“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, August 27, 2001


Companeros - I'm going to Mexico City today, and won't be back for a week. This will probably be my last post until the 7th.
I'm going down there to visit my friend, Miruna, and her husband, Rodrigo. Their daughter, Constanza, will be one year old tomorrow. Imagine - I'm told she has gotten too old for her bouncy-bounce, which was her favorite thing to do in the morning when I visited them in January. From her seat, dangling in the doorway in the kitchen, she could preside, with appropriate shrieks, over the coffee being brewed there, and the reading of the morning's Jornada.

Back then, staying upright on the sofa was a job - not one Constanza particularly liked. But even during the two weeks I was there, she was visibly gaining motor skills. Or at least she was getting good at balancing herself upright. Now I'm told she's an ace crawler. My god, she'll be walking pretty soon. The biped thing. She is traversing worlds. I write fiction when I can, and one of my reasons for doing so is to timidly pierce that separation between myself, centered in this world, and other selves, centered in their worlds, and centrally private within them - at some lone point, untouched. This fascinates me - this separateness of people, the vegetable/animal/material aspect in the word, "grow."
Not that Constanza's growth is anybody's growth - she is already probably making gestures and seeing things in a way that will characterize her throughout her life. The dim index to which we unconsciously refer - the memory encoded in our gaits and ways of tilting our heads.
Enough of this.
Supposedly, tomorrow's itinerary will include the zoo.

On another front:
I know there will be those of you - one of you - maybe half of one of you - who will miss my daily harangues. Other visitors to this site might want to look into the archives. One of these days I am going to post a sort of index, so that visitors interested in Plutarch can visit the Plutarch posts, and those interested in Nirvana can visit the Nirvana posts, and so on.
Farewell for now.

Sunday, August 26, 2001


Every once in a while, I think of Ulrike Meinhof.
Of course, when the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades and Direct Action were doing primal political therapy by planting bombs and having shootouts with police, I was an American teenager, thinking that listening to old Bob Dylan albums was an act of extreme bohemianism. Besides, I was a conservative teenager - my folks were Republicans, and until I was in college, my heros were William F. Buckley and Solzhenitsyn.

At the same time, though, I was a romantic - I still am, essentially - so that I always understood the terrorist position, which is that politics is always a subset of drama, and that it should be judged by the same standards. A polis that was stagnant, smug, self-satisfied - that was, in short, dramatically uninteresting - was, if one investigated it, usually living on buried crimes. The uninteresting, in other words, is motivated - and the motivations for it are often not uninteresting. In fact, they are often events of a signally bloody and bitter nature. I was a teen reader of Dostoevsky - I absorbed the atmosphere of the Dostoevskian novel, I understood the desperation of his heros, their sense that the air was being sucked out of their lives and that they had to do something - they had to do something major - because I felt the same way, living in a Georgia suburb, feeling myself dimished by every church picnic and pep rally. Yeah, I was a self-important little creep, but on the other hand, I really think it is good to develop the feeling of self-importance if you are an outsider. And it is never clearer that you are an outsider or an insider than in your teen years. In Dostoevsky, there was always the melodrama, there was always the action which seemed to exactly parallel the metaphysical issues. But when his characters come to do a major thing, it always ended up as a minor homicide: the breaking of pawnbrokers, dissolute old men, ex-revolutionaries in provincial towns. These murders were, indeed, lurid, but the light they shed, once committed, was incommensurate with the expectation one had, the projects leading up to them. Planning the murder, the perpetrators seemed outsized, but doing the murder, trying to get away with the murder, the perpetrators seemed tawdry. One meant to strike at the face of God, and one ends up burying a shovel. It is all so sad and disgraceful.

I was reminded of these things by an essay by Paul Berman in the latest New Republic. He mentions, in passing, something I didn't know - that one of the victims of the RAF (popularly known as the Baader-Meinhof gang) was himself an unindicted former SS officer.

"Of the many crimes committed by the Red Army Fraction, the most famous of all was the cold-blooded execution of Hans-Martin Schleyer, the president of the West German employers' federation, who turned out to have been a top SS officer in Prague during the Nazi occupation."

There are a few sites devoted to the Baader-Meinhof gang on the web. In a sense, these sites are about a time that seems incredibly dated - the motives and lifes of these terrorists seem as far away as the motives and lives of the levelers in 1640s England. Here's a beautiful, eerie scene form Ulrike Meinhof's life. it is 1972. She has been captured by the police.

"Meinhof is transferred from Ossendorf Prison to Zweibr�cken Prison to take part in an identification line-up. Meinhof is determined to ruin the process by screaming "I'M ULRIKE MEINHOF!" The police instruct the other women in the line-up to follow suit; the witnesses are treated the unforgettable spectacle of six women screaming and clawing at their guards; five impostors and one true criminal all screaming hysterically: "SWINE!" "THIS IS ALL JUST A SHOW!" and "I AM ULRIKE MEINHOF"

I am still moved and puzzled by these people, though. I went through a period, in my twenties, when I thought Dostoevsky was below me - that Nabokov's judgement (N. opined that Dostoevsky was not only a bad writer, but a rather disgusting one) was just. I now believe that Nabokov is not only the lesser artist, but the reason that he is a lesser artist is wrapped up in his inability to appreciate Dostoevsky. It is the key to his failure to ever write a novel as good as Belyi's Petersburg.

It is easy for me to dig down to a level in which my alarm and melancholy about the cultural debasement of the USA, and the American tendency to not only shun contrition, but to actually express pride about the crimes of America's past - about the source of so muich of Europe's wealth - the arms sales, the encouragement of the worst third world dictators, the alternative of ostracism or savagery meted out to anyone who challenges the status quo - overwhelms my reason, making me think that there was something right about the Meinhofs of the world. That there was a justification in all this dionysian bloodshedding.
Well, there is always a justification for bloodshedding. I can enter that level, but, luckily for me, I can't stay there very long. They were shallow thinkers, moralists of the visceral response, and their crimes easily dwindled into a private vindicativeness far from the grander political action which they dreamed to unfold - the children of Nechaev, not so different, really, in their justification of every crime, from their brothers and sisters who took managerial positions with multi-nationals and were able to justify every enclosure of land, every theft of mineral rights, with some dumb allusion to economic theory. Yes, a historic dead-end, Nechaev, Ulrike, Baader who were, nevertheless so necessary to literature. In the case of the sixties radicals, though, their poet was Delillo - a writer of a much different sensibility than Dostoevsky. Although, come to think of it, they both share a very paranoid mindset.


Tony Blair is finally getting a bit of resistance in his party for trying to complete the Thatcher revolution. Usually a good Marxist would have some French Revolutionary analogy at hand - you know, Blair is playing the Demoulins to John Major's Lafayette, or some obscure thing like that - but there is nothing I can think of at the moment. Roy Hattersley has a nice denunciation of Blair in today's Observer. Key grafs

"...during the general election campaign Tony Blair was asked on television why he was not prepared to increase taxes on the rich in order to help the poor.

He replied that increasing the top rates of income tax would drive entrepreneurs from the country - without explaining that they would be unlikely to go to those other European Union members where both direct taxes and gross domestic product are higher than in Britain.

The second part of his answer must have chilled thousands of Labour Party members to the bone. The object of his policy was, he said, a general expansion in wealth. If that happened the higher earners would drag the poor along behind them. The Labour Party now believes in the trickle-down effect."

Warning about this article: Hattersley makes some batty remarks about inherited traits. His opposition to Blair avails itself of a pseudo-science that makes me uncomfortable. But at least there is some striking out at today's appalling Labour party. Meanwhile, the Tories are floundering about, with Clarke and Smith going at it like mudwrestlers on a sinking lifeboat. Which is a shame, because there are serious problems with the Europe Idea, and nobody is going to represent them. Duncan Smith is of course a joke, and his problem with Europe is basically, well, Europeans live there. The typical xenophobia of the retarded right wing. And that will be a great cover for advocates of Europe to get across an un-democratic program that, in a thousand ways, de-politicizes the economy - in other words, invests its control even more firmly in the hands of speculators, CEOs, and central bankers.

John McNeil at Genomeweb reports that the headlines last June (like the NYT'S Genetic Code of Human Life Is Cracked by Scientists) were a little premature. We don't have a final count of human genes, yet. All that stir last year - it is rather like announcing that men have landed on the moon, and then finding out, a year later, that they actually have gotten very close to the moon.

Bringing up the always interesting question, what was behind the hype?

Here's the graf from McNeil's article.

"Writing in a letter to the editor of Cell , a group of scientists led by Michael Cooke and John Bogenesch at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, together with researchers at the Scripps Research Institute, said a comparison of the two published versions of the human genome showed for the first time that they have only about 16,000 genes in common. Thus, if the two teams of researchers have accurately predicted their additional 26,000 genes, the total number of genes should equal at least 42,000. "