Thursday, May 08, 2003


Forbes has it right today in its first graf about the distasteful Richard Scrushy:

"NEW YORK - Innocent until proven guilty is still the norm in American justice, unless, of course, you are an accused drug dealer, terrorist, immigrant who looks like a terrorist or someone accused of murder. In those kinds of cases, many have been locked up before trial or have had their assets frozen. Business executives like Richard Scrushy, the fired chief executive of HealthSouth, are not on this list, so a federal judge in Alabama, exercising the default option, said he can have access to all of his assets as he prepares to defend himself against civil and potential accounting fraud charges that have been swirling around the company he founded in 1984."

Ah, yes. The danger posed by illegal immigrants to the average American citizen is immeasurably greater than the danger posed by the pillagers of pensions, the superheros of larceny, the inflators of bubbles... Not.

Let's compare a couple of randomly selected drug crimes:

Here's a story from Deerfield, Illinois. Officers there seize some 106 pounds of "high grade" marijuana. The officers immediately slap a street value on it -- as is customary -- and put five people in prison who were in the business of selling it. "If convicted, the five arrested men could face prison sentences of between six and 30 years. At a March 24 bond hearing, their bonds were set at $10 million, according to a statement released by the Deerfield Police Department."

And here's a drug crime from the Star Ledger in New Jersey:

"Citizen helps cops with arrest Thursday, May 08, 2003 A vigilant resident armed with a cell phone led Bayonne police to arrest a Jersey City man on drug charges, reports said. An unknown resident called police headquarters at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and said three men had just completed what appeared to be a drug deal on 17th Street and Avenue C, reports said. The resident stayed on a cell phone and told police the men were walking west on Andrew Street toward Kennedy Boulevard, reports said. A patrol car headed to the area, and officers saw Heston Hazelwood, 23, of Fulton Street, who appeared to be unwrapping something in his hands, police said. The officers showed their badges to Hazelwood, who dropped a cigar to the ground and put something in his pocket, reports said. The officers recovered a small bag of suspected marijuana from Hazelwood's pocket, reports said. Police said Hazelwood asked the officers, "Just let me go. It's only trees," using a slang term for marijuana. Hazelwood was arrested and charged with possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, reports said."

The bet here is that Hazelwood will serve more time for trees than Scrushy will serve for robbing HealthSouth of about 10 to 100 million dollars.

We searched about in Montesquieu for an appropriate comment on Scrushy. Here's one:

"Les gens des conditions les plus basses ne d�sirent d'en sortir que pour �tre les ma�tres des autres.

Il en est de m�me de la frugalit�. Pour l'aimer, il faut en jouir. Ce ne seront point ceux qui sont corrompus par les d�lices qui aimeront la vie frugale; et, si cela avait �t� naturel ou ordinaire, Alcibiade n'aurait pas fait l'admiration de l'univers. Ce ne seront pas non plus ceux qui envient ou qui admirent le luxe des autres qui aimeront la frugalit� : des gens qui n'ont devant les yeux que des hommes riches, ou des hommes mis�rables comme eux, d�testent leur mis�re, sans aimer ou conna�tre ce qui fait le terme de la mis�re.

C'est donc une maxime tr�s vraie que, pour que l'on aime l'�galit� et la frugalit� dans une r�publique, il faut que les lois les y aient �tablies."

Eventually, a threshold of inequality is crossed. We are crossing that meridien in this country, and we will reap the results, and we will not like it.


Let their way be dark and slippery:
and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
7 For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit,
which without cause they have digged for my soul.
8 Let destruction come upon him at unawares;
and let his net that he hath hid catch himself:
into that very destruction let him fall .
-Psalm 35

You could not, in words, writing, or printing, legally curse Queen Elizabeth. To do so put you on the road to having one ear removed, or half a tongue taken for fishbait -- that is if the hangman caught you. Guy Fawkes was prosecuted partly for saying that James was accursed. Progress has brought it about that you can legally curse George Bush, but you can't legally threaten him.

So our question tonight is: what does that mean?

Cursing has definitely socially declined from the old days. Once it implied traffic with divine or demonic powers, and now it simply implies street level babbling, the unalterable fuck of all the movie script drug dealers. Once it was mixed up with blasphemy, slander, and a whole set of verbal crimes -- crimes that were, by their nature, eerie, insofar as they were hints of a black logos that operated just under the surface, just out of sight of the angels in paradise, that bunch of stinking losers.

There's always been a bit of a mixup, within Christianity, about cursing. On the one hand, Jesus, in Matthew, seems to come out against it:

"Again, ye have heard that it was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not perjure thyself: but thou shalt perform to the Lord what thou hast sworn. 34. But I charge you, swear not at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God: 35. Nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King: 36. Nor shalt thou swear by thy head: for thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37. But your speech shall be, Yes, yes; No, no for what is beyond these comes from evil." (Matthew 5). On the other hand, our savior enjoyed a good curse himself. Coming upon a fig tree that bore no fruit, he cursed it. Later it was observed to be dead -- quid erat demonstratum, or however the Latin goes. And then there are the Psalms, which are full of the most beautiful curses. And there are the Prophets. Nowadays, the secret service would definite pay an unexpected visit to Isaiah, to say nothing of Ezekial. These were men who knew how to wield a curse.

Shakespeare's Richard III dramatizes the curse the way The Merchant of Venice dramatizes the contract. There's a nice essay about cursing in the Studies in English Literature, winter 03 (unavailable on line, alas), by Mary Steibel, which takes the case of Jane Shore. Jane Shore was King Edward the IV's concubine. She was stripped of her goods by Richard III, and according to the anti-Richard III literature that flooded the Tudor market (Richard being an inveterate enemy to the Tudors, and conveniently Punch-like), Jane replied with a good many curses that, in the way of a good curse, came true. Steibel examines some accounts of Jane's curses, and shows how Shakespeare substituted Margaret's curses in his play. Margaret was the widow of Henry VI, and a grande dame at the court. Steible makes some excellent points about the way Margaret figures in the play as the spokesperson for the curse. She quotes Little, a scholar who has researched liturgical curses:

"Pope Gregory the Great, says Little, concluded in his study of scripture that "God is said to curse and yet man is forbidden to curse, because what man does from the malice of revenge, God does only in the exactness and perfection of justice." (40) The kind of cursing undertaken by Shore and Margaret is not of the divine sort, and therefore, in the strictest sense, could not be regarded as prophetic, even if they do foresee the known end of Richard's mortal life. Little concludes from his study of curses that the Church's position is that "[o]rdinary cursing by ordinary people [is] decidedly not legitimate. (41)"
Shore curses Richard over loss of position, fame, property--material goods. Margaret, to be sure, lost much more than Shore, but she wants vengeance, not the "perfection of justice." Her ravings are human, not divine. Shore's are equally human. Indeed, the uncontrolled anger of each woman implies the disorder that results from loss of control, and, in some ways, parallels the loss of control that leads Richard to his fated end.

Steibel tries to infuse a feminist color to her view of cursing:" If words, just words, could cause harm--earthly or otherwise--to others, anyone who could speak could acquire a power that superseded rank, gender, physical strength, and so on. Perhaps curses were feared to "touch the hidden order of things," especially in regard to the divinely sanctioned order of the monarchy; Shore and Margaret both use words with the intent to wish ill upon Richard's body, their curses being directed against his birth, his bo dy, and his soul. The king's body natural is stigmatized, dismembered even. Speaking through their characters, Churchyard and Shakespeare both protest Richard, both make treasonous noises. Embedded in the dominant discourse of the divinely provident, the subversive speech act of cursing is voiced by politically weak figures, "historical" women who are little more than disaffected players in the pre-Tudor court. Having further de-mystified the kingship of Richard through curses, their job is done. Cursed themselves with charges of witchcraft and stigmatized by their own foul cursing, Shore and Margaret are authorized to speak like women in the historical narrative, that is, like witches."

Well, we aren't sure about this. Is the curse really subversive? And is that subversion really tied up with the woman's position -- and is that position most typically that of a witch? This seems an overhasty conclusion, especially when the most powerful sequence of curses in the play come at the end, and they come not from women, but from Richard's victims. These curses are definitionally pure, in a sense, because they are so starkly contrasted with the curse's opposite: blessing. Thus, Edward, and Clarence, and the young Princes, and all of Richard's dead victims visit him in his vision and pronounce his sentence, and then pronounce a blessing on Harry, progenitor of the Tudor line and Richard's opponent. It is as if one geneology -- Richard's cursed one -- is being formally replaced by another - Harry's blessed one. As the little Prince's say, "thy nephews souls bid thee despair and die!"

Richard is too modern a man to think that the curse has power. "Soft, I did but dream/O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me." Once the curse is so rationalized, it loses its magical power -- and in its downfall brings all magic with it.

Which brings us to De Quincey's strange essay on Modern Superstitions. The architecture of DeQuincey's essays is always Piranesian, a descent from the tower to the dungeon by an infinite amount of stairs. In this essay he takes us, by degrees, from those superstitions later comprised under Ruskin's term, the pathetic fallacy -- that projection onto the natural of the human - to the superstitions of the ominous. The ominous, according to De Quincy, was as much the ancient's burden as colonialism was the white man's. He is particularly feverish (De Quincey is always supremely feverish) about the the accidental coincidence of a given name with some ill thing, in which the ancients saw malign powers. De Quincy instances the refusal of a Roman legion to go into Germany under the command of a man named Umbrius Ater -- a "pleonasm of darkness," as he puts it: Shadow Black. Offering a series of similar anecdotes, De Quincy gets to the paradoxical crux: that crossing of sign and accident, language itself: "These omens, derived from names, are therefore common to the ancient and the modern world. But perhaps, in strict logic, they ought to have been classed as one subdivision or variety under a much larger head,viz. words generally, no matter whether proper names or appellatives, as operative powers and agencies, having, that is to say, a charmed power against some party concerned from the moment that they leave the lips."

The essay probes the very texture of God's invisibility, which is, of course, symboled, modeled, consistes in logos -- the word, out of spit and air. That movement from the silent movie world of our apishness to the incredible communications of our never stilled tongue -- it has left a scar inside us. Richard III was right: it is our conscience, superstition's last stronghold.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


Limited Edition is too charming for words -- especially for those of us who grew up reading Victorian novels and mentally immersed in the English countryside. The magazine takes an antiquarian interest in Oxfordfordshire, and sends its reporters out to get the scoop on such hot stories as the latest ancient pots exhibit in the Wallingford Museum. Ourselves, we loved this piece about Anthony a Wood. Here are the first three grafs:

"A conceited, impudent coxcomb, is how a contemporary described Anthony a Wood, a 17th-century historian and antiquary with a genius for alienating people.

Born in 1632 in a house called Postmasters Hall facing Merton College gate, he studied at Merton and lived almost his entire life in Oxford.

Wood occupied two garrets at the top of the family house, making himself a hermit�s cell there where he pored over his books and papers. When he did venture out he managed to feud with just about everyone he knew: scholars, family and friends alike."

Hmm. Sounds like LI. Here's a bit of unexpected confirmatory evidence for Elias' Civilizing process thesis, to which we alluded a few posts ago:

"Through its pages [Wood's journal] we see unruly scholars stealing geese at Wolvercote; the spread of the pox in Oxford; panic in the city as the sky darkens with smoke-clouds from the great fire of London; the disgraceful behaviour of Charles II�s courtiers who, on quitting Oxford, �leave their excrements in every corner, in chimneys, studies, coal-houses, cellars. Rude, rough, whoremongers; vaine, empty, careless."

We have the same problem with Bush's courtiers.

Woods was a cantakerous fella, but he did like to play a jig now and then. He liked to disguise himself as a poor country musician and, with similarly disguised colleagues, stroll about from country green to country green regaling the interested with various airs. "After playing at Kidlington, however, they were overtaken by a group of soldiers who forced them to play in an open field and then left without giving a penny. �Most of my companion,� wrote Wood, �would afterwards glory in this, but I was ashamed, and could never endure to hear of it.�

And since we are strolling about the magazine scene, shouts out to our friend Lorin Stein for his piece in the New York Review of Books. Unfortunately, you have to fork over bucks to read it on-line. Lorin reviews Aleksandar Hemon's novel, Nowhere Man. It is a very pretty review. So check it out at a news stand.

Monday, May 05, 2003


Michael Kinsley is a puzzle to LI. He could have been a much greater writer than he is -- he definitely has the elements. There are columnists like George Will who write much worse -- Will, in fact, has one of the highest proportions of drivel to memorable graf in the industry --but who have attained disproportionate respect because they are sporadically sesquipedalian. Forget them. There are times that the spirit of Murray Kempton himself seems to hover round Kinsley.

That he has chosen to bank his major time in editing and tv shows that writing isn't the lure for some... Go figure.

His column about Bad Bill Bennett's Gambling prob is a thing of beauty and a joy for a newscycle parasec. Here's the beginning of it.

"Sinners have long cherished the fantasy that William Bennett, the virtue magnate, might be among our number. The news over the weekend�that Bennett's $50,000 sermons and best-selling moral instruction manuals have financed a multimillion dollar gambling habit�has lit a lamp of happiness in even the darkest hearts. As the joyous word spread, crack flowed like water through inner-city streets, family court judges began handing out free divorces, children lit bonfires of The Book of Virtues, More Virtuous Virtues, Who Cheesed My Virtue?, Moral Tails: Virtue for Dogs, etc. And cynics everywhere thought, for just a moment: Maybe there is a God after all."

The rest of it styles with as magnificent a swish. Lovely stuff.

Sunday, May 04, 2003


For those interested in sex, kidnapping, bribery, underaged sex and our good friends over at Dyncorps, the company set to police Iraq(tm), (a wholly owned subsidiary of SIAC), here's a story in the Guardian. We are all happy to see that there's been such a big seachange in the corporate culture that the company has dropped its appeal against Kathryn Bolkovac, the employee who was fired as a killjoy after she complained about company employees visiting brothels in Bosnia to enjoy the charms of a bevy of kidnapped 14 year old Eastern European girls. Bokovac won a judgement of some 100,000 pounds from the now radically changed company.

We'd also recommend, just as a corrective downer, this article about Shiite politics in Ha'aretz. Perhaps LI is just imagining things, but hasn't there been an odd weakness for Shari'a in the left press? We hate to condescend to trafficing in such simplicities, but really, Indymedia, the enemy of our enemy is not our friend. We definitely agree with half and only half of the slogan, America, no, no, Islam, yes yes.

The left tradition in the Middle East has been undermined by the corrupt compromises of its own leadership -- which was forged in the nationalist struggle against colonialism, and deformed utterly by the Cesaerism attendent on the cults of personality crystalizing around petty colonels and by the cold war - so many times that to continue to believe in it almost requires as much faith as the belief in One God. However, all faiths are not equal -- in fact, that derives from the very logic of faith. How about a few slogans like: the American plan to privatize Iraqi oil, no, no, oppression of women, no no, etc. etc?

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...