“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 27, 2007

A decent future

Brother see we are one in the same
And you left with your head filled with flames
And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth
Push the pieces in place
Make your smile sweet to see
Don't you take this away - Neutral Milk Hotel

“I met Haifa and her husband, Hassan, both teachers, in a driveway in western Baghdad. They had just found the body of their 12-year-old son, who had been kidnapped and brutally killed, and were frantic with grief. They finally decided to leave Iraq, but its violence tormented them to the end. They paid a man to drive them to Jordan, but he was working with Sunni militants in western Iraq, and pointed out Hassan, a Shiite, to a Sunni gang that stopped the car. Over the next several hours, Haifa waved a tiny Koran at men in masks, pleading for her husband’s release, her two remaining children in tow.

Hassan, meanwhile, knelt in a small room, his hands behind his back. His captors shot a man next to him in the neck. Haifa, a Sunni, eventually prevailed on them to let him go. The family returned to Baghdad, then borrowed money to fly to Jordan.” –
It Has Unraveled So Quickly - NYT, January 28, 2007

“The auctioning off of Iraq began in the summer of 2003 in a packed conference room at the Grand Hyatt in Amman, Jordan. More than 300 executives had gathered from around the world to vie for a piece of one natural resource Saddam Hussein never managed to exploit—the nation's cellular phone frequencies. With less than 4 percent of Iraqis connected to a phone, the open spectrum could earn billions of dollars for the eager executives working the room. Conference organizers tried to keep everyone focused on the prize. "Iraq needs a mobile communications system and it needs it now," stressed Jim Davies, a British expert with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) who was leading the effort. "We want quick results." – Mother Jones, September/October 2004, Crossing the Line

“In the bombings in Baghdad on Thursday, a roadside bomb that exploded about 7:30 a.m. near the mosque in the Cairo neighborhood killed three people and wounded 16 others, the Interior Ministry official said. About 9:30 a.m., a suicide car bomber detonated a bomb near police vehicles whose tanks were being filled at a gas station in the Karrada district, killing 10 people -- some of them police officers -- and wounding 17, the official said.

At 10:45 a.m., two more people were killed and 23 wounded when a second suicide car bomber exploded a bomb in the Bab al Sharji district, a mile north of the gas station, near the Interior Ministry's headquarters. At 3:30 p.m., a third suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle in the Kadisiya neighborhood near a police convoy, wounding seven police commandos, the Interior Ministry official said. At 7:15 p.m., a roadside bomb killed a woman and wounded 13 others in the Amil district. “– NYT, 8 Sept., 2006

“Even as the bombs fell over Baghdad, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose district includes many Qualcomm employees, had tried to wrap his favored company in the flag. He denounced the cellular system used by Iraq's neighbors as "an outdated French standard," and proposed a law that would effectively mandate Qualcomm on Iraq. "Hundreds of thousands of American jobs depend on the success of U.S.-developed wireless technologies like CDMA," Issa wrote in a March 26, 2003, letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. – Crossing the Line

“At the conference in Amman, CPA officials promised an apolitical selection process that would accept any workable technology. …. On October 6, Iraq's new minister of communications, Haider al-Abadi, announced the winners—two Kuwaiti firms and one Egyptian company. Not one of them used the Qualcomm standard.

If any officials in Baghdad or Washington thought such a decision would be the end of Qualcomm's quest, the next six months would prove them wrong. Like dozens of American corporations looking to influence U.S. policy—shaping everything from the banking and insurance markets to foreign-investment rules—Qualcomm, Lucent, Samsung, and their partners would only expand their efforts and broaden their reach into the CPA. With the guidance of a deputy undersecretary of Defense, John Shaw, this effort became one of the most brazen lobbying campaigns of the postwar reconstruction, one that has brought Shaw under investigation for potentially breaking federal ethics rules.” – Crossing the Line

“The morgue stank of bodies. Visitors burned paper and wood in the parking lot to mask the smell. The reception area was full with 40 Iraqis, mostly women, standing and sitting on the ground, waiting to look at bodies and photographs of bodies.

Around 11 a.m., three pickup trucks arrived with a total of at least eight bodies. Morgue workers and police officers put them in body bags and took them inside.

Officials in Baghdad receive 10 to 20 bodies a day, mostly victims of killings by Sunni and Shiite militias, American officials said.” – NYT, 5 July, 2006

“Deputy Undersecretary Shaw, an old Republican hand who had served in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan White Houses, quickly became the point man for the initiative to bring CDMA to Iraq. Shaw and other officials in the Pentagon and Congress reasoned that establishing CDMA in the Middle East would be possible if they could find a way for Qualcomm and its partners to offer cellular service in Iraq under the rubric of the police and fire communications system that the CPA planned to purchase for the Iraqis. "The CDMA system could then morph into a commercial service with our having total control over it," Shaw wrote in a November email to a Coalition adviser in Baghdad.

To dodge contracting rules that prevent officials such as himself from cherry-picking favored companies, Shaw proposed using Nana Pacific, which is exempt from many contracting laws because it is an Alaska Native American-owned business. – Crossing the Line

“The new Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, said Wednesday that more than 50 bodies had been discovered in the Tigris River and suggested that they were victims of a mass kidnapping south of Baghdad that other Iraqi officials had insisted was a hoax just three days before. – NYT, April 20, 2005

“... Deputy Undersecretary Shaw appeared to have reasons for pushing the plan that went beyond the interests of the Iraqi people … In fact, his intervention on behalf of the Qualcomm consortium, with whose lobbyists and investors he had close ties, has led the Defense Department's inspector general to begin an investigation into his activities.

One of those lobbyists, Don De Marino, was a close friend and former deputy of Shaw from the Commerce Department during the early 1990s. Early this year, Shaw helped appoint De Marino to an official Defense Department assessment mission to Baghdad on behalf of Rumsfeld. Although De Marino had recently been a registered lobbyist of the Qualcomm consortium, he was given access to the CPA telecommunications office. "He spent hours in our office just being our buddy. Yucking it up," said a former adviser to the ministry, who added that no one there knew that De Marino, who works with the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, was also a member of the board of directors of the Qualcomm consortium, and had helped the group to investigate the backgrounds of the winning cellular companies in Iraq.” – Crossing the Line

“In one of the most brazen kidnappings in recent memory in Iraq, about 60 masked gunmen wearing government-style camouflage uniforms stormed a meeting here of the country's top sports administrators on Saturday, abducting more than 30 people, including the president of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, the authorities said. – July 16, 2006 NYT

“In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Shaw dismissed claims that such mixing of friendship and business was improper. "Hey, we won the war," said Shaw, who, like De Marino and Qualcomm officials, declined to comment for this story. "Is it not in our interests to have the most advanced system that we possibly can, that can then become the dominant standard in the region?" – Crossing the Line

How Iraq Police Reform Became Casualty of War – headline, NYT, May 22, 2006

“In March, this dispute reached a critical turning point when Sudnick and other advisers in Baghdad discovered that Nana Pacific had added language to a contract for a pilot first-responder program that would allow such competition, opening the door for the consortium to establish a CDMA network. Sudnick and his colleagues promptly challenged Nana officials about the new provision. Within hours, they received a blistering phone call from Shaw, who shouted at Sudnick's deputy, Bonnie Carroll, that there would be "hell to pay" if they did not sign off on the additional language, according to Carroll.

Within days, Sudnick received an email from Shaw: "If you can't lead or follow get the hell out of the way." The first-responder system, Shaw wrote, was "the last opportunity to install a viable cellular network that is responsive to our needs and requirements." – Crossing the Line

“For more than a year, he has been collecting stories of atrocities committed by uniformed Iraqis. In a recent interview, he produced a book of case studies with color photographs showing gruesome evidence of torture and killings by men in uniform: a sheik with a power drill driven into his temple; 14 laborers abducted from a checkpoint in Baghdad and killed; dozens of men beaten, burned with acid and shot.”- 3 August, 2006 NYT

Interview: T. Christian Miller talks about his new book "Blood Money," about greed, waste and fraud undermining reconstruction of Iraq – Fresh Air, 12 September, 2006

“GROSS: So the way that Shaw from the Defense Department gets this backdoor deal for his friend through partnering with an Alaska Native corporation, it's all legal? It is all legal. So what's the problem?

Mr. MILLER: Well, yeah, it's all legal. It sounds comical, but it is all definitely legal. The problem was that--well, there was a couple of problems. One, it wasn't what anybody in Iraq wanted. Nobody needed another cellular phone contract.

Number two, the particular type of system that they wanted to install is a system widely unused in the US, but it's not used anywhere else in the world, so if you put the system in Iraq, nobody else would be able to use it, and it would basically force the Iraqis in the Middle East to go on the US standard of cell phone communications, which would basically reward very much companies like QualComm, but wouldn't do very much for telecommunications in the Middle East. So that was the second thing.

And the third thing was it was simply unseemly. It was a conflict of interest at the very least, and both the FBI and the inspector general for the Pentagon both looked into this matter, although ultimately the FBI filed no charges in the case.

GROSS: Now, you say that this scandal set back the telecommunications industry in Iraq. How?

Mr. MILLER: What happened with--well, the cellular phone system itself continued apace, and it has grown, and it's actually one of the very few success stories of the reconstruction of Iraq, is that the cell phone system has grown and expanded. So Iraqis today have cell phone communications. They're not great, but they have them.
On the other side, the particular contract that was involved in this deal between the Alaska Native corporation and the US company involved police communications. It was a contract to allow communications between police systems, essentially. That whole effort collapses when Dan Sudnick leaves. And it's only now, almost three years later, that there is a 911 system which is up, but there was a recent inspector general report which got almost no attention which, essentially, says that Iraqis today, three and a half years later, still can't call their local police station. They still can't report an insurgent attack or an insurgent--even tip off the Iraqi army or military, because they still don't have an effective system of communicating both with their emergency centers, their first responder centers and--nor do those centers have an effective way of communicating with each other.
So three and a half years later, it's an amazing thing, where we've put this focus on trying to tamp down the insurgency and yet we still can't create a system that allows an Iraqi to call 911.”

As Iraq Deteriorates, Iraqis Get More Blame; U.S. Officials, Lawmakers Change Tone Washington Post 29 November 2006

“Thomas Donnelly, a hawkish defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he considers blame a legitimate issue. "Ultimately, just like success rests with the Iraqis, so does failure," he said. "We've made a lot of mistakes, but we've paid a huge price to give the Iraqis a chance at a decent future."

hide your devil

Thomas Bernhard’s biographer, Gitta Honegger, has noted that Bernhard was deeply influenced by his reading of Paul Valéry’s Monsieur Teste. She writes: “Valéry never recovered from his amazement about the spectacle of his own intellect,” mocks E.M. Cioran. If one replaced “amazement” with “laugher,” the statement could apply to Bernhard.” According to Honegger, the idea of Monsieur Teste – of an intelligence so high that it could only take as its highest object – itself – and in so doing erase itself, really impressed Bernhard.

Honegger quotes a passage from the Portrait of M. Teste section that describes the the characteristic trajectory of action performed by Bernhard’s early heros:

- Jealous of his best ideas, of those which he believed to be the best – sometimes so particular, so much his own that expressing them in the vulgar, instead of the intimate language gives us on the outside only the most feeble and false idea of them. – And who knows if the most important ones for directing a mind are not as singular to that mind, as strictly personal as a garment or an object adopted to one’s throws – who knows if the true philosophy of someone is… communicable?

- Jealous, then, of his diverse clarities – T. thought: what kind of idea is it to which one does not attach the value of a secret of state or of a secret of art? and thus one must have the shame as for a sin or a pain – hide your god – hide your devil.


LI brings this up because we found, while searching about, a pdf of the entire M. Teste text on the web, here. And we’ve been reading it. It has been a long time since we read this text – I call it a text rather than novella, because it is not like a novella. It is more like Valéry’s essay on Leonardo. It is as much a ‘text’ as a corn flake is purely a breakfast cereal. No fucking around.

At one time, in the twenties and thirties, Monsieur Teste had quite a reputation. But Cioran’s judgment on Valéry reflects the more contemporary view. And it is true, there is a coldness that run’s like the purest fish blood through Valery’s work. There’s a wonderful moment in Sartre’s essay on Nizan where he simply dismisses Gide and Valéry as the very archetypes of intellectual preciosity and futility.

But the thing is, M. Teste is, in spite of everything, rather beautiful.

I’ll have some more excerpts later.

The demonstration that the Washington Post is, of course, not mentioning

There was an actual article on the NYT front page – at least on the web – about war protestors! After we lay there on the floor a bit, we got back up and checked it out. It was about the protest today in D.C. – LI is sending all our spells and good wishes to this thing – and (thank God), the journalists didn’t dwell overmuch on the celebrities that are going to be there.

As we have made clear, we have definite ideas about demonstrations. A huge demonstration must, I suppose, have a few speeches, but let those speeches be … about the War. Entirely. Not about Global Warming, Venezuela, or fish farming.

A friend the other day sent me an email to show me that others than me are thinking about anti-war demonstration tactics. The email was a proposal to combine anti-war protest with online dating. Or dating period, or something. Apparently, using the chi energy that gets all fizzy when you are waving a sign denouncing our atrocious governing class and their War, you bond with some other likely anti-war protestor. At first I was confused, and thought you bonded right there at the protest – which I thought was, indeed, avant garde and heat, a “we chose fucking over being fucked up” gesture, like the sixties except with condoms, but apparently it is more like finding that certain someone to share a coffee with as you both rail about Bill O’Reilly.
I make fun.
I shouldn’t make fun. I’m down with anything that wakes people up.

Anway, we loved this bit in the NYT story:

''We see many things that we feel helpless about,'' said Barbara Struna, 59, of Brewster, Mass. ''But this is like a united force. This is something I can do.''
Struna, a mother of five who runs an art gallery, made a two-day bus trip with her 17-year-old daughter, Anna, to the nation's capital to represent what she said was middle America's opposition to President Bush's war policy.
Her daughter, a high school senior, said she has as many as 20 friends who have been to Iraq. ''My generation is the one that is going to have to pay for this,'' she said.
She held a sign that said, ''Heck of a job, Bushie,'' mocking Bush's words of encouragement to his disaster relief chief, Michael Brown, amid criticism of the government's immediate response to Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005.


When I get my head out of my ass – and it is easy to get your head up your ass when you are writing a blog, or just living, in fact most of the time I go around, embarrassingly enough, with my head up my ass – I remember how much, really, I love the plain old Americans.

The Washington Post, speaking of having your head up your ass so far that you can shed your whole readership while giving op ed space to the retarded children of war mongering think tankers because you are brave and bold and Fred Hiatt, has, of course, nothing on the front of its web page about the demo.

PS - finally, at noon, WAPO puts up a story about the demonstration. With much concentration on the counter-demonstration of pro-war types. Ah, fairness. WAPO is all about fairness.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Lorenz Oken, famous anatomist of the pig

Last year, my web buddy, IT, turned me on to Ludwig (“Theses on”) Feuerbach. My notion of Feuerbach was vague – that he played a bit part role in the tragedy of Marx was the extent of it. Was he Rosencranz? Guildenstern? Well, I learned that he was no strolling player, but had important things to say about the very species essence of man, and was capable of putting on the Ritz, philosophically speaking, all by himself.

This year, I want to repay my debt by informing IT, via this post, if she reads it, about Lorenz Oken. Oken is known for having made up the term “cell” and being one of the founding fathers of biology. But he was also a follower of Schelling – meaning that he was always liable to loon like effusions of systematicity. His Physiophilosophy, which I stumbled on yesterday via The Scenes of Inquiry by Nicholas Jardine, is, by LI’s dubious lights, an incredible funhouse. It begins with Mathesis (which should warm the heart of a Badiou-ian), in which various sage and exciting and rather hard to pin down remarks about zero are made, and proceeds to ontology, physiology, and the meaning of life. The whole gives the impression of some rare work of perfect outsider art. Here’s a sample of Oken’s claims and method, as well as a moment of true psychotic breakdown in the patriarchy:

“Impregnation

2315. Since the male sex is related to the female, as corolla to capsule, as leaf to stalk, as air to water, and as light to matter; so it is related also as integument to intestine, as lung to lymphatic vessel, as artery to vein, as nerve to flesh or muscle, as Animal to Vegetative.
2316. Copulation is therefore an irradiation.
2317. Already, in the course of the heavenly bodies, has the highest act of the animal, that of copulation, been preindicated or portrayed. The creation of the universe or world is itself nothing but an act of impregnation. The sex is prognosticated from the beginning, and pursues its course like a holy and conservative bond throughout the whole of nature. He therefore who so much as questions the sex in the organic world, comprehends not the riddle or problem of the univers.
2318. If the female parts have effected a complete transition into the male, so are the sexes necessarily separate and distinct.
2319. Since the male parts are the female that have been more highly developed, so there resides in the latter the constant conatus or effort to convert themselves into the male…

2321. Gestation or pregnancy is none other than the propensity of the Female to convert itself into the Male. “

Stephen Jay Gould happens to have examined Oken pretty carefully in his book, Ontogeny and Phylogeny. Gould always cautions against making fun of past scientists. Here’s how he introduces Oken:

“Lorenz Oken's Lehrbuch der Naturphilosophie appeared in three parts from 1809–1811. It is a listing of 3,562 statements, taking all knowledge for its province, and filled with bald, oracular pronouncements of the engaging sort that feign profundity but dissolve into emptiness upon close inspection. It is also responsible for Oken's bad reputation as the most idle (if cosmic) speculator of a school rife with unreason. In fact, Oken was one of the best comparative anatomists and embryologists of his day; his works on the embryology of the pig and dog (1806) are classics (he was also an influential, if naive, political thinker of liberal to radical bent—see Raikov, 1969).”

Perhaps the radicalism is why Engels makes small note of him in the Dialectic of Nature as a man who wants to make his way by pure thought into the secrets of nature.

“In Oken (Haeckel, p. 85: et seq.) the nonsense that has arisen from the dualism between natural science and philosophy is evident. By the path of thought, Oken discovers protoplasm and the cell, but it does not occur to anyone to follow up the matter along the lines of natural-scientific investigation – it is to be accomplished by thinking! And when protoplasm and the cell were discovered, Oken was in general disrepute!”

Here’s another, extended passage about Oken from Gould:
“Yet Oken's most pervasive principle is his own version of the single developmental tendency: all development begins with a primal zero and progresses to complexity by the successive addition of organs in a determined sequence. This law holds for all developmental processes: human ontogeny, the historical sequence of species, the evolution of the earth itself: "If we take a retrospective glance at the development of the planet, we find that it commenced with the simplest actions, and then assumed a more elevated character by gradually drawing together several actions and letting them work in common" (p. 178).
The sequence of additions follows Oken's ordering of the four Greek elements. Translated into the organs of animals, this sequence includes:
1. Earth processes—nutrition.
2. Water processes—digestion.
3. Air processes—respiration.
4. Aether (fire) processes—motion.
Man contains all organs within himself; thus he represents the entire world; "in the profoundest, truest sense . . . a microcosm" (p. 202). "Man is the summit, the crown of nature's development, and must comprehend everything that has preceded him . . . In a word, Man must represent the whole world in miniature" (p. 12). All lower animals, as imperfect or incomplete humans, contain fewer than the total set of organs. "The animal kingdom," wrote Oken in his most famous pronouncement, "is only a dismemberment of the highest animal, i.e. of Man" (p. 494). The position of any animal upon the single chain of classification depends upon the number of organs it possesses: "Animals are gradually perfected, entirely like the single animal body, by adding organ unto organ . . . An animal, which e.g. lived only as an intestine, would be, doubtless inferior to one which with the intestine were to combine a skin" (p. 494).”

The notion of mixing up evolution and complexity still lures the unwary. There’s a rather horrible book, Non-Zero, which is in this tradition and made a splash about six years ago. – I reviewed that in the Austin Chronicle if any reader is interested in the archives.
I’ll have more to say about Oken in a later post.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I have seen the future, and it is Cheney.

Alas, having no access to CNN – or, for that matter, CBS, ABC or NBC – LI did not see the Wolf Blitzer interview with Dick Cheney. However, apparently it was quite a spectacle. Cheney’s bullying, monomania, and blood in the mouthism was on full display, to rally the lobotomized in the usual ways. That’s good, because Cheney is a forerunner. Having coddled and nursed into being a class of grotesque parasites, aka the CEO class, for the past thirty years, America will get what it grew: an endless stream of Cheneys.

One has to remember a basic rule about CEOs – they are horrors. A just state would simply expropriate their wealth entirely, simply to disempower a clearly dangerous class. This is why LI has always supported a 100 percent tax rate for incomes over 10 million dollars. Soi-disant conservatives are, of course, utterly opposed to such schemes, which is simply a way of saying that they are soi-disant – read any traditional political theorist, from Aristotle to Montesquieu, and they will warn you about concentrated private power in the state. That power isn’t anti-statist – it is, rather, much more likely to use the state for its own ends. For the liberty of the vast majority, there should be a war between the rich and the state. The rich have found it advantageous to pretend that there is. The truth is, of course, that there is no structural difference between big business and big government. The great art of government, for the liberal, is to produce enough countervailing power to force the state to act, every once in a while, for labor. The myth that the state supports the powerless and “punishes” the entrepreneur is only believed by losers who are deep in their cups at the Rotary Club smoker. They are losers precisely because they don’t know the first rule of entrepreneurialship – when you find the goose that lays the golden eggs, first, claim that the goose really doesn’t lay golden eggs, and second, get yourself elected a representative to the goose so that you can shrink it down to a small sized goose - in order, of course, to promote liberty - and then you can harvest all the fucking golden eggs you can stand. Best to have a long long long long war, of course, in reserve to justify the golden egg hording.

I can imagine that Cheney would say to the board at Halliburton, about the purchase of Dresser (whose asbestos suit liabilities cost Halliburton some 3 billion dollars), that it was an enormous success with the same snappishness that he claimed, to a disbelieving country, that we are “winning” something in Iraq. The swaddling of the CEO class produces that monstrosity, the grown up baby. Thus, Cheney’s claims seem more like the cries of a one year old in a high chair than reasoned discourse, or even the shady mumblings of some vast controlling puppetmaster. When the torturers in Brazil donned the baby masks, the director was directly plugged into the future – our torturers come straight off the Gerber label.

We have to shortcircuit the culture that elevates creatures like Cheney.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

a failure

… il avait tué la marionette. – Paul Valery

Sometimes LI bears a striking image to a fly dying at the base of a window. The fly keeps bumping against that congealed air that 350 million years of evolution had never warned him against. The fly’s experience of the world, which is, as is well known, a place divided into 360 spaces, each space radiating a certain glow, and the edge of each space grading into the edge of the next space save when the edges parted to make a passage just exactly equal in width to the width of a fly’s body, seems, for magical reasons, no longer to work. In addition, something seems to be happening in the back behind the eyes, the load, as the fly would name it, that it always carries about and that sometimes gets sexually excited. Something seems to be squeezing the load. Normally, a pressure like this would prompt the fly to escape, but lately the 360 spaces seem to be liquefying to such a degree that they no longer scatter to the fly’s wingbeats. This is not good news. And, as the fly falls over, there flashes through its mind, absurdly, the first line of an old joke: “waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”

So – this is the sitch with LI vis a vis our attempt to get together a nice post on De Quincey and the disconnected giant. This is the new modernist giant, the giganticism that consists of unexpected and unlimited multiplication.

But before I get to De Quincey and Baudelaire – maybe next post – I will tell you a dream.

Actually, although this dream happened to me, I don’t really remember it happening to me. It happened to me when I was a child. I was lying in bed, and – as I often did when I was a child – I was rocking from side to side. Rocking from side to side was how I got to sleep. But on this occasion, I was in bed abnormally early, because I was sick. I was feverish. And – according to my parents – I started screaming. So my parents came into my room to see what was wrong, and I said that my hands had grown so big and so heavy that I could no longer hold them up. This dream is something I heard later from my parents, who thought it was funny. Not that they were cruel about it, but later, after I was over my fever, we all laughed at my panicked idea that my hands were these enormous, separate entities. And, if I make an effort, I can still communicate a bit with that faint speck of myself so long ago. I can see – or at least sense – the enormity of those white, moist, wildly growing hands.

divine entrapment

LI was pleased as a parrot with our Wings of Desire post, but it seems to have fallen flatter than an illmade pancake on the ears of our readers – alas! Getting all that dough in the auditory canal – that’s fucked up!

And yet, such is our hardness in vice that we are going to continue a thought we started in that post – a thought that extends back to our reading of Michelet’s La Sorciere last summer.

When Michelet writes about the importance, to the witch, of doing things backward to undo the powers that be that rule over the world, he is, of course, thinking of the Lord’s Prayer. As we pointed out, reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards was a perfect symbol of what Marxists call the negation of the negation. It also bore a relation to the unconscious poetry that runs through Marx’s own texts, where things that are upside down have to be reversed to stand right side up. But that inversion isn’t done by laying rough hands on the reader and shaking him – the reader has to see something that is impossible to see, which is: how he sees. In the path to seeing the things of this world in their real order, the reader has to go through a demonic moment.

Well, in the W.o.D. post, we pointed out the system of espionage lightly concealed by the cosmology of angels and Satans. And the clustering together of all the little fathers, pharaoh to Stalin, around God, the supreme fiction of a society that needs to turn the innocent. That needs a quota of the damned. Up to an including the kids in Miami that the FBI has dropped into a dark hole, forever, after encouraging their fantasy of blowing up the Sears building - or at least having something exciting happen in a life of unremitting economic boredom and terror - i.e, life on a unskilled worker's earnings in America.

Turning the innocent – entrapment of one sort or another – has evolved a whole discourse. It is called temptation. When you say the Lord’s prayer backwards, in a sense, you can hear for the first time that craven plea not to be led into temptation – and you can ask, who are we pleading with here?

As a matter of fact, St. Augustine (my friend and foil Paul C. should perk up his ears, here) had decided ideas about this. In a letter to Constantius, St. Augustine considers a passage in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonicans in which he seems to imply that “only the devil tempts us, and God tempts no one – as in effect Saint John says literally. However, it is said elsewhere, the Lord your God tempts you; and it is necessary that the words of the Scripture which appear contrary be accorded one with the other. And how can they be? By the diverse signification of the word temptation: for temptation is an other thing which comes to seduce us and makes us fall from that which comes just to test us. In the first sense, it is from nobody else than the Devil; but in the second sense, God tempts us some times. Voila, the difficulty resolved.”

That resolution echoes down the centuries and in every cop show you want to watch: is it genuine evil, or government authorized non-evil evil?

In a famous commentary on the Psalms, St. Augustine has more to say about the phenomenology of temptation. We will end with this quote, and pick up this theme in another post:

Now these three kinds of vice, namely, the pleasure of the flesh, and pride, and curiosity, include all sins. And they appear to me to be enumerated by the Apostle John, when he says, "Love not the world; for all that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." 1 John 2:15-16 For through the eyes especially prevails curiosity. To what the rest indeed belong is clear. And that temptation of the Lord Man was threefold: by food, that is, by the lust of the flesh, where it is suggested, "command these stones that they be made bread:" Matthew 4:3 by vain boasting, where, when stationed on a mountain, all the kingdoms of this earth are shown Him, and promised if He would worship: Matthew 4:8-9 by curiosity, where, from the pinnacle of the temple, He is advised to cast Himself down, for the sake of trying whether He would be borne up by Angels. Matthew 4:6 And accordingly after that the enemy could prevail with Him by none of these temptations, this is said of him, "When the devil had ended all his temptation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

o for a foe!

LI doesn’t really know what to do today. The amount of ridiculousness in the press over the last five days is truly gratifying, but it is also a blog it yourself situation. We have, in the bizarre Washington Post, an op ed piece flogging Jeb Bush on Sunday, followed by a I was only joking interview with the author on Monday, followed by today’s rather priceless piece by one of those Cheney scion who, in the spirit of smaller government and peculation for all, was shoehorned into a position for which she was magnificently unfit in the state department, where she got out the crayons out of her crayonbox – the reds and the blues and that hard color, verf- vermillion - and made a whole two pages of remarks just like Daddy! That the Washington Post editorial page not only supports the war with bloodsoaked teeth bared, but aims to reproduce certain aspects of it (namely, giving berths to the academically challenged sons and daughters of rightwing honchos) is sweet in very sick, sick way.

And then, before you can turn around, Christopher Hitchens has two, count em two reviews up, one on a book by Mark Steyn, the other on a book by Nick Cohen. To batter the remnant of Hitchens that now does the writing is beyond even LI’s sadism. It should be noted, though, that Cohen is trying to resurrect an old trope from the first round of pro-war propaganda – the sleight of hand substitution trick. You take a term that can be logically described in two ways, and you substitute an invidious description to describe a person’s belief. I march against the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq will hurt Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein is a fascist. Thus, I march in support of fascism.

That type of invective is the equivalent of going about in soiled intellectual diapers. It convinces nobody. It is logically threadbare. It is, in other words, shit and sophistry… but more just shit. I support the war in Iraq, the war in Iraq brought a Taliban like group to power in Basra, I am a supporter of Islamofascism. See how easy it is to play this game? Leggos for the lobotomized. This is, believe it or not, the sum total of Nick Cohen’s four years of writing about Iraq. He actually thinks he is making a “critique”, God save the saints. Of the Left, no less and no doubt, he’s all about the Left, the Left and he are splitsville, he’d had the Left over to dinner and they didn’t bring even a bottle of wine and they stink and also, also, the Islamophilia on some of them, why liberals and lefties are going on and on, nowadays, quoting the Q’ran and shit. This raises the bellylaugh quotient, of course. We especially like it when you throw in a few Hitchens reviews, bespattered with the term, “comrade.” I would say: you can’t make this shit up. But somebody obviously does.

However, as our far flung correspondent T. has told us – enough! basta!

We long for a worthy adversary.

PS – well, I guess LI should say something.

After the State of the Union address, the natural place to go is the Washington Post, and their excellent political reporter, Dan Balz, under the headline: A President Beleaguered But Unbowed

We totally agree with this assessment:

“Caligula’s response last night was a speech that was very much in keeping with the style of leadership he has demonstrated repeatedly in office. If he was humbler in tone and rhetorically generous to his Democratic opponents in calling for cooperation, he was anything but defensive.

There was an underlying message in the speech. The main plea was to make his horse the speaker of the House, a chord struck earlier in the day by spokesman Tony Snow. Although roughly two in three Americans disagree that Mr. Ed, as President Caligula calls him, should be House Speaker, and members of Congress are preparing nonbinding resolutions declaring their opposition, Caligula asked for time to show that the strategy can succeed.

He recalled that the country was largely united at the time he announced both his sister’s divinity and his own divine right to couple with her in 2003 and acknowledged the divisions that have emerged since. But he argued that whatever motivated members of Congress at the time of the declaration of divinity, there was a consensus that the United States must have a young, nubile couple of very, very rich people in charge of this great country. And young people, as the President steadfastly maintained, come with complicated sexual urges.

Caligula's final message last night was perhaps the most robust domestic agenda of his presidency, a way of saying to those who are ready to write him off that he still has the power of the bully pulpit to inject ideas into the national debate and force others to react to them: from the purging of the Senate, the assassination of his tutor, to the announcement that his divinity is greater than Jupiter’s, it was a message that said he should not be regarded as a lame duck.”

LI, as ever, urges readers to send money to the PAC of Mrs. Nero, who is really, really getting on top of the Mr. Ed issue. "We don't want Mr. Ed not to be a god," she said today, "but we are firm in saying that maybe Mr. Ed is not the first choice for House Speaker unless we can find the synergy to go forward to make me, and other middle class Americans, comfortable with this choice."

Mrs. Nero - a leader, a doer, a conversationalist with America!

Monday, January 22, 2007

the politics of angels



I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and
he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and
behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.

001:009 Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that
talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.

And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and
said, These are they whom the LORD hath sent to walk to and
fro through the earth.

001:011 And they answered the angel of the LORD that stood among the
myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the
earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at
rest. – Zechariah

Well, to cap my return to my past – plunged into it as I was by Bob Solomon’s death, and the pretty marvelous ceremony to commemorate his life Saturday – I sat down and watched an old 80s movie that was particularly important to me back in the days before the Wall fell: Wings of Desire. By coincidence, the woman who played the trapeze artist, Marion, (Solveig Dommartin) died a few weeks ago of a heart attack. My generation is not going to go out raving in the street a la some Ginsberg poem, but prematurely wearing out their hearts like they were so many rainsoaked grocery bags – thus saith the industrial fats upon which we have steadily gorged, plus of course the coke and heroin and – let’s admit it – the occasional speedball.

Anyway, I did rain down tears for that time, and for some still marvelous parts of the movie – not so much the plot but simply seeing Berlin.

However, I know more about the politics of Satan and the angels now than I did in those dim days. I know the politics – and I know this from having looked it up after reading Mailer’s new novel, for which I penned a commendatory review in yesterday’s Austin Statesman (much better, my review, I must say, than the thing produced by Janet Maslin for the NYT last week – and as for Lee Siegel, well, I just can’t read Lee Siegel). Zechariah is generally considered a post exilic book, and the notion of these walkers abroad has roots, according to some scholars, in the Persian and Egyptian spy systems. In effect, both kingdoms had stumbled upon the idea that lightbulbs its way into the head of every Behemoth since – let’s spy on the population. Even better, let’s turn certain people. Let’s just do it, pour encourager les autres. Turning people. From the Pharaohs to the FBI and the DEA, this practice has a history that bears a double aspect: on the one side, politics, and on the other side, demonology.

While Satan already plays the role of a sort of egger on in Job, the importance of Zechariah is that Satan, for the first time, resolves himself clearly into the role by which we know and love him best: the adversary.

“And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.

And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan;
even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not is not
this a brand plucked out of the fire?”

Whose fire is it, o Lord? – for isn't this the template of the millions of conversations over the millenia that have unfolded behind the iron curtain - by which of course I mean the curtain between the powerful and the dispossessed? Here we are eavesdropping - the prophets are such snoops of the divine, counterspies in the house of Daddy Love - on the tyrant and head of his secret police, president and advisor, sheriff and jailhouse bird. It was how Stalin handled Mandelstam and Pasternak. All brands are, virtually, in the fire, and the fire is the nation. The Joshua that is the case before us tonight is, of course, a high government exec – a high priest. Those are the ones. The system rewards those who damn their brothers by allowing them to climb up to another niche, but the system will, and this is the justice of it, award even those who damn the ones who have damned their quota. Credit systems or politics, computers or the old fashioned way of entrapping your prey in a bar on the Tex Mex border with the offer of some good shit which both of you can cut and make beaucoup bucks - it is all the same, ever ancient, ever the poem, from Jerusalem to Juarez. When Satan accuses Joshua, the machinery that is set in motion is not too much different from the finger that was put by some Satan on Mandelstam, and Mandelstam had survived so far only through the protection of the secret police chief, Ezhov, through Ezhov’s wife.

LI's definition of utopia: a society in which there is no system wide incentive to damn another. That's it. On that day, hell will truly be purged from our lives.

In Wings of Desire, of course, the angels are Rilke’s angels, supposedly purged of that sinister etymological connection with the men on the red horses. They spy, but only as the eye spies – joy and function merged. There is, however, a missed opportunity here – everyone has felt that the sentimentality at the center of Wings of Desire is discrediting, however beautiful the movie is in its collection of modernist tropes. And of course, this city in which the angels spy like hippies is a city of much more professional spies. Pynchon saw so much further - he knew that hippies made the best narcs. The humint that flows through Wenders angels must be woven, in the center, into a world of accusation, where Satan stands on the right hand and resists – since his bureaucratic role is, of course, to play the resistor. How can one condemn to eternal fire those who are guilty of nothing and not be guilty oneself? Even God needs some savior - or rather, scape goat - to carry off his sins or give him, at least, official deniability – hence Satan. Satan, the prince of deniability.

And no one saw the carney go, no one saw the carney go…

Sunday, January 21, 2007

bogosities of the press: Israel and Iran

LI went to the memorial service for our friend Bob yesterday. As in life, so in death – Bob was always a catalyst for things to happen to yours truly, and the service was no different. One of my best buds of yore, from whom I’d parted in considerable anger over issues that have long been swallowed up by the steady creep of geological time was there, and we went out and had several reconciling drinks. This has actually put a lot of joy in my heart (the lines from the childhood hymns come back!).

Not so much, though, that I don’t have heart left for the stamp of varied and sundry indignations left by the varied and sundry stupidities of the press.

Exhibit no. 1, yesterday, was the astonishing Deborah Lipstadt op ed piece about ex President Carter’s rather mild plea for the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank and the end of the governance mess there and in the Gaza. About which Lipstadt had only to say that Carter has not genuflected with enough fervor to the holocaust, and thus is an anti-semite – but, being a just person in all things, Lipstadt was willing to concede that perhaps he is just an unconscious bigot. Lipstadt, you see, embraces the larger view.

This is almost spookily stupid – especially as you can tell that Lipstadt’s (non) argument is pretty close to the orthodoxy among the muscular liberal-neo con set that so rule the roost in the WAPO op ed pages, and probably does reflect the central bias of the policy set in D.C.

The Eichmann made me do it excuse for the West Bank land grab wouldn’t convince a first grader. Lipstadt, a historian, would do well to read a book of history – any book of history – about Israel’s post 67 West Bank policy.

However, I am not going to grapple with a piece that serves, really, only that old and hoary function of injecting a vague hint of anti-semitism into any criticism of Israel. Rather, I’d like to spotlight one of the mythemes in the piece, since it now travels about in the Press like as a convenient warmongering piece of DNA, a little transpone, bringing us visibly nearer to war with Iran. In the past, LI has vigorously downplayed the idea that the U.S. is going to war with Iran, and we find the fervent belief that Bush is always a week away from it among leftwingers – who have been saying we are a week away from attacking Iran since 2004 – extremely puzzling. Both the left and the right often participate in a shared illusion of American hyper-powerdom, but reality has always put strict limits to the extent and exercise of American power. It is exercised best when America has implanted, in a given country, an endogenous pro-consular class. But usually, America avoids the direct violence route.

Still, in the final instance, we are being run by an essentially criminal collective, which is obviously thinking of winding up its pathetic run by attacking Iran. If the wishes of the executive were obeyed as direct orders – the Fuhrer-prinzip that Cheney has tried to instill in the government over the last six years – than we would be attacking Iran. In lieu of that, the warmongering sockpuppets do try to inject, in any mention of Iran, the idea that the country is on the verge of attacking Israel. And one of the ways they do this is to infinitely fold spindle and mutilate a quote of President Ahmadinejad – in Lipstadt’s piece, that comes out as: “When an Ahmadinejad or Hamas threatens to destroy Israel, Jews have historical precedent to believe them.” I’m not even going into the facile identity between Israel and Jews, here, - an identity that is unrealistic and, in fact, symbolic of the kind of nationalism many of the greatest figures of Jewish culture in the 19th and 20th century fought against like mad – or the idea that the threat to a state, Israel, is of the same order and nature as the threat to the Jewish inhabitants of various countries in Europe. This is to spiral down into Ron Rosenbaum style madness. No, what concerns me is simply that quote. Not whether the quote has been mistranslated – I don’t know enough about Farsi to give you a donkey’s fart worth of wisdom on that issue. What isn’t undisputed is that Ahmadinejad is citing Khomeini. Now, if we are truly to take the quote as a military threat against Israel, then surely it was a military threat when Khomeini uttered it too. Logically, then, Israel should have received it as a threat from Khomeini and acted accordingly.

But if you look back at the 80s, you will notice right away that the quote wasn’t pulled out to justify some attack on Iran by Israel – rather it was ignored as the rightwing government in Israel helped arm Iran and support a closer relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Far from viewing themselves as partisans in the Polish woods, at that time, the Israeli government viewed themselves as maneuvering an alliance against Iraq. They viewed themselves, quite sensibly, as a state.

An article in the summer, 2005 issue of Iranian studies by Trita Parsi, “Israel-Iranian Relations Assessed: Strategic Competition from the Power Cycle Perspective,”
sums up the real history of the relationship between Iran and Israel quite well:

Iran’s foreign policy is believed to have lost much of its ideological zeal after the death of Khomeini. One often cited exception to this general pattern is Iran’s relations with Israel. Tehran’s posture on Israel and the Middle East peace process is often explained as a remnant of its revolutionary and ideological past and contradictory to Iran’s national interest. However, this analysis neglects crucial systemic changes that occurred in the Middle East after 1991, as well as
Israel’s willingness to improve relations with Iran at the height of Iran’s revolutionary fervor in the 1980s and the Islamic regime’s refusal to allow ideological considerations to stand in its way to purchase arms from Israel. Furthermore, it reduces Israel’s role in the equation to that of a non-actor whose destiny is limited to mere reactions to Iran’s ideological designs.

Parsi hauls up a lot of inconvenient, old news from the memory hole:

The two Israeli leaders that in the early 1990s initiated a very aggressive Iran policy pursued a diametrically opposite policy only a few years earlier. In 1987, Yitzhak Rabin argued that Iran remained an ally geo-politically.40 Shimon Peres, who sought a “broader strategic relationship with Iran,” urged President Reagan to seek a dialogue with Tehran.

It is an axiom of punditry that, in pursuing the usual quest to kill people on a large scale, one needs to forget that those same people, years earlier, were allies in another quest to kill another set of people on a large scale. For the Lipstadt’s of the world, of course, being pro-Iranian in 1987 was resisting the Nazis, and being for war against Iran in 2006 is still resisting the Nazis. We evermore resist the Nazis.

Well, enough of the various bogosities of this subject, and onto another piece of news about the Bush administration which is – in obedience to the law of news governing the way the press has reported the Global war on Terror – 3 years late.

“An Iranian offer to help the United States stabilize Iraq and end its military support for Hezbollah and Hamas was rejected by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003, a former top State Department official told the British Broadcasting Corp.

The U.S. State Department was open to the offer, which came in an unsigned letter sent shortly after the American invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, told BBC's Newsnight in a program broadcast Wednesday night. But, Wilkerson said, Cheney vetoed the deal.”

As faithful readers will remember – well, not really, but as this faithful writer remembers – LI’s position before the invasion was that the U.S. could and should aim at having Saddam Hussein overthrown in Iraq. It could do this by a., establishing détente with Iran, Hussein’s number one enemy, and b., showering Northern Iraq, separated from Hussein’s Iraq for 5 years, with aid. Sanctions were stupid and killing so long as they were instituted in the framework of the double sanctions on both nations. The neo-cons were right to decry the sanction system as it was under Clinton, but wrong to promote the belligerent approach – and wrong to think that the U.S. policy should be aimed at maintaining American hegemony in the Middle East when the conditions for that hegemony had so dramatically changed in the post Cold War era.

Obviously, LI’s idea was not only rational, but possible. Its rejection has led to the current debacle. Neither party is willing to de-structure the root cause of that debacle – American superpowerdom.

Let the empire turn up its little heels and die is our advice.