“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

Saturday, May 04, 2002

Dope

Limited Inc has been in operation for almost a year now. And we've discovered that our readers want bold stands. They want LI out there on the barricades. They want no shirking. They want LI to march, martyr-like, into the burning issues of the day -- into the very heart of the pyre. This is why so many of you have written in -- flocks of you, herds of you, you know how you congregate out there, in the darkness, a murder of readers, sometimes we wake up and feel you out there, sometimes we really do -- written in to ask us point blank: was Macauley right about Francis Bacon?

You are, of course, referring to Macaulay's hundred page "review" of Basil Montague's edition of the works of Francis Bacon. Macaulay wrote it in Calcutta, and saw it published by the Edinburgh Review in July, 1837. Like many other of Macaulay's essays, it had an electric effect after it was published. The Victorians always did things on an imperial scale: While LI is happy if we have 1000 words to tussle with a book, Macaulay was given 100 pages to review, essentially, a preface. The next editor of Bacon's works, a man named Spedding, wrote a nine hundred page refutation of Macaulay's essay. This is the same logic that conquered most of Africa and half of Asia.

In John Clive's biography of Thomas Macaulay, he devotes the last chapter, a sort of epilogue, to surveying the Victorian response to the Bacon essay (And no, no, LI has not read the refutation of Macaulay published by Spedding; we have a habit, around here, of taking nine hundred page refutations written in the 1870s on trust). Clive's point is that one can use Macaulay's essay to measure a fracture in the Victorian mind between the rampant positivism which infused the attitude of the Whig power structure, with its strong hold on the merchant and business class, and the Conservative reaction to capitalism. Marx, of course, thought that capitalism was a revolutionary force dissolving the tough integument of traditional ties, unconsciously but efficiently carrying out the labor of the the Weltgeist. Of course, by and by, when all the ties were dissolved and the key to wealth was unlocked, history's favored class, the proletariat, would sit in the faux palaces of the bourgeoisie, and we'd all become literary critics in the morning, do a little bit of steel producing in the afternoon, and some fishing on the weekends. The Conservative critique, however, was much more on the screen for the the Victorian poobahs, who only gradually realized that the working class was beginning to feel itself as a class. In the early Victorian period, that critique took its bearings from Coleridge. Clive identifies Coleridge as the third man in Macaulay's enemy, the force behind Montague. Coleridge had already promoted Bacon as the English Plato. (See this essay by Harvey Wheeler on Coleridge's claim on the constitution org site) As a Plato, Bacon could be used against the force that was transforming the traditional form of property, and the hierarchy built upon it, because that force was perceived to be against every cultural value worth keeping. The Whiggish assault on the conventions of the rural landholders, on religion, was to its professional mourners (from Carlyle to Ruskin) the Dunciad writ large -- dullness as a social force, philistinism as a cultural dominant, the rush into some vast darkness within which one could hear, faintly, the reverberation of gunfire. From Emerson to Newman to Arnold, all the 19th century poobahs agreed that the philistine attitude had a charter, a Magna Carta, and it was the Bacon essay.

Emerson, in the English Traits, is referring to that essay when he shrewdly sums up Macaulay:

"The brilliant Macaulay, who expresses the tone of the English governing classes of the day, explicitly teaches, that _good_ means good to eat, good to wear, material commodity; that the glory of modern philosophy is its direction on "fruit;" to yield economical inventions; and that its merit is to avoid ideas, and avoid morals. He thinks it the distinctive merit of the Baconian philosophy, in its triumph over the old Platonic, its disentangling the intellect from theories of the all-Fair and all-Good, and pinning it down to the making a better sick chair and a better wine-whey for an invalid; --this not ironically, but in good faith; -- that, "solid advantage," as he calls it, meaning always sensual benefit, is the only good. The eminent benefit of astronomy is the better navigation it creates to enable the fruit-ships to bring home their lemons and wine to the London grocer. It was a curious result, in which the civility and religion of England for a thousand years, ends, in denying morals, and reducing the intellect to a sauce-pan."

So, let's sum up before the next post: the Macaulay essay was considered, on the one hand, to be a vicious caricature of Francis Bacon's character by a whole line of Bacon enthusiasts; and on the other hand, to be an extension of the unpleasantly practical side of Bacon's character by those who saw the practical turn in philosophy, and its social consequences, as the downfall of the best and the brightest. To quote a historian quoted by Clive, the essay was the "locus classicus of Victorian anti-intellectualism."

Since these forms are still with us, and these forces still rage underneath our feet, LI feels entitled to survey, at luxurious length, M.'s essay. Until the next post, children, adieu.








Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Remora

Among the more remarkable purveyors of nonsense about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, surprisingly, Ron Rosenbaum. His Edgy Enthusiast column in the NYObserver has gone over the edge. We'd like to remind Mr. Rosenbaum that Enthusiast was a code word, in the enlightenment, for Bigot. The underground work of connotation is slow, but apparently sure.

In two columns of invective and malignly erroneous analysis, on April 15th andApril 29th, Rosenbaum has been going on about the second holocaust, an idea he cops from that great social commentator, Philip Roth. The idea is that in Europe and the MiddleEast, the dark machinery is clanking that will be put in place to eliminate Jews wholesale. This explains the sympathy of the Europeans for the PLO, and their blindness to the David-like qualities of the present Israeli Commander inChief, Sharon (a man of peace, as our own commander in chief has admiringly opined).

Now to present a thesis like this, Rosenbaum has to overcome a few little problems. One, a big one it would seem, is that Jews per se are not being targeted en masse by any European government or faction -- immigrants are. And guess what? Those immigrants are Turks, they are Algerians, they are Africans, they are Bosnians -- in short, they are the Evil ones, the ones condemned to wallow in the cachots of American prisons as material witnesses, the ones with names like Muhammed. You know the ones I'm talking about. As for the anti-Semitism of Middle Eastern countries -- here, I believe, RR is on firmer ground. Not being a speaker of Arabic, I don't know how to judge the reports that filter in from Egypt, or from Saudi Arabia, and get distributed by right wingers like the ineffable Krauthammer -- reports that speak of widespread anti-Jewish motifs in Arabic media. However, I am inclined to think this is true. You don't have to go far on the web to find Anti-zionist sites that are really anti-Semitic.

However, it is important to note something right away about this. RR's second holocaust has already happened. In Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, and numerous other Middle Eastern countries, pogroms against the Jews broke out in the fifties, and many of these so called Oriental Jews decamped for Israel. This was a great crime, but there's been little attention paid to it. In fact, LI is so smart about these events because we've been reading a lot of books about Israel's history. Those books necessarily mentioned the influx of Yemeni, Iraqui, Syrian, and other Jews into Israel. Standard books about the fifties that don't focus on Israel, however, ignore this displacement. Why? Well, face it, America was allied with many of those places back then. And since the fifties, Israel has maintained disgraceful relations with vilely anti-semitic regimes, from South Africa to Argentina to Morocco. This strategy of calling attention to anti-semitism when it is convenient to do so has rather lessened the credit of the strategy of calling attention to anti-semitism.

What happened in the fifties wasn't, we should say, a holocaust. There is something cheap about this baker's dozen notion of the holocaust. If Mr. Rosenbaum can't distinguish the Holocaust from a pogrom, we can. We can also distinguish the Holocaust from the torching of synagogues by right wing punks; and we can distinguish it from the murder of Israelis by Palestinian suicide bombers, or bombers, period.

But let's grant, for the moment, this truly disgusting degradation of the word Holocaust. Rosenbaum�s thesis is a pretty simple one. That an anti-Zionist can be anti-semitic means, in Rosenbaum's world, that an opponent of Israel, at any time, on any of its policies, is necessarily anti-Semitic. This sounds like exaggeration on LI's part. Surely nobody is that over the edgy. But read, oh read this: RR simultaneously shedding crocodile tears over the Palestinians and wishing them, well, a form of endless night. Call this the Cherokee solution, after Andrew Jackson's decisive mode of dealing with those Native American terrorists in the Southeast:

"I feel bad for the plight of the Palestinians; I believe they deserve a state.But they had a state: They were part of a state, a state called Jordan, that declared war on the state of Israel, that invaded it in order to destroy it�and lost the war. There are consequences to losing a war, and the consequences should at least in part be laid at the feet of the three nations that soughtand lost the war. One sympathizes with the plight of the Palestinians, but one wonders what the plight of the Israelis might have been had they lostthat war. One doesn�t envision spacious homes and ping-pong for their leaders."

It is a plight those Palestinians are in. Always a plight. Have any people been so plighted in the press before? It isn't a crime, it isn't a ghetto, it isn't civil servitude, it isn'tthe denial of the right to property, political sufferage, and all the rest ofit. It is a plight. The phrase Palestinian plight is beginning to sound like the phrase, Jewish problem, in the thirties. It is, well, disturbing.

But not so disturbing as that idyll of spacious houses. Hmm. Gaza? Are we talking about the spacious houses of Jenin? Of Hebron? The spacious houses of those wonderful Palestinian resorts in Southern Lebanon?

Far be it from me to doubt the sincerity, the aching wonder, of RR's bad feelings about the Palestinians. I'm sure it makes him lose his appetite, sometimes. I am sure that the first thing he wants to do, when he goes to Israel, is contemplate the squalor of the Gaza strip. I'm sure I have no gauge to measure RR's heart. But we do have some rough gauges to measure his hypocrisy. For instance: did you notice how cutely shedding tears over the Palestinians edges into taking a position indistinguishable from that of the most right wing of Sharon's cabinet ministers, Ephraim Eitam? Instead of simply saying, let's bus em out, no, there's the infinite pity on these losers of a war. Like our Commander in Chief, RR is a compassionate nationalist on this issue. His heart is full of love. And his advice is full of extermination. In the end, what RR is advocating is: the expulsion of all Palestinians to Jordan. It is a more in sorrow than in anger kind of thing. It is a far far better thing I do than I have ever done before kind of thing. It is a well, it is a dirty job, but somebody has to do it kind of thing. And to those who find it too dirty -- those hoodlums, those distributors of blood libels who dare question the great Sharon's account of the humane treatment of Jenin scum -- well, we know their motives.

But just when you thought the curtain was going down on this kind of farce, it rises again in the second column on the Second Holocaust. Here, here is the spot where RR truly takes leave of his senses, taking the position that Le Pen is campaigning chiefly against the Jews. This is rather like thinking that the KKK? You know, in the sixties, in Mississippi? They were really focused on the Jews. The stuff about the negroes? That was just, well, collateral.

It is hard to describe just how silly RR's idea is. The "'raus 'raus" in Le Pen's speeches is not, as educated readers of this post know, directed against the Jews. Le Pen is no doubt a Jew hater. Jew hating wouldn't get him the percentage that he received. No, what gets him the votes is his Arab hating. His immigrant hating. It isn't the synagogues Le Pen wants to burn, at least not at first. It is the mosques. But here's RR, going out of his mind again:

"And now Le Pen. Its seems as if the mask is coming off European anti-Semitism right and left. I don�t want to say I told you so aboutEuropean�specifically French�anti-Semitism (see my April 15 column on the rootsof the Second Holocaust). It doesn�t afford any satisfaction to have one�s darkest imaginings confirmed.

"But when I heard the news about Le Pen, I was thinking about Amos Oz, theIsraeli novelist and longtime dovish advocate of living side-by-side in peace with a Palestinian state, and how he had been driven by events of the past fewweeks to ask the question (in The Nation), "Would an end to occupationterminate the Muslim holy war against Israel?" This is, of course, the key question that the anti-Israel Euro-idiots don�t get, and here Amos Oz,peace-loving man of letters and friend of many Palestinians, says that "If, despite simplistic vision, the end of occupation will not result in peace," he favors war. "Not a war for our full occupancy of the HolyLand"�he�s against the occupation of the West Bank�"but a war for ourright to live � in part of the land. A just war, a no-alternative war. A war we will win."

RR goes on to doubt the "we will win" line -- without alluding to Israel's nuclear arsenal. I guess the fact that Israel has a greater nuclear weapon delivery capacity than, say, Britain, doesn't matter to RR, who is up there on a much higher, even a metaphysical level. Facts, as one of our great leaders once said, are stupid things. And who needs stupid things to interfere with the higher truths? Among which, for RR, is that it is high time that Jordan was for the Jordanians. Especially those nasty ones in the West Bank and Gaza. Ship em back, but don't forget to shed tears over their dispossession.

I don't know. LI feels bad, too. In general.

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Remora

A story in the Biz section of the NYT about the conflicted interests of the banks that are presiding over the anatomy lesson taking place over Enron's corpse:


"In a Manhattan bankruptcy court, where hundreds of lawyers are trying to carve up what remains of Enron, the first order of business is finger-pointing � and many of the fingers are pointing at J. P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup.With billions of dollars at stake, many creditors question whether the two Wall Street giants can represent their interests when, they contend, the banks helped cause many of Enron's financial problems in the first place. Some are even asking that the banks be thrown off the 15-member committee responsible for determining what is owed to Enron shareholders, lenders, employees and thousands of others left in the lurch by Enron's collapse. The banks are the subject of government investigations and private lawsuits over their role in structuring off-balance-sheet partnerships that helped sink Enron. Some creditors say the banks are in hopeless conflict, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has expressed concern, as well."


Greider has a nice piece on the suit against the banks that kept investor money flowing into Enron. This is manna -- poisoned manna, granted, but what else does a critic of the corporate culture live for, nowadays?

"Win or lose, the lawsuit poses numerous embarrassments for Washington politics, and Congressional reformers should study it for a summary of the corrupted laws that need to be re-examined. Perhaps the most important one is this: The merger of commercial banks and Wall Street investment houses, ratified by Congress in 1999 and legalizing the new financial conglomerates like Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase, has already reproduced the very scandals of self-dealing and swindled investors that led to the legal separation of these two realms seventy years ago in the Glass-Steagall Act. Morgan and Citigroup senior executives, for example, consulted Enron's top executives almost daily on how to solve the company's deepening financial problems, but that knowledge was never shared with investors to whom the banks sold Enron shares and debt securities or, for that matter, with other banks who took a share of syndicated loans. The banks' stockbrokers maintained "strong buy" recommendations even as Enron entered its "death spiral," as the lawsuit calls it. "

Lose is probably the way that coin is going to come up. But remember, way back, when the banking regulatory "reforms" were enacted -- remember the ardent opposition of Ralph Nader and his ilk? And the bipartisan, smily support of the Clintonites and the Repubs, all just getting along, for once?
Thank God for the impeachment. More bipartisanship would have sunk us all.

Here's an other graf from Greider's piece explaining the workings of the Enron partnerships:

"E nron's "partnerships" essentially allowed the company to sell assets to itself--a Brazilian utility, commodity trading contracts, broadband capacity--and to rig the prices and profits on both sides of the transaction, then book the sale as rising revenues for Enron and thus send the share price higher. "In order for Enron's accounting scheme to work, the parties involved had to be controlled by Enron," the lawsuit explains. "But this control and affiliation had to be concealed." The selected private investors, who received lucrative rewards for putting up front money for Jedi or Chewco or the others, understood this reality because they were assured by Enron execs managing the schemes of exclusive access to the company's charmed opportunities. If they knew, the bankers who arranged the SPEs must also have known."

Greider reaches back to Ponzi to explain this kind of scheme. But a much more relevant reference is to the daisychains of beloved memory perpetrated by Texas S & L's in the 80s. It would surprise LI if Ken Lay didn't know various of the participants in that scandal. The Enron partnerships look like the old "flips" so beloved of the consortium of S&L pirates and crafty realestatesmen in the good old days.

There's a story in D Magazine about one of the jailed in that scandal, which also, come to think of it, involved some Bush nearest and dearest. Those Bushes.

The story is authored by the fishily named Shad Rowe, and it rains down sympathy on one Wayne Pickering, who 'flipped' some land for an international "loan facilitator", an Indian named Asomull Mukesh. The S &L scandal actually puts LI in a difficult position, cliche wise, since we'd like to use the old, first time is tragedy, second time is farce phrase, but ... what about when the first time around was farce?

Well, upshot of the D story is that Wayne went to jail, yes he did, while Mukesh, incredibly, became a protected witness type. Mr. Rowe is very sympathetic to Wayne's plight, and mentions that "despite 400 letters on his behalf", our man had to go to the hoosegow. Once in prison, Wayne discovered that he was in... prison. There is a truly heartfelt graf in the piece -- don't cry after you read this, I beg you, reader. This is Wayne on what he learned in prison:

"Pickering says that in prison, if you mind your own business and keep your head down, people leave you alone. �For example,� he says, �I would not sit in the rec room with 100 guys�most of whom are minority�and try to change the TV channel from the NBA game to the Golf Channel. I would use a little common sense." Common sense kicks in when you are with minority guys, We suppose.

And so the middle class meets its prize construction. Imagine! The article is full of compassion for a guy like Wayne in meshes like that. Ah, perhaps if there were more Waynes checking out the dark side, there'd be less prisons.

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Dope

Burke, when speaking of the Gordon riots -- a series of London anti-Catholic riots targeting the relief of the Penal laws against Catholic property holders in Britain -- used the wonderful phrase, "the midnight chalk of incendiaries" to refer to the crude, grafitti driven style of jacquerie populism. I love the phrase partly because of the violence it both encodes and expresses -- the violence with which a higher literacy, or at least a more clerically orthodox one, meets a lower literacy, scrawling with its chalk, or spraying with its paint cans, the complaint of the day. The Gordon riots are in their way a perfect example of popular anger harnessed to the worst and most reactionary forces in history. That's the force that drives the Lepeniste, the Peronist, the Fascist, and every black shirted factotum that stalks the street, lead pipe in hand. Often, of course, the black shirt is hidden beneath the policeman's blues.

But LI also knows something else. LI is perhaps fatally addicted to knowing something else, but so it goes. The aristocratic disdain, the disdain of men like Burke, derives its own sarcasm from a privileged resentment that has never scrupled to use the midnight chalk of incendiaries for its own ends. To make an excuse for arrangements of property and caste that are inherently unjust by manipulating a thuggish and sickening discourse against any that would criticize them, and to do this in the name of populism, has become the dominant style of conservatism in our time, its own pact with the cretinous devils. We all know the drive by shooting style of talk radio hosts, right wing columnists, and Texas politicians. And we all know that grafitti artists, now, are killed by the cops, and that the cops are are simply the incendiaries in power.

Limited Inc has been mulling this politico-stylistic question since Saturday morning, when we read the NYT's Tom Shanker and David Sanger's excellent report on the administration planning for Mr. Bush's coming bully little war. It is a measure of the nihilism of the opposition in this country that LI's first reaction -- and we would bet the first reaction of most members of the scattered American left -- was indignation mixed with helplessness. Here is the machine, here are its parts, here is its objective, here are the erroneous assumptions that have gone into its design. And what words are there to oppose it? Not simply condemn it; not simply analyze it, unfolding error upon error; not simply insult the men who have compounded it, and the supposed leader (that man whose face, every day, becomes just a little bit more unendurable, don't you think?) who desires it; where are the words going to come from that will stop it?

The feeling that the words aren't going to come from anybody in the official opposition party is rather paralyzing. The feeling that there is, in the incendiaries who gathered to protest against Bush's Middle East policy in D.C. last weekend, a few too many who are anti-Semitic, and a few too few who want to extend the same rigorous standard of conduct to Israel and, say, Cuba -- this rather knocks at LI's nervous system.

Okay, for what it is worth, here is the beginning of Shanker and Sanger's story:

"WASHINGTON, April 27 � The Bush administration, in developing a potential approach for toppling President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, is concentrating its attention on a major air campaign and ground invasion, with initial estimates contemplating the use of 70,000 to 250,000 troops.

The administration is turning to that approach after concluding that a coup in Iraq would be unlikely to succeed and that a proxy battle using local forces there would be insufficient to bring a change in power.But senior officials now acknowledge that any offensive would probably be delayed until early next year, allowing time to create the right military, economic and diplomatic conditions.

These include avoiding summer combat in bulky chemical suits, preparing for a global oil price shock, and waiting until there is progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

There was surprisingly little stir about this story in this weekend's media. At least, the WP didn't bother to cc it with addenda, as they would with the usual scoop. I saw no reference to it in the Dallas paper site. Even the Boston Globe, owned by the Times, headlined the ongoing, ambiguous struggle of the Catholic church against
pedophilia (with the attitude of the cardinals being much like the attitude of union bosses being asked to give up a traditional rank and file perk in hard times -- a disgruntled acceptance, and a search for loopholes, about describes it).

Nevertheless, LI is preparing the midnight chalk. We will speak more, this week, about Iraq.