Saturday, July 28, 2007

cet envoûté éternel...

When we quoted Jacques Derrida in our post the other day about the media’s double audience, our far flung correspondent T. in NYC raised an eyebrow. Mr. T. likes the idea of this blog never mentioning Derrida in the same way that Georges Perec never uses the letter ‘e’ in La Disparition. The referential absence eventually calls attention to itself by the force of its tremendous silence. And we understand Mr. T.’s point. Actually, we got the same idea from Derrida himself. Somewhere, perhaps in the lectures on Ponge, perhaps in an interview, Derrida claims that one of his essays on Hegel is really all about Ponge. If memory serves. Now, the cool thing about that claim is that Ponge is not mentioned in the essay. Of course, this is the kind of gesture that drives Derrida’s enemies just up the wall. And there is something obviously facile in saying, oh, I wrote x and I was thinking of y. To make the claim non-facile, you have to work with obsessions and themes that would make it meaningful as a compositional principle. I consider it a form of l'envoûtement – a seduction/abduction, a possession through charms. The devil, of course, used to practice l'envoûtement. Often the magician takes an effigy that is connected in some way with the victim – for instance, a follicle of the victims hair is mixed in with the dough or clay from which one creates the effigy – and by this means gains control over the victim. It is a metaphysical kidnapping. Artaud returns to the term in his last writings, and literally considers those writings a form of contre-l'envoûtement. For Artaud, it was the drugs and electroshock and conceptual schema of the psychiatrists that was winding him in, and against which he had to protect himself:

« Le même personnage revient chaque matin accomplir sa révoltante criminelle et assassine sinistre fonction qui est de maintenir l’envoûtement sur moi, de continuer à faire de moi cet envoûté éternel …”

(the same person returns each morning to perform his revolting criminal and murder- sinister function, which is to maintain the spell they have on me, to continue to make of me that eternal victim of enchantment.)

To perform the contre-l'envoûtement, that piece of magic, one must inverse the spell – one must operate on the hazardous path of the negation of the negation.

Now, to my mind, this conflict between these regimes of spells gives us the musical structure of Derrida’s work. A lot of philosophers ignore, or are ignorant of the fact that a text has a musical structure. Not J.D. This is why Derrida uses blanks and silences in the way he does – there is always some abduction or elopement going on there, out of the seraglio of Western metaphysics and into the streets!

Anyway, in that spirit, I like the idea that I am abducting Derrida from the professional deconstructionists and the spiderweb of a by now canonical language and I do it partly by using his things without referencing the name. It isn’t sorcery anymore – it is called sampling, kids. Standard DJ stuff. But I’m not clever enough to do this with complete consistency. If I was, would I have written this post?

questions about happiness

I thought my friend Alan at Milanda’s questions was going to continue biting holes into my social psychological arguments about happiness, but since he has stopped – he has other fish to fry – and because he raises some interesting questions, I think I’d like to take up a particular theme in his objections, which is that I am using a non-standard, or at least a non-Aristolean, notion of happiness.

As I wrote in the last post about the imago of the dominatrix, switch in hand, who cut such a path through 19th century porn, written so often by men who, as little boys, suffered blissful spankings at public schools and felt bereft thereafter – the certain energy goes out of the theme of volupté as the early modern period comes to an end, and happiness, or the pursuit of happiness, triumphs in the official world – the world to which all justifications must refer. To remind y’all – and hey, I’m sorry about being so repetitive, but I can’t really expect my readers to remember all this shit – I am interesting in the way volupté emerged on the margins, in natural philosophy, under the aegis of Epicurus, in the 17th century, and quickly became a slogan for the libertines and for a certain protest against, on the one hand, Christian doctrine, and on the other, the unofficial religion of the intellectuals, which since the Renaissance had been a sort of stoicism derived from Cicero and Seneca. There are a lot of questions both about the emergence and the way it so quickly made its way into a major vector, that group of “idle’ nobles in England and France whose political energies were, essentially, put into the libertine lifestyle – a lifestyle characterized by its distance both from the bourgeois and the monarch. Of course, I’m giving you a pretty rough map, here, of social tendencies into which are folded philosophical themes – but it is a good enough map to predict the kind of conflicts that will occur in the confrontation of theses and little groups. One can talk about salonwork here.

But let’s not be distracted by the formal characteristics of philosophical history as I am presenting it, like Hegel, Jr. What happened in the Anglosphere was that the dialectic of volupté was aborted – in contrast to what happened in France. In its place, the Scottish Enlightenment expressed the mores of proto-liberal culture in a systematized ethics of sympathy and a theory of the market – the former justifying the raw terror visited upon various global populations by the embodiment of the latter.

So, to return to Alan’s question, or to derive a historical question from one of his questions: how does Aristotle’s idea of happiness, which has become central in contemporary philosophical ethics, fit into this story?

Friday, July 27, 2007

a letter does not always arrive at its destination...

The NYT has a long overdue article about the Saudi support for the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Of course, it softpeddles the extent of Saudi activity, and relies exclusively on U.S. government officials as sources instead of, oh, you know, investigating the pretty easy to investigate money trail. But one expects no less.

The thing that caught LI’s eye was not so much the content of this story as an oddly boastful passage making it clear that the reporters see themselves as a sort of signaling instrument for the Bush administration:

“The accounts of American concerns came from interviews with several senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family at a time when the United States is still trying to enlist Saudi support for Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government, and for other American foreign policy goals in the Middle East, including an Arab-Israeli peace plan.
In agreeing to interviews in advance of the joint trip to Saudi Arabia, the officials were nevertheless clearly intent on sending a pointed signal to a top American ally. They expressed deep frustration that more private American appeals to the Saudis had failed to produce a change in course.”

This is the establishment talking – and it ain’t talking to you, reader. Clearly, the incentive and value of the article isn’t news - isn’t the independent and, as Joe Klein would put it, ‘serious’ investigation of a fact by this time known and well established in the Middle East. No, it is to operate as a middle man between the Bushies and the Saudis.

What an astonishing admission to make. More astonishing is, LI believes that nobody on the NYT sees it as an admission. They have been sunk up to their eyeballs so long in the petrified turds of the governing class, in the morass of talking points and tv talk fests, that they have lost the capacity to understand what “reporting” is. The NYT and the WAPO have taken their self-applied limits – to report or mention a very small bit of reality, and to censure any realities beyond that – and narrowed them in the past twenty years to the point where the caricature they serve up doesn’t even serve the governing class any more.

The double audience of the media – on the one side, the rubes, and on the other side, the ‘serious’ – functions on the level of the selection of what goes into the papers, or goes on tv. This is why the first question one has to ask about any article in a paper is: who is this for? Every letter is addressed in this world - although, as Derrida pointed out in another context:

"The divisibility of the letter... is what chances and sets off course, without guarantee of return, the remaining [restance ] of anything whatsoever: a letter does not always arrive at its destination, and from the moment that this possibility belongs to its structure one can say that it never truly arrives, that when it does arrive its capacity not to arrive torments it with an internal drifting."

In media terms - there are always unserious people out there.

So, when WAPO, week after week, throws one neo-con after another into their editorial mix, the rubes – the usual, slightly liberal audience of the WAPO – are puzzled and even outraged, especially as it just keeps coming in spite of its evidence lack of fit with the audience that the Washington Post has developed over the years. I’ve never read a comments thread on these columns that wasn’t almost completely appalled by the neo-con drivel, and puzzled by the reason it was appearing. So why would a business so callously keep slapping its customers in the face? These pieces appear because these columns have a second audience, that loose association of high government officials, upper management types, think tankers, and lobbyists, the people who count. These people are meme hungry, and the feeding of them is the main concern of the media decision makers. And of course the memes, regurgitated, then get to reappear in the articles - hence the proliferation, over the last year, of straight news reports from the Iraqi front that include, ritualistically, some accusation of Iranian training, weapons, interference, what have you.

Pleased as I am to see even the smallest hole in the dike that the Americans have thrown up against reality in the Middle East, I’m pretty sure that real reporting about the Saudis – and thus a real picture of what is going on in the Middle East – isn’t going to be breaking out in any major American paper any time soon. Such a picture would tell us things like, oh, who financed the Pakistani nuclear program and why – hint, the initials are S.A., as in Societe Anonyme – and how that has operated as a big time incentive to the Iranians. It would erase the favorite picture that the media likes to convey to the rubes – that the Iranian government is a bunch of mad mullahs. It would show that the Iraqi government as it is now constituted and for which the U.S. is fighting is an Iranian ally – which reality is one of the major reasons the U.S. hasn’t attacked Iran, the other being, of course, that the governing class has already decided that spending 12 billion a month to give George Bush a perpetual testosterone party in Mesopotamia is a bit rich, but spending 24 billion per month to pursue two losing wars is more than even the U.S. can afford – I mean, we are all for CEOs having a good time, and who could deny George that prerogative of masculinity which consists in amassing simply oodles of dead brown bodies, hundreds of thousands to mount on the wall, but face it: ROI time is ROI time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

another fine detour on the path to volupté

LI’s search for the embourgeoisification of volupté – its routinization and removal from the line of radical materialist thinking associated with Epicurus in the seventeenth and eighteenth century – has turned into a continual stumbling upon fortuitous themes in the history of pornography. Such is the life of bloggery.

In trying to find some interesting 18th century erotica that we could use here – and also, we always like interesting 18th century erotica – we stumbled on the Eros-Thanatos site,which has a few rare texts, including a whole book by Hughes Rebell, that weirdo among weirdos in the porno universe, as well as the dada writer Renee Dunan, a woman of who operated between naturism and surrealism and apparently produced a ton of pamphlets of the kind just adored by the police – there is nothing like seizing artistic studies of nudes. In fact, police and criminologists get so carried away by the idea that one of them, the eminent early 20th century professor, Ludwig Kemmer, accidentally produced an under the cover seller entitled “Die graphische Reklame der Prostitution” and in the process made himself a type – the pedagogue fascinated by the vices leading his students astray – that went into Professor Unrat, and hence into The Blue Angel of Marlene fame.

In Professor Rath, the Weimar crackup becomes fate. In the world turned upside down, the disciplinarian is disciplined, the first shall be last and the nationalists aren't going to like watching Prussia lie at the feet of that French sounding wench, Lola, and turn a blind eye to her infidelities. A quick perusal of the Eros-Thanatos site shows that such abjection is a very popular subject – in fact, the books and stories collected on the site are weighted towards the flagellation narrative in a rather dreary way. It isn't, I should confess, my particular yen. In the nineteenth century, after the pleasure-pain calculus of the utilitarians became a sort of official ideology of the modern capitalistic nations, flagellation seems to have taken over from the formerly popular anti-clerical topos in porn.

Jeremy Baron’s article, Spare the Rod, in the Spring 06 issue of Sexuality and Culture, traces that phrase, which is not in the bible, back to its real origin, along the way exploring the figure of the female dominatrix. The word dominatrix itself, according to Baron, is first recorded in the 10th century, used by Canoness Hroswitha to show “a fragile woman who is victorious and a strong man who is routed with confusion.” The phrase spare the rod and spoil the child, deriving from a set of admonitions in Proverbs, first occurs in Hudibrus, the 1662 Samuel Butler poem. But as Baron points out, the lines are entirely about sexual courtship, not about educating children:

Love is a boy by poets stil'd;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.
A Persian emp'ror whipp'd his grannam
The sea, his mother VENUS came on;
And hence some rev'rend men approve
Of rosemary in making love.
As skilful coopers hoop their tubs
With Lydian and with Phrygian dubs,
Why may not whipping have as good
A grace, perform'd in time and mood,
With comely movement, and by art,
Raise passion in a lady's heart?
It is an easier way to make
Love by, than that which many take.

It is odd to think of the millions of pious folk who quote the phrase with an entire innocence of its context.

According to Baron:

“In the seventeenth century physicians became interested in the association between beating and sexual pleasure. Distinguished Renaissance anatomists made the first medical explanations for this phenomenon. In 1629 Johann Heinrich Meibom (1594–1655) [the oil-secreting gland of the eyelid is called Meibomian] suggested that potency was stimulated by pathways from the warmed buttocks that increased blood flow to the organs of generation(Meibomius, 1643; Meibom, 1718). We do not know whether Butler read this 1629 edition or perhaps the fourth edition of 1643. In 1669 Dr Thomas Bartholin (1616–89) [who had described the human lymphatic system: it was his father Caspar after whom was named the small lubricating gland near the vaginal opening
in mammals] wrote to J.H. Meibom’s son Heinrich (1638–1700). This letter established, perhaps for the first time, that women too were sexually excited by buttock-beating, ‘Women too are raised and inflam’d by Strokes to a more easy concepcion’ (Bartholin et
al., 1669).”

As Baron points out, the law in the seventeenth century was clear: men could lawfully beat their wives. There is a long and depressing chapter on the history and prevalence of wifebeating in Edward Shorter’s History of Women’s Bodies, which I’d recommend for the strong stomached. Shorter’s larger case – that men were generally indifferent to their wives in rural European society, even to the point of finding their injuries or deaths less traumatic than the deaths of cows or horses – seems exaggerated, but he does collect a good deal of ethnographic evidence of extraordinary domestic brutality.

What is interesting is that it is within these cultural parameters that two behaviors arose: one was punishing children with spanking or whipping on the buttocks, and the other was the lubricious dominatrix, the whipper of men. Sex is the ultimate bricoleur, of course, the goddess who sees in the human body a thousand and one affordances never before discovered. Martin Amis, who has not always been a rotten egg opining about issues he knows little about, like the Middle East, but was street knowledgeable about the human middle, genitals with all the trimmings, once wrote:

"Gore Vidal once said that the only danger in watching pornography is that it might make you want to watch more pornography; it might make you want to do nothing else but watch pornography. There is, I contend, another danger. As I sampled some extreme productions on the VCR in my hotel room, I kept worrying about something. I kept worrying that I'd like it. Porno services the "polymorphous perverse": the near-infinite chaos of human desire. If you harbour a perversity, then sooner or later porno will identify it. You'd better hope that this doesn't happen while you're watching a film about a coprophagic pigfarmer - or an undertaker."

I’ll continue this in another post.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

big and small

Our Mercury, therefore, is the same which contains in itself all the perfections, force and virtues of the Sun, which also runs though all the streets and houses of all the planets, and in its own rebirth has acquired the force of things above and things below; to the marriage of which it is to be compared, as is clear from the whiteness and the redness combined in it. – Paracelsus

And the world being spontaneously produced and being also self-adherent, is allied to matter; which, according to a secret signification, is denominated a stone and a rock, on account of its sluggish and repercussive nature with respect to form: the ancients, at the same time, asserting that matter is infinite through its privation of form. Since, however, it is continually flowing, and is of itself destitute of the supervening investments of form, through which it participates of morphe, and becomes visible, the flowing waters, darkness, or, as the poet says, obscurity of the cavern, were considered by the ancients as apt symbols of what the world contains, on account of the matter w9ith which it is connected. – Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs, translated by the ever strange Thomas Taylor.

There is an old hermetic slogan, one that is referenced by every alchemist: as above, so below. LI’s notion of politics begins with the opposite view: as above is not as below. Instead of drawing a heavy dividing line between the public and private, we draw it between the big and the small, viewing those two sphere not as degrees on one continuum, but as opposing and asymmetrical spheres. Yet, there is a power – or a power relationship – that ‘runs though all the streets and houses of all the planets.’

Mr. Death, please don't take Bat Boy!

Fuck! There goes my last hope for American journalism

It came out of nowhere. People worry about Murdoch taking over the WSJ when a much more prestigous paper was, unbeknownst to us all, threatened by catastrophe. Only the true insiders could draw on stories like this one, by top flight journalist Chuck Lee:

"After opening a popular Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, Chuck Lee discovered that eating large amounts of hot mustard enabled him to foretell the future. Chuck has consented to share his remarkable predictions in a weekly column.

2008 BUCHAREST, Romania — Vampires realize that the blood of tuna fish suits their macabre nutritional requirements as effectively as human blood. The undead begin lurking near the shores of the Black Sea, sucking fish dry and discreetly throwing their bodies into the water.

2009 BUCHAREST, Romania — An unexpected side effect of the new vampiric diet occurs when the discarded fish themselves return to life as vampires. The fishing industry comes to an abrupt halt while authorities try to capture and kill the thousands of bloodthirsty ‘nosferatuna.’"

Other papers are afraid to tell the truth. WWN did it every week. No favoritism. I can only think that aliens have penetrated this society and succeeded in shutting down the one paper that was warning us of their menacing approach.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Johann Hari, having retracted his old support for invading Iraq, gained some absolution from LI. But his recent review of Nick Cohen’s lachrymose new book, I was a Red Diaper Baby and I poop in Your Face… uh, oh, wait a minute, that’s not the title, let me google it, it is "On the Pleasure of Sticking My Thumb Up My Ass", sorry about the mixup – he gives a fourfold analysis of the pro-war Left view, circa 2002-2003 that makes the old anti-warrior in LI want to cry. The very first pillar, which Hari still evidently believes, is the idea that Islamism is fascist. Fuck. Again, the only proof presented for this is a slender book by Paul Berman. Here’s Hari’s account:

“Islamism. The pro-war left argued that Islamism (as opposed to Islam) is a variant on an old enemy of the left - fascism. Paul Berman, in his book 'Terror and Liberalism', carefully teased out the intellectual origins of Islamic fundamentalism, looking primarily as Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather of al Qaeda. It was not hard to find the links: Qutb was explicitly and openly influenced by European fascism. Not was this a merely intellectual influence: when his ideas eventually became a state-ideology - in Taliban Afghanistan - it looked hideously familiar to historians of fascism, with its fanatical Jew-hatred, homophobia, misogyny, the banning of all dissent (and even of music), and the supression of all liberal freedoms. Jihadists even inherited the most eccentric lacunae of fascist conspiracy-thought: on 9th March 2004, a meeting of Freemasons in an Istanbul restaurant was blown up by Islamist suicide-murderers.

Ah, the minimisers of Islamism said, but these are the poor, the wretched of the earth! In fact, the pro-war left pointed out, Islamists activists are overwhelimgly wealthy - Bin Laden is the son of a billionaire - and they are oppressing the real wretched of the earth, not least women. Besides, to refuse to see that people living in poor or oppressive countries can become fascists is to fall for what Bertrand Russell called "The Fallacy of the Superior Virtue of the Oppressed."”

Actually, this is such entire rubbish that one is hesitant to ever read Hari about the Middle East ever again, no matter what his repentance. The opponents of the fascist paradigm did not say that Islamism arose from the cries of the oppressed, but, quite differently, that Islamism arose as a confluence of interests between the ruling ideology of Saudi Arabia, one that existed in the Arabian peninsula a hundred years before Sayyid Qutb, and American anti-communism. It is a simple story, one that was rehearsed time and time around the globe. Searching for anti-communists meant, to the U.S., destroying ‘neutralists’ – or at least leaning against them heavily – which thus made the U.S. a natural ally of Pakistan against India – and maintaining the flow of oil that underwrote the thirty glorious years from 1945-1975. The idea that fascism had a salience here, or that it was the state formation into which Islamism fell, badly distorts history and fascism. The one salient characteristic of fascism is the cult of the leader. The one salient characteristic of Islamism is not the cult of the leader – it is the re-unification of theological and state power, on the Wahabi model. If one wanted to crusade against this, there is one place and one place only where it has emanated from: Saudi Arabia. Not Iraq. Not even al qaeda. However, Saudi Arabia just happens to be a keystone state, without which the West would be plunged into an economic downturn that no leader in the West wants to contemplate. End of story.

That Hari thinks banning music is echt fascist shows that he has little or no idea of fascism.

On the other hand, there are proto-fascistic states in the Middle East, set up to maximize the state’s hold over businesses, legitimated by a cult of the leader. One is Iraq. One is Syria. One is Egypt. Even here, however, fascism is a pretty poor model – except in the case of Iraq. In Syria, for instance, the leadership, belonging to a minority sect, can’t really play the ethnic cleansing card that is one of the pillars of fascism. In Egypt, the leadership model after Nassar was badly dented, and one could as well talk of a kind of monarchy. In Iraq, on the other hand, there was a cult of a leader, the persecution of ethnic groups, a reliance on the military and an aggressiveness that does approach fascism. Unfortunately, this is the reverse of Islamism. The evidences that are given for some symbiosis are pitiful – Saddam’s concessions to and play upon the newfound fervor for Islam was a way of navigating the dictator’s dilemma, and was certainly not generated from above. While there is every evidence Osama bin Laden is a genuine believer in a Wahabist state, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Saddam is, and the Baathists left in Iraq form the strongest opposition to the idea of Iraq becoming an Islamic republic – it is, rather, America’s ally there that has pulled that one off.

It is sad that four years into the war, Hari still has not learned basic, basic facts about Middle Eastern history, and shows an astonishing inability to grasp what fascism means besides that it means the rule of meanies and evildoers. Why not have done with it and say that Osama is really the Penguin in Batman and call Islamism Penguinism?

Monday, July 23, 2007

girls who want boys who dig girls like they're boys...

In his book “Sex collectors: The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers and Compilers of Erotica”, Geoff Nicholson makes a very sensible remark about that monument to Victorian encyclopedism, My Secret Life: that in some ways, the most entertaining part of that eleven volume chronicle of fucking is the index:

You might, for instance, look up Spending and find the following citations:
my first
in voluntary
on writing paper
on a silk dress
on silk stockings
against a looking glass
against a door
in a woman’s hand
baudy ejaculations when
is the most ecstatic moment of life
happiness of dying whilst

And so on.…

LI, last week, proposed that the pre-history of the money shot in visual and written pornography hasn’t, really, been written, even as IT has been busy finding traces of its invisible ink in pornography of the twenties and thirties, the evanescent signature of the ill paid Stakhanovite dick, moonlighting the extra night, the bleary dawn, scurrying home to catch a little rest. Our perhaps crooked opinion is that it is the sheer accident of filmic form, the imposition of a narrative structure on a sequence of images to give them some kind of spurious spectatorial order, which elevated spending into its present uneasy prominence. It was not in response to some voyeuristic mandate, but – like so many narrative solutions to technical problems – was actually a double solution in the double register of pornographer and viewer, with a different sense and context in each register This, of course, begs many questions about narratives themselves. Most notably, are we going to just give it up and allow that tiresome notion of a narrative imposing itself on some wild tabula rasa of images to subtend an argument without taking a proper Derridean potshot at it?

Our readers, we hope, don’t think LI is capable of that level of stupidity. However, we simply want to leave a mark here, a sort of editorial mark, against simple dualism and move on to …

Art history!

Last week we mentioned the dilettanti club, which was ostensibly founded to foster a feeling for antiquity – or at least that antiquity that the proper English gentleman would come upon in the Grand Tour of Italy. The interest in antiquity, however, was not, at this point, a mild and scholarly pursuit. It was the meeting place for a number of radical currents in English – and in European – life: the idea of non-European civilizations as actual civilizations, for instance, which comes out in William Jones’ work; the idea that Christianity suppressed the ‘healthy life’ of paganism, which has alchemical and deist roots; the development of the modern Epicurean ideal of volupte, which gradually embougeoised into the pain-pleasure calculus (with the dire consequence, from LI’s point of view, of giving rise to Happiness Triumphant, which currently bestrides the world like the Goddess Dullness in the Dunciad:

Whate’er the talents or howe’er designed
We hang one jingling padlock on the mind.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

ah, private enterprise, how sweet the sound

And the state… was on the other side
We can beat them… for ever and ever – David Bowie
Not – LI

As we have tried to make abundantly abundantly clear on this blog, we consider the terms in which politics is ‘seriously’ discussed in the U.S. to be laughable. We especially find laughable that there is some primal difference between public entities like the South Dakota Department of Education and private entities like Exxon. There is not now, there has not been, and there never will be a primal difference of that kind. To consider how that clown show called libertarianism bases itself on this fallacious fault line makes the observer of the American scene almost despair. Just as cultures have their special cuisines, they have their special stupidities. This is the Ur American one. You can talk until you are blue in the face, but the next thing you know, someone will be dreaming of how we can all set up a magic kingdom in which the state is shrunk like a pair of panties gone through the hot cycle while the private domain blossoms and grows and is full of hippety hop nursery animals.

Well, in this kingdom of the blind, you don’t even have to be one eyed to be king – you simply have to blink every once in a while.

The press, gaudily touting itself as the fourth arm of the government, at least presents an accidental truth. Indeed, the press operates, mostly, as a lubricating agent to ensure the smooth expropriation of a nation’s wealth into the pockets of those who deserve it least and who, entrenched behind that vast architecture of legalized crime called the financial market, gain the most. I suppose in this system, the surprise is that one gets any honest reporting, rather than the opposite. Still, we were amused that the NYT, fresh from its awestruck coverage of the scholarly depths and breadth of the CEO set, had the audacity to publish a sort of crib sheet from the Exxon PR department by Jad Mouawad entitled,
Gas Prices Rise on Refineries’ Record Failures.
Whenever the oil companies are ringing up record profits while prices soar, the newspapers are put in a bind: how can one create an explanation to disguise the simple and truthful one that oil companies enjoy excess wealth, have spent tons bribing generations of congressmen to ensure that they will enjoy excess wealth, and have no scruple about picking the average autodriver’s pocket to put that money in the hands of Exxonish upper management types? Newspapers can be awfully creative, but Jad Mouawad makes an unprecedented move in this article by in effect, simply saying na na na na na.

Some critics of the industry have theorized on Internet blogs that the squeeze on gasoline and other refined products points to a deliberate effort among oil companies to bolster profits by keeping supplies tight. But experts point out that the companies have little incentive right now to hold back on fuel supplies.

“Every refinery would like to run as much crude as possible but they simply can’t,” said David Greely, senior energy economist at Goldman Sachs, who in a recent report compared the drop in domestic refining with an “invisible hurricane.” “These are more complex systems. There are more chances for things to go wrong. And when things go wrong, they tend to back up the system.”

Notice, of course, that Mouawad not only quotes a Goldman Sachs guy against those unnamed internet bloggers (as opposed to the bongo drumming bloggers), but that he is so certain that the incentives that the internet bloggers don’t understand exist that, uh, he doesn’t tell us what they are. They just are. I mean can't you trust a guy who says that the refiners want to produce more gasoline? If you can't take him at his word, well, feelings get hurt. This is what those barbaric internet bloggers don't understand, but Jad understands so well. Surely, during the interview, David Greely started crying big buttery tears, just like the Walrus, and our friend Jad, just like the carpenter, lent him his big checked handkerchief. Salt tears mingled, no doubt, with a lunchy Terrine De Foies De Volaille appetizer. I hope those internet bloggers are truly ashamed of themselves. Really! Ruining an appetizer like that. The internet blogger argument is so mean, and cruel, that Jad and his buddy aren't even going to honor it by giving a counter argument. In this way, those internet bloggers are proven decisively wrong.

The article is so riven with baloney, lies, half truths and half wittedness that we just get tired thinking about it. Still, for some facts about the oil industry go to this blog, (an Internet blog! my god!) which takes out a pocket knife and picks the article to pieces pretty quickly.

Jack Kupransky makes a pretty obvious point. First, he quotes the NYT:
As a whole, refining disruptions have been considerably higher than in previous years: they averaged 1.5 million barrels a day in the first quarter, compared with 700,000 to 900,000 barrels a day from 2001 to 2005. In the days after the hurricanes, refiners were forced to briefly halt as many as five million barrels of production.
Then, unlike the gods and heros that inhabit Goldman Sacks, he actually does some simple arithmetic:
To anybody who knows nothing about the business, a shortfall of "1.5 million barrels a day" in refining capacity might sound like a really big deal, except for the fact that available inventory levels of retail gasoline (as reported weekly by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) having been running consistently above 200 million barrels for this entire period, way more than enough to cover even a 1.5 million barrel a day shortfall. If inventories weren't able to cover the shortfall, we would see inventories declining dramatically over time. Yes, inventories are 4.5% below a year ago (but only by a mere 9.5 million barrels), but that further proves that refinery shortfalls are not causing inventories to be drawn down in a dramatic way. Multiply 1.5 million per day by 90 days and you get 135 million barrels. The EIA data proves that gasoline inventories have not been depleted by 135 million barrels. In other words, the loss of production due to outages did not result in a shortfall of available gasoline. In other words, there was no supply shortage.”

So, why did the NYT chose to publish this laughable piece of pro oil company propaganda? The shoe drops at the end of the article, with a nice instance of quote marks to make us realize that only internet bloggers and real yahoos would ever question OIL:

“But with a third summer of high gasoline prices, lawmakers are debating legislation they claim would punish oil companies for exploiting the tight supply situation and engaging in “price gouging.” At the same time, they are pressing refiners to produce more fuel.”

Price gouging. My god, how twentieth century, along with usury laws and the like. Those fucking legislators should know better, and – in fact – they do. They will make noise. They will do nothing. The machine, the public/private machine, will work smoothly. Ain’t that sweet – sweet as sweet crude!

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...