Archive for January, 2011

Surprise, Surprise

“A year ago we had over a hundred billionaires in Moscow. Today there are less than thirty. So it’s the best of times, the worst of times and sometimes it’s just the shits. It turns out we don’t know how to run capitalism. That’s to be expected. As it happens, nobody knows how to run capitalism. That was a bad surprise.”

—Martin Cruz Smith, Three Stations


Rise And Shine

Over in Britain they are reporting that Science Men have confirmed what has long been understood anecdotally: that sex in the morning can brighten your whole day.

Presumably they are publicizing this in England because, as national stereotypes go, people there are not exactly renowned for having sex. A piece reporting these findings urges Britons to consider that those who start the day by bouncing the bedsprings “are healthier and happier than those who simply opt for a cup of tea and some toast before heading out the door.”

Reaching across the Great Water to Dr. Debby Herbenick, Britons are told that “having sex in the morning releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which makes couples feel loving and bonded all day long.”

Oxytocin—known as “the love hormone”—is good stuff. Everybody needs a regular dose of it.

This past summer we learned that young girls can start as much of the stuff flowing by talking to their mothers over the phone as by receiving motherly hugs.

The British report does not discuss whether phone sex releases as much oxytocin as does physical sexual congress.

Dr. Herbenick also says that a morning romp “can strengthen your immune system for the day by enhancing your levels of IgA, an antibody that protects against infection. And it releases chemicals that boost levels of oestrogen, which improves the tone and texture of your skin and hair.”

Over in Belfast researchers concluded that engaging in sex three times a week can halve the risk of a heart attack or stroke. They did not specify whether said sex should occur in the morning.

There is also some indication that men may be at their best in the morning. This is because during sleep a man accumulates the testosterone he’ll use in the coming day. So, might as well use it while it’s fresh.

“From the time he wakes up,” says health journalist Gabrielle Lichtman, “he has a three-hour window when he’s brimming with peak levels.”

So, get to it. Time’s a-wastin’.

It Is Happening Again . . . Again

One boy’s eyes lay gently closed, and his long dark lashes were washed in tears, as though he had cried himself to sleep. As they bent over him they saw that he was very young, and a breeze came up from the edges of the swamp, bearing with it a scorched odor of smoke and powder, and touched the edges of his hair. A lock fell across his brow with a sort of gawky, tousled grace, as if preserving even in that blank and mindless repose some gesture proper to his years, a callow charm. Around his curly head grasshoppers darted among the weeds. Below, beneath the slumbering eyes, his face had been blasted out of sight. Culver looked up and met Mannix’s gaze. The Captain was sobbing helplessly. He cast an agonized look toward the Colonel, standing across the field, then down again at the boy, then at Culver. “Won’t they ever let us alone, the sons of bitches,” he murmured, weeping. “Won’t they ever let us alone?”

—William Styron, The Long March

So. I suppose we can leap aboard the great wheel at the time of the French misadventure in Vietnam. From which the Americans determinedly learned nothing. And so walked, eyes wide shut, into Southeast Asia, and their own prolonged Dien Bien Phu. Then came the Russians. Who belatedly admitted they had not learned from the American experience in Vietnam. And so went down in the dust of Afghanistan. Now, eternally recurring, the Americans. Again. In Afghanistan this time. Not learning from their own experience in Vietnam. And not learning from the Russians not learning in Afghanistan.

On February 7, 1968, an American major told AP’s Peter Arnett, in speaking of the decision to bomb and shell unto rubble the Vietnamese town of Ben Tre, “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The U.S. military’s official explanation of why “it became necessary to destroy the town” is that it had been infiltrated by thousands of Viet Cong. Thus, their rationale went, trying to oust the VC in ground-level fighting, from street to street, would have caused a high number of American casualties and even more civilian casualties.

This month, in defending the October 2010 decision to bomb and shell and obliterate from the face of the earth (as seen in the photos above) the Afghan village of Tarok Kalache—damned as an alleged snake’s nest of Taliban sympathizers and booby-traps—American and Afghan officials have variously stated that “there was no other way,” “it was the only way I could give the men confidence to go back out,” that “the only way” to “not ‘lose momentum‘ was just to bomb the hell out of it,” and “we had to destroy them to make them safe.”

On and on and on it goes. To these eyes, getting pretty old. As Arthur Schopenhauer observed: “Whoever lives two or three generations, feels like the spectator who, during the fair, sees the performances of all kinds of jugglers and, if he remains seated in the booth, sees them repeated two or three times. As the tricks were meant only for one performance, they no longer make any impression after the illusion and novelty have vanished.”


Let Them Eat Snow

Michael Bloomberg is a very wealthy man. So wealthy, that he can buy whatever weather he likes. That is, if he doesn’t like the weather wherever he happens to be, he can simply zoom off to some other portion of the planet that features weather more to his liking.

But, alas for him, this is no longer so easy, for in recent years Bloomberg has decided that he wants to be a politician. He first bought the mayoralty of New York City; in the course of things, he decided he liked the job so much that he changed the law so that he could buy an unprecedented third term. Now, some believe, he wants to purchase the presidency. Emulating in this his fellow media mogul, Silvio Berlusconi, who has repeatedly purchased the presidency of Italy, and rhythmically shelled out whatever additional monies might be necessary to buy his way out of the various scandalous behaviors to which he is prone, and that occasionally come to public and/or judicial notice.

I say “alas for him,” because these days, being a political figure and all, Bloomberg is sometimes constrained in purchasing the weather of his choice. For instance, when mountains of snow recently buried his city, he could hardly pick up and jet off to Barbados; the hoi polloi tend not to appreciate such desertions. As Chris Christie, there in New Jersey, recently learned, to his distress.

Even though Bloomberg did remain in his city, as it was transformed temporarily into the Alps, he did receive some heat. Because it developed that although the city’s snowplows efficiently cleared those streets where Bloomberg-type humans might happen to go, whole regions of the city occupied by “the little people” saw nary a plow, for days. An artificial organism like a city needs regular transfusions: after two or three plow-less days, many of those little people were hungry and cold. Because delivery trucks were unable to transport food to neighborhood markets, and fuel suppliers could not navigate the streets to deliver combustibles.

Eventually, particularly as this was New York City, screaming commenced. Bloomberg at first appeared thoroughly befuddled: he was not only unaware that most of his city remained buried, but seemed somewhat confused as to even the basic nature and meaning of non-Bloombergian realms like “Queens” and “the Bronx.” When a resident of his city attempted to commit suicide, but was prevented from doing so, because his leap from a window was arrested by the soft cushion of towering mounds of garbage bags that had accumulated on the streets during the plow-less days, well, Bloomberg seemed perplexed by this, too.

As I proceed through my dotage, I grow increasingly convinced that, in many cases, good fiction can more fully and accurately communicate truths than mere reportage. Thus, beyond the “furthur,” I present excerpts from John Kenney’s recent take in the New Yorker on Mayor Bloomberg’s response to the snowing of New York, presented as selections from Bloomberg’s own personal diary.


My Eyes Are Slits

The Torch And The Pitchfork Have Been Passed To A New Generation

Crusty xenophobe Jean-Marie Le Pen has ceded control of his atavistic National Front party to the less-crusty xenophobe Marine Le Pen, his 42-year-old daughter.

Le Pen and his National Front are a sort of human time warp, demanding the return of the guillotine to the public square, the erection of altars to worship fetal tissue, the marginalization of all Hebrews, and expulsion of “the Moors” from France.

They are, in a word, “populists.” Of that breed of dangerous geek that some naive know-nothings on the American left currently think is A Real Good Thing. Ignoring the warning of America’s Cassandra, Robert Stone: “American populism, notorious as a pious front for venal corruption, [is] the curse of this nation, and now, empowered by American wealth and resources, a worldwide plague.”


Orwell Declares Himself A Eunuch, Is Besieged By Hedgehogs

As you complain about the gloominess of my letters, I suppose I must try to put on what Mr. Micawber called the hollow mask of mirth, but I assure you it is not easy, with the life I have been leading lately. My novel, instead of going forwards, goes backwards with the most alarming speed. There are whole wads of it that are so awful that I really don’t know what to do with them. And to add to my other joys, the fair, or part of it, has come back and established itself on the common just beyond the cinema, so that I have to work to the accompaniment of roundabout music that goes on till the small hours. You may think that this is red ink I am writing in, but really it is some of the bloody sweat that has been collecting round me in pools for the last few days.

I managed to get my copy of Ulysses through safely this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or a baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.

When I said that I was going to stay in a slummy part of London I did not mean that I was going to live in a common lodging house or anything like that. I only meant that I didn’t want to live in a respectable quarter, because they make me sick, besides being more expensive. I dare say I shall stay in Islington. It is maddening that you cannot get unfurnished rooms in London, but I know by experience that you can’t, though of course you can get a flat or some horrible thing called a maisonette. This age makes me so sick that sometimes I am almost impelled to stop at a corner and start calling down curses from Heaven like Jeremiah or Ezra or somebody—”Woe upon thee, O Israel, for thy adulteries with the Egyptians” etc. etc. The hedgehogs keep coming into the house, and last night we found in the bathroom a little tiny hedgehog no bigger than an orange. The only thing I could think was that it was a baby of one of the others, though it was fully formed—I mean, it had its prickles. Write again soon. You don’t know how it cheers me up to see one of your letters waiting for me.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, September 1934

When I Worked

January 2011
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