Friday, January 30, 2009

La Rochefoucauld: The Constant Inconstancy Of Love...

" I will love you forever," swears the poet. I find this easy to to swear. " I will love you at 4:15 p.m. next Tuesday": Is that still as easy?" -W.H. Auden, (1959).

"It is difficult to define love. What can be said is that in the soul it is a passion to dominate another, in the mind it is mutual understanding, whilst in the body it is simply a delicately veiled desire to posses the beloved after many rites and mysteries.

If pure love exists, free from the dross of our other passions, it lies hidden in the depths of our hearts unknown even to ourselves.

Where love is, no disguise can hide it for long; where it is not, none can simulate it.

There are few people who, when their love for each other is dead, are not ashamed of that love.

You can find women who have never had a love affair, but seldom women who had only one.

There is only one kind of love, but there are a thousand copies, all different.

Love, like fire, cannot survive without continual movement, and it ceases to live as soon as it ceases to hope or fear.

True love is like ghostly apparitions: everybody talks about them but few have ever seen one.

Love lends its name to countless dealings which are attributed to it but of which it knows no more than the doge knows what goes on in Venice.

We cannot love anything except in terms of ourselves, and when we put out friends above ourselves we are only concerned with our own taste and pleasure. Yet it is only through such preference that friendship can be true and perfect.

Constancy in love is perpetual inconstancy, inasmuch as the heart is drawn to one quality after another in the beloved, now preferring this, now that. Constancy is therefore inconstancy held in check and confined to the same object.

Constancy in love is of two kinds: one comes from continually finding new things to love in the beloved, and the other from making it a point of honor to remain constant.

We are nearer to loving those who hate us than loving those who love us more than we want."

-Francois VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld: (1613-80. Together with La Bruyère, La Rochefoucauld is the best-known of the French moralistes, famous for his exploration of the role of ‘amour-propre’ in human behavior. The Maximes are concise, often epigrammatic, reflections on human nature, typically written from a disillusioned or cynical point of view. One of La Rochefoucauld's favorite categories is that of ‘amour propre’, whose workings can be detected across large tracts of human life. -The Philosophy Dictionary. Text: "Réflexions ou Sentences et Maximes Morales" Paris, 1665. Image: "The Lovers," Rene Magritte, 1928).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Spectacularly Inept & Shameless Financial Elites...

Let's imagine, for a moment, how different the public debate would be today if it had been unions that had caused the current economic turmoil. In other words, try to imagine a scenario in which union leaders - not financial managers - were the ones whose reckless behaviour had driven a number of Wall Street firms into bankruptcy and in the process triggered a worldwide recession.

Needless to say, it's hard to imagine a labour leader being appointed to oversee a bailout of unions the way former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson was put in charge of supervising the $700 billion bailout of his former Wall Street colleagues. My point is simply to note how odd it is that the financial community has emerged so unscathed, despite its central role in the collapse that has brought havoc to the world economy.

Of course, not all members of the financial community were involved in Wall Street's wildly irresponsible practices of bundling mortgages into securities and trading credit default swaps. But the financial community as a whole, on both sides of the border, certainly pushed hard to put in place an agenda of small government, in which financial markets largely regulated themselves and citizens (particularly high-income investors) would be spared the burden of paying much tax.

The agenda advanced much further in the U.S., but had an impact in Canada, particularly on the tax front.
One would think that those who pushed this agenda so enthusiastically would, at the very least, be a tad embarrassed today. But so influential are those in the financial elite - and their hangers-on in think-tanks and economics departments - that they continue to appear on our TV screens, confidently providing us with economic advice, as if they'd played no role whatsoever in shaping our economic system for the past quarter century.

Of course, we're told there's been a major change in their thinking, in that many of them are now willing to accept large deficits in today's federal budget, in the name of stimulating the economy. While this does seem like a sharp departure from the deficit hysteria of the 1990s, a closer look reveals the change may not be that significant.

In fact, financial types have always accepted deficits - when they liked the cause. Hence their lack of protest over George W. Bush's enormous deficits, which were caused by his large tax cuts for the rich and his extravagant foreign wars. What they don't like is governments going into deficit to help ordinary citizens - either by creating jobs or providing much unemployment relief.

So the Canadian financial community has been urging that the stimulus package consist mostly of income tax cuts - even though direct government spending would provide much more stimulus and do more to help the neediest. If the Harper government follows the financial community's advice, we will simply move further along with the small government revolution launched by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

Of course, tax cuts are not the same as financial deregulation. But they are twin prongs of a bundled package aimed at reducing the power of government to operate in the public interest.

Surely it's time to rethink this resistance to government acting as an agent of the common good. And maybe it's time for a little humility on the part of a financial elite that long has enjoyed such deference while turning out to be so spectacularly inept.

- Linda McQuaig ("Financial Elite Have No Shame), The Toronto Star, 1.27.2009. Image: Title Card, B-Movie, "Scum Of The Earth," 1963).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

John Locke: The Tabula Rasa, An Exercise Of Power...

Of Practice And Habits:

"We are born with faculties and powers capable almost of anything, such at least as would carry us farther than can easily be imagined: but it is only the exercise of those powers which gives us ability and skill in anything, and leads us towards perfection.

The legs of a dancing- master and the fingers of a musician fall as it were naturally, without thought or pains, into regular and admirable motions. Bid them change their parts, and they will in vain endeavor to produce like motions in the members not used to them, and it will require length of time and long practice to attain but some degrees of a like ability. What incredible and astonishing actions do we find rope- dancers and tumblers bring their bodies to ! Not but that sundry in almost all manual arts are as wonderful; but I name those which the world takes notice of for such, because on that very account they give money to see them. All these admired motions, beyond the reach and almost conception of unpracticed spectators, are nothing but the mere effects of use and industry in men whose bodies have nothing peculiar in them from those of the amazed lookers-on.

As it is in the body, so it is in the mind: practice makes it what it is; and most even of those excellencies which are looked on as natural endowments, will be found, when examined into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise, and to be raised to that pitch only by repeated actions."

-John Locke (1632–1704: An English philosopher. Locke is considered the first of the British Empiricists, but is equally important to social contract theory. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, classical republicans, and contributors to liberal theory. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries. This influence is reflected in the American Declaration of Independence Locke's theory of mind is often cited as the origin for modern conceptions of identity and "the self", figuring prominently in the later works of philosophers such as David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Locke was the first philosopher to define the self through a continuity of "consciousness". He also postulated that the mind was a "blank slate" or "tabula rasa"; that is, contrary to Cartesian or Christian philosophy, Locke maintained that people are born without innate ideas."

Excerpt: Of Practice And Habits from
The Educational Writings of John Locke, "Of The Conduct Of The Understanding" published posthumously, 1706. Bio: -Carl Lotus Becker, "The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas,"1922. Forrest E. Baird & Walter Kaufmann, "Plato to Derrida," 2008. Image: Philippe Petite's foot on wire between Twin Towers 1 & 2, New York, NY, 8.7. 1974).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Heart Of Mankind: World War IV Will Be Fought With Sticks & Stones...

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
-Albert Einstein

Most U.S. Government spending on nuclear weapons-related programs is unclassified. But it is functionally secret since such spending is widely dispersed across many programs in several agencies and it is not formally tracked or reported.

A new study prepared for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimated that the cost of U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs exceeded $52 billion last year. “That’s a floor, not a ceiling,” said Stephen I. Schwartz, who led the study with Deepti Choubey. The estimate does not include the costs of classified nuclear weapons programs or nuclear-related intelligence programs, among other limiting factors.

The $52 billion figure far exceeds the total annual budget for international diplomacy and foreign assistance ($39.5 billion) and comprises roughly 10% of all national defense spending. Because nuclear weapons costs are not officially tracked, it has been difficult or impossible to perform “cost-benefit” analyses of nuclear policies or to debate priorities among competing nuclear weapons programs. Yet such priorities naturally emerge, undebated.

Thus, the majority of nuclear weapons spending (55.5%) is allocated towards upgrading, operating and sustaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A much smaller fraction (10%) is devoted to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons and technology, the study found. “The disparity suggests that preserving and enhancing nuclear forces is far more important than preventing nuclear proliferation,” said Mr. Schwartz.

The authors urge that a formal accounting of nuclear weapons spending be conducted by the government and reported to Congress and the public in order to provide greater clarity. And they recommend that an increased fraction of nuclear security spending be directed towards preventing nuclear proliferation.

- Secrecy News, ("U.S. Spending on Nuclear Weapons Exceeds $52 Billion," The full report and the underlying data are available from the Carnegie Endowment. See “Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities,” by Stephen I. Schwartz with Deepti Choubey, January 2009. Image: -Boris Artzybasheff, "The Missile", Time Magazine, Life Collection, 1.30.1956).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Legacy Of Justice: Forget It, Roman, It's Chinatown....

Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing there?

Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.

Evelyn Mulwray: Doing what?

Jake Gittes: As little as possible.

Evelyn Mulwray: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?

Jake Gittes: They do in Chinatown.
-Robert Towne ("Chinatown," directed by Roman Polanski, 1974).

There are, I believe, two kinds of people when it comes to crime and punishment. There are those who understand that we are a nation of laws, and that our system does not serve vengeance but justice. And those who are like something out of the Old Testament, eye for an eye righteous fumers whose philosophies on justice sound like something out of the most regressive, brutal and cruel sharia law. I like to divide these groups into educated and ignorant.

These groups stand in stark contrast on the matter of Roman Polanski, and the two classifications - educated and ignorant - become more obvious when you look at Polanski's case. The ignorant believe that Polanski should be serving life in prison or have been castrated or something equally harsh, and they are operating under the knowledge-free belief that the Polish filmmaker never faced justice in the matter of his rape of a 13- year old girl. The educated know better; they know that Polanski pleaded guilty (which is why he never went before a jury - when you plead guilty you skip the whole trial process, which exists to determine innocence or guilt) and that he served time in Chino under psychiatric supervision as part of his plea bargain.

What the ignorant don't know - and they would know all of this if they had watched the excellent, fascinating (and directed by a woman) documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (DVD release 1. 27.09) - is that the judge in the case, a notorious showboater, decided to renege on the deal and wanted to send Polanski to jail for up to 50 years, a sentence even the prosecutor and Polanski's victim felt was too harsh. It was this aspect of the case - an out of control judge seeking media attention by meteing out an obviously unfair sentence - that drove Polanski to flee America, never again to return.

In Wanted and Desired prosecutor Roger Gunson goes on the record saying that the judge acted inappropriately, and the film makes the case that further attempts to get the Polanski case cleared up ran afoul of more publicity hounding - another judge said that Polanski could come back to America for a hearing only if it was televised.

And now this streak of cruel attention-seeking continues, says the victim in the case. Samantha Geimer has called for the charges against Polanski to be dropped. From a wire services story:

"I was the 13-year-old girl Roman Polanski took advantage of on March 10, 1977, wrote Samantha Geimer, now a 45-year old mother of three. "I have urged that this matter come to a formal legal end. I have urged that the district attorney and the court dismiss these charges." True as they may be, the continued publication of those details causes harm to me, my beloved husband, my three children and my mother. I have become a victim of the actions of the district attorney," she wrote in a brief filed with the court.

Geimer continued: "My position is absolutely clear. Let us deal with the harm and continued harm that the pendency of this matter visits upon me and my family, and waive the legal niceties away, and cause it to be dismissed." ( Note: Geimer has volunteered to come and speak at the upcoming January 21st hearing).

At this point is there any question that the DA in this matter is simply trying to score political points? When even the victim is asking that this endless case be closed so that she can move on with her life?

The truth is that the case of Roman Polanski is a complicated one. Yes, he was wrong for what he did. Yes, he deserved punishment. But he went through all the legal steps required of him, did everything ordered by the court, up until the point when the court decided to scrap the agreement.

There's something Kafkaesque about Polanski's story, and this aspect is one that the American media ignores time and again. Whether or not you agree with the plea bargain deal, it was reached fairly and legally. Polanski committed a crime and he worked out a deal to pay his dues. He was then wronged when the deal was ignored. The case is filled with shades of gray that infuriate Americans, especially when it comes to sex crimes. Polanski can be wrong and yet, at the same time, wronged. Our system is set up to provide as much fairness as possible and despite the beliefs of the ignorant Old Testamenters, your rights don't suddenly evaporate when you plead guilty. You're not supposed to be subject to the extralegal whims of a judge. There's supposed to be accountability.

Hopefully we're closer to this whole matter being solved. Will Polanski ever come back to America should the charges be dropped? Hard to say. There are enough knuckle-heads out there that I guarantee any event at which Polanski appears will be picketed. I'm not sure it's worth it for him anymore, except to prove a point. Maybe it's a point that needs to be proven.

-Devin Faraci ("The Curious Case of Roman Polanski," The Devin's Advocate, 1.13.09. Image: -Roman Polanski, "The Tenant," directed by Roman Polanski, 1976 ).

Friday, January 9, 2009

King Henry VIII: Love Is A Many Splendored Thing...

In 1509 King Henry VIII of England married his dead brother's wife Catherine of Aragon, whose seven pregnancies failed to produce for him a male heir. In 1533 he annulled the marriage and married Boleyn, dissolving ties with the papacy and becoming the head of the Church of England one year later.

Love letter to Anne Boleyn:

"In debating with myself the contents of your letters I have been put to a great agony, not knowing how to understand them, whether to my disadvantage as shown in some places, or to my advantage as in others. I beseech you now with all my heart definitely to let me know your whole mind as to the love between us. For necessity compels me to plague you for a reply, having been for more than a year now struck by the dart of love, and being uncertain either of failure or of finding a place in your heart and affection, which point has certainly kept me for some time from naming you my mistress, since if you only love me with an ordinary love the name is not appropriate to you, seeing that it stands for an uncommon position very remote from the ordinary. But if it pleases you to do the duty of a true, loyal mistress and friend, and to give yourself body and heart to me, who have been, and will be, your very loyal servant (if your rigour does not forbid me), I promise you that not only the name will be due to you, but also to take you as my sole mistress, casting off all others than yourself out of mind and affection, and to serve you only, begging you to make me a complete reply to this my rude letter as to how far and in what I can trust—and if it does not please you to reply in writing, to let me know of some place where I can have it by word of mouth, the which place I will seek out with all my heart. No more for fear of wearying you.

Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain your HR."

Boleyn did not bear a male heir either. King Henry charged her with adultery, incest and treason. She was beheaded in 1536. According to prominent British historian Eric W. Ives, her Executioner was so taken and shaken by Anne, he found it difficult to proceed. In order to distract her, he shouted, "Where is my sword?" just before killing her. Anne could die thinking she had a few more seconds to live. Ten days after the execution, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour.

And...Anne Boleyn's daughter? Queen Elizabeth I: When she died at Richmond Palace on the 24th March 1603, England was one of the most powerful and prosperous countries in the world.

-King Henry VIII of England (Love Letter To Anne Boleyn, 1528. Image: -Circle of John Bettes the Elder.Temple Newsam House, "Portrait Of Queen Elizabeth I," 1592).

Monday, January 5, 2009

Israel vs. Gaza: Man's Inhumanity To Man...

"Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!"

-Robert Burns (Man Was Made To Mourn: A Dirge, 1785).

"Those who favor the attack on Gaza due to that calculus are certainly misguided about the likely outcome. And many war supporters who fall into this more benign category are guilty of insufficiently weighing the deaths of Palestinian innocents and, relatedly, of such overwhelming emotional and cultural attachment to Israel and Israelis that they long ago ceased viewing this conflict with any remnant of objectivity.

I can't express how many emails I've received in the last week from people identifying themselves as "liberals" (and, overwhelmingly, American Jews); telling me that they agree with my views in almost all areas other than Israel; and then self-righteously insisting that I imagine what it's like to live in Southern Israel with incoming rocket fire from Hamas, as though that will change my views on the Israel/Gaza war. Obviously, it's not difficult to imagine the understandable rage that Israelis feel when learning of another attack on Israeli civilians, in exactly the way that American rage over the 9/11 attacks was understandable. But just as that American anger didn't justify anything and everything that followed, the fact that there are indefensible attacks on Israeli civilians doesn't render the (FAR MORE LETHAL) attacks on Gaza...

More to the point: for those who insist that others put themselves in the position of a resident of Sderot -- as though that will, by itself, prove the justifiability of the Israeli attack -- the idea literally never occurs to them that they ought to imagine what it's like to live under foreign occupation for 4 decades (and, despite the 2005 "withdrawal from Gaza," Israel continues to occupy and expand its settlements on Palestinian land and to control and severely restrict many key aspects of Gazan life). No thought is given to what it is like, what emotions it generates, what horrible acts start to appear justifiable, when you have a hostile foreign army control your borders and airspace and internal affairs for 40 years, one which builds walls around you, imposes the most intensely humiliating conditions on your daily life, blockades your land so that you're barred from exiting and prevented from accessing basic nutrition and medical needs for your children to the point where a substantial portion of the underage population suffers from stunted growth.

So extreme is their emotional identification with one side (Israel) that it literally never occurs to them to give any thought to any of that, to imagine what it's like to live in those circumstances.

Still, there is a substantial difference between, on the one hand, basically well-intentioned people who are guilty of excessive emotional and cultural identification with one side of the dispute and, on the other, those who adopt the psychopathic derangement of belittling rage over widespread civilian deaths as mere "whining" or even something to view as a strategic asset. The latter group is a subset of war supporters and evinces every defining attribute of the Terrorist.

Those who giddily support not just civilian deaths in Gaza but every actual and proposed attack on Arab/Muslim countries -- from the war in Iraq to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to the proposed attacks on Iran and Syria and even continued escalation in Afghanistan -- are able to do so because they don't really see the Muslims they want to kill as being fully human. For obvious reasons, one typically finds this full-scale version of sociopathic indifference -- this perception of brutal war as a blood-pumping and exciting instrument for feeling vicarious sensations of power and strength from a safe distance -- in the society's weakest, most frightened, and most insecure individuals.

If you see Palestinians as something less than civilized human beings: as "barbarians" -- just as if you see Americans as infidels warring with God or Jews as sub-human rats -- then it naturally follows that civilian deaths are irrelevant, perhaps even something to cheer. For people who think that way, arguments about "proportionality" won't even begin to resonate -- such concepts can't even be understood -- because the core premise, that excessive civilian deaths are horrible and should be avoided at all costs, isn't accepted. Why should a superior, civilized, peaceful society allow the welfare of violent, hateful barbarians to interfere with its objectives? How can the deaths or suffering of thousands of barbarians ever be weighed against the death of even a single civilized person?

As George Orwell wrote in "Notes on Nationalism" -- with perfect prescience to today's endless conflicts (h/t Hume's Ghost):

"All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side ... The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them."

For those who evaluate moral questions from that blindingly self-regarding perspective, anything and everything becomes easily justifiable.

The Israeli Supreme Court several days ago ordered the Government to allow reporters into Gaza, yet Israel continues to block all journalists from entering. The reason, as casual_observer notes in comments, is clear:

The reason Israel has done this must be that they will do whatever they must--including ignoring their own high court--to limit evidence that Gazans are indeed human beings and that they are suffering the horrors that occur when war is unleashed on densely-packed urban civilians. Israel knows full well that reporting from Gaza turns Gazans from vague abstractions to suffering human beings. And they will not allow that reality to be communicated to the world.

It's much easier to undervalue the suffering imposed on The Other when you don't have to see it...

-Glenn Greenwald (Excerpt: "Orwell, Blinding Tribalism, Selective Terrorism, And Israel/Gaza," 1.4.2009. Image: - Paul Schutzer, "Sparrows Resting On Barbed Wire," 1962 ).

VIOLETPLANET SAYS: ... and further, when you psychotically refuse to see it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Palestine: Into The Forbidden Zone...When Hunted Meets Hunter...

From an actual transcript of radio communications among Israeli soldiers on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip on October 2004:

Sentry: "We spotted an Arab female about a hundred meters below our emplacement, near the light armored vehicle gate."

Headquarters: "Observation post ! Do you see IT?"

Observation Post: "Affirmative, IT'S a young girl. She's now running east."

HQ: "What is her position?"

OP: "She's currently north of the authorized zone."

Sentry: "Very appropriate location."

( Sound of gunfire)

OP: "She's now behind an embankment, 250 meters from the barracks, She keeps running east. The hits are right on her."

HQ: "Are you talking about the girl...a girl under ten?"

OP: "Approximately a ten-year old girl."

HQ: "Roger."

OP to HQ: "Receiving, over."

OP: "She's behind the embankment, dying of fear, the hits are right on her, a centimeter from her."

Sentry: "Our troops are storming toward her now. They are around seventy meters from her."

HQ: "I understand that the company commander and his squad are out?"

Sentry: "Affirmative, with a few more soldiers."

OP: "Receive. Looks like one of the positions dropped her."

HQ: "What? Did you see the hit? Is she down?"

OP: "She's down. Right now she isn't moving. Me and another soldier are going in."

( To the squad) "Forward to confirm the kill!"

Company Commander to (HQ): "We fired and killed her. She wearing pants...jeans and a vest, shirt. Also, she had a kaffiyeh on her head. I also confirm the kill. Over."

HQ: "Roger."

CC: (on general communications band) "Any motion, anyone who moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year old, should be killed. Over."

***The Palestinian school girl in the forbidden zone was hit by 17 bullets.

-Rafah, ("In the Zone", Harpers Magazine, May 2005 Image: - Unknown Artist, "Hounds Chasing A Hare," Life Magazine, 1900).