Friday, June 23, 2023

thinking something else


Like many people – hell, I’m going for the vulgar generalization and saying like ever-y-body – I am always thinking of something else. I don’t think it is a bad guess that when Descartes wrote “cogito ergo sum”, he was thinking of something else – where am I going with this? Is the woman across the canal going to be in the fruitmarket again? I wonder if I should have some chicken broth? Hmm, bet those foutus Jesuits are going to piss in their gowns over this part, but ha ha – I’m out-Augustine-ing you, mes freres! Things like that.

A good deal of thinking, in my experience, is thinking of something else. I go down the street and instead of thinking about the street and its multiple ghosts and encounters, I am thinking about, say, writing about thinking of something else.

Yet the cogito’s thinking is supposedly a straight shot, from subject to object. The “else” that gets in there doesn’t figure much in philosopher talk. Yet my head is as filled with “else” as a pinball machine is filled with combination shot opportunities. Some people spill that else into conversation, making it hard to keep up – the conversational topic keeps reeling around. In moments of physical action, say in brushing my teeth, though I do look at the teeth and the foam churned up in there by the brush, I often find myself thinking of a news story, or a person in the news I hate, or the laundry, or money.

Else does not correspond directly with a logical function. It is chased about in Grice’s rules of implicature, which put a premium on pertinence. Else’s book is Tristam Shandy – or Potocki’s Manuscript found in Saragossa. Etymologically, else is an other – it is related to the Latin alius and the Greek allo. An other, a foreigner – thinking of something else has a certain retroactive power, making the subject a foreigner to itself.

To “only connect” is to come home – but the possibility, in every homecoming, is that the homecomer is alien to the home by the very nature of his trip. He’s someone else. How did he get there?

Odysseus found this out the hard way.


Thursday, June 22, 2023

poem for Stevie Smith

Isn't it dishonesty
this felt disproportion
between the gaps in my head
and the words in my mouth?
What I do around here
What I do
Is lie in bed
Dressed in Grandma's clothes.
In the movie
The old samurai
Dusty at the entrance to the village
Unsheathes an eloquent sword
With a rusty gesture.
I can identify.
To take strategies from the fox
Arbitrager’s carnivore
To fill my hunger
Clucking like an old hen
With oafish bit players
Instead of dangerous prey...
Oh chateaux – oh bandes dessinées!
Maybe I should exit stage left.
It's the dishonor I can’t stand.
Not the woodman’s necessity sharpened axe.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

For Daniel Ellsberg

The background story to the Pentagon Papers started out with a payment of 6,742 dollars. That is how much the U.S. government, in its majesty, decided to shell out to the family of Thai Khak Chuyen, who was a Vietnamese “translator and informant” who worked with the Green Berets in Laos. That the Green Berets were in Laos was, itself, a rather iffy proposition – who authorized that? And who authorized the torture and murder of “Mr. Chuyen”?

The first question is answered, in various stories about this incident, with the phrase: “covert mission.” In the semi-democracy of the United States in its Cold War phase, “covert missions” could emerge, with no traditional legal warrant, at the whim of the executive branch, and be carried out with the compliance of a Congress that took on the role of the blindfolded observer, the Daddy warbucks who passed the bills doling out money to intelligence agencies who worked for the “Defence Department”. In the end, as the Nixon regime battled to pull out with “peace and honor” from Southeast Asia, some Congress peeps even sought to exert some control over executive whim.
The Cold War foreign policy struggle was ultimately won by the Cold Warriors – Truman through Bush, the whole lot.
The second question, though, was a story now pretty much forgotten. Highlights: Mr. Chuyen appeared, or so it was thought, in a secret photo that showed him talking with a North Vietnamese officer. But he was suspected, as well, of being a channel to the South Vietnamese, to the government of Thieu. And the Central Intelligence Agency, which was ultimately pulling the strings in Laos and in much of South Vietnam, wanted to control the information that went to Thieu’s government.
Thus, Mr. Chuyen, unconsciously, was at the center of both a geopolitical and interbranch conflict.
At the same time, Mr. Chuyen had made friends with some of the Green Beret’s he was interacting with. One of them, a sergeant, Alvin L. Smith, went to Saigon with Mr. Chuyen, Phem Kim Lien, his wife, and Lien’s sister. “He was always going to Saigon with Chuyen for one thing or another. But it didn’t seem wrong until afterwards,” his Captain, Robert F. Marasco, testified.
At some point in June, 1969, questions arose about Chuyen. These questions were circumscribed by the situation of the Green Berets, who, under the indirect direction of the CIA, were part of something called Operation Gamma. Operation Gamma was enacted outside the purview of American law, and involved hazy incursions into Cambodia and Laos.
Smith “decided that because he was the only enlisted man, a non-commissioned officer, involved in the Chuyen thing, that we did not trust him and would kill him,” according to Marasco, who also said that was “ridiculous.” It might be the case that Smith had seen how killing could be done to not seem like killing – how a man could be told to head down a trail, for instance, by people who were pretty sure he wouldn’t come back. It might not have been so ridiculous.
Even for an American. For Chuyen, what happened was: the Green Beret’s arrested him, hooded him, took him to an island prison camp, pumped him full of sodium pentothal and for six days interrogated him, depriving him of sleep. But they couldn’t get him to confess.
At a certain point, then, the question was elimination, or what other people call murder. Consulting with their CIA contact in Saigon, they got an ambiguous answer. The CIA wasn’t opposed or for. They were tossing the question back to the Green Beret group. They weighed letting Mr. Chuyen go, but then, what if he spilled the beans, dread thought, to the Saigon government? Fighting for a democracy that had never been a democracy was one thing, but telling the government in Saigon what the Americans were doing was something else.
The solution came out of the Green Beret discussion, in which the options were: drop him out of a plane over the Sea, land him in Taiwan and let the secret police disappear him, garrot him, or do the right thing, the only thing – put two bullets in his head and dump the body.
Captain Marasco did the shooting. Then they dumped the body in the sea, wrapped in two iron chains. And then their consciences began to work on them.
Meanwhile, in Saigon, Ted Shackley, the CIA head, decided that they shouldn’t eliminate Chuyen. So he asked the Green Beret unit to put him in touch with Chuyen. The unit responded that he’d gone back to Cambodia. Shackley knew what that meant, so he laid the matter down with General Abrams – making it an army matter. The army investigated, questioning the CIA contact in Saigon, who said: “I advised Major Crew that eliminating Chuyen couldn’t be approved. However, I did say it was the most efficient course of action.”
The wheels grind. The Green Beret unit is arrested on the charge of murdering Chuyen. And this is where politics enters in. Nixon’s people were advised by the CIA that if it really came to trial, they might have to testify about Operation Gamma – essentially, blowing the cover on their illegal operation. Nixon’s people did not want the cover blown on Gamma. Nixon’s people were all about delivering a hard body blow to the North Vietnamese and their allies so that Nixon would have time to withdraw with “honor” from Vietnam. But Nixon’s Defence Department was, after all, at war as well with the CIA. The Defence Department said that at the trial, they would call CIA agents to the stand.
Helms said no. No agents could be called to the stand. The Defence Department, on September 29, announced the trial couldn’t be held, and the men were free. The headline in the NYT read: ARMY DROPS BERETS’ CASE AS C.I.A. BARTS ITS AGENTS FROM TESTIFYING AT TRIAL.
The Los Angeles Times had a similar headline. It was read that morning by Daniel Ellsberg in Malibu. He had had been moving towards the decision to leak the documents he’d been copying, and that story decided the matter for him.

Mr. Cuyen’s murder was a small thing in that murderous war, and it is just its smallness that should make us wonder about Nemesis and her instruments. Out of that murder arose the decision that resulted in the publication of the Pentagon Papers. And out of that leak arose the decision to stop leaks, leading to the formation of the White House Plumbers Group. And out of that group arose a number of decisions – the burglary of Daniel Ellsburg’s psychiatrist’s office, for instance – that led up to the Watergate burglary. And out of that fifth rate affair, as Nixon called it, arose the investigations, the Senate and House Committees, and the resignation of President Nixon.

On December 29, 1972, Edward Lorenz gave a talk to the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science with the title: Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas. Scientists don’t dicker with nemesis. Novelists do. Yet at that date, all unconsciously, the splash of a weighted body being lowered into the South China Sea one June night in 1969 was causing, in its small way, the overthrow of the American emperor. Who had just celebrated the biggest landslide victory in twentieth century history.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...