Friday, January 27, 2006

the pre-game report

On the eve of the Enron trial, LI watched the Smartest Guys in the Room yesterday. And we scanned the Economist tout sheet of the prosecuted and the let off. Of course, as we know, corporate law is designed, basically, to allow the governing class to rob people without the expense and fuss that comes from having to buy pistols and wave them in various strangers faces. That the prosecution has to prove an epistemological point to the jury – viz, that Skilling and Lay knew they were committing a crime by signing off on various deals to conceal Enron’s debt while pumping its stock, thus making it a crime – is funny in itself, like one of Zeno’s paradoxes – how can you prove someone knowingly committed a crime when the crime depends on knowingly committing it?

If I decide to knock somebody down, steal their credit cards, and use them, the police don’t have to bother convincing the jury that I knew I was committing a crime. But the more money one has, the more murky the line between the criminal and the legal becomes. Law is where class issues can no longer be latent. If they could, the governing class would simply have two sets of laws, one for them and one for the rest of us. That has practically been achieved by Congress and your state legislature, anyway, but they put both those laws together in one lawbook.

Of course, far be it from LI to discourage entrepreneurship. We surely don’t want to do that.

In LI’s opinion, Lay’s defense, here, should be watched carefully by the employee and investors he ripped off, since the defense is basically that he collected his total what, 400 million from his time at the company by doing one of the most pisspoor jobs ever concocted by a timeserving CEO supermensch. Useful info to have at the civil trial – although it is funny, corporate shills complain all of the time of useless due diligence laws and corporate greenmail by greedy lawyers, but outrageous fraud never seems to fall under these laws.

This, of course, was one of the things Enron, the movie, chose not to concentrate on, which is too bad, although understandable. They made the decision to be serious and not to juice up their account with the effects of unearned wealth on Enron’s bright lights. But … iIt wasn’t that the sex and money story line was peripheral to what happened at Enron – it was central. Rich Kinder, whose resignation moved Skilling into the top spot at Enron, resigned because he was having an affair with Ken Lay’s secretary – and Lay didn’t like it, although of course his second wife was his previous secretary, with whom he’d had an affair until he divorced his first and married her. They actually interviewed Amanda Martin for much of the Smartest Guys in the Room without ever explaining that she had a pretty well publicized affair with Ken Rice, one of the great looters at Enron – a dealmaker whose time as the head of the Enron Broadband division was one of the great jokes of the company. He spent more time, by all accounts, worrying about getting ever new motorcycles on Enron expense accounts “for” the division than he did about anything so mundane as the business itself, and what did he carry away from those grueling, three hour days? 53 million, more or less. It is very hard making decisions about which motorcycle your divison will use as its motorcycle symbol, as we all know. That is why we have to pay our upper management so well. They are so, well, smart.

Skilling actually is going to face the hottest time about the Broadband scam, which was a more than usually egregious goldbricking effort – a scheme that depended the synergy between Enron’s pipes and optical fiber, don’tcha know, and how all those easements and that infrastructure put Enron in the primo position to wire every household in America and pump in the videos.

And we are also all going to OZ on my balloon…

According to Elkind and Bethany McClean's must-read (if you care about Enron, you have to accept that tired cliché in the case of two reporters who became central to the Enron unwinding) in this week’s Fortune, Rice and Causey are going to lighten the prosecutorial task as they have made deals to keep them from spening too much time away from the various millions that were left over from the fines. In the case of white collar law, unlike, say, bank robbery, you get to keep a considerable portion of your loot. We will see, although the preliminaries don't look good -- the government should combat completely the idea that this case is too complicated. Any housewife or bowling alley attendent knows how earmarked money works. The prosecutors should look to seed the jury with the divorced, because what Enron did is, on a grand scale, what many a husband seeks to do in divorce cases -- hide assets. In this case, negative assets. Lay, unlike HealthSouth’s Scrushy, is not a personable man – he is an arrogant prick, and is seemingly even unaware that he is an arrogant prick. He is the same man who used the Enron corporate jet to shuttle his kids to the French Riviera like it was a taxi-cab, all of course on the company ticket. Well, you have to do things like that, as any economist can tell you, to align the interests of the truly brilliant management with the company. Economists in the middle ages made the same kind of arguments for droit de seigneur. Economists exist to excuse the inexcusable – theologians of the pathomarkets.

ps – there are couple of warnings to take to Smartest Guys in the Room One is that there is a gaping hole in the political story told in the movie. The hole is the hand in glove relationship of Enron and the Clinton administration. The Hollywood affection for the Elvis president makes this kind of thing, apparently, hard to see. Simply put, the waiver by Wendy Gramm that allowed Enron to operate in the energy market largely without regulation was continued in the Clinton years even as it became obvious that that Enron was operating as a bank. The India deal became an issue between the U.S and India, as Clinton’s Commerce department, under Ron Brown, put pressure on India to cooperate with Enron, even as it became apparent that Enron had built the equivalent, in energy terms, of the Spruce Goose in India. The neo-liberals at Treasury and Commerce made it very hard for Latin American governments to resist privatizing water, for instance, which was another large Enron project – under Rebecca Mark, Enron ended up owning Buenos Aires Water. And to treat Gray Davis as the martyr of the brownouts is to understand nothing of the (legally) peculating Dem administration which put through the deregulatory program. Alas, in a discourse in which the only sides allowable are Clinton and Bush, how a company like Enron operates is essentially hidden. Maybe that is the reason for the pseudo-division? That energy should have been privatized in the first place, or deregulated, was unquestioned, even though the reasons for it were clearly either untrue or unproven. Almost all energy deregulation feathered in large, sometimes absurdly large, provisions for energy companies that had crippled themselves building unnecessary, expensive nuclear power plants – another boondoggle that went by the name of synergy and that energy execs love to foist off on gullible populations, and not only Iranian ones.

The second is more puzzling. While the film explains mark to market accounting, it doesn't really explain why it didn't work at Enron. While it is true that the way Enron used it was not good, mark to market accounting does have some good effects in theory -- for instance, it smooths out turbulence markets in goods, like natural gas, in which turbulence can act as a bar to use. The problems that can come with mark to market accounting -- massaging the numbers -- were aggravated not by the accounting itself, but by the parallel set up of the "incentive" structure. Dealers at Enron gained bonuses not on real profits, but on book profits. Enron basically screwed itself out of the advantage it could take from mark to market accounting by distributing benefits, asymmetrically, to the management. This is why Rebecca Mark, who, conservatively, cost the company 1 to 2 billion dollars with the massive losses in India and from the water purchases, could cash out with 84 million dollars, and Ken Rice could run the broadband division, that lost 30 million, and gain options worth 30 million. In essence, the company set up an incentive structure in which the incentive was to cheat the company.

And of course the dealers proceeded to bleed Enron. Something like 1.3 billion was taken out of it by execs in the last two or three years, according to Robert Bryce.
Continuing from yesterday…

Wilson finds few direct criticisms of road building. But she does find one, and she contrasts it with the standard argument:

“Few outright critiques of road building can be found. One that stands out
is Fairhead’s (1992) analysis of the destructive effects of road-building in Eastern Zaire. There, he argues, roads represent ‘paths of authority’ and need to be understood as qualitatively different from the flow of goods and people that take place along local pathways. ‘From colonial times, roads were associated with the exercise of power by the state or the chiefs; forced labour was recruited to build them, personal movement along them was taxed and controlled and indigenous land near them was expropriated for plantations and mission stations’ (Fairhead, 1992: 21). In the current phase of roadbuilding financed by the World Bank, relations of power and violence have not changed; indeed, Fairhead claims, roads have further depleted and impoverished a region already suffering acute economic decline. This argument drawing on political economy has strong resonance in the Andes. But more common in the literature are analyses drawing an opposite conclusion. Porter (2002), in a study of off-road villages in sub-
Saharan Africa, emphasizes the human costs of isolation and difficulties faced by women and men who live ‘in a walking world’, unable to access services available at rural centres or make their voices heard in local politics. And at a regional level, as Bebbington (1999: 2022) notes, when seeking to account for instances of agricultural intensification and other forms of livelihood transition, ‘access becomes perhaps the most critical resource of all if people are to build sustainable, poverty alleviating rural livelihoods’.
Clearly, when rural producers must compete in domestic and export markets they are penalized when transport costs are excessively high.”

In these cases, the question of the penetrative power of the road, and who benefits from the “opening up” of territory performed by the road, doesn’t really distinguish road types from one another. They flow from some central, translocal authority, and are considered from the point of view of that authority. But there is another way in which roads operate as tools to close off territory. In Austin, you see this in the way a interstate highway, I-35, provides a barrier between East Austin – dangerous, black and Hispanic – and central and west Austin – which, since the African-American neighborhood in Tarrytown was pretty much liquidated in the sixties, is generally white and middle to upper class. This kind of barrier is made possible by the relative lack of transportation on the east side – the lesser number of motor vehicle owners, the greater number of bus riders, etc.

But Wilson is more concerned with what you might call the functional economy of roads – what not having and having roads can mean to a community. The community she studied, in Peru, from 1994 onwards, is a sad case of road lucklessness. In the eighties, as she gathered from memories of people in the hamlet of Cayesh, the world was defined like this:

“No roads connect the hamlets to the world outside; cayashinos must walk some 50km to 60 km south to reach the paved road to Tarma, or 25 km to 30 km north to reach a dirt road leading up the Ulcumayo valley to the high mining centres.”

The six hundred some inhabitants used pack animals to take their produce to Tarma. But the more well to do also began to desire schooling for their kids, and – operating just as a liberal like me would hope that they would operate – they took their kids to Tarma, too, to be educated. The road to Tarma had opened up the place to the world.

But that doesn’t mean that the world was kind. The Cayashinos were considered second rate, savage Indians. They learned enough to know what this meant. And they learned about resistance. They came back and formed the support groups around which Sendero Luminoso centered.

“Following the invasion of some 200 militants, municipal and community authorities were disbanded, the population prohibited from moving without authorization, and documents of identification confiscated. Several comuneros were killed and the few families who managed to slip away forfeited their lands, livestock and household goods that were distributed amongst the poor. Militants took over as authorities and organized frequent political meetings where they preached that the aristocratic state had deliberately neglected to attend to community needs; the state had treated them with disdain and transformed them into las comunidades mas olvidadas (‘the most forgotten communities’).”

After a year, disaster struck, in the form of an army attack that scattered the Cayeshinos, many of whom emigrated to the city. And it wasn’t until the mid nineties that the hamlet’s population started coming back. They came back to find that most of their land had been claimed by another hamlet. They came back to a shattered system of exchanges. And again, in response to this, they did something hearteningly liberal – they decided they really needed a road.

After five years of intense campaigning, a road plan for Cayash was approved in 1998 by the Ministry of Transport in Lima and a three year construction programme began. The state undertook to contribute technical assistance and heavy machinery while local government provided fuel and Cayash unskilled labour. The project document’s preamble made the political orientation clear. The road would: (i) allow the substitution of traditional systems by new modern techniques of cultivation and livestock raising;
(ii) provide access to credit; (iii) allow greater control by entities of the state; (iv) offer capitalists access to known reserves ofmineral wealth; (v) facilitate an intensive training of peasant producers; (vi) allow an increase in productive infrastructure; and (vii) make possible the establishing of a new socioeconomic structure in the region. What is presented here is a familiar picture of colonization directed from outside, a vision far removed from the social justice and recuperation that the struggling Cayash authorities had in mind. By 2001, with 15 kmof the 50 kmcompleted, the road works stopped. Funds had run out, charges of embezzlement circulated and following the ignominious fall of
Fujimori, the Ministry of Transport refused to be bound by any moral obligation
to finish what the earlier corrupt administration had started.”

This is not a happy story on any level. Theoretically, the road that was supposed to make the territory legible to the state, that was supposed to give control, even oppressive control, to the combination of corporate and political interests, had gone so haywire that Wilson ends her study with this graf:

“One might have assumed that the end of violent conflict would have been marked by a greater presence of state forces of law and order, and a more concerted attempt by the central state to make Andean provinces legible by road-building, but this does not seem to be happening. In the case of Tarma, although the intelligence service survives, police presence has been greatly reduced. Here on the eastern slopes of the Andes, adjacent to the blurred borderlands of the lowland zone, state authority is still under dispute, and
roads are no potent symbols of state-ness. On the contrary, roads are known places of ambush and assault, frequented by delinquents, terrorists, smugglers, drug-dealers; they are the place where deals are done with bad cops. Roads on the fringes of the state are themselves war-zones, a reminder of the fragility of sovereignty and emptiness of the central state’s claim to territoriality. In Peru, the ‘security’ of marginal regions seen from a national perspective remains in doubt; so does the future response of the state.”

The road, here, is Artaud’s alchemical theater, where trade is transfigured into the vehicle of the plague, and where the basic sign of control is really the scene of multiple and shifting anarchies. Not the path of authority after all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

seeing like a biker

“All these cities were connected with each other, and with the capital, by the public highways, which issuing from the Forum of Rome, traversed Italy, pervaded the provinces, and were terminated only by the frontiers of the empire. If we carefully trace the distance from the wall of Antoninus to Rome, and from thence to Jerusalem, it will be found that the great chain of communication, from the north-west to the south-east point of the empire, was drawn out to the length of four thousand and eighty Roman miles. (85) The public roads were accurately divided by mile-stones, and ran in a direct line from one city to another, with very little respect for the obstacles either of nature or private property. Mountains were perforated, and bold arches thrown over the broadest and most rapid streams. (86) The middle part of the road was raised into a terrace which commanded the adjacent country, consisted of several strata of sand, gravel, and cement, and was paved with large stones, or in some places, near the capital, with granite. (87) Such was the solid construction of the Roman highways, whose firmness has not entirely yielded to the effort of fifteen centuries. – Edward Gibbon, Book One, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Last month, on Christmas in fact, I penned a negative review of Rodney Stark’s book, The Victory of Reason for the Austin Statesman. Stark has long been arguing that religion is a neglected factor in sorting out the rise of the West and its triumph, and in this book he distilled his argument in more popular terms. I thought his treatment of the mix of factors that gave rise to liberty, progress and capitalism distorted the place of the Church by treating it, so to speak, undialectically – that is, as a unilateral and autonomous force -- and I thought his method of “proving” that the Church was responsible, for instance, for the notion of “progress’ was surprisingly unscientific – cherrypicking quotes from the church fathers is not a method, and it certainly isn’t intellectual history, either.

One of Stark’s hobbyhorses was the respect we accord the damn Romans and Greeks, so he spent some time attacking the ancients. To attack the Romans, he dissed their roads. Oh sure, the Romans had these great roads, but – Stark insisted – the roads were pisspoor for transport because they were too narrow, as opposed to good, Christian early medieval roads. It was pretty obvious on the road issue that Stark was unacquainted with Raymond Chevallier, the greatest scholar on the subject, and that he was confounding all roads with “viae militares.” However, the symbolic equation between road and civilization is powerful, and Stark chose his target for its maximum symbolic value. My quote from Gibbon, with that endnote like the flourish of trumpets (“Such was the solid construction of the Roman highways, whose firmness has not entirely yielded to the effort of fifteen centuries”) is typical of the admiration roads draw out in us.

All of which brings me to Fiona Wilson’s article in Autumn, 2004’s Development and Change, “Towards a Political Economy of Roads: Experiences from Peru.” Wilson proposes in this article to ask a simple question; who benefits from roads?

Wilson takes James Scott’s position, in Seeing Like a State, that roads make territories “legible” to state power. She notes that road building seems to be the one non-controversial infrastructural project that has remained constant in the development paradigm from the sixties, where development was all about building up import substituting industry, to the Washington Consensus, where development was all about privatization and export.

And she notes the human scale of the road, from the point of view of development geography:

“it would be presumptuous, not to say patronizing, to suggest that village people are misguided in their desire for greater accessibility. Most understandably, they wish to be relieved of the drudgery and isolation of living in a walking world (Porter, 2002), to stand a better chance of gaining and interweaving livelihoods
(Bebbington, 1999), to qualify for a higher level of service provision, especially in education and health, and to feel themselves incorporated as citizens in national life.

My concern in this article is not to question the legitimacy of this demand but to discuss the considerations that lie behind it and ask whether greater accessibility can always be assumed to bring lower transaction costs, greater prosperity and an easier, more secure, way of life for rural people. The current privileging of
accessibility partly reflects the unproblematic way that infrastructure is addressed in development planning literature where rural or feeder roads tend to be considered as socially and politically neutral, or as a technological fix. But as Samoff (1996) argues, there is a wide gulf between the literature that simplifies
and adopts a facade of precision in order to draw policy recommendations and the literature that remains wedded to the importance of understanding messy reality, power relations and the uncertainty and unpredictability of outcomes in everyday life.”

This grabbed me. I live, if not in the walking world, at least in the bicycling world. That world is sometimes difficult to embed in the world of cars. It is a fact unnoticed, in fact, by your average car driver that a road can make access more difficult, rather than less, depending on your vehicle. A biker has to get around the highway system, and the variations in traffic flow to which certain main roads are subject. In a place like Austin, where there is a heavy sport biking population but no consideration, otherwise, of biking as a real form of traffic, this leads to innumerable itinerary compromises. For instance: I once had a job as a phonemarketer with a EMR software company that was located on Capital of Texas Highway. To get there on my bike took twenty minutes, not bad really – it was about seven miles from where I live. I actually liked the scenery I took in biking there, since I had to back route myself by way of Mount Bonnel on roads that have the steepest grade, I believe, in the city. The last fifth of my journey, however, required a dog leg up Capital of Texas Highway, and that was always a little hairy. Yet the “world” that I had to navigate had been created to accelerate transportation, and I do not think it occurred to any of the engineers planning the roads to question, even once, their P.O.V. – this, even though there is a whole world of children and teenage transport that comes out of the very houses that the roads are integrated with. In my (off the cuff and screwball) opinion, surely one of the great factors in the rise of children’s obesity is not the food we eat, which is probably much healthier than the prepackaged foods of the sixties, but the blind shutting out of children’s transportaition – i.e. bike world – that has occurred since the sixties.

But to get back to Wilson’s essay. Wilson poses a simple question:

“From the perspective of rural populations, road building may lead not to benefits but to an undermining
of fragile livelihoods and dispossession of resources. There may be considerable advantages to be gained from holding on to spatial ‘autonomy’ notwithstanding the costs — a concept having a far more positive ring than ‘inaccessibility’ or ‘isolation’. For the sake of ‘autonomy’, can a case be made for making do with tracks and trails instead of building roads?”

I’ll take up Wilson’s responses to this question tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

liar, accessory, nullity

LI has grown tired of punching the President. It is like punching one of those blow up punching bags that were popular when LI was a kid – the bag just wobbles and comes back up, the cartoon figure imprinted on it bearing the same goofy, factory made smile.

So, knowing that this is the man who left the country vulnerable to the 9/11 attack to fulfill the Bush mandate – to take as many vacations as possible – it comes as no surprise that the man who said, three days after Katrina, that nobody expected the levees to break, was warned three days before Katrina that everybody expected the levees to break.

“In the 48 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, the White House received detailed warnings about the storm's likely impact, including eerily prescient predictions of breached levees, massive flooding, and major losses of life and property, documents show.
A 41-page assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), was delivered by e-mail to the White House's "situation room," the nerve center where crises are handled, at 1:47 a.m. on Aug. 29, the day the storm hit, according to an e-mail cover sheet accompanying the document.
The NISAC paper warned that a storm of Katrina's size would "likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching" and specifically noted the potential for levee failures along Lake Pontchartrain. It predicted economic losses in the tens of billions of dollars, including damage to public utilities and industry that would take years to fully repair. Initial response and rescue operations would be hampered by disruption of telecommunications networks and the loss of power to fire, police and emergency workers, it said.”

“President Bush, in a televised interview three days after Katrina hit, suggested that the scale of the flooding in New Orleans was unexpected. "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm," Bush said in a Sept. 1 interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."”
A liar, murderer and nullity – and the crème rises to the top in the America! Or as Fred Barnes might put it, the Rebel in Chief – our national cheerleader - rides again.

Monday, January 23, 2006

lifeless life

When W.G. Sebald, in a famous essay, asked why no German literary response to the massive bombing of Germany ever developed, he had to make a partial exception for Hans Erich Nossack Der Untergang, an account of the firebombing of Hamburg written in 1943 and published, I believe, after the war was over. There is a trove of Nossack material at this site. One autobiographical essay, Lifeless life, is not, I believe, well known in the English speaking world. In fact, I’m not sure that it has been translated. Anyway, it is a partial account of normal life in Nazi Germany by a man who did, actually, oppose the Nazis before they took power, was harassed by them, but never joined a resistance movement – in other words, your normal liberal German. I include the latter not to blame Nossack, but to give you the circumstances that make Lifeless life a peculiarly interesting vision of living in a Western country in which the presuppositions of the liberal society are visibly crushed, and a highly intelligent man’s reaction to that.

"The fearful illusion rests on the fact that there is no private life, no individual existence, no really independent though under a totalitarian regime. Everything is infected with the bacillus of the epidemic; even the opponent, who believes he has made himself immune, stands under its law. The ideology of the powerful are deposited over everything like steam in a bell jar and takes away the reality of all human action. Recordings from this time give the effect of being spoken in a sleep, or under the influence of a nightmare. All photos collectively seem to be under-lighted, or to be irreproducible negatives. That was what I was? one asks incredulously. Clearly, the official registrar’s facts are all in order, but the bureau of birth, marriage and death certificates only register the lifeless life. Here must lie the real reasons why the national socialistic everyday escapes representation. It isn’t a question of someone wanting to forget a process or a breakdown, and thus it isn’t about the unmastered past – the moral, psychological and punitive issues of the past may be allowed to be filled in. It is more of a question of a lack of the past, of a hole in the existence of the individual, as though it were some ultimate physical weakness. One remembers the last words of the surgeon and the nurse before anaesthetic is applied, and afterwards the strength it required to return to consciousness. But what was in between? Time advanced, that can be confirmed by the clock. But where was I when that was going on?

I don’t think that I could make precise statements even if my journals and letters out of those years had not been burned in the air attack. I have a suspicion that the means with which I sought to preserve my self-respect would seem childish and shadowy to me. That we did not put out flags once, when it was ordered, that we never once used the greeting Heil Hitler, that we never gave a penny to the Winter Aid drive, and various other drives, that we vanished into a building or an alley whenever we came across a procession with music and officials – all of these were laughable pokings of a needle of an unarmed opponent. Otherwise such negligences were reported on the index cards of the block warden, perhaps he reported in order to make himself important in some predetermined place further up the chain and that went still further up the chain. The secret police could thus produce a picture of the mood of the public and direct the organs of propoganda accordingly. Nobody would have taken these prickings of the needle too seriously. The Regime didn’t really care about the money collected in the drives, and maybe they had a few banners left over. Money can easily be printed. Everything had only one goal, which was to keep the mass of prisoners continuously occupied and breathless, in order to delude them over their situation and to blind them to their fate. And, in fact, even the small number of opponents were breathless. Foreigners asked us after the war, why did you let this happen and put up no resistance? Whoever poses that question has obviously never lain on an operation table or lived under the conditions of an epidemic.”

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Philosophers ask absurd questions. Jonathan Bennett, in The name of Events, poses the following question: suppose I take a walk around the garden every day. Some day when I am indisposed for some reason, can someone else take my walk? The question is absurd because we live in a world where events – walkings and such – are subordinate to substances – the walkers. Someone can take my bicycle, but my walk is “owned” in quite a different way. I do it, I don’t have it. Yet, what if the walk does me? What tells us that the world’s order is so immutable that the first shall always be first, the last shall always be last, and substance shall always reign over events?

I am thinking about this because of two things I recently read.

V.S. Ramachandran’s book, Phantoms of the Brain, describes Ramachandran’s study of the phantom limb puzzle. Phantom limbs usually occur when an arm or a leg is amputated, and the amputee feels an arm or a leg still there. Ramachandran found that sometimes the phenomenon occurs even among people who are born without arms or legs. Phantom limbs can “grow” on these people.

The world of phantom limbs is an interesting one. A third of all phantom limbs are paralyzed, often in the highly awkward or painful postures they’d assumed right before the limb was injured. And phantom limbs are also locales of pain. Often, phantom arms are afflicted with a nervous syndrome in which the phantom hand cramps into a fist, digging its nails into the phantom flesh. Ramachandran did som amazing experiments to help people with these problems. For instance, he devised a box to “cure” phantom arm victims of certain problems. The box had no top, and had a vertical mirror placed in it, and two holes cut in the front. He tells of one victim whose arm was paralyzed, and who was being extremely irritated by it. He directed her to put her arms – the right real one and the left phantom one – through the holes in the box.

“Since the mirror is in the middle of the box, the right hand is now on the right side of the mirror and the phantom on the left. The patient is asked to view the reflection of her normal hand in the mirror and to move it around slightly until the reflection appears to be superimposed on the felt reflection of her phantom hand. She has thus created the illusion of observing two hands.”

Ramachandran then directed her to move her hands, doing things like imitating an orchestra conductor. The woman immediately started feeling her phantom limb move.

When she withdrew her arms, the phantom limb was again paralyzed. Yet after a few weeks of practice, it could move – it could gesture like mobile phantom limbs do. In fact, in one case a man who suffered severe pain in his phantom elbow “lost” his phantom limb using the mirror box – the first recorded case of phantom limb amputation.

Ramachandran has a neurological theory about the conflict between the seeing of the hand and the neural area feeling the arm that he claims explains these phenomena. But I would rather pass on to my second book, Herman Broch’s “The Sleepwalkers.”

Broch is, to my mind, the most erotic author I’ve ever read. Reflecting on events and phantom limbs, I think I understand why: Broch has an uncanny ability to tap into the world given to us by erotica, and in this world the last do come first. Substance, here, is secondary, while events ride mankind.

In the Sleepwalkers, an officer, Joachim von Passenow, finds himself unwillingly drawn to a Czech girl, Ruzena, a café prostitute. The description of the first day they spend together is too long to quote in its gorgeous entirety, but one feature of it may be enough. As they are out walking on this rainy Berlin day, Joachim dressed in khaki, Rozena stops him and, instead of kissing him on the lips, “bent over his hand, where it lay in hers, and kissed it before he could stop her.” They go to a park, the rain is drizzling down into the river there, and then they go out of the rain into an inn. Again, they don’t kiss at the table. ‘Whenever the landlady left the room, Rozena set down her cup, took his out of his hand, and seizing his head drew it quite close to hers, so close – and they had not yet kissed – that their glances melted together, and the tension was quite unendurable in its sweetness.” They leave the inn, they hail a droschke and enter into its shadowy interior as the drizzle continues to come down and then “… seeing nothing of the world save the coachman’s cape and two gray wet stripes of roadway through the opening on either side, and soon not even seeing that, then their faces bowed to each other, met, and melted together, dreaming and flowing like the river, lost irrecoverably, and ever found again, and again sank timelessly. It was a kiss that lasted for an hour and fourteen minutes.”

And this, I think, is why the erotic is daemonic, and why so few people can or really want to distinguish it from pornography, which is only superficially about cocks, pussies, and assholes, but is much more organized around the retaining of the order of things in which there are cocks, pussies and assholes as substances of humans doing things. Erotica is a matter of events, of a fundamental inversion of that order, and that is why it scares the shit out of me. Pornography is just part of the dominant spectrum, which includes the Disney parents kissing after “honey, I’m home.” The erotic is the moment when honey I’m home seizes the now anonymous couple in its talons and “coming home” is separated from the returning husband and the greeting wife and it subordinates them to its iron law, which makes a mockery of individuation and quantity; and one sees now how reluctantly, as if coming out of a dream that could be – for who knows the character of its edges? – death itself, Joachim and Ruzena become substance once again, an hour and fourteen minutes after they began their kiss.

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...