Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Little Tete-a-Tete About Nietzsche

For a change, I don't have to invent funny names for the participants. This exchange took place on, so it was quite public to begin with. It started when I posted the following mixed review about Walter Kaufmann's highly admirable but ultimately misleading biography, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist:

Nietzsche was just a bit more of a jerk than Kaufmann is willing to admit, which is very moving, because you love Nietzsche and you don't want him to have been a jerk, but then there's all the shitty things he said, and his contempt for weakness, and the crap about the "Blond Beast," and you're like, oh fuck it. And Kaufmann's brother was killed by the Nazi's, who hijacked Nietzsche's legacy, and here's Kaufmann himself, the greatest translator Nietzsche will ever have, defending Nietzsche with brilliance, but it isn't enough.

Then a response appeared from a 24 year old dude in Texas using the respectably self-effacing handle, "Joshing ThySelf." He had this to say:

The "blond beast" is a reference to a lion ala Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I've yet to read Kaufmann's book but I've done a fair amount of research on the charges of anti-Semitism and German nationalism and these are soundly refuted by much of Nietzsche's own words in both personal letters and philosophical works. I'm guessing Kaufmann cites a lot of these things and I can't see how someone could see the counter evidence and still associate Nietzsche with the Nazi movement. He may have been a jerk in some regards but a nationalist, fascist and anti-Semite he was not.

Now, getting through one's twenties in America without Nietzsche is something nobody should have to do, and it makes you cling to him pretty hard. So I sympathized with this guy, and I think this shows in my response:

"The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so." Anybody care to specify the criteria, before we start helping people to perish?

Note that although some people have called Nietzsche "a nationalist, fascist and anti-Semite," I certainly haven't.

We agree that it makes no sense at all to call him (a) a nationalist; he had a healthy contempt for nationalism in general and German nationalism in particular -- especially the individuals who espoused it, whom he seems to have regarded as even worse than their bigoted little perspective.

To call him (b) a fascist is anachronistic, but his "aristocratic radicalism" is to me quite unmistakably a Rightist ideology. I reject it on principle, but in my not-so-secret heart I hypocritically want to destroy the culture of craputainment, cheez doodles and televisions-in-restaurants, and then jail the brutal rioting cretins whose fury such a policy would incur. In other words, I'm one of these Emersonian elitist democrats you meet now and then.

As for (c) charges of anti-Semitism, two things count here, in my view. First, Nietzsche's explicit (and exquisite) contempt for German anti-Semitism -- which seems to have been Sartre's inspiration for his terrific little essay on French anti-Semitism, containing the great line, "the anti-Semite would rather be a tree, a stone, anything but a man". Second, Nietzsche's genuine loathing of monotheism -- a loathing driven by his deeply personal experience of his father's violent Christian hypocrisy (see Alice Miller, The Untouched Key) -- was also directed toward "the Jews" (that'd be me and my peeps) for the sole reason that monotheism is something we invented (or if you prefer, "discovered").

So, in general, it seems that you and I agree, no?

I thought that would do it, but Joshing was not pleased. His reposte:

What was your point in referencing that constantly quoted and misunderstood "blond beast" line then? I assumed it was brought up for the same reasons others have: to accuse him of a pro-Aryan, blond and blue-eyed brand of anti-Semitism. Also you flat out stated that Kaufmann failes to defend Nietzsche against the connection to Nazi ideals which would be German nationalism, socialism (another thing Nietzsche loathed), and so forth.

Loathing the religious tenets of Judaism is not anti-Semitism. To equate the two is simply mistaken and unfair. I get it, you're Jewish, you like your belief in God. I'm an nonbeliever. The line's been drawn in the sand. The Jews "discovered" monotheism? After how many years of being henotheistic? C'mon, there was clearly an evolution of ideas not a sudden, one true "discovery". They had quite a hand in its invention though. But then again I think theism belongs on the shelf next to Santa Claus, etc. So we can perhaps just agree to disagree there.

P.S. Nietzsche was known to praise the Jews as a people (separate from the religious notions) now and then as well.

From my perspective, this is an example of one particular hazard of American life: you become so accustomed to dealing with people who don't read, that when you suddenly find yourself in a conversation with someone who does read, and can think for himself, you fail to notice until after he's left the room. By this point in the conversation I was beginning to resent the guy's failure to read what I had written, especially since he had not read Kauffmann's book; his clumsy handling of his side of the issue of my Judaism and Nietzsche's legacy; and his youthful assumption that nobody knows what he knows. Wise fool. I closed this way:

You pulled straight out of the air your claim that I'm a theist. No theist would be likely to say that anyone "invented" monotheism. You might take a look at my poem published last year in Free Inquiry, the magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism, which is called "The Round Square." For a look at that poem, see: BLIGBI.

Yes, the Mesopotamian ethnoi who became the Hebrews, who eventually became the Jews, began as polytheists, then became monolatrists (or as you said, henotheists), who acknowledge many Gods but only worship one of them, before eventually turning to monotheism, the belief that the only God worthy of worship is also the only God who exists. You may find that apart from one strikingly innovative and heretical Egyptian Pharaoh, we were the first people to do that.

My previous posting began with a quotation that I put into bold type because, from my perspective, it melts away any excuse -- both yours and Kaufmann's -- for Nietzsche's posthumous appropriation by the Nazi movement. They distorted and textually vandalized his work; nobody could read Kaufmann and not realize that. But if you read the quotation, you must, it seems to me, hold Nietzsche responsible for promulgating the disgusting idea it articulates. Nietzsche's contempt for weakness is the nadir of his thought.

It seems to me quite naive to believe that "blond beast" was to be taken literally and only referred to a certain African species of carnivorous cat. Pointing out that Zarathustra is an allegory simply will not do, since it obliges one to specify what Nietzsche meant by "blond beast" apart from said African cat. Note that I never said Nietzsche was in favor of the chicken-shit Teutonic Wagnerite anti-Semites to whom "blond beast" seems to have referred; in fact, I clearly stated that Nietzsche despised such people. Only someone more obtuse than you and I could infer that just because Nietzsche's thought was stolen and twisted by the worst people who ever lived, therefore (1) he would have agreed with all, or even most, of what those people said and did; and (2) nothing Nietzsche did say can be taken as evidence that he screwed up by inviting the kind of pro-cruelty garbage the Nazis made out of the bogus Nietzsche they half-invented. Still, the real Nietzsche did say -- listen close, bro -- "The weak and ill-constituted shall perish: first principle of our philanthropy. And one shall help them to do so." And the Nazis obviously agreed; in fact, this hubristic crap was the heart of their ideology.

Then, the United States beat the shit out of them.

Then, the United States (in the person of Allen Dulles) rescued many of the worst of the Nazis from certain death at the hands of British military tribunals and transplanted them to California and Langley, Virginia, where they helped America pour our moral authority down the same black hole into which they'd poured theirs.

I'm done here.

All the best,

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seeking to Hire Ignorant Ghostwriter for Book That Already Exists

One of my first posts on this blog was about a job ad on craigslist that turned out, from my perspective, to be a bit odd. It represented itself as an even-handed "teach the conflicts" sort of site that would offer an even number of articles in support of each side -- that is, each of two sides, in other words, "BOTH" sides -- of various controversial issues. See the "climate change" post way down below.

Somehow, a few days later, I saw an ad that turned out to be from a very similar company. The URL's (which I continue to disguise, out of mild litigational paranoia) were quite different, so I don't think it's the same people.

Now, the new ad was not looking for contributors to their di-polar multi-issue website. Instead, it was looking for a person to write (I believe the apt term here would be ghostwrite, but that never became entirely clear) a study of 9/11. The backers turned out to be an investment firm (let's call it Lonesome Cowpoke's Mutual Fund Barbecue Emporium, or LCMFBE) that has (strangely enough) an entertainment-and-media-production arm (let's call them Lonesome Cowpoke's Movie Hut, or LCMH) which does movies. This is L.A., fine. They wouldn't say what they wanted it for -- were they looking for an eventual movie script, a book, a fifty-thousand-word tattoo? The posted compensation was something low, and weirdly structured, like "$10 - $15/hr, for the first $300." ...Huh?

I applied anyway, because my googling showed that the founder of these two Lonesome Cowpoke companies was also the founder of another investment firm -- let's call them Hideous Bloated Reptile Carcass Investments, Ltd., or, let me see, HBRCI -- that I had actually worked for (in the period commonly referred to as "the past") until I left in disgust (what was I disgusted about? Why, the carpet, of course! I'm a wood-floor guy; it's the Brooklyn in me). But who knows? Maybe Lonesome Cowpoke was a real Saint Goodman Trueheart; as far as I knew, he was no longer with HBRCI. True, google also showed that one of his partners in the new entertainment venture had been to jail, but not everyone who goes to jail is guilty. Looking into 9/11 is so important that I don't care if the people involved have spilled some milk in their day, as long as they're not part of the cover-up. I was curious. So I sent this (names have been changed to protect my buttocks):

Dear Gentlemen: My name is Jamey Hecht, and I edited Mike Ruppert's book, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil; it was the largest selling book on 9/11 except for the Kean Report itself. In Rubicon, Mike and I broke the story of just how the most powerful airforce in the world was neutralized over the world's most protected airspace. In Mike's famous newsletter, I published several major articles about 9/11 including a study of the book you mention in your posting -- Richard Clarke's Against all Enemies. I've spoken at conferences about 9/11 in Toronto, New York, and elsewhere. Before I moved to L.A. in 2005, I was quite active in NYC's 9/11 Truth Movement, and I have contacts there and elsewhere in the 9/11 community. Here is some footage of me co-hosting (with Ed Begley, Jr.) "Confronting the Evidence," a forum at the Manhattan Civic Center funded by 9/11 critic Jimmy Walter:

I was surprised to see your advertisement, in part because I am familiar with Mr. [Lonesome Cowpoke's] remarkable and indeed legendary career in the [scrimshaw] investment business -- for over a year I was an account executive at [Hideous Bloated Reptile Carcass Investments, Ltd.], the largest and oldest [scrimshaw] investment firm in the United States, a company whose very existence derives from Mr. [Cowpoke's] work. It is very reasonable indeed for people interested in [scrimshaw] to be interested in 9/11 -- the crime was, among other things, a means of generating popular support for a series of resource wars; those wars are occasioned by a new scarcity of petroleum, natural gas, copper, cement, water, and so on. This escalating resource scarcity will drive an economic contraction unlike anything the world has ever seen, and under those conditions [scrimshaw] is likely to pass $5,000 per [trinket of incised decorative whalebone, or TOIDW]. The strong case for eventual [scrimshaw] prices like $5k/[TOIDW] made by people like commentator and investment strategist [Captain Ahab] is far stronger when one includes Peak Oil in the story. And the story of 9/11 is the story of Peak Oil.

For all these reasons, I am interested in learning more about the opportunity you described. For example, roughly how many pages are you expecting for that first $300? [LCMH] is evidently a film production company; is the project intended to result in a book, a film script, or both? If we do meet, I look forward to listening to your views on 9/11, your plans for this project, and your reflections on your own unique story.

I am also the author of three books of my own, the most recent of which will be published in February of 2009. My home is in Los Angeles, and I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the possibilities. A partial resume, including clickable links to my many articles on 9/11, Peak Oil, [scrimshaw], and geopolitics can be found at Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Jamey Hecht, PhD

Sounds like a pretty good fit, right? Next step: Lonesome Cowpoke sends me and a host of other non-zillionaires an email asking us to answer, in one page of 10 point type (I won't make you read 10 point type, I promise; this is about 16pt, and below is around 12pt, at least on this screen), four questions. They appear below in bold, along with my responses. I know the Verdana typeface is about as visually appealing as a dogshit snowman, but it does simulate the email experience pretty well, so bear with me:

What do you think the completed project will show?
Let’s zoom the lens out for a moment, and take a look at the big picture of the existing work about 9/11. The total population of books, web sites, and DVDs on 9/11 can be thought of as a distribution of points in logical space, with clusters of completed projects gathered at various nodes along various axes: “LIHOP” or “MIHOP” (Let, or Make, It Happen On Purpose); plane or no plane hit the Pentagon; controlled demolition at WTC7 only, or controlled demolition at WTC 1, 2, and 7; remote control flight or hijackings; immobilization of Air Force by stand down, or by overlapping war-game drills, simultaneous with each other and with the real emergency; and so on. Ideally, the results of a given historical research project ought to be determined exclusively by the quality of the information regarded as legitimate by the researcher, and the course of his or her process of logical arrangement, inference, argumentation and eventual persuasion of self and others. In reality, what a 9-11-01 research project winds up saying is influenced by the motivations of the researcher – and if there is a producer (such as Langley or the White House, or a citizen idealist, an artist, etc.), by the motivations of that producer. For the moment I know nothing of your own motivations, which constrains the accuracy of my prediction here, but I trust they are impeccable.

From my perspective, the completed project will likely indicate a de facto web of evolving symbiotic relationships between the “legitimate” and “illegitimate” power groups within the US and among nations. Though rivalries beset and sometimes interrupt these relationships, mutual interest generally guides the individual people involved: like-minded military leaders; weapons dealers and manufacturers; persons and institutions engaged in narcotraffic and money laundering; or in the commerce of natural resources like oil; government intelligence agents and agencies, on and off the payroll; and a powerful minority of elected and appointed civilian government officials. Nobody is truly in charge, and the game plays itself. That is called deep politics, a phrase coined by Peter Dale Scott. But occasionally, a coalition will emerge around a particular project that seems to form a discrete historical episode, and people refer to the sum of the participants, along with the project itself, as a conspiracy because it includes both “legitimate” and “illegitimate” individuals and groups.

How might that information be useful?
Beginning on the day of the attack, the 9/11 Truth Movement ran the same inevitable course repeated by domestic dissent and political critique so many times: formation, momentum, growth, penetration by unidentified representatives of the critiqued; disinformation campaigns; factionalization, and fizzle. It is always possible, however, to rebuild and extend the work of social repair that such movements represent. Apart from that utopian ambition, it’s inherently valuable just to make sense of the attacks and assassinations, the engineered coups des etats and the falsely triggered wars. That sense-making happens in paperback-and-podium argumentation pitched at various levels of sophistication for various audiences; it happens in documentaries; and it can happen in the arts. It cannot happen in the courts: published in September 2004, Mike Ruppert’s Crossing the Rubicon was a solidly documented, robustly argued legal case against Dick Cheney and others, constructed strictly around means, motive, and opportunity. Though it remains the 2nd or 3rd best-selling book on 9/11 after the Kean Report itself, Rubicon has been resolutely ignored by the mainstream media and gone unchallenged by any legal (or other) representative of those it accuses. The way to get media attention is to publish – wittingly or unwittingly – a true story mixed with a poison pill of disinformation.

What do you think the formal title of the project should be?
Denial and Decay: The Origin and Future of 9/11

What questions do you have about the project - if any?
Have you chosen a genre for the project? Do you want a trade paperback non-fiction work of historical research in a popular tone? An insight-oriented work of scholarship with abundant documentation? If it’s a film, do you want to make a documentary or a drama? Are these questions still being shaped and asked and decided? Are you anticipating new investigative work, or do you feel that the existing body of knowledge about 9/11 is so vast that nobody need take the risks entailed by interviewing new witnesses, the delays entailed by new FOIA requests, and so on? Have you a time frame in mind?

And that was it. The dude wrote back with a few very brief comments, the most substantive of which was, and I paraphrase: we want to discover and assemble the best info on what occurred, without any political agenda.

A few weeks went by, and then the guy called me, and he began the conversation with, "What can I do for you?" And I'm like, well... I applied for the 9/11 work you described, because I've got some expertise on that subject and have written several books on other subjects; I've worked for your enterprises before, so I share your interest in [scrimshaw], and I have a PhD... I hand-delivered my resume to your office admin the day you advertised the job... any news?

"No, we're looking at other people."

Now, I know these craigslist adventure stories of mine might sound like sour grapes. I think they're much more interesting than that. I do get plenty of the gigs for which I apply, and I never blog or even karaoke about 99% of the ones I don't get. I blog about them when there is something about the nature of the specific ad that strikes me as dubious, and I check it out for curiosity's sake (and, sometimes, because I actually hope to make a buck), and it turns out to be oddly stinky.

You're interested in the best info on what occurred? Why not study Paul Thompson's work? It's a staggeringly complete timeline of every sneeze and twitch that had anything to do with 9/11 since the Devonian, and it's composed of exclusively "mainstream" news sources like CNN and US News & World Report, the New York Times, and so on. Why not read Peter Dale Scott? Mike Ruppert? Mark Robinowitz? Maybe this guy thinks those men are morons? I don't know what he thinks. I think they're the best authorities in the world on the subject.

So I've come up with a few hypotheses about this little mystery.

(1) Lonesome Cowpoke is a street-smart toughguy who is just beginning to realize there is more to life than making money. He has no idea what research is, owns no books, and has never thought about these issues before. Having decided he's interested, he takes his usual approach to any problem that does not directly involve profit: he delegates it to someone else. Trouble is, if he delegates it to somebody who actually knows something about these issues and about how books get written, he may not be able to treat the person like a disposable underling, and Lonesome finds that prospect very, very unsettling. Or:

(2) Lonesome Cowpoke is a shill, who is cooking up a steamy loaf of disinformation for The Man, and needs some naifs to help stir the batter for ten dollars an hour. Or:

(3) Lonesome Cowpoke thinks that a person with expertise is a biased person, and he wants himself and his
delegatees to be impartial. That's like seeking out jurors who know nothing about the case, right? Or is it more like nominating a demented Alaska mayor to serve as the President of the United States Senate?

As for me, Homie don't care. But it was worth blogging about.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I have been blessed with the role of HOLOFERNES in "Love's Labors Lost"!

This will be my second production with my favorite Shakespearean troupe, the Porters of Hellsgate. As I did admit at this morning's reading, the resemblance between "Holofernes, A Pedant" and myself is closer than I'd like to admit. But how can I deny it, when the old goof is sententiously carping upon the proper spelling and pronunciation of every damn thing? Of course, there are big differences, thank the Lord. But I certainly do love to caress and fine-tune the nuances of the language, even to the extremes of logophilia where the uninitiated (that is, relatively normal people) see nothing but the trivial bricolage of demented geekdom. One dude's "way anal" geekosity is another man's... C.T. Onions... R.C. Jebb... J.L. Austin... Hardy Hansen... and so on.

Psyched As Hell & Jones-ing for Polonius,

Yr Humble Servant.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Patrick Saxon Shines in the Role of Iago

I aint got no time to write this up, but I gotta say that Mr. Patrick Saxon amazed me last week with the grace, depth, and power of his performance as Iago in the California Shakespeare Company's otherwise lackluster production of Othello: The Moor of Venice. This actor has flow! I never thought I'd see a better Iago than Vincent Cardinale's, but this certainly equaled it. And unlike that younger actor, Saxon looks around Iago's age: 28. The production had full Elizabethan dress, which is a rare thing to see, due in part to a lack of public funding for the Arts in a climate of austerity. To repeat: actor PATRICK SAXON did a fantastic job as Iago.

I've elsewhere articulated my thoughts about the central issue of this play: the proper placement of belief and doubt.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Two Veterans' Organizations and the L.A. County Arts Commission Team Up to Present a Fresh, Nuanced Production of CORIOLANUS

I just saw a production of Coriolanus, Shakespeare's Roman play about a warlike Aristocrat who wins endless battles for his home city-state only to be exiled for his excessive ambition. I seem to have left the damn program on my seat, since it isn't in my bag, but I did take notes and will wing my review from those.

The production was:
"Produced by LA Area Veteran's Artists Alliance (LAAVAA) & Veterans Center For The Performing Arts (VCPA); Sponsored by CD 11 Councilman Bill Rosendahl." The Councilman, the Director -- Stephan Wolfert -- and several of the actors were Veterans of America's Wars, which many Veterans condemn as no less aggressive and imperial than were the wars of Rome.

While Ian Casselberry's performance was somewhat hampered by flat delivery (i.e., his speech was energetic, but lacked variation in pitch and in volume) and poor enunciation, the production had few weak spots, most of them quite unimportant (e.g., while the name "Coriolanus" should have stress on the 1st and 4th syllables, the city he conquered to win that title is "Corioli," which I believe should be pronounced "co-RYE-ole-eye"; its vowels should be similar to "oh iodine," not "Cory OH lee." but really, who cares? And am I asking how this was pronounced by the Romans, or by the Elizabethans? It doesn't matter). Another actor said "counsel" instead of "consul." I notice these things because I'm obsessed with language, especially the auditory dimension of poetry; I recognize, however, that not everybody is into that, and not every production is even aiming for that particular kind of excellence.

Dan Kucan, a handsome guy with enormous arms and martial arts training galore, is blessed and cursed with a strong resemblance to Tom Cruise which must be exceedingly annoying to him when people comment on it (which I just did anyway, making you more likely to remember the dude, which is good for him). What does matter, of course, is his excellent performance in the lead role. Kucan correctly timed the beginning of Coriolanus' break from the emotional straightjacket in which that general had lived his whole life. His voice broke when it should (IMHO -- duh), and not before, and his twisted attachment to his Mother Volumnia -- I'm very sorry I can't mention the actress' name, but I lost the program -- was carried through with consistent excellence from both players. At one point a weak slap from Volumnia on Caius Martius' [that is, Coriolanus'] cheek drops the invincible soldier to the floor.

Coriolanus' Oedipal desire for his mother Volumnia became clear at two points: first, when the two are in conflict about the son's aversion to the common people. The mother is no democrat (that is, no republican); she too holds the plebs in contempt. But unlike her rigid and, it turns out, brittle son, Volumnia sees that the only way he can get the Consulship is to put on a false humility, to bend without breaking, and use a cynical politics to mollify his populist opponents and the mob they represent. He is literally incapable of this, at this point has already tried it and failed. The reason he tries again is not to secure the high office, but to please and appease his mother, to whom he reaches out for an amorous kiss which he does not get.

The second expression of this uni-directional incestuous yearning comes at the end of this staging of the drama. The director boldly chose to bring Coriolanus to his death not by Aufidius, as the text has it, but by a suicide on his own sword whose handle is in his mother's hand. Having been stabbed, Kucan's Coriolanus drives the weapon in deeper and deeper while walking forward toward her (in a weird motion, like a horizontal version of climbing). I've seen that image before, in the 1980's Arthurian film Excalibur, at whose climactic end the aging King Arthur is run through by the spear of his son Mordred, and then does that weird, horizontal, hand-over-hand climb toward his murderer whom he dispatches with that famous sword when he reaches him. But here, the parent and child pair are hetero-gendered, and the wounded arrival at the end of the unmistakeably phallic [if I say "penis-esque" instead, does it sound less trite & Freudian & lit-critified?] weapon is a passionate but unrequited lover's kiss before the soldier expires. One measure of the production's success: despite how utterly melodramatic that scene sounds as I describe it (I guess the allusion to Excalibur didn't help -- but remember, that movie had no less a Shakespearean than Nicol Williamson in the role of Merlin), it worked damn well on stage.

At the very beginning of the performance, Coriolanus carried not a sword or pair of swords, but two sticks, which he bundles together before putting them away. As soon as the sticks were close enough to form a bundle, I saw it as the fasces, that bundle of rods (where have we heard that phrase before, "bundle of sticks"? Isn't that what the British call a cigarette?) which represents the imperium of the Roman state and its appointed generals. Of course, this is the term from which "fascism" was coined; whether the players knew it or not, this image was damn salient for the show as far as I was concerned. There are no swords in this production, because the sticks are symbols for them -- pragmatic, because much less dangerous for the actors, but also interesting. When we hear of "boys with sticks and wives with stones," the ironic distance between the inadequate weapons (and therefore, the natures) of those two kinds of non-men, on the one hand, and the real swords of the real men, on the other, is collapsed (in other words, it's rendered still more ironic) by the fact that this show uses sticks to represent swords. Any long thrusting thing will do.

Shakespeare plumbs the depths of military homoeroticism, its disastrous proximity to violence, and the way it can complicate and even destroy the pair bonding of men and their female mates. The rhetoric of that exercise is all over the play, much of it so obvious as not to bear mention here, some of it more subtle. "Into the bowels of Rome"; "fisting each other's throats"; and so on. Through the fabric of the play there runs a red thread of gender reversal, as though the extreme end of martial masculinity logically passes a point where it turns into its opposite. In Julius Caesar, Antony imagines that the mouth-like wounds of Caesar have tongues to speak with. In Coriolanus, the hero refers to his own wounds as "my nothings" (and everybody knows that during Shakespeare's lifetime, "nothing" meant feminine unmentionables), and later we're given an image of speaking wounds. But this time, "we are to put our tongues into those wounds and speak for them." The context of both quotations is the same -- back from his latest war, Coriolanus must show his wounds to the common people in order to earn their votes (their "voices") for his consulship. He refuses thus: "I had rather have one scratch my head i' the sun / When the alarum were struck than idly sit / To hear my nothings monster'd." Wounds are invaginations (just as the penetrating weapon that makes them is phallic), and the refusal to show them belongs to this idea. Modesty indeed. I certainly don't want to monster his nothings.

Poor taste be damned, remember Scott Thompson's battlefield scene in Brain Candy, the film from The Kids in the Hall.

Meninius, too, was well played, with a fine mixture of levity and disillusioned maturity. For me, the stars were Dan Kucan and Director Stephan Wolfert. The show I just saw was the last of the run, so this review can't go up anywhere but here. Still, part of the reason I got off my ass and saw the show was so that I could do my bit to keep my fellow artists feeling non-invisible. So that's my "review."

I end by adding that although I taught this play a few years ago, I'd forgotten it enough to be truly struck by some 8 or 10 lines here and there whose brilliance has for four centuries burned and burned, remaining undiminished, "not consumed" by the loss of novelty nor by the drift of the collective mind (and its language) away from the concerns and idioms of 1564 to 1616 (Exodus 3:2).

p.s. I once had a friend who went to a job interview at some English Department somewhere. One of the faculty members on the search committee looked over her resume and saw that in a core-curriculum, college-wide survey course for non-majors, she had taught Coriolanus, which nobody ever does. He asked her about that unusual choice, and she turned inward, looked into the wrong box in her mind -- the box with the truth in it -- and said, "It's a tragedy about someone so extraordinary that he simply cannot become a team player." Game over!
SIRFLA Shakespeare Festival (through Sept 7, 2008)
Twelfth Night and Coriolanus
by William Shakespeare, Stephan Wolfert, Director Free admission with free parking behind WLA Municipal Bldg Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 4 pm (after WLA Farmers' Mkt) Twelfth Night: Sept 5, 7 Coriolanus: Sept 6. WLA Civic Center Bandshell, 11338 Santa Monica Blvd & 1645 Corinth Avenue, LA 90025, (behind Felicia Mahood Senior Ctr & West LA Public Library)

Grossman's Tooth

I've got a poem coming out soon in the print edition of TIKKUN.

The reason the URL for this posting includes the utterly irrelevant phrase "more bogus debate" is because I had initially planned to post another example of that phenomenon, but then hit a webological snag, so I decided to post this amazingly gratifying news instead. If you're interested in false dichotomies and bogus debate, I recommend the books of George Lakoff and the website of Mark Robinowitz. The latter is

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Little Misadventure: Climate Change and Bogus "Controversy"

I enjoy combing craigslist for little writing and teaching gigs. I'd say I take a shot at maybe 40 or 50 of those ads every year. As the 1970's commercial used to say about the New York Public Library, "It's fun, and it's free." Well, recently I answered an ad whose authors, let's call them Acme (like Roadrunner and Coyote Acme; John Doe Acme) sought freelance writers willing to summarize the content on their existing Acme website. What is that content? Paired, opposing essays on each of a series of controversial issues. Ten minutes reading the Acme site was enough to make clear that (from my perspective) the site was, in some way, a bogus venture.

But I had invested my ten minutes, and I wanted to see where it would lead, so I summarized their Climate Change controversy. I'll post that summary below; I doubt anyone could object to that, since any "controversy" web site about climate change is going to reference many of the same sites as Acme's. First, here's the cover-letter email I sent, no longer expecting or even intending to actually get the job:

"I think I see what you're doing here, and I like it. The dirt-poor quality of the prose in the anti-IPCC website was revealing: 'Forecasting principles have been derived from all known empirical evidence on estimating the as yet unknown. The principles are therefore scientific.' The Peak Oil 'debate' is similar -- one side represents reality and speaks coherently, while the other side represents a cornucopian fantasy and is conveyed in gibberish. This is a brilliant heuristic tactic that I fully endorse... It does put your summary-writers in a rather excruciating position, however. While the site as a whole achieves a certain kind of "balance" by offering the same number of compelling YES articles as inane NO articles, the summary must avoid taking sides. When there is a genuine ambiguity as to the relative merits of two incompatible positions, a summary of the conflict can be of great interest (there is a great deal of that on [your site]). But when the matter has already been resolved by fate, it's different.

Being open minded about whether the sun will rise in the morning is a mistake; it's not something about which reasonable people can disagree. Peak Oil and climate change are not as certain as tomorrow's rising sun, but elements of those issues are: the planet is finite, therefore its capacity to supply oil and to absorb CO2 are finite as well. The only mode of thought capable of denying these limits is a socially common (but epistemically exotic) one called cornucopianism. Its capitalist and Marxist forms are basically identical in their belief that wealth is created by something (money, and labor, respectively) other than the limited earth.

So, I think I've triangulated up a decent, even-handed summary of the climate change debate on [your site], while remaining in touch with the rapidly melting reality. I hope this is of some use..."

Needless to say, the dude did not go for any of this. Here is the summary I sent:

Debate on Climate Change, summarized by Jamey Hecht

We no longer have a lively debate about the reality or unreality of climate change. It’s here, and neither self-interest nor brazen nonconformity is enough to warrant any further denial. But there is plenty of controversy about what to do in the face of these changes in the biosphere we all share, and there is a surprising level of dissent about the degree (ahem) to which climate change results from human activity. Of course, perceptions about the current round of this debate tend to be influenced by the outcome of the previous round, in which climate change skeptics fared poorly compared to their opponents. The latter are persuaded that we’re all in big meteorological trouble, largely due to elevated levels of CO2 which have amplified “the greenhouse effect.” That was what we used to call it, before “climate change” and even before “global warming,” back in the days when the Internet was still “the information super-highway.”

The greenhouse effect is the major mechanism (among several others) of global warming. Certain molecules have electromagnetic properties that cause them to let incoming energy (in the form of sunlight, cosmic rays, high-velocity charged particles, and so on) enter the atmosphere, without allowing that energy -- or the heat into which it degenerates -- to exit again. Notorious among these climate-changing molecules are CO2, which is dumped into the atmosphere at around 28 billion tons per year, largely from burning fossil fuels; and methane, which is some 22 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Says the IPCC in its Summary for Policymakers: “There is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits (e.g. improved health due to reduced air pollution) that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.” In this, IPCC agrees with some of its opponents, such as the National Center for Policy Analysis, one of whose position papers shares this emphasis on the sunny side: “There Are Benefits from Warmer Temperatures and CO2.” There certainly are; in September of 2007, for example, the once-fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific was clear of impassable ice for the first time. The cost-benefit question depends on just whom you ask – a polar bear will feel rather differently about this issue than will a coal mine owner. [Blog readers, take a look at this FTW story by Wayne Madsen, with its italicized introduction by yours truly: Bush Administration and Oil Companies Want Arctic Meltdown].

The folks at the Heartland Institute believe that the public has been deliberately infected with alarmism. Among their position papers is “Scientific Consensus Overstated,” a statistical issue whose resolution might require yet another survey of the “scientific community.” It elides the caliber of the respondents, and some people might claim that the views of figures like Stephen Hawking and Arthur Lovejoy might bear more weight than those of their more obscure colleagues, but that, too, is debatable. Next, Heartland argues “Climate Forecasts Inaccurate” and “Computer Models Based on Faulty Assumptions.” These, too, are probably correct, since forecasting and modeling are inherently uncertain (even without invoking the specter of Werner Heisenberg smoking his pipe in the corner, petting Schrodinger’s ghostly cat in his lap). But is perfection the issue, or is the issue prudence? I’d hate to die because I miscalculated that the 16-ton weight falling toward my head was in fact 15.837 tons, having kept myself too busy calculating to move out of the way.