Pipe dreams, feral beasts, ‘redesignation’, exciting prose, Gaza
June 15, 2007
By way of apology for my latest bout of feckless non-posting, I present a brief round-up. Happily, Unspeak doesn’t go away just because I ignore it for a while. At the end of May, George W. Bush attempted to pre-empt the G8 on global warming with an alternative vision for reducing carbon emissions. Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on “Environmental Quality”, was challenged by a sceptical reporter:
Q Now I’m confused. Does that mean there will be targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions and that everybody will be making binding commitments to each other about greenhouse gas reductions — or, at the end of the day, are those just voluntary commitments?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The commitment at the international level will be to a long-term aspirational goal —
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, I want to be careful about the word “voluntary,” because we do these kinds of goals all the time, international agreements. It’s the implementing mechanisms that become binding.
One should always be careful about the word “voluntary”, in case it gives the right impression. Still, aspirational goal is a lovely coinage. “Aspirational” is a glossy-magazine lifestyle fantasy of fast cars, large houses and single-malt whiskies. And aspirations are always virtuous, even if they are — almost by definition — not actually going to be accomplished. As the poet said, a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
Tony “Still here?” Blair criticized the media, calling it a feral beast. Evidently he would prefer it to be a tame beast, docile and obedient — as, perhaps, when it swallowed the drugged meat of “Saddam can launch a bioweapon attack in 45 minutes” and so forth. Happy days they were, just before the war. That the media has since descended into what Blair decries as “cynicism”1 is, of course, a terrible injustice that hurts all of society and is spoiling his legacy.
Meanwhile, at Guantanamo Bay, a judge ruled that the “Military Commissions” had no jurisdiction over prisoners:
The military judge, Col. Peter E. Brownback III of the Army, said that Congress authorized the tribunals to try only those detainees who had been determined to be unlawful enemy combatants. But the military authorities here, he said, have determined only that Mr. Khadr was an enemy combatant, without making the added determination that his participation was “unlawful.”
The Pentagon spokesman’s riposte was enlightening:
“For all intents and purposes it’s the same thing,” said Commander Gordon. “It’s just an issue of semantics. We’ve already said they were unlawful in 2004-2005 because of a variety of factors. They don’t wear a uniform. They’re not members of [the] armed forces of another nation-state. They don’t display arms openly. They don’t have a chain of command. All those issues make them unlawful enemy combatants. So they were already ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ back when they were designated as such, however the technical verbiage was just ‘enemy combatant.’”
Interesting that Gordon would refer to technical verbiage, almost as though such labels were thrown around by the administration without any regard to their actual meaning in law, so as to enable prisoners to be held for years without trial. Of course, it’s just an issue of semantics, and we all know that semantics, ie what words mean, ie what things they might actually refer to in the world, is irrelevant in the context of a reality-creating imperial TWAT.
But all is not lost: as explained here, prisoners can simply be redesignated as “unlawful enemy combatants”. Do you think that the decision as to what is or is not “unlawful” ought to be left to, you know, a trial? Well, that is all very well as an “aspirational goal”, perhaps, but redesignation is so much more efficient.
Literary interlude: in the current issue of the New York Review of Books is a piece that apparently hopes to pass for literary criticism: Andrew O’Hagan laments Don DeLillo’s “inability”, in the novel Falling Man, “to conjure his usual exciting prose”:
In his best novels, DeLillo is pretty much incapable of writing unexcitingly — but September 11 vanquishes the power of his sentences before he can make them linger.
It is left up to the reader to imagine what exactly might qualify as “exciting prose”, not as I remember any sort of Empsonian category, and further to to try to understand what on earth “September 11″ itself is doing as an actor in the above sentence, somehow jumping in to neuter DeLillo’s writing before — before? — DeLillo can render it in a mode competent to excite Andrew O’Hagan. It is true that exciting Andrew O’Hagan must be accounted a worthy “aspirational goal” for any writer of prose, even if the standards are so high that most will surely fail.
Lastly, the international strategy of isolating and imposing sanctions upon the elected Palestinian government appears to be bearing fruit. Yesterday in Gaza, an institution changed hands:
Hamas fighters took over the Fatah-run Preventive Security compound, driving away in cars loaded with weapons, computers, office furniture and other equipment.
Perhaps preventive security was all along a poignant “aspirational goal”, rather than a description of successful acts. If preventive security didn’t work, it may now be time for preventive war. After all, there is already a shining example of that in the region.