Monthly Archives: July 2008


I feel the following parable has the potential to be misunderstood: let’s say that you see a small spider in your bathroom. You are tired, so you decide to leave it until the morning. Now, imagine that you are not the spider, but a virus infecting a bacterium somewhere in the bowels of its cephalo-thorax. (Deliver with sufficient gravity.)

The New Yorker issue that had Wolf Blitzer so exercised did not ever arrive. Any other subscribers report this problem?


I applaud the OED lexicographers who cite the recently departed Thomas Disch’s Camp Concentration in the entry for “opsimath.” They believe that everything rational must come into being.

My own opsimathy will extend to botany, as I have decided that I want to be able to identify every plant species growing in my yard, out of some proto-Adamic impulse or another. I hope to be able to fold the taxonomic aspects of this learning into a project on the cladistics of genre and narrative technique, such speculations suggested originally by Moretti’s GMT.

Music Notes

I’ve been suffering under the delusion for days now that Jackson Browne’s album Lawyers in Love was in fact the soundtrack to the film Legal Eagles, which I think I thought was titled as above. I remember seeing Legal Eagles in the theater, though I don’t think any of us knew that it was a thinly veiled retelling of the goings-on surrounding the Mark Rothko estate or that an alternate ending with Darryl Hannah convicted of one murder shows even to this day on syndicated television stations across the land. (And speaking of which, I saw Roadhouse on AMC the other night. AMC, not TBS. It was an estranging moment.)

The song “The Argus” off Ween’s Quebec has led me to think that I’ve been misinterpreting them for a while. I’ve been wondering about their source. And, as a fairly serious Steely Dan listener, I don’t think that “Pandy Fackler” is supposed to be sung in a Donald Fagen imitation. I also don’t think it’s a good song.

When I cut the grass or weedeat, I’ve taken to wearing protective glasses. They fog up quickly in the Louisiana heat, as you might imagine, and as my shirt dampens, I’m left with no effective way to dry and clean them. I thus walk around grasscutting or weedeating half-blind and feel somehow redolent of the postindustrial condition.

More Trevor-Roper

I had earlier noted his mordant article on Toynbee, but I just learned from this piece that

He enjoyed sending mischievous, pseudonymous letters to newspapers; like the solemn inquiry, published in The New York Review, purporting to come from one “Miss Agnes Trollope” of “Buttocks, near Ambleside,” asking Lawrence Stone for documentary evidence of the prevalence of coitus interruptus in Caroline England.

I look forward to an upcoming research trip to the HRC in Austin. I invite food recommendations.

El Panóptico

A footnote in the August 2002 memo attributed to John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee regarding the distinctions between cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and torture and promulgating the interpretation that, according to the prevailing constitutional interpretation, the President in wartime was free to ignore any statutory niceties regarding these distinctions—a footnote in this memo references Kodak Eastman v. Kavlin to claim that the court there found that the arbitrary imprisonment of a Kodak employee in a difficult* prison with murderers and bribe-expectant guards did not meet the definition of “torture.”**

This infamous prison in El Paz is known as “El Panóptico.”

*From the decision:

According to Carballo, a waking nightmare followed. The San Pedro prison in downtown La Paz, the “infamous Panóptico” according to one of plaintiff’s experts, is apparently a place barely fit for the rats it houses. For eight days, Carballo was forced to stay there, sharing a filthy cell with murderers, drug dealers, and AIDS patients. Left without food, a blanket, or protection from the inmates, he was forced to bribe his way to survival. Prisoners [7] ran the prison, and murdered each other in Carballo’s presence on one occasion. Dangerous drug dealers discussed their deals in his presence, potentially making him someone who “knew too much.” Finally, Carballo was able to buy the right to live in a jail cell for $ 5,000, but even then he had to sleep on the floor. Although the authorities eventually released him, Carballo claims that the experience left him deeply traumatized and unable to resume life as before.

**I have no special expertise in legal interpretation, but I do not see how the decision bears the interpretation that Bybee/Yoo place upon it; but we should keep in mind that the authors question whether being kicked in the stomach with steel-toed boots while being held in a prone position could be rightfully be called “torture.”