After the Bombings: Emile Henry v. the New York Times

‘The old definition holds: the function of an editorial writer is to come down from the hills after the battle and shoot the wounded. A New York Times editorial this weekend starts with Conrad’s The Secret Agent, gets swiftly lost and ends up 180 degrees in the wrong direction:

In “The Secret Agent,” published almost a century ago, one of Joseph Conrad’s characters remarks that a terrorist act “must be purely destructiveMadness alone is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it either by threats, persuasions or bribes

Conrad’s character was wrong. The terrorists’ desire is to show the enemy precisely that they ­ the terrorists ­ are sane, but implacable.

When the Conrad-era French anarchist Emil Henry carried a cooking pot filled with explosive and 120 bullets into the café Terminus near the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris in February, 1894, touched his cigar to a 15-second fuse and strolled out, his plan was to kill ordinary, relatively humble people, shopkeepers, clerks and salesgirls having a beer and listening to the band.

“Not ‘innocent'”, he claimed later. “These beer-drinkers, petty bourgeois with a steady salary in their pockets, are the ones that always line themselves up on the side of the powerful, ignoring the problems of the workers. They hate the poor more than the rich do!” Many anarchists promptly repudiated him.

“At least have the courage of your crimes, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie”,
Henry declared to the court that condemned him to the guillotine, “and agree that our reprisals are fully legitimate.”

Reprisals for what? “Are these not innocent victims? Children dying slowly of anemia in the slums Women turning pallid in your sweatshops Old people you have turned into machines for production all their lives and then cast on the garbage dump and the workhouse when their strength is exhausted.”

Like a horse pleasantly rubbing its backside on a fence post in the corral, the Times editorialist continued to ruminate:

But the madness that is truly terrifying is not that of the terrorists. It is our own. The purpose of terrifying us is to turn us loose among our own emotions, to undermine our ability to reason with ourselves and with each other.

Wrong again. The presumed purpose of those bombs in London this week is to try to force the English to reason among themselves, to confront the consequences of their country’s participation in the attack on Iraq.

The aim of the powerful is always to persuade that resistance is not only useless but irrational.

Back to Conrad. In his review of Jeffrey Meyers’s recently republished Married to Genius John Carey describes how Conrad

married a substitute mother. Jessie, a former typist, was intellectually undeveloped but excellent at domestic chores. She treated Conrad as a son, calling him “Boy”, and nursing him through his shattering depressions. When a real son arrived, Conrad naturally felt displaced, and this led to a strange incident when, on a train with Jessie and their child, he suddenly threw the their bundle of baby clothes out of the window. Tight-lipped, Jessie remarked that when the clothes were found there would be a search for the baby’s corpse. Meyers ingeniously deciphers this moment of murderous jealousy as the germ of Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent, in which the shady and incompetent Verloc kills his “stepson” Stevie who is the sole object of his wife’s love.

At Last! Shock Treatment Gets Whipped in Court

A jury has found against a South Carolina doctor who referred a patient electro-shock treatment that left her permanently impaired. The patient, Peggy S. Salters, is a 60 year old former psychiatric nurse. She was subjected to 13 electroshocks within the span of 19 days. The jury awarded her $635,177.

The jury found that her loss of 30 years of memory and cognitive impairment ­ which are demonstrable symptoms of brain damage ­ was due to ECT. Maybe this decision will give shrinks pause before they send the next poor soul off to get battered on the head with an electric club. A press release from Linda Andre, president of Committee for Truth in Psychiatry (CTIP) informing us of this victory adds that 100,000 patients in the US undergo electroshock ­ many against their will.

ECT causes persistent cognitive impairments and long-term memory loss in 25 to 30 percent of patients, while its efficacy in relieving depression is admittedly short lived-about four weeks ­ at most, six months of mood improvement.

As Lindra Andre writes,

“ECT is dominated by medical cowboys who push the limits of intensity of electric shock as they please. In his deposition (May 24, 2005) in Peggy Salters’ case, Dr. Fink defended the administration of 13 intensive ECT in 19 days which caused her permanent memory loss stating: “There are no absolute limits on the low side or to the high side if you’re going to give a patient a treatment… I have personally treated patients twice a day. And there was a time when I gave patients eight treatments in one sitting, you know, on an experiment [!!]that we did many years ago. So, yes, I have treated patients with eight seizures in a morning… It was called multiple monitored ECT. It was a government-supported project in an effort to find out if we can speed up the response.”

Wouldn’t you describe Fink’s tone here as one of ghoulish glee?

Leonard Frank outlined the economics of ECT succinctly in testimony:

ECT is a money-maker. An in-hospital ECT series can cost anywhere from $50,000-75,000. Using a low figure of 100,000 Americans who are electroshocked annually, most of who are covered by private or government insurance, ECT brings in $5 billion a year.” ECT promoters are its stakeholders-they include device manufacturers, hospitals and practitioners.

The malpractice verdict was against the referring doctor, Eric Lewkowicz. The jury could not return a verdict against the other two doctors because of one holdout vote for acquittal. The hospital settled its liability for an undisclosed sum early in the trial.

Former patients have reported devastating, permanent amnesia and cognitive impairment since ECT was first invented in 1938, but that has not hindered the treatment’s popularity with doctors. The first lawsuit for ECT amnesia, Marilyn Rice v. John Nardini, was brought exactly thirty years ago, and dozens of suits have followed. While there have been a few settlements,
including one for half a million dollars, no former patient has won a case until now.

Psychiatrist Peter Breggin, author of Toxic Psychiatry, who served as Ms. Salters’ expert witness, was also the expert in Rice v. Nardini, and has appeared for plaintiffs many times over the past three decades without success. Psychologist Mary E. Shea presented extensive neuropsychological testing proving to the jury’s satisfaction that Ms. Salters suffers dementia due to ECT brain damage.

Peggy Salters’ case is the first in which a former ECT patient has been believed. She says she sees it as a victory for all ECT survivors.

In fact defiant ghoulishness seems to be a stock in trade of the ECT lobby. “For forty years,” Dr Milton Greenblatt told a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Miami in 1976, “the therapeutic value of convulsive therapy has been recognized. My personal recollections go back to 1939 shortly after the introduction of metrazol when, as a medical student, I was allowed to inject metrazol into chronically ill patients at Worcester State Hospital ­ against their terrified and frightened resistance, which, I might add, was overpowered by several burly attendants. In those days we required only the approval of next of kin for the procedure, and had few qualms about proceeding against the patiant’s resistance.”

Greenblatt goes on to describe how ECT was initially hailed as a marvelous substitute for metrazol, since there were no “awful preseizure sensations” and patients “were fortunate to have a period of amnesia after the treatment.” It’s like saying bleeding via leeches were a big step forward from opening a patient’s vein and having his blood splash all over the bed.

The 1950s found Dr Greenblatt overseeing research into LSD, in a program funded by the CIA.
Randy Newman and Those Cages

I quoted from Randy Newman’s 1974 song Rednecks last week, having heard him sing it in New Orleans at Jazzfest earlier this year.

Now your northern nigger’s a negro
You see he’s got his dignity
Down here we’re too ignorant to realize
That the north has set the nigger free

Yes he’s free to be put in a cage
In harlem in new york city

I remarked that the crowd laughed a bit nervously as Newman explained the background of the song, with erstwhile restaurateur, foe of desegregated schools and Georgia governor Lester Maddox being baited in a New York TV studio (“Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV showe/ With some smart-ass New York Jew/ And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox/ And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too / Well, he may be a fool but he’s our fool”)

The crowd listening to Newman on the Sprint stage seemed to be pretty much solid NPR listeners, and you don’t hear too much Redneck language there, so they were nervous as Newman banged out the song. CounterPuncher Jack Hamilton misconstrued my motives, writing thus:

In the mildest of defense of Randy Newman, he has a very dry, ironic sense of humor. He also is a very weird guy, so those three characteristics make him hard to figure.

I still own a copy of his “Good Old Boys” album, though I no longer have a turntable. The song “Rednecks” is part of the theme of the album, kind of old Louisiana, Huey Long, etc. “Rednecks” is his L.A. Jewish attempt to empathize with the plight of the poor southern white.

Singing that song in New Orleans showed poor judgement, but performers are ego-driven, and like to do whatever they want. Randy Newman probably would sing “Sail away” in Charleston and “Political Science” in Los Alamos, and assume everyone would or should get the irony. He’s certainly no worse than Sting singing “Every step you take” to end world hunger at the Live 8 concert.

Jack, I wasn’t trying to diss Newman, who is certainly from LA but who also has family in New Orleans and spent much of his youth there. But get a new turntable. For preference an old Recocut, like mine, plus a Scott tube amp. Recorded sound peaked in quality in the late 50s. Vinyl lives!

Another reader in New York writes in sourer vein:

I’m black. I’ve lived in Southwestern Lousiana (Cajun country) and Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. I’d rather live in a cage in New York City (and I do) versus live in the deep South. Atleast I can say something about it. Try doing that down South and not meet a wall of self-pitying, self-loathing, delusional white anger, bitterness and resentment. Forgive me, but I consider the South a very sad place. The white South. The black South is mentally healthier, intellectually/culturally more advanced and emotionally more mature. Otherwise the place would be completely unbearable, as it was for me on many an occasion.

Driving out of New Orleans on I-10 towards Houston I described here my fortunate stop at Poche’s, dispenser of top notch crawfish etouffee. This fine establishment is two miles north of the interstate just east of Lafayette, near Breaux Bridge.

This elicited a letter brimful of ripe local knowledge from Donald Juneau:


I read with great interest your piece about Poché Bridge, which is a place I have visited for the past quarter century. As the surname indicates, je suis un vrai acadien, and my ancestral roots are about 50 miles north of Bayou Teche, where Poché’s is located, in Avoyelles Parish. Not only have I enjoyed the nonpareil cuisine there, as did you, but I have also proselytized it, and have informed no less a luminary of vernacular food than Calvin “Bud” Trillin about the place. Bud did a piece years ago about boudin several years ago for The New Yorker, in the days before that publication began shilling for the Iraq war The boudin at Poché Bridge is excellent, although T-Jim’s in Cottonport, a town in Avoyelles Parish, is also stellar. The cracklins at Le Pont Poché are also outstanding, but they cannot lay a glove on the platonic ideal made by Lonnis Kelone in Mansura, another location in Avoyelles Parish. The chaurice I have sampled a few times, but I am more enamored of boudin. But that is something that I shall bring home as you brought the chaurice to Petrolia, California.

Donald concludes by urging us to do a story on “our new Republican Senator, David Vitter. He is such an execrable character that even a sullen nincompoop like Rick Santorum looks positively benign next to him.”

Santorum benign? Now that’s surely over the top.
“Fight Crack” Suspender Lady Rallies in Support of Our Google Ads

Alex, Jeffrey et al: Thanks for telling us about the ads, which I had seen but simply not registered. Just want you to know that since you mentioned it, I have braved the world of christian gobbledygook, republican jingoism and other disgusting sites, risking cookies from sites I will be downright mortified to have the FibEye find on my hard drive when they day comes they confiscate computers of all left-of hard-right terrorists who hate freedom – which, by my calculation of how fast our democracy is fading, should be sometime early next year. Meantime, I’m doing my best to jazz up [click up would be a more appropriate phrase] your Google income, but at the cost of my immortal soul. That’s how much I love you all!

Marianne Torres
Spokane Valley WA

It’s good to hear from Marianne, who organized a speaking gig for me in Spokane a while back. But what’s this about “fighting crack”? Marianne also sells excellent suspenders, with the words Fight Crack on them, above a picture of the top end of good-ole-boy buttocks showing above sagging pants. I flaunt mine (suspenders, not buttocks) from time to time, drawing cheers from the many-headed. If you want to buy a pair, write Marianne at


















Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.