Saturday, April 07, 2007

news from the peckerwood apocalypse

As carrion attracts the buzzard, so any story demonstrating the venality, the stupidity, and the general worthlessness of Paul Wolfowitz is a magnet to LI. So we have been in buzzard heaven for the past few days, as John Cassidy’s New Yorker profile of the man has circulated through the media world. Wolfowitz earned his position as head of the World Bank due to the logic of Bozo Bush World, in which the obviously incompetent are raised to positions where they can do the utmost damage by our president, - who, as usual in such cases, displays the acumen of an aging golf pro at a second rate country club.

Cassidy’s article is pretty good, although he could have said something more about the intellectual roots of Wolfowitz’s comic fight against ‘government corruption.” This has been standard boilerplate in conservative development economics since rent seeking was dreamt up in the 70s at the University of Chicago. In neoclass speak, rentseeking has turned into a handy little tool to knock government and seek endless privatization. The economy of favors that is criticized by conservatives never leads to questions about the economy of class – that would certainly be a no no. Rather, the private sector is efficient, don’t you know? So fucking efficient. Thus, the spectacle of the man whose intellectual corruption was a major driver in getting the U.S. involved in a pointless war conducted by an administration that makes Harding’s look clean going to the World Bank with a ‘good governance’ agenda that is your usual Trojan horse for the corporate penetration of national economies in which the real interest is in a very active state role in the economy. Typical mind fucking, American style.

Being the creep that he is, Wolfowitz went into the World Bank and started appointing the usual Bush mafia: for instance, Susan Rich Folsom:

“Folsom is a Washington ethics lawyer with strong ties to the Republican Party. (Her husband, George Folsom, a foreign-policy specialist, worked for the Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.) Before Wolfowitz’s arrival, the bank had enlisted the help of an executive-search firm, which, out of a large pool of candidates, identified nine finalists. After reviewing these names, Wolfowitz rejected them all and selected Folsom, whom Wolfensohn had hired to help him deal with the Treasury Department and the Republican-controlled Congress, and who had been acting as the department’s interim head. According to one of Wolfowitz’s aides, he regarded Folsom as eminently qualfied for the job, and he was also impressed by her performance at the investigations department. Others at the bank saw things differently. “Paul turned around to the world and said that she was appointed following an international search,” one senior official who has now left the bank said to me. “That was technically true. There was an international search. But she was not part of that search. He shredded the list and then brought in a loyalist from the Republican Party.”

Ah, that Republican double dippin’ habit! Once they reach D.C., they can explore rent seeking in propria persona, as spouses and scion nepotistically scramble up the slope of the public tit, doing their best in the real economy while weaving a rhetorical critic of guv’mint for the suckers. Since the suckers – the deadenders who believe Bush is Jesus Christ’s veritable shit – are often, themselves, engineers and the like who are fattening on Pentagon money, it is a righteous circle of hypocrites, insensibly bringing on the peckerwood apocalypse. Ain’t it cute?

Of course, Wolfowitz brought with him the imperial style that served us so well in CPA Iraq:

“As president of the World Bank, Wolfowitz supervises virtually all of its daily operations. However, the bank’s board of twenty-four executive directors is ultimately responsible for its lending and policy activities. Votes on the board are distributed according to how much money each country has contributed to the bank’s capital. The United States controls about sixteen per cent of the votes, but the four next-biggest shareholders—Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom—can outvote it. This governing structure puts a premium on the bank president’s ability to forge a consensus, but Wolfowitz has often seemed determined simply to ignore the board. “They always give us ninety-eight per cent of what we want, so why should we bother about them?” he said to a senior colleague shortly after arriving at the bank. The colleague explained that the board usually obliged the president because the president usually cultivated its members.”

But this is what set off the fireworks:

“The incident that prompted the most comment internally involved Shaha Ali Riza. When Wolfowitz was nominated to the bank presidency, he disclosed his relationship with Riza, who was working in the bank’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) department. Under the bank’s regulations, spouses or partners are prohibited from supervising one another or from working in the same cone of authority. As president, Wolfowitz oversees a cone of authority encompassing nearly all the bank’s employees, including those in MENA. The board of directors’ ethics committee took the view that Riza should be transferred to a position outside his supervision. Wolfowitz asked that she be allowed to maintain her job at MENA and to work with him as necessary, offering to recuse himself from any decisions concerning her pay and work conditions. “It really gave a bad impression, especially for somebody who was making a big issue of good governance,” a former senior official at the bank said. “The president is supposed to set an example to everybody, and yet here he wanted to have his girlfriend working with him, which is flatly prohibited under bank rules.”

Ultimately, Riza was seconded to the State Department. To compensate her for the disruption of her career at the bank, she was promoted to the managerial level, and she has received two pay raises, bringing her salary to a hundred and ninety-three thousand dollars—more than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice makes. “The staff are very upset,” Alison Cave, the chairman of the World Bank Staff Group Association, said, explaining that the raises amounted to special treatment that violated established bank guidelines. Kevin Kellems told me that Wolfowitz had no involvement in Riza’s promotion or pay raises. “All arrangements concerning Shaha Ali Riza were made at the direction of the board of directors,” he said.

Those grafs prompted mention of Cassidy’s piece in Al Kamen’s column in the Washington Post. This, in turn, provoked more commotion. Kamen mentioned this Friday:

“The World Bank rank and file were most upset by our recent column noting that Shaha Riza, linked romantically with bank President Paul Wolfowitz, got some curiously hefty raises upon being detailed to work at the State Department -- but remaining on the bank's payroll.
"Since publication of the . . . column," a bank-wide e-mail Wednesday from the bank's staff association said, the association "has been inundated with messages from staff expressing concern, dismay and outrage."

The association "has looked into those concerns" and concluded that, while it couldn't "determine who drew up and approved" the agreement detailing Riza to State -- which the bank said was necessary to avoid a conflict of interest -- it did find that the terms are "grossly out of line with" bank rules.

Riza, a senior communications officer for the Middle East and North Africa region, was promoted to a higher-paying position on Sept. 19, 2005, the day she left for Foggy Bottom, without any of the required open competition for the job, the association said. She also got a pay raise more than double the amount allowed by the rules, the e-mail said, followed by another allegedly overly large raise.
Before these bumps up, Riza had been earning $132,660. She's now paid $193,590. (Correction: We said last week that this figure was about $7,000 a year more than what is paid to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for whom Riza now works. That now appears to be very misleading. Riza's reported pay is net, we're told, and Rice's is gross. So Riza takes home a whole lot more than Rice. We regret the error.) The association said that in general it "defends a staff member's right to have" the bank "preserve the confidentiality of certain information -- and we deplore this leak of a staff member's confidential salary information. However, in this case, the information shared with the press reveals a violation of the staff rules and therefore seems to us a clear case of whistleblowing."

The sharply worded e-mail called on the bank's board and top officials to "explain how/why the rules were bent in this case" and noted that "this is not the first instance of such staff rule violations by the current World Bank Group management."
The association e-mail -- and other bank observers -- questioned how this matter squared with Wolfowitz's anti-corruption drive, which demands that recipients of World Bank loans crack down on graft, nepotism and so on.

"It's ironic that Mr. Wolfowitz lectures developing countries about good governance and fighting corruption, while winking at an irregular promotion and overly generous pay increases to a partner," said Bea Edwards, international director of the Government Accountability Project, which first disclosed the pay data.
Foreign Policy magazine's editors opined that "given Wolfowitz's crusade to fight corruption in countries that receive Bank aid, doesn't it seem a little hypocritical to hand your girlfriend inordinate bonuses?"

But these criticisms tend to assign some blame to Wolfowitz, even though his spokesman has assured us that matters involving Riza's "arrangements" were made "at the direction of the bank's board of directors."

And Riza's successor for the Middle East and North Africa region, Karem Elsharkawy, in an e-mail yesterday to his colleagues, implored them to "maintain a balanced position and be rational and fair." No wrongdoing has been proven, he said, and until then "we must give our colleague the benefit of all reasonable doubt."

Guardian today has a bit more about Wolfowitz’s girlfriend. It is another one of those stories of this era of grift that just makes my heart swell with the poetry of it all. So often, reality disappoints us. Bad guys turn out to be not so bad, or bad only when they are truly on. Dillinger was mostly a schmoe. Saints turn out to be chiselers. But the Bush administration has always gone the extra mile, always delivered. Nothing bad that they do doesn’t turn out to be, on examination, worse. Worse than you’d ever expect. Shameless. A true orgy of the unfit, the most unqualified people pursuing the most lamebrained political agendas while quoting the silliest pieties ever cooked up by a pedophile Sunday school teacher for the deacons.

“Ms Riza was eventually given a job at the state department under Liz Cheney, the daughter of the vice-president, promoting democracy in the Middle East. She was also moved up to a managerial pay grade in compensation for the disruption to her career. The staff association claims that the pay rise was more than double the amount allowed under employee guidelines.”

Ah, the department of nepotism – so nice to see that the Bushies have been innovators! Surely the promotion of democracy involves Karl Rove’s girlfriend too! We want all these people to be happy. This is the same Liz Cheney, by the way, who wrote the astonishing Washington Post op ed piece a couple of months ago. Astonishing that the meritocracy, in its wisdom, promoted a woman whose prose style seemed copped from that of a particularly dim sixth grader. It was a defense of the war in Iraq that only a father – a bloated, cancerous father made out of synthetic radioactive materials – could love. Plus, of course, Fred Hiatt.

subversive insiders

Qu'importent les victimes si le geste est beau ! – Laurent Tailhade, commenting on an anarchist bombing of a restaurant in Paris.

In the 1890s, when anarchism and art were joined at the hip in Montmartre, a anarchist writer named Zo D’axa, who published a paper, Endehors, for which Felix Feneon and Octave Mirabeau wrote, ran an ass named Nul for the senate. He published his position paper in another journal, called simple pages (Feuilles). It is a pretty good position paper:

“Of an old French family, I dare to say that I am an ass of the race, an ass in the beautiful sense of the word – four hooves and hair overall.

My name is Nul, as is that of my competitor candidates.

I am white, as are the number of ballots that they will obstinently not count and which, now, count for me.

My election is assured.”

D’axa went on to point out that the chamber was composed of thieves, imbeciles, and non-entities – in other words, a perfect sample of the French public. D’axa claimed that on election day, the ass, sitting in a cart, was pulled along the streets of Paris so that Paris could see it – the perfect legislator. Paris, with “le people suffisamment nigaud pour croire que la souverainete consiste à se nommer des maitres.” As it passed along, it was greeted with cheers and jeers, including one man who shook his fist and called it a ‘dirty Jew.’ In other words, all was in order. But somehow the police took this candidate amiss, and issued out and arrested the candidate and its committee.

At one point in telling this cock and bull story, D’axa describes the ass as a “subversive animal.” This is my point (oh, the tedium that emanates from this weblog as LI pursues this bee in his bonnet!) in telling this tale – for it was the 1890s that the collusion between subversion and art became, well, codified.

We started out this string of posts last week to consider a sideissue that had popped up on the LCC blog, and the Parodycenter, about the subversive function of art. We were against it – or rather, we didn’t see subversion per se, without an object, as being a function at all. And in the stream of comments at those sites, some exaggerated statements seem to jump out at us, such as: all art is subversive. Or: all great art is subversive. This seems clearly wrong, and I can’t imagine an artist like, say Joshua Reynolds even understanding it – although Blake might have. But it has dawned on us that the more interesting issue is: when did subversion jump from a police category to an aesthetic one? How is it that subversion is now one of the critic’s routine words? And by routine, we mean a word that ceases to be read. And by ceasing to be read, we mean a term that proliferates.

Well, our investigation has so far been, we admit, a piss poor exhibition of false starts. Sometimes our brain doesn’t work so good. So sorry. Excuse us. Our deepest regrets. Pardon. Our forehead is in the dust. We will lick the heels of your shoes. Etc.

So in this post we are going to back up a bit, and go at subversion from another direction – from the policing perspective.

In the OED, the first senses of subversion, now obsolete are the demolition of something - a city, for example – or the turning of something upside down, or uprooting. So John Evelyn, surveying wind damage, could talk of the subversion of his trees. But it was also applied, by the 17th century, to systems of law. Burke speaks of subversion in his Impeachment of Hastings – in a passage that, of course, irresistibly reminds the modern reader of the habit and policy of the Bush junta:

For your Lordships must have observed that it is rare indeed, that, in a continued course of evil practices, any uniform method of proceeding will serve the purposes of the delinquent. Innocence is plain, direct, and simple: guilt is a crooked, intricate, inconstant, and various thing. The iniquitous job of to-day may be covered by specious reasons; but when the job of iniquity of to-morrow succeeds, the reasons that have colored the first crime may expose the second malversation. The man of fraud falls into contradiction, prevarication, confusion. This hastens, this facilitates, conviction. Besides, time is not allowed for corrupting the records. They are flown out of their hands, they are in Europe, they are safe in the registers of the Company, perhaps they are under the eye of Parliament, before the writers of them have time to invent an excuse for a direct contrary conduct to that to which their former pretended principles applied. This is a great, a material part of the constitution of the Company. My Lords, I do not think it to be much apologized for, if I repeat, that this is the fundamental regulation of that service, and which, if preserved in the first instance, as it ought to be, in official practice in India, and then used as it ought to be in England, would afford such a mode of governing a great, foreign, dispersed empire, as, I will venture to say, few countries ever possessed, even in governing the most limited and narrow jurisdiction.

It was the great business of Mr. Hastings's policy to subvert this great political edifice.”

Notice that in Burke’s passage, subversion has to do with the intentional act of an insider, operating harmfully on a system. The insider in this case, Hastings, is subverting a system for his own benefit. But this notion is open to another one that is in the offing – that of the secret outsider, the double agent, boring into a system only in order to overthrow it – with malice aforethought. The distinction between the insider and the outsider is carried by subversion into the 19th century, with varied effects.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

song culture

Ces jours plus longs qu’un siècle, ou tout rire dètonne,
où l’on est poursuivi par un air d’Offenbach…
-Lambert Thiboust

Looking over our archives, LI is struck with how often, how obsessively, how dog going back to its vomit-ly, LI writes about the second empire. Napoleon III and all that. During the brief era of analogies (remember? Iraq as Germany? Japan? El Salvador? Malaysia? Vietnam? Andorra?), we inveighed against the practice of picking out some broadly historical event broadly similar to one unfolding now and using it for nickel prophecies – but in fact we have a weakness for that very thing, seeing starcrossed likenesses between the Second Empire and the Bush era - the coup d’etat, the second rate political operatives elevated to the status of demi-gods, the controlled flow of outrages to amuse and occupy the cognitive space of the sugar tranced populace, the use of military aggression as domestic political pablum, and, as the empire retracted, the visible attempt to cretinize the dwindling base, all active participants in the sophistry of their own deception – a scenario in the psychology of the dupe done in the grand manner. The latter, though, is admittedly much more the m.o. of the current crewe – the ability to turn out of small fry ever willing to secrete their own more and more fantastic excuses for the five hundred billion dollar and counting fiasco in the Middle East and to rigorously ignore the ruling clique’s devastating history of incompetence and worse when dealing with the very small but real problem posed by one terrorist band is surely an historical anomaly, more like cult activities of the past – Jonestown, the Anabaptists of Munster – than like anything seen in American or French history.

Well, so there you have a naked showing of motives. And now, to advance crabwise upon the whole vexed question of subversive art. In a post that is swimming somewhere back there in the pipeline, we remarked that La Marseillaise is a strong example of a piece of ‘art’ that has been stamped as subversive at various times during its career. Most national anthems lead decorous ceremonial existences, but not that song. It was composed in the moment in which the popular army was crystallizing in France – in 1792 – and it was bound up with the fortunes of that army. Goethe, hearing soldiers sing it on the field of Valmy, called it the Te Deum of the revolution. Eugene Weber wrote an essay asking the question, who were these singers? using La Mareillaise as an excuse to ask about the frenchifying of France. In 1792, the majority of the population inside the Hexagon did not speak French, or at least spoke it badly, as a second language. They spoke langue d’oc, or Breton, or something close to Catalan. High culture did speak French – as high culture spoke it in Spain and Germany and Russia. Weber’s point is that songs were one of the great, unheralded instruments for making the French French. Singing was a part of the rhythm of everyday life. In fact, as Weber points out, the National Assembly was always getting visited by delegates from this or that group who sang to them. Laura Masson has written a whole book about the song culture of the revolution, from which I will cull a quote:

“A deputation from the Piques section arrived to ask the deputies [of the Convention] to attend their celebration of the ‘martyrs of lbierty’ several days hence. One of their mamembers sang a ‘patriotic song of his composition,’ and the deputy Laloi moved that the deputation’s speech and song be included in the Convention’s bulletin. Danton objected, “the Bulletin of the Convention is in no way meant to carry verse throughout the Republic, but rather good laws written in good prose. Moreover, a decree requires the Committee of Public Instruction to give preliminary consideration to all that concerns the arts and education.” Laloi responded with common republican praise of song, but Danton was not to be dissuaded. “One must not invoke principles we all recognize in order to reach false conclusions. Certainly, patriotic hymns are useful… for electrifying republican energy: but who among you is in any condition to pass judgment on the song performed at the bar? Did you truly hear its words and its meaning. Because I myself cannot judge them.” The song was sent to the Committee without further debate.”

Keep in mind this mix between song and politics when thinking about the banning of La Marseillaise under Napoleon III and the sly boosting of its tune by Offenbach in Orphee aux enfers. If you start following the commentators on Offenbach’s use of the tune, you soon run into the question of subversion – although hardly ever do we find the question of what is being subverted, and what can be subverted, being posed.

Chiquita bananas: now with plenty of colombian blood sprinkled on them

Colombia journal is one of those resources on the web one takes for granted, even though the people writing it are actually putting their lives at risk. Today’s article about Chiquita Banana company – you know, the banana company that pays paramilitary drug dealers to torture and murder union leaders so that it can pay its workers shit – is pretty good. Notice that the war on terrorism, for the Bush administration, certainly shouldn’t be interpreted to mean, like, war on terrorizing the working class. As always, wars are double pronged thing for the U.S. governing class – on the one hand, there is the positive of the military industry, that economic generator which has kept a generation of American engineers fat and happy on oceans of Pentagon welfare money; and on the other hand, there is the negative (which turns out to be a win-win) of targeting the working class. This is why the war on drugs is a model war, so appropriately given birth to during the cold war era. Find the small dealers, disrupt poor neighborhoods, enforce ethnic and racial bigotries, reverse civil rights laws, and at the same time – ally with big drug dealers, prop up corrupt U.S. allies, and shield, as always, upper class white people from ever having to face the consequences of the bogus laws that their paid reps have passed.

As for Chiquita, apparently the new slogan for their upcoming ad campaign is gonna be: ya want those bananas with or without blood?

Batboy on Iran

LI has been a little flabbergasted, flummoxed, depressed, ironed out, shaken up, titrated and itchified by the publicity surrounding the bribes raised by the current crop of presidential candidates. It seems to us, oh, slightly demented that our politically savvy writers are comparing the swag, like some ancient folly Gibbon would record, with marmoreal poise, about the screwier Cesaers in an imperial trough period. Except it is Hilary to Romney to Obama – whose price is right? Famously, the silver age of arty cinema in the U.S. – the seventies – was swept away by the packaged blockbuster, one of the symptoms of which was the sudden popular interest in grosses. The grosses are now part of the roll out package. And LI, crowlike, can only dirge and caw at these signs of the hypno-apocalypse.

Since the landsmarks separating the mad from the sane have been so swept away, LI turns, desperately, to those who can truly be considered barking mad for some extreme onto which we can throw an anchor and say: here, at least, is clear insanity. Which is why we like Ralph Peters, the man who toured Iraq last year and pronounced it safe and sound and ready for business – a triumph of an occupation, all things considered, and to only to be compared with some copious bowel movement by Winston Churchill; the man who published a joke map of the middle east showing it all cut up into the bits the Cheney-ites dream of; and the man who has a nice little column in the NY Post, yesterday, attacking the British navy. The style is the man:

“THE greatest shock from the Middle East this year hasn't been terrorist ruthlessness or the latest Iranian tantrum. It's that members of Britain's Royal Marines wimped out in a matter of days and acquiesced in propaganda broadcasts for their captors.
Jingoism aside, I can't imagine any squad of U.S. Marines behaving in such a shabby, cowardly fashion. Our Marines would have fought to begin with. Taken captive by force, they would've resisted collaboration. To the last man and woman.
You could put a U.S. Marine in a dungeon and knock out his teeth, but you wouldn't knock out his pride in his country and the Corps. "Semper fi" means something.

And our Aussie allies would be just as tough.”

At one point, after the glorious end of the Vietnam war, American militarism experienced a brief period of illegitimacy and ridicule. Ah, those were the days! A demoralized America – I’m doing my best to bring that back! The idea of an officer with his eyes popping out, his face red, yelling like a Tourette’s victim, was actually considered quite funny, instead of an idolon of emulation for today’s gamers and libertarians. Now, of course, such types are immediately slapped with a contract by one reactionary media company or another.

LI wonders why the true predecessor for the rightwing style of high cholesterol bollocks is never given his due. I’m talking, of course, of Ed Anger, the long respected columnist for the World Weekly News, who died in 2004. WWN, you will remember, is the only newspaper to focus on the alien and his presidential endorsements. It was due to Ed that the paper discovered that marvel that scientists are still wondering about: the bat boy. Anger was the author of “Let's Pave the Stupid Rainforests & Give School Teachers Stun Guns”, which I hope all of my readers have profitably perused.

This is a typical Ed Anger opening graf:

“I'm madder than Judge Judy with her mouth wired shut over a couple of stories I just read in my hometown paper. One was about a judge declaring a mistrial in a murder case just because a juror kept catching some Z's during the trial. Another high-and-mighty judge sentenced a courtroom spectator to two days in jail because she dozed off while waiting for a friend's traffic case to get over with. I've been on jury duty several times before, because I feel it's my civic duty, just like owning 37 firearms, for when I need to defend my home against an assault by Cuban, North Korean, Iraqi, Russian or U.N. paratroopers! I know how boring sitting in a court can be, because I had trouble staying awake there, too.”

The difference is that Ralph Peters seems much more unhinged. The idea of Crocodile Dundee laughing at those sand monkeys, though – that is straight up Ed Anger.

Poor Ed! He kept having to move the stakes, as his message, his ersatz anger, his insane political viewpoint, was mainstreamed. There is a nice scene in Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers set in a tabloid like WWN in the early 1970s. The place is run, of course, by old communists from the days of the blacklist and such. The protagonist, or one of them, a writer on a downer, went to Vietnam as a freelance stringers, and – making a truly disastrous decision – has come back as a heroin entrepreneur, but of course a corrupt DEA man – if that isn’t a redundant phrase – is after his horse. As a former writer for the tabloid, and the son in law of the owner, he goes there for advice and is caught up in a discussion about the front page story. What should it be? A headline is needed – then the story will be fabricated for it. And he comes up with a stroke of genius: Skydiver Rapes, Kills Bride. The story would have everything - a marriage out in a field, a skydiver whose parachute won't open, a fatal fall into the bride, coinciding with a final sexual act, making it a murder/rape/fatal accident in one. Stone, in his recent biography, admits that he took swathes of the tabloid scene from his own life, for he worked for a couple of tabloids. His greatest headline, though, was: Skydiver devoured by starving birds, although Mad Dentist yanks Girl’s Tongue came in second.

Life has always been more tabloid than NYT. Ralph Peters proves it – surely he is the Batboy’s cousin once removed.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Aux armes citoyens! Formez vos bataillons!

Peter Watkins made his film, La Commune, which was a sort of recreation of the Paris Commune of 1870, with a cast of amateur actors. These were regular people, mostly unemployed, who had responded to his casting call, and they were supposed to not only play their parts in the film, but think about the action and, in a sense, re-animate the spirit of the Commune. The film shuttles back and forth between the reality of making the film, including interviews with the actors, and scenarios plucked from actual history.

At the end of the movie, as at the end of the Commune, the forces of order – the French army of the Third Republic – move into Paris, sweeping past barricades and massacring Communards, while the Communards massacre prisoners in turn. A contemporary reporter noted that the “last red flag that floated for the Commune was at a barricade at the Rue Fontaine au Roi, where, after a feeble defense it was surrendered at 11 a.m.” May 28, 1871. In a similar scene at the end of the film, the actors, who by this time seemed to be having difficulty distinguishing between their real life and their 1871 lives, are manning a barricade that is being attacked by troops, and they suddenly spontaneously start singing the Marseillais. It is an incredible moment, a moment of true terribilità – it is as though the scene in 1871 really did escape from the long chain of time to merge with the one being filmed.

Which brings me to the thread I’ve been threading re art and subversion. La Marseillaise, in 1871, had a certain dread power partly because it had been banned under Louis Napoleon. And yet, in 1870, when war was declared against Prussia – all those people streaming through the streets under Nana’s window, yelling “onto Berlin” – the song broke out spontaneously in crowds and in cafes. It was an indicator of the kind of patriotism that Napoleon III could ill afford – it pointed to a crack in the regime, which had always been dogged by an aura of illegitimacy.

So – if we are looking for the complex of art and subversion and censorship, this is one place to find it.

There’s a history of La Marseillaise by Michel Vovelle here. We are going to write more about this in our next post.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Did Noah know about simple suspended animation techniques?

The Werepoet has posted the conservopedia entry on kangaroos, which brought a tear to my eye – for in the end, if I am for anything, I am for surrealistic science. Apparently, the conservopedia operates like a huge vacuum, scouring the web for the most ridiculous information that it can find and putting it in presentable form, suitable for LGF commentors and the like. I am so into this!

So this post is dedicated to the latest scientific investigation of Noah’s ark. Science has always found Noah’s ark a puzzle. On the one hand, God’s word says Noah built an ark and assembled all the animals, two by two – so we have some firm facts to go on. But how did Noah feed the animals, and keep them from eating each other?

The answer may come from “S.A., crypto-suspended animation in inverterbrates by Dr. Axel Kroeger and Dr. Nicalaus Swiboda in the Acta Oto-Biblica Vol. 10, issue 4 (2006), the premier journal of Bible based natural science out of Uppsala, Poland. Kroeger and Swiboda reproduced ark-like conditions by sealing off the Olympic sized swimming pool at the Holiness Temple College (where they both work in the endosynchrology department) and building a beaverwood structure to float on the pool. The two captured insects, perhaps the most difficult animal Noah and his family had to deal with. Using a simple to construct dry ice machine, using lumber from Mount Arak’s famous balsa trees and a simple combination of ice, sulphur, copper, tooth enamel, dew and fire, Drs. Kroeger and Swiboda demonstrated conclusively that the insects could be put into a state of suspended animation for up to two weeks. This, incidentally, made them much easier to stack. These results have been confirmed by scientists at M.I.T., Harvard and Oxford.

Please, readers, pass this around. LI wants to add a little something to the Conservopedia. One tiny step for an idiot, but a giant leap for the idiocy of all mankind!

Monday, April 02, 2007

a killer style

In Wooden Eyes, Carlo Ginzberg begins his essay on Style with an exemplary story, a little trouvaille. In 1605, the Venetian Republic jailed two priests, thus setting off a long dispute with the Holy See. On the Venetian side, the main polemicist was a monk, Paolo Sarpi. In 1607, Sarpi was ambushed near his monastery by a number of men with knives, who stabled him repeatedly. ‘Sarpi, gravely wounded, whispered to the doctor who was tending him that, as everyone knew, the wounds have been caused ‘stylo Romanae cuiaa’ – that is, by the knife of the Roman curia, but also by the legal procedures [literally, by the stylus or pen] of the Roman Curia.”
Style kills. And what kills, in human affairs, usually falls under the category of the political, insofar as politics is war pursued by other means. LI has been thinking about this in relation to the topic we pursued in a couple of posts last week – subversion in art.

To reprise: Sociologically, it is funny that art’s subversiveness has become a critical commonplace and an unthinking plaudit in the same era that the official social mechanism recognizing subversiveness in art – censorship – has been reduced or transformed. Without a specific censor’s judgment to guide the critic, subversion in a piece of art – the Chocolate Jesus, V for Vendetta, etc. - now takes only the largest and vaguest objects – language, capitalism, patriarchy, while its subversive quality has become a sort of good housekeeping seal – as if there were something aesthetically positive about subversion itself. In fact, subversion has been seen as such an all encompassing good that I’ve read more than one critic say that all art is subversive. And who questions that? or that subversion is a good in itself?

One of the liberal commonplaces about censorship is that censorship is essentially dumb. That is, the censors are always censoring the trivial or the inconsistent, and never catching the clever, subversive things put in by artists that send out special messages to the audience. The implication is that art does not consist just of parts that can be blacked out or not. Rather, there are other things at work – like style. How does one censor a style?

Ezekial on the mortgage crisis

Because the Fed cleverly found a way to bypass accounting for the inflation in the housing market, we’ve been in a strange situation, econometrically speaking, in the last ten years: both dependent on that inflation (the Fed assiduously fed that bubble) and pretending, for official purposes, that it doesn’t exist. Now LI doesn’t necessarily think feeding a bubble is wrong. Cheney, that monster of depravity out of a theater of cruelty production, was right about one thing when he said, to some conservative bemoaning the fact that the Bush budget was awash in red ink, that deficits don’t matter. By which he meant that nobody has ever gotten voted out of office in these here states cause of a stinkin’ deficit. We were founded by bankrupts and we aren’t fooled by suits – we know the wild west lurks under the surface of Wall Street. Deficits are good things in times of recession. If there is one lesson in affluence we all learned in the 30s, it was to borrow to keep demand up when you have a classic depression: too many goods and services, too little demand. The reality of that is tiresome for economists, who believe, as Robert Lucas once put it, in Say’s law as a parameter of intelligibility. The problem, of course, is what the Bush administration borrowed for. It is one thing to go in debt to build a house; quite another to go into debt to burn a house down. Non-creative destruction is the Bushite creed.

The real difference, broadly speaking, between the EU’s economy and ours is that we employ Keynsian economics to prop up a conservative politics, while the EU employs a neo-classical fiscal policy to prop up legacy socialism. The EU fear of inflation overrides its good sense, and the American advice to the EU is always to … Americanize. Destroy the unions, create a vastly more unequal distribution of wealth, etc., etc. It is terrible advice, and we doubt that even Sarkozy, that menace, will take it, although he claims to be eager to sick Thatcherism on France. For both the EU and the US, policy is an expression of structure. The EU can actually afford more unemployment, having a perfectly good social welfare system. The U.S has a perfectly good social welfare system for unemployment too: it’s called jail. Between prison and education, the U.S. can keep a goodly numbered of the able bodied off the employment roles without anybody calling a foul. Still, having less, shall we say, strata of social welfare, and having a criminally weak labor sector, the U.S. has become, out of necessity, a sort of virtual economy – the first economy in which credit has so totally penetrated the economic mindset that it has erased longstanding definitional differences between savings and investment, along with the remnants, in the 19th century, of the need to make money correspond to some standard of value. Money is now simply an excuse for credit, secondary to it, a sidekick. As we have often emphasized, having no power to extract wage increases from capital, the mass of Americans just borrow their wage increase. This should make them ever alert for better paying jobs, but for all the talk about the mobility of Americans, the figures don’t show a lot more mobility now than there was twenty years ago. After all, to quit means quitting, among other things, your medical benefits.

Which is why a specter haunts U.S. capitalism: foreclosure.

We thought these grafs from this article in the NYT this weekend worth quoting:

“A study conducted by Kristopher Gerardi and Paul S. Willen from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Harvey S. Rosen of Princeton, Do Households Benefit from Financial Deregulation and Innovation? The Case of the Mortgage Market (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12967), shows that the three decades from 1970 to 2000 witnessed an incredible flowering of new types of home loans. These innovations mainly served to give people power to make their own decisions about housing, and they ended up being quite sensible with their newfound access to capital.
These economists followed thousands of people over their lives and examined the evidence for whether mortgage markets have become more efficient over time. Lost in the current discussion about borrowers’ income levels in the subprime market is the fact that someone with a low income now but who stands to earn much more in the future would, in a perfect market, be able to borrow from a bank to buy a house. That is how economists view the efficiency of a capital market: people’s decisions unrestricted by the amount of money they have right now.
And this study shows that measured this way, the mortgage market has become more perfect, not more irresponsible. People tend to make good decisions about their own economic prospects. As Professor Rosen said in an interview, “Our findings suggest that people make sensible housing decisions in that the size of house they buy today relates to their future income, not just their current income and that the innovations in mortgages over 30 years gave many people the opportunity to own a home that they would not have otherwise had, just because they didn’t have enough assets in the bank at the moment they needed the house.”

“The size of house they buy today relates to their future income…” What a phrase! To unscrew the top of it, and peer inside, one definitely needs to be a poet or a prophet.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

a might have been

I think LI will be the first to point out the perhaps saddest part of the whole prosecutor scandal is a might-have-been. Just imagine: it is August, 2001. CIA operators have flown down to Crawford, Texas. They present the evidence they have that Al qaeda has representatives in the U.S. who are preparing to attack. Now, imagine that they had added – these al qaeda terrorists are so evil that they are prepared to help - listen to this part, please, no, don't start testing your power saw yet, Mr. President - they might - please, can you hear me over the noise of that thing? Please. Okay. They might be trying to help disenfranchised black males register to vote!

We know what would happen. We know how President Backbone leaps into action when the Republic is threatened. Like Superman emerging from Clark Kent, or Venus from the foam of the sea. Instead of writing in his diary, for that day, "Nuthin happned. Shure is ez being presnident. Bush Rulez! In the House” – there would, instead, have been midnight oil burned at the Justice department. The FBI director would have put out a memo. The search would be on. Say what you want, when the President wants something done, he knows how to shake up the bureaucracy to do it!

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

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