Monday, July 31, 2006

Art, Authenticity, Consumption?

Wandering around in Chicago over the last few days, enjoying all the great public space there (swimming yesterday afternoon in Lake Michigan was a high point), wondering--as I do each time I come to Chicago--why exhausted, sticky crowds press themselves into the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Arts. I went to the Art Institute on Saturday, hoping to pick up a catalogue for a current exhibit, thinking I might hang around for a while. But despairing crowds were there, anxious to experience the work, to move through and get out and get a quick photo out front, before the lions. Yesterday: the MCA. Stuck around there to take in an exhibit of Chris Ware's work (his writing about his work is the best part: it explores the complications with its being shown in a special exhibit at the MCA).

Watching people interact--or not--with the work at the MCA: what is it folks expect from the work, from the experience of looking at it? Transcendence of some kind? Authenticity? Perhaps this informs the engagement with art at places like the AI and MCA. This idea that it is meant, first of all, to be a kind of experience of authenticity: if what you're after is the spirit of the authentic or the authentic expression by the artist, you want in on all that good 'aura'.

Lionel Trilling, in Sincerity and Authenticity:
The work of art is itself authentic by reason of its entire self-definition: it is understood to exist wholly by the laws of its own being, which include the right to embody painful, ignoble or socially inacceptable subject matters. Similarly the artist seeks his personal authenticity in his entire autonomousness--his goal is to be as self-defining as the art-object he creates. As for the audience, its expectation is that through its communication with the work of art, which may be resistant, unpleasant, even hostile, it acquires the authenticity of which the object itself is the model and the artist the personal example.
1971? The old days. Who just thought of The Utter Shit School of Art?

There is some pretty challenging, some confrontational work at MCA, work that borders on a kind of hostility to its audience. And people breeze by, checking things out and checking things off: Saw that. It was cool.

Fred Spaulding Installation: Encinal, TX July 2006We had the pleasure of hosting Fred Spaulding for a few nights a couple of weeks ago while he worked on an installation here in Encinal. Fred, who also teaches, is working on a "guide to thinking critically about art." One of his goals in writing the guide (as I understood his goals) is not so much to answer the questions so often overheard in galleries and museums ("he gets paid for that?" or "is it a bear? what is it?") as to encourage people who want something from their experiences with art to ask different kinds of questions. I told him I thought listening to families talk about art in major metropolitan museums is like listening to students talk about poetry: instead of asking, first, if they like it, if it engages them, if it triggers some response or memory or desire, students reading poetry usually want to know, immediately (even before they have heard or read, really, all of the words) what does this mean? No, really: what does it mean?

And yet--since I've strayed into Helmut's DeweyWorld almost accidentally--maybe the most optimistic way of looking at all of this is to remember the distinction between "art products" and "works of art." Many of the families finding their way to the Art Institute have wandered there from the Navy Pier, a frantic agglomeration of kiosks and fast food and families on vacation spending sprees. Putting aside the question of why they're going to the CAI (because I have no idea, really), doesn't it seem obvious that their experience--in that context in that context--is of 'art products'? That, moreover, the fruit of that experience, if it bears fruit, is that sense of being connected to the authentic?

I'm happy to come home to Fred's piece, here in Encinal, way, way far away from any institutional museum space. The installation has elicited a lot of talk. It strikes me, out here in the middle of a small town in the middle of nowhere, as being a healthy way to exhibit and experience (or not) the arts. I've seen Fred's work in gallery spaces and museum spaces and liked it. But here, it isn't about authenticity, first, at least: it's just some art stuck out there on the landscape. You can even sit or bump your head on it. Getting close, you might think about why Fred has glazed such quotidian imagery on bricks and then stacked them crazily. You might not. But I bet you're not worried about whether or not it really qualifies as art, whether or not somebody has decided it is important and authentic.

Perhaps if, in the context of the museum space, people were encouraged to see both the creative and the curatorial processes as human, we could get back some of the value of those spaces, too. I get the impression, though, that most folks see exhibits of famous artists as manifestations of verity of some kind, taking solace in the idea that Someone in Charge has arranged all of these pieces in such a way that they will express something profound, assuage the spirit. Certainly, the Art World hasn't helped, with its institutionalization of authentic free expression somehow suggesting that, if it's on the wall, it belongs on the wall. I think too many people accept that--whether they're in a private gallery or the Guggenheim, and that strikes me as important and sad.

Here's Helmut, from a few days ago, summarizing the problem angrily, in The Utter Shit School of Art:
I'm willing to go to the limit on what counts as "art." But I have no patience whatsoever with shit that counts as art because galleries have created a scene in which they bleed off each other like mud-caked leeches. Apart from the decorative utilitarian crap most galleries use to earn their feudal keep, the Utter Shit School began - arguably, of course - with Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. It continues with idiots like Hurd. Oh, yes, but I hear your plaintive aesthetophilic cries. The art world thrives on denouncing those who don't get it. Yes, art world, many of us do get it. We are just waiting to be contacted when the artworld is over its Utter Shit Phase.
Further reading: John Carey's recent What Good are the Arts?

The photos here are of Fred Spaulding's installation in Encinal at Hecho en Encinal. July, 2006.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tegucigalpa to Copan Ruinas

Both Barba and I are on the road. I screwed up and tagged Barba with posting while I am away and, it turns out, while he is too. Sorry, Barba.

Today, took a bus from Tegucigalpa to Copans Ruinas, near the Guatemala border. Tegucigalpa is medium sized, a typical Latin American city. Nothing particularly special. Copan Ruinas is a lovely little cobblestoned town near Mayan ruins. But the rastafarians have arrived with their jewelry, so it is only a matter of time....

We will check out the ruins tomorrow and do some hiking and birdwatching. I hope all is well for everyone.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Heat is Killing People, Too: Get Used to It

• In the month of August, most of the United States will see "above normal temperatures," forecasters say.

• For the long-term future, the world will see more and worse killer heat waves because of global warming, scientists say.
The other night, waiting on a shuttle at DFW, I asked a van driver--who had lingered on the sidewalk while his van idled for several minutes--if he would mind turning off the engine. The fumes had been troubling a few of us (the shuttle pick-up area is a horribly designed space if you've got to be there more than five minutes).

"I need to leave it on," he told me.

"You need to?" I asked him. "You have trouble starting it? It looks new."

"It's mine," he said. "You're welcome to go somewhere else. I need to keep the air conditioner on."

Is Anyone Else Reading Kathryn Davis?

Why or why not?


Made it to Chicago last night from Texas, and it only took about 27 hours. Pretty good, given the distance and all. After all flights from Dallas (and, I think, Houston) to Chicago were canceled on Thursday evening, Los de Chiva found ourselves, with nearly two hundred others, in line for re-routing, in line for shuttles to discounted (not comped) hotels, in lines for rooms, up at 5:30 a.m. to return for more lines, standby, and Houston, no, wait, Atlanta, then Chicago. In all, it was fine. A bit tiring. The things called "scones" at the place called Starbucks at DFW were a little old. But travelers were cool, reasonable. We never fly straight through Dallas anymore, and we have adjusted to this reality.

But we're bothered by the disconnect between the reality of (not) traveling through Dallas and the gloss of in-house magazines like the one in the seatback on the well-worn American Airlines jet: the suggestion, there, of freewheeling, easy, travel, of day trips and time shares and featured destinations seems not just fantastic but frantic, a panicked assurance that everything is fine. It doesn't strike me that anyone should be able to travel as easily as these magazines (and lots else) imply.

Walking around downtown Chicago this morning. A hundred or so people doing yoga--loudspeaker yoga--in the Gehry pavilion at Millennium Park. I accidentally walked into--I mean, like, I bumped my head upon like the country mouse I guess I am--Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. I feel the distance from South Texas in many different ways.

Friday, July 28, 2006


You know, I'm really enjoying Marcus' blog, Washington Syndrome. No fuss, nice solid points, good little arguments, fair-mindedness, good sense, and no pompous certitude. I like these corners of the blogosphere, as opposed to all the huffing and puffing out there. You should be reading him.

As a sample, Marcus poses a question worth pondering:
Let's say you're a police officer out watching a parade. You hear a scream to your right, and see that someone has been stabbed. Quickly, you ask the victim if she knows who attacked her, and she says he slipped directly into the procession.

1. Is your first reaction to start spraying bullets in the general direction of the parade?

2. If you do, and you hit a bystander, who gets the blame?

Yak revenge

The safety of passengers on the world's highest - and newest - railway is threatened by cracks, yaks and shifting sands, the Chinese government has admitted.

Less than a month after the opening of the line across the Himalayas to Tibet, it has become unstable in places because the foundations are sinking into the permafrost, railway ministry spokesman Wang Yongping, told the Beijing News today...

Tunnels were built under elevated sections so that the endangered Tibetan antelope could pass by without danger. But planners have failed to cope with a far less timid and more numerous beast - the yak, thousands of which graze along the tracks and wander across them.

The lesson to be learned is the eternal verity that yaks rule.

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

"...among the philosophers, those who have wanted to attain some greater excellence have not been content to await the rigors of fortune in shelter and repose, for fear she might surprise them inexperienced and new to the combat; rather they have gone forth to meet her and have flung themselves deliberately into the test of difficulties. Some of them have abandoned riches to practice a voluntary poverty; others have sought labor and a painful austerity of life to harden themselves against hardship and toil; others have deprived themselves of the most precious parts of the body, such as sight and the members proper to generation, for fear that these services, too pleasant and soft, might relax and soften the firmness of their soul."

- Montaigne


Photo: Yolanda

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Utter Shit School of Art

[Link via 3 Quarks]. Hahahaha. Spell it backwards. Get it? Hahahaha.

Look. I'm a big fan of art as a truly serious force in society, as serious as science or anything else, growededed up as I am on Dewey's Art as Experience. But "skepticism towards the medium" of painting! Yllog! Drat' nrad! How "acerbic." How sexy and novel! How racy and randy and raw! (Pardon, one question: wasn't painting "dead," like, 30 years ago?).

I'm willing to go to the limit on what counts as "art." But I have no patience whatsoever with shit that counts as art because galleries have created a scene in which they bleed off each other like mud-caked leeches. Apart from the decorative utilitarian crap most galleries use to earn their feudal keep, the Utter Shit School began - arguably, of course - with Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. It continues with idiots like Hurd. Oh, yes, but I hear your plaintive aesthetophilic cries. The art world thrives on denouncing those who don't get it. Yes, art world, many of us do get it. We are just waiting to be contacted when the artworld is over its Utter Shit Phase.
“Fucking Painters,” reads the headline in a typically acerbic oil-on-canvas in Steve Hurd’s new solo show at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Or rather, “sretniaP gnikcuF,” as the entire lengthy text — a blogger’s review of a San Francisco Rachel Lachowicz opening — is reproduced backward, thus rendered illegible to all but the most diligent (or mirror equipped). The chatty text goes on to flatteringly characterize Lachowicz as “a seriously smart sculptor/painter who is best known for her elegant and hilarious send-ups of art by famous male artists” while name-dropping ’90s-L.A.-art-world where-are-they-now candidates Keith Boadwee, Kim Dingle and Kim Light.

The picture — cumbersomely titled Art Schtik Blog Made Conceptual by Painting’s Reflective Nature [or] Flipped Off — includes Hurd’s backward, dripping, purple rendition of Lachowicz’s eye-shadow imitation of one of Christopher Wool’s tiresome black-and-white word paintings, a sequence of appropriation and inversion layered just enough so as to teeter on the brink of ridiculousness. Or meaninglessness. There’s a formula in espionage that says once you pass the third generation of cover stories, the truth is anyone’s guess. Who exactly is being flipped off here? Lachowicz? Wool? Comy the blogger? The ’90s-L.A. art world? Painting itself?

This fierce ambivalence is typical of Hurd’s work. “Fucking Painters” pretty much summarizes a major subtext of his oeuvre — an unquenchable skepticism toward the medium and the often blatantly corrupt mechanisms in which it functions, as well as an entirely justified irritation with those whose doubts are more easily assuaged. But in spite of his confrontational attitude and deliberately, sarcastically mannered painterliness — or perhaps because of it — Hurd is among the best and most contemporary of painters working in L.A.

More crime

Along Lebanon's sandy beaches and rocky headlands runs a belt of black sludge, 10,000 to 30,000 tonnes of oil that spilled into the Mediterranean Sea after Israel bombed a power plant. Lebanon's Environment Ministry says the oil flooded into the sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15, creating an ecological crisis that Lebanon's government has neither the money nor the expertise to deal with.

The big blob of science

Science! Blobenschaften!

In an attempt to explain science! to the poor benighted masses, science reporters have created the perfect solution. The Blob.

Oh, Scarlett

For Lance. Love, Helmut. (Or was that Uma?).

Lord God....
Scarlett Johansson has denied claims that diva-like demands led Britain's most famous theater producer to drop plans to hand her the lead role in a big-budget revival of "The Sound Of Music," a spokesman for the actress said Thursday.

Johansson, 21, had been targeted to play Maria von Trapp, the Alpine nun-turned-nanny and main character of the popular Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that will open in London's West End this November.


For hundreds of thousands of people, the dream of making an Internet fortune works like this: Earn pennies at a time in exchange for allowing Google Inc. or Yahoo Inc. to place advertisements on a personal or small-business Web page.

Take Andrew Leyden, former House Commerce Committee counsel and founder of a dot-com venture that failed, who started, a search engine for podcasts. As the site's popularity rose from a hundred hits a month in 2004 to nearly a million now, Leyden started making the equivalent of an entry-level government worker's salary -- $30,000 to $40,000 a year -- simply because people clicked on ads. That allowed him to work at home in Chesapeake Beach, Md., trying to make more money by attracting still more traffic to his site.

Please, someone disabuse me of the notion that ads are a waste of time. I used to have Google ads on the site when we first started the blog, found that Google advertisers were basically getting free advertising, got pissed off for being a tool, and ejected the cursed things. Now someone's saying they've actually earned money from Google ads? Does that really exist or did the Washington Post find the one guy who copped an angle?

If I put them back up, would you spend an hour a day clicking away? Is there actually some way of making money doing this damned blogging thing?

Robert Pete Williams

Sometimes it's not easy to listen to the blues. To do so properly, you have to put yourself as well as you can into the place of the singer and the tale sung. Since the "discovery" of Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, and others by heavy rock royalty in the 1960s, this placement has always seemed a hokey luxury. Like white boys dressing as Bronx rappers, this was the 60s version: white boys from London trying to play the blues. The blues have always seemed so directly tied to a particular part of American culture that anything outside of that culture seemed to have, a priori, no essence to it, no soul, if these are defined authoritatively through particular kinds of experiences. Now and then, someone would hit the right notes, and that was about it.

Listening to the blues is a somewhat different story. There's a high mockability factor to the suburban yuppie "feeling" blues songs about trashed love, prison, violence, racism, drugs. Besides, if you're depressive already, you might not want to spend too much time ensconced in the blues. Putting oneself in the place of blues, if possible at all, risks being stupid and shameful, but the positive side of the gamble is intensified worldly experience.

Sometimes, in general, you listen to music and feel embarrassed. It's a kind of embarrassment that the musician hasn't hit it, whatever it is, and that you're there to witness the failing at it. This experience is made much worse by earnestness and certainty. I've heard plenty of live music like this - where I felt like bolting out of discomfort with the aural carnage. But you also know that moment when you've really heard it because it hits you hard in the ears, mind, and body.

It has happened to me regarding the blues on a few rare occasions and in different ways: at a little ramshackle wooden house in central Texas listening to the fun, showboat swamp blues of Clarence Gatemouth Brown, windows thrown open on a hot Texas night, and Wes' grin about to make him "fly away," as Gatemouth said; at a club in Chicago listening to the raunchy blues of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells and finding myself with a friend's brother backstage taking swigs off a bottle of Junior's whiskey; in an incongruous college basement in Pennsylvania drawn fully into the sublimely tripping Mississippi drone of R.L. Burnside out of which I only awoke a couple of hours later. And, of course, a handful of records: Billie's painful blues, Lightnin' Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Perhaps my favorite, though, and the one who sets me into the blues trance is Delta man Robert Pete Williams. I have only one record by him and can't remember how I came into it. It might not even be his best - his prison "field-recording" songs from 1959-1960 are generally viewed as his most important (and rare) recordings. (He was in prison for murder). But the record I have is damn good: Robert Pete Williams' 1961 Free Again. This is a deathly uncertain and eccentric voice from prison, a guitar that teeters at the edge of rambling amateurishness before it recovers a seeming mistake and turns it into improvisational world-creating brilliance, and a screen porch door that creaks occasionally in the background (headphones show you the latter - it's nice, keeps you grounded). The sounds are sometimes Malian instrumentals, sometimes country hollers, sometimes death chants, sometimes seductions, sometimes world-weary humor. This record does it endlessly. These are not simple blues songs. They are but they aren't, if you know what I mean. You need to listen.

I once heard the expatriate saxophonist, Steve Potts (who used to play with Steve Lacy), with his drummer and bass player in a tiny Parisian bar. There were about fifteen people around tables all talking, none paying attention except for me sitting alone at the bar. Potts assessed the scene and began to play with the crowd. The tinkling bell on the wintery front door tweedled through the sax. The phone ring at the bar became improvised jangling high notes. Glasses clinked and the cymbals followed Potts' lead. Conversations, laughs became hilarious Keystone Kops members of the "monkey chased the weasel." French words rolled seductively out of the sax. A loud German at the bar became low saxophonic grunts. The entire scene became the music, but to an oblivious audience. Steve Potts even clapped for his own songs. And I felt an intimate privilege at being the sole witness to the small and transient world-creating performance.

Robert Pete Williams improvises like this, but it's created not from sounds in the environment but from a jangling and rough environment of a unique mind that could easily surrender to fatalism. A man and a guitar creating a world of their own. Listen to it.

From Arhoolie's site:
Other blues musicians created wonderful bodies of work; Robert Pete Williams created a whole musical world. The more one listens to his music, the more deeply one is drawn into his unique vision. The dark, fluid voice and directly powerful lyrical imagery build with studied intensity. The guitar accompaniments, which often stay within one chord through a whole song, are like nothing else in blues... His songs were usually improvised, unrhymed and in no particular metric pattern, and his guitar tended to function as a rough second voice.
And this:
Although Robert Pete Williams died in 1980 at the age of 66, he arguably remains the most avant-garde blues performer ever recorded. No punk rock band has ever matched the jagged, acerbic fury of the riffs Williams played 35 years ago. No rapper has approached his ability to evoke the torment of life in prison or bend language to cast an eerie spell over a chance encounter with a seductive woman. Williams could improvise precise, topical blues numbers with remarkable spontaneity...

The first shock is the peculiar form of these blues. Williams repeats the first line at the beginning of each verse but boldly disregards the rest of routine blues structure...
Williams changed his style somewhat after the prison recordings and Free Again. I suppose that after his parole he started to hear, like Steve Potts, the rest of the world, even if few people have ever really listened to him.
In 1965, he gave a widely quoted explanation, saying that "the sound of the atmosphere" changed his playing. "It could be from the airplanes or the moaning of automobiles," he said, but anyway, the wind blew a different music to him that transformed his blues.

The Iran-Hezbollah connection, some information

Recall that I was recently wondering about the much-ballyhooed Iran-Hezbollah connection. The assumption made throughout the US media, and thus the American public, is that the Israel-Lebanon conflict is war with Iran by proxy. I wondered what the nature of the ties with Iran actually are. Yes, I know, I hear lots of reports and claims of arms supplies, Iranian glee, etc., but most of this information has to be taken on faith from our government and its media mouthpieces, and I'm rather disinclined to trust much of anything coming from this administration. I refuse to buy that bridge in Florida.

The point is that I still haven't seen good evidence backing up this general widespread claim. I have seen, however, wild, unsubstantiated variations on a theme and bated breath in the media and the blogworld about the meaning of the conflict as a broader war. Pundits galore go on about the complex triangulations of influence around the Middle East, turning assumptions into facts with grim and knowing nods.

It has seemed to me that in order to judge this whole affair wisely, we ought to have a better grip on precisely what the lines of influence are, of what they are comprised, and what strategic roles they (or their imaginary relations) play in international politics.

Here's Richard Sale, writing today at the indispensable Sic Semper Tyrannis, adding a bit to our understanding of the influences behind the conflict.

Serving senior and former U.S. intelligence officials said that this latest Israeli onslaught against the Hizballah will work to further undermine Tel Aviv's security in the near future.

They said that the American public and especially officials in the Bush administration appear to be laboring under several potentially disastrous illusions regarding the Israeli-Hizballah fighting.

One of the first of these is that Hizballah can be uprooted and destroyed. On the contrary, they insisted that it is an integral part of Lebanese society and an authentic
representative of the Shia population and cannot be gotten rid of by bombing installations or capturing some strong points.

They also insisted that Hizballah is NOT a puppet of Iran. One former very senior CIA official told me that Iran did NOT want this current upsurge in violence, nor had Iran given any previous green light for the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers' Magnus Ranstorp, a British expert on Hizballah said in an e-mail to me that Nasserallah (sic) made the decision himself, an opinion which four former or serving U.S. government officials agreed with. Ranstorp said there are two Iranian representatives from the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that provide a direct link for matters that require strategic guidance but said Nasserallah was the source of the kidnap decision. Both Ranstorp and U.S. officials believe the notorious Imad Mughniyeh who belongs both to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and HIzballah, had a part in the implementation of the decision but was not the author of it.

[My emphasis, Helmut]

American terrorism

[Via The Weblog] a rundown of some of the US' dabblings in terrorism.

Incidentally, I live in DC not far from where Salvador Allende's Ambassador to the US and former government minister, Orlando Letelier, was blown up in 1976 by a car bomb which also killed an American assistant (at Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue). The bombing was carried out, so it is said, by Pinochet regime thugs (an American and several anti-Castro Cubans) with - controversially - the understanding of George Bush's CIA. Next time you're in DC, take a look at the small plaque at Sheridan Circle in honor of Letelier.


Photo: Dave

This is a photo of mangoes in a Tegucigalpa market. I'm not sure, but those might be guinep in the lower right-hand corner.

I'm headed out of town Saturday morning, going to the original "banana republic," Honduras. Barba will be doing most of the blogging, and I'll see what I can post from Honduras. I'm planning on spending time in cloudforests and rainforests, and less time in towns with internet cafes. So, we'll see. Barba, if you don't know him, is an English professor with a terrific political sense and an eye for the small, graceful misery of American life. Good things to come.

Please keep coming back to Phronesisaical. We have a fairly small - nay, intimate - group of loyal customers here, and we are greatly appreciative that anyone spends the time to read our posts and especially appreciative when people comment (which is rare, sadly). If you're here for the rare but sparkling comments, why not also try these terrific blogs from some of the commenters who regularly grace these pages: Murky Thoughts, Black Sky Theory, By Neddie Jingo!, Peter Levine, Whirled View, Madam Mayo, Blue Girl, and Thoughtstreaming.

Up today and tomorrow: the Friday conversation-stopper and more reports from the Tragic Planet (copyright dibs on this title for a travel guidebook series).

Some lightness

From Evil Bobby's mom:
Donald Rumsfeld briefed the President this morning and told him that 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq. To Rumfeld's amazement, all of the color ran from Bush's face, then he collapsed onto his desk, head in hands, visibly shaken, almost whimpering.

Finally, he composed himself and asked Rumsfeld, "Just exactly how many is a brazillion?"

Israeli Peace Links

Via Jesus' General, here are some links to various Israeli peace groups. Also, AUB's Lebanese humanitarian relief donation page.

Jonathan Versen has some other options.

France blogs

Blogging is big in Paris.


What a shame. Floyd Landis had been out of the public eye since his Tour de France victory and the fairly quiet announcement that someone had failed drug testing towards the end of the Tour.

Turns out it was Landis. And after his magnificent Stage 17 ride.

Return of the Norwegian

Norwegianity - the Wege or Mark - has returned to the blogworld. He already has more visitors, albeit looking for Japanese porn, than we do during a regular day. Go look, see. One of the best Minnesota bloggers out there in a state full of great progressive bloggers.

Ta imot!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The cause of a cause of a cause....

Hey, dere, Helmut! What a-happen to da cause, they say, of de Israeli-Lebanon fight? Please answer now!

Answer: which cause? Okay, okay,... it has been completely neglected except as useful for political purposes, and for duping Americans. In the meantime, see this:
Families of the two IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah terrorists two weeks ago are in France to appeal to the government to help return their sons. "France is the first place we chose to come because we think here we have got our best chance," said Omri Avni, father-in-law of Ehud Goldwasser, one of the two soldiers.

Fruit in the news

We like to provide our readers with cutting edge fruit news, especially when stickers or fruit tattoos are involved. I dare you to find a blog that posts more on fruit stickers than we do.

Here's the latest urgent news that should help you make more intelligent decisions not only as upstanding citizens but also as fruit shoppers:
A University of Arizona professor has invented a sticker that can tell consumers if a fruit or vegetable is ripe. The stickers will be available to growers next year and should make their way to supermarkets within two to three years, said Mark Riley, a UA assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering...

"Right now, picking fruit is more of an art than it is a science," Riley said.

A marker on Riley's RediRipe stickers detects a chemical called ethylene gas, which is released by fruit or vegetables as they ripen.

As that happens, the sticker turns from white to blue...

And there are still bugs to be worked out: The stickers do not change color to reflect an overripe or rotten piece of fruit. Also, not all fruit produces enough ethylene to be detected by the sticker, said Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, a growers' research group that helped sponsor the research.

"There is still a lot of research to do," McFerson said.


A "well-connected former CIA officer" has told Harper's Magazine Washington bureau chief that the Bush Administration is in considering deploying US troops to Lebanon, according to a post at the magazine's website (RAW STORY has excerpted the post below because the site loads slowly when we link directly). Harper's post is here...

According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a “multinational” deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

The uniformed military, however, is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source. “They are saying 'What the fuck?'” he told me...

The former CIA officer said that the Bush Administration seems not to understand Hezbollah's deep roots and broad support among Lebanon's Shiites, the country's largest single ethnic bloc....
I, I, don't know what to say.

Electric car

The first "plausible" electric car?
"I don't know too much about the Tesla," says Roland Hwang, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, "but two-thirds less greenhouse gases and 0 to 60 in four seconds? Who could be against that?"

Ron Mueck

Some images of Ron Mueck's sculptures. Mueck does absolutely astounding, disorienting work. More here.

Sea grapes

Photo: Yolanda

Crime 2

1. "He said he in fact did do the shootings, however, only with the intention of relieving pressure"

2. Not guilty by reason of insanity.
Yates' attorneys never disputed that she drowned 6-month-old Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah in their Houston-area home in June 2001. But they said she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, thought Satan was inside her and was trying to save them from hell.
Doesn't Satan exist?

I was told by the pastor to denounce Satan when becoming a godfather during a baptism ceremony. I did (No problem there. I can do unicorns and gryphons too.). But the assumption was that Satan exists and one should not follow his ways.

If Satan exists, then isn't Yates even more guilty for following Satan's ways? In a state that practically rejoices in exacting capital punishment (and damn the innocents), shouldn't she be burned at the stake?


The pattern of the fire made it clear that it came from the Israelis, he said, and only Israel possesses weapons heavy enough to penetrate the fortified bunker protecting the four observers.

The only thing in doubt was how or why an Israeli aircraft came to bomb a clearly marked UN position that should have been exempt from attack.

"This position has been there for twenty years. Israel knows these positions and they have had two weeks to zero in on this area and register targets and where you don't want to hit. That's standard behaviour," the UN source said.

"They (the bunkers) are big white things — you can see them for miles and they are lit up at night. Even if the Israelis just arrived cold from the moon two weeks ago, they have been firing there in that area regularly for two weeks. If you keep firing all afternoon into a position like that, then ultimately something will go wrong."

Plus, Olmert's "deep regret" over crime.

Oh,... okay.

The UN secretary general Kofi Annan says an Israeli attack on a UN observation post was "apparently deliberate". Four unarmed military observers were killed in the air strike in southern Lebanon. [The Independent]
Robert Fisk: Israeli missiles had clearly pierced the very centre of the red cross on the roof of each ambulance.

Lebanon account

An account from Lebanon from an American AUB student writing in the Huffington Post.

Somewhat peripheral to the article,... but I liked this line:
I remembered Robert Fisk saying in his history of the Lebanese Civil War, Pity the Nation, that his American friend got past an Israeli checkpoint by arguing that his tax dollars paid for their goddamn weapons.

Future air

Bullseye Rooster:
Friday, July 24, 2016. Oakland, CA. Helpful hint for those of you struggling with your bottled-air budgets. Mix in a little household air. A two to one ratio should bring your monthly outlay below $2,800. Be certain your ambient air intake hose is hooked up at least two meters from the nearest micro-wave sink, as iron atoms struck loose by radiation will be attracted to lung staples, even those made from crystal. In fact, if you’ve had your lungs stapled for any reason — weight loss, carbon dioxide retention, or tissue beautification — better to stick with your trusty bottled air.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The community of those who have virtual politics

Another fine piece by Carlos Rojas at The Naked Gaze. This essay discusses political protest and community in the virtual world.
This past July 4 (Independence Day in the US), meanwhile, another Chinese dissident was imprisoned on charges of inappropriate internet-related political expression and unlawful association. What makes this Independence Day prisoner somewhat unusual, however, is that not only was he imprisoned for instigating an on-line protest attended by more than 10,000, but furthermore his own identity is entirely an on-line creation. This is because the prisoner, is actually the on-line avatar of a long-time player on the Chinese massively-multiplayer on-line role-playing game (MMORPG), 梦幻西游 (The Fantasy of the Journey West) operated by Netease. The un-named player was being punished for refusing to change his alias, 干死4小日本 ["Kill the little Japs"], and also on account of the name, 抗日同盟会 [The Alliance to Resist Japan], of the 700 person guild he had formed (one of the game’s largest). As a result of these transgressions, he was locked in the game’s “Great Tang Permanent Incarceration Prison” (大唐永禁监 )...

As these examples illustrate, there is a fluid continuum within MMORPG protests ranging from dissatisfaction with issues internal to the game itself (e.g., the relative power of the warrior class) to issues which are situated almost entirely outside of the virtual space of the game (e.g., the 9/11 vigils), to protests which straddle the boundaries between the two (e.g., whether or not game groups can be identified based on sexual orientation, and whether it is appropriate for games to incorporate corporate branding into the fabric of the game itself).... [continue reading]

We are all Nobel Prize winners now

NOBEL peace laureate Betty Williams displayed a flash of her feisty Irish spirit yesterday, lashing out at US President George W.Bush during a speech to hundreds of schoolchildren.

Campaigning on the rights of young people at the Earth Dialogues forum, being held in Brisbane, Ms Williams spoke passionately about the deaths of innocent children during wartime, particularly in the Middle East, and lambasted Mr Bush.

"I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent," said Ms Williams, 64.

"Right now, I would love to kill George Bush." Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Brass gecko

I have a small and now-tarnished brass gecko that was given as a gift by someone - I forget who - when I was a youth in Thailand. "Good luck," they said. I was young enough and had lived extensively across Asia enough to have a faint belief in Asian symbols of luck, without knowing much about what "luck" meant. For years, I wore a Buddha figure around my neck for luck.

Friends of my parents always offered gifts. Asian societies are gift societies, replete with an intricate system of the social balance and reciprocality of gift-giving that Marcel Mauss so eloquently described.
The giver does not merely give an object but also part of himself, for the object is indissolubly tied to the giver: "the objects are never completely separated from the men who exchange them" (Mauss, 1990). Because of this bond between giver and gift, the act of giving creates a social bond with an obligation to reciprocate on part of the recipient. To not reciprocate means to lose honour and status, but the spiritual implications can be even worse...
As a child, however, the reciprocality requirement was dropped apart from ongoing friendship. I was therefore a simple, though grateful, recipient of abundant gifts. I'll always remember the dead lobster encircled by a decorative arrangement of shells and starfish under vacuum plastic wrap, suitable for framing. It was the kind of gift in Taiwan that always made my tasteful mother giggle. It turned out that the lobster was never gutted. It rotted, stunk up my bedroom with the pungent odor of rotten fish, and was soon thrown away by our amah, Kwan, who could tolerate it no longer. There's also nothing like an intricately carved Chinese warrior with his ample penis extending from his armor, sword raised for battle. My parents still have this wooden sculpture in the entryway to their house. I love it. It's a combination of a grandiose statement of virility and the humiliation of standing in front of the classroom with one's zipper thrown open, except in this case it is open to the thundering winds of the fields of glorious battle.

The gecko. I received the gecko as a symbol of good luck. Nice. I like it. I like geckoes, and used to catch them on the front veranda of our house in Bangkok. I carried the brass gecko with me for years, decades afterwards. There are boxes in storage, in the closets, of things collected during childhood abroad. But the brass gecko hs always been on the desk in front of me. Good luck, after all.

What is luck? In Asian societies, even the most ultramodern, "luck" still plays a role. Clouds of incense, gold leaf on erawan, the Happy Buddha with his extended belly, the names of Chinese restaurants in the US and Europe, forms of social etiquette, the prayer, the pilgrimage, the blessing of the priest, the red New Year's packet of money, the tangerine, the narcissus, the temple dog, the jade dragon, the snake, the stone, the pig, the rabbit. All of these are symbols of luck in Chinese and other Asian folklore. Luck, however, remains a vague and unidentifiable qualitative feature of life. Prosperity, yes. The good spouse, yes. Good health, yes. The talisman forces the issue. Unlike the "it's God's will" fatalism of Christianity, applicable to all occasions whether good or bad, Asian luck functions as a kind of acknowledgement that the caprice of fate is ever-present and not predetermined. Luck, in other words, is both hope and reminder. Hope for a better future. An existential reminder that accident is ever-present. The symbol comforts human experience in a delicate balance between desire and actuality.

Luck, in other words, is fundamentally mysterious because it is uncontrollable apart from hard work, good sense, and talismans that draw upon whatever unseen forces just might work in or against our favor. The talisman is a kind of Pascal's wager. In my childhood, it opened the way towards wonderment that something not of my own doing, something unmoved in the flux in front of or behind me, could change the course of possible life routes in the simple terms of the desires of a child. Looking back, although it's now vague, I think I believed.

I've held onto the brass gecko for years as a reminder of the "luck" of Asia - the concept of luck, the generous sharing of hope. But as time passed and my Asian childhood slowly faded into increasingly vague memories concretized in some cases into various forms of unconscious behavior (it has taken a long time, for example, to overcome the precision of Japanese time in cultures without that conception of time). The brass gecko is a talisman of sorts for me - a quaint notion of the supernatural which flowed away with childhood into a talisman of nostalgia for an Asian childhood in which luck had mystery and its talismans' power.

Many years later, I'm in a hot and humid subtropical Texas college town working on my MA. I live in a small wooden house where I do my course readings in a comfortable chair next to a window that receives a semblance of a breeze. I placed the brass gecko on the window sill - a decorative trinket. My former talisman of luck now a trinket for which even nostalgia had faded into the uber-rationality of Kant and Wittgenstein, where childhood "luck" had folded into discussions of Peircean tychism. The trinket on the windowsill now represented an expression or reminder to fellow student travelers of the exotic dimension of my own experience. It was a small vain performance, a stand-in, for something I didn't wish to explain in any more detail, but simply use to impress. A small part of my personality existed in the brass gecko as inaccessible but, I hoped, inviting or intriguing. Perhaps this is because I had forgotten the belief in luck. Now I viewed "luck" as a spawn of a particular kind of wisdom - the ability to arrange probabilities and contingency plans in light of those probabilities to one's own advantage.

One night, sitting in the study chair next to the window, I looked up from my book and saw that live geckoes had congregated around the brass gecko on the windowsill. They rested calmly on the screen. In an instant, I saw the rationality of luck. Geckoes are lucky because they eat mosquitoes. In tropical climates mosquitoes carry malaria - or, previously, "evil air." Geckoes cleared the evil air somehow. That somehow was related to eating mosquitoes that carried malaria. The presence of geckoes signified potential good health. The brass gecko attracted live geckoes, which ate the mosquitoes. Luck. A rational luck, like bug spray. The rationalistic philosophy Master's student has an epiphany about the good luck of the gecko based in basic ecological processes prompted by a little, perhaps unconscious, human intervention. The conclusion is that the brass gecko is explained as a scientific matter. Luck disappears into simple good health practices. The gift is on a par with chloroquinine or penicillin, and I am no longer benighted by the mysterious nature of the luck of the gecko.

We could say that this is a shame. That the world became a small bit less mysterious at that moment. At the time I thought so positively, under the spell of the great germanesque systems of rationality. Now I know I was wrong. Luck may indeed be a matter of an intuitive calculation of probabilities combined with a facility for acting according to longer-range odds. I don't wish to say otherwise.

The brass gecko, however, represents something more than that. It is a little feature of my own experience that reminds me that luck is never controlled (tychism is, after all, a doctrine of radical, universal chance). More importantly, it is a small feature of a life in which however far we wish to go with rationalistic explanations, they always confront a realm of mystery, a fringe of inquiry into which our all-too-human trial-and-error approach to experience is always just that, no matter how well-informed by the state of the art in science, philosophy, mathematics. If the world trucked no mystery and luck, we would have no use for inquiry for there would be nothing to question into and explore. We would be perfect, gods. That is the mystery, since we're clearly all-too-human.

The little brass gecko on my desk is an infinitesimal corner of a vast, incomprehensible universe, reopening the childhood fascination for a mysterious world.

How serious is the T in GWOT?

We here at Phronesisaical have long wondered about the realities of the terrorist threat.

This administration understood early that what Robert Putnam called "two-level games" - the mutually influential dynamic between domestic politics and international politics - can be played in two different universes. The domestic audience gets the GWOT rhetoric, draped in the understandable secrecy of "national security." It's a neat feature of politics when you can say there is a threat but also have a reason - national security - for not spelling out how serious it is or whether it even truly exists as a serious threat. This means that citizens cannot make informed decisions themselves about their government's foreign policy. Citizens simply have to trust - thus the (fortunately, diminishing) faith-based community. In this way, the two levels are forced to overlap (the premise of a win-set) - a square peg hammered into a round hole.

At the international level, however, the GWOT and Iraq War serve other sorts of functions that might not be palatable to the domestic audience. These include industrial control of petroleum resources, which is a tough sell as casus belli. But fear,... now that works very well. In the international sphere, the GWOT as packaged for American consumption is looked upon with deep suspicion by other states and by citizens of other states.

If, however, we wish to understand the seriousness of the GWOT, we should be asking the sorts of questions Rodger Payne discusses here:
The question, however, is whether evil, radical, Islamic terrorists have the ability -- not merely the wish -- to capture a state, hold it, and use it not only as a training site, but also as a base of operations.

Consider me a strong skeptic. Conservatives spent years trumpeting the fact that the mighty US had defeated the powerful Soviet state and empire. The Soviets had an advanced industrial economy, millions of men under arms, 1000s of long-range ballistic missiles capable of inflicting tremendous nuclear destruction, and control over a ring of satellite states.

For the right to trumpet al Qaeda as any kind of similar threat is simply outrageous. Even the most hawkish counter-terror experts recognize that al Qaeda's forces are measured in the small number of thousands. It almost certainly does not have a nuclear arsenal and likely does not have a significant chemical or biological capability.

It is time for opponents of the administration to stand up and demand a reality check. Otherwise, I fear that the world's democracies will veer aimlessly from one alert to another over the next months and years, wasting tremendous national resources, ignoring many more serious problems and (re)electing foolish hawks.

Cannonball fruit

Photo: Dave

What is wrong with this picture?

Two headlines:

Rice urges ceasefire but Lebanon war rages on

Bush resists Saudi calls for ceasefire

The Iraq War is anti-family

Er. Think your relationship is bad? Try the "stress of perpetual violence."

...For a growing number of Iraqi couples like the Khalils, including the dozen or so others waiting in the cramped and steamy hallway of the Kadhimiyah courthouse one recent afternoon, marital bonds are proving ever more fragile. At least 301,446 divorces were registered in Iraq during the past two years -- nearly half the number of marriages recorded during that time -- according to statistics compiled by the Justice Ministry.

More than twice as many marriages are ending in divorce as before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to ministry and court officials, social workers and divorce lawyers, though no reliable data are available from the earlier period. The twin stresses of perpetual violence and a stagnant economy -- along with the loosening of certain social stigmas -- are taking a toll on one of Islamic culture's most sacred institutions.

Pakistan goes super-nuke

Maybe it's time for injecting some real political leverage into a renewed non-proliferation treaty. I know the US president isn't likely to do that since he has little respect for it in the first place, but can it wait two more years? Time for another international leader to step up.
Pakistan has begun building what independent analysts say is a powerful new reactor for producing plutonium, a move that, if verified, would signal a major expansion of the country's nuclear weapons capabilities and a potential new escalation in the region's arms race.

Satellite photos of Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities, according to a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts. (Washington Post)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Cowboy outfits

Is this scandalous in the UK? Think of how scandalous it is in the US. Any leader who wears a cowboy outfit ought to resign.
John Prescott yesterday admitted he had worn a cowboy outfit, including a white stetson, during a horseback tour at the ranch of Philip Anschutz during a controversial visit last year. But while he said he had been given conflicting official advice on how to handle his trip to the Colorado home of the tycoon, he shrugged off criticism over his behaviour and insisted he hoped to stay in office.

Mr Prescott said wearing the outfit did not breach any rules covering gifts or misconduct. "I've been 35 years in politics. I've never had any other job, I've never received a payment and in no way have I been unduly influenced," he said.

Cuban med school

Read this article on American medical students studying in Cuba. Tell me something, after reading this, who would you rather have as a doctor? One of the students in the article or a typical medical student at an American university? This involves answering the corollary question of whether the technology makes the doctor.


Photo: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli planning

Good analysis on the Israel-Lebanon situation by Juan Cole today. He suggests that the current bombings on Lebanon were planned for some time with the knowledge of the US Dept. of Defense.

Rehumanize 3

Warning: graphic.


Wolcott, citing below from Dreyfuss at Also recall my May post discussing complicity.

"The blame for this carnage must be laid squarely at the feet of George W. Bush. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was ordered against the advice of the CIA, the State Department and most U.S. military officers, and in defiance of the United Nations, America’s allies, and the Arab world. The United States attacked and destroyed a nation that had never attacked the United States, which had no weapons of mass destruction and which had no connection to al-Qaida."

As Dreyfuss observes, the death spiral will continue because the Bush administration is in self-hypnotic denial and, I would add, there is no peace movement or political opposition with any upward force. Compare Iraq with Vietnam, and the sense of resignation and futility is apparent. I will never forgive Joe Lieberman for undercutting John Murtha and muffling the urgency of Murtha's warnings about how rapidly Iraq was unraveling by issuing one of his classic mushmouthed pieties. He immediately gave the White House and the War Party bipartisan cover, helping ensure the policies that weren't working would continue not working as the death-toll tabulator rose and rose.

But it is not enough to blame Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair, Lieberman, the neocons, the liberal hawks, and other useless idiots. By our actions in Iraq, and our complicity and collaboration with the Israeli assault on Lebanon, American citizens are culpable for letting 9/11 turn them/us into passive accomplices. "The complicity of the American public in these heinous crimes will damn America for all time in history," Paul Craig Roberts rages at Antiwar.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Bike riding is bad for the environment

Get this, from the NY Times:

KARL T. ULRICH, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has put forth a provocative theory. Traveling by bicycle, he argued in a recent paper, may cause more environmental harm than driving around in pollution-spewing, fossil-fuel-swallowing cars and sport utility vehicles.

How can this be? Bicyclists are healthier, he wrote, so they live longer. Over their lifetimes, they consume more energy than they save...

“I see it happen here in Berkeley all the time,” Mr. Leonard wrote. “First you start biking around town, then you put solar panels on your roof and start worm composting your newspapers. Suddenly, you find yourself raising organic free-range chickens in your backyard and hosting weekly meetings of your local Peak Oil Awareness encounter group.”

NASA and Bush decide the Earth isn't worth it

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”

David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

Unripe pulusan

Photo: Dave

Sustainable peace, dudes

Rock on. Maureen Dowd:
The more W. and his tough, by-any-means-necessary superbabe have tried to tame the Middle East, the more inflamed the Middle East has become. Now the secretary of state is leaving, reluctantly and belatedly, to do some shuttle diplomacy that entails little diplomacy and no shuttling. It’s more like air-guitar diplomacy.

Condi doesn’t want to talk to Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran — “Syria knows what it needs to do,’’ she says with asperity — and she doesn’t want a cease-fire. She wants “a sustainable cease-fire,’’ which means she wants to give the Israelis more time to decimate Hezbollah bunkers with the precision-guided bombs that the Bush administration is racing to deliver.

Congratulations, Floyd!

American Floyd Landis had a "perfect ride" over the hors-catégory climb, Col de Joux-Plane, to Morzine in Stage 16 two days ago. He put himself in a position to retake the yellow jersey in the Tour de France (after having cracked badly the previous day). Today, he did just that in the time trial, and should be wearing the jersey on the podium tomorrow in Paris.

Oh, and incidentally, Landis is well-liked by the French. It makes all the difference not being a jerk.

Tortilla Holders for Seat Warmers

From the Laredo Morning Times:
Federal funding, homeland security and immigration were all topics of discussion, but City of Laredo delegates didn’t forget the warm tortillas. City officials took 250 pewter tortilla holders with them to Washington, D.C., for their annual March trip. The presents were bought from Marti’s in Nuevo Laredo and cost the city a total of $3,200.

“We gave them to every congressional leader and to different agencies as a gift,” said Xochitl Mora Garcia, city spokeswoman. “We try to make it unique or cultural.”

It's sinking too

Lousiana's sinking....
The sinking of Louisiana's Gulf coast could be due to the shallowest delta sediments pushing down the underneath layers, a new study suggests.

Louisiana's coastal erosion causes the loss of land at a catastrophic rate of 25 to 35 square miles per year, equivalent to one football field every 15 minutes. [Map]

Many scientists believe that the subsidence, as the sinking is called, takes place because as sediment accumulates and the Mississippi Delta thickens, the crust of the Earth as a whole gets pressed downward. The withdrawal of oil, gas, and groundwater are also blamed for the submerging delta. (Similar subsidence has been noted in Southern California and in many other states due to extensive pumping of groundwater, petroleum products and other reasons.)

Just say "Don't Kill Me"

Avant News:
A coalition of American conservatives led by Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Dr. James Dobson and Newt Gingrich issued yesterday the "Don't Kill Me" Canon, intended to crystallize some of the right wing's often incompatible moral imperatives into a simple, easy-to-remember catch-phrase, "Don't Kill Me"...

"It took a hell of a lot of head-scratching, but I think we've finally come up with a basic premise that everyone can agree on," Mr. Frist said. "Plus, it's simple enough that just about anyone in our base can grasp it, and you can explain it in a thirty second issue ad, both feathers in our caps."

The "Don't Kill Me" Canon reads: "It is morally acceptable to kill anyone who can expressly state 'Don't kill me'. In all other cases, it is not morally acceptable."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hot air

Texas is the largest contributor by far of carbon emissions among all the US states. The US is the largest emitter by far among all nations - about 25% of the total, while having 5% of the global population. China is second with about 14% of total emissions (but this hides potential emissions from the US due to the import/export imbalance between China and the US - see here).

Texas may be about to increase those emissions in the interests of "good business." This is the sort of perverse incentive that arises in Kyoto Protocol policies as well. TXU has decided to make an art of it by investing in pollution so that it can later meet regulatory requirements to reduce pollution. Perverse.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) today reported that TXU, a Dallas-based utility, is building 11 power plants that use pulverized coal.

The paper notes that pulverized coal "releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, the most worrisome of several heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming." The 11 new plants would more than double the company's carbon-dioxide emissions, from 55 million tons in 2004 to more 133 million tons in 2011.

The WSJ says TXU may be building the plants to take advantage of future restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions. By building the plants, TXU could earn "allowances" based on its levels of carbon-dioxide emissions -- the higher the emissions, the larger the pollution allowances. Critics say the system essentially "rewards" firms that produce higher emissions before regulations go into effect.

Rehumanize 2

As Israeli bombs rain down on Beirut, the people of the city are once again living with the horror of war. In an intimate diary, 30-year-old Lebanese artist Zena el-Khalil describes helping foreigners escape, the nightly rocket attacks - and how she couldn't leave her sick friend behind.
See the account in The Guardian [via email from friends].

How to successfully build nations

At some point, the Bush administration should tell the world precisely by what criteria they define the "success" or "effectiveness" of their foreign policy. If the main criterion is growing death and anarchy, they're doing a bang-up job.
The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

Go confess

Go confess your sins to Adam Kotsko.

Friday Funnies

From Jesus' General, Rescuing the Tiniest Americans. Heterosexually yours....

Quote of the day...

...comes from... the always-sharp Molly Ivins (via John Brown).
I think the problem is the rest of the world doesn’t understand Dekes (Delta Kappa Epsilon). We need a Deke short-course in embassies around the globe.

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

I have been remiss on these of late. I conjecture with sadness that many a dinner party conversation has waxed prolixly as a consequence, much to the reader's tongue-tired dismay. For this unfortunately loquacious situation, I can only offer my sincerest regrets, as well as a quotation which shall most certainly be of the fondest utility in foreclosing avenues of conversation this evening and thus returning the world to laconic, graceful silence.

"Affability contains no hatred of men, but for that very reason too much contempt for men."
- Nietzsche

What's up with Israel?

Pat Lang, of Sic Semper Tyrannis, talks with Wolf Blitzer at CNN. Pat has the transcript up on his blog. (Thanks, CM Mayo).
Well in this, as in many situations in war and politics, in fact you often have to choose between two bad alternatives. Now having done what they have done now, they are now in a position in which in four, five, six days, a week, two weeks, whatever it is, they're going to decide that they have no choice but to put a large force into southern Lebanon. And that's going to hurt them badly for a long time. In a lot of these things, once you start down the road, having made a bad decision, you're just stuck.
See also another post today on the Americo-Israeli penchant for rather disturbingly unrealistic policy fantasies.

Rice says she believes that crushing Hizballah will at long last trigger the Middle Eastern version of the post Soviet Union "Velvet Revolution" which she believes is "just around the corner." Naive? You bet.

The Israelis seem to be even more egregious fantasists operating on the basis of imitation of the kid we all remember from the school yard who announced to you that he was going to beat you (Lebanon) up until you you became his friend. In this case there is a further refinement in that the bully (Israel) insists that you have to beat your cousin (Hizballah ) up as proof of your sincerity.

The latest newsroom fantasy insists that the Israelis will not have to occupy south Lebanon for long because the Lebanese Army is going to come down to take over the role of excluding the Hizballah (by force) from the area and that various foreign countries will contribute troops to a force to back up the Lebanese Army in keeping Hizballah fighters out of the area (by force).

More war, more of the time

The leader of Somalia's Islamic militias called on all Somalis to wage holy war against Ethiopia on Friday, a day after Ethiopian troops rolled into the country to protect the weak UN-backed government the Islamic group has challenged for power.

Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, in a radio broadcast, said Ethiopia had deployed troops to the government's base in Baidoa, 240 kilometers, or 150 miles, northwest of Mogadishu, to bolster what he described as a puppet regime. He said President Abdullahi Yusuf, his longtime rival, has "been a servant of Ethiopia for a long time."

Hobbesian Iraq

Scott Horton at Balkinization on the destruction of the state in Iraq. An Iraqi judge says to Horton that,
“We despised Saddam Hussein, and his overthrow raised such wonderful possibilities for Iraq. But how could a country like the United States behave so stupidly as it did in those first crucial months? Saddam was a nightmare. But our country had a strong state with secular traditions. That needed to be preserved at all costs. Instead the Americans smashed that state. What did they expect Iraqis would do? It sent people scurrying back to the basic building blocks of our society, which are the clans and tribes. People turned to them for basic self-protection, not because of any political conviction. And this has led directly to the social disintegration we have today. The choices that the coalition took had consequences. You destroyed the state and you failed to put order in its place. You created chaos, in other words. And now we have to try to live with the consequences of the coalition’s decisions.”
These comments dovetailed with a “lessons learned” analysis I understand was done within the Department of Defense. As a part of the review, a “lack of cultural awareness” of Iraqi society was repeatedly cited. A DOD anthropologist notes that many of the most serious mistakes made in the early phase of the occupation relate to a misunderstanding of the consequences of the fall of the state. Just as my interlocutor noted, the people turned immediately to family ties for protection.

Surely political scientists already know this. The first chapters of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan reflect exactly the points that the Iraqi judge was making. With the collapse of the state and with no new order to replace it, Iraq fell into the war “of all against all.” Hobbes wrote,
“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man… To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.” (ch. 13).
Put differently, the occupation heralded by the capture of Baghdad lacked the essential characteristic of an occupation - namely a new order. Hence, in Hobbesian terms, it was that form of war which encompasses the natural state of man.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Who started it?

Jonathan Versen has some further points about Israel-Lebanon that are mostly excluded from the current media discourse.

The New Domino Effect

Newt Gingrich said recently that we may as well call the mess in the Middle East "World War III." He may be more accurate than he thought.

Remember the "Axis of Evil"? Those were the good old days, the ones where the US administration felt on top of the world, yodeling from the Alps of global power. The US could pick out a few countries it really doesn't like, turn them into larger-than-life threats to America and Humanity and open up political and military fronts along their borders. One of them was invaded and occupied. The other two have taken the threats to heart. North Korea - at the time engaged in "sunshine diplomacy" with South Korea (which is still angry at the Bush administration for screwing that up) - now practices its missile launches, thus prompting the US to say "see?" Iran develops further its nuclear technology, discovers the US is more bark than bite now that it's bogged down in civil war in Iraq and fighting a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, and takes advantage of the situation to play itself up as the major regional power it has long aspired to be.

What's the common thread here? One was invaded and is now an utter hopeless mess about to turn into full-scale civil war between Shiite and Sunni. Tens of thousands of people are displaced within the country, perhaps 100,000 civilians are dead, the US basically still lives within its own private Green Zone, and the stable democracy that has been "just around the corner" for three years now looks farther than ever from being a reality. Many - Iraqis and even former Western diplomats - say that, frankly, Iraq was better off with Saddam Hussein. It's difficult to agree outright with that statement, but the fact that it exists speaks volumes about the occupation. More broadly speaking, the common thread is that, even if some of the domestic US audience still consumes administration optimism, the entire rest of the world views Iraq as both a failure for Iraq and a sign of serious American weakness. The bubble of singing from the hills is burst.

The second common thread is that North Korea and Iran, as well as other major geopolitical states such as China, Russia, India, and Venezuela, have all taken the opportunity presented by an incompetent American administration and its relatively weakened military capacities and seriously damaged political leverage to strike out on their own without the constraints of American wishes. The earlier threat of using nuclear weapons on Iran is itself a sign of weakness, given that nuclear weapons, regardless of their precision, are (and should be) always a very last resort under extreme circumstances. The threat itself seems to be more a matter of frustration than of level-headed foreign policy. The Bush administrations seems able only to continue to demonize its perceived opponents while engaging in negligible covert activities.

The third thread is that military grumblings are now coming from across the planet. Let's talk about a Domino Effect here.
The first assumption claims that, because states are attracted to power and consistent demonstrations of strength, the more powerful a coalition leader is and the more clearly and reliably its power is projected, the more likely others are to align with it. It follows that a decline in a coalition leader's relative position causes defections--often to the rival side--on the part of its allies and potential partners (the unaligned). The second assumption claims that the more similar two or more states are ideologically, the more likely they are to unite politically. Lastly, it is assumed that certain ideologies (on account of their precepts) can render tight, insular coalition bonds as well as acute competition between rivals.
Previously, the idea regarding Iraq was - on good days - that a democratic Iraq would prompt democratic reforms around the Middle East in a kind of domino effect once everyone saw how well Iraq was doing. That notion today looks as misguided as ever, especially as Iraq tumbles further towards civil war and Israel hints at full-scale invasion of Lebanon. The new and very real Domino Effect is a product of the situation of military and political leverage incapacity that American policies have wrought for itself. The Bush administration simply can't hold together a consistent set of allies where the glue is shared ideology or a clear policy vision. Frankly, it's unclear what these are. The US is thus relatively emasculated. This is what it means to call Iraq a "quagmire," not simply that the US has no clear exit strategy.

Furthermore, the overall foreign policy centered on Iraq or on the "War on Terror" is quickly failing. Thus, we've seen three years of shifting goalposts, different policy expectations, tangled visions, inconsistent and contradictory policy objectives, and unforeseen outcomes. Policymakers and politicians have to respond to contingencies, so we shouldn't give too much weight to supposed hypocrisies between policy decisions made at one point in time and those made at another point in time. What we can give weight too, however, is the lack of control over these contingencies. When one loses control over one's responses to various contingencies, one is in deep trouble.

A number of developing issues renders the entire foreign policy scene even cloudier:

First, Al Qaeda has apparently been strengthened by the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations. Here and there, the US wins a battle and kills a high-profile enemy, but the broader "War on Terror" is going the wrong direction from the US's stated interests.

Second, the Israeli offensive against Lebanon has quickly dropped the pretense of being an effort to retrieve the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Lebanon itself - probably the most liberal, diverse, and cosmopolitan democratic state in the region - had been gradually recovering over the past fifteen years from its long civil war (largely by giving the Muslim population a larger voice in government, and through the recent withdrawal of Syrian troops). Over the course of a few days Lebanon's promising development has been drastically set back (see also here). What is Israel doing? It seems to think that it is setting Hezbollah back by a decade. One answer calls it a "war of extermination." One rightwing American commentator appears to agree approvingly. Charles Krauthammer suggests that,
Just as in Kuwait in 1991,what must follow the air campaign is a land invasion to clear the ground and expel the occupier. Israel must retake south Lebanon and expel Hezbollah. It would then declare the obvious: that it has no claim to Lebanese territory and is prepared to withdraw and hand south Lebanon over to the Lebanese army (augmented perhaps by an international force), thus finally bringing about what the world has demanded -- implementation of Resolution 1559 and restoration of south Lebanon to Lebanese sovereignty.
Regardless, it is doubtful that Hezbollah can be defeated with a prolonged and painful regional war. Southern Lebanon was left to impoverishment and Hezbollah has built schools and clinics. Its influence is deeper than military. Neither can Hamas be defeated through prolonged war. Even in the event, it's highly unlikely that Israel would see any reduction in hostility towards its presence, but rather increased long-term hatred by the general population. It's difficult to appease families with dead relatives. And it's difficult to see this as a step in the right direction of Israeli security.

Third, other spheres are opening up as we speak. Turkey has made noices about invading Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey has been a fragile ally of the US for years - the tide is turning the wrong direction on this alliance as anti-US sentiment grows. Taiwan ostentatiously showed off its deterrence capabilities today to China ("Paratroopers posing as Chinese communist soldiers floated to the ground, simulating an airborne assault...."). Pakistan is pressured from both its Middle Eastern front and its relation with India, since the Mumbai bombings. And so on....

Fourth, is the loss of moral authority. Here are three pessimistic reports from today: on Abu Ghraib, on Israeli bombardment as war crime, and on censorship of media coverage (echoing the US) in Israel. I've written quite a bit about the issue of moral authority. It's not unimportant. Some apparently feel that enough bombing, enough torture, and enough humiliation can force others into submission. Has that ever really been the case historically? What actually happens when a powerful state indiscriminately and disproportionally attacks a much less powerful state or group is that world opinion is likely to move against that first state, thus decreasing its actual power. Power is not only military and economic. It's also moral. The Bush administration has wrecked the United States' moral authority in the eyes of the world. We can pretend otherwise, but there is no doubting this. Israel is following suit right now. Americans from the top to the bottom of the political scale seem to have little understanding that moral authority, legitimacy, is the basis of international power. This is especially true when the military is bogged down and other states are willing to seek economic trade alternatives even to the detriment of losing a market.

What, then is the Domino Effect here? It is that invasion, occupation, and humiliation of a people has consequences that may be much more far-reaching than expected. This is not to say that the Iraq occupation is directly related to Taiwan firing missiles into the China Sea. It is to say that the military quagmire, loss of moral authority and legitimacy in the international sphere, and the general global view that the administration is incompetent have all led to an international climate in which obnoxious allies feel emboldened by the administration's penchant for war, and enemies are emboldened by the administration's inability to competently prosecute it.


Daniel Nexon at Duck of Minerva has a nice piece on a different facet of the same issue: the question of collapsing American hegemony.

Back of My Neck, Getting Dirty and Gritty

Summer in Encinal. The two big goats are lying in the shade under Pasqual's trailer; it is so hot, his improbably-mixed group of lame, limping dogs ignores you as you walk by. You are determined to adjust to the heat—not to succumb, but to invite it to enter you, to acknowledge that heat is a thing not of the air so much as a thing in the air, a substance, a presence, a consequence. Everything appears to be dying. You put basil out hopefully yesterday in a pot in the shade of a tree; today it is a small black smudge on the soil, the shadow it might have cast. Tomato blossoms last set in mid-May; the plants themselves—gaunt, brown, brittle—haunt their cages sadly. Fine, reddish-brown dust scours everything: dust collecting in doorways, dust covering discarded, brightly-colored plastic garbage and toys along the streets and in driveways, dust in the air, along with the heat. Light ferrying heat batters all it can, relentlessly, finding its way between blades of brown grass, finding its way into the soil. The water lines, just beneath the surface, absorb heat: you brush your teeth for weeks with hot water from the cold tap. Trash lay everywhere, but especially in the usual places: on all sides of badly-used trailer homes, the interstate underpass, blown up against fences (stuck to barbed-wire fences like yours), Wal-Mart bags caught, blowing, in trees. If you pick up the trash—a beer bottle, say, or a plastic bag, or a wadded-up mass of fast food containers, stuffed back into the paper sack that had held so much promise, initially, or the compressed, unpleasant ball that is a used diaper—if you pick up trash this time of day it is hot in your hand and if you put it into a big bag that bag rubs hotly against your leg, sticking if you are foolish enough to expose your skin to all of this. If you pick up all the trash you can see in a half block, more will arrive tomorrow, the child of the wind and an attitude, familiar to places with extractive economies, that prefers trash in an already-depleted landscape to trash in the car: the wind will blow the newly-discarded to replace what you have collected; the wind will blow the dust to reveal trash you had not discovered.