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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Intimations of Further Fall

Well, now that we have shot a hole in the economy by highhatting the auto companies, a sort of collaboration between the incredible mummies of this ancien regime, the brainless auto barons and the brainless congressional barons (as the zona whips itself into a frenzy outside), and as Paulson’s ass is licked in precise proportion to his ideologically driven incompetence – the Post would have absolutely loved Andrew Mellon! – we hear the creaking of the largest bank collapse in history – oh, just ahead of us. Nothing to worry about. While the terrible, terrible UAW clowns, making their 26 an hour and destroying their economy with their greed, are about to fall into the toilet, our pity goes out, now, to the upper management of Citi, where the per hour is what, 1,000? 2,000? – but only because of the amazing skills they display, on a historic scale. That Ayn Rand could have lived to see her hero caste in all its glory today. Weep a little on her tomb, will ya?

What we are discovering, or rediscovering, is that the private sector is pisspoor at allocating capital and decreasing inequality – the latter is also known as increasing social mobility. The two faults in the private system are interlocked – see the Mangle of Inequality for further details. As is good and fucking obvious, the “investments” of the last eight years, when not going into spec houses, were going into spec houses of cards, otherwise known as securities. It was all insurance. It was all for our good. It was all for the ownership society. It was all about spreading risk. It was all about making us good risktakers. It was all about entrerpreneurship. It was all about aligning the interests of the managers with the companies. It was all about shareholder value. It was all about storing leafs, mud and human feces in huts and performing certain rituals that would turn them into cargo.

Oh, the deadly zona, and it seems, this week, to be blowing on me. My editing business has suddenly gone to shit. And I walk around or ride my bike past restaurants that were filled, three years ago, but are now deadly quiet – past dress shops that seem haunted by the mannequins wearing today’s sale item – and feeling this particular quiet in the streets. It is the quiet after a loud boom. The ear experiences a sort of time hallucination, a confusion between the time of the boom and the time of the silence that rushes in just afterwards. By ear we go down into the depths.

Io sentia gia da la man destra il gorgo
Far sotto noi un orribile scroscio
Per che con li occhi ‘n giu la testa sporgo

Friday, November 21, 2008

Love and territory

In 1965, John Hajnal, published an essay with the very dull title, European Marriage Patterns in Perspective. This essay seems, at first glance, to project a Cold War paradigm back upon the pattern of European demography, as Hajnal proposed that, in essence, starting with the end of the 16th century, you could draw a line from Trieste to St. Petersburgh and allot two different household formations to each side. On the West, you have what Hajnal came to call the simple household formation, in which one and only one married couple were at the center of the household; in the East, you had what he called a joint household formation, in which two or more related married couples formed the household. Hajnal claimed that in the sixteenth century, the Western type of household was new, and characterized by a demographic shift in which marriage occurred significantly later in life. For women, for instance, the average age moves from 20 to 25. Meanwhile, in the East, the marriage age remained very young, and so a married couple of, basically, teenagers remained in a household with an older couple, usually the husband’s family.

Hajnal made several arguable inferences from this pattern, as, for instance, that modernization followed the simple household formation pattern, and that simple households contained fewer members. He did modify the iron curtain that separated one household type from another, as it became evident that Italy, Southern France, and perhaps Spain did not participate in the simple household pattern, and it may be the case that Austria didn’t participate in the joint household pattern. Instead of Western Europe, then, in Hajnal’s schema you had Northwestern Europe.

LI is thinking of this in relation to an email conversation with an old friend, Professor K. K. is very Catholic, and she found the précis I sent her of the Human Limit very Protestant, in a way. Or at least she pointed out that certain of my themes, for instance, the loss of the sacred middle world, and the war on superstition, lend themselves to a Protestant vs. Catholic binary. This depressed me, since I certainly don’t want to re-invent The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

But I think I am not. Rather, it is within the refined confines of Hajnal’s map that my sense of the happiness culture incarnates itself. Beyond the Cold War traces, what Hajnal’s notion does is give us a certain demographic basis for looking at the kind of changes in emotional customs I am trying to trace - it gives us institutional correlates. And it shows an essential stress between the system of the passions and the system of the social - one that opens up certain fissures. For instance, the advance of the age of marriage is also an increase in the age of youth – youth being defined as the period before marriage. This, in turn, sets up other changes in the way the culture imagined itself, or groups within the culture imagined themselves and by inference, the culture as a whole. For instance, the process of setting marriage back seems to have made it the case that more people didn’t get married at all. It is striking that so many figures I’ve referred to – Theophile de Viau, Chamfort, Goethe, Gozzi, Hazlitt, etc. – either never married or married notoriously late in life.

The demographic story is, of course, about emotion, about the passions, and their institutionalization. It is as fundamental as any story about the system of production. The writ of Venus, here, runs as broad and wide as that of Haephestus. If you took Hajnal’s map and you superimposed upon it the happiness culture as it emerges in the 18th century – that is, the culture in which happiness exists as a threefold social phenomena and a norm against which social, political and economic arrangements are judged – you would find the one is almost equal to the other. Similarly, the resistance to the happiness culture, which was massive, a reaction against the wholesale destruction of long entrenched cultural practices, seems to come most vividly from the periphery of the simple household territory and from the joint household territory – for instance, Russia.

How We'll Miss the Golden Years of the Great Fly

LI was thinking that as the Great Fly leaves us something to remember him by – the destruction of the U.S. economy on a Katrina like scale – that it might be nice to go back and pick up comments about Bush by some of the great minds of the past eight years – you know, people like Fred Barnes, whose inspiring work, Rebel in Chief, will be read until the very heavens break, as it is to ass licking what the kamasutra was to gymnastic sex. Then, perhaps, Elizabeth Bumiller, whose analysis of Bush after the election of 2004 was spot on – the brilliance, the oratory that was so, so moving, the ideas. Perhaps scouring the WSJ in 2005, when Bush’s awesome notion that we should destroy social security was giving the country club crowd an estrus overload – in their frenzies there were understandable cases of them beating their caddies and servants, as the idea was that soon we would be reforming all the way back to Alexander II and re-institute serfdom.

But alas, as I looked back for suitable quotes, I got a little sick of the project. I suppose I have surfeiting on pure American shit over the last eight years. I couldn’t eat another mouthful.

But just when I thought sycophancy was dead – would never achieve the summits of 2003-2005, that golden time in which our leader’s words were balm that made each step lighter, and each death in Iraq more, well, fun – I read Pearlstein’s beautifully crafted D.C.-ish piece about the wonders of Hank Paulson. It has the sweep and depth of Barnes on our Rebel in Chief, and it is as contrarian as, say, Kinsley recommending that poor nations use one of their resources, ie the internal organs of their brats, and start selling them to first world nations to light a fire of free enterprise that will lift them out of poverty.

So I broke through my spell of nostalgia, realizing that yesterday's sycophants are still today's pundits! and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow - until they've broken the very back of the country that they know, dimly, exists somewhere outside the gated community on a hill. The place the maids disappear to every evening.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

the Auto-cracy - who are these suits?


As pissed as LI is about the refusal of congress to bail out the auto industry from the dragon’s horde of money already committed to the Treasury – a move of unbelievable blindness, which will undoubtedly make this a much, much worse recession – I am as pissed at the Soviet style Auto-cracy, flying on their fucking private planes to make a used car salesman’s pitch. LI supported the 25 billion as a much much better use of money than feeding it to the AIG monster. But ultimately – and the performance of the Auto-cracy shows this – the Government needs to intervene far beyond the usual American capitalist model. The upper management needs to go; the companies need to invest seriously in R and D that would, actually, provide them with a reason for existing – which, at the moment, they don’t have; environment and energy saving concerns can no longer be considered frills to be satisfied at a car show, using the model of a car that no manufacturer has any intention of building.

In fact, the entire fleet of America’s cars could, conceivably, be replaced in the next decade by cars that are much more energy efficient – and that might use different fuels – from diesel to natural gas – and that might require lighter weight chassis. Now, replacing a car that gets 17 miles to the gallon with one that makes 50 makes a lot of sense; it doesn’t make sense to replace it with one that gets 18. But this is the mentality of Detroit, which is where WWII never ended. For the Detroit design and engineering squads are dominated by the military mindset, dominated by a masculine take on driving, dominated by the idea that resources are there for our taking – it’s a gold-rush world, 24/7. What was true in 1957 is not true today.

I’ve read some joking comments on blogs that the government could just buy GM, given its stock price, for 3 billion dollars. That would be a very good idea, actually. As it looks like GM’s healthcare benefit plans are going to revert to the government anyway – one of the results of Chapter 11 – perhaps it is time to take the thing over in order to exert control over an industry that still doesn’t get it. Even if that is an improbable venture – although with the Gov calmly taking 79 percent ownership in a fuckin’ insurance company, I’m not sure why – what needs to be done tout suite is for a policy that includes the whole transportation sphere – the 400 billion in road building and road repairs, the refineries, the gas stations, the cars – and bring much needed, radical reform to it. Unfortunately, the auto industry has a high bar to entry – so if America loses its auto companies, it is not going to get them back. Instead, we are leaning to the Red State model – that is, becoming the parasite on the terminus of the production pipeline. By making huge tax cuts, Red states – who have difficulty generating enterprise because of chronic underinvestment in education, infrastructure, etc., etc. – bring in Japanese and Korean car firms, employ people at below union rates, and usually watch as those companies suck in a management corps from some state that actually gives a shit about education – hence, the phenomena of families originally from the Northeast that sprinkle the suburbs of Sunbelt cities. This isn’t just cause they like the weather – it is because the Sunbelt can’t generate that quality of human capital. If your educational system is pinned to the ever pressing problem of whether the world was created 6,000 years ago and how to coordinate your abstinence classes and your purity balls, you are going to have to find some othe entry point into the first world. When an Alabama senator like Shelby calls American auto companies dinosaurs who couldn’t compete, one has to boggle at the audacity – Alabama, notoriously, pretty much offered to pay Japanese car makers to locate there, providing tax sweeteners of a desperate, third world flavor that put it right next to Mississippi and Kentucky in the socialism for the corporations league. Mississippi, notoriously, passes bonds that it uses to buy buildings for companies it invites to site there. Since, however, all car manufacturers are going to be reeling in the next year, we will definitely see Shelby et al figuring out some way to sweeten the package for their state’s major manufacturer in one way or another.

Getting the poor to bid against each other for the privilege of being prostituted is what, after all, the ownership society is all about.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You can't guillotine the fairies

Vernon Lee was in her early twenties when she wrote her book of essays about 18th century Italy, and among them, a famous – though some say distorting – essay about Carlo Gozzi, the Venetian playwright who took Italian fairy tales and made them into theater. Gozzi did this partly just in order to get up the nose of the enlightened crowd around Goldoni. Gozzi’s plays, notably Love for three Oranges and Turandot, served as the basis for famous operas – and though I looked, I could not find other videos of this seemingly amazing performance of Prokofiev’s L’amour pour trois oranges which, I am betting, the Colonel probably saw
- and are of interest to us here at LI for ending the 18th century on a fairy note – just as it began with Perrault’s fairy tales, those most modern of ancient relics.

Lee tells a story – which is too good to be true – that Gozzi wrote The love for three oranges because he’d been driven crazy by Goldoni’s bragging about his success – and with plays that, in Gozzi’s opinions, were as dull as Diderot’s. Where was the magic? So Gozzi said “I wager that with the masks of the old comedy I will draw a greater audience to hear the story of the Love of the Three Oranges than you can with all your Ircanas and Bettinas and Pamelas!” Which, Lee contextualizes, is like saying you are going to make a theatrical hit out of Jack and the Beanstalk. But Gozzi possessed the key to great comedy- an endless flow of malice. So he wrote the play, which was a great success, drove Goldoni’s realism from the stage – in Lee’s account, at least – and wrote many more Fiabe – fables – for theater.

This is what fascinates me:

“Carlo Gozzi himself was of the opinion that the invisible world obtained some mysterious power over him from the moment of his writing the Love of the Three Oranges, and that the series of persecutions which he relates in his very quaint autobiography were due to the vengeance of the fairy world, which he had dared to bring on to the stage.”

So – diverting our attention away from the suicide theme I have been pursuing – we know our readers need a break! – let’s look at Gozzi. Whose spirit may well have been astonished by the fact that a Bolshevik artist took over his reactionary play. Although perhaps it isn’t really that surprising, since Schiller had already injected Gozzi into the stream of German romanticism. But LI hopefully has shaken up our reader’s sense that the terms reactionary/progressive, or right/left, are to be taken as rigid designators in the anthropological study of Western politics.

And this is Lee’s excellent description of Gozzi’s struggle with the invisible world:

About 1740 his combat had begun with those invisible enemies who wer to pesecute him throughout his life. Carlo Gozzi manfully determined to break the spell which hung over his family: he went about examining the Gozzi property on terra-firma; he tried to lease part of the premises; he sought for the title-deeds of bonds left by his father; but the goblins met him on all his journeys with flooded roads and broken bridges, with bugs and thieving stewards. They sent to him polyp-like tenants who never paid, scandalized the quarter by their doings, and , when legally ejected, clambered back into their former premises during the night; they inspired the Countess Gasparo Gozzi [wife of his older brother] with the happy thought of selling all the family papers and parchments to a neighboring porkshop. However, Carlo was victorious: he reclaimed the terra-firma property; he finally ejected the non-paying, disreputable tenants; he recovered, among the heaps of cheeses, the rolls of sausages, and the compact rows of ham, the venerable documents of the family; he put his younger brothers into Government offices, his sisters into convents; had the little Gasparo Gozzi swashed and shoed and stockinged; quietly shipped off the resigned philologist Gasparo and his furious poetess wife to Pordenone; and then with a few books and just sequins enough to eat meagerly and dress tidily for the rest of his days, he established himself alone in the haunted palace at S. Canziano, with his Spanish plays and his collections of Arabian and Neapolitan fairy tales. But the goblins did not let him off so easily; they delighted in pulling, pinching, twitching, and tripping him up; they led his silk-stockinged feet into every pool of water; they jolted his coffee-cup out of his hand on to every new pair of satin breeches; they enveloped him in some mysterious cloud which made people mistake him for opera directors, Greek merchants, and astronomers, and give him playful blows intended for other persons; they lost the letters addressed to him and wrote answers of which he knew nothing, so that one evening, returning travel-worn, weary, and ravenous, from Friuli, he found his own house brilliantly lit up and garlanded, filled with cooks and lacqueys, and with a crowd of masked rioters eating, drinking and dancing to celebrate the accession to the patriarchal chair of Monsignor Bragadin, whose flunkeys politely told the astonished owner of the house that he had written to give permission for the momentary annexation of his palace, and that for the three days and nights of Monsignor Bragadin’s festivities he had better retire to the nearest inn.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happier News for Northanger!

Since North has been unhappy about my suicide thread, I interrupt it here to link to happier news! The inside out theory of pyramid building! This is happy news to those of us with the Wiccan view that most things are backwards in this world. The old view is that the pyramids were built from the outside in, with frames and an external ramp, which is a complete, as you say, bordel de merde. Main non, say the brave band that has seen in this magnificent structure the obvious signs of an inside out job – a ramp spiraling out from the center, that would make the moving of two million 2.5-ton blocks such a snap of the fingers that voila, and you have time to make the nice biftek for dinner with the little woman. Who is always talking your ear off about this new thing, bronze, that the neighbors in the hut across the street have. Bronze bronze bronze. Good for earrings. Who gives a Hittites pet, as they say? Can’t a man get a little peace after moving two million 2.5 ton blocks?

And, best of all, my friends, my friends, the architect who has figured out the Egyptians little secret is none other than man named Jean-Pierre Houdin. Houdin! The very name is like a bell.

I hope this makes North happy.

My syphilis

The suicide note is an enlightenment genre. Werther, before he died, burnt many of his papers, and sent others to his friend Wilhelm, who – completing the exchange of friendship – then published all the notes and letters as “The Sorrows of Young Werther”. But, of course, as a man of fashion – so fashionable, in fact, that he is concerned with that the clothes he wears into the grave represent his look – Werther was not going to lose the occasion to write a last letter. And so he writes it to his “dearest one” – Charlotte.

As I’ve pointed out, love and suicide in the Sorrows of Young Werther overlap, in a way – they both are imagined in terms of circles, and those circles in turn are the forms in which something is distributed to elements that are substitutable – variable places, in fact. However, Werther’s suicide itself is told in terms not of a circle, but of a line. Werther sends his servant to borrow the pistols from Albert, Lotte’s husband, who is in a foul mood – and we do remember that among the first things Werther says in his early letters was that he could not abide a foul mood. Albert is suffering from problems at work and from Lotte’s relationship with Werther. And of course by this point he knows that Werther is a drinker who talks about suicide a lot. So what does he do? He loans the pistols. And who gives the pistols to the servant? Albert tells Lotte to take the pistols down from where they are hanging, on the wall. So the pistols pass through Lotte’s hands. She even wipes the dust from one of them. She, too, knows that Werther has talked about suicide. And she has reproached him for drinking. But she gives the pistols to the servant without saying anything to Albert. In a sense, the scene in which Lotte gives the pistols to the servant is a scene of judgment: Werther has finally been thrown outside of the circle, into which he entered knowing that Albert existed as Lotte’s fiancé.

The suicide note left by Werther is, then, a letter from a man who has been excluded, and who is about to take that exclusion and embody it in a bullet to the head. In it, he alludes to the first night he met Lotte, and the scene in which, after the counting game broke up, the two of them watched the storm out of a window and communed with each other over some verses from Klopstock. In this, Werther’s suicide note is not of the usual type:

“I step to the window, my dearest one. And look and look through the stormy clouds flying overhead at the individual stars of eternal heaven. No, you will not fall. The eternal holds you in its heart, and me.”

Studies of the suicide note first started appearing in the nineteenth century. But the modern study of the suicide note took a giant leap forward in the twentieth century, when Edwin Schneidman found files of them in the Los Angeles police department archives in 1944. Schneidman and his associate, Farberow, published a paper on the notes in 1957, using a “control” – simulations of a suicide note. The Schneidman Farberow method even has its own acronym in suicidology – the SSN (Simulated Suicide Note).

“A simulated suicide note (SSN) is a communication written by someone who is not suicidal but who has been instructed to write a note as if they were. These notes are matched according to demographic variables and compared with genuine suicide notes. Any differences that emerge are attributed to differences in suicidality and characteristics that discriminate between these two groups are warranted in any explanation of suicide.” [Understanding Suicidal Behaviour, O’Connor, 81]

Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther – LJW – could be considered an SSN. Although as has been noted, literature – that social stain which seeps through everything! – has contaminated the genuine suicide note from the beginning.

Schneidman wrote that his ideas about the suicide note have changed. At first he thought that it would do for him what dreams did for Freud – provide him with the royal road to the heart of the suicide consciousness. But over the course of time, he has moderated this view. What the simulated suicide notes brought out was the length of the genuine note, the fact that the genuine note is more often dated, and that it has more factual statements in it.

Schneidman was interested in what he called “risk writing” – that is, the relationship between writing and suicidal ‘mentation’ – and wrote a study of the "suicidal logic" of the Italian writer, Cesare Pavese, who committed suicide. Schneidman quotes a remark made by Pavese about his early fascination with suicide – which he first attempted at the age of 19 – as his “syphilis.” Interestingly, he had, according to Schneidman, some very highly wrought sexual relationships with women – he often felt inadequate (oh, this language! How dick and pussy are processed through the mill!) because he was impotent, or prematurely ejaculated. Pavese noted in his diary: “A man, unless he is a eunuch, can always achieve ejaculation with any woman… and a man who ejaculates too soon had better never been born. It is a failing that makes suicide worthwhile.” (August 3, 1937) That is not a pleasant thought to carry about in one’s head – besides, of course, being entirely ludicrous. But – as Kafka intuited – the higher judgments, the judgment that condemns you to death, is ludicrous in the extreme.

Schneidman is very good about this. He quotes Von Domarus and Arieti, who wrote that the patients they dealt with – schizophrenics – often mutilated logic by shifting the deductive focus in sentences from the subject to the predicate. The subject of the premises is how we understand the workings of the standard syllogism: All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal. But in schizo-logic, the focus shifts to the predicate. “An example: Certain Indians are swift; stags are swift; therefore, certain Indians are stags…. Another example. The Virgin Mary was a virgin; I am a virgin; therefore, I am the Virgin Mary.” Schneidman finds this kind of thinking showing up in Pavese’s diary. He uses the word catalogical – “because it destroys the logician” for this kind of thing.

“An example:

You must confess you have thought and written many banalities in your little diary these past months. I agree but is there anything more commonplace than death? A lover’s reasoning: If I were dead, she would go on living, laughing, trying her luck. But she has thrown me over and still does all those things. Therefore, I am as dead. (February 25, 1938)

The argument embedded in this paragraph contains a blatant logical error – and gets Pavese into deep trouble. He reasons himself into hopelessness: Therefore I am as {good as) dead (and might as well be really dead). It makes as much logical sense as his saying that he is Switzerland or the Virgin Mary. One has to watch carefully how one uses the word ‘therefore’..

Pavese’s catalogical reasoning style – I call this pattern of thinking catalogical because it destroys the logician – linked suffering with death, death with suicide, and therefore the presence of suffering the (the necessity of) suicide. … From clinical experience we know that committing suicide is often reduced to the need to do something – anything – to stop the flow of unbearable mental anguish.” [Schneidman, Suicide as Psychache 124-125]

To do something – this is doing without any subject. And – by catalogical inference – suicide operates here as the essence of the dread possibility that lurks at the bottom of this infinite freedom to do something else. It is symbolic of the dark side of the world of abstract labor, a world in which all connections are inessential.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Bullet we missed

The NYT has a piece on ex Senator Phil “I love a billionaire” Gramm, whose career in the Senate is an epic of corrupt practices and a vile ideology, which all resulted in the economy we know and love today. They even, as a sidenote, print the emails that the ever irrepressible Enron people were sending each other as Gramm was passing the Enron provision in the bill barring the regulators of commodity futures from even thinking about derivatives – a provision that allowed Enron to spiral into a gigantic fraud whose clawmarks can still be spotted in California. How Beautiful! And they print his remarks on the wonders and charms of subprime mortgages, which, in the grand forgettery of the rightwing spin machine, have been tossed aside for insane fantasies about Barney Frank. Gramm is the man who was within a whisker of being the secretary of the treasury.

LI has long considered Gramm among the vilest of the vile. Here’s what we wrote in 2001:

Friday, January 04, 2002

Some further comments on Senator Torricelli's Houdini like escape from prosecution seem called for.
The question on the mind of the spectator must be: why would the Repugs go along on this deal? After all, damn Senator T with the black spot and Senator Lott will once more be the majority leader, talked to, even, by tv reporters and such.

Well, let's speculate a little bit, children. When one of D.C.'s pirates is caught with his hand in the till, very often a delicate situation arises. Because so many other pirates on the ship have been quietly amassing as much loot as their natural greed allows them. It is a tradition that goes back to the Roman senate. So if Senator T.'s skin is graciously unflayed, one looks around for who else could be outrageously vulnerable to charges of pilfering. And the eye alights on a certain Texas senator, Phil Gramm. Phil and his wonderful and rich wife, Wendy, have made quite a killing in the past decade from their association with Enron corporation, of blessed memory. There's a Public Citizen release that counts the ways Enron loved the Gramms, and the Gramms loved Enron. Consider that Wendy, high spirited free marketer that she is, was appointed by Bushie the elder to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. This is a sad sack commission ostensibly armed to police the derivatives market -- but armed like a boyscout with a peashooter facing down the Nazi Wehrmacht. Even so, you never know when some nasty regulation will actually enforce transparency on futures or options trading, the biz Enron was massively in. So our heroine, Wendy, came to Enron's rescue by exempting trading in futures contracts by Enron, in 1993. It was one of her last acts as a truly altruistic public personality, because she then resigned her chairmanship and, five weeks later, took on an entrepeneurial role on the Enron board of directors. Now, reader, you are thinking that this is merely a coincidence; and besides, boards of directors are notoriously composed of crash test dummies, rubberstamping the decisions of the CEO. But our dear Wendy also served on the Enron Audit committee (this part of her story should be scored to that all time popular hit, "Three blind mice'). So double hitting for that innovator in spot prices in power for you and me, she made off with around a million five. Hey, I'm sure that Phil was uninfluenced by that chunk of change, but you know how a loving, christian couple, in the depth of the night, abed, sometimes talks about the meaning of it all, and our redeemer's beautiful life story, and wouldn't it be nice if some properly motivated senator snuck a provision onto some bill de-regulating the power commodity markets. Probably these sweet whispers were in vain, given Phil adamantine integrity, but maybe something, well, unconscious kicked in, cause golly, Phil did muscle in the bill Enron wanted. For good Laissez Faire reasons, no doubt.

Yes, the money rolls in, but Phil's ambitions no longer play out on the national level, and his mind has turned to contemplating the blank verse of The Prelude or something -- those sweet retirement thoughts. But still, with Enron falling apart this year with a speed and desperation much like that of the East German government in 1989, the Gramms probably also had some heart to hearts about those pesky laws constraining politicians from accepting bribes in too public and outrageous a fashion -- laws which, as we all know, are stronger in the spirit than the letter, but still... Maybe it is time to fold your tent and creep home, with the couple millions of Enron bucks under your belt or in your portfolio to watch over you in the golden years. This will no doubt be used by invidious nabobs of negativism to explain why Phil gave a press conference on September 2 announcing his retirement from the Senate, even though he had amassed a 4 million dollar reelection warchest.

Warms your heart, doesn't it, reader? And so maybe Senator T gets traded for Senator G. in the game. We are not of course suggesting anything so cynical went down in D.C. in reality. In reality, all Senatorial transactions are motivated by the unwavering patriotism of the members of that hallowed chamber. All Limited Inc is doing is, well, muddying the waters. Spewing negativism. Speculating, as is our wont, in an idle and destructive manner.

Here’s what we wrote in 2002:

Monday, October 07, 2002

Isn't this sweet? Outgoing senator Phil Gramm -- that's what all the news releases say -- is set to join UBS Warburg:

ABC News announces it in the easy tones that embody the flow of senatorial personage to business personage and back:

"Senator Phil Gramm will soon become vice chairman of UBS Warburg, the investment banking arm of Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS Warburg said on Monday.Gramm, who will take up the private sector post when his Senate term ends later this year, follows a well trodden path of key legislators who join top Wall Street firms. Gramm has been in Congress for 24 years, and co-authored far reaching legislation in 1999 that repealed a prohibition on companies offering banking, brokerage and insurance operations under one roof."

Curiously, nobody connects a few dots. So Limited Inc will take up the pencil. How about this?

1. Wendy Gramm serves on the board of Enron. Preceding this nice little sinecure, she sits on the Commodities and Futures Commission and gives Enron a nice little waiver to embark upon its energy trading business without any pesky federal regulation. After eight years and about 600 thousand dollars, Wendy, on the Accounting committee of the Enron board no less, is shocked, shocked to learn that the company has been looted as thoroughly as the Russian looted Berlin, circa 1945.

2. But as that looting is drawing near its close, certain high up personages in Enron have not wholly given up the idea that, in the last moment, they can lick the spoons. Greg Whalley, among this seedy crew, is operating, supposedly, as Enron's President. It is his decision to reach in the piggy bank and award compensatory amounts up to a million dollars a piece for the people who are sitting at Enron's energy trading desk -- which, you'll remember, was made possible by Wendy Gramm's fortuitous waiver. He justifies these awards by going on about necessary personel, and the need to keep them from jumping ship. Of course, he doesn't allude to the vulgar fact that the energy trading desk has been losing money hand over fist. Or that the compensation comes directly out of the hide of the older workers in the gas pipes division -- yokels all.

"A top Enron executive wrongfully allowed employees who stayed with the company to cash deferred-compensation claims worth at least $32 million, while denying similar payments to former employees, legal experts say. And the experts said one-time Enron Chief Operating Officer Greg Whalley may well be personally liable for the payments distributed in October and November. A lawyer for Whalley recently told the Chronicle that his client had allowed dozens of company executives to cash out their deferred-compensation plans because they were still "providing value" to Enron. But retirees and other ex-employees who sought to cash out at the same time, or earlier, did not get approval."

3. Well, what is a hardworking president to do? Got to keep the energy section going until you can sell it, and yourself with it, to some lucky company. And guess who that company is, sweethearts? Why it is UBS Warburg: here's the announcement, dated February of this year, in Computerworld.

"A wholly owned subsidiary of London-based UBS Warburg, which is itself the investment banking subsidiary of Swiss bank UBS AG, the re-formed energy exchange has acquired Enron's gas and power trading IT infrastructure, its intellectual property and 625 of its former employees (see story).

"When the sale was finalized [Feb. 8], those people became UBSWenergy employees," said company spokeswoman Jennifer Walker. Most notable in the group is former Enron President and Chief Operating Officer Greg Whalley, who rose to that position in August after former Enron President Jeff Skillings left unexpectedly."

4. And so now Senator Gramm, the honorable Senator Gramm, who seems to have slipped through this awful mess that must have, just must have been caused by government regulation (ask the guys who write the editorials for the Wall Street Journal) with his wonderful wife Wendy by his side, unbowed by her experience and comforted, perhaps, by that half a mil she earned for two weeks work a year, is headed, by coincidence, for the refuge of the high end final Enron looters. Quelle coincidence! Not that we are accusing anybody of striking a deal, especially not good old dirty fingered, corrupt, cheating, lying, stealing, black hearted, selfish, conniving, worthless Phil Gramm -- as we like to call him, jokingly, in Texas. We simply think that it is, indeed, a small world after all, and one in which Phil simply keeps running into people he's helped out, and who want to help him out in turn.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Modern way to commit Suicide

“In 1718, at Chateau-Gontier, a young pregnant girl having poisoned herself, the cadaver, from the time of the beginning of the trial, was exhumed and imprisoned in a jail”. Then it was dragged, head down, through the streets of the village, hung by its feet, and at last “placed on a bonfire and reduced to ashes.” I don’t know of another case where the penalty of burning was applied. The sentence of Chateau-Gontier specified that the ashes would be thrown to the wind and the child would be, before this, extracted from the cadaver to be buried with the stillborns.

The is even examples of condemnation in cases of suicide attempts. In 1777, the Journal of Paris told the story of a man who, having tried to hang himself, was condemned to the galleys for life and was only acquitted on appeal. Voltaire, in the Philosophical Dictionary, speaks of a man who, having “made several light cuts on himself with a knife, like the charlatans, in order to obtain some recompense”, was condemned to be hung by a decree of Parliament.”
Bayet, Le Suicide et le morale, 632.

LI has been reading Georges Minois’ History of Suicide with mixed feelings. Minois is very good at gathering together sources. But his comments are very flatheaded. I’m using it mostly to poke around in the references. But the information in the Minois book does pose some puzzles if you are interested in suicide as the manifestation of something deeper going on in a culture. For instance, Minois uses the work of Guy Barreau on suicides in Brittany during the 18th century. Barreau maintains that the records show that women account for five times more suicides than men. That is truly unusual – men almost always outnumber women as suicides, usually by a considerable amount. Another striking statistical fact comes via a survey of suicides in England between 1541 and 1799. Children under 14 account for the highest percentage of suicides, an amazing 30 percent. Minois’ notion is that, at least in the eighteenth century, this might reflect the truly horrendous conditions of apprentices and working children. Even in the list of Breton suicides, many of them are young, and are described like this:

29 November 1769. A young girl of fifteen, Francoise Royer, drowned herself at Fougeres. She had for some tie been abused by her mother, who sent her out to beg, gave her hardly enough to eat, threw her out into the street in the middle of the night calling her a whore, and beat her with a stick. The mother showed no sorrow at her daughter’s death: It’s the devil who broke her neck, but she’s over seven, she isn’t under my care anymore… There she is, the great she-devil, she was looking for trouble and she found it… She’s a wretch, she told me so. It’s the evil spirit that whipped her.”

Blake’s Little Black boy among the snow/crying weep weep in notes of woe came from the very heart of the people.

It is suicide and love that unweave the net woven by reason and sympathy. The net in which we are caught.

Look at how Durkheim sorts his suicides. One sees, in the categories, glimmers of Tocqueville, particularly the analysis of American society. This is the egoist suicide:

“The more the groups to which he belongs are enfeebled, the less he depends on them, the more, in consequence, he stands on his own two feet in order not to recognize other rules of behavior than those which are founded on his own private interest. If, thus, one agrees to call egoism this state where the individual I affirms itself with excess in the face of the social I and at the expense of the latter, we can give the name egoi8st to the particular type of suicide that results from unlimited individuation.” Book ii, 69

Contrasted to Altruistic suicide:

“Thus, in all these cases [of warriors and widows sacrificing themselves], if a man kills himself it is not because he has seized that right for himself, but, which is very different, because he has a duty to do it. If he fails this obligation, he is punished by dishonor, and also, most often, by religious chastisements.” [77]

In Durkheim’s quadrivium of suicides (anomy, egoism, altruism, fatalism), it is obvious that the modern suicides fall under the anomy and egoism side, and the pre-moderns under the altruism and fatalism side. Yet, his statistics irritatingly refuse to give us a neat pattern, in which the modern simply succeeds the premodern. Instead, it lurks within the modern structures. Its dread name is woman – for women, in Durkheim’s statistics, stubbornly refuse to commit suicide for reasons of anomy and egotism, and commit suicide, after being all too integrated into the social, for reasons of altruism and fatalism. To explain this, Durkheim even has to allude to biology – not a very Durkheimian gesture. Women must have more primitive brains then men. That must be it.

However, Durkheim did not have good stats on suicide attempts. I wonder what he would have made of them? Esquirol was one of the first to distinguish suicides from suicide attempters, and estimated the suicide attempters as forty percent of the suicide total. In actuality, or at least in contemporary actuality, there are about three times as many attempters as successful suicides, and the majority of attempters are women.

Durkheim’s quadrivium of suicides is suggestive in another way, too – it ties into the imperial perspective. For the altruistic/fatalistic suicides are primitive, and when we find them, we can be sure the society is unhealthily laggard. From the suttee to the kamikaze pilot to the suicide bomber, this perspective still holds. The other/enemy still horrifies by being so imprisoned in the chains of feudalism, from which we have long ago liberated ourselves. Meanwhile, in the shadows cast by this structure, the altruistic/fatalistic type lurks. Every SAC bomber crew in the Cold War was expected, if the call came, to attack even knowing that the chance of survival was minimal – close to what the truck bomber might expect. Yet we never called this our suicide squadron. In fact, during the Cold War, it was often recognized, as a metaphor, that the missile policies of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were thinly disguised suicide threats. It was, in fact, writ large, the cutter’s fantasy, the bulemic’s fantasy.

One other note. According to Minois, the suicide letter was a mainly eighteenth century invention. Of course, this is partly due to the spread of literacy. But, Minois thinks, it is also due to the spread of secularization – more and more, the afterlife was not thought of in terms of heaven and hell. It was a vaguely pleasant place where one met one’s loved ones again (the idea that there was no giving or taking of wives and husband in the Kingdom of God – that radically anti-family idea from the radically anti-family Jesus – had long bit the dust), but just in case, one wanted to get in a word or two posthumously.