“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

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Remora

A couple of days ago LI indulged in that infantile positivism that makes our fair readership grimace and pretend not to know us. We made fun, that is, of the Yale Philosophy department's "probability theory and Jesus is my fave philosopher" conference. Or whatever it was called. We might have even implied that, between the News of the World's interviews with the Alien that advised Clinton, and Yale's faculty's attempts to prove the verity of the gospels, integrity, honesty, and science are all on the News of the World's side. As a followup, we recommend Jerry Coyne's mugging of a soft focus book by Michael Ruse that attempts to meld Darwinism and Christianity into the cutest little choir of Christmas decorations you ever saw.


The first paragraph actually solves our problem with the probability argument for the resurrection. If you will recall -- or even if you won't -- the post was about a NYT story involving a man who seemingly combined all the charming physical characteristics of Santa Claus and Charles Manson -- a Mr. Swinburne -- dispensing this shaky, if not downright dishonest, argument:

"Mr. Swinburne, a commanding figure with snow-white hair and piercing blue eyes, proceeded to weigh evidence for and against the Resurrection, assigning values to factors like the probability that there is a God, the nature of Jesus' behavior during his lifetime and the quality of witness testimony after his death. Then, while his audience followed along on printed lecture notes, he plugged his numbers into a dense thicket of letters and symbols � using a probability formula known as Bayes's theorem � and did the math. "Given e and k, h is true if and only if c is true," he said. "The probability of h given e and k is .97"

Mr. Coyne's article gives us an even better argument for Jesus' resurrection -- that is, if we are truth table freaks. Coyne reports on a recent radio interview given by some pius geneticist. The talk got around to the virgin birth. Well, the geneticist rather unhappily conceded, that is an, uh, anomoly. So where, a questioner wanted to know, did Jesus' Y chromosome come from? The geneticist dug through his bag of tricks, and came up with the answer that maybe Mary's two X chromosomes carried a piece of a Y chromosome. He didn't, according to Coyne, go any further with this fascinating discussion. But Coyne reminds us that for this to have happened, Mary would have to be a sterile man.

Well, the Light (capitalize that Light, editor) flashed before my eyes. Because but bien sur! If Mary were a sterile man, there is no Jesus. If no Jesus, no crucifixion. If we simply put this in truth table terms, we have two falses. Well, two fs make a t, as we all know. So Jesus not only resurrected, he trailed fishes and breadsticks out of that gloomy tomb! Mr. Swinburne should definitely write an article about this, making the argument that if c is true, that is Mary is a bachelor living in New York, and d is true, the Y chromosome determined Jesus' sex, there is a .97 percent chance that Giuliani is Jesus's father. No wonder the late mayor hated it when artists kept making fun of his bundle of joy!

Limited Inc is contemplating making a pitch to Yale. Surely, bearing such truths, a tenured position is waiting for us. We could definitely use the money.





Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Remora

A Ramble

"The golden age proclaimed by America. The golden age. And all the girls."

Exquisite Corpse does civilization and its discontents a favor, and publishes a translation of Oswaldo de Andrade's Cannibal Manifesto.

"I asked a man what was Right. He answered me that it was the assurance of the full exercise of possibilities. That man was called Galli Mathias. I ate him."

Oswaldo's works and days were spent on poetry, the libido, and communism. Or at least until, like all Latin American intellectual poobahs, he settled down into the utter fatuousness of old age, wallowing in his own lipids and lying memories. We do like his definitive refutation of the liberal principle, by the simple expedient of eating the liberal. St. Paul advises us to prove all things and hold fast that which is good.
Oswaldo simply supplements that dictum: do it with your mouth and teeth and tongue. We also like the fact that the the golden age proclaimed by America was, indeed, all about all the girls. For Oswaldo, the younger the better. This is easier to do when you have the time for it. Luckily, Oswaldo came from a wealthy family. He was not only a creator of modernism, but a creation of one of modernism's monsters: the newspapers. He became a personality in Brazilian newspapers in the twenties, traveled to Europe and discovered the Futurists, Dadaists, and pullulating other ists, and returned with the mission to create some Brazilian equivalent of what he'd seen. In some ways, the typical modernist in the Picabia mode:


"In his behavior and other features like the mania of meeting people and the insistence on seeing those that he knew, the speed with which he got sick of those whom, the previous day, he had put up in the clouds, the ingenuous search for contact with foreigners who were passing through; the experience of living in so many different environments; the familiarity with Midases and politicians, all these demonstrating an obvious quality of the nouveau riche; but also with chauffeurs and black Indians, who amused him intensely and whom he would collect. To crown all of this, the love for novelty of whatever form: ideas, books, meetings, new people, crimes. An overwhelming use of everything to reach knowledge, a notion, at least an increase in information, like someone who wished to swallow the world." CANDIDO, Antonio. "Digress�o sentimental sobre Oswald de Andrade" ("Sentimental Digression on Oswald de Andrade"). V�rios escritos (Various writings). S�o Paulo: Duas Cidades. 1970.

Limited Inc would like to put its seal of approval on cannibal poetics -- it surely is more fun than the disembodied, Jack Kerouacian Gooey Gupta school out there in Colorado. Or whatever it is called. However, being a politically minded we, we are aware that the image of the Indian, in a space that has been intentionally depopulated of same, can exert all the fascination it wants to: this is still all about the criminal's heirs pickpocketing the corpse for his one last thing thing of value -- his fame. And even getting that wrong. There is, after all, something in Nietzsche's complaint about poets: they do lie too much: or as Zarathustra, who classes himself with the poets, says, "we know too little and are bad pupils: so we are forced to lie."

Limited Inc has been reading Scott Malcomson's book on race in America, One Drop of Blood. Business Week published a nice review of the book when it came out. However, we think the reviewer, Marilyn Harris, misses at least one of Malcomson's points:

In one of the most persuasive and unnerving revelations, the writer shows that before Europeans arrived on American shores, there was no consciousness of Indian-ness among the many, highly distinct tribes; instead, identity was tribe-based. It took a while for white colonists to think of the natives as a group, as ''the other.'' It also took time for Indians to perceive that they were being defined as such. By degrees, ''colonial law and practice turned native tribal citizens into Indians,'' Malcomson notes, and into ''the still more mystifying category of people of color--a group that, in a further move, was associated by colonists with permanent slavery.''

The Native Americans' future would hold paradoxes and ironies as well as manifold miseries, and Malcomson deftly teases them from the historical record. The parallels between their story and that of both blacks and whites shackle the three groups together in an uncomfortable journey through the centuries. Some Indians were enslaved, but others held black slaves. Some Indians in the early 19th century constructed a ''theology of separation''--much as certain blacks did later on. This amounted to a fundamentalist creed that rejected white influences and culture. Those who mixed with whites and converted to Christianity entered a cultural purdah and were rejected by both sides. Still, there was intense government pressure to assimilate. Malcomson shows how the national census reflected a dwindling Indian population up until the 1950s. After that, it began increasing sharply--as racial pride grew and Indians, rather than census takers, were allowed to state their own affiliation."

Harris misses the context of Malcomson's irony. It is true that the population of Indians has been growing sharply, but there's a circular logic in thinking that it is because Indians have been allowed to state their own affiliation, if in fact the question is: who is an Indian? Rather, if we are reading Malcomson rightly, he is trying to say something about the slipperiness of racial categories. The whole racial notion of Indians went from being a unity enforced by the original, European colonialist understanding of the New World to being a category that justified, firstly, the depossession of the members of the category, and then their assimilation into the property laws and morals of white society (a category that was constructed in relationship to its others -- as any good deconstructionist would expect), and finally into being a category in which to take "pride." Why the continual evocation of pride? Because these racial categories operate on the limit of their definitional usefulness against the most puzzling of them: white. That "white blood" flows in the veins of the suddenly franchised lost nation of the Indians -- that a lost nation recovered by a change in census methodology -- shows... well, it shows what? It shows that the Indian is defined by the problem of being an Indian, rather than by some certain knowledge that makes for declaring an "affiliation." It shows that, by inference, the same is true for that not so universal solvent, white -- which can absorb Jew, Italian, and even Indian, but can never seemingly absorb black.

Perhaps we can emerge from the whiteness by way of the cannibal. But Limited Inc has his doubts about that optimistic program. At one time it looked like Rimbaud would make us free. But now we need a bulldozer.









Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Remora

Privatization is as much an ideological as a business proposition. Operating on the level of railroads or power, its ideological use is as a lever against regulation: a way of extracting things from the State. The idea that engrossing, macro projects can magically summon up the investment to make a profit in the far off future on selling to customers who have to 1. accustom themselves to the technology, and 2. justify the early adopter costs has been severely hit by the telecom meltdown -- Gilder's telecosm, like a middle aged man's orgasm, proved to be a spike of ecstatic sensation followed by the sag of deflation, and a heavy post-coital headache.

In today's NYT, there's an item by DIANA B. HENRIQUES and JACQUES STEINBERG
about the much vaunted Edison School project. Headed by Charles Whittle, the Tennessee money goon who contrived Channel One (that odious tv corporate brainwash that swept through the school systems (especially of the South) in the early 90s), Edison schools were supposed to show that education is best left to people who can grind a nice return on investment out of it. Ah, but it turns out that even if you put your tax dollars into these supposedly cost cuttin' ventures, the ventures can't make money on it. In fact, they never will, except on a scale that would, ironically, nationalize education:

"Analysts have estimated that Edison needs to raise as much as $40 million before next fall to fulfill the Philadelphia contract and to sustain the schools it already runs, which educate 75,000 children in 22 states.

The recent decline in Edison's share price from more than $20 a share in January to $2.66 at the close of the stock market yesterday makes the sale of fresh shares unlikely.Borrowing remains an option, but an expensive one. Edison had to pledge $61 million in assets last fall as collateral for a loan of only $20 million. It has paid as much as 20 percent interest on other loans, equivalent to credit card rates. It could still seek an infusion from private investors, help from government or aid from private foundations that look favorably on its mission. "

When you are borrowing at 20 percent, you are pretty much doomed. According to the article, the company's cumulative losses so far have reached 200 million dollars. And there are some questions about the revenue generated by Edison's schools -- appparently, costs are cut partly by using private donations. In other words, this for profit outfit is depending on non-profit charity.

Help might be on the way for Edison. As Mother Jones notes,, one of Edison's chief financial backers is John W. Childs. And Mr. Childs has a soft spot for the GOP:

"A graduate of Yale and Columbia universities, Childs first worked with leveraged buyouts at Prudential Insurance during the 1970s, and later moved on to manage the Boston-based buyout firm of Thomas H. Lee (No. 190, $256,800). There he helped negotiate the buyouts of Snapple Beverages and Ghirardelli Chocolate, among others. In 1995, Childs split from Lee, who remains a prominent Democratic donor, to start his own firm. Childs has since earned a reputation as a veritable ATM machine for the GOP. According to a recent study by the State Net Capitol Journal, Childs' contributions in Massachusetts accounted for 25 percent of total receipts to the national Republican Party between 1997 and 1999.

"One of Childs' most politically sensitive companies is Edison Schools, the country's largest for-profit operator of public schools. Childs and his buyout firm control 14 percent of Edison's common stock. President Bush's proposal to subsidize $3 billion in federal loans to establish new charter schools and issue private school vouchers to students in low-performing schools would certainly encourage Edison's business. As a recent Edison filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission noted: "If this business model fails to gain acceptance among the general public, educators, politicians, and school boards, we may be unable to grow our business."

One of the great myths of thrown around by Republican types is that there is a grassroots hunger for private schools in the ghetto ("in the ghetto" -- to be sung in an Elvis like tone). Now, on the one hand, that must be true -- just as there is a great hunger for any prestige item. If Andover plunks down in South Chicago and opens its doors, you can bet there'd be a line forming.

Unfortunately, most private schools aren't prestige factories. Andover isn't going to South Chicago, and if it did, it would either destroy its prestige (which depends heavily on it being the school of choice for wealthy parents), or select the same elite children.

The Philadelphia News has, of course, a more keen interest in Edison Schools than the NYT. This is a story about a request, filed by Republican Senator Arlen Spector and Dem congressman Chaka Fattah, for a good comparison of the record of Edison schools to the record of public schools. Although you can't bump into a conservative column on this subject without reading that these comparisons have already been made, and Edison come out the winner; in actual fact, Edison seems to be engaging in Enron accounting on more than one level:


"Benno C. Schmidt Jr., chairman of Edison's board of directors, who also testified, said Edison's schools overall have improved test scores by 5 or 6 percent a year, depending on the measure. He acknowledged that a small percentage of schools have slid backward."Look at it the way you would look at the record of Mike Schmidt as a third baseman," he said, referring to the former Phillies slugger. "It's not a matter of whether he struck out on occasion. It's a matter of the whole record."

One more time, for those slower readers who don't see LI's point: the conservative contradiction, here, is between ideology and mechanism. Ideologically, the grassroots right have fought to maintain local control of schools whereever they have fought. However, in the conservative dialectic, the libertarian moment is that in which public enterprises are released into private hands. What this means for schools is that, inevitably, control is wrested from the neighborhoods. As a pseudo-Marxist, I'm not sure what I think about this. I suspect a nationalized school system would accord children a more equal education. And I suspect that, to advance that kind of project, the initial takeover of local schools by a national private business would have to be the first step. Since the national private business will inevitably stumble -- according to the laws of the marketplace, and any study you want to make of the Fortune 400 companies over the last fifty years -- these schools would have to be rescued by the govenment. That, in turn, would creat a mosaic of governmentally controlled schools. And if those schools performed adequately, it would be hard to turn them back over to private enterprise.

There is a parallel here to agriculture. The Republican party included, as its most stalwart members, small farmers for most of the twentieth century. Yet the iron law of capitalism applied to those small farmers as well as to any other enterprise. The iron law, of course, was propped up, when drooping, by Congressional handouts, and a socialized water policy that benefited the wealthiest. So that today, the small farmer is as much an anachronism in the USA as he was in the former USSR. There is more than one way to collectivize, my brothers and sister.










Sunday, May 12, 2002

"There was a law of lese-majeste against those who committed some fault against the Roman people. Tiberius grasped this law and applied it, not to those cases for which it was made, but for all those which could serve his hatred or his suspicions. Not only actions fell within the limits of the law, but words, signs, even thoughts: for what was said in the flow of the confidence of the heart between two friends can only be regarded as a species of thought. There was no liberty in celebrations, or in the confidences of parents, or in the fidelity of slaves; the dissimulation and melancholy of the prince communicated itself into all parts. Friendship was regarded as a reef, brilliance as an imprudence, virtue as an affectation which could recall, in the minds of the people, the happiness of times past."
-- Montesquieu, Considerations on the causes of the greatness and decadence of the Romans

The Observer sends its man to report from Cuba on the eve of Carter's visit. He wanders about, and picks up such gems as this, about the school system:

"The children, in pressed white shirts with red scarves tied neatly round their necks, eventually scuttle off to the call of the bell at Ruben Alvarez school - named, of course, after a revolutionary hero. ' Sin educacion no hay revolucion posible ' declares the sign at the entrance - Without education, revolution is not possible - alongside pictures of Elian Gonzalez restored to his father's loving arms. Head teacher Pilar Mejia explains that curricula are taught in strict accordance with the latest directive from the education ministry, and around five basic principles the first of which stipulates that (she reads, dutifully): 'To love our motherland should be the political goal of the educative process.'

The revolutionary catechism that began with such high hopes in Europe in the 19th century impinges itself by such low means on the children who must suffer this particular autumn of the Patriarch. Castro decays, and the country runs on liberal tourists of the Swedish variety, who can sample the delights of collectivization and still make the circuit for the prostitutes that troll through Habana -- no longer the brothel of the U.S., as it was under Batista, but a brothel with a motherland and a Che Guevara poster over the "put the quarter in the slot" bed. Remember that Pixies song?

She's a real left winger 'cause she's been down south
And held peasants in her arms
She said "I could tell you stories that could make you cry"

Well, here's some travelogue to make us all feel good:

"If there is a trinity of clich�s that brands Cuba, it is communism, cigars and libido. This third is nothing new, but it, too, has themes and variations. Sex walks the streets of Havana. Castro promised to liberate Cuba from its role as America's brothel. But by reintroducing the dollar, he has turned it into the boudoir for a new generation of clients from Europe, Canada and South America. Thousands of Havana's girls and women are for rent - by the hour, day, even by the week. Two in the morning, and the Parque Central is emptying out, but Mileydis Padrino Diaz is still on her patch, escorted by two gentlemen. One of them makes the approach, describing himself as 'a lawyer'. Milyedis, with braided hair and jeans, smiles bittersweetly. Ten dollars for the chica, plus another 10 for la casa - 12 quid the package.

The Observer's man (who, incidentally, has portrayed himself, in the best tradition of Clark Kent, resisting Mileydis' blandishments, and merely casting an objective eye over her, uh, habitus) digs up a dissident that Limited Inc can approve of (and we approve of so little, you know): Elizardo Sanchez. Apparently the Trotskyite wing of the Castro opposition. So he talks with Sanchez. But Sanchez doesn't look like a man with a lot of markers to play with in the post Castro era. Sadly enough.

Yes, the depressing thing is, Sanchez will be swept away by the deluge after the Patriarch is eaten, as is inevitably the case, by vultures. Castro has spent what? thirty, forty years? producing an island society that depends on him utterly, and will be gone, the victim of the recidivist Miami right, when he is gone.

I said, "I want to be a singer like Lou Reed."
"I like Lou Reed," she said, sticking her tongue in my ear.
"Let's go, let's sit, let's talk, politics goes so good with beer.
"And while we're at it, baby, why don't you tell me one of your biggest fears?"
I said, "Losing my penis to a whore with disease."
"Just kidding," I said. "Losing my life to a whore with disease."
She said, "Excuse me, please?"
I said, "Losing my life to a whore with disease."
She said, "Please."
Well, I'm a humble guy with healthy desire
Don't give me no shit because

I've been tired, I've been tired, I've been tired