Saturday, December 21, 2002

JP, NP is now updated as you requested (including a redirection of your PayPal account). :) And by the way, they're chanting "Bravehearts" over and over in the background of "Made You Look." Took a while to figure that one out... -KB

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Dear Jean Paulhan,

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article with the title, "Stocks Bullish In Iraq’s Market; Don’t Ask Why." It began with a vignette of the quaintness of the Iraqi Stock Exchange, focusing on the attire of one trader named Abu Zaki--his "finely tailored herring-bone tweed" jacket, his "polished brogues and the 1930’s opera glasses he carries around his neck in inlaid Chinese cloisonne."

Abu Zaki’s panache is shown as comic: "the breeziest boulevardier on the Baghdad bourse." The piling up of similar sounds works toward caricature, suggesting Disney representations of "Arabia."

That there is a Stock Exchange should be our first surprise, and that it has a few aesthetes vaguely aware of culture outside Iraq (albeit decades old) should be our next. (Zaki’s golden age, the article suggests, was the 1950s, before King Faisal II was assassinated).

But lest Zaki’s cultural and sartorial hybridity complicate our picture of Iraq too much, the article quickly moves to its argument: that Iraq’s market knows that its new situation (either passing inspections and having sanctions lifted or being invaded and having a new government imposed) is good for it, and people like Zaki are therefore placed in the difficult situation of explaining why the market is up.

The Market operates as a kind of disturbing unconscious whose desires and, eventually, effects are starting to become legible through the Stalinist censorship. Ultimately it is the special power of "Markets" to challenge such regimes of false representation that the article celebrates: "Don’t ask why."

Markets function as irrepressible baselines of global valuation, and hence "realism."

By the end, then, Abu Zaki’s comic stature has taken on a range of other implications beyond being a dandy in third world nation: people like him must walk the tightrope of explaining this "fact" of a bullish market to investors without admitting why it has come about.

What the article cannot say, and what it somehow offers itself as a compensation for, is that no one now believes that the option of passing UN inspections is real, and that the country will, therefore, undergo a series of massive strikes to its population and infrastructure. And in this way Americans seem to be speaking to themselves through the "facts" of the Baghdad market: even they know, the Iraqis, that invasion is good for them. After the dust settles, the phoenix of The Market.

Friend of Cornelia Hardt
ML do me a favor and move whatever is the most recent thing on NP as the first thing read. And move the statement of declaration to a link. Essay on Iraqi response to Bush speech soon.
In baghdad and everything is fine. Cannot use Yahoo or voices email yet. Cannot write long but need Bush's statement declaring Iraq's material breach ASAP. Will get Iraqi response and send back and post to Blogger. Please someone post the statement to blogger or send to me via voices. Baghdad is beautiful and poor. I've never seen so many people laughing at poverty and the immiment threat of war. The must know as many people do that laughter is our bodie's most philosphical reaction: it is our revolt against the absurd.


Monday, December 16, 2002

AMMAN, JORDAN - First the coffee. Syrian. Thick and black and sweet. It comes in a plastic cup with small tan morels floating on top. They’re ungrounded coffee beans, Nassim said. Special for you, he tells George, who treats Nassim like a son. They go back six years, every since George started traveling into Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, the humanitarian group based in Chicago, Illinois. They call George, Mr. Cappaccino, although his actual name is Cappacio. I don’t have the heart to correct them, George said.

George is a storyteller and writer from Massachusetts. For this trip he brought chemo drugs for a breast cancer patient he met on his last trip, and two large duffel bags filled with aspirin, vitamins and stuffed animals. It is a modest effort to alleviate the Sisyphean suffering of the Iraqi people who have become family to the network of activists who make up Voices. This is his ninth trip into Baghdad. Coming to Amman and especially the Al-Mozen Hotel--where all the Voices in the wilderness members stay before heading into Baghdad by car--is like a homecoming for George. Everyone knows him, from Nassim, the half Indian, half Palestinian desk clerk (there is a large Palestinian population in Amman), to Jemeh, his assistant, to Mr. Mozen, owner and manager of this modest second floor hotel north of city center. The conservations turn quickly, from the health of friends, to the state of Jordanian politics to the impending war against Iraq. It is a race to catch up for lost time. A race everyone runs because no one know when the bombs will start falling and people won’t have time to talk. Mr. Mozen believes it will be soon, right after the New Year. Nassim agrees but thinks it will be thirty to forty days after the New Year. He doesn’t give a reason. Everyone has predictions, which I confuse with premonitions.

Then it was Hummus. Three kinds, swimming in oil, at a small white tiled restaurant. Jemeh takes us there after we settle in at the Al-Mozen. It’s in an area of town where the army of Palestine is stationed, Jemeh tells us. Falafel balls and hot sweet tea too. Jemeh is getting ready to marry a French girl, Constance, in two years. He’s practicing his French now, and teaching Constance Arabic through weekly letters. Hope is always on the other side of the border, Jemeh said.

We flew into Amman in the early evening. The bright lights and billboards cloak my sense of foreignness. They break the Jordanian skyline so many commas and use the same language one sees in New York City, or Chicago, or Dublin, or Vienna, or Taipei: cars and girls, insurance and girls, internet access and.... The airport cab driver informs us of all the monuments on our way into the city. I nod politely but imagine a time when speaking is replaced with animals on the side of the road who smile sympathetically at cars, and who, when asked, give directions. That would be a sight. It would certainly kill any conversation: Too busy looking for animals. I have nothing against speaking, but I have no confidence in it these days.

We are Quakers and journalists and filmmakers and artists and Micah is from Nepal. We all meet at midnight at the Al-Mozen, after everyone arrives. There are twelve of us in this delegation. We head into Baghdad tomorrow.
AMMAN, JORDAN -- The resignation that the United States will do what it wants, when it wants it, has transformed Amman into a city full of premature mourners. The streets still sting with the smell of diesel and cheap perfumes. The downtown area, near a ruin of a Roman Ampitheater, is noisy and friendly, even to Americans. It is not you, they say (and who are they? Every cab driver, Iraqi refugee, Palestinian shopkeeper, every passerby who walks up to help you find your way around this serpintine city), it is not you we don't like. It is your president. There must be a planet where presidents are liked. Perhaps Saturn, where the citizens are treated with sweets every other hour and only kiss during certain alignment of their moons. Or so Fourier tells me.