“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, September 20, 2003

Bollettino

When is a genocide not a genocide? When it doesn't fit in with anti-communist history, that 's when. In the Wash Post there is a jokey little article about the continuing presence of Lenin -- Lenin the evil -- in the former Soviet Union. The focus is on the controversy over taking Lenin's statue down in Kyrgyzstan. The article ends with this carefree paragraph:

"Ibraimov said he always intended to put the statue back up elsewhere in deference to Lenin's role in freeing Kyrgyzstan from the last Russian czar, who oversaw a 1916 crackdown here that killed 120,000 Kyrgyz, roughly one-sixth of the population. "He saved us from dying off," Ibraimov said. "Our attitude toward Lenin is unique."

Quite a crackdown there, for a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. Frankly, we'd never hear of Czar Nicholas doing this. But surely, with all the concentration on Lenin's complicity in the construction of the Gulag -- a complicity that is almost always retrospective, since the crime isn't so much in what happened under Lenin as what happened after Lenin that we can see would have happened under Lenin if he'd lived -- surely some footnote should include these 120,000. A splash, a drop in the bucket, of course, nothing to worry about. Still, where did this number come from?

We looked around the Internet, and found an account, wierdly enough, at a tourist agency site. Here are some of the salient grafs.

"In the summer of 1916, the Russian Empire ordered a call up of non-Russians in the colonies that comprised the Russian empire to help feed it's desperate war effort in Europe. The Imperial Decree of 26th June 1916 was transmitted to Pishpek via Tashkent. It was quite specific, the locals were not to be drafted as combatants, but for support actities such as food production and road building � thus freeing the soldiers on these duties for combat. The wording of the decree was unfortunate in that it apparently referred to �requisition� rather than �conscription� � implying that the dractees were considered as �objects� rather than as people."

...

"There were attempts by the local Khans to prevent or delay the implementation of the decree. Accoding to some sources, the first uprising was in Khojent on July 4th 1916 and the movement spread to other parts of Turkestan. On July 11th a mass protest took place in Tashken and the police fired shots into the crowd. The Russians arrested an additional group and summarily executing thirty-five people. The Russian settlers, who had been brought into Tashkent some thirty to forty years earlier, began looting, apparently at the instigation of the Russian police."

...

"A Cossack army led by General Aninekov was sent from Vernoe (Almaty), and others from Ferghana and Tashkent and other regions of the far flung empire, to crush the rebellion. Even prisoners of war, who were being held in Russian POW camps in Central Asia, were recruited by the Russian generals as mercenaries with regular pay. The vigilantes and the army were given free reign and a the result was a serious of massive reprisals � slaughtering flocks, burning down Kyrgyz villages, killing men women and children, (and according to eyewitnesses, massacred even babies in the cradle) and hundreds of people were arrested. It is said that the trials in Pishpek were so disorganized that the authorities lost track of the people that had been executed..More Russian settlers were brought in to occupy confiscated Central Asian land and homes. Contemporary reports estimated that between 25 June 1916 and October of 1917, some one and one half million Central Asians were killed by the Russian forces and settlers, with the Russian casualties numbering around three thousand. Out of an estimated total population of 768,000 Kyrgyz, some 120,000 were killed in the fighting and the aftermath � according to one source, over 41% of the Kyrgyz population from the North of the country were killed. � and another 120,000 fled across the border to China, (referred to as �The Great Escape�) many dying en route in the snows, of hunger, or as the victims of bandits. There is a mountain pass called Ashu Surk � �the Pass of Bones� � which got it�s name from the number that died here in their attempted flight. The Aaly Tokombaev Museum in Bishkek has an exhibition dedicated to the exodus of many Kyrgyz to China in 1916 following the uprising. At least half of the Central Asian livestock was destroyed."

This is the lost liberal Russia lamented by Nabokov. This is the state of play ante Lenin. Hmm. Wonder if Annie Applebaum's recent history of the Gulag even mentions this, uh, regretable attempt on the part of a revanchiste backwards people to hinder the wonders of Western Civilization.
Bollettino

When Chalabi and Chirac are singing the same song, you know something has gone seriously haywire.

This administration, packed with Straussians who are so proud of their lack of a sense of irony -- that horrid thing, irony, which many a conservative commentator in the post-9/11 dysphoria proclaimed to be DOA -- has now produced a situation that generates a world historical irony every newscycle. That Chirac has reverted to the timetable that Donald Rumsfeld was using back in May -- back in the cheery days when the plan was that the US footprint would dwindle to 30,000 in Iraq by September, with the rest, one supposes, liberating Damascus or Teheran - does not seem to be admired as much as it should be.

In a more just world, Chirac would be languishing in prison, convicted on various corruption charges. We don't live in a more just world, which is of course why we have irony in the first place. In the Spring, when France was opposing Bush's war, the internationale of anti-war forces overlooked Chirac's history and embraced him. It was an odd moment, paralleled by the oddity of the pro-war forces embracing Chalabi, who also, in a more just world, would be languishing in a cell next to various Enron execs. Perhaps even then it was inevitable that the two old crooks would converge. This NYT op-ed about the Chalabi delusion that suffused the Pentagon doesn't tell us anything we don't already know -- and is, besides, another round in the endless war between State and Defense -- but it does give us the backstory on Bremer's most outrageous mistake, the dissolution of the Iraqi army. At the time, LI pointed out that this was a nearly insane move. Now we know that it was a homage to Chalabi.


It's obvious, in broad terms, that the French are right. The idea that Iraq is going to be the stage for the simulacra of the American Revolution makes a weird kind of aesthetic sense for an administration that contains the likes of Ashcroft -- the kind of guy whose spiritual consanguinity with those Confederate re-enactors who spend quality time stressing their butternut uniforms in front of the mirror in the garage has been well documented. However, it makes no kind of sense otherwise. It is a measure of the rootlessness of American conservativism, at this time, that Bremer's constitution-ophilia is being allowed to pass without comment -- surely it is a just target for the loftiest kind of Burkean scorn. As the Council said this week, only Iraqis can secure Iraq -- similarly, only Iraqis can govern Iraq. Constitutions are for the burning. If Bremer really believes that a constitution is going to be a bulwark of American interest when Americans leave Iraq, he surely needs to de-tox.

That said, the tactic of obstructing the U.S. at the U.N. is not going to lead to Iraqis governing Iraq. It is often said, with militant indignation by rightwingers, that Chirac doesn't care about Iraq (and then it is said that the left doesn't care about Iraq). This is true. Although the professional vice of the French, the vice of their Frenchness, is to think of themselves as bringing enlightenment to the world, the French foreign office disregards morality in favor of short term self interest almost every time. It is the Normalian reflex. These people were literally swaddled in the collected papers of Raymond Aron. That is what they are about. The whole culture of diplomacy in France is about realism. Unfortunately, the Chiracian approach isn't realism -- it is nihilism.

However, it should be said that there is a counter-truth: Bush and the nationalist constituency he has assiduously nurtured could also care less about Iraq. Or, rather, their concern is evangelical. They care only about an Iraq that is reborn, in the Christian sense. Renouncing its past -- its sinful Iraqness -- and being baptized in the holy water of free enterprise, democracy (the election of an American friendly government), and oil flow. This care is worse than non-care, since dunking a whole (Moslem) country into the fount and baptising it in the name of Jesus Christ is, well, not a good idea. For one thing, the country will kick and scream. For another thing, there's something unctuous and creepy about this care -- something that smells like a cult. Or like that Mormon project of baptizing dead Jews through some spooky ritual, thus reclaiming Israel. It is very much the same mentality. Only by renouncing family and friends can Iraq truly enjoy our care. And in the cheerful way of evangelicals, once the rituals are out of the way, the question is: what's to eat? Or, in the case of Iraq: how can we make as much money as possible out of this sucker?

That is not going to work. That is not working. That will not work.

What Chirac could do that would be helpful (although not decisive -- the UN really is secondary in re Iraq) is to press for a speeded up schedule that isn't wholly indigestible to the Americans. One that would simply bypass the absurd constitution now, and if you are very good, aftewards we'll play "election"-- which is the mentality of the Bremer Palace. This is just the kind of thing the Iraqi Mussolini, Chalabi, would go for too. At the moment, his greed is a factor for good. That moment will pass. But it should be recognized, right now, for what it is, right now.

Not that LI thinks that any of this is going to happen; that any misplay is not going to be fumbled through, and exaggerated, by the krewe of clowns that run this country, and reported on seriously by the embedded krewe of clowns that bring us the news.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Bollettino

For reasons I've noted before (abject poverty and systematic non-payment of Roger), I am about to lose my AOL account. My new mailing address is: rogerwgathman@yahoo.com. I think I've caught everybody who needs to know this, but if I haven't -- well, if you send me an email and it bounces back, this is the reason why.

Similarly, I'll be losing my phone service some time next week. Anybody who wants or needs to call me should be advised to do it before then.

In the words of Lou Lou Lou Reed -- "I'm going out/on the dirty avenue."

Bollettino

Car ce sont les conqu�tes qu'on est menac� de subir qui font
horreur ; celles qu'on accomplit sont toujours bonnes et belles. -- Simone Weil

Fishing the internet is one of the addicting sports. For those of you up to the French, I'd strongly recommend the Jean Marie Trembley's fantastic collection at the Universite of Quebec, Les Classiques des sciences sociales. They've just added Weil's Ecrits on history and politics, which includes the famous -- or to some people, infamous -- essay on Hitlerism and Rome. I've been reading it. Simone Weil used to mean a lot to me -- but I gradually turned against her. In fact, I view her with a bit of dread.

She was a woman whose response to oppression was practically somatic. She had a strong case of Christ envy, which, I imagine, ever her death by starvation did nothing to assuage. It isn't often noted that Weil fascinated Georges Bataille, whose readers come from a very different pool than the pious, Maritain like Catholics who took over Weil in the 50s. Bataille wrote about her, in that scabrous Bataille way, in one of his novels, le bleu de ciel -- she was the model for Lazare. Suleiman, in an essay on Bataille's 1930s writings that appeared in Critical Inquiry, mentions that Bataille was fascinated with Weil's filthiness. In the thirties, Weil was filled with the messianic mission of the proletariat, so she planned out the stages of her crucifixion, first as a factory worker, then as a volunteer in Spain on the Loyalist side -- not as a fighter, but as a health worker. Weil did share the most important thing with Jesus -- a complete lack of humor. The lack of a sense of humor is a pretty rare thing, actually. And it is an active thing -- it burns a hole in the self, and it continues that dark work until the self becomes a hole. Bataille, of all people, knew this -- and it is hard to believe that he didn't envy Weil this gift. Suleiman's retelling of this section of Bleu de ciel is nicely done:

"Lazare, yet another French Marxist invellectual in Barcelona, is a young woman who simultaneously fascinates and repels Troppman [the protagonist] because of her political passion and authority -- and also becuse he finds her sexually unattractive, an ugly "dirty" virgin in contrast to the beautiful, exciting Dirty...

Troppmann's association of the workers with Lazare evokes a crucial earlier scene that occurred while he was still in Paris. Just before falling ill but already in a feverish state, Troppmann visits Lazare in her apartment, which she shares with her stepfather, a professor of philosophy. THe discussion centers on what Melou, the stepfatehr, calls the :"anguishing dilemma" confronting intellectuals once they have admitted :the collapse of socialist hopes": "Should we isolate ourselves in silence? Or should we, on the contrary, join the workers in their last acts of resistance, tuhus accepting an implacable and fruitless death?" Troppmann, in a state of shock, feels unable to respond. Finally, he asks Lazare to show him the toilet, where he proceeds to "piss for a long time" and tries to vomit by shoving two fingers down his throat."

Bataille's genius consisted in knowing the conceptual value of a good piss -- its argumentative weight. He joins a select group in knowing this -- Johnson kicking a stone in refutation of Berkeley, and a few Daoists. The idea that the carrier of every concept must be in language -- a formal system -- is the presupposition of every philosophy, and (at least this is Bataille's interpretation of Nietzsche) at the base of every form of nihilism -- the last, devastating stroke that divides the human from the animal.

Which is why Weil is so important, read as a sort of dialogue partner of Bataille. Because Weil definitely wanted to produce that last, devastating stroke. There is no logical one direction of nihilism -- it penetrates like a stain in all directions. Weil, however, saw the continuity of one of those directions: the uprooting of a whole people. Her writing about hitlerism, especially when France was occupied and Weil herself, by Hitlerian definition a Jew, was threatened with imminent death, is luminous with her complete hatred of power. It is only by maintaining herself at that level, in that position, that Weil could see, clearly, how much the pattern of Western culture was mirrored in the Hitlerian project. Far from being barbaric, Hitler was -- Weil thought -- a pure product of civilization, civilization reduced to its essential process: the destruction of the other, to be followed by the destruction of the self. Since the second stage of the program paralleled Weil's own desire -- since she could see, that is, how she could become a Nazi -- she could also diagnose it. Sentiment, for the philosopher, has a diagnostic value that can be replaced by nothing else.

Well... we could go on with this. How did we get here? Oh yes, recommending the social science site. Go to it, gentle reader.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Bollettino

Ledger of a writer.

What a fabulous month. At the beginning of the month, I was informed by two New York papers for whom I had written reviews that appeared in the first week of August, who had me write them to deadlines by mid July, that they wouldn't be paying me until the last week of September. Now a friend, who offered me money to do some research for her, has pretty much told me that she is sending me a check -- through the post office of the country that she lives in -- that will reach me by the end of October, or November, or December. I made a grandiose gesture, and told her to forget it. But it really isn't that grandiose: who knows what address I will have when the wayward check hits my box? The torment of waiting for it overshadows the amount itself. I have offered to pay (with an I.O.U.) for her not to send the check.

So: zero dollars has landed in my account, and I made zero in August. I am facing a bills of about 550 dollars. Oh, and that money they take at the store when you try to buy bread. And the month is half over. This is only the icing on this comedy. There is also the pathetic twenty to thirty jobs I have applied for, with a cover letter that has increased in specificity of what I'd do even as I know that all of that servility is being wasted on the indifference of a waste basket. No: I did get the stray post card, one from the Bar Association of Austin, the other from some legal firm, both informing me that my application was under consideration. Well, of course the only consideration it was really getting was by the guy at the dump, directing the garbage truck it was in to this or that site. If Walt Whitman embodied America, LI is embodying the cursed part of Bush's America, the non-dividended, the luckless, the unskilled and the doomed. We have contemplated, with teeth grinding envy, those who are wheeled about in wheel chairs; those who enter or exit prison; those from broken families -- in fact all who call down upon them, for one reason or another, the intervention of one of the thousand points of light. But the truth is, LI doesn't even know how to steal. That just isn't going to happen. So we went to the grocery store and used the credit portion of the debit card, knowing that there was no money there. Why should there be? But we don't intend to starve to death quite yet.

It's good to record this, in spite of my friend D.'s protests whenever I write one of my lamentations. There is a value to waving your fist in the face of an absent deity -- or the all too present spirits that haunt this economy. I wander through this landscape with all the contemporary marks of Cain -- the inability not to appear sweaty (the mark of the pedestrian); in the clothes I have worn out from five to ten years of use, and can't afford to replace (the mark of the ragpicker); with my decaying teeth (the mark of the Lombrosian idiot); and of course the pathetic inability to disguise my age -- 46 -- and my evident criminal record -- I have been a freelance writer, for God's sakes (the mark of the turd).

Solomon, in Proverbs, claims the dog returns to his vomit -- which, if true, indicates that I do not bear, at least, the mark of the dog. If, oh glorious if, I can snag a counter postion, a sales position (outside), a research position (do you have allergies? are you alcoholic? are you a diabetic man between the ages of 25 -39?), a general labor position (no drunks need apply), I will not return, I will never return, to the torments of being a "freelancer" -- and if you see my byline in, say, the San Francisco Chronicle again, may my tongue be torn out! and all that jazz. Seriously, I think I have really witnessed the end of a certain cultural pattern in America. Ginsberg thought he had seen the best minds in his generation go mad. LI doesn't have a generation. If I had one, I would piss on it with all my might.

I was going to write -- call me Ishmael. As if I, too, had witnessed a great wreck. But this is a small and private wreck. My life keeps reminding me of Titular Counselor Marmelodov's, in Crime and Punishment. Here is how my precursor introduced himself to Raskolnikov:

"Honoured sir," he began almost with solemnity, "poverty is not a vice, that's a true saying. Yet I know too that drunkenness is not a virtue, and that that's even truer. But beggary, honoured sir, beggary is a vice. In poverty you may still retain your innate nobility of soul, but in beggary--never--no one. For beggary a man is not chased out of human society with a stick, he is swept out with a broom, so as to make it as humiliating as possible; and quite right, too, forasmuch as in beggary I am ready to be the first to humiliate myself. Hence the pot-house! Honoured sir, a month ago Mr. Lebeziatnikov gave my wife a beating, and my wife is a very different matter from me!

Do you understand? Allow me to ask you another question out of simple curiosity: have you ever spent a night on a hay barge, on the Neva?"

A question which, lately, I have to physically hold myself back from asking random strangers.

Addendum: I have idly been figuring out the economic consequences of my disastrous decision, in 1999, to become a full time writer. Using as a base my last full time job, I'd estimate I've lost about 30, 000 dollars over the last four years. But the dollar loss is just the tip of the iceberg. From 98 to about the middle of 2000, I wrote for about ten publications. On average, the job would schedule like this: a deadline for the piece would be set, I'd meet it, it would be published one or two weeks afterwards, and three weeks later I would be paid. Maybe 25 percent of the time, I'd be paid late. A small, lefty magazine like In These Times, for instance, would try to stretch a payment out for four months. A newspaper like the Wall Street Journal would usually stretch the deadline to publication date, but would otherwise be timely.

After mid 2000, I wrote for maybe 10 other publications. Many of the publications in the 99-2000 period went under. After 9/11, a clear pattern emerged. Deadlines would spread apart from publication dates by almost a week more than the previous average. And even generous payers -- National Post -- would 'accidentally" lose my invoice about 40 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the float -- the three weeks after publication date before I would be paid -- turned into a five week float.

So, here's the picture. Just to stay current with what he made in 2000, a freelancer would have to have almost twice the client base. And even then, given the raised percentage of 'lost" invoices, and the extra week added to the payment schedule, it is unclear that he would be able to forecast his income for a month. That is, although bill schedules remained steady -- rent, phone, electricity, etc. -- payment varied so widely that there was no guarantee, at any time during the last two years, that those payments could be met.

I imagine the same thing happened to blacksmiths and saddlemakers when the horse was replaced by the car. The written culture exploded during the Internet bubble -- writers were all over the place, with more outlets than ever -- but it was the fever before the death. To be an indenpendent writer now, you must have at least $50,000 you can fall back on. You must be able to fall back on it for at least five years. And at the end of that time, if you have not placed in some major market -- say, the NYT - you should definitely pack it in. Even if you have, you will be poorer than anybody you know with your level of education. But if you haven't, you will be radically poor -- third world poor. I myself can't, at the present time, respond to certain want ads in the paper. Why? Because to pay the two dollars in bus fare is beyond me. This might be a temporary condition -- who knows, tomorrow a place that has owed me money for three months, really, might actually pay me -- but it is a chronic condition.

I smile, nowadays, when I see those popular directories, Writers Publishing Guide 2003 or whatever. They list magazines and newspapers with little dollar signs next to them to signify that they pay. But one question they never ask is: when do they pay? It doesn't really matter anymore if it is Dow Jones or Times Mirror -- they will probably pay late at least forty percent of the time. One time in three they will pay radically late -- like months late.
The upshot is: writing has become like polo. It is a sport for the idle rich.

Writer beware!

Monday, September 15, 2003

Letter

My friend T. has responded to my posts about reviewing.
Here are some of the juicy bits.

"I wasn�t going to do this. I had a plan. I left work and was going to get home a hellofalot earlier than my usual; I was not going to log on, jack in, read or research or write�no, I was going to drink beer and watch the Giants-Cowboys game, or a Steve McQueen movie and drift off to sleep earlier than is my usual�.but, no, not to be�I�d rather respond to your post regarding the book review.



I will not disturb your account of the track of the book review unto nullity implicated in the fate of magazines and newspapers; I will accept it wholly as a report from a front that I have no interest in visiting. As for your account of the experience of finding books becoming a nullity in its absorption by academia, I will confirm that report as a fellow traveler. The quotes from Copperfield, MB and Middlemarch brought me great pause and teary eyes; thank you.



From your post, I thought a bit about my encounters with books as a reader, as a finder of books, as a dilettante and contrarian, as one with no obligations but my pleasure of texts. Nevertheless, I read book reviews and mostly think them shit; think of most reviewers as morons who either never exactly know what they want to be, or, alternatively, morons who are in fact quite what they thought themselves to be, but they are not readers of books. Here�s the issue: for fiction, there is a nexus of the book reviewed, the reviewer�s take on it and other similar books; comparison and superlative made necessary; there are in such reviews the author�s previous books or earlier book, or books of a certain similar style, manner or genre, and then there is this one, the one reviewed and whether and how it is as good or not as good. Then there is non-fiction: there is the book reviewed, the reviewer�s take on it, and the subject matter of the book reviewed; comparison and superlative are as necessary to this manner of review: how and why the methodology or source or credentials of the reviewed author are either acceptable or no. In each case, the reader of the review has no place whatsoever except as a potential consumer of the book reviewed; that this reader is given an endorsement or not; that a cookbook might as easily be reviewed as a novel, that a collection of letters might be as easily and as similarly be reviewed as a self-help book; that a book of philosophy might be as easily reviewed as a biography of a philosopher.



The reviewer, it seems to me, if he aspire to art (which he never will or cannot, which you cover in your post), must invoke Tolstoy: the commonality and sharing of emotion; he must invoke Deleuze (and therefore Clem Greenberg): that art medium joined to feeling.

So I though a bit about book reviewing, the (lost art of) finding books, and libraries and ideal readers (not the technical sense, here), and then, inevitably and naturally enough for me to Borges and Barthes and Derrida and Eco; thoughts of their libraries, to their �reviews� (Derrida as a reviewer of Plato and Austin; what about Leibniz�s �review� of the I Ching; aw hell, I can�t afford these indulgences!); and thoughts that our dear Nietzsche probably had as scant a library as any.


Have you ever read any of Borges� book reviews? I went and found and reread them in the Viking edition of his selected non-fictions (selected from his writings in El Hogar Magazine (1936-1939)). Much formulae (references of the number of pages of a book, grand introductionary sentences regarding books and writers, each writ large, to Chesterton, etc and usw), and much �Borges�, but there is evidence of that extraordinary capacity to consider the general, the specific and one�s problematic place in such considerations; some are damned lovely; here are three, in their entirety:

William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!
I know of two kinds of writers [as an abrupt aside: someone sent me a quote from Woody Allen this morning: there are two kinds of people: the ones who say there are two kinds of people, and the ones who don�t]: those whose central preoccupation is verbal technique, and those for whom it is human acts and passions. The former tend to be dismissed and �Byzantine� or praised as �pure artists.� The later, more fortunately, receive the laudatory epithets �profound,� �human,� or �profoundly human,� and the flattering vituperation �savage.� The former is Swindburne or Mallarm�; the late, C�line or Theodore Dreiser. Certain exceptional cases display the virtues and joys of both categories. Victor Hugo remarked that Shakespeare contained G?ngora; we might also observe that he contained Dostoyevsky� Among the great novelists, Joseph Conrad was perhaps the last who was interested both in the techniques of the novel and in the fates and personalities of his characters. The last, that is, until the tremendous impact of Faulkner.

Faulkner likes to expound the novel through his characters. This method is not entirely original � Robert Browning�s The Ring and the Book (1868) details the same crime ten times, through ten voices and ten souls � but Faulkner infuses if with an intensity that is almost intolerable. There is an infinite decomposition, an infinite and black carnality, in this book. The theatre is the state of Mississippi: the heroes, men disintegrating from envy, alcohol, loneliness, and the erosions of hate.

Absalom! Absalom! is comparable to The Sound and the Fury. I know no higher praise.



The Literary Life: Oliver Gogarty
Toward the end of the civil war in Ireland, the poet Oliver Gogarty was imprisoned by some Ulster men in a huge house on the banks of the Barrow, in County Kildare. He knows that at dawn he would be shot. Under some pretext, he went into the garden and threw himself into the glacial waters. The night grew large with gunshots. Swimming under the black water exploding with bullets, he promised the river that he would give it two swans if it allowed him to reach the other bank. The god of the river heard him and saved him, and the poet later fulfilled his pledge.



An English Version of the Oldest Song in the World
Around 1916, I decided to devote myself to the study of Oriental literatures. Working with enthusiasm and credulity through the English version of certain Chinese philosopher, I came across this memorable passage: � A man condemned to death doesn�t care that he is standing at the edge of a precipice, for he has already renounced life.� Here the translator attached an asterisk, and his note informed me that this interpretation was preferable to that of a rival Sinologist, who had translated the passage thus: �The servants destroy the works of art, so that they will not have to judge their beauties and defects.� Then, like Paolo and Francesca, I read no more. A mysterious skepticism had slipped into my soul.

Each time fate brings me before a �literal version� of some masterpiece of Chinese or Arabian literature, I remember that sorry incident. Now I recall it again, reading the translations that Arthur Waley has just published of the Shih Ching, or The Book of Songs. These songs are of a popular nature, and it is believed they were composed by Chinese soldiers or peasants in the seventh or eighth century B.C. Here are some of the translations of a few of them [�]

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Bollettino

"Ala and his friends - in the local patois - are 'capsilun': the capsule people, part of a drug culture that, in Iraq, has its very roots in violent criminality. Their drugs of choice - Artane, valium and other hypnotics, and powerful anti-epileptics like clonazepam - were the drugs of choice in Abu Ghraib prison, smuggled in by families or sold to inmates by corrupt doctors". -- The Guardian
And thus runs a story in the Guardian about hopped up Baghdadi bandits. Capsilun is too good a term to reserve for those who rely on an all too physical pharamacopeia to get them through the night -- how about those, in D.C., who are drugged on power, arrogance and ignorance? Much worse drugs, all the way around. The Washington Post this Sunday is full of their bellowing.

Not that the Post is against their bellowing. One must always remember that Iraq was D.C.'s war, and D.C. is a Republican establishment town. The Washington Post was in the forefront of the half brightest and second best that afflicted the country with this war; it was the WP that gave its seal of approval to the Jessica Lynch myth, and to the various ridiculous versions of the weapons of mass destruction (I think that it is still not clear, to the great mass of Americans, that on the day we attacked Saddam, almost a quarter of his country was not only free of his influence, but had been for almost ten years. How is that for an imminent threat? A country that dare not even attack its seceding upper half); the WP has a bloodthirsty editorial page that has calmed down, somewhat, since the summer's debacle in Iraq. The big shift, however, has been with the dwindling liberal contingent on the paper, who can be relied on to talk about how we have to now take up the fight. The new liberal meme is to proclaim both America's moral responsibilitiy to Iraq and to dismiss the idea that Iraq could, at present, raise its own army or security -- of course, these would be riddled with minions of evil. Far better for those essential functions to fall on the minions of good, ie the US forces. Until, in the year 2020, the only people signing up to join Iraq's armed forces are thoughtful readers of John Rawls and Hilary Clinton.

The head Defense Department capsilun is Donald Rumsfeld, who has still not been questioned about how much of the 87 billion dollars we are potentially committing to Iraq is earmarked to restore the structures that were looted in the first, heady days of the liberation, while the Americans benignly looked on. The WP has noticed that some people are after Rumsfeld's scalp. It goes through the Rolodex, stopping heavily at former Army secretary White -- I mean, aren't all issues in America about the far right versus the less far right? But we really loved the end of the article, which was a big kiss for D.C. thinking:

"The view among many in the administration, Congress and military interviewed for this article was that Iraq likely would simmer down in the coming months and that security conditions would improve, in part, they said, because of the extraordinary efforts by the 122,000 troops deployed there. "


Simmering down, eh? Like a classroom of unruly kids. Or a big silly stew. This is the kind of non-thinking that the D.C. Bush crowd does so well -- it poses the question, are you for the 122,000 hard working troops in Iraq, or aren't you? Instead of the question, what the hell is "simmer down" supposed to mean? The extraordinary efforts of the troops -- who are being put out on an extraordinary limb by the extraordinary mindset of the Defense Department -- have little, really, to do with whether Iraq simmers down. On the weekend after the Fallujah massacre, one would expect a little more ... perspecuity from the makers and promoters of this unnecessary war. Apparently, the mental sloth of the supply-sider has spread from Bush's economic advisors to the military advisors. Just as tax cuts bring about unexplained and magical rises in tax revenues, so does straining the ability of an undermanned force in pursuit of an ignorant policy that expresses no intelligible goal bring about a general simmering down of the great Iraqi soup.

At LI, we think that soup, unsimmered, is going to spill all over our laps. That is, if we have the current crew of incompetents around mismanaging things for the next six months. But if we do, no doubt the WP will still be firing off just such probing articles.