Saturday, February 28, 2009

the dreadful murk

In Merezhosky’s essay on Gogol and the Devil, he quotes a wonderful fragment from Gogol:

“Life’s dreadful murk passes by, Gogol writes in one of his scattered notes, “and there is still a profound secret hidden here. Is this not a horrible thing. Life, raging and empty – is it not a dreadfully great phenomenon? … life.”

Which gets us to the perhaps less extensive but equally dreadful murk of AIG.

AIG is set to sink the market to another low this week. It is about to declare the greatest loss any company has ever suffered in one quarter: 60 billion dollars. AIG is determined to prove that Gogol is a very 21st century writer, since it was making money hand over fist on the 21st century equivalent of dead souls – credit default swaps. Conveniently unregulated, a legacy of Phil Gramm and Bill Clinton, AIG gouged on an instrument that was premised on … well, on simple insanity. In any book on non-linearity, they will explain linearity by a population example. Say you have two rabbits and every year they have little rabbit babies, that mature in a year and have more rabbit babies. It is easy to show that, theoretically, in a thousand or so years the universe will be full of rabbits. This is a mathematical truth, but the universe is full of things like death and predators, and so we are not, at the moment, being choked to death by copulating rabbits. Missing the entire point of this exercise, AIG staked everything on the idea that the universe would soon be filled with infinite prices on houses. It is to laugh, except of course for the nonfunny part, which is this unbelievable belief enriched a couple hundred AIG employees, and of course is being paid for by the U.S. government. The estimate is that the government will eventually fork out 100 billion dollars to save this innovator in financing, this titan:

‘At the same time A.I.G. reveals its loss, the federal government is also likely to announce — yet again! — a new plan to save A.I.G., the third since September. So far the government has thrown $150 billion at the company, in loans, investments and equity injections, to keep it afloat. It has softened the terms it set for the original $85 billion loan it made back in September. To ease the pressure even more, the Federal Reserve actually runs a facility that buys toxic assets that A.I.G. had insured. A.I.G. effectively has been nationalized, with the government owning a hair under 80 percent of the stock. Not that it’s worth very much; A.I.G. shares closed Friday at 42 cents.

Donn Vickrey, who runs the independent research firm Gradient Analytics, predicts that A.I.G. is going to cost taxpayers at least $100 billion more before it finally stabilizes, by which time the company will almost surely have been broken into pieces, with the government owning large chunks of it. A quarter of a trillion dollars, if it comes to that, is an astounding amount of money to hand over to one company to prevent it from going bust. Yet the government feels it has no choice: because of A.I.G.’s dubious business practices during the housing bubble it pretty much has the world’s financial system by the throat.”

“In this dreadful murk those who have been blinded go wandering about, appearing as phantoms to one another. “I can’t see a thing,” moans the mayor, his mind befogged. “I can see what looks like a pig’s snout instead of faces and nothing else.” In The fears and Terrors of Russia, Gogol explains the Devil’s mirage as follows: Remember the Egyptian darkness. … Pitch-black night suddenly enveloped them amidst broad daylight: dreadful figures glared at them from all sides; hideous decaying specters with melancholy faces rose up before them… they were fettered not by chains of iron but by fear, and robbed of everything…”

At one point – was it only last year? – the chains of iron looked like the Goldilocks economy. But it turns out that Goldilocks ate from the poisoned plate, and before she even got to take her rest, she slumped over and died. Sadly enough, it is my generation – which the newspapers insist on calling Boomers – the people who came of age in the seventies, who are now standing patiently in line, trying to fix the hole that AIG cut from under their feet.

“Very humbling,” said Pat Gericke, 61, of Manhattan who has had a successful interior design business for 20 years that suddenly went dead last fall. “I never thought I’d be at one of these.”
“First job fair,” said Joe Palmieri, 54, of East Hanover, N.J., an I.T. supervisor for Novartis pharmaceuticals for 29 years before being laid off recently. “This is all new for me and my family. I have to keep a positive attitude, stand on my own two feet, otherwise you fall to the bottom.”

Greg Kramer, 53, a buyer for Video USA for 15 years before being laid off Nov. 12, woke at 3 a.m. in suburban Massapequa, was on a 5 a.m. train, and at 7:25 was one of the first of the 650 who had paid $20 (the main job fair is free) to attend the early bird seminar, “Coffee With Tory.” “I don’t mind being here so early,” he said from his fourth-row seat. “I’m going through my notes to see who I want to meet with.”

Which reminded me of this:

“The roads to Syria and Jordan, the two most common destinations for Iraqis fleeing the war, are fraught with dangers. Monkath Abdul Razzaq, a middle-class Sunni Arab headed to Syria, watched dolefully as thieves plucked $11,000 from a hiding place in his car. Assad Bahjat, a Christian, also reported being held up on the road to Syria, after waiting for a gun battle to cease near the volatile city of Ramadi.
''Wherever we are, we thank God for every day,'' Mr. Bahjat said in an e-mail message after reaching the heavily Christian town of Sednaia, ''because we are alive and not dead.''

Friday, February 27, 2009

All the money in the world watch

As I said last October, all the money in the world can be poured into the banks, and it won't matter.

Here's a nice little article on the burndown of the CDO "market". We all like to pretend that there are markets, don't we? Otherwise, how can they be free?

We watch them, we watch us, Suckers of the Western World, losing all our cargo to magic. Magic. Magic.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

the rare ava socialistus

The excitement generated by the spotting a ivory billed woodpecker, formerly thought extinct, last year should be as nothing compared to the spotting of a genuine socialist, one of whom appeared last week. Segolene Royale went to Guadaloupe, an island that, by various and sundry sleights of hand going back to the eighteenth century, is a department of France – and attended the funeral of a striker, Jacques Bino, who was assassinated during the ongoing strike for higher wages on the island. She even denounced colonialism – which, of course, in D.C. shows an intolerably soft attitude to the heroic story of the rise of the West and the need to toss 200 billion dollars per year to military contractors.

Having lived as a child in Martinique, Ségolène Royal –who chose as the title of her last book the phrase, «Femme debout», her Antilles name- presented herself “as a friend of the antillese and guyanese people.” She evoked at length the memory of the French revolution, taking a stand against “bosses enriched by the neo-colonial system.”

«If I were responsible, I guarantee you there would be a permanent minister night and day accompanying these negotiations,” between the social partners. And suggesting to François Fillon to assist in the social negotiations in Guadeloupe
In the guise of a response, the prime minister [Fillon] advised her to “keep her sang froid and to let the social parties discuss among themselves.” The patronat – the bosses – discussing, of course, with the police on their side, and the strikers, criminals all, with stones on their side. “

Well well well. The French revolution, eh? We can’t have that.

Of course, the media is now working overtime to denounce Royale for having the temerity to throw “oil on the flames” – as that favorite of the petrified rentier, Le Pen, put it. Live and learn – I thought throwing oil on the flames is when you put a bullet in some striker’s head. Apparently, however, that is business as usual.

Monday, February 23, 2009

zona folklore

Once in a while, once in a while
You have to burn your lips keep your feelings alive

Now I know what it must have been like 125 years ago in Dracula’s castle while the old one, the bastard, suffered hammerblow after hammerblow as the stake went through his heart. The tremors that shot through corridor and cellar, the loosed flocks of squeeling spirits. After hundreds of years of undeath, liberation comes like this. Their first taste of life was terror, the accumulated terror of every victim.

We’ve reached the point where it is lingua franca to talk of zombie banks, but the mote is in your own eye, brother spirit. Who are the real zombies but us, unable to understand what is happening as the sysem shivers apart. We’ve forgotten outside the castle. It has been so long.

Even me, the crowlike prophet of other people’s doom, have been surprised by the slippage of the credit/speculation system. It is insanely out of control, to quote an excited clerk about the latest in bootware in the NYT – but this is the bootware of putting the boot in and hard. All the talk is of nationalization, but the story has gotten beyond that. In fact, the financial infrastructure is melting, melting, and away goes not only pension and college, but the tied up resources necessary for city, state and government. In percentage terms, the slide in the Stock Market is just tickling the slide in 2001-2003, but percentage don’t tell you relevance. The stock market is making itself irrelevant. For how long?

Who knows. We are suddenly free.

Already we are seeingt an interesting reaction in the bearers of the “little tradition”. This was anthropologist Robert Redfield’s name for the state of the art traditions in peasant communities, dependent as they were, he claimed, on the great tradition – which was the public opinion woven by elites in urban centers. The great traditions penetrate the part-world of the peasant in many ways and guises (school, teacher, church, priest, party, commissar – and now YouTube and talk radio), but invariably they are folded by the part world and reformulated in terms of myths and concrete objects. James C. Scott uses the example of class struggle, which has a certain asceptic, abstract air as it is elaborated in texts by the ciity’s black magicians, but comes into the part world as twenty dollars more per week and torching the local landowner’s woods.

Scott’s examples come from the revolutionary 70s, but the relationship of the part to the greater world does not necessarily have any political coloring.

Redfield did his field work in a Mexican village, and Scott in an Indonesian one. Myself, I just visited Politico. I wanted to read an article in which it was reported that Senator Shelby of Alabama had said that he had not seen Obama’s birth certificate. Shelby claims to be misquoted. I don’t care. I do care about the comments on that article. The Republican base was out in full cry. Slippage, slipping. In a few months, that base has seen its power and its deepest beliefs casually overturned. A Black man is in the White House, all the shadow investment verities have burned to the ground (the stock market always goes up, decade after decade; house prices always go up; diversify your portfolio; entrepreneurs so often start out by using their credit cards, but look at how they become millionaires; follow your dream). The hits to the belief system are so massive that, in a sense, this constituency is staggered. However, it is no surprise that myth and misplaced concreteness have bubbled up to explain this turn of events. I’ll put my little selection of comments at the end of this post, an appendix. The important thing is that the story has assumed a certain narrative form: Obama’s sister’s birth certificate, in the story, was switched for his in Hawaii. He was never born in America. He was born in Kenya.

A marvelous tale – for is not this country the land of the bed trick? Founded on the crudest lines of race – a line that could mean life or death – and riddled with fears of amalgamation, miscegenation, and what only the shadow knows lying in the arms of your homecoming queen. In our dark hearts, we of the white magic, we know the evil slave switched her baby with the master’s. Had to of.

This was Ralph Ellison’s territory: the tangle of black and white in the hinterlands. In the part world, the notion that the city elite has moved on evokes an uncommon but predictable fury. In the heart of the heart of the GOP, there is a violent clinging to those past positions.

And so the zona stories are told, and what comes up like snake-eyes is an archetype poisoned by history in which every mother’s son turns out to be a tarbaby. The confidence man. Puddenhead Wilson. Passing. Tie the rope and lynch your own heart, motherfucker. This tale is told of you.

Of course, Redfield and Scott believed that the peasant and the suburbanite were two different things, and that the latter was the product of modernization.

Once in a while, once in a while
You have to burn down your house keep the dreaming alive

Sen. Shelby is correct ....NO ONE has seen a REAL BIRTH CERT. except what is on the internet..that is NOT CREDIBLE ...barry soetoro aka bo has NEVER SHOWN ANYTHING to prove he was NOT BORN IN KENYA !!! Barry is still NOT A NATURAL BORN CITIZEN --- His father was born in KENYA ---Barry can never be a NATURAL BORN CITIZEN JUST ON THAT FACT THAT HE HIMSELF HAS STATED....

Perhaps if Obama spent $800k not on keeping his records out of site this "rumor would have gone away. As it stands, he has not produced any school records from Occidental college, a long form birth certificate that states hospital or physician present. The man traveled to Pakistan in 1981 which was it was illegal to go their with US passport, however, with an Indonesian passport it would have been easy. Anyway we could go on and on about his non proof of qualification but until he produces proof, Mr. Sortero a.k.a. Obama is just a usurper.

While Obama has a Hawaii birth certificate, there is no birth record from any hospital in Hawaii, and no birth listing in any Hawaii newspaper. His mom moved from Africa to Singapore, and later to Hawaii. Obama attended school in both Singapore and Hawaii. If he was born in Singapore, his mom actually didn't meet the legal requirements for his citizenship. His grandmother was a VP of the largest bank in Hawaii, and may have arranged the certificate after she got custody from mom.

Probably the most widely e-mailed Obama "tip" at the moment alleges that he isn't a natural-born American citizen and thus isn't eligible to run for president. This began in the die-hard pro-Hillary section of the blogosphere, which spent part of the summer discussing laws that deal with the citizenship of a child with one American parent born abroad. When it emerged that this challenge wouldn't hold water if Obama had been born in the United States, the focus shifted to the allegation that he had been born outside the United States. In August, a Pennsylvania lawyer, Philip Berg, filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia. Berg, who also has been active in arguing that there was "government complicity" in the attack on the World Trade Center, demanded that the court force Obama to produce his original birth certificate. The court dismissed the lawsuit. So why isn't this getting wide coverage? Well, first, there's lots of evidence that Obama was born in the United States, and none that he wasn't. The campaign handed over an official copy of his short-form birth certificate ? the standard document produced by the Hawaii Department of Health ? to And Poliltico has confirmed the authenticity of a contemporaneous announcement of his birth in the Honolulu Advertiser. Berg fights on, though, on a website with supporters known as ChileMan, ChileWoman and MommaERadioRebels. He recently told conservative talk radio host Michael Savage that he has an audiotape of Obama's Kenyan grandmother recalling the candidate's birth in a Kenyan hospital. "l'll release it in a day or two," he said six days ago. A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, Janice Okubo, said she's forbidden by state law from releasing birth certificates, but directed a reporter to the item dismissing the rumors.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Where's Ysa?

I can’t say I’m too interested in the Oscars this year. Which is the first year in a long time that I have seen none of the best pic nominees.

On the other hand, I am interested in Les Victoires de la Musique. I’m pissed off, in fact. Where is Ysa?

Okay, Camille is cuteness personified. Catherine Ringer does a passable Edith Piaf. Anais does the kind of sad reject me love song that always goes over big. But these singers shrink when compared to Ysa Ferrer. Unfortunately, I think that is why she is not among the elect. A woman who has a tendency to wear pom poms in her hair and loves nothing more than to serpentine around her background dancers might not seem like she has the, well, gravitas of an Alain Bashung. In fact, her whole act is a slap in the face of gravitas. Ysa doesn’t do the traditional love song, a la Anais, but a sort of manga variant. Admitting the corniness of Faire l’amour, when you plunge into an Ysa Ferrer love song, you don’t find a heart on a sleeve, but a cartoon vision of the cosmos. Ysa makes bi manga love, a variant of love that hasn’t yet caught on on this planet. It involves costume changes and ecstatic animation. To bi or not to bi shouldn't be taken in the sense of homo sapien sex - bi here is human or extraterrestrial.

I’m not quite sure why Ysa Ferrer is treated as such an outsider by the French music business –Even The Do is nominated, a French group that sings entirely in English – but it makes me sad. Luckily, Ysa Ferrer seems unpeterturbed. And has made another very silly video of herself in a blonde wig, fighting to the sounds of Sens interdit.
Well, at least they love her in Russia.

ps - I should point out that Ysa does represent France at the International Song Festival in Berlin this year, and seems to be easily winning each round.

Friday, February 20, 2009

pubic hairs par cocteau - bien sur!

There are those, supposedly, who don’t like fashion. There are poor souls out there who read the entire NYT except for the style section. Thus, they miss the highlights, things that one doesn’t expect to read in a paper that keeps on call a kennel of Chicago economists to advise us on the zona. For instance, this today, about Vera Wang’s show:

“Ms. Wang’s provisional muse was Peggy Guggenheim, an ugly woman who embraced Wilde’s maxim that, “One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.” She sewed Cocteau’s pubic hairs to a bedsheet. Ms. Wang did not pursue motifs of that kind.”

Dry, knowing humor! In the NYT! About Cocteau’s pubic hairs!

Cathy Horyn, who wrote this, has been writing some very good stuff about fashion week.

See, news from the zona is not always bad.

However, I can’t imagine PG did the sewing. The maid who did it no doubt discovered that pubic hairs are impossibly curly and hard to sew to anything, threw them out, plucked a few hairs from the poodle, and done is done.

I must be getting old, since I actually liked a few of the Oscar de la Renta gowns. Okay, one wonders if, up close, they would smell of mothballs. But I’ve read that slow + fashion is the latest and greatest, so bring on the naphthalene.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

alpha stew

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. Even the Lord can’t monopolize schadenfreude, at least. I may be a mouse in a hole, but I’m a grinning mouse, watching the moronic inferno explode.

The latest sad news is from the Alpha male club. You’ve seen the Alpha males, haven’t you? You spot them by the grins. They have those bloodstreaked chins. They have that assurance. They have the lines. They have it all lined up. They have it all on the line. American Psycho is screening in the frontal lobe region 24/7. At the moment, though, there is a break in the Alpha male network. Everything isn’t lined up. Everyone seems to have been lined up, but not as eaters – no, as the eaten. It was Alpha stew all the time.

"Mother," said the little boy, "how angry you look. Yes, give me an apple."
Then it seemed to her as if she had to persuade him. "Come with me," she said, opening the lid of the chest. "Take out an apple for yourself." And while the little boy was leaning over, the Evil One prompted her, and crash! she slammed down the lid, and his head flew off, falling among the red apples.

When I was in Mexico, a friend of mine told me about her vacation at a resort in the Dominican Republic. It was a sinister sounding resort, to my ears. It was entirely given over to the super-rich, and well guarded. There was everything inside the gates you would want, except – well, Dominicans. Everyone rode about on golf carts. This particular resort catered to the Venezuelan rich. Many were the stories of the evil Chavez. And the golf carts went to the store, or to the restaurant, or to the sauna, or to the golf course.

Then fear overcame her, and she thought, "Maybe I can get out of this." So she went upstairs to her room to her chest of drawers, and took a white scarf out of the top drawer, and set the head on the neck again, tying the scarf around it so that nothing could be seen. Then she set him on a chair in front of the door and put the apple in his hand.
After this Marlene came into the kitchen to her mother, who was standing by the fire with a pot of hot water before her which she was stirring around and around.
"Mother," said Marlene, "brother is sitting at the door, and he looks totally white and has an apple in his hand. I asked him to give me the apple, but he did not answer me, and I was very frightened."
"Go back to him," said her mother, "and if he will not answer you, then box his ears."
So Marlene went to him and said, "Brother, give me the apple." But he was silent, so she gave him one on the ear, and his head fell off. Marlene was terrified, and began crying and screaming, and ran to her mother, and said, "Oh, mother, I have knocked my brother's head off," and she cried and cried and could not be comforted.
"Marlene," said the mother, "what have you done? Be quiet and don't let anyone know about it. It cannot be helped now. We will cook him into stew."

I wonder now how many of those people are looking at each other in fear and trepidation as the news comes out about the Stanford fund fraud.

“My sources in Venezuela tell me that Stanford Financial, the finance firm in the crosshairs of the SEC, has big connections with Venezuela. In fact, this morning regulators say Venezuelan exposure totals $2.5 billion.
A very senior executive in the country tells me R. Allen Stanford used to send a private jet to pick up his biggest Venezuelan clients and bring them to swanky parties he held.
Back in 2005, despite a wave of corporate nationalizations under Socialist President Hugo, Stanford Financial Group opened a dozen branches in Venezuela. You can see the article here from the NY Times.
You have to wonder, why? Perhaps to legitimize the company to wealthy clients with big pockets and who were working on ways to hide their money from socialist president Hugo Chavez?”

You have to wonder why. We all have to wonder why. In the Boy Scout Guide book to the Zona, rule number one is: if you run up against something you don’t understand, you’ve just seen the system.
Rule number two is: don’t let the system see you.

“As for the thousands of small depositors who had their money in bank accounts in Stanford in Venezuela--they may actually be OK.
The capital controls put in place by Chavez would mean any deposits Stanford took in, couldn’t be taken out of the country. It’s a frustration for many American corporations doing business there—they can’t repatriate profits.
That is unless Stanford had some kind of deal with the Venezuelan government. The tentacles of this alleged case of fraud could be long and run very far south.”

The irony office is now open. We are waiting for your call.

Music for today's news is here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

mangle of inequality converts welcome

I'm psyched to see that Paul Krugman is on the cusp, the very cusp, of LI's Mangle of Inequality thesis.

So I'll just quote the meat of the post here:

"The place to start, of course, is the seventies. Suddenly, after thirty years, we are starting to recognize the shift that began to occur then. Let me remind you – the shift consisted of 1., the crushing of the bargaining power of labor; 2., the de-manufacturing of America – which was partly connected to the fact that manufacturing workers were the most militant, and partly the inevitable effect of the ability of capital to find other, cheaper regions in which to place factories; and 3, the dissolving of traditional constraints on credit.

These events occurred in response to the most serious crisis in capitalism since 1945. Galbraith’s New Industrial state, the liberal Keynesian economy, had created structures that were supposed to resolve such crises. These included the management of aggregate demand by the state, the moderation of labors’ older, utopian demands for a slice of the power in return for a steadily rising paycheck, and management’s movement away from optimizing profits in exchange for lessened volatility. The Keynesian moment unwound for a number of reasons – labour, with increasingly less interest in the political dimension that originally animated unions, became much more vulnerable; the government management of aggregate demand, combined with the government dependence on War, had finally unleashed inflation; and the ROI of the Fortune 500 corporations was finally causing an investor revolt. However, of the three factors I am listing in the shift to the new, Reagonomic paradigm, one and three seem oddly disjoint. How is it possible to diminish the bargaining power of labor – which results in the stagnation of wages – and at the same time dissolve traditional constraints on consumer and other credit?

Of course, from the neo-classical point of view, that makes a lot of sense. Instead of the government actively managing aggregate demand, the private sector, with a freer credit market, can take over. And in fact, even if wages stagnate, household incomes rise. The house itself as an asset appreciates, for one thing; more investment vehicles are made available to the public, for another thing; and finally, there is the great entry of women into the labor market.

Credit, then, is the keystone. It is from this moment on that the financial services sector, which had been relatively unimportant in the Keynesian regime, returns in force. It is what I would call the mangle of inequality – playing on Andrew Pickering’s term, mangle of practice. Contemporary capitalism in America has to effect a straddle – the economy depends on consumption, and yet, the majority of the consumers engross less and less of the productivity gains accrued by the system. Freeing the financial markets had two effects – one was to re-vamp the consumer’s financial horizon. Instead of worrying about making a wage sufficient to live the good life, the consumer worries about making a wage sufficient to have a good credit history – which is the magical key to the world of cars, plasma screen tvs, houses, and all the rest. The other was to make the consumer a shareholder in the system. For simplicity’s sake, call this the 401k world – that stands at the symbolic center of a system by which the ordinary person was hooked into the market. And the market could, consequently, use vast flows of capital to keep easing credit. A virtuous feedback, so to speak.

It had another, symbolically resonant significance. The triumph of the state in the 20th century was in providing for retirement. The state successfully created, within a capitalist economy, a mass ability to finish one’s life without poverty or utter family dependence. It was the template for the structural goods that the state, in a mixed economy, could provide – when the demands of distributive justice could not be aligned with the price creating market in a good or service. Consequently, social security has earned a special hatred from the right. The American system of encouraging private investment was meant, on the surface, to complement social security, but the ultimate aim was always to replace it.

The mangle of inequality, then, was not – as in Marx’s time – a head to head confrontation between classes. It is a more complex machine, in which class interests are blent so that head to head confrontation is systematically differed. The political triumph of the system is that the blending disenfranchised populism, since it became unclear who would really benefit from populist practice."

Honest economists should be shocked by the Fed report, since it goes counter to the mainstream notion of the convergence between expanding the power of the private sphere and wealth for all - every man a king (of his own home equity loan).

The zona laughs. Everybody listens to The Bronx: "Give me visual overload..."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

the prince of flies writes for the NYT Mag

The great lie machine during the era of the Great Fly worked on several registers. One of its cleverest registers was substituting terms in opaque contexts. This is where the lie becomes as multilayered as baklava – and just as sweet! One can gorge oneself on such lies until a sudden stroke brings you down, and death puts its hook in your nostrils.

I was pleased as a hook-laden demon, then, to see the NYT Mag story about Bush’s policy in North Africa, which comes to slyly praise it – the neocons in revisionist mode – start out with one of those Baklava lies:

“IN THE MONTHS AFTER 9/11, American forces in Afghanistan bombed the Taliban and, in vain, hunted for Osama bin Laden…”

This is exceedingly beaufiful. American forces did not bomb the Taliban, but bombed Afghanistan’s villages and cities. Whether one approves of the war or not, this is what the war consists of. But the beauty of this lie is almost surpassed by the next phrase, about hunting Osama bin Laden. They didn’t hunt Osama bin Laden in vain – rather, an intentionally small force of American marines, a handful of special forces men, and Northern Alliance allies successfully cornerd Osama bin Laden in a complex at Tora Bora. Then they let him get away. “Let” is the operative word, full of wonderful deniability. Just as the Americans oversaw the Pakistan airlift from Kunduz that took the Taliban leaders Americans were “bombing” and swept them away to sanctuary in Pakistan, so, too, American “forces” knew very well that fires were being lit on the trail wending its way through the mountains from the back of Tora Bora to the Pakistan border. They bombed, with quite a number of civilian casualties, the area in front of Tora Bora. They refused to bomb any of the trails in back of Tora Bora. The only explanation emitted by the liars in the Bush administration, and the one that will go down into the cheesy American history books, so rife with Just so stories and suburban myths, is that they were afraid of killing shepherds. Shepherds supposedly watching their flocks at 10 000 feet in midwinter. Lighting those campfires.

Iraq is something we all have to forget, because it showed, on every level, the establishment clockwork – the Baklava lies, the cruder lies, the manipulation of slogans that make no sense, the posturing, the dealmaking, and the everypresent goal – to expand the power and reach of the kleptocracy. It was a model event. The current rush to spend any amount of money to rescue the falling financial sector is built along the same lines.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

dirty and she did not understand she was dirty

This Valentine’s day, let’s take a break and think about Gabrielle Russier.
Perusing the Nouvelle Obs blogs, I fell upon this name and discovered a mini-cult.

Gabrielle Russier was arrested, in 1969, for having an affair with a 17 year old student. Russier was a literature prof at a lycee in Marseilles. She was very ‘68 – she hung out with the young, she listened to their music (o how that music has aged them since – nothing is as old as a hit from 1968), and she demonstrated by their side. She was divorced. 2 kids. In her early thirties.

One of the youth was a 17 year old, Christian Rossi. Rossi’s parents, also teachers – his father taught at Aix - did not like Russier. Eventually, they filed a complaint to the police. Corruption of a minor. Russier was condemned to pay a fine and to spend 8 weeks in a prison in Baumette. She wrote letters to Christian from prison, which were collected and turned into a book. The book was translated into English with an introduction by Mavis Gallant.

As for Russier, when she got out of prison, she was refused a post teaching linguistics at Aix. A further sentence loomed over her. The children must have been in the background, somewhere. The cat was deposed with a neighbor, and at the beginning of the school year, she turned on the gas in her apartment. Fini.

Or not. There is a great post about Russier over at Jean Claude Grosse’s blog. The affair struck a chord with the public.

“ And when the new president, Georges Pompidou, who had just promised the French “a new society”, was asked about the affair on the 22nd of September, 1969, he cited Paul Éluard, chosing a poem consecrated to the women whose heads were shaved at the Liberation: Me, my remorse, was the reasonable victim, she who resembled the dead who died in order to be loved, in the eyes of the lost child (« Moi, mon remords, ce fut la victime raisonnable au regard d'enfant perdu, celle qui ressemble aux morts qui sont morts pour être aimés. »)”

Out of this short, passionate life, a film was made, based on the letters – Charles Aznevour wrote a popular song – and one of France’s most popular novelists, Michel del Castillo, wrote another book, the result of his investigation of the case.

So this Valentine’s day, spare a thought for Gabrielle Ruissier. Here is, without my fumble fingered translation, Eluard’s poem:

Comprenne qui voudra

Comprenne qui voudra
Moi mon remords ce fut
La malheureuse qui resta
Sur le pavé
La victime raisonnable
À la robe déchirée
Au regard d’enfant perdue
Découronnée défigurée
Celle qui ressemble aux morts
Qui sont morts pour être aimés

Une fille faite pour un bouquet
Et couverte
Du noir crachat des ténèbres

Une fille galante
Comme une aurore de premier mai
La plus aimable bête

Souillée et qui n’a pas compris
Qu’elle est souillée
Une bête prise au piège
Des amateurs de beauté

Et ma mère la femme
Voudrait bien dorloter
Cette image idéale
De son malheur sur terre.

Friday, February 13, 2009

can I have another cup of feces, sir?

O the zona, how it tickles our bones! I have often wondered how anyone could have bought into the delusion that buying an asset that goes up in price while the owners all have less real money to buy it could have ponzi schemed its way into the dreams of suburban America. Yet, looking back on the Great Fly’s golden years, one notices how consistent the illogic is – on the war and the excuses for it, on the deregulation and the excuses for it, and in the very hearts and privates of our glorious white collar sector. Premise and conclusion suffered an acrimonious and terrible divorce all across the land. This NYT story today sings a dirge that is as old as the one sung by the people of Hamelin as they watched the children disappear:

“WASHINGTON — The leap in wealth that Americans thought they were enjoying over the last several years has already turned out to be a mirage, according to new estimates by the Federal Reserve.

In its triennial survey of consumer finances, released Thursday, the Fed found that the median net worth of American households increased by a seemingly healthy 17 percent between the end of 2004 and the end of 2007.

But the gains were wiped out by the collapse in housing and stock prices last year. Adjusting for those declines, Fed officials estimated that the median family was 3.2 percent poorer as of October 2008 than it was at the end of 2004. The new survey offers one of the first glimpses of how American families were positioned financially as the roof fell in on the economy, and it provides some sense of how much wealth has been destroyed since then. Indeed, the destruction of wealth is still in full swing: housing prices are still falling, more than two years after the bubble peaked.”

Reading things like this, I have an irresistible urge to turn back the page and look at news stories from the golden years. Newspapers are the sensorium of the elect – they are ever so helpful in herding the mind towards the conclusion that all is for the best in this best of all possible fully vested hard charging innovative worlds. It is the allocation of our human cattle, er, capital that is truly entrancing. Leafing through the archive, I happened on a story by Robert Frank. Frank is the economist recently taken apart by Uwe Reinhardt for defending the compensations of the CEO class. But after all, Frank is, well, bribed to the gills by his own ideology, that peculiar mixture of servility and envy that is the ghost in the Freshwater economics machine. In 2007, Frank graced the WSJ with an excerpt from his book, Richistan. Here’s a bit of it:

“Denver -- Of all the skills taught here at Butler Boot Camp, none is more technically challenging than the Ballet of Service.
The Ballet, used only for formal dinner parties, requires four butlers to glide into a dining room with their silver platters and serve the guests in perfect sync. The climax of the performance is a move called the "crossover" -- a plate-juggling pas de deux in which the butlers slide one platter from their right to left hand with a quick body pivot, creating the illusion that the plate is suspended in midair while it's being transferred.

Every year, more than 50 students from around the country converge for boot camp at Starkey. Their aim is to become masters at the care and feeding of the rich.
For eight weeks, the students hole up inside the mansion to cook, clean, polish, dust, wash and fold. They learn how to iron a pair of French cuffs in seconds flat. They learn how to clip a 1926 Pardona cigar, how to dust a de Kooning canvas and whether to pair an oaky chardonnay with roasted free-range game hen. They learn how long it takes to clean a 45,000-square-foot mansion (20 to 30 hours depending on the art and antiques), where to find 1,020-thread-count sheets (, and how to design a "stationery wardrobe" -- envelopes and letterhead specially designed to reflect the owner's wealth and social standing. They will be taught that sable stoles should never be stored in a cedar closet (it dries them out), and that Bentleys should never, ever be run through the car wash.
Most of the students live in the Starkey mansion during Boot Camp, following Starkey's strict rules. Everyone has to wear the uniform of khakis, crisp white shirts, blue blazers and brown shoes. First names are banned; everyone is "Mr." or "Ms." to stress the importance of boundaries with their future employers. The students are required to rise from their seats every time a visitor enters the room. If there's a coffee cup that needs filling, a spoon that needs polishing or a visitor who needs welcoming, the Starkey students must spring into action. The Starkey students are so wired for service that when a class break is announced, they all pounce from their seats to fill each other's water glasses and coffee cups.
Most importantly, they learn never to judge their rich future employers, whom they call "principals." If a principal wants to feed her shih tzu braised beef tenderloin every night, the butler should serve it up with a smile. If a principal in Palm Beach, Fla., wants to send his jet to New York to pick up a Chateau LaTour from his Southampton cellar, the butler makes it happen, no questions asked.
Starkey students pay more than $12,000 for Boot Camp. While that may sound steep, a good Starkey graduate can start at $70,000 to $120,000 a year, not to mention free room and board. And butlering has become one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States after more than a half-century of decline, driven by the greatest surge in American wealth in nearly a century. Over the past 10 years, the number of multimillionaire households has more than doubled. As of 2004, there were more than 1.4 million U.S. households worth at least $5 million and more than 530,000 worth more than $10 million, according to the Federal Reserve.”

In the zona, all the ancient wisdom is immediately turned into dross – and so judge not, lest ye be judged is turned into “they learn never to judge their rich future employers, whom they call "principals." ‘ Haven’t we all learned that lesson? It is a country for butlers.

To round off our merry romp through the country that learned to eat shit and ask for more, here’s a bit of an afterstory, from December, 2007:

“As the head of the prominent Denver-based Starkey International Institute of Household Management, Mary Louise Starkey has long been recognized for bringing professionalism to the butler industry. But the city's "First Lady of Service" has also become known among former students, staff and industry colleagues for alleged mismanagement, turmoil and physical altercations at her school ("At Your Disservice," August 9). Now Starkey, 58, has another blemish on her record: She was arrested at the Starkey mansion on November 13 under suspicion of felony second-degree assault.
It's true," says Gary Smith, Starkey International's Director of Placement and Client Services, when reached at the school shortly after the arrest. Smith declined to elaborate, saying, "You know, sir, I'd love to talk to you, but I am not going to do it."

The arrest arose out of an alleged incident on February 7. Former student Lisa Kirkpatrick claims that Starkey grabbed her roughly by the neck and shoved her face toward a mirror because Starkey was upset about her pupil's appearance that day. According to the November 13 arrest warrant, Starkey allegedly said, "I already told you twenty times not to have your picture taken until you have had your hair done!" shaking Kirkpatrick and slapping her on the arm. Several other students said they witnessed the episode.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

what makes the green grass grow?

“During practice we had to yell stupid stuff,” Noah wrote in August. “The Drill sergeant would ask, ‘What makes the green grass grow?’ We would yell, ‘blood, blood, blood makes the green grass grow.’

Send it up, watch it ride, see it fall…
Gravity’s angel

There was a story of comeback to warm your sad gills in the NYT today. Alexandra Penney, the former editor of Self magazine, snagged a book deal today. Not any book deal, not like the deal for How to Make Love to A Man, her former giga hit, but a book for this cold zona about being poor. As in, dropping out of the upper 10 percentile into that fatal 11th one.

Ms. Penney, who has been blogging since December as the Bag Lady on The Daily Beast
, Tina Brown’s Web site, about her comedown from a life of pedicures, high-thread-count sheets and Hermes purses, will write a memoir stemming from her blog posts.

“I think she’s really struck a nerve,” said Ellen Archer, publisher of Hyperion. “There are a lot of us, even those of us with paychecks, who are worried that we can end up on the streets. Even those of us who haven’t invested with Bernie Madoff have taken a lot of financial hits and watching her navigate these difficult waters provides a lot of people with reassurance.”

Send it up, see it ride, watch it fall…

I don’t go to the Daily Beast very often. Tina Brown’s community seems made up of a very large number of washed up rightwing hacks. Not surprising, I suppose. But in the clash of divas, Huffington vs. DB, DB is rather getting trounced.
However, a story of a zona survivor that would help me, John Q. American, pull my fucking socks up – I couldn’t miss this! So I clicked over.

“White Shirts and Telling Yolanda

I wear a classic clean white shirt every day of the week. I have about 40 white shirts. They make me feel fresh and ready to face whatever battles I may be fighting in the studio to get the best out of my work.
How am I going to iron those shirts so I can still feel like a poor civilized person? Even the no iron ones need touching up.
Yolanda makes my life work. She comes in three mornings a week, whirlwinds around, and voila! The shirts are ironed, the sheets are changed, the floors are vacuumed. She's worked with me for seven years and is a big part of my life. She needs money. She sends it to her family in Colombia. I have more than affection for Yolanda, I love her as part of my family.
On Friday, I tell her I have had a disastrous thing happen to me, but I don't have the guts to tell her I cannot keep her with me any longer. I'll wait till Wednesday.”

See it fall…

Meanwhile, I have been slowly reading the fall Virginia Quarterly Review. In that issue, they also included some stories of hard luck cases. These were not cases of people falling out of the upper 10 percent and into the hands of Tina Brown’s rump set. Instead, these people fell into the hands of the fiercesome lord of hosts, war, and they never got out of it. They might try scrubbing, they might try soaking, but their fresh white shirts are tinged with the pink of bloodstains:

“Noah Pierce’s headstone gives his date of death as July 26, 2007, though his family feels certain he died the night before, when, at age twenty-three, he took a handgun and shot himself in the head. No one is sure what pushed him to it. He said in his suicide note it was impotence—a common side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It was “the snowflake that toppled the iceberg,” he wrote. But it could have been the memory of the Iraqi child he crushed under his Bradley. “It must have been a dog,” he told his commanders. It could have been the unarmed man he shot point-blank in the forehead during a house-to-house raid, or the friend he tried madly to gather into a plastic bag after he had been blown to bits by a roadside bomb, or—as the fragments of Noah’s poetry might lead you to believe—it could have been the doctor he killed at a checkpoint.”

But the war is so yesterday’s news, like Yolanda’s job, that I feel a bit ashamed for making the juxtaposition. This is bad taste all the way around, no doubt about it. A hoodlum thing to do. A tagger’s spray paint special. And especially rubbing it in the face of one of the members of the Gated Community who was ripped off, thinking that God had guaranteed her a return of 12 percent per year for life. Now, that is pain. The yahoos out here also go down, blah blah blah. Cry me a river. Real pain is in those threadcounts. And in such troubled times, shouldn’t we be all bi-partisan and shit and forget? We’ve even forgiven the unpatriots who yelled against the war – as Jon Chait has admitted in the New Republic (and this takes guts), because, really, he was too moral, too, well, good, he overlooked the bad side of war when he supported the invasion. You know, when a guy confesses he is just too moral, you have to sympathize with him. While this tagging is utterly vulgar, there is something so charming about the gated community - that spirit of confession. I'm too good. I need my fresh white shirts.

It is characteristic of the elite that eventually, they learn to forget the help are even there. That way, they can think outloud. Any thought. It goes through their head and out of their mouth. And it really strikes a nerve!

“Noah Pierce was not the only veteran wrestling with depression and PTSD. This April, Ira R. Katz, Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Mental Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, became embroiled in scandal when a memo surfaced in which he instructed members of his staff to suppress the results of an internal VA investigation into the number of veterans attempting suicide. Based on their surveys and tabulations from the NCHS’s National Death Index and the CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System, Katz estimated that between 550 and 650 veterans are committing suicide each month. It is possible that the number of suicide deaths among veterans in 2008 alone will double the combined combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. It pains Noah’s family and friends that the Pentagon will never add him—nor the thousands like him—to the official tally of 4,000-plus war dead.”

Send it up, watch it ride, see it fall…

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

First entry. Testing.