“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, January 08, 2005

Enter TITUS, dressed like a cook, LAVINIA, veiled, young LUCIUS, and Others. TITUS places the dishes on the table.

Act 1:

According to the March 6, 2004 issue of Pulse magazine, a British medical journal, 1 in 100 men born in the 1940s will die of mesothelioma. This contrasts with the 1960s, where the incidence was about 100 cases a year. Swift and Treasure, the authors, describe the disease in this graf:

“Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a slowgrowing cancer that starts in the parietal pleura, forming a thick cortex, and then encases the lung. It grows out, invading the chest wall. It often causes pleural effusions and two, three liters of fluid leaves little room to breathe. These changes cause the typical presenting features of worsening breathlessness and growing pain. It commonly presents late with a grim prognosis; survival from diagnosis is usually less than a year.”

Is there a causative agent?

“In nearly all cases this cancer is a direct result of exposure to asbestos.”

In America, the related figure for deaths is estimated (although not by the present administration, but by everyone else) at around 300,000 deaths. A double tsunami.

Act 2

“The feast is ready which the careful Titus
Hath ordain’d to an honourable end…”


“IN THE EARLY 1980S, when plaintiffs began filing asbestos lawsuits against Babcock & Wilcox, the company decided that fighting them would be futile. B&W's insurance adjuster, who had experience handling asbestos injury claims for other firms, knew what kind of impression a certain type of plaintiff could make on jurors. How could they be objective in the presence of someone with mesothelioma, the signature asbestos disease? Victims of this rare and ghastly form of lung cancer are essentially strangled to death by their own lung tissue.

Rather than expecting jurors to see beyond such tragedy, the Ohio-based power-plant builder quietly began offering payments to plaintiffs who agreed not to sue B&W. The payments, based on the severity of the victims' ailments, didn't require them to jump through too many hoops to collect. Even if some less-than-deserving claimants occasionally slipped through, B&W saved substantially by avoiding trial costs and punitive-damage awards. The company found it could settle claims for "nuisance value"--less than $5,000 for nonmalignant lung ailments, and an average of $56,000 for cases of mesothelioma.” - Kiplinger Personal Finance, Jun2002,

In the standard history of this epidemic, the team of Irving Selikoff’s is credited with definitely making the link between the cancer and asbestos back in 1964, with a study of workers in William Carlos William’s town, Patterson, New Jersey. However, as Joseph Ledau noted in Environmental Health Perspectives (March, 2004), the WHO only indicated the hazard of asbestos in 1986. Why the delay?

Because the asbestos industry systematically lied about the issue, and tried in every way to suppress the truth.

A chronicle about the discovery of the dangers of asbestos, and what the industry did about it, is here. Here’s a sample of how the bankrupted Manville treated the problem, taken from Paul Brodeur’s work:

1933
* Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. doctors find that 29 percent of workers in a Johns-Manville plant have asbestosis.
Barry I. Castleman, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, 4th edition, Aspen Law and Business, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1996, p.26

* Johns-Manville officials settle lawsuits by 11 employees with asbestosis on the condition that the employees' lawyer agree to never again "directly or indirectly participate in the bringing of new actions against the Corporation."
Paul Brodeur, Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial, Pantheon Books, New York NY, 1985, p.114
1934
* Officials of two large asbestos companies, Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan, edit an article about the diseases of asbestos workers written by a Metropolitan Life Insurance Company doctor. The changes minimize the danger of asbestos dust.
Paul Brodeur, Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial, Pantheon Books, New York NY, 1985, p.114-15
1935
* Officials of Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan instruct the editor of Asbestos magazine to publish nothing about asbestosis.
Paul Brodeur, Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial, Pantheon Books, New York NY, 1985, p.116

Brodeur wrote a response to Senator Frist’s comment, last year, downplaying the hazards of asbestos, and included this interesting comment from the unfairly treated Manville company:

“As for Frist's contention that bankrupt companies like Johns Manville, Owens Corning, and W. R. Grace are "reputable," one wonders what he has been reading over the past twenty years. Manville -- one of the most renegade corporations in all of corporate history -- not only knew for five decades that asbestos was killing its workers, but also actively conspired to keep its workers from knowing about the hazard. This conspiracy included lying to workers about the results of X-rays showing that they had developed and fatal lung disease. Manville's corporate lawyer put it this way back in the 1930s. Keep the workers in the dark and "let them work themselves to death.””

Act 3

"It's not fair to those who are getting sued, and it's not fair for those who justly deserve compensation," said Bush, appearing at a performing arts center just north of Detroit. "These asbestos suits have bankrupted a lot of companies, and that affects the workers here in Michigan and around the country."


“Welcome, my gracious lord; welcome, dread queen;
Welcome, ye warlike Goths; welcome, Lucius;
And welcome, all: although the cheer be poor,
'Twill fill your stomachs; please you eat of it.”


There is an unfortunate Islamofascist prejudice against the great American corporations, as if untermenschen aren’t provided with fine homes in which to suffocate to death as they await their appointed ends. This is why Industry wisely paid a lot of money to secure the public from hearing the distressing news about the asbestos linked diseases in the first place. Actually, a Bendix official said it much better than we can:

“The 1966 comments of the Director of Purchasing for Bendix Corporation, now a part of Honeywell, capture the complete disregard of an industry for its workforce that is expressed over and over again in company documents spanning the past 60 years.
"...if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products, why not die from it."
— 1966 Bendix Corporation letter”


Of course, to the Washington Post, the asbestos issue is all about Democrats getting funding from trial lawyers.

So tiresome to bring in bulky workers, sterterous breathers with those unsightly plastic tubes running up their noses, grunting to inglorious deaths. I mean, these people didn’t even go to a sub-Ivy! So fuck em. Thus, the WP reporter, one Peter Baker, is so giddy at the President’s cleverness (what a framer of issues!) that he doesn’t even bother to report that there is that wee business of Halliburton’s asbestos related claims, which is the direct responsibility of Cheney, until a way down the fold paragraph. As for calling up, say, Brodeur, who has written four books on the subject … pleeeeaaaasssee. That is so 1970s! Those workers look like undemocratic Ukranians, after all!

TITUS ANDRONICUS

Will't please you eat? will't please your
highness feed?


What LI would humbly like to propose is that the President extend his compassion to the poor asbestos industry, for which he feels so much and with such woeful speech (indeed, on the NPR excerpt, he sounded either fearfully muffled by the unfairness of it all to everyone he loves, or completely stoned), by eating a pie full of asbestos fibers. In public. Wouldn’t that be yummy! Such a pretty thing to set before the king. Other D.C. courtiers could pitch in – ice cream on top of it for our fave, grave VP, Dick Cheney, he of the seven billion dollar payout for the damage done! And perhaps the WP's Baker could be sent to cover the event -- and if he is lucky, he could be called up by the President himself, given an official jokey nickname, and be served a big heaping plateful himself! My, how they could all then laugh at the trial lawyers. Big laughs, big mouthfuls everybody!

“TITUS ANDRONICUS

Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point.”

Friday, January 07, 2005

LI regrets not speaking Spanish – a correctable fault, but one that we persist in, thus doubling the wrong – or whatever the interest on sins is these days.

Thus, traveling in Mexico – or rather, staying with polylinguistic friends in Mexico – continually brought us into contact with the harsh edge of not understanding. A conversation about politics in the thirties in Cuba – a conversation about a visit to New England – a short series of sounds that was somewhat like a conversation about paying for breakfast in a restaurant – is an experience of the holes in the mesh of the common will -- that common will in which I am usually so vested and surrounded, so utterly dominated by and dominant in (or so the tongue would have me think), as to not even notice it. It made me wonder, once again, at the wonderful imperturbability displayed by Americans vis-à-vis what they think is going on in Iraq, giving their almost universal inability to understand the very language in which what is going on goes on.

However, immersion brings a sub-level of understanding. And a sub-level of distance from one’s total immersion in the experience of one’s native land. There’s an essay in this Fall’s American Scholar by Jamie James, a critic who left New York City for Indonesia in 1999: “Why I don’t live in America,” who expatriated to Indonesia to live with his lover, a man named Rendy. The essay makes several points, that are continually being made, in fact, about the pall of dislike for America that has fallen across the world since the Bush gang pulled its Iraq caper. What interests me, however, is that James never mentions the language. One wonders – does he speak English with the servants he mentions? It is a funny thing about American expatriates that they seem to share, with Americans in general, a sense that language is transparent – it is made of glass and English.

In our hearts, I guess, we are a nation of logical positivists.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

We’re writing this under the influence of chiliquiles, eggs, and Indios beer, in the Mexico City Airport. Like every public structure in Mexico, the airport is more than willing to sacrifice convenience to vastness. Of course, shuffling city-loads of people from one point to another requires vastness, yet I can’t help but think that the visitas at the Atlanta, D.C., or JFK airport are narrower – there’s a puritanic concentration on getting people through these spaces, filling them with junkfood they wouldn’t otherwise eat at prices they wouldn’t otherwise pay, putting t-shirts, fat paperbacks, or magazines in their hands and trundling them, in numeric order, into the belly of various money-losing jet-liners – which mechanism, translated into Mexican terms, blurs at the edges with the memory of monuments. Yes, there is still something monumental here, from the point of view of which all rituals are variations of one ritual…

However, reader beware: I might be under the influence of the Museum of the ViceRoyal Period in Tepotzotlan, a former Jesuit seminary which I visited with my friend (and colonial expert) M., yesterday. M. has a personal relationship to the pale, satiric or placidly pious faces of the worthies that peer out of all those seventeenth and eighteenth century portraits – or, rather, allow themselves to be peered upon, since the painted features, even in the simulacrum of religious fervor, belong to the queen side of the phrase, “a cat may gaze upon a queen.” Queens, however, reserve the privilege of gazing vulgarly upon cats in times of their own choosing. So do saints, bishops, and Jesuits.

Still, M. peered with fierce disapprobation at Bishop Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, who spent his time in the New World combatting the power of the aforesaid Jesuits, who, for M., are an adventuring, erudite order – at least in Palofox’s time – composing theories of the pyramids in one part of the world, teaching the Chinese the rules of Renaissance perspective in another part, and in still a third dying, in extra pictorial agony, nailed to crosses by the shores of the Japanese inland sea. But the heroic is, perhaps, understood differently by M. and Bishop Palofox – the latter might have thought heroes are always, in the end, pagan Greeks at heart.

I mention this museum in relation to the airport because the central glory of it – the museum, that is – is a chapel of a richness (in faces, effigies, attitudes, cherubim, allegories) and a supererogation (of golden gilding) that the traveler’s description must necessarily be an abasement, the stuttered, banal recounting of a glorious dream. One walks down the central aisle from the door to the altar, and a strange thing happens – for there are more eyes on the walls, more eyes on the mounting levels, more faces, more activity, as one niche yields to the other, as one wall falls away to reveal another equally resplendent, until, at a certain point the message is felt, rather than intellectualized – one’s floorbound-ness itself, one’s extra-pictorial body, is a sort of subtraction of glory in this ever ramifying crowd. The obvious cure for this is to surrender completely.

Which is one of the crushing effects of a certain kind of power. Myself, I am only trying to give you the background to my impression that the Mexico City Airport knows, in its spaces, that the world is not made for your convenience.

Now it is time to board. I’ll transcribe this later.

So much for over-generalization. The Houston Airport taught me all about surrender, as well as inconvenience. The lesson was brought home by the contingent of the Customs Department there, who run an operation on lines that would shame the variously intoxicated teens running the night shift at a country Dairy Queen. I’m talking about a custom official typing my numbers into a computer with one finger, and numerous aiding glances at the piece of paper before him, and then letting me proceed – making sure that he held me just long enough to miss my connecting flight – after a search of my bags so perfunctory I could have easily smuggled Osama Bin himself by the guy. I’m talking about one of them telling the black guy from Miami, who sensibly asked what was the point of delaying us for no apparent reason, with a drawling threat to really make him miss his flight to Miami, working himself up to such a redneck frenzy that another Customs officer had to intervene. Oh well. I got some chicken, I got a beer, I opened the Times and noticed Tom Friedman describing the insurgents in Iraq as ‘desperate’ – an adjective he has employed for insurgents since August 2003 – and, settling back in my chair, heard the nattering, behind my back, of the tv. This is the George Bush Airport, and the tv was set, appropriately enough, to some swinish cable news station feeding the masses sour rightwing pap. I’d almost forgotten, during the last two weeks, that we live in the age of Bush. The cable newspeople were worried about the U.N. taking over relief efforts for the tsunami victims, since the U.S. was throwing in its 300 million. The U.S., apparently, should use this as a big opportunity to win friends among the orphaned beneficiaries of our charity and impress people with being against natural disasters and all. Presumably, once the tsunami survivors take our K rations we have the right to tattoo the stars and stripes on their foreheads of something. A regular win/win situation, looked at rightly.

I wasn’t quite ready, yet, for the mindmeld of cretins. But what the hell. I’m back, back, back in the U.S.A.