Friday, January 03, 2003


The odds and ends have piled up around LI. We should gesture occasionally to the duty of the blogger to gather esoteric links and recommend them. We have two such links to recommend.

The first is this Prospect magazine article by Bella Thomas, a tv producer. The article penetrates the smug assumption cultivated among Americans by flunkies in the press that our tv programs are the world's progams. This assumption has been alluded to as the explanation for anti-Americanism in the third world -- how are you gonna get em back from the jihad, once they see Jerry Springer? Thomas plausiblibly refutes that theory in favor of her own schema, which goes something like this: when Asia or the Middle East or Sub-sahara Africa experiences the tv boom -- and, according to her, tv sets are more plentiful than telephones in rural China and Egypt -- the first things broadcast to the little boxes are definitely made in the West: the soaps, Dallas, Baywatch, etc. The whole inane litany. But then... Well, here are her thesis grafs:

"In 1998, according to Screen Digest, there were more than 2,600 television channels operating in the world, most of them private. What sort of programmes are these channels transmitting? Two trends stand out. The first is the growth of entertainment programmes in relation to current affairs-such that news programmes themselves have often become a form of "infotainment." Miss Egypt, for example, now reads the news on Egypt's Dream TV. In the transition from the Soviet Union to today's Russia, the broadcasting time for fiction grew by 44 per cent (with cartoons up by 176 per cent); for entertainment by 192 per cent. Transmission time for information programmes fell by 61 per cent.

Second, countries in the first stage of globalisation tend to experience a wave of western programming; but in the second and third waves of globalisation, local versions of western programmes or genuinely local programmes become more visible. Terhi Rantanen, a media analyst at the LSE, says of Russian television that "the novelty value that western programmes and advertisements once had was lost in the 1990s." Increasingly, Russians watch Russian programmes."

This makes sense to LI. America's famous provincialism, we've always thought, isn't really so different than the provincialism to be found in Lyon, or Kiev, or Madras. Naturally, x-s want to watch other x-s on tv. Also, it makes sense that favored narrative types will eventually be shoehorned into the standard American tv narrative. Watchers of Dallas in Morocco have been interviewed by anthropologists, and the anthropologists have found that Dallas looks different to these watchers -- family dynamics are interpreted differently, or even deliberately misinterpreted.

Incidentally, Thomas also records an excellent joke from Egypt:

"In 1980s Cairo, a popular joke used to go around about backward peasants from Upper Egypt, called the Sa'idis. A Sa'idi goes into an appliance store and asks, "how much is that television set in the window?" The owner yells, "get out of here you stupid Sa'idi." He comes back dressed as a Saudi Arabian. The owner yells the same thing-and again, when he comes back disguised as a European. Puzzled, the man asks, "how could you tell it was me?" The shop owner answers, "that's not a television, it's a washing machine."

We'd also recommend an article from Esoterica magazine: UNLEASHING THE BEAST: Aleister Crowley, Tantra and Sex Magic in Late Victorian England BY Hugh Urban

Urban views the Crowley phenomenon under the well worn schema of Bataille's concept of transgression, and helps himself to a dose of Foucault as well. Reading the article, however, we were more impressed by Crowley as an entrepreneur of transgression, rather than as a transgressor in Bataille's dark sense. Veblen seems a more apposite reference than French theory. Urban contends that Crowley has been ignored by academia -- but he doesn't have a story about why this should be the case. We think the story is bound up with Crowley's transgressive persona. What the sex stuff was about was not, as in the case of D.H. Lawrence (Urban, inevitably, quotes Lawrence), serious transgression, but the transgression of seriousness. Alas, there is way too little curiosity about how seriousness, and its complement, unseriousness, are made -- how they operate as forms that mark genres of discourse. In fact, unseriousness doesn't really have a name -- LI must use the negative form of seriousness to demarcate what isn't serious. Ludic doesn't work, nor does frivolous. We are transiting into the real deep structure here, so I'll back up ... don't wanna frighten my ever faithful readers!

To return to Urban's article, the man does highlight the Victorian adjuncts to Crowley's sex-theology. And he refers to a character LI had never heard of, one Paschal Beverly Randolph. Randolph was, like Frederic Douglass, a freed slave (from Madagascar, no less) and an abolitionist. He was also a sex theologian. Here's a graf about him:

"In the course of his wanderings in the Middle East, Randolph claimed to been initiated by a group of Fakirs in the area of Jerusalem, which may have been a branch of the mystical order of the Nusa'iri -- a group long persecuted by orthodox Islam because of their alleged Gnostic sexual rituals. Upon his return to the United States, Randolph began to teach a form of sexual magic that would have a profound impact on much of later Western esotericism. For Randolph, the experience of sexual orgasm is the critical moment in human consciousness and the key to magical power: "true Sex-power is God-power," as he put it. As the moment when new life is infused from the spiritual realm into the material, it is crucial moment one the soul is suddenly opened up to the spiritual energies of the cosmos: "at the instant of intense mutual orgasm the souls of the partners are opened to the powers of the cosmos and anything truly willed is accomplished." [49] The power of sex, then, can be deployed for a wide range of both spiritual and material ends. If one can harness the creative energy aroused by sexual contact, he can realize virtually any worldly or otherworldly goal. Not only can one achieve the spiritual aims of divine insight, but he can also attain the mundane goals of physical health, financial success or regaining the passions of a straying lover. [50] "

Wow. LI will have to find out more about this fellow.

Finally, a bit of correspondance. Our friend, T., in NYC, sends this reflection on Pilate.

" the Pilate thing is going not exactly where I thought it might, but it is going.
An indication of a thought: for myself, I have never given Pilate all that much thought; certainly not much beyond "Ecce Homo", or as the only "sympathetic" character in the New Test. (all that via FWN). I've always had a sort of Judas approach to the life of JC (probably a long lingering effect of a youthful affair with Kazantzakis). And so to this: how is a notion of Christianity conditioned by the assumption of either a Christ/Pilate or Christ/Judas "initial position"? I mean to say that depending on the conceptual personae that you hold at attention, I think that you get two very different JCs, and so I wonder what manner of person attends to one or the other? (sure, sure: inessential issues of cause-effect arise, but that is not the angle I want to think about)."


LI saw the movie Chicago yesterday. We are a sucker for musicals. We notice that the New Yorker movie reviewer, Anthony Lane, is referentially lost on this one. Wet behind the ears. He is all about Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Chicago is all about the Three Penny Opera and Caberet. Lane goes into an unfortunate disquisition about the way audiences of yore could accept the musical's premise -- that people break into song and dance in ordinary life -- while audiences of today are much more cynical about that kind of thing. This just goes to show that Lane is reading too many pop sociology articles in the New Yorker. The contemporary audience is one of the most sentimental beasts ever conjured to the circus by fakirs and jugglers, there to be overawed by the most primitive tricks. Trained on happy endings and special effects, and cretinized, since childhood, by the grossly improbable logic of the standard movie narrative, this is not a cynical audience, so much as one expecting situation comedy to lie around every corner -- or a car chase. Theirs is a baby cynicism. Lane should watch MTV to see how, contra his supposition, the musical has taken over everyday life. It was the older audience, which had some vestigial sense of the modes of artifice allowable in art, who accepted the musical's premise for what it was -- a bracketing of, and so, at best, an intensification of, real life.

Speaking of the cynicism of babies, that flip side of the their utter gullibility... Chicago has one scene that is a real knockout. The lawyer, played by Richard Gere, gives a press conference with his client, played by Renee Zellinger. The conference turns into a dance scene with the press as marionnettes and the lawyer as the puppet-master. Watching this, I couldn't help but think of the press and Iraq. Puppetry is an over-used metaphor for control, but LI has nothing against an over-used metaphor if it works. It works in Chicago. It works in that other musical, too: Bush's War against Iraq.

Take the great nerve gas scare. On December 11, Washington Post's Barton Gellman came out with a story, breathlessly attributed to leaks from higher ups, that Iraq had delivered VX, a nerve gas, to an succadaneum of Al Qaeda -- a terrorist group in Lebanon named Asbat al-Ansar.

Gellman was much interviewed for this scoop, no doubt with the approval of WP's management. After all, it was good for the paper. He was on NPR and CNN, throwing off non-sequitors like:

"...there is no evidence that this transaction was approved or known by Saddam Hussein. There is a presumption that it would be very hard to take any of Iraq's secret cache of weapons out of Iraq without the government's knowledge. If the government did cooperate, it's also speculation, but the CIA reported it publicly not so long ago that the likeliest reason that Saddam would do so is if he believed he was in imminent danger of being unseated."

As Don Dwyer, a columnist in the Chicago Tribune pointed out, Gellman's story was gold to the Bush administration. The administration denied it -- but of course, the point was to get the story out there:

"Not surprisingly to Washington insiders, Bush administration spokesmen spent the day Dec. 12 denying the Post's report when other news organizations asked about it. It was thus able to have its cake and eat it too: It had gotten "evidence" of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection out to the American people through a respected reporter at a prestigious newspaper noted for its government reporting, while retaining the ability to deny the whole thing."

Iraq denied it too -- but the Iraqi government's denials are as convincing as their election results.

So -- the story is out there. The tattered honor of WP was gallantly upheld by the WP ombudsman, Michael Getler, who noted a week later that the story wavered between speculation, denial, and credible sources that were incredibly biased towards producing evidence of an al Qaida-Iraq tie in -- and were probably not leaking members of Asbat al-Ansar. But we all know that rumor, that many mouthed creature, perched (as Virgil saw) on the city gates, is what matters. The lawyer in Chicago didn't really care about the plausibility of his news releases, so much as the pervasity of them. So, too, the Bush administration can put the buzz in our ear and no later retraction, especially by an ombudsman, is going to be remembered.. Questions, of course, are for the unpatriotic.

Why, we ask unpatriotically, was Asbat al-ansar the intermediary in this little exchange of terror capital? The Center for Defense Information -- definitely steak tartar people -- has this to say about the group:

"Asbat al-Ansar has had a rather ineffectual history compared to many of the other groups on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), yet its control of a tiny but significant piece of southern Lebanon threatens to return the country to civil war and derail the Middle East peace process."

The Council on Foreign Relations spots them at around 300 members. They share the al Qaida obsession with bringing back the caliphate. Now, if there is one thing Saddam Hussein is not all about, it is bringing back the caliphate. That would be the end of him. So we are forced back to the CIA's idea: Hussein, desperate to strike at the US, has decided to let this little matter of the caliphate lapse, and convey nerve gas through a group that is notorious for internal feuding to al Qaida. The upshot is that either Asbat al-Ansar or al-Qaida has the nerve gas.

The Guardian's Brian Whitacker has the best description of Gellman's story. The Guardian story came out four days after WP gave us the scoop:

"The reporter had clearly spoken to a lot of different people but he failed - not for want of effort - to substantiate the claim that Iraq provided al-Qaida with nerve gas. Although some officials were happy to describe the claim as "credible", none appeared willing to stand up and say that they, personally, believed it.

The sensible course of action at that stage would have been to abandon the story, or at least file it away in the hope of more evidence coming to light. That might have happened with any other story, but in the case of Iraq at present the temptation to publish is hard to resist."

"Sensible" begs Lenin's question: who benefits?

As for the WP -- what has happened in the three weeks since this paper clinched the tie between Saddam and Al Quaeda? There's been an odd silence. Look up Asbat al-Ansar on their search engine and you come up with no recent stories -- although one would expect a rush, as we try to determine if these mad 300 people possess the weapons to decimate D.C. and Falls Church, Va. in one fell swoop. We suspect that the story isn't going to be followed up. It has served its purpose.

Our upcoming war with Iraq is turning into a sad affair for the press -- it is all too reminiscent of the biz press pumping the bubble in '99. With bloodier consequences.

Thursday, January 02, 2003


LI took a bumpy flight to Atlanta last Monday. I went to spend Christmas with my family. My friend S. was patiently along for the ride, and displayed an admirable calm, as well as a blue cowboy hat perched at a jaunty angle on her head, while we dipped into various troughs and got our memento mori moment .

S. was a singleton child -- no other siblings in sight when she was growing up. Merely the one on one with those gradually diminishing household giants, the parents, with their gothic voraciousness, their sudden, irrational ukases, their illogic, their dense weave of habit -- the afterwork tasks, the sitting before the tv, the petrified idioms of their conversation, what they found funny or disgusting or respectable -- and their own consciousness of a forward motion in time that is invisible to the singleton, for whom the parent comes as a complete and finished unit. This is a bit more visible to those who start out either before or after some other human bodies at the table. The weight, the height, the grades and the birthdays make growth and aging a matter of population rather than an (for a long time) incomparable process. The singleton is a maroon. I grew up with two brothers and two sisters, which makes for considerable differences in tactics and strategies. For children in large families, the POV becomes, necessarily, an amalgam; the one on one with the parents is, if sometimes sharp, always subject to sudden switches of focus. For a singleton, the family is a novel. For the children in a large family, it is a newspaper. Furthermore, my family has a tendency to competition and gregariousness that makes us seem, sometimes, very like a tree full of starlings. However, S. enjoyed us; and when she didn't, she sat back and let us gabble on and thought, herself, of other things.

Since Mom died, the family has changed a lot. My father, for instance, found another wife -- or so I suppose, not having been invited to the wedding, or even knowing if there was one -- not knowing, too, what 'finding' means, exactly, here, since finding implies looking, and was my Dad looking? or was the woman looking? -- and has, my Dad, astonishingly enough, spent most of the last four or five years having nothing to do with us. Aggressively. That's a painful desertion, but it has been muted by the fact that we are all of us middle aged. We are, frankly, not going to mope over Dad when we have such other, rich themes to mope over: lack of romantic partners, unsatisfactory romantic partners, money, news, whether God exists, etc. My sister J. lives in Shreveport; she wasn't present for this Christmas. Deidre's two kids were, for me, the highlight of Christmas. Molly is eighteen, Emerson is, what, eleven? (I am, of course, using false names -- ever the discrete one, LI is). I can never remember if Emerson is eleven, twelve or thirteen. In any case, Christmas is about giving gifts to kids. Adults of course like gifts, but they like gifts that derive from less communal holidays, like birthdays, or Valentines day. Gifts, in other words, that are aureoled with a certain intimacy of gift giver to gift getter. Christmas, however, is less about the refinements of love and more about the basic roux. Like Christmas dinner -- which is all hearty, blatant flavors, aiming for the the bovine warmth of the full stomach rather than some epicurian mid-state -- the perfect Christmas gift should acknowledge the child's concupiscence for stuff rather than signal the givers own taste in the choice of it.

The gifts were just right, as Goldilocks says of the little bear's porridge. And, to acknowledge LI's own lust for stuff, we are typing this post on one of them -- a laptop computer.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...