“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, May 27, 2006

fiction, fact, and seediness

Ah, the Bush administration, always in lockstep with the most villainous forces in America. Today’s NYT story relates a typical Bush caper, half Penguin from Batman, half Satan from Revelations. In the face of global warming, the Bushies are pushing to increase dramatically the amount of greenhouse gases Americans release into the atmosphere – by burning coal. The back to coal movement, and back to the dirtiest methods of mining it and using it, gives us some startling grafs:

“While Peabody supports some coal gasification projects, it remains skeptical about departing from traditional coal-burning methods to produce electricity.
The pulverized coal plants it wants to build, which grind coal into a dust before burning it to make electricity, currently cost about $2 billion each, or 15 percent to 20 percent less to build than the cleaner "integrated gasification combined cycle," or I.G.C.C., plants, which convert coal into a gas.

The hope among scientists is that I.G.C.C. plants could be relatively quickly fitted with systems to sequester deep underground the carbon dioxide created from making electricity. Without such controls, the new coal plants under development worldwide could pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over their lifetimes as all the coal burned in the last 250 years, according to Jeff Goodell, who has written on coal for several publications, including The New York Times, and is author of a new book on the coal industry.”

The leader of the coal industry is the villain in that old John Prine song, the Peabody Coal company:

"But while sooty smokestacks are no longer a big problem in modern coal-burning power plants, the increase in global warming gases is. A typical 500-megawatt coal-fired electricity plant, supplying enough power to run roughly 500,000 homes, alone produces as much in emissions annually as about 750,000 cars, according to estimates from Royal Dutch Shell.

"Coal has perhaps no stronger evangelist than Mr. Boyce, [President of Peabody] who grew up on Long Island, the son of a mining executive, and studied engineering in Arizona. He argues that a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions can be found without having to switch from the existing cheaper coal-burning technology.
Much in the way that Exxon Mobil influences discussion of climate issues from the petroleum industry, Peabody is a backer of industry-supported organizations that seek to prevent mandatory reductions in global warming emissions and promote demand for coal.

Peabody's executives are also by far the coal industry's largest political contributors to federal candidates and parties, giving $641,059 in the 2004 election cycle, with 93 percent of that amount going to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research group in Washington that tracks money in politics. “

So, to recapitulate: the Bush administration's response to global warming is to encourage, in its own modest way, putting more Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with less government regulation. The problem here, as so often in the past six years, is that the very scale and audacity of this obviously wrongheaded, vile, corrupt and anti-human attitude leaves its opponents gasping for negative superlatives, for some verbal equivalent to the punches continually given to common sense and honesty. The immediate need for an insult is not a position that allows for critical thinking. In truth, the Bush presidency isn't the most wicked or the worst to ever grace these here states -- surely that position belongs to Eisenhower, a president who repeatedly and carelessly risked nuclear war. But it is by far the seediest. Our present discontents, in which vanity projects become war and cronyism becomes an energy policy, reminds me of this passage in Marina Warner's fine essay, 'Angels and Engines' on Revelations in last Fall's Raritan:

"The wars of our time, represented in highly popular story cycles, are not easy to keep apart in the mind's eye from the wars conducted in reality and on news channels, and this is not just because The Lord ofthe Rings, Star Wars, the Chronicles of Namia,and the Harry Potter series are modern allegories. A recent poll
found that a terrifying number of people in the United Kingdom thought Hitler was a figment and that the ores' defeat at Helms Deep in The Two Towers actually took place (not to mention the headline interest of newspapers in the last episode of Friends). The reasons for this confusion lie deep: language and imagination govern ways of thinking, and from that work of cognition issue ways of doing. Brilliant techniques of illusion propel fantasies into reality. Film fictions have weirdly fiipped over and, in so doing, fulfilled aspects of apocalyptic prophecy at its most obscurantist. In some ways those informants who thought the battle of Helms Deep took place were right: it did take place—in the filming of the movie."

Friday, May 26, 2006

skepticism and science


- From the American Scientist. Click on image to zoom it.

To continue with LI’s anti-military rant from yesterday – Harper’s this month has a fine article on nuclear testing in Nevada by David Samuels. Rumsfeld, who is a monster from outer space, wants to resume underground testing of nuclear bombs. Here are a few grafs from Samuels piece:

“Over the life of the American nuclear-design program, the scientists at Los Alamos and Livermore designed 71 different warheads for 116 nuclear-weapons systems, at a total cost of nearly $800 billion. This year, the Department of Energy will spend $6.5 billion on nuclear weapons, and it plans to spend a total of $35 billion over the following four years, an amount that in real dollars equals what Ronald Reagan spent in eight years on nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War.

"The last time we did a test there was nothing over fifteen stories in Las Vegas," he reflects. But with the revitalized plutonium-pit production scheduled for 2007, a multibillion-dollar tritium-production program funded by Congress, deliveries of refurbished nuclear weapons scheduled for 2006, and billions of dollars earmarked for the computers and visualization theaters at Livermore and Los Alamos, it is impossible to ignore what's in the offing. Both Stephen Younger, the former associate director of the weapons program at Los Alamos, and C. Paul Robinson, the current director of Sandia, have publicly advocated the development of a new generation of strategic nukes. As the Defense Department's Nuclear Posture Review explained to Congress at the beginning of 2002, "While the United States is making every effort to maintain the stockpile without additional nuclear testing, this may not be possible for the indefinite future."”

LI often gets irritated at the peasant stubbornness or pig ignorance of people who doubt that global warming is happening, or doubt evolutionary theory, etc., etc. We shouldn’t – there are good reasons for the average person to think for him or herself about the pronouncements of the scientists. A great example of scientists, en masse, lying, is given to us by the above ground nuclear testing that went on for decades in Nevada.

In David Thompson’s book, “In Nevada: The Land, The People, God, and Chance," there’s a movie anecdote – which you would expect, since Thompson is a movie critic and the one man author of a movie encyclopedia – about The Conqueror, a John Wayne flick financed by Howard Hughes and shot in St. George, Utah in 1955. St. George happened to be in the alley through which mucho radioactivity from those above ground tests passed. Hughes had soil dug up form the site to be used later for in studio productionAnd the crew, cast, director and others were thus exposed to the substances unleashed by the department of War and blessed by the scientists hired by the department of war, who have, since the dropping of Big Boy, spent seventy years downplaying the dangers of radiation. Thompson points out that, out of the 221 people working on the film, 91 got cancer. This isn’t that surprising. In St. George, deformed babies became known as sacrifice babies – sacrificed to national defense. The leukemia rate was 2.5 times higher than the national average – but cancers were only one of the kind of low grade, life sucking maladies that afflicted the community, and that atomic energy scientists are quick to label psychosomatic – as in the recent WHO/AEIC report on Chernobyl. During a period from the late 40s to the late 70s, the War Department’s scientific community was both experimenting with weapons designed to kill millions and denying that the weapons produced anything that would harm Americans living around the places where those weapons were exploded. Sometimes, just to check, populations were exposed to radiation on purpose – the Defense Department in 1991 admitted that it had done about 4,000 experiments exposing humans to radioactivity between 1944 to 1974, according to Eduardo Goncalves article on the ‘secret nuclear war’ in the Ecologist in 2001. Carole Gallagher, in her photo book about the victims of the bomb tests, quotes a great AEC memo about communities in the path of fallout – they were labeled the “low use segment of the population.” The Conqueror was the more unfortunate in that it mixed low use people with valuable people, including John Wayne – who of course died of cancer. As any scientist would be quick to point out, John Wayne smoked. In any population in the fifties, there are going to be people who die of cancer anyway, statistically. It isn’t science to hide behind that fact, it is politics. But the War Department’s scientists hid behind that fact for fifty years. In Goncalves article, he quotes an Army medic, Van Brandon, who said that the army routinely kept two sets of records of radioactive readings in the fallout paths, one set to show that nobody received an elevated level of radiation, the other set to show how high that elevated level actually was. “That set was brought in a locked briefcase every morning.”

In the 50s, to be fair, not a lot was known about chronic illness. It certainly wasn’t known that one could be infected with a disease that would only appear thirty years later. Now it is fifty years later, and there is a lot of information that is not going to be showing up in any newspaper headlines any time soon – after all, the congressional investigations about the nuclear testing ‘accidents’ were concluded in the 80s. News and disease have a different time frame. So we haven’t seen a lot of publicity given to this report by Steven L. Simon, Andre Bouville and Charles E. Land in this January’s American Scientist, "Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risks." Yet there should be, not only for what it says but for what it doesn't say. The report goes the partial hang-out route, to quote Nixon, diminishing by segregating -- for instance, by concentrating on cancer, the authors can ignore the immune system breakdowns associated with radioactivity, and never ask if there is any meshing between these two results of radiation poisoning. It bases its statistics on reports of radioactive readings after the tests without even a note to say that some of those readings are, to say the least, disputed – and that we know the Department of War has changed its story about certain of the most notorious tests -- for instance the one on July 5, 1957, in which, in the immediate aftermath of the test, some 2,000 soldiers were ordered into ground zero – while the becqueral count was off the Geiger counter - and this was after these soldiers were exposed, as was standard practice, by being put in trenches some mile from the explosion. Afterwards, soldiers reported that they could do things you only see in horror movies – like pull their teeth from their mouth. All of which reports would get them trundled into the psych wards are VA hospitals. And none of which is reflected in the notes in the American Scientist, which are enlivened by some maps I'd like to figure out how to post.

This is from the article:

"The cancer risks are, of course, the most publicized of the spectrum of ills resulting from scientific carelessness about exploding big dangerous toys to see what would happen. The less publicized of those ills is immune deficiencies of various kinds.

“In 1997, NCI conducted a detailed evaluation of dose to the thyroid glands of U,S, residents from 1-131 in fallout from tests in Nevada. In a related activity, we evaluated the risks of thyroid cancer from that exposure and estimated that about 49,000 fallout-related cases might occur in the United States,
almost all of them among persons who were under age 20 at some time during the period 1951-57, with 95-percent uncertainty limits of 11,300 and 212,000. The estimated risk may be compared with some 400,000 lifetime thyroid cancers expected in the same population in the absence of any fallout exposure.

Accounting for thyroid exposure from global fallout, which was distributed fairly uniformly over the entire United States, might increase the estimated excess by 10 percent, from 49,000 to 54,000. Fallout-related risks for thyroid cancer are likely to exceed those for any other cancer simply because those risks
are predominantly ascribable to the thyroid dose from internal radiatition, which is unmatched in other organs.”

The ever helpful government has set up a website, by the way, if you want to estimate your risk of thyroid cancer from fallout. It is at this link

However, can you believe the gov? LI is going with this editorial from the St. Georges Newspaper from May 13, 2006:

“Another part of the report states that breathing or swallowing radioactive iodine originating in contaminated milk was the most significant pathway to radioactive exposure.

Yet a third part of the report concludes that there are "substantial gaps in existing data and other factors" related to the research.

In summary, however, the NAS report recommends that the number of diseases compensated by the federal government should not be expanded beyond the current 18, but that the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute should complete national dose estimates for all fallout radioactivity, not just Iodine 131, that fell, according to the report, on every county in the nation.

The NCI has already determined that there are as many as 212,000 cases of thyroid cancer that could have been caused by fallout exposure. No number is pegged to the 17 other types of cancer that currently qualify for compensation, although the NCI also recently released a study about the number and types of cancer found in the Marshall Islands where 66 nuclear weapons were detonated from 1946-1958. According to the NCI, 530 different cancers were caused by that fallout.

And although the U.S. Senate, when it approved the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990, concluded that such radionuclides as Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are responsible for some of the illnesses, the report failed to offer any significant information regarding the effects of those elements.

The recent NAS report was issued, coincidentally, on the same day that the White House reasserted its commitment to research on a new generation of nuclear weapons - the so-called bunker buster bombs - and one day after the National Research Council concluded that these new weapons would not be any safer than the current nuclear arsenal and expose millions to radiation.

In essence, what the NAS report does is buy time for the government and time is not a commodity the people who call themselves downwinders - those who suffered illness as a result of nuclear fallout - have.

The longer the government takes to determine the effects of spraying countless Americans with poisonous fallout, the fewer survivors there will be to compensate for their sacrifice.

The longer the government can stall on offering more information about the effects of radiation poisoning, the farther along the research and testing of this needless next generation of nukes is allowed to progress.

The NAS report is nothing more than a smokescreen to cover the tracks of the government for killing thousands of innocent victims and paving the way for more of the same in the future.

It's time for the people of this country to stand up and demand some answers before it's too late.”

Let’s end this uber depressing post with a quote from an Oak Ridge Physician famous for fighting against the government habit of poisoning the population, Karl Z. Morgan, who testified in the Silkwood case.

This attitude [for radiation safety] did not prevail, apparently, at some other places [other than Oak Ridge.] Certainly it did not at Three Mile Island. Since I left the faculty at Georgia Tech, I've testified in over a hundred-fifty cases, trying to help people that have allegedly been injured by radiation. We won the Karen Silkwood case and Crumbeck case, and I was a sole witness [for the plaintiff when] we won in the Three Mile Island class-action suit.

But in most other cases, the AEC and DOE [have] called—[what was] then the Department of Justice [(DOJ)]; let me call it the "Department of Injustice" [to make false claims about radiation exposure] under some of the people there. They [(the DOJ employees)] actually bragged about the fact that they set up courses to train health physicists and lawyers on how to keep injured parties, injured from radiation, from getting any benefits! One of these was even held in Washington. I didn't attend it, but I can point to some people that attended the lecture that [Don] Jose from the Justice Department gave. Imagine: the Department of Justice—which is supposed, according to our Constitution, to provide justice to the citizen—training lawyers and health physicists how to cheat the public! How to allow people to be used as guinea pigs rather than be a hindrance to some nuclear or military program!”

Thursday, May 25, 2006

those chains aren't dissolving fast enough

When I look into history and see the multitudes of men, otherwise virtuous, who have died, and their families been ruined, in the defence of knaves and fools, and which they would not have done, had they reasoned at all upon the system; I do not know a greater good that an individual can render to mankind, than to endeavour to break the chains of political superstition. Those chains are now dissolving fast, and proclamations and persecutions will serve but to hasten that dissolution. – Thomas Paine


The AEI is a national treasure. As some will remember, it was the AEI who sent the eagle eyed Ken Zinsmeister to Iraq in April of 2005, and his results were summed up in the title of the article he wrote: The War is Over, and We Won.

It is this uncanny ability to find the story that others miss, and to make the hard, hard proposals that makes AEI a factory of opeds for places like the Washington Post. As is well known, editor Fred Hiatt is fatally attracted to the movers and shakers of the terrifyingly brainy inner court around our very own Good Leaker, POTUS extraordinaire, with their high idealism about putting freedom first around the world -- for which cause they are willing to sacrifice any amount of freedom in these here States.

Which is why this counter-intuitive, excellent op ed by Dan Blumenthal should get the ball rolling. Having won the war in Iraq, and making this economy sing, we need level headed people to patrol the precincts of paradise and run back to us screaming, Danger, Danger when they see Danger. And Blumenthal fills that task by spotting one of America’s biggest problems: we are not spending enough on the military.

It is scandalous. It turns out we are seriously underfunding the forces we will need to bomb China to fuck. Little tears, red white and blue ones, leaked from LI’s peepers as we read:

“The latest Quadrennial Defense Review states that China "has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States." The Pentagon seeks to "shape [China's] strategic choices" and to "dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive or other capabilities that could enable regional hegemony." The Bush administration has taken some concrete action toward these ends. An upgraded alliance with Japan will improve our deterrent posture. The opening of a strategic relationship with India reflects in part an American desire to ensure that China does not gain hegemony over South or Central Asia. An increase in the size of the U.S. Navy's attack submarine fleet in Guam also brings more American capability into the Pacific. A nascent defense relationship with Vietnam may over time provide the American military with what it needs most in Asia -- more bases.

But our China policy leaves us a day late and a dollar short when it comes to the challenge posed by the speed of Beijing's military buildup. We still have restrictions on relations with Taiwan dating to the Carter era that make the island more difficult to defend. A stronger commitment by the Pentagon to developing long-range surveillance and strike capabilities would make Beijing less confident that it could use its vast territory as a sanctuary for its missile and other "disruptive" forces. Upgrading our undersea warfare capabilities will improve our regional freedom of action.”

LI has a few disagreements. For instance, we think we should gut the Department of War, destroy all of our missiles, shrink our navy by half, and take that money that doesn’t go to support Veterans benefits and devote it to investment into greening our infrastructure. We should simply give up on trying to be the world’s supreme military power. Completely. And we should pay no attention to China’s military whatsoever, but ask ourselves about using our own territory as a sanctuary for disruptive forces. We should downgrade our undersea warfare capability so radically that future generations will marvel that we ever spent money launching the useless, rusting flotillas we can, perhaps, display in various seaside parks.

Not that we do not appreciate the AEI’s absolute vigilance, putting the interest of Defense Industries before everything else on the planet. The A stands, for those in the know, for Alien. And special thanks from LI to WAPO for its endless willingness to make its editorial pages a soapbox for the rants of any and every two penny hawk to come down the pike. If you froth at the mouth, if you want to nuke Iran, if you consider Chavez a dictator and Iraq the free-est country in the Middle East, come on down – the WAPO editorial page has kept open a special place for you.

After you’ve treated yourself to the Blumenthal op ed, the second funniest piece on the web, at the moment – via Crooked Timber – is the Squirrel Leadership Council page, which declares the Euston Manifesto a hopeful sign that the European left is moving away from knee jerk Anti-Americanism. Surely the best thing about the piece is this sentence. Can self parody get any richer?

“It is, of course, an article of faith among Europe's lefties that America is a cultural and intellectual wasteland. But this, too, is beginning to change. A stream of Europeans passing through Washington this spring expressed surprise at the quality and variety of the debate in the city's dynamic think tanks.”

The land of dynamic think tanks. This is the true voice of a court society so sunk in the narcissistic stupor of admiring its face in the mirror that surely, as in all fairy tales, the time is coming when that mirror will tell the truth -- the dyanmic think tanks aren't the fairest in the land. They stink up the city. They are a pest and a menace, compounded out of an ambitious, unscrupulous lot of pecksniffs whose collective advice leads invariably to public disaster and the aggrandizement of their own private interests, giving them a relationship to this country much like the one between plasmodium falciparum and the anopheles moquitoes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

turns 2

When the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out, a few years ago, I did not know that – as the man who raised me from a pup, David, told me when I was talking to him about this the other day – ‘everybody knew that movie was rank. Where were you – wanking off?’ Somehow I missed the supreme judgment of the masses. Somehow, I missed the whole movie. But, as I stumbled upon it in my innocence last week and saw an hour of it, which makes me an expert about the wretched thing. And … more than that … I have seen other action films. LI’s analysis of the hunter narrative in the Turns post is supposed to set this here post up, so I am going to pretend my reader has read it.

Okay? Remember my brilliant and never to be forgotten point about the hunter as the hero of methodological individualism? Are you ready for an insight that will surely blow you out of your shoes?

Methodological individualism is deader than a dodo. Or, rather, the myth marches on, but the country of individualism, these here states, where the myth’s pedal met the metal, has long gone past the form of capitalism in which the individual made a plausible hero. This is a stockholder, stakeholder country, an absentee ownership country, a guarantor country. And, even as the guarantor structures buckles under the weight of the succession of monsters that fill up the places in the governing class and mistake their infinitely coddled trajectories for the ruggedest blazing through the meritocratic jungle, little Indiana Joneses every one, we have created (and it is a we – action movies negate and take a big dump on the very notion of auteur) the action movie in which our template hunter is degraded into a mere employee, a hired gun, while the only entrepreneur in the landscape, the last individual embodying methodological individualism, is… the bad guy. The bad guy, one notices, actually does things like manufacture the explosives he uses. Goes out and kidnaps some scientists. And, in a moment that is both sweetly anachronistic and always undoes him, actually participates in the work of the organization. And so it is with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Our bad guy is named the Phantom, although he should have named himself One eyed Metal Mask, since he is anything but phantomic and he does wear a one eyed metal mask. The time is vaguely 1900-ish, and the premise is that this phantom is using modern weapons, such as haven’t been invented yet – like the tank – to create havoc and ultimately bring the nations of Europe into conflict with each other – with the aim of selling them the weapons. But though the man with the one eyed metal mask is supposed to be on the cutting edge and over, he is actually behind the curve in almost every scene in the movie. Instead of dispatching his troops to shoot up the league of e.g. – a group of action figures from literature who are supposed to prevent him from setting Europe at loggerheads with itself – he actually goes out to watch them. This, however, was the Golden age of Morgan, of trusts, of the retirement of all the old captains of industry, of the wonderful idea that ownership of an enterprise resides in certificates you buy in a market. That's why bad guys seem so Industrial revolutionish.

Meanwhile, we have our hunter – or hunters, in this case. The hunters, going back to those early James Bond flicks, are supremely taken care of. They are showered with things, and rarely threaten to go on strike for more pay. In fact, pay and a pension don’t enter into it, even as, in the serial, we watch them being replaced, one actor for another. And in this, Hollywood has dreamed a little dream for us – this is the dream of the Guarantor society, where the state, or the giant corporation, pays the bills. In fact, surely it is from the movies and this atmosphere of magic entitlement that the Lays, the Welches, the Scroochys got the idea that a company should not only pay you a salary fit for a conquering Moghul but also pay for your car fare, get you tickets to a ball game, and in general treat you like it was your own personal tooth fairy. In this atmosphere, the hunter’s whole ethos is bound to rapidly rot. And so it proves.

The symbol of that decay, I think, is the explosion. And, in general, the whole logic of aiming in the action movie. Here, the League of E.G. is typical. When we meet the hero, Alan Quartermain – Sean Connery – he is at a hunting club in Africa. He is attacked by a detachment of bad guys (miraculously unsupervised by the boss). They wield machine guns. Now, I used to think that the moral logic that was substituted for gravity in action movies – the miraculous ways bullets were continually fired at the hero, and he was continually destined to end happily – was all that this was about. And indeed, a man from five feet away shoots at the old Connery, who barely bends to evade the speeding projectiles – but one must remember that this movie sucks partly because it seems like a bad simulation of an action movie. It is this extra bit of contrivance that lets us watch it as though it were something naked, an anatomical model of action movies. Later in the movie, we see Connery himself practice shooting – he is quite the sharpshooter. But the movie shows his talent, and makes a parody of the danger posed to him by the shots of his enemies, merely to undermine the whole idea of aiming. The one thing that the hunter carries into the wilderness that is unique is that hand eye combination. It is unique because it is tailored to the instrument, which, in the days before uniform mass production, could have severe variances. So, yes, there is a moral subsystem directing the bullets, but more than that there is the abolition of the need for aiming both in the parody of who the bullets hit and in the gross enslavement to the higher explosive.

Action movies and action movie fans love explosives. Love cars that go boom, and buildings that are mined, and digital recreations of cities that are bombed. Why? Well, the enthusiasm on the part of the audience I am going to bracket, for the nonce. But the larger narrative meaning of the bomb is that here we have something which abolishes even the appearance of independence on the part of the hero. The larger the bomb, the more complex the delivery system, the more dependent the hero and the larger the swathe of destruction. That makes a mockery of the hand-eye system – it dialectically trumps it. To hit your prey with one shot is a sort of ethical gesture in the hunter narrative; to blow up a random assortment of things among which happens to be your prey is its opposite in the hunter narrative gone rotten. Usually, the anxiety about so radically destroying the very premises of the individualist hero is so intense that the bombing is attributed to the bad guy. And yet, in that shift, the bad guy still ends up as the last real capitalist hero – for unlike the hero/hunter, dependent on the guarantor state, the bad guy often actually fashions the bombs, or at least invests in the stock and personnel to manufacture them.

The narrative elements of the hunter story are in free fall in the action movie. The old dialectical moves turn into gags, and the heroes turn into stunt men accessories to the only thing that is left – the forest of f/x. But in this forest, one never feels the absence of the nymphs, of the spirit who has just departed before you – to use Ortega y Gasset’s thought. The nymphs were never here. The forest of f/x is a wormwood forest – irradiated, sterile, dying.

Monday, May 22, 2006

another hero

LI is desperately trying to make money this week -- if any LI readers know of anyone who wants editing, send them to us, please! so we might not be so garrulous on this site.
...

Those who want to read something that gets to the heart of the heart of the court mindset in D.C. should really check out this Stuart Rothenberg post. Rothenberg is a professional political person -- it is his job, by analysing, consulting and advising, to help politicians sit on the collective face of America. But the Coonnecticut Democratic convention that allowed Lieberman to be challenged by Ned Lamont has disturbed him greatly. The people have a function, and that function, which defines them, is to overwhelmingly re-elect the Politburo. When the people violate their function, are they even people at all? It is the great cry of the rulers throughout the ages: Are there no workhouses, no prisons, in which to store these wretches? If this is what democracy is, perhaps we should have a system where the loser in an election – if he has the Right Stuff – should be proclaimed the Winner. It worked in 2000, didn’t it?


The passion in this post is moving. It would take a reader with a heart of stone not to shed copious tears for Joe Lieberman-as-Galileo-Bruno-n-John Brown:

“Lieberman’s crime is that he hasn’t always toed the party line. He’s decided for himself what’s right and wrong, even — and here is the most shocking thing — used his own values, judgment and intellect to decide where he stands on issues and how he’ll vote.

Lamont’s criticism has resonated with some Democrats around the state and online. The war is unpopular with Democrats in Connecticut, as it is elsewhere, and many voters are unhappy with Lieberman’s general support of President Bush’s Iraq policy.

It doesn’t seem to matter to those angry Democrats, or to Lamont, that Lieberman is widely respected for his thoughtfulness, integrity, civility and intellect. Or his overall voting record.”

My god. That respect, which echoes from Georgetown to K street, has been all over Fox News, and dances like sugarplums in the heads of the great thinkers at the Pentagon, is being trampled by a buncha fucking mugwumps in Connecticut who somehow got past the guards. Rothenberg's instincts -- as a father, a patriot, and a bouncer -- are charged:

“It isn’t just that Lieberman is a centrist, however, that makes the primary challenge to him unseemly. Not all centrists deserve to be re-elected any more than all liberals or all conservatives do. Rather, it’s the Connecticut Democrat’s stature and character that, in another day, would make a primary challenge to him by a former Greenwich selectman laughable.”

Yes, it isn't a belief system -- Rothenberg is so right. A belief system is to be trotted out only during the short time when one has to appear before the peasants and get their applause. Then, centrist, rightist and leftists can like down with the corporate lambs, with the wise old heads in foreign policy, with journalists who have established reputations, probity, and decide to do what is good for the country. Into this company wander a pinhead from Greenwich? Laughable - or disgusting. Why can’t we change the law the teensiest bit so these flies and maggots can’t challenge the stature and character, the deep, deep thinking of such as Senator – or shall I say Senator for Life? Joe Lieberman.

Rothenberg - a hero of democracy in our time.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

turns

Because it seems to me that the things in Cooper that make one so savage, when one compares them with actuality, are perhaps, when one considers them as presentations of a deep subjective desire, real in their way, and almost prophetic. – D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence was right to pick out the killer motif in his book on Classic American Literature right to find some deep subjective desire there. It is the hunter plot – hunting deer, hunting the great white whale, hunting bear, hunting, above all, Indians – that has such large and prophetic effects on the American imago that Americans are still enthralled by the elements of that primitive story. However, it is LI’s contention that the story is now in its decadence – and that its decadence is part of the larger debauching of the narrative intelligence in these here states – and that the site of its decadence is the action movie. All of these thoughts derive from a trivial and stupid occasion – as some long suffering readers know, LI is trying to put together a graphic novel. To that end, we’ve not only been reading them, we’ve been watching movies made from them. Which is how we explain wasting an hour and ten minutes on The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Lawrence doesn’t mention Robinson Crusoe in the context of the American hunter, but – borrowing from Marx’s notion of Crusoe as the legitimating myth of the classical economists – surely Natty Bumppo, or Daniel Boone, play the same role in the American climate, are the heroes of methodological individualism American style. As always, of course, history discretely precedes pre-history – these self-made hunters use weapons that represent the cutting edge of the factory and distribution system. Even in the deepest woods of the Six Nations, they are parasitic, in a crucial sense, on the world economy – going in with the gun, coming out with the pelts, or the scalps – whatever sells. And, as Olson points out about Moby Dick, hunting and the factory system combine in the whaling ship. By taking the ship and making it into the vessel of his own vengeance, Ahab departs from the hunter’s program, the telos of the pelt or whale oil that is brought back, and this is a mark of his madness. There’s a nice story about this parasitical situation in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. An expriest tells the kid a story about the Judge over the scalphunters fire one evening. In the story, the expriest and a band of other hunter/desperados are being chased by savages into the malpais, the great salt and quartz wastelands in Sonora or southern Arizona. The band has run out of gunpowder. And then they come upon the judge – just like that. The judge scales flakes of silicon and sulphur from the rocks about with his knife, and mixes it up, and then has the whole company piss on it (“He’d took out his pizzle and he was pissin into the mixture, pissin with a great vengeance”) and kneads the mixture and lets it dry, and the band uses that powder to fight off the surprised savages. This is self-sufficiency, but it is also a parody of gunpowder manufacture, a reminder of the factories and mines behind the Daniel Boones. But even if the hero of methodological individualism ends up pissing into a pile of mineral flakes to survive, you can’t entirely take the aura away from Daniel Boone. Literature happens because myths don’t hold – and so it is with Ahab and, much later, with the boy in Faulkner’s The Bear – but the myths are also fight back.

Then there is the woods themselves – and the ocean and the malpais, other forms of wilderness, easily transformed, by metaphor, into a woods, and vice versa. When the Boy goes into the woods for the first time in Faulkner’s story, the sensation of moving among the immensity of trees is compared to a sensation the boy has much later – the first time he goes onto an ocean going ship. The woods, though, are European as well. After all, Dante as well as Daniel Boone found himself in a forest, and Ortega y Gasset begins the Meditation on Quixote with an essay on the forest. In America, the hunter maps the woods, and the map kills the hunter – for of course he is followed by the world system, the farms and manufactures. In Europe, Ortega y Gasset’s forest is also inhabited by what used to be there: “When we arrive at a small clearing in the verdure, it seems as if a man had been sitting there on a stone, with his elbows on his knees, his hands on his temples, and that just as we were arriving he got up and left…. The forest is always a little beyond where we are. It has just gone away from where we are and all that remains is its still fresh traces. The ancients, who projected their emotions into corporeal and living forms, peopled the forests with fugitive nymphs.” In America, of course, the man was there when the Americans got there – and he was gone by the second, the third, the fourth generation, ‘vanished’ – as it used to be said in the old educational films of my sixth grade. The ‘vanishing’ American Indian. The ‘vanishing’ buffalo. In truth, the hunter’s last real moment in American culture was in the 1870s, when factory, hunting, and ethnic cleansing were put together as the army contracted out the extinction of the buffalo. Here, the peculiar genius of General Sherman showed itself:

“In a letter on May 10, 1868, Sherman mentioned a sardonic method of resolving the conflict, writing to Sheridan that "I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England & America there this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt, and make one grand sweep of them all. Until the Buffaloes & consequent(ly) the Indians are out from between the Roads we will have collisions & trouble." On June 17, 1868, Sherman wrote his brother John about the buffalo and the railroad: "The commission for present peace had to concede a right to hunt buffaloes as long as they last, and they may lead to collisions, but it will not be long before all the buffaloes are extinct near and between the railroads, after which the Indians will have no reason to approach either railroad..." (Sherman, 1894, p. 320)”

This was the end of the hunter as the classic American hero, the myth inside methodological individualism. It was the end, too, of the hunter’s forest – the American forests of turns, where hunter and prey could switch places. The hunter as a hand is the cowboy -- an entirely different figure.

All of which is a pretty heavy intro to a few remarks about watching a shitty movie. But hey, LI paid 3.50 to rent it, and we do want to get some value for our money. So, next post will be about the action movie.

ps - I was reading last night in Fintan O'Tooles biography of Richard Sheridan, The Traitor's Kiss, and came across this marvelous anecdote:

"On March 6, 1786, the American Company's production of Robinson Crusoe or Helequin Friday was performed in New York 'For the entertainment of the Indian Chiefs of the Oneida nation, now in this city." Probably devised by Elizabeth Sheridan with assistance from her husband, this pantomime seems, from surving accounts, to have been itself a strange fantasy of meetings between European travellers and New World natives. The first half follows the outline of Daniel Defoe's novel. But in the secnd, set in Spain, Crusoe disappears back to England, leaving the black man Friday - played by one of the first black face performers to appear on the American stage - in the arms a white Columbine. The lovers are rescued from various distresses by a black magician and transported back to the island, where "the Piece concludes with a Grand dance of Savages."

And so Robinson Crusoe and the Prospero myth are unfurled before the Indian nation that will provide Cooper with his enemy/models for Natty Bumppo. Oh, how our symbols turn into events and our events turn into symbols in this strange new world! And -- strange little LI world, for those who have read some of our more bizarre posts -- Crusoe was played, in the London debut of the pantomime, by Joe Grimaldi's father. The forest of turns possesses all travelers who enter into it.