Saturday, October 28, 2006


Here’s a Halloween story for you all. From Histoire curieuse et pittoresque des sorcier, devins, magiciens, astrologues, voyants, revenants, etc., by Mathias de Giraldo

Un pâtre du village de Blow, près de la ville de Kadam, en Bohème, apparut quelque temps. Il appelait certaines personnes, qui ne manquaient pas de venir dans la huitaine. Les paysans de Blow déterrerent ce pâtre et le réinhumererent avec un pieu qu’ils lui passerent à travers le corps. Cet homme, en cet état, se moquait de ceux qui lui faisaient subir ce traitement, et leur disait qu’il avaient bonne grace de lui donner ainsi un bâton pour se defender contre les chiens. La même nuit il se releva, et effraya par sa presence plusieurs personnes, et en suffoqua plus qu’il n’avait fait jusqu’alors. On le livra ensuite au bourreau, qui le mit sur une charrette pour le transporter hors du village et l’y brûler. Ce cadaver hurlait comme un furieux, et remuait les pieds et les mains comme un vivant, et losqu’on le perca de nouveau avec des pieux, il jeta de tres-grands cris, et rendit du sang vermeil et en grande quantité. Enfin on le brula, et cette exécution mit fin aux apparitions et aux infestations de ce spectre.

“A village shepherd from Blow, near to the village of Kadam, in Bohemia, appeared for a while [after his death]. He called upon certain persons, who did not fail to come to him within eight days. The peasants of Blow dug up the shepherd and re-buried him with a steak through his body. That man, in that estate, mocked them, thanking them for giving him a stick with which to defend himself against dogs. The same nite he rose and frightened several people, and suffocated more than he’d done before. They finally gave him to the executioner, who put him on a cart to transport him out of the village and burn him. The cadaver screamed like a maniac, and moved his hands and feet like a live person, and when they pierced him with stakes again, he emitted loud cries, and spewed out scarlet blood, in great quantities. At last they burned him, and that execution put an end to the apparitions and infestations of this specter.”

And a little Halloween Borgesian touch for LI’s far clung correspondent in NYC, Mr. T. This is from Lew Spence’s encyclopedia of the occult. I’d like to find one of these folks.

Almoganenses is the name given by the Spaniards to certain people who, by the flight and song of birds, meetings with wild animals, and various other means, foretold coming events, whether good or evil. "They carefully preserve among themselves," says Laurent Valla, "books which treat of this science, where they find rules of all sorts of prognostications and predictions. The soothsayers are divided into two classes, one, the masters or principals, the other the disciples and aspirants."
Another kind of knowledge is also attributed to them, that of being able to indicate not only the way taken by horses and other beasts of burden which are lost, but even the road followed by one or more persons. They can specify the kind and shape of the ground, whether the earth is hard or soft, covered with sand or grass, whether it. is a broad road, paved or sanded, or narrow, twisting paths, and tell also how many passengers are on the road. They can thus follow the track of anyone, and cause thieves to be pursued and apprehended. Those writers who mention the Almoganenses, however, do not specify either the period when they flourished, or the country or province they occupied, but it seems possible from their name and other considerations that they were Moorish.

marabout hideousness

"And the Iraqi says, "What do you mean this is a show?'"

On April 18, 1999, in the NYT Magazine section, there was a brief article by Teller about Robert-Houdin’s trip to Algeria:

“On Oct. 28, 60 burnoose-clad chieftains and their retinues arrived at Algiers's Bab Azoun Theater to see Houdin. The magician began with a few pleasant surprises: he produced cannonballs and bouquets from a hat; he threw coins into the air, which then appeared in a crystal box suspended above the audience; he filled an empty silver punch bowl with steaming coffee -- a great hit with the Arab java lovers.

Having tantalized the audience with humor, Houdin began the psychological assault. He brought out a strongbox with a ring for a handle, and placed it on the floor. He asked for a muscular volunteer to come up onstage and lift the chest. A volunteer, a particularly burly man, did so easily.

Then Houdin waved his wand at the volunteer and said, ''Voila! You are weaker than a woman; now, try to lift the box.'' With a disdainful swagger, the volunteer seized the handle again, but though he sweated and strained, though his compatriots cheered him on, he could not move the chest. After a few minutes he suddenly screamed, fell to his knees, tore his hands from the ring and fled, crying for Allah to save him.

Houdin followed this trick by catching a marked bullet in an apple, and by making a member of the audience vanish. By the end of the show, the chieftains were exclaiming, ''Shaitan!'' (the Arabic equivalent of ''Satan'') as they ran for the exits in terror.
But Houdin was a magician, not a politician, so he had a conscience. After the show he sent translators to explain to the spectators that his tricks were just like the tricks of the marabouts -- theater and science, not the supernatural. (A powerful electromagnet under the stage kept the box on the ground; an electrical shock sent the strongman running.) In this case, a magician revealing his tricks paid off. Three days after the performance, 30 of the most powerful chieftains presented Houdin with an illuminated manuscript praising his art and pledging their steadfast allegiance to France.”

Since that article appeared in the golden age of Good King Bill, our politicians have invaded Mohammedan countries as the best damn team of stage magicians ever assembled – for instance, doing the disappearing army trick in Iraq. However, to LI, Teller’s story – which of course derives from Robert-Houdin’s excellent memoirs (sadly, to those who’ve emailed asking about said memoirs, Dover Press apparently has discontinued printing them – although this is a great opportunity for some Publishing company to hire LI to translate them for a whole new audience!) – puts into question the fissure between magic and politics, magic and the marketplace, magic and rational choice, etc. For it is the story of a type: it is the story of white magic that is favored by historians and the writers of Ripley’s believe it or not as well. It is the superstitious native vs. the rational white man. It is the script of a thousand Tarzan movies, and returns (turned about, satanically, the seachange undergone by the repressed) as voodoo attacks, or the Cat Woman, or I walked with a Zombie, or the Night of the Living Dead. It has a lively, marginal existence, and a happy ending – they always bring the illuminated manuscript in the end, and they always pledge their steadfast allegiance to France – or even better, Uncle Sam!

I’ve noticed that the disgruntlement with the ingratitude of the marabout has seeped far into the belligeranti culture. It was always going to happen. In the first few weeks of the occupation, when the looting broke out, there was the beginning of the narrative of Iraqi ‘immaturity’ – plus the shame of so many of the small dicked males in said soon to be paradise of free enterprise that it took the White Gods to drive Saddam into his spiderhole. However, we were going to be on the case in a jiffy, teaching the Iraqi policeman to respect democracy as much as American policemen do, and things like that. Oh, the things we wanted to teach the Iraqis! Our hearts were so open. We even wanted to play sex games with them at Abu Ghraib, or at least according to Representative Shays from Connecticut. How American is that? Not only fun now, but later on, you can have repressed memories therapy and learn what has been fucking up your whole life. So it is a twofer.

I am not, of course, saying that we were stupid – the savage knows one thing, and that is fear. But, like the kindest, gentlest Dr. Moreau’s, we were going to train that group of mutants into the best damn step and fetchit nation you ever saw.

But now, three years later – why you just have to go to National Review’s current source of Oriental wisdom, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies to see how damned depressed our belligeranti are becoming. It isn't the war so much - the belligeranti have the stomach for war. They are tough like that. But it is the realization that our gentleness has been misinterpreted as general pussiness by the hideous 'Umma', the insurgents, the cowards and fiends. Andrew McCarthy, a fellow at the institute and an absolute expert in Islam - in his bio, he modestly claims to have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom ten times - has been on the case:

“Much of this worldwide community of believers, you may have noticed, has a hard time with some basic tenets of Western civilization — freedom of speech, of religion, separation of church and state, equality between men and women, between Muslims and non-Muslims, and so on. Not exactly what you'd call a running start toward anything we'd recognize as a democracy.

The Umma, moreover, has a hard time with … well, the Umma. Today marks the end of Ramadan, said to be the sacred month in the Islamic calendar. Yet this year, as in many years past, it will be marked in blood. Ironically, just a few days ago Muslim activists were rising up in anger (is there ever a time when they're not rising up in anger?) over the realization that the 2012 Olympics in London will collide with Ramadan, putting observant pole-vaulters at a competitive disadvantage. Fasting obligations, however, seem to detract little from the energy required for slaughter. Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad have somehow managed to bomb, bludgeon, and behead each other with furious abandon throughout this “holy month.””

Marabout fuckers. The Umma is a wonderful word – sorta like Smersh – and you can tell right away that it is a regular beehive of evil. And he who says evil says the devil – something that the white magicians can’t abide.

McCarthy’s column is about a recent statement by a State Department official that the U.S. has been arrogant and ignorant in Iraq. So not the truth!

“In any event, the Associated Press reported on Sunday that Fernandez now believes he has the problem figured out: We need to talk more. You see, though we have freed 26 million Muslims from Saddam's sadistic tyranny and given them a chance — whether or not they want it — to taste freedom, the United States is ignorant and imperious because we haven't had enough dialogue with the malcontents. But finally, according to Fernandez, “We are open to dialogue.” Why? Because “we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation[.] … The Iraqi government is convinced of this.”

So there you have it. State's assessment from the senior diplomat responsible for conveying our position: The U.S. is arrogant and stupid, and what we need to pursue is the chatter course preferred by the Iraqi government. And, yes, that would be the same government whose thoroughly ineffective, Hezbollah-supporting, Iran apologist of a leader, Nouri al-Maliki, can't or won't crack down on Shiite militias — particularly the one led by his political ally, Muqtada al-Sadr, who may now outpace al Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists among Iraq's countless destabilizers.”

Truly, the Offending Freedom, er, or Defending Democracies is the think pack to join in this, a trough time in the forty year war to rid the world of terrorism. The sample from McCarthy, by the way, represents the moderate wing of this group of Front Liners.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lois Poitras

Lois Poitras decided to do something foolhardy, and went to Iraq with a camera, and hung out with an anti-occupation politician during the 2005 election. Contrast this with the home of Kraus and Shafer and Hitchens, Slate, which elected to get its Iraqi election news from correspondant Tamara Chalabi – that’s right, Ahmed’s daughter. How sick is that. And so contrarian! Giggles must have swept the Slate D.C. office – so naughty. Why, it is as funny as making a mousse out of congealed Iraqi blood!

Well, Poitras didn’t do anything so chic and D.C., but spent time –
plebe that she is – in the Adhamiyah section of Baghdad filming … “*Dr. Riyadh* … a Sunni political candidate and medical doctor who sees the effects of war daily. Dr. Riyadh opposes U.S. occupation and calls for civil resistance, while hoping for a democracy based on Islamic principles.” One of the … wait for it … bad guys, must be. Ungrateful for the killing fields which, as Chris Hitchens has pointed out, are just the price people like him are willing to pay to stop Islamofascism.

Anyway, her Q and A here is fascinating, and the film sounds pretty
cool – those of you who get PBS might see if you can tune into some
rerun of My Country, My country.

However, as much as LI finds Poitras and the response to her film
heartening – there is still a part of this country that won’t accept
bullshit lying down – there was a q.and a. to remind us that under the present decider-clown, we are slouching towards giving up our right to freedom of speech at an alarming rate:

“*Fort Thomas, Ky.:* Have you found out yet why you have a score of 400 with Homeland Security? it is an outrage! The film was wondeful I am hoping to get it shown at my daughters HS - Thank you and please send our thanks to the Dr. and his family for sharing their lives with us!

This is an important work.

*Laura Poitras:* The reason I'm on the list is classified. What I was told my a source it that there is an accusation against me. I'm in the process of filing a Freedom of Information Act request which will probably take months or years to process. It is sad and also funny - no one gave me any trouble in Baghdad, but now that I'm home I'm suddenly dangerous. Makes me a little worried about the people who make this
kinds of decisions.”

Mother of mercy - an accusation filed against her. This is where I stick my poll through the screen - notice the chopped off locks? Yesterday, I decided I needed to look like Dreyer's Joan of Arc, got out the scissors, and snip snip snip - anyway, kiddies, here's the plan. Please address Andres Serrano and ask him to make President Bush the honoree of his next art work. An' at this point I withdraw my head, the camera filling with a huge eyelid coming down - wink! on a huge eye, a la a Warner Bros. cartoon, circa 1945 - and we return you to your regularly scheduled post...

The PBS site for the film is here, complete with podcast of conversation with George Packer. Hmm.

And a quote:

Maria Hinojosa: There is a moment in your film, when people are getting ready for the election and they're being spoken to by an American military official who says, "Your elections are going to be the biggest show on earth, they're going to be seen all over. Your show." And the Iraqi says, "What do you mean this is a show?" and he was confused. Tell me about that scene.

Laura Poitras: It was actually a shoot that I fought really hard to get on. Some of the access I got in Iraq came serendipitously, some of it went through repeated, repeated emails. For that particular shoot, I knew that there was going to be training of police before elections, and then I got an email and officially, they said, "No, the training is not going to happen, it's not going to happen." But somebody else sent me an email from the military and said, "Listen, it's happening, you didn't hear it from me." I approached the military and I got in.

It was two days of training where the U.S. State Department and Justice Department had put together a manual for training Iraqi lieutenants. So these were Iraqi police officers who were high up, and the U.S. brought them from all over the country to do this training. I filmed for the whole two days and during this one particular scene, it's a contractor for the Justice and State Departments who was conducting this training and talking about this is going to be such a great show. But then you listen to the conversation that develops, and you realize that the people he's talking to — the Iraqi police — are going to be on the front lines, so these are the people who are going to die in the show.

Maria Hinojosa: That's what he's saying to them, "This isn't a show for us."

Forgive a bit of blind and stupid optimism, but I think the Poitras approach is going to blow up, eventually, the Dracula’s castle the plutocrats are making of this country. We creep up upon them. Loonies such as myself, practicing homemade black magic. Filmmakers getting riffs from war supporters that lead in unexpected directions. My suggestion for a political motto at the moment in these here states is: Brothers and sisters, let's not slaughter other people.

Radical, eh?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bush, our vanity robot, speaks

Out of curiosity, LI counted the number of times President Bush said “I believe” in today’s press conference. It comes out to 21. As we have said until saying it makes us fucking sick and tired of saying it, Iraq is a vanity war, caused, in part, by the power seized by the executive branch during the cold war that has allowed any president to use U.S. troops as mercenaries to fulfill whatever odious desire he happens to shelter. President Bush is different than most in that he is more emotionally crippled than is even usually the case for a politician – and let’s face it, the skill set for a politician can be pretty much read in the face of a politician -- all the taloned love of self combined with the usual middle manager's enormous and servile fears.

Thus, this war has been reduced, in the unimaginable claustrophobia of the oval office, to what Bush believes. The convergence of an anti-democratic structure and the pathologies of privilege meet and resonate in Bush’s credo, for what he believes in is… Bush. His defense of the entire Iraq war revolves around the phrase, “I believe” … in me. (cue the “Fame, I’m going to live forever!" music). The reiteration of that kind of thing is heady and tempting for the D.C. crowd – finally, the king openly relies on his own Godgiven kingliness, instead of any mere excuse provided by precedent or rationality. This is why Bush, among these syncophants, is known as ‘bold,’ he’s a ‘cowboy’, he’s ‘tough’. The old and reliable eunuch impulses kick in. Isn’t this the whole crowning point of meritocracy, the whole glorious apotheosis? The separation of the wealthy and privileged, finally, from the filth and sloppiness of the American plebe, the vast audience of suckers, who can hardly be relied upon to find their proper places in the American greatness project. Those places are to volunteer to be a soldier, god damn it. Get your fucking ass in uniform, and don’t ask beastly and silly questions about the children of the D.C. privileged. Those questions show such childishness, especially in the divine light radiated out by Bush’s “I believe.”

Well, besides giving Fred Barnes several orgasms with this press conference, we wonder if the drunken wobble of the American greatness project as it reliably produces 300 to 500 Iraqi dead per day isn’t going down just as a matter of course. In a sense, having a vanity robot telling us what he believes, as though this were some transforming data we hadn’t considered before, as if big dick Moses was coming down from the mountain to lay it out before us as we heedlessly danced around a golden calf we are paying Visa, Mastercharge and American Express for, at a new discount rate of 21 percent compounded monthly, and suddenly – ah, the light dawns upon us. Our president BELIEVES – well, we wonder if the suckers and zombies are going to take this bait once more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Comment on devient sorcier

That wonderful phrase comes from Robert-Houdin, the conjurer LI mentioned in the last post.

Robert-Houdin is known to most Americans simply because Eric Weiss stole part of his name and added an ‘i’: Houdini. And even those who know that rarely know that Houdini wrote a book in which he supposedly “unmasked” his idol as a pilferer of other people’s tricks. Robert-Houdin has become one of those quiet sites of American-French rivalry – as the French know, Robert-Houdin’s house was lit by incandescent lightbulbs with a filament he invented decades before the Wizard of Menlo Park got around to experimenting on how much of an electrical charge the human hair follicle could take.

His memoirs were once popular, and still are popular among magicians. They are also popularly debunked. As is, for example, the story of how Houdin got into the magic biz in the first place.

Here it is. Houdin was a young man, away from home, an apprentice watchmaker, and son of a watchmaker. One day he got a bad case of food poisoning. He’d nearly collapsed by the side of the road, trying to reach home, when a traveling magic show passed by. The magician was a once famous conjurer named Torrini now in the dumps, accompanied, of course, by a faithful servant, Antonio. Torrini and his servant took the delirious Houdin in, and nursed him back to health. Torrini was so affection because, it transpired, Houdin looked like Torrini’s son. A son about which there was some obvious dark cloud of mystery, since every time Torrini mentioned him, he’d burst into tears. While Houdin learned the mysteries of the craft, he did not learn the mysteries of Torrini until one night he gradually wormed it out of the old man.

Seems like Torrini hadn’t always been just a sawdust floor wizard – at one time, he was a conjuror to princes and popes. He was born into the nobility, you see. But as the years went on, his card tricks began to bore his audiences, and so he searched around for something more… shall we say, more s-sensational.

At this time, Torrini was married and had a boy. His son assisted him, especially in an act Torrini had entitled, Son of William Tell. Torrini claimed to have invented it – like all stage showman, he had a weakness for bogus originality. It was quite simple, really. The boy bit into an apple, and held it there in front of his mouth, and his father shot at him. The bullet, especially marked, lodged in the apple.

Here’s how the bullet catch trick is done. “The bullet was molded of hollow wax, mixed with soot to give it a dark, metallic look. The wax bullet was crushed in the barrel of the pistol and the magician was careful to stand a great distance away.”

It is an old trick. According to James Randi, it was first described by Reverend Thomas Beard in Threats of God’s Judgment in 1631. Anyway, here is how Torrini lost his mind: he kept these wax bullets in a box. All very simple. And yet somehow a leaden bullet was insensibly mixed into this box, and one night the leaden bullet was selected, the boy stood with his apple, and his father took aim and slew him.

And you wondered where William Burroughs got the idea…

After six months in jail and his wife’s desertion, Torrini then wandered the byways of Europe, playing to gawping plebes, out of his head. And then, just as Saul was cured of his Godrogenic stresses by David, Torrini met Robert-Houdin.

Jim Steinmeyer, in his biography of Chung Sing Loo, writes that Torrini never existed. Or nobody has ever found a record of him. But it is an excellent story.

Incidentally, Houdini was famously advised never to do the bullet catch himself, and never did. It is a simple trick, but usually it involves a momentary loss of control of the instrument. Rather than the magician shooting, the magician usually selects someone from the audience to shoot at him.

When Hobbes wrote about nature blood in tooth and claw, he was referring, allegorically, to the audience at magic acts. The first magician who brought the bullet catch trick to America turned around, and in that moment the spectator who held the gun filled it with tacks – and must have had the tacks on hand, too. Anyway, of course, the magician was pelleted. Chung Sing Loo died of the bullet catch act. You can get a partial list here.

Now – interlude for some heavy bellringing as LI goes into a History channel overview re magick – magic in the sixteenth century, whether performed by the savage or the sage woman, was the same kind of stuff, derived from the devil. But by the eighteenth century, there was a fold. At that point the belief in magic, for the governing class of European, fell by the wayside. And so the native magician became ignorant, and the peasant became a tool of some more powerful personage playing on his credulity. Magic as a means of taking and keeping power produced a variation on the reading of the chief, the shaman, the ‘medecine man’, the figure flinger.

Bringing us on the wings of white magic angels to the nineteenth century, and Robert-Houdin, born in 1805 to a watchmaker. It is emblematic that nineteenth century magie blanche should arise from the same cadre that produced steam engines and cotton gins. At the beginning of his memoirs, Houdin breaks out into a nice bit of poetry that tells us a good deal about the 19th century:

“How often, in my infantile dreams, did a benevolent fairy open before me the door of a mysterious El Dorado, where tools of every description were piled up. The delight which these dreams produced on me were the same as any other child feels when his fancy summons up before him a fantastic country where the houses are made of chocolate, the stones of sugar-candy, and the men of gingerbread. It is difficult to understand this fever for tools; the mechanic, the artist, adores them, and would ruin himself to obtain them. Tools, in fact, are to him what a ms. is to the archaeologist, a coin to the antiquary, or a pack of cards to a gambler: in a word, they are the implements by which a ruling passion is fed.”

My brothers have the same unconquerable passion for the El Dorado of tools. Of course, nowadays, we can drive to it. It is called Home Depot.

Actually, Houdin’s memoirs are full of these Stendhal like touches. Perhaps this is why Henri Bergson read him. There is a passage in Energie spirituelle by Bergson I’m gonna translate, and then we are finished with this here post.

“In one of the curious pages of his Confidences, Robert Houdin explains how he proceeded to develop an intuitive and instantaneous memory in his young son. He began by showing the child a domino, the 5/4, asking him the sum total of the points without letting him count them. To this domino he added another, the 4/3, demanding once again an immediate response. He stopped his first lesson there. The next day, he succeeded in adding in the blink of an eye three and four dominos, the next day after five: in adding each day some new progress to that of yesterday’s, he ended up by obtaining instantly the some of the points of a dozen dominoes. “This result acquired, we busied ourselves with a task that was difficult in another way, to which we devoted ourselves for more than a month. We passed, my son and I, rapidly enough before a children’s toy shop, or some other shop which was furnished with various merchandise, and we plunged an attentive look into it. Some steps latter, we drew from our pockets a pencil and piuece of paper, and we each competed separately to see who could describe the greatest number of objects that we grasped in passing… It often happened that my son listed fourteen objects…” The purpose of this special education was to get the child to grasp with a glance, in the seating area of the theater, all the objects carried into it by all the assistants. thus, with a cloth tied over his eyes, he could simulate second sight in describing, given an agreed upon sign by his father, an object chosen at random by one of the audience. This visual memory was developed to such a point that after some moments passed in front of a library/bookstore the boy retained a large number of titles, with the exact places of the corresponding books. He took, in a way, a mental photograph of the whole, which permitted the immediate recall of the parts. But, from the start of the first lesson, and in the interdiction weighing on adding up the points of the dominoes, we see the principle mechanism of this education of the memory. All interpretation of the visual image was excluded from the act of the vision: intelligence was maintained on the level of the visual images.”

Things my old man never did for me… Actually, Houdin’s pedagogical plan is not that different from the plan worked out by Rousseau – spacing the secondary intelligence of culture after the primary intelligence of the senses, with memory that strange human faculty that straddles the divide between nature and culture. And I should say: this is an excellent education for writing. Robert-Houdin's memoir's are supposedly ghostwritten -- but like Torrini, the Ghostwriter has apparently been the victim of one of Robert-Houdin's vanishing acts. Nobody has a name for him, or a record of him.

Anyway, in a coming post, we will get to the hat trick with the cannon balls. Don’t worry!

Monday, October 23, 2006

tricks as primitive as are the spectators before whom they are performed

They put a little light in his head – Metric

Robert-Houdin, like Berlioz and Georges Sand, led his life as though it were a sold out engagement for a 19th century French audience – so it was natural that he would gravitate towards the memoir.

In 1856, acceding to the demands of Colonel Neveu of the Political office, Houdin went to tour Algeria. The tour was not simply about showing French magic in the colonies to a bunch of poilus – it was about using that magic for political ends. Specifically, Houdin was the point man for the battle of white magic against black.

“It is known that the majority of revolts which have to be suppressed in Algeria are excited by intriguers, who say they are inspired by the Prophet, and are regarded by the Arabs as envoys of God on earth to deliver them from the oppression of the Roumi (Christians).

These false prophets and holy Marabouts, who are no more sorcerers than I am, and indeed even less so, still contrive to influence the fanaticism of their co-religionists by tricks as primitive as are the spectators before whom they are performed.”

The government sent Houdin around both to de-mystify and to mystify – although Houdin would, of course, dispute the latter description of what his mission was about:

“The governments was, therefore, anxious to destroy their pernicious influence, and reckoned on me to do so. They hoped, with reason, by the aid of my experiments, to prove to the Arabs that the tricks of their Marabouts were mere child’s play, and owing to their simplicity could not be done by an envoy from Heaven, which also led us very naturally to show them that we are their superiors in everything, and, as for sorcerers, there are none like the French.”

And you thought LI was joking about white magic.

Speeddialing one hundred fifty years, the newest, meanest sorcerers, the Americans, seem to have tricked themselves, to their own satisfaction, in Afghanistan, from which we are cutting and running, leaving an angry house to a new crewe of white magicians from Nato. In 2001, LI thought – and still thinks – that the U.S. had a perfect right and need to attack, having been attacked. In other words, we thought that the U.S., like a normal nation, should act like a normal nation. But the U.S. isn’t a normal nation. Subordinate to the magic of war, the U.S. can’t actually fight wars – normally. To do that would be to uncover the illusion necessary to getting a population to spend a trillion dollars per annum on war. And of course, on the personal side, there was the matter of the junta of cardsharps, popinjays and senile D.C. fixtures that were the leaders of our brave mission. The fiasco that has resulted is as laughable as any random pile of bodies left bleeding on a battlefield. In the NYT Magazine article about Afghanistan by Elizabeth Rubin, Rubin begins by describing her interviews, in Pakistan, with some of the second line Taliban commanders, and gives us this perfect paragraph – perfect, that is, in how American superiority in white magic combines with the audience it tricks – the Americans, of course:

“And though Mullah Sadiq said they had lost many commanders in battles around Kandahar, he and Abdul Baqi appeared to be in good spirits, laughing and chatting loudly on a cellphone to Taliban friends in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After all, they never imagined that the Taliban would be back so soon or in such force or that they would be giving such trouble to the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai and some 40,000 NATO and U.S. troops in the country. For the first time since the fall of 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown, they were beginning to taste the possibility of victory.”

Yesterday, LI assembled a series of the general idiocies of the Conventional Wisdom in 2002 – remember how the liberal/lefties, remembering the Soviets, worried about losing the quick and easy war? Sure you do. Dumb liberal fucks, doubting our white magician.

Of course, the same purveyors of CW have moved on, paying no attention to the fact that the main goal and only justification of the war, attacking the ones who attacked the U.S., sank beneath the waves of Bush incompetency and Rove’s Porky Pig Machiavellianism.

But our little crow heart couldn’t stand contemplating that much irreality.

We’re going to return to Houdin’s tour of Algeria in some later post.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...