Friday, March 31, 2006


Two cool posts:

First, a very cool vertical "scroll" photo of Jupiter (at Pruned, via BLDGBLOG).

Second, a lovely post at BLDGBLOG on "super reef" that moves from a discussion of the reappearance of the largest-ever reef to a discussion of the saxophone valve.
...the idea that there might be a similar such stone flute – only the size and shape of a vast fossilized reef, stretching from Portugal to southern Russia – would suddenly seem like a real possibility. In other words, locked into the rocks of Europe is the largest musical instrument ever made: awaiting a million more years of wind and rain and even war to carve that reef into a flute, a buried saxophone, made of fossilized glass, pocketed with caves and indentations, reflecting the black light of uncountable eclipses until the earth gives out.

Thus Spake Slavoj Zizek

Zizek here in the London Review of Books (via 3 Quarks Daily).

According to liberal communist ethics, the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity: charity is part of the game, a humanitarian mask hiding the underlying economic exploitation. Developed countries are constantly ‘helping’ undeveloped ones (with aid, credits etc), and so avoiding the key issue: their complicity in and responsibility for the miserable situation of the Third World. As for the opposition between ‘smart’ and ‘non-smart’, outsourcing is the key notion. You export the (necessary) dark side of production – disciplined, hierarchical labour, ecological pollution – to ‘non-smart’ Third World locations (or invisible ones in the First World). The ultimate liberal communist dream is to export the entire working class to invisible Third World sweat shops.

We should have no illusions: liberal communists are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today. All other enemies – religious fundamentalists, terrorists, corrupt and inefficient state bureaucracies – depend on contingent local circumstances. Precisely because they want to resolve all these secondary malfunctions of the global system, liberal communists are the direct embodiment of what is wrong with the system. It may be necessary to enter into tactical alliances with liberal communists in order to fight racism, sexism and religious obscurantism, but it’s important to remember exactly what they are up to.

Etienne Balibar, in La Crainte des masses (1997), distinguishes the two opposite but complementary modes of excessive violence in today’s capitalism: the objective (structural) violence that is inherent in the social conditions of global capitalism (the automatic creation of excluded and dispensable individuals, from the homeless to the unemployed), and the subjective violence of newly emerging ethnic and/or religious (in short: racist) fundamentalisms. They may fight subjective violence, but liberal communists are the agents of the structural violence that creates the conditions for explosions of subjective violence. The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces.

This entire essay needs parsing, which I'm not motivated enough to do. But I can make a few points here.

Zizek's basic claim takes the framework of critical theory and its emphasis on capitalism as appropriative of themes from its nemeses, appropriating them into itself in order to control their meaning. The standard "everything that is solid melts into air" idea. To this extent, Balibar's "subjective violence" may even be useful to the extent that it reinforces the bases for structural violence. Thus, the argument is to attack the disease rather than treat symptoms, the latter which merely echoes the activities of "liberal communists."

Agreed, although the term "liberal communists" is, in its supposed irony, simply misleading. It concretizes the dualism we ought to be confronting - that between what's possible in the world here, now, and how those possibilities can be both criticized and marshalled in the name of shared evolving ideals. It's a cliché to say that "charity" is a kind of assuaging of guilt. It may be true, but the cliché does little to advance criticism and dialogue on the problem Zizek clearly wants open to criticism and dialogue. We can be critical of double-speakers, and ought to be, but we need a better analysis of just what kind of problem we wish to solve and how we go about solving it.

How does the latter happen? First, we should move away from thinking that capital has some sort of autonomous internal and historical logic. We don't need to set up the problem of class exploitation in terms of dialectical materialism. We can set it up in terms of the obstacles that exploitation (and exclusion, racism, sexism, etc.) construct for broader social intelligence and human growth that places such restrictions on membership to the club of those engaged in social criticism and reconstruction.

So, treating the symptoms is crucial. Yes, the symptoms vary due to local contingencies, but we can't say that they're not universal due to these variations. They form the structural conditions. Zizek has this backwards. He has it backwards because he's looking for some sort of imminent universal logic for the structural conditions of globalization. The worst parts of globalization just are these contingent particulars posing as universals. To call them secondary is to miss entirely the role of local contingencies backed by very real power.

When we move to actual politics rather than a politics that relies on logics of history, we ought to take it as a symptom of something rather positive that the global elite that currently runs the planet has any sense of social responsibility, not to mention one in which class plays an important role. This is a result not simply of a kind of elitist psychotherapy, but of real socio-political pressure brought to bear on the supposed "secondary malfunctions."

One wonders what contribution Zizek himself makes. Lacanian psychoanalysis or the reconstruction of dialectical materialism is at least as elitist and prophetic a political project as the actions of those he derides. The particular form these analyses take is one that reinstantiates the battle over putative structure rather than the battle over the importance of secondary malfunctions of structure which, in fact, constitute "structure."

Progressive politics runs aground on its own intellectualism when it engages politics at the level of broader "structure." Progressive politics ought to be about intellectual and practical agility, solving concrete problems where they arise by looking for causes and consequences. If the cause is "capital," then the only answer is revolution. That's not going to happen, and such politics are the road to despair.

Propaganda from the Lincoln Group

The Belfast Telegraph has a nice rundown of examples of the Lincoln Group's work spinning the Iraq War.

That's a lot of fucking Americans!

Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week (74%) said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64% said they use the F-word — ranging from several times a day (8%) to a few times a year (15%).

It occurs to me that the percentage of "F-word" users inversely correlates with the approval percentage of the president. This is potentially a strongly positive sign that the people are ready and willing to take back their country. Remember George Carlin's line that fuck is a strong and hearty word: "I am Fuck! Fuck of the Mountain!!"

However, there is also a strong possibility that people simply wake up in the morning and say, "we're totally fucked."

Immigration as boon

Molly Ivins (via Truthdig):
...should you actually want to stop Mexicans and OTMs (other than Mexicans) from coming to the United States, here is how to do it: Find an illegal worker at a large corporation. This is not difficult—brooms and mops are big tipoffs. Then put the CEO of that corporation in prison for two or more years for violating the law against hiring illegal workers.

Got it? You can also imprison the corporate official who actually hired the illegal and, just to make sure, put some Betty Sue Billups—housewife, preferably one with blond hair in a flip—in the joint for a two-year stretch for hiring a Mexican gardener. Thus Americans are reminded that the law says it is illegal to hire illegal workers and that anyone who hires one is responsible for verifying whether or not his or her papers are in order. If you get fooled and one slips by you, too bad, you go to jail anyway. When there are no jobs for illegal workers, they do not come. Got it?...

One nice thing about the benefit of long experience with la frontera is that we in Texas don’t have to run around getting all hysterical about immigrants. The border is porous. When you want cheap labor, you open it up; when you don’t, you shut it down. It works to our benefit—it always has.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

And then you die

The Washington Post reports on a finding that has absolutely astounding results. I was going to ask all of you readers to pray that I win the lottery, but screw that now. I'm going to try get one of these grants instead. I could use some help with research ideas. SERIOUS ONES ONLY, PLEASE (example: does singing "Puff the Magic Dragon" every morning change the principles of quantum mechanics?).
Does praying for a sick person's recovery do any good?

In the largest scientific test of its kind, heart surgery patients showed no benefit when strangers prayed for their recovery...

The study "did not move us forward or backward" in understanding the effects of prayer, said Dr. Charles Bethea, a co-author and cardiologist at the Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City. "Intercessory prayer under our restricted format had a neutral effect."

Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School, co-principal investigator of the study, agreed. "We cannot come to a conclusion, except to say that by this study design, with its limitations, this is what we found," he said.

Researchers also said they didn't know why patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of complications than patients who only knew that such prayers were a possibility.

Photos of Baghdad life

I was out of town and away from the computer for a couple of days. Thanks to Barba for filling in with a couple of really nice posts. But I missed the whole Kaloogian photos of Baghdad dustup (first, here). So, I thought I would post a brief photoessay of Baghdad, especially since my two-day absence took place in Baghdad on my own super-secret fact-finding mission. I think you'll be surprised with what I found there. Certainly, the photos below throw our common perceptions of the situation in Iraq into chaos.


Riverbend and family try to figure out what to do in Baghdad when "security" comes knocking on your door.
“The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area.”

That’s how messed up the country is at this point.

We switched to another channel, the “Baghdad” channel (allied with Muhsin Abdul Hameed and his group) and they had the same news item, but instead of the general “coalition forces” they had “American coalition forces”. We checked two other channels. Iraqiya (pro-Da’awa) didn’t mention it and Forat (pro-SCIRI) also didn’t have it on their news ticker.

We discussed it today as it was repeated on another channel.

“So what does it mean?” My cousin’s wife asked as we sat gathered at lunch.

“It means if they come at night and want to raid the house, we don’t have to let them in.” I answered.

“They’re not exactly asking your permission,” E. pointed out. “They break the door down and take people away- or have you forgotten?”

“Well according to the Ministry of Defense, we can shoot at them, right? It’s trespassing-they can be considered burglars or abductors…” I replied.

The cousin shook his head, “If your family is inside the house- you’re not going to shoot at them. They come in groups, remember? They come armed and in large groups- shooting at them or resisting them would endanger people inside of the house.”

“Besides that, when they first attack, how can you be sure they DON’T have Americans with them?” E. asked.

We sat drinking tea, mulling over the possibilities. It confirmed what has been obvious to Iraqis since the beginning- the Iraqi security forces are actually militias allied to religious and political parties.

But it also brings to light other worrisome issues. The situation is so bad on the security front that the top two ministries in charge of protecting Iraqi civilians cannot trust each other. The Ministry of Defense can’t even trust its own personnel, unless they are “accompanied by American coalition forces”.

It really is difficult to understand what is happening lately. We hear about talks between Americans and Iran over security in Iraq, and then American ambassador in Iraq accuses Iran of funding militias inside of the country. Today there are claims that Americans killed between 20 to 30 men from Sadr’s militia in an attack on a husseiniya yesterday. The Americans are claiming that responsibility for the attack should be placed on Iraqi security forces (the same security forces they are constantly commending).

All of this directly contradicts claims by Bush and other American politicians that Iraqi troops and security forces are in control of the situation. Or maybe they are in control- just not in a good way.

Bush logic

Via The Heretik.

Clement’s arguments are frequently drawn from the well of “because the president says so,” or “because the president is the president,” or “because it’s wartime.” They start to sound like Alberto Gonzales’ testimony before Congress or the president’s signing statements: legal analysis by assertion and justification by double standard. This war is like every other war except to the extent that it differs from those other wars. We follow the laws of war except to the extent that they do not apply to us. These prisoners have all the rights to which they are entitled by law, except to the extent that we have changed the law to limit their rights.

In other words, there is almost no question for which the government cannot find a circular answer.

Les nouveaux cons

Clearly, the language of diplomacy:
The George W Bush administration failed to enter into negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program in May 2003 because neo-conservatives who advocated destabilization and regime change were able to block any serious diplomatic engagement with Tehran, according to former administration officials.

The same neo-conservative veto power also prevented the administration from adopting any official policy statement on Iran, those same officials said.

Lawrence Wilkerson, then chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, said the failure to adopt a formal Iran policy in 2002-03 was the result of obstruction by a "secret cabal" of neo-conservatives in the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"The secret cabal got what it wanted: no negotiations with Tehran," Wilkerson wrote in an e-mail to Inter Press Service (IPS). The Iranian negotiating offer, transmitted to the State Department in early May 2003 by the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, acknowledged that Iran would have to address US concerns about its nuclear program, although it made no specific concession in advance of the talks, according to Flynt Leverett, then the National Security Council's senior director for Middle East Affairs.

Iran's offer also raised the possibility of cutting off Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and converting Hezbollah into a purely socio-political organization, according to Leverett. That was an explicit response to Powell's demand in late March that Iran "end its support for terrorism".

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Clegg on the ex-Con Vote

I have Sirius satellite radio these days & have been making up for years of lack of access to public radio by listening to things like Radio Times. I don't know why. CBC Radio 3 is a much, much better choice, and I don't get mad at all listening to it. Anyway, this morning, Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity (lest the name confuse you, be sure to follow the link and learn about the racial hiring preferences that threaten the American Way . . . you can also get your RDA of the colors red, white, and blue while you're there) and National Review contributor made several arguments about why ex-felons should not be allowed to vote. They were a reiteration of what he's published at NRO:

The reason we don't let felons vote has nothing to do with race and everything to do with common sense. Individuals who have shown they are unwilling too follow the law cannot claim the right to make laws for the rest of us. We don't let everyone vote — not children, for instance, or noncitizens, or the mentally incompetent. We have certain minimum standards of trustworthiness before we let people participate in the serious business of self-government, and people who commit serious crimes don't meet those standards.

It is frequently asserted that felons released from prison should be able to vote because they have "paid their debt to society." But the felon-vote movement will, if pressed, admit that they think felons in prison should be allowed to vote, too. And society is not obliged to ignore someone's criminal record just because he has been released from prison. Felons are barred by federal law from possessing firearms, for example.

It is true that some felons — say, someone who wrote a bad check decades ago and has led an exemplary life since then — ought to have their voting rights restored, but these determinations should be made on a case-by-case, not a wholesale, basis. It is also true that these laws have come to have a disproportionate impact on blacks, but this was not deliberate and will cease once a disproportionate number of felonies are no longer committed by blacks.

The irony is that the people whose votes will be diluted the most if felons are reenfranchised are the law-abiding citizens in communities with a high proportion of felons in them. These citizens, who are also most frequently the victims of crime, are of course themselves disproportionately poor and minority. But somehow the bien pensants always forget them.

Part of Clegg's argument that I don't represent here (because he doesn't really cover it in the NRO piece) is a state's rights issue: the constitution, with the exception of certain provisions, allows states to establish who can and cannot vote. I'm actually OK with this argument.

But pretty much everything else he said was loaded emotionally. Note how he avoids altogether the discussion of rehabilitation by reducing that theme to a scare-quoted "debt to society." Also: above, he makes an argument that the people living in high-crime communities will have their votes diluted by ex -cons .On the radio he said that he was actually looking out for African-Americans and Hispanics, that he was more interested that they not be "hurt" by the voting ex-cons who have moved back into their high-crime neighborhoods. How does it "hurt" them? What is this dilution he's talking about? Does he really imagine some kind of pro-felony candidtate getting elected?

Or does he worry that someone interested in fixing the broken criminal justice system will get elected?

In what was not acknowledged as a related observation Clegg also argued with callers who suggested that the criminal justice system is inherently flawed and racist. He made the argument that enfranchising ex-cons isn't going to fix the problem, that--"if there is a problem"--it will need to be fixed within the system or something or other that didn't make any sense. He said it like it was obvious. But I can't think of any other way of fixing a racist system than guarding carefully the enfranchisement of those most made powerless by that system. Besides, there are so many problems with that system that Clegg's general insistence that felons shouldn't be allowed to vote simplistically leaves unaddressed the massive (massive!) recategorization of what is felony in this country since Nixon. We have the world's largest proportion of citizens behind bars; Clegg says he's pretty sure they're almost all guilty. But of what? Posession?

As several callers noted, the bigger and more direct--and more carefully documented--problem for voters in high-crime areas is that prisons are no longer located in or near those areas. Prisons, both private and public, have been a growing economic factor in rural parts of the country for a long time now (there's a two-year-old 500-bed facility in my town of 600 people). Prisoners are counted by the census according to where they are incarcerated. The result is that tiny towns in Western PA suddenly show a surge in population that affects positively their representation, their federal and state funding, etc. An equal and opposite reaction, of course, occurs in high-crime communities, and it is not alleviated with ex-cons return home. To go about their business of diluting the vote.

Why Andy Card Didn't Get a Medal or a Promotion

He didn't screw up spectacularly enough. From Kurtz at WAPO:
As for Bolten, he may be a talented staff man, but let's face it. His promotion gives the Democrats a free pass to talk about how the guy who presided over huge budget deficits got rewarded.
UPDATE by Helmut (30 March):

JON STEWART: Joshua Bolton who has been working in the White House for Bush’s entire Presidency. He spent two years working under Andy card. The last three years he’s been in charge of the Office of Management and Budget.

In other words, he just gave a promotion to the guy who is in charge of our $9 trillion debt.

You know what? I really think if you walked into a cabinet meeting and started hurling your feces at the wall—Bush would name a state after you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Baby guavas

Photo: Dave

"Value Transforms Very Quickly"

Cecilia Ballí spoke here at Texas A&M International last night. She's the Texas Monthly writer perhaps best known for her 2003 article on the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez (better known here for a piece from 2005, "Borderline Insanity," in which she provided one of the best readings of the violence in Nuevo Lareedo). She talked a bit about how angry it makes her when journalists or politicians speak of violence "seeping across" the border; these kinds of panicky pronouncements avoid acknowledging the fact that, as she put it, "it's our border, too."

Among her observations about our complicity in the violence in Nuevo Laredo: on the border, "value transforms very quickly." I think she intended this as a way of connecting the violence in Juárez to the violence in Nuevo Laredo. In the former, the explosion of maquiladora manufacuturing (beginning in the 1960s) led to massive growth that crippled the city's social and civic infrastructure while paying poverty-level wages; the rapid expansion of maquiladoras--in some ways a kind of first wave of job exports for U.S. manufacturers--relied heavily on the fact that "value transforms very quickly" at the border. For the latter, the demand for drugs in the United States (itself partly the result, I'd argue, of a misguided, unfocused "war on drugs") means that supply-side investments--such as killing journalists in Nuevo Laredo--promise ever-greater payoffs.

Her argument about Juárez is much more nuanced (as it should be, given that she's working on a book about the topic), and addresses the complex relationship between economics and Mexican attitudes about women. And she didn't--I don't think she meant to--explicitly argue that the violence in both cities is about the effect of market economies on borders . . . or vice versa. But this is what I heard her saying anyway: our blind commitment to free trade has enabled us here in the U.S. to pretend the border doesn't really exist at the same time we rely on that border, as that is where, as Balli put it, "value transforms very quickly."

I think I like that phrasing so much because "transforms" can be both intransitive and transitive there. As spoken, it's intransitive: Value transforms. Value changes. But I heard it as transitive: Value transforms something very quickly. Lives, for example. Moreoever, the violence inherent in that quick transformation is an economic, a market violence, one that both depends on and refuses to recognize the border. One that insists the border isn't there when the value of a leather steering wheel cover is transformed suddenly, violently by a bridge crossing in the back of a freightliner. One that insists the border is there when people--especially people on the other side are transformed--or killed or raped or tortured into confessing for crimes--by value. One that shouts angrily about the border when the unskilled-labor value of an eighteen-year-old Mexican kid is transformed suddenly as he crosses the bridge in the back of a freightliner.

Believing--as so many congresspersons from places like Colorado do--that we can have the value transformation without the violence "seeping across" is like believing in a kind of market version of cold fusion. Hell, we should be happy it's only "seeping." Not much to worry about right? Let's build a big, seep-proof wall and be done with it. Just so long as it doesn't interfere with free trade.

Britain makes the move?

I still can't believe I just read this.

Four senior ministers will, this morning, make one of the most embarrassing admissions of the Labour Government's nine years in office - that the official policy for fighting climate change has failed.

Yet, as they do so, a group of MPs will offer a different way forward in the struggle to combat global warming, one which they think is the only alternative. It will mean turning established principles of British economic life upside down. It will mean sacrifices from everyone. Therefore, they say, it will have to be taken out of politics.

In The Independent today, their leader, Colin Challen, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, sets out the case for abandoning the "business as usual" pursuit of economic growth, which has been the basis of Western economic policy for two hundred years. Instead, he says, we must concentrate our efforts on putting a limit on the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power stations and motor vehicles that are causing the atmosphere to warm.

To do this, Mr Challen and his colleagues believe, carbon will have to be rationed, for companies, individuals and, eventually, for countries. And only a full cross-party consensus would allow such a departure to be implemented without being destroyed by the political process...

"No amount of economic growth is going to pay for the cost of the damage caused by a new and unstable climate," he said...

Mr Challen says the approach needs to be based on "actuality" ­ just how much carbon can we afford to emit before climate change brings us disaster? But such moves would require sacrifice on the part of individuals, so a cross-party consensus is essential to obviate the pursuit of short-term political advantage.

The beginnings of such a consensus have been outlined, with the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and minority parties now willing to work together.

But Mr Challen and his colleagues are looking for something more fundamental that would take in the radical new way forward. "We have to create the political space to address it," he said.

If you want to give your input, head on over to The Independent.
Today, the group announces a climate change inquiry, inviting evidence from any interested parties, and readers of The Independent are invited to join in the debate. We will forward your responses to the committee.
See also this article on the UK's inability to meet carbon emissions cuts.

Maybe they'll get it if the reality that has been fictionalized is refictionalized to represent reality

Anyone have a word for when something is so absurd it passes absurdity?
The plight of British residents in Guantánamo Bay, currently being considered by high court judges here, is to be heard on Capitol Hill - through the voices of actors. An updated version of the play Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, is to be presented before members of the US House of Representatives next month.

The play features Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi and longtime UK resident who was seized by the CIA in The Gambia 2002 after a tip-off from the British security services. The high court heard last week that Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, has now agreed to take up the case with the Bush administration after it was disclosed that Mr Rawi had helped MI5 in Britain before he was seized by the Americans...

The performance on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 6 is sponsored by two Democratic members of Congress, Jan Schakowsky and John Conyers. The play is based on recorded testimony from one of the detainees, the families of prisoners, their lawyers and their letters home, as well as public record statements made by American and British politicians including Mr Straw and Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Neocons as anti-pluralists

I just read Andrew Sullivan's blog. I don't do that usually, really. But reading through some of the posts, I thought he sounded rather reasonable. Especially this post here, which I think is right on. That's why I've gone on and on about international legitimacy and philosophical pragmatism.

But I want to comment on another post by Sullivan - on Fukuyama and Hegel - because it occurs to me that there's an important element of the American tradition that is overlooked in neocon thinking which is also deeply anti-American. Read this first, and I'll meet you on the other side:

Gary Rosen fingers a critical turn in Francis Fukuyama's thought: against Fukyama's previously neo-Hegelian idea of an inevitable global unfolding of human liberty on the American model:

What's missing from this, as a reader of the old Fukuyama would know, is the Hegelian twist that gave his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man its peculiar intensity and breadth. Liberal democracy, in that telling, was not only about the desire for pleasure and physical well-being but also about a second, more elevated drive: the individual's "struggle for recognition," the spirited - and often political - assertion of personal dignity and worth. About this deeply felt human need, Fukuyama is now silent. Yet in today's Middle East, nothing is so striking as the dearth of channels for its expression.

Sure. And I tend to agree that democracy in the Middle East would help drain the swamp that gives us hordes of mosquito-type terrorists. But a key premise of conservatism, it seems to me, is that history has no direction, that it can go any which way, and has. That's why Fukuyama's last book, which was as much Nietzschean as Hegelian, was in places most unconservative. What true-believing neocons had was a true secular belief - in the principles of America, and their inevitable triumph in every part of the world. Perhaps that belief is still worth having, if only to cheer ourselves up. But it surely must now be a deeply chastened belief; and the process of chastening is not a capitulation to the isolationist left. Far from it. It is a belated recognition of the deeper wisdom of the skeptical, culture-focused Right. I think that's what Frank is aiming for: not an abandonment of America's ideals and involvement with the world; but a far more prudent, chastened and subtle engagement.

Now, I don't care to engage the Hegelianism of Fukuyama or Sullivan's concern about what is really truly conservative and what is not. Neither are terribly philosophical assessments either.

What interests me here is that, first, it's not an easy thing to figure out precisely what "the principles of America" are. Sure, we can be really general about this and chant mantras like "freedom," "democracy," "personal dignity," etc. But the meaningful content of those terms is hotly disputed by those who actually think about them. I seriously doubt that the president, for instance, is part of that club. And, after all, who doesn't like those notions in the abstract?

Furthermore, neocons inextricably link a particular kind of economic liberalization with such notions as "freedom," etc. This is a 20th-century historical product, in my view. It became easy to take freedom or liberty as cognitively coextensive with a free market economy when the alternative was, rhetorically and politically, Soviet-style communism. The two were lumped together and contemporary US opinion has inherited that lumpy mass. In current policy, we see the outcome. Liberty is not equated with human rights or economic equality - more progressive values, for instance - but with economic freedoms. And we know that free markets are a myth and economic freedoms always come with a priori winners and losers where winning just means fitting into preset economic forms and modes of behavior, and cashing out.

More seriously, however, I think the US has lost its way in thinking through the meaning of these values in both theory and practice. We use them like, well, mantras, as if intoning them long enough makes them into some sort of concrete reality. The inverse is increasingly true.

Second, what is of greater interest, and why I cited Sullivan at all above, is the utter neglect of pluralism as an American ideal. I don't mean Sullivan necessarily - I don't know him well enough to say that or not. I mean neocon ideology: "What true-believing neocons had was a true secular belief - in the principles of America, and their inevitable triumph in every part of the world."

There's a rather glaring problem here: the evangelical nature of neoconservatism where The Good News is a particularly-framed set of American principles posing as universal truisms. Thusly, one lays claim to "the end of history." Apart from the question of not having gotten that right, and not even being able to figure out how to make American society better, the claim lacks a respect for the American experience of pluralism.

By pluralism here I mean it fairly broadly - moral/value pluralism, political pluralism, cultural pluralism. Take a look at a quote by a genuine pluralist:
[a social practice] is to be judged good when it contributes positively to free intercourse, to unhampered exchange of ideas, to mutual respect and friendship and love - in short, to those modes of behaving which make life richer and more worth living for everybody concerned; and conversely, any custom or institution which impedes progress toward these goals is to be judged bad." It should contribute to "the development and qualitative enhancement of associated living." - Dewey
Subjugation and subordination is the inverse process. Neocons are good at S&S in the name of noble ideals through political and economic means that belie the content of those ideals. They are the Dow Chemicals of the decent life.

A pluralistic perspective is an acceptance that there are diverse comprehensive views and diverse individual answers about how best to live, which values are truly important, what goals are to be sought, how conflicts are to be resolved, and so on. The traditional liberal virtue of toleration has as its object the pluralism that comprises our moral, social, and political world - heterogeneity, diversity, difference. Pluralism here is not to be confused with multiculturalism, which became a kind of dogma about essential differences. Cultural and individual moral identities shift, meld, break apart, sift, reevaluate, converge and diverge. A pluralistic perspective celebrates the latter as the basis for social and political solidarity, which means also that forms of political and economic organization must necessarily be democratic from the get-go. This sounds like it contains a contradiction - solidarity out of difference and conflict - but not unless one imagines that there are such things as final answers, absolutes, and ends of history.

This is a large part of what neocons miss. They have a definitive answer, of course - a particular brand of liberal democracy - that is based in a moribund notion of liberal democracy as a kind of historical accomplishment. Democracy, by its nature, leaves open the possibility of endless history, even if now and then we come up with pretty good ways of organizing ourselves into political life. This is a powerful part of the "American tradition," which is selectively bred out of existence by neoconservatism. Think Jefferson, Lincoln, Emerson, Whitman, Melville, James, Du Bois, Dewey, King, Baldwin,.... And we have guys who look to Trotsky and Strauss as their main intellectual influences? For whatever they're worth otherwise (I'm not a fan of Strauss), they're not the place to go for lessons in pluralism.

The stretch, then, is in the finality and absolutism that neocons append to their form of spreading the good news about the end of history, even if Fukuyama no longer believes his own news. At its heart, neoconservatism contains this fundamental contradiction. In politics, it plays out as a form of pedantic exceptionalism, which appears to most other people as subjugation. There's much ado about the failure of the Bush administration's "idealism." But the problem is that the form of idealism is wrong, and perhaps not even idealistic in the first place.

We're better off thinking again through the lens of this 1939 text:
If there is one conclusion to which human experience unmistakably points it is that democratic ends demand democratic methods for their realization. Authoritarian methods now offer themselves to us in new guises. They come to us claiming to serve the ultimate ends of freedom and equity in a classless society. Or they recommend adoption of a totalitarian regime in order to fight totalitarianism. In whatever form they offer themselves, they owe their seductive power to their claim to serve ideal ends. Our first defense is to realize that democracy can be served only by the slow day by day adoption and contagious diffusion in every phase of our common life of methods that are identical with the ends to be reached and that recourse to monistic, wholesale, absolutistic procedures is a betrayal of human freedom no matter in what guise it presents itself. An American democracy can serve the world only as it demonstrates in the conduct of its own life the efficacy of plural, partial, and experimental methods in securing and maintaining an ever-increasing release of the powers of human nature, in service of freedom which is cooperative and a cooperation which is voluntary. - Dewey, Freedom and Culture

Getting kooky 'round here

Jim Kunstler, in pitch-perfect apocalypso tone, posts anew on the downfall of happy motoring nation:
The plain truth is, if anything happens to upset the current management and allocation system of the the global oil markets, the industrial economies of the world will collapse, and America's will collapse hardest and worst because of the way we have arranged things for ourselves. The global oil markets currently revolve around Middle East oil production. If the region is overcome by instability, than it's simply GAME OVER.
Compare/contrast with this recent article sent to me by friend Catherine.
Rainwater is something of a behind-the-scenes type--at least as far as alpha-male billionaires go. He counts President Bush as a personal friend but dislikes politics, and frankly, when he gets worked up, he says some pretty far-out things that could easily be taken out of context. Such as: An economic tsunami is about to hit the global economy as the world runs out of oil. Or a coalition of communist and Islamic states may decide to stop selling their precious crude to Americans any day now. Or food shortages may soon hit the U.S. Or he read on a blog last night that there's this one gargantuan chunk of ice sitting on a precipice in Antarctica that, if it falls off, will raise sea levels worldwide by two feet--and it's getting closer to the edge.... And then he'll interrupt himself: "Look, I'm not predicting anything," he'll say. "That's when you get a little kooky-sounding."...

The next blowup, however, looms so large that it scares and confuses him. For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode--reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like or, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before. "I'm long oil and I'm liquid," he says. "I've put myself in a position that if the end of the world came tomorrow I'd kind of be prepared." He's also ready to move fast if he spots an opening.

His instincts tell him that another enormous moneymaking opportunity is about to present itself, what he calls a "slow pitch down the middle." But, at 61, wealthier and happier than ever before, Rainwater finds himself reacting differently this time. He's focused more on staying rich than on getting richer. But there's something else too: a sort of billionaire-style civic duty he feels to get a conversation started. Why couldn't energy prices skyrocket, with grave repercussions, not just economic but political? As industry analysts debate whether the world's oil production is destined to decline, the prospect makes him itchy...

What concerns him most is the conflict that he thinks an oil shortage will precipitate. What happens when people get blindsided by prices rocketing past any level they have contemplated--especially when you factor in other challenges America faces? "We've got a lot of things going on simultaneously," he says. "The world as we know it is unwinding with respect to Social Security, pensions, Medicare. We're going to have dramatically increased taxes in the U.S. I believe we're going into a world where there's going to be more hostility. More people are going to be asking, 'Why did God do this to us?' Whatever God they worship. Alfred Sloan said it a long time ago at General Motors, that we're giving these things during good times. What happens in bad times? We're going to have to take them back, and then everybody will riot.' And he's right."

Part of Rainwater's routine when he's down on the farm is to go for gizzards at Allison's, a no-frills truck stop up the road. Driving in a red BMW SUV on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, he points out who lives where: the local doctor, the Taiwanese Nan Ya workers....
I'm a little distracted by the $500 million under his mattress (dude, invite me for dinner sometime), and the red SUV. But... a world of dew is a world of dew. Or something or another that sounds profoundly death-knell-like.

Torture porn

Of the fictional variety (via Raw Story). Another notch in the history of the Downfall of American Civilization? Remember, the Romans had the vomitorium.
Every decade or so, horror gets hot in Hollywood. This latest shockwave, though, is larger—and much more grotesque. You could sew together a whole new person from all the severed body parts in the "Saw" movies, "Hostel" and Fox Searchlight's remake of Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes." It's not jokey violence, either. "Filmmakers now have the ability to put viewers directly into the shoes of the victims going through these horrible things, in an almost documentary way," says Bob Weinstein, whose "Scream" franchise for Dimension Films launched the last horror fad in 1996. Some critics—smart ones like New York Magazine's David Edelstein, not just nervous Nellies—argue that the trend verges on "torture porn." Even people within the industry are torn. "It's not the violence that bothers me so much as the tone. A George Romero movie was so political and funny and subversive," says Picturehouse Films president Bob Berney, who marketed "The Passion of the Christ." "To me, these newer movies are purely sadistic." Then again, he adds, "I remember my parents saying stuff like this, and I ignored it. They wouldn't let me see 'A Clockwork Orange,' and I went 25 times."

Stanislaw Lem

A great writer died today.

Unlike many in blogoland, I've never been much of a follower of science fiction. Except for Lem, whose work managed to transcend the genre.
WARSAW, Poland - Stanislaw Lem, a popular science fiction writer whose novel "Solaris" was filmed twice, died Monday in his native Poland, his secretary said. He was 84.

"I never wanted war."

In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war.

But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times.

"Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," David Manning, Mr. Blair's chief foreign policy adviser at the time, wrote in the memo that summarized the discussion between Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair and six of their top aides.

"The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March," Mr. Manning wrote, paraphrasing the president. "This was when the bombing would begin."

Scalia reasoning

Newsweek said Scalia was challenged by an audience member in Switzerland about whether Guantanamo Bay detainees have protection under the Geneva or human rights conventions.

Scalia replied: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son, and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy," Newsweek reported.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Oh, the humanity

Results of improper mangosteen opening technique.

Photo: Dave

Universal meaning of Phronesisaical

Robyn Hitchcock gets it:
"The meaning of the universe is an apple," Robyn Hitchcock profoundly pronounces. "Of course," he adds, "that’s only this universe."

Orange Revolution update

Apparently, Ukraine's Orange Revolution is having some trouble.
The divided leaders of Ukraine's orange revolution were beaten into second place in parliamentary elections yesterday, less than 18 months since jubilant crowds swept them to power.

Early exit polls suggested the former prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, was likely to seize between a quarter and a third of parliament, raising the possibility he could take back his post. That would put him in an uneasy cohabitation with Viktor Yushchenko, the president and his opponent during the falsified election which gave birth to the revolution in late 2004 and early 2005...

Mr Yushchenko's post was not at stake, but a big win for the Party of the Regions could allow it to deflect the country from its pro-western course, reject Nato membership, and switch its trajectory back towards Russia. But the outcome still depends on intense horsetrading between the three main parties which could last for weeks after the vote. Whether Mr Yushchenko and Ms Timoshenko's supporters can reunite their orange team remains in doubt. She took her party into opposition in September after she had been sacked from the premiership when corruption allegations between senior officials came into the open.

See also this article by Tatiana Zhurzhenko in Eurozine: What is Left of the Orange Revolution?


I hate to be a pessimist, but...
American and Iraqi government forces clashed with Shiite militiamen in Baghdad tonight in the most serious confrontation in months, and Iraqi officials said the fighting left at least 17 Iraqis dead, including an 80-year-old imam.

The fighting erupted at a very combustible moment in Iraq, with sectarian tensions rising, leadership problems deepening, and dozens of mutilated bodies continuing to surface on Iraqi streets today.

Another concern is that the clash could open an old wound, because the militiamen who were killed worked for Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who has already led several bloody rebellions against American forces.

Security in Baghdad seems to be deteriorating by the hour, and it is increasingly unclear who is in control. Earlier today, the Iraqi Interior Ministry reported that American forces raided a secret prison and arrested several Iraqi policeman.

And here's The Independent's take:

US forces killed 22 people and wounded eight at a mosque in east Baghdad in an incident likely to lead to increased tensions with the Shia community. Police said the US troops had retaliated after coming under fire.

Videotape showed a heap of male bodies with gunshot wounds on the floor of the Imam's living quarters in what was said to be the Al Mustafa mosque. There were 5.56mm shell casings on the floor, which is the type of ammunition used by US soldiers. A weeping man in white Arab robes is shown stepping among the bodies.

Police Lt Hassan said some of the casualties were at the office Dawa, the party of the Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Haidar al-Obaidi, a senior Dawa official, said: "The lives of Iraqis are not cheap. If the American blood is valuable to them, the Iraqi blood is valuable to us."

Now, I'm having some real difficulty figuring out how any of the events of the past few days are serving the US administration's increasingly desperate-sounding rhetoric about an Iraqi national unity government. "Exit strategy" is one thing. But it increasingly sounds like absolutely everyone in Iraq is simply collapsed into total despair because there is no recognizable strategy of any kind to be found anywhere.

The "historical judgment" that Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney like to use as a last line of rhetorical defense to their own populace sounds increasingly like, in actuality, it will be judgment of a gigantic accidental outcome, whatever that outcome is.

The Venezuelan economy

Nice historical article on the Venezuelan economy (via Latin America News Review). The excerpt below is new data on the growing economy. I'm not a big fan of using GDP as a basis for gauging the broader health of an economy and society, but this is the language of the opposition and economic liberalizers.

The data just released by the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) confirm that the Venezuelan economy grew at a cumulative 10.2 percent between the fourth quarter of 2004 and the fourth quarter of 2005. This is the ninth consecutive increase since the last quarter of 2003. Overall, in 2005, the gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 9.3 percent.

Just like in the previous eight quarters, the strong increase was fundamentally driven by activities not related to oil: civil construction (28.3 percent), domestic trade (19.9 percent), transportation (10.6 percent), and manufacturing (8.5 percent). The oil sector had an increase of only 2.7 percent. According to a report by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE), the unemployment rate in December 2005 was 8.9 percent, two percentage points below the rate in the same period of 2004. In absolute terms, this means 266,000 additional jobs. Last year, the inflation rate reached 14.4 percent, but that was below the 19.2 percent rate in 2004. The nominal interest rate went down to 14.8 percent.

Rambutan massacre

Photo: Dave

Opened longan

Photo: Dave

Putin, plagiarist

Researchers at the Brookings Institution, a Washington DC think tank, have effectively accused the Russian president Vladimir Putin of plagiarizing his thesis, by claiming his academic credentials were based on a dissertation he had lifted in part verbatim from the Russian translation of a management study written by two professors at the University of Pittsburgh in 1978, The Sunday Times reports.

More from Rodger at Duck of Minerva.


My Lai changed the American public perception of the Vietnam War. Today, we're so numb with an outrage that has internalized, settled in, propped its legs up on the ottoman, that this story seems to have dropped off the face of American newspaper front pages and even the lefty blogosphere. In the US outrage is in "Gilligan!" mode. The investigation is ongoing, but don't expect charges. The Independent reminds us....

US military investigators are examining allegations that Marines shot unarmed Iraqis, then claimed they were "enemy fighters", The Independent on Sunday has learned. In the same incident, eyewitnesses say, one man bled to death over a period of hours as soldiers ignored his pleas for help.

American military officials in Iraq have already admitted that 15 civilians who died in the incident in the western town of Haditha last November were killed by Marines, and not by a roadside bomb, as had previously been claimed. The only victim of the remotely triggered bomb, it is now conceded, was a 20-year-old Marine, Lance-Corporal Miguel Terrazas, from El Paso, Texas.


Neal Pollack on "Onan the Barbarian."

New gay cowboy blog

Via Mad Melancholic Feminista, here's a new philosophy blog: Philosophers' Playground.

Gay cowboy or philosopher (or both)?

Another item that may have played a role in the bimodal response (i.e., love us or fear us) we elicited: One of this year's additions to our big board of famous people who have studied philosophy: Jake Gyllenhaal, pictured in a still from Brokeback Mountain. Since, as an administrator pointed out as we were setting up, many parents would feel a little bit better about their kids becoming gay cowboys than philosophers.

Uniter, not a divider

From TomDispatch:

Has Latin America ever had such a unifying figure?

At political rallies, his visage is held aloft as a beacon to regional independence and self-determination. He's helped forge new trade partnerships to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. And his leadership has fanned a gale-force electoral trend that's sweeping the hemisphere to topple one pro-Washington government after the next.

Who is this grand inductor of Latin American leftism? Venezuelan fireball Hugo Chavez? Blue-collar Brazilian Lula Ignacio da Silva? Bolivia's coca-farmer-cum-president, Evo Morales?

¡Epa! It's George W. Bush, the accidental revolutionary.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Must read

Nir Rosen in the Boston Review on the roots of sectarian violence in Iraq. (via Truthdig).

Leaving children behind

We talked about this earlier. But here's an added dose of the reality.
Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

Venezuelan oil

From all accounts I've heard and analyses I've seen, this is indeed the basic position of Venezuela regarding petroleum supplies to the US. The US, obviously, has a gluttonous taste for petroleum, but Venezuela also needs the market. The oil flows whatever the government in either country. But Chavez is definitely in an advantaged position here.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday his government had no plan to suspend oil supplies to United States but would prefer to give priority to energy deals with Latin American neighbors.

Speaking to regional central bank representatives, Chavez took a softer line after earlier harsh rhetoric and threats to cut off U.S. petroleum supplies should Washington "cross the line" in their heated diplomatic dispute.

Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and a key U.S. crude supplier, has signed energy pacts with Latin American neighbors, China and India as Chavez seeks to break his nation's traditional economic reliance on the United States.

"It's not that we have a plan to suspend shipments of oil to the United States or anywhere else," he said. "We send to China too and if Europe needs it, we've told their leaders, too. It's just that we want to give priority to Latin America and the Caribbean."

King Bush (DoJ included in King Bush kit)

Greenwald documents the executive's middle finger.
Question number (5) from the Committee Republicans asked "whether President Carter's signature on FISA in 1978, together with his signing statement," meant that the Executive had agreed to be bound by the restrictions placed by FISA on the President's powers to eavesdrop on Americans. This is how the DoJ responded, in relevant part:
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statutes inconsistent with the Constitution must yield. The basic principle of our system of government means that no President, merely by assenting to a piece of legislation, can diminish the scope of the President's constitutional power. . . .

Just as one President may not, through signing legislation, eliminate the Executive Branch's inherent constitutional powers, Congress may not renounce inherent presidential authority. The Constitution grants the President the inherent power to protect the nation from foreign attack, and Congress may not impede the President's ability to perform his constitutional duty.“ (citations omitted).
Can that be any clearer for you - Congressmen, Senators, journalists? The President is bestowed by the Constitution with the unlimited and un-limitable power to do anything that he believes is necessary to "protect the nation." Thus, even if Congress passes laws which seek to limit that power in any way, and even if the President agrees to those restrictions and signs that bill into law, he still retains the power to violate it whenever he wants...

The reality is that the Administration has been making clear for quite some time that they have unlimited power and that nothing -- not even the law -- can restrict it. But here, they are specifically telling Congress that even if Congress amends FISA and the President agrees to abide by those amendments, they still have the power to break the law whenever they want. As I have documented more times than I can count, we have a President who has seized unlimited power, including the power to break the law, and the Administration -- somewhat commendably -- is quite candid and straightforward about that fact.

Spot 'o news for yer Saturday

Blogger has once again been quirky this morning. Thus, the lack of posts. Someone at Blogger Central apparently just recently broke out the can of WD-40, and we're now slow but on our way for the time-being, squeaky bicycle and all.

Three bits of news:

1. If you've been watching the US news or listening solely Mr. Danger you'd think there's one big balloon party going on in Iraq. Here's the news from the UK (via Patrick Cockburn, as always), however:
Battle for Baghdad 'has already started'

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

2. This isn't really news - since it has been known for some time - but it gets the main headline of the day at The Independent.
The pollution gap: Report reveals how the world's poorer countries are forced to pay for the CO2 emissions of the developed nations

Over 70 million Africans and an even greater number of farmers in the Indian sub-continent will suffer catastrophic floods, disease and famine if the rich countries of the world fail to change their habits and radically cut their carbon emissions.

The stark warning, contained in a private Government document commissioned by Gordon Brown, comes days ahead of an announcement that will show Tony Blair backing away from his promise to "lead internationally" on climate change. The Government has decided to delay setting targets for industry to cut carbon emissions until other EU governments set theirs. Previously, Mr Blair has made a virtue out of leading the way in Europe...

The report emphasises that - despite the recent focus on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina - 94 per cent of all natural disasters, and 97 per cent of deaths from natural disasters, occur in the developing countries.

3. This article, also from The Independent, suggests what we've also known for a long time:
Whiny child will be an adult Tory, says study

Depending on your political predilections, you have double reason to be worried if you find your school-age child tends to be the whiny, sit-at-the-back-of-the-class kind. You had better get the child's confidence level up a notch or you may have a future conservative in your nest.

A study by Professor Jack Block of the University of California at Berkeley should be sufficient warning. He has been specialising in this area for years and his conclusions are clear: the boys and girls who are resilient, smooth and sure of themselves end up liberal in their older years.

4. Buck Owens has died. It's a shame if you know his music and antics only through "Hee-Haw." His early music is great. Sardonic, witty, rough, and sometimes a tad nasty.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

As soon as the effort at rational comprehension ends in contradiction, the practice of intellectual scatology requires the excretion of unassimilable elements, which is another way of stating vulgarly that a burst of laughter is the only imaginable and definitively terminal result - and not the means - of philosophical speculation. And then one must indicate that a reaction as insignificant as a burst of laughter derives from the extremely vague and distant character of the intellectual domain, and that it suffices to go from a speculation resting on abstract facts to a practice whose mechanism is not different, but which immediately reaches concrete heterogeneity, in order to arrive at ecstatic trances and orgasm.

- Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess

Ports, Borders, and the Snakes Under the Bed

Many of you will remember that last June, Tom Tancredo, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, opined of immigrants that some of them are “coming to kill you, and you, and me, and my children, and my grandchildren.”

Today, the NYT reports:

WASHINGTON, March 23 — In the days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, immigration policy was going to be President Bush's signature issue. It was central to his thinking as the former governor of a border state, key to his relationship with President Vicente Fox of Mexico and essential in attracting new Hispanic voters to the Republican Party.

Five years later, Mr. Bush has at last realized some momentum on immigration policy, but it is probably not the activity he once anticipated.

He has lost control of his own party on the issue, as many Republicans object to his call for a temporary guest-worker program, insisting instead that the focus be on shutting down the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico. It is not clear how much help he will get from Democrats in an election year.

I never really believed W would follow through with any kind of meaningful immigration reform, but I have hoped that he would anyway. Huge walls and massive budgets for the US Border Patrol look a lot more likely these days, despite W's intentions (supposing he has any and isn't just "courting" (stupid, stupid metaphor) Mexican-American voters).

What happened? The administration has so effectively rooted its operative logic--and the logic of its entire party--in fear, that it has prevented Republicans from making policy decisions based on anything but fear. Helmut has made this point repeatedly, most recently in light of The Port Business, wherein he writes that "This administration has been adept at one thing only: causing greater fear than necessary in the population and then overreacting in response through self-interested means."

But I think the emerging fight--which W will lose to outspoken fraidy-cats in his own party--is a good illustration of the ways in which allowing fear to dictate policy doesn't necessarily always result even in self-interesed means (huge contracting deals for wall-building to political pals notwithstanding). Bush, Cheney, the whole goddamned bunch, have shown their party and the world that they are afraid. We have a National Security Strategy whose central argument rests on our perception that some other country could do us harm; we should, according to the president, lash out in advance when we're scared, even if we're not entirely sure the threat is real.

Helmut's right--the idea in the first place on the part of the Administration was to create rationale for self-interested means. But the rest of the party didn't get the briefing, or something. Most Republicans . . . no, hell, most people in Congress, along with most Americans, are now actually afraid, motivated by fear, writing fear-based policy, failing to recognize any longer (if they ever did) that being scared is itself the ideological framework in which they think and breathe. Republicans fought W over the ports because they thought he was crazy not to be as scared as they were. And they'll fight him--and hard--on immigration for the same reason.

A bigger, more pressing question: will Republicans wet the bed before getting up to pee? Will they dare expose their hairless bare white ankles to those angry, hungry (freedom-hating) serpents lurking beneath the bed? Time will tell. A night-light might help. A really fucking big one. One you can see from space. One that'll turn day into night, that'll make immigrants pine for the darkness of old, when they could steal across our--our!--border and kill us as we lay awake, afraid.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What the veep absolutely must have

Smoking Gun gets a nice one (via Norwegianity) re the light-switch averse VP.

Dumb professor

I asked the David Horowitz outfit a while back why I couldn't make his evil liberal/communist professors list. In return, I was placed on the Horowitz mailing list.


Here's the online poll Horowitz did of living evil liberal/communist professors. Michael Bérubé won, but his fellow travelers gamed the system.

From Michael on February 28th:

Michael Berube, Penn State University: 233238
John Bellamy Foster, University of Oregon, Eugene: 106393
Norman Finkelstein, De Paul University: 50852
Eric Foner, Columbia University: 40323
Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 32756
Gregory Dawes, North Carolina State University: 14448
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, City University of New York: 13332
Jose Angel Gutierrez, University of Texas, Arlington: 13225
Bell Hooks, City University of New York: 12693
Gayle Rubin, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: 12191
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University: 12131
Timothy Shortell, Brooklyn College: 11380
Jerry Lembcke , Holy Cross College: 11154
Ward Churchill, University of Colorado: 8470
Sam Richards, Penn State University: 5340
Alison Jaggar, University of Colorado, Boulder: 3743

Those were the top sixteen. They were followed in turn by nine more professors in quadruple digits:

Angela Davis, University of California, Santa Cruz: 3536
Robert Jensen, University of Texas, Austin: 3259
Melissa Gilbert, Temple University: 3174
Howard Zinn, Boston University: 2079
Juan Cole, University of Michigan: 2075
Sasan Fayazmanesh, Cal State University, Fresno: 1698
Larry Estrada, Western Washington University: 1313
Victor Navasky, Columbia University: 1059
Gil Anidjar, Columbia University: 1049

Now, I didn’t get these figures from a snapshot; I wish I had. I got them from a Google cache of Sunday night’s tally—a cache that has since disappeared. And if anyone out there does have a snapshot, you can confirm the following Amazing Facts: on Monday, the numbers underwent a seismic shift. The redoubtable Noam Chomsky rocketed out of fifth place into second, picking up almost 150,000 votes in one day, and Greg Dawes shot from last place into fourth, thanks to the heroic efforts of one single voter. Foner fell to sixth. There was even some speculation that Chomsky would overtake me at the 300,000 mark....

Criminally negligent

From Energy Bulletin (via Wolcott).
While it would be difficult to create an airtight legal case for impeaching George W. Bush based on his ignoring the very real threat posed by Peak Oil, nevertheless I believe that his actions—and inaction—in this regard constitute dereliction of duty on an unprecedented scale.

It is part of the job of leaders to foresee problems and either steer around them or prepare for them. A head of state is analogous to the captain of a ship, who is responsible not only for keeping his vessel on course but also for avoiding hazards such as storms and icebergs. Some problems are not foreseeable; others are. A ship’s captain who loses his vessel to a freak “perfect storm” may be blameless, but one who steers his passenger liner directly into a foggy ice field, having no sonar or radar, is worse than a fool: he is criminally negligent.

The argument I will make, in brief, is this:
  • Peak Oil is foreseeable.
  • The consequences are also foreseeable and are likely to be ruinous.
  • The Bush administration has been repeatedly warned.
  • Actions could be taken to reduce the impact, but the longer those actions are delayed, the worse the impact will be.
  • The administration, rather than taking steps to mitigate these looming catastrophic impacts, has instead done things that can only worsen them.
Let us go through these points one by one....


Photo: Helmut

Venezuela's new UN Ambassador

This news is a few days old, but I've just come across it, thanks to the ever-helpful Latin American News Review. It's a curious nomination, to be approved today by the VZ National Assembly. One reason it is curious is that it's a "bridge-building" move. Perhaps a token one, but one nonetheless. While in Venezuela for a month last fall giving lectures and having endless meetings, I noticed that the very few people in the political middle - perhaps not philosophically, but pragmatically - often used the expression, "bridge-building," especially after a bottle of Chilean wine. The "bridge" is a symbol, I think, of good faith. The good faith exists among some of the best and brightest in Venezuela and this is promising especially in the face of the ever-present risk of a collapse into civil war (one which, I might add, the Bush administration has encouraged on the sly).

Chávez certainly knows well how to play politics. But this nomination is nevertheless a good move for the bridge-builders. One of the legitimate concerns of the opposition, when one can make it past their sensationalistic rhetoric, is a concern with know-how and professionalism in restructuring the country. As I've mentioned before, much of the opposition is comprised of the wealthy and well-educated. Whether you like the opposition in general or not (the opposition, by the way, is not a political or classist monolith), Venezuela needs that educated class to be involved in its reconstruction. The would-be bridge-builders from both sides know this. But the emotionalization of Venezuelan politics is so overblown that most attempts at communication between the political opponents come in furtive moments over bottles of wine. They're not public moments, and this is a real problem for a more inclusive public discourse on the future of the country. Yes, the majority now has a real say in the governance of their country. The sentence that got me into a bit of political trouble with the opposition there was, "I think Chávez has given the poor dignity." It's true. Yet, at the same time, this is largely a poor and uneducated majority. A major part of the Chavista program is to change this present reality, and there are successes here and there. But, until then, the ability to change it requires not only the well-meaning intentions and various good ideas of government, many of which greatly impressed me, but also the basic know-how of members of the political opposition in order to help carry out those intentions and ideas in concrete ways. This is also going to be the key to the political bridge: genuine inclusiveness.

Now, Chávez isn't the only reason for the political divide, perhaps not even the most significant one. The opposition is loud-mouthed and propagandistic itself, calling for violent revolution. But remember the bridge-builders, and remember this move here by Chávez himself.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez nominated former presidential candidate and coup leader Francisco Arias Cardenas to represent the South American country at the United Nations, Congressman Saul Ortega said.

The National Assembly, which is made up entirely of Chavez supporters, will probably approve the nomination on Thursday, Ortega said in an interview on Union Radio in Caracas. Arias, a former Army lieutenant colonel, led a failed 1992 coup with Chavez and lost to Chavez in the 2000 presidential election.

"Arias and Chavez go way back together,'' said Robert Bottome, an analyst with consulting company Veneconomy in Caracas. "I don't think Arias ever really broke from Chavez.''

Chavez defeated Arias by a 59 percent-to-37 percent margin in the 2000 election. Chavez called Arias a "traitor'' and "Judas'' during the campaign, while Arias ran television ads likening Chavez to a chicken for refusing to debate him publicly. "Chavez supports a war between the classes that terrifies investors,'' Arias said in a May 2000 interview. "He thinks he's the messiah.''

Arias was governor of western Zulia state from 1996 to 2000. "Arias has the support and trust of the president,'' said Ortega, who is president of the assembly's foreign policy commission. "Nobody can doubt Arias' nationalism and patriotism.''

Liberal media

Sadly, No!:
Look, wingnuts: the dreaded liberal press was around in the '80s, no? And going by your "MSM OUT TO GET ALL REPUBLICANS!!!1!" theory, they should have been out to get Ronald Reagan, no? But did their biased leftist loser-defeatist coverage stop Reagan from being a broadly popular president across the country? Nuh-uh. In fact, when Reagan was president, he didn't have the alternative wingnut media like FOX News, Powerline or talk radio to pimp for him- he had to deal with Helen Thomas and Dan Rather all by his fucking lonesome. And unlike the current crybaby-in-chief, "he had a pair" (to use one of Peggy Noonan's most glorious phrases).

Outsourcing drug trials

Have problems with lawsuits? Problems with people having serious physical reactions, sometimes permanent, like death? Outsource! It's good for you. It's good for them. (via 3 Quarks Daily).
There's a new outsourcing boom in South Asia - and a billion people are jockeying for the jobs. How India became the global hot spot for drug trials....

Like many in the pharmaceutical industry, Narula believes that the solution to the slow pace of drug trials lies in outsourcing. As many as half of all clinical trials are already conducted in locations far from the pharmaceutical companies' home base, in countries like India, China, and Brazil. And many industry analysts expect the market to skyrocket, particularly as expanding libraries of genetic information increase the number of drugs coming out of the lab. The consulting firm McKinsey calculates that the market in India for outsourced trials will hit $1.5 billion by 2010.

Enticed by numbers like these, developing countries have been scrambling to catch Big Pharma's eye - India most aggressively of all. Like high tech call centers and software farms, which were meant to transform India's computer industry by creating skilled workers and a stockpile of modern equipment, drug trial outsourcing is seen as the fast route to economic and scientific growth - a money train that the country can't afford to miss. With this in mind, the government is working to advertise India's most pharmacologically appealing qualities, notably its doctors (English-speaking and educated abroad) and its vast number of ailing patients - 32 million diabetics alone. Many of these patients are also, in the delicate parlance of the drug world, "treatment naive," meaning they've never taken any medication for their illnesses. This is a perk for trial managers, because it lowers the risk of unforeseen drug inter­actions and avoids the troublesome process of weaning patients off one medication and onto another.

Last year, the government took a more controversial step, amending a long-standing law that limited the kind of trials that foreign pharmaceutical companies could conduct. That law allowed companies to test drugs on Indian patients only after the drugs had been proven safe in trials conducted in the country of origin. In January, the government threw out that constraint. India, the brilliant hub of outsourced labor, was positioning itself in a newly lucrative role: guinea pig to the world.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tom Watson on Iraq

This is just about right. I still like my earlier impeachment version as supplementary. But Tom has good stuff here. (via Lance Mannion, also worth reading).

Democrats waffle. Although out of power, they're in thrall to K Street as much as the next guy and they're all worried about seeming moderate in the next election - or the one after that. Only the unassailable or the bereaved truly speak. The bobble-head national press repeats far much too conventional wisdom; the cue cards says "President Defends War" and they repeat it, then turn to their all-star panel, which deciphers the approval ratings and their repurcussions in November.

But we've been there before.

There is a small but relatively vocal cadre of Vietnam veterans who argue that the U.S. expenditure in Southeast Asia in blood and treasure paid long-term dividends, that in the long run, the war was worth it. Look at where Vietnam is today, they urge, in the mistaken belief that our 50,000 dead to stem the flow of communism led to the eventual abandonment of Marxist economic control and the opening of capital markets like its neighbors in China. Property values are growing, a consumer economy is developing, and tourism is taking off. But this has nothing to do with America's intervention 50 years ago, it has nothing to do with Cold War policies of containment and armament, it has nothing to do with the war.

It has everything to do with peace, with markets and trade, and with local/national aspiration. John Murtha is right. Drawn down the troops, insert an Arab peace-keeping force in what cities you can, and let the Iraqis decide their future - whether it's short-term civil war, eventual partition, or some form of unity.

The best thing we did for Vietnam over the long haul was to leave. It's time to leave Iraq. If we're very, very lucky, Iraq can be modern Vietnam in, oh, three or four decades. By that time, I'm guessing, George Bush will be dead and the mission may finally be accomplished.

NOTE: I didn't quote any blogs directly in this post, but was inspired at least partly by these posts, among others, so go read 'em:

ETA ceasefire

It has been announced before, most recently in 1998, and it didn't last. But this ceasefire announcement looks like it may set the political ball rolling in interesting new directions. Let's hope. A sticking point, of course, is that the Basque Country straddles the border between Spain and France. Thus far it appears that this is all mainly a Spanish initiative.
The Basque separatist group ETA announced a permanent cease-fire Wednesday in its nearly four-decade fight for independence in northern Spain and southwestern France, according to a communique the group issued to Basque news media outlets.

The separatist organization said the cease-fire would begin Friday and its objective now will be "to start a new democratic process in the Basque country."...

If the truce holds, it could lead to talks with the two-year-old minority government of Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero Rodríguez, which has favored the concept of regional autonomy, in sharp contrast to its conservative predecessors. His government depends on the support of small regional parties in parliament.


See this interesting blog, Euskal Blog, for a Basque nationalist point of view, especially important since there's hardly any Basque perspective in the US media.

Neddie on Ray

Ned has posted his review of the Ray Davies show. Read. It's delightful. Yes, Ray's face... what a document itself. As Ned mentions, Ray was shot in the leg in New Orleans a couple of years ago while chasing a mugger. There were complications since it turned out the bullet hit the bone. So, his jumps aren't like the one in this photo any more, but, rather little shuffling kick-leaps that are as much Ray Davies as his old-time Townshend moments:

I have only to take issue with Ned's account of me being aggressed by a big lummox of a fratboy. Man, I was ready to go to the floor with him (where the guy was trying to put me) as if we were at Altamont, after the guy had been elbowing me and others around him for the past thirty minutes. I was all Bobby Lightfoot vs. Wilford Brimley on this one. Thankfully, my wife and a teenage girl - related to the kid who got the pick - stepped in between us and stopped the inevitable carnage I would have made of the guy's face. Judo-chop! I had the giggles on the drive home. There we were with this lovely guy Ray, listening to a great concert, and it ends with some guy grabbing me around the neck and gray-hairs around us calling him an asshole. (By the way, asshole blamed the whole thing on me and others standing in front of a guy in a wheelchair, who we had earlier made room for. But said asshole and his friend had arrived midway through the show saying to me that they wanted to make it to the very front. The guy in the wheelchair became his prop. This makes him doubly assholish.).

Damn that was a show! And, as Ned mentions, I got to meet Neddie in person for the first time and XTCFan, one of Ned's main commenters. Both good guys, and I look forward to getting into scraps alongside these guys at other shows. I'm just waiting for Joni Mitchell to make it into town. I bet I can kick some ass at that one.