“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, February 19, 2005

Portents

If the Bush administration’s embrace of both unilateralism and third world deficit financing really does signal the twilight of the American era – and if projections of the budget deficits to come are accurate, it is hard to see post Bush America as anything more than a much bleaker place – one wonders what happens after the hegemon self destructs?

There’s a story in Fortune this week by Vivienne Walt about the deals being made between the Iranian government and China’s businesses that might be a small indicator. A little background music, maestro.

The U.S., pursuing its cordon sanitaire around Iran, long ago set itself up for a Persian Gulf policy that was completely at odds with reality. Of course, the Bush people, exemplary nitwits, have been the enthusiastic gravediggers of that policy, going from an unnecessary invasion to a war crime studded occupation to the current narcotized superfluity as patrons of the coming Iraq Islamic Republic. Always trust these people to turn stupid policies into disastrous ones, paid for by more borrowing. We would be more up in arms at this site about, say, the asset stripping going under the name of “social security reform” if it weren’t for the thought that every dollar borrowed to put into the pockets of the super-rich is another dollar that won’t go towards the WMD of hegemony.

Having successfully rendered the U.S. more vulnerable to the attacks of the intact Al Qaeda, and committing the U.S. to a failing policy in which another thousand or so American kids will be pointlessly slaughter, while they themselves are encouraged to pointlessly slaughter, the Bush people have been feeling their oats lately, which is why the beady eye has been cast on Iran. Yet as the world knows, the U.S. can’t afford to invade Iran, since it has neither the manpower nor the money. It can come up with both. However, to come up with both would mean alienating the Snopes set, who solidly support Bush only to the extent that he provides inspiring occasions for Snopesian national anthem singing and tax cuts to disguise the coming encroachment on inkind benefits. To actually snatch Snopesian kids and have them die pointlessly in advancing on Teheran might actually interrupt the wet dream, thus sharpening the Snopesian eyesight for the rip off of any hope for their own retirement, and the increasing costs of keeping the old folks in chicken wings and arthritis pills.

Here’s the key graf from the Fortune article:

“Under the gas agreement reached last October, China will import more than 270 million tons of natural gas over the next 30 years from Iran's South Pars field in the Persian Gulf, the largest natural-gas reserve on the planet, which Iran shares with its tiny neighbor Qatar. That will bring Iran about $70 billion in hard currency. And that's just the start. The two-part deal also gives Sinopec a half-share in one of Iran's most important new discoveries, the Yadavaran field, an energy-rich area in southwest Iran, allowing the company to explore for oil over the next few decades. With the field's oil reserves estimated at about 17 billion barrels, China's operations could be worth another $100 billion.”

Interestingly, the market opened up by China has interested India, as well. Feelers are out from India to Iran. We have no doubt that, as these deals congeal into infrastructure, it becomes much more risky for the U.S. to bomb the place.

One of the monuments of the Bush era – its elevation of hypocrisy to the golden rule – is embodied in no Southern entrepreneur so much as Richard Scrushy, erstwhile head of HealthSouth. For amusement’s sake, we urge our readers to take a gander at the NYT article about him. Scrushy is a piece of work – cut from the same cloth, actually, as his fellow entrepreneur, Bush, but without the family connections that made it possible for the latter to climb unscathed out of the hole of petty corporate crime. Scrushy, our readers will remember, provided much amusement for LI in the first denuding wave of corporate melt-downs back in 2002.

Here are three grafs which somehow give off a whiff of Karl Rove:

“Mr. Scrushy, 52, began attending Guiding Light not long before his indictment in 2003 on charges of overseeing a $2.7 billion conspiracy to defraud shareholders of HealthSouth, a chain of rehabilitation hospitals he started two decades ago. A spokesman for Mr. Scrushy said Mr. Scrushy had given money to Guiding Light, but he declined to specify how much. "He has always supported the churches he attends," the spokesman, Charlie Russell, said.
It is not uncommon, of course, for someone in the public eye who has fallen from grace to migrate to a house of prayer. But Mr. Scrushy's new emphasis on his ties to Birmingham's large black population and his churchgoing ways have many people in this city asking, is it all part of his defense strategy? About 70 percent of Birmingham is African-American, and of the 18 jurors and alternates at his trial, 11 are African-American.

The danger is that Mr. Scrushy's very public moves could backfire, especially considering that inside the courtroom his lawyers are following a different, and decidedly uncharitable, strategy. His legal team has been aggressively seeking to tarnish the reputations of Mr. Scrushy's former employees who are testifying against him. In fact, in late January, one lawyer, Jim Parkman, of Dothan, Ala., accused a former HealthSouth executive of being a heavy-drinking philanderer.”

The article goes on:

“These actions have astounded some former associates of Mr. Scrushy, who was known around Birmingham for the conspicuous display of his wealth before his problems with the law. According to a list of assets drawn up by federal prosecutors, Mr. Scrushy owns two Cessna jets; a Lamborghini Murcielago and a Rolls Royce Corniche; three Miros, two Chagalls and a Picasso; and several multimillion-dollar homes.

"In all my visits to the executive suite at HealthSouth, I never saw a black person there, not among the executives, the doctors or the secretaries," said Paul Finebaum, a radio talk-show host and former business associate of Mr. Scrushy. "The first time I heard religion and Richard Scrushy mentioned in the same sentence was when I read about him going to Guiding Light Church. I think he must be running out of options."

Somehow, we love it…

Friday, February 18, 2005

LI was reading a paper by a philosopher, Alexander Bird, the other day. The paper defended the view that scientific progress is measured by the accumulation of knowledge – on the Baconian scheme – rather than measured by its generation of true statements, as the semantic philosophy of science would have it. It is coming out in Nous.


So far, so good. But then we came across this counterfactual:


“Imagine a scientific community that has formed its beliefs using some very weak or even irrational method M, such as astrology. But by fluke this sequence of beliefs is a sequence of true beliefs. These true beliefs are believed solely because they are generated by M and they do not have independent confirmation. Now imagine that at time t an Archimedes-like scientist in this society realises and comes to know that M is weak. This scientist persuades (using different, reliable 4 methods) her colleagues that M is unreliable. This may be that society’s first piece of scientific knowledge. The scientific community now rejects its earlier beliefs as unsound, realising that they were formed solely on the basis of a poor method.


“On the semantic view this community was making progress until time t (it was accumulating true beliefs) and then regressed (it gave up those beliefs). This, it seems, contradicts the verdict of our intuitions about this episode. The acquisition of beliefs by an unreliable method cannot be genuine scientific progress, even if the beliefs so acquired are, by accident, true. Far from being a regressive move, giving up those unreliably produced beliefs, because of a now well-founded belief that they were unreliably produced, is positive, progressive step. So the semantic view yields a description in terms of progress and regress that conflicts with what we are intuitively inclined to say.”

We don’t mean to pick on Dr. Bird, but this is a rather neat demonstration of what we call the fallacy of the epistemologically deviant condition. The counterfactual only gets off the ground once we suppose “a scientific community that has formed its beliefs using some very weak or even irrational method M, such as astrology. But by fluke this sequence of beliefs is a sequence of true beliefs.” The last sentence gives us, as a sort of axiom, the framing epistemological conditions that will allow us to judge the Bird’s counterfactual.

However, the last sentence is actually a historically contingent statement, even though it is be treated as an axiom – something that is true a priori. Since it is historically contingent, the fact that it is true entails a story about the discovery that makes it true. Such a story would necessarily overlap with the example it is supposedly framing. This means that the story of how, by some fluke, a community’s irrational beliefs, M, were also true beliefs would entail an investigation, if true, that would be formally equivalent to the investigation mounted by the Archimedes like scientist in the story.

The epistemologically deviant condition is a form of begging the question. It is, unfortunately, all too common in analytic philosophy. My friend Alan and I have been arguing, on his site, about Chalmers, the consciousness-man. Chalmers has a weakness amounting to addiction for epistemologically deviant conditions. His most famous argument, which revolves around postulating a zombie human double that can cogitate, speak, and behave like a human being, but doesn’t have conscious experience of being like a human being, violates the conventions of framing in exactly the same way Bird does, above. It is for this reason that these arguments never work.

However, I am less interested in their implausibility than in their motivation. These philosophic fictions share a frustration with the more artistic fictions of novelists and film-makers: how to pack all the information the author has into the story. The voice-over in a film is a perfect example of the kind of artistic compromises that emerge in the struggle between the creator and the material. The voice over doesn’t really have a logical place. Is it supposed to represent the Still-Sprache going on in the head? Is it supposed to be the filmic equivalent of the inaugural moment in first person stories – the fiction that some “I” has sat down to write a story? Oftentimes, the voiceover presents itself in the conventions of written fiction’s first person. Anybody who writes fiction knows the frustration of sticking with the person of the teller – including the frustration of third person telling, which is always about the writer’s calculated interference in the angle and unrolling of the story.

ps -- because I'm an incompetent logician, and because, frankly, nobody cares, I usually don't bother with the technical side of my arguments. But in this case, the technical side would go something like this:

Given a framing condition, S, containing a fact, s, that entails an argument, z.

And given a counterfactual, T, such that S frames T, containing a fact t;

If t entails z, then I'd call the counterfactual badly formed.

There's nothing here, really, except another self reference paradox. Usually, this is disguised by suppressing the epistemological source of s -- in other words, suppressing the answer to the question, how do we know s? It has been my experience that counterfactuals involve assumptions that usually render them either superficial or badly formed. Why? Because, on the one hand, if we can mount a straightforward argument for the framing facts, then we don't need the counterfactual; and if we can't, and have to fall back on the counterfactual, then it is illegitimately prior in the line of argument to itself -- in other words, we have the problem of the vicious circle.

For those few and hardy souls who've actually reached this point in the post, congratulations. Most of you have justly fled -- but I'm not going to do this kind of thing too often.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Impatience as politics

In an essay on Turgenev, Isaiah Berlin cited the review of one of his first novels, On the Eve, by a radical Russian critic, Dobrolyubov:

" 'If you sit in an empty box, and try to upset it with yourself inside it, what a fearful effort you have to make! But if you come at it from the outside, one push will topple the box."... Those who are truly serious must get out of the Russian box, break off every relationship with the entire monstrous structure, and then knock it over from the outside."

This is our feeling about the U.S.A. at the moment -- although it alternates, every day, with other feelings. What American writer, after all, can afford to be out of the box? But what American writer can afford not to dream, at least, about climbing out and giving it a splendiferous kick? So one ends up half in and half out of Dobrolyubov's box.

This is the awkward state that has prompted LI to examine our impatience, exhibited at large on this site, at least since the start of the Iraq war. In the last post, with the help of the Gospels, we analyzedimpatience from the situational perspective. But what about total impatience? What if the obstacle in one’s way seems to be a total, encompassing structure -- a box, if you will. Or a coffin. What if the jab of passion -- Jesus' hunger, the barfly's thirst -- is not provoked by any one momentary need, but the sum total and onslaught of all one’s needs? What if my lungs are filled with the debris of the million media meditated stupidities that circulate around in the very air of this country, getting in one's pores? It smells like America, every day. What if one wakes up in a catacomb, and is assured that it is the homeland?

Questions which occurred to me reading Chekhov’s The Duel, which Chekhov wrote in 1891, after making his trip to the penal colony of Sakhalin Island. In our first post about this, we said that if we were to teach history class about Lenin, we would certainly assign Chekhov. Reading Chekhov in the age of Bush, which is making Lenins of us all, gives us a renewed sense of two intellectual responses to an era that deliberately wallows in its own ignorance, that deliberately and viciously tears down the characters of its best and most intelligent members while lavishing admiration on its brutes, its monied, its vacuous: resignation and impatience.

In our post about the image of Bolshevism that Cold War ideologues claimed to derive an from Dostoevsky’s analysis of nihilism, the claim received its plausibility from the idea that Stalin’s crimes demonstrated the truth of the Dostoevskian dictum, if there is no God, everything is permitted. In choosing Chekhov as our literary lens, we want to paraphrase that dictum, exchanging it for something like: if there is no God of love, then love is not permitted. In one way, it is easy to see how we can move from the desire to blow up the bonds of affection that tie God to us and us to God to the fear that this means pulling the rug out from under all social bonds of affection. If the love of God is an interested illusion, the projection of an emotion upon an imaginary object – one begins to wonder about the supposedly real objects of one’s affections, and about the very process of that projection. The future of an illusion – isn’t it to be smashed? And that, we think, is the disturbing thing about The Duel.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

“He was inadequate, certainly, even laughable at times, but he was a thinker and not a dictaphone, and when he blew his brains out he did the job thoroughly. – Eleanor Clark

First, to brag: We notice that Juan Cole today quietly proposed the analogy to Mehdi Bazargan we floated last week. Hey, LI is, in its own eccentric way, sometimes ahead of the game.
...

LI is growing increasingly snappy about the multitude of political imbecilities against which, as a citizen of the Leviathan, we have to strive. Mentally, at least. There was a meme on the ‘sphere a week or so ago about how liberals can express their love for America. Apparently, the thing to do at the moment is to find lyrical words to match the catch in the throat and the heart whenever Old Glory goes by. LI wants to know – how does America love us? We want a little return glow. We want America not to try to kill us, rob us, or send the cops and the taxmen to club us in order to extract the uber-tithe now demanded by the wealthy. There’s a certain battered wife pathology that comes out of all these liberal cries of amorous passion, like Olive Oil weeping for her Brutus.

The fact is, we don’t love America, and our creed is that love of country, in some utopian future, will attenuate to the vanishing point throughout the world. It is the usual Imagine-Lennon-hippie-shit thing. However, we do like America. Like it since our bones and gristle formed here, our heart first went thud thud thud here, our tongue shapes English as only an American can, and we could no more imagine ourselves exiting in this world without America than we could imagine ourselves existing without oxygen. We would like America even more if a few changes were made around here…

So – to hook up by such awkwardly indirect means to an earlier post – we were talking about how Chekhov’s The Duel explained something about Lenin. We never exactly explained what we meant. This post is still going to differ the moment of interpretation, because we want to first say philosophical things about our snappishness. Or, more generally, about impatience. To leap frog ahead, there’s a certain politics of impatience that was all over European culture in the first quarter of the twentieth century. And we’ve noticed that impatience has become our own primary mode of understanding American politics under the current regime.

Now, onto Mark 11.



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A little exegetical work, here. In Mark 11, we are told of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is interwoven with a story that is seemingly minor and rather shocking – it seems to have been interpolated from a book about a sorcerer, since it recounts something that is more like a magic trick than a miracle. But it was noted. The Gospels are many things, but one thing they aren’t is garrulous. What is noted there is significant.

Jesus, then, is hungry. “… seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.”
Another story then is told: Jesus going to Jerusalem and throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. He leaves the city, then, with the author implying that he felt some threat from the Pharisees. And then we get the end of the story of the fig tree:
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”

So, here is a template for an inquiry into the Sources and Nature of Impatience. What is impatience? The above story has always been rather shocking to the pious, since patience is considered a virtue, and the exemplary son of God, Little Lord Fauntleroy on the cross, is supposed to display all the virtues and good table manners too. Instead, he here displays the spoiled behavior of a prince in a fairy tale or gossip column.

A few notes:

1. Interesting that impatience should be thought of as something secondary to patience – as though patience were our primary attitude to time and the resolution of our wants. That’s a rather utopian turn for the language to take. Is it justified? One shouldn’t take language’s word for the way the world is – a mistake that philosophers make who think the royal road to the conceptual is through the etymological. At no point in its history does a word have any more semantic power than it has at any other point – I take this as a given. Still, we can take the word’s word for it that, to our society, in the vulgar conceptual schemas which web us about, there is something derivative, on the face of it, about impatience. And this would seem to indicate that patience is the thing to research, to find out about, if we want to find out about impatience. That the normal state is patience. But is the normal state felt as patient? Don’t we become conscious of our patience only in those instances in which it is called upon?

2. Mark’s story begins with hunger. Jesus is hungry. There’s a clue here, about impatience. If it is a perceptual transformation of an underlying patience, what is the stimulus to that transformation? Surely hunger, lust, need – the sharp end of the passions, scaling up from my urgent desire to urinate to the more complex desire to bring to some resolution my sexual attraction to some x. Impatience, in fact, bears the slight impress of that ritualization it achieves in fucking that we can see it in the corporal dance of impatience – the tapping foot, or the repetition of various meaningless sounds – some people hum, some people whistle, some people sigh to show impatience. Also, the angularity and jerkiness that comes over people who have reached a certain expressive point in their impatience.

3. The next element in Mark’s narrative is elegant: “And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”
It is not, Mark carefully notes, the fig tree’s “fault” that it bears no figs. It is a healthy tree, and the time of figs was not yet. In a country where figs are common, one would imagine that the season at which fig trees bear figs was known to every adult. But the time for each tree varies. In any case, having no figs, the tree presents itself not as a medium to satisfy hunger, but as an obstacle to the satisfaction of hunger.

Now, this is the great hallmark of impatience. The fig tree isn’t actually an obstacle. It is a tree. It has its times. But impatience is projective and transformative – the hunger becomes equal to the lack of figs, and the lack of figs becomes intentional. Among other things, when impatient, I make the objects in the world intentional. Which implies that patience is an acceptance of the non-intentionality of things. Incidentally, in terms of the narrative itself, there’s some cognitive dissonance in the moral Jesus draws from the withering of the fig tree. On the one hand, there is the undoubted reference to patience in believing – to believe that what one says shall come to pass is the prophetic function. Jonah waiting outside of Ninevah for the walls to tumble is a proverbial instance. It is the condition of the catastrophe foreseen by the prophet that he can await it. On the other hand, there is undoubtedly the magician subtext – the idea that you, too, can do tricks just as good if he follow what I say. This dissonance reflects, perhaps, the conflict between the instrumental time of need, and the prophetic time of patience. One is reminded that the story of the fig tree sandwiches the story of the throwing of the moneychangers out of the temple – a fatal act of impatience on Jesus’ part.

Well, enough sermonizing for one day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Anthropology alert

Those who are interested in the everyday life of the average red state citizen should read this New York Times story about an upstanding Republican D.A. in Texas. See him prosecute drug users. See him inject himself with methamphetamine before his secretary. See his secretary turn him into the feds. See his ex-wife, interviewed at the Yellow Rose in Dallas, tell of finding crack, cocaine, marijuana and various other drugs around the house or in the barn during their Christian marriage to each other. See how his drug use, alcoholism, and racism were known before he was elected to the D.A. position. Here’s a swatch of dialogue that is pure Bush culture:


“Four years later Mr. Roach [the D.A.] beat Mr. Mann by 6 votes in a Republican primary marred by charges of fraud, and then beat him again - by 21 votes - after a court ordered a new election. He went on to win the general election.

Mr. Mann said the voters were chiefly swayed by Mr. Roach's highly popular family, particularly his stepfather, Weldon Trice, a beloved high school football coach.
Mrs. Roach said their lives slid badly downhill in late 2003. She found glass smoking or snorting implements, foil packets with a burn hole, and white powder and a razor blade in their barn and spied on her husband sniffing something.

Mr. Roach said of his downfall, "It just presented itself."

He said that in July 2004 he had come across a glass pipe that Texas troopers had overlooked in searching a seized car. "A girl called it a crack pipe, so I assumed there was crack in it," he said. He took it home. "I happened to be having a bad day, so I smoked it in the barn," he said.”

And talking about those bad days – how about those projected deficits? The WP had a cute story about what it will take, when Bush leaves office in 2009, to mitigate the effects of having poured some trillion into the pockets of the pirate class, aka the rich and the super-rich, looted the social security system, destroyed environmental protection, and of course engaged in the mass murder of Iraqis and the correlative murder of some thousands of American soldiers. It turns out that these fine things cost more than pocket change

“If Congress were to pass Bush's Social Security plan and permanently extend his tax cuts, the budget deficit would bottom out at $251 billion in 2008, then climb steadily to $335 billion by 2015, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and the House Budget Committee's Democratic staff. Those figures assume, however, that Bush will secure all of his proposed spending cuts, that he will need no more emergency war spending and that there will be no changes to the alternative minimum tax, which Bush and other politicians want to rewrite to keep it from affecting more middle-class families in coming years. The AMT originally was designed to make sure wealthy people couldn't avoid paying some taxes.

With a fix to the AMT, deficits in a decade would likely reach $650 billion to $700 billion, said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). "The days of being everything to everybody are quickly coming to a close," he said, adding that a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts would make it politically impossible to borrow the full cost of a Social Security fix. "We have to look at the deficit in a holistic way."

Not factoring in the cost of the war is decent of them – but you know, when you throw a barbecue, you have to buy the steaks. So throw in an extra 200 billion, and you do get a cool trillion deficit. That is a thing of beauty in itself. The question is: will the free ride be over? For the swarming imbeciles who inhabit the red states, itchy to vote for any Christian jihadist to come along, have experienced that sweetness of life that comes with buying binges at the mall and repeated viewings of The Passion, the pills from the internet and the spiritual advice from the infomercial which makes up their inner and outer lives up to now. They have their maxed out credit cards and their tax refunds and their medicare and their social security coming together in a nice harmonic convergence, keeping the housing activity bubbling in suburban Atlanta and Birmingham, and providing the comfortable conditions in which they can take time off and debate the real questions, like designing a school curriculum to maximize the cretinization of their children. However, will the Goths be waking up, in a few years, to discover that the good times are over? And what will they do, since they do control the government and will for the foreseeable future?

This is something blue state progressives should take seriously. Now is the time to slash taxes on the federal level; to radically lower Fica, to make sure that nobody in America who makes under one hundred thousand dollars is sending more than five to ten percent of that money to the Federal Government. Time to wake up and shift the onus of taxation to the states, since we see what the bozos in the Federal Government are doing and will be doing with that money, and it is nothing progressive. We see the Niagra ahead, and the ship of state, aka le bateau ivre, heading for it.

Mostly likely, there will be no waking up, and we will go over the edge with the milksap Dems wringing their hands and talking about moral values. However, lets try to be optimistic and envision, from Massachussetts to California, the blue states setting up their own social welfare networks, unplugging from the Snopes. Yes, let the Goths hunker down in their uncouth conclaves to untangle the knots of creationism, as is their wont, while their odious representatives in Washington make sure that they become, en masse, indentured servants of the credit card companies. The South has always had a fondness for indentured servitude...

Monday, February 14, 2005

On the lynching front…

Since lynching academics seems to be all the rage in the 'sphere right now, we've found a deserving object: Berkeley law professor John C. Yoo. Why? Yoo didn’t make any little speeches to demonstrators. No, Yoo made himself responsible for electroshock, sleep deprivation, electrodes to the genitals – the standard American advice to rightwing death squads in the seventies and eighties. Yes, Yoo worked in the White House on normalizing torture. What was that phrase about little Eichmanns that is being bandied about? Here are some choice bits from the New Yorker story:

“The Bush Administration’s redefinition of the standards of interrogation took place almost entirely out of public view. One of the first officials to offer hints of the shift in approach was Cofer Black, who was then in charge of counter-terrorism at the C.I.A. On September 26, 2002, he addressed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and stated that the arrest and detention of terrorists was “a very highly classified area.” He added, “All you need to know is that there was a ‘before 9/11’ and there was an ‘after 9/11.’ After 9/11, the gloves came off.”

Laying the foundation for this shift was a now famous set of internal legal memos—some were leaked, others were made public by groups such as the N.Y.U. Center for Law and National Security. Most of these documents were generated by a small, hawkish group of politically appointed lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and in the office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. Chief among the authors was John C. Yoo, the deputy assistant attorney general at the time. (A Yale Law School graduate and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, Yoo now teaches law at Berkeley.) Taken together, the memos advised the President that he had almost unfettered latitude in his prosecution of the war on terror. For many years, Yoo was a member of the Federalist Society, a fellowship of conservative intellectuals who view international law with skepticism, and September 11th offered an opportunity for him and others in the Administration to put their political ideas into practice. ...

Soon after September 11th, Yoo and other Administration lawyers began advising President Bush that he did not have to comply with the Geneva Conventions in handling detainees in the war on terror...

"The State Department, determined to uphold the Geneva Conventions, fought against Bush’s lawyers and lost. In a forty-page memo to Yoo, dated January 11, 2002 (which has not been publicly released), William Taft IV, the State Department legal adviser, argued that Yoo’s analysis was “seriously flawed.” Taft told Yoo that his contention that the President could disregard the Geneva Conventions was “untenable,” “incorrect,” and “confused.” Taft disputed Yoo’s argument that Afghanistan, as a “failed state,” was not covered by the Conventions. “The official United States position before, during, and after the emergence of the Taliban was that Afghanistan constituted a state,” he wrote. Taft also warned Yoo that if the U.S. took the war on terrorism outside the Geneva Conventions, not only could U.S. soldiers be denied the protections of the Conventions—and therefore be prosecuted for crimes, including murder—but President Bush could be accused of a “grave breach” by other countries, and be prosecuted for war crimes. Taft sent a copy of his memo to Gonzales, hoping that his dissent would reach the President. Within days, Yoo sent Taft a lengthy rebuttal.”

So, here’s a question: why is a man of such an odious moral character teaching at the University of California in Berkeley? Why isn’t this man properly shunned and ostracized? Where is CT, so eager to string up academics for immoral comments they make at rallies that are meaningless, when it comes to Yoo, whose freedom of speech had much more effect -- ask the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, or the people the U.S. outsourced to our torturing anti-democratic allies. Are the good folks at Berkeley going to hire some generals from Argentina next? Political science 101: getting rid of your opponents?

Here’s another tasty quote from the ever disgusting Comrade Yoo:

“Yoo also argued that the Constitution granted the President plenary powers to override the U.N. Convention Against Torture when he is acting in the nation’s defense—a position that has drawn dissent from many scholars. As Yoo saw it, Congress doesn’t have the power to “tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.” He continued, “It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.” If the President were to abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief, Yoo said, the constitutional remedy was impeachment. He went on to suggest that President Bush’s victory in the 2004 election, along with the relatively mild challenge to Gonzales mounted by the Democrats in Congress, was “proof that the debate is over.” He said, “The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum.”

Thus spake the dregs.
My friend, M., has been teaching a class in twentieth century history this winter. She is teaching a session on Lenin and the Russian Revolution this week.

This made LI daydream about how we’d teach Lenin.

LI thinks that we’d turn to Chekhov’s novella, The Duel, as a sort of exegetical parable to illuminate the cultural conditions that made Lenin possible. History, of course, tells us that Lenin was strictly inevitable, meaning that he is part of the core of fact through which history courses, and which makes its bed out of destroyed alternatives. The constitutive element of alternative histories is that they were destroyed by actual histories – to try to get around that is to revert to a revolting form of childishness, which is why philosophers who take possible worlds too seriously always exude a slight air of the idiot savant: Kripke and Lewis spring to mind.

There’s an article (Whom did the Devil Tempt, and Why?) in the Russian Social Science Review, by Vladimir Kantor, that revives the old Cold War notion that Dostoevsky mapped out the spirit of Bolshevism before it was actualized in fact. This reading sees Bolshevism and Marxism in general as a monstrous extension of Nechaev’s personality. That personality, in turn, arose out of the decay introduced by liberalism into the certainties of Christian civilization. When competition, instead of salvation, becomes a society’s master-trope, what happens? The American conservative answer is that salvation and competition can be reconciled, as the Lion lies down with the lamb, a la Edward Hicks “Peaceable Kingdom.” The conservative Russian answer is much grimmer.

We don’t dismiss either of these theses entirely, although we do think the bizarre nature of postwar American conservatism comes from the fact that both were held simultaneously by the core conservative intellectuals.

Kantor’s essay is strictly about The Brothers Karamazov. He wants to make two points:

1. “A close reading of The Brothers Karamazov will give us no difficulty in understanding that its nerve center, its basic motive force, is the endless temptations that all the novel’s characters experience—each on his own level, of course. Grushenka—the “temptress,” the “infernal” being,
as she is called in the novel—tempts old man Karamazov and Mitya and even Alyosha, when she sits on his knee (after the death of the Elder Zosima). Temptation comes to the Elder Zosima’s mysterious visitor and to Zosima himself (the duel). Mitya is tempted by Smerdyakov and Fyodor Pavlovitch to commit murder (Smerdyakov’s report of Grushenka’s visit to the old man, and the father’s insults to the memory of Mitya’s dead mother and the withholding of Mitya’s maternal inheritance). Ivan tempts
Alyosha with stories of suffering children, causing him to make the radically uncharacteristic statement that the perpetrator should be shot. Smerdyakov tempts the young Ilyusha, by persuading him to kill the dog Zhuchka. Grushenka is tempted by her love for her former lover. Katerina Ivanovna experiences a diabolical temptation, when, with the intention of saving Ivan, she destroys Mitya. Smerdyakov is tempted to use stolen money to open up a business in Petersburg. Finally, the one most beset by temptation is Ivan Karamazov, who is first tempted by the disorder in the world (working on the assumption that “this world” belongs to God, not to the Devil) and then is
directly tempted by Smerdyakov (who seeks his permission to commit patricide) and is treated to a personal visit from the Devil—the very same who, by the latter’s own admission, tempted believers with the odor of corruption that emanated from the corpse of the Elder Zosima. It is in Ivan’s poem that the Grand Inquisitor recalls how “the wise and mighty spirit in the wilderness” tempted Christ on three separate occasions. In fact, Christ’s three temptations create a kind of backdrop for the novel’s entire philosophical problem set.

Kantor’s second point (2) is to complicate the tradition, running through the Russian conservative tradition, which sees Ivan as the spiritual double of Smerdyakov. In this tradition, Ivan is the endpoint of the intellectual collapse into nihilism that produced Lenin. But Kantor builds another case, built upon the meaning of temptation itself. He quotes the dialogue of Ivan and the Devil:

“So the only ones who can be tempted are the righteous, the seekers after a higher, spiritual, moral life. Even the Devil expatiates on this subject. Ivan asks his uninvited nocturnal guest: “Fool! did you ever tempt those holy men who ate locusts and prayed seventeen years in the wilderness till they were overgrown with moss?” And he receives this reply: “My dear fellow, I’ve done nothing else. One forgets the whole world and all the worlds, and sticks to one such saint, because he is a very precious diamond. One such soul, you know, is sometimes worth a whole constellation. We have our system of reckoning, you know. The conquest is priceless! And some of them, on my word, are [no less developed than you], though you won’t believe it. They can contemplate such depths of belief and disbelief at the same moment that sometimes it really seems that they are within a hair-breadth of being ‘turned upside down,’”

Kantor wants to complicate Ivan in order to complicate the picture of a decadent intelligentsia that has become conventional wisdom in the conservative response to Bolshevism. This image was taken over, wholesale, by the American right, where it happily merged with the right’s paranoid style.

We will say more about this, and The Duel, in our next post.

PS -- As our link to the review of Kantor's book shows, deviations from the Cold War image of Dostoevsky are treated summarily as Marxist -- as though any form of "socialism" immediately reduces to Marxism. So much for the triumph of the merger of salvation and competition in the American mindset.