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Facebook helps you find the long lost. It goes unmentioned that long lost are so for good reasons. Admittedly, sometimes reasons only seem to be good. Most of them come with an expiration date. But so do most people.
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    Eventually Georgie said, “We better get some milk for those bunnies.”
    “We don’t have milk,” I said.
    “We’ll mix sugar up with it.”
    “Will you forget about this milk all of a sudden?”
    “They’re mammals, man.”
    “Forget about those rabbits.”
    “Where are they, anyway?”
    “You’re not listening to me. I said, ‘Forget the rabbits.’”
    “Where are they?”
    The truth was I’d forgotten all about them and they were dead.
    “They slid around behind me and got squashed,” I said tearfully.
    “They slid around behind?”
    He watched while I pried them out from behind my back.
    I picked them out one at a time and held them in my hands and we looked at them. There were eight. They weren’t any bigger than my fingers, but everything was there.
    Little feet! Little eyelids! Even whiskers! “Deceased,” I said.
    Georgie asked, “Does everything you touch turn to shit? Does this happen to you every time?”
    “No wonder they call me Fuckhead.”
    “It’s a name that’s going to stick.”
    “I realize that.”
    “‘Fuckhead’ is gonna ride you to your grave.”
    “I just said so, I agreed with you in advance” I said.
    – Emergency, in Jesus’ Son: Stories by Denis Johnson, HarperPerennial, 1993, pp. 83-84

Billy Crudup as FH in Jesus’ Son

Jack Black as Georgie and Denis Johnson as Terrence Weber in Jesus’ Son

When a fuckhead friend does you a favor, be thankful you are not a bunny.

In French, with inverted species relations:
Rien n’est si dangereux qu’un ignorant ami ;
Mieux vaudrait un sage ennemi.
— Jean de la Fontaine, L’Ours et l’Amateur des jardins

Image:Gustave Dore L'Ours Et L'Amateur Des Jardins.png
Illustration by Gustave Doré for Jean de La Fontaine, L’Ours et l’amateur des jardins

Хотя услуга нам при нужде дорога,
Но за нее не всяк умеет взяться:
Не дай бог с дураком связаться!
Услужливый дурак опаснее врага.
— Иван Андреевич Крылов, Пустынник и Медведь
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The popping sound you never hear:
Your head departing from your rear.

Donald Pleasence and Françoise Dorléac in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac
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― for Fred Rexer  

I have long believed that love must be pervasive or bogus. The kind of love that generates bereavement must also be permanent. On several occasions I have been cured of living love by dint of its object proving itself unworthy. The rule of “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” ensures that that cannot happen with the object of love gone beyond the pale of all change. Read more... )
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― for P.N.  

I have held off this response as long as I could. I do not and cannot expect it to serve as a peace missive. But I make every effort to soften the blows that I must dispense. I am hoping to factor out emotions like jealousy or anger. Not that I lack such responses to your bid to inflate your literary stature at my expense. The canonical riposte to this attempt would be to promise and ensure that you would only go down in history as a footnote to me. But I refuse to play our game in the service of vanity. Every time we tangle up in our egos, I stray from my course. It is a vice that I shall no longer tolerate in myself. To risk unsolicited if timely advice, it is also a luxury that you can no longer afford in your life.
    It remains that I owe you an answer. I further believe that you owe me contrition. Whether or not you acknowledge and discharge this debt is beyond my control. Read more... )
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“In self-defense, there’s no such thing as Overkill. The word ‘kill’ is absolute: you can be less than dead, but not more than dead. Dead enough. Other words that are absolute are ‘malevolent,’ ‘dangerous,’ and ‘stupid.’ If a person is malevolent, dangerous, and stupid enough to try his luck while you’re toting your .45 Automatic, he ought to be absolutely killed… not wounded. Don’t set yourself up to argue in court with some lout who’s accosted you. Kill him! Dead men give no testimony. Let the bum’s morgue photos speak for him while you’re being no-billed by the grand jury.”
—Fred Rexer, Jr., Dead or Alive: A Textbook on Self-Defense with the .45 Automatic, IDHAC Publishing, 1977, p. 2
[John] Milius remains adamant — and persuasive — in his claim to the heart of the matter. “My whole career is justified by having written Apocalypse [Now],” he says “I wrote the screenplay in 1969, and based the [Martin] Sheen character, and some of Kurtz, on a friend of mine, Fred Rexer, who actually experienced the scene [related by Marlon Brando] where the arms are hacked off by the Viet Cong. There were six drafts of the screenplay — well over a thousand pages. At one point Francis [Ford Coppola] said, ‘Write every scene you ever wanted to go into that movie.’” The title, he recalls, came from a button badge popular among hippies during the 1960s — “Nirvana Now.” [Note: “My whole career is justified” is from author’s phone conversation with John Milius.] <…>

    Melodrama pursued the production even in the comparative peace of the Sentinel Building. Fred Rexer turned up while they were looping the film, and regaled the sound engineers with stories of how, as a CIA operative, he had executed Viet Cong chieftains by squeezing his fingers through their eye-sockets and literally tearing their skulls apart. This colorful individual had presented John Milius with a rifle as a mark of respect for The Wind and the Lion, the film that had established Milius as the standard-bearer of the new machismo in Hollywood. In the basement studio he produced a loaded .45, handed it to Martin Sheen and said: “You could shoot anyone in this room. You have the power of life and death in your hands.” Sheen was stunned, and Coppola gaped in horror through the glass of the control room. The specter of the war continued to haunt Zoetrope long after Apocalypse was completed. One veteran tried to reach the upstairs offices, insisting that Coppola should make a film of his experiences and that if he would not, well, then he’d blow him away. [Note: “Fred Rexer turned up” is from author’s conversations with Richard Beggs.]
    —Peter Cowie, Coppola: A Biography, Da Capo Press, 1994, pp. 120, 128, 271, 272

Fred Rexer at Long Tieng, Laos in 1967
    The character of Willard, the army captain who toils up-river to terminate Colonel Kurtz and his renegade command, was based on Fred Rexer, whom Milius had met at a gun show soon after completing The Wind and the Lion. Rexer had been a Green Beret in Laos and had taken part in the Phoenix programme to subdue VC influence in the villages. Surreal by nature, he told Milius how he and his comrades had gone into Vientiane, ordered tiger-striped tuxedos from the local tailor and then dined together in their new regalia. Rexer had actually experienced the scene recounted by Kurtz in the film, where the arms of children are hacked off by the Vietcong. Sensing the symbiosis between Kurtz and Willard, Coppola wrote in one his earliest notes about the film in prospect, ‘if [Willard] can accept Kurtz, then he can accept himself’.
    —Peter Cowie, The Apocalypse Now Book, Da Capo Press, 2001, p. 158

    According to Doug Claybourne, who was supervising the post-production process, there were between thirty-five and forty-five different recording sessions of the voice-over, interspersed with screenings. ‘We did it many, many times,’ sighs [Michael] Herr.
Martin Sheen would come to San Francisco, and we’d be in the booth for a couple of days, recording it, and putting it to picture, and trimming it. One cut after another, I think there were like eight or nine. At one point we left, my wife, and our baby, and I, and just split, after like nine months.

    John Milius had also tried his hand at making sense of the narration. In a draft dated 26 January; 1979, he seemed finally to have licked the opening sentence: ‘Saigon. Shit. I’m still only in Saigon.’
    While Herr was away in New York, Fred Rexer, a friend of Milius’s, joined the Zoetrope scene to help with the narration. A towering hulk of a man, with pale skin and blue eyes, he would regale the sound engineers with stories of how, as a CIA operative, he had executed Viet Cong chieftains by squeezing his fingers through their eye-sockets and literally tearing their skulls apart.
    Doug Claybourne remembers Rexer as
the counterpart to Marty Sheen’s Willard in real life — he was the guy who was on a mission, to do whatever was needed to keep the war flowing the right way. It got really wild when Francis and Marty were down in the mixing room along with Milius and Rexer. Once Marty was on hand for the first or second narration, and he went out and did a lot of drinking. At about 2 o’clock in the morning I got this call from the police saying, ‘We have this guy Estevez and he’s in jail; come and get him.’ Marty had started dancing in a bar, and had been arrested and used his real name, Estevez. So we called out our lawyer and rescued him!

    In another incident, during a break for food in the basement of the Sentinel Building, Rexer produced a loaded .45 and handed it to Martin Sheen and said, ‘You could shoot anyone in this room. You have the power of life and death in your hands.’ Coppola, understandably not wanting anyone killed on his watch, pulled Milius aside and told him that loaded firearms were simply not part of the editing process. Rexer did spend time watching raw footage, however, and would extemporize and comment on what he was seeing, from his perspective as a former Green Beret. He even dictated snippets for Willard’s voice-over:
Napalm is the answer to the grunts’ prayers…
    I’m back in Vietnam. I can dream about times before Vietnam when I didn’t know the intensity of combat but the dreams part to a reality when you come out of it and you despise the fact that you have the intensity in you… but you want it… now that it’s there.
    I’m sitting in this hotel room and Charlie’s beating my ass because every minute that I stay here I get weaker and every minute Charlie stays in the bush he gets that much stronger.

And, later:
Every day I lay here I become less of a soldier and every day he squats in the bush he gets stronger.
    Pink-faced house cat… messenger boy for the lifers.
    Bernard Fall once said that war was too valuable to be entrusted to generals and peace was certainly too valuable to be entrusted to politicians…
    Charlie don’t surf but Charlie don’t fuck up by the numbers either.
    Perhaps the jungle hasn’t corrupted Kurtz, perhaps it’s purified him.
    ‘Few readers of the novel are immediately aware that there is a double narration,’ Herr said in 1987.
Marlow is only the second narrator. There’s a main narrator who listens to the story told by Marlow. All the problems connected to Apocalypse come, to my mind, from the impossibility of bringing Joseph Conrad to the screen. He’s a purely literary writer. You can’t transfer his sublime irony to the screen.
    —Ibid., pp. 107-109
    Kurtz: I’ve seen horrors… horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that… but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies. I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember… I… I… I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized… like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God… the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men… trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love… but they had the strength… the strength… to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral… and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment… without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.
    —Apocalypse Now

    [Nat Segaloff:] What the hell is Brando talking about in his colloquy?
    [John Milius:] He’s trying to explain to Willard what Truth is. He’s trying to make him look into the pit that he’s looked in, and see the Truth. He describes the VC [Viet Cong] and how they fight—that they are capable of this barbarity, but they fight with passion. They have concern for the children. He says, “If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles would be over very quickly.” They are not fighting a lie.21 One of the terrible things about the Vietnam War was that it was a lie between the president and the grunts. Prior to that, people knew what they were fighting for. Fred Rexer22 said that this generation, that was capable of the kind of heroism that he experienced when he was there in ’65 and ’66, will “never be again purchased so cheaply.” In other words, you used up not just a generation, but a nation’s ideals. And perhaps that’s at the root of a lot of our problems. [June 2000-February 2001]
    21 The meaning of this scene was clarified when Apocalypse Now Redux was released in 2001, restoring a major plot point: Kurtz had warned, in a suppressed intelligence report to the Joint Chiefs, that “dilettantes” with one-year tours of duty were useless against a dedicated enemy.
    22 Fred Rexer is a former Special Operations expert and frequent adviser on Milius’s films.
    —Patrick McGilligan, editor, Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, University of California Press, 2006, pp. 296-297

(Posted in reference to Euroweenie cavils.)
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― in memoriam Cosmo of the Magnificent Sunrise        
February 26, 1994 ― January 6, 2006        
    Petit mort pour rire     A small death for giggles
Va vite, léger peigneur de comètes !
Les herbes au vent seront tes cheveux ;
De ton œil béant jailliront les feux
Follets, prisonniers dans les pauvres têtes…
Take off, agile currier of comets!
These weeds wind-swept will stand in for your fur;
Your gaping orbs will shoot forth will-
o-wisps, locked up inside the noggin of a cur…
Les fleurs de tombeau qu’on nomme Amourettes
Foisonneront plein ton rire terreux…
Et les myosotis, ces fleurs d’oubliettes…
The ornaments called lilies of the valley
Will burgeon over your terrestrial woof…
Emboldened mice that trace your hillside grounds…
Ne fais pas le lourd : cercueils de poètes
Pour les croque-morts sont de simples jeux,
Boîtes à violon qui sonnent le creux…
Ils te croiront mort ― Les bourgeois sont bêtes ―
Va vite, léger peigneur de comètes !
Let’s go, friend: the crate that shelters poets,
A worn-out plaything proffered for a proof,
A violin boxed up, its echo thrown aloof…
They think you dead ― mistaken for a goof ―
Take off, agile currier of comets!
    ― Tristan Corbière     ― traduced by MZ
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    Pat Garrett: Say, I understand those Mexican señoritas are still pretty as ever down there.
    Holly: Yeah?
    Pat Garrett: Yeah. [Holly smiles.]
    Holly: Yeah.
    Luke: Yeah. [Luke smiles.]
    Billy the Kid: I know one’s waiting on you, hoss, with a knife. Remember them sisters?
    Pat Garrett: No. Which ones were they?
    Billy the Kid: That one you got up and asked how much you owed her. And she said. “Whatever you think it’s worth.” You threw a dime on her pillow. And the girl said, “If that’s all it’s worth, I might as well sew it up.” And Pat — [Billy laughs] — Pat said, “You could use a few stitches.” [Pat nods; Billy pauses; Holly and Luke laugh.] I didn’t feel she did.
    Pat Garrett: Son of a bitch. Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.
— Sam Peckinpah, Rudy Wurlitzer, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973
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    Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, Section 3

    The friend and enemy concepts are to be understood in their concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors or symbols, not mixed and weakened by economic, moral, and other conceptions, least of all in a private-individualistic sense as a psychological expression of private emotions and tendencies. They are neither normative nor pure spiritual antitheses. Read more... )
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― for Victor Yodaiken        
ἔτι καὶ αἱ παροιμίαι, ὥσπερ εἴρηται, μαρτύριά εἰσιν, οἷον εἴ τις συμβουλεύει μὴ ποιεῖσθαι φίλον γέροντα, τούτῳ μαρτυρεῖ ἡ παροιμία, μήποτ' εὖ ἔρδειν γέροντα.
― Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1376a
Further, proverbs, as stated, are evidence; for instance, if one man advises another not to make a friend of an old man, he can appeal to the proverb, Never do good to an old man.
― translated by J. H. Freese

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, 1653, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Read more... )
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    Michael first met his best friend Cosmo on their birthday, February 26, 1994. Cosmo, a sixth generation Californian Japanese canine-American, was perched on the hand of his breeder alongside his litter mate. Erin had found the breeder in Riverside. It was her idea to give Michael for his birthday present the very kind of a dog that he regretfully acknowledged lacking in responding to her Usenet personal ad three years earlier.
    Michael knew the name before he met its bearer. Cosmo was to be named in honor of cosmic harmony celebrated by Socrates. He had to commemorate the political conviction of Michael’s father Isaak for rootless cosmopolitanism. A few weeks earlier, Michael and Erin saw a movie based on Ian McEwan’s novel The Cement Garden, whose adolescent protagonist fantasized about a heroic spaceman accompanied by his faithful dog Cosmo. Finally, the proposed name stood proxy for a Japanese euphemism for the male member, with which Michael’s prospective best friend had to be endowed in spades. In a word, it was overdetermined.

    Two weeks later, Erin advertised herself as “young and available in LA” on the Usenet newsgroup Read more... )


Mar. 26th, 2005 01:36 am
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Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge.
You do not go till I set you up a glass
Where you may see the inmost part of you.
    I would like to go on record explaining my reference to Phil Nikolayev’s detractors as douchebags. Read more... )


Mar. 18th, 2005 07:34 pm
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― for P.N.

    I am tardy with you, because I have sought what I had forgotten, here and there, consigned to the Usenet, of your erstwhile obiter dicta. Herewith a response based on the next to nothing that I found. I shall abide by your request to withhold poetic criticism, not because I agree with your insistence that it is beyond my ken, but out of deference to your bruised sensibilities. In this regard, I also thank you for striking a pose that releases me from burdensome concerns, with a word of advice: in extolling dada, pause to attend to the thing Tristan Tzara named jem’enfoutisme. Read more... )
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    Now that I have your letter, I understand both your reluctance to send it, and your delay in doing so. The former reflects my own resistance to reopening the subject so thoroughly excavated in our collegiate dialectics thirteen years ago. I refuse to mirror the latter in delaying this response, begging only your forgiveness for casting it in vague generalities, to which your bel esprit is fortunately far more susceptible than the otherwise pliant mind of the honnête homme. Read more... )
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    Harvard would not consider his application without letters of recommendation from his teachers. But as an emigrant, and a troublemaking one at that, Michael had nothing but scorn coming to him from the Soviet authorities. Even under the aegis of glasnost and perestroika, turncoats were not to expect testimonials. Upon his return to Los Angeles, Michael wormed himself into U.C.L.A. by way of summer school and extension courses. Almost immediately his academic course was bifurcated by his intention to read Les fleurs du mal in the original, standing at odds with his interest in formal logic. Michael’s curriculum comprised studies of French language and literature and the foundations of mathematics and intensionalities with Alonzo Church. Unconcerned with degree requirements, he haunted the Philosophy Department’s library day and night, writing out term papers in a single longhand take, with a fountain pen. He distracted himself by weightlifting and sword exercises at the school gym. The handling of his loud Italian motorcycles inspired confidence that reached unto their scuffed tire sidewalls, his toes dragging on innumerable canyon roads. His black leather outfit drew volunteers for bitch perch duty. As he pulled away from the pub at 2 a.m., his hair was likely blowing in the wind, his crash helmet gallantly adorning the head of a freshly bagged bimbo. Not that he was averse to finding true love. But such attachments were not to be found by looking. His father often regretted having once inspired him in a moment of candor compelled by a cognac fumes, to follow a time-tested recipe: «Всякую тварь на хуй пяль ― бог увидит, пожалеет, и хорошую пошлëт.» If he crammed every creature on his cock, God would take note of his diligence, take pity on him, and send him a good one. Read more... )
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    Eugene engaged Michael’s friends like a shark takes to a flock of dolphins. He fashioned himself into a stealth fornicator, confounding the first impressions that relegated him to the status of an inconsequential clown. He might have been that, but for the remarkable glibness of his dealings with women. His heterosexual charm was perfectly complemented in addressing men by his non-threatening demeanor. A less refined personage trying to pull the same stunts would surely have ended up perforated in some dark alley by the mates of innumerable wenches whom Eugene casually serviced in the course of a single week. Instead, he was lauded by both genders for his wit and manners. The perfect party guest, his entourage ranging from shop girls to society ladies, Eugene lavished equal though discreet attention on all women present. His discretion vanished once Adrienne, his breadwinning live-in mate, inevitably passed out on a stack of coats in the closet. At that point, all bets were off. On the occasion of Michael’s twenty-fifth birthday, Eugene’s company included a lanky blonde in spike heels propping up her six foot frame in an equilibrium mediated by tilting and clenching a pair of buttocks proudly sheathed in a white cocktail dress. Transfixed by this lascivious display, Michael connected it to the Japanese image familiar from his dojo mates, of Western women walking like dogs, upheld on their toes, heels afloat. As soon as Adrienne was out of commission, the sallow sylph boasted of going commando to commemorate the occasion of her own birthday. Eugene knelt down and lapped at her nude crotch, unfazed by the disparity of height straining his neck to a grotesque angle. In his conjugal loyalty, he excused himself as soon as his woozy mistress awakened and asked to be escorted home. Eugene scarcely absented himself for a half hour, which allegedly sufficed to traverse two blocks, exchange bodily fluids, and hurry back towards further excitement. Read more... )
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Michael is having dinner with his friend David A. David is a trial lawyer. He is a member of the plaintiffs’ bar. He makes political contributions to the Democrats. David roots for the underdog. He represents Michael against the libel lawsuit by WebEx. WebEx is complaining about Michael’s public account of their failed coverup of child rape by their founder Min Zhu. Min Zhu’s sexual abuse of his daughter Erin is a matter of public record. The outed daughter rapist has since lost his job as WebEx President. He has testified under oath about his plans to “retire” altogether.

Michael credits himself with bringing his degeneracy to the attention of WebEx employees and investors. He thinks of Dante Alighieri encountering in Canto 15 of the Inferno his old master Brunetto Latini.

Brunetto’s sin is sodomy. Dante’s testimony is the only evidence of Brunetto’s sodomite proclivities that we possess. Dante’s outing of sexual perversion is the first such instance that we know. His pen permanently degrades courtly scholar Brunetto to a grotesque apparition.

    The lowest among incontinent sinners, sodomites are punished in the seventh circle of Hell for their violent love. It is violence of the worst kind, violence committed against God:
    Puossi far forza nella deitade,
col cor negando e bestemmiando quella,
e spregiando natura e sua bontade;
    One can be violent against the Godhead,
one’s heart denying and blaspheming Him
and scorning nature and the good in her;
    e però lo minor giron suggella
del segno suo e Soddoma e Caorsa
e chi, spregiando Dio col cor, favella.
    so, with its sign, the smallest ring has sealed
both Sodom and Cahors and all of those
who speak in passionate contempt of God.
    ― Inferno, Canto 11, 46-51     ― translated by Allen Mandelbaum
By juxtaposing Sodom and Cahors, Dante follows Thomas Aquinas in placing sexual sterility alongside with economic parasitism. In the Middle Ages, the French town of Cahors was reviled as a nest of usurers. Matthew of Paris, in his 1235 Historia Major, describes the Usury of the Cahorsins as follows:
In these days prevailed the horrible nuisance of the Caursines to such a degree that there was hardly any one in all England, especially among the bishops, who was not caught in their net. Even the king himself was held indebted to them in an uncalculable sum of money. For they circumvented the needy in their necessities, cloaking their usury under the show of trade, and pretending not to know that whatever is added to the principal is usury, under whatever name it may be called. For it is manifest that their loans lie not in the path of charity, inasmuch as they do not hold out a helping hand to the poor to relieve them, but to deceive them; not to aid others in their starvation, but to gratify their own covetousness; seeing that the motive stamps our every deed.
— translated by J.A. Giles
Usurers hold the social ends of labor in contempt by reaping its economic benefits while avoiding production. Sodomites hold the natural ends of sex in contempt by reaping its venereal pleasures while precluding human generation. Dante consigns sodomites to perpetual motion under falling fire and over an arid sandy plain “that banishes all green things from its bed.” (See Inferno, Canto 14, 7-15.) Deeper yet, in the Eighth Circle, reside the falsifiers.

In their midst Dante finds Myrrha, the incestuous daughter, “she who loved her father past the limits of just love”, she who “came to sin with him by falsely taking another’s shape upon herself”, whose tale came to Dante by way of Ovid, from the Tenth Book of his Metamorphoses.

Below her, avoided by Dante amidst the giants in the Ninth Circle, resides the giant Tityus, whose mere attempt to rape Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, causes his eternal torment by a vulture continuously feeding on his constantly regenerating liver.

The poets of classical antiquity painted vivid images of Tituys’ punishment:
Nec non et Tityon, Terrae omniparentis alumnum,
cernere erat, per tota novem cui iubera corpus
porrigitur, rostroque immanis voltur obunco
immortale iecur tondens fecundaque poenis
viscera, rimaturque epulis, habitatque sub alto
pectore, nec fibris requies datur ulla renatis.
There Tityus was to see, who took his birth
From heav’n, his nursing from the foodful earth.
Here his gigantic limbs, with large embrace,
Infold nine acres of infernal space.
A rav’nous vulture, in his open’d side,
Her crooked beak and cruel talons tried;
Still for the growing liver digg’d his breast;
The growing liver still supplied the feast;
Still are his entrails fruitful to their pains:
Th’ immortal hunger lasts, th’ immortal food remains.
― Virgil, Aeneid, VI.595-600 translated by John Dryden
Quam simul agnorunt inter caliginis umbras,
surrexere deae. Sedes scelerata vocatur:
viscera praebebat Tityos lanianda novemque
iugeribus distentus erat; tibi, Tantale, nullae
deprenduntur aquae, quaeque inminet, effugit arbor
This is the place of woe, here groan the dead;
Huge Tityus o’er nine acres here is spread.
Fruitful for pain th’ immortal liver breeds,
Still grows, and still th’ insatiate vulture feeds.
Poor Tantalus to taste the water tries,
But from his lips the faithless water flies:
Then thinks the bending tree he can command,
The tree starts backwards, and eludes his hand.
― Ovid, Metamorphoses, IV.455-459 translated by John Dryden
The smallest circle of hell is the circle of treachery, defined as fraudulent acts between individuals who share special bonds of love and trust:
    «La frode, ond’ogne coscienza è morsa,
può l’omo usare in colui che ‘n lui fida
e in quel che fidanza non imborsa.
    “Now fraud, that eats away at every conscience,
is practiced by a man against another
who trusts in him, or one who has no trust.
    Questo modo di retro par ch’incida
pur lo vinco d’amor che fa natura;
onde nel cerchio secondo s’annida
    This latter way seems only to cut off
the bond of love that nature forges; thus,
nestled within the second circle are:
    ipocresia, lusinghe e chi affattura,
falsità, ladroneccio e simonia,
ruffian, baratti e simile lordura.
    hypocrisy and flattery, sorcerers,
and falsifiers, simony, and theft,
and barrators and panders and like trash.
    Per l’altro modo quell’amor s’oblia
che fa natura, e quel ch’è poi aggiunto,
di che la fede spezial si cria;
    But in the former way of fraud, not only
the love that nature forges is forgotten,
but added love that builds a special trust;
    onde nel cerchio minore, ov’è ‘l punto
de l’universo in su che Dite siede,
qualunque trade in etterno è consunto».
    thus, in the tightest circle, where there is
the universe’s center, seat of Dis,
all traitors are consumed eternally.”
Inferno, Canto 11, 52-66 ― translated by Allen Mandelbaum

And so, in Cocytus, inside the fourth ring of the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, traitors against their benefactors lie immobilized, totally covered in ice:
    Noi passammo oltre, là ‘ve la gelata
ruvidamente un’altra gente fascia,
non volta in giù, ma tutta riversata.
    We passed beyond, where frozen water wraps ―
a rugged covering ― still other sinners,
who were not bent, but flat upon their backs.
    Lo pianto stesso lì pianger non lascia,
e ‘l duol che truova in su li occhi rintoppo,
si volge in entro a far crescer l’ambascia;
    Their very weeping there won’t let them weep,
and grief that finds a barrier in their eyes
turns inward to increase their agony;
    ché le lagrime prime fanno groppo,
e sì come visiere di cristallo,
riempion sotto ‘l ciglio tutto il coppo.
    because their first tears freeze into a cluster,
and, like a crystal visor, fill up all
the hollow that is underneath the eyebrow.
    E avvegna che, sì come d’un callo,
per la freddura ciascun sentimento
cessato avesse del mio viso stallo,
    And though, because of cold, my every sense
had left its dwelling in my face, just as
a callus has no feeling, nonetheless,
    già mi parea sentire alquanto vento:
per ch’io: «Maestro mio, questo chi move?
non è qua giù ogne vapore spento?».
    I seemed to feel some wind now, and I said:
“My master, who has set this gust in motion?
For isn’t every vapor quenched down here?”
    Ond’elli a me: «Avaccio sarai dove
di ciò ti farà l’occhio la risposta,
veggendo la cagion che ‘l fiato piove».
    And he to me: “You soon shall be where your
own eye will answer that, when you shall see
the reason why this wind blasts from above.”
    E un de’ tristi de la fredda crosta
gridò a noi: «O anime crudeli,
tanto che data v’è l’ultima posta,
    And one of those sad sinners in the cold
crust, cried to us: “O souls who are so cruel
that this last place has been assigned to you,
    levatemi dal viso i duri veli,
sì ch’io sfoghi ‘l duol che ‘l cor m’impregna,
un poco, pria che ‘l pianto si raggeli».
    take off the hard veils from my face so that
I can release the suffering that fills
my heart before lament freezes again.”
    Per ch’io a lui: «Se vuo’ ch’i’ ti sovvegna,
dimmi chi se’, e s’io non ti disbrigo,
al fondo de la ghiaccia ir mi convegna».
    To which I answered: “If you’d have me help you,
then tell me who you are; if I don’t free you,
may I go to the bottom of the ice.”
    Rispuose adunque: «I’ son frate Alberigo;
i’ son quel da le frutta del mal orto,
che qui riprendo dattero per figo».
    He answered then: “I am Fra Alberigo,
the one who tended fruits in a bad garden,
and here my figs have been repaid with dates.”
    «Oh!», diss’io lui, «or se’ tu ancor morto?».
Ed elli a me: «Come ‘l mio corpo stea
nel mondo sù, nulla scienza porto.
    “But then,” I said, “are you already dead?”
And he to me: “I have no knowledge of
my body’s fate within the world above.
    Cotal vantaggio ha questa Tolomea,
che spesse volte l’anima ci cade
innanzi ch’Atropòs mossa le dea.
    For Ptolomea has this privilege:
quite frequently the soul falls here before
it has been thrust away by Atropos.
    E perché tu più volentier mi rade
le ‘nvetriate lagrime dal volto,
sappie che, tosto che l’anima trade
    And that you may with much more willingness
scrape these glazed tears from off my face, know this:
as soon as any soul becomes a traitor,
    come fec’io, il corpo suo l’è tolto
da un demonio, che poscia il governa
mentre che ‘l tempo suo tutto sia vòlto.
    as I was, then a demon takes its body
away ― and keeps that body in his power
until its years have run their course completely.
    Ella ruina in sì fatta cisterna;
e forse pare ancor lo corpo suso
de l’ombra che di qua dietro mi verna.
    The soul falls headlong, down into this cistern;
and up above, perhaps, there still appears
the body of the shade that winters here
    Tu ‘l dei saper, se tu vien pur mo giuso:
elli è ser Branca Doria, e son più anni
poscia passati ch’el fu sì racchiuso».
    behind me; you must know him, if you’ve just
come down; he is Ser Branca Doria;
for many years he has been thus pent up.”
    «Io credo», diss’io lui, «che tu m’inganni;
ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche,
e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni».
    I said to him: “I think that you deceive me,
for Branca Doria is not yet dead;
he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.”
    «Nel fosso sù», diss’el, «de’ Malebranche,
là dove bolle la tenace pece,
non era ancor giunto Michel Zanche,
    ”There in the Malebranche’s ditch above,
where sticky pitch boils up, Michele Zanche
had still not come,” he said to me, “when this one ―
    che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
nel corpo suo, ed un suo prossimano
che ‘l tradimento insieme con lui fece.
    together with a kinsman, who had done
the treachery together with him ― left
a devil in his stead inside his body.
    Ma distendi oggimai in qua la mano;
aprimi li occhi». E io non gliel’apersi;
e cortesia fu lui esser villano.
    But now reach out your hand; open my eyes.”
And yet I did not open them for him;
and it was courtesy to show him rudeness.
    Ahi Genovesi, uomini diversi
d’ogne costume e pien d’ogne magagna,
perché non siete voi del mondo spersi?
    Ah, Genoese, a people strange to every
constraint of custom, full of all corruption,
why have you not been driven from the world?
    Ché col peggiore spirto di Romagna
trovai di voi un tal, che per sua opra
in anima in Cocito già si bagna,
    For with the foulest spirit of Romagna,
I found one of you such that, for his acts,
in soul he bathes already in Cocytus
    e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra.     and up above appears alive, in body.
Inferno, Canto 33, 89-157 ― translated by Allen Mandelbaum
The privilege of Ptolomea is to house treacherous souls even in the lifetime of the bodies from whence they are descended. His soul fallen headlong into the lowest circle of Hell, the sinner lives out his days unaware of this loss, unresisting the devil that controls his soulless shell. He lives on without a conscience, in unwitting anticipation of supine paralysis in the frozen waters of Cocytus. Averted from introspection, his gaze is unprepared for the eternal agony of remorseful self-regard. Through consigning his soul to Hell by betraying the bond of hospitality, the sinner achieves the singular distinction of forswearing his chance for salvation through repentance in his lifetime. Treachery is his shortcut to an abridgment of hope.

    A child in her parents’ home benefits from the most sacred bond of hospitality. Conjured forth by sex, she enters their household in a state of utter dependence upon her hosts. Michael reflects on the character of a man that violently betrays this bond, exploiting her dependence for the sake of expending his lust. In the character of unnatural fatherhood, distorted by violent lust, the daughter rapist descends from the high tragedy of Myrrha making her fatal unfilial advances to unwitting Cinyras, to the common realm of the rustic folktale, ill suited to a civilized setting. He wonders what possessed him to invest his labor in an enterprise conceived between his former best friend and her child rapist father. He cannot fathom his own choices at the turn of the millennium.
    Michael met David in 1999. At that time, Michael was in a business partnership with his ex-girlfriend Erin Zhu. They were looking for corporate counsel to assist them in the deal Erin made with WebEx, an Internet startup co-founded by her father. David came recommended by Michael’s friend Lenny R. Lenny graduated from Caltech with a PhD in applied mathematics. He was running his own technology startup after buying out his former partner. Lenny’s advice was to get a trial lawyer, because sooner or later, all partnerships wound up in litigation. His prophecy fulfilled itself within the year. WebEx breached their contract with Erin and Michael. Instead of complaining on business grounds, Erin hired their friend David on a token contingent fee basis of 2.5%, to sue her father for childhood sexual abuse. She promised to buy out Michael’s half of their partnership after receiving her recovery from Min Zhu. Min Zhu balked at the prospect of paying a middleman in settling for his daughter’s sexual services. Erin went along with his offer to pay most of her blood money under the table. She promised to pay her debts to Michael and David from that clandestine settlement. In the meantime, she borrowed more money from Michael’s friends and family to support her romance with an aging German pop musician, Blixa Bargeld. And once she got her money from Min, Erin cut off all communications with her creditors. In a futile attempt to forestall Michael’s complaint, anonymous threats named him a dead man on the behalves of WebEx and Min Zhu. The lawsuits settled three years later, on October 25th of last year. In the meantime, Michael’s father Isaak, plaintiff in a related lawsuit, has perished from an apartment fire of suspicious origins. Michael is poised to hound WebEx and the Zhus into the deepest circle of Hell.

    Michael reflects upon his inadequacy to follow in the footsteps of Dante. Dante is the greatest poet since the classical age. Only Shakespeare comes close in modern history. For the grandeur of Dante’s moral vision, Shakespeare substitutes familiarity. His heroes are easier to take. Hamlet is a modern character because the excellence of his intellect is compromised by the setting of a third-rate Elizabethan revenge drama. Michael finds himself trapped in a postmodern travesty of Elsinore, populated with characters from an X-rated soap opera. “Du sublime au ridicule il n’ya qu’un pas.” By constantly commenting upon the single step separating the sublime from the ridiculous, Napoléon Bonaparte anticipated the cruel conclusion of his brilliant career. Michael’s career rests on the distinction between a gadfly and a horse’s arse. He doesn’t mind being a bit of both.
    Michael is talking with David. His thoughts turn from sinners to saints. He recalls William James pausing to pick a fight with Friedrich Nietzsche in the course of discussing the value of saintliness in Lectures 14 and 15 of The Varieties of Religious Experience:
    The most inimical critic of the saintly impulses whom I know is Nietzsche. He contrasts them with the worldly passions as we find these embodied in the predaceous military character, altogether to the advantage of the latter. Your born saint, it must be confessed, has something about him which often makes the gorge of a carnal man rise, so it will be worth while to consider the contrast in question more fully.
    Dislike of the saintly nature seems to be a negative result of the biologically useful instinct of welcoming leadership, and glorifying the chief of the tribe. The chief is the potential, if not the actual tyrant, the masterful, overpowering man of prey. We confess our inferiority and grovel before him. We quail under his glance, and are at the same time proud of owning so dangerous a lord. Such instinctive and submissive hero-worship must have been indispensable in primeval tribal life. In the endless wars of those times, leaders were absolutely needed for the tribe’s survival. If there were any tribes who owned no leaders, they can have left no issue to narrate their doom. The leaders always had good consciences, for conscience in them coalesced with Will, and those who looked on their face were as much smitten with wonder at their freedom from inner restraint as with awe at the energy of their outward performances.

    Compared with these beaked and taloned graspers of the world, saints are herbivorous animals, tame and harmless barn-yard poultry. There are saints whose beard you may, if you ever care to, pull with impunity. Such a man excites no thrills of wonder veiled in terror; his conscience is full of scruples and returns; he stuns us neither by his inward freedom nor his outward power; and unless he found within us an altogether different faculty of admiration to appeal to, we should pass him by with contempt.
    In point of fact, he does appeal to a different faculty. Reenacted in human nature is the fable of the wind, the sun, and the traveler. The sexes embody the discrepancy. The woman loves the man the more admiringly the stormier he shows himself, and the world deifies its rulers the more for being willful and unaccountable. But the woman in turn subjugates the man by the mystery of gentleness in beauty, and the saint has always charmed the world by something similar. Mankind is susceptible and suggestible in opposite directions, and the rivalry of influences is unsleeping. The saintly and the worldly ideal pursue their feud in literature as much as in real life.
    For Nietzsche the saint represents little but sneakingness and slavishness. He is the sophisticated invalid, the degenerate par excellence, the man of insufficient vitality. His prevalence would put the human type in danger.
“The sick are the greatest danger for the well. The weaker, not the stronger, are the strong’s undoing. It is not fear of our fellow-man, which we should wish to see diminished; for fear rouses those who are strong to become terrible in turn themselves, and preserves the hard-earned and successful type of humanity. What is to be dreaded by us more than any other doom is not fear, but rather the great disgust, not fear, but rather the great pity ― disgust and pity for our human fellows.... The morbid are our greatest peril ― not the ‘bad’ men, not the predatory beings. Those born wrong, the miscarried, the broken ― they it is, the weakest, who are undermining the vitality of the race, poisoning our trust in life, and putting humanity in question. Every look of them is a sigh ― ‘Would I were something other! I am sick and tired of what I am.’ In this swamp-soil of self-contempt, every poisonous weed flourishes, and all so small, so secret, so dishonest, and so sweetly rotten. Here swarm the worms of sensitiveness and resentment; here the air smells odious with secrecy, with what is not to be acknowledged; here is woven endlessly the net of the meanest of conspiracies, the conspiracy of those who suffer against those who succeed and are victorious; here the very aspect of the victorious is hated ― as if health, success, strength, pride, and the sense of power were in themselves things vicious, for which one ought eventually to make bitter expiation. Oh, how these people would themselves like to inflict the expiation, how they thirst to be the hangmen! And all the while their duplicity never confesses their hatred to be hatred.” (Zur Genealogie der Moral, Dritte Abhandlung, §14. I have abridged, and in one place transposed, a sentence.)
    Poor Nietzsche’s antipathy is itself sickly enough, but we all know what he means, and he expresses well the clash between the two ideals. The carnivorous-minded “strong man,” the adult male and cannibal, can see nothing but mouldiness and morbidness in the saint’s gentleness and self-severity, and regards him with pure loathing. The whole feud revolves essentially upon two pivots: Shall the seen world or the unseen world be our chief sphere of adaptation? and must our means of adaptation in this seen world be aggressiveness or non-resistance?
    The debate is serious. In some sense and to some degree both worlds must be acknowledged and taken account of; and in the seen world both aggressiveness and non-resistance are needful. It is a question of emphasis, of more or less. Is the saint’s type or the strong-man’s type the more ideal?
The sexes in David’s family embody their discrepancy otherwise. David met his wife Vickie in an AOL classical music chat room. Vickie came to Orange County as a child. She was born in Vietnam. Her moneyed and landed family fled the Communists. Vickie’s sense of entitlement to having her way emerged unscathed. She loves herself the more admiringly the stormier she shows herself. David often finds himself propelled beyond his wit’s end by a willful and unaccountable ruler. But he has learned to welcome Vickie’s leadership. He usually succeeds at charming his family by some combination of worldly accomplishment and saintly forbearance.
    David is not sure what Nietzsche means. He has just lost his trial against a defense contractor. The defendant fired David’s client, Dr. Nira S., after six months of employment. Nira complained that she was dismissed for investigating fraud in the missile defense system that her employer was developing for the Pentagon. Her employer retorted that Nira was unfit for her duties. In her late fifties, Nira speaks in the high pitched cadences of a little girl. Since the early days of the third millennium, she has generated countless reams of legalistic paperwork advocating her whistleblower claims for hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the U.S. government. The U.S. government retorted by shutting down her qui tam actions on the grounds of national security. Nira believes that she has been blackballed since filing her lawsuit. It follows from her inability to find a job in her field despite having sent out more than 300 resumes. David has persevered with Nira’s claim for wrongful termination by the defense contractor. He has spent thousands of unpaid hours pursuing it on a contingent fee basis. He has no regrets. His country is being held hostage to a conglomerate of “red states”. Republican fraud must be exposed, even at the risk of ridicule.
    Michael questions the notion of fraud being particular to the Republican administration. He ranks it among the classics of political revisionism, alongside with stealing the patrimony of Abraham Lincoln on behalf of the party of George Wallace. He cannot account for the malign amalgamation of mephitic bile and paint-blistering stupidity that contaminates otherwise gracious and thoughtful discourse of civilians finding themselves on the washed-out side of an electoral contest. Sore losers.
Né vi sbigottisca quella antichità del sangue che ei ci rimproverano; perché tutti gli uomini, avendo avuto uno medesimo principio, sono ugualmente antichi, e da la natura sono stati fatti ad uno modo. Spogliateci tutti ignudi: voi ci vedrete simili, rivestite noi delle veste loro ed eglino delle nostre: noi senza dubio nobili ed eglino ignobili parranno; perché solo la povertà e le ricchezze ci disaguagliano. […] Ma se voi noterete il modo del procedere degli uomini, vedrete tutti quelli che a ricchezze grandi e a grande potenza pervengono o con frode o con forza esservi pervenuti; e quelle cose, di poi, ch’eglino hanno o con inganno o con violenza usurpate, per celare la bruttezza dello acquisto, quello sotto falso titolo di guadagno adonestano.
― Niccolò Machiavelli, Istorie fiorentine, libro terzo, 13
Be not deceived about that antiquity of blood by which they exalt themselves above us; for all men having had one common origin, are all equally ancient, and nature has made us all after one fashion. Strip us naked, and we shall all be found alike. Dress us in their clothing, and they in ours, we shall appear noble, they ignoble—for poverty and riches make all the difference. […] If you only notice human proceedings, you may observe that all who attain great power and riches, make use of either force or fraud; and what they have acquired either by deceit or violence, in order to conceal the disgraceful methods of attainment, they endeavor to sanctify with the false title of honest gains.
History of Florence
David is ambivalent about leadership. Earlier last year, he scored a very palpable hit against a Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer. His partner in that case was John W. David moved out of his office sublet at a white shoe law firm to share a space with John. Not a year later, shortly after negotiating a settlement of their big case in the wake of a tortuous mistrial, John asked David to move out. Upon hearing the news, Michael first attributed it to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre syndrome. He knows what gold does to men’s souls. But as David fulminated about John’s Republican predilections and Christian beliefs licensing him to screw over his neighbor without regret or remorse, Michael came to doubt his fitness to play the part of Fred C. Dobbs.

His doubt coalesced into certainty when David reported a fair outcome in dividing the spoils with his former partner. Through his conversations with John, Michael concluded that David and he were simply unwilling to follow and unable to lead. Both of them consigned themselves to solo practice. Contrariwise, David is uneasy with force and fraud concomitant with business leadership. Michael recalls accompanying David to a Palo Alto restaurant five years earlier. David went there to present Erin’s rape claims to her parents. Michael came along as David’s bodyguard. Both Erin and David were concerned about the likelihood of a violent reprisal. David and Michael arrived early and sat separately. Just mefore the Zhus walked in, David connected with Michael through their cell phones. Michael saw and heard what happened next.
    Min Zhu came in with his wife Susan Xu. They greeted David and sat down at his table. Min expressed no surprise at Erin’s accusations of serial rape. He did not bother to deny her claims. Instead, he described his experiences in China during the Cultural Revolution. Min and Susan had been sent to a village for re-education. They struggled very hard just to survive. Min had prevailed in many fights against the villagers. He eventually made it to the U.S. as a graduate student at Stanford. He succeeded in building WebEx, a corporation already valued at over a billion dollars even before going public. Min was unperturbed by the prospect of losing everything. Such loss would be nothing in comparison to the hardships that he suffered in his youth. He looked forward to fighting for his life. He was prepared for the worst and resigned to the likelihood of being martyred by corrupt American justice. Susan said nothing. She heard Min’s litany many times before. Min was an expert at terrorizing his family. He did not do so well with someone his own size. Susan liked other men. She batted her eyelashes at David.
    On their drive back to the San Jose airport, David recounted his impressions of Min and Susan. Min had the appearance of a crusty old crab. He was tough and ruthless. Susan acted weird. She started out by giving David the evil eye, then appeared to flirt with him. Engrossed by his story, David missed the freeway exit three times in a row. Michael suspects that in looking on Min Zhu’s face, David was as much smitten with wonder at his freedom from inner restraint as with awe at the energy of his outward performances. In witnessing Min Zhu’s deposition in his case a few months earlier, Michael was underwhelmed. He saw a badly dressed, prematurely aged man carping about his wayward daughter’s taste in fancy underwear. The comb-over winding around his forehead stood proxy for not fooling anyone. Min refused to address the child rape allegations. He will be unable to evade them in deposition for a libel lawsuit that WebEx has filed against Michael.
    Michael is reluctant to join David in complaining about political uses of force and fraud. Partisan hyperbole fails by proving too much from supposing too little. Reciprocal application of Democratic invective to their makers fails only through an act of blind faith in their divine election. The human lot is to be ruled by liars and cheats. Political conscience is a connivance. Both parties lie and cheat on platforms dedicated to uplifting their benighted electorate. In the Republican case, their imperialist ambition has caused the winners to be loathed by their foreign inferiors. In the Democrat case, their domestic condescension has caused the losers to be rejected by their uncouth electorate. The Republicans propound agenda without nuance. The Democrats dither in nuance without agenda. Given these alternatives, Michael resents being called upon to choose between being hated by foreigners and being despised by his compatriots.
    And yet, living in a time of the Fourth World War has its own rewards. Islamism is a fatal threat to democracy. Its menace is aggravated by disparities in the rates of population growth and memetic propagation. Failure to resist it is scarcely excused by the duplicity of administration or the incompetence of command. The litany of Western political fraud and war crimes cannot sustain liberal tolerance for Oriental atrocities. Babies have died in all wars, just and unjust. Propounding baby-killing as the epitome of political evil does not decide the question of justice in rescuing the next generation from tyranny. In this setting, pacifists succeed only in relinquishing their capacity to oppose evil with force to their social inferiors. Justice comes from strife. It cannot emerge from nurturing dupes in the service of knaves. There will be no peace in the Middle East as long as the Jewish state stands as its sole democracy. There will be no security in the United States until and unless we succeed at Islamic nation building.
    Meanwhile, as Dante has vividly shown, amusement and instruction of the highest order can come from the lowest of constituents. Michael recalls the old American saying that Robert Stone coined in A Flag for Sunrise: “Mickey Mouse will see you dead.”
In fact, the neotenic rodent will see all of us dead. American culture marches forth triumphant. Michael takes solace in the certainty of checking out properly educated and well entertained.
larvatus: (Default)
    Michael met Eugene a quarter century ago. At that time, he was pursuing what turned into his last corporate career. His work as a senior software analyst demanded no more than a few hours of his time every day. He had no ambition to apply himself beyond the call of duty. Read more... )

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