states its decision to continue and extend its suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities; and noting with satisfaction that, pursuant to this agreement, notification of this decision was sent by Iran to the Director General on November 14;

h) Commending the Director General and Secretariat for the work they have done to date to resolve all questions relevant to safeguards implementation in Iran,

1. Welcomes Iran's decision on suspension, as a confidence-building measure, to be verified and monitored by the Agency,

2. Calls on Iran to sustain this suspension and underlines that the Board considers the full and sustained implementation of this confidence building measure essential to resolving all outstanding issues within the framework of the Agency

3. Notes the Director General's statement of .... that Iran's decision on suspension has been put into effect and requests the Director General to monitor the implementation of this decision and to report immediately to the Board should the Agency encounter evidence that the suspension is not fully implemented, or be prevented from monitoring all elements of the suspension, for as long as the suspension is in force.

4. Welcomes Iran's continuing commitment to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol as a confidence building measure that facilitates the resolution of the questions that have arisen and calls on Iran once again to ratify its Protocol without delay.

5. Reaffirms its strong concern that Iran's policy of concealment has resulted in many breaches of Iran's obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement

6. Acknowledges that, as reported by the Director General, progress has been made in resolving these questions

7. Welcomes the Director General's intention to pursue his investigations into the outstanding issues, with a view to providing credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.

8. Underlines the continuing importance of Iran extending full and prompt cooperation to the Director General in the pursuit of these investigations, and requests Iran, as a confidence building measure, to allow unrestricted access to all sites as deemed necessary by the Agency.

9. Requests the Director General to report to the Board on his findings, as appropriate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hadley & Nuclear Weapons

"Even critics must acknowledge that the security arrangements developed after World War II, largely dependent upon nuclear weapons, were successful in giving us a Europe that has been free for fifty years from the major warfare that twice afflicted the continent in the first half of this century. Under the protection of nuclear deterrence, Europe has pursued a policy of economic and political integration that has put to rest age-old antagonisms and centuries of conflict between countries such as France and Germany. Nuclear deterrence also helped to hold off a Communist Soviet Union until the internal contradictions of that regime brought it down. In summary, "morality" must be judged in part by its effects, and if judged by these results, nuclear deterrence was a highly moral and responsible national security policy."

More Stephen J. Hadley, his own very self. (Thanks Mr. R)

Monday, November 22, 2004


Posted by Hello

I was almost forgetting the always startled daze aftereffect of encounters with Chuang-Tzu. (pdf) More of him :

Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious. Great speech is impassioned, small speech cantankerous.

For whether the soul is locked in sleep or whether in waking hours the body moves, we are striving and struggling with the immediate circumstances. Some are easy-going and leisurely, some are deep and cunning, and some are secretive. Now we are frightened over petty fears, now disheartened and dismayed over some great terror. Now the mind flies forth like
an arrow from a cross-bow, to be the arbiter of right and wrong. Now it stays behind as if sworn to an oath, to hold on to what it has secured.

Then, as under autumn and winter's blight, comes gradual decay, and submerged in its own occupations, it keeps on running its course, never to return. Finally, worn out and imprisoned, it is choked up like an old drain, and the failing mind shall not see light again.

And this famous one

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou (personal name of Chuang Tzu), dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

What’s in the name “creative destruction?”

touching clouds Posted by Hello

So I interrupted the last installment noting a “need” for going away. That’s the thing about the needs we humans seek to satisfy by forming collectives, you see. Needs, desires, wants, impulses, ambitions, aspirations, goals, objectives and acts are interesting in so far as they are irksome and occasionally difficult to acknowledge, or even comprehend.

But no escaping them.

How we choose to frame them will have a lot to do with how we respond to them. And how we come to name them too plays a crucial role in determining the nature of our reactions.

So in approaching the notion of “creative destruction,” the politics of it aside for the moment, we are basically left exactly where Juliet was when she made her most poignant lament--on that balcony: “what is Montague, it's not a hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man...tis his name that is Juliet's enemy."

Names are important, and there is more to them than initially meets the eyes. Or else we wouldn’t be struggling to refer to the crushed bones, and the torn, incinerated mussles and tissues of a mere child as “collateral damage.”

Let’s run an experiment with names and see where that lands us. What we are after here is determining how the “mundane,” really makes all the difference in the way we live our lives and how the “myths” we use to talk about the mundane, can ultimately wreak havoc on the structure of the reality we cherish most.

Think yourself an “identical” businessperson opening a gas station in two different cultures simultaneously --two distinct and interrelated universes.

In one your modus operandi is “normalizing the exceptions,” and in the other “exception-less-ing the exceptions.” That’s our new name for our “reality.”

I know it can’t make much sense initially. But I am at a loss for words. (“Exceptionless exceptions,” is a term coined, I believe, by an Israeli Jurist, Mr. Oren Gross) Be good sports and play along. Assume as well that the people you interact with in each universe share your outlook. And please note that I believe the virtues and the vices we’ll encounter exists in both universes. I am simply going to deal with archetypes because it is easier this way to make my point.

You have a very demanding, entitled family with many wants and needs, and boisterous to boot. On any given day you burn a lot of cash on various expenditures and so now you hope to make things easy on yourself and the family by making a killing in your new gas station.

You are hoping to satisfy a single need initially. Cars run on fuel and at some point they run out. You are counting on this simple “lack” and the anxiety it generates to cause people to stop by at your station.

Imagine what happens in the first universe—the one that normalizes exceptions.

Everyone stops by for gas, but then you notice that of all the people who stop by, a certain percentage also requires oil. Not everyone mind you, but a fair number. So, instead of waiting for them to ask, you get some oil and put it out there on a display for everyone to see.

Then as normally happens, some cars have one driver and others come with passengers. A certain percentage of those will want to use the restroom, others are hungry, some are bored, some pregnant, some have babies who need diapers changed and so on and so forth.

So now, you’ve decided to acknowledge them-- whether you’ve really cared to or not—as real and consequently, instead of yakking to everyone individually, you try finding ways for each to satisfy their wants and needs without coming to you first.

You open up a restroom, and perhaps enlargen it for the occasional pregnant woman with the child in need of a diaper change and since you understand that in the middle of the road some might get scared and you add a whole bunch of lights. And then you get some food going, initially sandwiches, then depending on the response, perhaps other stuff.

You get tired of doing all the work, and you hire help. There is a musician who lives close by and doesn’t want to work all the time but doesn’t mind some extra cash either. So you get him to come in and occasionally clean the restrooms because a certain percentage of those who’ve stopped by are normally sloppy and always make a mess.

He gets his girl friend, an insolvent painter, to stop by and prepare some hot food every now and then and it occurs to you to get some music going on the busier days. There is music subsequently. And after some of the bored customers have had a chance to get some hot food in the bellies and listen to some melodies, the three of you notice that they have become more talkative than usual and slightly chummier. So the woman painter tells you that perhaps she should bring in some of her work to see how people react to them.

Then, sure enough, people want to talk about them. Some thing odd begins to happen. The musician and the painter who would have lived an isolated life in the middle of the boonies now have one day a week when they can shine. So the fellow practices more, and tries to come up with more interesting tunes to get more excited reactions from a captive audience and the painter works more diligently at painting since she has now noticed how people have made her otherwise ordinary life in to something amazing and her of course, personally into a star.

They feel good about themselves, their work and each other. The extra cash doesn’t hurt either.

So on that one day, there is excitement. No one wants to appear boring. So they try finding better and more sophisticated ways of talking about their experiences, and all the things they’ve encountered during the week and each other.

So the three of you begin visiting a writer who lives a rather isolated life near you and begin to discuss more interesting stuff over coffee—only occasionally. Your wife (or husband) and the kids too come in and notice how some can (and do) paint while being poor, and some can (and do) talk about drawings as visual feasts without having the prettiest of outfits, and how certain others can (and do) play music while also cleaning restrooms for a living and so they also begin to try to talk about various things that might have never occurred to them before.

So they actually end up being less obnoxious as well sensing how there is normally more than initially meets the eyes about everyone they encounter. A bit of broadened horizons never hurts anyone. Not everyone will react that way, of course, but only a fair number who try.

So the three of you and the writer come up with a plan to have him write some articles for a newspaper to let others know what is happening at the gas station and all the music and the warmth and the paintings and the mingling.

The extra cash and the exposure reawaken the dream of the writer for finishing and publishing that novel he has been working on ever since S/he had been a teen.

There is a developing sense of a community—enthralling and welcoming—once a week when the otherwise isolated individuals come to feel appreciated and begin to respond to each other in more receptive ways.

So in responding to each other’s needs, wants and desires, and by exploring all the various ways numerous cravings are being catered to, explored and discussed, they try to constantly come up with different, and new things and modes of cooperation and novel manners of talking about them.

By being more interesting, more entertaining, and always keeping an eye out for ways of taking the next step—the very logical next step—small, humdrum and not really all that dazzling whenever the opportunity presents itself, people alter the routine in ways that are possible to achieve only when people come to rely on each other and to cooperate inevitably discovering methods that is there to see when one is attentive to the inner dynamics of his or her activities.

Then by pure luck the fellow who owns the factory that sold you all the lights used to brighten your station sees the story the writer has done about what’s happening in your life and decides to show up to see what the hoopla is all about.

The two of you hit it off and you begin to talk about the various chores and so you just sort of blurt out how everything is going nicely but it is nevertheless a hassle having to get a lather to go change a number of those light bulbs that burn out quite often since as a general rule a certain percentage of the bulbs always burn out prematurely after a given period of time.

Not all of them, mind you, but a fair number.

And while you are at it, you also tell him how a certain number of the light bulbs you’ve purchased are broken to begin with once you take them out of their packages.

The factory owner has no idea what you’re taking about. So he asks you to keep some stats and give him a call with more exact information. He goes back to the factory and begins to sniffs around and sure enough, problems become more visible to him. He comes to institutes a quality control mechanism. Then he gives the truck company that has been delivering bulbs for years a call.

And there at the truck company, they too begin to look into the potential problems that cause light bulbs to break during delivery. And so the supply chain begins to reevaluate their ways of doing things as well. There will be changes in the packaging too as a result of all these.

What we are seeing is the emergence of new ways of looking at things. New ways of doing things and brilliant ways of talking about things, and the sort of cooperation that gives rise to an enchanting mode of being in the world.

There is constant, perpetual hustle and bustle. People tinker and putter and experiment and sure enough, a certain percentage of their activities always create wondrous products.

Not all of them, mind you, just a fair number.

There is nothing really extraordinary about their activities. Millions are doing what they normally do everyday, but always with an eye on the exceptions and the various ways it might be possible to absorb the exceptions into the normal routine.

All based on the attitude that assumes it given that a certain percentage of everything that everyone ever does or wants to do always falls outside of the expected norms and it ultimately pays to normalize them.

The resultant vector emerging out of the millions of very small, ordinary exertions and the incremental changes in the really mundane, prosaic, humdrum routine of the every day life is what manifests as an awesome and fantastic achievement over time.

Now let’s go to the second universe and see what happens there. Remember, you are the same person, which means you are basically capable of noticing the same things as those you noticed in our first universe.

The one crucial difference is a disposition that presupposes “exception-less-ing the exceptions.” And remember both our universes are archetypes for the sake of simplicity.

So you notice that some of those needing fuel also require oil. But since a certain percentage of the people you encounter always will want some brand other than what you have to offer, why bother, right?

How much money can they add to your earning anyways? Don’t you spend, on any given day, more on shoes and toys for your kids than all what you can earn from some nagging old man in search of the exact brand of oil he has been using ever since he purchase the-by-now old and ugly looking donkey which used to pass as an automobile eons ago?

And then there is that woman with a small child who needs his diaper changed. You see her, the child and the needs. You raised a child of your own remember. And you still remember how hard it was on those trips you took. But what the hell?

You were not the one who got her pregnant to begin with, right? So why do you have to bother putting up with the shit? Especially since a certain percentage of women who change diapers are too distracted to clean after themselves. How much money can she spend in your gas station any ways to justify all the extra effort? No value adds, really! On any given day, you spend more money on your wife’s make up. So, you lock your bathroom and claim you have none.

You see the musician pass by your station everyday. You are tired of being all alone, so it occurs to you to ask him to come work for you. Then you think if he were any good, he would have been famous by now. A lazy ass really, you choose to think. And since a certain percentage of the musicians who are not really good at what they do and are poor and in need of money will always rob and steal, you decide against hiring him.

You are not going to hire him. But that gets you thinking about the possibilities of being robbed.

A certain percentage of people on the road are thieves. What can you do? Add a bunch of lights around the gas station? But no! A certain percentage of all the thieves who end up robbing a place have normally first kept it under surveillance first. So adding light is certainly out of the question.

Besides, isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the criminals who have ever robbed and killed their victims have also used a sharp object? And out of those a certain number have used broken light bulbs to cut the veins of a gas station attendant? At least two or three cases are fresh in your memory.

So it’s settled then. No lights. You need a muscle now. But can you trust just any one? Isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the people who are strangers and get hired to do a job have ended up being crooks? What guarantee is there that he won’t rob you?

None really, when you think about it! There are no such guarantees in life.

Luckily, there is that brother in law you couldn’t stand though. He is your logical choice for the job. Better safe than sorry.

So now your family nags you about money when you are at home. You end up spending hours and hours having to put up with the brother in law you loath to see at work. So the musician’s girl friend that stops by every now and then in one of her foul moods begins to look even better to you every day. And she is having a rough time of it at home.

She paints, but no one pays any attention to her. The musician isn’t playing anymore because he is unhappy and self absorbed. Besides, he is screwing around on her with the occasional needy woman he meets at that occasional wedding he plays the always identical melodies in.

Besides, the music was what attracted her to him in the first place. When he played and practiced music, he was more attentive to her, and appreciated her paintings and was full of complements and praises and found her sexy and appealing. He now plays the same tunes over and over again. He does drugs, abuses her and insults everyone and everything-- his luck, animals and even the soda cans that cross his path.

And he ceaselessly dreams of becoming that famous musician everyone applauds all the time, but he never actually bothers taking the very small steps it takes to improve his skills and gain exposures. So they have become quite the dreamers. Idle dreams, really, that never amount to much.

They ignore each other and their life together is going no where. She is feeling lonely and though young, talented and beautiful, she has come to feels ugly, old and useless. So now you and her—the two unhappy creatures that are in a rot-- begin to find solace in each other’s company in that gas station bathroom no one else uses for a few minutes every now and again and come to feel miserable afterwards.

Your relationship, as “wrong,” as it is, could have been different when she first showed you a painting of hers she was excited about. And even though you liked it, you couldn’t bring yourself to say anything nice and encouraging and so you ended up uttering mean, callous things because somehow you had come to believe that since a certain percentage of all the artists who created memorable art have had noble souls, noble souls alone are really responsible for potentially great art, and so this young slut who fucks you in a gas station bathroom can’t possibly be any good at creating anything.

So she deserves whatever nastiness you hurl at her.

So now you have become adamant about viewing all women as potential whores! Isn’t it true that she has a boy friend and here she is screwing you in the bathroom! You reason that a certain percentage of all the people in relationships always “cheat” for various reasons. So what is there to keep your own wife from cheating? Especially since you are doing exactly what frightens you most about what she might do.

So now, you have become suspicious, distrustful, and always wanting to keep her under control. And while you wanted to hire the writer to work with your kid, you can’t trust him either with your wife, because, sure enough, a certain percentage of the men you meet always lust after some one else’s wife or worst yet, are child molesters. And a certain percentage of the women you encounter will do exactly what their husbands or lovers do in their absence.

Consequently the writer can’t earn enough money and feels useless and curses the day he ever purchased that first book which made him want to be a writer to begin with. So the novel that he began in his teens ends up still sitting in some box collecting dust.

The result: here you are in your cold station, with no oil and no clean restrooms any one can use. There is no hot food, no sounds of music, and no paintings, and no community. There are no lights. No quality control system in place in the bulb factory. No one comes to ever work on repackaging the light bulbs. No ongoing reevaluation of the supply chain. . No interesting ways of talking about things.

There are only obscene expectations so everyone is perpetually disappointed and such high standards that no mere mortal could possibly live up to. So then emerges a universe of unhappy creatures making fun of each other all the time and being mean spirited and inactive, and merely managing to share in each other’s misery.

No real sense of a community either. Only rigidity, big dreams, false hopes, mistrust, exhaustion, despondency, mediocrity and endless, nauseating banter among the same family members about money, appliances and furniture.

And, of course, those perpetual excuses!

Enter Michael Ledeen. He looks at the first universe and tries to make sense of it. But he “chooses to “see” and “comprehend” through the prism of a mind’s eyes (de)formed by his past experiences and readings. Perhaps in the shadows of those light artifacts he genuinely deciphers the ghosts of the Athenians in action. Or, may be he is just interested in cheaper oil and gas. May be it is his personal ambitions or the fact that he simply adores the sound Packman made gobbling those dots. Or a lingering spiritual emptiness, perhaps!

Who knows what accounts for any of us saying or doing what we say or do, really?

Mr. Ledeen would call the perpetual motion and the hustle and the bustle of the first universe “creative destruction.” And yes, in a certain sense, he is right. Old ways are constantly giving way to the new. The old structures are being dismantled one brick at the time and are being replaced--gradually, methodically and with simple, logical moves--with something novel.

What he sees though is destruction, and to him destruction is destruction is destruction, albeit a “creative” one. So why bother with the extra effort, right? Bomb a new structure into existence. “Creative destruction,” is his “middle name,” remember? And “Leos have a track record” so we should trust him.

But even assuming the noblest of intentions, no one can bomb away with cruise missiles the structures that have taken years to build because of particular dispositions. There is no “mother of all bombs” big enough for decimating attitudes about the everyday life.

It takes a lot more than that but is not quite that much of an impossible undertaking some others make it sound like. Perhaps all that might initially take is a persistent dismantling of things one step at the time, one day at a time-- with a little bit of outside help.

But I fear all Mr. Ledeen and Co will successfully manage to do, besides all the needless torment and death they actually cause, is a successful decimation of the magic that had made possible the “stuffness” of what he calls “creative destruction”

Human collectivities are fragile entities after all. We are all mere mortals. Mortals that have come to miraculously settle on some convention that is really quite arbitrary when you think about it. Conventions can go all sort of different ways. Normally it is always easier to destroy what’s decent than build what’s good.

By the time they have successfully replaced the “soul” of a society—those attitudes and dispositions which facilitate normalizing exceptions-- with a new one that generates exceptionless-ing exceptions, the structures in place that have enabled self actualization--no matter how problematic and imperfect-- of always (potentially) creative human beings will have vanished.

And that, my friends, would successfully give “collateral damage” a whole new meaning.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

A cook’s counsel!

face in cave Posted by Hello

Words of wisdom from one of my favorite Chinese thinkers:

The Preservation of Life

Human life is limited, but knowledge is limitless. To drive the limited in pursuit of the limitless is fatal; and to presume that one really knows is fatal indeed!

In doing good, avoid fame. In doing bad, avoid disgrace. Pursue a middle course as your principle. Thus you will guard your body from harm, preserve your life, fulfill your duties by your parents, and live your allotted span of life.

Prince Huei's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every chhk of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm, --like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.

"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed!"

"Sire," replied the cook laying down his chopper, "I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.

"A good cook changes his chopper once a year, -- because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month, -- because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.

"Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away."

"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Revisiting “creative destruction”—untidily but quick!

A page of history. Posted by Hello

I was planning to continue exploring the limits of sovereignty with Montesquieu and Rousseau, moving on with Al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldun and ultimately some theories of Jihad before getting back to discussing Ledeen’s debts to Mr. Schmitt in less playfully ad hominem way. But then there was another interesting discussion Cheznadezhda. So a change of plans. That’s us, Iranians for you. Obsessive, and the attention span of a five year old to wit.

Two quick notes first.

Apologies to Oscar! No one should infer dispositions on the basis of another’s fleeting moment of reflection. I stand corrected. The “nettlesome flirtation with the ancient Mongols” accusation is now directed solely at Oscar’s “Jacksonian neighbors.” For the record, what gets under my skin is flattening cities and dogs eating bodies of the dead.

Second, I am pleased to see Prakrite settling Cheznadezhda. It was a chore keeping up with him in all the multiple weblogs he left comments on. Impressive reading practices as well. I don’t have access to Pollack’s book at the moment. I am sure it will be translated soon and available in the bookstores. Can you believe: over three million titles published alone last year here-- a lot in translations. Any thing from the classics and post moderns, to the biography of Hillary Clinton and the immortal lyrics of Britney Spears!

As an aside, the paragraph alluded to in the blog entry seems sensible enough to me. The problem he addresses remains still a fundamental difficulty today. The key to the puzzle is the dominant business mentality in Iran that privileges trade, speculation and hoarding at the expense of production. And the disposition manifest in the incestuous patronage due to insecurity.

Start with two neighbors with the same net worth--one breeds chickens, the other is a merchant. The merchant will buy a bunch of chickens on the (insider) scoop of the possible rise in the prices of the imported feed due to a new contract signed by some corrupt official with another country in return for kickbacks. The merchant keeps quiet and hoards the chickens he has purchased already and advances more money to the neighbor securing a promise of future sales at a bargain price. And sure enough, the price of chickens goes up because of the rise in the price of the feed and the perceived possible shortage of chickens. The other neighbor gets caught off balance and now as his margin continues to fall, either feels destitute or comes to abandon his enterprise entirely, while our merchant gets richer beyond his wildest dreams.

The merchant is still irritated with the government though, since he can’t possibly keep up with all the arbitrary arrangements that can make or break him without any warnings. This happens constantly in all the various sectors of the economy here.

Frankly here is a dirty secret for you at no cost: the Iranian business class has as much interest in democracy as their counterparts had in Chile under Pinochet while the threat of communism loomed in the horizon. They are rolling in money, and reaping the benefits in obscene personal ways (more opium and mistresses than they know what to do with; no enforceable regulations that can’t be bribed away and no labor laws or trade unions to hassle with) What is irritating most is the constant insecurity and the perception of being left out of the loop and the nuisance of a cumbersome bureaucracy.

That said, what I wanted to tackle was Ledeen’s “creative destruction” spiel, if our kindly friend Nadezhda could forgive the untidiness of it all for now. Once I have collected some more of the readers’ (usually angry) feedbacks, I’ll revisit the subject subsequently with appropriate links. This quick profile today I am putting together based on notes accumulated over the years about Ledeen.

The often derided Ledeen thesis, as best I can figure, is succinctly articulated in the now (in)famous 2001 article:

We dealt with the original kamikazes by improving our defenses so as to kill them before they hit us, and by destroying the country that launched them. We have to do that again.

It is what we do best. It comes naturally to us, for we are the one truly revolutionary country in the world, as we have been for more than 200 years. Creative destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically, and that is precisely why the tyrants hate us, and are driven to attack us.

To those who say it cannot be done, we need only point to the 1980s, when we led a global democratic revolution that toppled tyrants from Moscow to Johannesburg.

As always, it is best to listen to Mr. Ledeen when he recommends an actionable. So let’s go back with him to the March of 1985 (when he was busy saving those unfortunate souls residing south of the American borders) to get a better sense for the initial formulation of his thesis as well as indications of his (somewhat) failing memory. Here are a couple of tidbits from an article he published in the Commentary magazine then:

Vitality of democracy, its appeal to human creativity, and the unlimited range it gives to human development, strike fear into the hearts of those whose power depends upon shackling free people and insisting upon a single “truth.”

True enough. But here is where the Ledeen of old was slightly different from the new version:

“How can we continue to maintain close friendships with foreign leaders when we are simultaneously intruding into their internal affairs, trying to get them to dilute their authority and significantly change their political system?”

Whom do you think he is talking about here? Yes you might have guessed it. South Africa is one of the examples he gives. Let me emphasis here that I think Apartheid was probably repulsive to him. But since when have the considerations of right and wrong swayed an ideologue on a binge?

To his credit though, he did chastise fellow conservatives for mistaking alliances of convenience with shared principles.

Among some of the other odious allies then, we can now count Usama and Mr. Saddam “the Hitler” Hussein. Whether Mr. Ledeen might have played a role (or not) is not all that clear to me. But I am absolutely certain about the identity of the ones who received a cake and some weapons here in Iran with his help, if you know what I mean.

Nonetheless, what I find really amusing is that he now takes credit for the revolution in Johannesburg as well; when in point of fact, the Americans who were partially responsible for the downfall of Apartheid were the ones Ledeen and Co have always accused of naïveté, and being dupes. The ones taking credit for the down fall of the Apartheid regime nowadays were the ones fighting on the wrong side tooth and nail.

And parenthetically, someday soon, once I’ve gained access to the original documents, I’ll tell you where the categories “sexual apartheid,” and “Islamo-fascism,” so in vogue nowadays originate from.

Things change though. We’ve all changed. That’s life. So now Mr. Ledeen fiddles with the initial 2001 version of his “creative destruction,” thesis in a furious, scornful rebuttal of the Libertarian Congressman Paul in 2003, giving it a more precise formulation:

The heart of Paul's attack on me is this paragraph:

In Ledeen's most recent publication, The War Against the Terror Masters, he reiterates his beliefs outlined in this 1999 Machaivelli book. He specifically praises: "Creative destruction…both within our own society and abroad…(foreigners) seeing America undo traditional societies may fear us, for they do not wish to be undone." Amazingly, Ledeen concludes: "They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission."

If those words don't scare you, nothing will?

He conveniently leaves out the context, which is a discussion of the basic conflict between us and the terror masters: a conflict between freedom and tyranny. I argue, as I argued during the Cold War with regard to Communism, and as I argued in my books on fascism earlier, that the conflict between America and tyrants is inevitable. It stems from the very nature of America, from our unique freedom and creativity, which has often been described as "creative destruction." Every serious writer about America has noticed the amazing speed with which we scrap old ideas, technologies, art forms and even the use of the English language. And it's obvious that more rigid societies, particularly those governed by tyrants, are frightened by the effects and the appeal of freedom on their own subjects. Our existence threatens them, undermines their legitimacy, and subverts their power. Therefore "they must attack us in order to survive," and, sooner or later, we must confront them and, I hope and trust, defeat them in order to advance our mission of spreading freedom.

The heart of this pronouncement, which I have highlighted, is what I think essentially on target. But as always, I’d have to swallow it with extra cautionary qualifications and a doze of a much needed demystification. Let’s crudely break things up for the sake of simplicity.

First, there is a reality that needs explaining (the American experience). Second, the categories which are used to comprehend and explain this “reality” need to be examined. Third, the history of the categories employed should be considered and put in context. And last, but not least, the dispositions of the man who proposes to do the explaining employing these particular categories should be understood.

Let’s start with the man first. Mr. Ledeen, as he says of himself, “is an American enthusiast,” and “an optimist,” who thinks Americans “can do amazing things…and [are] too great to settle for small things.” Ledeen, “a Leo,” boastfully reminds everyone “to keep in mind that a handful of Leos were central in the Reagan years (I hope that's not classified), so we've got a bit of a track record...” And a hell of a track record they most certainly do have.

Mr. Ledeen also fancies himself a “romantic.”

We all know how most “romantics” adore “myths.” Romantics have an intuitive appreciation for the significant role “myths” play in defining identity. So, if you were a romantic in search of a “myth” to justify circumnavigating the globe on the back of a cruise missile, where would you find one?

In Thucydides, of course. So, let’s look at the similarities between some of the central features of Ledeen’s revised formulation and the Corinthian speech at the Congress of the Peloponnesian Confederacy at Sparta, narrated by my favorite historian, on the differences between the Spartan and Athenian national characters:

3.8 "You, Spartans, of all the Hellenes are alone inactive, and defend yourselves not by doing anything but by looking as if you would do something; you alone wait till the power of an enemy is becoming twice its original size, instead of crushing it in its infancy. And yet the world used to say that you were to be depended upon; but in your case, we fear, it said more than the truth. The Persian, we ourselves know, had time to come from the ends of the earth to Peloponnese, without any force of yours worthy of the name advancing to meet him. But this was a distant enemy. Well, Athens at all events is a near neighbour, and yet Athens you utterly disregard; against Athens you prefer to act on the defensive instead of on the offensive, and to make it an affair of chances by deferring the struggle till she has grown far stronger than at first. And yet you know that on the whole the rock on which the barbarian [the Persian King Xerxes] was wrecked was himself, and that if our present enemy Athens has not again and again annihilated us, we owe it more to her blunders than to your protection; Indeed, expectations from you have before now been the ruin of some, whose faith induced them to omit preparation.

3.9 "We hope that none of you will consider these words of remonstrance to be rather words of hostility; men remonstrate with friends who are in error, accusations they reserve for enemies who have wronged them. Besides, we consider that we have as good a right as any one to point out a neighbour's faults, particularly when we contemplate the great contrast between the two national characters; a contrast of which, as far as we can see, you have little perception, having never yet considered what sort of antagonists you will encounter in the Athenians, how widely, how absolutely different from yourselves. The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough. Again, they are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your wont is to attempt less than is justified by your power, to mistrust even what is sanctioned by your judgment, and to fancy that from danger there is no release.

3.10 "Further, there is promptitude on their side against procrastination on yours; they are never at home, you are never from it: for they hope by their absence to extend their acquisitions, you fear by your advance to endanger what you have left behind. They are swift to follow up a success, and slow to recoil from a reverse. Their bodies they spend ungrudgingly in their country's cause; their intellect they jealously husband to be employed in her service. A scheme unexecuted is with them a positive loss, a successful enterprise a comparative failure. The deficiency created by the miscarriage of an undertaking is soon filled up by fresh hopes; for they alone are enabled to call a thing hoped for a thing got, by the speed with which they act upon their resolutions.

3.11 "Thus they toil on in trouble and danger all the days of their life, with little opportunity for enjoying, being ever engaged in getting: their only idea of a holiday is to do what the occasion demands, and to them laborious occupation is less of a misfortune than the peace of a quiet life. To describe their character in a word, one might truly say that they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.

3.12 "Such is Athens, your antagonist. And yet, Spartans, you still delay, and fail to see that peace stays longest with those, who are not more careful to use their power justly than to show their determination not to submit to injustice. On the contrary, your ideal of fair dealing is based on the principle that, if you do not injure others, you need not risk your own fortunes in preventing others from injuring you. Now you could scarcely have succeeded in such a policy even with a neighbour like yourselves; but in the present instance, as we have just shown, your habits are old-fashioned as compared with theirs. It is the law as in art, so in politics, that improvements ever prevail; and though fixed usages may be best for undisturbed communities, constant necessities of action must be accompanied by the constant improvement of methods. Thus it happens that the vast experience of Athens has carried her further than you on the path of innovation.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I am tired now and need to go away. I’ll put the rest of this together soon-- if nothing distracting comes up.

Incidentally, the odious fascists photographed above are some of the anti-Mossadeqh goons of the fifties in Iran. Guess whose side they were on when the coup came?

It’s been fashionable lately to repeat after Schmitt, “tell me who your enemy is and I’ll tell you who you are.”

I’d rather think the opposite. In this era of fragmentation and strife, enemies are dime a dozen. My take is: tell me who your friends were and I’ll know who you really are and what kind of (mis)adventures you’ll embark upon next and with whose help!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The existentially threatening questions

ruminant or ruminative? Posted by Hello

Perspectives and limits! Those sort of sum it up for me. Why is it that we choose to look at events through a particular prism in life? Assuming a particular perspective, as we can all probably agree, isn’t all that natural, is it? What accounts for the explicitly stated or the implicitly assumed?

So, here I am sitting in Tehran-- not really all that interested in being ruled--just in the same way as an average Falloojan had no interest in being ruled either-- by the reigning ( de facto ) Occupation Authorities. Two cities, two governments and two distinct cultures and rhetoric. Yet, her house is now ruined. What happens to mine remains to be seen!

What am I thinking here?

That some can speak of liberty while persistently thinking counter-insurgency tactics. Doesn’t matter whose tactics, really! The brutality as model: the French in Algeria or the Belgians in Congo perhaps, or even the Mongols of the ancient time.

And the question for me is: how many flattened cities before the actualities of the conduct one advocates or condones come to contradict one’s empyrean self definition? How many lives is one too many? Is there a limit?

And so the limit of the Sovereign’s power is what I have been obsessing about lately.

John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government has an interesting discussion in the fourteenth chapter titled Of Prerogative:

Sec.159: WHERE the legislative and executive power are in distinct hands, (as they are in all moderated monarchies, and well-framed governments) there the good of the society requires, that several things should be left to the discretion of him that has the executive power […] Many things there are, which the law can by no means provide for; and those must necessarily be left to the discretion of him that has the executive power in his hands, to be ordered by him as the public good and advantage shall require: nay, it is fit that the laws themselves should in some cases give way to the executive power, or rather to this fundamental law of nature and government

Sec. 160. This power to act according to discretion, for the public good, without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it, is that which is called prerogative: for since in some governments the lawmaking power is not always in being, and is usually too numerous, and so too slow, for the dispatch requisite to execution; and because also it is impossible to foresee, and so by laws to provide for, all accidents and necessities that may concern the public, or to make such laws as will do no harm, if they are executed with an inflexible rigour, on all occasions, and upon all persons that may come in their way; therefore there is a latitude left to the executive power, to do many things of choice which the laws do not prescribe.
Sec. 161. This power, whilst employed for the benefit of the community, and suitably to the trust and ends of the government, is undoubted prerogative, and never is questioned: for the people are very seldom or never scrupulous or nice in the point; they are far from examining prerogative, whilst it is in any tolerable degree employed for the use it was meant, that is, for the good of the people, and not manifestly against it: but if there comes to be a question between the executive power and the people, about a thing claimed as a prerogative; the tendency of the exercise of such prerogative to the good or hurt of the people, will easily decide that question.

Sec. 163. And therefore they have a very wrong notion of government, who say, that the people have encroached upon the prerogative, when they have got any part of it to be defined by positive laws: for in so doing they have not pulled from the prince any thing that of right belonged to him, but only declared, that that power which they indefinitely left in his or his ancestors hands, to be exercised for their good, was not a thing which they intended him when he used it otherwise: […]

Sec. 164. But since a rational creature cannot be supposed, when free, to put himself into subjection to another, for his own harm; (though, where he finds a good and wise ruler, he may not perhaps think it either necessary or useful to set precise bounds to his power in all things) prerogative can be nothing but the people's permitting their rulers to do several things, of their own free choice, where the law was silent, and sometimes too against the direct letter of the law, for the public good; […]

Sec. 168. The old question will be asked in this matter of prerogative, But who shall be judge when this power is made a right use of ? […] And where the body of the people, or any single man, is deprived of their right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to heaven, whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment. And therefore, though the people cannot be judge, so as to have, by the constitution of that society, any superior power, to determine and give effective sentence in the case; yet they have, by a law antecedent and paramount to all positive laws of men, reserved that ultimate determination to themselves which belongs to all mankind, where there lies no appeal on earth, viz. to judge, whether they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven. And this judgment they cannot part with, it being out of a man's power so to submit himself to another, as to give him a liberty to destroy him; God and nature never allowing a man so to abandon himself, as to neglect his own preservation: and since he cannot take away his own life, neither can he give another power to take it…

Even for Hobbes, the need for self preservation is the red line. Chapter fourteen of the celebrated Leviathan starts thusly:

“THE right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgement and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.

By liberty is understood, according to the proper signification of the word, the absence of external impediments; which impediments may oft take away part of a man's power to do what he would, but cannot hinder him from using the power left him according as his judgement and reason shall dictate to him.

A law of nature, lex naturalis, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. For though they that speak of this subject use to confound jus and lex, right and law, yet they ought to be distinguished, because right consisteth in liberty to do, or to forbear; whereas law determineth and bindeth to one of them: so that law and right differ as much as obligation and liberty, which in one and the same matter are inconsistent.”

But Spinoza’s outlook is the most intriguing. It takes work. He is such a joy. Just look at how effortlessly he makes a case for something we are all mostly still struggling daily with:


“[20:1] (1) If men's minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every
king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would
cease; for every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of
his rulers, and would esteem a thing true or false, good or evil, just or
unjust, in obedience to their dictates.
(20:19) No, the object of government is not to change men from rational
beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds
and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither
showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and
injustice. (20) In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.”

On to chapter 16 though for the essential riddle we have been pursuing:

“It is now time to determine the limits to which such freedom of thought and
discussion may extend itself in the ideal state. (3) For the due
consideration of this question we must examine the foundations of a State,
first turning our attention to the natural rights of individuals, and
afterwards to religion and the state as a whole.

(16:4) By the right and ordinance of nature, I merely mean those natural
laws wherewith we conceive every individual to be conditioned by nature, so
as to live and act in a given way. (5) For instance, fishes are naturally
conditioned for swimming, and the greater for devouring the less; therefore
fishes enjoy the water, and the greater devour the less by sovereign natural
right. [16:1] (6) For it is certain that nature, taken in the abstract, has
sovereign right to do anything, she can; in other words, her right is co-
extensive with her power. […]

(9) We do not here acknowledge any difference between mankind and other individual natural entities, nor between men endowed with reason and those to whom reason is unknown; nor between fools, madmen, and sane men. (10) Whatsoever an individual does by the laws of its nature it has a sovereign right to do, inasmuch as it
acts as it was conditioned by nature, and cannot act otherwise. […]

(16:19) It follows from what we have said that the right and ordinance of
nature, under which all men are born, and under which they mostly live, only
prohibits such things as no one desires, and no one can attain: it does not
forbid strife, nor hatred, nor anger, nor deceit, nor, indeed, any of
the means suggested by desire. […]

(16:22) Nevertheless, no one can doubt that it is much better for us to live
according to the laws and assured dictates of reason, for, as we said, they
have men's true good for their object. (23) Moreover, everyone wishes to
live as far as possible securely beyond the reach of fear, and this would be
quite impossible so long as everyone did everything he liked, and reason's
claim was lowered to a par with those of hatred and anger; there is no one
who is not ill at ease in the midst of enmity, hatred, anger, and deceit,
and who does not seek to avoid them as much as he can.

(27) Now it is a universal law of human nature that no one ever neglects
anything which he judges to be good, except with the hope of gaining a
greater good, or from the fear of a greater evil; nor does anyone endure an
evil except for the sake of avoiding a greater evil, or gaining a greater
good. […]

(16:31) As a necessary consequence of the principle just enunciated, no one
can honestly promise to forego the right which he has over all things
[Endnote 26], and in general no one will abide by his promises, unless under
the fear of a greater evil, or the hope of a greater good. (32) An example
will make the matter clearer. (33) Suppose that a robber forces me to
promise that I will give him my goods at his will and pleasure. (34) It is
plain (inasmuch as my natural right is, as I have shown, co-extensive with
my power) that if I can free myself from this robber by stratagem, by
assenting to his demands, I have the natural right to do so, and to pretend
to accept his conditions. (35) Or again, suppose I have genuinely promised
someone that for the space of twenty days I will not taste food or any
nourishment; and suppose I afterwards find that was foolish, and cannot be
kept without very great injury to myself; as I am bound by natural law and
right to choose the least of two evils, I have complete right to break my
compact, and act as if my promise had never been uttered.”

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Convulsed. Posted by Hello

“Death thus raged in every shape; and, as usually happens at such times, there was no length to which violence did not go; sons were killed by their fathers, and suppliants dragged from the altar or slain upon it; while some were even walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.

So bloody was the march of the revolution, and the impression which it made was the greater as it was one of the first to occur. Later on, one may say, the whole Hellenic world was convulsed;[…]

The sufferings which revolution entailed upon the cities were many and terrible, such as have occurred and always will occur, as long as the nature of mankind remains the same; though in a severer or milder form, and varying in their symptoms, according to the variety of the particular cases. In peace and prosperity, states and individuals have better sentiments, because they do not find themselves suddenly confronted with imperious necessities; but war takes away the easy supply of daily wants, and so proves a rough master, that brings most men's characters to a level with their fortunes.”

Read more from the account of Corcyrean Civil War as narrated by Thucydides to get a better sense for for the consequences of the butchery of the wounded supplicants in temples.

Machiavelli’s The Prince is always full of sound advice--especially if one were to reflect upon the sections not normally highlighted by the ravenous blinded by concupiscence and bloodlust.


Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than
feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish
to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person,
it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either
must be dispensed with. [...]

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he
does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well
being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as
he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from
their women.


Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good
qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to
have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and
always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them
is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright,
and to be so, [emphasis added] but with a mind so framed that should you
require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.



Now, concerning the characteristics of which mention is made above, I
have spoken of the more important ones, the others I wish to discuss
briefly under this generality, that the prince must consider, as has
been in part said before, how to avoid those things which will make
him hated or contemptible; and as often as he shall have succeeded he
will have fulfilled his part, and he need not fear any danger in other

It makes him hated above all things, as I have said, to be rapacious,
and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects, from
both of which he must abstain. And when neither their property nor
their honor is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has
only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease
in many ways.[…]

For this reason I consider that a prince ought to reckon conspiracies
of little account when his people hold him in esteem; but when it is
hostile to him, and bears hatred towards him, he ought to fear
everything and everybody. And well-ordered states and wise princes
have taken every care not to drive the nobles to desperation, and to
keep the people satisfied and contented, for this is one of the most
important objects a prince can have."

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Dutch, Ledeen & an unrepentant Nazi

Holland,unfocused! Posted by Hello

When I was a boy frolicking in my grandma’s back yard in the summers, I would occasionally hear my uncle and father, in one of their more jovial moods, laugh outrageously while reminiscing about an old man and a monkey they had once bumped into in their youth. Apparently the encounter had made quite an impression.

Our enterprising street performers, as they recounted, had developed a routine very much popular among the drunken night prowlers in the more rowdy part of Tehran. I would never tire of hearing their tale.

The old man would wait for a large crowd and then ask his faithful sidekick to point to the “rightful place” of a friend. The monkey, of course, would place a hand on his head. The mob would cheer.

Now remember this is under the monarchy. Quite a magnificent looking crown adorned the imperious head of our omniscient Fathers then. That gesture must have meant much in those times.

Then the old man would ask the monkey to point to the proper place for an enemy. The monkey then would sort of “moon” the spectators and point to his anus. The crowd would go wild, laughing and jeering in frenzy.

Around this same time frame--give or take a few years, and unbeknownst to our pathetic street performers trying to eke out a meager living in Tehran, a far more cerebral cousin in Germany had been busy developing this magnificent insight, quite successfully I might add, into an influential paradigm of the Political.

In fact, I am talking here about one of Weimer’s most brilliant minds whose influential theory has withstood the “test of time,” as some claim. A man whose “towering” intellect or logic of insights-- I can’t be certain which-- would land him in the Nazi Party in or around 1933!

Whether his collaboration was motivated by opportunism, careerism, or a manifestation, solely, of a vacuous spiritual vacuity, one thing is for sure: he did make his repugnant choices freely. And he refused to participate in any denazification program so he couldn’t teach. Don’t ask me for further explanations! I can’t help you there.

I am perpetually baffled by how power inevitably always allures intellectuals. Some day, I hope to finally understand why it is precisely that smart people feel the need to be such unapologetic sycophants.

Someday soon, perhaps, I will come to learn why some intellectuals feel the need to promulgate the sort of “myths,” which are the essential prerequisite for the emerging frenzy that allows tyrants to butcher innocent people in order to “subdue” the independent or otherwise force “other” people to “submit.”

I am telling you all this is because of the latest amusing musings of our Viceroy- in-Waiting Ledeen. He has written about the Dutch madness.

I have been ruefully observing the developments in Holland lately. Now I must tell you, I really adore the Dutch. I have been in awe ever since passing through their beautiful land as a boy. I’ve liked them even more as an adult--both aesthetically, and culturally.

The native Dutch are mostly tall and their pale skin has a certain reddish glow to it. They appear comfortable in their own skin, and are warm, receptive, multilingual, and often manage to present a disarming smile to boot. Their openness and congeniality I find enthralling. You will find all sorts of people, these days, from all the various corners of our planet meandering in their cities.

So I have tried not to worry much and continue to hope for the quick return of sanity to Holland. I trust they will find their way out of their predicament. As reformed colonialists, the Dutch, I am confident, will discover the appropriate medley of coercion and consensus in order to reassert a measure of control over some of their more unruly citizens and those barbaric assassins in their midst.

Not according to Mr. Ledeen, though.

Now I know it seems as if every time I write about this adorable little savior, I am nagging about something or other. But please recognize that I genuinely like the fellow. He is witty, sharp and a shrewd operative. I consider him one of our very own and certainly amongst the best and the brightest Iranians ever!

Mr. Ledeen has an uncanny ability to communicate the most complex of ideas without sounding bookish. Always an indication of a lucid mind and an excellent educator.

And I know some might think this honor among thieves, but Mr. Ledeen has been exemplary, and I think impressive, in his reticence about the alleged conduct of his old friend Chalabi. In an age when everyone is quick to stab a friend or colleague in the back at the first sign of any trouble, I find it endearing that he has chosen to stick it out and remain a loyal and supportive friend.

Mr. Ledeen also appears to be a good father--if the conduct of his daughter is any indication.

I know I was very critical of how Simone Ledeen seemed to have landed a job in Iraq and well frankly, quite furious about the scope of her assigned responsibilities—helping to manage as an intern 13 billion in Iraqi assets. But her commendable audacity must be acknowledged. She could have made the choice to stay home to make loads of money in the safety of the familiar and to be a desktop warrior from afar.

Instead, she was out there gallivanting around Iraq. Much like her father, she is not afraid of wrestling with pigs. At least this family has the courage of convictions. That said, I am not about to start a Ledeen Adulation Club in Tehran any time soon. There is much that I find distasteful about his views and he is a tad too gossipy for my taste. Don’t believe me?

Humor me then by going through his articles and count all the number of times we were told how the dreaded Iranian Bomb was about to go off. Make a note as well of all the other authoritative pronouncements about Iran that may appear-- in retrospect-- as pure bunk.

And while I think him essentially correct in his “creative destruction,” thesis which everyone has been giving him flak about, his conclusions, I think, leave a lot to be desired. Mr. Ledeen’s latest piece, however, is simply much too much--even for me.

So do yourselves a favor and read carefully his deceptively stark take on the Dutch affair and then reach for your copy of Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political. If you don’t have a copy, go buy one.

Mr. Schmitt is the German fellow I was telling you about who perfected our monkey’s insights independently. Mr. Schmitt is also, for now at least, everyone’s favorite unrepentant Nazi.

Stay tuned. We are going to try some close textual reading here soon!

street murder & deafening silence Posted by Hello

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The bloody dawns

Dusky Posted by Hello

It is called al-Fajr. Are dawns normally such bloody affairs everywhere? How long? How many? And how will the Furies react now? In which town? Whose city?

Zbigniew Herbert would have understood:


The pebble
is a perfect creature

equal to itself
mindful of its limits

filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning

with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity

I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth

--Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Peter Dale Scott in Selected Poems (Ecco Press, 1986)


ROVIGO STATION. Unclear associations. A drama of Goethe
or something from Byron. I traveled through Rovigo
n times and exactly at the nth time I understood

that in my inner geography it is a special
place although it certainly yields
to Florence. I never touched it with my living foot
and Rovigo was always approaching or fleeing behind

At the time I was filled with love for the Altichiera
at the Oratory of San Giorgio in Padua and for Ferrara
which I loved because it reminded me
of the pillaged city of my fathers. I lived stretched
between the past and the present moment
many times crucified by a place and a time

And yet happy firmly trusting
the sacrifice will not be wasted

Rovigo wasn't distinguished by anything particular it was
a masterpiece of mediocrity straight streets plain houses
only before or after the city (depending on the train's direction)
a mountain suddenly rose from the plain--sliced open by a red quarry
like an Easter Ham surrounded by kale
besides that nothing to amuse sadden dazzle the eye

And yet it was a city of blood and stone--just like the others
a city in which yesterday somebody died someone went mad
someone coughed hopelessly throughout the night


Reduced to a station to a comma a crossed letter
nothing but a station--arrivi--partenze
and why do I think about you Rovigo Rovigo


Theseus strides across an ocean
of blood-stained columns leaves at the time of renewal
he carries in his clenched fist a trophy
the lopped-off head of the Minotaur

The bitterness of the victory A cry of an owl
marks off dawn with a coppery measure
so that he feels sweet defeat to the end of his life
warm breath on the nape of the neck

Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter


Natalia, as always, gracious in discovering work in translation!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Falloojeh: A simple blessing

Thousands of blogs. Countless pundits. Confusing times. Simple decency is what I’ve yearned for all day. Retired USAF lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatkowski:

The Sound of Music was one of my earliest introductions to what freedom means, and what it is worth.

My favorite song remains the patriotic little Edelweiss, sung most powerfully and tragically as Austria glowed hot with fascism.

Edelweiss, Edelweiss,
Every morning you greet me,
Small and white,
Clean and bright,
You look happy to meet me.
Blossoms of snow may you bloom and grow,
Bloom and grow forever,
Edelweiss, Edelweiss,
Bless my homeland forever
I bet there is an Iraqi version somewhere. A song for people who love their homeland and see its beauty and potential even as it is consumed by state force, sniper fire, explosions and fear, drenched in human blood all in the name of humanly designed, God-less central control.

May Iraqis survive to sing their own song of their own once lovely country. And may American troops, and our contractors with them, soon make their way home safely to our once – and future – beloved and lovely country.