Saturday, December 18, 2004

Headline in the WP : Fallujans to Begin Returning Home

First graf: Iraqi authorities said residents would begin returning to Fallujah within the next week, even as U.S. forces shelled a section of the city and insurgents proclaimed they would press the fight there, more than a month after American commanders declared the city "liberated."

Second graf: “Mayor Mahmoud Ibrahim Jirisi said families could start returning to some southern neighborhoods of the shattered city as early as Friday, though the Reuters news agency reported that there was no sign of such movement by late afternoon.”

In other words, headlines should read: Fallujans do not begin returning home – war crime continues – 200,000 people have now been dispersed, without any aid whatsoever, for two months – U.S. under Bush thus accomplishing a feat of inhumanity even the present Sudanese government, has hesitated to perform.

Ah, Liberation.

Holy bookburning

There are two starkly different views of religion that jostle each other in the media, without paying too much attention to each other, as compartmentalized media memes do. One is the usual lament over the straying from the religion of our fathers that characterizes all of modernity – usually this is considered to be a bad thing. And there is the story about evangelical fervor (Protestant or Islamic) that has, apparently, infected the masses – a great global dose of opium poisoning, to use Marx’s phrase.

Religion has poked into politics in Britain by way of the rank proposal, by Blair’s government, to criminalize poking fun at religion -- being nasty about Jesus or Mohammed or Blair’s piety or his wife’s new age gurus. Like a very unmerry King Cole, Blair’s second favorite thing about being prime minister is criminalizing. In reinstituting the pomp and, perhaps, the bonfires of the old blasphemy laws, Blair has even outdone his own combination of unctuousness and unscrupulousness.

We were researching a wholly different project for a client when we stumbled upon Harold Remus’ article about magic in the Bible in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, which transfixed us with a reminder of how St. Paul’s visit to Ephesus was blessed with a bookburning:

“For example, in describing the books burnt in the city of Ephesus as a result of Paul's activity there, the author of canonical Acts uses a term (perierga) that translators commonly render as "magic" (19:19). The value of the books consigned to the flames is given as 50,000 silver coins (19:19). We're not told what assessor assigned the books that value. But it is clear that someone placed a high value on them.”

Remus does not go in the direction we were expecting – or maybe hoping for. He gives us St. Paul’s successors – those archaelogists and hermeneuts who have continued Paul’s contempt, if not the readiness to ignite, since the flood of magical texts from the excavations of nineteeth century in Egypt. There are, indeed, plums in this account, but what of… what of the magical gesture encoded in burning a magic book? There is, indeed, an enlightenment image of repression within the ranks of the repressors, an image that submits to the rational/pietistic theme that runs through book burning. But surely, of all spells, one of the most interesting, because of its perverted twist, is burning the book of spells?

Remus is more interested in the magic itself – which is fair. He imagines an interview with one of the magicians – he calls him Abraxus. Abraxus comes close to the fire:

Abrasax speaks:
Let me begin with this business of "secrecy". Do I practice and enjoin secrecy?
Of course I do. Magic as divine and a gift from the gods is sacred and must be protected from profanation, as has unfortunately happened in your day thanks to Messieurs Preisendanz, Betz, Gager kai ta loipa. You could take a lesson from some of your indigenous peoples who tell you that observing and discussing their sacred rites profanes them and should not be permitted.”

Ah, the secrecy of destruction. It is what keeps the Blairs going – it isn’t just finding and rooting out ‘blasphemy” in the name of tolerance, it is the act of destroying the written, erasing the tape, interfering with the radio broadcast. This is sorcery against sorcery – especially that sorcery that might overturn the system in which magical wealth flow to the most virtuous.

Remus, however, imagines himself as a skeptical, enlightened scholar – rather sympathetic to St. Paul’s impatience with all that nonsense – asking whether the magic trade isn’t all abracadabra:

“But, please, would you not agree that to address a deity one must speak the deity's language? Did not one of the prominent prophets of your culture respond to a request, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 1 1:1)? Did not his follower say that glossolalia is god-language (1 Cor. 14:2, 28) or spirit language (13:1, glossai ton aggelon)? In our practice we greatly honor the deity who bears mysterious names in one of the chief holy scriptures of your culture. Some have maintained that he--if he is a he--spoke Hebrew, others German ("Adam, wo bist du?"), and others Elizabethan English. We know better. We address Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai(n56) in words he will understand.(n57) I refrain from examples, lest I profane them.(n58) You may call all this nonsense, but surely addressing deities in language they understand is not nonsensical.
Am I alone in thinking this? Indeed not. What do you make of the abba (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6), or maran atha (1 Cor. 16:22), or ephatha (7:34) in certain sacred texts of your culture? Why these words in an alien tongue in a Greek text? If I pronounce the mystic words Sitz im Leben and Formgeschichte over them, does that shed some light on my question?”

Well, we will get nowhere if we confuse true piety (the mocking of which by magicians must be made against the law – it raises hatred, you know) with the magician’s mystifications. And we must believe, with folded hands, in the archaeologists busy finding the historical Jesus in the Holy Land. But the essay did make us think a few blasphemous and legal (at least, at the moment) thoughts. Look it up yourself.

Friday, December 17, 2004

LI has nearly completed its plan for a tee shirt. The tee shirt will be given to subscribers to this site (+40 bucks). When we floated this plan, some of our readers wrote in to complain about our unbelievable cheesiness. So we considered, instead of tee shirts, water soluble love oils in provocative scents, but looking over the guys we hired for tee shirt manufacture, we decided it might be a little indelicate, as well as lead to bodily harm of the management, if we raised the subject.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

In the Times (London), today, one of the big name Conservative columnists, Anatole Kaletsky, laments the current runner up status of the Tories. He asks why, given Labor’s record current disorganization and the universal loathing that is justly heaped on Tony Blair’s head (he might be exaggerating a bit about that one), is the Conservative Party such a dog’s after-meal?

He gives two reasons. The first is the Tory expectation that the Labor party would create an economic crisis. This hasn’t happened. The second reason is more interesting:

“The tactical error on economics could at least be explained by the Tories' arrogant belief that they have a superior understanding of money. Their second tactical blunder was more surprising. Why on earth did the most oppositional Opposition in living memory support the Government on the one policy which was most obviously going wrong -Iraq? The Tories' initial backing for the invasion may have been justifiable on the standard ground of national security when Britain faced a military threat. But why did they not withdraw their support in the summer, once it became apparent that the Prime Minister had been misleading the nation and that the US was guilty of criminal negligence, or worse, in its occupation of Iraq?

It was only after the Hutton inquiry and Abu Ghraib that British public opinion turned decisively (and justifiably) against Mr Blair. This was the golden opportunity for Michael Howard to start demanding an orderly withdrawal from Iraq on the ground that the Prime Minister had deceived the nation into an unnecessary and mismanaged war. By failing to do this, the Tories ceded to the Liberal Democrats not only the huge anti-Blair protest vote, but also the principal constitutional role of the loyal Opposition in time of war.”

We think that Kaletsky is technically right about Iraq, and the position the Tories should have taken. But to take that position would mean to question the larger effect of the consistent Tory policy, since Churchill, to serve the U.S. as a perpetually faithful Gunga Din – a rather interesting inversion, considering the marmoreal Churchillian racism towards Indians that was evidenced, most brutally, in letting a million Bengalis starve to death in 1944. A party that was willing to break with the U.S. on Iraq would have to be a party that was willing to redo its genetic code, so to speak. D’israeli did just that for the tories in the 1860s; Blair did it to the Labor party in the 1990s. But there isn’t a Tory leader in sight that has the vision to do it now.

LI recommends looking at another op ed piece from another Brit pundit: Ash’s piece on supporting democracy in the Guardian. Ash concedes that the invasion of Iraq shows that this is not how democracy supporting is done, which implies that this the motivation for invading Iraq was to make it a democracy.

"War is not justified simply to promote democracy. So, the Iraq war was wrong. It would have been justified, in my view, if Saddam Hussein had been committing a genocide against his people at the time we went to war, or if he really was on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, but he wasn't, so it wasn't. Using the promotion of democracy as the main justification for that war risks giving democracy a bad name."

We summarized our view of this in an exchange at the blog, Harry’s Bar, concerning Chavez in Venezuela. Quoting ourselves (hey, okay, stop with the rotten tomatoes! hey, that hurt!), this is what we think of that:

…. [this is] the real break between the anti-war left -- or anti-war period -- and the pro-war party. The pro-war party takes it as a given that U.S. foreign policy is to promote democracy. Hence, everything that happens in the occupation in Iraq is read through the prism that the U.S.'s chief pre-occupation is to crrate an Iraqi democracty.
The anti-war left does not share this presupposition. It isn't the case that the U.S. is always anti-democratic -- sometimes, the U.S. has acted for human rights and democracy. But the pattern of U.S. foreign policy has been determined globally by those factors that would advantage the American governing class.
How do you tell if, in one case or another, American foreign policy is promoting democracy? You don't take the words of the president of secretary of state as proof -- rather, you take the actions of the U.S. in a specific instance and ask what these actions are guided by.

That is why the occupation of Iraq appears to be one of those foreign policy actions that advance the American governing class agenda; or, I should say, started out pressing that agenda. Meeting resistance in Iraq, it modified itself drastically. Opposing elections at first, until a period of time had passed necessary for the occupiers to wipe out any resistance to the American agenda, the occupiers were forced to compromise and are now proclaim themselves the guardians of elections - to the extent that they will kill those who take the position, vis a vis elections, that Bremer took just a year ago. “

This is of course the whole problem with good natured liberals such as Ash. The first sentence of his piece speaks volumes for the lack of class analysis that vitiates it:

“Would you rather have democracies next door, or dictatorships? Democracies, right?”

Ignoring the folksiness of “next door” – remember that this is actually an asymmetric relationship. The U.S. may be next door to Nicarauga or Iran – but they are not next door to the U.S. That is, the U.S.(and the U.S. press, and probably Ash himself, along with the whole block of humanitarian interveners) would contemptuously ignore any opinions Nicarauga or Iran might take of U.S. governance, from the death penalty to the aggressive, and slightly insane, sums being spent by America on its war machine. Concentrate on the “you.” In that you is concentrated and dissolved the division between capital and labor that is the chief defining factor in the ways in which populations internationally exist. That you includes the maquilladora owner and worker, indistinguishably. Well, if the triumph of democracy is coincident with the triumph of capital over labor, the triumph will simply be… the triumph of capital over popular power -- in essence, democracy's triumph will mark another stage in the advance of oppression. This doesn't necessarily have to be so. But as long as the Ashes of the world refuse to recognize the contradictions and injustices in their position -- in the kind of power that has created a situation in which you can choose who your neighbor will be, without reciprocal choice from the other side -- they will not be promoting democracy, but a peculiar form of Victorian charity.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What is it about Christmas that LI dislikes? It is not the giftgiving. It is not the carols. It is not the trees. We like all of that.

What we don’t like is the sexlessness.

Christmas, after all, took over from Saturnalia. But as the baby Jesus has become more and more innocent, he has sucked the erotic energy out of the ocassion. This isn’t absolutely true – my friend T. sent me, just today, an article about celebrating Christmas in Japan. Evidently, the holiday is notable for being that time of year during which virgins get rid of their virginity in various Japanese hotels. Good for those guys and gals.

But in America, it is all about the kids, and not at all about the conception.

Perhaps what we need is the tantric Christmas.

Hugh Urban is a rising American scholar on tantric practices. He’s written an essay about the man who brought the Tantra to America: Pierre Arnold Bernard . Bernard was not, I think, mentioned in Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon, a book I always recommend to people for its enjoyable account of the first tentative movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that coalesced, eventually, into the New Age. From Urban’s description of Bernard, I don’t know how he was missed:

“Known in the popular American press as "Oom the Omnipotent," Bernard became notorious throughout newspapers and journals as a spiritual leader and philosopher as well as a philanderer, seducer of women and purveyor of scandalous indecencies. Not only did he found the first "Tantrik Order" in America (1906), but he was also the first in a long line of Tantric gurus who would come under intense criticism and suspicion for their alleged immoral, indecent and illegal sexual practices. As such, he has been a seminal influence on much later esotericism in the U.S. not only on later traditions of Western sexual magic, but also on contemporary New Religious Movements, such as the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the Siddha Yoga Society, and more recent developments like American Tantra," the Church of Tantra and the New Tantrik Order in America.”

Damn, LI wanted to be the first to be known as Oom the Omnipotent! There goes our dream moniker.

Urban is at pains to separate Tantra, which is a complex and multiple meditative practice, from its reputation as orgiastic yoga-ing. He takes the point of classical tantra – which has to do with restraining and (somehow) retracting semen – as a sign that tantra is about power. Unsurprisingly, the reference is to Foucault here.

So how did Tantra gets the sex label? It started with the Victorians:

“It was really not until the early nineteenth century, with the arrival of Christian missionaries like the Baptist William Ward and the Scotsman, Alexander Duff, that Tantras became objects of intense interest and morbid fascination. Above all, the missionaries singled out the sexual element particularly transgressive and illicit sexuality as the most horrific aspect of the Tantras and the clearest evidence of their complete depravity. The Tantras, as Ward put it, involve "a most shocking mode of worship" centered around the worship of a naked woman (preferably a prostitute or outcast) and rites "too abominable to enter the ears of man and impossible to be revealed to a Christian public"”

Sounds like Christmas to me! LI might not be too pious, but we think we could possibly be interested in the worship of naked women. Nice to think that, all the time, our hobby could actually be incorporated into a tax free entity.

Bernard was a mysterious man. He came, of course, from California. He had traveled much in the mystic orient, and ended up in San Francisco teaching hypnotism and yoga and founding the Order of the Tantrik Brotherhood, which made marvelous promises to initiates. But things really got going after 1906:

"After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Bernard left California and eventually relocated to New York City, where he would open his "Oriental Sanctum" in 1910. Teaching Hatha Yoga in the downstairs room and offering secret Tantric initiation upstairs, the Oriental sanctum quickly became an object of scandal in the New York press: the notorious "Omnipotent Oom" was charged with kidnapping and briefly imprisoned, though the charges were later dropped. "I cannot tell you how Bernard got control over me or how he gets it over other people," said one of the alleged kidnapees, Zella Hopp, "He is the most wonderful man in the world. No women seem able to resist him.”

LI cannot resist the name Zella Hopp. It exerts a strange and effluvial influence over our thinking, it is as if vaseline were rubbed all over the inner lens, things are getting watery even as we type these words. We might have to go to a bar, soon. But wait…

The Omnipotent Oom became quite successful, according to Urban, who culls newspaper and magazine reports that claim that the Tantrik order included many celebrated names. The police raids probably helped, too. Nothing gives you publicity like a sex raid from the cops. O.O.’s credo was as follows: “The trained imagination no longer worships before the shrines of churches, pagodas and mosques or there would be blaspheming the greatest, grandest and most sublime temple in the universe, the miracle of miracles, the human body.”

Why that would be blaspheming, instead of something on the order of a spiritual acquisition and merger, we aren’t quite sure. In any case, O.O’s initiates paid fabulous fees to engage in mysterious physical activity with the great man himself, in a turban and flared Turkish pants, sitting on a throne, presiding.

Unfortunately, all things come to an end. The Omnipotent Oom, while retaining his belief in the worship of the naked body, eventually branched out into other fields, and in 1931 became the president of the State Bank of Pearl River. A rather daring act, actually, given the state of the banks in 1931. Perhaps this was a secret sexual act of a kind O.O. specialized in.

We highly recommend the article. And remember, have as much sexual congress as possible for a merrie, merrie christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Argument from Design, Two

LI’s friend at Fragmenta Philosophica, noting Flew’s apparent conversion to at least a watered down version of theism (but see our post yesterday), writes:

“I've always thought that the argument from design is the strongest "motive of credibility" for theism. Flew seems to agree, finally viewing it as the tipping-point:

'There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

'Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"'

LI has a different take on the argument from design. Our argument depends on two things: how one interprets a “motive of credibility,” and what exactly the argument from design is all about.

Fontenelle, in his History of Oracles (1687), which is one of the first early modern attempts to devise an anthropology of religion, also believed that a variation of the argument from design gave rise to the idea of the gods back in ‘ces siècles grossiers’ before writing.

“The men who had a little more genius than the others naturally tended to investigate the causes of what they saw. Where, for example, does that ever flowing river come from, a contemplative from those centuries must have asked themselves? –a weird sort of philosopher, but who can tell – he might have been a Descartes in this century. After long meditation, he happily discovered that there was someone who took care to pour out this water, eternally, from a pail (cruche). But who furnished this person with the water? The contemplative did not go into those depths.

It is necessary to keep in mind that these ideas, which could be called the systems of those centuries, were always copied after the most well known objects. One had often seen water poured out from inside a pail: one easily imagined, thus, a God pouring out that of a river; and by that same ease by which one imagined it, one could as easily completely believe it. Thus, in order to explain thunder and lightning, one represented God as a human figure throwing arrows of fire at us; an idea manifestly taken from familiar objects.”

The argument from design, here, is transformed, by Fontenelle, into a way of explaining the anthropological crisis that faced Christendom from the era of discovery: there was a world of people who, evidently, had lived and died for generations without hearing the good news. What was their cosmological status? It was the revival of a question that confronted the early Christians, once they had decided, after Paul, that Christ had come to redeem the world. This transposition of a specifically Jewish God who recognized himself solely in one people to a cosmopolitan God who established a relation with all people (a relation based on caritas) obviously leads to the question of the gods those people are worshipping. I'll note, in passing, that re-defining the bond between God and man in terms of love also reworked the whole notion of God -- a term that then took on amazing connotations as the centuries rolled by. But to return to our story...

Doubtless, if Flew is convinced, by the amazing complexity of the cell, that there is a God – instead of there being many gods, or instead of there being Persian 'angels' tinkering with organisms down here – this is due less to his own innate monotheism than to the triumph, for two thousand years in Western culture, of monotheism.

However, that triumph, as Hume cleverly saw, has an unconscious effect upon the philosophic discourse about God. Ourselves, we think Fontenelle’s idea is startlingly relevant to the naïve use of the computer metaphor to meet our contemporary cosmological questions. But we also think that there is something thin about the argument from design to explain belief in the gods. Our belief is that the real impress in our animal souls of a feeling of God – what Epicurus called prolepsis (although there is vast scholarly disagreement about what this means -- Cicero described this as “innate power”) is, in the anthropological order, prior to and more “credance giving” than the proof by design. We would call the latter a way of specifying God. Which is a different thing entirely.

Justice is ridiculous

Gary Winnick, a true superhero of free enterprise, was at last freed of those pesky fines against him by the Republican dominated SEC. Not that Winnick was a partisan man -- he had greased the palms of many a Dem in Clinton's palmy times. But with that Bush mandate, it was time to put the likes of Perle on a retainer -- and oh how such connections have paid off for the big guy! We are all psyched here at LI. Sorting through the creative destruction of the telecom bubble, it was obvious at the time, and even more obvious now, that the real master criminal was Martha Stewart.

But of course the LA Times had the gall to interview a coupla plebes about the thing:

"The fact that Winnick escaped a $1-million fine gnaws at Irene DiNolfo, a former Global Crossing director of marketing communications in Rochester, N.Y., whose severance and retirement were wiped out.

"What's $1 million to that guy?" said DiNolfo. "It would be like a $100 fine to me. And still, he gets out of that."

Global Crossing's collapse cost Janet Mahoney, a former call center director, about $35,000 in severance pay and $45,000 in retirement funds that were in company stock. Settlements in the civil cases are bringing in a few thousand dollars in dribs and drabs, she said.

"Meantime, he walks away with $738 million," she said. "Justice is ridiculous."

Well, we do wish the likes of Ms. Mahoney would read up on her Friedman or Sowell or something. Our system is simply so unbeatable it has charmed God and the angels, who are investing heavily in equities for next year. Meanwhile, Ms. Mahoney is going to have a chance to lose even more retirement with the privatization of her Social Security -- but not to worry! If some mutual fund company commits massive fraud, if some corporation cooks its books, the SEC is right there, like a guard dog. Or like the cardboard cutout of a guard dog. To make sure that the criminal who steals hundreds of millions does have to put a million back in the pot now and then! Good luck to you, Ms. Mahoney! We salute all those who are about to strike it rich, as Bush knocks down the last evil legacy of New Deal Socialism and sets you free to be owners.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The argument from design

LI heard of Anthony Flew for the first time in an Emory U. philosophy class on God’s existence. The man who taught the class bore a striking resemblence to Chuck Barris, the mc of the gong show, although he spoke with an impeccable Oxbridgian accent, and threw himself into the appropriate Wittgensteinian gestures then fashionable for teaching a philosophy seminar (i.e., he spent much of the hour or two he talked facing a corner of the room, to which he seemed to be attracted as he muscularly exerted his brain over various ways that we might say things. Perhaps the corner gave him the illusion of privacy that was necessary to bring his conceptual struggles to fruition, but it did tend to muffle his message).

So we read, or were forced to read, a little Flew. The man did not make a large impression on yours truly.

However, he seems to have left an impression on the world at large. ABC tv news itself recently reported his sensational conversion to theism. Just in time for Christmas, too. Flew has now written a “calm down people” paper in which he disclaims any intention of spreading the good word among the heathen in the Hindu Cush.

A pity. We love conversion stories. Although we can’t say that Flew’s conversion had the cosmological zing of earlier conversions. Take St. Barbara. A perfectly ordinary girl, daughter of a rich merchant in Egypt, raised in a high tower to which nobody could gain access – you know, that Rapunzel upbringing so many girls had to endure in the days of yore. Daddy comes home one day and discovers his towerbound princess is going on and on about God the father and God the son. Yikes! She’s even put three windows in her tower to betoken the trinity. And she's defaced Dad's prize idol collection. The bills for glaziers in those days were unbelievably high, so her Dad was righteously p.o.-ed. As the Golden Legend says:

“Then he being replenished with furor, incontinent drew his sword to have slain her, but the holy virgin made her prayer and then marvellously she was taken in a stone and borne into a mountain on which two shepherds kept their sheep, the which saw her fly. And then her father, which pursued after her, went unto the shepherds and demanded after her. And that one, which would have preserved her, said that he had not seen her, but that other, which was an evil man, showed and pointed her with his finger, whom the holy Saint Barbara cursed, and anon his sheep became locusts, and he consumed into a stone.”

Of course, as any paterfamilias would, her dad, whose idolworshipping had been honored by the Alexandria Rotary club, wasn’t going to have any funny stuff from his daughter. Although the sheep becoming locusts must have made him pause a bit. Sheep into locusts, lead into gold -- could be onto something here, what? Still, a tower is a tower and a beautiful daughter who proposes to sit around flaunting her virginity was an expense he wasn’t about to shoulder. Instead, he did what so many Dads did back then, took her straight to be tortured by the town judge’s men. It was a slow torture day, not many customers, so the judge just gave her the quick torture treatment – he bade his guys “unclothe her and beat her with sinews of bulls, and frot her flesh with salt.” Well, that didn’t work. Barbara was firm in the faith, and (having evidently impressed herself with that sheep into locusts thing -- quite a switch from quiet days knitting sacrifices for the idols) (never mind the flight into the mountains via stone) refused. She probably figured on having another little flight. Such things do go to a virgin’s head.

However, this time, as the axeman raised his axe and Barbara raised her eyes piously skyward, nothing happened. And before she could say, let's talk about this fellas, down came the axe and off came her head. God, however, while not exactly being quick on the uptake during the execution, did the next best thing, and had some hitman angel sling a lightning bolt into her Dad.

This kind of thing can’t happen in Flew’s Oxford, however, as it would cause the neighbors to talk. So artists in ages to come will not be painting Oxford dons frotting Flew's skin with salt. Nowadays you have to go to a spa to get that done -- and they charge an arm and a leg!

Paul Craddick has noted the Flew story, and noted, also, that Flew was converted not by being filled with the holy spirit, but by pondering the argument from design. This, Paul thinks, is the most convincing evidence of God’s existence. LI disagrees. In an upcoming post, we are going to claim the authority of Epicurus for saying that the idea of God is an innate idea – which is also, of course, associated with Descartes -- and that 'idea', if it means a sort of overall sensation about experience (which it can be twisted into meaning) is the best evidence of God's existence.

We’ve had a few letters about posts last week. A friend of ours wrote to us about our Franz Rosenzweig post: “the most important inheritor of Rozensweig, to me, is Levinas, who makes much more implicit and explicit use of Rosensweig than does Heidegger. Don't you think? Although since Levinas makes so very much use of Heidegger, and greatly admired much of his work even until the end, the influences are nicely compounded. Anyway, in the hit parade of philosophers, EL should come in with more overall hits than R, despite his "star" which does make him one.”

Another of our far flung correspondents, T., in NYC, wrote in to comment about our meditation on the figure of the fanatic. He quotes this, from our post on the Alabama cretin who wants to banish books by Gay authors from Alabama libraries:

"This is a story of a type that Mencken liked to collect for the Smart Set: cretinous Americana. Both the right and the left, on the web, love to find stories that report some aberrant act or another and pass them around. It is a genre that has, as yet, not found its Barthes" -- and comments:

Indeed, I'm not sure that you realize how insightful that comment is. Not only has it not found its Barthes, it has not found its Deleuze & Guattari. The Barthes of what is known in Howard's translations as "Mythologies" would be fascinating and helpful. The Barthes of the "close reading" of Poe, even more so; the Barthes who contemplated the 'other-ache' , where is that one? But it is the D&G of the genre that I would love to meet, the one that could bring a very heavy dose of phenomenology to the fantasy and desiring 'machines' of the genre. Much aside from Zizek's attempts to bring Deleuze back into conformity with Hegelian types, I'd prefer to find more chat about cretinous blogging that is not always so rife with dialectical turns from those simple, singular "acts" so widely propagated. The blogosphere is riven with these analyses from anecdote, from a single keyboard to generalization. There is all too much miming of that peculiarly Chomskian rhetorical tic: "All the evidence is in the public record, so there really is no reason to restate it.....we can freely move on to the obvious conclusions....." In Noam's hands, such a tic is often enough deft; in the blogosphere, it is often enough daft.

Any comments you don't particularly want to put in our comment section, but you want to send LI, send to Oh, and we are contemplating a subscription drive here. We are thinking of making some LI t shirts and giving them to those who contribute 40 bucks to the site. We haven't decided whether that is too cheesey, yet. But it is Christmas time.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

As Bush prepares to disassemble Social Security on the Chilean model (Pinochet’s ex minister of labor, Jose Pinera, bragged recently in the Times that he had talked with Bush when the guy was the governor of Texas about destroying the public pension plan), it is interesting that Chile seems to be moving the other way. The NYT has a large article, spotted with the usual propaganda, about the corruption indulged in by the Pinochet gang: the 15 million the general now possesses, due to the ‘gratitude’ of various businessmen; the 3 million doled out to Tony Jr., his son; the sweet privatization deals that made his son-in-law a millionaire/billionaire; and the cooperation, through the General’s murderous regime, of a consortium of the usual suspects – payments to the General from the grateful Thatcher government – Maggie sometimes ached for the stadium solution for her own left opposition; the money from Reagan’s administration; the money from China.

The article does, however, misrepresent the “shining record of economic achievement” of the General:

“As Chile's strongman from 1973, when he overthrew Salvador Allende, an elected civilian president, to 1990, General Pinochet presided over a purge of political opponents and the creation of a police state. But he also laid the foundations for what has become Latin America's most stable and promising economy - all, as the general's supporters have claimed, without ever stealing a dime.”

Ask Chile’s workers about that. In fact, as we’ve noted before, Pinochet’s radical Chicago style shock therapy resulted, in 1983, with Chile plunging into the a depression comparable to the 30s. In order to get out of it, Pinochet socialized the private debts amassed by the corporations freed by his first round of privatizations. In essence, he socialized Chile’s economy in a manner undreamt of by Allende. On this site, Jörg Sancho Pernas summarizes the ‘reforms’ of the General:

"The cause of the economic growth was the influx of private foreign loans until the dept crisis of the early 1980s. The disadvantage of this kind of miracle was the increase of unemployment: Dieter Nohlen mentions that during the entire dictatorship unemployment was at an average of 17.3 % and sometimes between 20 % and 30 %. He also points out that by comparing the figures of previous years, poverty has increased during the government of Pinochet (Nohlen, Dieter/ Nolte, Detlef (1995): p. 322). Combined with the economic liberalization, the Chilean government introduced a series of social reforms in order to reduce the role of the central government in social security, labor disputes, health care and education. These reforms were created in order to shrink the central government, decentralize administration, and privatize previous state functions. For example, in 1979 the government privatized the health system by establishing private health insurance companies. The transference of the market principles towards the health sector was justified with the following arguments: guarantee of free choice of doctors, more efficiency of the health sector, equity of chances (Friedmann, Reinhard (1990): p. 80/81). At this point it should be marked, that the military regime was deconstructing the welfare state by leaving the citizens at the mercy of the private market. The government focused its social assistance only to provide the basic need of the poorest citizens.

"In 1981, the pension system in Chile was reformed by the military regime. The target was the privatization of the social security. The reason was that by the early 1970s, there had been thirty-five different pension funds (although three of them served 90 percent of contributors) and more than 150 social security regimes for the various occupational groups. This expansion was leading to inequities in the social system. The newly incorporated groups obtained by law special treatments and new benefits. There also had not existed before a standard retirement age for all groups of pension funds. In order to be covered by the pension fund people had needed to have a job, because coverage continued to depend on the employment history of the main beneficiary. So the pension funds had never reached all Chileans. The new social security system was based on private investment companies, the so called AFPs (Administradores de Fondos de Pensiones) which should secure the old age pensions. The AFPs nowadays compete with each other. Since 1983 salaried employees can only contract the obligatory private insurance. But the insurance company can be selected independently by oneself. Changing from the public to private insurance the contributions accumulated have been transferred accordingly. There was a deadline for the insurance change of 5 years. The contributions of the insurance contractors are invested with the new pension system at the private capital market. The contractor gains a share of the profit. The age of retirement amounts to 60 years for women and to 65 to men. The pension is calculated of the accumulated contributions and the profits of the pension fonds. The state still gives a guarantee for a minimum pension by contributing additional payments to the insurance. (Nohlen, Dieter/ Nolte, Detlef (1995): p. 325/326).”

The NYT article continues to play the Pinochet shell game by describing Pinochet’s ‘privatization’ program as if he had inherited a heavily nationalized economy. He hadn’t. Allende’s nationalizations came to an abrupt end, as did Allende, when the General kindly embodied the invisible hand in 1973.

“The Chilean authorities are also focusing special attention on privatizations of former state-owned companies in sectors like steel, electricity, mining and telecommunications, with an eye to uncovering financial gains the general might have secured through those transactions.

The most lucrative privatizations were from 1985 to 1990, when it was clear that the Pinochet government's days were numbered and when even some military officials questioned the wisdom of rapidly selling companies in industries vital to Chile's national security and economic well-being.”

Right. What happened in Chile is what happens periodically in countries in the neo-liberal system that veer to the right. A period of bubble prosperity is succeeded by a period of deep ‘recession.’ During the recession, the people who did not prosper during the bubble, i.e., the majority of the population, has shifted onto its back the debts accumulated by the wealthy to hold their party. This is exactly what happened when, in 1982, the IMF, the huge partisan of privatization, suddenly turned around and demanded that the Chilean government take responsibility for the huge outstanding debts racked up by its new private sector. The government, of course, responded with its bracing rhetoric of individual responsibility. The IMF and World Bank responded by closing Chile’s credit lines. The government then responded by stuffing the individual responsibility crap, nationalizing the debt, which entailed nationalizing most of the economy, and agreeing to pay it off – in other words, the debt was spread over the people of Chile.
This is a pretty standard pattern. After Salinas oversaw the entirely dirty privatization of Mexican banks, the crooks that bought them rode them directly into bankruptcy – at which point their debts were nationalized. Same with Argentina, Russia, etc. Privatization always is a two part shuffle – one part enriches an irresponsible and often corrupt elite, the other part nationalizes that elite’s debts. After the debt situation is taken care of, the elite is then surprised and delighted by a second wave of “privatizations.” It is a beautiful machine, and the Bush gang obviously have studied it. That is the point of the privatization of social security – don’t worry, no administration will allow the private part of the public pension fund, after it bottoms out in some predictable recession, to go to zero – no, the debts there will be quietly nationalized, in the same way S&L debts were nationalized. Under capitalism, this is known as individual responsibility and free enterprise. It is called reform -- a wonderfully civic sounding word. We have wondered why bank robbers don't plead "reform" in court -- "Judge, I was just reforming the deposit structure of the bank!" On this site we are too ignorant to handle those words. We call it moral hazard and stealing.

Lawrence's Etruscans

  I re-read Women in Love a couple of years ago and thought, I’m out of patience with Lawrence. Then… Then, visiting my in-law in Montpellie...