“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Take a ch ch ch chance...

Birthday – take a ch-ch-ch-chance!

As in my birthday, today. I’m dedicating the day to myself. Well, in reality, I’m editing a paper on Ottoman feminism to keep the pack of wolves from the door. But I’d like to be chasing some Weimar babe around a futuristic landscape.
Oh well. But it’s a paycheck, Jack.

Although North doesn’t like the lipsynching here, this is still going to be the song for me today.

Everybody dance now!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The LOL era and the Iran war rollout

Sometimes, LI thinks we should brag about our foreign policy prescience. Before the invasion of Iraq, we foretold the insurgency, and the expense – although, admittedly, we underestimated the latter. Similarly, since 2004, we have been predicting that … there would be no war between the U.S. and Iran. Although in 2004, we considered it possible that the U.S. would bomb Iran, much as Reagan bombed Libya – a sole sortee, for advertising purposes only – by 2005 it was pretty clear this wasn’t going to happen.

The reason why ties into the domestic reasons for invading Iraq, which should never be forgotten. Bush, on 9/11, was, by all rights, a washed up president. Not only had he been elevated to office in the most bizarre coup since Rutherford Hayes agreed to abandon African Americans and cede the Civil War to the South in 1876, but he had obviously and spectacularly failed to protect the country, and was subject to embarrassing panic attacks. It only got worse as his Defense Department did what it could to help Osama bin Laden escape into Pakistan, practically buying him and his entourage a one way ticket. At the same time, Bush had managed to take the amount of money accumulated from the regressive FICA tax since 1985 and distribute it almost completely to the wealthiest people in the U.S. – a two trillion dollar gift to the upper one percentile. In return for which, the wealthiest staged a nice collapsing bubble as the stock market, which had boomed due to a tissue of fraudulent accounting practices and unregulated flows of hedge money, came back into line with reality.

What was needed was a war like Bush’s Daddy’s war, so the war they wanted when they came in was ginned up a little earlier than I image they were planning – given their overt grossness, I imagine Rove had planned the war for December, 2003, so they could have the victory march sometime in spring and enjoy the spike in the Prez’s popularity. Daddy Warbucks Bush had, after all, not benefited from his war.

Well, they succeeded in getting the second term, and of course it blew up in their faces, since this is a bunch that has never had a more than third rate idea. What they weren’t counting on was the fact that their war, which they wanted to be a little thing, a model war for a bunch of others, turned out to be an extensive, expensive, and ultimately wildly unpopular thing. And while certain aspects of it have, admittedly, succeeded – the price of oil, for instance, is now firmly stationed at three times the price of oil during the Clinton administration, a source of quiet pride to the Petro-Gun Club, Bush’s true milieu – still, there was a small political problem with squeezing the Red State Muzhik for more of his currency. If there is one thing that muzhik likes, it is a big, gas guzzling truck upon which one can affix one’s Bush Cheney sticker. But if the price at the pump shoots up to, say, four dollars a gallon, even the core of Bush believers would begin to melt. The thing that doomed Carter was not his ‘weakness’, as per the right, but the price of things – which are equivalent to Virgil’s the tears of things – they are the sacred signs by which we organize our rituals.

I have thought, for a long time, that this, and this only, was the real restraint on the sweet toothed crowd at the White House. Still, I think the attack on Iran has been a lure for the Bush people. Since we know that they have had the NIE estimate for a year, we can guess that it was repressed in order that the Cheneyites might have their say. The papers have gone along for the ride, with the Post making egregious references to Iran in its reports on Iraq, never missing a chance to blame Iran for IED deaths, and of course never mentioning the role Saudi Arabia played in making sure the Sunni insurgents were armed and manned and out there killing the Yankees, pour encourager les autres. Also, the ride up to ninety nine dollars per barrel was too good to miss. If Exxon doesn’t vote Bush a lifetime sinecure when he finally stumbles out of the white house, well, it will just show a shocking decline in gratitude in the corporate world.

So things have worked out happily enough for the scoundrels who rule us. The Petro Gun club needs, as we creep towards actually appeasement, just like Chamberlain back in 1938, to keep the noise machine going. I was happy to see that the Washington Post pitched in with one of their exemplary editorials, in which one half truth is added to another as part of a proof that half truths add up to big lies: and so of course they read the NIE report as saying that Iran is going to be arming missiles with nuclear tips and firing off like drunk gremlins any day now. More significant, however, is the Kagan op ed piece sending up a white flag. What happens now is anybody’s guess. I suppose the law of incompetence eventually had to strike at the one thing the Bushies do best: the war rollout.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

CAN A MONSTER BE HAPPY?



According to Albert Sorel, Napoleon read Maistre’s Considerations sur France in 1797, when he was in Milan. At this point, Napoleon had already planned his coup against the Directory. As Sorel puts it, “a little book may have already revealed the secret his future.” Although Maistre was a violent anti-Bonapartist – he is probably the source for some of the more pointed remarks in War and Peace, for of course Maistre was serving as the King of Sardinia's ambassador in Moscow when Napoleon attacked Russia - Sorel sees a community of … superstition between Napoleon, the man who said “I depend on events, I wait for everything from their issue” and the writer who wrote, “The Revolution led men more than men led the Revolution”.

Sorel’s idea is that what struck Buonoparte in Milan was a metaphysic that Buonaparte was to embody all the way up to 1815:

“The war made the Republic live, the peace will make it die… The French always succeed in war under a firm government that has the spirit to despise them in praising them and in throwing them on the enemy like shells, all the while promising them epitaphs in the newspapers..” War, besides, is a divine right, it is sacred. ‘There is only violence in the universe.” “The true fruits of human nature, the great enterprises, the high conceptions, the male virtues, all depend on the state of war. All the great men… are born in the midst of political commotions … Blood is the food of that plant that we call genius.”

It is for the celebration of war and execution, for a universe of violence, or – as Maistre says in Evenings in St. Petersburg – a society of punishment, ever more punishment, that Maistre achieved a sort of louche fame. He was the satanic Catholic, at least if we through him through the eyes of Baudelaire, who made as much a cult of him as he did of Sade. And face it, Maistre is the strangest apologist Christianity ever had – the only apologist who tried, as much as he could, to squeeze the love out of the thing as a sort of Protestant heresy. Catholicism has spawned some very wacked defenders – Leon Bloy comes to mind. But Maistre was the first who put together the anti-modernist program of the Church with a notion that is surprisingly close to the Terror – rejecting the social contract for the bonds of a sacred, nation building violence, with the preferred instrument of that violence being a legitimate succession of kings. In place of a creation that is, ultimately, bound together by the force of affection, he put a world under the judgment of a God whose memory of the human crimes is segmented into the very way human societies are laid out. We suffer, we war, we execute because we were born to others who were also born, and somewhere along that line there is a crime which is humanly inexpiable. In that Christianity without love, birth becomes the one undeniable thing a person can be accused of. What can’t be denied is certain, and on certainty we can build a science – but this political science will not be like that of the ideologues of the revolution.

Sainte Beuve, in a famous causerie on Maistre, pointed out that, for all his extremism, Maistre was actually a moderate among the ancien regime exiles, and seemed fascinated by Buonoparte. He saw in Buonoparte what was fatally lacking in the Bourbons – “if the house of Bourbon is decisively proscribed, it is good that government consolidate itself in France… it is good that a new race begins a legitimate succession, this one or that one, it doesn’t matter. I like Bonaparte king more than simply conqueror.”

So, of course, Maistre is not Sade, who might have reversed that last sentence. While Maitre’s God works miracles of violence that one can only wonder at, Maistre retains, at the risk of contradiction, all the old Catholic pieties. This is what gives the Soirees such a strange tone – some of it is just boring and second hand homily, but just as you start to get sleepy Maistre will develop some point until it becomes a monstrosity.

Indeed, the whole thing starts off as a question of monsters. The first pages of the Soirees are weirdly reminiscent of the first pages of Heart of Darkness. Three men are on a sloop, the sun is going down, they are all breathing in the sea and the sunset, they are all men of position and gravity, and one of them chances to make a strange remark – except this remark does not become an extended anecdote, as in Heart of Darkness.

“As our sloop gained a distance from the shore, the song of the rowers and the confused noise of the city insensibly faded. The sun was setting on the horizon; brilliant clouds gave off a soft light, a gilded semi-day that is impossible to paint, and that I have never seen anywhere else. The light and the shadows seemed to mix and extend to form a transparent veil which then covered the countryside.”

Then one of the three men on the sloop expresses the following thought:
‘I wish I could see, on the barque we are standing on, one of those perverse men, born for the misfortune of society; one of those monsters who fatigue this very earth.

‘And what would you do, if you please, if you had him here,’ (his two friends spoke up at once. “I would ask him if this night appeared as beautiful to him as it does to us.”

Quickly the dialogue develops the theme of the happiness of the wicked and the misfortune of the good – but the Count, the man representing de Maistre, who dominates the chapter, turns this question into something exterior – that is, he unconsciously follows in the traces of the Enlightenment philosophes he deplored, and takes happiness to be the description of social arrangements rather than inner psychological states. Later, of course, another Russian in St. Petersburg, Doestoevsky, will question that move.

I’m not, of course, concerned with all of Maistre’s program – it is the happiness of monsters that truly does interest me. But I should say something about Maistre’s effect – I think this is as important as his ideas. That suave but frightful loosening of the bonds of decorum is the predecessor of Baudelaire’s famous shock aesthetic. The line of descent, here, goes through Baudelaire and Barby D’auberville to Leon Bloy, who sums up the aesthetic strategy pretty well when he reflects on his own pretty horrible book, Salvation from the Jews:

This book, conceived in the sense of the oracles of scription, had to go, under pain of nothingness, to the edge of the bottom of things. I thus had to adopt the method recommended by saint Thomas Aquinas, which consists of exhausting the objection, first, before concluding. Excellent method, of a great philosophical faithfulness, but which caused me to be misprisioned (me fit malvenir) by the same people that I was claiming to honor as no Christian has honored them, I believe, for nineteen hundred centuries. One only looked at my premises in neglecting to observe that their violence was calculated to give all its force to my conclusion.”

Monday, December 03, 2007

some self erasing advice for Dems

LI was talking with our friend and far flung correspondent, Mr. T., on the phone last week. We both were yammering on about what is happening in the economy, and Mr. T. said something like, what we need now is another trillion dollar line of credit.

Which is very true. Leading me to this brief post, in which LI gives unsolicited advice to the Democratic Presidential candidates.

Look, next year will suck for the economy. It will suck so bad that the majority of Americans (for whom the economy has sucked for some time but who read in the paper that the economy is going terrifically well, and thus suffer from cognitive dissonance) are going to be reading in the paper that the economy sucks. It will be that rare alignment of existence and propaganda – an opportunity not to be missed!

So, here’s what you do. You make a speech saying what everybody knows – that the price of oil has tripled since we invaded Iraq because the oil dealers have a pretty shrewd idea that we are going to be tripping over the supply line for some time to come. But, you say, I am going to bring the price of oil down. How, you ask – easy. I am going to make peace with Iran, which will easily remove many of the artificial roadblocks to the exploration and exploitation of Iranian oil. That’s all. On the news – if, that is, you are a credible candidate – oil futures will fall. This is almost a no brainer play. And when they fall, you make a second speech pointing out that they fell because of your first speech. And so on – the point being that if you want those votes in the methamphetamine states where Jesus is almost king, just press on those gas prices. They’ll holy roll themselves your way.

On the other hand, doing this won’t make the petro-gun club up in D.C. happy, and really, politics in this country is about keeping the petro-gun club in D.C. happy. So maybe you shouldn’t do it. After all, even if you are defeated, you’ll get big hugs from the liberal side, which has learned to embrace rejection, using Dr. Scruggs patented Ignatz luv conditioning method - as Dr. Scruggs says, it only means luv if it hurts! - and you can always become a big wheel in one of those private equity corporations. And God wants you to be rich. Fuck it. Ignore this advice.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

echoes of the britney age

NARVIK, Norway Nov. 30 — At this time of year, the sun does not rise at all this far north of the Arctic Circle. But Karen Margrethe Kuvaas says she has not been able to sleep well for days.

What is keeping her awake are the far-reaching ripple effects of the troubled housing market in sunny Florida, California and other parts of the United States.
Ms. Kuvaas is the mayor of Narvik, a remote seaport where the season’s perpetual gloom deepened even further in recent days after news that the town — along with three other Norwegian municipalities — had lost about $64 million, and potentially much more, in complex securities investments that went sour.


One of those apocryphal Lenin quotes that are passed around by rightwingers goes: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” I doubt Lenin said this, however: he was smart enough to know that capitalists did a bang up job both of selling rope to each other and hanging each other already. Some extra twine shipped to the Soviets wasn't going to make a hell of a lotta difference.

At one time, however, the good old liberal state actually regulated the rope selling. We tend to forget that as recently as the seventies, the whole structure of financial speculation that we take as normal was, well, illegal. Up until the seventies, the institutional memory of what caused the Great Crash was still vivid. The conservative contention that what caused the great crash was too much government intervention with the natural processes of the laissez faire economy was treated with the contempt it deserved, since it was obvious then - and it might be put down as one of Jane Austin's truth universally to be observed - that the leaking of confidence from a market dependent on credit will crush the 'efficient mechanisms' that are in place to prevent panic with the same blind rush for the door that animates a crowd in a burning movie theater. In Edward Chancellor’s wonderful Devil Take the Hindmost: a history of financial speculation, he quotes an essay by F. Scott Fizgerald, Echoes from the Jazz Age, which we might want to pull out again as we watch the Bush regime employ the time tested variants used by every coup state to ward off the effect of economic misrule that has been its raison d’etre – in the same way that the raison d’etre of a pirate ship is pillage.

The Jazz Age had had a wild youth and a heady middle age. There was the phse of the necking parties, the Leopold-Loeb murder (I remember the time my wife was arrested on the Queensborough Bridge on the suspicion of being the “Bob-haired Bandit”) and the John Held Clothes. In the second phase such phenomena as sex and murder became more mature, if much more conventional. Middle age must be served and pajamas came to the beach to save fat thighs and flabby calves from competition with the one-piece bathing-suit. Finally skirts came down and everything was concealed. Everybody was at scratch now. Let’s go ---

‘But it was not to be. Somebody had blundered and the most expensive orgy in history was over.

It ended two years ago, because the utter confidence that was its essential prop received an enormous jolt, and it didn’t take long for the flimsy structure to settle earthward. And after two years the Jazz Age seems as far away as the days before the War. It was borrowed time anyhow – the whole upper tenth of a nation living with the insouciance of grand ducs and the casualness of chorus girls.”


Myself, I have a soft spot in my heart for the twenties – in fact, if you got me down in a wrestling match, sat on my chest, and forced me to say when I thought civilization had peaked, I’d opt for the twenties. Our own age – the Britney age – doesn’t have quite that insouciance of the grand dukes, even if we are fed a daily diet of the casualness of chorus girls.

Chancellor’s book traces the revival of the liberal economic theory – or the theory of the expensive orgies – through some amazing stories. None is, perhaps, as amazing as the story of Milton Friedman. In 1960, Friedman wrote an essay, In Defense of Destabilizing Speculation, which suggested that speculation would self-organize its own constraints due to the fact that speculations that were inefficient would lose money to people who had bet against those speculations. This is a variant of the efficient markets theory, which should really be renamed the “trust a drunk to get home’ theory. As we’ve seen over the last two weeks, the Stock market does operate on information – it just doesn’t distinguish between good and bad information. If you have ever tried, when extremely high, to sing a Neil Young song with other people who are also extremely high, you’ll have a wonderful model for explaining market activity – this should certainly be looked into by economists of the Chicago school. The probability of not realizing that you are out of tune, when high, singing songs that might have originally been sung out of tune, to boot, is very much like a market that supposedly exists to allocate, in the most efficient way possible, capital to industry.

So, here’s a golden moment from Chancellor’s book.

In 1967, Milton Friedman attempted to bet against the sterling price to Britain’s forced devaluation, but was turned down by the Chicago banks on the grounds that his action would encourage speculation. Afterwards, Friedman related his frustrating experience in print. His article attracted the attention of Leo Melamed, president of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange … the smaller of the city’s two agriculture futures markets. …

After the collapse of Bretton Woods, Melamed approached Friedman and asked him to write a paper justifying the creation of a market for currency futures. The professor obliged, demanding a payment of $5,000 for his services (he is reported as saying, I’m a capitalist. Remember that). Friedman had long argued against capital controls, in favor of floating exchange rates and the free movement of capital. In his paper for Melamed, entitled “the Need for Futures Markets in Foreign Currencies”, he claimed that currency futures would have a stabilizing effect on exchange rates and encourage the development “of other financial activities in this country.” Melamed’s money was well spent. Permission was granted by the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve to establish the new International Money Market at the Merc, which opened in May, 1972. The financial revolution had begun.”


Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by
year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning----

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

It’s Britney, bitch