Friday, October 18, 2019

Nixon and Trump compared

As the Watergate scandal started to kick into high gear in the spring of 1973, the Village Voice published a story about Nixon on the run with his friend, Bebe Rebozo, in Miami during a vacation. They spent almost two days at Grand Key island, which was owned by Nixon friend Robert Alplanalp, the inventor of the aerosol valve – every time you spray something from a bottle, you can thank Nixon’s buddy.
The VV story by Craig Karpel speculated that “he is said … to have built some sort of orgone box on Grand Key, an accumulator which gathers the particularly rich geomagnetic energy of the zone which abuts the Gulf Stream and focuses it, like a laser beam, on him. It was word of the power of this concentrated geomagnetic flux, transmitted by the Lucayan and Arawak aboriginal inhabitants of the islands to those of Cuba, which reached Don Juan Ponce de Leon in garbled form as bruit of a “River Jordan”, immersion in which conferred eternal youth.”
Ah, the early seventies, when Hunter Thompson was considered a bit on the drag side for a journalist. Another Village Voice article about Watergate meditated on the spiritual reality of that name, viz the waters of life being locked up from the people, and the key to unlocking the gate promising to drown us all in Aquarius.
I’ve been thinking about Watergate and its drama in contrast with Trump and his reality show. Trump really does share certain personality traits with Nixon – certainly the overmastering ressentiment – but doesn’t have the dark glamour. There was something in Nixon’s depths, while Trump’s dad had his depths surgically removed when Trump was seven, along with the tonsils. Yet it is much easier to think of Trump spending time in an orgone box. He is definitely using the White House as an accumulator of rich geomagnetic energy, although since Trump is ever the materialist, he wants to see that energy monetized and he wants it now.
I was around 15 when Watergate became TV. I was brought up in a conservative Republican household and considered myself a very conservative little chirp, so much so that Nixon’s trip to China made me think he was a bad man – China was communist! I hadn’t yet shucked all of that bullshit, although by the end of my teen years I was a Marxist – so there you go. I was helped on the way, though, by Watergate. The President (back then, it was in Capitals that I thought of the mook) had so obviously and painfully lied, lied, lied – and I swallowed the press narrative that this was the worst crime a President could commit.
Later, however, I began to see that there was, to say the least, some disproportionality here. The lie that the president told that resulted in the secret bombing of Cambodia and the horrific spread of the war was skipped over nimbly by the press. The lean towards Pakistan that encouraged a genocidal civil war in which a million were killed in Bangladesh was also as nothing. It was the coverup of the break-in to the Dem headquarters (and not, say, the eternal spying and placing of agents provocateurs with the Socialist Workers Party, which, as Noam Chomsky pointed out back then, was simply considered normal and unscandalous by the press) that undid him. Undid him for months and months of wonderful worldtheater.
History, like all cold cases, depends a lot on trivia. As I grew into your average paranoid loser leftist, I began to get this. I also began to get that conspiracy theory might not be true, but it was a great vehicle for spotlighting the weirdness of ordinary life among the American elite – and even among the American lumpen. Whether Oswald was or was not a lone assassin is one thing – but the very social possibility that was inhabited by his friend, the hairless David Ferrie, was a more important other, at least as far as the American circus was concerned. The Watergate scandal was absolutely full of kooks and eccentrics and wheeler dealers. As well, it ultimately made no sense.

Just as, really, Trump shaking down Ukraine for info makes no sense. I mean, he really needs facts, suddenly, to jam up Biden with his vile son? Has Trump ever needed facts to do anything? Just make shit up. I thought that was the motto.
Nixon, who came to prominence as a conspiracy theory politician – getting Alger Hiss with papers improbably hidden in a pumpkin patch, and going on against the great Communist conspiracy for years and years – was himself a natural conspirator. Trump is too, but unlike Nixon, he isn’t a very good one.

What he is best at – what made him president – was firing people on a reality show. The psychopathologically cruel boss – his core group loves this. Because they want all the black people and the uppity bitches fired. The moment of firing gives them goosebumps. The American psyche can be divided neatly into two halves – the one half that longs to fire, and the other half that longs to quit. Nixon sprang from a more complex and deeper psychosis. He was an American Manichee. He might not have called upon our better angels, but his career was definitely in converse with the spirits, whether orgonally charged or not.

Trump on the other hand is just the kind of dismal loser/boss that the fire groupies love. His impeachment is turning out to be much simpler, but also, alas, much less fun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The real in (and out of) realism

If things are in the saddle and ride mankind, as Emerson said, then let us imagine that things take a break every now and then and let words ride.  It is a 30 – 70 split, perhaps, is what I am getting at. This being so, it is foolish to argue with a word once it has established a claim on mankind.
In fact, this is just the kind of foolishness that philosophers – who at one time acknowledged themselves to be half-fool, although now they more often consider themselves to be half-scientist, a half and half creature that to me is still fool – like to engage in. Thus, I, in my half a fool robes, have always had a steady dislike for the word “real” and its court favorite, “realism”.
Here’s my reasoning. If real is meant to refer to the constitution of reality, then, in my opinion, it can’t go picking out some bits of reality and discarding others. It must be wholly promiscuous, rather than half chaste. It must include magic, dreams, mirages and perceptions as well as carpenters crowns, heaps and pi. In other words, I take real to make the widest of ontological claims. However, in actual use, real has been turned into an ontological grift, setting itself up as something ontologicallly direct as opposed to all those soft ontologically indirect objects. In this way, the real becomes a metaphysical con man, a dealer of three card monte.  The dream, the magic, the realist wants to say, are dependent on  a subjective privilege that takes us out of the real and into the ideal, or the fantastic, or the superstitious – they aren’t “validated” by Science, an institution that is suddenly thrust upon us as our commission of the real.
Here we spot everyday dualism, doing its silent work. And everyday dualism has its advantages, or it wouldn’t hang around. But those advantages, which prime it for everyday distinctions, don’t prime it for metaphysical argument. There, it forgets its place. It rubs up against its own original quantitative claim – that reality is all, whereas non-reality is nothing – and  can only help itself out of its dilemma by silently inserting assumption into the discussion that , indeed, must be discussed before we can have the discussion.
In my opinion, realism is only plausibility writ large: it is a view on what is possible and important that gains its justification from a certain class background. The real itself shouldn’t generate an ideology, an ism, any more than the toe does. Like the toe, the real is simply there, the very thereness of there. But this view of the real, which genuflects to its ontological capaciousness, doesn’t correspond to its social meaning – which is always pulled into the dualism between the human and everything else. Aristotle, in the Topics, speaks of endoxa – credible opinions – that are “accepted by everyone or by the majority or by the wise”. This is the filter through which reality becomes realism. The privileged point of view is given us by the class system in the regime in which that point of view is expressed. The reputable class bears various names, depending on the regime we are talking about, whether it is the middle class in America, or public opinion, or most scientists, or – more commonly – an implied everybody who counts that lurks behind a passive construction (“as is well known,” “as is generally agreed”, etc.). Realism’s affiliation with plausibility, rather than reality, is the secret of why the term seems so indeterminate, when you come to close quarters with it.
This is not simply a matter of aesthetics. It is a matter of ordinary problems. To say that insanity is “real” is one thing, to say that insane ideations are “real” is another thing. This is the whole pragmatics of real, as opposed to its semantic promise – which would leave distinctions of what is natural, plausible, objective, communally accessible, all that, to other words and phases of society and perspectives. The whole discipline of psychology is folded over this problem, with one side contending that “talk therapy” – however that is filled out – doesn’t treat mental problems as “real”, that is, based on the neurochemistry of the brain, which is supposed to be a realer real than talk about our relations, say, in families, in sex, etc. It is not clear why the family is less real than the neuron – the idea is, probably, that the mental problem would express itself in some person regardless of whether that person grew up in family x or y – although, confusingly, the same scientific ideology hold in high regard the gene, which brings us back to social realities that mediate any sex act. It is very hard to understand how a neurochemical problem in the human brain, which evolved in a social animal – as opposed to, say, an aardvark – would articulate itself at all without having strong social links, having ties to sensemaking as the natural activity of the human animal.
The same bend, but with other variables, is found in physics, with the realists versus the Copenhagen interpretation, and may the best physicist win (that is, get the contract to write a pop sci book agented by John Brockman).
The rest is at Willetts.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

La Fontaine and the poetry of the hidden transcript

Literature we may say is what goes on all the time history is what goes on from time to time… Gertrude Stein
The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation devotes a whole page to La Fontaine’s Fables. It covers a good part, but not all, of the gamut, from John Dennis’s first essay and assay in 1693 – two years before La Fontaine’s death, and a year before the 1694 edition, with Book XII in it, appeared – to the complete translations by Norman Schapiro in 1985.
Yet La Fontaine’s status in the Angophone world reflects a certain literary-political decision about fables: that they are always, in some way, infantile. Which in turn inflects, if unconsciously, his translators, with their tendency to didly-o language, in tonal contrast to La Fontaine’s highly adroit use of multiple idioms, his parodying, his lyricism.  Although fables and allegories as genres are popular in the curriculum of middle and high schools, they are not accorded the admiration that the critics give the higher works of art, from epic poetry to realistic novels. They don’t have the difficulty, they don’t resolve aesthetic problems, so the thinking goes, that, say, we can see and feel in one of Nabokov’s novels. They allow English high school teachers to talk easily about symbols and avoid the hard kernel of literature and its difference. The Fables seem to lack the referential difficulty of Pound’s Cantos, being, on the surface, so genial, and referentially domesticated: all that pagan mythology. When Paul Valéry wrote about La Fontaine, he chose Adonis – a great early poem. And not, say, The Pig, the Goat and the Sheep, from book 8 of the Fables.
In contrast to the English and American critics, critics and poets in France have remarked on the rise in  La Fontaine’s prestige, and in general his place in French culture, over the last 30 – 50 years. Partly this is due to the fact that one of the great scholars of the 17th century, Marc Fumoreli, has made a strong case for La Fontaine being an essential counterbalance to the classical literature of the French court under Louis XIV. Fumaroli’s book, The Poet and the King, is constructed around the opposition between Parnassus – the dream of the republic of letters, where power is constructed out of friendship and poesis, presided over by an aristocracy of benign patrons – and Olympus, which represents the dread institutionalization of literature as the arm of the state – or in our age, the arm of the corporation, with its statist power. One immediately sees how useful this is, how it brings out a thematic that is buried in the contrast between the baroque and the classical. A great scissoring mind is necessary to cut up and put back together a work of art to show how it works, but that is only half the story. The other half is surrender – the sinking into the work, the inner touch, the tour, as it were, of the reserves of tacit knowledge it contains, to which one cannot be superior.  Empathy and the cutting edge – the conjunction of these two things is a rarity. Fumaroli has it, can make the old mandarin passes and still understand how the poem is more than a vehicle for tour-de-force verbal play – how the poem is passionate and plugged in. His way of seizing on and elevating the terms “Parnassas” and “Olympus”, which a lesser critic might dismiss as old and routine rhetorical devices, is, I must admit, brilliant.  There is a charge in them, a cultural politics hidden by them, which is tied not just to 17th century rhetoric, but to a recurring situation: the opposition between the poet and the autocrat. From that opposition comes, ultimately, the fever dreams of modernism, when autocracy under many guises has a tendency to seize society and lead it to disaster.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Karen Chamisso poem
Panic Attack No. 5
… what was it I was saying?
I know my bill of rights, thank you very much.
I know the tape is running. I know the camera’s on.
I know the lord of dark corners and the third degree
Knows all my disappointments and my little fun
You say, we’re done here. We’re done.
The prowler is parked a block from the shattered glass
He’s here for the order, girls, forget about the law.
The always wrong the shadowless the sucker and the goof
Can forget about proving jack, he always has the proof
Of their little disappointments and their little fun
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.
No, the sentence before that one, what did I say?
I’ve always had the money not to have to see
I go to the opening nights, always have a place to pee.
In the cold dark corners they are lighting matches what the hell
My little disappointments… my little fun …
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The old dispute: Obama and the depression

At one point, in the history of this blog, I decided not to write too much about the headlines. I got sick of talking about politics. Instead, I decided I'd write about economics, philosophy, literature, whatever - just not the news.
Well, my readership plummeted, naturally, but I saved a little of that soiled rag I like to call my "soul". So fuck it.
But I did keep writing about headlines elsewhere.
I just read Ezra Klein's mushmouthed defense of the Obama regime, which seeks to shift the blame for its problems to Congress. This rewrites history in such a transparent way that  I went back to Facebook, where I have confined my political screams generally, and looked at what I wrote on Nov. 5, 2010 about the Dems losing Congress.
Here's the Ezra Klein piece.

And here is my response, from 2010:

It is easy to see why the Dems were shellacked this election. And, as with all things easy to see, the elite opinion-makers – the pundits who got all frothy about bringin’ democracy to Iraq in 2003 – are doing their best not to see it.

The two cases are similar in that what one has to avoid seeing -what makes the pundit the pundit, his peculiar blindness - is the numbers.

In the case of Iraq, the numbers were: amount of troops needed for an occupation to have a chance of success and amount of money necessary to support that invasion. The invasion was morally doomed from the outset, being the cretinous child of the retro-imperialist party; however, that doesn’t mean it was doomed to materially fail. The latter failure was in the refusal of the U.S. government to actually fund and man the war. Now, that funding and manning would, likely, have significantly lowered support for the war, which was presented as a sort of picnic for virtuous americans in the press. A picnic in which we could righteously drink the blood of evil brown skinned villains – why, it was Hollywood!

In order to make the invasion politically possible, the warmongers burdened the invasion with insuperable difficulties, the legacy of which can be heard and seen in the streets of any major Iraqi city to this day.

What, then, of the numbers for this election? For those with the eyes to see, the most comprehensive roundup of what happened is presented on Nate Silver’s blog, hosted by the NYT.

The link is here: What happened in this election is simple. The preference of those who voted was equally divided between McCain and Obama voters. If we viewed this as a referendum on Obama, as Silver says, then he lost the seven percent advantage he had won in the election. In other words, Obama voters – like me – stayed home.

For myself, voting is symbolic rather than practical – since Austin, Texas was gerrymandered out of existence in the 00s, I am represented by a very rightwing Republican whose district looks like a tangled vacuum cleaner tube – which it is, since the line was drawn to mix a number of Dems into a maximum Rep district, thus securing the district for the right.

But if I had lived elsewhere – and when I come back from France, I am probably going to be living officially in Georgia – I would still have stayed home. Obama and the Dem majority congress have been a very large disappointment to me. From the incredible way the administration decided, early on, to resist the shrinking of the financial services sector (a decision that will depress the economy for years, until the sector blows up again, when the economy will just sink) to the milquetoast healthcare reform (not biting the bullet on the Public Option dooms us, again, to a private insurance managed, inefficient, unjust and stupid medical system – a wonderful system for the wealthiest 20 percent of the population, a huge ripoff for the rest) to, of course, a warlike foreign policy annexed to a Pentagon that now gobbles up 700 billion dollars a year  outright, and, it is estimated, another 200 to 300 billion in hidden funding, stuffed into the Energy Department or disguised by financing tricks – Obama has chosen to build on Bush’s America. And the Dem congress has been simply disgraceful. The editorial liberals love to jump on the financing of elections – but this is not the problem. The problem is the way that politicians can get themselves and their family members hired by big businesses – so that office becomes a mere waystation to the big bucks. South Dakota’s former Senator Tom Daschle, Bush’s straight man, is a poster boy for the Republic’s ills – he seemed to have become the go to person (as an “outside counselor”)  for healthcare issues in the Obama administration while, of course, being driven about in the Rolls Royce as Mr. Lobbyist for a variety of healthcare industries. The predators ball has long since sent its rsvps to Congress, and the party line now exists simply as a negotiating ploy – are you a hard to get “liberal”? Why, you can then throw that cultural capital into the pot for mucho sweetness - it is a negotiating ploy! Then, of course, once you are hooked into the gravy train, you can begin your second career as a professional tout. You can  plead for whatever bloodsucker is paying you off. You can lobby for blood diamonds, or for BP, or for cancer causing insecticides - who cares? Sophism never had it so good.

The shadow government is a phylogenic extension of the shadow banking system.

Meanwhile, the structural problems have gotten worse. Here they are: a thirty year decrease in the increase of wages finally peaked, in the 00s, when the income of the medium income didn’t budge. This was at a time of record profits for corporations, but the entire gain from increases in productivity was engrossed by the people in the top 5 percent income bracket. In order  to keep the doggies eating the dog food, for thirty years there has been a parallel liberalization of credit. In essence, easy credit has replaced raises in income. The loose money system resulted in a huge boom in the financial services sector. The boom in fs led to increasingly creative ways to make money on money –thus operating to take money away from investments with longer time horizons. And the finale was the asset boom in housing. Contrary to our modern myth, this was not a problem – it was a solution. The downturn of 2001 would have been indefinitely prolonged without the housing bubble. And of course, the re-fi business, upon which the middle class floated through what could have been a pretty rotten time in 2002-2003.

Politically, there was no party, no individual, who opposed the malign direction taken by  American capitalism in this period. Or, perhaps, a few economists and poets – whose voices occasionally pop up on an op ed page as a proof that  ain’t this a real democracy?

The amount of nominal value taken out of middle class American hides in the last two years aint coming back. The disconnect between the interests of the political elite – in which set I include the Obamacrats and the Tea Party – and the majority of the country widens every day. And the pundits still don’t see the numbers.

My advise – carve the numbers into their fuckin’ foreheads.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

In defense of Cancel culture: from the surrealists to twitter

Cancel culture was born on October 18, 1924, when a pamphlet was thrust upon the world entitled: A Cadaver. The subject of the pamphlet was Anatole France, a Nobel prize winning author whose death, on October 12, 1924, was announced on the front page of the New York Times under the headline: Anatole France Great Author dies … Author of “Thais” and “Le Jongleur de Notre Dame” Classed as Leader of Modern Stylists”. The writers of A Cadaver (Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, etc.) were having none of this. The pamphlet was a surrealist action of the most violent and definitive kind. Breton classed Anatole France with the “cops”, and wrote: “With Anatole France, a little human servility goes out the door.” Eluard, under the heading, An Old man Like the Others,  wrote mockingly to France: “The harmony, ah, the harmony, the knot of your tie, my dear corpse, your brain on the side, everything arranged beautifully in the coffin and the tears that are so sweet, aren’t they?” But it was Louis Aragon who really ripped poor Anatole France’s corpse another asshole. Under the heading: “Have you ever slapped a dead man?” Aragon attacked the whole idea, the stink and the shallowness of “beautiful writing”, and wrote: “I declare that every admirer of Anatole France is a degraded being.” It is polemic in the highest ranting style:
What flatters you in him, what makes him sacred, please leave me in peace, is not even the talent, which is arguable, but the vileness, which permits the first louse that comes along to exclaim : How is it that I never thought of this before !
And, the peroration:
“Today I am in the center of that mildew, Paris, where the sun is pale, where the wind entrusts its horror and its inertia to the smokestacks. All around me I see a dirty, poor busy-ness, the movement of the universe where all greatness becomes an object of derision. The breath of my interlocutor is poisoned by ignorance. In France, they say, everything ends up as a song. Let he who dies in the heart of the general beatitude go up in smoke in his turn! There is little that remains of a man. It is even more revolting to imagine that one, who was, in any case, a man. On certain days, I dream of an eraser that could wipe out all of this human stain.”
This is how you do cancellation, my droogs.
In this case, the surrealists succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. By 1930, literary lights like Blaise Cendrars were claiming that France was “boring,” and Andre Gide put in the boot by saying that his oeuvre was “not considerable”. Yet when he was alive, Anatole France held a position in the overlapping worlds of literature, culture and politics that was similar to that held by, for instance, Saul Bellow in the U.S. It is hard to imagine Saul Bellow being spit on to this enormous extent when he died…
Except that Bellow did, in a sense, imagine it. Bellow sampled his own heckling by students in 1968 by working up a similar scene in Mr. Sammler’s planet:
“A man in Levi’s, thick-bearded but possibly young, a figure of compact distortion, was standing shouting at him.
“Hey! Old Man!”
In the silence, Mr. Sammler drew down his tinted spectacles, seeing this person with his effective eye.
“Old Man! You quoted Orwell before.”
“You quoted him to say that British radicals were all protected by the Royal Navy? Did Orwell say that British radicals were protected by the Royal Navy?”
“Yes, I believe he did say that.”
“That’s a lot of shit.”
Sammler could not speak.
“Orwell was a fink. He was a sick counterrevolutionary. It’s good he died when he did. And what you are saying is shit.” Turning to the audience, extending violent arms and raising his palms like a Greek dancer, he said, “Why do you listen to this effete old shit? What has he got to tell you? His balls are dry. He’s dead. He can’t come.”
At the time Mr. Sammler’s Planet came out, George Orwell had already assumed a rank at the top of the pantheon of brave “truth-tellers”, so the cancellation of Sammler and of Orwell together in one taunt – such a bearded and testosteroned one too! – was loaded with voltage. Of course, Bellow’s characters are always haunted by a ghost at the heel, taunting them with the idea that they are only ham actors, all of their beautiful thoughts only occasions for various big wig louses to say, how had I never thought of that before! Charley Citrine has Von Humboldt Fleisher, and Herzog of course is in flight from Valentine Gersbach. But in this gallery Sammler is special, since his cancellation moment is so entirely public, and so entirely on terms that Bellow felt were the only real terms – such was Bellow’s problem with women.  
Twitter has become, for the media establishment, what the heavily bearded young man was for Artur Sammler – an emblem of the end of the world in sheer barbarism and blasphemy and insulting of George Orwell. Of course, in the media establishment, it is very hard to get canceled. Noam Chomsky managed to do it by criticizing American foreign policy after the Vietnam war, when the wound was healed and all bien-pensant American “thought leaders” agreed that America had the most adorable and charming plans for the rest of the world (and was only being misunderstood as it spent trillions on the military and put these plans into effect by invading Panama City here, helping the stray Salvadorean death squad there, droning (accidentally!) some Yemeni wedding over in the corner, and so on). Otherwise, you will never find the deck chairs changing very much on the opinion pages of the great dailies, nor will you find Meet the Press or that ilk of tv inviting on anybody ‘foreign” or really anybody except its usual quota of great white male politicos and pundits. Even when a figure, like Mark Halperin, is discovered to be a serial groper and goes down, his media friends have a hard, hard time letting him go – as do his friends in both party establishments – and they keep campaigning to uncancel that pitiful mook.
Read the rest at Willetts!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Review of Behemoth: the history of the factory and the making of the modern world

As a kid, I worked in my father’s ice factory. It was not a grandiose enterprise –  it consisted of an outer office, an inner office, a floor on which there were nine regular icemakers and one cube icemaker, and a freezer. Outside, in the pebble and dirt driveway, there were three ice delivery vans. The only employees were family. My mom, in the summer, my two brothers, from the time they were in the fifth grade, me, from the time I was in the seventh grade, and one summer my sister, who was the secretary.

We hired a few of my friends from highschool for the high sales seasons of spring and summer, but this rarely worked out. They had a hard time getting a grip on the process of bagging ice. It was simple, but it needed a certain meditative agility. The ice makers were all gray shiny machines that delivered a load of ice every twenty minutes or so, which piled ice up in the bins. You didn’t want the ice to pile up completely, but sometimes it did. You took your ice scoop and you dug into the bin, and you deposited the ice in a plastic bag hanging from a rack on your cart. My Dad made the cart. It was an ingenious thing, with the rack for the bags and a tape machine for the sealing and a scale. You took the bag off the rack once you had ten pounds in it, or about, you put it on the scale to check – after a while you could eye it and skip this step – and then you twirled the bag around, made a neck, and guided it forcefully through the tape machine, which would wrap the tape closely around the neck. Then you’d toss the bag into another cart, a metal one, and when you had done enough, or you judged that the bags were melting, you wheeled the cart into the freezer, which usually took a run with the cart, since the freezer was mounted a bit up from the floor. The things you did not want to do were: 1, leave too much ice on the floor; 2, fail to put in a full ten pounds; 3., fail to seal the bag completely; and 4, run crookedly at the freezer. Easy, but unfortunately many people failed at 1-3 a lot, and some even at 4.
It was cold work, and you had to wear gloves. Otherwise, you’d begin getting all scratched up and bleeding over the ice. That was no good. Also, though you could be very careful, as this work had to be done speedily in rush times, inevitably you were soon standing in a puddle of cold water. Myself, I got what I called white lung sometimes – bad pneumonia like colds. But mostly, it was a cool job. I’d keep the radio on loud, and I’d think about things for the time it took to bag. Usually, the day started at nine and ended at four. Of course, there were times that that had to be extended.

Also, I have left out of this the fifteen pound cube ice, cause that was a bitch, involving getting the ice to slide from its aluminum containers into a special bag. You would always bang up your fingers on that thing.

Also, there were the twenty pound bags, which were, unfortunately, reinforced paper, and they tended to break.

Sometimes I rode with Dad or Mom when they delivered ice; mostly that was the job of my brothers.

The business finally folded in the seventies when my father finally conceded that he was never going to make any money at it. It was a tough market, since we were competing with Southland, which not only made ice – yucky ice – but also owned all the Seven-Elevens.

That experience has made me that, on some level, I am in solidarity with factory workers in bigger factories, made me feel related, on some deep teen level, to the hands on the assembly lines and the sewing lines and the meat packing plants. I have never worked since the ice baggin’ days in a factory, but I have always been fascinated by factories: by the songs about them (like Adam raised a Cain, or Piss Factory), to movies about factory workers (for instance, Metropolis or – especially - Blue Collar) or the rare literature. Which includes Henry Green’s Living, and Beryl Bainbridge’s Bottle Factory Outing. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But, oddly, nothing outsized, nothing in the War and Peace department, even though the factory is one of the great social facts of modernity. Although I suppose there is Marx’s Capital. Marx understood the scale of the factory as a social form. He understood that it just didn’t make steel or tools or thread – the factory was making world history.
We are all so proud to have a whole geological epoch named after us: the Anthropocene. It isn’t the first time that organic matter has had a planetary aspect. About 2.5 billion years ago, according to scientists (those very important members of the Anthropoids, without whom our epoch would not have been named – in fact, wouldn’t have existed at all!) Cyanobacteria began photosynthesizing and in the process excreted a poison, oxygen, and in such quantities! You can’t imagine. The oxygen mixed with the rest of the gases in the atmosphere, competitor bacteria that couldn’t use oxygen and were in fact poisoned by it died out, the continents were rained on and leaked more of their minerals into the water, and the rest is natural history.

If some creature evolves that has an interest in writing the history of this planet after the Anthropocene destroys the Anthropoids, they should take a look at certain structures they will find in many different continents: factories. While Pyramids and cathedrals, Eastern Island carved heads and Roman aqueducts have had immense influence on the societies from which they emerged, factories have, arguably, been the most creative and destructive structures ever made. You, sitting there reading this, can look around you and spot, if you are like me and in a nice room, such things as lamps, furniture, cups, chairs, tables, doorknobs and even your clothes – socks, shirts, shoes – that can all be traced back to factories. That tracing back, once upon a time, was not so hard – if you lived in France, you’d trace back the clothes to textile factories in Lyon, and the lightbulbs to, perhaps, a factory in Ivry-sur-Seine, owned and run by the Compagnie générale des lampes. You can even go to the factory – which is now not a factory, but a historic site. As well, there is no CGL any longer. It has long been swallowed up by other companies, and its trace is only found in the portfolios of certain rentiers, or in the memories, bitter or sweet, of its dying employees.

As we all know, the old treadmill of production, which once scattered the peasants of Europe to the wind, built the weapons and the trains, made consumer society possible and created a proletariat that was supposed to seize the means of production in due time – is defunct. This isn’t to say that the factory is defunct. There are factories that are even more gigantic than those of the twentieth century, but they have gone to China, Vietnam, Mexico and other places. In France – as well  as in the U.S. and other countries – the writing was already on the wall for the factory worker in the 70s. The seventies was a curious decade, hated by your true blue conservative even more than the sixties. The reason is that the seventies witnessed a last stand, so to speak, of organized labor power. The story of the Lip watch factory, in Besançon, is typical. Since this isn’t a well known story in the U.S., I think I’d like to start here on my factory journey – a journey which will eventually link up with Joshua Freeman’s book, Behemoth: a history of the factory and the making of the modern world, which I’d like to urge on my readers. Even those who might not want to read about factories, who’d rather not think about factories, who are glad that they don’t work in factories.
You can’t escape them so easily, you know.

But back to the seventies. In 1973, the workers in the Lips watch factory in Besançon heard a rumor that their company, a French firm that at one time was one of the world leaders in watch making, was going to sell out to a Swiss firm. And the Swiss firm intended to fire all the workers and shut down the factory – as is the way of firms that buy other firms, a sort of ritual potlach they perform in order to show the neighborhood how tough and mean they are.  
Besançon is in the Eastern part of France. It was never a communist hotbed, but its factories had been radicalized in the sixties. In 1967 there’d been a famous series of actions at a nylon manufacturer which Chris Marker filmed. He also showed films made in the Soviet Union in the early thirties, which documented working conditions and worker attitudes. Fast forward to 1973.  Half of the workforce at the Lip factory was female. The CGT and the CFDT were the big unions. On June 12, 1973, having a prevision of what was up, the workers sequestered the management and went through the paperwork they had on them, discovering plans for a mass lay-off. It was then that they decided to do something that used to be done quite a bit once upon a time: and occupy the factory. But they went further than a sitdown strike. They decided to expropriate the expropriaters in real time.They declared that they were now going to manufacture and sell the watches and clocks themselves. As Andrew Kopkind, who reported on the takeover for Ramparts Magazine, put it:

“… workers at Lip seized control of their factory, made off with the large inventory of watches and parts, and began running the business themselves. Operating capital came from sale of the expropriated stock. The bosses gave up without much of a fight and the French and European Left began a campaign of support. Thousands of liberated watches were sold on the streets of Paris, in London, Rome, Berlin, and Zurich. The central unions—both Communist, Socialist and Catholic—belatedly tailed along on the tide of popularity for the Lip action, and the Left political parties also threw in their support. Mostly, however,  the energy and imagination of the action came from inside the Lip workers' committee, where "ordinary" employees—that is, not political organizers—took the lead, planned strategy, delineated the risks.”

All good things come to a bloody end in the struggle between labour and capital. President Pompidou’s Prime Minister, Messmer – a name from some expressionist film of the 20s - sent in the police, who stormed the factory and tossed out the workers. 20 to 100 thousand people came to protest. The Lip takeover then made it way into the popular consciousness, where it has had a surprisingly enduring life. A documentary about the Lip uprising was made in 2006, and a graphic novel, with a preface by the French Left’s leader, Jean-Luc Pierre Mélenchon, was issued a few years ago.

Monday, September 09, 2019


Jeffrey had numerous residences. And he used to rely on me to help him furnish them with art. I was sort of his art consultant, you might say, not that he ever took my advice. Because he pretended to be interested in art, but he was really more interested with—Jeffrey was so perverse. “Perverse,” that word, haha. You have to use it. What is perversion? You want to examine that.
Jeffrey was amused to have in his house fake art which looked like real art. Because of the fact that he was putting one over, so to speak. He thought that he was—how do you describe that? When you walked into this house, for example, there was a Max Weber or something like that, and it was a fake. And it amused him that people didn’t realize that. He was able to furnish his house with the fake paintings. Jeffrey had a collection of underage Rodins, for example, because what difference does it make if it’s real or not real?
This was, to me, a very telling story, a tell, even.  It was not just a story about fakery – although the whole of the Epstein story is about fakery on one level or another. It is also a story about complicity. For think of it: you have a guest in your house and you have what you know is a fake painting. And you point it out as a real painting. On the one hand, maybe your guest doesn’t know much about Max Weber – doesn’t know much about cubists period. So they nod along. They might like the painting or not. On the other hand, say your guest does know about Max Weber. And sees something isn’t right. Well, what is guest number two going to say? You have a fake there, buddy?
Guest number two knows just enough that by nodding, going along, he’s trapped. Or she’s trapped. A pact of complicity has been silently forged.
This is what Epstein was all about – not just fakery, but getting beyond that, where the person being faked out becomes complicit in the whole enterprise. This was on one level what getting girls who had been raped to go out and find other girls and lie to them about massage. This is tied to the science obsession. Just as, being a drop-out schmuck, he wasn’t going to get within miles of the scientists whose names graced the covers of pop science books, so, being a drop out with supposed billions, he could make those scientists smile and smile and he said drop out-y things. His website – assuming that the posts were written or at least dictated by Jeffrey Epstein – is a mishmash of rewrites from Wikipedia articles and platitudes. Sometimes you can hear the man:
“[Martin]Gardner’s numerous books and articles on recreational articles always inspired me, and I would like to share with you some fun and recreational mathematics that I have come across that are in the fun and inspirational spirit of Martin Gardner.
Pivar has a more blunt assessment of Epstein’s science abilities:
But Jeffrey didn’t know anything about science. Nevertheless, in his peculiarly inquiring mind, let’s say, like a child who is fresh to the world—because he has no compunction about approaching people—he brought together the most important scientists like Stephen Gould, like Pinker, like all of those people, and myself even, at dinners, and would propose interesting, naive ideas.. He would say, “Oh, what is gravity?”   I mean, to bring together a bunch of scientists and say, what is gravity? …Which is ridiculous in a way, even though it’s a question nobody can answer. But he would do that kind of stuff. Just for the sake of, I don’t know what. And Jaron Lanier and all that group, the greatest thinkers that they were, he brought together with a purpose of thinking, rightfully or wrongfully, that he was going to introduce some kind of logic or something—some special kind of a thought process, which others hadn’t thought of, which of course is absurd.
While everybody was watching, we began to realize he didn’t know what he was talking about. Then after a couple of minutes—Jeffrey had no attention span whatsoever—he would interrupt the conversation and change it and say things like, “What does that got to do with pussy?!”

So much for putting up the fake painting. But these people, hearing this question, are really being presented with a choice: shall I continue to associate with this guy. And they all, or most of them, did. He’d write incoherent, platitudinous or plagiarized texts on his site, he’s interrupt discussion to ask, what does that got to do with pussy, and he was treated to a stream of praise by scientists as if he was Medici and Einstein rolled into one. Richard Axel, who won the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine, said this, according to Epstein’s site
“Jeffrey Epstein has the ability to make connections that other minds can’t make. He is extremely smart and probing. He can very quickly acquire information to think about a problem and also to identify biological problems without having all the data that a scientist would have … He also has an extremely short attention span. Why?—it’s not that he’s bored. He has enough information after fifteen minutes so that you can see his mind thrashing about, as if in a labyrinth. And even to doubt an expert’s statements.” – 
Apparently, Axel was impressed with the question, what does this have to do with pussy. Very impressed. Too impressed.
Fakery and complicity form an interesting pair, as every con man knows. What you want, above all, is to induce fakery into your associate, your sucker, your victim. This is made easier when the victim doesn’t care about what he knows about your character, even your crimes, even your raping teen girls. What they care about is: well, being around wealth. Being in the glamorous world where Eastern European-seeming models of ambiguous age and origin are around. As they always were. Thus giving a certain aura to your association. Con men are great on tests – they need to test the mark. They need the mark to see enough that the mark has to make a decision: do I keep on with this? Do I believe my eyes? And his scientist friends were a perfect group for that type of thing. They’d self-selected themselves as “brilliant”. They were almost all male. And they shared, whether consciously or unconsciously, mucho contempt for women.
Epstein apparently greatly impressed men with his charm. A certain type of man – not your democratic socialist type, not your African-American type – his associates were almost all white –  but your millionaire or millionaire fluffer type. He was himself his own perfect front guy for journalists in that field.
Read the rest here: