Bits of Poems by Hans Jean Arp

You’ve got to play it square
with the four eggs in the four corners
round like the ball of bones
capering in the void
round like the pendulum of stars
while I lick my own body
as the day licks its own body
between heaven and lunch.
The nighttime of wax!
The enormous jewish butterflies rock themselves on the sea
and break the soft-boiled eggs
in goose-pimples
You feel much better, you’re looking well
You’re eating vitamins like a ferris wheel

From Hans Jean Arp, Arp on Arp (The Documents of 20th Century Art)

Correspondence received Oct. 28, 2009

Subject: Note on the Bagheera Spider

Dear Nathan Robinson,

I recently received a halloween card in my faculty mail box, thanking me for discovering a spider that obtains a lot of its food (albeit not all of its food) from plant tissue.   Are you the Nathan Robinson that sent it to me?   I thank you if so, its very kind.

If you are not the Nathan that sent me the note, please let me know, and apologies for the intrusion into your Inbox.

Are you especially interested in spiders, or especially interested in vegetarianism, or both?   It’s rare to find a person who admires spiders, so I am just curious.


Prof. Eric Olson

Senior Lecturer in Ecology
Program in Sustainable International Development
The Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Brandeis University

We despise lawyers and we are proud of them. We would prefer to do without lawyers, and we encourage them because we need them. This paradox…brings great tensions. To relax them we must recognize the necessity of operating on both ends at once: Legal services must be made both more accessible and also less necessary.

Jethro K. Lieberman, “How to Avoid Lawyers,” Verdicts on Lawyers, Mark Green & Ralph Nader, eds., 1976.

She was sure that her existence was influenced by all sorts of dead friends each of whom took turns in directing her fate much as if she were a stray kitten which a schoolgirl in passing gathers up, and presses to her cheek, and carefully puts down again, near some suburban hedge– to be stroked presently by another transient hand or carried off to a world of doors by some hospitable lady.

V. Nabokov, “The Vane Sisters,” February 1951

When I was younger, kids at school would sometimes shout things at me like “Hey English, tell the Queen I fucked her!” And of course I’d say, no, you don’t understand, I have no serious loyalties to the country and only the barest of actual cultural connections beside a now-basically inexplicable vestigial accent, plus frankly I’m a strident anti-monarchist and if you did in fact fuck the queen why would she need to be told unless your performance was so miserable that she did not even notice. The problem was that I’d say all of this in a tweed vest with a mouthful of Marmite sandwich so it was difficult to formulate a truly persuasive case.

Marcuse on Lovemaking in Motorcars

Compare love-making in a meadow and in an automobile, on a lovers’ walk outside the town walls and on a Manhattan street. In the former cases, the environment partakes of and invites libidinal cathexis and tends to be eroticized. Libido transcends beyond the immediate erotogenic zones–a process of nonrepressive sublimation. In contrast, a mechanized environment seems to block such self-transcendence of libido. Impelled in the striving to extend the field of erotic gratification, libido becomes less “polymorphous,” less capable of eroticism beyond localized sexuality, and the latter is intensified. – Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man

Is Marcuse correct? Incorrect? Who can even tell?

P.S. As Elvis quite rightly put it, there’s no room to rhumba in a sports car.

My article on Dorner

The Last American Idealist: LAPD killer Dorner’s insane rampage was fired by a naïve faith in the country’s political myth

Christopher Dorner’s brutal killings of multiple people vaguely associated with the Los Angeles police have caused debates over both the department’s deployment of manhunt drones and the disastrous trigger-happiness that had them showering bullets on any hapless civilian with the misfortune to drive a truck resembling Dorner’s. But what deserves close attention is the extended statement Dorner released on his motivations, which in its non-menacing parts is unsettlingly eloquent, and which stands as a testament to the destructive consequences of American mythology.

Following the press’s standard line, the Christian Science Monitor summarizes Dorner’s writings as “alternately horrific and pathetic,” full of “vengeful bitterness over perceived slights and injustices ranging from racial slurs in grade school to his firing as a Los Angeles police officer”; standard homicidal maniac material. But an actual close reading of the statement shows otherwise. “Horrific” it certainly is, in detailing Dorner’s intention to use the police’s own tactics and weaponry in a bloody war against them. But the “perceived slights” are in fact a quite substantial history of LAPD racism and unaccountability, including the case of an officer who “found it very funny and entertaining to draw blood from suspects” and “even intentionally ripped the flesh off the arm of a woman we had arrested.” Dorner says officers routinely shrug off wrongful criminal accusations by saying “I guess [the accused] should have stayed at home that day.” The “grade school” incidents referred to by the Monitor are similarly misrepresented: they are in fact Dorner’s account of the humiliations of being called “nigger” growing up in an all-white school, which he offers in response to the anticipated accusation that he has a history of violence and bullying.

The first point to note about this unusual document is that Dorner appears to be right about the circumstances of his firing. Dorner was dismissed from his position for making false statements after he filed a complaint against an officer for kicking a Christopher Gettler, a mentally ill man, multiple times in the face and torso. But video evidence confirms Dorner’s account: both Gettler and his father recount the kicks. In the evidentiary fog that generally surrounds police brutality claims, it’s very rare to find proof this clear. Given that, along with the detail of Dorner’s accounts and his outright begging of journalists to investigate his claims, some credence therefore appears due to Dorner’s claims of an LAPD rife with blind-eye turning and “blue line” protection of corrupt officers, one that “has not changed from the Daryl Gates and Mark Fuhrman days.”

But the second striking fact is that despite his allegations of massive departmental racism, Dorner writes as a perfect political moderate rather than a racial firebrand. He speaks of being inspired to a military career by Colin Powell, of having pride in his badge. The last passage pays tribute to Bill Cosby, saying Cosby’s criticism of black society is dead-on: “Blacks must strive for more in life than bling, hoes, and cars. The current culture is an epidemic.” Dorner places himself squarely within the bootstraps school of American political thinking. And though he wishes pain on George Zimmerman, he has harsh words for black officers who carry the “intent of getting retribution toward subordinate caucasians officers for the pain and hostile work environment their elders inflicted on you as probationers,” since they “breed a new generation of bigoted caucasian officer when you belittle them and treat them unfairly.”

“I’m not an aspiring rapper, I’m not a gang member, I’m not a dope dealer, I don’t have multiple babies momma’s. I am an American by choice, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member… I didn’t need the US Navy to instill Honor, Courage, and Commitment in me but I thank them for re-enforcing it.”

Dorner fully bought the bullshit they fed him about the rewards of Working Hard and Being Honest, and the disjunction between these deeply internalized myths and the reality of an irredeemably racist LAPD culture appears to have driven him mad. Despite his disgust with the LAPD, he still ludicrously believes the country’s tales about itself. There are passages full of a sweetly naive optimism that would make a junior high civics-class A-student blush:

“America, you will realize today and tomorrow that this world is made up of all human beings who have the same general needs and wants in life for themselves, their kin, community, and state. That is the freedom to LIVE and LOVE. They may eat different foods, enjoy different music, have different dialects, or speak a second language, but in essence are no different from you and I. This is America. We are not a perfect sovereign country as we have our own flaws but we are the closest that will ever exist.”

Dorner comes across as having a childlike faith in the redemptive possibilities of the country’s institutions. He commends Ellen Degeneres because she “changed the perception of your gay community and how we as Americans view the LGBT community.” He wants to see Jeffrey Toobin on the Supreme Court, because he would bring “some damn common sense and reasoning instead of partisan bickering” (although “in true Toobin fashion, we all know he would not accept the nomination”). And even witness his hopeful comments on Hollywood:

“It’s kind of sad I won’t be around to view and enjoy The Hangover III. What an awesome trilogy. Todd Phillips, don’t make anymore Hangovers after the third, takes away the originality of its foundation.”

Dorner actually believes the question of whether or not there will be a Hangover IV is affected by something other than the box-office receipts of The Hangover III. He thinks government can exercise integrity, he likes both Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush but not Wayne LaPierre or the Westboro Baptist Church. Except where he is threatening policemen’s families, Dorner consistently writes as an optimistic Everyman Moderate, perhaps the last person to believe so totally in the country’s myth, and as a result the person most wholly destroyed by its contradictions.

The Dorner note is somewhat reminiscent of the one issued in 2010 by Joseph Stack, the Texas man who flew his plane into an IRS office. Stack, too, had believed what he was taught, but had come to the despairing conclusion that the capitalist creed was “from each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed,” and didn’t know how to proceed except with irrational violence. Analyzing Stack’s note, Noam Chomsky wrote that “[a]n acute sense of betrayal comes readily to people who believed they had fulfilled their duty to society in a moral compact with business and government, only to discover they had been only instruments of profit and power.” Chomsky said that the Stacks of the world need to find hope before they “destroy themselves, and maybe the world.” Like Stack, Christopher Dorner chose the monstrously wrong path of destroying himself and multiple perfectly harmless people.

But like his madness, the turn to violence was also a logical consequence of the limitations of Dorner’s ideology, in this case his lifelong immersion in police and military culture. In the most disturbing and bloodthirsty parts of his writing, Dorner lapses into a chilling series of martial acronyms as he detachedly describes his battle plans. He says he “will utilize every tool within INT collections that I learned from NMITC in Dam Neck” and that he “will utilize OSINT to discover your residences, spouses workplaces, and children’s schools [and] IMINT to coordinate and plan attacks on your fixed locations.” Dorner was too much of a military man and a police officer to see how futile violence is as a tactic. He thinks if you just kill enough people, deploy enough shock and awe, you can make your point. (It’s ironic, of course, that the same rush to violence caused the LAPD to open fire on multiple civilians in their blind quest to destroy Dorner.)

Christopher Dorner might have proven a great asset in the movement for police accountability. But lacking a radical analytical framework to explain the tension between the story he believed and the reality he saw, he went insane. Like the everyman-maniac protagonist in the dreadful film Falling Down, he sees a broken world and reacts with the hideous non-sequitur of killing everyone instead of creating a better one.

Such is the consequence of believing in just institutions. Dorner had taken his case to the courts and been rejected, yet he says he refuses to accept that “sometimes bad things happen to good people”; that impossible tension can’t be resolved but by forcing it to resolve. Lacking a grounding in popular struggle and organized resistance, he used the only tool he knew: the sickening bloodshed of the police and military.

The Dorner case shows the tragic consequences of the American political religion meeting the American political reality, and a need for the kind of robust radical program that offers understanding and hope to future Christopher Dorners.

First Bit of a Story I Began Writing And Then Stopped

Ruskin had taken up a position as a discreditor for Lloyd’s West. Naturally, Lloyd’s West wasn’t Lloyd’s East, and St. Louis wasn’t Carthage, but final notices were now arriving in neatly twined bundles and Ruskin’s cornershop sinecure as a “deporter of poets” had lately brought volumes of sweat and panic.

Rapidly the St. Louis life grew stale and cumbersome; daytime fancies of downriver New Orleans rafts began to gestate. Ruskin knew that city was impossible, full of violent men to whom he owed money and favour. But he had often thought of having a small courtyard.

Ruskin enlivened himself through the small available means. He took a flat above the City Museum, a weekday valet and a subscription to the Business Press. He didn’t get a dog this time, as they barked when he masturbated.