“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 12, 2007

memes and hooks

LI is a pretty jaded reviewer. One of the things we like about doing anonymous reviews for Publishers Weekly is seeing the hooks we put in the reviews spread out to other reviewers. Amazon provides a big megaphone. So we noted that two reviewers we don't much care for - Kakatuni in the NYT and Dirda in the Washington Post - echo, in their disparaging reviews of Delillo's Falling Man, themes we set going in ours, mercifully and mysteriously pretty much as we wrote it up there on Amazon. We liked Falling Man - and though I don't really care to look it up, I would bet Dirda liked that awful, jello sweet Jonathan Safron Foers novel about 9/11. Dirda has terrible taste in contemporary American novelists - sorta Sub Michael Wood - without the eloquence to make me care one way or another.

Let's get out of afghanistan

“It is not clear whether the Ghanikhel raid was a case of mistaken identity or a successful anti-terrorist operation that also became a human tragedy.”

LI’s question to ponder this weekend is: what the hell is the U.S. still doing in Afghanistan?

In 2001, LI supported the attack on Afghanistan for the standard vanilla tit for tat reasons. But wars in the humanitarian intervention era ( “On your door I am a-knocking/with my toolbox and my stocking”) are sticky things, so sticky that the soldiers never seem to find the conditions just right to actually leave. Now, this is much to the satisfaction of all bien pensant people in D.C., and like a good little war, it is tossed into the forgettery of the back of the A section for bored householders to peruse if they will – although what’s the fucking point of that?

Occasionally the news comes from the front that things are going swimmingly, or they are going backwards, or that American marines have become so adroit at their anti-terrorist operations that they have permanently protected villagers in remote valleys from the insidious Taliban:

“On Tuesday, a senior U.S. military commander issued a formal apology to the families of 19 civilians who died in a March 4 incident in Batikot, in Nangahar province. A squad of Marines, ambushed by a suicide bomber, sprayed indiscriminate gunfire at cars and pedestrians.”

The Afghan war has some adorable characteristics, which you’d expect of a five year old. Five year olds love to build sand castles and destroy them. They love finger painting. Oh, and they love indiscriminate air warfare too!

“Almost every day, warplanes drop bombs, shoot rockets and fire cannon rounds into suspected enemy locations in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Generally, there tend to be more airstrikes in Afghanistan than in the war in Iraq. Since the beginning of this month, according to data released by Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, B-1 heavy bombers have struck Afghanistan four times, F-15 fighters have done so twice, and A-10 ground-attack jets have fired their cannons three times. Also, a British Royal Air Force Harrier jet carried out bombing.

The airstrikes and casualties are a direct result of the stepped-up Taliban insurgency, which employs suicide bombs and often uses civilian areas as hiding places. Yet according to diplomats and human rights groups, the tough military response is weakening Afghan support for foreign troops and playing into the insurgents' hands. President Hamid Karzai, sharply rebuking his foreign allies, declared recently that such civilian deaths were "no longer acceptable."”

The technostructure of war in America has been a win win on many fronts – it distributes money to the right array of companies, it keeps the budgets high, it makes a symbolic statement to the rest of the world, and it expresses pretty well the inexorable logic of the dialectic of vulnerability that the U.S. has been committed to since Hiroshima. It is a form of offshoring the war. However, although it is marvelous, it can’t do one thing: it can’t win a low intensity war. It can only delay losing a low intensity war. That Bush is presiding over two defeats makes him a remarkable American president in many ways – that he pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory in Afghanistan is, well, it is why his fans love him. Bush is like a Jesus figure, if you can imagine Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, turning water into radioactive urine and urging the guests to drink up.

So let’s add things up. First, you have to advance an essentially colonialist enterprise by manufacturing an election. Check – this is where Karzai comes from. Then you essentially bungle the one chance you have to actually force the enemy to surrender, or to break him. Check – the Pentagon’s nursing of the escape of Al Qaeda and much of the Taleban leadership into Pakistan was a sort of foresighted action, to guarantee that the war wouldn’t stop, because if the war stops, you might actually have to… gasp … withdraw. Then you need to wait around, let the economic situation plummet, produce amazingly liberal legislation for show in the capital which just happens to be in complete disconnect with the culture at large – this has the double advantage of maintaining the humanitarian label and making the powers you have propped up in the capital look like complete and utter puppets, which increases their dependence on the occupation – and finally, voila, you have the situation of an openended occupation that will feed on itself until those people in the mountains find the stingers to take down some of those bombers. Then things can get merrier.

It should be pointed out to establish LI's fucking non-partisan cred here that Clinton’s wars in the 90s actually put in place the elements that have grown to full fledged malignancy here. The party divide disguises a fundamental continuity. The bombing wars that avoided any American casualties seemed free and fun – save of course for a buncha landlubbers bleeding to death in the villages – but it turns out that they had no ending bracket. Occupation just goes on forever.

It is long past time to have an exit strategy for Afghanistan that actually makes sense – that is, that comes to an exit. You know what an exit is, don’t you Uncle Sam? Or does it have to leave muddy boot prints on your butt?

Friday, May 11, 2007

and it rained trash for two thousand years...

LI is always interested in trash. Humans have always left a non-supply line behind them of stuff other than our scat and mortality – it goes along with being tool using beasties. But the heaping helpings of trash that issue daily from the courses of the average American/European/Latin American/Asian/African are producing a sort of global coral reef of garbage, a carapace over the planet.

So we found this NYT article a timely treat, and we liked the f/x chart mapping the average mile of garbage along the road. Here are a few grafs:

“In California and across the nation, where some freeway shoulders have come to resemble weekend yard sales, the nature of road debris has changed, and litter anthropologists are now studying the phenomenon. Where “deliberate” litter used to reign — those blithely tossed fast-food wrappers and the like — “unintentional” or “negligent” litter from poorly secured loads is making its presence felt.

Steven R. Stein, a litter analyst for R. W. Beck, a waste-consulting firm in Maryland, attributes the change to more trash-hauling vehicles, including recycling trucks, and the ubiquity of pickup trucks on the country’s highways. In 1986, Mr. Stein said, two-thirds of the debris was deliberate, but surveys now show the litter seesaw balanced.

He said the two most recent surveys indicated a further increase in unintentional litter. In Georgia, which recently quantified its litter, 66 percent of road debris comes from unintentional litter, largely unsecured loads. A study in Tennessee last year showed that 70 percent of the state’s debris was unintentional.”

Bikers know. I had to bike deep into South Austin a couple of days ago. This means taking my life in my hands and pedaling far down Lamar, an experience akin to being a rabbit on some acreage the beaters are bearing down on. Bikes, in Texas, are hunted things. As you travel the major miles that are being humped over by SUVs and trucks without number, you see what all that portage costs. It isn’t just the perpetually cracked road, the omnipresence of broken glass, the oil slicked dust. Traffic sheds its skin every day, the skin consisting of every container you have ever drunk out of or broken your fingernails trying to tear open, of old magazines, of pipe, of splintered wood, of nails. Long ago I learned that ordinary street bike tires would last about two weeks on the Austin streets. My bike has mountain tires. As I headed out past the tangle of highways around Ben White, I even nearly ran over a diamond back rattler – whether alive or dead, I didn’t stop to find out. I am spooked by suburbia anyway – it always makes me feel like the man who fell to earth – and rambling over potentially tirepoppin stuff while cars as big as small whales go whizzing by you is one way to play the scales on your nerves. Although I shouldn’t exaggerate – I don’t worry too much about one of those whales socking me. If it happens, it happens.

An even better place to study the rain of trash is the path underneath the overpass leading to the lake that I jog every other day. Mopac is, what, fifty, seventy feet above the path? It is like a rain forest there, if you substitute, for drops of water, every kind of human trash. Trees will be shrouded not by the nets the net caterpillar spins – a pest around here – but by mysterious sheets of plastic and vinyl windripped from some truck. Ribbons, string, bags are distributed with abandon, to never decay eventually on the ground. It has all become part of the ecology, like the perpetual susurration of the cars themselves.

But we have to move around in this world:

“A 2004 report on vehicle-related road debris by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety underscored the hazards: In North America, more than 25,000 accidents a year are caused by litter that is dumped by motorists or falls out of vehicles.

“It’s really a problem of individual motorists’ not understanding the aerodynamics of what wind can do to a mattress,” said Scott Osberg, the foundation’s director of research.

Two years ago, a horrifying incident in Washington State led to the passage of Maria’s law, named for Maria Federici, 24, who was blinded and disfigured when a piece of a shelving unit flew off a trailer and crashed through her windshield. Before the accident, Washington drivers with unsecured loads received a traffic citation and a $194 fine. The tougher law made it a gross misdemeanor if an unsecured load caused an injury, carrying with it a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Accident statistics alone may not accurately reflect the frequency of such incidents. Last year, a fatality in Washington State, in which a driver swerved to avoid a flying shelf and hit another car, was classified as a collision.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

death in the eyes

J. P. Vernant’s essay, Death in the eyes: Gorgo, figure of the other (doesn’t that subtitle sound like it was filmed by Roger Corman?) begins resoundingly, like this:

‘Why study Gorgo? The reason is that for a historian, and a historian of religion in particular, the problem of alterity or ‘otherness’ in ancient Greece cannot be limited to the representation the Greeks made of others, of all those whom, for the purposes of reflection, they ranked under different heading in the category of difference, and whose representations always appear deformed because these figures – barbarian, slave, stranger, youth, and woman – are always constructed with refernce to the same model: the adult male citizen. We must also investigate what could be called extreme alterity and sk about the ways in which the ancients attempted to give a form in their religious universe to this experience of the absolute other. The issue is no longer one of a human being who is different from a Greek, but what, by comparison to a human being, is revealed as radical difference: instead of an other person, the other of the person.

Such, we think, were the sense and function of this strange sacred Power that operates through the mask, that has no other form than the mask, and that is presented entirely as a mask: Gorgo.” – translated by Froma I. Zeitlin.



If Casaubon in Middlemarch, his “small taper of learned theory exploring the tossed ruins of the world”, had begun his “key to the mythologies” on this note, Dorothea’s confidence in him might not have completely collapsed. Or is it just that the Victorians, peering at the Greeks, saw a ruddy imperialist power that surely would have subdued the Hindoo – and we see sex?

Vernant’s essay, having proposed such a bold plan, touches on the elements we have looked at in previous posts. Vernant’s notion is Freudian, but it is difficult to read much about the Greeks without thinking of Freud. The notion is of the genital mask: as in the figurine of Baubo we introduced in the post before last, the face and the genitals are combined to form the visual joke that Demeter found so funny. It is a punchline. But underneath the comedy of the genital mask there is a horror of the inhuman, the other who is not a person. For Vernant, one of the messages in the picture of Athene blowing out her cheeks to blow on the flute is that there passes over the very face of reason the genital mask, the horrible likeness.


“But among all the musical instruments, the flute, because of its sounds, melody, and the manner in which it is played, is the one to which the Gorgon’s mask is most related. The art of the flute – the instrument itself, the way it is used, and the melody one extracts from it – was ‘invented’ by Athena to ‘simulate’ the shrill sounds she had heard escaping from the mouths of the Gorgons and their snakes. In order to imitate them, she made the song of the flute ‘which combines all sounds”… Pindar, Pyth 12.1). But the risk inplaying the role of the shrieking Gorgon is actually to become one – all the more so as this mimesis is not mere imitation but an authentic ‘mime,’ a way of getting inside the skin of the character one imitates, of donning his or her mask. The story is told that Athena, wholly absorbed in blowing into the flute, did not heed the warning of the satyr, Marsyas, who, when he saw her with distended mouth, puffed out cheeks, and a face wholly distorted by the effort of getting a sound from the flute, said to her: The ways do not become you.”

Of course, Vernant’s interpretation, here, references Freud’s interpretation of Medusa. The thing is, Vernant comes to this interpretation not through Freud, but through a track laid down in Greek history and literature itself. If there is one thing all the philosophers seemed to be wary of, it is the flute. It is easy to make the correspondence between the constant denunciation of the excitement caused by the flute and, say, the denunciation of rock n roll as a degenerate music in the fifties. But there is an element left out – the iconography of flute playing. Aristotle’s reading of Athena throwing away the flute too hastily passes over what, exactly, is so ugly about puffing out one’s cheeks. As well as what the mouth to pipe picture is all about.

Perhaps the key to all the mythologies is the conjunction, at the bottom of the world, of misogyny and xenophobia – or the reason that patriarchy is such a good framework within which to grow racism. After all, the conjunction of those two things is structural, not logical. There’s no logical necessity that patriarchy should be especially racist.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sadly, Blair is not going to jail

“But us, who never profit from anything, we are alone. Alone, like the Bedouin in the desert. We have to cover our faces, pull our sheets about ourselves and plunge, head bowed, into the story – and always, incessantly, up to our last drop of water, up to the last palpitation of our heart. When we croak, we will have had the consolation of having made our way, and navigated in the Grand syle.

I sense against the stupidity of my age such floods of hatred that they choke me. The shit mounts into my mouth, as from a tied off hernia. But I want to keep it, fix it, let it harden… - Flaubert, letter to Bouilhet.

Flaubert has a reputation for denouncing la bêtise. Sartre claimed that for Flaubert, betise was essentially identical with language itself. But if you read the language of the paroxysms of disgust which are provoked in Flaubert by the stupidity of his age, you’ll notice that the metaphors are about reversing speaking or eating. The body wants to come through the mouth. In another letter, speaking of researching one of his novels, Flaubert speaks of ‘swallowing volumes and taking notes” so that he can fulfill his one and only purpose: “to spew on his contemporaries the disgust that they inspire in me” (cracher sur mes contemporains le dégoût qu'ils m'inspirent).

This, of course, is the problem with indignation once it increases to a certain level. It wants to bypass language altogether, to play the tape of culture, and even of organic growth, backwards, to shit out of the mouth, to spew or spit one’s entire being. If the holy speech gone backwards is the royal road to the wolf and the devil, to get to the true underground gods, playing language itself backwards is just the spell. It is not a spell to used casually.

LI understands Flaubert’s problem: after all, we live in the age of Bush and Blair.

Which brings us to a commentary by one of the heroic liberal interventionists in the Independent. A man named John Rentoul
, who has already received some notice for this wonderful sentence – a formula guaranteed to bring up the chunks: “ The Iraq war is a tragedy, above all, because of the damage it is inflicting on that cause of liberal interventionism…”

Ah, yes. One hopes that the Iraqis – who were given this wonderful, wonderful chance, as Rentoul points out, and yet somehow it “unleashed a new form of murderousness on the Iraqi people in place of the old" – are aware of this. We know that our President has long been disappointed in their ingratitude. But that a gorgeous war, all shimmery with hope, in which many a liberal interventionist could, vicariously, get their General Patton out – oh, so much better than paintball! – could temporarily dent our hopes for troop movements in Iran, liberated at last, or Sudan, or perhaps freeing the people of Venezuela from dire dictatorship – such things make Rentoul weep. Not that he’s a wet, mind you:

“The Iraq war is not an argument to be won or lost; it’s a tragedy.” In search of what posterity may make of Tony Blair’s record in foreign affairs, I was struck by these words in one of the better first drafts of history, The Assassins’ Gate, by the American journalist George Packer.

Not that the pro-war argument has been lost. As long as the Iraqis continue to say that their appalling suffering is worth it to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it cannot be.”

Well, said the cat, clicking its claws, I don’t think a single Iraqi thinks their appalling sufferings are in some equation with getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He is, after all, well and truly hung. There’s not a babe, old man, young man, young woman or other victim of car bomb, American firefight, mortar fire, militia kidnapping, etc., etc who considered that what was happening to them was dying for freedom. And seemingly those appalling sufferings – perhaps having to do with the wholesale looting of the country by American contractors, the arrogant and unbelievable criminal negligence of the American occupational ‘authority’ in completely denying 25 million people security for a year, the thousands dragged through prisons, the thousands whose homes have been ransacked, the completely demented double speak of democracy and the old imperialist fetch it, boy that discards Prime Ministers and rams oil laws down the Iraqi throat – perhaps all this is, well, deeply to be regretted. But let it not stop another good man, another noble Blair or Bush, from exercising that executive prerogative that will start it all up over again.
And at that thought, the shit does mount in my throat. Unfortunately, the shit mounts in the very throat of the times. The convergence between short term memory loss and warmongering in these here states is enough to top any of the mere bourgeois stupidities, the pablum of progress crowd, that revolted Flaubert. The bland and sleek beasts that have snacked on blood – but all at a safe distance, and through the appropriate proxies – over the last six of seven years have not, unfortunately, been felled by a single rhetorical thunderbolt. And this is where intelligence turns into shit, because intelligence knows this to be true. Intelligence knows that you can quote the Rentouls up and down – the sycophantic stupidity, the blind and beastial repetition of long exploded lies, the production of a Disney War world in which Bush never lied and Blair was motivated by honor.

“As soon as he has gone, a more balanced judgement of British foreign policy over the past decade may be possible. But one historian cannot wait, and has already offered a superb analysis that strips away many of the myths that have attached themselves to Blair’s conduct of Iraq policy. Professor Peter Hennessy may be surprised to find his work cited in defence of Blair, because he is one of the Prime Minister’s fiercest critics in these matters. Yet the chapter on Suez in his sparkling history of Britain in the 1950s, Having It So Good, should be required reading for anyone tempted to draw parallels between Iraq and Suez.

The two are so completely different as to be polar opposites. As Hennessy writes, Anthony Eden pursued his aims of taking back the canal and forcing the fall of President Nasser of Egypt “in the teeth of attempts to divert or warn him off by President Eisenhower, his two law officers, one Chief of Staff ... the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Treasury”. Blair’s Iraq policy, on the other hand, was pursued with the explicit support of all their 2003 equivalents.

The most damning feature of Eden’s conduct was his attempt to deceive his Cabinet and the US, and finally his uttering, twice, an unadorned lie to the House of Commons.
Blair was, of course, guilty of none of these crimes, and was cleared by four inquiries and one general election.”


He was cleared by one general election? General elections clear nobody, although it is interesting that this shoddy metaphor used to be used by Pinochet's supporters to talk about his wonders to behold in Chile. Even in terms of the metaphor, that election was, at best, a hung jury, since I believe he got the equivalent – since we are speaking in term of a trial metaphor - of two and a half votes for innocent, as opposed to the rest of the jury. As for the establishment cover-ups that constituted the four inquiries, well – we already know how inquiries go in the age of Blair that don’t bring in the non-guilty verdict. We saw Blair cut off the inquiry into the bribing of the Saudis by BAE.

Blair is retiring into some no doubt Murdoch contrived haze of comfort, and will do as much as is humanly possible to create the greatest amount of misery he can on his path towards death. He is one of the monsters. One of ours.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's so funny?




We mortals are forced, though it may hurt us
to bear the gifts of the gods. For the yoke lies on our necks. – Homeric hymn to Demeter

Herodotus recorded the obscure origin of today’s schoolboy insult: “He tells us that Sesostris, king of Egypt, raised columns in some of the countries that he conquered, on which he caused to be figured the female organ of generation as a mark of contempt for those who had submitted easily,” according to Knight’s discourse on the worship of priapus. But as Knight adds: May not these columns have been intended, if we knew the truth, as protections for the peole of the district in which they stood, and placed in the position where they could most conveniently be seen?”



Speaking of the female organ of generation gets us to the second myth that figures in Vernant’s essay: Death in the Eyes: Gorgo, figure of the Other. I want to place this myth next to Athena throwing away the flute – consider them as two paintings. This is the myth of Ceres and Baubo.

Some background: when Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was ravished by the God of the underworld, Ceres went wandering about the world in mourning. Thus, she came to the small village of Eleusis. And, as we know from Arnobius, one of the Christian father’s who quoted at length from the Orphic hymns in order to discredit them (thus preserving them – such are the unexpected results of hatred), the scene in Eleusis consisted of some peasant swineheards and huts, in one of which Demeter entered to rest. The old woman in the hut, Baubo, sees that the goddess is in pain. She offers her some spiced wine. Here’s the translation from Arnobius, which seems a bit bowdlerized:

“The goddess in her sorrow turns away from the kindly offered services, and rejects them; nor does her misfortune suffer her to remember what the body always requires.16 Baubo, on the other hand, begs and exhorts her—as is usual in such calamities—not to despise her humanity; Ceres remains utterly immoveable, and tenaciously maintains an invincible austerity. But when this was done several times, and her fixed purpose could not be worn out by any attentions, Baubo changes her plans, and determines to make merry by strange jests her whom she could not win by earnestness. That part of the body by which women both bear children and obtain the name of mothers,16 this she frees from longer neglect: she makes it assume a purer appearance, and become smooth like a child, not yet hard and rough with hair. In this wise she returns16 to the sorrowing goddess; and while trying the common expedients by which it is usual to break the force of grief, and moderate it, she uncovers herself, and baring her groins, displays all the parts which decency hides;16 and then the goddess fixes her eyes upon these,16 and is pleased with the strange form of consolation. Then becoming more cheerful after laughing, she takes and drinks off the drought spurned before, and the indecency of a shameless action forced that which Baubo's modest conduct was long unable to win.”

Now, the question for LI is: why did Demeter find Baubo’s flashing her so funny? Part of the joke that doesn’t come through in the Arnobius account is that Baubo painted the face of a man on her belly. That’s sorta funny. But what is the joke about flashing? Apparently, it is an important one. In Laurie O’Higgins Women and Humor in Classical Greece, there is a whole chapter on cultic obscenity emphasizing all women cults and the apparent ritual of obscene jests and sketches that enlivened reverencing the goddess. Of course, according to O’Higgins, the philosophers were intent on curbing this kind of obscenity – just as Athene throws away her flute, because it makes her cheeks bulge out when she blows into it. Actually, Aristotle reads this as a commentary on the wildness associated with the pipes. O’Higgins points to the festival of the Thesmophoria, a celebration of Demeter in which women in Athens temporarily separated from men, built huts and celebrated the Goddess. Obviously, the Baubo story indicates what the jokes were about. But LI doesn’t understand the joke in the first place. So we will come back to this in another post, and use that most inappropriate of all instruments, reason, to try to take apart the meaning of the joke.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Gorgo Head, Gorgo Head, what are you doin' round my bed?

The fragments I wanted to put together this week were all about genitalia and racism. That is, starting off with Aristotle’s reference to the perils of playing the flute in the Politics and going to Vernant’s essay on what made Demeter laugh when an old woman hiked up her skirt and showed her her privates. Vernant has a theory about Gorgo, the genital face, and the Other, and I think this is a good time to go down the trail with him, from whence we will all return refreshed and Freudened. But this week might be pretty tough, in terms of making bucks, so I can’t guarantee that I will give you all a genuine raree show.

Still, to start things off, a quote from Aristotle’s Politics:

“The flute, or any other instrument which requires great skill, as for example the harp, ought not to be admitted into education, but only such as will make intelligent students of music or of the other parts of education. Besides, the flute is not an instrument which is expressive of moral character; it is too exciting. The proper time for using it is when the performance aims not at instruction, but at the relief of the passions. And there is a further objection; the impediment which the flute presents to the use of the voice detracts from its educational value. The ancients therefore were right in forbidding the flute to youths and freemen, although they had once allowed it. For when their wealth gave them a greater inclination to leisure, and they had loftier notions of excellence, being also elated with their success, both before and after the Persian War, with more zeal than discernment they pursued every kind of knowledge, and so they introduced the flute into education. At Lacedaemon there was a choragus who led the chorus with a flute, and at Athens the instrument became so popular that most freemen could play upon it. The popularity is shown by the tablet which Thrasippus dedicated when he furnished the chorus to Ecphantides. Later experience enabled men to judge what was or was not really conducive to virtue, and they rejected both the flute and several other old-fashioned instruments, such as the Lydian harp, the many-stringed lyre, the 'heptagon,' 'triangle,' 'sambuca,' the like- which are intended only to give pleasure to the hearer, and require extraordinary skill of hand. There is a meaning also in the myth of the ancients, which tells how Athene invented the flute and then threw it away. It was not a bad idea of theirs, that the Goddess disliked the instrument because it made the face ugly; but with still more reason may we say that she rejected it because the acquirement of flute-playing contributes nothing to the mind, since to Athene we ascribe both knowledge and art.“

Notes of an editor

Lately,I've been trying to scuff up some decent labor. Times are slow, and the schedule of my bill collectors is starting to outrun my excuses. So, I decided, in desperation, to check out Craig's list - since none of the academics I usually go to knew of anyone, or had anything. Craig's list is crowded, it appears, with editors offering services and minted credentials, yet the adverts have that last chance aura of a used car dealer's smile, that awful sinking feeling one gets around zoo born predators, with the bars in their very eyes. I'm no springing Leopard of the Lord myself, but when I read of someone offering to put "snap and pop" into your next business proposal, I inwardly groan and the spirit do run low. I ruthlessly excise snap and pop whenever I see it. Lucidity, a cool intelligence, a minimum of five dollar words, and the grain of your voice when you have something fucking real to say - that's what I always hope the game is about. If it is about snap and pop, hand me the shovel, because I want to be on that end that clears away shit rather then the end that piles it up.

Such is the sad life of LI at the moment, underemployed and overcaffeinated.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Why the hen won't lay no egg

The beast it cometh, cometh down
The beast it cometh, cometh down
The beast it cometh, cometh down
... It's Tupelo bound


“I have to admit to being increasingly irritated at the tendency of British commentators and politicians to present the election as France's last-chance saloon, for in most things that combine to make up a decent quality of life, from health to literacy, to gentility and solicitude for the vulnerable, France has us beaten.

Mr Sarkozy did not appear too convinced of this when he came to London three months ago to address expatriates who had fled high unemployment in France to find work in the City's booming financial-services sector. Referring to London as possessing a 'vitality' that Paris sorely lacked, Mr Sarkozy exhorted the crowd to return home - after casting their vote for him of course. 'France is still your country, even if you are disappointed by it,' he said, at the same time promising less regulation, more jobs and other free-market reforms.

The BBC's Crossing Continents took up the theme, broadcasting a documentary on how French graduates are flocking to the Square Mile. But the BBC should follow up its investigation with a comparison of how each country treats its citizens once they move from the freedom of youth to buying a house, getting from A to B, educating the children, staying healthy and growing old. For the fact is that British migration to France, at just over 40,000 a year, outstrips French migration to Britain. Most of those who leave cite what they see as a declining British values system, the soaring cost of living and poor public services.”

Of course, the French immigrants to London story has gotten great play in the states, too, especially in the Washington Post. Annie Applebaum, whose articles double dip – once in the post, once on Slate – made a special point of it. And, as is typical of the neo-con shit that sings insanely in one’s ear, a constant drone of lies and nonsense, Applebaum, operating with a complete ignorance of the situation, managed to draw out of her ass the pack of halftruths so dear to the editors of Slate and the Fred Hiatts of top dog punditdom.

Mr. Scruggs, commenting on my last heartfelt cry for a PS victory, poured some skepticism on the mush mouthed Royal – and who can disagree that she has been mush mouthed? However, unlike Jospin, she did actually mention the name of the party she was running on – quite a leap forward. That she has to make a deal with the moderates has everything to do with the failure of the ‘extreme left’ to do anything with the victory that was theirs in voting down the constitution. And the unsightly spectacle that resulted in another dreary star led party by Bové went down in flames even before it went up, which is a new record in crashes. It shouldn’t be that hard to balance a sensible nationalism – the nation defined as that political unit that potentially allows the maximum amount of popular governance, and slice and dice that as you will later – with the defense of well being, but the ‘left’ seems not to understand its own fucking history anymore. As we have often said on this site, left and right are prisms to look at the same treadmill of production – liberal, conservative, nazi, communist, they all centrally share the assumption that there is no alternative to that treadmill. We may be on the edge of a historical moment when that assumption is shaken, but we aren’t there by a long shot yet. Sarko’s edge is given by his racism, pure and simple. Under cover of that racist edge in the U.S., Nixon actually codified and expanded the Great society. Sarko has even taken a page from Nixon in suggesting affirmative action – which, yes Virginia, arose as a conservative solution to the problem of racial justice back there in the early seventies. The racism has been a hard thing for Royal to deal with. She has done the politician’s natural thing, and sometimes tried to gain some of the shit glamour of that for herself – in the same way Clinton had his sister souljah moment. But it was really impossible for Royal to deal in those goods, especially against a man who embodies the flic with the baton mentality.

One of the useful things about the dread twentieth century is that all the programs were tried. So we know how the reactionary program will work in France. The model of disenfranchisement and the takedown of the structure of well being will be experimented with first among blacks: immigrants and the children of immigrants. Destroying the network requires segmenting it first, and if you can unravel it at the bottom it is much easier to unravel it all the way through. LI’s prediction is that this won’t happen. There will be the riots. There will be the intensified surveillance regime. There will be the nutty concessions by the socialists. But the main thing – the cycle of ‘flattening the earth’, to use the metaphor beloved by Thomas Friedman – is even now giving less of a return. The worldwide trend towards privatization has reversed itself, quietly, over the last six years. The juiciest privatizations yet to come are in the Gulf region, and it is becoming painfully obvious to Bush’s base, the investor class, that the fuck up in Iraq, while killing the unimportant up to now, is starting to screw with the money. Of course, the French economy is also targeted, and Sarkozy would love to inflict maximum Tony Blair on the place. But everything depends on how far his racist edge will get him.

ps - clementine autaine is good and succinct about what happened, here. I don't know if she is correct that 60 percent of France's employees voted Sarko, but I can believe it. The question is whether they will cut their throats in the upcoming legislative elections.