Man Without Qualities

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Get Your One Minute Krugman Takedown ...

... from Maguire.

Nasty, ... but so uhm-uhm good.
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Davis Descending XXXIX: Dithering's End

The last serious legal challenge to the October recall has now been put to rest:

A panel of federal judges said Friday it would not postpone California's gubernatorial recall vote, removing one of the last legal barriers to the Oct. 7 election. The decision came the morning after the U.S. Justice Department made a formal determination that Monterey County's hurriedly assembled balloting plans for the election to unseat Gov. Gray Davis did not constitute a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

However, the Ninth Circuit (Harry Pregerson, Richard Paez, and Sidney Thomas) has still to rule on the ACLU's challenge. This challenge is utterly without legal merit, but in the hands of this Ninth Circuit panel the situation may be roughly compared to a wait outside the classroom where one knows a loaded pistol has been left on the kindergarden table. Oral argument is 10 am September 11 in Pasadena.
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Two Countries With The Same Name?

The Guardian:

Surprisingly, one country that has done better than ever this year is Afghanistan, where the cereal crop will be the largest on record, due in large part to good rainfall and better access to seeds and fertilisers.

The Economist:

Afghanistan enjoys a legitimate government, confirmed by a representative loya jirga. There is considerable progress in writing a constitution and organising elections for next year, with suffrage for women. The new national currency, the afghani, is widely accepted and stable. The economy grew by 28% last year, according to preliminary IMF estimates. Two million or more refugees have returned home to rebuild their lives. That—together with the remarkable absence of any ethnic separatist movements—underlines Afghans' belief in their own country. There has been no major humanitarian crisis. Donors remain committed to their promises. America has tripled its aid to $1 billion this year; it will pressure others to do the same.


For more than a year, Afghanistan has been sinking deeper into poverty, chaos and despair while the White House focuses on Iraq. Now the administration is promising to double Afghanistan’s reconstruction aid to $1.8 billion. Even loyal Republicans fear that it’s not nearly enough. They know what happened the last time America ignored Afghanistan. The anniversary is next week.

Which is all strange enough. But what to make of that reference to what happened the last time America ignored Afghanistan? Most of the relevant "ignoring" must have happened during the eight years of Clinton Administration preceding the September 11 atttacks. Is this Newsweek's odd way of arguing that the Clinton Administration should be blamed for September 11?

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Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Mensa Workout Video II: Setup*

* With apologies to Woody Allen.

Seconds later, a voice purred the agency name, "Intellectual Exercises" - and then the faux-cheerful slogan, "It's a great day to see the shape of things to come." I held the phone away from my ear and gestured to Arnold to listen in.

"I'm looking for a personal trainer," I said to the voice on the phone. "You got someone who can handle mental gymnastics with class?"

"Sure, honey. What do you have in mind?"

"The big picture. Maybe we start with who owns what - intellectual property, first amendment considerations. I need someone who can help me see the unity of it all. You know - a cross-trainer. I've plateaued and I want some professional help."

"That's what we do. Are you in the market for theory or do you want to relate this to observables?"

"What's the difference?"

"The price. That's all. Speculative categorical synthesis is extra."

"What'll it run me?"

"Five hundred, maybe a thousand for reconciling recent developments.

"The dough's fine." Arnold put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, "Tell her you want the observables - ask for Lorraine."

"How about Lorraine? I've heard some good things. Can she do the observables thing?" I said with feigned casualness.

"Sure, honey. You're in luck. She starts in about an hour. "

I gave her the number of a room at the Mondrian and hung up. Arnold wanted something for his nerves, so we drove to the Cafe des Artistes to put away the hour and some drinks at the bar - a double espresso for me while Arnold downed a triple pomegranate margarita. "Hasta la vista, baby," he said raising his glass, "I'll be back!" Yes, I thought, but with that much booze probably not today. A friendly bartender added the sixty buck total to Arnold's tab and promised to put him in a taxi. I took off for the hotel. On the way over a sense gnawed at the back of my brain that this thing had to be a lot bigger than it looked.

Minutes after I reached the hotel there was a knock on my door. I opened it. "Hi, I'm Lorraine." In the hall was a gorgeous Eurasian nerd - enough eye and mind candy to rot the brains of every tech troll at Pixar and Spectrum combined. She swelled out of her blouse like a couple of pneumatic silicone baus and dangled a rutillated quartz pendant between them just to make the point. Bobbed hair and Le Corbusier glasses that made you ache for her to dominate your sensibilities were enough to deck most of your brighter guys on sight. I felt a trickle of sweat on my forehead, but I was determined not to let her get to me. This was work.

She moved confidently into the room, taking in the minimalist, over styled decor with a glance that came to rest fully in my face. "You're cute," she said with a professional's soothing, aggressive smile, "Your eyes are the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

She pulled an aromatherapy candle from her bag and put a compact disc of whale songs overlaid with synthetic Peruvian Indian pipings in the hotel-provided player that she seemed to know would be there. Then she got right to it.

"I think emerging technologies are allowing large corporations to stage an innovation-stifling power grab while we watch idly - n'est-ce pas?"

"Yes, what you say has become so central. In films almost every piece of artwork, any piece of furniture, or sculpture, now has to be cleared before you can use it." I was bluffing. I wanted to see if she'd go for it.

"That's tragically true. The cost for the artist is creativity. . . . Suddenly the world that you're trying to create is completely generic and void of the elements that you would normally create. . . . It's the artist's job to conceptualize and to create a world, and to bring people into it. And if an artist sees this person having a certain lifestyle, having certain art on the wall, and living a certain way, it is essential to . . . the vision the artist is trying to portray. Now artists somehow have to justify using it. And that is wrong." She did.

"Right, right. God, you're right," I murmured.

"I think the common visual elements of our shared experiences are a kind of intellectual commons - don't you agree?"

What a tease! This one, I thought, is shooting real bullets. But I let her go on. She was twenty three, but already had the capacity for gloomy, dilutive abstraction of the veteran pseudo-futurist. Her ideas were frictionless, her face immobile above the full, pouting lips. Her shameless flattery of my intellectual potency was all empty cant: "Oh yes, Robert. Yes, baby, that's deep. In these times, the hardest task for social or political activists is to find a way to get people to wonder again about what we all believe is true. The challenge is to sow doubt - why didn't I see it before?" We talked for about an hour and then she said she had to go. She stood up and I laid ten C-notes on her.

"Thanks, honey."

"There's more opportunity here for you ... if you're up for it."

"What are you implying?"

"Suppose I wanted a little personal information - and had plenty of dough to pay for it?"

"What kind of personal information?"

"You've worked with Arnold. Tell me about him."

"Who's 'Arnold?'"

"Don't get cute with me, sugar. I may not be Nobel material, but I've been in this business long enough to recognize one of these." A quick tug with my hand snapped the tiny gold chain of her pendant, its cabochon concealing the same miniaturized recorder that they'd used to sucker Schwarzenegger - a bit smaller than the ones spreading everywhere like a pestilence.

"It's a crime in California to record someone's intimate intellectual processes, sister. So's blackmail.

"You louse!" She started to tremble. Her eyes darted towards the door.

She began to cry. "Don't turn me in, Musil," she said. "I needed the money after my options zeroed." Her eyes suddenly resembled the tremulous air over a desert highway.

It all poured out. Parents who stashed her for years at the Cal Tech pre-school, San Marino public high - where she was deemed "death in math" by the boys - a kind of adolesent male liebestod. Then Stanford engineering and the inevitable Idealab start-up - selling sushi fixings on the net - that rocketed to a market cap of a hundred million or so and then vanished overnight in a cloud of securities fraud accusations after the SEC discovered that most of the "wasabi" served today is just horseradish dyed green. Yeah, she was every dame you've ever seen penciling 'Yes, very true' into the margin of Feynman's Physics, but she went bad with the easy money of the internet boom.

"I needed cash. A girl friend said she knew a guy in the entertainment industry who was into Popper but didn't want to come out of the philosophy closet. I said sure, for a price I'd talk Popper with him. I was nervous at first. I faked a lot of it. He didn't care. There were others. Eventually, I started working for Heidi. California's has by far the largest technological and intellectual economy in the world - but it's perversely anti-intellectual. Heidi understood she could use that to create a financial perpetual motion machine to separate all these rich brainy guys from their money - "Heidi's Demon" we call it. Look, I've been busted before, Musil. I got caught taping John Travolta dancing to the piano reduction of the "The Firebird." I could have made a fortune on that one, but he slipped executing an emboit and fell through the one-way mirror. Just my luck. And that wasn't the only time things have gone wrong for me. Intellectual voyeurism isn't just a crime in California, it's a strike.Once more and I'm looking at a life sentence."

"Then tell me what you know about Heidi's interest in Arnold."

"I don't know that much. It has something to do with his father."

"You mean that SturmAbteilung baloney? That's going nowhere."

"It's worse than that. His father was a member of the Vienna Circle."

I was stunned, but I tried not to show it. "So what. That was his dad. What's that got to do with Arnold?"

"Some things don't change. Like father, like son. When you get right down to it, Arnold's not just an intellectual - he's a logical positivist. Some people don't like that."

"Heidi's frosted that he's a logical positivist?"

"No. Heidi's just a go-between. She works for somebody else, somebody big. Someone who sees that as a threat. I don't know who. Somebody up north, I think. ... Look, I've told you what I know, now let me go."

"You're holding back on me, sweety." I knew I had her on the ropes - and I needed everything she had. Sure it hurt the both of us, but sometimes that was my job. "And I don't just mean your presenting some bloated criticism of the availability of injunctive relief as a threat to technological progress."

"What ... what ... are you getting at?"

"I think you know where I'm going, honey. That little 'Heidi's Demon' dig. We both know that kind of Demon goes nowhere without quantum mechanics - and the kind of synthesis we're talking here goes way beyond any Copenhagen interpretation."

"This is getting too big for me. You sound like you're talking a real Theory of Everything. You'll have to speak with Heidi," she said.

"Then take me to Heidi."

She bit her lip and said, "The 24 Hour Fitness on Sunset is a front."


"Like those bookie joints that have barbershops outside for show. You'll see."

I made a quick call to headquarters and then said to her, "Okay, sugar. You're off the hook. But don't leave town."

"She tilted her face up toward mine gratefully." I can get you a video of Sylvester Stallone reciting "The Wasteland," she said.

"Some other time."

Next: MR. BIG
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Not Quite That Dark

Many people received by e-mail a spectacular satellite picture of the recent blackout.

But it seems to have been phony.

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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Gold's Gym: The Mensa Workout Video

One thing about being a blogging private investigator with the name of a defunct Austrian writer, you've got to learn to go with your hunches. That's why when a guy named Arnold Schwarzenegger, who carried himself like Mr. Olympia but looked like he’d now pack a speedo the way a double scoop of Rocky Road packs a cone at Baskin-Robbins , walked into my office I should have trusted that feeling - like chilled Jagermeister trickling down my spine.

"Robert?" he said. "Robert Musil?"

"That's what it says on my license," I owned up.

"You've got to help me. I'm being blackmailed. Please!" His voice was shaking like the pitch of a bad Oompah band. I took a bong with a little lump of hashish I kept in a drawer for special clients and pushed it across the desk. I’d read he indulged. He tried lighting up, but the match shook like a distress signal from a sinking ship and he nearly ignited his pompadour.

"Suppose you relax and tell me all about it. Let me guess. A little woopie on the side and now tootsie is threatening to tell the wife unless you pay up?"

"Dummkopf!” He expelled between gap teeth in strong Austrian twang. “My schatzi has no illusions! When she was a kid she earned her allowance fetching packages from the Hyannis pharmacy for the Kennedy boys and their dad. I’m talking about the public! They can’t be allowed to learn the truth. I’m running for Governor!"

"You and everyone else in this town. Level with me, Schwarzenegger. I can't make any promises. Kaus’ already outed you . … and your muscle of love. The Oui interview from ’77. The naked musclebabe. The gang bang. What's left? What can I do?"

I knew I was being hard on him. Fact was, I was ticked that own election application was disqualified and I was taking out my frustration on him. How was I to know I couldn't run under a pseudonym or that most people signed my petition with assumed names themselves? “Proust?” “Yeats?” “Hugo Von Hofmannstal?” Who could know they were fake? What I get for passing the clipboard at Book Soup. Thirty-five hundred clams down the rat hole - and this lug thought he had problems.

"I'm a businessman," he said. "Bodybuilder. Real estate. Action movie hero. You know - those fun flicks where they blow stuff up?"


"A lot of your federal executive department types like 'em - inside the Beltway. Germans, too."

He seemed proud of that last bit, but I cut him off. "Get to the point."

"I'm on the road a lot. You know how it is - lonely. Oh, not what you're thinking. Sure, a guy can meet all the big-bicepped bimbos he wants, or with gleuts. But women with hypertrophied cerebrums - they're not so easy to find where everyone stays hungry."

"That’s not the way I read it in Oui."

"The hell with Oui!” Suddenly he was furious. A blood vessel pulsed ominously over his left eye. But I wasn't backing down.

“What about the naked black musclebabe? You all took her upstairs at the gym. All except the guys – not you – too embarrassed ‘cause they were too small. You give “black plowman” a whole new meaning - and there’s more on the way. ”

His eyes bulged - that blood vessel went purple. “There was no musclebabe. I paid one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood a bundle to rewrite that story for me just so I could tell it to Oui. We were trying to up the hetero content in bodybuilding at the time - and it worked. But a gang-bang? Me? Musil, in ‘77 I was coked to the gills on anabolic steroids – my cajones were little erdnüsse! I had frühstückwurst between my legs! Whip it out? I was stuffing socks in my posing straps in ‘77! Just look at my old publicity shots from back then!”

“So what happened?”

Lou Ferrigno got sweet on a sharp chick he found in some kaffee und kuchen joint in Venice. She liked big guys – football players, body builders. Said she was working on her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver and could use a little extra walking around money. So Lou asked her to come on over to Gold’s and give a seminar on Soviet and East European foreign and defense policy for the guys. Which she did – with her clothes on. Well, maybe she showed a little cleavage. The rest is what I paid for re-write."

The whole ugly, career-ending scene was coming clear to me.

“See, Musil, I'm basically an intellectual – a lot of professional bodybuilders and action heroes are, but they keep it quiet. Lou works in Diophantine geometry – he’s even published a couple of papers under the name “David Banner.” Cheeky. But God help you if the word gets out! It happened to Frank Zane, he let it happen, almost seemed proud of it - the fool! Did he think he lived in France? Yeah, he beat me in Mr. Universe in '68 - but who’s heard of him today? Sure I let out my degree in finance – but that’s not the same as admitting you’re an intellectual. Ballot box poison. My campaign manager steered that Oui article to Kaus - but if the truth of this gets out, I’m finished – bodybuilding, movies, real estate and as a California politician, all gone. “

“I see what you’re driving at.” Suddenly it hit me like a barbell on a gouty toe. Everyone who would have voted for Schwarzenegger except for the things in the Oui interview and the rest wouldn't fill the Crystal Cathedral. A lot more would probably vote for him once they read it. But if the real story got out his political opponents could paint him as an stuffy german professor. I could imagine the taunting campaign ads: "Does California need a Herr Doktorprofessor Governor Schwarzenegger?" It would not be pretty.

"I mean my wife is great, don't get me wrong. But she can't discuss Clauswitz with me. Or Rappoport. I knew that when I married her - so did she. We had a conversation on the works of Walter Gilbert - just once. It almost ended in divorce. We agreed to an "open marriage" - intellectually, see. But that's just between Maria and myself. She's a Kennedy - she understands a man with an intellectual libido that no one woman can satisfy. And I'm willing to pay for it. I don't want an involvement - I want a quick intellectual experience, then I want the girl to leave. Ann Coulter only has so much time! I need more."

"How long has this been going on?"

"On and off - since the early 1970's. Whenever I have that craving, I call Heidi. She's a madam - sends me an intellectual."

"I've heard the name."

"Yeah, you think she's a two-bit whore. Everyone does. But she understands what men need - and that some men need something exceptional - even a little kinky, not just down there, but up here. Her agency got started providing girls as temporary help for computer labs in Orange County - programmers, software engineers, even some analogue stuff early on. When the defense slowdown hit, she turned to biotech and, ultimately, prostitution."

So he was one of those guys whose weaknesses were really bright women and abstract conceptualization. Very Austrian. I felt sorry for the poor sap. I figured there must be a lot of jokers in his position.

"Now she's threatening to go public," he said.

"Who is?"

"Heidi. She got the video of the '77 seminar. It was supposed to be destroyed when the broad turned in her thesis, but it ended up in the university archives through some filing error, and Heidi found it. Shows me expressing some multivalenced perspectives, really deadly stuff out of context. And she's been bugging her own girls all along. They want thirty million or they give the tapes to Drudge. Musil, you've got to help me! I can't have my immigrant dream die this way! I've got to get this intellectual monkey off my back."

The old call-girl racket. I had heard rumors that the boys at headquarters were on to something involving some kind of tie-in between the hookers and personal trainers who run most of this town and the big money hi-tech businesses. California fusion they called it, with a smirk.

"Get Heidi on the phone for me."


"I'll take your case, Arnold. But it'll cost you."

"Musil, landsmann. Danke! I'll make it worth your while. I've seen that dump you call home in Los Feliz. Cost you what? - $500,000 ten years ago, and now the brokers are trying to get you to sell for three mill? Nichts.. You pull this off, and you'll be living in style."

With a grin he picked up the phone and keyed in a number. I took it from him and winked. I was beginning to like him.


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