Aaron Haspel – Page 22 – God of the Machine

Aaron Haspel

Apr 082003

I have finally, reluctantly come to believe that Philosblog is no more. In argument Jim Ryan is the most generous of interlocutors, always willing, even eager, to admit to error: would we could all say the same. He was always brief, and always lucid, even when writing about the most abstruse matters. Many worthy blogs have bit the dust, but Jim’s is the only one I will really miss.

And now we come to Sean-Paul Kelley, who is unfit to shine Jim Ryan’s shoes.

Dear Sean-Paul:

Your blog is both good and original. But what is good is not original; and what is original is not good. Wasn’t I clever to come up with that all by myself?

Admiringly yours,

Apr 072003

Remind me again why I ever watch CNN. Tonight Bill Schneider did a little blogging story, the upshot of which was that bloggers are unreliable, and to “beware of dragon sightings.” And which blogger does he interview? None other than noted plagiarist Sean-Paul Kelley, with nary a reference to the fact, brought to you courtesy of a blogger, and already discussed to death for days before Schneider went on. Good thing we have that carefully edited and filtered big-media news to rely on.

Apr 062003

I have taken anti-war people to task in the past for a number of lousy arguments, but, inspired by Arthur Silber’s, Megan McArdle’s, and Mark Kleiman’s excellent recent posts on objectivity and confirmation bias, I’ve decided to give the pro-war a chance. I have in mind the recent trope that, even if we find no biological or chemical, let alone nuclear, weapons in Iraq, the war would still be justified on the grounds that we are liberating the Iraqis from an inconceivably vicious regime.

We have heard a good deal about Iraqi liberation from the Administration recently. This is right and proper. It is also propaganda, for foreign and especially Iraqi consumption. Its purpose is to induce the Iraqis to take the most favorable possible attitude toward us, which will help us when the war concludes and, not incidentally, save American lives while it’s still being fought. Its purpose is not to justify fighting the war in the first place. This the Administration has already done, no matter what you may think of its arguments, at tedious length.

Thus I am surprised to see a normally cold-eyed advocate of the war like Steven Den Beste argue that, “The reality of life in Iraq, graphically revealed, beyond any rational denial, will eliminate any idea that the war should not have been fought.” Mass slaughter goes on all over the world all the time, but we war, I trust, for our own interests, not the interests of others. The only justification for this war is that Iraq is, or will become unless we intervene, a threat to our security. The proper answer to how many Americans lives should be sacrificed to free a subject people in a country that poses no threat to us is zero, and those who think otherwise are obliged to provide their own answers to the same question. (Whether, once at war, soldiers should have to take added risks to minimize civilian casualties is a different question. There are excellent reasons, national security reasons, to do so, even at the expense of American lives.) Den Beste is by no means the only war advocate to make this argument, but he, Jacksonian that he is, ought to know better.

(Update: Arthur Silber comments. He wonders if the Article 1, Section 8 clause of the Constitution granting the national government authority to “define and punish…Offences against the Law of Nations” is a warrant for wars of liberation. The standard authorities differ. William Rawle thinks this refers to something like an outrage against an ambassador, which would have to be punished whether the offending country posed a threat to us or not. Joseph Story interprets it more broadly. I’m inclined to think the general welfare clause is broad enough to cover wars of liberation, so they are probably constitutional no matter how one interprets the “define and punish” clause. Of course whether they are a good idea is a separate question, as Arthur points out.)

(On Second Thought: My argument above is lousy. Congress merely has the power to lay and collect taxes for the general welfare, which simply refers to the other things the national government has the power to do that require money, as enumerated in Article 1, Section 8. The general welfare clause grants no additional powers. So I suppose, after all this, I’m still agnostic on the question.)

Apr 052003

It’s a poetry controversy! These are rare and I can’t pass up an opportunity to weigh in on Tony Hoagland’s essay on the necessity of meanness in poetry. I agree with Jim Henley and Eve Tushnet (scroll down to “Golden Mean,” Blogspot archives hosed as usual) that “meanness” is not the right word. Jim suggests “savagery” or “ruthlessness,” but I don’t find those quite satisfactory either. I propose “hatred.”

Love is blind, hate never. Hate clarifies, and great poets hate with excellent reason, as Yvor Winters tactlessly points out:

During the Romantic movement a great deal of sentimental nonsense was written about the isolation of the artist, and the nonsense usually verges on self-pity… The fact remains, however, that the artist, if he really is an artist, is really isolated, and his personal life in this respect is a hard one. There are few people with whom he can converse without giving offense or becoming angry. It is no accident that so many great writers have sooner or later retreated from society: they retreat because they are excluded. A first-rate poet differs from his contemporaries (and I include those who think of themselves as literary contemporaries) not in being eccentric or less human, but in being more central, more human, more intelligent. But the difference in this respect between, let us say, a great poet and most distinguished scholars is very great, and few scholars are distinguished; and the scholar cannot recognize the difference and is scarcely prepared to admit the possibility of the difference, for he regards himself as a professional man of letters. To the scholar in question, the poet is wrong-headed and eccentric, and the scholar will usually tell him so. This is bad manners on the part of the scholar, but the scholar considers it good manners. If the poet, after years of such experiences, loses his temper occasionally, he is immediately convicted of bad manners. The scholar often hates him (I am not exaggerating), or comes close to hating him; but if the poet returns hatred with hatred (and surely this is understandable), he is labeled as a vicious character, for, after all, he is a member of a very small minority group.

This passage is not free from self-pity either, but it is salutary to be occasionally reminded by our betters how they really see us. The overwhelming fact in the life of any great poet is impenetrable human stupidity, yours and mine. Emily Dickinson did not spend her life in her room because she was a crazy lady.

Some of the greatest poetry in English is hate poetry, although you’d never guess it from Hoagland’s limp examples. Proceeding by century, from the 16th we have Ralegh’s The Lie, Gascoigne’s Woodmanship, and Ayton’s To an Inconstant One. From the 17th, Jonson’s Ode to Himself (“Come, leave the loathed stage”) and Dryden’s MacFlecknoe. Paradise Lost is an interesting case. God, whom Milton loves but cannot see, is a bore: Satan, whom he hates and sees all too clearly, comes to life. This is the truth behind Shelley’s remark that Milton was of the devil’s party without knowing it.

The best English poem of the 18th century is Churchill’s Dedication to Warburton, a savage attack on a literary bully and fraud. (It’s unavailable on the web; if someone asks nicely I’ll post it.) Honorable mention to The Dunciad and Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift. In the 19th century vituperation seemed to go out of fashion; but the 20th yields up Bogan’s Exhortation, J.V. Cunningham’s Ars Amoris and “Hang up your weaponed wit”, Winters’ own Danse Macabre. This is more or less off the top of my head. You’d be hard-pressed to produce a list of love poems of comparable quality.

And always remember, when you read these poems, that it’s you and me they’re talking about.

(Update: Jim Henley comments.)

Apr 022003

My my but it’s been sour in here the past couple of days. Perhaps I should recommend some other places to go. Mark Riebling, after a lengthy hibernation, has posted the first couple of chapters of his forthcoming book, The Eagle and the Cross: The Pope, the Jesuits, and the Plot to Kill Hitler, in which he rehabilitates the unjustly maligned Pius XII, and they were worth waiting for. I’ve just put up a site for the artist Tom Sellers, whose paintings I can’t afford, but maybe you can. I lazily let pass Cinderella’s translation of and commentary on an interview with Pascal Bruckner, author of the brilliant Tears of the White Man, who provides the best explanation of French politics I’ve heard to date. Evan Kirchhoff, via Colby Cosh, theorizes on the strange fascination with Michael Moore. Seablogger dissects “queer” vs. “gay.” And I promise to be cheerier next time out.

Apr 022003

Patton famously remarked that the point isn’t to die for your country, it’s to make the other poor dumb bastards die for theirs. He might have added that the point isn’t to be captured by the enemy for your country either, it’s to capture the other poor dumb bastards. So could someone please explain how being captured in an ambush qualifies PFC Jessica Lynch as a heroine? Isn’t it more heroic not to be captured, or better still, to rescue someone who has?

(Update: Floyd McWilliams points to a WaPo story that shows I was rather unfair to PFC Lynch. It still isn’t clear how she was ambushed in the first place, but she certainly fought heroically after she was.)

Apr 022003

The other day Michael Blowhard and I caught a matinee of Irréversible, which runs backward chronologically, as you have now become the last to hear. The climax is the first scene in the movie, at a gay sex club, filmed through a red haze at dizzying camera angles. You don’t know the characters, so when one guy you can barely see beats another guy you can barely see to a pulp with a fire extinguisher, you’re thinking, “Gee, some guy just got beaten with a fire extinguisher. What was that all about?” And backward we proceed, for there is nowhere to go but backward.

Radical conventions tend to be radically confining. If you’re going to adopt one it should be for some purpose higher than confusing the audience and establishing your avant-garde bona fides — as in Memento, where reverse chronology succeeds by placing the audience in the same position as the amnesiac hero. Start with normal chronology, and you can take some liberties. The audience will tolerate an occasional fast forward or flashback because it’s securely oriented in time. You cannot profit from the expectations of your audience by turning them on their head.

Vers libre, another radical convention, runs up against similar difficulties. You gain in heightened emotion, a sort of breathless urgency that William Carlos Williams and H.D exploit brilliantly, with their tiny poems about fire trucks and pear orchards. But in the rush you lose the opportunity for meaningful variation against the background that rigid meter provides. It becomes impossible to write anything even moderately intellectual, and you exclude the greater part of human experience.

The last variation, as J.V. Cunningham wrote, is regularity.

(Update: Michael has a far more thorough and entertaining version of our outing. He discusses the Kaurasmaki film we also saw — which I didn’t mention because it didn’t fit my thesis, and I’m the sort of blogger who always needs a goddamn thesis — and provides links to genuinely useful sites, with pictures of Monica Belluci without her clothes on.)

Mar 312003

My sister commented a while back, apropos of my post on What Makes Sammy Run?, that bloggers may be self-selectedly low-Glick. Perhaps, but Glick is relative, and the blogosphereâ„¢ has its share of canny self-promoters, like anywhere else. Some examples? Glad you asked.

10. InstaPundit. Glenn Reynolds certainly deserves his traffic — well, most of it — well, some of it, anyway. Reynolds is always telling reporters who call him for a story on blogging that they shouldn’t write about him, they should write about all the bloggers on his roll instead, yet somehow they always wind up writing about him. Oops.

9. Howard Owens. I just can’t snark at a guy who auctioned an opinion on EBay, for $10.25. Sorry.

8. Arthur Silber. Arthur is the master of the strategic temper tantrum. He quits every three months or so, either out of Weltschmerz or desperate financial straits, waits for his readers to beg him to return, and reenters the fray a few days later — and by the way, don’t forget to click on that Paypal icon, over there on the top left. Can you call someone a drama queen if he’s gay?

7. Stephen Green. Green’s in it for love, not money. Leads the league in “I’ve got nothing to say because I’m closing on my new condo/my Internet’s out/I’m hung over” posts.

6. DailyPundit. It’s Death Race 2000, your mouse vs. the popup ads, when you hit Bill Quick’s site. Quick was the motive force behind the short-lived and unlamented subscription group blog, whose moniker I’ve already forgotten, promising “premium” content on the business model that worked so brilliantly for Salon. Yes, he coined the term “blogosphere.” Yes!

5. A Small Victory. Michele, one L, but two tits, which she doesn’t hesitate to use. Michele’s specialty is getting herself delinked, and then making enough of a stink about it that she gains ten new links for the one she just lost.

4. Hesiod “Theogeny”. A sort of bush-league Atrios who literally can’t spell his own name. Same m.o., less traffic.

3. The Agonist. “Thoughtful, global, timely” — one out of three ain’t bad. The guy sure posts a lot of war news, I’ll say that much. Where he finds time to suck up to all those reporters is anybody’s guess.

2. Pejman. I used to link to Pejman, because everybody links to Pejman. Then I began to wonder why I never read Pejman. It finally dawned on me that Pejman never has anything interesting to say. It’s neocon boilerplate, spiced with not-exactly-scintillating personal details and frequent forays into Bartlett’s. Starting from nothing, Pejman has become one of the most widely linked, if rarely read, blogs in the universe, parlaying the fact into a Tech Central Station gig to boot. Never has a blogger done so much with so little.

1. Atrios. Posts early, posts often, posts wrong, and never, never apologizes. Coyly remains anonymous to encourage rumors that he’s actually some sort of big-shot politico who needs to preserve his cover. Bloggers link Atrios mostly to mock him, but they link him. As I just did.

(Update: Number 3, the Agonist, cops to plagiarism, a tactic with which Glick himself was intimately familiar. Link, to be fair, courtesy of #10.)