Friday, March 17

Apologies for the gap in posts, but blogger was down for the last couple of days and wouldn't display my new posts. Frustrating, but ultimately no harm done.

Anyway, here is a bonus item, which I came across today. I've heard of the Comedy Central show "Mind of Mencia," but nothing good, so I have never bothered tuning in. Just as well, according to Joe Rogan (whose Fear Factor fame may have paid for a trailer full of plaid shirts, but is fatally compromising his Newsradio legacy).

Unbeknownst to the rest of the civilized world, Rogan and "Mencia" (more on that below) have a running fued, the latest volley in which was a short video of Mencia and Rogan published by Rogan on his website. The link below explains everything (from Rogan's perspective), but the key points are that (1) Carlos Mencia is not actually Mexican (or, as he refers to himself, a "beaner")--he's a half-German, half-Honduran called Ned Holness, and (2) Rogan (and George Lopez, on Howard Stern's show) accuses him of stealing other comics' material. For an eyeful of the backstabbing world of stand-up comedy, check out Rogan's post and follow the links. (Warning: some of the language is not exactly ready for prime time, particularly in "Mencia's" act.)

My take? I don't know what's really going on here, but my first rule of feud adjudication is always side with the former national tae kwon do champion.

My second take? What a strange, incestuous and insecure world stand up is. On the basis of Rogan's video, I'd like to see Christopher Guest turn his troop's attention to the comedy world: Fred Willard as sleazy club owner and washed-up comic; McKean and Guest as feuding headliners competing for TV pilot; Parker Posey as the funny chick who gets away with stuff no guy ever could (Sarah Silverman clone); Eugene Levy as TV talent scout; Bob Balaban as neurotic, self-loathing pre-fame-Larry-David type; Ed Begley Jr. as glad-handing network executive; Jennifer Coolidge as brassy comedy club waitress; Catherine O'Hara as something funny--maybe McKean's current, and Guest's ex-wife (cut me some slack, I'm not being paid for a full treatment here). I think there's real potential for the Spinal Tap of stand up. It could ride the coattails of soon-to-be-the-hottest-thing-on-TV Studio 60.

Nothing to lose but their minds

One of the internet's great pleasures, akin to happening upon unsought information while flipping through a reference book (Brewer's is the absolute best for this), consists in turning up a strange and hitherto unknown website while looking for something completely unrelated.

While searching for information on a think tank (not the Heritage Foundation) in Washington, I came across this strange story:

I worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank on Capitol Hill [in Washington DC]. It's a group of attorneys, columnists, whatever, who crank out - daily or weekly or whatever - information. It's printed downstairs, in the Xerox room, and distributed to senators, congressmen, and other influential people. In a couple of cases I delivered packages addressed to Ed Meese. That gives you an idea of what kind of people work there. My basic duties were to collect mail in the mornings from the post office, sort it, and distribute it, and so on. I pretty much did everything myself and I had a lot of responsibility.

I got the job right after high school. I had never heard of the organisation, and just found the job through the newspaper. When I was working there, I would occasionally glance at what they were putting out; the more I read, the more! Thought about it and realised they were doing fucked-up things, like defending business practices in South Africa and U.S. investments there.

They have a big fundraising deal, and when they sent out fundraising requests, people would mail in checks. Sometimes they'd be huge amounts, and sometimes they were piddling. Checks came in from individuals as well as companies. So I'd randomly take an envelope, open it, see how much it was for, and throw it in the shredder. I started doing it more and more. I could tell if it was a check by holding it to the light. If so, I'd toss it, dump it or shred it.
This is an edited extract from Sabotage in the American Workplace by Martin Sprouse taken from
prole.info

Clicking on the prole.info link takes one to a tediously earnest website dedicated to the revenge of the wage worker. It almost reads like a parody of radical dissenting literature, but these groups are so close to self-parodies (probably because they are aping poses and espousing ideas so outworn that their grandparents considered them dopey cliches) that it is hard to tell sometimes.

This example, however, is ridiculous even by the typically low standards of the genre. Some quotes:

"Prole" is short for "proletarian" a word used by Karl Marx to describe the working class under capitalism. We are all the people in this society who do not own property or a business we can make money from, and therefore have to sell our time and energy to a boss--we are forced to work. Our work is the basis of this society.

By this definition, I am a prole. So are most of my friends, who comfortably earn six-figure salaries working for someone else. Not being blessed with a substantial family legacy, I too am "forced to work." Marxism never promised to abolish work; what would such a society look like? Something like an all you can eat buffet, I imagine, but without any cooks.

Work, and the society that grows out of it are alienating and miserable for us. We are constantly fighting against the conditions of our lives.

Welcome to life as a responsible adult. Do you think that workers in the Soviet Union, or Mao's China, or Castro's Cuba, or the Kims' North Korea felt, or feel, any differently?

Simply standing up for our own interests brings us into conflict with bosses, bureaucrats, landlords, police and politicians everywhere.

Yeah, especially if those "interests" include slacking off, not paying your rent, and breaking the law. Society's funny that way. Again, I'm pretty sure things aren't much better outside the capitalist West. I don't think standing up for your own interests goes over too well in the workers' paradises of China, Cuba, or North Korea. Or at least it didn't for the dissidents rotting in their prisons.

We are not just the working class; we are the working class that struggles to do away with work and class, and the society built around them. The experience of those who are forced to work, and who struggle against the society based on work, creates certain kinds of ideas.

Because a society based on not-working would be a real pleasure dome. Sort of like when parents tell their kids they can eat as much candy as they want, and the kids end up gorging themselves until they are sick. Only there wouldn't be any candy. Not wanting to work doesn't make you a political visionary, it just makes you a lazy malcontent.

When we are actively fighting for our own interests, these ideas solidify into a subversive, anti-capitalist perspective. This has at times been called "communism" or "anarchism".

Also "idiocy" and "treachery."

To that end, this site is a collection of writings from a subversive and anti-capitalist perspective on theory as well as history. Some of them use needlessly obscure language, and parts of them are definitely outdated. But they all raise important issues for the modern day prole. Hopefully they will be useful to you.

Which brings me back to the Heritage Foundation story. At no point does the author claim that he was badly treated, or underpaid, or in any way disadvantaged by working in the foundation's mail room. In fact, he seemed quite happy with his job, which he found right after high school, without any further qualifications, until he found out that the foundation promulgated policies he disagreed with. (Incidentally, how long did this take? How hard would it have been to find out what his prospective employer actually did?) His workplace sabotage had nothing to do with a proletarian revolution, and everything to do with straightforward criminality. I don't agree with the political views of some of my co-workers, but that doesn't justify my taking things from their offices. This anecdote confirms my suspicion that prole.info and similar organizations are just playing at being serious intellectual movements; their real purpose is to provide a cover for the immature and lazy to pretend that their selfish posturing is part of a noble and altruistic struggle. Most young radical ideology is just a self-sanctioning excuse for shirking responsibility and ignoring reality. It is the essence of childishness and utterly boring.

Please get in touch if you would like to translate this into another language.

No response yet to my request to have the page translated into adult English.

Thursday, March 16

Protesting Too Much

I hate to post this, because I do love France, but some of its citizens have some bizarre ideas about running an economy. Just when I think that Old Europe has come to its senses and realized that flexible labor laws are not only inevitable but desirable if they are to avoid chronic decline, and that the future under Merkel and (hopefully) Sarkozy, is looking brighter, 250,000 students and union supporters take to the streets to protest the most innocuous and reasonable compromise changes to French employment law.

For those who haven't been following this story, under the old law, employers had to provide new workers with what was effectively guaranteed lifetime employment from the moment they were hired. Chirac recently introduced an amendment to this law, which allows employers to hire young employees (under 26) for two year probationary contracts, during which they may be fired just like employees at any job in North America or Britain (i.e., two way at will employment). After these two years, the old guaranteed employment rule still applies. Hardly a radical change, but you wouldn't know that if you listened to the student protesters.

The students, who have occupied administrative offices at the Sorbonne, clashed with police, and stoned government buildings, have compared the government to the SS (which shows a poor understanding of National Socialism's employment policies) and the new law to "slave labor." Funny, but I don't think that slaves generally complain that they might be relieved of their duties. More typical student rot is described in this account of the protests from the BBC. (Best quote: "Students fear the First Employment Contract (CPE), which passed into law last week, will erode job stability in a country where more than 20% of 18- to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than twice the national average."

I hope that this is supposed to be sarcastic.) I don't want to see one of the cradles of Western Civilization continue sliding into irreversible social and economic acedia, but the French Left makes it hard not to fear the worst. Sarkozy may be their last best hope.

Monday, March 13

Chief Justice Roberts: A mid-term report.

HLS Professor David Barron, writing on LawCulture has an interesting early analysis of Chief Justice Roberts's opinions thus far. Although I've been tracking all of the Supreme Court opinions this term for my firm's Appellate group, I hadn't noticed that the Chief's have contained "[n]o references to law review literature, treaties, casebooks, or anything else not written by one of the three branches themselves." Prof. Barron goes on (please excuse the inexcusably pervasive typos):

That got me to thinking: perhaps it's not just foreign law that the new conservative judicial philosophy thinks is illegitimate; it's everything that's not an autoritative statement of a constitutionally recognized branch of govenrment. And that got me to looking. Thus far, the new chief has written two other opinions for the court. One finds the same citation pattern in each. Now that could just be a consequence of the kinds of opinions he's decided thus far. None, for example, has called for much delving into constitutional history. And, to be sure, it's only been three opinions. But still, I have my suspicions that this citation practice is intentional. if so, is it an attractive one or is it troubling? On the one hand, it has a kind of no nonsense quality about it -- a just the facts ma'm style fully in accord with the new conservative judicial pose on display at the last two confirmation hearings. On the other hand, it might also suggest a vision of constitutional decision making that is awfully cramped and technical, in which the only guideposts are past cases, and statutory and regulatory texts stripped of their context, animating purposes or ideas. Lost in this approach is any sense of the broader legal culture that produces authoritative legal statements or the way in which such statements in turn shape the culture. It is statecraft by hornbook. It's too early to tell of course, whether there is anything to this "pattern." But it's worth watching -- and challenging if it develops into an actual theory of constitutional decision making.

Interesting observations. I'll confine myself to two comments:

Lost in this approach is any sense of the broader legal culture that produces authoritative legal statements or the way in which such statements in turn shape the culture.

What does it mean to say that "the broader legal culture . . . produces authoritative legal statements"? Surely only the Supreme Court (or the highest state court, in the case of state law) can provide "authoritative legal statements." And what is the "broader legal culture"? The A.B.A. (or perhaps its erstwhile keynote speaker, noted legal brainbox Jane Fonda)? The American Law Institute? The faculty of Prof. Barron's Harvard Law School (which has produced its share of frightening legal theories)? Foreign courts? How does one know that the "broader legal culture" has produced an "authoritative legal statement"? I can read a Supreme Court opinion (though its clarity will depend on its author), but where do I turn for what Prof. Barron regrets will be lost? Sounds like the status anxiety of an academic who fears that his faculty's work may be largely irrelevant. Honestly, I could count the number of times I consulted a law review during my clerkship on one hand and still have enough fingers to hold a teacup comfortably.

It is statecraft by hornbook.

Statecraft? The Supreme Court is now responsible for "leading a country"? And here I was thinking that the Constitution guaranteed the States a republican form of government. This must be an academic speaking.

Cheap sarcasm aside, Prof. Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Conspiracy has some interesting further comments, based on some 1997 comments by then plain ol' John Roberts. According to Prof. Kerr:

One interesting piece of evidence is a comment Roberts made in July 1997, during an appearance on the the Newshour that reviewed the October Term 1996. In discussing a recent case on the scope of Congressional power, Georgetown law prof Susan Bloch lamented that no one on the Rehnquist Court had discussed a theory that was popular in academic circles. Roberts added that this wasn't a bad thing:

SUSAN BLOCH: For example, when we were talking about the Freedom--the Restoration of Freedom Act, the--there was the theory that Justice Brennan had that the court--that Congress could enlarge the scope of constitutional protections and couldn't constrict it? And that had a--when we teach constitutional law that's--that was a valid theory. On this court, no one, not even the dissenters, even talked about or embraced that theory, so that a number of theories that were in play when Justices Brennan and Marshall were on the court aren't even mentioned anymore.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you see it, John Roberts?

JOHN ROBERTS: Well, I think it's a moderate court but one that is very serious about the limits it sees in the Constitution, whether it's the limits on Congress, limitations on the federal government, or limitations on the court, itself. And if it's a court that doesn't seem so warm and embracing of theories that are popular on the law school campuses, I hope the other members of the panel will forgive me for not thinking that's a serious flaw.

Well excavated, Professor. A great insight.

Sunday, March 12

Farewell, Slobo

Well, Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his cell. An ignominious end to a shabby affair. No tears will be shed for Slobo (outside Serbia, at least). In fact, the only people expressing any regret at his death are his prosecutors—those legal carnies presiding over the International Criminal Side Show. What a colossal waste of time and energy. Milosevic’s prosecutors sound particularly aggrieved by his death. U.N. prosecutor Carla del Ponte’s regretted that “It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve. What they are asking for is that justice be done, and now it will not be possible.” She should blame herself. This show trial has dragged on for almost seven years since Louise Arbour’s 1999 indictment. Seven years! The prosecution claims that they were mere weeks away from wrapping up the trial. Don’t believe it. They’ve frittered away years building a case against a man that every Western leader has proclaimed guilty since the 1990s.* Their failure to secure a conviction within a year was the worst prosecutorial incompetence since the O.J. fiasco—and Milosevic’s prosecutors didn’t even have to deal with a fickle jury. Even supporters of these tribunals, like Human Rights Watch, have been sharply critical of the conduct of Milosevic's trial. Ms del Ponte should be grateful—Milosevic’s too-timely end gave his victims the one thing that the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia was not empowered to offer—his death. Sic semper tyrannis.

Like all political trials since Nuremberg, this was a stitch-up job from the beginning. (The fact that several Nuremberg defendants were actually reprieved only shows how far the four powers overreached in their ad hoc prosecutions, but there was never any doubt that Goering (or Hitler, had he lived) was going to be hanged.) Even when Goering—that effete, aristocratic dope fiend—cut and thrust his way through Jackson’s cross-examinations, toying with the former Supreme Court Justice like a cruel, Bavarian moggie with a befuddled Yankee country mouse, there was no doubt that the judges, already had their black caps at the ready. There was some doubt whether the Milosevic prosecution was going to be able to prove genocide (Milosevic was not the overt racist that Mladic and Karadzic were/are), but no doubt that he would be found guilty of some high crime and sentenced to life in prison. Any other result would have been damaging to the U.N./E.U.’s goal of establishing an International Criminal Court; and what these anti-democratic organizations want, they get.

Nor is there any doubt that Saddam Hussein will be shot, hanged, or otherwise forcibly shuffled off this mortal coil. (Assuming that the court is able to conclude proceedings before all-out civil war erupts.) Such is the fatal paradox of political trials: Can a court dispense justice when it is convened to convict and not to try with the possibility of acquittal? And, if a court could possibly acquit a Hitler or Saddam, can it be tolerated? The American soldiers who captured Saddam did the world a great disservice by not shooting him in his hole. “Shot while trying to escape” was, I believe, the useful WWII euphemism.

Nuremberg has much to answer for. Churchill and Lord Simon were set on summary executions for responsible officers and party officials, with one-day military trials to establish identity, not guilt, and Stalin favored “liquidating” 50,000 German Nazis and sending several million able-bodied Germans to Russia and France to work as compensatory slave labor. Even FDR agreed that the mass-slaughter of the German command was the best course, and favored the infamous Morgenthau Plan to reduce Germany to a 19th Century agrarian society. Curiously, it was Stalin who, in the end, changed his mind and insisted that executions be preceded by judicial process (“no doubt on the Soviet model” as Lord Simon dryly observed, no doubt referring to the 1943 Kharkov show trials). After Quebec and Yalta, as the Americans also came round to the idea of formal trials with accompanying legal process, even future head-prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson objected that: “If we want to shoot Germans as a matter of policy, let it be done as such, but don’t hide the deed behind a court. If you are determined to execute a man in any case, there is no occasion for a trial; the world yields no respect to courts that are merely organized to convict.” He would later add that “if these persons were to be executed, it should as the result of military or political decisions.” Eventually, however, Jackson would take the central role in drafting the London Agreement—that act of Himalayan hubris, which vainly sought to criminalize the very act of waging war, and which has led inexorably to Slobo’s ignoble death in his cell and Saddam’s harangues to the Iraqi court (as well as his patriotic appeals to his former subjects, which threaten to inspire his loyalists much as Goering’s perorations lifted the hearts of German prisoners of war listening to the live broadcasts of his examination).

But even while Jackson was flying the American delegation to Nuremberg and engaging in those interminable meetings with the British (amiable and accommodating), French (truculent), and Russian (mercurial when not outright obstructionist) delegations, leading members of the Senate and the American Bar, including Justice (soon to be Chief Justice) Hugo Black were harsh in their condemnation of what was (rightly)* perceived to be a rigged political trial. Senator William Fulbright did not believe that there was any law of war under which the accused could be tried, and so argued that “[t]herefore they must be executed forthwith as a political decision.” Presciently, he further objected that “[a] trial means delays – and it means giving the defendants a chance to tell their stories to the world.” Would that Milosevic’s and Saddam’s prosecutors had listened to the good Senator’s counsel. Justice Black’s concerns were less about the speedy elimination of the Nazi leadership and more about the integrity of the legal process: “it would not disturb me greatly if the power of the Allies was openly and frankly used to punish the German leaders for being a bad lot, but it disturbs me some to have it dressed up in the habiliments of the common law and the Constitutional safeguards to those charged with crime.” Even the mainstream press, now so pious in their concern for military due process when it can be used to unsettle the current administration, asked “what we are waiting for to shoot Hermann Göring?” And a Gallup poll in May, 1945, showed two thirds of the American public favored executing Goering without trial.

The main arguments in favor of political trials are that summary executions look too much like victor’s justice, and that the example of the rule of law in formerly lawless societies is ameliorative in itself. The response is that such trials are also victor’s justice—there is no hope of acquittal if done right—and that such legal predetermination undermines the ideal of the rule of law. Once it is decided that enemy leaders should be killed or otherwise punished, the judicial process is inappropriate for carrying out that end. The judicial process, once infected with politics, is not easily cured; its health is better served by preventative inoculation and quarantine. Finally, such trials simply take too long. They drag on for years and the world moves on. When it comes to executions, the best rule is: “If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well It were done quickly.” The death of Mussolini, machine-gunned by partisans and hanged by his feet, is the model. The extent of any judicial involvement should be to identify the accused, read the bill of charges against him, don a black cap, and solemnly pronounce his sentence. By this rule, Saddam should have been hanged within 24 hours, and his bloodied, bearded head left to rot on a pike in central Baghdad, and not permitted to preen for the court cameras, insult his judges, and encourage his Ba’athist loyalists.

And Slobo would have been dead or exiled long before this sorry weekend.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court has yet to hear its first case. Here's to keeping it that way.


* There is some controversy over the historical record of Milosevic's crimes. The Wall Street Journal (by the pen of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl) and The Guardian have both shown that the genocide charge, in particular, is difficult to sustain (though the definition of genocide in these ad hoc tribunals has proved quite maleable over the years). Other charges, however, should have been easy enough to prove.

** Among the (often necessary) biases in the proceedings were the court’s: disregard for the rule against ex post facto prosecutions; refusal to let the accused present a tu quoque defense (almost every charge against the Germans could have been leveled at Churchill, Truman, or Allied generals); unbalanced rules with respect to the presentation of opening and closing statements; denial of defendants’ lawyers access to potentially exculpatory documents; and close association with the prosecution (the Russian judge Nikitchenko was the chief Russian prosecutor, involved in framing the charges and selecting the accused, until he was elevated at the last minute to the role of judge).

Wednesday, March 8

Maxims, or Deep Thoughts, by Ribstone Pippin


Some observations and thoughts I've committed to paper over the years:
Do not drink wine from half-bottles; it only encourages wineries to produce more of them.

* * *

It is an abiding frustration that so many people today are so very bad at remembering names. Our names should be one of our greatest qualities.

* * *

To those who would deny the rapid decline of our civilization, I respond that, in one lifetime, Winston Churchill took part in the British Army's last cavalry charge and witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb.

* * *

All that is necessary to put the lie to most art is the sight of a beautiful woman in the gallery.
* * *

Exceptions are made for exceptional people.

* * *

Unwavering commitment to a grudge is an indispensable tool of social sanction.

* * *
Do not let proximity to greatness obscure your self-perception. When a man mistakes an association with greatness for greatness itself, he risks overreaching his ability and finding, as Marcus Crassus found, only too late, that he is neither a Caesar nor a Pompey.
* * *

God, family, nation, friends: muster your loyalties in that order.
* * *
E.M. Forster famously said:

‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country. . . . Dante places Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of Hell because they had chosen to betray their friend Julius Caesar rather than their country Rome.’

Forster should re-read his Dante: the lowest circle of Hell is reserved not for betrayers of friends but traitors to lieges. Brutus and Cassius, like Judas, are condemned not for betraying friendships but for betraying higher powers they were obliged to defend. A free country is our liege; the violation of that relationship is treachery.

* * *

Never forget where home is. When Diocletian retired from governing the Roman Empire, he returned to Dalmatia to raise cabbages.

* * *

It is often said that the reward for a job well done is more work; it is less often noted that the reward for a job done badly is also more work, though of a worse kind.

* * *

Do not seek glory; seek, instead, victory and glory will follow.

* * *

In all confrontations, the importance of style correlates inversely with the likelihood of victory. Danton’s rallying cry, ‘il nous faut de l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace’, is the privilege of the underdog for whom romantic defiance will garner glory equally in triumph or death. For the greater power, plodding victory is always preferable to daring defeat.

* * *

Often, the price of saving face is losing your soul, which is far, far dearer.

* * *

The marks by which we are judged are often invisible to us. It has been observed that, to many Iranians at the time of the Islamic revolution, America and The Soviet Union were almost indistinguishable. Despite the fact that an ideological chasm divided the two superpowers, to alien eyes one common trait predominated: they both wore trousers.

Tuesday, March 7

Jar Jardinho



I had a great afternoon at Lucky Bar, near my office, which is always packed for Champions League football. The featured match in the area of the bar in which my friends and I were sitting was the second leg of the Chelsea - Barcelona tie, which was being broadcast in Spanish (it was being shown in English in another part of the bar). This had surprisingly little effect on my enjoyment of the game, with one exception: the Spanish commentators kept referring to Ronaldinho as Jar Jar Binks. Despite his undeniable brilliance, Ronaldinho has long been one of the ugliest men in world sport, and the Jar Jar Binks comparison is dead on, but now that I have the comparison in my head, I can't watch him without thinking of Jar Jar. Thank you very much ESPN Deportes.

Friday, March 3

It's a wonderful night for Oscar, and the IRS.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago on Hollywood indulgence at award shows, which is as good a topic as any for an Oscar weekend post. So, hop aboard the award show gravy train and prepare to be surprised and amazed.

The article begins with a short profile of Lash Fary (you can't make this kind of stuff up), who is credited with first inveigling companies to give rich celebrities free luxury items--and to pay him a hefty fee for the privilege of doing so. The White House should hire this man pronto; he'll have the media making donations to the RNC for the privilege of doing puff pieces on Cheney's huggable side by St. Paddy's Day.

The companies pay Mr. Fary $20,000 to give away their wares in back stage "interactive gifting suites" or a mere $6,000 to have them included in the gift baskets given to presenters and performers. So, let's assume the Grammy's had a dozen bling-hawkers in its "interactive gifting suite" and another dozen products in its "thank you basket." In one night, Mr. Fary pocketed an easy $312,000. And it's not like he had to pound the pavement or endure the humiliation of cold-calling Donatella Versace to procure the goods--according to the article, "companies vie for the opportunity to be included." So, for a few days of "Sorry Mr. Lauren, but we're going with Brioni ties this year," Mr. Fary makes more than the leader of the free world.

And don't let the clinical term "interactive gifting suite" fool you, these rooms are Aladdin's caves with a velvet rope. What sort of freebies can Oscar presenters and performers expect? At the Grammys, Gibson Guitars gave away, well, Gibson Guitars ($3,000 value), and gift baskets at the Golden Globes included cruises to Antarctica and Tasmania ($22,000 value). And at the Screen Actors Guild awards, Don Cheadle is described as stopping by the gifting suite "to collect a pearl, multistranded bracelet from an exclusive Los Angeles boutique and a trip for five nights to a Bora Bora resort." Thank you very much.

This year's Grammy gift baskets were worth $54,000 each, an amount topped by the Golden Globes, who doled out baskets worth $62,000. This year's Oscars will not have a gifting suite, but the gift baskets will include "a three-night stay at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, a coupon for Lasik eye surgery and a set of high-thread-count bed linens." And best-actress nominees are reportedly receiving $20,000 diamond-encrusted cameras. Attending an awards show in Hollywood is more lucrative than being in the audience on Oprah, and possibly even less work.

But all these gifts come with a catch. The article quotes Lee Sheppard, a contributing editor to the tax journal Tax Notes thus: "Queen Latifah is not getting a gift; Queen Latifah is getting income . . . [t]ax law does not recognize this as a gift." I remember this lesson from the income tax class I took at law school and to this day I can't watch a housewife from Scottsdale win a . . . BRAND . . . NEW . . . Winnebago on The Price is Right without wondering if she has the cash to pay for the extra income tax she'll owe this year. I certainly don't.

When Hollywood stars accept a $62,000 gift basket for presenting an award, the hidden surprise is a $21,700 tax liability. With the proliferation of awards shows between New Years and March, this liability could add up quickly for a popular presenter or performer. $21,700 here and $21,700 there, and, as Everett Dirksen said, pretty soon you're talking real money.*

Tax issues aside, the question I kept asking myself as I read the article was: why? Why would an exclusive L.A. boutique give away pearl bracelets? What kind of advertising do the companies think they are getting? I am not unaware of what goes on in Hollywood, but I've never seen detailed descriptions of what Don Cheadle's wife is wearing on her wrist. The article quotes another luxury goods panderer saying "Celebrities are very discerning. If they like a product, it translates to the public as trendsetting. Buzz starts building around that type of interaction." Maybe. I could see stars being photographed at the Mirage in Vegas giving the hotel a tourism boost, or an actor wearing distinctive sun glasses giving those glasses popular cachet, but a $22,000 Antarctic cruise? Or a pearl, multistrand bracelet? Even assuming they hear about the bracelet, millions of Americans aren't going to run to Rodeo Drive to pick one up for themselves. And I doubt that most of these gifts ever become public knowledge in the first place; I'd wager that the stars' sciurine instincts take over and that they all have closets of loot that never sees the light of a flashbulb.

Maybe for the high-end products, the companies are interested in advertising within the celebrity world, one celebrity to another; Mrs. Cheadle to Mrs. Andy Garcia. Who knows? I suppose that they wouldn't play Mr. Fary's game if they didn't think it was worthwhile, though one can never underestimate the distorting effects of the herd mentality.


* Actually, there is some dispute over whether Dirksen ever said this, but I've never seen it plausibly attributed to anyone else.

UPDATE: A tax lawyer friend who read this post just forwarded me the following IRS press release. Apparently they are on the case, though I could have done without the puns (at least they didn't attempt to make a Brokeback Mountain joke, though I'm sure most taxpayers at this time of year know how Jack Twist felt after Ennis Del Mar had his way with him):

IRS Statement on Oscar Goodie Bags

WASHINGTON - The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service today wished the Academy Award nominees the best of luck at Sunday's presentation, but he reminded celebrity recipients of the six-figure goodie bags that they qualify as taxable income and must be reported on tax returns."

As the world watches the glamour and glitz of the Academy Awards, it's important to keep in mind that movie stars face the same tax obligations asordinary Americans," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "We want to make sure the stars 'walk the line' when it comes to these goodie bags.

"Handing out of celebrity gift bags and goodie bags has become increasingly commonplace. News reports about the "official" Oscar gifts that will be given to stars place the value at more than $100,000.

"This has become big business for companies promoting their products. These things aren't given without pride and prejudice. There is a tax implication for them. We just want to make sure no one crashes into the tax code," Everson said.

Thursday, March 2

"to say it quickly--logocentric hierarchy"

John Derbyshire's top ten reasons why postmodernist theorists should be publicly flogged (actually, he proposes a worse punishment, but I prefer to lament the decline of public flogging) were an unwelcome flashback to my brief time in graduate school:

10. Whether we take the signified or the signifiers, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. (Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, p.120.)

9. Knowledge ... creates a progressive enslavement to its instinctive violence. (Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, and Practice, p.163.)

8. No longer a coherent cognito, man now inhabits the interstices, "the vacant interstellar spaces," not as an object, still less as a subject... (Edward Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method, p. 286.)

7. Understanding belongs to the being of that which is understood. (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, p.xix.)

6. Post-modernism signals the death of such "metanarratives" whose secretly terroristic function is to ground and legitimate the illusion of a "universal" human history. (Terry Eagleton, Awakening from Modernity, p.194.)

5. Does truth, then, arise out of nothing? It does indeed if by nothing is meant the mere not of that which is, and if we here think of that which is as an object present in the ordinary way, and thereafter comes to light and is challenged by the existence of the work as only presumptively a true being. (Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, p.71.)

4. The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning. (Michel Foucault, What Is An Author? p.159.)

3. It is these predicates . . . whose force of generality, generalization, and generativity find themselves liberated, grafted onto a "new" concept of writing which also corresponds to whatever always has resisted the former organization of forces, which always has constituted the remainder irreducible to the dominant force which organized the -- to say it quickly -- logocentric hierarchy. (Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, pp.329-330.)

2. Truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that this is what they are. (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, p.47.)

1. In the naming, the things named are called into their thinging. Thinging, they unfold world, in which things abide and so are abiding ones. (Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought, pp.199-200.

I had the great displeasure of encountering many of these statements as a literature grad student--particularly the de Saussure, Gadamer, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault. I also bought a volume of Eagleton on a visit to Blackwells, in Oxford, when I was 16, which I read during my young radical phase, and heard Said recite his uncivilized platitudes while I was an undergrad (of course, I lapped it up then).

I am just thankful that Derbyshire didn't dare delve into the masturbatory mental ejaculations of Deleuze or Guattari. I took a course on these two intellectual Elmyr de Horys in grad school, and my only memory is of a Japanese student who gave a rambling presentation on Japanese comic books and instruments played with the anus, which sounded (the presentation, not the instrumentalisation) as though it was, at least partially, in English. I assume said student passed the course, though I have no idea why.

For a taste of Deleuze's nonsense, consider that he characterized his approach to earlier philosophers as "buggery," that is, sneaking behind an author and producing an offspring which is recognizably his, yet also monstrous and different. [Negotiations, p.9]. Charming. Typical of his own works is the following useful statement:

That identity not be first, that it exist as a principle but as a second principle, as a principle become; that it revolve around the Different: such would be the nature of a Copernican revolution which opens up the possibility of difference having its own concept, rather than being maintained under the domination of a concept in general already understood as identical. (Difference and Repitition, p. 41)

And don't even get me started on rhizomatic principles of decalcomania or "capitalism and schizophrenia."

For the best refutation of all of this confusion, I recommend the indispensible Roger Scruton's short tract "Upon Nothing." Scruton can be difficult going (translation: a bit on the dry side--particularly his Aesthetics of Music, which I have started and put down more times than I care to admit), but this is a concise and convincing piece that requires no deep philosophical knowledge to follow.