“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, August 06, 2005

Blair's imam-catchers

Blair is a nasty piece of work. Even so, we have to stand in a bit of awe at the audacity of his latest pronouncements. They take us back to a distant era in which he would surely have flourished, when the threatened bombing of the Parliament, or the poisoning of the queen, produced a fair share of martyrs – this time not Islamic ones, but Catholic. That supercilious righteousness would have served him well then – and since, apparently, the police are to stage raids on mosques, Blair might really want to read up on the techniques of his spiritual ancestors. He needs what Queen Elizabeth had: a Richard Topcliffe. Talk about a torturer for all seasons – Topcliffe’s techniques have often been imitated – most recently by the American military in Iraq – but never really topped.

Topcliffe had a licence to operate a rack in his own house – an ingenious idea that Blair might consider reviving. I’m sure Blunkett would be just the man to operate a stretching machine.

Here’s a description of Topcliffe excerpted from J. Heath: Torture And English Law: An Administrative and Legal History from the Plantagenets to the Stuarts. The “Young” here is another, less colorful, rack master. Southwell, of course, is the famous Jesuit. The other names are of Catholics:

…It was also to Topcliffe and Young that, in 1591, the Law Officers were directed to leave Thomas Clinton. if torture seemed necessary: as “butchers’, the two men were linked in Southwell’s letter, of January, 1590, to Aquaviva. According to the Gerard autobiography, after Gerard’s arrest, his second examination—without torture—was before the two of them, at Young’s house. Their relative roles in the Government’s business deserve consideration. The Gerard autobiography seems to regard Young as the key figure in the politico-religious police of the metropolis. He was a justice of the peace, proceeding as such, although with peculiar determination, sometimes upon instructions from the Queen. generally in a special working relationship with the Council. Topcliffe was not a justice of the peace and indeed held no public office. He was, however, fanatically hostile to Roman Catholicism and successful in attaching himself to the highest centers of influence. Sometimes, he received instructions from the Council. and—including the case of Thomas Clinton the Conciliar records show nine instances of his employment where torture might be used. However, he attained to a special working relationship with the Queen herself and came to occupy in the prosecution of Roman Catholics for politico-religious offenses a position de facto resembling that of a justice of the peace, but without territorial limits being placed upon his authority within the realm, and to command from the Judicature more deference than any ordinary prosecuting justice would have received. Moreover, he found the funds to organize a considerable force of agents. He may be regarded, to this extent, as a primeval common ancestor of Pinkerton’s and the FBI.”

Ah, that Topcliffe spirit – just the thing for the current occasion. An imam-catcher, and a volunteer at that. Topcliffe also had a modern way of combining his work and his dick – he impregnated one of the Catholic women he caught, had one of his servants marry her, and used her info to uncover a hiding priest.

Heath’s conclusions concerning Elizabeth’s sanctioning of torture are in the purest spirit of Blairism.

“What may be true is that torture was not used, for whatever result, in an entirely cynical mood: that it was not used without a fairly strong sense that the examinate had brought it upon himself by withholding the truth. Before the present period, several relevant Conciliar records in political or politico-religious cases, and one in a case of ordinary crime, refer to obstinacy of the examinate. During the present period, there are seven more although in only one does the record contemplate an ordinary crime. Of course, such references might have been humbug, but we may recall the case of William Weston who. as above noticed, escaped torture, although there is no reason to suppose that without it he liberally supplied the authorities with means of destroying other Roman Catholics.”

Hear hear for English humanitarianism! This is the stuff. A cynical mood is far from “our way of life,” the Blairist can well say. And if they are going to criticize, out on their ear! The British have always been against foreigners coming into a country and taking things over and kicking the natives around … uh, well with a few exceptions.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

it's too gashly...

LI is going to be gone for a month. We might drop by the site and leave a few bits of wisdom, or whatever it is we produce here. But mostly we are going to try to forget the art of writing, the art of reading, the war, the Bush, etc., etc.

We have been thinking of partings ... and especially the parting of Peregrinus, the cynic. He built a pyre in Elia, mounted it, and lit it, thus ascending to the heights of Mount Olympia on wings of fire.

Lucian of Samothrace, a satirist, left a lively account of the scene, and of Peregrinus’ life as a philosophical scoundrel. The English translation omits certain nice, dirty bits you can find (bien sur) in the French translation, like the Cynics habit of masturbating in public. That’s nicely omitted here. Lucien’s account is cast into the form of a letter to a friend:

“ I imagine you’ll laugh yourself to death imaging that old senile piker – I can just hear you saying “what a farce! and really, what misplaced vanity!” and a thousand other similar abjurations. Well, as distant as I am from hearing your indignation, I was that close – at the very foot of the pyre – that I emptied my little sack and said everything I thought of the comedy, right in the heart of a crowd of spectators scandalized by my reaction, all of them open mouthed with admiration before the vaudeville turn of that old idiot.”

Needless to say, LI wants to depart this life in the same way, although we doubt we’ll attract a crowd of spectators. Still, Peregrinus never really died – he was reborn as the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn, Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22, and any number of academics and new age mystics and think tank foreign policy analysts and every guest on every current affairs talk show. But we like to think that we embody a purer form of his purely scandalous fraudulence than any of these.

Lucian’s satire would no doubt have been thrown on the flames by some mad monk long ago, except that it contains precious info about the early Christians. Peregrinus spent his life looking for just that intersection of gullibility and metaphysics that so many have made a good living exploiting. He started out in life along classical lines: the seduced girl with a little number in the belly, the flight out the window leaving behind his clothes, the hush money paid by his folks. Well, of course, one good turn deserves another, so Peregrinus helped his poor old dad enter into the afterlife through a strategically placed pillow (the old guy was suffering, and there was the inheritance to think about). Peregrinus was surprised to discover that his native village was filled with hidden anti-euthanasia freaks, so the best part of discretion blew him to other lands – notably Palestine, where he became a Christian among Christians.

He quickly found some followers, disciples, proclaimed himself their prophet, their theasiarch, their head of the synagogue – in brief, he granted himself all the powers, proposed to analyze their holy books, cut them up to his hearts content and added whatever texts struck his fancy. So much so that the Christians began to regard him as their pontiff. He ended up elevating himself to the level of the one these Palestinians adored, who suffered being put on the cross, guilty, according to his peers, of inventing new mysteries for humanity.”

Well, the old rogue, no doubt after penning some of Jesus’ more dubious sentences, got thrown into jail. Luckily, the governor of Syria had a fatal penchant for philosophy, which was Peregrinus’ clef de champs. Going back to his home town, he found that there was some harsh memories of his merciful treatment of the Parent. In the end, he was rather forced to spend the inheritance among the poor just to keep from being lynched. So it was time to go elsewhere, which is how he passed into Egypt, stage left, and became a cynic:

“He enterprised a third pilgrimage, this time to Egypt, where he met Agathobulus who instructed him in the métier, which he exercized up to the day of his death. His skull shaved, his face smeared with mud, he masturbated in public without the least embarrassment, something the Cynics consider completely natural. He whipped himself – or had himself whipped – with a ruler, and executed a thousand silly pranks in the same vein.”

A regular guy, in other words, that any ancient Mediterranean ville would pass by without a glance. But it was the big send off that Lucian wrote about, and that made Peregrinus’ name. Having found followers – the more absurd the doctrine, the more ardent the follower – he built a nice pyre to burn himself up in Elia.

Everybody’s a critic: Lucian has a lot of fault to find with the theater of Peregrinus’ last hours, although he admits he was three sheets to the wind, and a heckler to boot. But give Peregrinus some credit – he invited, seemingly, a funeral orator who laughed himself silly about the whole thing and told the crowd that Peregrinus was a faker, a hoodlum, a cocksman, and a joke.

How can I not identify? As I write this with my right hand, with my left I’m raising a glass of Montepulciano to the old reprobate’s ashes.

"It's a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He's ben shot in de back. I reck'n he's ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan' look at his face -- it's too gashly."

A block party!

We considered making this yet another Iraq post. But we like to think of ourselves as America’s blog. We like to think that we love kids, dogs, and yes, sometimes we like to watch American Idol, like you all do. And we Americans don’t want to have bloody bits of soldiers rubbed in our faces. We are too busy and too caring. The message is: we care. We are a great nation, shopping for great deals at world class malls. In the world, America is famous for our freedom, which is why they hate us. So instead, we are linking to this article about our world class legislators in D.C. God bless em. Some of the hardest working Christians you would ever want to see. But even Christians can let their hair down, occasionally.

The article details the way lobbyists are able to show their appreciation for the service to the country shown by these fine men and women. They are in the line of fire every day. Many of them are making financial sacrifice by serving in Congress, and will only be able to make it up by accepting top flight jobs from the corporations that bribed them to pass those bills that so gaily loot the Treasury after their patriotic service is over. As journalist Carl Hulse notes, the recent scandals around Tom Delay and “Duke” Cunningham was notable only for the notable stupidity displayed by the two outstanding Christians, since getting around ethics rules has been designed to be user friendly, and could be performed, if necessary, by a retarded rabbit.

For those who think that the Democrats aren’t sufficiently Christian – well here’s a nice surprise for you all:

“During the past five years, members of Congress have received $18.3 million worth of travel at the expense of private organizations, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan research service. That includes 628 lawmakers who made 6,242 trips, 57 percent of which were taken by Democrats.

The most popular destinations were vacation spots, according to a study by the Medill News Service and American Public Media, which produces programs for public radio stations. From January 2000 to mid-2004, No. 1 was Florida with more than 500 trips, followed by California with nearly 400 trips and New York with more than 300. West Virginia, home to the Greenbrier resort, was the fourth most popular destination, with more than 200 trips. These were permitted because they were connected to "official duties" -- one of the requirements that the ethics rules impose on privately paid trips.”

Seeing the awesome, divinely created majesty of the ski slopes, or the beauty of a Las Vegas floor show, is the best way of instilling that respect for Credit Card companies, oil companies, and, most of all, our brave Defense corporations, which naturally results in votes that are good for the country. Those who criticize the Congress show a lack of understanding about what makes this whole faith based mechanism work – which is why we have to try extra hard to spread our way of life around the world. Although they died for so many reasons, among the reasons 1800 Americans have given their lives for the Islamic Republic of Iraq is to make sure that our legislatures can continue to live free, unfettered lives.

I’m not saying that we should take away the sacred right to expression from the critics who will always dog our way of life, bitter deadender leftists, but I am saying that jail time, under the Patriot Act provisions that Justice Roberts will thoughtfully construe in the spirit in which they are intended, might be one answer to anti-American slanderers and fifth columnists in our own country.

“…barely a week passes when at least one out-of-town fundraising event doesn't entice contributors with golf, a boat excursion or skiing. The House Republicans' event list between mid-July and mid-August advertises 12 golf outings, four baseball games, a musical show and a night of "champagne and caviar."
The competition for donors is so intense that lawmakers try to outdo each other with innovative fundraising come-ons. Four members of the House Ways and Means Committee held what they called a "block party" to make it easier for lobbyists to drop off checks. The lawmakers, who live on the same block on Capitol Hill, each offered a different alcoholic beverage to donors as they stopped by on the same evening this spring.

"There are 20 to 40 fundraisers a day that people have a chance to go to, and they can't make them all," said Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who conceived and benefited from the block party. "You want to make sure yours stands out and that people say, 'That's fun!' "

P.S. LI does like to imitate the small town touches that used to make Paul Harvey's radio broadcasts such a delight. Harvey was always looking for the little, telling story: the one that focused on what was right and good in this country. In that spirit, we couldn't help noticing that the LAT story about the deaths of those marines yesterday was nestled next to a box with today's top emailed stories. Rightfully, Americans rejected pointless bad news from Iraq. Why clutter the mind? No, it take a resilient people to lose 44 soldiers in the past couple days and make this the most popular headline of the day: "20 of the most delicious deals you'll find around town."

Say what you like, this country has its eyes on the prize. No wonder we've been voted most moral 200 years running!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The War is Over, and We Won
(Headline, AEI magazine, April, 2005):

Contrary to the impression given by most newspaper headlines, the United States has won the day in Iraq. In 2004, our military fought fierce battles in Najaf, Fallujah, and Sadr City. Many thousands of terrorists were killed, with comparatively little collateral damage. As examples of the very hardest sorts of urban combat, these will go down in history as smashing U.S. victories.

And our successes at urban combat (which, scandalously, are mostly untold stories in the U.S.) made it crystal clear to both the terrorists and the millions of moderate Iraqis that the insurgents simply cannot win against today’s U.S. Army and Marines. That’s why everyday citizens have surged into politics instead.”

August 3, 2005
14 U.S. Marines Killed in Iraq When Vehicle Hits a Huge Bomb
-- Headline, NYT.

American Journalist Is Shot to Death in Iraq -

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 3 - An American journalist writing about the rise of fundamentalist Islam was shot dead overnight after being abducted in the southern port city of Basra, American embassy and Iraqi officials said today. The journalist's translator was also shot and is in serious condition at a Basra hospital.
-- story, NYT, August 3, 2005. The journalist wrote for the National Review.

Address, Counter-recruitment site, youth and the military.

Strike against the vanity war. Let's shrink Rumsfeld’s army to the size of his heart.

Monday, August 01, 2005

expected headlines

The headlines in the Washington Post were expected:

"President Bush sidestepped the U.S. Senate on Monday and installed controversial nominee Scott Peterson as ambassador to the United Nations, saying the post was "too important to leave vacant any longer."
Speaking at the White House, Bush said he was sending Peterson to the United Nations with his "complete confidence." “Peterson has his marching orders. I expect him to deal with the U.N. as he has dealt with the women in his life.”

"The White House move comes over the vociferous protests of Senate Democrats, who had complained that the blunt, combative Peterson lacked credibility, being in prison under sentence of death. The Senate had twice voted to sustain a filibuster against Peterson. But Bush refused to give up on his nominee.

"A majority of U.S. senators agree that he is the right man for the job," Bush said at the White House. "but because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, Scott was denied the up and down vote he deserves."

Scott, an outspoken conservative who had often criticized the United Nations as reminding him of ‘bitches”, triggered controversy from the moment Bush nominated him March 8. Members of the White House press corps who have watched this administration for years agreed that this is another stand tall moment for a tough talking president who doesn’t mind stretching the envelop. According to Dr. Tom Curtis, of the Unhealed Rabies Victims for Invading Iran, "we will look back on this moment as a turning point. I've worked with Scott. He's determined to bomb as many places as we can on the President's deadline. We have all these bombs, and Canada is so close... and as they say, Jesus was not a Canadian.

Previous ambassadors have kept a small staff in Washington in a modest suite. Peterson told several colleagues he needed more space and a larger staff in Washington because, if confirmed, he intended to spend more time here than his predecessors did. "Peterson isn't going to sit in New York while policy gets made in Washington," the administration source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the source lacked authorization to discuss this on the record. “After you’ve been in stir for a while, you just don’t want to be pegged down.”

Sunday, July 31, 2005

I have seen the future, and it is United

Anyone interested in what Bush’s reformed Social Security would look like should look at the NYT article about United Airline’s pension fund today. It is a fun article. Here's how the movie goes: Wall Street persuades a viable pension fund to redo its safe strategy of investing for a much more groovy strategy of growth growth growth in equities. Big money is made by everybody on the Street as the pension fund shrinks, disappears, goes into a black hole. Everybody is very sorry that the beneficiaries of the fund have nothing left, but everybody also points out – the beneficiaries are scum. Mere workers. Pilots, for god’s sakes. Imagine, some stewardess somewhere is bawling cause her measely 200 thou went to some really nice Manhattan bistros. As if she deserved it. The best and the brightest, in the new Hobbesian Randian world, feast upon such little lambs.

Bush’s plan has those advantages too. By targeting middle America’s vast wealth and accelerating the burgling of it, in a record amount of time the top 10 percent income percentile can capture even more of America’s wealth. This money will be used much more efficiently. For instance, many retiring congressmen will be able to find lobbying jobs that will launch them into the higher regions of financial security when the theft is completed. Meanwhile, in a blow against the French, Americans will work harder. They will have to, as their retirement will be approximately equal, in value, to the price you can get for confetti that’s been cleaned off of streets and sidewalks after the parade is over.

The first three grafs of the article map a strategy that is almost a perfect parallel of the Bush reforms:

“HAD anyone listened to Doug Wilsman, tens of thousands of United Airlines employees would not be facing big cuts in their pensions. And the federal agency that guarantees pensions might not be struggling with its biggest losses ever.

So who is Doug Wilsman? He is a retired pilot and a former fiduciary of United's pension plan for pilots, and in 1987 he discovered that the company had abandoned its older, tried-and-true approach of investing retirees' money in bonds timed to pay when the pensions came due. Instead, it had bought into the promises of Wall Street that it could put less money into the plan - and take out more later - if it just put most of the assets into the stock market.

Mr. Wilsman was skeptical of such promises, and soon after learning of the change in strategy, he filed a grievance with his union, the Air Line Pilots Association. "Hey, you guys are really building yourselves a trap," he recalled warning them at the time. "Someday, at the worst possible moment, when the bottom falls out of the stock market, the plan is going to have to come up with new money, and it's going to be enough to kill the company."

Wilsman has got to be a traitor, and one hopes he will be roundly denounced on the rightwing media circuit. More voices like his would blow the perfect caper. He obviously wasn’t clued in that DJ 36,000 was just around the corner.

As even the article admits, the result of the Bush-like investment strategy proved highly satisfactory:

“While the money managers and other pension professionals who ran United's pension plan walked away from the wreck unscathed - indeed, they collected about $125 million in fees over the last five years alone, records show - the ones who will have to pick up the bill for the advisers' collective failure will be the airline's 130,000 employees and pensioners, the federal pension guarantor and probably, someday, the taxpayers.”

Million dollar payouts for high level failure have become America’s secret weapon for achieving true greatness. As for the employees – they merely work for a living. Piss on em, as the old Wall Street saying goes. Also, the federal government has proven that almost any problem can be solved if you have a gigantic enough credit card. Put those pensions on the card and have the Chinese buy more of our dollars, as they say in the corridors of the Treasury department.
Here’s a nice window into what Social Security is gonna look like once we get it all licked into shape:
“United is far from unique. Lifting the lid on how most pension funds are invested might raise an outcry if the 44 million Americans covered by company plans knew these things:
Pension investing is largely unregulated, even though the federal government effectively covers the investment losses when a defined-benefit plan fails. At United, this freewheeling approach gave rise to investments in junk bonds, dot-coms and even what appears to be an energy venture in Albania.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently said that more than half of the consultants who help pension funds invest their money have outside business relationships that could taint their advice.”
I, for one, am totally psyched.
Three more irresistible grafs. Your congress at work!

"While the federal agency tries to pinpoint its obligations, apparently no one in an official capacity is pausing to ask who the plans' outside investment professionals were, much less how they made their decisions and how they responded as the airline's fortunes faded.

"It's just a nonstarter," said Richard A. Ippolito, the pension agency's former chief economist, who is now retired. A few years ago, he recalled, a director of the federal pension agency appeared before Congress and suggested that if companies wanted to invest their pension funds in stocks, they should pay more for their pension insurance coverage.
"I could politely say that he was vilified," he said. "They basically accused him of being un-American because he was asking companies to pay for the privilege of investing in stocks. He just dropped that idea."