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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What Bush has in common with other carnivora

The New Bathory and Fitko

The image of the bloodbath – usually of virgins or of children – seems to be an extension of a folk medical idea about the rejuvenating properties of blood. Supposedly, the emperor Constantine was afflicted with leprosy and was about to try a course of blood baths to cure it – with the blood coming from stray children – when he had a vision that God would cure him if he converted to Christianity - and that seemed like a better deal to Constantine. The most famous blood bath in history was taken by Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory, a Hungarian countess. Sabine Baring-Gold introduced the story into English in the Book of Were-Wolves, in the chapter on natural causes of lycanthropy. Baring Gold begins with a thesis that was of his Victorian time and place, with the overtones from Darwin:

“Startling though the assertion may be, it is a matter of fact, that man, naturally, in common with other carnivora, is actuated by an impulse to kill, and by a love of destroying life.

It is positively true that there are many to whom the sight of suffering causes genuine pleasure, and in whom the passion to kill or torture is as strong as any other passion. Witness the number of boys who assemble around a sheep or pig when it is about to be killed, and who watch the struggle of the dying brute with hearts beating fast with pleasure, and eyes sparkling with delight. Often have I seen an eager crowd of children assembled around the slaughterhouses of French towns, absorbed in the expiring agonies of the sheep and cattle, and hushed into silence as they watched the flow of blood.”

Here’s Elizabeth’s story:
“Michael Wagener[1] relates a horrible story which occurred in Hungary, suppressing the name of the person, as it was that of a still powerful family in the country. It illustrates what I have been saying, and shows how trifling a matter may develope the passion in its most hideous proportions.
"Elizabeth ------ was wont to dress well in order to please her husband, and she spent half the day over her toilet. On one occasion, a lady's-maid saw something wrong in her head-dress, and as a recompence for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spirted on to her mistress's face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautiful--whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.
"Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty. Two old women and a certain Fitzko assisted her in her undertaking. This monster used to kill the luckless victim, and the old women caught the blood, in which Elizabeth was wont to bathe at the hour of four in the morning. After the bath she appeared more beautiful than before.
"She continued this habit after the death of her husband (1604) in the hopes of gaining new suitors. The unhappy girls who were allured to the castle, under the plea that they were to be taken into service there, were locked up in a cellar. Here they were beaten till their bodies were swollen. Elizabeth not unfrequently tortured the victims herself; often she changed their clothes which dripped with blood, and then renewed her cruelties. The swollen bodies were then cut up with razors.
"Occasionally she had the girls burned, and then cut up, but the great majority were beaten to death.
"At last her cruelty became so great, that she would stick needles into those who sat with her in a carriage, especially if they were of her own sex. One of her servant-girls she stripped naked, smeared her with honey, and so drove her out of the house.

The Countess

"When she was ill, and could not indulge her cruelty, she bit a person who came near her sick bed as though she were a wild beast.
"She caused, in all, the death of 650 girls, some in Tscheita, on the neutral ground, where she had a cellar constructed for the purpose; others in different localities; for murder and bloodshed became with her a necessity.
"When at last the parents of the lost children could no longer be cajoled, the castle was seized, and the traces of the murders were discovered. Her accomplices were executed, and she was imprisoned for life." [1. Beitrage zur philosophischen Anthropologie, Wien, 1796.]”

The term bloodbath has come up a lot, lately, usually used by the apologists of the Iraq war to warn about the dire consequences of American withdrawal. Here’s some examples:

“President Bush warned Thursday that pulling out of Iraq too soon would trigger a bloodbath akin to that of the Cambodian killing fields of the 1970s…

"I want to remind you that after Vietnam, after we left, millions of people lost their life," Bush said here when an audience member asked about comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq. "The Khmer Rouge, for example, in Cambodia. And my concern is there would be a parallel. . . . The same thing would happen. There would be the slaughter of a lot of innocent life. The difference, of course, is that this time around, the enemy wouldn't just be content to stay in the Middle East; they'd follow us here." – Washington Post, 20 April 2007”

“Once we leave Iraq, America's enemies will still reside in the Mideast; and they will be stronger if we leave behind a failed government and bloodbath in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal editorial page 6 April 2007”

Commentary’s ever bizarre Arthur Herman: “If they [the anti-war Dems] succeed in their ultimate goal of forcing a withdrawal, they will take their place in another "long line," joining the shameful company of those who compelled the French to leave Algeria in disgrace and to stand by as the victorious FLN conducted a hideous bloodbath, and of those who compelled America to leave Vietnam under similar circumstances and to similar effect.” 1 April 2007.”

That it is shameful to stand by while a blood bath is pretty much the message. It is a compassionate message that should reach every human heart. The only exception, of course, is if the bloodbath is caused by American carnivora. Then the only thing to do is – dicker about the numbers. As we know, the bloodbath in Iraq has been mapped by research published in the Lancet magazine last year. To refresh your memories, this is from last month’s New Statesman – commenting on a story that revealed that the British Government was advised that the Lancet’s methodology was good:

“Now, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that British government experts backed the methodology used by the scientists responsible for the study. If the Lancet estimate is correct, it means 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population--an average of more than 500 people a day--have been killed since the invasion. Of these, 601,000 died in violent acts--the majority involving gunfire.”

The New Statesman quotes an unnamed government figure: "We do not accept the figures quoted in the Lancet survey as accurate", but [he] goes on to say: "The survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones." The documents advise ministers to use figures from the Iraqi health ministry, which estimates the number of deaths at less than 10 per cent of the Lancet's figure.”

And in fact, the shameless bystanding as the present bloodbath goes on, in proportions tht would sate even Elizabeth Bathory, is encouraged and engaged in by, of course, the warmongers themselves and their intelligent-as-a-garbage-fly president. Here’s the whole reply of the British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett to the Lancet study:

"Every death in Iraq is a tragedy for those affected. The Government of Iraq represents all communities and is committed to tackling sectarian violence. We are supporting this effort and will continue to do so. The numbers that the Lancet has extrapolated are a substantial leap from other figures. What is important is that we bring an end to the violence and death in Iraq."

That takes care of that. Time for crumpets and a nice cup of Iraqi infant blood for Ms. Beckett.

Instead of the Lancet study pointed to the need for a radical change in policy in Iraq, it was taken as a provocation to – arguments about methodology. The National Post ran a story about the Lancet study last year which studied the methodology of it – the only response to the study that occurred at all.

“A spokesman for Tony Blair retorted that the excess civilian death figure reported in The Lancet is "not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate." George W. Bush declared the study's "methodology is pretty well discredited." In this newspaper, David Frum wrote a column on October 14 dismissing the Lancet study in similar terms.
Why the disagreement over the number of civilian deaths? There are basically two ways of counting the war dead -- active and passive.
In the active method, which was used for the Lancet study, researchers fan out and sample random clusters of homes, interviewing occupants about deaths in the family. This kind of demographic survey is not unusual -- hundreds of such studies are done each decade, tracking the epidemiology of all manner of diseases. In the case of the Johns Hopkins and Iraqi teams, they interviewed 12,801 people in 47 clusters. Doing this, they found 82 deaths pre-invasion, and 547 post-invasion -- a huge increase, with most of the increase in deaths occurring among young men, as is typical in civil wars.
The researchers extrapolated from their sample, as pollsters do, to all of Iraq. They also verified the respondents' claims of deaths, where possible, with death certificates. They thereby concluded that the post-war excess civilian deaths are 655,000. Since asking about the dead in a war zone is trickier than, say, quizzing voters in downtown Toronto about their voting intentions, the researchers concede the margin of error to their study is higher than usual, ranging from 392,979 at the low end to 942,636 at the high end.”

Morality runs infinitely into accounting when, of course, the bloodbath is rising up over the top of the tub and it is the U.S. merrily splashing around inside the tub. What have the Americans done? They've caused those deaths, indirectly (by providing no security) and directly (by bombing the shit out of cities, razing Fallujah, inciting sectarianism and openly training death squads) for a nice, rejuvenating red pool.

Bringing us to the last quote of this quotehappy post:

“Neither the fact of the war nor its intensity will likely abate upon the
disengagement of U.S. forces because Iraq’s Sunnis will continue to fear the ultimate
consequences of the reversal of fortune that they perceive the Shia as seeking to
complete. The real question is how much worse the bloodshed can get. A credible—
although many might say optimistic—forecast is that the lack of organizational capacity, broad communal consent, and heavy weapons on either side militates against a drastic increase in the already appalling casualty rate. Crucially, the largely Sunni areas are of little interest to the Shia as objects of desire or conquest. And without artillery, armor, and attack aircraft, Shia forces will be far less capable of reducing Sunni majority cities, such as Falluja, to rubble, in the way that Serbs dealt with Croatian or Muslim urban areas in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic cleansing in mixed areas will continue to advance, the large flow of refugees and internally displaced will continue to mount, massive bombings and death squads will continue to claim many lives, but crucial conditions for nationwide genocidal violence are as yet absent. This probabilistic judgment is hardly a cause for rejoicing: It only suggests that a bloody stalemate between similarly equipped adversaries is somewhat more likely than the annihilation or expulsion of Iraq’s Sunni population. Nevertheless, the consequences of such escalation are so extreme that the United States should begin working now with the UN, NATO, coalition members, and neighboring states on plans for a rapid multilateral intervention in the event that genocidal warfare breaks out after the withdrawal of U.S. forces.” – Stephen Simon, After the Surge.


Anonymous said...

Roger, This doesn't have to do specifically with your post, but given your work on the Basho of Economics, I thought you might find interesting Chris Hays' piece on Heterodox Economics over at the Nation and the ensuing debate at TPMCare Book Club.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should be Talking Points Memo Cafe Book Club.

roger said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I saw that and - normally - would probably have linked and posted. But I am still so burned about the Iraq vote that - as you can tell - I've become possessed. I'm eaten up. My bones have turned to wax and my penis has fallen off - uh, figuratively - in my prophetic or profane or just despairing rage.

However, this week I will try to link and say something, since it, of course, interests me a lot.

Scruggs said...

The vote was par for the contemptible course. I'm grateful that they managed not to include enforced happiness coaching for Iraqis in it, sessions to be held in all those freshly painted schools.

The Democrats are natural dive artists. They can't help themselves. But if someone takes their Capitol Hill parking passes, watch out! And the ferocity of their supporters over Pelosi's right to a non-stop commuter flight on a military jet was truly fearsome. My God, Roger, I thought they were going to go home and train their Jack Russells -- the current yuppie puppy and a damn sensible choice -- to growl when they said, "Karl Rove". The vote was another such test of character. I have to admit to a frisson of horrified admiration when Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias put on those tricornes, took up those homemade pikes and sent out the message to their readers, "Ecrasez l'infame!". But then they collapsed into puddles of apologetic urine and things were back to normal.

roger said...

Ah, Mr. Scruggs - happiness training for Iraqis! Now there's a thought. You better watch it though, if Seligman has his bots on the intertubes,one might spot that and then it is back to the boss and on with the funding request to the Pentagon.

One of the frustrating things about the Dem surrender is the lack of understanding of how to unfold the only strategy available to them once they started on the course of using the funding. It was an obvious squeeze play, in which the whole point was - is this hard to understand? - not to, as in not to, as in the negative of to, and in no way red light red light, negotiate with the White House one on one, but get the Republican congressional leadership to take on that role, and hang it over them like a burning tire. Since this has happened I've been much more active as a commentator around the web, going to the various lib blogs - which I've rather let slide, since my fave place on the internet has become Google Books - and even in those places that are all politics, all the time, there is no sense of what legislative strategery is. I mean, haven't these people ever read a book about Lyndon Johnson? Is their time frame bookended by Tom Dashle or something? And the pathetic gestures to September - as if.

You know, this fecklessness - to use a Scruggsian term - is systematic.I think we are seeing the full and bitter fruit of our meritocracy. God help us.

Scruggs said...

They do have people who know how to work the legislative and parliamentary strategeries. I could rattle off the names of a dozen or so that I know have done it. Has Henry Waxman had a stroke? Barbara Lee is still alive, yes? And so on. The biggest problem, I think, is the chokehold of militant punk-ass freaks, like Rahmbo Emanuel and Chookie Schumer, on the access to election assistance. They make sure people know that everyone has friends who can be hurt, even if the direct targets can't be hurt themselves.

But I expect that kind of stuff. It, too, is par for the course. What's been yanking my chain something fierce are the dudes down a tier or two, out in the field, who keep diverting people from any effective pressure. The pressure group leaders who bleat and then cave. The mini-pundits who snap hard to the left and simper to the right. I don''t so very much blame a cretin like Pelosi. She's a large lump of lip gloss and a known quantity. She and the rest could be put under pressures they'd hate.

Meh. I've put you through this many times. I'm sorry, Roger.