Broken Pencil Theory? I’ve had it with that.

July 21, 2004 at 9:43 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Broken Pencil Theory? I’ve had it with that.

And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. [More….]

This has been all over the blogs, especially the more political ones, even as it has somehow managed to escape the mainstream (American) press. What is it? Seymour Hersh speaking to the ACLU on July 8, 2004, on further revelations about what happened at Abu Ghraib. Past Peak transcribed the speech; I first read about it on Mike Golby‘s blog, which has many additional links you might want to explore, and there are of course others. But the mainstream media remain largely silent.

Coincidentally, I also recently came across an article (via Arts and Letters Daily) about Hannah Arendt: Arendt’s Judgment by Mark Greif. From the article:

Examining the history of philosophy, she found she had two natural allies for her concepts. The first was Socrates, who had made thinking the fundamental task of the good life. The second was Kant, who put judgment at the center of his aesthetics, in the power to identify a particular object, like a rose, as “beautiful” without a rule to follow. Kant, it’s true, already had a moral philosophy. Yet his three formulations of the Categorical Imperative, the most impressive ethical rule-book of modern times, and his picture of reason giving law to the self, had proven inadequate protections against participation in the evil of the Nazis.

Socrates provided her model of thinking. In the agora or the gymnasium, he questioned others to see what ideas would not stand up. When he was alone, thinking continued as an internal version of that same dialogue. It was “the silent dialogue between me and myself,” Arendt wrote. It made the thinker like two speakers internally, “two-in-one,” always testing possible beliefs and actions, grappling with the reality of the outer situation by a kind of inner company.

In his refusal to escape Athens when sentenced to death, Socrates also formulated the fundamental positive doctrine of Arendt’s vision of morality: “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.” Arendt saw this doctrine as a consequence of the conception of being two-in-one, an inevitable outcome of Socratic thinking. Thinking produced a kind of “don’t step beyond this line” that moral people held as their base for all behavior. If a thinking person did wrong, he would henceforth be in the presence of a wrongdoer, himself, and the long-term attempt to live with himself would be worse than any punishment the world could give. [More…]

There’s a bit more (go read it, for heaven’s sake) and also this:

Arendt rejected every argument we use to diminish the individual responsibility of a person in extreme situations. Determinism by circumstance, “cog” theory, collective guilt — she rejected them all. She also rejected the “argument of the lesser evil,” that it is acceptable to collaborate with an evil act if it might prevent or divert one greater. Participation, she insisted, always communicated consent. You could not collaborate with an evil process, whatever your motives, without in effect supporting it, and the practical consequences were nearly always better if enough people refused. She rejected a moral exception for physical coercion, even to the threat of death, using a formulation she had worked out with her close friend Mary McCarthy: “If somebody points a gun at you and says, ‘Kill your friend or I will kill you,’ he is tempting you, that is all.”

Finally, though, it is her idea of judgment that is most alien to us. On Arendt’s model, we must judge, and judge, and judge: thoughtfully, implacably, publicly. At both the individual level and the level of the community, people must always be judging the acts and characters of others. [More again…]

In other words, torture is never acceptable, regardless of circumstance. At least, it’s not acceptable institutionally. What you, as a critical individual, might choose to do is something you have to live with for the rest of your life. But no one can command you to do wrong: you can refuse. Torture is unacceptable for the moral individual. P.e.r.i.o.d.

In that same speech to the ACLU, Seymour Hersh tells of an Israeli he met — a guy he presents as representative of a certain hard-nosed pro-strong-Israeli-state kinda guy:

I’ll tell you what an Israeli told me. And the Israelis as you know — a very tough, hard-nosed Israeli told me at one point, about all this — he said, you know, we hate the Arabs. This is a guy who spent his career in the intelligence service and, you know, his hands are bloody. He said, we hate the Arabs, and the Arabs hate us, and before 1948, we’ve been killing Arabs, and they’ve been killing us. But I have to tell you something, he said. We know somewhere down the line, we’re going to have to live with these people, much as we can’t stand them, they’re going to have to be our neighbors. And if we had done in our prisons to the Arabs what you have done to the Arabs in your prisons, we couldn’t live that way. [More…]

What stands out for me is the generalisation: “we hate the Arabs,” which is, I think, what Arendt was fighting against when she indicted both the Judenr

Wide open (west)

July 15, 2004 at 10:46 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

There’s a longer entry I mean to write, but just for now, two pictures I took on Tuesday night (13th). They’re from a parking lot that has an adjacent empty historical building. Both are scheduled to be developed into an 8 story monster (to be called Bambu) that will be sited in a 3-(tops)-story downtown neighbourhood, Chinatown Victoria BC, a national heritage site. Bambu advertises itself as “irreplaceable loft-style condominiums” in the “low 100s to 500s” price range. Now, what’s in fact “irreplaceable” is actually the heritage of Chinatown. But heck, if you have the permit to build a monster in its stead, you can bloody well call it whatever you like, eh? And what do you call an 800-lb gorilla? Bambu. It’s a sad story, but the photo of the couple — no, sorry: the couple, not the photo of them — is I think tremendous. The man seems aloof, but he was really very friendly and open. The woman was a trooper: I asked them for permission to take their picture, and since they were panhandling, I offered them money, too, and she immediately posed jauntily, jumping into the role of model. I just took the one picture, it didn’t seem fair to shoot a bunch, but maybe I was wrong. It was interesting to separate them into two different photos, which I fiddled around with on iPhoto but don’t show you here. He is very different when divided from his lady, while she retains her projection, with or without him. Draw your own conclusions; it’s all theatre and keeping up appearances, even on the street. They seem to go well together, though. The other photo shows the parking lot wall with a chunk of plaster torn off the brick wall underneath. It must have been done deliberately since it’s in the shape of a profile. The “head” is looking at a tree growing out of a crack between building and asphalt. And just to the left is a sprayed-on logo for Bean Around the World, a local coffee shop on Fisgard Street. Victoria’s Chinatown is really beautiful, despite the overlay of touristy crap and the fact that Vancouver’s Chinatown outdistances Victoria’s in terms of bustle. Much is still authentic, much is decrepit, crooked, allowing you to bend your head if you care to look. And despite the relentless preening of tourism’s disneyfication, it still shows the deep bending of the back that the Chinese had to maintain while trying to create a foothold here. So, I opened a Flickr account, but haven’t had time to upload photos. Soon, soon. (Maybe?) These photos, probably more photos, and then some stories here. There is so much to talk about in regard to this town. It’s an interesting place. It can make you angry and leave you agape.

Brick wall/ tree:

Let it flow

July 14, 2004 at 11:33 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Let it flow

Surely you didn’t think that Chris Locke‘s expertise could be limited to insights into Gonzo Marketing and New Age Folderol, did you? No, RageBoy also knows the fine art of fighting spills and chills with kitchen faucet sprayers, a long-lost counter-counter-counter technique he single-handedly and spontaneously revived when he faced an especially intractable foe. While devious invisible forces (aka a screen door) might fell mere mortals, RageBoy struck back with attenuated attachment. (Not to be confused with attachment theory. Remember, I said “counter,” i.e., on the counter, and “long-lost” perhaps due to kitchen detritus.) The sprayer-strategy should probably be used only by those at an advanced level of therapy: although technically still attached, it allows for the spontaneous release of the forces within, while the well-aimed detourned ejaculation imparts a welcome feeling of … improved self-esteem. Read about it here, …and note the neat button under that cute Armadillo picture.

Thanks, Vernica!

July 13, 2004 at 8:46 am | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Thanks, Vernica!

I should have studied Library Science instead of Art History. For one thing, I could maybe get a job and make some money… Geez, what a concept. But for another, librarians are just so mega-brilliant: they have fact and methodology at their fingertips, and so very much depends upon the latter. If you want to know the answer to a question, ask a librarian. And herewith, many thanks to Vernica, librarian and fellow blogger (thinking while typing, now known as the paper doll chronicles) who answered the mystery question of why so many porn sites were — still are — showing up in my referer stats (see comments to that entry). The answer is that it’s simple referer spam. Vernica points out that all the Harvard server hosted blogs are getting it, and so they are, by the bushel.

As I noted in my thank-you comment back at Vernica, I’m amazed at the ways people figure out to make money, because that’s what’s driving referer spam. I admire the $-ingenuity, even if images of anyone having to take SUV-sized appendages up the ass are, in my book, in a similar category with pictures from the history books on medieval torture. Or one of Amnesty International’s annual reports on prisoner abuses. Or photographic investigations of factory farm slaughterhouses. Or Bataille’s famous book on The Tears of Eros, which I have, and which is one of the few I might actually try to hide from the children. If, that is, I can ever find it again in my rat’s nest of a library: you see, I do need a course or two in Library Science.

The money aspect at least casts its rational glow on things like spam and makes them intellectually bearable. It’s also a relief that this has nothing to do with retribution for any dirty things I may or may not have said (or illustrated) here: for anyone with prudish thoughts along those lines, check out some courses in Economics 101.

For book-lovers, check out Vernica’s new non-Harvard blog, called paper clips.

Crimes and cocktails

July 12, 2004 at 11:35 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

On a local note: instability is everywhere. I recently had a ceramic garden ornament, blue, egg-shaped, and about 40cm high, stolen off my front stoop. Even though I knew it wouldn’t yield results, I did report the theft. Here’s what the nice officer told me: theft of gardening utensils, garden ornaments (…gnomes, anyone?), garden hoses, and even small trees and other plants (not in containers, but actually planted in the sod) is rampant around here: people steal these items because, according to the policewoman, they don’t want to have to pay for this stuff themselves. Now, this strikes me as truly bizarre. First, to have any of these items around implies a fairly bourgeois attitude toward …uh, “lifestyle,” no? I mean, before thieves carted one off, I had a matched set of two blue ceramic “eggs” flanking my front door — ooh, how Martha Stewart is that? But the weirdness is in the thieves who steal these things: clearly, they want the “bourgeoisity” of the ornamentation, but they have a haywire sense of entitlement, …which “allows” them to steal it. I don’t get that. Either you’re an outlaw, or you’re not, and if you are, why would you want something as bourgeois as a blue ceramic egg? If you’re a vandal, I can understand (not really condone, but sort of understand) that. But to be a petit bourgeois thief? How sad is that? I can imagine societal changes that would obviate vandalism, but I can’t imagine — not in my wildest dreams — the cure for pathological petit bourgeois-ism. Alas, it is of course the crime of the century, the one that threatens to do us all in. Le criminel petits-bourgeois? C’est moi. Also on the rise in my neighbourhood, possibly more in line with straightforward vandalism, are other acts of crime and potential mayhem: this morning police converged on a house a few metres up the street because — I find this incredible — the owner discovered two (2!) unexploded Molotov cocktails in his driveway. […”Mr. Ashcroft, paging Mr. Ashcroft…” (Or, since this is Canada: “CSIS, paging CSIS…” which reports directly to the FBI…, so: Mr. Ashcroft, yeah, you!)] I have this bit of neigbourhood news from my husband, who spoke to the cops and to the nearly inflamed home owner. I asked whether he actually saw the thingie — you know, the wick, the bit that’s supposed to be ignited prior to tossing the container — but he hadn’t, which makes me suspect a soupcon of hyperbole. However, shattered bottles leaking flammable liquid are a bit of driveway nastiness most of us can do without, whether or not they were designed to be effective bombs or a moron’s idea of a “statement,” especially since the driveways around here are generally about 3 metres (c. 10 feet) long. The landing area for nasty objects is much too close to the houses, in other words. On the other hand, we in Canada take this manner of expression in stride, because we (unlike the southern brethren) haven’t been indoctrinated by enough “give me liberty or give me death” rhetoric, which too often translates into a “tough on crime” and “punish them till they bleed” agenda. Our neighbours might bluster (and really make offenders “pay”), but we acquiesce (or else we tut-tut and look the other way; or, in the manner of the late great Pierre Elliot Trudeau, we shrug). I like neither approach: the former (i.e., US approach) is too German (albeit pre-1945, without the effects of Marshall-Plan engineered re-education) while the latter (the Canadian attitude) is too bloody British (also from about 1945). There’s a strong British undercurrent of putting up with shoddy, “just muddling-through” affairs, as though this is how nature intended (vs. this is how humans constructed), and if you make too much of a fuss, well… you might end up tossing a so-called Molotov Cocktail (not a smart move) or sounding like too much of an anti-Canadian in the important and ideologically highly charged construct of the Canadian mosaic vs the U.S. melting pot. But consider the financial realities underneath the bits of coloured glass:

Unfortunately, shared community values are being torn apart on our intensifying economic battlefield. Middle classes are shrinking while gaps between rich and poor widen. This decade, the incomes of Canada’s richest 10 percent have increased 14 percent, while incomes of our poorest 10 percent have stagnated or declined. Our own community exemplifies the emerging polarization: A whopping 41 percent of single people in the capital region earn under $20,000 annually. The dominant annual household income in Victoria, Sidney, Sooke and Juan de Fuca is now $10-20,000, while in Oak Bay, Saanich, Highlands, Metchosin and several other municipalities it’s over $100,000.

That said, it’s dangerously misleading to call it a war of “rich versus poor.” This further polarizes perspectives on what is actually a complex economic continuum. In reality, practically all of us try to increase our own relative wealth by either wresting money from others, buying cheaply from lower-waged companies, or saving money in banks and mutual funds which invest in businesses with morally-suspect profit margins. Who’s unsullied? Indeed, while during our labour disputes many opine about others being insensitive or unreasonable, most Canadians from virtually all income brackets look wealthy, powerful, greedy and wasteful to many others. (Per capita, after all, we’re amongst Earth’s top-ranked resource-users and polluters.)

Along with Rob Wipond and many others, I agree that electoral reform, which is supposed to introduce true proportional representation, is the best way to go. My egg and I do not feel that a “cocktail” is an appropriate alternative to a ballot. And look, petit bourgeois thieves: don’t take the other egg, ok? Believe it or not, I can’t afford to replace them, and besides, I give at the office, ok?

Books, blogs, etc.

July 11, 2004 at 10:42 am | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

According to a recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts, Literary Reading Is Declining Faster Than Before. The report puts the emphasis on literary, which would seem to exclude the non-fiction reading material I prefer.

What category does Sebald’s Die Ringe des Saturn fall into? Or Austerlitz? Definitely fiction, literary writing, I would think.

But what about Luftkrieg und Literatur? (See this page for a review of the English translation.) Is it literary or history or both?

How do you classify imagination, and who can say that history can be written by those without it?

At any rate, if you stop blogging and reading blogs and stay away from your computer for a while, you will read more books. Those books by Sebald were not the books I’ve been reading recently: Saturn is on the “to read” list, and the other two I read ages ago. It’s just that I often have to reach that far for fiction, I guess. For a brilliant non-fiction read, try Margaret Wertheim’s The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace.

Curious and curiouser

July 10, 2004 at 6:53 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Can anyone explain the weirdness of referer stats to me? When, as has lately been the case, I don’t post anything for a long time (and let’s leave the why of that status quo out of the equation for now), my referer page shows porn site linkage after porn site linkage. Toying with the idea of writing something, I took a look just now to see if anyone is still visiting in the first place. Surpise (again): there are 20 hits from a site called “gay twinks gallery” (which features gay incest porn …lovely, guys: just the kind of father-son bonding that therapists live for), 16 from “zoo porn” (didn’t bother to check what they offer, but I imagine it involves hooves and tails), 15 from “7 gay”, 10 from “x d r o w,” 8 from “live cam sex,” and 8 from “adult non stop.” I only typed in the url from the first one and didn’t bother checking the others. But all I saw was a title page with lurid teasers, without a single reference to my blog. So how come this shows up as a “referer”?

My paranoid theory is that porn sites somehow manage to “hijack” non-porn sites for …what? Redirecting possibly illegal porn traffic to make it look to outsiders as though only vanilla transactions have taken place?

Is that technically feasible? Or am I being totally paranoid?

What happens when I stop blogging completely? Can I ever get anyone at Harvard to take my blog off the server so that I don’t find it acting as a “host” or “conduit” for unwanted parasites? Am I worrying needlessly? Can someone explain this strange state of my referer stats?

addendum: to see my referer page, just add “stats/referers” to the end of my url (after the /). I only get these weird stats, btw, when I don’t use my site myself for an extended period of time. That’s when the bizarre referers take over, and since I just posted an entry, these stats will change very much in the next 24 hours (it’s currently around 1900 Pacific Daylight Saving Time). During periods when I blog regularly, I get the occasional porn referer, but nothing like a total of 80+ hits I’ve had in the past 24 hours from hardcore sites….

The Merry Recluse considers Moral Philosophy and decides to put on Trousers

July 1, 2004 at 9:23 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

It’s rather odd to go through a depressive phase coupled with total loss of focus in writing, and have it be semi-public by virtue of its absence. It’s like having double-vision: I see the repeated false starts; the scattering off into different venues, meetings, committees; the pile of books I’ve been reading in lieu of blogs; the scramble to arrange this or that issue relating to the life of the mind and the state of the hearth; and the sorted and unsorted piles of paper that speak of a harbourmaster’s task of domestic barge, freighter, and cruiseship management. You, the blog-reader, have seen nothing. And — this is the curious part — when I look, I see the nothing, too. It’s been excruciating to look at, so I decided to get back at it.

Kate‘s comment today, on my last entry in May, did it. Can’t let anyone think I’ve been eaten up by vegetation, for heaven’s sake. Lions and tigers and bears, ok. But vegetables? Old ruins are overtaken by vegetation; it especially likes the cracks. I am at present very far from being an old ruin, so screw that. And while I’m cracked in all the right places, nothing but animal kingdom veins its way through my domain, with permission.

Today is Canada Day, our national holiday. On Monday I went to vote: alas, strategically, which action I regretted as soon as I heard David Anderson, our re-elected Liberal incumbent, speak on the radio the next day. Victoria is one of the few ridings in British Columbia that didn’t send a Conservative Party member to Ottawa in the last elections, and I wanted to help keep it that way. But does Anderson make any noises about working cooperatively with the NDP (the quasi-sorta-kinda socialists)? No, he tells his constituents that the Liberals will govern as though they have a majority, with no regard for any other party. Dude?? Your party has a minority. Your party should figure out how to work with the NDP. With that kind of attitude, Canadians will be looking at another election in a year or two, when Paul Martin’s Liberal government falls due to terminal arrogance. Next time I’m voting my conscience (Green Party), and to hell with the strategy. I could kick myself for voting for a man who is the Liberal Party’s Environment Minister, who was born in Victoria, who represents Victoria in Parliament, and who has done nothing, as far as I know, to stop the flooding of raw sewage by Victoria into the Juan de Fuca Strait. Nor did he ever respond to my letter two years ago, where I raised this issue along with the related environmental issue that Victoria has no regulation in place — none — regarding car exhaust emissions. You wouldn’t believe the vaporised shit that comes out of some people’s tailpipes here, in this city in which Canada’s Environment Minister resides. It’s the aerosol equivalent of what we dump into the ocean. But then again, I had coffee this afternoon with a man who smokes too much, and when I came home I felt as though I had been smoking. The day we stop breathing is the day we’ll stop sucking.

And then the vegetation will creep through all the cracks, the many many cracks. In the end, photosynthesis will perhaps show itself to be the more efficient process.

I forgot all those false starts, by the way. Some of them were really good, too. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of letting things slide: the good and the bad go down the tubes, equally, ending up in the Deep Blue Sea, …or the Juan de Fuca Strait.


A few snippets from the magpie’s pile of what I’m reading:

…and I’ll probably reread Knapp’s Appetites.

On a related note, via Arts & Letters Daily, this article by Christine Rosen, The Democratization of Beauty, about cosmetic surgery.

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds.