ES -- DX/CL -- isee -- cboe put/call -- specialist/public short ratio -- trinq -- trin -- aaii bull ratio -- abx -- cmbx -- cdx -- vxo p&f -- SPX volatility curve -- VIX:VXO skew -- commodity screen -- cot -- conference board

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

 

utopianism


from toynbee's "study of history", iv. the growths of civilizations, ix. the arrested civilizations. (4) general characteristics:

to arrest the downward movement is the utmost to which most utopias aspire, since utopias seldom begin to be written in any society until after its members have lost the expectation of further progress. hence in almost all utopias -- with the noteworthy exception of that work of english genius which has given this whole genre of literature its name -- an invincibly stable equilibrium is the aim to which all other social ends are subordinated and, if need be, sacrificed.

this is true of the hellenic utopias which were conceived at athens in the schools of philosophy that arose in the age immediately following the catastrophe of the peloponnesian war. the negative inspiration of these works is a profound hostility to athenian democracy. for, after the death of pericles, the democracy has developed a crazy militarism that had brought devastation upon the world in which athenian culture had flourished; and it had capped its failure to win the war with the judicial murder of socrates.

the first concern of the athenian post-war philosophers was to repudiate everything that for two centuries past had made athens politically great. hellas, they held, could only be saved by an alliance between athenian philosophy and the spartan social system. in adapting the spartan system to their own ideas they sought to improve upon it in two ways: first by working it out to its logical extremes and secondly by the imposition of a sovereign intellectual caste (plato's guardians), in the likeness of the athenian philosophers themselves, upon the spartiate military caste, which is to be taught to play second fiddle in the utopian orchestra.

in their condonation of caste, in their penchant toward specialization and in their passion for establishing an equilibrium at any price, the athenian philosophers of the fourth century bc show themselves docile pupils of the spartan statesmen of the sixth. in the matter of caste the thought of plato and aristotle is tainted with that racialism which has been one of the besetting sins of our own western society in recent times. plato's conceit of 'the noble lie' is a delicate device for suggesting that between one human being and another there may be such profound differences as to constitute a distinction like that between one animal species and another. aristotle's defense of slavery is along the same lines. he holds that some men are meant 'by nature' to be slaves, though he admits that in actual fact many are enslaved who ought to be free and many free who ought to be slaves.

in plato's utopias and aristotle's alike (plato's republic and laws and the last two books of aristotle's politics) the aim is not the happiness of the individual but the stability of the community. plato proclaims a ban on poets which might have issued from the mouth of a spartan overseer; and he advocates a general censorship over 'dangerous thought' which has its latter-day parallels in the regulations of communist russia, national-socialist germany, fascist italy and shintoist japan.

the utopian programme proved a forlorn hope for the salvation of hellas, and its barrennes was demonstrated experimentally, before hellenic history had run its course, by the mass-production of artificially manufactured commonwealths in which the main utopian precepts were duly translated into practice. the single commonwealth laid out on a patch of waste land in crete, which is postulated in plato's laws, was actually multiplied a thousandfold in the city states founded by alexander and the seleucidae in partibus orientalium and by the romans in partibus barbarorum during the next four centuries.


hey Gaius!

check out reason H&R: we're trying a chicago get together at goose island on 8/27.

http://www.reason.com/hitandrun/2005/07/meet_your_fello.shtml#comments

lemme know!

thanks
cheers,
drf

 
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Monday, July 25, 2005

 

the paranoia of western nationalism


how bizarre, paranoid, extreme and distorted has the worldview of militant nationalists in the west become in the service of the religion of state? in an example that seems beyond belief, the rightwing government of israel lashed out against the comments of pope benedict xvi condemning the recent wave of terrorist attacks worldwide as being, essentially, insufficiently against terrorism.

as i have said before, there is an israeli left -- and increasingly, they seem to represent the only party of reason in israel, the only party not having descended into the pit of paranoia and denial. what is going on in israel seems a perversity to the peaceful, introspective and conscientious tradition of judaism, and one wonders as milton viorst did if the state of israel has not become, in a very profound way, an exercise not in redemption but self-destruction.

and that journey is extremely relevant to the west broadly and the united states particularly, whose warlike leadership has cultivated an extremely close -- in some cases, criminal -- relationship with israeli likud leadership out of a sense of common ideological cause. as i wrote:

i think it's becoming increasingly clear that one can view the israeli situation as a sort of possible moral destination for the united states. what goes on in our aggressive occupations of iraq and afghanistan -- and our attempts to repress, rationalize and deny it all -- serves to warp and destroy our morality in a manner quite similar to what israelis are suffering. one doesn't need to be a theologian to see that these idf soldiers have been hollowed out by israeli state militarism, desensitized and made useless to a civilized world. and the angry reaction of much of the israeli public against blau -- when clearly the point of fault lies within the message and not the messenger -- is altogether similar to the reactions of many in america when faced with evidence of our own sins.
this is still the case, and i view with great sadness such examples of israeli state delusion, knowing that their fate may well be ours.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

 

are we ready?


the world health organization issued a warning today regarding h5n1 avian influenza following the confirmation of indonesia's first confirmed case and death as a result of the virus.

"This is perhaps the only time since 1968, which was the last pandemic, that we are getting signs, symptoms and warnings from nature ... More and more birds are dying in different parts of the world -- this is the kind of signals, and early warnings that we are referring to."
the virus infected and killed three of a five-member household; the other two show no signs of infection.

8-year-old became ill with fever, diarrhoea, then cough, on 24 June. She was brought to Siloam Gleneagles Hospital, Tangerang, on 28 June, where she died with respiratory distress 20 days after onset. The 1-year-old became ill on 29 June with fever, diarrhoea, then cough, finally respiratory distress, and died 10 days after onset. The father became ill on 2 July with fever, mild cold, then cough and was taken to the same hospital on 7 July where he died 10 days after onset.
nature magazine ran a synopsis of the state of affairs a few months back. it's extremely difficult to tell how virulent the eventual strain of human contagion will be, but h5n1 has shown in the bird population a contagiousness and lethality that sparks easy comparison to h1n1, which was responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic that consumed 40 million worldwide, offering an apocalyptic punctuation to the disaster of the first world war. this new strain has already crossed into the pig population of indonesia, a concerning sign as pigs can serve as incubators for hybridizing avian and human influenza strains into versions of avian flu that are infectious in humans. it is thought that h5n1 may be speading unchecked throughout the swine population of asia.

it may not come this year. but this is something to be considered in the moment. should an outbreak begin, the pharmaceuticals that could protect us are likely to run out quite quickly, leaving us exposed, rich and poor, old and young alike.

Indeed, the potential for social unrest is a major concern for those laying pandemic plans. And demand for Tamiflu could exacerbate the problem. Who will, and who will not, be treated with this scarce but valuable resource? "It's not easy — we know there won't be enough for everyone," says Theresa Tam of the Public Health Agency of Canada. Britain, which is among the best-prepared countries, has ordered enough for about 25% of its population; Canada has stocks for just over 5% of its people; the United States currently cannot even cover 1%.
neuraminidase-inhibitor antivirals like tamiflu are available with a prescription.

UPDATE: the economist noted two new studies examining antiviral drugs.


Did you read "the great influenza"?

 
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no, actually, mr observer -- was it very good?

 
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Was it good?

Um, not really. It wasnt bad, but kind of repetitive and the prose wasnt great. Adequate.

But, that said, it was informative regarding the 1918-19 pandemic outbreak and the subsequent breakdown of "modern" systems for handling the problem. Ie., hospitals filled, health care workers over-whelmed, major cities ghost towns (Philadelphia especially hard hit) as commerce stopped because fear of crowds (too late, unfortunately).

The 1918 pandemic was spread in large part by world-traveling soldiers returning/being sent to WWI. Obviously today's transportation networks would send this thing worldwide very very quickly.

It will happen, perhaps not this fall/winter, perhaps not next, but it will happen again.

In fact, just saw the news today that in southern China (I think) swine flu (Chinese officials claiming it is spread by a bacteria, even if that is the case many bacteria are the ultimate killers of viral influenza victims b/c of weakened immune systems) has killed 134 people, with WHO watching closely.

 
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

 

cutting the cord


china today took the step of severing the link between the chinese yuan and the american dollar, to which is has been pegged at a fixed exchange rate, instituting a limited float against an international basket of currencies.

this is certainly a waymarker on the road to the decline of the dollar as the global reserve currency, but is not entirely a surprise -- market rumors that the chinese government had taken out a protective swap to neutralize some of their exposure to dollar holdings last month seemed to indicate the move was coming. and i'm sure there will be rejoicing in washington, where politicians are intent both on diverting blame for the current account deficit and treating its symptoms instead of its root causes. but this is not a healthy development for the united states.

the imbalances that have built up under the peg are truly monstrous -- china is the single largest buyer of american treasury debt, which it has used as a refuge for the immense quantities of dollars it imports as a result of its huge trade surplus with the united states. these dollar reserves are a result of an artificially cheap yuan making chinese products ultracompetitive in an american market in the midst of one of the wildest binges of overconsumption/savings depletion the western world has ever seen. in return for chinese goods, china has accumulated dollars, which it then has reinvested in american treasury debt.

as the yuan now floats higher against the dollar -- as it is widely expected to -- chinese imports will become more expensive in the united states, reducing the flow of dollars to china and thereby its ability and incentive to purchase american debt instruments. as chinese demand for american treasuries slacken, chances are good that american interest rates will rise.

it is key to understand that the american economy is different now than it has ever been before. americans largely don't save money themselves anymore, choosing instead to take advantage of low interest rates to borrow and live beyond their means. simultaneously, the public sector has quit all notion of fiscal responsibility. in the past, when the government ran a deficit for some period, it could sell its debt to private americans, who would use their savings to purchase bonds. now, having no private net savings to draw on, the government is forced to sell its debt overseas, and the effect has been to massively leverage the american economy -- making it extremely sensitive to movements in interest rates.

these points are highlighted in a concise foreign affairs article by brad setser and nouriel roubini that should be mandatory reading.

with america utterly dependent on foreign accumulators of dollars and buyers of debt to continue to stably finance american deficits, the reduction in chinese demand for american debt instruments may have profound effects here at home -- notably in the interest-rate-dependent housing bubble -- thereby sparking (possibly very intense) volatility in the american economy. and the damage may well have global symptoms -- in emerging market bonds, for example -- in this integrated world economy. indeed, america can be said to be in the process of defaulting on the most massive pile of debt ever accumulated, and the fallout from any accident will by noxious and widespread.

the consequences of this very large shift in the macroeconomic environment are probably unpredictable but may indeed be catastrophic. no one should be fooled into thinking that we are not on the cusp of a very great experiment which we are not in control of and do not fully understand. the immensity of american deficits and debt are exactly the kind of imbalances that can force economic crises upon a nation -- indeed, the global economy -- with frightening speed and incredible devastation, changing the place of nations in the world order.

UPDATE: several other se asian nations will follow suit. the economist notes that a slowing chinese economy may mitigate the potential rise in the yuan/renminbi by expanding its trade surplus with america for some time to come. wapo notes that rising surpluses despite a floating currency will confound and frustrate washington, possibly aggravating relations between china and an increasingly insecure american government.

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I like how you concentrate on good news.

 
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lol -- if i posted about flowers and puppies, would you read? :)

 
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I wonder how you would incorporate German philosophers and out of control individualism into an essay about puppies and flowers. I'm sure you could do it without falling far below par for length of post.

 
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Alas, most people simply don't seem to care about macroeconomic policy.

 
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and that is a shame, because this is one of those seemingly distant events that may have monstrous ramifications for most americans in their daily lives. the 10-year t-bond yield jumped 11 basis points yesterday -- indicating that some traders are thinking the same things.

 
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While long-term you are dead-on, in the short term I dont think a Chinese product under the pegged-to-the-dollar system that cost 1.00, and now costing 1.03 will make that much of a difference and cause China to stop buying as much treasury debt. Additionally, there would have to be another safe haven currency to put their monies in... with the EU and Euro looking increasingly troubled due to politics and potential terrorism, the Euro may not be a great candidate anymore. Still, all signs would point me, if I were in charge of Chinese debt buying, to continue to diversify away from the dollar.

China also has a HUGE problem that is also facing the U.S. and other low-birthrate western nations, that of an aging population that will need to be supported by fewer and fewer workers. China's one child policy in the past ensured this problem. That doesnt exactly relate, but just an aside on China.

 
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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

 

sensibility in the face of violence


britons, being veterans of terrorism thanks to the british empire of 1815-1947, have already learned the lessons and are a lot more sensible about what has happened and what's to be done, it seems, than we americans are. and livingstone, whatever else he thinks, has this right in his comments on the london bombings.

"You've just had 80 years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands because of a Western need for oil. We've propped up unsavory governments, we've overthrown ones that we didn't consider sympathetic," Livingstone said.

"I think the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s ... the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden, taught him how to kill, to make bombs, and set him off to kill the Russians to drive them out of Afghanistan.

"They didn't give any thought to the fact that once he'd done that, he might turn on his creators," he told BBC radio.
the guardian pointedly states the case:

Yet for anyone but the most blinkered defender of government policy, it is common sense to say that the war increased the risk that Islamist terrorists would target this country. As the respected Chatham House thinktank commented on Monday in a report remarkable only for stating the blindingly obvious: "The situation over Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK. It gives a boost to the al-Qaida network's propaganda, recruitment and fundraising." There is no disagreement on this in Whitehall, where the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre concluded last month: "Events in Iraq are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK." To insist, as Tony Blair, Jack Straw and John Reid all have, that there is no connection whatsoever between Baghdad and Beeston is ridiculous. Mr Straw sounded silly, roping in a weekend bomb attack on western tourists in Turkey as evidence of a global terrorist menace that justified the war. He might as well have thrown in the Real IRA or the Animal Liberation Front.
and it's nothing that christian science monitor can't acknowledge honestly.

There is a growing realization, moreover, that the Iraq war has not just ignited the fury of Al Qaeda members, but may have driven countless new recruits into their camp - like the four perpetrators of the 7/7 Tube and bus bombings.

Inayat Bunglawala of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain lobby group says it has become much harder for moderates to persuade disaffected youth to maintain faith in the authorities when the authorities are seen to be responsible for Muslim deaths in Iraq.

"The Iraq war certainly helped Al Qaeda to recruit more people and boosted their propaganda efforts," he says. "It has undermined mainstream Muslim organizations."
and yet many in the west are still in complete denial of these plain truths, favoring instead a blind patriotism to the cant that flows from leadership that allows them to absolve their governments -- and therefore themselves -- of any fault in the international arena as an act of religious faith in the nation.

as toynbee said in his analysis of the holy see that forfeited the flower of the west in its intoxication with militarism:

the transfer of the papacy's prerogatives to secular governments had begun two hundred years before the reformation and it worked itself out in the states which remained catholic as well as in those which became protestant. the sixteenth century saw the process completed; and it is, of course, no accident that the same century also saw the laying of the foundations upon which the 'totalitarian' states of the modern western world have been built. the most significant single factor in this process, of which we have indicated some of the external landmarks, was the transference of devotion to these parochial secular states from an ecumenical church.

this hold upon human hearts is the most precious of all the spoils which these successor-states have taken from the greater and nobler institution which they have plundered, since it is by commanding loyalty much more than by raising revenues and armies that these successor-states have kept themselves alive. by the same token it is this spiritual heritage from the hildebrandine church that has turned the once harmless and useful institution of the parochial state into the menace to civilization which it clearly is today. for the spirit of devotion, which was a beneficent creative power when directed through channels of a civitas dei to god himself, has degenerated into a destructive force when diverted from its original object and offered to idols made by human hands. parochial states, as our medieval forebears knew, deserve from us that same conscientious but unenthusiastic performance of minor social duties which we render in our time to our municipalities and county councils. to idolize these pieces of social machinery is to court disaster.
indeed, this idolization is blinding many of us from the duty we have as citizens of a western republic: to make responsible and decent by our christian principles the activities of these malefactory nation-states in which we live.


 

judge john roberts


if karl rove was offered a second gift from his lord protector, it was the announcement of the nomination of conservative appellate court judge john roberts at a particularly convenient time.

response has been generally muted on the left thusfar, though it is early. the combustibility of the situation is undeniable, and the sad truth is that the credentials of the nominee may not really matter when everyone seems to be itching for a showdown. war has a momentum of its own, and civil war is no exception.

but i fear that roberts is exactly the kind of jurist that the court least needs, as an credible institution in the balance of powers. the economist characterizes roberts thusly:

In introducing his nominee, Mr Bush stressed that he had consulted widely, including with many Democratic senators. He called for a “dignified confirmation process, conducted with fairness and civility”. His message was clear: he was not seeking a fight that would further polarise an already divided country. But Mr Bush’s short speech included several code phrases that hinted what those who know Mr Roberts already know: the nominee is a faithful conservative Republican who shares Mr Bush’s judicial philosophy, one not shared by the half of America who finds Mr Bush too conservative.

What are those values? Mr Bush said that Mr Roberts will “faithfully apply the constitution”. This sounds uncontroversial but for conservative jurists it has a quite specific meaning. “Originalists”, like one of Mr Bush’s favorite Supreme Court judges, Antonin Scalia, argue that the constitution means just what its founders intended, nothing more. They abhor the idea, espoused by more liberal judges, that the constitution should be regarded as an organic document, shaped by the changing times, in which later judges may “find” new rights never envisioned by the framers.

And central among these contested rights are the electric social issues that most drive “blue America” (Democratic strongholds—mainly the left-leaning coastal areas) apart from “red America” (Republican areas—the more conservative mid-west, interior western states and the South). Chief among them, inevitably, is abortion. The number one goal of social conservatives is to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed women’s rights to abortion. Many scholars, both supporters and opponents of abortion rights, see it as an awkward piece of legal reasoning that finds the right to abortion in a purported constitutional right to privacy—itself never mentioned in the constitution. But social conservatives see it as an ungodly abomination that must go at once. They are delighted with the choice of Mr Roberts.
roberts' short time on the bench is really quite irrelevant in divining the direction of his future rulings if his legal persuasion is definitively constructionist -- his views will share much ground with justice scalia's. one can be fairly sure that robert's extended service as a lawyer within the republican political organization has made those views apparent to the bush administration.

as i have said here before, originalism or constructionism is simply an euphemism for the undermining of the power of the courts as part of the manifest march of rousseauian ideology in the united states. it holds that an "original ideology" underlies the constitution which is unchanging, and that this ideology is both the primary purpose of the constitution and fundamentally rousseauian. constructionism is based in a misbegotten recasting of the american founding as an experiment in french revolutionary jacobin government, and not the establishment of a traditional english parliamentarian institution, and thusly forwards unchecked democratic majoritarianism as though it were an original principle of the founding of the republic even though it was obviously not. this falsely imparts the force of history to a movement whose highest aspiration is the rejection of pragmatism, tradition and law as a means of government.

such shakily revised history cannot be the foundation of any solid progress in the present, and the metastasis of anarchism of which both ideological majoritarianism and constitutional originalism are a part has underpinned the growth of a tyranny in the united states as it reaches for utopian emancipation in the irruption of the rule of law. to the extent that roberts will further deteriorate the power of the courts as a governmental institution capable of checking this social decay, he should be opposed for the good of the rule of law.

UPDATE: matt welch offers some insightful questioning.

UPDATE: roberts reveals his nakedly majoritarian character vis-a-vis his assent to the decision in hamdan vs rumsfeld.

UPDATE: more from reason, where some misguidedly hope that constructionism means individualism.


the Americans recruited and trained Osama bin Laden

I seem to recall that bin Laden was supported by Zia ul-Haq and the ISI, who were partially financed by the CIA. I'm sure those guys won't cause more trouble since the US invaded Pakistan and reformed the CIA.

 
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the pardoning of karl rove


karl rove was offered a gift by his lord protector yesterday when president bush changed his position on accountability with respect to the plame-novak-rove affair. bush, who had commanded accountability for those involved in the leaking of plame's identity, took a large step away from that position by introducing the standard of crime, taking the level of unsurvivability down from political damage to legal infraction. as it is extremely unlikely that charges can be brought at any time prior to the end of bush's term of office, this constitutes an effective pardon.

this is no surprise. loyalty is the watchword in the white house, not accountability, and this simply confirms that there is very little mischief that any of the president's men could get into that would result in their expulsion from within the castle walls. rumsfeld's continued tenure despite an apoplectic term of disaster and delusion is certainly proof positive of that.

it's also important to remember that rove may not have had any idea what he was doing -- that he had been shrewdly used. if this is so, rove's continued presence in the white house may even be beneficial to those who would stand for pragmatism and reality in the face of ideology, militancy, hubris and idiocy, as a new convert to the opposition of the exponents thereof.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

 

the rise and fall of respublica christiana


from toynbee's "study of history", iv. the breakdowns of civilizations, xvi. the failure of self-determination. (7) the intoxication of victory:

one of the more general forms in which the tragedy of koros -- hybris -- ate presents itself is the intoxication of victory -- whether the struggle in which the fatal prize is won be war of arms or a conflict of spiritual forces. both variants of this drama could be illustrated from the history of rome: the intoxication of a military victory from the breakdown of the republic in the second century b.c. and the intoxication of a spiritual victory from the breakdown of the papacy in the thirteenth century of the christian era. but as we have already dealt with the breakdown of the roman republic in another connexion we will confine ourselves here to the latter theme. the chapter in this history of the roman see, the greatest of all western institutions, with which we are concerned is that which began on the 20th december, a.d. 1046, with the opening of the synod of sutri by the emperor henry iii, and closed on the 20th december, 1870, with the occupation of rome by the troops of king victor emmanuel.

the papal respublica christiana is unique among human institutions. attempts to establish its character by analogies with institutions evolved in other societies reveal differences so fundamental that the supposed analogies turn out to be unprofitable. it can best be described, in negative terms, as an exact inversion of the caesaro-papal regime, against which it was a social reaction and a spiritual protest; and this description gives, better than any other, the measure of hildebrand's achievement.

when the tuscan hildebrand took up his abode in rome in the second quarter of the eleventh century, he found himself in a derelict outpost of the east roman empire which was occupied by a degenerate offshoot of the byzantine society. these latter-day romans were militarily contemptible, socially turbulent, financially and spiritually bankrupt. they were unable to cope with their lombard neighbors; they had lost the whole of the papal estates at home and overseas; and when it was a question of raising the level of monastic life they had to turn for guidance to cluny, beyond the alps. the first attempts to regenerate the papacy took the form of passing over the romans and appointing transalpines. in this despised and alien rome hildebrand and his successors succeeded in creating the master institution of western christendom. they won for papal rome an empire which has a greater hold on the human heart than the empire of the antonines, and which on the mere material plane embraced vast tracts of western europe beyond the rhine and the danube where the legions of augustus and marcus aurelius had never set foot.

these papal conquests were partly due to the constitution of the christian republic whose frontiers the popes were enlarging; for it was a constitution which inspired confidence instead of invoking hostility. it was based on a combination of ecclesiastical centralism and uniformity with political diversity and devolution; and, since the superiority of the spiritual over the temporal power was a cardinal point in its constitutional doctrine, this combination made the note of unity predominant without depriving the adolescent western society of those elements of liberty and elasticity which are the indispensable conditions of growth. even in those central italian territories over which the papacy claimed secular as well as ecclesiastical authority the twelfth-century popes gave encouragement to the movement toward city-state autonomy. at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when this civic movement was in full flood over italy and when the papal authority stood at its zenith over western christendom, a welsh poet was 'pointing out... how strange it was that the pope's censure, which in rome could not move trifles, was elsewhere making the sceptres of kings tremble.' giraldus cambrensis felt sure that he was here exposing a paradox which was a theme for satire. but the very reason why in this age a majority of the princes and city-states in western civilization accepted the papal supremacy with so little demur was because the pope was not then under suspicion of attempting to trespass on the domain of the secular power.

this statesmanlike aloofness from the secular and territorial ambitions was combined, in the papal hierocracy at its zenith, with an energetic and enterprising use of the administrative gift which was the byzantine legacy to papal rome. while in orthodox christendom this gift had been fatally applied to the tour de force of putting substance into a resuscitated ghost of the roman empire and thereby crushing an adolescent orthodox christendom society under the incubus of an institution too heavy for it to bear, the roman architects of the respublica christiana turned their administrative resources to better account by building a lighter structure, on a new plan, upon broader foundations. the gossamer filaments of the papal spider's web, as it was originally woven, drew medieval western christendom together in an unconstrained unity which was equally beneficial to the parts and to the whole. it was only later, when the fabric coarsened and hardened in the stress of conflict, that the silken threads changed into iron bands and that these came to weigh so heavily on the local princes and peoples that at last they burst their bonds in a temper in which they hardly cared if, in liberating themselves, they were destroying the ecumenical unity which the papacy had established and preserved.

in that papal work of creation it was not, of course, either a capacity for administration or an avoidance of territorial ambitions that was the vital creative force; the papacy was able to be creative because it threw itself without hesitations or reservations into the task of giving leadership and expression and organization to an adolescent society's awakening desires for a higher life and a larger growth. it gave these aspirations form and fame, and thereby transformed them from the daydreams of scattered minorities or isolated individuals into common causes which carried conviction that they were supremely worth striving for, and which swept men off their feet when they heard these causes preached by popes who were staking upon them the fortunes of the holy see. the victory of the christian republic was won by the papal campaigns for the purification of the clergy from the two moral plagues of sexual incontinence and financial corruption, for the liberation of the life of the church from the interference of secular powers and for the rescue of the oriental christians and the holy places from the clutches of the turkish champions of islam. but this was not the whole of the hildebrandine papacy's work; for even in times of the severest stress the great popes under whose leadership these 'holy wars' were fought had a margin of thought and will to spare for the works of peace in which the church was displaying her finest self and exercising her most creative activity: the nascent universities, the new forms of monastic life and the mendicant orders.

the fall of the hildebrandine church is as extraordinary a spectacle as its rise; for all the virtues which had carried it to its zenith seemed to change, as it sank to its nadir, into their own exact antitheses. the divine institution which had been fighting and winning a battle for spiritual freedom against material force was now infected with the very evil which it had set itself to cast out. the holy see which had led the struggle against simony now required the clergy to pay their dues to a roman receipt of custom for those ecclesiastical preferments which rome herself had forbidden them to purchase from any local secular power. the roman curia which had been the head and front of moral and intellectual progress now turned itself into a fastness of spiritual conservatism. the ecclesiastical sovereign power now suffered itself to be deprived by its local secular underlings -- the princes of the rising parochial states -- of the lion's share of the product of the financial and administrative instruments which the papacy itself had devised in order to make its authority effective. finally, as the local prince of a papal principality, the sovereign pontiff had to content himself with the paltry consolation-prize of sovereignty over one of the least of the 'successor-states' of his own lost empire. has any institution ever given so great occasion as this to the enemies of the lord to blaspheme? this is surely the most extreme example of the nemesis of creativity that we have yet encountered in our study. how did this happen, and why?

how it happened is foreshadowed in the first recorded transaction of hildebrand's public career.

the creative spirits of the roman church who set themselves in the eleventh century to rescue our western society from a feudal anarchy by establishing a christian republic found themselves in the same dilemma as their spiritual heirs who are attempting in our own day to replace an international anarchy by a world order. the essence of their aim was to substitute spiritual authority for physical force, and the spiritual sword was the weapon with which their supreme victories were won. but there were occasions in which it seemed as though the established regime of physical force was in a position to defy the spiritual sword with impunity; and it was in such situations that the roman church militant was challenged to give its answer to the riddle of the sphinx. was the soldier of god to deny himself the use of any but his own spiritual arms at the risk of seeing his advance brought to a standstill? or was he to fight god's battle against the devil with the adversary's own weapons? hildebrand accepted the latter alternative when, on being appointed by gregory vi to be the guardian of the papal treasury and finding it constantly looted by brigands, he raised an armed force and routed the brigands manu militari.

at the moment when hildebrand took this action the inward moral character of his act was difficult to divine. at his last hour, forty years later, the answer to the riddle was already less obscure; for in 1085, when he was dying as a pope in exile at salerno, rome herself lay prostrate under the weight of an overwhelming calamity which her bishop's policy had brought upon her only the year before. in 1085 rome has just been looted and burnt by the normans, whom the pope had called in to assist him in the military struggle which had spread from the steps of st. peter's altar -- the papal treasury -- until it had engulfed the whole of western christendom. the climax of the physical conflict between hildebrand and the emperor henry iv gave a foretaste of the deadlier and more devastating struggle which was to be fought out a outrance, more than a century-and-a-half later, between innocent iv and frederick ii; and, by the time we come to the pontificate of innocent iv, a lawyer turned militarist, our doubts will be at an end. hildebrand himself had set the hildebrandine church upon a course which was to end in the victory of his adversaries -- the world, the flesh, and the devil -- over the city of god which he was seeking to bring down to earth.

no politick admitteth nor did ever admit
the teacher into confidence; nay ev'n the church,
with hierarchy in conclave compassing to install
saint peter in caesar's chair, and thereby win for men
the promises for which they had loved and worship'd christ,
relax'd his heavenly code to stretch her temporal rule.
if we have succeeded in explaining how the papacy became possessed by the demon of physical violence which it was attempting to exorcise, we have found the explanation of the other changes of papal virtues into their opposing vices; for the substitution of the material for the spiritual world is the fundamental change of which all the rest are corollaries. how it is, for example, that a holy see whose main concern with the finances of the clergy had been the eradication of simony in the eleventh century should in the thirteenth century become so deeply engaged in allocating for the benefit of its nominees, and by the fourteenth century in taxing for its own benefit, those ecclesiastical revenues which it had once redeemed from the scandal of prostitution to secular powers for the purchase of ecclesiastical preferment? the answer it simply that the papacy had turned militarist and war costs money.

the outcome of the great war between the thirteenth-century popes and the hohenstaufen was the usual outcome of all wars that are fought out to the bitter end. the nominal victor succeeded in dealing the death-blow to his victim at the cost of sustaining fatal injuries himself; and the real victors over both belligerents were the neutral tertii gaudentes. when, half-a-century after the death of frederick ii, pope boniface viii hurled against the king of france the pontifical thunderbolt which had blasted the emperor, the sequel demonstrated that, as a result of the deadly struggle of 1227-68, the papacy had sunk to the level of weakness to which it had reduced the empire, while the kingdom of france had become as strong as either the papacy or the empire had been before they had destroyed each other. king philippe le bel burnt the bull before notre-dame with the general approval of his clergy as well as his people, arranged the kidnapping of the pope, and, after his victim's death, secured the transference of the seat of papal administration from rome to avignon. there followed the 'captivity' (1305-78) and the schism (1379-1415).

it was now certain that the local secular princes would inherit, sooner or later,, within their respective territories, the whole of the administrative and financial organization and power which the papacy had been gradually building up for itself. the process of transfer was only a matter of time. we may notice, as landmarks on the road, the english statutes of provisors (1351) and praemunire (1353); the concessions which the curia was compelled to make, a century later, to the secular powers in france and germany as the price of their withdrawal of support from the council of basel; the franco-papal concordat of 1516 and the english act of supremacy passed in 1534. the transfer of the papacy's prerogatives to secular governments had begun two hundred years before the reformation and it worked itself out in the states which remained catholic as well as in those which became protestant. the sixteenth century saw the process completed; and it is, of course, no accident that the same century also saw the laying of the foundations upon which the 'totalitarian' states of the modern western world have been built. the most significant single factor in this process, of which we have indicated some of the external landmarks, was the transference of devotion to these parochial secular states from an ecumenical church.

this hold upon human hearts is the most precious of all the spoils which these successor-states have taken from the greater and nobler institution which they have plundered, since it is by commanding loyalty much more than by raising revenues and armies that these successor-states have kept themselves alive. by the same token it is this spiritual heritage from the hildebrandine church that has turned the once harmless and useful institution of the parochial state into the menace to civilization which it clearly is today. for the spirit of devotion, which was a beneficent creative power when directed through channels of a civitas dei to god himself, has degenerated into a destructive force when diverted from its original object and offered to idols made by human hands. parochial states, as our medieval forebears knew, deserve from us that same conscientious but unenthusiastic performance of minor social duties which we render in our time to our municipalities and county councils. to idolize these pieces of social machinery is to court disaster.

we have now perhaps found some answer to the question how the papacy came to suffer the extraordinary peripeteia; but in describing the process we have not explained the cause. why was it that the medieval papacy became the slave of its own tools and allowed itself to be betrayed, by its use of material means, into being diverted from the spiritual ends to which those means had been intended to minister? the explanation appears to lie in the untoward effects of an initial victory. the dangerous game of fighting force with force, which is justifiable within limits which may be divined by intuition but which are perhaps impossible to define, had fatal results because, in the first instance, it succeeded all too well. intoxicated by the successes which their hazardous maneuver obtained for them in the earlier stages of their struggle with the holy roman empire, gregory vii (hildebrand) and his successors persisted in the use of force until victory on this non-spiritual plane became an end in itself. thus, while gregory vii fought the empire with the object of removing an imperial obstacle to a reform of the church, innocent iv fought the empire in order to destroy the empire's own secular authority.


Monday, July 18, 2005

 

faith as entertainment


when marx called it the opiate of the masses, he did religion short shrift. there is a function and a point to a universal church, a faith of social cohesion, and one needs look no further in the west than the roman catholic church and the role it played in the development of our civilization.

far more than a sedative to quiet man's less rational needs, the constantinian roman church served as a vehicle to convey the laws and thoughts of the dying hellenic world to the unborn west. the administration of the church became a primary basis for social organization in the dark aftermath of alaric's sack of rome and the chaos into which the dead empire plunged. roman lex patria became the law of the west through the vehicle of catholic law. the philosophies of plato and aristotle echo throughout the canon of the church; the wisdom of millennia passed to us through biblical exegesis and the church teaching which sprang from it.

when the west began, when charles martel met the moors at tours in a battle to save a roman christian europe from cultural extinction, it was the agency of the church that materially fuelled his armies and ultimately legitimized his dynasty in the person of charlemagne. it was the catholic faith, furthermore, which finally quelled the norse invaders which had threatened europe from the north, over a period of centuries incorporating them into an unified christendom. the papal hierarchy proved time and again with the rise of christendom to be a force more powerful than the barbarian kings of europe, capable of keeping order with the spiritual authority of christianity. augustine's civitate dei became the organizing principle of the new western civilization -- and the strong institution of the papacy reigned over the flower of the west as it grew from the ashes of greece and rome.

and what has that, i might ask, to do with this?

the example presented here, mimicked all around the united states, represents the complete corruption of christianity, its final bankruptcy. the high irony of housing a congregation in a coliseum cannot be overlooked; for what is this perversion of christianity but mere entertainment, a theater of the absurd for the individual cut loose from society in postmodernism and left in quiet aimless desperation?

the appeal of these churches as foghorns of preposterously reduced versions of the complexity of christian morality in a world increasingly industrial, ideological and technological -- a push-button world which has created the desire for and belief in simplicity and predictability, and a corresponding rejection of complexity, history, philosophy and intellect -- has everything in common with the appeal of situation comedy. and the drive for simplicity is now horrifyingly comsumptive -- in the frantic search for a primitive moral anchor, history is reduced, government is reduced, science is reduced, society is reduced to stark moral conflict, rendered in childlike black and white instead of life's full, mature color. devoid of a true sense of spirituality, reliant instead on an emotionalism which must, like a narcotic, be administered to the addicted in ever-greater and more indulgent doses to command any feeling at all, these churches grow in scale, display and outrageous behavior in proportion to their degree of philosophical rot.

but the grandest irony of all is the nakedly antisocial character of such churches. the neitzschean morality of these cults of the self, preaching not social cohesion in faith but emancipation and self-fulfillment in god, constitute the inversion of constantinian christianity in syncreticism. as such, these congregations are not cohesive, codependent societies but tribes of convenience -- all in search of a common goal of self-elevation, each free to abandon any church to take their deeply personal and solitary path to enlightenment. to make plain the ultimate allegiance, the soldiers and heroes of this new christianity are men who disrespect law to manifest their personal moral judgment, the highest narcissistic ordination of the anarchist ideal. it is the revolutionary-hero-cult come alive -- the antithesis of community and institution, the metastasis of anarchism infesting and animating the broken shell of christendom.

it is this decrepit ruin to which marx, as one who saw the fractured and decaying christian institution from the viewpoint of a individualist revolutionary, referred when he said, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions." and it is his view that has come to be true as western man has become more and more the halfhearted incarnation of his kind -- burning to change all the world for our selfish utopian desire for complete emancipation, yet spiritually lost in a world of constant revolutionism and perpetual conflict that has begotten its own soul.


Friday, July 15, 2005

 

rove's sacrifice


i was discussing the rove-plame connection with some friends of mine before a cub game yesterday when i was asked what i thought would become of rove. my instinctive answer was "nothing" -- rove is a highly-placed friend of the president and a smart political operator, who likely will be able of obfuscate the facts well enough to protect himself. but i'm already reconsidering that view -- as the firestorm begins to swirl, and reporters actually start to get aggressive with the white house, with cracks appearing in the republican monolith in congress, could rove become the political price that must be paid to dissipate the frustration of iraq and the machinations and deceptions that led this country into the quagmire?

and then today i read justin raimondo's column of today:

What if Karl Rove isn't guilty of knowingly leaking Valerie Plame's name as a covert CIA agent involved in nuclear proliferation issues? What if Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, is correct when he says that he's been assured by prosecutors that his client is not a target of the ongoing investigation into Plame-gate? I'm going to swim against the tide, here, and against the expectations of my readers, by suggesting that this investigation isn't about Rove – and, furthermore, that Rove is a victim, in an important sense, someone who was used and abused by the real culprits.

What also seems fairly clear is that Karl Rove would not have had direct knowledge of Plame-Wilson's covert activities on behalf of the CIA, and that only a very few people high up in the national security bureaucracy had the clearance to get access to her name. So who was it? If Rove leaked to Novak, and half a dozen Washington reporters, then who leaked to the leakers?

This isn't about Rove.

It's about a cabal of war hawks inside the administration who passed on this information to others without telling them about Plame-Wilson's deep cover status, perhaps suggesting that she was just an analyst working at a desk rather than a covert operative involved in a vitally important overseas operation, the knowledge of which was highly compartmentalized and only dispensed on a need-to-know basis. When Rove and his shills blabbed to reporters and anyone who would listen, they didn't realize that they were aiding and abetting an elaborate ploy to stick it to the CIA.
the conflict between the institutional cia and the neoconservative revolutionaries has been one of the running stories of the bush administration. the office of the vice president and douglas feith's office of special plans in the pentagon have worked together against the intelligence establishment of this country over the control of the intelligence-gathering apparatus all along: working to develop stovepipe channels around the vetting bureaucracy in order to justify preconceived ideological actions; leveling and rebuilding the pentagon's defense intelligence agency (dia) as a neoconservative-controlled substitute agency (whose agents were at the heart of the use of torture in recent years), which enables them to circumvent the laws that put some kind of leash on american covert wars; redirecting information as they saw fit; using the hysteria of 9/11 to blame the cia for not seeing the unforseeable, and using that as a lever towards taking over the institution and disassembling it as a rival. indeed, that was ambassador joe wilson's crime -- offering a open challenge to the output of the new neoconservative intelligence/propaganda factory -- for which his wife valerie plame-wilson and all her contacts were jeopardized; and it had the twin virtue of further injuring the cia's hegemony over wmd intelligence.

it is hard to overestimate the power that comes with control of the intelligence apparatus in a national-security/secrecy state, which is what we've built over the last sixty years in this country, in contravention to the principles this experiment in open society was founded upon. and rove -- indeed bush himself -- would be a very small price to pay to secure in some manner the combination to that vault for a durable, deeply ensconced political cadre like the neoconservatives.

rove will be deified after the fact regardless of his fate, but it is a mistake to lump pragmatic operators like rove in with holy warriors of the kind represented by wolfowitz, ledeen, feith and perle, bolton or cheney. rove is a popularity specialist, a true democratic machiavellian. but these men are responding to what they perceive as a higher calling which renders the united states as merely the most appropriate tool with which to fight an ideological war with the world, with the illusory panacea of democracy as a societal sword, to manifest what they see as an global utopia of individual freedom -- an empire of liberty, which they will lead, to manifest which there is no price too high for us all to pay.

i find the ridiculousness of this policy of universal provocation to be self-evident. but it is the nihilistic religion of the hero-cult, and rove's usefulness -- perhaps even bush's usefulness -- to these zealots is all but past, and i would not at all be surprised if he were thrown under the wheels for the good of the noble cause.


This is provocative to say the least. Nixon built his own internal intelligence team that threatened the institutionalized establishment who viewed the threat and brought him down. The neocons are slowing asserting control over these entities leaving no stone unturned. If they ultimately gain control of all three assets of government and fill all U.S. intellgence with their appointments or yes men, they believe it a checkmate they'll bring all forces to bear on their enemies.

 
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This is provocative to say the least. Nixon built his own internal intelligence team that threatened the institutionalized establishment who viewed the threat and brought him down. The neocons are slowing asserting control over these entities leaving no stone unturned. If they ultimately gain control of all three assets of government and fill all U.S. intellgence with their appointments or yes men, they believe it a checkmate they'll bring all forces to bear on their enemies.

 
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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

 

tour de france


the race is well underway, with vinokourov making a statement today to answer lance armstrong's titanic ascent of yesterday. but it may already be too little too late for even t-mobile superteam riders vinokourov (12th - 4'47"), ullrich (9th - 4'02"), and kloden (10th - 4'16"). even ivan basso (4th - 2'40") will be hard pressed. the real threat to armstrong now looks like michael rasmussen (2nd - 38"), who was very cool under fire in the terrible 10th stage. we're also witnessing the emergence of alejandro valverde, currently 5th at 3'16" back.


 

the apotheosis of karl rove


the special prosecutor's case against the machinations of the white house has finally hit front pages with a vengeance this week, as the media apparently smell karl rove's blood in the water.

jeff taylor at reason makes some excellent points regarding rove's role in the scandal, particularly in saying:

the White House and official GOPdom is fast approaching unsustainable, Clintonian "depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" territory by insisting that Rove somehow did not "name" Plame. Of course he did. And course Bush should fire Rove or else be judged a hypocrite on his pledge to fire any leakers involved in the matter.
raimondo too continues to comment intensively.

of course, the real and external world matters very little to these men, who value loyalty above factuality and catatonic cant over observation and adaptation. hypocrisy is the least of their concerns.

in the end, although rove -- whose usefulness to the president is limited in some ways now, having no more elections to win, even if the presidency has essentially become a perpetual election campaign -- may be forced to walk the plank, i sincerely doubt that anything much of the operations of this white house will change in the slightest. these men of postmodern power are ideological holy warriors; when their actions violate law, it is because law is too confining for individual moral action, not because their actions are wrong. men like rove and larry franklin will be remembered among them not as renegades who broke with their duty to the constitution but as martyrs for the cause. their political deaths will be acts of loyalty, triumphant above all, even law and oath -- the perfect sacrifice.

in the end, the apotheosis of these men will be the same as that of their spiritual bretheren on the other side of this clash of civilizations declining into barbarity. and that is a very sad statement of how far we have fallen.


Monday, July 11, 2005

 

standings at the break


the wildcards and the leagues.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

 

the london bombings


one would hope, in the aftermath of yet another outbreak of barbaric terrorism, that the rational and reasonable heads would get a say.

Even on a tragic day like this, the number of people who died is still pretty small compared to how many people are dying in automobile accidents. I don't want to downplay the tragedy, but you simply can't guarantee that that won't happen. You can't ensure the safety of every train, every bus, every taxicab, every moped, any more than you can guarantee you'll never be mugged walking down the street. If they're cost-effective, I'm in favor of measures that reduce the danger; but I'm wary of ones that are either counterproductive or more damaging than what's been inflicted by the terrorists.

Clearly it's not the case that every single terrorist is so busy over in Iraq that they can't bomb Brooklyn. But terrorism is a very rare thing that mostly doesn't do much damage. 9/11 is obviously an exception to that. But the total number of people killed by international terrorism is small. So it's not that common a thing in many respects.
what i fear we will get instead is an escalation in ideological war.

The war on terror goes on. I was most impressed by the resolve of all the leaders in the room. Their resolve is as strong as my resolve. And that is, we will not yield to these people, will not yield to the terrorists.

We will find them. We will bring them to justice. And at the same time we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate.
while neocon hacks already spin madly to blur the reasoning for these events -- "Isn't this proof enough that the only agenda of the perpetrators was to kill many people--as it was on 9/11--and that those trying to read some sense into the murders are making a mistake?", asks apologist michael young -- i am reminded of the words of osama bin laden some months ago.

American people, my speech to you is the best way to avoid another conflict about the war and its reasons and results. I am telling you security is an important pillar of human life. And free people don't let go of their security -- contrary to Bush's claims that we hate freedom -- he should tell us why we didn't hit Sweden for instance. Its known that those who hate freedom don't have dignified souls... But we fought you because we are free people; we don't sleep on our oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation. As you spill our security, we spill your security.
no one will accuse bin laden of having civilized aims or methods. but we will continue to suffer these attacks -- for these are just more blows in a very long and bloody insurgency against westernization in the third world which is very complex and multifaceted -- until we can first simply diagnose the problem. these people who oppose us are monstrous, but not monsters. they have real, material complaints we can address, even if not wholly acquiesce to. until we recognize that, and come to our senses about why they fight us so, and how our actions fuel the resentment of the west which is the boiler of this terrorism, our problems will continue to mount.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

 

a report on mesopotamia


"We have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. (We) have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. ... Our unfortunate troops ... are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the administration in Baghdad."

-- T.E. Lawrence, writing in the Sunday Times Of London, August 22, 1920


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