Always with the tables

Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration.  Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to  like it.  His  Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.

Of course, what Bush, Obama and Madame Clinton really mean by “All Options Are on the Table” is “All Options Involving Violence or the Implied Threat of Violence.”  It’s just a smirky pretend-gangster understatement, like saying “we made him an offer he can’t refuse.”  It means  bombing,  sanctions, freezing bank accounts, holding back spare parts for airplanes,  pharmaceuticals— that sort of thing. And bombing.  Did I mention bombing?

A Tiny Revolution notices the phrase comes up a LOT in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent weird cover story in the  once respectable Atlantic Monthly:

Any actual reporter would have pointed out the glaringly obvious fact about this rote repetition: all options are not on the table. For instance, Israel is not going to consider giving up its own nuclear weapons if it were part of a deal to make it certain Iran would not develop its own. Nor is the United States considering giving up its nukes. Nor do we have any interest in a region-wide peace settlement that would satisfy us regarding Iran if it required U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the United States hasn’t even signaled any openness to apologizing to Iranians for our numerous crimes against them (overthrowing their government, teaching the Shah how best to torture them, helping Saddam use WMD against them, etc.). Apparently we would prefer to attack Iran or indeed for Iran to get nuclear weapons rather than exercise any of these possible options.

This is good as far as it goes. But it involves logic and reasoning, and as such might not be the perfect way to grapple with Israel’s and/or America’s urge  to bomb Iran. A more apt piece might be  “Our threatiest threat” from the frequently brilliant fafblog, which demolishes with satire all the unexamined premises underlying the Need to Confront the Evil Persians. It’s from October 2009, but it could have been from 2006, when John McCain entertained us with his version of Barbara Ann. And it could have taken place this week, when everyone has been chattering about the Little Corporal’s article.

I only wish Helen Thomas’ seat in the White House press room had been reassigned to this Fafnir, so I could see this exchange acted out. But of course that isn’t going to happen (I don’t even know if Fafnir is a real person).

Here’s a chunky excerpt of “Our threatiest threat,” but you should read the whole thing. It’s pretty perfect.

Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a threat?
A: Oh, very much so. In fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Madman.
Q: We know he is a madman because he hates us, and we know that he hates us because he says bad things about us, and the only reason he would say bad things about us is if he were mad!
A: We also know that he has threatened – with his own mouth – to “wipe Israel off the face of the map”!
Q: Really?
A: Yes!
Q: Really?
A: No. But only a madman would say something that could be so easily mistranslated to sound like the words of a madman.
Q: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually run Iran?
A: No. But wouldn’t it be scary if he did?

…. Q: What should we do with Iran?
A. All options are on the table.
Q: Should we bomb them? Is bombing them on the table?
A: Bombing them must be on the table, because it is an option, and all options are on the table.
Q: What about starving them to death with sanctions? Is starving them to death with sanctions on the table?
A: In that an option? Because if it is an option, then it must be, as we have mentioned before, on the table.
Q: What about bombing their cities and burning their children and raping their livestock and feeding their people to thousands of millions of man-eating ants and piling their skulls into a heaping bonfire on the White House lawn while the President and the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff dance naked in circles ejaculating wildly into the flesh-filled smoke? Is that on the table?
A: It would be irresponsible for this option not to be on the table, given that all other options, as we have said, are on the table.
Q: What about leaving Iran alone? Is that on the table?
A: No. That is not on the table, because it is not an option.
Q: Are you sure? It looks like an option.
A: It may look like an option, but in fact it is the East Tunisian mock option, which over the course of many years has evolved to mimic the distinctive coloring and plumage of the true American option, in order to better evade and intimidate predators.

Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, will it kill whoever it hits on the ground below?
Q: If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drops a nickel, will he kill five people? If he drops a quarter, will he reestablish the Caliphate?
Q: Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even now amassing an arsenal of spare change deep within the unsuspecting bowels of New York City, roaming from corner to corner, subway to subway, armed with a stockpile of acoustic guitars, violins, steel drums, rudimentary juggling skills, waiting and watching for the perfect moment to strike?

For further Fafblog absurdities, I would recommend Our Omnipotent President, in which I came upon for the first time the genius tag “securitainment.” It was about Bush, but still … somehow seems kind of relevant.

Your money's no good here

On Pulau Kecil

Hard as it may be to believe, I was not always a land-locked farmer who seizes up at the mere thought of an airport. In fact, I was once something of a globe-trotter. It seems so like another life. And indeed it was.

One  of my most off-the-beaten-track escapades took me (and Heather) in a big circular trip around Malaysia in the mid-nineties. We have very fond memories of a week spent on Pulau Kecil, the smaller of the Perhentian Islands, where we stayed in a tiny little shack (they were called chalets, but see photo…), got that kinky salt-water hair, snorkled, trekked through the rain forest, napped, drank smoothies, played backgammon and volleyball,  read other people’s musty old paperbacks (Moby Dick!) , and generally had an idyllic time of it.

The commerce of the island, at least in those days, was conducted in a decidedly utopian manner.  You never had need to use money. You wrote whatever you ate or drank in a book, and settled up with the hostel-keeper at the end of your stay. (The sole exception to this arrangement was the Chinese guys who came ashore to sell beer on the beach under cover of night. That was cash-only, understandably.)

The industrious Chinese merchants had to keep it on the down low because the Perhentian Islands are off the coast of Kelantan province, known then and now as the most conservatively Islamic part of Malyasia. (In our current Islamophobic state, living more or less under sharia sounds like something awful and oppressive, but at the time it simply required a slight adjustment in behavior and dress.  And a little sneakiness with the beer.)

This morning, I came upon the  fascinating news that the authorities of Kelantan have taken the first step to turning their backs on the West’s money. From Friday’s Financial Times:

In a move applauded by some local Muslims, the state government of Kelantan said it was introducing a new monetary system featuring standardised gold and silver coins based on the traditional dinar and dirham coins once used by the Ottoman Empire.

Nik Abdul Aziz, the state’s chief minister, spoke in visionary terms of an economy in which state civil servants would be paid in the new sharia currency, and the poor would be protected against inflation by the intrinsic value of the precious metals used to produce it.

This in itself is not earth-shaking news.  “The chief minister … admitted that there were ‘many technicalities’ to be overcome before the scheme could be significantly extended.” But it’s enough to raise an eyebrow or two at the Financial Times, and especially with the Zero Hedge crowd. Here is “Tyler Durden’s” take:

Whether the transition from paper to a hard-backed currency will be the first spark in social upheavals as government slowly realize all their printer-induced leverage is slipping away, is still unknown. What is, however, is that many more will soon follow Kelantan’s lead to abolish an endlessly dilutable thought experiment, which has no intrinsic value, and whose purchasing power is decimated by the minute, as hundreds of billions in new money are printed every month by the world’s central banks.

Really, those folks tend to see many small news items as harbingers of the total collapse of the world economic system (the “endlessly dilutable thought experiment” or more simply, “the ponzi”).

But with enough kooks pounding the table, and pounding it hard, for attacking Iran, against all reason (and against all evidence for the pretext), this scenario is not totally out of the question:

if the Islamic world, in retaliation for a possible Iran invasion or otherwise, decides to issue a fatwa against the usage of non-Sharia compliant forms of monetary exchange, watch what happens as the developed world wilts overnight. With the bulk of world commodity extraction arising from the Muslim crescent, and wholesale ban on using USD and EUR, a move already underway in Iran, would make for the second coming of von Havenstein very, very difficult.

I have no frigging idea if this is any kind of big deal (and I had to look up von Havenstein, “The Central Banker Responsible For Germany’s Hyperinflationary Collapse (And Ostensibly WWII)”). And that last sentence doesn’t really make sense….

But whatever. For me this news is personally fascinating, allowing me to take a mental journey back to a magical world without money. At least in a pretend sense. Wouldn’t it be a laugh if Kelantan becomes famous for something other than pretty rain forest islands and a glorious ayam percik (butterflied grilled chicken with a spicy coconut sauce)? If our little island utopia turned out to be the place where the interconnected global world of finance starts to crumble?

Wouldn’t that be a laugh? Wouldn’t it? Not a huge guffaw, but a nervous little chortle, anyway, maybe?