Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year


We folks at Phronesisaical wish you all a very Happy New Year, one we hope achieves some peace and basic decency for all of us.

Thanks to all of you who have read and commented on our posts, and to all of you who return. Special thanks to our blogging friends who have supported this outpost with links, comments on posts, and friendly advice and help. We are a loyal bunch here. We're with you.


Photo by the terrific Christopher Wray-McCann

Travels in Mozambique

I'm a sucker for travel accounts by people who can see. Dcat is one of them. Here's his update from Mozambique.

Bush heritage

Norwegianity picks up on this nice little piece in the Village Voice. I hate to call the Bushes a monarchy because it seems so, well, royal. But....

Munich

I saw Munich last night, Spielberg's movie on the Munich assassinations and revenge. I basically ended up agreeing with this New Yorker assessment:
All the film does is add another tallish tale to the deadlocked mythology of the Middle East, and all the controversies will do is stoke its sense of earnestness, which has to be its least appealing aspect.
I was disappointed mainly because I erroneously thought that, given the political criticism of the movie, it might have elaborated the complexity of the relationship between Israel and Palestine. But it's mostly a spy thriller in 70s outfits. For that, it was good enough. But as a political statement, it was trite. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it was the ongoing conversation between the protagonist and Geoffrey Rush's character. There's lots of language about "home" and this seems to be Spielberg's main statement. But he pays quick lip service to the Palestinian idea of home in favor of home as Israel.

Home is a tricky thing. It's the source of our strongest moral convictions and loyalties. This cuts at least two ways: the warm human idea of belonging and community, and the cold human sentiment of exclusion and the foreign. We have the family, the new-born, the cultural signifiers, the collegial meals (inherited from the kibbutz). On the other hand, we have either dark, swarthy, and perspiring Arabs or urbane Frenchy sophisticates -- both are classic figures of evil in American cinema. Toss in the near-murder of a child (the father gets it after all), and we have a tad of moral string-tugging. The interesting thing about home, however, is how powerfully it can be abused. Take "Homeland Security." It's not "Home" for nothing. Home signifies all that's good, without any question. To this extent, Spielberg's movie elides the moral ambiguity of terror-revenge-terror.... Spielberg hints at the eternal cycle and one can take it as an allegory for the supposed War on Terror as setting up America's own part in the endless cycle. But in the end, "home" does nothing other than act upon the easiest of moral sentiments. And then it does so for Israel, although it should be noticed that the assassinations of alleged Palestinian Black September leaders take place not in Palestine.

This movie will receive an Oscar nomination. But it's a real shame that the opportunity to deal with real moral ambiguities -- when we see "home" as plural and conflictual -- was lost. There is only the brief discussion at the end of the movie in which Rush's "tough-minded realist" character tells Avner, the protagonist to "come home" from his expatriated life in Brooklyn. Avner invites Rush to dinner, Rush declines (we're not family), and Avner walks away back to his wife and child in Brooklyn. In the name of home, his actions have led to home being lost to him, appears to be the message. Poor Avner. But the ongoing conflict is a conflict between homes in the plural. The movie sets up a dichotomy between principled home-ness on one hand, and amoral self-interest on the other. What happens, though, when we live in a world that is -- to be the genuine tough-minded realist -- increasingly populated by people with multiple homes and conflicting loyalties?

UPDATE:

Here's a better review at Truthdig.

Abramoff-Delay Family Values

This is a terrific piece in the Washington Post on the connections between Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff and the US Family Network. It's a story about the twists and turns, the extensive network, and the intended hidden places of American corruption. Delay and Abramoff are the tip of the iceberg, but it looks to be a gigantic iceberg involving American fundamentalists, Russian businessmen, the IMF, Indian casino owners, and a nicely weedy Republican network. Here's hoping that it sinks the entire diseased vessel.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Stupid congresspeople

So, next time you're walking in the Arizona desert and you see someone who has crossed the border dying of thirst, look away good people, since you'll get the slammer if you try to be humane. Sick fucks.
Churches, social service agencies and immigration groups across the country are rallying against a provision in the recently passed House border-security bill that would make it a federal crime to offer services or assistance to illegal immigrants.

The measure would broaden the nation's immigrant-smuggling law so that people who assist or shield illegal immigrants would be subject to prosecution. Offenders, who might include priests, nurses or social workers, could face up to five years in prison. The proposal would also allow the authorities to seize some assets of those convicted of such a crime.

Tea torture

Pardon me if I'm suspicious about a spot of tea being a "destabilizer," but at least Col. Bashar appears to be more intelligent than the vast American GWOT apparatus.

Iraqi police commandos are regularly accused of abusing detainees, but in the central Iraqi former rebel bastion of Samarra they say psychology, not force, is what gets suspects to talk.

"It's true, when they're arrested, suspects expect to be tortured, like they were under the former regime" of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, said Colonel Bashar Abdullah Hussein, who heads the police commandos' "Lions" brigade.

"But we resort to psychology, we talk to them for hours and offer them tea to destabilise them.

"Anyway, why should we have to beat them? If we found evidence of them being terrorists, there's a law and they could be sentenced to death," said the 40-year-old Turkmen officer who used to head the old regime's police quick reaction force.

"We don't allow detainees to be beaten. Abusing my power won't help me, it would only give terrorists arguments to use against me," said Hussein.

Terrorism and security in Moscow

A live hand grenade was seized from a drunken passenger in the Moscow metro on Thursday evening, the Interfax news agency reports.

The agency quoted a source from the city police as saying that the GG-42 grenade was in the possession of a 40-year-old man who was described as a deputy director of a private Moscow security firm. The incident took place at the Serpukhovskaya station south of the city center.

Abramoffism

Via Taegan Goddard, check this out:
Signatures, a restaurant formerly owned by embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff (according to the Boston Globe), wants a new name and is taking suggestions from the general public. Have fun!

Uzbekistan torture and the UK

Europhobia has a good roundup of links on the British connection to torture in Uzbekistan. The Independent is now finally running a story so it has hit the mainstream. And see Craig Murray's publication of some of the "damning documents."

In case you need some further commentary on the problem of torture, see these earlier posts: here and here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sorrow

This sad piece in the LA Times about the end of NYCD comes from Bobby, the owner of my favorite record (LPs, dammit!) store in DC, Smash, one of the few remaining places where the people know anything at all (and nearly everything) about music both new and old.

The Noughts

An early assessment by Simon Schama.
The decade when coral reefs turned pallid and died; when Alaskan caribou butted their heads against pipelines; when what seemed like a marginal rise in oceanic temperatures translated into hurricanes that ate entire shorelines, was also the decade of the Hummer. Just as Paul Fussell identified the Jeep - light, speedy and tough - as the symbol of the war that America wanted to fight in the 1940s, so the Hummer will forever get remembered as the Supersize emblem of imperial hubris in the noughties: comical in its swaggering, pseudo-military fantasy; obese sheet-metal in denial; the self-dooming guzzler to end all guzzlers; blitzkrieg at the shopping mall - while the real thing - Humvees with teenagers in uniform - get taken out by rocket-propelled grenades in Falluja.

Nice point

Good, point, Rodger. I saw the same statistics in Newsweek in a doctor's office waiting room today. One stat was about automobiles - that the number of cars has increased since the invasion, if I remember right, something like almost twofold (sorry for the faint-memory estimate). Now, what would account for that? And why?
Earlier today, I read a story in Newsweek that included a graphic noting some good news from Iraq. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to the paper version I was reading. You'll have to trust me.

The claimed fact: in the past few years, Iraq's economy has increased nearly 50%. It went from about $20 billion to around $30 billion.

Should we be pleased?

First, note that the US government estimates Iraq's 2005 economy at closer to $25 billion, so the stats may have been wrong.

Second, the US is reportedly planning to spend at least $50 billion in Iraq in 2006. Thus, this doesn't seem like such good news. How can the US spend nearly double Iraq's economy -- and not make even more of a difference in the size of Iraq's economy? In less than three, years, the US has already spent nearly $230 billion.
UPDATE (11:04am, Dec. 30th):
Long lines formed at gas stations in Baghdad on Friday as word spread that Iraq's largest oil refinery had shut down in the face of threats against truck drivers, and fears grew of a gas shortage.

Monarchical line of succession

In the case of a national emergency, don't bother your pretty little heads, we'll still have the dictatorship of the inner Stalinist circle.
Heading a military service isn't quite the position of power it used to be. In a Bush administration revision of plans for Pentagon succession in a doomsday scenario, three of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's most loyal advisers moved ahead of the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

A little-noticed holiday week executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy behind Rumsfeld. The second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position currently is vacant. The Army secretary, which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth.

Monkeys and humonkeys

Cheryl Rofer at Whirled View alerts us to this article in Foreign Affairs on "Behavioral Flexibility in Primates." I'm pretty cranky when it comes to Foreign Affairs -- for rather ordinary articles posing as grand scholarly statements -- but this is a nice one. Start at Whirled View and move on in. I basically agree with Cheryl on this one except that I'm not so sure any lines can be clearly drawn between mammals except genetic ones. The problem, however, is what you do with the fact that chimpanzees and humans share 98% of the same genome. Is it that special 2% that ensures human beings have driver's licenses and chimps don't (or at least ought not to)?

Oh, and camping in East Africa I once saw two plucky young baboon males doing the deed. That means we're all gay.

Professah Alito! Professah Alito!

Or: maybe, maybe, it is possible that your professor will not lead you blindfolded into the catacombs of his/her ideologies and abandon you there, where you will spend the rest of your life unable to see the world as it really is ever again:
Alito encouraged students to take risks and rewarded those who did. Former student Robert Marasco argued in his final paper that torture should never be allowed. Alito gave him an "A" on the paper and for the class, Marasco said.
An "A" indeed! And for a paper arguing against torture! Well, I have been wrong about this Alito fellow, I now see. Despite what must have been his repugnance at a student's brazenness, the brave and open-minded professor--surely swallowing back his bilious gags--managed to ignore his own political perspective.

But maybe it's just the lefty profs who are incapable of such unselfishness?

The wiretaps, the accused, and the president

Defence lawyers in several terrorism cases in the United States are planning to appeal against the convictions of their clients on the ground that evidence may have been garnered from illegal wiretapping by a federal government surveillance agency.

The threat is the latest repercussion of the disclosure two weeks ago that the Bush administration had used the National Security Agency (NSA) - supposed to go after foreign targets - to conduct electronic surveillance without warrants inside the US, and against American citizens.

The administration talking points on this will lambaste the press and leakers as subverting the power of the president (and therefore as traitorous, etc.), as they always are. The point to remember is that the basis for appeals is that the president does not have the power implied in the forthcoming talking-point lambasting of the press and leakers. That is, unless the claim is ultimately that this president is above the law. If you're a journalist, please force that issue.

Popoulu bananas





















Photo: Ian Maguire

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why? Why? And why does my little monkey refuse to tango?

Via Pharyngula:

PLAYBOY: So you can't accept that we descended from monkeys and apes?

GIBSON: No, I think it's bullshit. If it isn't, why are they still around? How come apes aren't people yet?

Kurdfoolery

It all goes back to the moment God told US, Inc. to fire gay Arabic translators.

Pat Lang catches this Knight-Ridder report. Also, read the whole thing. But here's a snippet:
Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan. Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable....

The interviews with Kurdish troops... suggested that as the American military transfers more bases and areas of control to Iraqi units, it may be handing the nation to militias that are bent more on advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the insurgency and preserving national unity.

Potpourri of humanity

God sees embryos as "full and complete" humans, Pope Benedict said on Wednesday in an address that firmly underlined the Roman Catholic Church's stance against abortion and scientific research on embryos.

Semantics of war

Robert Fisk, always worth reading. Check out the rest of the article.
American television, meanwhile, continues to present war as a bloodless sandpit in which the horrors of conflict - the mutilated bodies of the victims of aerial bombing, torn apart in the desert by wild dogs - are kept off the screen. Editors in New York and London make sure that viewers' "sensitivities" don't suffer, that we don't indulge in the "pornography" of death (which is exactly what war is) or "dishonor" the dead whom we have just killed.

Our prudish video coverage makes war easier to support, and journalists long ago became complicit with governments in making conflict and death more acceptable to viewers. Television journalism has thus become a lethal adjunct to war.

Back in the old days, we used to believe - did we not? - that journalists should "tell it how it is." Read the great journalism of World War II and you'll see what I mean. The Ed Murrows and Richard Dimblebys, the Howard K. Smiths and Alan Moorheads didn't mince their words or change their descriptions or run mealy-mouthed from the truth because listeners or readers didn't want to know or preferred a different version.

So let's call a colony a colony, let's call occupation what it is, let's call a wall a wall. And maybe express the reality of war by showing that it represents not, primarily, victory or defeat, but the total failure of the human spirit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Daniel Dennett weighs in on ID again

In Spiegel, Dennett rips into ID. Personally, I think we're done with this silly issue, at least as a matter of science. The remaining "debate" is about political maneuvering.

Making poverty history?

From The Independent, a quick summary update of the war on poverty.

Fascism with a smirky face

What do you think? James Carroll in the Boston Globe (via Truthout):
Where is the shame in Washington today? How does Donald Rumsfeld not blush in the presence of the soldiers he so routinely betrays? How does Dick Cheney maintain that straight face, treating core values as a joke? The recasting of the nation's moral meaning - a blatant embrace of ends-justify-the-means - is happening in plain daylight. No shadows here.

Every time the Bush administration is caught in one of its repugnant purposes (Thank God, again this year, for Seymour Hersh), the White House declares its intention to stay the course. Torture? Wiretapping? Kidnapping? Deceit? The president's eyes widen: Trust me, he says with a twisted smile. Then he leans closer to display a snarling defiance. The combination reduces his critics to sputters.

Perhaps Bush's savviest achievement has been to make the public think that Rumsfeld and Cheney are the dark geniuses behind the administration's malevolence. If Bush is taken as too shallow to have a fascist ideology; as too weak to stick with hard policies that undermine democracy; as a religious nutcase whose apocalyptic fantasies don't matter; as a man, in sum, the average citizen can regard as slightly less than average - then what he is pulling off will not be called by its proper name until it is too late. 2005? Oh yes, that was the year of the coup.

"A Great Ride"

Everyone at the conference was hanging on the words of Ryan Henry, and it was not difficult to figure out why.

Mr. Henry, a top Pentagon planning official, was giving an early glimpse of the Defense Department's priorities over the next four years to an industry gathering in New York of executives of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and other leading military contractors.

For his listeners, there was one question hanging in the air: What will the impact be on me - and on my company?

Some of the answers were already clear, even if there were few details. Mr. Henry, whose official title is principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon's spending binge of the last several years - its budget has increased 41 percent since 9/11 - cannot be sustained. "We can't do everything we want to do."

It was a message that the industry has been bracing for. The Pentagon budget, James F. Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing's $30 billion military division, said at the conference, has "been a great ride for the last five years." But, he added: "We will see a flattening of the defense budget. We all know it is coming."

The rest of the story suggests that that flattening might not take place after all, given political and military pressures, so go figure on the message.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Powell: Wishy-Washy on Fallibility?

Why is everyone headlining this story, as the Houston Chronicle does here, with Colin Powell's legal opinion (and so what?) buttressing W's authority to eavesdrop? The more interesting part of Powell's commentary was the fact that he points to the difference between subjective certitude and objective certainty, to the possibility of W's fallibility: why not, he asks, just use the secret court? That this seems not to make sense to Powell should be alarming to Americans:
"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Powell said.

"And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

A case of the evils

As mentioned earlier (and here, here), I've been reading some books on evil for some further background to a book on torture that I am editing -- not quite Christmas reading.... I've long been attracted to philosophical pragmatism and it provides a framework for how I think about international politics and ethics, globalization, environmental and development issues, and a number of other more traditional philosophical subjects, etc. I've mostly been looking at torture in pragmatic terms (remember, philosophically pragmatic and not the kind of policy thinking that passes for "pragmatic" in the policy world). So, it's particularly nice to read Richard J. Bernstein's terrific little book, The Abuse of Evil (Polity, 2005). One of the central attractions of pragmatism for Bernstein and for myself is its emphasis on fallibilism and pluralism. Here's Bernstein in a straightforward passage that is particularly germane to our contemporary situation:
There is no incompatibility between being decisive and recognizing the fallibility and limitations of our choices and decisions. On the contrary, this is what is required for responsible action. We must recognize that whatever we do, there will always be unintended and unpredictable consequences. Acknowledging and intelligently assessing these consequences may require altering our conduct.... And because of human finitude and limitation, we cannot avoid making mistakes. "Steadfastness" and "staying the course" are not virtures but vices when they involve ignoring the undesirable consequences of our choices and actions....

...[The heart of the matter] is the unspoken assumption that "tough-minded realism," strength, forcefulness, decisiveness, and persistence are based upon unwavering moral certainty. For without a firm, absolute, moral conviction, we will lack the determination to do what is required to fight evil. But here is where we detect the gross fallacious slide from subjective moral certitude to alleged objective moral certainty. The strength of one's personal conviction is never sufficient to justify the truth or correctness of one's claims. This is the primary lesson of pragmatic fallibilism. Furthermore, we need to expose the vulgar form of the Cartesian Anxiety that corrupts so much of current political rhetoric. We are presented with the alternatives of either steadfast moral certainty or a wishy-washy vacillating relativism. And the not-so-hidden implication is that pragmatic fallibility is effeminate and tender-minded; it lacks the guts to cope with the evil of terror. Over and over again, so-called tough-minded realists affirm this in conscious and subliminal ways. We need to bring this attitude out into the open and expose it. It is based on confusion between subjective certitude and objective certainty. Ideologists, fanatics, and fundamentalists are always claiming certainty. History is full of discarded certainties.... The fervor with which one asserts the possession of moral certainties is no evidence whatsoever for the truth or validity of one's claims....

Warming the Cold War

Hmmm, mmm, mmm, let's see what's happening in Peace on Earth news.....

VLADIMIR Putin has sparked fears of a new arms race between Russia and the United States by deploying a nuclear ballistic strike force system that officials made clear could penetrate US anti- missile defences.

On Christmas Eve, the Russian army activated a new fleet of Topol-M missiles that can fit a nuclear warhead and travel 6,000 miles, changing trajectory to foil any enemy interception device.

The accompanying hawkish rhetoric of the Russian military commanders and the frenetic response of the US navy have stoked concern that the former Cold War adversaries have quietly resumed the arms race.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy holidays

Christmas weekend. Just as Adam Kotsko describes Chicago, DC is emptying itself of traffic and people. A wonderful time of year for the few who remain behind -- parking spots. I drive my car just so I can park it. Washington, DC is like a college town. People leave by the droves for "home" for the holidays around the country and the world. But DC becomes much quieter during the holidays and you start to see who the real DC people are, the ones who really make it home. It becomes a small town again, rather than a hub of half a million people with another four million streaming in and out from Virginia and Maryland. Congress is gone, staffers are gone, lobbyists have followed them.

We relax a bit. Go for walks on lonely Atget streets. Find good tables in restaurants. And we enjoy living in what is really quite a beautiful city once you get away from the gigantesque mausoleum that is The Mall (and coldly efficient downtown) and into DC's neighborhoods of Victorian and Federal style homes, bungalows, row houses, and Art Deco apartment buildings. It is an elegant city of generally decent people of all sorts, which is missed by those who only experience its Roman pretension and Citizen Kane bombast.

As the giftwrap goes flying and the belly is sated, let's also remember the nice little moments of peace and joy and quiet that we're seldom allowed. Happy holidays.

Wolcott is delish

For your Sordidly Urbane Friday pleasure:

Sometimes the most satisfying instigations are inadvertent. Without meaning to, I seem to have incited the most promising catfight since Krystle and Alexis went after each other's wigs in Dynasty. I recognize "catfight" is a word charged with sexism, and apologize to those it may offend, yet my mission to sow dissension and create camp melodrama takes precedence over searching for a proper synonym. I'm sure the late Clare Booth Luce would concur.

Now to the main event.

Rorty the Grinch

This is from a review of Ian McEwan's new book, reviewed by Richard Rorty in Dissent.
...Most of those who made that switch [from God to Enlightenment] took for granted that the West would retain its hegemony long enough to bring liberty, equality, and fraternity to the rest of the planet. But that hegemony is over. The West has reached its acme; it is as rich and powerful as it is going to get. Even the United States of America can deploy military power only by risking bankruptcy. The American Century has ended, and the Chinese Century has begun. America, while in the saddle, did more good than harm. Nobody knows what China will do—least of all the Chinese.

Yet economic and military decline is not the only problem for the West. It may be frightened into renouncing its ideals even before it loses its influence. Suppose a dirty nuclear bomb, hidden in the bowels of a container ship, were exploded in San Francisco Bay. Could a free press and an independent judiciary survive martial law? Would Germany remain a constitutional democracy if such a bomb went off at the Hamburg docks? The first terrorists to containerize a stolen nuclear warhead may be able to preen themselves on having demolished institutions that took two centuries to build....

But the postwar impetus has faltered, and the attacks of September 11, 2001, have made us realize how unlikely it is that the West will be able to determine the world’s future. It is dawning on non-Western nations that their fates will rest with Beijing rather than with Washington. How long Europeans and Americans have to stroll the gardens depends upon how long keeping them open remains in the interests of Cathay.

The tragedy of the modern West is that it exhausted its strength before being able to achieve its ideals. The spiritual life of secularist Westerners centered on hope for the realization of those ideals. As that hope diminishes, their life becomes smaller and meaner. Hope is restricted to little, private things—and is increasingly being replaced by fear....

Alito, secret agent man

Atrios and Firedoglake, among others, are discussing Alito's views on Roe v. Wade. But how about this?

Alito Defended Officials From Wiretap Suits

It all becomes clearer....

Turkish Star Wars

For the furriner-loving geek in you.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Evolution's breakthrough year

Two days after a U.S. judge struck down the teaching of intelligent design theory in a Pennsylvania public school, the journal Science on Thursday proclaimed evolution the breakthrough of 2005.

Wide-ranging research published this year, including a study that showed a mere 4 percent difference between human and chimpanzee DNA, built on Charles Darwin's landmark 1859 work "The Origin of Species" and the idea of natural selection, the journal's editors wrote....

Other breakthroughs in the journal's Top 10 include research in planetary exploration, the molecular biology of flowers, the violent ways of neutron stars, the relationship between genetics and abnormal human behavior, the new field of cosmochemistry, a protein that controls the flow of potassium ions to cells, fresh evidence of global warming, an engineering approach to molecular biology and superconductivity.

Mmmmm, Fig-gy

Flood watch remains in effect from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon for the Pudding River in Clackamas and Marion counties.
--National Weather Service

In a related warning, the Oregon State Highway Department has warned against a deluge of British tourists intent on lapping up the phenomenon accompanied by high winds from hundreds of Fox News personnel covering "Christmas Miracle '05."

Uninspiration Information

Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was "quite relieved," she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured - sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. "It's so nice," confided my neighbor, "not to open the papers and read all that bad news."

Khatami blog

KhatamiOnline, for those who can read it....

Strike

Via Max Sawicky, a nice site on the NYC Transit strike: Working Life. Look around the site, but note especially the December 21st post.
So, now we know, thanks to Steve Greenhouse's analytical story about the fight over the pension issue, that the entire savings to the MTA--an authority that has a surplus of at least $1 billion--if it got its pension demand (which both sides agree triggereed the strike) would be a whopping $20 million over the next three years. This is a story that needs widespread attention.

For those people here and elsewhere who blame the union, please, get a grip. It can' t be more clear now that the M.T.A. forced a strike over a pittance to its coffers--but a 4 percent cut to workers. The union's position was: we are not going to hurt the people who want to work in the future. Lord, here's a union standing up for the principle that it has a responsibility to protect the interests of workers who are not even paying dues to the union!!!
Also, up next: The London Tube on New Year's Eve.

Helmut's laughings

Branching out a bit:

Helmut is the world's finest German stand-up comedian

Can Germans be funny? We think only HELMUT is capable of the laughings. You will soon be fortunate enough to hear his views on Europhobia, British Seaside postcard humour and the pointlessness of Wales. Inefficient Service? Shoe Express? Nothing escapes his rapier wit. Dry, deadpan, and most odd, HELMUT is a comic gem. A true original, with a unique take on the world.

HELMUT has been storming the London comedy circuit during 2003....

You will enjoy his comedy jokes.

One day


One day Phronesisaical will have its first ever -- how do you say -- "open thread." Until that day, we rely upon the comments of about five people, plus we four Phron-dudes. Thanks for participating.

Photo: Michel-Jean Dupierris

Are the Days Getting Longer, or What?

Winter in South Texas: we sat outside, last night, as the temperature dropped rapidly from around 70 to about 45 (it dropped into the 30s as we slept) & roasted eggplants in a chiminea over mesquite embers & drank beer.

Our freezer is full of tamales. Hundreds of chattering birds wake us each morning. It's sunny again, today, and warming quickly. The bougainvillea is covered with what strikes me as an absurd amount of purple flowers, and the orange tree is bearing lots of its extra-sweet fruit again this year. Here are a couple of five-minute-old photos for those of you in cold, cloudy places.

Ted Stevens Admits Having Easy Life

After the Senate rejected the ANWR drilling provision in the annual defense spending bill, Senator Ted Stevens made a heartfelt admission: that he has had a very, very easy, un-sad life so far. And he looks kind of old! Wow!
"This is the saddest day of my life," Stevens told senators after finally reappearing on the floor for the final debate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ad hoc felonies

Nice discussion by Marty Lederman going on at Balkinization about the domestic spying issue.

The most recent post discusses this piece of ex post facto justification by Richard Posner in the Washington Post.

Marty Lederman writes,
Here's the most chilling line in Posner's column, taking euphemism to a new level: "It is no surprise that gaps in domestic intelligence are being filled by ad hoc initiatives." That's Posner's kinder, gentler way of saying "It is no surprise that current federal laws, which unwisely criminalize this conduct, are being circumvented by the President's authorization to commit felonies."
Here's the Posnerian line, the one we're going to see popping up throughout the rightwing: "if you're not a terrorist, you have nothing to fear." And, "hey, it's not like you can't trust us to do a little bit of ad hoc correcting of laws/statutes that we don't like." Basically, that this administration has the private power to rewrite laws it deems "too restrictive" (Posner's terms) in the war on terror, and keep that rewriting from the public, even when "the public" means here "Congress." That, folks, is abuse of power in a constitutional and ostensibly representational democracy.

Christmas in outer space

The Russian way:
In addition to 2.8 tons of food, water, books, DVDs and scientific equipment, the ship is also bringing cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and astronaut William McArthur chocolate, two red holiday caps....
I have, in fact, asked Mrs. Helmut for one red holiday cap.

Cacao
















Photo: Selvin Chance

Peirce on Present-Day God

Thinking a little bit more about the Kim Jong-Il Present-Day God issue, here's a little discussion of one of my favorite philosophers, Charles Peirce, on the nature of the present. Since we haven't had much philosophy recently.... If you don't like, scroll further down for more interesting stuff.

The present is the most abstruse mode of time in Peirce’s account because it is janus-faced. Emblazoned by fact and by expectation, it is “half past and half to come.” (EP, 322). Caught between, yet comprising, a continuity of past and future it is the mode of “conative externality.” (SW, 223). This is to say that the consciousness of the present is not itself describable in terms of an atomic present since it is a function of inference. The present involves the felt impulse of immediacy, but the idea of the present itself is a construct of inferential processes. There is no “intellectual value” or meaning in a present thought. (PW, 236). To grasp the contents of consciousness in a present instant is to grasp at the air or, rather, at the past because the grasping always comes too late. Peirce refers to the present--this moment or this result--as the “nascent state of the actual,” and time more generally then as “brute compulsion.” (SW, 223). The present is the existential mode of consciousness reflecting on a past and continually extending it into the other, future side of what is an inferentially constructed present. It is in this sense that Peirce can claim that “the consciousness of the present is then a struggle over what shall be.” (SW, 223). “What shall be” is what makes it through inference, what successfully completes the examination of relations in regard to accumulated knowledge and the habits by which this knowledge is organized.

Peirce, as pragmaticist, considers the importance of the present (or other modes of time; or propositions, for that matter) in terms of its relation to conduct. Yet, he combines external impulses into a collection of moments in the process of inference, so that conduct appears based on a construct in terms of present in our case. However, the present--a third--is only comprehensible in terms of a secondness, a recent past to the degree that inference involves immediate experience, resistance to habits and expectations, and mediative generalizing.

In his essay, “The Order of Nature,” Peirce writes, “that time is not directly perceived is evident, since no lapse of time is present, and we only perceive what is present. That, not having the idea of time, we should ever be able to perceive the flow in our sensations without some particular aptitude for it, will probably also be admitted.” (EP, 180). He writes this in the context of making the broader Kantian claim that particular formal conceptions are inherent in the human mind. But Peirce’s view of immediate perception seems to be that it is illusory and so a futile investigative quest: “I am forced to content myself not with the fleeting percepts, but with the crude and possibly erroneous thoughts, or self-informations, of what the percepts were.” (CP2.141). And just as it is an impossible task to return to the atoms of perceptual experience, it is also impossible to gain understanding of the present in any sense beyond inference other than that it comprises objective resistances and volitional efforts. The present is therefore a conceptual abstraction, and concepts dependent on the flow of time.

As Peirce further argues, “an abstraction, however, is no longer a modification of consciousness at all, for it has no longer the accident of belonging to a special time, to a special person, and to a special subject of thought.... Nobody can think pure abstraction on account of the necessity of doing it at a particular time, etc.” Since time in general is continuity but a continuity of some thing, and is therefore a continuous relating of past and future, and since concepts require time, the present in effect does not exist other than as a prescinded conceptual condition for the possibility of past meeting future. Or, to put this another way, Peirce argues for the immediacy of feeling--consciousness of firstness--and since time is a relation of concepts and the present instant an immediate feeling, the present may be said to be non-existent (or simply qualitative feeling) if to be is to be cognizable. Peirce writes, “feeling is nothing but a quality, and a quality is not conscious: it is a mere possibility.” (PW, 84: CP1.310). But “qualities merge into one another. They have no perfect identities...,” and they are thus understood only as prescinded. (PW, 77).

The present then is, in a sense, partially the near past of actuality and the near future of possibility, but by going to the core of the matter we see that it is, in fact, inference as well as inferred--the relation of the two. Again, in “The Law of Mind” Peirce contends, “let there be an indefinite succession of these inferential acts of comparative perception; and it is plain that the last moment will contain objectively the whole series. Let there be, not merely an indefinite succession, but a continuous flow of inference through a finite time; and the result will be a mediate objective consciousness of the whole time in the last moment, which of course will be absolutely unrecognizable to itself.” (EP, 315). We see Peirce at different points referring to the present as both thirdness and firstness, relation and immediacy. From the vantage of a phenomenology of consciousness and experience the present is felt quality, but since we can only infer the present--since it is always mediated--from a logical vantage it is unity or relation.

Thus, on a Peircean view... Kim Jong-Il is for himself qualitative immediacy and, for us, a prescinded conceptual condition for the possibility of past meeting future. Comments?

Koufaxes

Ah, we're not going to win anything, we know, but I've got to thank three of our friends (and favorite blogs) for nominating Phronesisaical for Koufax Awards.

Norwegianity: Supreme Commander at the Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States

Cheryl of Whirled View: Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness

By Neddie Jingo!: Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius

Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius

Neddie does O Holy Night (.mp3). Brilliant.
No seasonal pieties were mocked during the making of this recording. This is a radical remix of a recording done last year, with quite a few added bits and a lengthened Beethovenaceous ending.

Proliferatin'

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, another small turn away from los norteños. (Via O de Potomac).

Resolution

From Arse Poetica (originally from Harper's), otherwise known as the "Eternal Bosom of Hot Love," comes this list of title options for the new year courtesy of Friends of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il. I'll be modest and say I prefer myself to be "Lode Star of the 21st Century" since I don't have extensive magnanimity nor musical genius and I'm only about two-thirds there on realizing human wisdom.

A question: what happens if one doesn't believe in God, yet he is called "Present-Day God"? Is that an insult? Does that make him go away? Does that make him go away, while having existed in the past and being existent in the future, although as the future unfolds into the present he is constantly disappearing back into the future and the past? If he can never exist in the present, how can he exist in the past?

Lode Star


* Supreme Commander at the Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States
* Greatest Saint Who Rules with Extensive Magnanimity
* Lode Star of the Twenty-First Century
* Best Leader Who Realized Human Wisdom
* Leader with Extraordinary Personality
* Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness
* Eternal Bosom of Hot Love
* Master of Literature, Arts, and Architecture
* World’s Best Ideal Leader with Versatile Talents
* Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius
* Master of the Computer Who Surprised the World
* Man with Encyclopedic Knowledge
* Guardian Deity of the Planet
* Heaven-Sent Hero
* Power Incarnate with Endless Creativity
* Greatest Man Who Ever Lived
* Present-day God
* World’s Greatest Writer

Breaking...

The Republican-controlled Senate passed legislation to cut federal deficits by $39.7 billion on Wednesday by the narrowest of margins, 51-50, with Vice President Dick Cheney casting the deciding vote.

The measure, the product of a year's labors by the White House and the GOP in Congress, imposes the first restraints in nearly a decade in federal benefit programs such as Medicaid, Medicare and student loans.

The Iranian victory

Robert Scheer in Truthdig:

Soon after Bush spoke of the Iraqi election as “a landmark day in the history of liberty,” early returns representing 90 percent of the ballots cast in the Iraq election established that the clear winners were Shiite and Sunni religious parties not the least bit interested in Western-style democracy or individual freedom — including such extremists as Muqtada al-Sadr, whose fanatical followers have fought pitched battles with U.S. troops.

The silver lining, of course, is that the election did see broad participation, if not particularly clean execution. And because all of the leading parties say they want the United States to leave on a clear and public time line, this should provide adequate cover for a staged but complete withdrawal from a sovereign country that we had no right to invade in the first place.

What we will leave behind, after hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lost lives, will be a long ways from the neoconservative fantasy of creating a compliant democracy in the heart of the Middle East. It is absurd for Bush to assert that the election “means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror,” ignoring how he has “lost” Iraq to the influence and model of “Axis of Evil” Iran. Tehran’s rogue regime, which has bedeviled every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter, now looms larger than ever over the region and most definitely over its oil. “Iran wins big in Iraq’s election,” reads an Asia Times headline, speaking a truth that American policy makers and much of the media is bent on ignoring: “The Shiite religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), not only held together, but also can be expected to dominate the new 275-member National Assembly for the next four years,” the paper predicts based on the returns to date. “Former premier Ayad Allawi’s prospects of leading the new government seem virtually nil. And Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Accord suffered a shattering defeat.”

Your tax dollars at work, part B: fiddling

White House chef Cristeta Comerford is carefully pouring batter for savory souffles into enormous two-gallon molds. Lots of them.

It's a mid-morning weekday at the start of the holiday season, and Comerford is working alone in one corner of the heavily used, no-frills kitchen. It's a modest, utilitarian space with 12 burners, five sinks and a hanging rack with batteries of pans. She is concentrating on a particularly popular dish at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

White House guests "enjoy Cris's menus . . . made with the freshest ingredients," first lady Laura Bush said in an e-mail message. "Cris even transformed one of our family's favorite holiday recipes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, into an elegant honeyed sweet potato souffle, which we are sharing with our guests during the White House holiday receptions."

There are lots of those, too: 26 different events for 9,500 people. Comerford's shopping list includes 300 smoked turkeys, 3,400 racks of lamb and 2,100 pounds of sweet potatoes.

At this time of year, it is all in a day's work. "Today doesn't seem too hectic," Comerford says. "There are only two receptions for 500 people."

But all together, that's 1,000 people at back-to-back events with only an hour or so between them.

And that's not counting the daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners. One day later, she will make dinner for 134 Bush friends and family members. "It will be busy," she says calmly. "The house is full."

This is Real Freedom

From the president's "National Security Strategy," 2002:
The concept of “free trade” arose as a moral
principle even before it became a pillar of
economics. If you can make something that others
value, you should be able to sell it to them. If
others make something that you value, you should
be able to buy it. This is real freedom, the freedom
for a person—or a nation—to make a living.

Deportes o de moda, segundo tiempo

There can now be no doubt about the accuracy of my astute observation regarding the new coach for Cruz Azul, the Mexican professional soccer team. To refresh your memories, I reported that Isaac Mizrahi was named as coach of Cruz Azul, and also pointed out that he is a famous fashion designer. At the time of writing the original post, the supposition that coach Mizrahi and designer Mizrahi were one and the same was only conjecture on my part. Good strong conjecture though because how many Isaac Mizrahis can there be? Also because Mizrahi's assistant answered the phone with "futbol and fashion designer." But she might have said, "good fall in-fashion designer." It's hard to tell sometimes, so I went with my gut feeling.

So the answer to the question of how many Isaac Mizrahis are there? Solamente uno. And the proof of this has miraculously appeared on this very site in the form of a Google ad, and that ad is for...Cruz Azul jerseys! There can only be one explanation for this phenomenon: that designer Mizrahi and coach Mizrahi are the same person. How else can the "coincidence" of his coaching Cruz Azul and their shirts suddenly being for sale be explained? It can't. For any of you out there who might ask, "why isn't he called 'coach-designer Mizrahi' then" I have two answers: 1) that would just be confusing, and b) so as not to give away the element of surprise. And speaking of the element of surprise, this also proves that Pachuca is employing a fashion-sport complex spy--and a damn good one at that.

I certainly hope that some of you liberal elite professors out there will be gracious enough to acknowledge the astounding reasoning on display here and do the right thing: use it in your courses when you're teaching critical thinking. I mean it. Do it for the children. Cementos mexicanos, se amo!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Sushi desu

Rollo sent this link to a short sushi documentary. Nice.

Last word on the War on Christmas

From Hendrik Hertzberg:
...The War on Christmas is a little like Santa Claus, in that it (a) comes to us from the sky, beamed down by the satellites of cable news, and (b) does not, in the boringly empirical sense, exist. What does exist is the idea of the War on Christmas, which, though forever new, is a venerable tradition, older even than strip malls and plastic mistletoe. Christmas itself, in something like its recognizably modern form, with gifts and cards and elves, dates from the early nineteenth century. The War on Christmas seems to have come along around a hundred years later, with the publication of “The International Jew,” by Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, whom fate later punished by arranging to have his fortune diverted to the sappy, do-gooder Ford Foundation. “It is not religious tolerance in the midst of religious difference, but religious attack that they”—the Jews—“preach and practice,” he wrote. “The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and certain patriotic songs shows that.” Ford’s anti-Semitism has not aged well, thanks to the later excesses of its European adherents, but by drawing a connection between Christmasbashing and patriotism-scorning he pointed the way for future Christmas warriors....

(In 1921, Henry Ford attacked from the opposite flank, sneering that “the strange inconsistency of it all is to see the great department stores of the Levys and the Isaacs and the Goldsteins and the Silvermans filled with brilliant Christmas cheer.”)....
UPDATE: really, the last word:
...A Jew married to an Irish Catholic, [Irving] Berlin raised his three daughters as nominal Protestants. Who better to write a non-Christian Christmas song? (Berlin's may have been an extreme case, but in the middle of the 20th century, Jewish assimilationism was so pervasive that it gave rise to the following crack: What's the difference between Reform Jews and Unitarians? Unitarians don't have Christmas trees.)

"White Christmas" was one of a dozen numbers that Berlin wrote for "Holiday Inn," each song commemorating a specific holiday. One hesitates to impute anything so vulgar as a message to a Crosby-Fred Astaire musical, but the message of this musical is that we are all Americans and these are our holidays. Easter belongs to all of us, even if it is about little more than strolling down Fifth Avenue. Christmas belongs to all of us. The religious content of those holidays was fine for Christian believers, but the composer of "God Bless America" preferred to celebrate a common national identity, complete with common holidays that had nonsectarian meanings.

Berlin kept Christmas in the public square and, more than anyone before or since, sent it out over the public airwaves. But it was an American, not a Christian, Christmas. And by the crass index of number of recordings sold, and the not-so-crass index of number of spirits touched, Berlin's nonsectarian holiday has been the predominant version of Christmas in this country for the past 60 years.

Now the Fox News demagogues want to impose a more sectarian Christmas on us, supplanting the distinctly American holiday we have celebrated lo these threescore years with a holiday that divides us along religious lines. Bill O'Reilly can blaspheme all he wants, but like millions of my countrymen, I take attacks on Irving Berlin's America personally. If O'Reilly doesn't like it here, why doesn't he go back to where he came from?

Chicken-Fried-Steak-Fried Chicken

When the president said the "leak" of the domestic spy program was "shameful," he was merely using adjectives Texas-style! Down here in the Lone Star State, for example, you can order "chicken-fried chicken"--which is chicken fried not like fried chicken is fried, but like steak that has been "chicken-fried." Texans are quick to point this out to newcomers who are foolish enough to ask why it isn't simply called "fried chicken." The name of the dish, which isn't fried chicken, has really been shortened, helpfully, from "chicken-fried-steak-fried chicken" to plain old "chicken-fried chicken." (I should point out that eating much of either of these--tasty as they may be--puts you at risk of becoming a heart-attacky cyborg like the vice-president, if you can afford the cyborg part. Otherwise, you'll just die off the golf course like everybody else.)

Anyway, I was reminded of wacky Texas-speak this morning, as I read about the president calling the "leak" of the domestic spying "shameful." He means that it's "shameful" like it's shameful to reveal state secrets that put us all at a security risk (whatever these might be)--not like it's shameful to talk until you're blue and smirking about "freedom" while secretly authorizing secret spying on a secret list of people you maybe just don't happen to like.

In other words, lest anyone is confused, the president really is suggesting that someone besides himself should feel ashamed. I know it sounds crazy. Trust me. I live here in Texas.

Well, that's something

Widespread corruption, spying on citizens, shame, failed policies, lies, abuse, oppression, murder, voting fraud, etc. But...

US 'winning war' on spam

John Cornyn: unfree or dead

From The Hill:
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Here's an UPDATE (from Barba de Chiva, with apologies to Helmut for hijac . . . um . . . comandeering his post).

"Democracy" -- Langston Hughes, 1949

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Freedom
Is a strong seed
Planted
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you. [emphasis added]

But, hell, what did Langston Hughes know about Civil Liberties?

NSA: is the problem even bigger than we think?

See this post by Kevin Drum regarding the NSA tapping program, and his suspicions that this may be the tip of the iceberg.

Gulf stream and climate change

Nice series on the Gulf Stream problem from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Signals intelligence speaks

Signals intelligence folks on the NSA scandal. Read (via War and Piece).

All of the sigint specialists emphasized repeatedly that keeping tabs on Americans is way beyond the bounds of what they ordinarily do -- no matter what the conspiracy crowd may think.

"It's drilled into you from minute one that you should not ever, ever, ever, under any fucking circumstances turn this massive apparatus on an American citizen," one source says. "You do a lot of weird shit. But at least you don't fuck with your own people."

Absolutes

Josh has it right.

Remember, "the absolute... spells doom to everyone when it is introduced into the political realm." (Arendt).

And, we're dealing with constitutional crisis here with what's being called "Snoopgate." I don't like that term, by the way. I think of the Red Baron on a doghouse, pumpkin patches, and lemonade stands. This is much more serious than snooping in the medicine cabinet of a host. More like Constitution-Gate. We have a criminal for president, not a beagle.

Mean people

T-Bogg on the torture of Barbi.

I repeat, impeach

Impeach, and then try these bastards in criminal court.

Anyone who isn't the King

I noted this earlier. But read through this NY Times article and note who is being spied upon. Pretty much anything and anyone Generalissimo George doesn't like.

Deportes o de moda?

Famed fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi to coach Cruz Azul? Apparently so. Tired of being beaten on the field, both stylistically and futbolistically, Cruz Azul of Mexico, D.F. has hired Isaac Mizrahi to man the helm, or dress the helm, or something.

While this change hasn't made Andres Cantor grita "GOOOOOOL" yet, it has scared Pachuca--the widely acknowledged "best dressed" team in the Mexican soccer league. They are so worried about their status atop the fashion pyramid that they have begun redesigning their official web site. They're obviously preparing a completely new look for next season. Until their site is up, you can check out some historical footage of Pachuca right here--back when they all played with mustaches.

When I tried to contact Mizrahi for a statement, an assistant answered his phone with, "Isaac Mizrahi, futbol and fashion designer's office. Isaac thinks polar bears are cute. How can I help you?" I'm still waiting to hear back from him.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The order of evils

This is the title of Adi Ophir's recent book. He's a contributor to my forthcoming volume (late 2006) on torture, which I've mentioned before. And I feel pretty smart, though serendipitously so, for inviting him. The book is a brilliant, massive treatise on evil. A phenomenology of, well, "the order of evils," this is not a theodicy or moralistic work. I had been reading Agamben since several intellos in Venezuela during my visit there last month were into his books and spurred my curiosity of his work in café discussions over potent macchiatos. But I'm sidetracked by Ophir.

A random excerpt... this is why I have hope about globalization, despite its ravages:
The intensification of mechanisms for the production and distribution of evils and their global interweaving are also responsible for this: they have created new forms of care for the other, new truth games within which the distress of others, individuals, and masses lies in the balance, as well as new subject positions vis-à-vis this distress.... Parties with a moral interest use political and economic interests as others use the discourse and tools at their disposal. The innovation here is the degree of autonomy, of relative differentiation of the fields of discourse and action whose interest is distinctly moral, as well as the global scope of action.

Christmas vacation

Need to get away from the American Christian right's and Republican congresswankers' assault on our right to celebrate Christmas or other holidays however we damn well please? Go to Europe, where people don't have to deal with the turdification of Christmas and/or the holidays (your preference).

Stoopid

Although not much of a surge, frankly, given that most Americans still think he's a clod.

President Bush's approval rating has surged in recent weeks, reversing what had been an extended period of decline, with Americans now expressing renewed optimism about the future of democracy in Iraq, the campaign against terrorism and the U.S. economy, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll.

Bush's overall approval rating rose to 47 percent, up from 39 percent in early November, with 52 percent saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job. His approval rating on Iraq jumped 10 percentage points since early November to 46 percent, while his rating on the economy rose 11 percentage points to 47 percent. A clear majority, 56 percent, said they approve of the way Bush is handling the fight against terrorism -- a traditional strong point in his reputation that nonetheless had flagged to 48 percent in the November poll.

Not anti-Nazi any more either

Here's another piece picked up by Norwegianity:
RBC, 19.12.2005, Moscow 19:03:32.The UN General Assembly has adopted an anti-Nazi resolution, initiated by Russia. Some 114 countries supported the document, with 4 states against and 57 abstentions. The resolution expresses a serious concern about the growing activity of extremist, racist and xenophobic organizations in the world. The Russian Foreign Ministry is concerned that some countries (i.e. the US and Japan) voted against the document, while many countries (all EU members) abstained. States such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia abstained as well, although these nations suffered a lot during World War II, the ministry's information and press department claimed.
I cannot find anything about this, however, from the UN News Service.

Crimes

Norwegianity has this to say about this article on the ABC News site. Yes, I've agreed since day one.

We can no longer pretend otherwise: our leaders are war criminals who have blatantly violated the Geneva Convention time and time again.

This warrants a full Congressional investigation leading directly to impeachment and removal from office.

No other response is even close to honorable or Constitutional.

Here's a bit from the ABC News article:
"We're not talking about torture in the abstract, but the real thing," said John Sifton, terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. "U.S. personnel and officials may be criminally liable, and a special prosecutor is needed to investigate."

The report said Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian-born Guantanamo detainee who grew up in Britain, claimed he was held at the facility in 2004.

"It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time," he was quoted as telling his lawyer. "They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days."

Mohammad went on to say that he was forced to listen to Eminem and Dr. Dre for 20 days before the music was replaced by "horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds."

"The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night," he was quoted as saying. "Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off."

Criminals and thugs, folks. We're living in bad times, and the longer we go along as happy motoring nation, as Kunstler puts it, the longer we are simply complicit in these crimes committed by our government supposedly in our name. It's not only a matter of criminality, unconstitutionality, immorality, it's also a matter of complicity.

By the way...

...the NY Times is on the chopping block here at Phronesisaical (which means unlinking them). I -- Helmut here -- am waiting to see if they come clean on sitting on the domestic spying story since prior to the 2004 election. If they don't, off with their heads! They've given us enough grief as it is while pretending to be comrades by maintaining Frank Rich and Bob Herbert on the payroll.

Delinking is not much of a deal for the mighty Times from little old us. But I encourage the same from others. If that paper is going to continue its dirty hands policies, we bloggers and blog-readers ought to put the hurt on them and make it clear. I'll gladly get my news from the Brits and the French, who seem to be the only ones with their heads not glued on by administration propaganda.

Oiled up

This fellow stayed in the same room I stayed in in Caracas before I arrived there. He's working on a book on oil. Not a bad little essay here from the NY Times.

Rings of James Kunstler, who has this to say on a similar topic:
The paradoxical thing about all this is that if the President is willing to tell America that we should grow up and get serious about national security, then why doesn't Mr. Bush tell America the cold, hard, grownup truth that we are entering a permanent global energy crisis that will force us to live differently? Or tell America the truth that we are occupying Iraq in order to maintain a foothold in the region where two-thirds of the world's remaining oil is? And that the basic equation is that our current way of life depends utterly on continued access to this oil -- so either change that way of life or get used to the necessity of maintaining a garrison in the Middle East.

If Mr. Bush was consistent with these messages, the public might actually gain a sense of purpose -- that is, of devoting our patriotic spirit to prepare for the great changes we face, instead of just pretending that the funburger fiesta-on-wheels can continue indefinitely?

Shafting ANWR

The battle goes on....
House lawmakers opened the way for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as one of their last acts of an all-night session Monday bringing their legislative year to a close.

The ANWR provision was attached to a major defense bill, forcing many opponents of oil and gas exploration in the barren northern Alaska range to vote for it. The bill, passed 308-106, also included money for hurricane relief and bird flu preventive measures.

The vote came at 5 a.m. as bleary-eyed legislators struggled to wrap up their work for the year. Democratic anger over the process was put aside briefly as lawmakers greeted Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who returned to vote after suffering a heart attack Thursday.

Time for Chaucer

... Allas! the pitee that was ther,
Cracching of chekes, rending eek of heer.
'Why woldestow be deed,' thise wommen crye,
'And haddest gold ynough and Emelye!'
No man mighte gladen Theseus,
Savinge his olde fader Egeus,
That knew this worldes transmutacioun,
As he hadde seyn it up and doun,
Joye after wo, and wo after gladnesse;
And shewed him ensamples and liknesse....

This world nis but a thurghfare ful of wo,
And we ben pilgrimes passing to and fro;
Deeth is an end of every worldly sore.'
And over al this yet seyde he muchel more
To this effect, ful wysly to enhorte
The peple that they sholde hem reconforte.

Dear Mr. Bush

Jesus' General writes Mr. Perzdint:
...As you know, one of the greatest threats America faces is the deterioration of our commitment to traditional family values. It's every bit as great a threat to our national security as the distribution of Mao's Little Red Book to college students. We need to oppose it with every means at our disposal.

My neighborhood is currently under assault by those who are trying to undermine our nation by attacking our traditional family values. I hope we can use your new extra-legal power to provide us with cover as we do what must be done to defend our community.

You see, Mr Garcia, the neighbor across the street, often stands in front of his large picture window wearing nothing but a pair of extremely tight bicycling shorts. Nothing is left to the imagination. His unnaturally large manly bulge of glory draws every eye in the neighborhood, tempting its beholders with demonic invitations to engage in acts of unspeakable depravity.

We've tried everything we can think of to put an end to it. Even my wife, Ofjoshua, spends much of her day over there unsuccessfully trying to convince Mr. Garcia to end this practice. Nothing's worked.

It's time to take it up a level by beating Mr. Garcia and burning down his house. I'm hoping that we can get your support to do so. Inasmuch as you are not bound by any constitutional or legal restraints, you could grant us the authority to commit this assault and arson on your behalf in the name of national security.

Heterosexually yours,

Gen. JC Christian, patriot

Congressional war on Christmas

Ablogistan has the goodies:
I told myself I would just ignore this whole "War on Christmas" thing. It seemed like just another fabricated cultural war dreamt up in Punditville by Bill O'Reilly to boost ratings and sell O'Reilly Christmas ornaments. But now the stupidity has crossed over from Pundtiville to the U.S. House of Representatives. Claiming Christmas is under attack in America, Virginia Rep. Jo Ann Davis has submitted a resolution in the House "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected."

Speech

The Union was strong, the economy was strong. Slavery had been eliminated. Even though some of the senior citizens were freezing to death, they had plenty of drugs. Brainman had seen to that. Sure, some of the senior citizens were confused, but senior citizens are always confused, and that's what the infomercials were for.

Of Christmas and corruption

Good idea

Nice idea from the Wege. I hear a movement brewing.
Personally, I think next fall we should all dip our middle fingers in purple ink after voting.

Congratulations to Bolivia

Peasant leader Evo Morales, who has harshly criticized U.S. policies in Latin America, won a major victory Sunday in the race for this fractured country's presidency, adding to a rising wave of leftist governments in the region.

According to a survey of 1,250 polling places conducted by a group of Bolivian media, Morales had won 51 percent of the vote, with former President Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga coming in second with 30 percent. Businessman Samuel Doria Medina won 8 percent of the vote.

Impeach

"A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens," wrote Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
And this:
Are there any other American values that the Bush administration won't upend in its conduct of the war in Iraq?

Let's put things in context

In American proconsul Paul Bremer's 2003 master plan, last week's election was meant to be the culminating act in entrenching democratic rule in Iraq. Instead it marks the nadir of the American enterprise there. The brutal failure of that enterprise, and of the similarly unlawful tactics employed in the war on terror, has boosted terrorist ranks worldwide, dealt grievous blows to the notion that human rights and the rule of law are essential elements in building democracy, and brought the US's standing to its lowest point in generations.

But the real victim of the war is Iraq. Despite the exercise of awesome US power and the expenditure of billions of dollars, the security situation grows worse by the month. Iraq remains the most violent country in the world, with a leadership that dare not set foot among its people. But President Bush is not prepared to countenance any compromise in his original war goals. Despite recent talk of pulling down troop levels, he finally declared that "we will settle for nothing less than victory".

The carnage in Iraq is not primarily caused by the insurgents. It is the death squads run by the Shia and Kurdish militias - according to former US diplomat James Dobbins, who is now with the Rand Corporation - who bring about a greater threat of civil war. Indeed the former US-appointed Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi has accused Jalal Talabani's regime of committing human-rights abuses against Sunnis that are as egregious as those under Saddam Hussein.

And how about the Gwich'in?

It's usually a good thing to spend some time with the people who are going to be affected by policies. Like here. But no time for that when you've got a golf game to catch in Scotland (for free!).

Jackfruit

















Photo: Dave

O de Potomac

Please say hello to O de Potomac, a brand new blog by a friend here in DC who writes books and stuff under a different name. I'm looking forward to it, O.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Just so you know

During this holiday season, know that we are With You Always.... (via WFMU).

Uribe and Chávez liking each other

...the meeting in Santa Marta, 465 miles north of Bogota, was upbeat, at times even playful.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuba's Fidel Castro, called Uribe "my brother." Uribe said when asked about their differences that "a higher truth" emerges whenever they debate.

"That's a Marxist point of view," Chavez joked, drawing laughter from an audience of government officials with a reference to the Marxist tenet that change takes place through a struggle of opposites.

Uribe, who like Chavez enjoys strong popular support ahead of 2006 elections, replied wryly that many of his university classmates were Marxists and he studied their slogans well because he was a leading opponent of their ideology.

The meeting came a day after a rare confrontation between the U.S. and Uribe, who has sought a free-trade deal with Washington while taking a hard-line approach against leftist rebels.

Uribe sharply criticized U.S. Ambassador William Wood for "meddling" after Wood urged Colombia to better prevent right-wing paramilitary groups from tainting next year's elections through corruption.

When a reporter asked Uribe if he was distancing himself from Washington, Chavez smiled widely and turned to the Colombian leader — also interested in what he would say.

"This is not the moment nor the place to talk about the issue," Uribe replied.

Oh Well. It's not Like They're Cuddly.

SCIENTISTS have for the first time found evidence that polar bears are drowning because climate change is melting the Arctic ice shelf.

The researchers were startled to find bears having to swim up to 60 miles across open sea to find food. They are being forced into the long voyages because the ice floes from which they feed are melting, becoming smaller and drifting farther apart.

The ass of Texas

Neil Shakespeare has a good eye. Spying back at Bush, Neil discovers W's head in place of Teddy Roosevelt's Little Texas' ass.

Colombia confirms military tie to Chavez plot

Former Venezuelan soldiers plotted against President Hugo Chavez's Government at a Colombian military intelligence building, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says.

Mr Uribe made the statement after a meeting with Mr Chavez and analysing documents furnished by the Venezuelan leader.

"The Venezuelan soldiers who are in Bogota [Colombia's capital] went to a building to meet with members of the Colombian military. President Chavez gave us these documents ... we analysed them and this morning I said to President Chavez: 'I must tell you the truth: this is a building of Colombia's public forces'," he said.

Mr Uribe says intelligence efforts against the Venezuelan Government are conducted in the building, and assumed responsibility for the affair.

"I assumed responsibility before President Chavez and I assume it in public, because the Government of Colombia, which suffers from terrorism, cannot permit anyone to plot conspiracies, especially against a brother country," he said.

Bloom on American Religion

Harold Bloom speaks (via MaxSpeak).

A kōan

A kōan from Fafblog:
One day a young monk came before Bush and said to him, "There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no threat from Saddam. Why then is there a war?"

Bush replied, "True, there was no threat to justify the war. But still there was a threat, and the war is justified."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tortured relationships

Ignacio Ramonet on torture in Le Monde Diplomatique (excerpted below). Not a whole lot new here. But it's worth reminding ourselves of this final assessment. Take the cliché that "the world changed" on 9-11. Yes, it changed in that the US awoke to the reality of terrorism in a spectacular way. But it also changed for the US and changed the US in the choice of response, from among other choices, to stand apart from law as if a god looking down upon earthly doings. The US is not god. Bush is not god, no matter how much he hears divine voices in his head.

The reality -- and if you're a traveler you know this too well -- is that the US has almost entirely lost its claim to be a country of justice and good and truth, however much this may have ever been a reality or unreality. The officially sanctioned practice of torture has undermined the moral legitimacy of the US. The administration's gamble -- one premised on now-defunct neo-realist international relations theory -- was that American power transcended existing international norms to the extent that the US could reshape them and their interpretive and evaluative framework to its will. Even regarding torture, perhaps the most heinous thing humans do to each other, there is a "public debate," as if torture is somehow an unresolved ethical issue. The very fact of the debate inexorably transforms the US into an international pariah whose international relations continue to exist simply through the global necessity of the American market. The US administration has thus helped to create a further threat to America -- the seeking of economic and political independence on the part of, for example, the South American countries. Such independence is one factor among others that entails a growing irrelevance of the US as a bundle of muscles without a brain or a heart.
Apart from being ethically and legally repugnant, these revelations are also disastrous for America’s moral standing in the world. For the US, as for other democracies confronted with the threat of terrorism, the question of torture has become a crucial political dilemma. In the course of a debate with Vice-President Dick Cheney, who took a hard line on the subject, the Republican senator John McCain said that there are some punishments that a democratic government must never inflict on a human being and that the strength of democracy lies in its ability to forgo the use of certain kinds of force, the first being torture.

UPDATE (18 December, 8:12am):

See also this piece by Gabriel Kolko in Counterpunch.

The inhuman man

In the Boston Globe, via Norwegianity:

Perhaps Bush feels safe to talk about civilian deaths because the United States is no longer responsible for the majority of them. In the first six weeks of the invasion, according to calculations by Iraq Body Count, US-led forces were responsible for 94 percent of the 7,299 civilian deaths. Today, as the invasion/occupation remains riddled with suicide bombings, flickers of a civil war and general lawlessness, the percentage of civilians killed by the US forces has receded to 32 percent.

Perhaps Bush felt that the passing of time erased the fact that the US killings -- under his false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction -- remain the most intense of the war. US forces killed an average of 315 Iraqi civilians a day, nine times more than the worst month of anti-occupation and criminal violence during the next 23 months, according to Iraq Body Count.

Whatever Bush felt, he still shows no emotion for the men, women, and children who will never enjoy his liberation. He stated the 30,000 figure and went on to the next question. He claims to take responsibility for going to war on bad intelligence, then turns around and says in Philadelphia, ''Knowing what I know today, I'd make the decision again."

That illustrates just how far Iraq has removed Bush from his own humanity. Without evidence of weapons, he would still order a war that kills thousands of innocent people. Bush now admits knowing the scorecard. But it still remains only a game.

Unfree humans and a free market

From Legal Affairs:
It is not surprising that an authoritarian regime would build powerful databases and snooping equipment and Internet-censoring devices to punish dissent and limit information. But China's system is impressive for the sophistication of its technology, the precision of its reach, and the speed of its creation. More startling, the software and hardware for Golden Shield, Policenet, the Great Firewall, and other tools of this chillingly effective network were largely made in America.

THE UNITED STATES THRIVES ON A SYSTEM OF MARKET FREEDOM that encourages American companies to sell their legal products generally wherever and to whomever they choose. In China, few companies take advantage of market freedom more profitably than Cisco Systems of San Jose, Calif., one of the world's most successful Internet companies, with revenues of $25 billion in 2005. Cisco makes Policenet, as well as the watchdog router that prevents Internet users in China from gaining access to banned websites. Although the company does not specify its sales figures for China, the Chinese telecommunications research firm ChinaNex estimates that Cisco earns $500 million a year in revenues there and holds 60 percent of the Chinese market for routers, switches, and other sophisticated networking gear. The company anticipates that China will soon become its third largest market, just behind the U.S. and Japan.

I have no PR experience too....

A 30-year-old Oxford graduate with no public relations experience has been handed a $100m contract by the Pentagon - to plant false stories in Iraqi papers. Andrew Buncombe investigates...

Chavista spending

This comes after the elections.
Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chavez, is widely expected to spend more on his government's social programmes, both at home and abroad.

The opportunity comes following his party's landslide victory in parliamentary elections on December 4th, after opposition parties boycotted the elections and withdrew their candidates.

Just consider the government's recently proposed 2006 budget, where a colossal 41% of total expenditure, or $16.6bn (£9.4bn), earmarked for social programmes, is now bound to sail through parliament unopposed.

Both Anna Lucia d'Emilio, the director of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in Venezuela, and Ramon Mayorga, the representative of the Inter American Development Bank (IADB), all agree that the country's social programmes are easily the biggest and most comprehensive in Latin America.

The target of the huge spending is Venezuela's huge poverty problem, afflicting more than half the population, and the profound social and economic inequalities which cause it....

Ha ha ha ... whee hee... whooo... whew....

World Trade talks the funny bananas way. Those wacky poor countries do trade the Silver and Cohn way.

Yes, we have bananas. We just can't ship them.

Oh my gawd, absolutists, yowww

Ban torture. Period.

NY Times editorialists don't get it -- in the name of "the nation and its fighting men and women" [obligatory PC salute]. But there's a ticking time bomb out there! Kill, pussycat, kill! Kraut the hammers! George your will! Kindle your Mikes! Get your war on!

America needs you, Rick James. Rick James won't you please come home? The NY Times needs some funky bass, yowwww, to back up this radical positionality on the Board of Water. I got your upholding legality right here, Rickie James. Give it to me, baby.

Bullshit Florida

More "news" from the worst state in the union:

Miami Mayor to Get 54 Percent Raise


(from $97,000 to $150,000) "I was shocked ... just sort of speechless," Diaz said.

Elections in Iraq -- content with a fever

Riverbend of Baghdad Burning, always one of the best real sources of information from Iraq (since she lives there and is Iraqi, as opposed to, say, Anderson Cooper), has this assessment:
More people are going to elect this time around- not because Iraqis suddenly believe in American-imposed democracy under occupation, but because the situation this last year has been intolerable. Hakim and Ja’affari and their minions have managed to botch things up so badly, Allawi is actually looking acceptable in the eyes of many. I still can't stand him.

Allawi is still an American puppet. His campaign posters, and the horrors of the last year, haven’t changed that. People haven’t forgotten his culpability in the whole Fallujah debacle. For some Iraqis, however, he’s preferable to Hakim and Ja’affari after a year of detentions, abductions, assassinations and secret torture prisons.

There’s a saying in Iraq which people are using right and left lately, and that I've used before in the blog, “Ili ishuf il mout, yirdha bil iskhuna.” He who sees death, is content with a fever. Allawi et al. seem to be the fever these days…