odi et amo

λέγει που Ἡράκλειτος ὅτιπάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει,” καὶ ποταμοῦ ῥοῇἀπεικάζων τὰ ὄντα λέγει ὡςδὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης.”

Though you cannot step twice in the same river, no force of nature debars you from pissing in the same sewer time after time.
Likewise the ease of rekindling an old hatred contrasts with the difficulty of renewing an old friendship.
In this regard, love affairs are more akin to sewers than rivers.

troglodytic pussyfooting

Some time ago, touristic extravagances of the POTUS elicited a great deal of waggish hand-wringing:

Obama arrives in India at the start of a ten-day tour of Asia. At the heart of the White House caravan is ‘The Beast’, a gigantic, ‘pimped-up’ General Motors Cadillac which security experts say is, short of an actual battle tank, probably the safest road vehicle on the planet.
    But an outlandish car is only the start. Mr Obama will fly, of course, on Air Force One, the presidential private jumbo jet, which, boasting double beds and suites, is fitted out more like a luxury yacht. Some reports suggest it costs around $50,000 (£31,000) an hour to operate.
    Of course threats can come from any direction, so a squadron of U.S. naval ships will patrol offshore. Some reports have claimed that 34 ships, including two aircraft carriers, will be involved (not far off the size of the Royal Navy’s entire Surface Fleet) but the White House has denied this.
    On land, as well as The Beast, Mr Obama’s entourage will travel in a fleet of 45 U.S.-built armoured limousines, half of which will be decoys. He will also travel with 30 elite sniffer dogs, mostly German Shepherds.
    The White House has, according to some reports, booked the entire Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, the city’s most luxurious. It is not uncommon for the grander heads of state to reserve a floor or two, but a whole hotel is unprecedented. This hotel was the main target of the 2008 attacks by Pakistani militants which left 166 dead.
    As to the cost of all this, the White House will not reveal details – which has allowed Mr Obama’s political foes to bandy about sums including a widely-quoted $200million (£123million) a day. Whatever the figure, it makes the costs associated with the Royal Train and the late Royal Yacht Britannia seem like small change.
    It is also reported that a bomb-proof tunnel will be erected for Mr Obama ahead of his visit to Mani Bhavan—the Gandhi museum—on Saturday.
    According to Daily News & Analysis, U.S. secret service agents visited the museum on Monday to plan Mr Obama’s security during his tour.
    They were accompanied by Mumbai Police officers and civic officials of the D ward where Mani Bhavan is located.
    While they were inspecting the route and the buildings lining the path to the museum, U.S. security officers noticed a nearby skyscraper in the highly populated area that could pose a threat.
    To the amazement of the Indians accompanying the U.S. agents, it was apparently decided to erect a bomb-proof over-ground tunnel, which will be installed by U.S. military engineers in just an hour.
    The kilometre-long tunnel will measure 12ft by 12ft and will have air-conditioning, close-circuit television cameras, and will be heavily guarded at every point.
    It’s being built so it is large enough for Mr Obama’s cavalcade to pass through and will be manned at its entry and exit points.
    The material that the tunnel would be made of has not been released but officials said that the structure would be dismantled immediately after Mr Obama and his party leaves the area.

The Daily Mail, 6 November 2010


Two weeks earlier, Obama’s storied subaltern opined: “If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar.” Strangely enough, the potentate so anointed evaded on this occasion another favorable comparison to his illustrious predecessor:

Germanico bello confecto multis de causis Caesar statuit sibi Rhenum esse transeundum; quarum illa fuit iustissima quod, cum videret Germanos tam facile impelli ut in Galliam venirent, suis quoque rebus eos timere voluit, cum intellegerent et posse et audere populi Romani exercitum Rhenum transire. […]
    Caesar his de causis quas commemoravi Rhenum transire decreverat; sed navibus transire neque satis tutum esse arbitrabatur neque suae neque populi Romani dignitatis esse statuebat. Itaque, etsi summa difficultas faciendi pontis proponebatur propter latitudinem, rapiditatem altitudinemque fluminis, tamen id sibi contendendum aut aliter non traducendum exercitum existimabat. […]
    Diebus X, quibus materia coepta erat comportari, omni opere effecto exercitus traducitur. […]
    Caesar paucos dies in eorum finibus moratus, omnibus vicis aedificiisque incensis frumentisque succisis, se in fines Ubiorum recepit atque his auxilium suum pollicitus, si a Suebis premerentur, haec ab iis cognovit: Suebos, postea quam per exploratores pontem fieri comperissent, more suo concilio habito nuntios in omnes partes dimisisse, uti de oppidis demigrarent, liberos, uxores suaque omnia in silvis deponerent atque omnes qui arma ferre possent unum in locum convenirent. Hunc esse delectum medium fere regionum earum quas Suebi obtinerent; hic Romanorum adventum expectare atque ibi decertare constituisse. Quod ubi Caesar comperit, omnibus iis rebus confectis, quarum rerum causa exercitum traducere constituerat, ut Germanis metum iniceret, ut Sugambros ulcisceretur, ut Ubios obsidione liberaret, diebus omnino XVIII trans Rhenum consumptis, satis et ad laudem et ad utilitatem profectum arbitratus se in Galliam recepitpontemque rescidit.
The German war being finished, Caesar thought it expedient for him to cross the Rhine , for many reasons; of which this was the most weighty, that, since he saw the Germans were so easily urged to go into Gaul, he desired they should have their fears for their own territories, when they discovered that the army of the Roman people both could and dared pass the Rhine. […]
    Caesar, for those reasons which I have mentioned, had resolved to cross the Rhine; but to cross by ships he neither deemed to be sufficiently safe, nor considered consistent with his own dignity or that of the Roman people. Therefore, although the greatest difficulty in forming a bridge was presented to him, on account of the breadth, rapidity, and depth of the river, he nevertheless considered that it ought to be attempted by him, or that his army ought not otherwise to be led over. […]
    Within ten days after the timber began to be collected, the whole work was completed, and the whole army led over. […]
    Caesar, having remained in their territories a few days, and burned all their villages and houses, and cut down their corn, proceeded into the territories of the Ubii; and having promised them his assistance, if they were ever harassed by the Suevi, he learned from them these particulars: that the Suevi, after they had by means of their scouts found that the bridge was being built, had called a council, according to their custom, and sent orders to all parts of their state to remove from the towns and convey their children, wives, and all their possessions into the woods, and that all who could bear arms should assemble in one place; that the place thus chosen was nearly the centre of those regions which the Suevi possessed; that in this spot they had resolved to await the arrival of the Romans, and give them battle there. When Caesar discovered this, having already accomplished all these things on account of which he had resolved to lead his army over, namely, to strike fear into the Germans, take vengeance on the Sigambri, and free the Ubii from the invasion of the Suevi, having spent altogether eighteen days beyond the Rhine, and thinking he had advanced far enough to serve both honor and interest, he returned into Gaul, and cut down the bridge.

—C. Julius Caesar, De bello Gallico, IV, 16, 17, 18, 19, translated by T. Rice Holmes


John Soane, Caesar’s Rhine Bridge, 1814
It is hard to do justice to the moral and political superiority of the tunnel conveying Obama to the shrine of non-violence, over the bridge bearing Caesar to the next occasion of belligerency. Perhaps the most effective contrast obtains in juxtaposing prudential concerns of our 44th President with vulgarian bluster of Number 36:

During a private conversation with some reporters who pressed him to explain why we were in Vietnam, Johnson lost his patience. According to Arthur Goldberg, “LBJ unzipped his fly, drew out his substantial organ and declared, ‘This is why!’”


Lyndon Baines Johnson and Senator Richard Russell
By supplanting LBJ’s phallophoric aggressiveness with troglodytic pussyfooting, Barack Obama has established and exposed himself as the first Vaginal President of the United States.

to conquer solitude

Around the turn of the twentieth century, innumerable eggheaded wags took up and carried forth the wingèd words attributed to President Arthur Twining Hadley of Yale University: “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you cannot tell him much.” A little later, unsolicited avowal bolstered the certainty of recognition by invidious townies: “How do you know that someone you just met went to Harvard? — He’ll tell you in the first five minutes.” And thus, nel mezzo del cammin di sua vita, Zadie Smith felt compelled to tell everybody in the first paragraph of her essay-length review:

I can say (like everyone else on Harvard’s campus in the fall of 2003) that “I was there” at Facebook’s inception, and remember Facemash and the fuss it caused; also that tiny, exquisite movie star trailed by fan-boys through the snow wherever she went, and the awful snow itself, turning your toes gray, destroying your spirit, bringing a bloodless end to a squirrel on my block: frozen, inanimate, perfect—like the Blaschka glass flowers.

—Zadie Smith, “Generation Why?”, The New York Review of Books, 25 November 2010

A web search readily confirms that Zadie “was there”, as a 2002–2003 Radcliffe Institute Fellow. Only a churl would question her entitlement to peerdom with famous Harvard alumni of that vintage, ranging from Natalie Portman to Mark Zuckerberg, by way of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Noah Welch, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, media stars and athletes, whose XXIst Century Ivy League undergraduate experiences may have marked them no less memorably than Zadie’s XXth Century Cambridge Third in her Part Ones. Unlike most of her underprivileged readers, Zadie was at Harvard. Consequently, she understands the innermost motives of its overachieving élite:

Personally I don’t think Final Clubs were ever the point; I don’t think exclusivity was ever the point; nor even money. E Pluribus Unum—that’s the point. Here’s my guess: he wants to be like everybody else. He wants to be liked. Those 1.0 people who couldn’t understand Zuckerberg’s apparently ham-fisted PR move of giving the school system of Newark $100 million on the very day the movie came out—they just don’t get it. For our self-conscious generation (and in this, I and Zuckerberg, and everyone raised on TV in the Eighties and Nineties, share a single soul), not being liked is as bad as it gets. Intolerable to be thought of badly for a minute, even for a moment. He didn’t need to just get out “in front” of the story. He had to get right on top of it and try to stop it breathing. Two weeks later, he went to a screening. Why? Because everybody liked the movie.

Ibid.

Or not. Harvard takes care to inform its undergraduates that in the field of psychology, evidence consists of empirical research results rather than quotations and opinions of scholars. In the matter at hand, empirical data implies the unlikelihood of profound aversion to not being liked forming the characters overwhelmingly motivated by the expectations of “a generous starting salary at a prestigious, brand-name organization together with the promise of future wealth”. Likewise, the favorite industry of Harvard grads, the one that rewards its most accomplished members with the title of a Big Swinging Dick, can scarcely provide a worthy workspace for Harvard alumni obsessed with ingratiating everyone standing in the way of their advancement. More specifically, Zuckerberg’s career track employed a broad selection of peers, partners, and associates as stepping stones, earning his rightful place in Dickipedia. As a geeky digital performance artist, Zuckerberg resonates with the louche motives averred by Charles Baudelaire in then flourishing and now obsolescent paper media: « Quand j’aurai inspiré le dégoût et l’horreur universels, j’aurai conquis la solitude. » Once he has inspired universal disgust and horror, he will have conquered solitude. The same solitude postulated in The Social Network as the defining trait of Mark Zuckerberg, downgraded from one friend to zero in the course of its narrative.

It is all too easy to underestimate the potential of Facebook to inspire universal disgust and horror. Imagine that your government offered you the opportunity to consign all your communications with your friends and associates to its care. It would manage their posting, editing, and retraction, and control their transmission and availability to the intended audience. In return, you would grant its executive branch the right to bombard you with political and commercial solicitations. Each time you had to convey, receive, modify, or withdraw your message, you would expose yourself to a barrage of administratively approved pitches. You would have no privacy, but what degree thereof you had chosen to retain by opting out of the state’s oligopoly. That is our current predicament with Facebook, except in so far as all control therein vests into a preternaturally fortunate Harvard College dropout presumptively beholden to the economic interests of his shareholders, rather than our democratically elected head of state fully answerable to his electorate via its legislative and judicial branches. That private CEO is fully warranted to set aside all concerns of faith and fidelity not arising from considerations of profit and loss. His term is unlimited by expiration or revocation. The only means of divesting him depend upon manipulation of the marketplace.

As rumors circulate of Google offering its staff engineer $3.5 million to turn down Facebook offer, it makes sense to contrast their modes of operation. Google is a monstrous outgrowth of a traditional software company, purportedly run by engineers encouraged to give free rein to their technical fancies. Facebook is nothing of the sort. Its technical ambitions are limited to the traditional IT agenda of gathering, managing, and transmitting information. And yet both companies derive their revenue primarily from selling advertising whose value derives from targeting enabled by personal data they collect from their users. The difference is that Facebook’s users contribute most of their personal data deliberately, whereas Google mostly infers it from the usage patterns of its services. Correlatively, Google derives a competitive advantage from the speed of its services, whereas Facebook distinguishes itself by stickiness. It might seem that betting your net worth on stickiness of personal contribution is a safer long term bet than staking it on the fleeting contingencies of speed. After all, a speedier newcomer would have a harder time poaching a customer base vested into deeply rooted stores of prized records. And yet, as Zadie Smith implies, the life cycle of this very platform argues to the contrary:

At my screening, when a character in the film mentioned the early blog platform LiveJournal (still popular in Russia), the audience laughed. I can’t imagine life without files but I can just about imagine a time when Facebook will seem as comically obsolete as LiveJournal. In this sense, The Social Network is not a cruel portrait of any particular real-world person called “Mark Zuckerberg.” It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.

Ibid.

On 14 December 1904, U.S. Civil War veteran Charles F. Porter of Denver, Colorado presented himself at the office of President Hadley of Yale, to ask for funds with which to get to Syracuse. Porter said that his father was an old Yale man and that he was absolutely without money. Upon digesting Porter’s plea, President Hadley telephoned local police headquarters for a detective, and got instructed to detain the beggar. After a rough-and-tumble fight, the President got the better of the importunate intruder and delivered him to police custody.

Over a century later, the Ivy League is proving itself much more hospitable to cadgers of free rides. Facebook got its start herding today’s lily-livered academics onto its free communications platform, to suffer commercial solicitations from far less deserving parties hell-bent on getting to college towns everywhere. This sufferance is the true cost of social networking access for 500 million of its users. Can you tell much to XXIst century Harvard men? Mark Zuckerberg told them to entrust their privacy to gatekeepers for a myriad advertisers. And Harvard men rose to the occasion.

the rules of engagement

If I had my druthers, any citation of the AK47 as a winning battle arm would be made in the historical context of Russian wartime casualty rates ranging from 2:1 to 10:1 in favor of the eventually vanquished adversary. Since I have but one life to live, it is best safeguarded by more precise weapons.