Saturday, June 26, 2010

an allegory

In a greek myth, Atalante, when merely an infant, had been left to die on a mountainside by her father, Iasos. Instead of dying, she was suckled by a bear, and became a renowned huntress. Iasos took her back, but he insisted that she marry. A woman suckled by a bear was, naturally, averse to bowing her head to a husband, so she made it a condition that she would only accept a man who beat her in a foot race. If her suitor lost, he was put to death. Hippomenes, who wanted to run that race but feared the inevitable result if he relied on his own speed, prayed to Aphrodite to help him. Aphrodite, rather offended at Atalanta’s attitude, gave her worshipper Hippomenes three golden apples, which he cleverly threw into Atalanta’s way as the race proceeded. And as she stooped to gather each apple, he increased his lead over her until he won.

A well known and worn tale, this. And of course, there are many allegories and morals that have been launched from that race. However, there is one allegory that I think has never been drawn from it, which is the allegory of punctuation. For it seems to me that writing, too, is a race. First the words race ahead of the writer, and then they race ahead of the reader. The writer, of course, wants the reader to remain behind the word until the very end – at which point the reader must burst ahead, win the race and close the book.

Punctuation is not quite words. The conventions for punctuating have come about quite slowly in the European languages, and they differ from one language to another. Punctuation corresponds to two things – sense and sound. To the race going on in the brain, and the race going on in the lungs. All races are the same in this respect – all racers race in their brains and lungs. The period, of course, being a full stop, is not like a golden apple, but is, theoretically, a pause in the entire race. But the comma, ah, the comma is a golden apple – it is thrown out by the writer, or by the writer’s substitute, the words, with the intent of slowing down the pursuer-reader. Indeed, these apples have an even greater power over the reader than Hippomenes’ apples, for it turns out that the course isn’t laid out before the race, and that the track over which the race takes place is made, in a sense, by the race. Instead of an oval in a stadium, the course goes jutting out at angles and makes inversions, and curlicues, and in general can't be said to make a figure. This is largely due to the power of the comma.

The comma, one could say, is the most powerful of all the tricks up the sleeve of the racer. That the race generally comes to the event barechested makes no difference.

Interestingly, the work that Canetti, or Viza Canetti, called the first “modern’ work of literature, Lenz, by Georg Büchner, is distinguished by its commas. The commas stand in not only for periods, but for whole phrases. Lenz, in the text, rambles madly in the mountains, until he finds an interval of peace, and then of course he’s mad again. This could be represented as madness had been represented before, with the whole panoply of descriptions furnishing our background, or our soliloquy. But Lenz’s madness is, I think, most represented by the comma. It is the commas that thrust the text ever forward, that work the lungs and puzzle the brain not with angles, but with leaps, with intervals that are simply cut out, that make this a very strange race. In fact, the reader will never win this race, because the words will simply stop, and the stopping point is not the finish line. Of course, Büchner was not the first romantic to discover the power of the fragment; Novalis was there long before him, as was Schlegel. He was, however, the first to discover that the fragment could be used against the affirming, the ever so humane, period. There is, of course, a cruelty in using commas to so abridge and so accelerate the supposed sentence. It makes our bodies, as readers, align to a different rhythm. Later, this rhythm, this amphetemined motion, will be taken up by Joyce, Faulkner, Cela, Garcia Marquez, etc.

Hippomenes forgot to properly thank Aphrodite for her gift. Aphrodite allowed Rhea to turn both runners into lions, which she yoked to her chariot. Rhea is the wife of Chronos – time itself. Reader, make your own inferences.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

the creep's version of intellectual history: Paul Berman

In the National Interest, David Rieff has a nice takedown of Paul Berman’s new book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. And yet… it is a takedown that continues the ‘conversation’, so to speak. But there are certain conversations that are still born from the beginning. Paul Berman, who has somehow established himself as a “historian” of Islamicist ideology, is so completely off base that he provides a nice study in how to do intellectual history wrongly.

How do you do it wrongly? Well, you take the intellectual history of a movement that has grown over the last sixty years and you snip out – all the pertinent history over the last sixty years. What you are left with is a comic book, in which the main thing is who agrees with the Nazis, and who didn’t.

Well, what a pretty issue! In Berman’s history, the line moves directly from the Mufti of Jerusalem in the 40s to Osama bin Laden – and so direct is this line that it doesn’t wait for, say, the massive support for fundamentalist Islam and its premiere state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, given by another state, the United States, followed by Western Europe, and involving a colorful cast of characters who make up the entirety of contemporary Middle Eastern history, beginning with Nassar. In this history, U.S. policy – and the desire for cheap gasoline – drops off the screen entirely. So if, for instance, it was U.S. policy to put in power the son of a very notorious Nazi sympathizer – I’m looking at you, Pahlavi family – this goes into the wastebasket of history – as opposed to, of course, Tariq Ramadan, whose father was (gasp!) a Nazi sympathizer. Roll over Eisenhower and tell Kermit Roosevelt the news!

(I can’t resist a blast from the past. In 1976, John Campbell, in Foreign Policy, told the fairy tale of Iran in a delightful way, echoing the blank Berman so assiduously preserves in his own fairy tale:

Its [Iran’s] rulers yielded when they had no choice, remaining ever sensitive to the
forms of sovereignty and always seeking to assert national rights and interests. Such an instance was the Anglo-Russian occupation of the country in World War II, which forced tbe abdication of Reza Shah, the founder of the modern Iranian state, in favor of his son, Mobammed Reza, but also brought pledges to respect Iran's sovereignty and to end the occupation after the war, pledges with which the United States was later associated.

Postwar Iran had reason to be grateful to the United States. American diplomatic support made it possible to get rid of the Soviet occupation forces after they had outstayed their welcome and fostered a separatist revolution in Iran's northern province of Azerbaijan [Editorial note: a policy that is now being followed by, surprise, the Americans]. And America's differences with Britain over the handling of the crisis that followed nationalization of tbe Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by the government of Mohammed Mosaddeq in the early 1950s enabled Iran to come out of the crisis with a new deal on oil, altbough Mosaddeq himself disappeared from the political scene.” This was written in 1976, when it was standard Cold War practice to mock the Soviets for re-writing their history. The nicest touch here – among so many - is Mosaddeq “disappearing.” In the American historical vernacular, disappearance always marks Manifest Destiny – the Indians, in this version of history, are always conveniently disappearing as the settlers “appear.’ Disappearance hearts Uncle Sam!)

Intellectual history has its place, but there is a reason that, among historians, it is regarded as fingerpainting for the senile. There is the large question of cause – a question that poor historians, those who are, let us say, averse to research, sluff off by referring vaguely to ‘influence’. However, Berman is not even a poor intellectual historian. There’s no indication that he has ever done any investigation whatsoever into the last sixty years of Middle Eastern history on any level more difficult that reading some columns in the Figaro. He proceeds, laughably enough, as though he were equipped with the razor sharp analysis of the trained Marxist, and yet he seemingly has no idea about such simple issues as money – where it comes from, who it goes to, and like that. Even a sixties simpleton with Berman’s connections could, if he wanted to, send some student flunky to study the popular periodicals of the 80s – you know, the decade in which Berman agonized over supporting the contras. It was a truly dialectical decision! In that decade, in fact, the U.S. and the House of Saud were as one in forging a truly wonderful anticommunist coalition that – as it happened – was based, from the latter’s point of view, on spreading a certain Islamic sect that rejoiced in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and was looked upon with approval by European powers (always willing to do anything for gas) as the money ‘appeared’ for mosque building. For instance, the Moslem World League, a Saudi organization, headquartered in Paris (the home, now, of so many “new philosophers” fighting against the scourge of fundamentalism – soldiers enrolling for a war thirty years late) dispersed, according to its own record, 4.5 million francs, between 1979-1983, for the building and repair of mosques. [Nielson, 18] Ah, a small but tidy sum, that. How much was really dispensed – by who, through what routes – is probably difficult to trace, although surely the records are there not only in Riyadh, but in the archives of the CIA and the French DGSE. A very important thing, mosque building – many a neo-con, back then, was ready to lay down, in a figurative fashion of course, his life for the freedom of Moslems in the Soviet Union and in Afghanistan to worship their God – it was heartbreaking what the communists were doing, and how about Stalin? - and found the mosques a most reassuring way of taking back a young generation into the anti-atheist, anti-materialist fold.

There is nothing more rotten and hypocritical than an empire covering its ass. It employs, for this purpose, a certain kind of intellectual – whose credentials are enhanced by an early 20s bout of radicalism. All the better – as they bloat and grope through their subsequent careers, they get extra points for the signs they once painted at that protest in was it 1967? But they are, in general, creeps. Nothing but creeps. Berman, purveyor of a creep version of intellectual history that pleases the crewe at TNR and the NYT magazine, is just the kind of walking absurdity who one expects to see in a corrupt era of imperial overreach and decline.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Our present

There’s a charming story in Jennifer Burns’ biography of Ayn Rand, “Goddess of the Market”. In the dark days of the New Deal, when Roosevelt was collectivizing the U.S. economy, Rand’s first books obtained for her a circle of admirers heavily salted with the various Babbits and small business owners who’d been abused by the first generation of American naturalists. Among them, one, a letterhead manufacturer, wrote to her that her novel, We the Living, had aroused him to the depths of his being: “ ‘I thought I was one of the few who was really awake. I thought I knew and appreciated what we have, but now I know that I was at least half asleep.” Midway through the novel, Emery paused to inspect his full refrigerator, newly grateful for the bounty contained therein.”

I am not exaggerating when I say that I paused, after this paragraph, and distinctly heard the ghost of Flaubert screaming in pained laughter. Homais, of course, is eternal.

And yet… Surely our letterhead manufacturer was not wrong to inspect his refrigerator searching for clues to his way of life. Where he may have erred, however, is in thinking that Rand’s wavering historical light would have explained that bounty in any way. Rand would not have understood the collaborations – the mixture of state purposes and corporate logic – that provided the framework for the generation of refrigerants that were invented after WWI, nor would she have understood just how much of the railroad system that brought beef and veggies to Ohio in midwinter had been created out of government grants of land that it possessed by main force – and that it was beginning to support with the boldest socialistic ploy of the era, the price supports for farmers, which, combined with the engineering of the U.S. water supply, was instrumental in dropping U.S. food prices – as well as in creating nationwide corn obesity.

All of which, in some ways, doesn’t matter. The great Enlightenment ideal of prosperity reaching down into the ranks of the lowest and the most humble has been realized to an astonishing degree in developed 20th century economies – and as it is realized, a strange thing has happened. As populations get richer, they get both more timid and more savage – they feel ever more vulnerable, and are made ever less able to understand the narrative that leads to the refrigerator; they lose all sense of sacrifices that lead to long term collective benefits, which requires a historical narrative, and they operate on short term fantasies that are ceaselessly reinforced by the stream of media that fills their days. Liberty, republican virtue, culture, science – the accompaniments, according to the Enlightenment thinkers, of opulence – slowly lose their capacity to arouse any feeling whatsoever. Like a monster, an engulfing private life, rising up from the refrigerator and the Rand epic, creates a sort of public viciousness – fed by the sweetmeats of bourgeois living.

Mr. Emery, in his own way, saw the future. Our present is now filled with Emerys, and they weigh upon us like a nightmare.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Humean rulers

The first time it struck me that the governing class in this country had embraced Hume's account of cause and effect was in the runup to the Iraq invasion. The military testified, out of their experience, that the occupation of a country the size of Iraq would certainly take 400 + thousand soldiers, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. This was immediately dismissed by the pro-war side, who had only contempt for the idea of cause and effect contained in this narrative. For them, cause and effect were simply constructed by custom, and thus infinitely subject to spin. Thus they set about designing and implementing an action (the cause) and pretended that no effect would occur - rather, we would find that Iraqis loved being invaded, that they would gladly pay us for the privilege of being invaded (which was, literally, what Wolfowitz told Congress) and that we could withdraw within three or four months. As these things didn't come to pass (along with many other things that didn't come to pass - flying horses, dancing sugarplumbs, and Santa Claus coming down the chimney), the elite decided the best policy was drift and obscure - drift along in the hope that something would happen, and obscure what was really happening.

The Murder of the Gulf of Mexico has the same structure. A progressive chattering class has let its mind drift to other things, hoping - for no good reason except the repetition of this by spokesmen in the news - that BP, which had caused the accident with no contingency plan, would whip one up in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, that the Obama administration simply let BP lie about the extent of the flow into the Gulf was part of the m.o. of - we can do nothing! A curious stance. In a world of hundreds of oil companies, many with deepsea experience, and with resources that allow us to buy up a trillion dollars of dirty 'securities' from the banks, we suddenly have neither a navy nor any other reserve of experience to call upon except that of BP, our hero.

The startling thing was that the same people who are ardent political junkies seemed to blank out the consequences of the spill. Cause, here, would simply lead to some spinnable opportunities. So we don't measure the outflow for 35 days, and even now have what is surely a lowball estimate - we don't call in the boats we have on hand and investigate the plumes blooming beneath the Gulf, one of which is spreading Mobile-ward - and we don't envision the effect of this, politically, when, say, Mobile doesn't have any uncontaminated fresh water. After all, cause can be followed, it appears, by anything - maybe Deepwater Horizon will start spewing out Hope you Can Believe in stickers.

I call this Humean, but probably one could analyse this better from the point of view of Piagetian child psychology. Our elites display the intellectual grasp of four year olds, since, after all, they spend their time immersed in atmospheres of entitlement and infantilization. It is interesting to watch the rot.

But sad for the Gulf.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

experiment three - crossposted

experiment three

My last post was not meant to show that Kierkegaard was directly influenced by the Mesmerists, or by the use of hypnosis, when he uses the term psychological experiment – although in fact, as he had taken psychology, he undoubtedly had read something about animal magnetism. But rather I wanted to show links here, chains, connections, intersignes, in which an eighteenth century scene of experiment/seduction is played out on a woman - Puysegur’s patient - who resists him, in the end, allowing him the fetish objects - shoe or bonnet - but nothing more. And I wanted the odd commonality of the fly swatter to stand out - passed from the patient's hand to C.C.'s, chasing after the revolutionary flies of Berlin.

Under the pressure of the observer's gaze, we watch the experiment as a situation under the control of the pseudonym slip out of his hands, and see it appear in Kierkegaard’s hands, where instead of an experiment applied by C.C. to his 'subjects', it is applied to the text itself - the text is an experiment about experiments. And so we have outlined the first problem, the problem of the first page, the problem of the title.

The problem – psychological? Textual? Scientific? then – such is the way of this slippery signifier – seems to slip at this moment, while we are adjusting our glasses, looking at the screen - where we read the text - out of Kierkegaard’s hands too - or out of his control. For what kind of control does our author behind the author have? Why is it that experiment and seduction, experiment and the female, keep finding each other? And not according to the protocols of the manipulated chance in which the experimenter excels, but according to the protocols of nemesis, of fate, of obsession, of luck, it seems. And the experimenter – who is he, and what are his standards? What are his ‘controls”? What is his institutional background?

The institutional background – science, art, religion – is not just a matter of existential stages. Constantine Constantinus, after all, appears so unattached to economic activity, and so, consequently, at leisure to collect cases, a situation that – perhaps – is the reason the young man in Repetition finds him odd – and later on, decides that he is mad. Until, of course, C.C. decides the young man is inexistent. If madness is lack of labor – or if madness is labor that is not socially recognized… And if madness creates situations that are, to the madman’s gaze, experiments, although not so recognized by any others in the social order...

Of course, it is true that this has also happened, in the twentieth century, within institutional psychology. The famous Milgram experiment, for instance, about which one can also ask about its double form – for the participants thought they were in one experiment when they were really in another. They thought they were seeing how much pain a subject could take, when they were really subjects testing how much they would obey an order.

Thus, C.C. is not entirely out of the range of experimenters, eccentric and fictional as he is, eccentric and fictional as they represent themselves. But surely we have seen this psychological experimenter/seducer before, and not as a premonition of our own actuality, but as a figure from the eighteenth century past – for the adventurer develops just such a cold aesthetic objectivity in order to be able to travel between classes and principalities. There is a transformation of types, here, a transubstatantiation – from Don Giovanni to Dupin. C.C. is, in fact, one of those figures that hover around the idea of the detective – that amateur of crime.

How a word will creep into a text. How a word will creep into my ear and down into my heart. All this creeping about.

In the Concept of Anxiety, the psychological observer is described as a sort of actor – or rope dancer. I’ll translate from the German text I have:

“Whoever is concerned in high style with psychology and psychological observation has to take on himself a general human suppleness that puts him in the position to shape his examples right away, and these then have a whole other power of proof, although they don’t possess the appearance of facticity. As the psychological observer must possess a more than rope dancerish nimbleness in order to throw himself imaginatively into people and be able to mimic their attitudes; as his silence in confidential moments must have something seductive and pleasant, so that the disclosed matter can find comfort in this fact, under this artfully brought about inconspicuousness and stillness, and creep out and to unburden itself as in a soliloquy: he must in his soul possess a poetic originality, in order to be able to form all at once, out of that which always presents itself all in pieces and irregularly to the individual, a totality and regularity.”

Two shadows seem to appear to us on the edge of this text. One is Freud – notice how this sketch, which seems to reach out to the psychoanalytic technique of Uebertragen, even denies personhood to the discloser, but instead speaks as though the disclosed were an Es, a thing within the person. The other shadow is given to us by a story that appeared in 1841 on the other side of the Atlantic:

“A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, 'the simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd;'—he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself, upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even as before. I will therefore guess even;'—he guesses even, and wins. Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed 'lucky,'—what, in its last analysis, is it?"
"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent."
"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring, of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucault, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."

Carte de la retourne.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brownie's back

I’m going to make a hazardous prediction: more than the economy, it is the murder of the Gulf of Mexico which will decide the elections of 2010.

In the broad sweep of history, or even the small vision of a mouse from a mousehole, American elections are a trivial and sickening event. Especially in balance with the incredible damage wrought by a sugar intoxicated, irresponsible, and servile population, in the throes of some regression to the feudal era by way of worship of the wealthy.

But however trivial the measuring instrument, the object is immense. The object here, of course, is the destruction of a 50 million year eco-system on a scale not scene in the Gulf region since a comet slammed into the coast of Yucatan 65 million years ago.

This is the size of the crime.

Obama took office and immediately disappointed his liberal supporters by, in general, continuing all the disastrous policies of the Bush years under the guise of ‘stability’ and the magic belief in the ‘free market’, in spite of the fact that the corruption, inefficiency, rent seeking, and ill effects of that market were naked for all to see. Still, his supporters – and I’d count myself as nominally one, since I will probably vote for him – swallowed every insult. So far, his strong card has been his calm, and his confidence. Those two things seemed to indicate that at least we were being ruled by a competent president.

The death of the Gulf, which is going to go on and on this summer and fall, will unwind this image.

Now, make no mistake. There are no solutions that are even close to being realized. The details of the capping process for Wednesday have, unsurprisingly, been kept under wraps, since, as has become clear, all these repairing moves are improvisations devised by people who never mapped out any disaster scenario. The press, in its infinite gullibility, likes to tell us that a new well is being drilled to relieve the old well, and that by August the gusher will be capped. What is lost in this discussion is that the new well is being drilled in the same deep water environment, with an even greater lack of safety provisions, in greater haste, by a company that still doesn’t understand how it blew up the Deepwater Horizon well. It is as if a drunk driver who crashed into your car now offered, whilst glugging a bottle of whiskey, to make amends by driving you home.

So – assuming, as I think is reasonable, that the current volume of flow into the Gulf is between 60 and 100, 000 barrels per day – we are speaking of a summer event that will burn itself even into the inane and addled mind of homo americanus, circa 2010.

At a certain point, the p.r. hallucinations will melt away. At a certain point, the giggly story about how BP is going to use dog hair and golf balls to plug the ‘leak’ will give way to stories about communities evacuating because their water source is contaminated. At a certain point, the dispersants poisoning the water will give way to vast rafts consisting of dead fish, dolphins, sea turtles and the like. At a certain point the humble, disposable Cajun fisherman ( an example of what the AEC would call “low use humans”, as they approved tests that shook fallout over poor southern Utah residents and other worthless scum) will give way to more suburban identifiable retired couples, looking in dismay as their beachfront property becomes a toxic dump.

Today one sensed a definite interior movement. Surely the White House knows that the interview with Admiral Allen, their point man in the Gulf, was a Brownie style disaster. Reading the transcript, one can even imagine the Admiral sitting there with a BP gimme cap on. Two parts stand out: once, when the Admiral claims that he can get “answers” from the BP CEO Tony Hayward – which avoids the problem of whether the answers are true or not, since they are almost certainly lies; the other part deserves to be quoted for pure farce:

“Allen compared the battle to contain the spill and its spreading slick to "fighting a multi-front war". He added that when the leak was finally sealed, the total amount of oil spilled would "probably start to approach" the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, the worst U.S. oil spill. The tanker accident spilled 11 million gallons (41 million litres) of crude.”

This kind of lie takes one back to the good old Bush days – indeed, I think it has the ring of authentic Rumsfeldianism. There isn’t a scientist outside of BP who believes that the estimate of 5,000 barrels a day, which the press swallowed for almost two weeks, is even remotely true. What we saw there was a rare, televised bout of regulatory capture. It should be shown to classes on the topic. It was outrageous, it was pitiful, and it will do a lot of damage to Obama’s white house. More, I think, than they know.

Behind every great fortune, Balzac said, there is a great crime. He was speaking of the Napoleonic era – in our era we can say, there is a great environmental crime. This looks to be a world class crime. As there is no real leftist discourse in the U.S., it will be an event that nobody can talk about. But I can suggest some vocabulary: nationalization; seizure of assets; the nationalization of every deepwater drilling project from now on out; the cancellation of all deep water drilling projects until there are failsafe procedures; the investment, by the government, in that emergency capacity; and the entire overthrow of the corporate and oligarchic control of our political apparatus. And, for good measure, lets us throw in the words exploitation, surplus value, social costs, government organized and financed crash programs to develop alternative energy sources, and a regulatory apparatus to control and oversee, with intense and irritating attention, the petro giants. Take down the latter, or live in a world that smells and feels like a giant toilet.

Monday, May 3, 2010

America: tops in sycophancy again!

One of my favorite newsstory genres is the always tricky report about the pelf being swallowed by that cute class of mediocrities we so fondly call upper management. Compared to the American oligarchs, the French nobility even during its dimmest hours looks like an orb of intelligence. True, the French nobility inherited their wealth and never, during their lifetimes, did much of public benefit, besides hiring the right managers. But they had a code, they flung themselves into the problems of love, conversation, and enlightenment, and they did have the common sense to commit collective suicide during the early days of the French revolution.

But don’t expect 18th century radicalism from the newspapers, that school of sycophancy and conventional wisdom. They believe that our modern oligarchs have godlike powers. They “cut.” They “build”. If a company’s stock grows by 100 percent during the tenure of X, well surely it must be due to X! The logic, here, is behind that of the 18th century – more like the 12th century faith in the power of demons and saints. However, the newspapers draw the line at extending their indulgent romanticism – for instance, I have never read a business column that suggested cashiers should get to pocket 10 percent of their ‘revenue’. Why, there’s no correspondence between what the cashier does and the line that forms behind her!

We have to know when to be 12th century and when to be 21st century if we are going to keep our neo-feudalism going.

And so we come to a delightful story on the fortunes doled out to media CEOS. As you might expect, in tough times, we really have to tighten our belts. We have to fire. We have to cut back. And we have to --- well, give 50 percent more to our beloved CEO! Its fun, and it is only money.

“Top executives at the country’s largest media companies continued to reel in multimillion-dollar pay packages in 2009, a year of widespread cost-cutting throughout the industry. In several cases, the packages even increased from the year before.
At the top of the list is Leslie Moonves, chief executive of the CBS Corporation, whose pay package in 2009 totaled almost $43 million, more than twice what he made in 2008, according to an analysis by Equilar, anexecutive compensation research firm.
Not far behind was Viacom’s chief executive, Philippe P. Dauman, who was paid nearly $34 million, a 22 percent increase over 2008. Sumner M. Redstone, who controls CBS and Viacom, was paid more than $33 million from the two companies combined.”

These things are pleasing to the Lord – pull out your average economist and he could get starry eyed, explaining it all. The wonders of the system! The rewards accruing to the just! The only fly in the ointment is this dang deficit hanging over everyone – why, it might turn out that the government will start coming in and asking for .01% more from our superior class, which would be an injustice on the scale, as one conservative activist put it, of the Holocaust.

This genre of story always presents two sides: the side of the rich investors and the side of the rich management. The two sides that count in this fair principality.
But I am always impressed by the abject lyricism of the defenders of Big Wealth. And this article ends with a cherry for me!

But first, here’s the rich investor point of view, which is blasé:

“The media industry did rebound in 2009 after a particularly tough 2008, but for many companies that largely meant cutting expenses, including labor costs. Overall revenue declines remained commonplace, but in many cases profits rose.
At Viacom, revenue in 2009 declined 7 percent compared with the year before but the company’s profit rose to $1.6 billion, a 29 percent increase, not far off from Mr. Dauman’s 22 percent pay raise. CBS returned to profitability in 2009 — $227 million — after a huge write-down in 2008.
“Right now, the executive compensation is not what’s driving people to invest or not invest in these stocks,” said Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at BTIG in New York. “Shareholders are more focused on the underlying growth prospects of the companies than executive compensation.”

And here’s the cherry!

“Several analysts said the shifting marketplace and uncertainty surrounding the media business could actually contribute to the large payouts, making companies even more determined to hold on to people they see as gifted executives.
“When you have an industry going through so much tumult, it puts upward pressure on pay because so many people are moving around,” said Don Delves, the president of the Delves Group, a compensation consulting firm in Chicago. “People are looking around a lot, people are moving around and there’s a concern about losing talent.””

Oh that talent! Its so… delightful!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

open letter to jean-luc marion

I’ve been thinking for the past week about the Appel à la vérité, signed by certain French intellectuals, and notably by a philosopher whose name is associated with Derrida, Jean-Luc Marion, and directed – as any call to the truth should be – to the affair now engulfing the Catholic Church.

And I've been thinking I would like to write a letter to Jean-Luc Marion. A letter about his signature, his signing off on, this petition.

One would think such an appeal would concern itself with certain truths that have come to light about the world of children and priests – the world of a certain culture of education, of religious instruction. One would think the truths about this world might be truths that call out. That should be called out. One would think that such a bold appeal – an appeal to the very truth itself, or for the truth – would get down on its knees and examine the ways and wherefores of the truth. Here, for instance, is a truth that needed to be heard. A truth that did not get to cry out. But which was, like the appeal, a matter of signatures, apparently:

“Last month it emerged that in 1975 Cardinal Brady, then a canon lawyer in the diocese of Kilmore, took part in an investigation involving two young people who alleged abuse by Smyth.

He believed both were telling the truth and swore them to secrecy.

He reported his findings to the then bishop of Kilmore Francis McKiernan, who removed from Smyth any rights to exercise priestly ministry in the diocese. The bishop also reported the then Fr Brady’s findings to Smyth’s superiors at the Norbertine abbey in Kilnacrott, Co Cavan.

No one involved informed gardaí or any civil authorities. Smyth continued to abuse children until 1993.”

Of course, the truths here, and our access to them – have indeed suffered Truth can bleed - and if one thinks that Jesus was the truth, this bleeding is not a metaphorical matter. But in deadly earnest.

Here is how this bleeding truth was replied to, by the good Irish Bishops. They have not denied this truth. No, they have simply found that nowadays, the truth, whether it bleeds or not, can always be spun.

THE IRISH Bishops’ Conference yesterday distributed a press release drawing attention to an article published 13 years ago, in which the current controversy surrounding Cardinal Seán Brady was first reported.

The story, which appeared in the London edition of the Sunday Mirror on August 10th, 1997, ran under the headline Archbishop Brady knew about evil Smyth for 22 years; The story that will shock Ireland.

The opening line of the article, by journalist Declan White, reported that archbishop Seán Brady, helped investigate “sex abuse monster” Fr Brendan Smyth.

“He was part of a secret tribunal which failed to notify the police after an altar boy told how pervert priest Smyth had abused him,” it said. It went on to mention one child who Cardinal Brady interviewed about allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by Smyth in 1975, quoting the man, who they reported lived in England at the time of publication:

“He claims the tribunal told him that such abuse would never happen again and that the church ‘would sort things out’.”

While the article referred to the meeting as a “secret tribunal” there was no specific mention of the oath of secrecy, which it later transpired that two children were required to take.

A spokesman from the Catholic Communications Office said last night that there had been suggestions that the story had been covered up but this was not the case.
“There were questions in the media as to why this issue hadn’t been addressed heretofore ... just to demonstrate that this is not a new story. It was reported in the 1990s.”

Such is the respect of the Catholic Bishops for the truth that they take comfort in the fact that parts of this truth were exposed in 1997. Which of course - as is the way of truth - might make us want to ask questions about the Church response in 1997. One truth leads to another, and all truths, here, lead to silence and dead ends.

Some - not apparently Jean-Luc Marion - might say that this appeal to the truth - the appeal of the Irish Bishops - is childishly dishonest, an insult not only to the truth but to the moral responsibility with which the truth has so often been linked. Some would say that bishops who run a church ought to try to adhere to a moral code somewhat stricter than that of a Chicago Mafioso, pleading double jeapordy. Some might ask for more from the truth – some might ask for more truth itself. But this is to assume that the truth is for all –even children who sign oaths under the eyes of a priest that they will reveal to nobody that another priest raped them. This egalitarianism of the truth is, according to the new appeal for the truth, a childish naivete.

Yet such are the mysteries here that as the truth is called to, it look more and more like a lie. Like a lie piled on another lie. Like a lie upon which a whole career in the church was built. A career that Cardinal Brady sees no particular reason to give away now.

“On Tuesday, the Catholic Church in Ireland released more details about why Cardinal Brady asked the two victims, aged 10 and 14, to sign secrecy agreements.
The church said two boys were asked to sign oaths "to avoid potential collusion" in evidence-gathering.

It added this would ensure that the complaints could "withstand challenge."
The church statement does not explain why either Cardinal Brady or his superiors at the time did not share their information with the police.” BBC

This is not to say that these truths, in the appeal to truth signed by Jean-Luc Marion, are not given their rightful place in the appeal to the truth. It is to say that their place is, it turns out, as subordinate as that of children ordered to keep a secret. These are the truths of those who are last, and under the new dispensation celebrated by the signatories of the appeal to the truth, those who are last on earth will remain last in the kingdom of heaven, their rapes to be forever put under seal; and all pity, when the seal breaks, to be directed at the real victims in these transactions – the Catholic hierarchy. Which apparently has been instrumental in revealing the truth – a new truth indeed. To quote the beginning of the appeal:

“Les affaires de pédophilie dans l’Église sont, pour tous les catholiques, une source de peine profonde et de douleur extrême. Des membres de la hiérarchie de l’Église ont eu, sur certains dossiers, de graves manquements et dysfonctionnements, et nous saluons la volonté du pape de faire toute la lumière sur ces affaires.”

The pedophilia scandals in the Church are, for all catholics, a source of profound pain and extreme grief. Members of the Church hierarchy have, according to certain dossiers, had grave lacks and dysfunctions, and we salute the will of the pope to throw every light over these affairs.”

Interestingly, the Irish bishops apparently didn’t get the news that it was the Pope's blessed will to the truth was at work here - as we saw above, they have been pointing the exculpatory finger at earlier newspaper reports. Maybe Pope Benedict did not pore over those newspapers when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, it was his job to oversee the functioning of the priesthood – to expel those who violated the rules. Or maybe it was a slow, slow truth – and what could be slower than a truth that has been put under seal? In fact, this truth was so slow that Smythe, who Brady knew was a pedophile, continued to operate for twenty years in Ireland. Ireland is a large island, but one would think that a man who was interested in the truth, and whose story is that the children were asked to shut up for their own good, might even be so interested as to make sure that Smythe was punished to the extent that the Church was willing to go – of course, I am not speaking of going to the authorities. Rape is, after all, a legal offense only for laymen. I am speaking of quietly kicking good father Smythe out of the church.

But - in asking these questions, apparently one shows oneself an enemy to truth, or at least this new view of the truth according to Jean-Luc Marion. And yet, what can I do? Surely a letter, another appeal, and appeal to the appealers, is in order? For surely, such is the infinite force of an appeal to the truth that it will provoke other appeals, appeals without limit, appeals that also might even carry a truth or two. Yet my appeal has, apparently, fallen into the trap that has been laid by the press:

At the same time, we deplore the media obsession and exaggeration which accompanies these scandals. Beyond the right to information, legitimate and democratic, we can’t help but observe with sadness, as Christians but principally as citizens, that numerous medias in our country (and in the Occident in general) treat these scandals with a partiality, distortion or delectation. Of these recourses to generalizations, the portrait of the church which is made in the current press doesn’t correspond to that which is lived by Catholic Christians.”

(Dans le même temps, nous regrettons l’emballement et la surenchère médiatiques qui accompagnent ces affaires. Au-delà du droit à l’information, légitime et démocratique, nous ne pouvons que constater avec tristesse, en tant que chrétiens mais surtout en tant que citoyens, que de nombreux médias dans notre pays (et en Occident en général) traitent ces affaires avec partialité, méconnaissance ou délectation. De raccourcis en généralisations, le portrait de l’Église qui est fait dans la presse actuellement ne correspond pas à ce que vivent les chrétiens catholiques.}

The truth has always done battle with the stereotype, or the hasty generalization. But here one wonders if the truth recognizes in the last lukewarm phrase – "what is lived by catholic Christians" – its alter-ego, the big lie. Or rather, excuse me, the banal lie. The lie being of course that this was not lived by catholic Christians – that the numerous rapes, stories of groping of all type, the preying on children – was not lived by a community of Catholic Christian children. Yet, with the naivete to which the banal lie is heir, this does announce a truth – for how could such things be “lived”?

Indeed, such are the philosophical heights we have ascended to. This should attract - appeal to - our Jean-Luc Marion as he makes a successful career – a living – of being much lauded, of having a seat at the University of Chicago and the honor of being a member of the Academie Francais. He certainly lives. Yet it is a life in which he might think to take time out – I would think maybe one thousand or one hundred thousand times the time he took to affix his signature to this appeal to the truth – to ask himself a few questions about the living and the dead in his church.

I am reminded of a passage in Simone Weil’s Enracinement – a book she wrote as she was contemplating becoming part of that living community of Catholic Christians – a passage which, though about the social experience of labor, might have some small, small relevance here. Weil balances the need to be rooted with the society of deracinement – a society that is produced, Weil believes, when all threads to the past are systematically snipped. And in working out her “program” for what should be done about this, she speaks, naturally, of the working class – whose children, in Ireland, were, as we know, subjected to the tender mercies of the Christian Brothers in the 1950s. She writes this:

The concrete list of the workers griefs offered that of things to modify. First, it is necessary to suppress the shock that the small child receives at twelve or thirteen, who goes from the school and enters the factory. Certain workers would be completely happy if that shock had not forever left an always painful wound; but they do not know themselves that their suffering comes from the past. The child at school, a good or bad student, was a being whose existence was recognized, whom one sought to develop, with whom one made an appeal to his best sentiments. The next day he becomes a supplement to a machine, a little less than a thing, and nobody cares if he obeys from the lowest motives so long as he obeys. Most workers have been subjected to the impression at least in this moment of their life of no longer existing, accompanied by a sort of inner vertigo, that intellectuals or the bourgeois, even in the greatest suffering, rarely have the occasion to get acquainted with.”

Ah, that moment of no longer existing – could this be the secret that is put under seal by a certain man who now wears, and seems intent on continuing to wear, his Cardinal’s regalia? But Jean-Luc Marion might point out that many,many expressions of regret have poured out of the Vatican by the man who has the "will" to “throw light on these affairs” - especially after the light has been thrown on them from other sources. And regret has been expressed by Cardinal Brady as well. Such heartfelt words! God himself doesn't ask for so much!

One notices, however, that the deep grief and regret felt by the signers of the appeal, including you, Jean-Luc Marion, has not resulted in any specific citation of the matter at hand. The appearance of the 'facts", the object of scandal, has been discretely pluralized and made into "affairs". Dreadful, no doubt, but not the kind of things to pollute an appeal to the truth. And yet, suppose, just suppose, that these scandals created a lifelong wound. Suppose even, as truth cries to truth, wound cries to wound - and abuse seeks to replicate itself in the next generation and the next. Suppose for a moment that Weil is right, and that the oppression of the factory system creates a feeling of inexistence - and suppose such blows against the child who, good or bad student, has been led to believe that he or she is recognized, comes from the teacher himself, whose power is expended in destroying utterly that confidence that one can be recognized.

And yet here I am going on like this when the appealers have already said how they were pained. They were pained for three paragraphs. They were pained, but more painful has been the 'delectations' of the press. So much is not said about pain in this appeal! Or even, for an appeal to the truth, about truth. It is admirably brief. One would almost think that the truth being appealed to might look at the grief felt by the signatories as pro forma. One might almost think that, in the attack on the press, you – Jean-Luc Marion – are not signing an appeal to the truth at all, but rather an appeal to allow the most powerful to escape with no sense of what they have done in the past, and no limit to what they can do in the future. In short, it is an appeal that stems from a lack of contrition so profound, from a feeling of worldly security that is so guarded on all sides against any question, any invasion, that it reverses one of Jesus’ sayings:

“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?”

For if, of course, the stone and serpent were given, regrettably, a reasonable number of years ago, and it was not the further responsibility of he who gave the stone and the serpent to oversee the boy who received them, how can he - Cardinal Brady - be blamed? And so hard he has worked to become Cardinal! Think of his sacrifices.

Well, I can think of nothing more to say to you, Jean-Luc Marion (if this were an open letter) who have given your signature and, apparently, know all about the truth that is “lived” by the Catholic Christian community.

And yet, doesn’t that truth that is actually a lie turn sour in your stomach? Have you really studied and worked hard yourself - like Cardinal Brady, becoming an important man - to do this kind of cover work for a corrupt establishment? Is this “truth” really worth the bargain here, spoken of by Christ, for which one trades a certain piece of the truth - the soul - for the world?
Roger Gathman

a last chance for changing the 50 dollar bill

I do like Matt Taibbi. But sometimes I think he misses a trick or two – that he could easily have avoided by reading me. In his latest column, he strikes gold – or, what is even more valuable for a satirist, fool’s gold – in the latest ‘conversation’ between David Brooks and Gail Collins. The two NYT columnist speak of the great events of the week – such as the Duke Butler basketball game – and Brooks wraps himself up in a visionary frenzy:

David Brooks: “The rich are not always spoiled. Their success does not always derive from privilege. The Duke players — to the extent that they are paragons of privilege, which I dispute — won through hard work on defense.

Gail Collins: I’m sorry, when the difference is one weensy basket, I’d say Duke won neither by privilege nor hard work but by sheer luck. But don’t let me interrupt your thought here. I detect the subtle and skillful transition to a larger non-sport point.

David Brooks: Yes. I was going to say that for the first time in human history, rich people work longer hours than middle class or poor people. How do you construct a rich versus poor narrative when the rich are more industrious?”

Taibbi – as any sentient human being below the 250 thou per year level, which includes 99 percent of the world’s population – finds Brooks’ comment, on the one hand, sublimely funny, and on the other hand, a troping of the word ‘work’ that most of us would kill to be able to so trope:

“I would give just about anything to sit David Brooks down in front of some single mother somewhere who’s pulling two shitty minimum-wage jobs just to be able to afford a pair of $19 Mossimo sneakers at Target for her kid, and have him tell her, with a straight face, that her main problem is that she doesn’t work as hard as Jamie Dimon.

Only a person who has never actually held a real job could say something like this. There is, of course, a huge difference between working 80 hours a week in a profession that you love and which promises you vast financial rewards, and working 80 hours a week digging ditches for a septic-tank company, or listening to impatient assholes scream at you at some airport ticket counter all day long, or even teaching disinterested, uncontrollable kids in some crappy school district with metal detectors on every door.”

Although heartfelt, Taibbi’s wish scenario is a little too, shall we say, lacking in ferocity.

To get to the servility complex, here, that allows the middle class to look up to its predators, who are even now actively digging the middle class grave, one has to put a bony skeletal finger in their very heart, or up their very rectum. My own bony finger was lodged as far up that rectum, at Limited Inc, for as long as I could stand it. Perhaps I lost my sense of humor in trying to mix proctology and memento mori – but in any case, surely, to speak of the industrious rich, one has to speak of one of the 00s most outstanding predator – of course, I’m speaking of former head of Exxon, Lee R. Raymond, and his pay package, which amounted to $144,573 a Day.

I went into the science of his pay package in 2006:

“For the better understanding of this great man’s tres riches heures, remember that each day includes lunch and, surely, a pee and a dump. Now, given that Raymond is in his sixties, I imagine that a dump takes about ten minutes. Of course, he could have had some young Brazilian man’s rectum transplanted into his (no doubt, you can check Exxon’s quarterly reports to see – such an operation would surely be a courtesy given by the company, for services rendered, rather than being paid for straight out of his own compensation package – but until better information, I will put it at ten minutes). I’m including wiping and washing the hands – something his fourth wife has surely taught him by now.

So, a full Raymond dump is worth more money than I made last year. Or is it about the same? In any case, your average Cameroonian or Egyptian or Sri Lankan doesn’t make near a Raymond dump. I would put them at half a Raymond pee.”

My calculation was I think off – it really took two dumps by Raymond to equal what I made in 2006. But I am pretty sure a Raymond pee was equal to the year’s earning of an Egyptian. As for Taibbi’s minimum wage woman, I’d put her at three Raymond shits.
The culture of the 00s hasn’t changed a bit, except that all the Raymonds were in danger of losing their money in 2008, so Obama took a bullet for the team and made Wall Street’s financial sector realize that they have friends in D.C.

Which is why it is more urgent than ever that, with the current dispute about putting Reagan on the fifty dollar bill, my plea is heard!

“… we could order the finest engravers of the greatest Republic the world has ever seen to render, in full, rich detail one of the great Raymond dumps, substituting for a history we don't remember a sign and symbol we all revere, a veritable american eucharist? I hasten to add, not a scape of the whole mass and accumulation of excretia. Currency is meant to be exchanged, and we don’t need bills that high. I was thinking, however, that to honor the magic of the marketplace, of which the U.S. is a veritable monument and museum, that one finely etched turd, one rich, ravishing portion of the great man’s scat, could, perhaps, take the place of paltry Grant. For smaller denominations, I would suggest we send some of the great chefs with their finest cutlery to slice into appropriate portions that product of great man's dyspepsia. A portion of the turd on the one, the five, the twenty-five and the fifty would remind us by its majestic look in whose country we have temporary residence.“

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obama and Sun Tzu

Today I’ll celebrate Obama, rather than, as has been my habit over the past year, knocking him.

Obama’s campaign was impressive for exactly the reason that – in the final stretch of the healthcare debate – Obama’s renewed energy in pressing for the House bill was impressive. The reason is easy to find, as all readers of Francois Jullien’s Treatise on Efficiency know – Obama – and in this he is like Lincoln – is very much a Chinese strategist:

Two different modes of efficacy result from these two different logics [of the Western strategists and Sun Tzu] on the one hand, the relation of means to ends with which we in the West are the more familiar; on the other, a relation between conditions and consequences, which is favored by the Chinese. When strategy consists in getting a situation to evolve in such a way that, if one allows oneself to be carried along by it, the effect results naturally from the accumulated potential of the situation, there is no longer any need to choose (between means) or to struggle in order to attain an ‘end’. Abandoning the logic of model-making (founded on the construction of an ideal end), you can switch to the logic of a process (note the importance of ze, “as a result”, in the construction of Chinese discourse). On the one side, the causal system is open and complex, and an infinite number of combinations are possible; oin the other, the process is closed, and its result is implicit in its evolution.”

When Obama dismisses D.C. and the political entertainment industry, this is what he means. The enemy must take a position, while Obama waits for a situation. The GOP has taken the position of pure opposition to any healthcare bill. What this position really means is that the GOP is defending the present system. Obama took the situation – the discontent with the system, and the manifest fears of not being insured, along with rising insurance rates – and simply let it develop as his argument. However, to remain master of the situation, one must look within and understand your own relationship to it. Obama failed to do this – in essence, he nearly shoaled the situation by negotiating with the GOP. The loss of the Senate seat in Massachussetts was actually a good thing for Obama – it taught him that the situation was not changing towards what he wanted, but away from what he wanted. He had lost his formerly correct sense of how to press on the situation.

That sense is not created in the political entertainment industry or in response to it. Obama and his people are not at all the instant response kind, vide Clinton’s people. In this way, they let the enemy forces stake their position. By negotiating with the GOP, Obama helped them hide their position behind mere opposition to the bill. This almost cost him the whole campaign. But the bill’s passage is a turning point. For opposition to a bill in process is much different than repealing a bill that has been passed – the latter requires that you enumerate what is wrong with the bill, and explain why you want to sacrifice such things as the reform of the pre-existing condition part of the bill. At this point the enemy has to ride the situation they have created.

The healthcare bill is not the only battle being fought, of course. Jullien points out the five-fold conditions that are laid down by the Chinese strategists – some of which are natural (the weather) and some of which are subject to human change (the ground). The natural condition at the moment is the economy, with its horrendous unemployment figures and the fact that 25 million homeowners are a little or way below the value of the house that they are paying the banks for. Surely the waste of last year should bring wrath down upon the incumbents – which are majority Dem. But having passed a bill that was so fiercely opposed, the Dems might have gotten a taste for rushing into battle. In which case, they might have a chance in November.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ritual of not seeing iraq

I have a bad habit of dropping issues where I simply get crazier and crazier in response to the mirages manufactured by our governors. I had to get off the subject of Iraq the way some men have to get off the booze.

But occasionally I return. Returning, I see that the same mirages, shabby at the edges and full of bullet holes, are still floated by the ever clueless American press. The foreign correspondents for the NYT, the Washington Post, and the tv media (from what I can tell from the blogs – I’m not dumb enough to actually watch tv news) have, since 2003, been searching the length and breadth of Iraq, trying to assemble a picture of public opinion – as long as that public opinion spoke English, was pro-American, and had a proper appreciation of free enterprise. Now, it so happens that there were two class features of the Iraq war.

1. The professional class, being heavily Sunni or involved in one way or another with the Ba’ath regime that ruled the country for fifty years, fled. They didn’t have a lot of choice. As the professional class in all third world countries forms the natural constituency for free enterprising pro-Americanism, at the very onset of the war, Bush and Co. destroyed its natural allies – and, such was their ignorance, did not understand what they were doing.
2. The majority of Iraqis are poor, and the vast majority speak no English. They live in areas that are shirked by the newsman who wants to preserve his life. And when he meets their spokesmen, they repulse him. They aren’t at all the kind of starry eyed exile type that make the newsman feel like a liberator.

In the Iraqi elections of 2005, as I pointed out countless times on Limited Inc., these two factors came in to utterly confound the news coverage received in America. Thus, I counted up, at one point, some vast number of references to Chalabi via Factiva – was it 20,000? – and an almost comic number of references to Maliki – maybe 100. Chalabi, as it turned out, received something like .01 percent of the vote. The NYT, on the eve of the 2005 election, published a confident news story about the three men most likely to be prime minister of Iraq. In fact, none of the men even came close.

Because the news model of today is based on Love Story’s definition of love – news is never having to say you’re sorry – the NYT learned precisely nothing from this prestigatator’s debacle. Thus, once again, as the Iraqis prepared to vote, the reporters gave us starry eyed portraits of Allawi and such. So, when the vote came, they reacted as though some sudden earthquake had opened up under their feet. In fact, the vote was predictable: poor shi’ites support, and have supported, Sadr.

“The followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a radical cleric who led the Shiite insurgency against the American occupation, have emerged as Iraq’s equivalent of Lazarus in elections last week, defying ritual predictions of their demise and now threatening to realign the nation’s balance of power.”

The unspecified “ritual predictions of their demise” is, I suppose, a way of saying, we fucked up again, and we always fuck up. Anthony Shadid has covered Iraq long enough to shake hands with the class composition of Iraqi politics. Myself, I have never been to Iraq, but have absorbed the pertinent facts about the place long ago. Of course, I am not equipped with the upper class American innocence that keeps away any fact that does not align with current status quo in America – one in which newsmen routinely show that they think the median income in the U.S. is 100,000 per year.

The uppercrust has compromised with the irreality of ‘meritocracy’ by pretending it is all true. That upward social mobility in the U.S. is trending towards the Mexican model is not something they can either accept or even see. The predator class spawned by Reaganism has, like any predator class, made itself a media bubble in which it gets all the facts that are fit to think – and not a fact more.

Shadid continues:

“Their apparent success in the March 7 vote for Parliament — perhaps second only to the followers of Prime MinisterNuri Kamal al-Maliki as the largest Shiite bloc — underscores a striking trend in Iraqi politics: a collapse in support for many former exiles who collaborated with the United States after the 2003 invasion.
Although rivals disparaged the Sadrists’ election campaign, documents and interviews show an unprecedented discipline that has thrust the group to the brink of perhaps its greatest political influence in Iraq.”

Unprecedented discipline? Rather, the predictable result of the polling booth. Unprecedented discipline will have to be applied in the next year or two, as Maliki joins with the Sunnis and the Iranians to death squad Sadr’s groups into inexistence.


For the sake of contrast - oh, that there were the least bit of contrast! - here is what I wrote on Dec. 19, 2005 about the last election:

To understand what is happening in Iraq through the medium of the American press is much like estimating the height of a distant mountain through a heavy fog. But sometimes the fog lifts. This election, for instance, has thrown a startling, and no doubt ephemeral, contrast between the agencies of projection – the media, the D.C. clique, and the Snopes cocoon - and reality. The NYT today, which had based its delusional reporting on John Burns’ paen to the latent Americophilia in the Baghdad streets on election day and an account, echoing an account in the WP, of an obscure secularist candidate in Basra to which reporters had been herded, no doubt, by U.S. army spokesman, now gives us this hilarious phrase:

“What was also apparent was the staunchly religious nature of the electorate, in a country that many experts had proclaimed before the American-led invasion to have a large secular middle class.”

Ah, the passivity of experts, and the coyness of reporters. The machine has written, and having written, passes on.

Still, for that vast, vast minority that actually pays attention, a few things to note.

1. The election was proceeded by the publication of a poll, conducted by the Oxford Research Institute and supported by the BBC, ABC, etc. The poll was much discussed on the blogs. LI thought that the poll vastly overcounted one segment of the Iraqi population – that “large secular middle class.” Well, LI can gleefully say we were right. The ORI poll isn’t even within shooting distance of the results. While that seems a small and parochial thing, it indicates a large and non-parochial matter – the American press, and the American political establishment, simply can’t penetrate to or establish any relationship to an Iraqi populace that, at the moment, is undergoing incipient civil war plus incipient Great Depression. If Iraq really is suffering a rate of unemployment of 60%, the underlying and real American policy towards Iraq – privatize the oil – is a pipe dream. It is not only a pipe dream, but it is being pursued by means that are blowing up in our face.
2. The neurotic pattern for discussing this war is to ignore these moments of clarity and delve, infinitely, into the American cocoon. That is why the hot issue remains the invasion itself, instead of the occupation. LI was opposed to the invasion, but our opposition was not based on what was good for Iraq. It was based on what was good for America. It was good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein fall – that was obvious, and has been obvious. It would have been good for Iraq that Saddam Hussein be captured by Iraqi partisans and be given the Mussolini treatment.
3. However, what was bad for Iraq from the getgo, and is now a disaster for America, was acceding to the imperialist impulse and occupying a country that could handle its own affairs better than any foreign proconsul could. Immediate elections, a cancellation of Iraqi debt and war reparations, and withdrawal of the Coalition forces by the end of 2003 – that would have been the wisest course for both parties.
4. We know how Iraq has suffered due to American incompetence and war crimes. But take a look, for a second, at how American interest has suffered. American interest can’t be to liberalize and seize the oil sources in the Middle East – that will lead to less oil, for one thing, as oil becomes a victim to violence. American interest should be to stabilize the Middle East to the extent that two of the region’s main players, Iran and Israel, come to some non-hostile accord. Instead, this happened: just as the Iranian revolution led to a surge in Islamic fundamentalist violence throughout the region, the American incubation of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq has been the predictor of the hard line victory in Iran. First Basra, then Teheran – that is the structural logic here. It is, of course, not even seen by Americans who think the world is watching American Idol with breathless anticipation. The world isn’t.
5. To those who think that it is good that America loses in the Middle East, I would ask who bears the cost of that loss. True, American prestige is probably fated to either diminish or transform as time goes on – this is what happens to debt-ridden empires. But American power is a wild card, and simply baiting it is a game in which other people – millions of people – are hurt. And, frankly, living inside the Behemoth, I have no desire for the Behemoth to be scattered to the winds. Jeremiah was ascetic enough to like living in the well into which he’d been thrown – but yours truly likes his trips to Whole Foods. The idea that American losses under Bush give us room to jibe at Bush is, well, a contagious infantile disorder. There is more going on here than sticking it to the retarded Texan. American narcissism knows no ideological boundaries.

PS - those who like their news from Iraq to be all happy and pro-war might be interested in this column in the New York Sun -- which is somewhat to the right of the NYPost -- written by one of those adorable Iraqi bloggers cultivated by the Neocon crowd. Lovely stuff like this:

"Iran's mullahs, who are increasingly getting belligerent across the board, pulled off a coup in Baghdad right under the very noses of the United States."

We also liked the comment about Sistani being a communist. Wow, and I thought the Iraqi communists, solidly supporting Allawi, were proof positive of the new, democratic wave sweeping through the Middle East! I guess it is time for the old switcheroo, and bringing out the commie menace card. We are menaced by the commies that we are fighting for... A little confusing, no? I'm just so... surprised that Chalabi has a constituency of 0.00001 percent in Iraq, when it comes down to it. Gee, besides having guessed it in almost every post I've ever written about Iraq, I gotta say: who coulda guessed it? Especially as the NYT and the Washington Post have featured him with a monomaniacal intensity every time they talk about the political leadership of Iraq. How to put the whole ridiculousness of that? It is as if one were to include a discussion of Jerry Brown in every article about the political leadership of the U.S.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Marx and the discours amoureux

Crossposted at Limited Inc

Marx is an altogether slippery subject for biography; the reason lies with the biographers. On the subject of Marx, libidinal investment is always just below the surface. Do you want a demon? Fritz Raddatz’s supposed “political biography” of Marx, written during the Cold War, is a hit job by a ‘leftist’ who has been blinded – in the midst of the 1970s – by the brilliant truths of Bakunin. Politics, in other words, as an infantile disorder, which made Raddatz a tool for the Springer media types. He went on to pathographies of Heine, etc. Of the biographies I have picked up so far, I’d recommend Jerome Siegel’s for its judiciousness. Wheen has written a popular biography which makes good points as well. So often, as in the case of Raddatz, one feels like one is reading a flea with rabies – the manic biting into poor dead Karl’s hide is an itchy business.

Of course, the other, hagiographic tendency was its own curse – censoring letters, providing infinite defense lawyer explanations for Marx, and never, ever putting him in historical context – thus pressing him into the stamp album of “heroes” and thus tossing out the window everything he’d ever written about the historical method.

That method, of course, would ask about the material determinants and opportunities within which Marx lived.

One of my favorite essayists, James Buchan, whose book on money, Frozen Desire, is written with a range and a style I absolutely love, falls down on the job, alas, when it comes to Marx. He has the intuition that Marx’s life and Baudelaire’s should be seen together – with which I heartily agree – but then fails to understand both Marx’s life of exile and agitation and – what is worse for the book – Marx’s theory of money. Worse, from his description, one would think that Marx was a humorless and tragic figure – and so one would be, to say the least, surprised that Capital is, among other things, a very funny book – at least the first volume. The humor of political economists is usually as thin and dry as port at the high table, but Marx, with his Goethean culture, is continually surprising the reader with this or that reference or connection.

There’s a much commented upon love letter – a lovely love letter, called, by one of Marx’s cold war commentators, Frank Manuel, with his narc’s vulgate, a “bombastic” love letter – unlike the sweet modest ones that were presumably being penned by the leaders of the Free World at the time - that Marx wrote his wife Jenny from Manchester in 1856. Jenny was in Trier at the time, and Marx evidently missed her – he begins it with the tone he so often takes in letters, of the complaint: “… it annoys me to converse with you all the time in my head without you knowing or hearing or being able to answer me.” Thomas Kemple, in his book on the Grundrisse, Reading Marx writing, puts this letter in relation to Marx’s writing at the time – and one does overhear, even in those common words, a note that is sounded in the Grundrisse and in Capital concerning commodities – they run through our head all the time, and yet they never speak to us. As Kemple points out, the letter, which is an outpouring of love to Jenny mediated through Marx looking at her photograph, is very much about the power of fetishes. This isn’t a Freudian reading – it is a Marxian one. For Marx is teasing himself as well as his wife in this letter:

“Bad as your portrait is, it gives me the best service and I now understand how even “the black Madonna”, the most disgraceful [schimpfiertesten] portraits of the mother of God, can find indestructible admirers, and even more admirers than the good portraits. In any case none of these black Madonna pictures have been more kissed, ogled and adored then Your photograph, which really isn’t black, but sour, and completely fails to mirror your sweet, kissable ‘dolce’ face. But I improve the sun’s rays, that have painted falsely, and find that my eyes, as much as they are decayed by lamplight and tobacco smoke, can still paint, not only in dreams, but also waking. I have you bodily before me and I carry you in my hands and I kiss you from head to foot and I fall before you on my knees and I moan out, “Madame, I love you.” And I love you in fact, more than the Moor of Venice ever loved. False and foul the false and foul world mistakes all characters. Who of my many detractors and snake tongued enemies have charged me with the fact that I am called upon to play a staring lover’s role in a second class theater? And yet it is true. Had those rogues the wit, they would have painted the “relations of production and trade” on one side, and me at your feet on the other. Look to this picture and to that. [in English] – they would have captioned it. But dumb rogues they are, and dumb they remain, in seculum seculorum.

Momentary absence is good, for in the present things look too like in order to be distinguished [ in der Gegenwart sehn sich die Dinge zu gleich, um sie zu unterscheiden.] Even towers appear dwarflike up close, while upclose the small and everyday grow too big. Thus it is with passions. Small habits, that through the nearness through which they adhere to the body, take on passionate forms, disappear, as soon as the immediate presence of the eye is withdrawn. Great passions, which through the nearness of their objects assume the form of small habits, grow and take their natural measure once again through the magical effect of distance.”

To be continued

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

mene tekel, and other zona news from la la land

There are two important figures in the News today. One is $3.99. The other is 10.6 million. One is a measure of the America’s deeply broken sense of justice, the other is a measure of the delusive dreamscape in which the political system is fighting its battles.

Here’s what you get in California for pinching a package of shredded cheese, priced at $3.99:

“On Monday, more than a year after a man was arrested outside a market in California with a $3.99 bag of Tillamook shredded cheese in his pants he had not paid for, a judge decided to go relatively easy on him, sentencing him to seven years and eight months in jail.”

It is hard not to laugh when you read in the U.S. Press criticism of the ‘barbarism’ of countries like Iran, where you can be executed for sodomy. They should take a lesson from our radiant and humane justice system!

“Prosecutors in Yolo County, Calif., outside Sacramento, had originally asked for a life sentence under the state’s “three strikes” law, arguing that the man, Robert Preston Ferguson, was a menace to society because of prior burglary convictions.”

What can you say about a country that, on the one hand, cheers on an ex VP who claims to have ordered torture and is proud of it, but fears the menace of a man with a packet of shredded cheese in his undies? It is beyond insult. Insult gets its energy from the absurd – from the man who fucks his mother, from the man who is born from a female dog. Insult is a geek show. But as reality in the U.S. is a geek show as well, insult and reality merge.

As for the second number, here are the appropriate grafs from David Leonardt’s NYT column:

““The strength of data we saw at the end of last year exaggerated the strength of the underlying economy,” Richard Berner of Morgan Stanley, says. “And now we’re seeing some pullback.”

This is especially troubling because the economy is still such a long way from being healthy. Lawrence Katz, the Harvard labor economist, estimates that 10.6 million jobs would need to materialize immediately to return the job market to its condition when the Great Recession began. For it to get there four years from now, the economy would have to add 316,000 jobs a month. That pace would be faster than in any four-year stretch of the 1990s boom.””

Clear your head of any other figures, as this is the predicative one. It tells you what you need to know about housing, income, and the national mood. The crisis was masterfully attacked, to the approval of people such as those who write on the Business page of the NYT, by an elaborate game of hide and seek. This rescued the richest from the results of their years of predation. But the state cannot rescue the richest forever. In point of fact, though the worker may, as Marx says, depend on the capitalist, ultimately the capitalist depends on the system. The system of American capitalism now reflects thirty years of backward motion in which public investment was outrageously stinted, and the grossly dumb theory that free markets allocate capital efficiently was made the mantra for the orgy of peculation that gave itself the name, The Great Moderation. Just as the Great Depression was a reflection of a fundamental shift in the economy – the collapse of the agricultural sector as an employer – so, too, we are suffering from a long term ailment – the collapse of manufacturing as a high wage employer – that can’t be addressed within the fundamentalist parameters of free enterprise. Thus, the unreal struggle of the hollow men of D.C., as Dems and Reps grapple with their mind forged manacles, and the rest of us are left to the mercies of D.A.’s looking for that score.

Although the reader might object that I am downplaying the menace, the terror of the cheese thief:

“According to the Sacramento newspaper, Mr. Ferguson’s defense lawyer, Monica Brushia, argued that his six other burglary convictions had taken place three decades ago and noted that his conviction for misdemeanor assault came when he was a teenager and had thrown a can of soda at one of his siblings. She also noted that the psychologist’s report had concluded that Mr. Ferguson was mentally ill. He has biploar syndrome and struggles to control his impulses to steal during manic phases, she said.
She concluded that his most recent thefts were petty. “We’re talking about a pack of cheese,” she said.
Leaving aside concerns about whether the long sentence was just, some observers in California asked if the cash-strapped state should really be spending between $50,000 and $100,000 a year to lock up a cheese thief.

The last graf reminds me of something I’d been reading, recently. Where was it? Oh, here: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relation with his kind.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

no Ségolène!

Fortunately, Ségolène Royal’s opinions about philosophy are not, shall we say, pertinent to her job. But at a time when the stuporous Sarkozy and his evident, all embracing ignorance of French literature has at least discredited him with the reading public – why, oh why, does the former leader of the Socialist party intrude herself into this ridiculous affair of Bernard-Henri Levy, as though to even the odds between connais pas and connais pas? Levy is like the philistine American’s idea of what a French intellectual is. His intellectual influence in the world has been, happily, null – even smaller than the contemptible group that sought to plunge France into Bush’s Iraq adventure, people like Andre Glucksman.

That Mitterand, that canny politico, felt that he’d gain some credit and ease some minds by embracing Levy’s revivalist anti-communism in the late seventies was a small price to pay for power (the larger price was supporting the emplacement of cruise missiles, but let us not go there). Royal’s invocation of Mitterand to defend Levy’s factory made philosophy is a gesture that is, indeed, royal – it has the old, perfumed air of the Versailles court, with its favorites and intrigues. There’s no “manhunt” against Levy – in fact, his 128 page ‘philosophy’ work would doubtless sink into obscurity if he hadn’t livened things up by quoting an obvious joke about Kant as a serious analysis. When was the last time Levy read Kant? When he was twenty? It makes me sad for Royal, actually. Couldn’t some friend have taken her aside and asked her not to make herself even more ridiculous than Levy?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Being and Age

Many philosophers have written about time; few have written about age. Sein und Zeit, and not Sein und Lebensalter. Yet of course time, for human beings, is age.

Alain, who, if he wasn’t a major philosopher, was, at least, an elegant one – rather like Santayana in that sense - did write about age in Les Idées et les ages. He put the thought of age under the symbol of Proteus, with whom Alain, that lover of coasts, identified himself:

‘I have often read in Homer the story of Proteus, as ancient as mankind. And often I’ve repeated it to myself on the barren shore of the sea, led no doubt by that odor of seaweed, and by the rocks that one might say are nestled in the sand like seals. Holding to the story by the things themselves, as one always does, but also attentive, according to a secret rule, to change nothing in that strange episode, as if everything in it were true without fault.”

Now, of course, in holding to Proteus’ story, Alain is miming the gesture of Menelaus in the Odyssey, who held onto Proteus even as the old man of the sea went through every change that could repulse a person. Menelaous wanted the truth from Proteus – he wanted to know the stages of his journey home, his return, his nostos – which is his future – but he could not resist asking about the fates of his companions from the past.

This is a very seafaring sense of age. Alain imagines Proteus making this reply, which mirrors the truth of age – or rather, the truth about the truth revealed to one who ages:

« The truth, » he said, « is not : for everything changes without cease, and even this shore. This sand is made of these rocks, which flow like the water, only more slowly. False every thoght which does not model itself on the thing; but fall absolutely every thought, since what was is already no longer there. You cannot think the true age that you have; that thought, because it is true, is already false. And in the same way, every thought denies and refuses itself, in the image of this moving water which is my being, and which continually denies its own form. »

Thus sang the sea. And Proteus was truthful, in his true and constant shape which is always other, and in deceiving me didn’t deceive me at all, since this time, and by my express request, it is himself who he spoke. »

Running away and nostos – these are the moments that define the adventure of the Iliad and the Odyssey in the broad sense. A woman runs away from home. Her husband and his allies come to get her. They fight, and overthrow the city in which she is living with her fellow run away. And then Menalaus takes her home again.

Significantly, while it is quite clear that Helen runs away, it is much less clear that she returns. Here myth seems to crack under its own weight, and the stories multiply – only Helen’s image returns, being one of them, while her real self remains in Egypt, or on an island in the Black Sea.

While running away and return might well constitute one of the aspects of aging, it is governed, of course, by “home” – which is that impossible merger of geography and intimacy. As impossible as the cogito, as slippery in its production of doubles and monsters, as quicksilver in slipping out of our grasp. It is from home to home that age is reckoned in America – and thus, on the shadow side, running away is also defined. In its very core, running away cannot shake the intimacy from which it seeks to escape into its own privacy – which is the problem that it strains to overcome as, in the shape of the act, intimacy is annulled. Huck Finn lights out, continually, for the territories, because home presses in upon him. And every settler thinks, in a part of his or her mind, that the tie has now been cut, that any house that is built in this land will be laid on the foundations of the death of nostos. We aren't going back. But Alain’s Proteus is right – in the very performance of that act, which still jitters in the American blood, the act becomes untrue.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

the indefinitely postponed real

In the history of the professionalization of philosophy in the Anglo-sphere since the beginning of the Cold War, one notices that there are periodic crises of realism, in which its enemies are warded off in one way or another. In the division of intellectual labor that organizes the universities, the philosophers have taken up the vocation of defending the real. Still, there is the problem of what the real is and how it can be attacked in the first place. On the one hand, there is the inclination to make the real synonymous with what there is – the universe, say. And yet, few realists would say, I think, that the real began with the big bang. If the real is the universe, why not dispense with the term real as a superfluous and confusing lable? Yet one feels that the realists are uncomfortable thinking of the real as having a beginning or end, or having dark matter in it, or black holes. These things are real, but they aren’t in the real. Then there is the tendency to make the real the objective, as opposed to the subjective – thus a black hole is real and a thought is not. But again, this seems an oddly bent way to talk – how could a thought not be real? Is there a domain of irreality? And can I have a ticket to it, please? One way – cause I’m not coming back.

No doubt, the real – reality – is an odd term.

There is an excellent riff on the philosophical use of the real in Engel’s small book on Feuerbach. Engel’s suffers from the self-inflicted wound of never quite being real himself – his commentators will forever compare him to Marx, and take Engel’s writings to be either a translation or a distortion of Marx. This is, however, what Engels wanted. Inevitably, if one member of a dyad is to play the role of the sage, the other must be the fool. If one is the knight, the other is Sancho Panza. If one is Bruno, the other must be Bruno’s ass. And, indeed, Engels is the sensual man compared to the ever harassed Marx. Marx, at one point in his desperate attempt to change the world and not simply understand it, applied for and was refused a humble job as a railroad station accountant; Engels, on the other hand, was apparently a successful manager of a branch of his family’s business in Manchester. It was Engels who turned Marx on to the political economy, not vice versa. It is as if Sancho Panza loaned the romances of chivalry to Don Quixote. Otherwise, Engels seemed to see himself in this dyad.

Engels, who attended lectures at the University of Berlin as a soldier but never took a degree as a student, never imbibed that obsessive stylistic tic of Marx’s that Benjamin (in a different context) calls la culte de la blague. Often, in Marx’s writing, when the reader feels the roof being lifted off the house, we are in the presence of that tremendous, even prophetic sarcasm that makes Marx so pre-eminently a writer, a man of textual strategies. Engels likes a little Hegelian word play as much as the other guy, but when he tells a joke he is sure to label it a joke – not for him Marx’s habit of throwing all his genius into a joke, so that it becomes Satanically, sublimely not funny.

Engels begins his book on Feuerbach by discussing a well known maxim of Hegel’s: all that is real, is rational, and all that is rational, is real. He notes that his has been seen as Hegel’s blessing of Prussian despotism. But Engel’s disagrees. Those who quickly rush to make Hegel a bootlicker of the Prussian court forget that for Hegel, the real is the necessary. It is not “… arbitrary regime measure – Hegel himself adduces a certain ‘tax adjustment’ that counts, without anything further, as real. But what is real shows itself in the last instance also as rational.

But what is necessary, shows itself as rational in the last instance, which, applied to the Prussian state at that time, means, according to the Hegelian proposition, only: this state is rational, that is, corresponds to reason, only in so far as it is necessary; and if it appears terrible to us, and yet, in spite of its badness, continues to exist, the badness of the government finds its justification and explanation in the badness of its subjects [Untertanen]. The Prussian of that time had the government they deserved.
Now, reality – according to Hegel – is not an attribute that a given social or political arrangement retains under all circumstances and times. On the contrary. The Roman republic was real, but so was the Roman empire that crushed it. The French monarchy of 1789 had become so unreal, that is, so robbed of all necessity, so irrational, that it had to be destroyed through the great Revolution, that Hegel always spoke of with the highest enthusiasm. Here, the Monarchy was the unreal, the revolution the real. And so it goes that in the course of development, all that was earlier real loses its necessity, its right to existence, its rationality; a new, lively reality steps into the place of the dying real – peacefully, when the old state of affairs is rational enough, without striving to be carried off by death, and violently, when it holds out against this necessity. And so the Hegelian proposition is inverted through Hegelian dialectic into its opposite: everything which is real in the domain of human history will become unreasonable with time, and thus is already according to its pre-determination irrational, is qualified by the irrational from then on; and everything, which is rational in the heads of men, is predetermined, to be real, may it contradict existing reality in ever so many ways. The proposition of the rationality of all the real is dissolved according to the rules of Hegel’s conceptual method into its other; the value of everything that exists is the fact that it dies. [Alles was besteht, ist wert, dass es zugrunde geht]"

I interpret this wonderfully uplifting, almost surrealist credo in terms of the sense of reality. And any newspaper reader of the past ten years must have noticed the loss of this sense of reality in the Americanized part of the world. This loss comes through in two ways: a deep failure of the mechanisms of social cause and effect, and a profusion of symbols that become issues. The three most recent events in which one feels the deep mechanism, the machine, has jumped the track were the invasion of Iraq, the Great Slump, and the earthquake in Haiti, where we witnessed obsessive acts that seemed to respond not to cause and effect on the ground, but to a whole other set of status making motives that failed to recognize or in any way integrate what was happening on the ground. As for the politics of symbols – the Engel’s real certainly generates symbols; the unreal, however, can only deal with symbols. Symbols define the politically possible, which nobody even pretends is a response to or solution for the politically impossible, that is, real social problems. The left and right still debate, for instance, the invasion of Iraq without any sense at all that the invasion had to do with a whole broken structure, going back to the double sanction policy against Iran and Iraq, that had everything to do with navigating the great problem of maintaining a feudal oil supplier, Saudi Arabia, and an irredentist state that is way too small for its irredentism, Israel. Iran is still unrecognized, Osama bin Laden and the magic pygmy pony by which he escaped Tora Bora is still at large, Israel is still irredentist, and D.C. will spend 800 billion plus on war this year with no questions asked. These are the lineaments of dysfunction. They go deep. They sap the real. The earthquake is coming. How long will it tarry?