News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Letter - Hi R: Thanks for the article about non-fiction paying the bills. That’s certainly encouraging, though I won’t consider myself a proper writer until I can author fiction that’s readable…

I’m quite curious about France and it’s one of the reading topics on my list. In eastern Canada, where the English and French live nearby but separate, the French are considered a joke by the English speakers and only marginally less ridiculous than bumpkins from Newfoundland. It wouldn’t surprise me if it works both ways though, with the French thinking of the English as buffoons.

As to the article on France, despite my admitted ignorance of the subject matter, I would take much of what the author says with a large grain of salt. The writer reminds me of the American fans of Chinese classical poetry I used to meet in Taiwan while I lived in a government dorm. They were ecstatic about classical this and classical that and loved to show off their learning but I soon realized their weak point: they knew nothing about poetry in the English language. They were unfamiliar with Wordsworth, Shelley, Kipling, even Shakespeare was a distant memory to people who were used to quoting Chinese poets. I thought it both suspicious and curious.

From the article: “…the immense output on their society produced by the French themselves, on a scale undreamt of elsewhere. Seventy titles just on the electoral campaign of spring 2002. Two hundred books on Mitterrand. Three thousand on De Gaulle.”

This may be the case, but my copy of Lincoln Reconsidered contains the following on page 3: “Jay Monaghan’s Lincoln Bibliography requires 1,079 pages merely to list the books and pamphlets [on Lincoln] published before 1939…”

I tried to chase down the number of books to date written about Lincoln and the closest I could get was 14,000 books and pamphlets. What is a pamphlet? And is it 13,900 pamphlets and 100 books? I don’t know… But to paraphrase a history prof of mine: the most popular subjects for books published in the US in order are Lincoln, medicine, and pets. The as-of-yet unwritten US best seller of all time is Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.

From the article: “High standards of statistical rigour, analytic intelligence, literary elegance continue to distinguish the best of French writing about France, in quantities no neighbouring land can rival.”

If this was true, then why aren’t English language bookstores swamped with translations of French works? Myself, I can name about as many Russian authors as French. In the 19th century US bookstores were full of pirated British author’s works. And probably for good reason. Mencken clearly appreciated European works in his day over American. If the work was of high quality, it would surely show up.

America’s best single work on democracy is probably the Frenchman Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America, written in the 1830’s and which is highly renowned in the US and which, the last time I looked at it, seemed monstrous in scale but masterful. It compares the British, American and French systems in detail and covers in detail topics ranging from democratic governance to religion, morals, and music under the influence of democracy. If just 1% of French books were of this caliber, 50% of the books on US shelves would be translations from French originals. (Of course no nation produces writers of that caliber in great numbers.)

And the great period of French writing I would have thought predates WWI, Proust to Gustave le Bon. Later 20th century French writers that I’m aware of haven’t impressed me. Sartre is a stuffed shirt (I’ve scanned his Colonialism & Neo Colonialism and wasn’t at all impressed), Camus is boring, Anais Nin is famous primarily for spinning her facts and being attached to the American writer Henry Miller, Simon de Beauvoir has something to say but takes twice as long to say it as she needs to, whereas Foucault is a master of saying next to nothing but boldly and in a poetic, high-toned, and finally incomprehensible manner. I place him in the same school of master-hustlers as Rousseau and Marx. The author of the magazine piece quotes Levi-Strauss, who is yet another prominent French author who’s work, at least in English, is nearly completely unintelligible. Clearly there is a connexion between hyperactive soggy writing, circular logic, the begging of questions, the chasing of tails, and the assigning of pointless and lengthy definitions to the obvious with the popularity of certain modern French hacks. These hacks seem to be beloved of dunderheaded academics and lay losers who wish to impress the naïve and impressionable with their erudition. The basic premise, as I understand it, of these scalpers of second-hand sagacities is this: if you don’t understand the Great French authors, that’s because you’re a simple-minded English-speaking parvenu. But of course, when pushed to the wall these hustlers don’t understand it either. It’s just another intrinsically meaningless fad, a way for nerds to be intellectually cool.

Having savaged prominent French authors, it’s worth pointing out that my favorite author, Mencken, is not even known to most Americans (and I presume not known to most Brits either). I might just as easily turn up my nose at a list of American authors famous in France.

The only decent French author I’m aware of is Michelle Houellebecq (the French fictioneer I was recommending to you before, and who the author of this article attacks) who’s forsaken bonny France for Ireland. I know nothing about good French writers and have no doubt that there are some excellent folk out there.

But given the immensity of crap one finds written in English, to suggest that the French are generally superior in this department would also suggest to me (because good writing is usually the product of sound and innovative thinking) that France would also excel in other aspects of intellectual endeavor and thus have the world’s top military, the most efficient economy, the most productive R&D, the most effective polity, and so forth. Like most conspiracy theories, SARS, colonialism, and so forth, if you push some of the basic premises to their logical conclusions you don’t have to be an expert to begin to doubt the experts.

Oddly enough, when it comes to politics the writer seems to back up some of the book that I reviewed: “The political system, riddled with corruption, is held in increasing public contempt… The current ruler of the country would be in the dock for malversation had a constitutional court not hastened to grant him immunity from prosecution: a trampling of equality before the law that not even his Italian counterpart, in what is usually imagined to be a still more cynical political culture, has been able to secure. Foreign policy is a mottled parody of Gaullism: vocal opposition to the pretext for war in the Middle East, followed by practical provision of airspace and prompt wishes for victory once the attack was under way, then eager amends for disloyalty with a joint coup to oust another unsatisfactory ruler in the Caribbean, and agrément for the puppet regime in Baghdad.

The writer also says: “No equivalent exists of the TLS or the LRB, of L'Indice or of the books pages of the New Republic, even of the dull ones of Die Zeit: truly sustained, discriminating engagement with a work of fiction, of ideas or history has become rare.”

Perhaps most telling is the length and content of the author’s article. Who’s going to read this? What is the author’s point, besides impressing the impressionable with his masterful erudition and his litany of unsupported pros and cons? He carries on like an old well-read fag trying to impress young men in his orbit. The shot-gun overkill professorial approach of Professor Chomsky is there too. He says a million things but what does any of it mean at the end of the day? How much sticks to your ribs 24 hours later…

That’s my fifty-cents worth…


Sunday, August 29, 2004

Part 2 of my review of True Stories of the Korean Comfort Women (still a bit rough)

Reviewing original documents makes all the difference. Having done so, the dreadful calamity of forced prostitution turns out on closer examination to be something which starts out, depending on the person, to lay somewhere between slavery and run-of-the-mill bawdy house prostitution. However, once the professional duties begin, the story turns into a generic cat-house yarn of professional jealousies, cat-fights, ladies of joy fighting over customers, customers fighting over ladies of joy, johns getting mashed on the ladies, tricks proposing marriage and fidelity evermore if only the angel before them answers their sacred proposal with an affirmative.

In other words, yet again, the newspapers, their reporters, editors, and experts-for-hire can’t be trusted to competently discuss the issue at hand. Neither can the experts of academe, most of whom remain high up in the ivory tower with their heads in the clouds. Ideology further befogs already befogged brains; such poor sods can't comprehend let alone get up and run with a new idea. And training in the academy generates paragons of erudition not intelligent, not bold, not imaginative, but instead armed with more useful tools for their trade such as a first-hand knowledge and application of the valor of timidity and directions for getting to the safety of the clubhouse and the protection of its virtuous swamis and intellectual giants, when in doubt. But joining a club means adhering to the rules, and in this case it's a club of smarties and thus the rules are woven into a lofty ideology. On closer examination, ideologies turn out inevitability to be no more than an iron-clad code of ideas, notions, and hunches emerge from committee-like compromises and which have a relevance, in a constantly changing world, that begins to slump as soon as the ink dries on the paper. Adhering to this code brings one inevitably in conflict with our changing world, and thus puts one in conflict with sense. Stalwart allegiance to the code forces compromises with one's honor and requires the committing to memory of nonsensical, improbable defenses that generate epithets of ‘rocket scientist’ and ‘bookworm’ from the lay folk.

This is the private comedy of the institution of higher learning, particularly in those fields requiring self-reliance, imagination, pugnacity and a rough-and-ready intelligence if the resident nonsense of previous generations, such as boosterism, belief in spirit realms, and the moral uplift of mankind, is to be exploded. Fields such as anthropology, political science, and history require an overcoming, a reevaluation, a combat with ideas and people that the hard sciences require far less often, though they certainly have their own shenanigans and Pied Pipers – Robert Gallo, the Pope of AIDS, and the Alvarez father and son team (champions of the asteroid extinction of the dinosaur theory who didn’t hesitate to hit fellow theorists below the belt).

For what is an ideology but a temporary slam-bang cluster of the current theories, schools of thought, respectable sympathies and hatreds, changing as regularly and predictably as the seasons. In other words, a very puritan scheme and one opposed to common sense, thinking for oneself, or any other activity with the potential to occasion sinister heterodoxies.

Academic experts as a class are a proof-positive that the phrase educated above one's level of intelligence is far more than just rhetoric; that, as the Europeans complain, North America’s graduate schools are too many and too prodigious, watering down requirements and standards to facilitate the grinding out of graduates like sausages. The budding Plato requires little more than a capacity and willingness for committing an assortment of lineages, languages, terminology, ideas, dates, grey eminences and other trivial matters to memory according to this season's fashions. Once achieving the prize of tenure, young brains petrify, their intellects caught up and preserved in a slavish adherence to schools of thought; the prestigious amber of academia rendering minds already dead today, dead forever more.

This overpopulation of academe with the undifferentiated children of the electorate has resulted unsurprisingly in mob behavior: clans of quacks armed with canons of posing, abstruse, sesquipedalian, and ultimately inscrutable raving - the masterworks of professors Said, Marx, and Chomsky come to mind – vie for the intellectual Camelot and in their wild jousting for preeminence, scatter the runts and weaklings to flee and pursue the security of the larger partisan side of the moment. When a lonely iconoclast enters the fray and threatens to expose the farce, the axe falls, the axes fall, from every direction.

Iconoclasm is perhaps most often the product of an honest man or woman finding his worldly experience militating against the received wisdom. Most liberal arts academics are far from worldly, having graduated in a factory-like procession from Montessori to the Ph.D. program. This reliance on the claimed, on third and fourth hand testimonies (surrounded by clones, second-hand evidence is yet still rare), and with debates reduced to he-said/she-said, nothing is ever nailed down, fact and fancy are never distinguished confidently. Thus the fashion for crazes; for when nothing is known, rhetoric wins the day. Thus so many liberal arts academics can’t distinguish between fact and fiction, can’t differentiate between a telling detail and a red herring, nor do they value the pursuit of truth; they value rhetoric, ergo the popularity of Foucault and of Marx; ergo the emergence of the whole tribe of third-rate rhetoricians, which are in fact no more than the politicians of academe, hard a-beating their tubs and a-charging their soap-boxes to dizzy their peers with canned publish-or-perish masterpieces; ergo the politician-like pursuit of inscrutability, the deliberate cultivation of unintelligible jargon, the requirement that each professor worth his salt deliver up and proffer definitions that have a shelf-life of one book and one book only.

This lack of personal life experience also renders quacks incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of others and thus they present a shallow and often rhetoric-based explanation of events. Thus the reduction of complex historical processes to combats between angels and sinners, our boys with the home team and the Huns. Arguments are prefaced with a moral scheme and historical players reduced to oppressors and the oppressed, to the haves and have-nots, to nationalists and colonizing powers.

Thus to both the correct media and the correct academic, i.e. to the ignoble and oppressive hack and mediocrity, the comfort women are portrayed as simply the victims of a nasty campaign by WWII Japs taking advantage of the indigenous women in their colonies. It's cut and dried, black and white: the evil grasping military occupier rapes and pillages.

But how could this possibly be true? Is anything in life this simple?

It's a testament to our curiously blinkered world and the near-impenetrable divorce from reality that most of us are sunk within, that this bogus vision is swallowed whole hog again and again, issue after issue. But the muddled compassionate enjoy, perhaps need, having something to be indignant about to give their lives purpose. And even when those rare few read up on the subject and become conversant with the issues, they yet still remain, at base, children with a rigid moral vision of reality, motivated foremost and hindmost by emotion. They're not interested in something approaching the truth, whether it's events overseas or domestic. Habituated to white lies, fibbing, evading, trimming, hedging, etc. they never get within a country mile of what's really going down.

I've chosen to concentrate on Chapter 4 which is entitled I Have Much to Say to the Korean Government and is the testimony of former Korean comfort woman Kim Tokchin. She was born in 1921 and started working as a comfort woman at the age of 17 in 1937, apparently being misled into the position by being told that she was going to be working for a factory in Japan. She returned to Korea in 1940 with the help of a Japanese officer. Yes, a Japanese officer. I think you'll find her tale of woe not a little strange but also illuminating.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'm being critical and not compassionate in the following in part because compassion doesn't make 2+2=5 and because people are not sock puppets in a moral play. They're living, breathing, farting mammals with personalities, achievements and follies, and who are sometimes honest and sometimes not. They have cultural, familial, gender roles etc. which make them complex. It is neither interesting nor useful to reduce people and their stories to a stock combat between good and evil. Loudmouthed victims of war crimes committed decades ago by the losing side, like George Orwell's saints, should be considered guilty until proven innocent. It shouldn't be forgotten that nations such as Korea, without a tradition of free speech produce citizens who engage in regular fibbing, evading, and fabrication; for otherwise they would not survive. Neither would you or I. To swallow wholesale the testimony of a self-proclaimed victim, particularly if doing so primarily because it facilitates one's political beliefs and ideological preconceptions, is lunacy. But, of course, it's done everyday. It's not the exception; in fact it is the rule. A glance at the newspapers, the work of most academics, and Hollywood surely reveals this.

And last of all: the problem with sympathy as an approach to pursuing truth is that truth then becomes a prisoner to correctness, i.e. a temporary moral scheme principally devoted to presenting oneself as superior to one’s competitors and enemies. This makes truth ephemeral; i.e. makes it into a sort of anti-truth, for what is truth but not fact eternal? A more practical and effective approach might be that people are as mechanical as a watch. That and empathy: constructing similar circumstances to the period and person under study in which one can conceive of oneself willingly, happily, etc. committing atrocities, etc. A sincere keeping in mind of the expression, there but for the grace of God go I doesn’t hurt. Under such circumstances, applying rules of thumb and remaining free of ideology, cant and rhetoric, just as 2+2=4 forevermore, one enters a realm whereupon the possibility of unearthing, stumbling upon or being persuaded, kicking and screaming, of truths equally immutable becomes conceivable.
Page 42: We dug up the roots of trees to eat, and my mother would work on a treadmill all day to bring back a few husks of grains as payment which we would boil with dried vegetables for our supper. Those who flattered the Japanese were able to get help from them; they might get rubber shoes. But those who kept firmly apart to forced into extreme poverty.

The questions begin. They ate tree roots? If they're surviving on tree roots and a few husks of grains, whatever that inept translation refers to, where do the dried vegetables come from? And if one flatters the Japanese, one might get rubber shoes? What sense does that make? And those who kept firmly apart were forced into extreme poverty? Well then don't keep firmly apart. If you make the decision to keep firmly part, and don't get what you want, surely you cannot accuse anyone of forcing you into extreme poverty.

Admittedly this may seem harsh and yet I honestly do not know what the woman is talking about. Do you? This is another one of the problems that presents itself when dealing with these testimonies. The people giving them are rural and uneducated, and rather incredibly incapable of stringing a logical story together. They don't seem to know how, by virtue of habit or attention span, and instead toss up loony, smatterings of stories. The testimony should have been taken by somebody who could have tried to draw out more relevant facts and by doing so fill out the original stories to have them makes sense. On the other hand, perhaps what we have here is better because it's more accurate as a testimony of the mindset and the actual, uncoached memories this woman has. It also perhaps makes it all the more easy to figure out whether a person is remembering accurately, even remembering it all, as opposed to simply making things up as she goes.

And example of the rather strange way simple folk can describe things is her description of the ferry boat being as big as a mountain. That's like telling someone your dog is as big as a bus. She's halfway between the Carib Indians mistaking Spanish galleons for floating islands and a modern viewing a ferry boat. She constantly does this type of thing and it's clear that she neither understands what she sees at times nor is even able to make sense out of the prosaic because she lacks the mental discipline, attention to detail, and the desire to fit events into larger systems and thus render them intelligible and meaningful. Later, she claims: There were bodies lying all over the place, and dogs would drag corpses around. East Asian dogs dragging something as heavy as human corpses around?

A constant refrain of the poor or those without legal protections is money. This testimony may disappoint Socialists because it includes: As we crossed Chongam bridge, we held on to each other and wept: 'Goodbye, Chongam bridge, goodbye until we return with money lining our pockets.'

Also interesting is that the woman was working in a brothel employing about 50 women, two of whom are Japanese. The two Japanese were said to have come from brothels. They were 27 or 28, about 10 years older than all the Koreans. The soldiers preferred us Korean girls, saying we were cleaner.

On page 46: When I was in pain and distressed I tried to die, but I couldn't. I thought of jumping into the river, jumping down from a high place or running into a car, but I never managed to do anything remotely like this.

In other words, she really wants to die, but she's too afraid of dying to commit suicide. Three sentences further on she says: I was so scared that I did whatever I was told to, and I would even have pretended to die if I had been told to do so. What does that mean? There's no missing context that I've failed to supply. She lurches from one crazy statement to a lunatic second one. This is what I mean by the difficulty of trying to interpret rural people's claims (as described by ex-Hong Kong justice Austin Coates in Myself a Mandarin in which he retails the difficulty of getting testimony not just out of the accused, but out of plaintiffs who were often even worse). They can be so inarticulate, unobservant, and scattered-brained that it's hard to know if and where the true starts and the embellishing ends. If someone gave this sort of testimony in court, it would be picked to pieces by a competent defense lawyer.

Where it gets really interesting, and for me more believable, is halfway down the page: There were even some [soldiers] who wept, they were so scared to go to fight. I would comfort them and tell them to come back safely from the battle. When any returned to live, I would be genuinely glad to see them again. I acquired quite a few regular customers, and one or two confessed their love to me and even proposed.

The manager provided us with clothes, cosmetics and food, all free of charge. But he said he would deduct the sums we owed him from the promised final lump payments. If we needed anything we asked him to buy it when he went to the market, and he was very obliging.

Pretty and intelligent girls were selected for very high-ranking officers and taken into the army unit by car. I was chosen in this way and developed a special relationship with an officer called Izumi. When I asked how old he was, he spread five fingers before me, and so I guess he must've been about 50 years old.... I continued to meet Izumi often and came to regard him almost as my father, husband and family rolled into one. Guiding my hand in his, he taught me numbers (Biff: note that, she says numbers, not mathematics) and how to write Japanese script, and through it all I could feel great affection. Every day, he said he loved me. He said that when the war was over he would take me to Japan where I could live an easy life. He said that I would go to school and live with him. Even after I returned to Korea, we wrote to each other for quite some time.... Izumi wrote to me constantly.... he wrote such amusing letters.... he continue to write for some time from Nanjing, but his letters abruptly stopped one or two years before the liberation in 1945. All the letters I had kept were destroyed by a bomb during the Korean War.

She ends her testimony by saying: Of course Japan is to blame, but I resent the Koreans who were their instruments even more than the Japanese they worked for. I have so much to say to my own government. The Korean government should grant us compensation. Life is very hard without a place of my own to live. I think accommodation should be provided, at the very least.
From beginning to end, her international tale of woe is one long chasing after dollars.

In case you think the testimony was unusual let me introduce you briefly to the next testimony. Page 53: If the slightest symptom of venereal disease appeared, we had to have the number '606' injection in gradations numbered from one to six. The injection was so strong that once you had it you couldn't touch water for a whole week.

It goes without saying that human beings can't go without water for an entire week.

Page 54: After about two years I got to know how things were run. One of my friends tipped me off that my contract time had expired and that I could do whatever I wanted to do. A few days had passed since the end of my official term, although the proprietor hadn't said a word about this to me. So, one day, I got drunk and complained to him. Surprised at my unusual behavior, he said he would report me to the military police. I threatened him, 'If you want to report me, by all means go ahead. I'm going to report you as well. I know my contract is over. I'm going to tell them how badly you treat me.' I refused to serve any soldiers from them onwards.

In other words, she too is working for a contract. Second, the police do their job and can't be bought by her boss. Third, she can refuse to serve soldiers now that her contract is over. (I'll look into the content of these contracts tomorrow.)

The next few sentences are interesting too: On our street there lived an old Japanese man whose job was to introduce comfort women to proprietors, and one day he came to me and asked me, in confidence, if I would like to go somewhere else. He said he could find another place. I told him to go ahead, and after a few days he came back to introduce me to a new station. I moved that very same day. As I left I took with me the money I had earned since my contract had expired. I found out that once our contract was over we were meant to share our earnings with our proprietor, on a fifty-fifty basis.

On the same page: I said I would report [our proprietor] to the police for discrimination; the police had clearly stated she should treat us all equally.

Soldiers fall in love with her too. She complains about having to change the sheets on her bed everyday, she gets into a drunken hissy fit and beats up a teasing Japanese co-sex-worker.

In other words, most of the testimony sounds like what you would expect from prostitutes complaining about their business. I'm not suggesting that these women were not forced into this line of work, and I'm not suggesting it wasn't slavery of a kind. But the testimonies presented are confusing to say the least and it seems to have been significantly less of an ordeal than is often portrayed. The women have contracts, they have the protection of the law, and men are constantly falling in love with them as is always the case with prostitutes (ladies of joy seem to fend off more mariage proposals than women of any other station).
I'll finish this tomorrow...
Biff Cappuccino

Friday, August 27, 2004

Review: The French Betrayal of America by Kenneth R. Timmerman

The overeager and inflammatory title is one of several flaws which prejudiced this reader but which happily do not destroy the book by a long stretch. The author is given to labeling the French as, the French, which at times uncritically lumps a people of disparate opinions, agencies, individuals, cultures, religionists, and so forth together. Most of the time though, the French, refers to the government and its policies at the national level; but sometimes to the people, whoever they are and whatever that means, in a manner too pat and, no doubt, tailored as if to facilitate verbal skirmishing in bars by zenophobes. This manly bluntness is somewhat par for the course though as the author's website is belabored with enormous blue lettering at the bottom of each page to GET YOUR ATTENTION.

And the book's a bit hard to swallow in one-stroke because of the density of information, with a huge range of names and companies scattered across Arabia, the US, and France, making it is rather confusing to the casual ignoramus, like myself, on being introduced to such a wild circus of international shennanigins.

The author claims the French (whoops!) take on the post Cold War era is that the world needs to be multipolar to ensure no single country (i.e. the US) dominates and becomes insufferable. This forms part of the rationale for France's commercial involvement (i.e. weapons and nuclear reactor sales) and political support of various slippery Third World countries with most of the rest of the rationale being that France's military-industrial-political complex needs a bigger pie, less thumbs and more customers, as domestic sales aren't sufficient to fund expensive weapons R&D and thereby keep up with the satanic mills of the US. Well, France probably has a sad tale of shocking unfairness to tell, but given the inherent weaknesses of socialist economies it's hard to be shocked and awed by it all. Given that weapons R&D is expensive and all, the French munitions boys and the French government boys got together to square the circle and level the playing field and bring the multipolar global village into reality via bag men and industrial espionage.

Page 167: Former DGSE director general Pierre Marion publicly acknowledged the increasing emphasis his former service placed on economic espionage against "Allied" countries such as the United States... Just before the 1991 Paris air show opened its gates, the French newsmagazine L'Express revealed that the DGSE had planted moles in the French offices of IBM, Texas Instruments, and Corning Glass between 1987 and 1989, to steal economic and industrial secrets on behalf of French state-owned enterprises. Marion confirmed the story to NBC's Expose, which broadcast his interview on September 13, 1991. But when pressed by French state-run radio, Marion denied the most spectacular allegation of the NBC documentary, that state-owned Air France regularly planted microphones in the seats of its first-class compartment, to record conversations of US businessmen (Marion had been president of Air France before taking over as French spy chief in 1981). However, he did acknowledge that French intelligence officers regularly "visited" the Paris hotel rooms of US businessmen, to take a look at confidential papers. Indeed, several businessmen had complained that while staying at the Concorde Lafayette, operated by Air France, their rooms had been broken into and important papers and laptop computers stolen.

Indeed, pages and pages and pages are given over to industrial espionage.

The author points to structural differences between US and French governance which were also pointed out by de Toqueville a hundred and eighty years ago: the inefficiency and corruption occasioned by the over-concentration of power in French governance. Page 170: Jean-Michel Boucheron, the Socialist member of Parliament who headed the defense commission, saw no reason why the French parliament should be given oversight over French arms exports just to meet US norms for transparency. "All we need is a summary presentation of government's arms export policy," Boucheron told a conference in Paris devoted to the new arms-control proposals. "Once a year will do." (Imagine members of the U.S. Congress telling the White House they didn't want to be briefed on anything! The US emphasis on transparency and accountability is one of the most significant differences between the French and US political systems.)

Indeed, given the nationalization of industry and the pervasive nannying and wet-nursing of the French proletariate, the predictable has come to pass: low efficiency, high prices, shoddy worksmanship, the national hero as cry-baby shivering and shedding tears over global arch-villain Ronald McDonald. On page 171, with regard to the Dubai air show in November 1991, the author writes: The French lost out to American arms exporters in virtually every competition where they went head-to-head. They lost a deal to sell tanks to Saudi Arabia; they failed to convince the Kuwaitis after Desert Storm to resume buying Mirage jet fighters or combat helicopters; even in Qatar and the UAE, they were having difficulties. And the problems weren't confined to the Middle East.

What methodology was invented to overcome socialism's limitations? A familiar one indeed ... "Yes, my continental European friends, we have spied on you," former CIA director Jim Woolsey wrote playfully in the Wall Street Journal. But it wasn't to steal technology or to benefit American manufacturers. The real reason, said Woolsey, was bribery. "That's right, my continental friends, we have spied on you because you bribe. Your company's products are often more costly, less technically advanced, or both, than your American competitors. As a result you bribe a lot. So complicit are your governments that in several European countries bribes still are tax-deductible." Though the author does not mention France as being one of these nations, a quick scan on Internet revealed that it is. Call me naïve, but I found this amazing. The US passed laws in 1976 forbidding companies to engage in bribery overseas.

Reading case after case after case of national-level government corruption in France, reminding me of Canada oddly enough, and not America, I figured I was seeing a pattern. Nevertheless, the French boondoggle seems a riper, cheezier, hale and heartier brother to its anemic Canadian relative. An example of the latter is former Canadian prime minister Mulroney back in the 1980's arranging for a government-funded modern log processing plant being built in his tiny hometown, located only about 250 miles south of the perma-frost line (no more trees beyond the line) in a region where trees require 70 years to mature. At the time the future of lumber lay in importing from the Amazon Basin where trees require 7 years to mature.

American scandals at the national level pertain to sex or some other moral preversion (sic) charge. Can you imagine G.W. boondoggling a Ski Park with snow machines into existence in Crawford Texas? And if he did, wouldn't he be impeached? Mulroney just kept on ticking.

Remember Taiwan's French frigate scandal of 1991? This pet project found the French defence minister in the center of a monster cash free-for-all (a project which involved the bribing of Taiwanese officials, French officials, and even mainland China officials (so much for the pretense of recovering the sacred real estate of Taiwan)). In the end, when the shite (sic) hit the fan, the French defense minister fled his office and spent several months on the lam over the border, hiding like a common criminal. Can you imagine Rumsfeld charged with a criminal offense and fleeing to South America, showing up in a van dyke and living under an assumed name? If you wrote this up as a novel, it would be rejected by the publisher as too far fetched.
But French politicians have more imagination, more passion. In fact, it sounds like you have to get to Russia or China to find worse: where the corrupt are proud, living large, enjoying the public light and consider honest folk to be a sort of backward sucker. One thinks of current-day Shanghai, run by one of the kids of Jiang Ze-min, who himself just recently had his favorite bodyguard promoted to general as part of his ongoing establishment of a praetorian guard.

Page 192: Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish member of the opposition Iraqi national Congress who went on to become Foreign Minister of the Iraqi provisional government and 2003, told me that... the French were refusing to send their oil engineers into an area where they could potentially be kidnapped by rebel forces. So they suggested that the Iraqis "clean up" the area ahead of time. Thousands of Iraqi "Marsh Arabs" paid the ultimate price for this particular instance of French cupidity. Ultimately, Saddam ordered Hussein Kamil and his armaments engineers to divert the water sources feeding the marshes, drying up thousands of square miles of Marsh land and ending a way of life that had enchanted Western Explorers since Wilfred Thesiger. Some 300,000 Marsh Arabs went into forced exile in Iran, their way of life gone forever.

Page 193: The next chapter of the France-Iraq saga was subtley shaped by the corruption scandals of 1994-1995 that Interior Minister Charles Pasqua tried to obfuscate by concocting an anti-American spy frenzy, in an attempt to deflect attention from his political ally in the presidential race, prime minister Edouard Balladur. An investigative magistrate in the Paris suburb of Creteil, Eric Halphen, was looking into apparent kickbacks paid on construction and maintenance contracts for the Bureau of Public Housing... in Paris and its suburbs. Ironically, Halphen's investigation would ultimately lead to Chirac's doorstep. But in the early stages, Pasqua was concerned because Halphen was examining an alleged kickback scheme in the... regional government Pasqua headed. In December 1994, Halphen's father-in-law, Dr. Jean-Pierre Marechal, was arrested at the Paris Airport just as a Pasqua adviser "was handing over a suitcase full of cash, allegedly aimed at buying the clemency of his son-in-law." While Halphen acknowledges in his memoir the cupidity of his relative, he believes that Pasqua's team was seeking to undermine his investigation, with Balladur's approval.

The interior minister receiving kickbacks, magistrates receiving suitcases full of cash? It sounds like 1960s mob-run Montreal. Someone accusing Clinton or Bush of paying judges off with suitcases of money would be taken for a crank. As far as I know, that sort of corruption went out at the US federal level in the early 1970's.

More conspiracy theories on page 199: By the time I met Bernard Guillet at the arms bazaar soirée on the French Riviera, the French feared once again that the Americans were going to beat them to the punch in Iraq. In fact, they were convinced that US insistence on maintaining the US sanctions was a secret plot, aimed at better positioning US companies to pounce the instant sanctions were lifted. They saw that the Americans were getting all the arms export contracts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and had cornered the market for the massive reconstruction projects in Kuwait.

From a free-market perspective, a more rational explanation for cornering markets is the aforementioned superiority of American products, their lower prices, and the fact that the United States was opposed to the rearming of Iraq which had threatened both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, thus prejudicing both to make their purchases from a nation with common foreign policy goals. But, of course, if you exist in a thoroughly corrupt political millieu, you impose different expectations upon the world's events. Plus, given the French-English language barrier and given that most politicians are but loud-mouthed, platitude-ridden, show-boating larger-than-life reflections of the ignoramuses that put them in office, they aren't likely to know much about their own country, let alone any other.

So when the French government took its munitions companies on business tours of the Middle East and to Iran in particular, it was only natural, even predictable, that a body of individuals with no more than a heroic medieval mythology to explain the world around them would sprout conspiracy theories infested to explain the situation when things got tight. From page 201: the French felt no military threat from Iran, because the new Iranian missiles could not reach Europe. But they felt acutely the commercial pressures from United States. They became convinced that the Clinton administration was working hand in glove with Israel to concoct a " fake threat" from Iran whose goal, once again, was to destroy the French arms industry and French export markets.

Even after [Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.)] passed a new bill in 1996 and imposed a secondary boycott against foreign companies investing more than $40 million in the Iranian oil or gas markets (the Iran-Libyan sanctions act, or ILSA), the French thought it was all just a trick. [The French state-owned company] Total jumped into the game, seizing the $600 million contract to rebuild the Sirri gas field of Iran's Persian Gulf coast that [American] Conoco had been forced to abandon. By May 1997, Total president Thierry Desmarest announced that he was ready to sink $2 million into the year-end gas project. The State Department shot back that ILSA "is the law and we will apply it fully... our position on any investments in Iranian gas and oil fields is clear: such investments make more resources available for Iran to use in supporting terrorism and pursuing missiles and nuclear weapons."

Behind the scenes, Total rushed to sell its US assets - leaving nothing behind for the United States to freeze - while the French government backed Total to the hilt. Foreign Ministry spokesman Jacques Rummelhardt told reporters helpfully, "it is not a matter for governments... it is a commercial contract between companies." But Total, of course, was a state-owned company.

...It became impossible after these Persian intrigues to make a straight case with France that the United States had cut off investment in Iran as part of a larger strategy to weaken the clerical régime or in support of the legitimate aspirations of Iranians to select their own form of government. The French believed the Clinton administration was just seeking to leverage its commercial advantage...

Had President George W. Bush chosen to confront the Islamic Republic of Iran for its clandestine nuclear weapons program, which violated its international treaty commitments, before taking the war on terror to Iraq, the French would have led the fight against him there as well (as indeed they did when the United States sought to get the IAEA to refer Iran's violations to the UN Security Council on November 2003). The policy disputes, the suspicions, and the paranoia were already there; so were the kickbacks and commissions. Only the spark was missing.

Just prior to the 2003 Iraq War, I spoke with a Taiwan legislative assistant who visited Iraq during the early 1990s on several business trips. He claimed half of the products he saw in the stores were French. He was convinced the French government's opposition to the American invasion of Iraq was commercial in origin. It sounded facile at the time. National policy makers couldn't be that primitive...

Page 207: In 1995, France was tired with socialism. But more than anything, French voters were fed up with the constant corruption scandals of the Mitterrand era. For years, the press had been writing about the reckless racketeering of socialist political barons across France, who extorted companies to use fake invoices and bogus consulting contracts to disguise hidden payments to support their personal lifestyles and their political campaigns; yet despite the exposure and, more recently, attention from French investigative magistrates, the fraud continued. Even Mitterrand's own adviser and close personal friend François de Grossouvre had grown weary of the corruption of the president's inner circle. When journalist Jean Montaldo told him the title of his forthcoming book on the scandals (Mitterrand and the 40 thieves...), de Grossouvre grimly joked: "Only 40 thieves?" Three months later, at the age of 76, de Grossouvre committed suicide in the presidential palace, apparently disgusted that the president was going to dragging down into the mud. (De Groussouvre's name appeared on the deed of the farmhouse in Gordes, near Avignon, that Mitterrand had asked him to purchase and renovate for his mistress.)

Socialism and higher levels of corruption. Again, a coincidence or an inevitability? Again, is this brazen corruption conceivable in United States politics at the presidential level? Can you imagine Clinton or George Bush or Reagan purchasing farmhouses for their mistresses and doing so in the name of their cabinet officers? To ask the question is to answer it.
This is an entirely different phenomenon. This is an overt dirty politics that I again associate with Canada; the sort of pork barreling which when exposed does not lead to people departing office; where politicians are so secure and immovable that they are above the law and beyond the usual standard of preferential treatment behind the closed door. Clinton was almost successfully impeached for what was essentially just fibbing about several blow jobs received pro bono. Compare the relative innocence of that crime with the substantial crimes of wire-tapping, bulglary and so forth that took place during the Nixon administration, which inherited such practices from Kennedy and Johnson etc.

Also, it's worth keeping in mind that France was still nationalizing industries as late as the early 1980s when the mega aircraft corporation Dassualt was stolen from its owner. Dictatorship of the proletariat indeed!

Page 210-212: The corruption scandals that grew in intensity and ultimately threatened to land Chirac in jail provide an essential backdrop to the Iraq crisis of 2002-2003 and the French president's conscious decision to sacrifice a 225-year-old alliance with America on the altar of political expediency.

...Roland Dumas was not just any former Foreign Minister. At the time he was indicted, he was chief justice of the French Supreme Court...

French writer Airy Routier observed that the relentless pursuit of the investigative magistrates in the Elf scandal showed "a conflict between two cultures - French power-play and raison d'etat, and a new approach, a more Anglo-Saxon one, which values transparency and openness and a much diminished economic role for the state."
Now the cozy schemes carried out in Chirac's name - extortion and racketeering in public housing, political campaign workers and party employees placed full-time on the municipal payroll, huge sums for nonexistent consulting jobs paid to political cronies, and cash slush funds he personally managed - were coming to light. Some of these cases were "set-aside" by public prosecutors, who remained loyal to the politicians who appointed them. Albin Chalandon, who served as Chirac's Minister of Justice from 1986 to 1988, remarked on the surreal character of the French justice system: "One day we need to get beyond the point where a Justice Minister's role, as far as the political class is concerned, comes down to getting his friends out of trouble and plunging his enemies into it." ... (Yes, in France the Justice Minister can simply call up a prosecutor and order him to set aside a case he is working on, although it is usually done with slightly more finesse through a subordinate who "suggests" that "reasons of state" make it imperative that the case be dropped.)

Anyway, you get the idea. There are pages and pages, chapter after chapter of this kind of thing. The government is a huge boondoggle, the kind that Benjamin Franklin envisioned would appear in the US within two generations, with the have-less voting itself the wealth of the have-mores, exploding the constitution and launching a new bloody revolution.

Page 238: The single most important thing president Chirac did after his reelection in May 2002 was to push hard at the UN to "streamline" the procedures for getting exports to Iraq approved - in essence, gutting the export control process... The head of Middle East sales at agricultural equipment manufacturer Irrifrance told me " the UN has only two 10-day periods to review the requests. Failure to meet the deadline means automatic approval" ... In other words, thanks to the French, the UN controls over Saddam Hussein's imports effectively had been lifted. This was a major, unpublicized element that contributed to the US sense of urgency in moving against Saddam later that year. The Bush administration knew full well that it was only a matter of time before Saddam managed to acquire all the equipment he needed to fill the gaps in his weapons programs. Thanks to the French, the floodgates had been lifted.

Page 242: "Deep in the soul of Jacques Chirac, he believes that Saddam Hussein is preferable to the alternative that is likely to emerge when Iraqi is liberated," Richard Perl said prophetically in February 2003. And he was right. Chirac knew that France would never get the same kinds of deals from a free Iraqi government, established under US supervision, that operated transparently and awarded contracts according to merit in price, not political favoritism, kickbacks, and bribes. And that is one reason the French insisted the United States turn Iraq into a United Nation's protectorate, in the hope they can reassert their corrupt and corrupting influence after the liberation, far from the light of day. When that idea fell flat, the French insisted on rushing full sovereignty onto a new Iraqi government in the belief it would be crippled by factionalism and, thus, easy for France to manipulate to its benefit. There was no logical connection between these two diametrically opposed positions, other than the bold assertion of French commercial interest. French commentators, for all their slavish devotion to Cartesian logic, have universally failed to pick up on the fundamental absurdity of this policy about-face by the government.

"French diplomacy today continues to consider Iraq as a cake to be divided and not as a democracy to be constructed," former Chirac ally Alain Madelin told me. "One of the demands of France [at the UN] is that there be an [Iraqi] Authority not under American control over Iraq's economy, in charge of contracts." Top on the list of French priorities were the Total and Elf production-sharing contracts [negotiated during the Saddam regime - Biff], which combined in the now privatized TotalFinaElf conglomerate would be worth well over US $100 billion over seven years...

Page 244: In a closed door session with members of French parliament shortly before Baghdad fell,[French Foreign Minister Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin] reportedly claimed that the "hawks" in the US administration were "in the hands of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon." The the war in Iraq was being led by a "pro-Zionist" lobby that included Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, White House staffer Elliot Abrams, and Pentagon adviser Richard Perl, all of them Jews.

Page 249: "Although he was no longer threatened with going to jail, at least for as long as he remained [president], Chirac was widely considered by friends and foes alike as a lightweight, a guignol (puppet), a poor imitation of de Gaulle. Without a grand international victory to put France back on the map, Chirac would be remembered as an affairist, a scandal plagued president who relied on black money and corruption for the source of his power because he could never muster any real depth of popular support or even respect. Opposing Americans saving Saddam [on the notion that he was a counterweight to US hegemony - Biff] was going to be Chirac's ticket to history's Hall of Fame. Chirac was determined to make France a world power once again, after 60 years of betrayal, mediocrity, and decline.

Also interesting is the fascist element portrayed in this book:

Page 252: Alain Madelin fell silent for nearly a minute when I asked him what he thought had pushed Chirac and Villepin to actively undermine the US effort to build an international coalition at the United Nations and at NATO. Finally he gave a sigh:

"You've got to understand that a good part of this is the personal saga of Dominique de Villepin. If you read his book Le Cri de la gargouille [The Gargoyles Cry], you understand everything. His heroes are Machiavelli and Napoleon. He explains that the French people have been disenchanted by their Prince and need to fall in love with him again through a grand, flamboyant, international epic."

I would love to quote more in this vein but need to keep this already very long set of quotes to a manageable length.

On the same page: France fears "the sun of new realities," Villepin writes. (p. 17) the real struggle in today's world, he believes, is not between freedom and tyranny, but between the French religion of the all-powerful states and the Anglo-American system of transparency, checks and balances, which he reminds his readers "inspired only contempt" when the original generation of French revolutionaries looked across the Atlantic for support in 1793. (p. 33) I think he is right - for France. Americans need to understand their values and our model poses a challenge for the French, who have consistently favored authoritarian régimes over democracy, not just in the Third World but also in Europe, where they are still attempting to force an autocratic constitution for the European Union down the throats of the newly liberated nations of the former Soviet Bloc despite an outright rejection of the model by the European summit on December 14, 2003.
Page 253: [Villepin writes] "long ago, power had an aura that no one would dispute. You kneel before the powerful because a single gesture, a word spoken slightly more loudly than another, a sign of satisfaction or irritation, would be decisive, announcing an act modifying the order of the world." Today, the French believe that "power has abandoned them," Villepin writes with apparent regret. "What is power that can do nothing?" (pp. 15-16) Faced with the challenge from America, its overwhelming economic success, it's "unbridled domination" (p. 49), the frightening mobility of the classless society where social norms must be reinvented with each generation, "how could some of us not feel tempted by nostalgia for a time when France was ruled by an all-powerful state, that had only to appear to be obeyed? France is obsessed with power; it is a national illness come from the depths of the ages." (p. 17) first among Frenchmen who share that session are Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin and his "Prince," Jacques Chirac.

This is facism with all of its romantic reversion to a past that never was, the tell-tale wooly rhetoric signifying profundity but meaning in fact nothing, the fatherly and/or homo-erotic love and worship of the mythical national hero, the utter inability to see the world in terms of systems and instead reducing complex events to a combat between jarheads, with the heroic moron on our side having for his highest virtues his moral soundness, his acceptance of the prevailing superstitutions, his polite mouthing of this morning's prejudices and hearty bellowing of this evening's shibolleths, his amiable keeping up with the political trends and fashions, better described as crazes. Marx would have approved; he does approve. Read the second page of the Communist Manifesto if you doubt.

Perhaps also worth inserting at this point is that I've come to closer to understanding why the British press has such a revulsion for the French. As I understand it, frog is still acceptable in print when feeling provoked. Talk about French arrogance seemed no more than some sort of atavistic racial rumor. However, one begins to wonder if there is actually some substance behind the rumor, as, in fact, upon examination, there usually is something to most.

Page 255:Villepin's strutting and delusions of grandeur at times turned France into an object of ridicule. After the [2003 Iraq] war, at an international meeting in Versailles, Villepin solemnly proclaimed that he and the Pope - and they alone - had saved the west from a clash of civilizations with Islam. "There was an audible gasp in the room," one participant said. "People couldn't believe what they were hearing. They were visibly stunned." Within hours, Villepin's comments were being whispered in Parisian salons as if they were the stuff of divine revelation. I heard them repeated by government officials without the slightest hint of irony.

Such pretensions would be pathetic - if they weren't coming from France, a country bound to America through generations of a love-hate relationship and a country that still has much to offer.

And finally, from page 264: A source close to Chirac told the paper that the French President considered Bush and his administration "the most reactionary administration" he had ever seen - plus reac, tu meurs! In the gutter-chic slang of Foreign Minister Villepin.

There was comic relief in the wretched reporting, such as this gem from a backgrounder in Le Figaro: "Not long after the election of Bush the father, Jacques Chirac was the first French leader to meet him - even before [French] President Mitterrand - during a trip to the United States in May 1989. A trip during which the former Prime Minister [Chirac], who had just been beaten in the presidential election, met everyone who counted for anything in American society at the time: from the president of Disney, Michael Eisner, to film stars Gregory Peck, Jane Fonda, Sarah [sic] Fawcett and Sidney Poitier." The French, who pride themselves on their sophisticated worldview, still have a hard time seeing beyond Hollywood and Disney World.

Having read this book, I get the feeling that France enjoys a political structure founded upon the tribal practice of common ownership, luxuriant conspiracy theories (grasping cabals of international moguls, shady seditious Jews, cultural imperialists plotting the destruction of languages, costume, cuisine, the glory of France, etc.), plus the tribal big man who promises modern potlatch (jobs, welfare, national pride, international glory), the generation of mythologies and the veneration of larger-than-life antidemocratic heroes (Napoleon and de Gaulle), and a pre-mathematics, pre-science, pre-systems opposition to laissez-faire capitalism.

Also, the pattern appears that the greater the pervasiveness of socialism, the more profound the degree of corruption. This is easy to think through. With socialism you get union style corruption because with the nationalization of the private sector, everything is unionized and under the ageis of bosses (i.e. politicians and bureaucrats, neither of whom knows the first thing about how the private sector operates; and operating the private sector is no more possible them accurately predicting the weather, and for exactly the same elemental reason: the level of complexity involved in even the smallest of events is simply mind-boggling, let alone trying to run an entire economy). Again, the greater the degree of socialism, the greater the swallowing up of previously private-sector affairs by government officials. In other words, if you took the US drug war and the rampant corruption of US police, politicians, policy, and so forth and expanded that into many other sectors of the US economy, you would have an approximation of France. For as soon as anything is forbidden, and under socialism a great deal is proscribed and handed over to the government (that's the whole point: citizens are not to be trusted with freedom and the meek, i.e. the majority voting population, see this as the only way to inherit the earth in their lifetimes), and a black market inevitably evolves. And, given the bureaucratic nature of governments everywhere, it is only bribery and special connections which enable anything to be done forthrightly. (Without connections, it now requires 150 days to get a goddamned fingerprint check done by Canada's national police force). And this is not simply because bureaucracies are slow and incompetent by nature, but also because many bureaucrats realize that since they have monopoly power over entire swaths of the economy, they're in a position to solicit bribes; for otherwise they can deliberately prevent anything from getting done. The only alternative is the black market, the mafia, the fly-by-night shyster. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, socialism achieves just that. It deliberately eliminates competition, i.e. choice, i.e. the freedom to choose, i.e. freedom.

To conclude this rant, one of the more frustrating contradictions of socialism I witnessed in Canada was that my fellow citizens wanted big brother to solve all of their problems regarding jobs, make-work projects, welfare, inflation, interest rates, corporate bailouts, tax incentives, handouts, roads, cost of airflights, telephone service, water, alcohol sales, sex, schools, pollution, the free press, slander (via the elimination of free speech through various slippery law bills), etc., etc., etc. But when big brother gets caught with his hand in the till, which is frequently, the attitude is that government is too big and nothing can be done. I regularly saw this contradiction - greed disguised as the pursuit of economic equality and social justice on the one hand; lazy entitlement-addled passivity on the other. It was maddening. In Taiwan, people know enough to open their own business if they wish to become wealthy. In Canada, at least where I lived, it was hard to find anybody who wanted to start their own biz (and I spoke to many people about this at the time). It seemed most Eastern Canadians expected the government to raise their living standards for them; which is tantamount to, non-figuratively, trying to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Biff Cappuccino

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Part 3 of a Review of Karl Marx by Francis Wheen

Not only Marx was incapable or, and more likely, unwilling to express himself clearly, but Engels too had a similar weakness for phrases and often produced dreamy, flighty, effeminate, jejune, hagiographic stuff as well. ... a poem written by Engels in 1842 includes a vivid description of his future collaborator - whom he hadn't yet met - based entirely on the breathless reminisces of fellow intellectuals:

Who runs up next with wild impetuosity?
As swarthy chap of Trier, a marked monstrosity.
He neither hops nor skips, but moves in leaps and bounds,
Raving aloud. As if to seize and then pull down
To Earth the spacious tent of heaven up one high,
He opens wide his arms and reaches for the sky.
He shakes his wicked fist, raves with a frantic air,
As if ten thousand devils have him by the hair.

With Engels one of the brighter bulbs in Marx's proximity, it's not difficult to understand why the prophet shone so luxuriantly in comparison.

With regard to the Marxian beard, the author points out that it was a stage-prop for the audience:

This apparently careless luxuriance was contrived quite deliberately. Both Marx and Engels understood the power of the hirsute, as they proved in a sneering aside halfway through the pamphlet on the poet and critic Gottfried Kinkel, written in 1852:

"London provided that much venerated man with a new, complex arena in which to receive even greater acclaim. He did not hesitate: he would have to be the new lion of the season. With this in mind he refrained from the time being from all political activity and withdrew into the seclusion of his home in order to grow a beard, without which no prophet can succeed."

Like many prophets, Jesus Christ comes to mind, Karl Marx was often cruel to his apes and not at all pleasant to be around. The historian, Karl Friedrich Koppen, a habitue of the Doctors Club, found himself paralyzed whatever he was in Marx's company. ' Once again I now have thoughts of my own,' he wrote soon after his fearsome friend had left Berlin in 1841, ' ideas that I have (so to speak) produced myself... now I can really work once more, and I'm pleased to be walking around amongst complete idiots without feeling that I am one myself...'

It is worth noting, first of all, that Karl Friedrich Koppen writes clearly! Marx was not just obscure, but also, no doubt, cultivated ferociousness in order to keep doubters and worse, hecklers, at a safe distance. For one suspects that the Marxian failure to generate sustainable trains of logic must have been clear to many observers. Through cultivating a ferocious temper, a fierce gaze, a disarming and disruptive contempt, and nasty vulgar manners, no doubt many civilized individuals were unwilling, simply couldn't be buggered, to go toe-to-toe with the mean-spirited little weasel.

An example of his juvenile bullying appears on page 41. This again, is quite telling, and substantiates my growing sense that left-wing academics, particularly the opinion leaders, are fundamentally juvenile at heart.

As soon as I was in the house, he shut the doors, hid the key and cheered comically at me that I was his prisoner.... He came over to me, gave me to understand that he had me in his power, and, with a malice that recalled an imp rather than the intended devil, he began to attack me with threats and cuffs. I begged him to spare me that sort of thing, because it went against the grain to pay him back in the same coin. When he did not stop I gave him a serious warning that I would deal with him in a way which he was certainly feel when that too did no good I saw myself compelled to dispatch him into the corner of the room. When he got up I said that I found his personality boring and asked him to open the front door. Now it was his turn to be triumphant. 'Go home then, strongman,' he mocked, and added a most comical smirk.... In the end I warned him that if he would not open the door for me, then I would get it open myself and he would have to pay for the damage. Since he only answered with mocking sneers, I went down, tore the front door off its lock and called out to him from the street that he should shut the house up to prevent the entry of thieves. Dumb with amazement that I had escaped from his spell, he leaned out of the window and goggled at me with his small eyes like a wet goblin.

The author's excuse is that Marx was drunk. But drunkenness in itself tells me plenty, not to mention which the pathetic struggle by Marx to dominate Koppen, by hook or by crook, if not by wit then by physical force, shows him yet again playing sophomoric psychological games. If he was a superior thinker, then why not out-think the man, out-wordsmith him, dazzle him with extemporaneity, anything but this sort of homo-erotic bumbling.

On page 45 the author and Marx conspire again to demonstrate that neither has a talent for syllogism:

Reporting a comment by one of the knightly half-wits in the provincial assembly - 'It is precisely because the pilfering of wood is not regarded as theft that it occurs so often - he led rip with a characteristic reductio ad absurdum: 'By analogy with this, the legislator would have to draw the conclusion: it is because a box on the ear is not regarded as a murder that it has become so frequent. It should be decreed therefore a box on the ear is murder.'

This may not have been communism but it was quite not enough to worry Prussian officialdom...

This is indeed rather amusing, but because Marx, the indefatigable bumbler, gets it wrong, yet again. Boxing the ears, like pilfering of wood was common because neither was an infraction of the law. Applying a legal penalty to both would likely reduce their incidence. Given that the penalty for pilfering is not death, why should it be death for boxing the ears? Here, yet again, Marx gets excited, tries too hard, gets lost in verbal effects and fumbles the ball.

Par for the course. He does this again and again, with a monotonous and implacable regularity. He can't think to save his life because there's something wrong at the foundation of his thought processes. We've all met the type of unfortunate person, who with an awful inevitably gets everything wrong and who only gets something right by accident. Even if said person concludes something sensible, upon investigation it turns out that it's inevitably for the wrong reason. Point this out convincingly to said person, and on realizing their error, he immediately embraces a new conclusion: one that is palpably wrong. In the same vein and for the same reasons, expecting Marx to get something right is expecting monkeys banging on typewriters to bang out Shakespeare in short order. It just ain't going to happen with this guy.

A case in point, as if one needed anymore evidence of this, is Marx's racial views. From page 55: In his later correspondence with Engels, he sprayed anti-Semitic insults at his enemies with savage glee: the German Socialist Ferdinand Lasalle, a frequent victim, was described variously as the Yid, Wily Ephraim, Izzy and the Jewish nigger. ' It is now quite plain to me - as the shape of his head and the way his hair grows also testify - that he is descended from the Negroes who accompanied Moses' flight from Egypt, unless his mother or paternal grandmother interbred with a nigger,' Marx wrote in 1862, discussing the ever fascinating subject of Lasalle's ancestry. ' Now, this blend of Jewishness and Germanness, on the one hand, and basic negroid stock, on the other, must inevitably give rise to a peculiar product. The fellows importunity is also niggerlike.

That Marx was racist can be explained away as him simply being a product of his times, though there were plenty of intelligent people who didn't take to it. But more importantly than this, and as the author fails to surmise, Marx's motivation here is simply to acquire power over Lasalle through denigrating his background. Since Marx was intimidated by him, he tried to overcome him at a safe distance through besmirching his name and reputation. Again, we have the signature of an inferiority-complex driven individual with a lust for power and no talent to achieve it, and who thus resorts to vulgar, violent, unintelligent means to achieve his ends.

Marx isn't comical: he's a bullying, crude, sinister, pathetic medieval figure right out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. He wasn't a prophet of the future, but a traditional unenlightened tyrant with the prejudices, violent means, and lack of honor pervasive during the Age of Chivalry. In another age, he would have hired himself out to the Inquisition and gone a-hunting witches and a-torturing sorcerers, participating in perpetrating Europe's biggest Big Lie and pocketing the usual percentage the Church issued to its informants, torturers, and other professional opportunists. Unfortunately for Marx, he lived in a more liberal and enlightened age, and was thus left instead with only such mediocre opportunities as taking advantage of all the mediocrities around him, from his wife, to his parents, to his maid, to his friends. He was a fraud and financially speaking a failure, except where he was successful as a sponge. The fact that his ideation and writings have gone on to impact the 20th century is not a testament to his intelligence and innovation, but a testament to the lack of intelligence and ignorance that the masses, and particularly the post-proletariat intelligentsia, have shown when given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. From beginning to end, Marx clearly wrote for the economically illiterate, inventing a sort of 19th-century parallel to Creation Science but dedicating it to idiots with liberal arts backgrounds.

In his writings he makes the most elemental mistakes, revealing an intellect almost as feeble as Noam Chomsky's. He confuses professionals with laborers, exhorts feudalism as superior to capitalism. But rather than just make claims, I suppose it's better to let Francis Wheen and Marx speak for themselves. From page 69:

Furthermore, in a prosperous society there will be growing concentration of capital and more intense competition. 'The big capitalists ruin the small ones and a section of former capitalists sinks into the class of the workers which, because of this increase in numbers, suffers a further depression of wages and becomes ever more dependent on the handful of big capitalists. Because the number of capitalists has fallen, competition for workers hardly exists any longer, and because the number of workers has increased, competition among them has become all the more considerable, natural and violent.'

Big capitalists may ruin small ones, although it's quite often a matter of buying them out (ex: Microsoft) and making them super-millionaires or the smaller defeating the bigger (GM and Toyota), but very few capitalists are going to sink back to become workers. That's ludicrous. Most people who run small businesses are very conservative, particularly when they're not very bright; and the overwhelming majority of millionaires, contrary to the expectations of wage slaves, are in fact quite thick (check out the photos of the millionaires that make it to the top of the direct marketing biz: many of them are clearly foreigners in the country they're operating, and, given the garish costumes and dim-witted expressions you find in abundance, to assume that the run of the mill is cultivated and knowledgeable is to be very optimistic) And, because they're thick, they're not given to taking chances in the main and almost always hedge their bets. When they invest, they almost always diversify so that in the event their business goes bust, their finances don't go bust with it. It must be a tiny fraction of business people who actually lose their shirt with their business goes bust. The whole point of incorporation is to keep debt-collectors at a safe distance in the event of bankruptcy. The type of person who becomes a millionaire in the first place is generally not the kind of person who takes chances and places all their money on one horse. Most people who gamble remain poor; as they say, gambling is a tax on the stupid. Successful businesspeople don't gamble; they place their bets on sure things. It is for this reason that they become wealthy in the first place. In other words, it is only the economically illiterate, a failing often found in the humanities literate, who can actually be fooled by such absurd claims and presumptions. How can one possibly believe that Marx, who supposedly devoted the better part of his life to the British Museum, actually spent most of it reading up on economics? It's far more likely that spent his day riffling through anthropology texts, the porn of an earlier era.

More Marx and Wheen: A day's missed toil is as worthless in the market as yesterday's morning newspaper, and can never be recovered. ' Labor is life, and if life is not exchanged every day for food it suffers and soon perishes.' Unlike other commodities, labor can be neither be accumulated nor saved - not by the laborer, at any rate. The employer is more fortunate, since capital is ' stored up labor' with an indefinite shelf life.

So which is it? Labor can be stored up, or not? If capital is stored-up labor (i.e. everything from money to manufacturing equipment (from hammers to machine presses)), why on earth prevents employees from having capital? And, either way, why can't they invest in corporate stock? Why can't they invest in their own business? And how is it that a day's missed toil is worthless? A day's missed toil can be a day applied to training, to study, etc. What is a two-year MBA program but two years of missed toil?

Marx endlessly spouts gibberish and it takes a genuine Simple Simon to swallow this kind of garbage, rub his tummy and come back for more. Either that, or it requires a mindset which has a prodigious disregard for sense and logic, one which is motivated by something entirely different from an upstanding intellectual desire to understand the world around us. And that motive is one which Marx manifests endlessly, desparately, fanatically: the lust for power and at any price, provided someone else, anyone else foots the bill.

When the ambitious fail to achieve power through the usual accepted means, due to wilful incompetence, youthful ignorance, or whatever, for those with the gift of gab, the power of words to deceive becomes very tempting. As I hope I have demonstrated, Marx was essentially willing to do whatever it took to achieve power. Whether it was hiding his intent through poetic imagery, physically bullying his friends, playing theatre via growing a beard and refusing to bathe, resorting to racism to keep his competitors at a safe psychic distance, on to being ferocious and domineering at every turn with everyone, his intent, from beginning to end, was to achieve what he could not achieve via noble means: power, fame, and financial security.

I only got as far as page 78 of this 383 page biography. Perhaps you'll have more endurance than me...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Part 2 of a review of Karl Marx by Frances Wheen (first draft & incomplete)

With regard to Marx's weakness for phrases, this is in part explained on page 19: Unlike his own son, Edgar, the Marx boy [i.e Karl Marx, the prophet] had a hunger for knowledge and a quick intelligence with which to digest it. On long walks together, the old man would recite long passages from Homer and Shakespeare to his young companion. Marx came to know much of Shakespeare by heart - and used it to good effect, salting and peppering his adult writings with apt quotations and analogies from the plays.' His respect for Shakespeare was boundless: he made a detailed study of his works and knew even the least important of his characters,' Marx's son-in-law Paul recalled. 'His whole family had a real cult for the great English dramatist; his three daughters knew many of his works by heart. When after 1848 he wanted to perfect his knowledge of English, which he could already read, he sought out and classified all Shakespeare's original expressions.'

On page 25 appears the following: His reading list from this period shows the breadth of these intellectual explorations: who else, while composing a philosophy of law, would think it worthwhile to make a detailed study of Johann Joachim Winkelmann's History of Art? ... In the next semester, while devouring dozens of textbooks on civil procedure and cannon law, he translated Aristotle's Rhetoric, read Francis Bacon and 'spent a good deal of time on Reimarus, to whose book on the artistic instincts of animals I applied my mind with delight'.

With regard to the first sentence, intelligent people who self-study a field often engage in interdisciplinary exploration. They have the time and definitely the motivation, and the fact that Frances Wheen would find this novel is very suggestive as to his own range of erudition. As to the second sentence, passing over the dubious likelihood that anyone would devour dozens of textbooks on any field, there comes a simple question of why an intelligent person not chained to a university lecture-hall desk would devour textbooks in any number in the first place? Textbooks are almost always written by mediocrities: did Newton, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, or George Orwell write textbooks? University textbooks are almost always the worst source of information for anything.

Another example perhaps of the burble of flowing words, a further proof that neither Frances Wheen nor Karl Marx were generally interested in ideas but yearned instead for the narcotic of poetry, is found on page 28: No false modesty there: at the age of 19 he was already trying on the clothes of a Man of Destiny and finding that they fitted him handsomely. Now that he had begun the next stage of life, he wanted to erect a memorial to what he had lived through - ' and where could a more sacred dwelling place be found for it than in the heart of the parent, the most merciful judge, the most intimate sympathizer, the sun of love whose warming fire is felt at the innermost center of our endeavors!'

One might complain that this is Marx at the tender young age of 19, when the desire for poetry is allegedly at its apex, though I never could stomache the stuff myself at any age. However, the Communist Manifesto which he wrote in 1848 as a ripe adult is full of the same sort of tripe: The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstacies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.

Not only is it factually nonsensical, logically improbable, and a clear attempt to generate smoke and heat through the sneak of anthropomorphizing a wooly concept and giving it arms, legs, and a sinister character, but what on earth are the heavenly ecstasies of chivalrous enthusiasm and philistine sentimentalism? The only thing I find myself in agreement with is the philistine nature of sentimentalism; though this is surely not what Marx meant by the phrase. What did Marx mean? Did even he know? Did he care? It reads more like a booster politician's speech from 1920's America.

I hate to go back to Henry Mencken, yet again, for a quote, but he covers most of the bases when it comes to democracy, particularly its foibles and fustian. On page 43 of a Carnival of Buncombe Mencken quotes the New York Times' defense of President Harding in 1921: "Mr. Harding's official [speaking] style is excellent. Its merits are obvious. In the first place, it is a style that looks Presidential. It contains the long sentences and big words that are expected... furthermore, the president's style is one that radiates hopefulness and aspiration, and is a fitted vehicle for sentiment of the kind dear to a million American firesides... It is complained that the president is too verbose and too vague. But this is... to miss entirely the point of popular acceptance. In the president's misty language the great majority see a reflection of their own indeterminate thoughts."

Mencken's concludes: In other words, bosh is the right medicine for boobs. The doctrine, alas, is not new.... What ails the style of Dr. Harding, in brief, is precisely the fact that he spent his whole life addressing persons devoid of intelligence, and hence afraid of ideas. His normal hearer, down to the time he became a candidate for the presidency, was an Ohio yokel whose notions of a lofty and satisfactory rhetoric were derived from reading the Marion Starr... and from listening to speeches by visiting fraternal order magnates... stump oratory by Ohio Congressman, and sermons by ecclesiastical morons trying to imitate Gypsy Smith and Billy Sunday. Addressing such simians, the learned doctor acquired a gift for the sort of discourse that is to their tastes. It is a kind of baby talk, a puerile and windblown gibberish. In sound it is like a rehearsal by a country band, with only the bass drummer keeping time. In content it is a vacuum.

What the mob wants is the mere sough and burble of words, add a solemn mien and some transparent monkeyshines, and it is willing to listen and believe.

That last sentence sums up Marx and much of his verbal relationship with his audience. Unconvinced? Here's some more Marx (1841): As long as a single drop of blood pulses in her world-conquering and totally free heart, philosophy will continually shout at her opponents the cry of Epicurus: 'Impiety does not consist in destroying the gods of the crowd but rather in ascribing to the gods the ideas of the crowd.' Philosophy makes no secret of it. The proclamation of Prometheus - 'In one word, I hate all gods' - is her own profession, or one slogan against all gods in heaven and earth who do not recognize man's self-consciousness as the highest divinity. There shall be none other beside it.

This was during his student days, and he apparently never got over this sort of opposing the adults by fluffing up the obvious via the application of campus sloganeering. He rarely wrote a forthright sentence. And it's not at all the case that 19th-century writers universally expressed themselves in the sort of clogged Victorianese one might naively expect from the period. Writers from Thomas Paine through to Oscar Wilde were all capable of writing clearly, concisely, and in an entertaining manner. Mediocrities follow the fashions and cliches of the age, but authors who are self-possessed and have a great deal to say usually value economy and precision. Those with nothing new between their ears, but plenty of the old and gray to rehash and an uncontrollable impetus to burst into song about something, anything, go for the fluffing route, the apostle route, the swami route.

After reading pages and pages of the bloviated author and Marx, it became a torment to turn the page and I was already beginning to scrawl rough epithets in the margins by page 36 because the author is so unflaggingly enthusiastic about Marx's juvenility, egotism, boggling of logic, and unpluggable verbal diahhrea.

For example, on page 34: In July 1841 Marx went to stay with Bruno Bauer in Bonn, where the two reprobates spent an uproarious summer shocking the local bourgeoisie - getting drunk, laughing in church, galloping through the streets on donkeys and (rather more subversively) penning an anonymous spoof...

Down the page Marx is quoted by a supposedly radical philosopher as saying: for I find the proximity of the Bonn professors intolerable. Who would want to have to talk always with intellectual skunks, with people who study only for the purpose of finding new dead ends in every corner of the world!'... thus Bonn remains my residence for the time being; after all, it would be pity if no one remained here for the holy men to get angry with.'

Again, the author quotes the above with approval. But nobody studies with the purpose of finding new dead ends in every corner of the world. This is the lame type of political jocosity beloved of oppressed second-raters. It's the sort of revenge kick I heard ad nauseum as a child in the inferiority-complex driven nationalist humor of Scotland and Northern Ireland: utterly improbable events contrived to have the Englishman fall on his arse every time and thus give the politically powerless the illusion of empowerment. This sort of haw-haw is developed first of all by the type of low-grade individual who enjoys formula humor and who, ipso facto, is either immersed in the company of half-wits too dazed to understand wit or else who simply wholesale lacks the imagination and worldliness required for wit and thus wouldn't understand it if he heard it anyway. If nothing else, wit requires that the statement made be at least superficially accurate.

In the second lame haw-haw, the one about it being a pity if no one remained behind with the holy man, the same problem occurs. It's just not funny. It's too easy, like a pun. There's no refreshing twist, no suspense, just another sad Vaudeville wheeze. Hurry up and laugh! Sigh. It's not just pathetic but also symptomatic of the same dull unthinking frame of mind that led to the bragging about drunkenness, the outraging the local yokels in church, or the galloping through the streets on donkeys. Yawn. Why would someone of a superior intellect care what the locals thought at all? I've lived in such a town; actually, in such towns. I live in such a city as we speak. Impressing buffoons is no more rewarding than trying to impress a dog with chaos theory.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Part 1 of a review of Karl Marx by Frances Wheen

One of the telling things about Karl Marx is that his theories gained such broad currency despite being so counterintuitive to a person of experience. Marx starts out with dubious propositions, juggles incredible logic on the way to developing nigh impossible prognostications. But then, of course, Marx offered an essentially secular edition of the meek shall inherit the earth; which is to say the ne'er do wells, mediocrities, hard-luck Charlies, and garden variety fuck-ups which constitute so much of the population of all nations were given an encouraging heads-up and a spiritual lifting up by the bootstraps by Karl and his crew. Needless to say, this get-rich-quick sure-cure that Marx hawked, and surely didn't believe a word of, only benefited himself and his pals, many of whom surely did believe it and swallowed the bill of goods whole hog in one fantastic gulp; those with greater gifts of the EQ, if not the IQ, such as Lenin and Pol Pot, gave it an upgrade that enabled them to do really handsomely.

On the back of the book is a blurb by Nick Hornby, the author of such pop fiction works as High Fidelity, which you may have caught in the movie form. In Hornby's Guardian review he wrote, "I'll read anything by Frances Wheen, even a biography of Karl Marx, and my trust was not misplaced: the simple elegance of the writing, and Wheen's ability to winkle humor out of the most unpromising subject, results in a book which is far more pleasurable than anyone had the right to expect."

But Frances Wheen goes way out of his way to load up his sentences with unintelligible cleverness and cocktail party humor: From page 22:

What is dialectic? As any school child with a set of magnets - or, for that matter, any dating agency - will confirm, opposites can attract. If it were not so, the human race would be extinct. Female mates with male, and from their sweaty embrace a new creature emerges who will, eventually, repeat the process. Not always, of course, but often enough to ensure the survival of progress of the species.

The dialectic performs much the same function for the human mind. An idea, stripped naked, has a passionate grapple with its antithesis, from which a synthesis is created; this in turn becomes the new thesis, to be duly seduced by a new demon lover. Two wrongs may make a right - but, soon after its birth, that right becomes another wrong which must be subjected to the same intimate scrutiny as its forebears, thus we go forward. Marx's own engagement with Hegel was itself something of a dialectical process, from which emerged the nameless infant that was to become historical materialism.

This wheezing humor, this dreadful collecting of platitudes, this babysitting and hand-holding of the reader, plus the incurable addiction to the poetic, all performed at the expense of clarity, is most noticeable of all in the author's choice of quotes from Karl Marx's letters and works; a selection which is not flattering to the Prophet himself and which would suggest that Marx was incapable of writing an intelligible sentence. Then again, the author no doubt is mad about Marx because both have a rather diffident relationship with reality. Likes attract. Again, much of Marx, like Edward Said or Robert Kaplan, is unintelligible because all were far more interested in writing blank verse than prose. Nevertheless, Marx does fall to earth and write clearly at times, achieving an effect similar to when Biblical verse has been translated from the original Shakespearean into the modern vernacular by American protestant churches; which is to say, reducing poetry to syllogism which can then be tested for its logic and which, in the case of both the Bible and Marx, unluckily tends to fall on its face.

For example, from page 14: 'Social reforms,' Karl Marx wrote, when warning the working-class not to expect any philanthropy from capitalism,' are never carried out by the weakness of the strong; but always by the strength of the weak.' The strength of the weak?

In a laudable attempt to show superiority to his subject (there's nothing worse than authors affecting equality with the comman-man ignoramuses they usual deal with) the author points out, though not here unfortunately, that Marx has a weakness for trying too hard to find or fit a contradiction into everything. Marx, having come across a verbal effect that worked, in the manner of a one-trick Vaudeville comic, works it to death and wears out his welcome with the serious reader. Marx's heroic effort to marry poetry with syllogism becomes very tiring when one is trying to understand what the old fraud was on about. Though, of course, no doubt part of his success lies in the fact that his verbal effects, like those of any mob-master, obscure the logic of the underlying argument; when there is any.

That Marx would be an unpromising subject for humor to Nick Hornby is simply further evidence that most novelists, from Cervantes to Steinbeck, from Dickens to Nick Hornby, are ignorant, shallow, incurious, and not only devoid of ideas, but have no aptitude for juggling or generating them either; a claim that, admittedly, their readers will likely find offensive and presumptuous. To hell with their readers. I have a tough time taking novel-readers seriously as it is. Which, of course, explains why I write such bad novels...haha...

Anyway, anyone within even a passing acquaintance with Marx's life, or even just his writing (which, after all, is to be found infesting libraries, academe, and the internet), would presume that Marx must have led a fabulously interesting life. After all, like all prophets he found the elite and, unluckily all too often the great masses of the downtrodden as well, to not be too terribly fond of free speech. He was banished from his home country of Germany, banished from France, and spent most of his adult life in England where he roused his fans with millenarian predictions that socialism would break out like the black plague; but, which instead turned out to be no more than a profitable and newsworthy scare like SARS. Either way, Marx led an exciting and unusually languorous and sedentary life of sponging from everyone in his ambient environment, finally settling on Engels as the chief host to parasitize, with his daughters following down the glorious sponging path he had cleared for them and soaking Engels for all they could as well.

As a youth the eager and ambitious Marx wetted a finger, put it in the air and accurately forecast where his best chances lay for raking in the rubes. He and Engels grew beards and became swamis to the growing German socialist movement. He took day jobs for a while, serving as a newspaper and freelance reporter. Taking to the writing of tomes, he was involved in scandals concerning the veracity of some sources and the invention of others, while also getting caught toying with the words of individuals he claimed to be quoting verbatim. Engels went down the same slippery route and ended up also being found out in ignominious detail. Predating the post-modernists, both were proud members of the cult of victimhood which has a displayed a curiously consistent habit, from Canada's Farley Mowat to America's Noam Chomsky to Egypt's Edward Said to Australia's Lyndall Ryan and Henry Reynolds, of never letting the facts get in the way of the truth. If all of this weren't fodder enough to make a life interesting, Marx also refused to take baths, his skin was covered in boils regularly, he couldn't keep his friends, and he was a rough-handed racist who recklessly heaved heavy, greasy epithets at his enemies; the latter being one of the only things, in an irregular and dilettante life, that he succeeded in manufacturing on a regular basis. He was born into a family of middle-class means, died penniless but satisfied, having made a great success out of squeezing money out of suckers beginning with his doting parents whom he otherwise ignored (dodging his father's funeral, for example) while at the same time being fanatically egotistical and rude in a manner perhaps only outdone by the founder of the modern pimping line, the great Rousseau: a master-sponge who has deservedly won the admiration of hucksters and shysters for generations past and who will no doubt continue to do so forever more.