Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
YOUR HOST
Robert Weaver
PRESENT LOCATION
Sydney, Australia
OTHER STUFF
Old Weblog
LibraryThing
23hq Photos
ARCHIVES
NAVIGATION
Older Posts | Newer Posts
PREVIOUSLY
Low-effort
Impact
Apropos of Nothing...
Labour value
Middle
No Lives Matter
Consent
Epiphenomena
Pioneers
Oh. Snap.
FEED
blogurl/feeds/posts/full
blogurl/atom.xml
ELSEWHERE
3 Quarks Daily
A Tiny Revolution
Alicublog
Bad Astronomy
Blogarach
Boing Boing
Caustic Cover Critic
Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry
Counterpunch
The Early Days of a Better Nation
Ecstatic Days
Empire Burlesque
Exiled Online
The Failed Estate
FAIR Blog
Neil Gaiman
M. John Harrison
The Inferior 4 + 1
Inside Story
Jews Sans Frontieres
Laughing Squid
Lenin's Tomb
Limited Inc.
Antony Loewenstein
The Loom
LRB Blog
Nick Mamatas
Mind Hacks
Neurocritic
Neuroskeptic
Overland
Greg Palast
Riddled
Savage Minds
Mark Steel
Strange Maps
Michael Swanwick
Things Magazine
TomDispatch
Ben Tripp
Verso Blog
Peter Watts
Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
ELSEWHERE ARCHIVE
Bats Left, Throws Right
Deltoid
Drawn!
Eyeteeth
Fafblog!
Larvatus Prodeo
Lawrence of Cyberia
China Miéville
News from the Zona
Dennis Perrin
Pink Tentacle
Adam Roberts
Quotidian Hell
Matt Taibbi
Unspeak
 
The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
 
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
February 26, 2008
Another Oscar Travesty

For a second time the Academy has seen fit to rob venerable film editor Roderick Jaynes of his just reward. Nominated for his editing work on No Country for Old Men, a film which, as Mr William Crystal might have said, apparently edited itself, Mr Jaynes was again denied an opportunity to be recognised, however orthogonally, for his contribution to the cinematic arts and to share with an industry audience some part of his accumulated understanding of their craft, perhaps helping to arrest, if only temporarily, its continuing decline.

In this spirit I extract in its entirety Mr Jaynes' introduction to the published screenplays of Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink in which he recounts how he came to work with the brothers, and explains in some detail his filmic philosophy. It will hopefully be illuminating.

When Joel and Ethan Coen first approached me in the autumn of 1983 to cut Blood Simple, it had been almost thirty years since I had last worked in film. That was on a largely forgettable entertainment called The Mad Weekend with Alistair Sim and Basil Radford and directed by Geoffrey Milestone. Geoff was a small man both in stature and talent and was known, rather uncharitably, both at Ealing and at Rank, as "the wee McKendrick." Still, he seemed pleased enough with my work and introduced me to a friend of his, the American director George Marshall, who was about to begin shooting Beyond Mombassa.

At George's suggestion I moved to New York, took an apartment, and worked for less than a week on the picture before Marshall decided that my cutting was "too damned Prussian" and replaced me with Jack Tuttle. Due to a union rule my name remained on the film while Jack went on to make a mess of things; he was a dear man but no editor, and this brings me back to the Coens. They were huge fans of Beyond Mombassa and wanted me to cut their first picture. I explained my involvement in the Marshall film and didn't hear from them again for several weeks, when Ethan called to inform me that Jack Tuttle had passed away in 1962 whilst cutting another Coen favorite, Operation Fort Petticoat. The boys glumly reiterated their offer.

I decided to accept, with mixed feelings due to the circumstances, and under two conditions: that I be left alone in the cutting room, and that I not be asked to read the script before starting in cutting. Since, throughout my career, this second condition has been the subject of some contention, I shall try to explain it here.

I've never thought much of the motion picture scenario. It has its uses, I suppose, as a rough sort of guide to the actual shooting of a movie - and of course the thesps need a vade mecum from which to memorize their lines. But beyond this, the utility or interest of a motion picture script seems nil. It is not a literary artifact, not having been written for publication and therefore never attracting the grade of author who would merit it. Scenarists are inevitably amateurs, boobies, and hacks. Their scripts are invariably shoddily bound and shot right through with errors of spelling and punctuation - not to speak of the lapses of taste. At best the scriptwriter is a student of writing rather than a writer per se; he is like a child scraping away at his scales on the violin. No sensible person would listen to this grating chatter by election, and I am far too old to feign enthusiam for such recitals. As for whatever information is required for film editing, the script contains no more than the footage itself - less, in fact. The footage will sort itself out for the discerning editor, and those of us who understand the art of the image juxtaposed need not concern ourselves with the original intent of the chap - frequently a nephew of the producer - whose scribblings give us, at many times remove, our raw material. No, it is the organization of moving images that is the very art of cinema, and true authorship resides in the hand that wields not the pen, but the razor.

Given a free hand on Blood Simple, I was rather proud of my first cut, but when I screened it for the lads they responded to the action scenes with silence and to the dramatic scenes with their alarming asthmatic laughter. They took the picture away and, along with a friend of theirs named Don Wiegmann, made rather a mess of things I'm afraid, but due to union rules my name remains on the picture.

I didn't hear from them after the screening and had to see the finished film two years later at the local cine in Hove, so I was surprised to get the call to cut their second effort, Raising Arizona. It was from Joel this time, who went to great - one might say sickening - lengths to assure me that they had got on with me personally and respected me professionally, but this time their offer was conditional on my reading their script before commencing work. The script might give me, Joel said, a fix on which characters were central and which peripheral, and a firmer grasp of the order of the individual scenes. Michael Balcon had given me much the same speech before booting me off The Bells of Rhymney's and it had sounded no more persuasive then. So once again an opportunity foundered upon this point which I still considered a matter of principle; I turned down the lads' offer and also their next, for Miller's Crossing, which bore the same condition. No regrets.

I must say, however, that in watching that picture I was struck that the lads had matured somewhat. There was less of the bellowing and rum carryings-on that had so branded Raising Arizona the work of amateurs; the actors had been issued proper suits, the settings had been designed with a measure of restraint, and the characters spoke in a normal tone of voice and were sensibly covered in medium shots instead of the leering close-ups I had been given on Blood Simple. There were even frequent over-the-shoulder shots. I like an over-the-shoulder; it lets you know that the other fellow is still in the room and hasn't wandered off to do God knows what. Yes, all told the lads' third picture seemed a step up, if from an abysm.

I'm not sure why the Coens called me on their fourth picture, Barton Fink; our last conversation had ended with sharp words on both sides. At any rate, they were still asking me to work on condition of reading the script, which was still an impossibility; at this juncture, however, I made the concession of allowing them to tell me the story of the picture before I started work. This left them satisfied if not pleased, and they proceeded to narrate a tale which, to my mind, seemed crushingly tedious. I kept my impressions to myself though, as I attach little importance to scenario, and agreed to do the job, the more since I learned that their cinematographer would be Roger Deakins. Deakins I knew to be an able chap of good family in Chiswick (I had the good fortune to be acquainted with his gran) and I assumed that under his steadying hand the Coens would carry on with restraint.

T'would not be so. The footage I was given marked a return to the Borstal sensibility of the boys' earlier efforts - entire scenes covered without a proper camera angle, tattiness of setting and wardrobe, and actors once again encouraged to bellow and banshee. I made what sense I could of the footage, of which more later, but the strange sequel to my relationship with the Coens was that they asked me to write this introduction to the published scripts of Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink. I accepted only when they agreed not to review my remarks prior to their publication here. This I demanded on suspicion that they were soliciting my thoughts merely because they found it amusing to have their scenarios introduced by someone who had never read them, and if such were the case, I intended to disappoint them. For I then judged it a matter of principle to read the scripts, it being absurd to comment upon them otherwise, however banal I might precognosce them to be. Upon dancing through the two scenarios, though, I was surprised to discover something of interest.

Certainly neither manuscript caused me to revise my low opinion of the scriptwriting form. However, what is odd and even unique in the case of the Coens' scripts is that, inept though they may be, in my judgment they prove superior to the films based upon them. The malformed thoughts contained in the scripts that follow are at least here intercepted prior to their being mucked about by the silliness of the Coens' camera work. The Miller's Crossing scenario, whilst unable to propose concrete solutions to the problems of mobsterism and the bootlegging of alcohol in the 1920s, at least raises those challenging issues. And Barton Fink contains clever insights on certain artistical and Semitic themes. Pity that these somewhat promising beginnings should be so brutally strangled by their own parents. And by, I might add, the palsied hand of the film editor.

But I did not complete my account of my work on Barton Fink. At the outset the Coens were once again as good as their word, leaving me alone to impose what order I could on their unruly footage. But when I showed them my first cut, the screening ended in silence, and finally all they could find to say was that they'd been hoping for an editing style more along the lines of Beyond Mombassa. I gritted my teeth and explained to them - again - the nature of my involvement in that film. Perhaps my irritation showed; I am a film editor, after all, and not a diplomat or nuncio. At any rate, after the picture was taken away the Coens fiddled it with a friend of theirs, Michael Berenbaum. Perhaps the lads just wanted a bit more of the Hebrew point of view. I myself don't care for what they've done, and don't recognize much of my own in the picture now, save for my name in the credits - the good old rules and regs.
Roderick Jaynes
Hayward's Heath, Sussex
April, 1991
As the book in which this essay appears is now, unsurprisingly, out of print, I would hope Mr Jaynes has no objection to my reprinting it here. Second-hand copies of the scripts are available from most reputable on-line book traders should you wish to own Mr Jaynes' thoughts in a more concrete form - or to peruse the screenplays themselves, the full versions of which are often a useful
indication of the efforts film-makers go to in constructing scenes on the page, and often on film, before realising they needn't have bothered.

If you also wish to read Mr Jaynes' recounting of his attempts to assist the Coens during their difficulties in determining a title for The Man Who Wasn't There, you may access it here, courtesy of The Grauniad. I suspect this is the introduction for the published script of that film, and a hard copy should be easily available to those of you who enjoy whiling away an hour or two rummaging through remaindered bins.


February 24, 2008
The Dream

I'm one of the tiresome individuals who only heard of Chez Pazienza's blog after he got sacked from CNN for writing it. But if you never visited before I recommend this story from his time with KCBS in Los Angeles about organising tie-in news items for a mini-series on the Titanic, for the benefit of those who have what he calls "The Dream", the belief "that those coming into my living room each day and night and relaying to me the important events of the day ... had to at least be somewhat smarter than the average bear."


February 22, 2008
Any Questions?

While attempting to find out what Thomas Frank's been up to lately, I discovered an interview I'd not seen before. It's three years old and doesn't cover much new ground, but there's a nice story about a university job interview:

By the time he landed it, Frank had a contract from the University of Chicago Press to publish a book based on his dissertation. His interviewers seemed amazed by this, he recalls, and the main question they had for him was: How did he do it?

This annoyed him. ("I was, like, 'Well, it's a quality book, that's how.' ") So did the fact that, having flown in at his own expense, he was given to understand that he had no real chance at the job. At the end, the interviewers asked if he had questions for them.

"Yeah," he said. "Let's go around the room and each of you tell me: If you had to be a vegetable, what kind of vegetable would you be, and why?"


February 21, 2008
The Commie Line

Belle Waring turns up a malignant gem at National Review Online. Others have been taken by the author's bizarre speculations about Barack Obama's parents, but I particularly liked this bit:

It was, of course, an explicit tactic of the Communist party to stir up discontent among American blacks, with an eye toward using them as the leading edge of the revolution. To be sure, there was much to be discontented about, for black Americans, prior to the civil-rights revolution. To their credit, of course, most black Americans didn't buy the commie line — and showed more faith in the possibilities of democratic change than in radical politics, and the results on display in Moscow.
It takes a peculiarly interesting kind of cleverness to notice that for a long period it was the communists who took the lead in the fight against Jim Crow laws, lynching and the like, and turn it into proof of commie subversion. Or cleverness in a particularly peculiar kind of mind. One might assume that this NRO pundit regards the lack of interest other political stripes took in fighting the oppression of U.S. blacks as evidence of their staunch anti-communism.


February 19, 2008
Two Interviews on Pakistan

With election results a-pending in Pakistan, here's two relevant interviews recently conducted by Wajahat Ali, over at the usual suspects (yes, I will keep referring to it like that):

From a few days ago, with Steve Coll, author of Ghost wars.

And from today, with Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan's Movement for Justice Political Party, and former et cetera.


Oh, Great, Another State

As a result of discovering, in the Grubacic and Vodovnik piece I read over at the usual suspects a couple of weeks ago, that Kosovo PM Hashim Thaçi's nom de guerre while in the KLA was The Snake, I've been unable to read about his recent unilateral declaration of independence without hearing Hank Azaria mellifluently intoning "Alllright - time for a crime spree!"

Which would be funnier if it wasn't so freakin' apt.

The US and various other countries have quickly recognised the new "independent" Kosovo. We are told this doesn't encourage secessionist movements elsewhere, because only Kosovo deserves recognition as it is, apparently, a unique case, and not only in the sense they all are. (Hard cheese, Somaliland!*) This recognition will probably encourage a lot of Trutheresque discussion of Caspian Sea oil pipelines and Camp Bondsteel from the sort of people who make the elementary error of imagining that the motivations of governments, however nefarious, are at base always rational. If I thought the US and allies had such concrete reasons for welcoming this latest part of the ongoing Balkans debacle, I'd be less worried.

* [Edit - I hate it when I'm seized with a compulsion to fact-check my own jokes.]


February 17, 2008
Book Alert III: William Polk - Violent Politics

Over at the usual suspects, Uri Avnery discusses William Polk's short history of insurgencies:

For me, the main lesson is this: from the time the general public embraces the rebels, the victory of the rebellion is assured.

That is an iron rule: an insurgency supported by the public is bound to win, irrespective of the tactics adopted by the occupation regime. The occupier can kill indiscriminately or adopt more humane methods, torture captured freedom fighters to death or treat them as prisoners of war - nothing makes a difference in the long run. The last of the occupiers can board a ship in a solemn ceremony, like the British High Commissioner in Haifa, or fight for a place in the last helicopter, like the last American soldiers on the roof of the American embassy in Saigon - defeat was certain from the moment the insurgency had reached a certain point.
As you can see, I'm working through a backlog of 'net reading, so apologies for old news.


February 16, 2008
Book Alert II: Sudhir Venkatesh - Gang Leader for a Day

Over at Counterpunch, Vijay Prasad reviews Gang Leader for a Day by his old college roommate Sudhir Venkatesh. The paper Steven Levitt co-authored with Mr Venkatesh on the finances of crack-dealing gangs features in Mr Levitt's and Stephen Dubner's diverting tome Freakonomics (although I've just noticed you can read the original paper here as a pdf file) and Mr Venkatesh's new book sounds just as fascinating.

Ensconced in the world of the Robert Taylor homes, Sudhir comes to see a major gap between the lived reality of the people and the scholarly-media images of them. Sociological categories such as anomie (even anarchy) and the culture of poverty do not capture the rule-based lives of these cast out Americans. Capital fled the ghetto,­ industrial investment dried up with globalization (and the factories remain as abandoned mausoleums), and retail investment rushed to the suburbs leaving space for small family shops (bodegas) whose economic survival is premised upon the sale of liquor, the lottery and the prevention of petty theft. Humans abhor a social vacuum, and into this wasteland came not only the drug-profit fueled gangs but also "off the books" entrepreneurs and community leaders. They provided a measure of order: the policing is done by the gang soldiers and the women who emerge as building leaders. These gangs became the "de facto administration" of the buildings, and even as the leader "may have been a lawbreaker, he was very much a lawmaker as well." Drug sales funnel jobs into the neighborhood, and to earn the trust of the residents, the drug kingpins become the main social welfare agency (they are assisted by women like Ms. Bailey who, in a patron-client way, distribute goods that they leverage out of local businesses). There are some startling revelations here, when Sudhir reports how families pool their resources to survive: if on one floor, an apartment has a fridge and another has a shower, if one has an air conditioner and another has a working toilet, the families simply use each others' utilities and treat the floor like one big house, with their families as one large joint family. The elements of social solidarity are all over these spaces, and Sudhir is keen to show us this. The vision of social devastation has to be altered or else a sense of futility sets in when policy makers turn their eyes to the ghetto.


Schwarz on Kristol

At TomDispatch, Jon Schwarz uses a particularly foolish performance from William Kristol shortly before the Iraq War as a template for recounting the sorry history of the United States' relations with Saddam Hussein, and the debacle of the subsequent war. I particularly liked this next bit, but it's all good.

Back in 2003, Kristol was also quite certain, almost touchingly so, that the Bush administration would be well served by relying on Iraqi exiles:
"KRISTOL: We have tens of thousands of Shia exiles [who] have come back to help contribute to the liberation of Iraq.

"ELLSBERG: I'm afraid the people who propose this war have failed one lesson of intelligence history, which is not to rely too much on the knowledge of people who have left the country... The people who've come to this country may very well underestimate the desire of those people not to be governed by foreigners."
This lesson of history goes back a long way. Book II, Chapter XXXI of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy is titled "How Dangerous It Is to Believe Exiles":
"It ought to be considered, therefore, how vain are the faith and promises of those who find themselves deprived of their country... such is the extreme desire in them to return home, that they naturally believe many things that are false and add many others by art, so that between those they believe and those they say they believe, they fill you with hope, so that relying on them you will incur expenses in vain, or you undertake an enterprise in which you ruin yourself... A Prince, therefore, ought to go slowly in undertaking an enterprise upon the representations of an exile, for most of the times he will be left either with shame or very grave injury."
The Weekly Standard's archives show Kristol has published quite a few articles on how political correctness in elite U.S. universities is strangling the teaching of the Western canon. And you can understand where he's coming from: While Kristol himself received a PhD in government from Harvard, it obviously was during a period when radical multiculturalists had completely expunged Machiavelli from the curriculum. When will the PC brigade ever learn? Teaching Toni Morrison starts wars.


February 15, 2008
Strange Bedfellows

Over at Margo Kingston's WebDiary, Ian MacDougall provides a comprehensive refutation of Keating's panegyric for late Indonesian dictator Soeharto. (You can tell it's Margo Kingston's site by the bizarre swerve the comments thread takes into discussing cruelty to animals.) Mr MacDougall introduces his rebuttal with an historical tidbit I was unaware of, quoting Andrew Fraser and Tony Koch:

As national president of the Australian Labor Party[, Tom Burns] ... played a key role, with Gough Whitlam, in reforming and modernising the party in the early 70s, to the extent that it took office federally in 1972.

Part of this effort was the skilful crafting of a report into alleged branch-stacking when Paul Keating was seeking pre-selection for the Sydney seat of Blaxland in 1968. Burns claimed that some of the so-called voters rested beneath tombstones in Bankstown Cemetery and that "it should never happen again", but allowed Keating to keep his pre-selection and launch his political career.
I guess Keating owing this first step in fulfilling his ambitions to the votes of dead people might partly explain his abiding affection for a mass killer.


February 14, 2008
The Old Grey Mare

Further searches failed to turn up any discussion of Mitt Romney's racist dog-whistling at CPAC other than occasional reprints of Chris Floyd's article in the alternative press (Mr Floyd's site appears, at the moment, to be under siege from Turko-Germanic hackers) and a column in the Wisconsin State Journal. (Kudos, Mr Wineke!) But during the search I stumbled across this glorious demonstration of what it takes to be a newspaper of record (my emphasis):

It was a speech that had an audience ... interrupting him with sustained applause ... as he decried “the culture of dependency” fostered by government social programs, the looming “demographic disaster” of unchecked entitlement programs, the looming threat of Asian economic supremacy, the perilous threat of “Islamic jihadism,” and the urgent need to unleash the American entrepreneurial genius by “taking a weed-whacker to government regulations.”
Riiight. Because clearly threats to the European welfare system is a major issue in the American elections, and you'd expect a pro-lifer like Romney to complain about too many people having babies, even if it wasn't well-known that European birthrates are in fact declining. "Unchecked entitlement programs". Gotcha.

Good old New York Times. They could sugarcoat a whale corpse.


You're OK, It's Your Friends I Can't Stand

In the news:

Beijing was defiant yesterday in the face of its most embarrassing Olympic crisis so far, sparked by the US director Steven Spielberg's announcement that he is quitting as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games because of China's continued support for its oil-rich trading partner Sudan.
My emphasis. My laughter.


February 13, 2008
Dumbing Up

Jon Schwarz draws our attention to this Washington Post article describing the results of a psychological experiment conducted by the Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management that demonstrates that people who feel powerful are less adept at empathy and comprehending alternative viewpoints.

Across four experiments we found that power was associated with a reduced tendency to comprehend how others see the world, how others think about the world, and how others feel about the world. Priming power led participants to be less likely to spontaneously adopt another’s visual perspective, less likely to take into account that another person did not possess their privileged knowledge, and less accurate in detecting the emotional states of others.
In other news, fish don't live in trees.

While the WashPo article oversells the results just a tad (as usual with psychological studies, it involves a laughably small sample size, with participants entirely chosen from the student body) and Mr Schwarz broadens the interpretation to cover all cognitive abilities rather than just social skills, it is interesting to see some research suggesting that placing people in postions of power diminishes their ability to make sensible decisions. It would be nice to see experiments designed to test the effect of the power mindset on more general intellectual skills such as risk assessment, factual analysis and basic reasoning, although I won't hold my breath waiting to see such research conducted by a business management school. Like Mr Schwarz, I think this question of whether power makes people stupid has been comprehensively answered by world events, but a barrage of psychological test results might help enlighten those unfortunate enough to prefer social science to history, a matter of some importance while almost all governments on Earth are, at best, elected monarchies or oligarchies laughably described as democracies.

I can understand why those who believe that the powerful are intellectually superior to the rest of us would favour systems of hierarchical authority, but I've never been able to comprehend why anti-elitists who nevertheless hold that the mass of humanity are incapable of governing themselves ("Chaos!") think the situation could be improved by picking a section of humanity to govern everyone else. Scientific proof (well, OK, social-scientific proof) that power makes you stupider might be the key to persuading these people that systems of devolved egalitarian political authority might be better. Unless their problem is they just can't be arsed to be runnin' t'ings. It's pretty much mine, after all.

† Simmias: The senate is furious over your ideas for a Utopian state.
  Allen: I guess I should never have suggested having a philosopher-king.
  Simmias: Especially when you kept pointing to yourself and clearing your throat.


February 12, 2008
Bat Country

Over at Sadly, No!, Mr Leonard Pierce dons his Raoul Duke disguise and infiltrates CPAC.

Here’s a description of Hell they never give you: a huge room full of all the people you hate most, and they’re all having a wonderful time.

Yes, it’s all smiles and sunshine here at CPAC: lively young ladies with skillfully applied layers of makeup are here to greet you at every turn and correct your every confusion. Hopelessly earnest collegiate nerds hand out Mitt Romney stickers and hope against hope that John McCain has some sort of campaign trail meltdown: perhaps it will occur to him that the last 30 years have all been a fever-dream brought on by bad fish paste, that he is still in some VC labor camp wearing a tin can around his head, and he will savagely turn on his campaign manager with a broken bottle while at a Kiwanis breakfast. High school kids with bad moustaches pal around in hopes that toadying up to the rich kids will be their ticket to an easy future. On the walls are banners for the dregs of conservative thinksmanship: Town Hall, the ACU, Human Events, the YAF. (The National Review is conspicuous in their absence; they probably think CPAC takes much-needed revenue away from their Cruise the Caribbean with Rich Lowry promotion.) And up front, where no one can touch them – their natural state, as the Market intended, are the big men. Up there, in the first few rows, are the bosses, the people for whom America is shitbox and change drawer, the living embodiments of The Man.

On the way in, bracing the driveway entries to the Omni but kept far from the entrance by irritated-looking cops, were the abortion protesters. Their color posters of mangled fetuses were held up proud and loud in fear that the throngs of right-wingers inside might be paying a little too much attention to lining their pockets and not enough to their pet topic, the atomic holocaust of tomorrow’s Christians. My cab driver, a scarred-up vet who confesses solidarity with the protesters on the abortion issue but is also a lifelong democrat, shrugs in an almost embarrassed way – as if his earlier self-identification as a pro-lifer places him humiliatingly in the company of these fanatics. Once I check in, the atmosphere of gregarious paranoia only increases: there are cops and security people everywhere you look, and long lines through metal detectors and pat-downs by mean young cops and men with earpieces, who all seem to have only recently graduated from high school. I have another moment of panic as they paw through my briefcase, turning all my electronics on and off and opening all the containers: I do, after all, have a lot of pills in there. But God bless the lobbyists for the pharma industry: every goddamn one of them is at least putatively legal, and who’s to say I don’t actually have prescriptions? Other than me, of course, and I’m not talking. At least not after my next round loosens all the muscles in my tongue.
Lovely stuff.


February 10, 2008
Laws and Men

In another review of Jack Beatty's Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, Alan Wolfe summarises the circumstances in which the U.S. Supreme Court created that dangerous absurdity, corporate personhood:

Abe Lincoln rose to power on the basis of the idea of free labor; slavery was wrong because it prevented workers from gaining the rightful rewards from their efforts, and, for the same reason, workers ought to be able, by the dint of their labor, to end their dependency on others by rising up through the ranks to middle-class status. Emancipation and the Homestead Act represented the crowning achievements of Lincoln's Republicanism. Both would be abandoned by the political party that Lincoln helped to establish.

To chart how this took place, Beatty takes the reader on a long, and worthwhile, tour of American jurisprudence. It begins in New Orleans in 1869 with a man named John A. Campbell. The city's filthy and unsafe slaughterhouses had been the subject of extensive negative publicity in the papers. In response, the city passed what it called "An Act to Protect the Health of the City of New Orleans and to Locate the Stock Landings and Slaughter Houses." The act gave a private company the right to rent space to the city's butchers, who had previously been scattered throughout the city and, completely unregulated, had practiced their trade with little regard for the public's health.

The displaced butchers sued. Campbell, an embittered former Confederate who had once served on the U.S. Supreme Court (and wrote a concurring opinion in Dred Scott, the infamous decision that treated slaves as property rather than as citizens), rallied to their defense. One might think that a Southern conservative would have attacked the Civil War amendments for their ringing defense of equality. But Campbell had a better idea. Weren't the butchers being enslaved because they were forbidden to practice their livelihood as they best saw it, he wondered? If no person shall be deprived of their rights without due process of law, weren't those same butchers the subject of unequal treatment? Campbell embraced the Fourteenth Amendment in order to crush it. Once businessmen could claim that economic regulation deprived them of their property without due process of law, the result would be the perpetuation of economic inequality rather than the promised equality between the races.

Campbell also played an important role in the development of substantive due process: the idea that the courts could judge a legislative act not only on the basis of whether it met the test of fair procedure (such as treating everyone equally), but also whether its substance was worthy of judicial approval. Since the Constitution itself is mostly about procedures, to judge on substance means to compare a particular law to some extra-constitutional standard which the Constitution is then stretched to embody. Conservatives of the period had no doubt what such a standard should be. The right to own private property, and to dispose of it as one sees fit, they believed, is inherent in nature and endowed by God. "Things regulate themselves.., which means, of course, that God regulates them," the economist Francis Bowen argued. If that was true, then all social legislation could be held unconstitutional on substantive grounds; Bowen's Harvard colleague, J. Laurence Laughlin, objected to the very use of the word social, as if there were no such thing as a common good capable of trumping the economic rights of those who owned property.

Once substantive due process entered into judicial reasoning, it was only a matter of time before corporations came to be considered persons and thus brought under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. The way this occurred forms one of Beatty's most fascinating vignettes. This revolutionary doctrine, it turns out, owes its construction not to any elected politician, nor even to any judge who, however protected from public scrutiny by life tenure, was at least originally appointed by a president elected by the people. The culprit was a Supreme Court reporter named John Chandler Davis. The court reporter summarizes legal opinions in the form of headnotes. In one such headnote, Santa Clara County v. South Pacific Railroad Co., which dealt with the issue of whether the state of California could tax property owned by the railroads, Davis summarily proclaimed the new doctrine: corporations can be treated as persons under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment. "Thus without argument or opinion on the point," Justice William O. Douglas would write much later, "the Santa Clara case becomes one of the most momentous of all our decisions ... Corporations are now armed with constitutional prerogatives."
That the Amendment was perverted to serve this function at least ensured that it had any function at all.


February 09, 2008
"Demographic Disaster"

I have had a quick look, and so far only Chris Floyd has been impertinent enough to point out the obvious implication of one of the more bizarre lines in Mitt Romney's withdrawal speech:

The smoldering core of Romney's vomitous offering can perhaps be found in his passing remarks on Europe. Again, in one sense, this was just a crowd-pleasing throwaway: a good Eurobash always gets the CPAC froth flowing. But in a deeper sense, it cuts right to the corroded heart of the matter, right down to the vicious, primitive, genocidal racism that has shaped and driven so many of the policies of Western elites for centuries. In the midst of a long diatribe about liberal "attacks" on "American culture," Romney pauses for a glance across the Atlantic, to evoke a hideous nightmare that could soon be America's future:
Europe -- Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That's the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality.
By "demographic disaster," Romney simply means that there are more non-white people in Europe than there used to be. To Romney and his fellow elites, this fact in itself constitutes a genuine "disaster." Although the population of Europe is still overwhelmingly white (much more so than the population of the United States), even the smallest dilution of racial purity across the continent is to be lamented, decried – and rolled back. Here of course Romney is channeling fearmongers like Martin Amis, Mark Steyn, and Christopher Hitchens, whose trembly sexual panic in the face of hot-blooded, fast-breeding darkies would be comical, if it were not so sinister – and so useful to the warmakers and global dominationists in the ruling elite.
I'm not expecting editorials and commentary in the mainstream press like Mr Floyd's. But is it too much to ask journalists to drop their squeamish aversion to lèse majesté long enough for any to wonder aloud exactly what else Romney's gamey phrase could possibly mean?


February 08, 2008
The Pacific Theatre

In The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima, Ward Wilson argues that, setting aside the issue of whether the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to bring about an end to the war (the usual basis for justifying them morally), examining Japanese government cabinet papers suggests that the bombings were not even sufficient, not being decisive in convincing the Japanese to surrender - the Soviet declaration of war was:

In the summer of 1945, Japan’s leaders had two strategies for negotiating an end to World War II: to convince the Soviets (neutral at the time) to mediate, or to fight one last decisive battle that would inflict so many casualties that the United States would agree to more lenient terms. Both plans could still have succeeded after the bombing of Hiroshima; neither plan was possible once the Soviets invaded. From the Japanese perspective, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria and other Japanese-held territory was the event that dramatically changed the strategic landscape and left Japan with no option but to surrender unconditionally. The Hiroshima bombing was simply an extension of an already fierce bombing campaign.
A PDF file of the article is available at the site linked above; Freeman Dyson summarises Mr Wilson's argument in his answer to The Edge Annual Question for 2008. (H/t to a sorry little doggy.)


February 05, 2008
Book Alert I: Jack Beatty - Age of Betrayal

Late to it, here's another book to read: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900 by Jack Beatty. From a review in the Boston Globe:

What makes his "the saddest story" is a great moment of promise betrayed. In the bloodbath of the Civil War, two measures -- the Emancipation Proclamation and the Homestead Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1863 -- offered a radical vision of freedom, citizenship, and economic independence by ending slavery and providing cheap land for settlers in the trans-Mississippi West. It was a vision that would give national footing to Lincoln's America and enable the United States to stand apart in the 19th-century Atlantic world. Unfortunately, the promise steadily gave way before the twin engines of racism and industrial capitalism, leaving a very different society by century's end.

"Engine" does indeed seem the proper metaphor. The central relationship of America's betrayal, in Beatty's view, was the alliance between government and business: an alliance that makes a mockery of the notion that the 19th century was an age of laissez-faire, and one that established the foundation of an emerging state capitalism. The central institutions were the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, which whittled away the promises of freedom, citizenship, and independence for ordinary Americans and instead handed them over to the corporations. And the central vehicle of this truly revolutionary transformation was the great engine itself, the railroad.
Interviews with Mr Beatty in The Borzoi Reader and the Atlantic. Extract here.


February 04, 2008
Provincialising Remembrance

Tony Judt, in the New York Review of Books, on Hannah Arendt and the "Problem of Evil":

If there is a threat that should concern Jews — and everyone else — it comes from a different direction. We have attached the memory of the Holocaust so firmly to the defense of a single country — Israel — that we are in danger of provincializing its moral significance. Yes, the problem of evil in the last century, to invoke Arendt once again, took the form of a German attempt to exterminate Jews. But it is not just about Germans and it is not just about Jews. It is not even just about Europe, though it happened there. The problem of evil — of totalitarian evil, or genocidal evil — is a universal problem. But if it is manipulated to local advantage, what will then happen (what is, I believe, already happening) is that those who stand at some distance from the memory of the European crime — because they are not Europeans, or because they are too young to remember why it matters — will not understand how that memory relates to them and they will stop listening when we try to explain.

In short, the Holocaust may lose its universal resonance. We must hope that this will not be the case and we need to find a way to preserve the core lesson that the Shoah really can teach: the ease with which people — a whole people — can be defamed, dehumanized, and destroyed...

[I]f history is to do its proper job, preserving forever the evidence of past crimes and everything else, it is best left alone. When we ransack the past for political profit — selecting the bits that can serve our purposes and recruiting history to teach opportunistic moral lessons — we get bad morality and bad history.
Mr Judt's account in this essay of the change in attitudes to studying the Holocaust, from the immediate post-war period to the late 20th Century, is also fascinating.


Housekeeping

Apparently today(ish) I'm supposed to be adding bloggers to my blogroll, which is probably why I'm deleting a bunch. Nearly all are dead links or defunct, though the latter may retain worthwhile archives. They were:

The American Street
The Eighth Circle of Hell
Fafblog!
Giornale Nuovo
Global Alternative
Happy Furry Puppy Time
Shockingly Provincial
TBogg
What Would J. Crew Do?
But so as not to be a complete churl, I will add a bunch when I can be bothered, probably these ones:
Monster Brains
Non-Stick Plans
Social Design Notes
Strange Maps
The Spectacularly Obtuse Blog
The Dirk
Improv Everywhere
TomDispatch
Whiskey Fire
Who Is IOZ?
Millard Fillmore's Bathtub
The Comics Curmudgeon


February 03, 2008
So Don't Wait Up For Meeeee

Never mind all that; here's Tom Lehrer on Youtube.


February 02, 2008
If You Love Soeharto So Much...

... why don't you marry him? Now. In Hell.

What's peculiarly despicable about this apologia (I particularly liked the bit where Keating chooses as the apt phrase for the murder of at least half a million people "[Soeharto] displaced the Soekarno government and the massive PKI communist party". Contemporary accounts describe rivers running red from all the displacement going on. Keating also glibly refers to "political turmoil" under Soekarno while failing even a passing mention of the fact that such turmoil might have been at least partly due to the deliberate project of destabilisation engaged in by the Americans with our help.)... *cough* ... where was I?

Oh, yes... what's particularly despicable about Keating's whitewash - actually, glorification - of Soeharto's dictatorship is that it is not really intended as an exculpation of the corrupt butcher Keating once called "Father", but instead of Keating himself. If Soeharto was a great nation builder who stabilised what would otherwise have been a fractious defence headache to Australia's north (running rivers red with that kind-to-Aussies stabilisation) then everything Keating - and others, to be sure - did to help the bastard is all OK. It's his own record Keating is worried about, which is probably why he tries to pretend Soeharto retarded the growth of Islamic militancy in the archipelago rather than stimulating it.

And what's repulsive over all is that it's doubtful Keating will get in more trouble for this piece than he did for (accurately) calling the late Paddy McGuiness a liar and a fraud.


Is It Wrong to Wish on Space Hardware?

Ken MacLeod on the Space Race:

What I'm going to say about Sputnik is that it was a great achievement of Soviet socialism, and that it was for that very reason a great setback for human expansion into space; that it started the culture wars which are still shaking our world; and that it's why most of you are, like me, functionally innumerate.
Specifically, by spawning the innovation-killing bureaucracy of NASA, Scientific Creationism (in response to updated school biology textbooks teaching evolution), and New Math. But you should read the whole thing.


The Obvious Gag

From the LA Times (via Pretty Goes With Pretty, via Sterne), "Pop Culture Candidates":

Mike Huckabee

Campaign soundtrack: Anything by the Rolling Stones
He played "Sympathy for the Devil" yet?

(Apropos of nuthin': RX - My Name is RX)


Older Posts | Newer Posts