Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Welcome to the World, Ella June

Congratulations are in order for Julia & Pat Rock -- two friends who, despite thousands of miles, years, and dollars, have remained very close friends over the years -- the proud parents of Ella June Rock. Pat told me yesterday that he was especially loving the premature birth aspect, as his daughter was not unlike a docile kitty at this stage of her life. From what the other new dads in my life tell me, enjoy it (and the silence of a wifeless / childless house) while it lasts. It may be the last peace you'll have for quite some time. I owe you both a very hearty drinking session upon my return. I'll bring the best of Belgium and Scotland, as usual, in full-throttle celebration.

Friday, June 25, 2004

For All The Parents

The number of friends of Silentio, it seems, is ever-expanding. While that doesn't mean more people are actually reading this blog that has become, for about two of you, a regular online haunt, it does mean that those two people are having kids at a rabbit's pace. Everybody I know, he says hyperbolically, is having kids. Where once I was attending weddings once a quarter, I'm now having to say Congratulations, your semen and your ovum were a match made in heaven. With this explosion of insemination blowing my friendships asunder in all directions, I dedicate this weeks' Mark Morford column to you:

Who Will Save the Children?!

The world, it is a teeming reeking cauldron of wicked malevolent demons, with sharp pointy teeth and filthy mouths and really impressive porn collections, and each and every one of them wants nothing more than to suck the juicy pith from your helpless innocent child like Donald Rumsfeld drains color from the sky.

It's true, isn't it? Senators believe it, the Christian Right believes it, the FCC believes it, half a million stunned nipple-horrified Super Bowl viewers who complained to the FCC believe it, the clenched morality police of this nation chant it like a mantra, John Ashcroft has it tattooed on his shriveled colon. This, after all, is the prevalent American view.

[. . .]

This is the mental image we are to believe, happening right this moment, across this fine nation: One hundred million honest, hard-working, sexually terrified parents are running around their homes with their hands to their heads, each thinking oh my freaking God what if our beautiful wee one just so happens to walk by the TV on his/her way to get an innocent glass of pure clean innocent Coca-Cola to wash down the pure innocent kiddie Prozac, and s/he just so happens to hear Tony Soprano call someone a "motherf-- " on TV? Why, our child, s/he would surely quiver and tremble and explode! Yes s/he would!

It's all about the kids, you know, and who will protect their so-called innocence, their nubile unfiltered dreams, and how, and with what sort of laws and guns and lawsuits and ridiculous fines and sneering Bible-thumping misguided misinformed self-righteous indignation.

[. . .]

This is what you are not to forget, ever: We are a nation wherein it is perfectly OK to show a dozen vaguely nauseating ads for erection pills and a hundred more touting the merits of slamming a sixer of Bud Light at halftime as you and your frat buddies ogle that chick at the bar as meanwhile the wife stays home and prances around the kitchen, high on the fumes from her new Swiffer WetJet. But a shot of a woman's breast? Inappropriate and traumatizing, pal. Don't like our hypocrisy? Move to France with the other perverts.

[. . .]

You know what scars kids? You know what traumatizes our youth and stabs at their innocent spirits like Dick Cheney thrusts at integrity? Kraft Lunchables, that's what. Drug-happy shrinks. Refined sugar. Abstinence-only sex education. Gutted school-music programs. McDonald's marketing gimmicks. Joe Camel's head shaped like a giant penis. Bovine growth hormones. Homophobic adults with guns. Rampant hypocrisy, like legal Zoloft but illegal pot, or being sent to Iraq at 18 but you can't have a beer until you're 21.

[. . .]

Try senators and FCC honchos and attorney generals and religious morality police who make life feel like a disease to be suffered rather than a pile of random messy bliss to be rolled around in.

Really, now, is there any scar more grievous than that? Anything more traumatic than teaching our kids that, no, you are not a healthy potent sexually burgeoning self-defined being of potential and love, but, rather, you are prey, ever put upon, ever under duress, ever meek and misinformed and ever requiring armed, patronizing protection. What a wonderful lesson.

Oh, and Pat (himself a parent-to-be), you'll be happy to note there is no registration necessary for this one.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Ah, but to Dream!

This is a couple of days old now, but it may still be of particular interest for some of the regulars around here. I'm a little too busy to say much about it, but it is something to be a little optimistic about. (The stuff re: abortion, homosexuality, and traditional theism notwithstanding.)

Evangelical Leaders Reexamine Principles

The National Assn. of Evangelicals is circulating a draft of a groundbreaking framework for political action that strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party.

Steeped in biblical morality and evangelical scholarship, the framework for public engagement could change how the estimated 30 million evangelicals in this country are viewed by liberals and conservatives alike.

It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, healthcare, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a "sacred responsibility" to protect the environment.

[. . .]

In the midst of a presidential election year, war and terrorism, the framework says Christians in their devotion to country "must be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism." In domestic politics, evangelicals "must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature."

"This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, one of the nation's principal evangelical schools. "Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party — and that's been traditionally the Republicans — it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful."

[. . .]

[Richard] Cizik, the association's governmental affairs official, said he hoped that the framework would spur discussion before the November presidential election.

But its greatest influence probably will be over the long term, said the Rev. Kevin Mannoia, the association's past president. Mannoia said he set the framework process in motion because he saw a need for a coherence in the evangelical response to public policy issues. Mannoia's successor, the Rev. Ted Haggard, agreed and followed through.

"I think short term it probably won't have a lot of impact. In the long term it will have a fairly significant impact," Mannoia said. "It will gradually seep into the consciousness of evangelical leaders, and it will become a guiding light."

One can but hope, I guess.

The Wonder of CMT

You never know what you're going to get when you send out a CC'd email to friends. For example, a friend of mine recently sent out a little email to friends of his, announcing this year's Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin. A week later, he sent me one of the responses he received.

Thanks for including me in your sendout, even though I am more than a little remiss in my electronic communication. Bloomsday. Great. Whatever. While you're across the puddle contemplating the finer points of modernist fiction {it's not hip to capitalize "modernist" anymore} I'm stuck at Fresh Air Barbecue watchin' CMT [Country Music Television, for all you who either did not know or (intentionally or unintentionally) forgot]. You know, I must admit, lately I've been trying to take it easy on people, tryin' to realize that some folks just got a different thing goin' on, you know, respecting the vibe and whatnot. But in the past few days the old edge is back. Hence, I MUST RESIST!!!! I WILL RESIST!!! CULTURE IS NOT A SHITHOLE FOR THOSE BASTARDS AT TIME WARNER AND VIACOM AND THOSE OTHER BASTARDS AND YES I MAY BE ELITIST BUT WHATS EVEN MORE SNOBBY IS REALEASING A BUNCH OF POPULAR HORSESHIT TO AN AUDIENCE THAT YOU HAVE NOTHING BUT CONTEMPT FOR!!!! So . . .

I'm sittin there at the barbecue joint, CMT on. First Shania Twain. Does anybody but Shania enjoy watchin' this? Does she go home at night and think about how great she looks, and how much she loves herself? Its just her flirting with the camera the entire time. Are the men in the target audience that entranced with her? It was utter indulgence in the most boring format imaginable, and the song was so trite, I will give thanks tonight that I will not be able to remember a word of it. OK . . . now on to the kicker. "Big and Rich" is the group. Have you heard about these clowns? Tell me that you're not insulated that much (I am, until today) because its like driving by a cultural train wreck and not being able to take your eyes away, and being embarassed that you too are aware that this type of thing exists. Anyway, the whole video is them riding in a convertible in a parade followed by a band of nasty dancin' rockette-like-automatons, some other general hardbodies (all women), and a midget. (Now at this point any good cultural observers recalls the numerous references to "American culture as carnival.") Now these two guys (I couldn't rightly discern who was "Big" and who was "Rich") were cruisin' along in this caddy in gangsta attire, I'm talking fur coats and sunglasses, and they are rappin'. I repeat, THEY ARE RAPPIN'. (Now at this point any good cultural observer pulls out the voice activated recorder and, so as not to be overheard by the pork eating clientelle, whispers, "Note to self, check into studies regarding schizophrenia and CMT viewership). I'm serious here. I know the collision was bound to happen, what with thousands of rednecks with nothing but country and rap stations programmed into their audio dial. It makes me recall a guy I framed houses with named Rodney and how Rodney (real name by the way, or else the story would lack something at its core) who hated black people, once asked me, "Say Joe, how come you don't like nigger music?" Only now do I realize what my answer should have been. "Well Rodney, that is your name, right? Rodney? What with a varitable panacea of slapped bitches and asses with caps popped in them, what's not to like?" Which brings us back to the video. At the end of the song, the guy in the back seat has a woman sitting by him. Only its not a woman, its a mannequin (or perhaps a woman made up to look like a mannequin, which would highten the sickness that much more) and he's slamming her head into the back of the seat repeatedly while talking (or rebelrappin' as it were) about what a stud he is. Now folks, I've been down the road and back a couple times, and as you know, it's pretty hard for me to find something to get offended at, but this cut me to the bone. I was almost sick when I got up. I mean, how did we reach this point? Has the violence and loneliness of the fatherless innercity now crept to the country as well? Does country music lack the fitting metaphors that used to carry it down the road with the good hearted outlaws of yesteryear? Think about Ice T versus Johhny Cash for a moment, or Snoop Dogg versus Doc Watson. Not their music per se but the guiding symbolism of their worldview. On one hand, "Damn it feels good to be a gangsta," or "I have to say it was a good day, I didn't even have to use my AK." Compare to "Jailer, oh jailer, jailer I can't sleep, All around my cell, I hear the patter of Delia's feet" or "You can take down my ole violin and play it all you please, cause this time tommorow, I'll be hanging on a white oak tree" Perhaps I'm implying a heirarchy of distinction, but that's not my point. I just wonder what happened to the idea of consequences in country music, to all the "I've lived hard and now I'm payin' for it" songs? Now we seem to hear, "The first thirty years were crazy, but now I've settled down and the next thirty are gonna be fine because now I have a second mortgage, a couple kids, and a borrowed sense of morality that involves thankin' the good lord from time to time for the good things he give us, like an F350 quad cab." Maybe the seeming schizophrenia of "young country" culture seems so complete and frightening because it has happened to a people who once seemed the paragon of quiet depth or what was commonly referred to as "having roots." Perhaps I'm falling prey to a culturally received notion of what I want to conceive of as a simpler place and time, where moral judgements and traditional values were themselves received from somewhere else and played out for better or worse in a community against which many individuals felt compelled to define themselves. At least, though, some searching and defining and discovery occured. Tell me that those things happened once, somewhere. Now America seems a mass cycle of reproduction without design, culture without precedent, and like women with big boobs and blank stares, it insulates but never recognizes.

I say this without a hint of irony . . . I am looking forward to returning home.

UPDATE: Just got an email from this email's writer. I was a little leery of opening it at first, in anticipation of getting in trouble for quoting it (longtime readers will know I've received hate mail for lesser offenses). But, thankfully, he was pretty cool. All he asked was that I mention his name (Joe Gunby), that I say that you should feel free to email him w/ comments you have about it ( Have at it.

The New Face of Economic Recovery

Just when I thought that the Bush administration couldn't be any more cynical, Kevin Drum links to this outstandingly clear, altogether depressing, but potentially rabble-rousing chart published by the Economic Policy Institute:

The kind folks at EPI describe the situation:

Despite recent good news on employment growth, the current economic recovery, now approaching its third year, remains the most unbalanced on record in respect to the distribution of income gains between corporate profits and labor compensation. Essentially, rapid gains in productivity have been translating into higher corporate profits without increasing the wage and salary income of American workers.

The chart [above] shows growth in corporate profits and total labor compensation (the sum of all paychecks and employee benefits in the U.S. economy) over the last 12 quarters; measuring profit growth since the peak of the last recovery in the first quarter of 2001. [Footnote: This recession/recovery period is also notable for being the first on record where corporate profits were higher in the trough quarter than in the peak quarter.]

Corporate profits have risen 62.2% since the peak, compared to average growth of 13.9% at the same point in the last eight recoveries that have lasted as long as the current one. This is the fastest rate of profit growth in a recovery since World War II.

Total labor compensation has also turned in a historic performance: growing only 2.8%, the slowest growth in any recovery since World War II and well under the historical average of 9.9%.

Profit in the name of gross inequality . . . would we have it any other way? Come November, we'll find out.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Good Idea?

I'm not one to normally agree with fundamentalist Christian crazies, but, hey, even they from time to time have ideas that I can get on board with!

Conservative Christian group plans to secede in South Carolina:

A Texas group wants conservative Christians to move to South Carolina - 12,000 at a time - to form a biblically inspired government and secede from the United States.

Decrying a national tolerance of abortion and gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution, hopes to achieve a majority of like-minded Christians in the state by 2016, the planned year of secession.

[. . .]'s leader is Cory Burnell, a 28-year-old who lives in Tyler, Texas, where he teaches at a local Christian school and runs a coffee shop and mobile phone store.

Previously, Burnell directed a Texas regional branch of the League of the South, the country's largest secessionist organization. Burnell says, founded in November 2003, has 600 members nationwide, connected through the group's Web sites.

[. . .]

Burnell's program "is very, very similar to the original Confederacy," said Harry Singleton, a professor of religion and philosophy at Benedict College. "Basically what they're trying to do is re-establish a reality where for them the divine and the secular mesh."

Burnell said South Carolina was chosen because it is a small, conservative state, where the group would have a head start. His plan resonates with at least one other prominent South Carolina fundamentalist group.

"Anything that moves more Christians to South Carolina who want to live under God's law sounds good to me," said Steve Lefemine, director of Columbia Christians For Life.

I think we can all agree that losing South Carolina is a small price to pay to get these nutters out of our hair.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

What Say You?

Actively evangelically Christian readers, I have a request. Read this, and then let me know, in particular, if you agree with this:

"The Rev. Jim Wallis, head of Call to Renewal, a coalition of religious groups devoted to fighting poverty, said he believes the Christian right is 'out of touch' with most Christians' concerns. 'Do we really think that Jesus's primary concern in this election year would be a marriage amendment? With the poverty rate rising, with one in six of all U.S. children and one in three children of color living below the poverty line, with more than a billion people around the world living on less than $1 a day?' Wallis asked.

'The truth is, the religious right is not even a majority among evangelicals, but they have very loud voices that presume to speak for a lot more people than they really do,' he said. "

Thursday, June 17, 2004


It's been a bit quiet around here on Silentio, at least compared to my odd burst of blogging a couple of weeks ago. I told myself about a month ago that it would only take about a week to fully revise chapter one of my thesis, and, what do you know, it took me four. Anyway, I have a couple of morsels of bloggy goodness to post, but I first need to devote some time to a conference paper I'm reading tomorrow, and then to two papers I've been meaning to send off for publication. Until then . . . keep that shit on tight.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Absolutely Gorgeous

Got a chance to read a bit more of The Recognitions this afternoon, and fell in love with this passage:

She called her memory, screamed for it, trying to scream through it and beyond it, damned accumulation that bound her in time: my memory, my bed, my stomach, my terror, my hope, my poem, my God: the meaness of my. Must the flames of hell be ninety-story blazes? or simply these small sharp tongues of fire that nibble and fall to, savoring the edges and then consume, swept by the wind of terror at exposing one's self, losing the aggregrate of meanness which compose identity, inflames never reaching full roaring cresendo but scorch through a life like fire in grass, in the world of time the clock tells. Every tick, synchronized, tears off a fragment of the lives run by them, the circling hands reflected in those eyes watching their repetition in an anxiety which draws the whole face toward pupiled voids and finally, leaves lines there, uncertain strokes woven into the flesh, the fabric of anxiety, doubled-webbed round dark-centered jellies which reflect nothing. Only that fabric remains, pleached in the pattern of the bondage which has a beginning and an end, with scientific meanness in attention to details, of a thousand things which should not have happened, and did; of myriad mean events which should have happened, and did not: waited for, denied, until lfie is lived in fragments, unrelated until death, and the wrist watch stops.

Monday, June 14, 2004

I Better Damn Well Be in Love

I've never been all that romantic, but I am becoming less so with each passing day that I try to marry the Belgian. It is as though some amorphous cosmic force of bureaucratically inspired bad luck had it in for me. I expected the immigration process to be a bitch, but not the marriage one. Other couples complain about how the size of their wedding explodes, or how relatives takes over, or whatever. I'd kill for that kind of frustration!

I'd expected to finish a chapter draft this afternoon. But, no. Instead, I've been on the phone with three different departments of the Glasgow City Council, trying like mad to get a letter -- not a fucking utility bill!!!!! -- that proves I live in Glasgow. I've not discussed this, but others have: the British form of identification, because their general fear of identity cards, is the utility bill. Because Belgium is addicted to the national identity card, the can't fathom people pulling out utility bills for identification. As such, despite the proximity and purported European unity, both countries are trying to hold me to completely different standards. In Belgium, I need the letter that Britain cannot provide; in Britain, I need translated documents (for Katrien) that, so they tell me, can only be had in Belgium, except for the annoying fact that, no, they can't be had in Limburg because they don't speak very much English there. I've finally been told that, yes, there are some official translators in Glasgow, and I can expect a list of them in the mail tomorrow. If these 'official' lists are anything like that supplied by the U.S. Embassy for photographers I can trust to give me acceptable passport photographs, I can be sure that I'll be scammed out of a pretty penny. E-Fucking-Gads.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

A Call To Prayer

Prayer? Ehhhh? The hell you say!

Well, before you run for the hills, hear me -- or, in this case, Neal Pollack -- out:

I'm certain I speak for many people of faith who feel strongly about the president when I say that I'm deeply offended that religious belief and the awesome power of prayer have been hijacked for no higher end than the furtherance of one man's political career, particularly when that career is buttressed by a base of support whose political agenda is closer to the Taliban than to the Founding Fathers. Despite what George W. Bush might think, God does not want him to be president. God does not speak to him directly. At least my God doesn't.

Before Bush came to office, I was essentially an atheist who liked Passover food. But the past three years have changed all that. I, like many of you, pray every day for the moment that George W. Bush is no longer president. So it's time to call to prayer all people of faith who agree with this principle, who don't like seeing their precious faith used for strange and bloody military ends. I implore Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Protestants, Catholics, and even evangelical Christians to pray for a new president. Why should George W. Bush supporters hold a monopoly on prayer?

Fair enough, I guess.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

An Addition to the Family

Any suggestions for names?

Just in Case you Thought I Forgot

It wouldn't be a full week around here, would it, without something about torture? I don't like linking to Salon, but I also don't like to cast myself as one who never makes exceptions. Anyway, it's a nicely written, thoughtful peace by Alessandro Camon. I've nothing to add or subtract from Camon's piece. Not that I think it's perfect . . . just that I've not really had the time this week to come up with any kind of non-thesis-related analysis or observations. You know how it goes. Anyway, I'll quote a bit of it, to give you an idea -- to see if its worth sitting through a fifteen-second ad to read the whole thing:

Twice in the last few months torture and its graphic representation has been at the center of public discourse. The first time had to do with "The Passion of the Christ," a film that features more violence than any big Hollywood movie before it. The second time -- now -- has to do with the events at Abu Ghraib prison. The two spectacles reveal disturbing truths about American politics, sexuality and spirituality.

It's easily observed that torture has a highly developed aesthetic dimension. Medieval instruments of torture are gathered in dedicated museums and traveling exhibits all over the world. Those very instruments, of course, were often used in public. Torture, despite its need for secrecy, also needs its own representation. It's usually meant not only to inflict pain but to instill terror. It's sometimes meant to please the torturer. Therefore, the ritualistic, fetishistic, "spectacular" aspects of torture are an integral part of the practice. As a spectacle, torture is akin to porn -- S/M being the obvious shared territory. It elicits voyeurism and a morbid fascination.

"The Passion of the Christ" was accused by many detractors of being "pornographic." The torture of Iraqi prisoners is pornography in a very direct and complete sense. It's not just violence but sexual violation -- what is more, it's sexual violation staged and captured on camera, made into a spectacle readily available for future and expanded viewing. It's sexual violation fixed into an essential symbolic image to be preserved like a trophy. Just like conventional porn, it's completely self-conscious and deliberate yet morally unimpeded.

[. . .]

Several of the pictures we have seen show both victims and torturers posing for the camera. There's a naked man kneeling in front of another man as if performing oral sex. A naked man on a leash held by a female American soldier. Naked men in chains. Naked men stacked up in a grotesque pile, half gangbang and half mass grave. Other alleged tortures, which may be documented by the hundreds of pictures we haven't yet seen, included forced masturbation. Whether the sexual acts were performed or simulated, the prisoners were forced into the position of pornographic "actors." Significantly, the hundreds of pictures seen by Congress after the scandal erupted included not only acts of torture upon prisoners, but acts of sexual intercourse amongst the guards themselves. The soldiers who took the pictures knew that, in both instances, they were making porn (albeit in different sub-genres.) There was no other reason to record the tortures; it was, in fact, self-incriminating and stupid by all practical standards. Except that the idea of recording the acts of torture was, to a significant extent, the inspiration to commit them.

You can sense the sexual disturbance in the minds of the soldiers responsible for this. It's a disturbance exacerbated by the months away from home, but created by a lifelong familiarity with porn -- its cynical humor, cheap patriotism, crude vocabulary of submission and prevarication. The president and his inner circle said, "This is not the America that we know." But it is. The pictures from Abu Ghraib are American "gonzo porn." They reek of frat-house hazing and gang initiation rituals, of "Jackass" and "Bumfights." They encode racial hatred and fetishistic allusions to slavery.

The torture/pornography connection is deep and inescapable. Mark Bowden, of "Black Hawk Down" fame, wrote a well-informed, compellingly readable article in October's Atlantic Monthly about "the dark art of interrogation" (which was promptly optioned for movie development.) He makes a strong case for the effectiveness of torture as a means for acquiring intelligence -- which of course is not an unchallenged notion, and not necessarily a justification. But torture is not the mere application of pain to the task of extracting information. Much of what we identify as torture is actually gratuitous, like the ear-severing in the film "Reservoir Dogs." "I believe you," says Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), "but I'm gonna torture you anyway." This is, arguably, the real "point" of torture -- the assertion of power over the law, over pity, over logic. I'll torture because I can. I don't need a reason, I don't need a goal -- the arbitrary nature of the act is in fact its very essence. You cannot understand it except by internalizing the absolute fact that I have all the power and you have none, and our very identity as human beings is defined by this fact. You can conclude that I am not human because I lack pity. But that's an abstraction. The concrete reality of the situation is that you are not human because you lack all freedom and all dignity.

The torturers of Abu Ghraib had both a reason and a political sanction to do what they did. Yet the nature of the tortures and their recording suggests a casual licentiousness, the arbitrary indulgence of mean appetites. The two aspects -- rational justification and gratuitous sadism -- are superficially at odds but deeply inextricable from one another. I must inflict pain on you because you and your associates are terrorists, evildoers to be stopped for the greater good of mankind. But because you are an evildoer, enemy of mankind, I can also abandon myself to the pornographic voluptuousness of total control. In fact, not only can I, I must. In order to torture you, it is important that I see you as less than human, and so I will use torture to reinforce that image.

[. . .]

This is the sad state of affairs that is, to the Islamic mind, the dark side of our much-touted freedom. And it is exactly this dark side that we are rubbing their nose in. The torture at Abu Ghraib says: Our pornography will conquer you.

In contrast, Islamic terrorists divulged the recording of a bloody execution. The victim, an American civilian: a sacrificial lamb whose blood was spilled with the declared intention to restore Arab pride. This is, as much as ever, a war of symbols, and the symbol of Arab emasculation couldn't but inspire somebody to create a symbol of absolute and terrifying Arab supremacy over a Western man. The American government reacted with proclamations of horror for such barbarity. But such barbarity is a direct reflection of our own dehumanizing ways. A beheading (a 40-second beheading with a knife) undoubtedly represents a more extreme form of cruelty than to strip somebody naked, beat him, sexually humiliate him and put him on a leash. Yet one has to wonder how much further the American soldiers would have gone if not for fear of disciplinary consequences -- something the terrorists don't have to worry about. If you ever saw "Salo," Pasolini's allegory about the last days of fascism in Italy, you know his thesis that separating the exercise of power from the fear of consequences -- whether because of granted impunity, or because of already certain doom -- is the true test of one's nature. The power of an individual over another will naturally tend to speak the language of sexual sadism, a language that articulates and celebrates it. Sadism will be implicit in every situation of captivity. It will be explicit in situations where the fear of consequences is reduced. It may become extreme where such fear is removed altogether.

It may seem ironic that a war fought in the name of principles and imbued with religious ardor should degenerate to such sordid lows. While in America people flock to see Christ tortured, in Iraq we torture our own prisoners -- for information, for deterrence, but also -- as the pictures document -- for the sheer fun of it. And yet, perhaps "irony" is not quite the right concept. Perhaps the relationship between a U.S.-made blockbuster about Christ's pain and the pain inflicted by our soldiers abroad is closer and more inevitable that the notion of "irony" would suggest, because many of the torturers are no doubt heartland Americans, many of them surely devout Christians -- the core audience of "The Passion of Christ." They are the people Bush directly addressed when he characterized the war as a crusade, a fight against evil in the name of the God. The aptitude of Christians for delivering pain draws on a rich, millennial tradition -- a tradition built on certainty and a Manichean worldview. The ability to torture somebody both requires and confirms this certainty; the torturer's exhilarating privilege is to feel right by God while doing what is normally forbidden.

"The Passion of the Christ" is, not unlike an exploitation movie from the '70s, saturated with ultra-violence to the point of ridiculousness. Yet the representation of this violence is unobjectionable to the audience because the violence is inflicted upon the Christ. There seems to be no limit to the amount of violence you could show in this context (provided you could root it in the Scriptures). The torturers themselves are not the ultimate culprits: those are the Jews, as architects of the deicide. By assigning blame to "them," we can watch an hour of torture entirely guilt-free. In fact, the more severe the torture, the more godlike and awesome Christ's endurance. Which means we have a moral incentive to welcome the sight of torture, to wish for more and more punishment to be administered and exhibited on screen. The amount of butchery is directly proportional evidence of our own worth: look what Jesus, the extreme athlete of pain, chose to endure in order to save us! This is the fundamental perversion of the movie -- that it encourages us to fetishize and get high on the horror of the martyrdom.

[. . .]

It's not simply demagogy that the war against terrorism, or against Iraq, has been cast in religious terms, as a crusade, a fight against evil and for God-given freedom. Sept. 11 shook us to the core because if an act like that can be executed not in the name of profit, power or the traditional motivations we understand, but in the name of religious ideals (however aberrant), our own beliefs -- or lack of them -- are called into question. We suddenly realize we live in a spiritual vacuum, where no comparable degree of conviction can be easily summoned forth.

"The Passion" came to fill this profound need. Paradoxically, the fervor it inspires is directly proportional to the distance we have accrued from any kind of spiritual authenticity in our life. The more our culture obsesses about fad diets, plastic surgery, Paris Hilton's sex video, Donald Trump's hair or Jennifer Lopez's butt, the more fervent our response to "The Passion" has to be.

And so we come full circle. While frivolousness and pornography saturate our culture, "The Passion" offers us redemption, all the more effectively for pushing the limits of graphic representation that porn itself has irrevocably stretched. And while at home we feast our eyes on the torture inflicted upon the Christ, abroad we vindicate ourselves by torturing the infidel with the same righteous abandon, in the way we know best -- a pornographic way. Two faces of torture. Two faces of porn.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Vernon Robinson Is A Twat

Ordinarily, I try to avoid non-starters like 'you're a douchebag' or 'you're a syphilitic twat', etc. Ordinarily. But sometimes, normally when my attention is directed to North Carolina politics, my instincts get the better of me. Case in point, 'the new Jesse Helms', GOP congressional candidate in North Carolina's 5th district, Vernon Robinson.

Now that I think about it, though, I may be giving every other self-respecting twat a very bad name. Either that, or Vernon is. Hmm. I'll let you be the judge. Here are his latest radio ads, which he is clearly very proud of:

Ah... the sensitive face of the GOP shines through yet again.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Now You Know

Went trolling through my 'To Blog' file this morning, and found a couple of related (kind of) ones that I couldn't pass up.

First, there is the brief survey of Andrei Linde's current reflections on 'chaotic inflation':

Among the many curious implications of Linde's theory, one stands out for our present purposes: It doesn't take all that much to create a universe. Resources on a cosmic scale are not required. It might even be possible for someone in a not terribly advanced civilization to cook up a new universe in a laboratory. Which leads to an arresting thought: Could that be how our universe came into being?

"When I invented chaotic inflation theory, I found that the only thing you needed to get a universe like ours started is a hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter," Linde told me in his Russian-accented English when I reached him by phone at Stanford. "That's enough to create a small chunk of vacuum that blows up into the billions and billions of galaxies we see around us. It looks like cheating, but that's how the inflation theory works—all the matter in the universe gets created from the negative energy of the gravitational field. So, what's to stop us from creating a universe in a lab? We would be like gods!"

Linde, it should be said, is famous for his mock-gloomy manner, and these words were laced with irony. But he insisted that this genesis-in-a-lab scenario was feasible, at least in principle. "What my theoretical argument shows—and Alan Guth and others who have looked at this matter have come to the same conclusion—is that we can't rule out the possibility that our own universe was created in a lab by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it."

[. . .]

"You might take this all as a joke," he said, "but perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may be the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird. On the evidence, our universe was created not by a divine being, but by a physicist hacker."

Hmmm. I rather like that thought, actually.

In a slightly different vein, perhaps you've already heard the story of Don Sneed's 'God Number: Mathematical and Scientific Proof of the Existence of God':

Mr. Sneed has developed an associated scientific theorem: "Definity-Uninity-Infinity" that substantiates the identification of the specific number that represents God. The theorem has been registered with the United States Copyright Office and has been issued a certificate as an original work. "Definity-Uninity-Infinity" sets forth a new, more realistic and sensible view of the innate structure and order of the Universe, Mr. Sneed states: "is created, sustained and controlled by God; then, now and forever." The viewer is able to easily understand Mr. Sneed's mathematical and scientific proof of God's existence.

Wow... if that were any more interesting I might have to find a way to disbelieve even more in that kind of God.

Forest For the Trees?

Mama always said there'd be days like this:

Six artists have been served subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury that will consider bioterrorism charges against a university professor whose art involves the use of simple biology equipment.

The subpoenas are the latest installment in a bizarre investigation in which members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force have mistaken an art project for a biological weapons laboratory (see background). While most observers have assumed that the Task Force would realize the absurd error of its initial investigation of Steve Kurtz, the subpoenas indicate that the feds have instead chosen to press their "case" against the baffled professor.

Two of the subpoenaed artists -- Beatriz da Costa and Steve Barnes -- are, like Kurtz, members of the internationally-acclaimed Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), an artists' collective that produces artwork to educate the public about the politics of biotechnology. They were served the subpoenas by federal agents who tailed them to an art show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The third artist, Paul Vanouse, is, like Kurtz, an art professor at the University at Buffalo. He has worked with CAE in the past. The fourth, Dorian Burr, is a founding member of CAE. Additionally, Adele Henderson, the Department Chair at UB, and Andrew Johnson, also a Professor of Art at UB, were issued subpoenas.

The artists involved are at a loss to explain the increasingly bizarre case. "I have no idea why they're continuing (to investigate)," said Beatriz da Costa, one of those subpoenaed. "It was shocking that this investigation was ever launched. That it is continuing is positively frightening, and shows how vulnerable the PATRIOT Act has made freedom of speech in this country." Da Costa is an art professor at the University of California at Irvine.

There's quite a bit more -- a helpful FAQ, press articles, and ways you can help -- on the CAE Defense Fund site.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A Little Road Trip

When K. and I planned this trip to Belgium, we intended on swinging down to Spain for four or five days. When we remembered that we were poor, though, we opted for a short road trip around western Germany -- anywhere between Dusseldorf and Stuttgart. So, in other words, I'll be out of commission for about a day. I'll be sure to buy postcards and gifts for each of you.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A Vote For Bush Is a Vote for Iran

The truth about George Bush, Jr. has been uncovered by Matthew Yglesias: he's an Iranian secret agent. Matt makes such a good case that you almost wish it were true, if only to lend some method to the madness.

The Revolution That Already Is

'It is impossible to predict the time and progress of revolution. It is governed by its own more or less mysterious laws.' (V. I. Lenin)

A friend of mine sent me the link to a paper written by Irving Goh, a doctoral candidate at the European Graduate School. (Damn damn damn, I wished I'd known about this PhD program prior to starting mine!) The premise is that philosophy's task is to rip holes in ruling hegemonies (and, thus, too State-sponsored ideologies) -- and that, as such, philosophy (as represented by, amongst others, Deleuze and Guattari, Baudrillard, and Derrida) should be in danger of being repressed as dangerous. There's a lot to recommend here. However, I am increasingly doubtful of philosophy's revolutionary task. The revolution, so to speak, will always be televised -- just ask Che Guevara.

I'm certainly not opposed to the notion of 'heterogeneities' (can we speak of a plurality as a 'notion'?), but there does seem a problem when we start associating it with a 'not-yet' principle -- something that always remains on the horizon, and thus something to which we can only strive. The idea here is that revolution, because it will inevitably be appropriated into some kind of hegemonic market or system or State (either because of its 'structure', a la Derrida; or because of technological advances, a la Baudrillard), should be supplanted by a more disembodied idea that keeps us suspicious of these markets, systems and States. Such is the possibility of a revolutionary revolution -- Revolution In-Itself. It's not that this is simply academic, Leftist posturing, though it sometimes is. The more significant deficiency in this thinking is that it misses the far more 'difficult', contrarian thought that revolutionary difference / the possibility of new horizons and heterogeneities of thought is itself the result of the State's desire for hegemony -- i.e., that the revolutionary is not some external possibility, but rather the inherent element that the State cannot accommodate and, thus, disavows. What if, in other words, the revolution has always already been televised, and the revolutionists are not prophetic visionaries of what could be, but simply those who happened to be paying attention to what already is?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Speaking of Dana Milbank

One more post before I'm finally off either to bed or another chapter in The Recognitions, whichever is easiest to achieve....

Two Dana Milbank articles in one day is perhaps overkill, but I cannot resist. His column today highlights one of the many things I truly loathe about the current administration: its unabashed love of the strawman.

On May 19, Bush was asked about a plan by his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), to halt shipments that are replenishing emergency petroleum reserves. Bush replied by saying we should not empty the reserves -- something nobody in a responsible position has proposed. "The idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror," Bush said. "We're at war."

The president has used a similar technique on the stump, when explaining his decision to go to war in Iraq in light of the subsequent failure to find stockpiles of forbidden weapons. In the typical speech, Bush explains the prewar intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein had such weapons, and then presents in inarguable conclusion: "So I had a choice to make: either trust the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time."

Missing from that equation is the actual choice Bush confronted: support continued U.N. weapons inspections, or go to war.

Now, of course, both sides do this -- this is why it's called it's called a 'rhetorical technique', and not simply Republican obfuscation. But there comes a point at which one man's rhetoric becomes another man's deep cynicism and disregard for intelligent political discourse.

Better Late Than Never

As is normally the case, I am a day or two behind the times when it comes to U.S. political headlines. Nevertheless, I cannot, what with this renewed blogging energy pouring through my fingers, pass up the opportunity to pass up linking to Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei's frontpage story about Bush's 'Unprecedented Negativity'. I'm not sure it's news to anybody, but it's nice to be reminded from time to time:

Last Monday in Little Rock, Vice President Cheney said Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all" and said the senator from Massachusetts "promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office."

On Tuesday, President Bush's campaign began airing an ad saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists.

The same day, the Bush campaign charged in a memo sent to reporters and through surrogates that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as Kerry campaigned in Seattle, he was greeted by another Bush ad alleging that Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001.

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.

[. . .]

In early March, Bush charged that Kerry had proposed a $1.5 billion cut in the intelligence budget that would "gut the intelligence services." Kerry did propose such a cut in 1995, but it amounted to about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget and was smaller than the $3.8 billion cut the Republican-led Congress approved for the same program Kerry was targeting.

[. . .]

On March 30, the Bush team released an ad noting that Kerry "supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax" and saying, "If Kerry's tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year." But Kerry opposes an increase in the gasoline tax. The ad is based on a 10-year-old newspaper quotation of Kerry but implies that the proposal is current.

Other Bush claims, though misleading, are rooted in facts. For example, Cheney's claim in almost every speech that Kerry "has voted some 350 times for higher taxes" includes any vote in which Kerry voted to leave taxes unchanged or supported a smaller tax cut than some favored.

[. . .]

Meanwhile, Kerry was greeted in Oregon and Washington state with television ads paid for by the Bush campaign that underscore what ad analysts call the negativity and misleading nature of many of the Bush TV spots. One titled "Doublespeak" pulls quotes from several major newspapers to argue that Kerry has waffled on major issues and has often said one thing and done another. The quotes, however, are often from editorials, sometimes from opinion pages hostile toward Kerry, such as that of the Wall Street Journal.

[. . .]

It is true Kerry has voted numerous times to eliminate weapons systems and opposed the 1991 Iraq war. But Cheney voted against many of those same weapons systems, and Kerry has voted for several defense increases, especially in recent years.

I probably exceeded the reasonable quote length there, but you get the point.

Who Knew...

What do Evangelical Christians and Fundamentalist Muslims have in common with Russian Orthodox Christians?

Give up?

The Moscow Procurator’s Office has indicted Yuri Samodurov, Ludmila Vasilovskaya and Anna Mihalchuk under Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, accusing them of actions "intended to incite hatred and hostility toward a group of people and to humiliate them on the basis of their national identity or their religion."

Human rights advocates have sought in vain the application of Article 282 against fascists and all kinds of Black-Hundred types and racists. Instead, it is now used against people of democratic conviction, museum employees and a poet, who are charged with the organization and conduct of the exhibition "Caution! Religion". The concept of the exhibition - to give artists an opportunity to freely express their ideas concerning the problems of religion and also concerning the positive and the negative sides of the activity of religious institutions -was suggested by the exhibition’s curator and participant, Mr. Zulumyan, a citizen of Armenia. The exhibition, which displayed works of more than forty artists (including persons from Armenia, Germany, Georgia, Cuba, the USA and Japan), lasted for only four days in January 2003. On the fifth day a group of Russian Orthodox fanatics wrecked it. The majority of works were destroyed or damaged, and some that the Procurator’s Office took from the artists have still not been returned.

[. . .]

This constitutes a direct attempt by the Moscow Patriarchy’s Department of Foreign Relations to regulate secular culture and to "privatize" images of Christ, the Holy Mother, and the saints despite the fact that for centuries their images have been the property not just of the Christian churches and Christian believers, but of all civilized people, including atheists, Buddhists, Confucianists, and others, who may not believe that Christ was the Son of God or even that he was an historic personage, but nevertheless consider his image very important and significant for world culture and for themselves personally. These images are used in business as well.

[. . .]

It seems that the Russian Orthodox Church, as part of civil society, should not try to dominate its other parts, but should find and support more appropriate and modern ways to resolve the problems of religion in a secular state. In particular, it is desirable and should be possible for the religious and secular institutions of civil society to collaborate in order to find solutions to such urgent and acute problems as ending the bloodshed in Chechnya, reducing social inequality, lowering hostility towards migrants, assisting disabled persons and war veterans, defending the rights of communicants of other faiths, supporting modern religious art, and so on. As to works of art and exhibitions strongly opposed by the Church, it would not be difficult to solve this problem if good will existed - priests could recommend to their parishioners not to attend such exhibitions, while museums and curators could specify which exhibitions contain works that make use of religious symbols in unconventional ways, and suggest that persons who may be upset by this should avoid these exhibitions.

As to that last paragraph . . . that would completely miss the point of contemporary religion, now wouldn't it? *sigh*

This was, surprisingly, the first I'd heard of this.

Some Thoughts While Playing Frisbee

So, in my ongoing bid to solidify my place in hell, I've been playing with the notion of 'theological materialism' -- wherein, for instance, God (as Eternity / Freedom / the Absolute) is only God inasmuch as He is not Himself, i.e., that He is neither eternal, free, or absolute; that, in fact, God, to be God, must become -- a la Christ -- human. (I will spare you the details, having learned that nobody cares about them but me. Suffice it to say, I'm interested to present the God of theology as some kind of pathological twist to/in reality, versus some otherness from Beyond.)

The paradoxical economy of self-generation I'm mulling over, particularly last night whilst flinging a frisbee to K., is perhaps not as nonsensical as it might on the surface appear. As a matter of fact, the related notion of having to lose something in order to win something greater is such a natural commonplace as often to be simply taken for granted. Consider, for instance, the cliches of 'no pain, no gain'; the romantic idealizations of artistic madness -- i.e., the tortured artist who either commits suicide or dies prematurely, thus solidifying his or her place as a legend; or the special veneration most ascribe to martyrs like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or, even Jesus. Much can be said, too, of the Hollywood archetype exemplified by George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, who only truly knows himself at all when he is presented with what would have happened had he, per his expressed desire while weighing the decision as to whether he throw himself from a bridge, to never have been born. Do we not have here a story of redeemed identity, in which wholeness is snatched from the abyss of a self-shattering loss? The story of good old George Bailey is a modern myth, to which millions of weary Christmas and New Years celebrants each year appeal as a temporary respite from the family and friends who probably are not nearly as compassionate and helpful in the end as Bailey's; and thus, too, as a ritualistic dream for something better than the oppressive (capitalist) ideology that Mr. Potter represents, for the personal wholeness, health, and safety of a (socialist) salvation in which the value of family and friends is greater than that of money.

More recently, David Brooks of the New York Times employs a similar logic, but to a very different effect, when he describes the politically-charged paradox of the most recent U.S.-led Gulf War:

Now, looking ahead, we face another irony. To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over usIf the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose. This means the good Iraqis, the ones who support democracy, have to have a forum in which they can defy us. If the insurgents are the only anti-Americans, then there will always be a soft spot for them in the hearts of Iraqi patriots.

In other words, for the United States' (stated) goal of freedom and democracy to be achieved in Iraq, authentic anti-Americanism must not only be allowed, but also actually fomented. What I wish to suggest is that, appearances, my own personal politics, and undoubtedly Brooks' conservative revulsion to my conclusion based on his editorial notwithstanding, we are more justified in thinking of this ostensibly cynical suggestion, in a theoretical sense, as a more profound example of theological love than the depiction of self-redemption in, to wit, It's a Wonderful Life.

The key difference is that between desire and love. According to Friedrich von Schelling, before 'the Beginning' -- of being and time -- there was 'mere craving or desire'; that is, the drive of (addiction to) the In-Itselfness of Absolute Freedom. Which is to say, before 'the Word', from which symbolic differentiation and self-conscious identity emerges, 'there was the hunger for the Word' . . . the hunger to be. Drive, in other words, is desire In-Itself, i.e., unactualized in the subjectless fury of the Absolute, in which there is only the indifferent flux of Freedom, and, thus, no free, conscious subject as such. With the 'eternally past' advent of the Word, the Self that emerges is free only inasmuch as it is not completely itself; it is, rather, an embodied spirit, marked by finitude, death, and decay. Insofar as it is not itself, the spirit / Self; according to Schelling, is made ravenous flesh:

The spirit is consequently nothing but an addiction to Being. . . . The base form of the spirit is therefore an addiction, a desire, a lust. Whoever wishes to grasp the concept of spirit at its most profound roots must therefore become fully acquainted with the nature of desire . . . for [desire] is a hunger for Being, and being satiated only gives it renewed strength, i.e., a more vehement hunger.

Constituted as a free subject by virtue of its inherent lack of self-closure, the desirous Self cannot be satisfied. On the contrary, its desire, because historical and subjectived, is 'always and by definition unsatisfied, metonymical, shifting from one object to another since I do not actually desire what I want.' Be careful of what you wish for, so the saying goes, because you just might get it. The same logic is at work here: 'What I actually desire is to sustain desire itself, to postpone the dreaded moment of its satisfaction.'

If desire is related to an absent (menacing) identity and wholeness -- i.e., the hard, indecipherable kernel of our being that makes us objects of desire -- love is related to the emergence of the free Self that is not itself. After the Word, the quintessential, eternally past moment of love and freedom, the desire for wholeness can only ever be frustrated by the love that, as with Brooks' depiction of the United State's military operations in Iraq, knows how to truly lose. It is in this sense of love as 'loss' that we can suggest a truly perverse gospel: in which salvation of self is theologically less redemptive than the sin that sets us free.

A Bit of Violence With Your Porn?

A colleague (hee... it's fun to say that while still a student) pointed me to Frank Rich's latest article in Sunday's New York Times, 'It Was the Porn That Made Them Do It'. A pretty interesting, if incomplete, look at the far-right's current efforts to blame the abuses of Abu Ghraib on pornography and the sexualization of American society. Well-worth reading.

Incidentally, this same colleague had some very interesting thoughts on Saturday afternoon, linking, in a very unpretentious, non-wanky way (amazing, really, for an academic) the images of violence in The Passion with those in Iraq -- qua two sides of the same fundamentalism bent on 'generative violence' (i.e., the violence that heals).

They [images of violence]capture us because we need them. And we need them because we need to feel we master them. But of course by needing to feel we master them we don’t master them. This America has been forced to realize all too disturbingly: the violence they claimed they went in to master in Iraq turns out to be the violence they succumb to and deliver themselves, as brutally and as barbarically. And the same with Gibson’s film: the violence many Christians feel they master by the blood of Christ, the violence religious conservatives have repeatedly decried in Hollywood films and video games, becomes the violence they embrace in the Hollywoodized rendition of Gibson’s Passion.

I've nothing to add to this, really. Just saying to be saying . . .