How to gauge the Ruling Ideology, using the Zizekian concept of Event

This picture below depicts a curious incident, a Zizekian Event, that I witnessed Aug. 20 of this year.

woman on bike

The photo was taken at around 1100 that day, a Sunday. As in most years, a public mass had been arranged in this gated community of Guadarrama, a town some 50 kilometers northwest of Madrid, for the final day of an annual festival held late in the summer. As in previous occasions, there was a modest attendance given that the community includes some 160 households, but not insignificant; as you can see in the picture, many of those standing behind the priest are older people.

In the picture you can also see something completely out of place. Standing to the right of the priest, there’s a woman on a motorbike. That had never happened before, in decades of annual mass here. Using my intrepid reporter skills to interview those present and those watching, plus this and other photographic evidence, plus the part of the incident that I actually saw (being an Atheist, I didn’t attend mass, but walked past it with one of my kids), I can provide a quick summary of what happened:

Just after 1000 hours, the priest (from Guadarrama town itself, a mere two kilometers down the road) arrived to set up some things for mass: a table, folding chairs, and whatever else is needed for a quick mass. A group of the faithful gathered round. About 1030, before mass started, the door to the underground garage behind the priest opened, and a woman emerged in a motorbike. There wasn’t enough space for her to pass through, so the attendees started to give her room, by squeezing themselves to the building on the right side of the frame, the one from which the picture was taken. She grew impatient and started to complain. She said there shouldn’t be any public mass, she called the church a thing of the past and those attending mass “senile old people.” She said they all should just go home and stop bothering residents of that particular building with their useless rites. When she was urged to move along and get away, she started to rev up the engine and complained some more. Some elderly men, in turn, insulted her and one said he should just punch her in the face. Somebody called police then. She had a nasty exchange of words with the attendees and, when she started to feel threatened, she herself called police. Right then, local police showed up (because they had been called by a one of the churchies). Police came to her and urged her to get out of there, and tell them just what the problem was, but not in the middle of those gathered for mass. That’s the moment taken in the picture.

I walked past a few moments later. At that point, she was still sitting on her bike, speaking with police, obviously complaining to them about mass, the church and who else what else. The two policemen looked bored and uninterested. A man in his seventies, who lives just in front of me, approached and had another frank exchange of words with the woman, until police urged him to give her space. At some point after 1100, the woman left in her bike and police moved away. Nobody was injured or arrested.

This is an extremely interesting incident, that fulfills the Zizekian definition of Event (as described in the 2008 book Event) perfectly: an effect that seems to exceed its causes. A single woman, in her late thirties by the look of her, felt empowered to challenge dozens of people including youngish men, and to insult them in their faces, attacking their most deeply-held beliefs publicly, just because they were blocking her path for a few seconds, on a Sunday morning.

She was propagandizing, not in the sense of trying of convince anyone, since it was plain she wouldn’t and she didn’t really try, but in the sense of showing off opponents that they are helpless against the power behind her, that the boot will stamp in your face forever and there’s nothing you can do. She knew she was safe, and that nobody would lay a finger on her, and nobody did. (Just in case, her husband was taping the whold scene from a window, in any case, as several attendees noticed.)

She wasn’t pushed aside. Police had to be called just so people could hold a very silent mass (I had to approach within five meters of the priest to her him speak; this was no Black Church-style singing celebration of Christ). All of this happened in a country that until recently wasn Europe’s most Catholic, in a town that has long voted conservative.

It would be a mistake to think that we’re dealing with a brave woman. On the contrary: we’re dealing with somebody who knows the Ruling Ideology (of this day and age) is firmly behind her. What would be the point of taping everything, just in case she was attacked? Just imagine yourself standing in Mecca and saying Mohammed’s religion sucks: would you feel safer taping your beating and likely murder? Do you think any Saudi court would give your family a compensation?

She knew she held all of the cards. She was fully aware that atheism is a fundamental tenet of the Western ruling ideology, what we might call, for lack of a better name, Political Correctness. It’s clear that only those hopelessly irrelevant are now allowed to remain Christian: the sad losers that, like Barack Obama said with a mixture of condescension and true sadness, “cling to their guns and their religion.” Most of the people in this picture.

Slavoj Zizek has often described the current Ruling Ideology as a combination of deep-seated belief in capitalism, progressive social mores and Richard Gere-style Buddhism for those spiritually-inclined. In this mix, Christianism is not allowed, unless it’s in the lightest possible flavor. Most Christians in the West are disinclined to give their religion just like that, so they are being phased out with the enthusiastic help of mass media.

And yet, Zizek has often cautioned against just jettisoning Europe’s Christian legacy as an unneeded obstacle to ever more perfect globalization. Christianism was the first radical religion (here Zizek follows his beloved Chesterton, a conservative who objected to Islam on the grounds that, essentially, it’s excessively conservative) and retains a strong emancipatory potential, as Zizek again notes in Event:

Kierkegaard wrote that Christianity is the first and only religion of the event, understood as the transforming moment that illuminates the way in and out; he said that it is Christ versus Socrates: Socrates stands for remembrance, for rediscovering the higher reality of Ideas which are always already in us, while Christ announces the ‘good news’ of a radical break.

It’s fundamental to keep in mind that Zizek doesn’t mean Christianity provides a sort of return to lost innocence, the bliss of the cleaned community of believers, but the opposite:

It destroys the preceding indifference; it introduces division, pain and suffering. In Buddhist terms, a Christian event is the exact structural obverse of Enlightenment, of attaining Nirvana… Chesterton saw this very clearly and rejected the fashionable claim about the alleged spiritual identity of Buddhism and Christianity.” Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy: “all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls.”

Christianism is, thus, a particularly poweful religion in Zizek’s view. Also, like other religions, it serves an important social function: it helps curb capitalist excesses. Zizek addresses this question in In Defense of Lost Causes, where it provides the example of China’s political use of religion to avoid a complete capitalist takeover of society (he doesn’t quote Christianism here but I, having lived three years in China, can bear witness that Christianism is also used in that manner there) and cautions against praising the ruling ideology bigots who attack religion as mere superstition:

No wonder, then, that, in order to curb the excess of social disintegration caused by the capitalist explosion, Chinese officials celebrate religions and traditional ideologies which sustain social stability, from Buddhism to Confucianism, that is, the very ideologies that were the target of the Cultural Revolution. In April 2006, Ye Xiaowen, China’s top religious official, told the Xinhua News Agency that “religion is one of the important forces from which China draws strength,” and he singled out Buddhism for its “unique role in promoting a harmonious society,” the official formula for combining economic expansion with social development and care; the same week, China hosted the World Buddhist Forum. The role of religion as a stabilizing force against capitalist turbulence is thus officially sanctioned—what bothers the Chinese authorities in the case of sects like Falun Gong is merely their independence from state control. (This is why one should also reject the argument that the Cultural Revolution strengthened socialist attitudes among the people and thus helped to curb the worst disintegrative excesses of today’s capitalist development: quite the contrary, by undermining traditional stabilizing ideologies such as Confucianism, it rendered the people all the more vulnerable to the dizzying effects of capitalism.)

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Los poetas también son malos propagandistas

Percy Bysshe Shelley tuvo, como sus legendarios contemporáneos Byron y Hegel, la ventaja inmejorable de morir joven (*) y dejar un cadáver razonablemente bonito detrás (**). Por suerte, tenía dinero para vivir sin trabajar, porque su desordenada vida amorosa no le dejaba tiempo para mucho. Pudo escribir varios poemas de alta consideración, y “En defensa de la poesía”, un rimbombante ensayo en el que describe su pena eterna por no haber podido dedicarse a las relaciones públicas o, en su defecto, haber escrito para el Pravda en los años 1930 (era el tipo de inglés de clase alta que habría sido feliz siendo infeliz en un gélido apartamento moscovita, al estilo Kim Philby).

La traducción del párrafo clave del ensayo es mía:

“A pesar de la envidia de baja estofa que minusvaloraría el mérito contemporáneo, la nuestra será una era memorable en logros intelectuales, y vivimos entre tales filósofos y poetas que superan más allá de cualquier comparación a cualquiera que haya aparecido desde la última lucha nacional por la libertad civil y religiosa. El más infalible heraldo, compañero y seguidor del despertar de un gran pueblo que lleva a un cambio beneficioso de opinión o institución, es la poesía (***). En tales períodos hay una acumulación del poder de comunicación y recepción de concepciones intensas y apasionadas respeto al hombre y la naturaleza. La persona en quien reside este poder puede, a menudo, con respecto a muchas porciones de su naturaleza, tener poca correspondencia aparente con ese espíritu del bien del que son los ministros (****). Pero aun cuando niegan y abjuran, están obligados a servir, ese poder que está sentado en el trono de su propia alma. Es imposible leer las composiciones de los escritores más célebres de la actualidad sin verse sorprendido por la eléctrica vida que arde en sus palabras. Miden la circunferencia y sondean las profundidades de la naturaleza humana con un espíritu comprensivo y penetrante, y quizá sean los más atónitos ante sus manifestaciones; porque es menos su espíritu que el espíritu de la época. Los poetas son los hierofantes de una inspiración desbocada; los espejos de las sombras gigantescas que el futuro proyecta sobre el presente; las palabras que expresan lo que no entienden; las trompetas que cantan a la batalla, y no sienten lo que inspiran; la influencia que no es conmovida, sino que se mueve. Los poetas son los legisladores no reconocidos del mundo.”

(*Relativemente joven en el caso de Hegel, que llegó a los 51 años, lo que para un filósofo no es gran cosa, y le dejó sin tiempo para escribir sus propias interpretaciones de muchas de sus ideas; Shelley murió a los 30, y Byron a los 34, lo que para un poeta puede ser viejo.)

(**Gran parte del cadáver se lo comieron los peces ya que Shelley se ahogó en el mar.)

(***Esta última coma es del todo innecesaria, opino, pero está en el original; hay otras de este estilo más adelante.)

(****”Del que es ministro” sería mejor, ya que se refiere a la “persona” anteriormente citada, pero en el original es en plural.)

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Why Slavoj Zizek Writes In Convoluted Sentences

(Updated Sep. 1)

An oft-repeated reproach to Slavoj Zizek’s writings is that he’s impossible to understand. In fact, Zizek is sometimes held as an example of a decades-old trend of academic meaninglessness; for example, in this recent article, Nathan J. Robinson shrewdly accuses Zizek of always defending himself against critics by claiming to have been misunderstood.

The fact is: on this point, Zizek’s critics are often right; Zizek is often hard to understand. And this, I claim, is intended. Zizek, like many other philosophers throughout history, is obscuring his points and stances in order to make them palatable for the ruling ideology, while still understandable for those paying attention (hopefully me and those reading this!). Let me explain.

The keyword here is esotericism. These days, this word is commonly misused for things vaguely related to the spiritual world of ghosts and suchlike; what “esoteric” refers to, strictly speaking, is to something that conveys a non-explicit message for those who can get it.

In a previous, long essay, I made some reference to Anglo-American objections to Zizek’s convoluted style and the reasons why there’s a strong divide between British-inflected philosophy and Continental-philosophy on this point. In summary: the United Kingdom, because of its political history of political uproar, relative liberty of argument and centuries of political disputes between Puritan-Progressives and Traditionalist-Monarchists, opened up a wide space for political and philosophical discussion for centuries. In Britain, the ruling ideology wasn’t always capable of having you fired, killed, exiled, destroyed, silenced for your opinions. After independence, The United States mirrored this situation, right until the triumph of Political Correctness.

In continental Europe, the opposite trend prevails. Except for brief periods in the likes of Netherlands or Switzerland, the continental philosopher has always been hounded, persecuted and punished if he or she expressed an opinion seen as taboo-breaking (*). Thus, the continental philosopher, unlike the British philosopher, has embraced tortured, dense, complicated, easily-misunderstood language, to obfuscate his actual meaning. Only those who read carefully, and know some of the tricks of esotericism, can make any sense of much of what the likes of Heidegger or Foucault wrote.

It’s important to understand this is a continued issue for philosophers and thinkers. This situation wasn’t created by Political Correctness, which is just the means of implementation of one specific, Western ruling ideology.

Every human society has had its own or even competing ruling ideologies, and these generate taboos. As shown by Arthur M. Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines, the 2014 classic on esoteric thinking, the earliest and most lasting such taboos was religion and the existence of God: many of the examples of esoteric writing he cites (some available here for free, as an appendix to his wonderful book) regard God and the Gods, and ways in which thinkers avoided deadly accusations of non-belief.

A fundamental point made by Melzer is that it would be wrong, and indeed stupid, to try and read every text, even every philosophical text, as esoteric. In his book, he sets up a sort of test for esoteric intent, which boils down to: does the author make it somewhat clear that he’s trying to convey deeper truths than it appears? Does the author frequently cite the danger of agitating common opinion (or ruling ideology, in Zizekian terms)? Does the author indicates that he or she is aware of the esoteric tradition?

To anyone who would argue there is no evidence of any esoteric intent in Zizek, let me point out that there’s plenty of references to esoteric readings and famous esoteric authors in his writings, including the king of 20th century esotericism, Leo Strauss. For example, in page 389 of The Parallax View, Zizek is discussing modern readings of Spinoza:

“Then, the reference to Spinoza is central to the work of Leo Strauss, the father figure of today’s US neoconservatives: for Strauss, Spinoza provides a model for the split between popular ideology, appropriate for ordinary people, and true knowledge, which should remain accessible only to the few.”

Then, there’s the following graphs, from page 14 of his recent “In defense of Lost Causes”:

“A couple of years ago, Premiere magazine reported on an ingenious inquiry into how the most famous endings of Hollywood Films were translated into some of the major non-English languages. In Japan , Clark Gable’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” to Vivien Leigh from Gone With the Wind was rendered as: “I fear, my darling, that there is a slight misunderstanding between the two of us” —a bow to proverbial Japanese courtesy and etiquette. In contrast, the Chinese (in the People’s Republic of China) rendered the “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!” from Casablanca as “The two of us will now constitute a new cell of anti-fascist struggle!”—struggle against the enemy being the top priority, far above personal relations.
Although the present volume may often appear to indulge in excessively confrontational and “provocative” statements (what today can be more “provocative” than displaying even a minimal sympathy for or understanding of revolutionary terror?) , it rather practices a displacement along the lines of the examples quoted in Premiere: where the truth is that I don’t give a damn about my opponent, I say that there is a slight misunderstanding; where what is at stake is a new theoretico-political shared field of struggle, it may appear that I am talking about academic friendships and alliances . . . In such cases, it is up to the reader to unravel the clues which lie before her.”

Still in doubt? In 2011, Zizek wrote this in the London Review of Books, nominally about Wikileaks, but really apropos of nothing (the underlining in bold is mine):

“Consider too the renewed popularity of Leo Strauss: the aspect of his political thought that is so relevant today is his elitist notion of democracy, the idea of the ‘necessary lie’. Elites should rule, aware of the actual state of things (the materialist logic of power), and feed the people fables to keep them happy in their blessed ignorance. For Strauss, Socrates was guilty as charged: philosophy is a threat to society. Questioning the gods and the ethos of the city undermines the citizens’ loyalty, and thus the basis of normal social life. Yet philosophy is also the highest, the worthiest, of human endeavours. The solution proposed was that philosophers keep their teachings secret, as in fact they did, passing them on by writing ‘between the lines’. The true, hidden message contained in the ‘great tradition’ of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke is that there are no gods, that morality is merely prejudice, and that society is not grounded in nature.”


ADDENDUM: Landzek has interesting comments on the issue of who understands what when reading Zizek here. (There’s more from him in the comments below) In the Zizek Studies Facebook group, where we had spirited discussion of this post, Nathan Rothenbaum linked this very relevant article by Judith Butler, defending herself from the the same accusations of obscurity in writing that Zizek commonly faces.


*This led to the peripathetic lives of people like Descartes and Voltaire, jumping from protector to protector, shielding themselves behind political borders; in fact, one could create an index of “convuletedness in writing” and the conclusion would likely be that those writers less inclined to settle overseas tended to write the most complex prose, while those who didn’t care about being today in Sweden and tomorrow in Russia tended to prefer simpler sentences. This is perhaps my greatest objection against the European Union’s centralization of power, and in general against globalization and its underlying quest for a single, unified, universal ruling ideology, but I digress.




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El declive de las películas del oeste

Una de las mayores dificultades que tiene el autor de novelas históricas es reflejar el mundo mental del pasado. Los edificios, las cronologías, las costumbres, son fáciles. Las mentalidades son extremadamente difíciles.

He escrito sobre la Alemania de los años 1930, humillada y buscando venganza; esta Alemania, tan distante de la actual, fue uno de los últimos países del mundo en abolir los duelos de honor, permitiéndolos durante años para que los oficiales de las SS dirimieran sus cuitas. El duelo es un buen ejemplo, porque es prácticamente incomprensible para alguien del siglo XXI, y aún así era absolutamente natural, casi obligatorio, para muchos del siglo XVIII.

En Sword of Honour, su novela-memorias de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, Evelyn Waugh narra una escena en la que el protegonista/héroe derrotado Guy Crouchback conversa con Ivor Claire, un oficial al que admira, sobre la cuestión del duelo, por entonces completamente prohibido en el ejército británico. Los dos se ríen cuando surge la posibilidad de que alguien les rete a duelo, porque sería de risa. Y continúan con la misma lógica: si el honor y las cuitas de honor son una reliquia medieval, irrelevante en un mundo democrático, ¿será perfectamente honorable dejar tirados a sus soldados cuando el Reino Unido sea completamente democrático? ¿No es el deber del oficial para con sus tropas, su sacrificio, en el fondo, su honor? Claire piensa que no está claro qué deberían hacer si surge el momento en que tuvieran que elegir entre su propio pellejo, o el de los soldados:

“Creo que nuestro problema es que estamos en esa fase de indecisión: como si fueras un hombre al que le han desafiado en duelo hace cien años”

El mundo de los aristócratas preocupados por el honor, y el de los que no estaban seguros de si deberían estar preocupados, el de la fase de indecisión, están perdidos para siempre. Hoy en día nadie espera que un oficial se sacrifique por honor por sus soldados, sino por deber legal; y si no lo hace, nadie objetará que no lo hizo por honor, sino que su objeción será de base legal. Nadie le acusará de deshonra. Es difícil recuperar esa mentalidad, en la que la ley es tu última preocupación y la honra la primera, y transmitírsela a un lector del siglo XXI.

Lo mismo ocurre con las películas del oeste. Este mundo, en gran medida ficticio, existió en la fase terminal de la honra y del duelo. Las audiencias de principios del siglo XX lo entendían perfectamente, las de mediados tenían un recuerdo de cómo había sido aquel mundo, de sus padres y sus tíos. Las de finales del siglo XX estaban perdidas, y a las del siglo XXI las engañan con películas del oeste adaptadas a su propia mentalidad: un pastiche de un pastiche de un pastiche.

No es de extrañar que apenas se hagan películas del oeste ya. El engaño es demasido chocante, la impresión de anacronismo excesiva. Aquí, Molly Brigid Flynn ofrece el ejemplo de los Siete Magníficos, un clásico del género en su versión original dirigida por Preston Sturges, y lo compara con el refrito que hicieron de la película en 2016 (la traducción es mía):

En el original, un pueblo mexicano acosado por bandidos no puede contar con que le protejan los rurales (la policía montada)… Siete solitarios son contratados para dirigir la defensa contea Calvera (Elli Wallach) y su banda. La película exhibe la superioridad de una aldea industriosa y tranquila respecto a los pueblos del Viejo Oeste. Pero, una vez asentados los granjeros, la vida comunal requiere que que se les defienda mediante el uso de individuos fuertes, agresivos, de un temperamento que les lleva a distintos derroteros.

Flynn cita un momento en el que un vendedor de corsés objeta a que los locales se nieguen a enterrar a un indio en el mismo cementerio que los demás, y explica que para él todos los hombres son lo mismo: futuros clientes. Flynn comenta: “las complejas ventajas del capitalismo, en una sola frase”.

En la versión de 1960, los matones contratados para proteger la aldea acaban apreciando sus encantos; al menos algunos de ellos. En la de 2016, todo el esfuerzo está en asegurarse que los siete protagonistas son diversos, en la moderna concepción de que la única diversidad que importa es la racial: un negro, un indio, un mexicano, un asiático y tres blancos que mueren durante el metraje. Como comenta Anthony Lane en el New Yorker, el énfasis está en que los mexicanos de la aldea no pueden ser defendidos por blancos anglosajones, con sus connotaciones neocoloniales; pero esa lectura de la versión original es en extremo simplista y errónea, y no solamente porque dos de los siete magníficos originales eran latinos, explica Flynn:

“En la versión de Sturges, el problema no es que los mexicanos no pudieran ser tipos duros. El problema es que la gente equivocada era dura. Los westerns frecuentemente enfatizan este hecho (que es cierto entre todas las etnias y una dificultad para todas las civilizaciones) de que la buena gente generalmente es peor en la lucha cuerpo a cuerpo. Aún peor, lo que Lane y el director (de la nueva versión) no comprenden es que la película de 1960 establece la superioridad de una aldea mexicana sobre un pueblo americano. En lugar de respeto por la sabiduría de la edad y en otro guiño a la identidad demográfica, la nueva película nos da, sustituyendo al anciano patriarca de la aldea, una mujer de veintitantos años que contrata a los luchadores… y demuestra, curiosamente para ser los años 1870 en el oeste, ser la única competente con una pistola. Incluso las que somos mujeres, como yo, que hemos crecido felizmente entre las tan americanas celebraciones de las chicas duras, vemos que este tipo de peloteo es puro relleno.”


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Winning the Battle of Stalingrad with Biological Warfare

In his excellent Stalingrad book, Antony Beevor notes that the German army suffered an unusually high loss of manpower during the battle due to illnesses, with many soldiers incapacitated and cramming field hospitals for days on end. It makes sense to explain that away as a result of the awful conditions in which the life-or-death clash of the 20th century was fought. But there may be other explanations: for example, the release of biological agents by a desperate Red Army.

Greg Cochran has been writing about this in his blog for a while, and it makes sense: one doesn’t need to have played a whole lot of wargames about the Stalingrad battle and the wider Fall Blau campaign in general, to understand that, if one was to release biological agents to make sure one wouldn’t lose a given battle, regardless of international law, decency or consequences, Stalingrad was the place.

The city, now called Volgograd, lies at the very end of European Russia. There is pretty much nothing behind, in particular in logistic terms. With the Germans in control of Stalingrad, Moscow would have been effectively cut from its largest supply of oil, the Caucasus, and Fall Blau would have had serious chances of succeeding in its ultimate goal: that of taking Baku and get all that precious black oil for the Nazi empire. Stalin was back against the wall on this one.

If the objection is: surely, Stalin would have never done that, allow me to laugh it off and point you in the direction of any biography of the man. Stalin did enthusiastically support the use of poison gas against anti-Communists forces during the Tambov rebellion of 1921, because the rebels had no way to retaliate in kind.

If the objection is: surely nobody in the Allies camp would have done that, perhaps out of fear of the Germans going chemical on them, then one only needs to have a look at “Human Smoke,” a 2008 book in which Nicholson Baker reviews several of the less appealing features of the Allies’ war effort.

As Baker shows, Aylmer Haldane, UK commander of troops in Iraq in the 1920s, used mustard gas extensively with the full support of Winston Churchill. On September 2, 1940, the New York Times published a story called  “Woods Are Bombed” depicting a devastating British air attack with incendiary bombs on the famous Black Forest, east of Baden, the dense woods of the Oberharz Mountains, the forest district of Grunewald, on the outskirts of Berlin, and forests in Thuringia. The British used special phosphorus cards for that (Note: the German Blitz against Britain started Sep 7 that year). Use against enemy soldiers, or civilians? Churchill was fully prepared to unleash chemical weapons if and when the Germans invaded Britain; or even before.

The Germans, interestingly, did refuse to use their chemical stockpile, even when the enemy was already in Berlin. Which means maybe Stalin wasn’t ready to go that far either.

So, tularensis may have been the thing, Cochran says. There is no evidence but there’s a lot of hearsay and speculation, including some coming from Soviet scientists, Wikipedia informs me, unreliably. So this, of course, may be yet another conspiracy theory:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regard F. tularensis as a viable biological warfare agent, and it has been included in the biological warfare programs of the United States, Soviet Union and Japan at various times.[35] A former Soviet biological weapons scientist, Kanatjan Alibekov, has alleged that an outbreak of tularemia among German soldiers shortly before the siege of Stalingrad was due to the release of F. tularensis by Soviet forces. Others who have studied the pathogen “propose that an outbreak resulting from natural causes is more likely”.[36][37] In the US, practical research into using rabbit fever as a biological warfare agent took place in 1954 at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, an extension of the Camp Detrick program.[38] It was viewed as an attractive agent because:

it is easy to aerosolize
it is highly infective; between 10 and 50 bacteria are sufficient to infect victims
it is nonpersistent and easy to decontaminate (unlike anthrax)
it is highly incapacitating to infected persons
it has comparatively low lethality, which is useful where enemy soldiers are in proximity to noncombatants, e.g. civilians
The Schu S4 strain was standardized as “Agent UL” for use in the United States M143 bursting spherical bomblet. It was a lethal biological warfare agent with an anticipated fatality rate of 40 – 60%. The rate-of-action was around three days, with a duration-of-action of one to three weeks (treated) and two to three months (untreated), with frequent relapses. UL was streptomycin resistant. The aerobiological stability of UL was a major concern, being sensitive to sunlight, and losing virulence over time after release. When the 425 strain was standardized as “agent JT” (an incapacitant rather than lethal agent), the Schu S4 strain’s symbol was changed again to SR.[citation needed]

Both wet and dry types of F. tularensis (identified by the codes TT and ZZ) were examined during the “Red Cloud” tests, which took place from November 1966 to February 1967 in the Tanana Valley, Alaska.[39]

No vaccine is available to the general public.[40] The best way to prevent tularemia infection is to wear rubber gloves when handling or skinning wild lagomorphs and rodents, avoid ingesting uncooked wild game and untreated water sources, wear long-sleeved clothes, and use an insect repellent to prevent tick bites.[41]

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Momento Revolucionario

Salió al malecón, medio iluminado por el amanecer, silencioso más allá del estruendo del fuerte oleaje que azotaba las rocas. Un coche derrapó por una esquina y una voz en español gritó con furia. Llegó corriendo hasta un grupo mal avenido: un hombre con uniforme de la policía atado y recostado en el suelo, con el pelo y la boca revueltos de sangre, rodeado por tres guerrilleros armados con fusiles Kalashnikov, apuntándole y deseando matarle.

Reid sacó su cámara.

-¡No, nada de fotos! -le chilló uno de los guerrilleros, el que parecía más dispuesto a acabar cuanto antes.

-No problema -silabeó Reid- Soy John Reid, periodista americano.

-¡Ya lo sé, carajo! Guarda la cámara, no quiero fotos.

-¿No quieres salir en los periódicos? -gritó el policía- Creo que este hombre es fam…

-¡Cállate! -le ordenó uno de los guerrilleros, dándole una patada.

-Unas pocas, sólo -indicó Reid, cambiando su posición para no encontrarse con el sol temprano.

-Todos deberían ver cómo baleamos a esta escoria -aconsejó el tercer guerrillero.

El primero fijó nuevamente su atención en el policía.

-¿Quieres fotos de tu muerte, mierdoso? ¿Las quieres? -le preguntó al prisionero, colocando la culata de su fusil en su hombro y apuntando cuidadosamente a su cabeza.

-¿Ahora puedo hablar? -respondió el policía; algunas gotas de sangre se deslizaron desde su boca, por su cuello.

-Es retador, el puerco…

-¡Ahora te pregunté! -chilló el primero- ¡Puedes hablar!

-La historia me absolverá -dijo el policía, con algo similar a una sonrisa.

Reid tiró una foto. La luz del flash atrajo momentáneamente la atención de todos, pero nadie le dijo nada.

-¿Qué quieres decir?

-Pregúntaselo a tu jefe, cabrón -repuso el policía.

Los otros dos guerrilleros se abalanzaron sobre él; nevaron patadas mientras el flash de Reid estallaba una y otra vez, acumulándose unas sobre otras y sobre el rojo sobre el verde manchado y olvidado del uniforme.

-¡Cogedle! -ordenó el primero- No puede morir aquí.

Los otros agarraron al policía, que no opuso la menor resistencia. Podía haber perdido el conocimiento, pero murmuró:

-Sabía que no me dejarías morir aquí… Dile al gringo por qué…

Le llevaron malecón arriba, seguidos por el otro guerrillero, que no les quitaba el ojo de encima. Sin dejar de hacer fotos, Reid se dio cuenta de que en cualquier momento podían aparecer policías o soldados por cualquier calle. ¿No sabían aquellos estúpidos que todavía quedaban algunos fieles rondando por Santa Fé?

-Le llevamos hasta mi casa -informó el guerrillero al mando- Morirá allí, enfrente de mi puerta, como mi hermana. Escriba esto en su periódico, señor Reid. Los suyos la violaron y la mataron, y dejaron su cuerpo delante de mi puerta. Yo haré que lo lamente.

Reid adelantó a la lenta comitiva, para tomar fotos desde otro ángulo. El policía, agarrado por los brazos y arrastrando las piernas por todo el malecón, había cerrado los ojos, pero seguía despierto. Durante un segundo, los abrió, y luego cerró sólo uno: un guiño, que Reid no comprendió.

-¿Queda mucho? -preguntó el policía, de nuevo con los dos ojos abiertos.

-Ya te queda muy poco, boludo.

Unos segundos más tarde, el guerrillero jefe silbó. Los otros dos pararon y soltaron su carga. El cuerpo del policía cayó sobre el piso del malecón, con la cabeza por delante. Reid rodeó al grupo, lamentando que la salida del sol le impidiera tomar en consideración un plano desde los edificios, con el mar al fondo. No había más remedio que tomar las casas. Alargó la perspectiva para coger un solitario cartel apoyado contra una puerta: FELIZ AÑO NUEVO.

-Aquí dejaron el cuerpo de mi hermana, teniente Sánchez -dijo el guerrillero con lenta solemnidad- Esto es justicia revolucionaria. ¿Tienes algo que decir?

-Os veré en el infierno, a los tres…

El guerrillero hizo un gesto, y todos se retiraron dos pasos del cuerpo. Disparó una ráfaga, que rebotó sobre el cuerpo del policía. Nada pareció cambiar durante un segundo; después empezó a surgir la sangre, roja sobre el uniforme.

-¿Puede venir aquí… y disparar otra vez… más? -solicitó Reid, gesticulando con su mano libre.

El guerrillero asintió y disparó de nuevo, mientras Reid trataba de lograr un plano mejor.

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Rebellion or Conspiracy?

The Cold War’s Operation Splinter Factor was a properly organized conspiracy, of the more common type: an intelligence sting. As explained here, it involved the U.S. using Noel Field, a well-known Communist mole of the Alger Hiss generation, to wreak havoc within the Eastern Bloc ranks by seeding distrust and paranoia.

Communist authorities arrested Field in Prague in May of 1949 and sent him to Budapest to aid in the investigations and trials there. While in custody, he was repeatedly interrogated and tortured. His wife, son and adopted daughter all faced the same fate when they came looking for him in Prague after his disappearance.

Any communist Field mentioned having any contact with became a suspect and was subject to arrest, trial and torture. Anyone named by those arrested, in turn, suffered the same fate — setting up a chain reaction of arrests, show trials and executions.

Dulles and Swiatło’s plan was working, and eventually outgrew their oversight and control. The purges that began with Operation Splinter Factor spread across the Eastern Bloc.

In all, hundreds of thousands of members of the Communist Party and others were arrested in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Poland. In Czechoslovakia alone 169,000 members of the Communist Party were arrested, compromising 10 percent of the party’s membership in that country, according to Blum.

The communists executed hundreds in the purge, and thousands more died in prisons.

The thing is, there are many not so clear-cut cases, where you don’t really know whether you are dealing with a conspiracy, or a rebellion against an attempt a conspiracy, or something in the middle. Recently, we’ve had this case where executives of the U.S. bank Wells Fargo harassed rank-and-file employees with impossible client acquisition targets. The employees’ response was to set up two million of fake bank accounts to meet the targets, as beautifully explained here by a former Bloomberg News colleague. I wonder, is this a case of a rebellion that was really a conspiracy? Is it a rebellion if, in the end, you act as intended by those triggering the uprising?

Levine’s conclusion is:

But obviously no one in senior management wanted this. Signing customers up for online banking without telling them about it doesn’t help Wells Fargo at all. No one feels extra loyalty because they have a banking product that they don’t use or know about. Even signing them up for a credit card without telling them about it generally doesn’t help Wells Fargo, because people don’t use credit cards that they don’t know about. Cards with an annual fee are a different story — at least you can charge them the fee! — but it seems like customers weren’t signed up for many of those. This isn’t a case of management pushing for something profitable and getting what they asked for, albeit in a regrettable and illegal way. This is a case of management pushing for something profitable but difficult, and the workers pushing back with something worthless but easy.

I’m not so sure that “no one in senior management wanted this.”

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