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Monday, September 20, 2004

Postcard from Binghamton

Nestled in the Southern Tier of upstate New York is this fine institution.  If you look closely you can see me in there somewhere.

And best of all, I have hi-speed Internet access in the hotel, so Thomas Frank Week can officially begin on this humble blog.  We’ll start with a minor point, one that every poli sci major and her brother has made over the past summer, namely, that Frank occasionally makes it sound as if Kansas was fertile ground for progressive populism until quite recently.  “Not too long ago,” he writes at the outset of “God, Meet Mammon,” “Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay” (67).  But “not too long ago” appears here in a curious, almost geological sense, since Kansas hasn’t cared much for Democrats since the time when that Babe Ruth fellow reached the unthinkable 700-home run milestone.  (See the Slate-like exchange between Siva Vaidhyanathan and Eric Rauchway over at Altercation for the most recent restatement of this point.)

The real question about what happened to Kansas (as Siva points out) has to do with the past 10-15 years, as the Kansas GOP of Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole became the fire-breathing Kansas GOP of Sam Brownback and Todd Tiahrt.  That’s a chilling tale, full of post-Wichita anti-abortion extremism and some rather passionate intensity over the conviction that the universe is six thousand years old.  For his rendering of that narrative, Frank’s book is more than worth the price of admission.  Clueless Democrats and quasi-liberal journalists (you know, the kind who think they’re still dealing with reasonable, old-school prairie Republicans like Everett Dirksen out there) need to read this part of the book-- and it’s the major part of the book-- right now.  At least by dinnertime today.

But Frank is probably stretching things further than things can be stretched when he winds up suggesting that Kansas is in the “vanguard”—“maybe what has happened there points the way in which all our public policy debates are heading” (248).  Sure, as long as people like Bush and DeLay run the country, we’ll be seeing plenty of deep-in-the-heart-of-far-right madness being passed off as the common sense of the U. S. of A.  And Kansas politics are a lot like Oklahoma politics-- or the politics of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, wherever you’ve got an ultrareligious right, an extreme anti-government right, and (as opposed to the Solid South) so miniscule an African-American population that the far-right backlash can’t be understood as an epiphenomenon of racism.  But then, as one of my smart wonky friends in D.C. put it, what isn’t the matter with Iowa? Or look what happened in Illinois when the loons nominated Al Salvi to run against Dick Durbin-- or Alan Keyes to run against Barack Obama:  when Illinois Republicans get too loony, they don’t just lose-- they threaten to collapse the party statewide.  The point is that Kansas has such a weak Democratic party that there are no brakes on how far the GOP can run to the right.  And whatever the national party’s failings-- and they are legion-- it’s hard to imagine that the Kansas Dems can revitalize themselves simply by running on an economic-populist platform.  Ah, but this point takes us into those dreaded cultural issues, about which more tomorrow.

Posted by Michael on 09/20 at 03:03 AM
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Saturday, September 18, 2004

Some things the American left should think of when it thinks of “cultural studies”

With my apologies to the couple of hundred readers who read this stuff back when I first posted it, under the heading “Stuart Hall Interlude,” back on February 14 of this year.

The political context of Stuart Hall’s brilliant 1983 lecture, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists,” was the British Left’s failure to anticipate or understand Thatcherism’s appeal for the very people it was screwing; Hall was writing at a time when unemployment in the UK had reached three million, even after analysts had predicted mass uprisings and riots once the number of unemployed reached two million.  In the following passage, Hall offers one of his most stinging rebukes to neo-Leninist Leftists who think that the masses will flock to their cause once the “objective conditions” of their society are sufficiently draconian.  Adapt to your local circumstances as you see fit-- and pass the word along to anyone you know who still thinks that all we need is another four years of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft-Wolfowitz-Rove in order for tens of millions of Americans to see the virtues of Green/Socialist/Anti-Imperialist/Vegan/Whatever politics:

The traditional escape clause for classical marxism . . . is the recourse to “false consciousness.” The popular classes, we must suppose, have been ideologically duped by the dominant classes, using what The German Ideology calls their “monopoly over the means of mental production.” The masses, therefore, have been temporarily ensnared, against their real material interests and position in the structure of social relations, to live their relation to their real conditions of material existence through an imposed but “false” structure of illusions.  The traditional expectation on the Left, founded on this premise, would therefore be that, as real material factors begin once more to exert their effect, the cobwebs of illusion would be dispelled, “reality” would be transferred directly into working-class heads, the scales would fall from workers’ eyes, and Minerva’s Owl-- the great denouement promised by the Communist Manifesto, as the socialization of labor progressively created the conditions for mass solidarity and enlightenment-- would take wing at last (even if timed to arrive approximately 150 years too late).

This explanation has to deal with the surprising fact that mass unemployment has taken a much longer time than predicted to percolate mass consciousness; the unemployed, who might have been expected to pierce the veil of illusion first, are still by no means automatic mass converts to laborism, let alone socialism; and the lessons that can be drawn from the fact of unemployment turn out to be less monolithic and predictable, less determined by strict material factors, more variable than supposed.  The same fact can be read or made sense of in different ways, depending on the ideological perspective employed.  Mass unemployment can be interpreted as a scandalous indictment of the system; or as a sign of Britain’s underlying economic weakness about which mere governments-- Left or Right-- can do very little; or as acceptable because “there is no alternative” that is not more disastrous for the economy; or indeed-- within the sociomasochistic perspective that sometimes appears to be a peculiarly strong feature of British ideology-- as the required measure of suffering that guarantees the remedy will work eventually because it hurts so much (the Britain-is-best-when-backed-to-the-wall syndrome)! The logics of ideological inference turn out to be more multivariate, the automatic connection between material and ideal factors less determinate, than the classical theory would have us believe.

I’ll be back in a few days with more on this theme.

Posted by Michael on 09/18 at 10:19 AM
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

And by the way

It just so happens that Jamie is thirteen years old today.  Happy birthday, Jamie!

Posted by Michael on 09/16 at 05:27 AM
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Conference report

Thanks, everyone, for your patience with this new site.  I’m sorry about the formatting problems with the posts in the archive—for some reason, Expression Engine reads dashes as question marks and ?’s not at all.  But I don’t have the time right now to go back and fix every one of 250+ posts to this thing.  So I appreciate your patience.

Thanks also for filling me in on the events of the past few days.  But how come nobody asks me how my weekend went?  A conference on “Blogging and Forgery,” hell, you’d think that would be a hot topic around these parts . . . but I suppose you all think that an academic conference is just wall-to-wall jargon punctuated by “questions” that are really comments.

Let me assure you that this conference was different.  Some of you might even have enjoyed it.  It was held on the labyrinthine campus of the University of Tlön and co-sponsored by the International Kerning Society, which was holding its gala fiftieth annual convention in the same hotel.  I can already hear some of you snickering: the International Kerning Society, my ass, you say, they didn’t even have kerning in 1954, so there’s no way they could have a “gala fiftieth annual convention” today. Well, my smug imaginary-interlocutor insta-specialists, you would be wrong.  The International Kerning Society was originally founded to ensure that the music and lyrics of famous Broadway songwriters would be transcribed and archived in both pica and space-proportional fonts, so that there would be no doubt about their authenticity in the decades to come.  The Society has recently been in the news, what with all the speculation that certain officers in the Texas Air National Guard, who were apparently also aficionados of Broadway show tunes (though their families deny this), ordered and used the very same IBM typewriters favored by the Kerning Society for their archival project.  Well, let me put some of that speculation to rest if I can.

The day I arrived at the conference, happily enough, was the very day that an anonymous Freeper apparently—and I stress apparently—created a computer-generated facsimile of the so-called “Killian memos,” thus launching the now-widely-circulated charge that the memos were forgeries.  Terrified that I might have to rewrite my own paper on “Simulation and Simulacra: The Indeterminacy of the Text in the Age of Electronic Transmission,” which was originally all about Tristero, the Weekly Standard, and my recent personal experience at Madison Square Garden of Forking Paths, I spoke to some people in the Kerning Society to get their take on things.

I don’t have time right now to go into all the relevant details, but here are the highlights of our conversation:

One: according to my sources, the Freepers are right about the Killian memos—more right than they know.  The “facsimile” conjured up by their anonymous contributor is not a facsimile at all—it is the original copy of one of the memos sent to CBS.  The likeliest scenario is that Karl Rove travelled back in time with Microsoft Word and composed the memos in 1972 or 1973, stored them in the Vatican Library in the folio of an obscure edition of Wharfinger’s Courier’s Tragedy, then had them mysteriously “discovered” last month and sent to CBS so as to destroy CBS’s credibility on the eve of the Ben Barnes interview on 60 Minutes.  Another theory has it that John Kerry composed the memos himself in 1968-69 on the very same IBM Executive he took to Vietnam (more on this below), and postdated them four years as part of his long-term plan to run for President against George W. Bush in 2004.  But that seems to be a bit of a stretch.

Two: the paperwork authorizing Kerry’s wartime medals consists of forgeries from start to finish.  It’s not merely that Kerry typed up the paperwork himself—the telltale initials “JKW” are the giveaway on this, precisely because they are not Kerry’s initials and are not proportionally spaced—but that the documents themselves could not possibly have been produced by anything other than WordPerfect 12, which (a) did not exist at the time and (b) which has since produced exact copies of Kerry’s alleged “after-action” reports.  Moreover (and this should be dispositive), during the period 1967-71, Kerry routinely and repeatedly forged his own signature on letters, contracts, and checks, eventually inspiring Jacques Derrida to do the same at the end of his essay “Signature Event Context.” Thus, recent right-wingers’ references to the textual machinations of “ink-stained Derrideans” are, again, more right than they know.

Three: it turns out that Iraq really did try to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger after all.  The “forgery” in that case was in fact a cleverly planted ruse, using typefaces available only in the southern Iraqi region of Uqbar and containing obvious giveaways (such as the famous opening, “DEAR SIR OR MADAM I REQUEST YOUR IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE IN HELPING ME MOVE A GREAT DEAL OF NUCLEAR MATERIAL OUT OF MY COUNTRY") that were meant to discredit US intelligence and divert world attention while Iraq sneakily sought to buy yellowcake on eBay (in order not to leave a paper trail, naturally).  In fact, some people believe this “deliberate forgery” scheme is what gave Rove the idea to travel back to the early 1970s and plant the Killian memos.  But right now there isn’t enough evidence to establish the connection, and besides, the jury is still out on those memos, as I’ve already mentioned.

Whew!  Deep breath, everyone—it’s a lot to take in at once, I know.  Still, I hope I’ve cleared up some things that have been troubling everyone lately.  Who knew that the 2004 campaign would involve so many intricate textual minutiae?  And things are just getting interesting—after all, as one of the conference speakers said in the plenary session, “The methodical fabrication of electronic texts is performing prodigious services for archaelogists.  It has made possible the interrogation and even the modification of the past, which is now no less plastic and docile than the future.”

I hope the conference proceedings will be published soon.

Posted by Michael on 09/14 at 09:31 AM
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Monday, September 13, 2004

Mysterious shadowy figures have been following me . . .

ever since I got on the plane home from this conference on “Blogging and Forgery.” I gave a paper on “Simulation and Simulacra:  The Indeterminacy of the Text in the Age of Electronic Transmission,” and the room was full of these guys in suits and sunglasses.  Weird!  Even stranger, despite the topic of the conference and the hi-speed connections in the hotel, I haven’t had access to the Internet for three days, and then I come home to find that my former website has been scrubbed completely clean of content.  Also weird!  (My apologies to the ten or twenty recent commenters we’ve lost in the migration to this new, secret site.)

So I haven’t had a chance to look at any blogs since Thursday.  Did I miss anything?

Posted by Michael on 09/13 at 07:05 AM
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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Memorandum from Karl Rove (blogging as me masquerading as David Gelernter aka Tristero)

Re: Now through November

We got off to a good start post-convention.  I know many of you are upset that we went the warm-and-fuzzy route in New York, and you think we should have devoted more time to hitting Kerry hard, really hard, again and again and again and again and again.  I understand your concerns.  But the convention was for the swing voters.  The rest of the campaign is for us.  Those of you who think we’ve pussyfooted around too long—now’s the time to stand up and be counted.  It’s Republican Time.

From here on in, we’re going to tell the American people just what a Kerry presidency would mean for them.  But it won’t be easy—we’ll have to fight the media the whole way.  Today’s New York Times gives us some idea what we’ll be up against.  See Adam Nagourney’s article, which asks whether Dick Cheney went too far the other day in Des Moines when he said, “It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

Nagourney—who, as many of you have remarked to me, is emerging as this year’s Clymer— leads the article by asking, “Is it possible for a candidate to go too far, and alienate the very voters he is trying to court?”

As if this spin weren’t heavy-handed enough, the Times follows up with an editorial calling Cheney’s remarks A Disgraceful Campaign Speech.

That’s the Times for you.  But we’re not going to sit on our hands while the Democrats run the most negative campaign in history.

Remember the words of Newt’s GOPAC: Never back off.  Never apologize.

Those words won us the House in 1994, and they will win us the White House in 2004.

And Newt still has his eye on the ball.  His quote today is the one point of light in the Nagourney piece, and it’s what we need to steer by:

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, hailed what he said was Mr. Cheney’s directness, saying, “Dick Cheney has understated the difference in danger to the United States between a Bush and a Kerry presidency.”

That’s your talking point for the next two weeks: Cheney was not over the line.  On the contrary.  Cheney has understated the danger.

Remember, this fight has only begun.  Cheney’s speech was just the opening shot.  In the next two weeks, we’ll be amplifying his remarks as we get more and more specific about just what kind of apocalypse a Kerry presidency would entail.  (And when you speak to our people at Fox, be sure to use the term “apocalypse”—our base will know what we mean.)

By the end of the month, we will show the American people that a vote for Kerry is a vote that consigns their children to agonizing, fiery deaths.

By mid-October, we will produce a hard-hitting 30-second ad that vividly depicts how a Kerry presidency will open the door to bioterrorist attacks involving flesh-eating bacteria.  We plan a major media buy in fifteen states.

By November 1 we will have contingency plans in place for “preventative detention” of likely Kerry voters in key states.  We currently have Mary Walker and Alberto Gonzales working on a draft of the executive order that will give the President the authority to raise the terror alert level to red in specific neighborhoods and for specific households.  It seems pretty clear even at this early stage that the Constitution gives the POTUS the power to order 48-hour “lock downs” for dissidents who threaten our national security, but I’ll keep you posted on this as I hear from Walker and Gonzales. 

We will need all of you in the coming weeks.  Be strong.  Remember, we have the law on our side—and the victory will go to the bold.  (Get it?  Diebold?  Let’s keep our sense of humor about this, everyone!)

Karl, a.k.a. The Shadow

Posted by Michael on 09/09 at 06:04 AM
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