January 2006

Update on Kafka on the Shore.

I just finished reading it. Here�s the IM I had with Sarah Imber Safdar about it.

Warning: spoilers

JSG: just finished Kafka on the Shore
JSG: you are right
JSG: it doesn’t make sense
JSG: or as murakami would say
JSG: it makes sense, but only if you don’t try to put it into words
JSG: the question is, is that a cop out, or is it true
JSG: its true for wind up bird
JSG: but I’m not sure I think its true for this one
JSG: you?
10:15 AM
SIS: what?
SIS: let me read that again
SIS: no it doesn’t make sense – it’s definitely a play on oedipus right
SIS: so he’s oedipus doing the things that oedpius does in an equally fantasmical world
SIS: but different
SIS: at the end of oedipus, he’s destroyed by his fate
SIS: in this book, he’s sort of not redeemed – he feels as if he must suffer his fate, return to the real world
SIS: so he’s oedipus at the end too
JSG: he accepts his fate by committing the offenses
JSG: and he thinks that will save him
JSG: but it doesn’t fully work
JSG: he has to forgive his mother
JSG: and accept that he/Crow can’t defeat his father
JSG: even then, he just has to go on living
JSG: so its a bit of a twist, but he’s neither damned nor saved at the end
SIS: http://mason.gmu.edu/~oarans/oedip-story.html
SIS: mom abandons, kills dad, screws mom later, pokes out eyes at end in anagnosis (epiphany of horror) and then goes into exile
JSG: hmm
JSG: the father’s eyes get poked out in the end here
JSG: weird
SIS: they do? I forgot that
JSG: crow attacks the man in the silk hat with the flute
JSG: he just keeps laughing
JSG: in the woods, near the v. end
SIS: oh yeah – what is up with that flute and the souls of cats?
JSG: murakami = obsessed with cats
JSG: who knows why
JSG: cats know things
SIS: obsessed with spaghetti
JSG: dogs don’t
JSG: obsessed with ears!
SIS: there are several references to japanese literature that I don’t know throughout the book, I bet there’s a soul cat thing in one of those
SIS: i think that the boy/girl librarian is like the sphinx
SIS: passing the test of the sphinx takes him to the place where he can go between realities
JSG: he can go between realities because nakata opened the stone
SIS: also the kafka thing – I don’t have the kafka story he references in my kafka compilation, so i don’t know if it’s a real story or not
JSG: the sphinx is bad and oshima is good
JSG: I don’t know that kafka story either
SIS: i don’ t think oshima is good – i think oshima is neutral
SIS: nakata is good, and sad, damaged
SIS: why does nakata have to open the stone and what ultimately does that part have to do with kafka?
JSG: there’s little connection between them
JSG: they live in the same neighborhood
JSG: johnnie walker lures nakata to him to kill him
JSG: he needs nakata to jumpstart whatever plan he has for messing with kafka.
SIS: that’s interesting
JSG: but otherwise, there’s nothing between kafka and nakata
JSG: but wind up bird is similar
JSG: there’s the story of what happened to people during the war
JSG: and it somehow continues to haunt present day people
JSG: but how is kind of hard to say
JSG: though nakata wasn’t fucked up by the war, necessarily
JSG: so this book is really weird
SIS: i thought it was like this: kafka’s mom grieving the death of her true love trades her affection for the opportunity to go between places to find that love and the johnny walker spirit guy doesn’t ever give her that opportunity, in the meantime she has children and she abandons the boy, but keeps the girl, who vanishes almost completely from the story
SIS: the question is why is the johnny walker guy so cruel to cats and why does he want to die?
SIS: this is the part that I think I might understand better if I knew more about Japanese literature
JSG: as a plot device, the cats are the way he lures nakata
SIS: the johnny walker guy is similar to noburo wataya in wind up bird
JSG: yes, connected to power
JSG: dark
SIS: nihilistic
JSG: but in wind up bird, noburo pulls the dark thing out of Creta Kano
JSG: and here, nakata pulls something horrible out of hoshino
JSG: in wind up bird, the main character also rearranges the rich women’s chi
JSG: again, weird

So now you have it, I thought the book was weird. Actually, I really enjoyed it. It hangs together more tightly than Wind Up Bird, but that also makes it feel more contrived. The reason I am obsessed with Murakami is I think he’s trying to make the reader feel the connection between darkness and light, the difficulty in telling the difference between the two, and the importance of not ignoring either.

Tonight, I was listening to the BBC and a reporter asked the United States Ambassador to Iraq about a new Bush Administration plan to stop funding reconstruction projects in Iraq. The ambassador denied that this was a change in policy. But in 2003, the reporter pointed out, Bush said that Iraq would have the best infrastructure in the region. Yes, the ambassador responded, but he didn’t say the United States would pay for it.

Honey, by the end of the year, you’ll have the biggest diamond ring on the block.

There�s a lot of confusion out there about the illegal wiretap scandal.

First, this is not a constitutional issue. The Bush Adminstration portrays it as one in two ways. First, it points to case law that suggests that it is not a Fourth Amendment violation to eavesdrop on international calls for foreign intelligence purposes. Second, it says that the President has the constitutional authority as the Commander in Chief to do whatever he deems necessary in fighting a war, here, the war on terror, or terrorism.

The first point, if true, is irrelevant, because statutes prohibit eavesdropping on American persons without a warrant. Statutes can and do provide more rights that the constitutional default.

The second point is bullshit. There is zero legal authority for it and it is part of the Bush Administration campaign to grab powers for the executive branch. They actually claim the founding fathers wanted the president to have king-like authority over foreign affairs. The case directly on point, which Bushies failed to cite in their terror memo because it eviscerates their argument is Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) 343 US 579. The case says the President can’t evade the will of Congress, even in wartime. Simple enough.

Therefore, this is a rule of law issue. Can the President break the law? Here, the President broke the law. The law says if the government has probable cause to believe an American citizen is an agent of a foreign power, it can intercept his communications. He just has to get a warrant first. Bush didn’t.

Recent polls suggest that many Americans support the wiretapping. But whether people think the wiretapping is useful or not isn’t the question. For example, in the link above, one woman said, “surveillance without a warrant could be justified if the government had good reason to suspect someone of involvement in terrorism.” That is, in fact, the law. In fact, you could get a wiretap warrant even if the person wasn’t a foreign agent under this standard. The only thing is, you have to go before a judge and have it reviewed.

The problem with the “majority of Americans” story is that we don’t know what they are being asked. I also think that if the people eavesdropped on were working with terrorists that they should be surveilled! I just think there should be a warrant, and I know that a warrant isn’t an obstacle to timely surveillance. I bet the vast majority of Americans agree with me.

The right wing press has some BS out there about how long and how hard it is to get a warrant for national security surveillance. It is not. It’s as easy as pie. There’s no opposition, you just put your reasons in an affidavit and take it to the FISA court (FISC). My friends in the Justice Department they tell me it�s easy, but you don�t need anecdotal evidence. Look at the statistics. We know it�s easy, because FISC almost never turns the government down. And as for timing, FISC does nothing but give the government warrants, and the statute allows the government to do the surveillance and get a warrant 72 hours later. Three days to get a warrant? It would take a few hours at most. Besides, don’t we want the judges to make some review of the claims the government makes? That’s what we mean by “checks and balances” and “separation of powers”.

Ok, the President broke the law. We know that. The next question is, should the law change? Prof. Fried�s op ed suggests that it should, in a particular way. Essentially, he suggests that data mining is an important tool in detecting terrorism before it starts and it should be approved. A lot of pundits are hypothesizing that this is the kind of surveillance they were doing, particularly wrt the stories about having tapped in to the phone trunks.

Point one, if you agree, go to Congress and get the law changed. You’re the frickin’ President for god’s sake! Put Social Security reform and ANWAR drilling on the back burner.

Point two is that computer automated mass surveillance, while it sounds good, actually might not work. People think casting a wide net catches more fish, but the holes are bigger and there’s the needle in the haystack problem. Remember that information ? intelligence.

Another interesting question is how privacy invasive is mass surveillance, since you aren’t targeting a particular person. This question will be particularly relevant if point one happens and point two is wrong. We might be willing to put up with a less effective program if in balance it doesn’t compromise privacy too much. One way to look at it is that you are only collecting guilty info, and you don’t know anything about a particular person until you know they are guilty, so its not really privacy invasive at all, unless you think people have a privacy right in criminal activity. Another way is that by we don’t want a world with perfect legal enforcement, that we depend on some crimes slipping through the cracks. So we could authorize this mass surveillance, but only for national security offenses, not for marijuana, e.g. There’s more thinking to be done on this matter.

Meanwhile, the stalling on the PATRIOT Act renewal shows that Congress is pissed and mistrustful, and it should be. The President broke the law. The President thinks he’s above the law. And the Administration claims about how well its doing on the terror front are in myth-land. The false articles about how well things are going in Iraq and the sunshiny reports offered here at home? The failed terrorism prosecutions of Florida professor Al-Arian, and a web programmer Al-Hussayen (registration required to read the stories), the right-wing Fourth Circuit’s concern about DOJ manipulation of the Padilla case, the pursuit of an Oregon lawyer for the Madrid bombings, long after Spanish authorities told the US that we had the wrong man. Perhaps there are signs of some competence, but there’s a serious amount of incompetence. And it�s to mitigate the transgressions of any one branch that the founding fathers established the three branch system of government.
My Wired News column this week is entitled 69955-0.html?tw=wn_tophead_3″>”Go Back to Afghanistan, Hussy”.

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