“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 07, 2006

from pirate to preacher -- the civilizing mission

"Aged 44. Fell into sea … Witnessed by a lady called Mrs Foley with three young children. Body not found - weather terrible. Did not appear to attempt to swim. No visible efforts. Screams. She tried to reach down. Suddenly he was swept under and disappeared. He was upright in water. Was wearing boots."

That was the end of one of LI’s favorite novelists, J.G. Farrell. It came in 1979, when he was at the height of his powers, having just finished Singapore Grip. LI reviewed Singapore Grip for Newsday a couple of years ago, in a summer Sunday supplement devoted to rediscovering older novels. Alas, a cursory search via Google and Factiva has found no trace of our compressed masterpiece, but we like to think that it did some good – after all, last year NYRB books reissued Singapore Grip, along with Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur. These three books – one set in Singapore in 1940, one set in Ireland in 1920, and one set in India in1856 – made up Farrell’s Colonial trilogy. The standard writer with whom to compare Farrell is Paul Scott, whose novels also deal with the British imperium – at least, the Raj. But Farrell is much funnier than Scott. If, as a Victorian historian once famously said, the British put their empire together in a fit of absent mindedness, Farrell’s novels provide us with the agon of absent mindedness – Oedipus at Collonus wondering where he’d put the dratted binoculars, don’t you know.

Although I read Troubles and the Singapore Grip, I had never read The Siege of K., the most famous novel in the series, since I couldn’t seem to find it at a bookstore or in a library – save the University library, where I would have to read it. I don’t mind going to the U.T. library, flopping down on the sixth floor, and reading some French or German guy, but not Farrell. He definitely requires a comfortable pillow and an intimate enough space in which one’s laughter doesn’t draw stares. Anyway, last week I found it – so I’ve been reading it and, of course, laughing – and admiring. Figuring out.

I’m aware that my description of Farrell’s work might make one think of him as some professional nostalgist, like the writer of all those Navy historicals. He is nothing like that. The battle of Krishnapur, of course, never took place because Krishnapur never took place – it is a made up city. Farrell, however, has a wonderful sense of how history doesn’t happen so much as wander around. And he sees, correctly, that the Indian Mutiny or the Sepay Revolt or the first war of Indian independence – the latter being the most accurate title – was a transformative Victorian moment. The attitude of the British rulers of India, in the first half of the 19th century, was very different from the attitude of the British rulers in the latter half of the 18th century. The unexpected outcome of the Impeachment of Hastings and Burke’s effort to make known the mass massacre and robbery being committed in India was that the robbers moved from the tolerance – the Enlightenment relativism – of Hastings and William Jones to the moralism of Macaulay. Macaulay’s preserved the Whig ideal of progress by merging it with a new view of the ‘Asiatik’ in which reverence was replaced by contempt – the whole of Indian civilization, in this view, was nonsense. The British role was to replace that nonsense with the most advanced products of real civilization: the calculus of utility, the steam engine, and of course Christianity. In this, Macaulay was following in the footsteps of a Scot, Charles Grant. Grant wrote a famous paper, Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain."that was actually printed by the House of Commons in 1792 -- a date that is, not coincidentally, also a time of great anxiety about the French Revolution. Grant’s view was the opposite of the old toleration:

“It has suited the views of some philosophers to represent that people as amiable and respectable; and a few late travellers have chosen rather to place some softer traits of their characters in an engaging light, than to give a just delineation of the whole. The generality, however, of those who have writ ten concerning Hindostan, appear to have concurred in affirming what foreign residents there have as generally thought, nay, what the natives themselves freely acknowledge of each other, that they are a people exceedingly depraved.”

Although some of the terms in Grant’s rhetoric are now moderated or changed, basically his Inquiry sets up a framework that still throbs just beneath the skin of the enterprise now unraveling in Iraq, with the same assumption that the invaders, who have just spent the last century pillaging and robbing, can now be regarded as moral arbiters, and the fruits of their civilization (gained, of course, by the profits accruing to the aforesaid pillaging and robbing) can be shared, for a price, with an ungrateful but ultimately redeemable native population. The performative audacity of the this act is distributed throughout the imperial mindset – it is, in essence, the imperial effect, which LI has written bored our readers with before. The neo-conservatives, or the Cold War liberals before them, entered a field that was mapped out…

''his wish is not to excite detestation, but to engage compassion, and to make it apparent, that what speculation may have ascribed to physical and unchangeable causes, springs from moral sources capable of correction"

Which, of course, brings me back to the particular excellencies of J.G. Farrell. I will put some excerpts in the next, or at least some future, post.

Friday, January 06, 2006

B58/732 was pulled in by mistake

David Ignatius has a nice profile of Cheney’s Cheney, as he calls him: one David Addington. Addington has the typical cold war criminal’s profile: active in Casey’s CIA as the illegal operations were mounted against the Sandinistas, a big supporter of torture, the kind of enabler who emerges in certain historic situations – the dirty war in Argentina, the conservative support for the jihadis in Afghanistan – always on hand to make sure that the worst are not only full of passionate intensity but have the blowtorches and the electric generators they need to put in a good eight hours:

“A special target of Addington's needling during the first term was John B. Bellinger III, at the time the chief legal adviser to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Addington would attack any sign of caution or wariness from Bellinger about proposed policies, breaking in to say, "That's too liberal," or "You're giving away executive power," remembers a colleague. Bellinger is now Rice's legal adviser at the State Department.

Addington's most bruising fights have been with colleagues at the Justice Department and the Pentagon who challenged his views on interrogation of enemy combatants. He pushed Justice's Office of Legal Counsel to prepare a 2002 memo authorizing harsh interrogation methods. When that memo was later withdrawn, Addington was furious. Last year, he successfully blocked the appointment of one critic, Patrick Philbin, as deputy solicitor general, even though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted him in that role. Also last year, Addington was so adamant in resisting the efforts of a Pentagon official named Matthew Waxman to limit interrogation that Waxman eventually quit and is now moving to the State Department.”

Which of course reminds me of two scenes from one of my favorite movies about the Bush administration:


“KURTZMAN is pacing anxiously. SAM walks into the office.
During the brief opening and closing of the door we just
manage to hear the piano player in "Casablanca" singing,
"... a kiss is just a kiss ...". KURTZMAN is too worried
to notice. He is holding a piece of paper gingerly as if
it were contagious. He waves it frantically as SAM enters.

KURTZMAN
(hysterically)
Thank God you're here! We're in
terrible trouble! Look at this! Look
at this!

He thrusts the piece of paper at Sam.

SAM
(taking the paper)
A cheque.

KURTZMAN
The refund for Tuttle!

SAM
(startled)
Tuttle?

KURTZMAN
I mean, Buttle! It's been confusion
from the word go! He's been wrongly
charged for Electromemorytherapy and
someone somewhere is trying to make
us carry the can!

SAM
I've never seen a Ministry cheque
before.

KURTZMAN
We've got to get rid of it! There's
been a balls-up somewhere, and when
the music stops they'll jump on
whoever's holding the cheque!

SAM
Send it to somebody else. Send it to
Buttle. It's his cheque.

KURTZMAN
I've tried that! Population Census
have got him down as dormanted, the
Central Collective Storehouse
computer has got him down as deleted,
and the Information Retrieval have
got him down as inoperative ...
Security has him down as excised.,
Admin have him down as completed

SAM
Hang on.

SAM sits down at the console and punches keys. He does
this very efficiently, muttering to himself and generally
demonstrating an expertise which obviously leaves KURTZMAN
way out of his depth, until -

SAM
He is dead.

KURTZMAN
Dead! Oh no! That's terrible! We'll
never get rid of the damned thing!
What are we going to do?

SAM
Try next of kin.”


But Addington’s role, when the movie is made, should really be played by Michael Palin. Who can forget him as Jack Lint?

JACK
How much do you know?

SAM
Not much.

JACK
Enough though, eh?

SAM
(getting sucked into this
exchange)
Not really, no.

JACK goes over to the sink and turns on the taps full
blast, splashing the water noisily into the basin.

JACK
OK. OK. Let's not fence around ...
This is the situation. Some idiot
somewhere in the building, some
insect, confused two of our clients,
B58/732 and T47/215.

SAM
B58/732, that's A. Buttle isn't it?

JACK
Christ! You do know it all!

SAM
No, no, I don't. I'm just beginning
Honestly. Sorry, carry on.

JACK
Well, your A. Buttle has been
confused with T47/215, an A. Tuttle.
I mean, it's a joke! Somebody should
be shot for that. So B58/732 was
pulled in by mistake.

SAM
You got the wrong man.

JACK
(a little heated)
I did not get the wrong man. I got
the right man. The wrong man was
delivered to me as the right man! I
accepted him, on trust, as the right
man. Was I wrong? Anyway, to add to
the confusion, he died on us. Which,
had he been the right man, he
wouldn't have done.

SAM
You killed him?

JACK
(annoyed)
Sam, there are very rigid parameters
laid down to avoid that event but
Buttle's heart condition did not
appear on Tuttle's file. Don't think
I'm dismissing this business, Sam.
I've lost a week's sleep over it
already.


That last sentence about sums up the moral sense of the crewe of thugs who rule us. At one time we thought that the New Left was essentially bogus, making up caricature monsters of oppression against which to let fly their cries of outrage. And now those caricature monsters exist. Life imitates art once again.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Vince Young, mon amour

I saw the best football game I will ever see tonight. With rabid U.T. football fans, five babes and four year olds strewing toys all over the floor, and beer, which I wasn't planning on drinking this week (this was juice/purify the body week) in my belly and roaming the fretted paths of the consciousness.

U.T. -- Champions. A lovely, lovely game. And Vince Young owns this town.

ps

Last night, I finagled a spot watching the Rose Bowl game with two friends who were going to a third friends house. The house was down in Kyle, in a new, rather raw subdivision, one of those cruel exposures of wood and glass and brick to the pitiless Texas sky, the trees and other vegetation having been thoroughly routed by bulldozer and just creeping back into precarious existence via the aboriculture of some of the more green-thumby householders. There were approximately four infants scattered around the living room, three of them appropriately dressed in burnt orange, before the large screen tv that could do amazing things (my own tv can’t really get tv channels – rather I switch from one cloud of staticy unknowing to another, with figures vaguely looming out and disappearing - so I use it solely to watch dvds, and am rather out of the loop re tv technology – which is why I audibly wondered at the marvels available via remote – for instance, stopping a show and going backwards – like any yokel from the sticks with shit on his boots, and my friends explained to their friends that I was a bit retarded, but generally harmless). There were three male U.T. fans and two female U.T. fans. There were a variety of plastic blocks and toys fanned out across the rug. There was at any time four bottles of beer or two glasses of wine being drunk. There was much denunciation of the obvious media bias towards USC (led by yours truly, always keeping a nasty eye out for bias). And my friend’s friend was a fan of my type: bobbing up and down, yelling at the tv, and in general subject to mild epileptoid fits of appreciation or vituperation that rated well up on the calorie scale. My friend’s friend claimed that if U.T. won, he would celebrate with me by smashing all the car windows in the neighborhood (since I pointed out that the appropriate way to celebrate winning a championship is, traditionally, a riot). But we didn’t break any car windows or even burn any tires. We did race outside screaming at the top of our lungs. If we had been in Austin, ours would have simply been part of the chorus of voices – but Kyle is quieter, and I think we were the only people in the neighborhood making a ruckus. Then, going home, we got caught in the spontaneous parade down Guadalupe of college kids in pickup trucks (the most bizarre use of a pickup truck is that of transporting an eighteen year old from his apartment a half a mile from the campus to a university in which he invests a mile of driving time to looking for a parking space, as if it took an extra ton of metal to accomplish this noble deed), and watched a cop decide to let the four way stop on Guadalupe and 14th work its own knots and peculiarities out.

any primary products for you today, ma'am?

If LI were Evo Morales – a thought out of H.G. Wells, no? – we would definitely be taking notes about the recent Russia-Ukraine tiff. Putin "hates" Mr Yushchenko and is happy to try to undermine him,” according to the Financial Times in an article that overviews the recent, slow return of resource companies to state control.

State control does not mean total state control, however. It means that the state has a majority share in Gazprom and Rosneft, oil and gas groups. This, we think, is a logical fit for Russia. Both groups have private investors, but given the Russian national economy’s strengths and weaknesses, it never made sense to make Russia into neo-liberal heaven – consideration of the right mix of private to public enterprises should have made the state very cautious about giving away its crown jewels. In fact, no country in its right mind gives away its high value resource extraction industries – witness the recent dustup in this country when China made an offer for Conoco.

“In the past two years, [Putin] has set about creating those groups. Using occasionally questionable methods, he has restored to state control energy assets that were privatised cheaply a decade ago. Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, in late 2004 bought the main production arm of Yukos, the oil company built up by Mikhail Khodorkovsky - now serving a nine-year sentence in a Siberian prison for fraud and widely seen as the victim of a politically motivated campaign.
Last autumn, the Russian state increased its stake in Gazprom, the gas giant that controls about 20 per cent of the world's natural gas reserves, from 38 per cent to 51 per cent, moving from de facto to de jure control. Gazprom then bought Sibneft, the oil group controlled by Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea Football Club owner, for Dollars 13.1bn in Russia's biggest merger.

Finally, Mr Putin has just signed into law measures to lift long-standing restrictions on foreigners owning Gazprom's remaining 49 per cent free float. Some analysts believe the influx of international investors could double Gazprom's market capitalisation to as much as Dollars 300bn (Pounds 172bn, Euros 250bn), putting it among the world's top companies. Rosneft, meanwhile, is being prepared for an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange this year that Russian officials have suggested could value it as high as Dollars 72bn.”

Those who, in the nineties, were critical of ‘shock therapy’ will now get a chance to see if the model that worked so successfully after WWII – a private economy with a large state stake– will work for Russia. The danger to governance is obviously underlined by Putin’s use of natural gas as if it were his own private dagger. When there are no impediments to direct executive control of these enterprises, they are always going to be subject to this kind of gross corruption. State control shouldn’t mean straight executive control.

Read Chris Floyd’s analysis for comments on the hypocrisy of certain of those who are condemning Putin at the moment. And do remember, too, that the increase Putin is trying to extract from the Ukraine is, percentage wise, in the same ballpark as the increase in gas prices demanded by the IMF in Iraq, which has so far not created mass indignation among policymakers in the West.

This is probably the structural lesson for Morales. The other lesson should be situational. Bolivia does not have to market its natural gas to the U.S. The EU has every incentive to diversify its suppliers. This is a good time to have massive natural gas reserves.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

philosophical taxonomy

Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels made an ingenious, but we think ultimately misleading, comparison the other day in a post about Gene Sparling’s discovery that the ivory billed woodpecker is not extinct. She finds the story inspiriting – as we do. But the philosophical moral that she draws from it we find, well, unsatisfactory:

“It's kind of a black swan story, kind of a story about falsification, and the difficulty or impossibility of being sure of a negative. It's about the fact we've talked about here more than once: the fact that not having found X does not necessarily mean there is no X to find. It could mean that, but it could just mean you haven't found it. And it can be very very difficult to know which.”

OB adds to this notion of finding and falsification the notion of a scale of far-fetchedness:

“Because Sparling wouldn't let himself think he'd seen what he suspected he'd seen, at first - in fact for quite awhile. Why? Because he didn't want to be ridiculed as a loony, a Big foot finder, an alien abduction believer. And he thought he couldn't have seen what he thought he'd seen. But actually, on consideration, the possibility that it was what he thought it might be except that it couldn't be (because Ivory bills are extinct, he said solemnly, they've been extinct my whole life) is really not nearly as far-fetched as either Big foot or alien abductions. And Big foot, in turn, is not as far-fetched as alien abductions. So there's a scale of far-fetchedness here: 1, 2, 3.”

We think that OB’s comparison between the fabulous search for the black swan, a example enshrined in American philosophy courses, and the search for the ivory billed woodpecker screens philosophically disjoint projects. One is the issue of whether there is such a thing as an x; the other is what kind of a thing x is. Whether a swan can have black coloring is a question of the swan’s properties. It is wrapped up in the larger taxonomic question, what is a swan? Whether the ivory billed woodpecker exists isn’t a question of a property – as Kant showed a long time ago, existence is not a property. It may be that there is an overlap in the method used to research both questions – you may search for black swans or you may search for ivory billed woodpeckers. Or you may even search for yeti. But the level of the scientific issue in which your search gains its meaning will be different.

That philosophers generally ignore taxonomy in preference to theory building is, perhaps, the result of the philosophical obsession with physics as the central natural science, and the search, in physics, for fundamental forces. But taxonomy offers its own philosophical dilemmas. Which brings us to Marc Ereshefsky and Mohan Matthen’s Taxonomy, Polymorphism, and History: An Introduction to Population Structure Theory in this Winter’s Philosophy of Science.

Ereshefsky and Matthen argue against a common taxonomic theory that is built into the various simple problems that have been canonized among philosophers (such as OB’s black swans – or sometimes ravens): the “homeostatic property cluster.” This theory incorporates our naïve way of distinguishing kinds by external properties, and brings it up to date by recognizing that there is a system in which these properties function – the living system, governed by natural selection. “Proponents of this view … hold that while there is no set of properties that all members of a species must share, there is a set of properties that tend to be coinstantiated among the members of a species. These properties …are maintained by “homeostatic mechanisms.” EM argue against this view, which they associate strongly with Richard Boyd, and for what they call Population Structure Theory.’

“What is needed, we suggest, is to move away from the focus on the properties individuals share and to take greater notice of populations and other more inclusive entities. These entities are causal actors in the evolutionary process, and they are so in virtue of their phenotype distributions and their population structures.”

To rephrase the black swan example in PST terms, here’s the question for philosophers: is it possible to find a swan with a chimpanzee genome? Here we are reaching down from the way in which we describe outward properties to properties of descent. That there is a lack of work on this kind of thing in philosophy points to the philosophic preference for logic over structure. And that has had the effect of making it seem like questions of structure are secondary. But of course they aren’t.

For instance: when we search for whether swans are defined by their coloration – for black swans, for instance – we think we are being guided by a correlation between what swans look like and what swans are. And because even duckling swans have certain recognizable traits that are similar to adult swans, we can still look among swan ducklings for the ugly one that grows up to be a different colored swan. But what about butterflies? To speak of monarch butterflies in a scientific sense, we have to incorporate both the caterpillar and the mature butterfly. They look so different that searching the appearances, here, has to be conducted according to much other lines than simply, monarch butterflies all have orange wings with black spots. And what about the differences brought in by species that have very distinct appearance differences between males and females? Hence, the polymorphism in EM’s title. We know that there are species that look so different during their life cycles that they have been erroneously classified as separate species. We know that certain seeming species – lichens, for instance – have turned out to be several species living symbiotically.

All of these things push us to ask questions about “looking for x” and the idea that falsification plays a central and defining role in science. Which we will take up again tomorrow.

Monday, January 02, 2006

the buzzard's prodigal relative

Opinion-makers are cheap. However, managing opinion-makers is still a profitable biz. Thus the interest in the unraveling of some of Lincoln Group’s tricks in today’s NYT. In the old days – the 1830s – the American expansionist typically inclined to coonskin caps, long rifles, the cheerfully racist views of slaveholders, and homespun penny sheets. Today’s filibusters are infinitely more sophisticated – at least, in their haberdashery.

While the old filibusters would recognize a kindred spirit in the Lincoln Group, they would also frankly recognize that the group is a collection of carrion eating pinheads whose lack of conscience would embarrass a buzzard. Here is the Lincoln Group in a typical moment, cannibalizing the dead, rolling in their viscera and insulting their memory in Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Press:

“Washington based Lincoln Group is demonstrating keen interest for continuous relief activity going on in quake hit areas of Azad Kashmir and NWFP. This was stated by Mark Gillespie, WP Business Development, of the group and Carol Fleming, Country Director Pakistan in a meeting with Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat here Thursday.”

“They further told Faisal that their group could shape opinion through strategic communications that focus on the culture community and people to create measurable results. The group works around the world in locations others may view as "inhospitable." The group prefers to call such locations "challenging." Mark Gillespie and Carol Fleming told Faisal that they rely on innovative creative ability, extreme flexibility, real experience, the quality of their people and a low profile to get the job done. Their expert teams immerse themselves in the environment to keep their finger on the pulse of local perceptions and behaviours.”

The economic opportunities growing out of the death of half a million people are limitless if you have the right go getting spirit. And the Lincoln Group has been keeping its talons on the pulse of perceptions in this country by putting tips in the garter belts of rightwing commentators, who, one would think, would not require bribes to support their vanity project war. The NYT has a nice little bit about a frequently quoted AEI guy, Michael Rubin, who was immersing himself profitably in both the highest reaches of D.C. imbecility and in Iraq itself on the Lincoln Group tab:

“Lincoln has also turned to American scholars and political consultants for advice on the content of the propaganda campaign in Iraq, records indicate. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization, said he had reviewed materials produced by the company during two trips to Iraq within the past two years.

"I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their ideas," Mr. Rubin said in an e-mailed response to questions about his links to Lincoln. "I am not nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them."

He added: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have received from Lincoln.”

And just when LI was despairing that a public intellectual, a writer, can’t make a decent wage! We forgot all about honorariums. Plus, of course, all you can eat of the casualties.

“The Lincoln Group officials told the minister that they had realisation that efforts would have to be maintained for arranging US dollars 5. 2 billion for Pakistan to cope with the situation arising out of the quake devastation. Mark Gillespie and Carol Fleming told the minister their group had the ability to help reach, communicate and influence outcomes in the communities that mean the most.”

In the Bush culture, a scavenger is free to be all he wants to be – the sky, and the body counts, are the limit. Dig in, and while you are gobbling remember – that’s the sound of freedom you hear in the bloodscented wind!