“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

Friday, March 14, 2008

I love a millionaire

Lust corrodes my body
I’ve lost count of my lovers
but I can count my money
forever and forever…


Our far flung correspondent, Mr. T., being a hard boiled New Yorker, is ho humming Nostradamas’ prediction that Bear Stearns is toast. As he sees it, it just means someone’s going to get lucky at the fire sale – shed no tears for the scapy, déclassé financial house as it gets that look on its face like the wicked witch of the West after Dorothy slopped the pail of water on her.

Hmm. I can never impress the wise guy crowd. You Gothamites! eating raw steel spikes for breakfast. They talk out of the side of their mouths up there, and never say howdy.

Unfortunately, there is no video for the most appropriate song for today – the Mekon’s Soldier from the Retreat from Memphis album, which I’ve quoted before.

But here’s a link to the second most appropriate song for today – which is a song that stands outside from the society of men in chains, and men who hang themselves in chains. An impossible dream of the past!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Men of chains


“The Roman law as to the payment of borrowed money (pecunia certa credita) was very strict. A curious passage of Gellius (xx.1) gives us the ancient mode of legal procedure in the case of debt, as fixed by the Twelve tables. If the debtor admitted the debt, or had been condemned in the amount of the debt by a judex, he had thirty days allowed him for payment. At the expiration of this time, he was liable to the Manus Injectio and ultimately to be assigned over to the creditor (addictus) by the sentence of the praetor. The creditor was required to keep him for sixty days in chains, during which time he publicly exposed the debtor on three nundinea, and proclaimed the amount of his debt. In no person release the prisoner by paying the debt, the creditor might sell him as a slave or put him to death."


This story, under the entry Nexum in William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities, is of interest not only for the amusingly suggestive idea that the creditor was named an addictus, but for the idea that the chains worn by the debtor were simply the visual and material endpoint of the chain he had invisibly agreed to wear when he took on debt. Nexus comes from necto, to bond. The nexum is often coupled with mancipium, sale, which is of course at the center of emancipation.

The image of the man in chains is a powerful one. Dickens, that great instinctive mythmaker, brilliantly switches the chains to the addictus in A Christmas Carol:

The bells ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound,and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

"It's humbug still!" said Scrooge. "I won't believe it."

His colour changed though, when, without a pause,it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, "I know him; Marley's Ghost!" and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him,
and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.”


Now, nexum wasn’t the literal Latin for chains – but as the transaction it named could all end in chains, the figurative here is like Marley’s ghost – the nexum is transparent, and you could look through it to the chains wound about the exposed debtor.

In philosophy, the notion of the chain of being is well known, especially since A.O. Lovejoy’s book. However, Lovejoy was a traditional intellectual historian. He wasn’t one to ask about the shifting between the material and the figurative, that interplay which, of course, is as ice cream and pie to a deconstructionist minded guy like LI. However, though we have pored in libraries over various books on archaeology and anthropology and ancient history, we still have not come across an account of the invention of the chain. The wheel, writing, bronze, the chariot – you can always find speculative accounts of these things. The chain, on the other hand, seems to have been forever familiar. In the Iliad, Book 8, one of the most famous references to chains occurs in Zeus’s flyte:

“Now Dawn the saffron-robed was spreading over the face of all the earth, and Zeus that hurleth the thunderbolt made a gathering of the gods upon the topmost peak of many-ridged Olympus, and himself addressed their gathering; and all the gods gave ear: "Hearken unto me, all ye gods and goddesses, that I may speak what the heart in my breast biddeth me. Let not any goddess nor yet any god essay this thing, to thwart my word, but do ye all alike assent thereto, that with all speed I may bring these deeds to pass. Whomsoever I shall mark minded apart from the gods to go and bear aid either to Trojans or Danaans, smitten in no seemly wise shall he come back to Olympus, or I shall take and hurl him into murky Tartarus, far, far away, where is the deepest gulf beneath the earth, the gates whereof are of iron and the threshold of bronze, as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth: then shall ye know how far the mightiest am I of all gods. Nay, come, make trial, ye gods, that ye all may know. Make ye fast from heaven a chain of gold, and lay ye hold thereof, all ye gods and all goddesses; yet could ye not drag to earth from out of heaven Zeus the counsellor most high, not though ye laboured sore. But whenso I were minded to draw of a ready heart, then with earth itself should I draw you and with sea withal; and the rope should I thereafter bind about a peak of Olympus and all those things should hang in space. By so much am I above gods and above men."


Macrobius’ comments on this passage are the locus classicus of the chain of being – for, in his Neo-Platonic way, Macrobius metaphorized and metaphysicalized the chain simultaneously. Lovejoy seized on the passage in Macrobius as his starting point:

“When, for example, Macrobius, in the early fifth century, gives, under the guise of a commentary on a work of Cicero’s, a Latin abridgment of much of the doctrine of Plotinus, he sums up the conception in a concise passage which was probably one of the chief vehicles through which it was transmitted to medieval writers; and he employs two metaphors – of the chain and of the series of mirrors – which were to recur for centuries as figurative expressions of this conception:

Since, from the Supreme God Mind arises, and from Mind, Soul, and since this in turn creates all subsequent things and fills them all with life, and since this single radiance illumines all and is reflected in each, as a single face might be reflected in many mirrors placed in a series; and since all things follow in continuous succession, degenerating in sequence to the very bottom of the series, the attentive observer will discover a connection of parts from the Supreme God down to the last dregs of things, mutually linked together and without a break. And this is Homer’s golden chain, which God, he says, bade hang down from heaven to earth.”


Now, I spy with my little eye a curious thing. The curious thing is that the divine order of being uses, as its organizing metaphor, an instrument associated with debt slavery and capture. It is said that the Roman armies traveled with chains for their prisoners of three types, iron, silver and gold, which corresponded to the prisoners they expected to take, with Princes and Kings getting the gold chain. To conquer was not just to abolish the property relations holding in the conquered territory – the law of res nullius exposed all to the chain, to the property one holds in oneself.

Well, I haven’t gotten to Livy’s men in chains running in the streets of Rome, where they ran and ran until they appeared in Rousseau’s essay on social contract – but I’ll get there some day. I am struggling with work, at the moment, and barely have time to do research! Sorry, sorry, sorry.

To finish off, a quote from Henry Maine:

“The Law of Warlike Capture derives its rules from the assumption that communities are remitted to a state of nature by the outbreak of hostilities, and that, in the artificial natural condition thus produced, the institution of private property falls into abeyance so far as concerns the belligerents. As the later writers on the Law of
Nature have always been anxious to maintain that private property
was in some sense sanctioned by the system which they were expounding, the hypothesis that an enemy's property is res nullius has seemed to them perverse and shocking, and they are careful to stigmatise it as a mere fiction of jurisprudence. But, as soon as the Law of Nature is traced to its source in the Jus Gentium, we see at once how the goods of an enemy came to be looked upon as nobody's property, and therefore as capable of being acquired by the first occupant.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

me and my nostradamus

In other news – LI’s estimate of a three trillion dollar recession is the same sum talked about in Martin Wolf’s new Financial Times column. We get to that sum in different ways – Roubini, who Wolf quotes, comes, as it were, from the grassroots up, estimating the fallout from an extreme estimate of mortgage failures, whereas LI came to it from the top down, taking the figure of the excess of consumer spending and borrowing over income over the last ten years. Well, my fine readers, there you go – whilst some might take this for amateurish wankery, others will find my figures to be eerily prescient. Why? Because every night, the ghost of Nostradamus visits me and whispers sweet apocalyptic nothings in to my ear.

It is the only way to do predictions, man. Oh, one other thing Nostradamus told me: Bear Stearns is toast. Or was it that he said all men will turn to toasteating as the Angel of Death, looking remarkably like Gloria Graham playing in a movie that prefigures Elliot Spitzer’s downfall, sounds the last trumpet? I couldn’t quite understand the lang d’oc he was muttering in.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the Götterdämmerung as staged by Disney’s seven dwarves

LI can only regard the current festuche, the harmonic convergence of lavender buncombe (Mencken’s phrase) and the thug masters, with something approaching that musical feeling Nietzsche used to get from hiking around Switzerland in his fancy boots. It the Götterdämmerung as staged by Disney’s seven dwarves. We have, on the one hand, our vice president, fresh, apparently, from having some new virgin’s heart tucked into his breast cavity, going to Saudi Arabia to ask them to kindly give us cheaper oil Tuesday for repayment on Friday, on the same day the Fed decrees that banks can trade old socks, diaries, lamps, and broken chairs for loans in a brand spanking new entity that is determined to pump 200 billion dollars into the system. Everywhere one looks, the governing class is displaying a totally cute imbecility. Gosh, that CEO class, which has gotten so awful smart over the last two decades that they had to increase their compensation packages by a good 1000 percent, are showing what they are made of.

Cheney’s joke hejira and the Fed’s determination to have the middle and working class pay not only for the party the Ponzi rich have been throwing for themselves, but even for the cleanup afterwards, are treated with the usual awe by the royal stenographers of the press – but outside the gated community, the boobs are getting restive. They got all their Hummers. They got all that great equity out of their houses, which was a-gonna appreciate in price forever. They got their yellow ribbons supporting the soldiers, and some of them even know where Iraq is on the map. Their kids googled it! And now everything does seem to be tumbling down. How could this have happened, after we so terrifically won our war on terrorism and freed the downtrodden Islamic people – didn’t we buy them all bibles or something? Surely they’ve learned to believe in Jesus and watch Dancing with the Stars like a civilized group? Inexplicable that they resist, and we did it all out of the goodness of our hearts!

The boobs have still not quite understood what it means for them when the President energetically shits on the dollar, but they are getting a nice little lesson at the gas pump. And eventually the boobs might even start asking who, exactly, the Fed works for. So the question is: what kind of crowd control is the gated community going to exert?

“They are mad; they are fools,” said the Dog-man. “Even now they talk together beyond there. They say, ‘The Master is dead. The Other with the Whip is dead. That Other who walked in the Sea is as we are. We have no Master, no Whips, no House of Pain, any more. There is an end. We love the Law, and will keep it; but there is no Pain, no Master, no Whips for ever again.’ So they say. But I know, Master, I know.”

I felt in the darkness, and patted the Dog-man's head. “It is well,” I said again.
“Presently you will slay them all,” said the Dog-man.

“Presently,” I answered, “I will slay them all,—after certain days and certain things have come to pass. Every one of them save those you spare, every one of them shall be slain.”

“What the Master wishes to kill, the Master kills,” said the Dog-man with a certain satisfaction in his voice.

“And that their sins may grow,” I said, “let them live in their folly until their time is ripe. Let them not know that I am the Master.”

“The Master's will is sweet,” said the Dog-man, with the ready tact of his canine blood.

“But one has sinned,” said I. “Him I will kill, whenever I may meet him. When I say to you, ‘That is he,’ see that you fall upon him. And now I will go to the men and women who are assembled together.”



ps - here's a little ditty we wrote on November 6, 2004 - after Bushypoo was elected. Somehow, it seems to fit, here.



The Snopes and the freeriders

If LI were a Democratic Party strategist (brrr!), this weekend we would settle down with our Faulkner. The utter rubbish being tossed around by the talking heads about the Democrats adopting Republican moral values to win presidential elections has been untempered by reality. Moral values, we think, had little to do with this election. Rather, what brought out the hicks was the promise of entertainment. Instead of cockfighting or bearbaiting, gaybashing of a high and rare type was on the ticket. This was as irresistible to your average Snopes as a guest appearance on the Jerry Springer show used to be to your average overweight stripper.

The Snopes sullenly populated the backreaches of Yoknapatawpha County in the days before the New Deal. Faulkner’s preferred novelistic time period was the twenties, which brought a lot of changes to Mississippi – but not like the Great Depression and the New Deal did. In the post WWII period, going through the Great Society, the Snopes, with their rabid angers and short term views and long term grudges, grew used to benefiting from multitudinous government entitlements that they never properly contributed to. They have continued to revel in the whole system. But there is a problem here that the system’s designers never considered. It is the problem of the freerider.

The freerider – the user of a public good who does not contribute to the maintenance of that good – has deep resonance in the Snopes culture. It is one of the reasons Jesus is so popular among them – he elevates the status of the freerider to a divine principle, in which, for no real act, a man can be forgiven for his sins simply by prostrating himself before Jesus and declaring to all and sundry the uninteresting mental tidbit that he believes Jesus is the son of God. This, from a man whose beliefs on any cosmological question have been unleavened by reading material since the age of ten. Given the amount of sinning that Snopes like to engage in (q.v. any c & w station in your vicinity), this is the kind of deal Snopeses can’t refuse.

The government, however, is different from Jesus. The government does come in and try to change your behavior, instead of knocking ineffectually at your heart. For instance, lynching, poll taxes, and other useful means of keeping down blacks were all knocked down by the government. This made the government very unpopular. They were against having fun. A moral libertarian, confronted with the government interfering with his behavior, would perhaps try to free himself from dependence on the government. This is why Snopeses can never be real libertarians. They have no sense of integrity. They don’t even understand the problem. For the Snopeses, Bush’s career looked unblemished – he got away with everything he ever did. That counts as a blessed sign of consanguinity among that crowd.

Your average Snopes, then, has no motive to get away from depending on the government, but every reason to denounce it. And this is how your Snopes votes. He sends his Republican congressman to Washington to do two things. One is to interfere with the lives of people that Snopes have no use for – gays, blacks, feminists, New Yorkers, Hollywood types. The other is to reward the Snopes with ever deeper experiences of freeriding. This is done by cutting his taxes – the Snopes, although they don’t make a lot, rely on those refunds to get them out of the most pressing of the enormous mass of debts they have piled up in lives unrelieved by any intellectual activity that goes beyond shopping at the mall and the aforesaid Jesus idolatry – and by borrowing money. Thus, the whole system, with its trillion dollar stockpiles of arms and its special pill provisions for the elderly Snopeses, runs of itself. When it starts to choke, some Democrat will step in and sacrifice his sense of the social welfare to the necessity of taming the deficit. The Snopeses call this God's country for a reason.

The Snopeses have been fortunate in that their opponents, the Liberals, have generally misunderstood the relationship. For instance, the Liberals were the ones denouncing the Bush tax cuts for privileging the wealthy. The odd thing about that is that the wealthy generally don’t live in Snopes places. There truly are a great many limosine liberals. One actually just ran for president. And the even odder thing about that is that the Liberals think that they have developed a credo that represents the income strata that encompasses the Snopes. So that your average Liberal is making an economic sacrifice of a certain sort on behalf of a people who dislike nothing more than a Liberal. This is a true comedy of errors. It is also American history, circa 1980-2004.

So the question for the next four years is: have the Snopes misjudged the situation. Having decimated the Liberals so that they cannot possibly defend the income strata of the Snopes, the rhetoric of conservatism can now become a reality. The Snopes always relied, partly, on the fact that their enemy/defenders were powerful enough to defend them. That’s done with. So will the reckoning finally come? Will reality bite? are the Snopes finally about to learn about the world outside free riderdom? It wouldn’t really hurt the Liberal, except morally.

LI has been enraged by the election, but we are fascinated by the aftermath. We’ve lived around the Snopes most of our life. And we were, until maybe three days ago, in the Liberal position. We were blind. Now we see. And what we see is the enemy. We want to see them suffer. Badly. And we want to see the self-destroying machinery they have set up work – oh so gloriously. So slowly, painfully, we are regaining our joie de vivre. This might not be so bad after all.

Monday, March 10, 2008

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN


Atheists received a real blow today when it was announced that the Carlyle Group – the Carlyle Group – the Carlyle Group’s “troubled mortgage-debt investment fund, Carlyle Capital” is about to fall to the first run (oh, okay, counting Northern Rock, second) of the New New New Economy.

Oh sure, there’s no Goooooood. Chump. Then how to explain this instance of a poetic justice so breathtaking that we’d reject it as the impossible happy end sequence of some movie? I mean, we are talking about the Carlyle Group – did I say that? The henhouse for old, corrupt, murderous politicos – the Bush family Mafioso – which was the very model and exemplum of the new private equity vehicles that provide corrupt, murderous pols with an easy transition space to the money they have, as legislators, made available to the most murderous and corrupt. Hmm, did I put in here, yet, the part about them being murderous and corrupt?

So – averting my eyes from the crash of that motherfucker, Spitzer – there is something to celebrate, to party hard about today!

The fund, which invests mainly in triple-A rated mortgage securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has received $400 million in margin calls, and some of its lenders started to liquidate collateral for $5 billion of debt. Banks are asking for their money back amid concerns the economic climate may deteriorate further.
The Carlyle fund said on Monday that it “requested a standstill agreement whereby its lenders would refrain from foreclosing and liquidating their collateral, and we are awaiting responses.”

Banks are asking for more collateral to cover loans after writing down more than $160 billion in assets linked to the subprime mortgage crisis, and fears of a recession are prompting them to call in some of the loans outright. Costs to protect even the safest bonds are close to a record, and investment funds like Carlyle Capital are finding it increasingly difficult to meet rising demands for collateral as the value of their portfolios declines along with the financial markets.

“At the beginning banks were willing to accept not to trigger margin calls because they feared forced assets sales,” said Philip Gisdakis, a senior credit strategist at Unicredit in Munich, “but now that there is a serious deterioration in the valuation of collateral, they cannot do that any longer and need to protect their loans.”
The Carlyle fund, which sold shares in an initial public offering on the Amsterdam stock exchange last summer, shares some of the Carlyle Group’s management and received a $150 million credit line from the firm. Among the fund’s lenders are Citigroup, Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.”

And you thought the divinity had exhausted himself with that last message of his, 'MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.' Fuck no. The big guy is just a hesitant writer – rather like Flaubert, lying on a sofa, suffering over the exact description of Charles Bovary’s hat. However, as we all know, God is a fantastic stand up comic – he filled the ears of his prophets with wonderful routines, real William Burroughs stuff. So I thought it might be appropriate to quote something to celebrate the Carlyle Capitals imitation of an armadillo meeting a sixty mile an hour 18 wheeler.

“All this came upon the king Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he walked in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon. 30 The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty? 31 While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. 32 And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. 33 The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws.”

Sunday, March 09, 2008

the Werepoet's Tolstoy

I have a feeling the werepoet is growing weary of her long posts about War and Peace. Well, this is too bad. Winn has a rare talent for not only cutting a plot down to its elements (something I am always trying to do as a reviewer), but rebuilding it as a comic tour de force. How terrible to subject my hero Tolstoy to such fine sacrilege! yes - sometimes Winn shivers my timbers, especially when she casts an evil eye on Tolstoy’s regrettably sexist lapses. But the werepoet is no snark meister – like certain NY writers – for instance, Matthew Sharp, in Jamestown – Winn has the ability to merge spleen and an oddly innocent humor. I believe this is the temperament of our era – we (Americans at least) all have this odd combination of imperial experience and disappointed expectation, it creeps into the way we talk, the way we pre-load failure into our hopes. The way, in essence, we try to trick our own naivete. It is another transmutation of irony - and I'm not speaking of post modernism here, that bugger all phrase for failed exercises in wit. Fuck that. I am speaking of the irony that comes out of being surrounded, as we all are, by constant lures set for our desires which are absolutely transparent to us, and to which we absolutely succumb. We embody both the conmen and the victim, it is the way we live. These are the dreams, crafted by the worst, forced upon us by every fucking old song blasting through a grocery store sound system, by every movie ad campaign, by every political hoax. We've built this irony on the ruins of authenticity, with the knowledge that nothing can be more authentic than what we experience, and what we experience is utterly bogus. I feel this style in myself, but I am too old to have it entirely.

However, Winn hasn't just been stuck in one register - as she went through the books, she gave the reader a fair sense of what it means to be caught in the trance-like pull of the book

So, here’s a link list. Start here. Then go here , here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Michael Walzer, moral midget

It is a bright shiny morning – oops (or erm, as IT says) now that I look out the window, I see that it is a gray, lifeless morning. A good morning to read about our wonderful celebrities in the NYT Magazine. There’s Angelina Jolie with some person in the photo on the cover – oops, that’s not Angelina Jolie. It is Natalie Portman. In truth, celebrities are a bit of a mash to LI – they blend into each other so that telling them all apart becomes one of those intellectual tasks that I, like Sherlock Holmes, have decided to leave to my reference books – or Google. I have never exactly seen Natalie Portman in a movie, but apparently she is a strong advocate for micro-lenders in Mexico. Hurray! Except that it is notorious that village usurers have usurped the title micro-lender to loan out small sums at rates of interest that are almost unbelievable – 300 percent per month, for instance. But such factoids have no place in the grand sweep of this article.

Hmm, LI has been thinking that it is about time that one of the newspapers mentioned that Blackwater, the murder outfit, is still operating with impunity in Iraq. Or maybe that Andrew Moonan, a murderer whose escape to the U.S. was facilitated by the State Department, is not only still at large but happily living in the 300,000 dollar home he built in Seattle while the family of his victim is no doubt happily on the way to Syria or Northern Iraq, given that surviving in a Baghdad apartment when the man of the apartment is shot down in cold blood causes Hobbesian problems. But lo! what light in yonder faux liberal palace breaks? It is the irrepressible Michael Walzer in the New Republic, filling a page with such depressingly ill thought out and ill written dribble that one wonders where his keepers are.

Walzer starts out with a couple sentences that seem to have been written in a mild state of intoxication:

“Weber's definition suggests that the state is constituted by its monopoly on the use of force. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, justified by its monopoly. This is what states are for; this is what they have to do before they do anything else--shut down the private wars, disarm the private armies, lock up the warlords. It is a very dangerous business to loosen the state's grip on the use of violence, to allow war to become anything other than a public responsibility.”

Since there was no preceding reference to Weber in this fucking throw-away, to refer to Weber’s definition is a bit of intellectual discourtesy – it assumes we all know Weber’s theory of the state. But, in actuality, it assumes that we all know the leading cliché that we get from a first year sociology class about Weber’s theory of the state. And even here we have this weird construction of “monopoly on” rather than “monopoly of”, which, though a common construction among sociologists (who are to the English language as the borer beetle is to the pine tree) shows a significant lack of looking up the Weber quote – which goes, for fans of the Economy and Society translation by Talcott Parsons:

“A compulsory political organization with continuous operations (politischer Anstaltsbetrieb) will be called a “state” insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order. Social action, especially organized action, will be spoken of as “politically oriented” if it aims at exerting inflence on the government oof a polical organization….”

This, of course, is an entering wedge of rotten cheese for the decayed Walzer, because, being a moral interventionist of such moral gravitas that the moral atmosphere bends when he walks, and when he meets with his other good friend, that moral entrepreneur of fame and fortune, Paul Berman, it is almost moral hurricane weather – Walzer wants to consider whether another saintly organization, Blackwater – which he compares with the daring of a zombie on prozac to the International Brigades in Spain – should “save” Darfur.

“There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Speaking at a conference of arms merchants and war contractors in Amman, Jordan, in March 2006, Blackwater vice chairman J. Cofer Black offered to stop the killing in Darfur. "We've war-gamed this with professionals," he said. "We can do this." Back in the United States, another Blackwater official, Chris Taylor, reiterated the offer.

Since neither the United Nations nor nato has any intention of deploying a military force that would actually be capable of stopping the Darfur genocide, should we send in mercenaries? Scahill quotes Max Boot, the leading neoconservative writer on military affairs, arguing forcefully that there is nothing else to do. Allowing private contractors to secure Darfur "is deemed unacceptable by the moral giants who run the United Nations," Boot writes. "They claim that it is objectionable to employ--sniff--mercenaries. More objectionable, it seems, than passing empty resolutions, sending ineffectual peace-keeping forces and letting genocide continue."

Some of us might prefer something like the International Brigade that fought in Spain over a force of Blackwater mercenaries. But the International Brigade was also a private militia, organized by the Comintern and never under the control of the Spanish republic. Does it matter that most of its members fought for ideological rather than commercial reasons? Scahill tells us that Blackwater is run by far-right Christian nationalists--for me, as for him, that doesn't make things better.”


Ah, you will notice that this brief from Max Boot and Blackwater skips lightly over Blackwaters Einsatzgruppe actions in Iraq – for instance, the recent massacre in Baghdad. If Walzer suggested sending, say, Al Qaeda to sort our the Darfur mess, he might have generated some controversy. But our terrorists have been normalized, in places like the New Republic, so that we don’t even bother referencing their blood spotty record.

Here’s how he finishes up – with a soupcon of irony that must make the ice rattle in the ice tea glasses in Princeton. Oh that Walzer, always one for the glancing reference to the tragic fate of man!

“Whatever Blackwater's motives, I won't join the "moral giants" who would rather do nothing at all than send mercenaries to Darfur. If the Comintern could field an army and stop the killing, that would be all right with me, too. But we should acknowledge that making this exception would also be a radical indictment of the states that could do what has to be done and, instead, do nothing at all. There should always be public accountability for military action--and sometimes for military inaction as well.”

So sweet! He is willing to send American mercenaries to the oil rich fields of Southern Sudan on … on moral grounds. I’m sure that the oppressed Christians of southern Sudan are contributing, even as we speak, a portion of their corn meal to raise a monument to this dissenter from the “moral giants.” Quoting Max Boot, whose sincere moral midgethood has been burnished by his support for the massacre of more than half a million Iraqis over the past four years – plus, let’s not forget, an amount of refugees that is a million over the count in Darfur – shows that Walzer is able to sally out and meet the knights of rightward thinking. His lance is at the ready!

Ah well. Walzer at one time did have a brain. But when you set yourself up as a moral panjandrum whilst slurping with the high and mighty, gradually it begins to slip away – down to the back pocket, then out the hole in the back pocket onto the floor, and next thing you know, mistaking that ugly grey spot for some chewing gum, you’ve thrown your brain away. A sure sign of that is writing pro-warmonger pieces in Marty Peretz’s mag.