Month: August 2009


Clovis became for some reason a figure of mine–he was great in working on sovereignty: barbarian and Latinized, pagan and Christian…but most of all are the stories: the bashing of the head of the man who broke his vase, thus doing the same to him as he did to the vase; the use of his double-side battle-axe at a moment’s notice… and of course, his very sincere baptism. He is likely neither the first nor the last to claim God’s hand in winning a battle, and surely his example is there every Sunday during the football season when God is thanked for some victory, because, you know, He does choose sides. From Gregory of Tours (by the way, if you like Gibbons, Gregory of Tours’s Historia Francorum is …well, I don’t know what the word would be: interesting?)

The queen did not cease to urge him to recognize the true God and cease worshipping idols. But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied. It came about that as the two armies were fighting fiercely, there was much slaughter, and Clovis’s army began to be in danger of destruction. He saw it and raised his eyes to heaven, and with remorse in his heart he burst into tears and cried: “Jesus Christ, whom Clotilda asserts to be the son of the 1iving God, who art said to give aid to those in distress, and to bestow victory on those who hope in thee, I beseech the glory of thy aid, with the vow that if thou wilt grant me victory over these enemies, and I shall know that power which she says that people dedicated in thy name have had from thee, I will believe in thee and be baptized in thy name. For I have invoked my own gods but, as I find, they have withdrawn from aiding me; and therefore I believe that they possess no power, since they do not help those who obey them. I now call upon thee, I desire to believe thee only let me be rescued from my adversaries.” And when he said thus, the Alamanni turned their backs, and began to disperse in flight. And when they saw that their king was killed, they submitted to the dominion of Clovis, saying: “Let not the people perish further, we pray; we are yours now.” And he stopped the fighting, and after encouraging his men, retired in peace and told the queen how he had had merit to win the victory by calling on the name of Christ. This happened in the fifteenth year of his reign.

Small side note: when Clovis first presented to his troops the idea of converting, they  are said to have literally turned their backs on him. It was only this victory–thank God–that gave him the ability to get baptized and then later baptize en masse his troops.

Digging Maoism

In a short review of Amiri Baraka’s collection of essays on jazz music and American culture, Digging, which I do very much recommend, there are these highlights:

Digging collects eighty-four essays and reviews in which the poet, playwright, and critic Amiri Baraka makes an impassioned case for jazz as a central achievement of American culture… Diggingoffers a generous selection of recent writing undertaken in the same spirit of intellectual engagement, political advocacy, and ardent fandom. … His sentences reverberate with puns and allusions, echoing the structure and style of jazz itself. He also displays impressive intellectual range-in an essay titled “The Blues Aesthetic and the Black Aesthetic,” he makes reference to Nietzsche, Michael Jordan, and Arthur Murray as part of a single argument. …Baraka’s outspoken and unconventional politics might also serve as a stumbling block for some readers. Although his commitment to Marxism lends him a powerful lens for examining the socio-cultural circumstances under which jazz music has been produced, his unfortunate penchant for quoting Mao Zedong sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism.

And here I would want to have a contest for any book worth reviewing: Can one not use that same sentence and insert another thinker to the same effect. Try this game with the home edition! ” … “Heidegger’s unfortunate penchant for quoting Aristotle sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of his criticism…” Or more the point, perhaps, to reverse the dig at Digging’s maoism: “X, Y, and Z’s work on jazz has an unfortunate penchant for quoting record sales as a mark of value, like a latter day Adam Smith, which sometimes detracts from the general perceptiveness of their criticism…” And why the use of “sometimes” here? I would love to read, then, the part of Baraka’s book where his quoting of Mao Zedong for this author did not detract from the perceptiveness of his criticism…

Death and Taxes

I should first stipulate the following post has nothing to do with my own trip with my father (not least because, alas, there is no inheritance to speak of, especially after his trips to various distilleries in Scotland yesterday). Here’s a part of a short article on the end of the estate taxes later this year, which will give people of a certain income a dangerous incentive before the end of the year…

As economists will tell you, when you tax something less, you get more of it. Various studies have shown that this logic applies to life and death as well as to more modest behavioral choices. In a 2001 paper titled “Dying To Save Taxes,” Wojciech Kopczuk and Joel Slemrod examined 13 tax changes since 1917 and concluded that “for individuals dying within two weeks of a tax reform, a $10,000 potential tax savings … increases the probability of dying in the lower-tax regime by 1.6 percent.” A 2006 study done in Australia, which abolished its inheritance tax in 1979, reached the same conclusion: “a statistically significant effect of the abolition of inheritance taxes on the number of deaths.” More than half the people who, according to statistics, ordinarily would have paid the Aussie inheritance tax in its final week managed to evade it by living a bit longer. Here, Congress has created an incentive for Grandma to stick around through Jan. 1, 2010, then snuff it before the end of next year. … I do not wish to alarm older, wealthier readers, but you may find family gatherings becoming increasingly tense over the next year. Do not be surprised if your heirs and assigns try to sit you down for a “conversation.” You may want to have a witness or security guard present. 

This murderous strain, of course, is but the logic of capitalism at its best. We are told often that we can’t have single payer health insurance since doctors, apparently, would rather let people die than take a pay cut. Now, off to have a convo with dad…

The Secret Government

A lot of my recent work has been in the area of sovereignty, in particular critiquing the focus on state figures (the president, etc.) that Schmitt’s decisionism leads to. But the story of modernity is the movement of sovereignty and sovereign decisions out of the oval offices and so on–that’s what national sovereignty has meant with the rise of those “executive agencies” working outside the law in order to protect it. Schmitt’s decisionism deflects the focus from where it needs to be, or least it tends to in the readings of him. In other words, it’s this form of sovereignty that Benjamin means when he talks about the “state of exception” in his Theses on History, and perhaps we might side with Benjamin as I read him, since he was taking on Schmitt. Strangely, in the legacy of that battle, the force seems to be on the side of Schmitt in academia, no matter how much Benjamin is brought out as this strange oracle to cite in texts that otherwise have nothing to do with him.

Anyway… all of that is to note Chris Hayes’ good piece in The Nation on the need for a new Church commission, but more importantly, what’s inherent is the danger that this sovereignty always poses in latter day states that hold themselves democratic.

The Church Committee came at a time when the public was in the midst of a wrenching (and necessary) loss of innocence. But in our age, secret government crimes and plots are almost a cliché. Polling shows trust in government has returned roughly to its mid-’70s nadir. The danger now isn’t naïveté but cynicism–that we just come to accept that the government will commit crimes in our name under the cover of secrecy and that such activities are more or less business as usual, about which nothing can be done. But something can be done. Something must be done. And Congress should do it.

But won’t.

On the road…

And in deference to Graham… I’ll be working through cds on the road in Scotland of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall… It was one Dad and I could agree on, easily. I am really hopeful for a good, seventy-year-old Scottish voice for the reader.

but for now, Dad wanted to hear Hounds of the Baskervilles. Don’t ask me. But I had forgotten how much (a) Doyle loved cocaine, and (b) what a defender of scientific method he was. Not that I’m saying that (a) and (b) are linked in any way…

Loneliness, Age, and the Life of Crime

“Tokyo police will try to rein in a wave of shoplifting by lonely elderly people by involving them in community service, a police spokesman said on Thursday.”  

Loneliness is apparently a self-reported factor in 25% of the thefts–and that’s self-reported. I can only wonder what the situation is like in the US where there is far less social normalization to pay attention to one’s parents. Now (a) there’s a lot worse things people do in the name of loneliness, (b) Perhaps the real number, thinking about it again, is much lower–who wouldn’t let grandma go if this was the stated reason? It’s better than “I like the bling”…(c) I will refuse to reference the great Seinfeld episode on this (“Come’on Jerry, we all do this!”), which yes, I have thus referenced, (d) Perhaps my travels with father here in Scotland can now be put on the side of avoiding crime.