Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chance Design

Check out this interesting post by Jim Anderson at Decorabilia. Jim created a "random" pattern of terms and asked for the rule guiding the pattern. There was no intentional rule. But one clever reader tried to figure it out and created a primitive outline for a rule.

Design - a notion that implies intentionality - requires a rule, a generality, a pattern, a model. Nature functions in terms of generalities as well as particulars, laws, patterns. But note that nature and design are connected only analogically in the typical ID argument: X has discernible laws and patterns, design involves rules and patterns; therefore, X is discernibly designed (and further, requires a designer).

Update: let me put this in contrast. I think the logic basically follows this pattern: soil helps plants grow, and water helps plants grow; therefore, soil is water. Do we need to plug in intentionality? Well, that's the further leap: since plants grow, there exists a gardener. In order to draw that conclusion, you would need another premise: plants only grow because the gardener (One? Many?) helps them grow through the application of soil and water. Show that premise to be true and you've got the whole thing. But there are two problems: 1. in this particular example, the premise clearly isn't true; 2. the entire argument for a designer (or gardener) rests on bringing in the premise. So what the argument does is simply assert in its premises what is supposedly proven in its conclusion.

I would think that arguing for fundamental beliefs from analogy would be a shaky enough proposition to disturb most anyone out of the firmness of those beliefs.
...It's all about trying to find a pattern that isn't real--when pathological, the condition is called apophenia--by relying on human design intuitions. All of the strategies are possible, even probable, modes of uncovering the structure of the puzzle--if the design is in fact designed.

It was, and it wasn't. In the vague, meaningless sense of "design," one often trumpeted by Salvador Cordova, an intelligent agent crafted the pseudopuzzle, first by noticing an instance of a possible pattern, then by combining words with similar endings, finally deceptively claiming a solution was possible. But the design was essentially random. Words were chosen using associations in memory (for all the -eese words, of which "Edwin Meese" is my favorite) and from a list of -ary words found here. There was no leitmotif other than "hmm, this word sounds nifty."...

What is my point? ("You often have no point," my wife always cuts in.) In their delightful and accessible introduction to probability, Chances Are, Ellen Kaplan and son Michael write,
Recent experiments using positron emission tomography (PET) scans have revealed that, even when subjects have been told they are watching a completely random sequence of stimuli, the pattern-finding parts of their brains light up like the Las Vegas strip. We see faces in clouds, hear sermons in stones, find hidden meanings in ancient texts. A belief that things reveal meaning through pattern is the gift we brought with us out of Eden.

Our problem, however, is that some things can have shape without structure, the form of meaning without its content. A string of random letters split according to the appropriate word-lengths of English will immediately look like a code.
Redirecting slightly, recall, also, "unintentional photography" and "intelligent art" below. Part of the point of both posts is that decisions made about what to look for or how to create are as much a function of accident as they are rational design. If you look at the photos and decide they are "art" (I know this is presumptuous, but bear with me), understand that you are the one doing it. I made a selection of photos to show you. But I can't call them art, which, even allowing for the artist's relationships with accident, involves intentionality on the part of the all-too-human artist.

Guess Who's Coming for Sukiyaki?

...In recent years, the wild success of male celebrities from South Korea -- sensitive men but totally ripped -- has redefined what Asian women want, from Bangkok to Beijing, from Taipei to Tokyo. Gone are the martial arts movie heroes and the stereotypical macho men of mainstream Asian television. Today, South Korea's trend-setting screen stars and singers dictate everything from what hair gels people use in Vietnam to what jeans are bought in China.

Yet for thousands of smitten Japanese women like Yoshimura, collecting the odd poster or DVD is no longer enough. They've set their sights far higher -- settling for nothing less than a real Seoulmate.

The lovelorn Yoshimura signed up last year with Rakuen Korea, a Japanese-Korean matchmaking service, to find her own Korean bachelor. And she is hardly alone. More than 6,400 female clients have signed up with the company, which says its popularity has skyrocketed since 2004, when "Winter Sonata" became the first of many hot Korean television dramas to hit Japan. Even in Shinjuku ni-chome, Tokyo's biggest gay district, niche bars with names such as Seoul Man have sprouted like sprigs of ginseng in a Pusan autumn.

"South Koreans are so sweet and romantic -- not at all like Japanese guys, who never say 'I love you,' " Yoshimura said as she waited for her blind date, a single Korean man, in the 50th-floor bar of a chic Tokyo skyscraper. A telephone operator who lives with her parents in Hiroshima, she has spent thousands of dollars on her quest for a Korean husband, flying to Seoul 10 times in the past two years and bullet-training to Tokyo for seven blind dates with Korean men.

This is interesting. Korean "blood" has long been viewed in Japan like the Japanese burakumin or India's outcasts. Radical news here. But is it a subcultural reification of transgression?


Reps from Time Warner Studios were there [Indianapolis air show] too, and they were featuring the film "Casablanca" on a gigantic outdoor screen for the entire public after the air show in the evening, right on the runway and airport lawn...

Remember the part where everyone is in Rick’s cafe, and the Germans begin singing marching songs, then the Free French agent stands up and begins to sing "La Marseillaise," and everyone else joins in a loud, patriotic chorus?

Well, at that point in the movie many of those who had stayed to watch it (about 8-9,000 people) began booing and hissing at the screen, and yelling just about every anti-French comment you could imagine. I couldn't tell how many were doing this, but it sounded like A LOT of people. Instantaneous French-bashing orgy... [Poilu at SuperFrenchie]

Charles Krauthammer, the other day:
But we underestimated French perfidy. (Overestimating it is mathematically impossible.) ...

This breathtaking duplicity -- payback for the Louisiana Purchase?
Bigotry isn't an identity issue. It builds up from a groundswell of manipulated social idiocy.

Nuclear Bugs

New Scientist reports that the cooling towers of nuclear power plants "could be evolutionary hotspots for new respiratory diseases."

It's architecture as a stimulus for Darwinian novelty...

The "warm, wet conditions" inside the towers have been found to host "several previously unknown strains of bacteria, including some that were similar to Legionella pneumophila, the cause of legionnaires' disease." The scientist behind this discovery warns that cooling towers are thus a source of pathogenic "aerosols" – invisible germ-clouds blowing out from their architectural origins to infect the lungs of animals nearby.

This nuclear landscape of concrete hyperboloids belching steam, and virulent microbes, into the sky should therefore "be monitored for emerging pathogens." Super-germs. Radioactive pneumonia. [BLDGBLOG].
I've talked in an earlier post about bioprospecting as an instrument in pharmaceutical discovery and agricultural biotechnology development as well as its connection to biodiversity conservation efforts (especially stemming from the UN Convention on Biological Diversity). I don't believe I mentioned, however, that various disincentives for the pharmaceutical industry arising out of new regulations (via the so-called Bonn Guidelines) has led many pharmaceutical firms to look elsewhere than biodiverse regions for bioprospecting. This includes extreme environments (and what are called "extremophiles" - there's even an organization devoted to them). For instance, Merck has developed drugs from bio-samples prospected from toxic waste dumps near its headquarters in Rahway, New Jersey. So much for conserving pristine, biodiverse environments from this point of view.

Now on to nukes?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fascism Encore

Now look who's talking "fascism." It has been floating around the past couple of weeks, but now it turns out it's a renewed attempt to rephrase the GWOT.
President Bush in recent days has recast the global war on terror into a "war against Islamic fascism." Fascism, in fact, seems to be the new buzz word for Republicans in an election season dominated by an unpopular war in Iraq.

Bush used the term earlier this month in talking about the arrest of suspected terrorists in Britain, and spoke of "Islamic fascists" in a later speech in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Spokesman Tony Snow has used variations on the phrase at White House press briefings.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, in a tough re-election fight, drew parallels on Monday between World War II and the current war against "Islamic fascism," saying they both require fighting a common foe in multiple countries. It's a phrase Santorum has been using for months.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday took it a step further in a speech to an American Legion convention in Salt Lake City, accusing critics of the administration's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies of trying to appease "a new type of fascism." (Full story)

White House aides and outside Republican strategists said the new description is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups, representing a shift in emphasis from the general to the specific.

We here at Phronesisaical have talked about fascism too (and also guest-posting at Majikthise here) but not because our high-powered media consulting, strategy, and marketing team suggested we might get 100 more hits on the blog per day with the new fascism brand. I encourage you to follow the links.

Fascism is a very tricky political position to tack down, one in which it is not even always clear if it is a phenomenon of the left or of the right. It has thus become nearly synonymous with something as vague as "political evil." The Bush administration - this is a Rove imprint - is clearly attracted to ambiguous and ambivalent language because it gives them political leeway to cover their tracks by insisting that the public misunderstood them. It is seeking to give the term "fascism" concreteness on the administration's own terms where they can be specific given unforeseen political contingencies as well as their own interests, but can back off and talk in terms of generalities when in political trouble. Call them on it before it becomes entrenched in the Bush(et al)Speak.

Wide and Long

This article on global warming and a Pacific island victim is worth reading. But, despite wanting to honor the tragedy of the story, I had a difficult time making it past this sentence:
Lateu is the only village on Tegua island, a half-moon-shaped speck of land less than four miles long and 10 miles wide in the South Pacific.
Someone please explain the width/length distinction here.

Unripe Meyer Lemon


Scientists and policy-makers with science backgrounds often bemoan the lack of understanding of science that journalists show daily (see, for example, below). Philosophers have long since given up expecting journalists to have any clue about what they work on. Orthodox economists are okay since many big-media journalists share the same ideology.

But, darn it, shouldn't journalists have some sense of what political and policy discussions in general are about?

Marcus at Washington Syndrome discusses the ridiculousness of one Dana Milbank of the WaPo in Milbank's puerile criticism of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's recent paper on the Israel lobby (Walt and Mearsheimer's paper). Milbank basically calls names and flames. Blah blah.

This history is bunk

The Scoop, the independent news journal from New Zealand, does an interesting summary of 9-11, five years on. It's not a pretty picture.

Like Lipstick on a Pig

The Bush administration has been very very good to some people. The Washington Post reports on census figures showing that three DC-area counties are the three richest in the country. Homeland Secur'ty!

The three most prosperous large counties in the United States are in the Washington suburbs, according to census figures released yesterday, which show that the region has the second-highest income and the least poverty of any major metropolitan area in the country.

Rapidly growing Loudoun County has emerged as the wealthiest jurisdiction in the nation, with its households last year having a median income of more than $98,000. It is followed by Fairfax and Howard counties, with Montgomery County not far behind.

That accumulation of suburban wealth, local economists said, is a side effect of the enormous flow of federal money into the region through contracts for defense and homeland security work in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, coming after the local technology boom of the 1990s. "When you put that together . . . you have a recipe for heightened prosperity," said Anirban Basu, an economist at a Baltimore consulting firm...

Oh, and make sure to sing about this one far and wide:

The data make it clear that, four years into a recovery from the country's last economic recession, improved finances are reaching different groups of people selectively. The rich continued to get richer. Between 2004 and last year, earnings increased by an average of nearly $1,200 for people with incomes in the top 10 percent, compared with $17 for those in the bottom 10 percent.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bush Subpoena

Lookie here: Lawyers Will Subpeona Bush White House in Phone Company Spying Case

Winning Elections

Floating around blogland, I came across this comment from a conservative on the Kinky Friedman for Governor site [via Sisyphus Shrugged - it's worth reading this linked post on Friedman]. It's the comment that struck me as interesting. It is written to Friedman.
As someone who signed your petition the very first night it was possible to do so, I am very disappointed that you accepted the invitation to the Bush shindig in College Station. I know that you have known the Bushes for years, and that they are very kind and hospitable towards you. In fact the Bushes are very good at being "down to earth" and friendly towards people in general. But that doesn't change the fact that their political machine has done a lot of tremendous harm to this state, the nation, and to the world as a whole. They are corporate fascists, or neo-fascists. They are not true conservatives in any sense of the word. I am a lifelong conservative who has become disgusted with the GOP and the Bushes. I was hoping for you to be a true Independent. But I understand that there are several well connected Republican donators from Houston to your campaign. I'd be very careful about the GOP making inroads into your campaign. I'm sure Papa Bush is well aware of his well heeled friends supporting you. John McCain is not the maverick he likes to PR himself as being, by the way. Lately he's reached out to Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones University, who worked to defeat him in 2000. Remember the South Carolina primary? McCain learned his lesson well: Don't go against the ultra-fundamentalist Christians in the GOP. And he's been a staunch supporter of the war from the beginning. He's cozied up to the Bush political machine over the last several years.
This is the type of conservative the Democrats ought to be appealing to. This appeal can be done with sincerity since there are plenty of values packed into the above comment that are shared across at least the middle of the political spectrum. Bush is unpopular, period. I've said since about 2002 that intelligent conservatives should also be pissed at Bush for betraying their causes. But ideological party-commitment blinders have for years diluted the rejection of Bush. Now that it is clear to anyone not boozed up in a party hat that the Bush administration's policies - across the board - are a mess, that dilution no longer works. The fragile edifice of lies built upon lies is collapsing, even for the party faithful. That's the problem with faith - when the world repeatedly works against the doctrines of faith, you start to doubt your faith.

Yes, we live in a world and country with many of blind faith and manipulative strategies. But everything is a faith in the end, including atheism and liberalism. No philosophical or political position has absolute justification. Contingency and fallibilism rule eternity. There are simply better and worse positions based in reasonable and intelligent arguments, practical concerns and effective solutions, and the relative well-being of people. This goes for liberal, lefty, atheistic, radical, etc. beliefs as much as it does for conservative religious beliefs. It's easier to pick on the latter because they tend to be absolutist about it all.

There are a few other lessons here, generated by the above comment:

1. Much as I think religion can be as (or more) deluded and destructive a force in the world as constructive, many of the values underpinning religion are nonetheless commonly shared if rearticulated. While there are intransigent and probably unresolvable differences on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, much of the overall difference between progressives and religious conservatives is based in political rhetoric and gaming (regarding evolution, for example, or international assistance) rather than philosophical differences. We're just not all that far apart in the US. In my less cynical moments, I think there's great possibility for conciliatory dialogue here.

I do not buy the commonly accepted trope that the religious conservatives of the wacky Bob Jones/Falwell stripe rule the day on the right. Oddly enough, my sense of this comes from living in Texas for many years. Many Texans are knee-jerk wingers, but there are also many who retain that older conservative mix of some progressive values, combined with a faith in God, and a mythologized independent streak. Those voters ought to be tapped. They're the ones attracted to Kinky Friedman. (Incidentally, Texas wasn't always bonkers. The state gave us Ornette Coleman, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the Butthole Surfers, Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson, Willie Nelson, the Kashmere Stage Band, Katherine Ann Porter, Lyndon Johnson, Ann Richards, etc. - they may be exceptions, but there are a lot of exceptions). At any rate, this conservative middle-route is not monolithic.

2. Nobody trusts John McCain (except the media). And for good reason. Making political choices based on how personable or "likable" the candidate is ridiculous. Hollywood celebrities have less-managed and packaged images than political leaders. McCain is no exception - one need simply compare the "straight-shooting maverick" with his policies. The commenter above notes the connection with the ultra base. We also learned our lesson with Bush... I hope. This warranted mistrust of McCain has yet to be tapped.

Note in the comment above the separation of church and state (heehee). That is, the separation made between the rote, atavistic "the Bushes are nice people" sitting side by side incoherently with "that doesn't change the fact that their political machine has done a lot of tremendous harm to this state, the nation, and to the world as a whole. They are corporate fascists, or neo-fascists." At a certain point, that's just not being personable and nice. This disjunction has to be clarified, called out, made very public. In the end, I think all well-intentioned citizens are against this kind of politics, regardless of political stripe.

3. People are tired of money in politics. It's not going away, of course. The big-money figures, however, have both the money to overcome the problem and the problem raised by having that money. This costs more money with diminishing returns. McCain is one of these figures, but he has it worse because he's the campaign finance reform guy. Keep track of his contortions in getting around his own rules. They're starting already. Once he is tagged with a big one, he's done. A well-positioned friend at the libertarian Cato Institute told me years ago that McCain is a demagogue and his demagoguery would come back to haunt him....

4. One thing that "realists" in foreign affairs do is maintain that morality doesn't matter in politics. This is part of the reason why some have moved back towards realism after flirting with neoconservatism. But that's a reactionary move. The fact that the neocons have a distorted and execrable view of morality does not mean that ethics and moral values are not important in international relations. It simply means that the neocons have gotten it wrong about the content of that discourse. A commonly repeated false dichotomy is that the main vanguard positions are either neoconservatism or Wilsonian-style idealism. Given the supposed invalidation of both doctrines in Iraq (assuming for sake of argument that there was any idealism involved), we're supposed to return to some form of realism. This doesn't logically follow, especially not when there are not only three options. Realism typically rejects moral considerations in international politics and claims that the international sphere is shaped by states acting in their own interests where the only real rule is the principle of state sovereignty. To do so today, however, is to miss much of what is happening in the world, including the rejection of current American foreign policy for moral reasons!

5. Finally, my point in this rather loosely-strung discussion is not that progressives (or whoever we are - me, I suppose I'm a progressive philosophical pragmatist [see also here] with an absurdist streak) ought to look towards a politics of reconciliation above all else. It is rather that we ought to look towards those little things we share with our erstwhile opposition in order to put ourselves into a position in which we can make better decisions - both because we are in office and because we then know better what people want and need. This requires intelligent dialogue and collaborative deliberation.

Exhibit A

Cough,... bluprrpp brrrrwkl snort. Huh?
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday he is deeply troubled by the success of terrorist groups in "manipulating the media'' to influence Westerners...

"They are actively manipulating the media in this country'' by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. "They can lie with impunity,'' he said, while U.S. troops are held to a high standard of conduct...

"The enemy is so much better at communicating,'' he added. "I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say - all of which are not true - is harmful. It's cumulative. And it does weaken people's will and lessen their determination, and raise questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it,'' he said alluding to Americans and other Westerners.

The changing face of international law

Nice article on the "growing clout of international law." I've been working on a particular part of the international legal regime as a philosopher interested in the normative and conceptual issues surrounding international treaty-making, specifically using environmental regimes as cases.

One of the key issues is this: treaties - in practice and their analysis - focus on compliance issues. It is generally thought that the way to gauge the success of a treaty is if members comply with its injunctions. But the assumption is also that international treaties fundamentally alter state sovereignty and are thus largely not in the interests of individual states, especially powerful ones. Other states may not have the resources or competence required to comply (analytical and reporting mechanisms, money, expertise, etc.). So, compliance analysts tend to focus on two central issues: 1) capability and measures to increase capability (technology transfer, funding, anti-corruption measures, etc.); and 2) incentive packages for "developed nations" to participate in ways that defray other potential costs.

The assumption is that, apart from lack of capacity, developed nations only participate effectively in treaty-formation when it serves their national interests, and that such interests are fixed a priori. Since perhaps the early 1990s, a small but growing sphere of scholarship on the formulation of norms and interests - the putative front-end part in the process of treaty-formation (that the objectives of the treaty are viewed as good in principle and thus worthy of further development) - has challenged, in my view, this emphasis on back-end compliance. A central challenge, one I think crucial, is the idea that interests are not fixed in advance but are a product of processes of negotiation, bargaining, information-gathering, normative arguments, and so on. This jibes well with some problems I've long studied in philosophy about the nature of normative deliberation, contingency and experience, and experimentalism. And I think it hangs together better empirically.

The question for me is what a refocus on the normative dimension does to issues of compliance as they are usually articulated and studied. Much of this discourse has been dominated by economic and legal analyses - and their standard analytical tools - guided by orthodox international relations ideologies which have blinkered fresh thinking about the evolving international sphere. This blindspot shows up in various forms (including, I believe, in discussions about foreign policy more generally).

We'll have more to say on this, as usual, especially as it forms part of a book I'm writing for publication within the next year or so (once the globalization and torture volumes are wrapped up - more soon on this when they go to press). Check out the article in the meantime.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Iran Nuclear Game

Cheryl at Whirled View posted this on Saturday. Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk has also picked it up. Knowing very little about the technology of nuclear energy and nuclear weapon-making, I've waited a couple of days to see how this plays out. It's not playing out, it appears, but we can be confident with Cheryl and Jeffrey at work.

Here's what Cheryl has to say about the American media reporting on Iranian nuclear developments.

This morning The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe all put the same story, with the same headline, on their front pages.

The headline is

Defying UN, Iran Opens Nuclear Reactor.
The first paragraph, however, says
KHONDAB, Iran -- An Iranian plant that produces heavy water officially went into operation on Saturday, despite U.N. demands that Tehran stop the activity because it can be used to develop a nuclear bomb.
Later in the article, we find
Iran has been a building a heavy water reactor near the plant for two years, but the reactor is not scheduled for completion until 2009.
...Here are the differences: the heavy water plant produces (distills, most likely) heavy water from regular water. Heavy water contains deuterium, which is an isotope of hydrogen that has more neutrons in its nucleus, which makes it more effective at slowing down reactor neutrons to produce a chain reaction. An enrichment plant raises the amount of uranium-235, the fissionable isotope of uranium, from its natural abundance of 0.7% to reactor grade (about 3%) or weapons grade (greater than 90%). A reactor brings the uranium and heavy water together to produce a controlled nuclear chain reaction, which can be used to produce power and plutonium, another weapons material. The heavy water plant has no radioactivity involved, the uranium in the enrichment process is slightly radioactive, and a reactor is very radioactive...

How much do these details matter? It matters whether the opening of a heavy water plant breaches the UN Security Council Resolution 1696. Turns out it might or might not. That link is to a news release (courtesy of Arms Control Wonk); the resolution itself seems to be inaccessible through the UN website. What the news release says is that the

Security Council...demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development
which may or may not include heavy water plants. In any case, we need to know if the plant is operational (not clear), and, as noted in the AP story and quoted above, the reactor that would use the heavy water to produce plutonium from uranium will not be completed until 2009.

So they matter if they are being used in the frenzy of accusation against Iran, and they matter very much if the Bush administration is indeed following that same path they followed in justifying their attack on Iraq.

Notice anything similar to the Iraq Invasion preparation? I'm not saying the US will or can attack Iran. That would be such folly at this point that I suspect that even military would strongly resist a commanded invasion. At the very least, the main similarity is that the big media cannot tell an accurate story, that this has enormous consequences, and that the administration is certainly not going to disabuse them of their ignorance because the media provide the administration with a scapegoat for the administration's folly. Furthermore, to follow this administration anywhere at this point requires an ignorant and confused citizenry. The stupider the better. That's the only way the administration's actions make sense.

The Photo-Op Presidency

And as shameless as it gets. Sick, even. [Via Digby].

Katrina Homage

Please go see Matt's photos and story about Katrina at [via Matt at The Tattered Coat]. Share.


We have strange reader comments patterns here at Phronesisaical. Sometimes every post is receiving plenty of comments; sometimes nothing gets comments. The post with the most comments ever for this blog remains, in phronesisaical fashion, The Most Irresistibly Linkable Blog Post In the World.

Here, appearing for the very first time, is a space set aside exclusively for comments. Tell us whatever you want, and let's see where it goes from there. Of course, it could remain at zero comments. This would be mortifying indeed.


DC Landmarks: The Intimate Korean Toilets

Helmette, some friends, and I decided today on a Korean restaurant for our usual 4pm Sunday lunch. D went to the bathroom after lunch and returned to the table to inform us about a most curious toilet situation. I went for a look.

The bathroom was small - about six square feet - but clean and chic. Bamboo-type plants in a large vase, a pleasant aroma-therapy liquid soap, and... two black porcelain toilets facing each other - no stalls, no divider. One, however, has been placed at a slight angle so that the two toilets may be used without knocking knees with your fellow unfortunate victim of gastrointestinal urgency. Face to face, you would be less than four feet away from your common man, staring directly into his grimace.

D suggested that one of us take up position on one of the shiny pots for much of the day. I suggested that the restaurant should install a checkerboard table between the two.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Deserters from the Iraq War

Read this piece in The Times UK. Yes, I know that deserters will already have a particular judgment of the war. It is one that is now widely shared, fortunately, albeit tragically late. Read the piece for how they talk about the war. Here are a few excerpts.

We was going along the Euphrates river,” says Joshua Key, detailing a recurring nightmare that features a scene he stumbled into shortly after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. “It’s a road right in the city of Ramadi. We turned a sharp right and all I seen was decapitated bodies. The heads laying over here and the bodies over there and US troops in between them. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what in the hell happened here? What’s caused this? Why in the hell did this happen?’ We get out and somebody was screaming, ‘We f***ing lost it here!’ I’m thinking, ‘Oh yes, somebody definitely lost it here.’” Key says he was ordered to look for evidence of a firefight, for something to explain what had happened to the beheaded Iraqis. “I look around just for a few seconds and I don’t see anything.”

Then he witnessed the sight that still triggers the nightmares. “I see two soldiers kicking the heads around like soccer balls. I just shut my mouth, walked back, got inside the tank, shut the door, and thought, ‘I can’t be no part of this. This is crazy. I came here to fight and be prepared for war, but this is outrageous.’”

He’s convinced that there was no firefight.

“A lot of my friends stayed on the ground, looking to see if there was any shells. There was never no shells.”
While the residents are restrained, the search progresses. “Oh, you completely destroy the home – completely destroy it,” he says. “If there’s like cabinets or something that’s locked, you kick them in. The soldiers take what they want. Completely ransack it.” He estimates that he participated in about 100 raids. “I never found anything in a home. You might find one AK-47, but that’s for personal use. But I never once found the big caches of weapons they supposed were there. I never once found members of the Ba’ath party, terrorists, insurgents. We never found any of that.”
One more excerpt:
“The US used to be something you could say you were proud of,” he adds. “You go to another country now and say that you’re an American, you probably won’t get a lot of happy faces or open arms, because of the man in charge. It’s amazing what one person can do. The leadership totally screwed up any respect we had.” His rejection of US policy in Iraq is making him question his sense of national identity. “In my heart I’m not American… if it means I have to conform to what they stand for,” he says about the Bush administration. “I’m not American because America has lost touch with what they were. The founding fathers would definitely be pissed off if they found out what America’s become.”

A little story about Mexican radio, cigarettes, and North Pole exploration


In mid-June 1926, after the news of Amundsen's expedition had been featured on Excélsior’s front page almost every day for weeks, El Buen Tono seized the occasion to promote its cigarettes. The company launched a new ad for Radio cigarettes showing Amundsen at the North Pole and announcing "Amudsen [sic] has said it: the true conquerors of the North Pole are El Buen Tono's 'Radio' cigarettes. El Buen Tono, the company of world-wide fame." These were the days before truth in advertising, and a week later the cigar manufacturer launched an even more daring ad featuring the same image of Amundsen smoking on the North Pole: "The first thing Amundsen did as he flew over the North Pole was to smoke a 'Radio' cigarette: the cigarettes famous throughout the globe." The ever-cautious and safety-obsessed Norwegian explorer would have certainly been horrified at this scene of recklessness: a lit cigarette could have blown the Norge to a million pieces!

It appears that years later, when browsing through archival clippings, El Buen Tono's managers took the ad copy literally, and spread the word that the explorer had indeed said what the spreads claim him to have said. There was a curious slippage from smoking to listening, from cigarette consumption to radio tuning, and thus the image of Amundsen smoking Radio was read as proof that the explorer had listened to El Buen Tono's radio station. This misreading of Amundsen's polar reception eventually found its way into Mejía Prieto's Historia de la radio y la televisión en México, and his account was later repeated verbatim by other historians.

Send up the white flag, the state is stupid

Sara Robinson, writing at Orcinus,
... this just sort of says it all.

By the way: this is the same metro area that's also trying to position itself for a 2018 Winter Olympics bid.

As a former Olympics reporter, I gotta say: it's damned hard to picture an Olympiad that's not wrapped from top to bottom in acres of international flags. According to the article, though, even flying the Olympic rings for three weeks would probably be illegal under the current law.

I wonder if anyone's told the IOC site selection committee about this yet?
Hee hee.

ANC, Mandela No Longer "Terrorists"

David Cameron dramatically denounced one of Margaret Thatcher's flagship foreign policies last night, saying that she was wrong to have branded Nelson Mandela's African National Congress as 'terrorists' and to have opposed sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa...

But his intervention drew sharp criticism from some of the ex-Prime Minister's closest allies. Her former spokesman, Sir Bernard Ingham, said: 'I wonder whether David Cameron is a Conservative.'

Describing Mandela as 'one of the greatest men alive', Cameron writes: 'The mistakes my party made in the past with respect to relations with the ANC and sanctions on South Africa make it all the more important to listen now.

'The fact that there is so much to celebrate in the new South Africa is not in spite of Mandela and the ANC, it is because of them - and we Conservatives should say so clearly today.'

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fightin' compare-contrast

Iraq troops and the Republican Homefront Defense at Jesus' General.

College Republican Chair Paul Gourley


Hate crimes compare-contrast

Granted, the hate crimes are different in that one is a murder and the other inolves beatings with a metal bar, but let's take a look at the legal response in Russia and the United States.

From MosNews:
A court in Voronezh, central Russia, found a young man charged with murdering a Peruvian student guilty and sentenced him to 16 years in a high-security prison, the RIA-Novosti news agency reports.

The 13 suspects aged between 15 and 19 went on trial on charges related to the killing of an 18-year-old Peruvian student last October.

Three others —- another Peruvian, a Spaniard, and a Russian —- were wounded in the incident and had to be hospitalized, in the southwestern city of Voronezh.

One of the suspects was charged with racially motivated murder, the others with robbery and hooliganism. State prosecutor Ivan Kovalev said investigators believe there is “substantial evidence this crime was committed out of ethnic and racial hatred.”

Other men accused in the case were given sentences ranging from one to five years in prison. One of the accused was amnestied, while another was given a suspended sentence.
The Boston Globe [Via Steve Gilliard]:

A judge spared a white man from a prominent family from a prison term today when he sentenced him for beating two black teenagers in what prosecutors called a racially motivated attack.

Instead, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Charles Spurlock gave Josiah Spaulding III to five years probation and 200 hours of community service at the Pine Street Inn or another homeless shelter. Spaulding, according to his sentence, will also have to visit the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, make a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and remove his tattoos with Nazi symbolism...

In July, the judge issued a split verdict in a bench trial on charges that Spaulding beat two 17-year-old black girls with a metal baton in a subway station on Nov. 22, 2002. According to prosecutors, he was with a group who shouted racial slurs at the teens on the concourse of the Park Street MBTA station. Spurlock found Spaulding guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, but exonerated him of civil or constitutional rights violations.

"Freedom of speech" and all that.

Sincere idealism and deepest cynicism

About the potential of politics, education, etc., I entertain both, usually at the same time. It has to do with two things: immediacy and velocity. I see terrific, intelligent, motivated and committed students. I see them do good things, think interesting and innovative thoughts. This is the immediate and the quick. I also see a slow-moving morass of policy, education, and politics in which nothing ever seems to happen, even when there are very promising possibilities that will nonetheless likely never be tested due to the basic snail's-pace velocity at which policy and politics moves. It all seems unmovable for an individual or a group (an "underfunded" one at least). This is how DC turns young idealists into older cynics. I'm caught between the two worlds, and have managed to maintain this status for years. I think you have to be an absurdist at heart to do that juggling act.

How about you?

Fightin' words

I do enjoy my Pat Lang:
Is there a causal connection between civil war and insurgency in Iraq and an absence of Jihadi attacks in the United States?

Let's see - What would it be?

- People now fighting us in Iraq would otherwise be fighting us in the streets of Peoria? How? There were no Iraqis among the 9/11 attackers. The bogus claims of people like Stephen Hayes that evidence exists of Saddamist/Al-Qa'ida collaboration are a fraud. The only people who say or think that anymore are the simple minded dupes of the Bush Administration, committed neocons like the AEI crowd and the merely ambitious and venal hoping to have a few "bones" thrown their way.

- War in Iraq keeps the Jihadis fully occupied so that they don't have the planning energy left to work against the West in Europe or the United States. Hello!! Madrid, London twice, Indonesia, etc.

The fact is that the War does one thing. It gives the Jihadis a convenient place to fight us and it may in the future give the Iranians a place to fight us on their own terms....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Get some rutabagas, quick!

August is national rutabaga month.

Japanese melon, packaged

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

In the context of a discussion of Rousseau, Tzvetan Todorov neatly articulates one of the driving problems that extends from classical thought to contemporary political philosophy and ethics:

"Patriotism, then, has an inherent flaw. By preferring one segment of humanity over the rest, the citizen transgresses the fundamental principle of morality, that of universality; without saying so openly, he acknowledges that men are not equal... Now true morality, true justice, true virture presuppose universality, and thus equal rights. And yet in order to be able to exercise one's rights one must belong to a state, and thus be a citizen: there are no rights except within a juridical space underwritten by the establishment of a frontier separating inside from outside. The expressions 'rights of man' and 'world citizen' thus both entail internal contradictions. In order to have rights, one must be not a man but a citizen; yet - with apologies to Voltaire - only states have citizens, not the world. To be in favor of rights thus implies being on the side of the citizen, and yet the best principle of justice is that of universality."

- Todorov, On Human Diversity

Do the Indie Treadmill

I'm most amazed with the choreography. Lookie here at Arse Poetica for some Friday chuckles.

Intelligent art

I earlier mentioned, off-the cuff, accident in experience in the previous post on "unintentional photography." I take this more seriously, however, or try to. This is extracted from a published essay on intelligence in the practice of art as providing an element neglected by philosophers and those who study the nature of scientific inquiry. See what you make of it:

The logic of artistic construction is first an "independent qualitative apprehension" in which “the underlying quality demands certain distinctions, and the degree in which the demand is met confers upon the work of art that necessary or inevitable character which is its mark. Formal necessities, such as can be made explicit, depend upon the material necessity imposed by the pervasive and underlying quality." (Dewey).

Note the similarity in one painter's words: regarding his abstractions, Joan Miró maintained that "a few forms suggested here would call for other forms elsewhere to balance them. These in turn demanded others. It seemed interminable." In regard to the practice of art, thinking renders the qualitative background the objective material of which properties such as harmony, unity, and so on may be predicated. This mode of constructive experience takes the relational for the concrete in that the insistence of the qualitative impels the activity by which elements in a work are brought together.

In terms of artists, this world is one in which they are "absorbed in laboring with material… live in a world of change and matter, even when their labors have an end in manifestation of form." (Dewey). Picasso put this idea similarly in terms of painting, "a picture is not thought out and settled beforehand. While it is being done it changes as one's thoughts change. And when it is finished, it still goes on changing, according to the state of mind of whoever is looking at it. A picture lives a life like a living creature, undergoing the changes imposed on us by our life from day to day."

This sort of engagement testifies to the liveliness of those things through which and with which artists work and play. In other words, it is both testimony to a receptivity to the accidental and the uncontrolled and, in the case of both artworks and the ordinary, to the opening of this receptivity to the viewer. I can only suggest here that in some practices of art, the element of accident is one whose representations do not point necessarily to anything beyond the works, but to other elements in the work itself (to take up the vantage of the observer). It is in this sense that the observer may be drawn repeatedly back into the work (as well as beyond it, given other elements in the work; or back into it, given intentionally self-referential elements).

The logic of artistic construction, so to speak, is less a strict logic than it is allowing one's temporary ends or ends-in-view to be reconstituted by the activity in which one is engaged and the materials with which one does this activity. The artist (and observer, for Picasso), in this sense, is engaged in partially impulsive responses to concrete, dynamic situations. Certainly, the press of facts controls the direction of one's activity, but in that our own artistic activities are foiled by the accidental, the character of our end products looks much less like the success of directed operations and more like an ability to come to terms with and rejoice in resistances and redirections. This coming to terms by an artist is, I think, a form of instrumentalization of accident. But we can only say so either retrospectively or preparatorily, the latter being an artist’s willingness to allow the future not to resemble the past.

Pluto, we hardly knew yo

The anticipated demotion takes place.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Coral reef, Honduras

Photo by Helmut

Genes and politics

Digby says this, in reference to this:
But where's the guarantee that Republican embryo becomes Republican voter? There are three kids in my wingnut family and only one is a chip off the old block, and he's pretty apathetic. The rightwing politics in my family were what turned my brother and me into raving liberals. I think that happens fairly often --- the old preacher's kid syndrome. It's certainly possible that a lot of conservatives come from liberal families as well --- I just haven't come across a lot of them. I do know quite few people who have been influenced by their spouses to change political directions, though.
And then Helmut says this:

Me too. Raised in an odd family of scientists and teachers that acted like hippies in my apparently blinkered memory, traveling the world and absorbing all possible experiences, but eventually settling in Texas and becoming members of the hardcore 25% wingers. I'm the only left-leaner in the family.

Nurture, not nature, especially when it comes to questions of value. Nature provides the vessel and particular biological inclinations - how those variables are instantiated is a cultural question. I don't know why people insist on having discussions about normative judgments as genetically encoded. Nature and culture are not so easily distinguishable as a philosophical matter anyway. As a practical, experiential issue, should it matter at all?

A really bad presidency (vice-presidency included)

Wow. Jim Hightower lets loose on the Bush Administration. Numbers abound.

It's time for a travel dresscode

"Some they handcuffed before they took them out,’" he said. "One guy was a white guy, with a tie-dyed shirt, a beard and dreadlocks. He looked like a hippie. There was an older man who appeared to be of Indian descent.’"

A few of the others had beards, and some were dressed in shalwar kameez - traditional long shirts and baggy pants, Nelson said.

Yes, travelers on a flight to India from Amsterdam looked like hippies. Passengers on the airplane became concerned about these passengers' hippie-like appearance and behavior, including inappropriate use of cellphones (modern hippies, the most suspicious of all). Air marshalls took control, the plane dumped its fuel in German airspace, asked for an escort from two F-16s, and returned to Schiphol Airport.

Folks, do not dress like hippies on air flights! In fact, as one who was pulled "randomly" out of the line on every occasion he flew for a year after 9-11, I suggest a travel dresscode for everyone. It should be one that is comfortable for flying, doesn't cause ethnic-alarm to other passengers, is not anarchist black or hippie brown-and-white, and cannot be used to conceal toenail clippers.

It is clear that the time has come for beige travel leotards.


And while you're at it, shut up. [From CM Mayo by email].

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Wrong President

Googlepoems, updates, links,... how about checking out what the Right has to say? I haven't tried that. Let's see [via Daou]...

Want to know what I really think? I think Bush is a decent guy. I think he’s a courageous and intelligent man, with a lot of integrity. You don’t learn to fly Delta Daggers and then volunteer for a combat squadron late in a war that was already lost without possessing all those qualities.

I think he’s more amenable to liberalism and its reverence for the UN and comfort with subjugating US interests to those of false former allies than I’d like him to be. And I think, above all else, that he’s human, and as such is just about sick to death of the relentlessly vicious, dishonest bullshit tossed at him by hate-filled moral and intellectual pygmies who, by their own admission, would rather see our enemies triumph than offer one shred of nonpartisan support for a Republican President in time of war.

And I can’t blame him. If — after having endured the toxic, diseased sewage flung at him by an apeshit Left so repellent and debased it can’t even see its way clear to condemning beheaders motivated by a religious fundamentalism that would, in other circumstances, be a matter of great concern to them — Bush feels like shrugging his shoulders and saying something along the lines of, “You can have it, jerks” and going back to splitting wood at the ranch…well, what normal, sane person could possibly blame him?

Um, beheading is bad, isn't it? I'm liberal and hate-filled and can't remember.

Cell phone drivers

A shared pet peeve, from Chris Clarke:

If you drive a car, you’ve almost certainly done this. You’re driving along at night listening to the radio/CDplayer/iPod and you’ve got your tunes/sports/inane neocon yammering turned up pretty loud, and then you get to within a couple blocks of where you’re headed and you’re looking for the right address and it’s dark, and you’re having trouble seeing the street numbers. And the first impulse you have, the first action you take to help you see those street numbers?

You turn the radio down...

A recent study suggests that eating and drinking at the wheel doubles your likelihood of an auto accident...

But to me, one brain-sucking cognitive black hole outdoes them all.

The other day I was walking Zeke and saw someone stopped dead still in the middle of a street, nosed into a T intersection, and he had managed to block traffic in three directions. People were lining up both behind and in front of him, and on the other street as well. Zeke walks slowly, and so it took about three minutes for us to pass out of his sight, and he was just pulling away when we left.

He was talking on the phone, and the conversation was apparently so interesting that he just stopped in the middle of the street.

Now I admit that’s a better choice than continuing to drive. Witness the woman who nearly ran me down on Sansome Street a year or so ago while chatting on her phone, seeing me only at the last minute. If not for me and my amusing, panicked gesticulations, she likely would have sailed on through the red light. Her response to my angry, frightened yelling at her to watch where the fuck she was going? “I’m on the phone."

Ode to Peter

Today's googlepoem:

While Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara,
who is smarter than Fred Farriss,
was interviewing serious sportwomen,
singing Baby I Can Hold You,
presenting his dinner party quote
about Mexican warrior nicknames and Guernica,
scapegoating the Ambassador of Venezuela's slim panhandle chin,
yet sighing
“Friends 4 Ever”
in Mr. Dooley’s history-as-linear America,
Pakistan went nuclear.
‘O, countertalk, cease fire!...
suspend the ethical!...
'O,... the big dare of banana anatomy - habeas corpus! -
and pitchfork tourism
in the garden of photorealist sculptures!

Poem by "Big Penis Helmut" [I am not making up that google search]

Save this blog

There seems to be absolutely nothing to blog about today. Yesterday was like this too; thus, the unintentional photography below.

I thought about Israel, Chinese stripteases at funerals, Hezbollah's good works (very Christian of them), Cuba's doctor exports, air safety panic (here and here), a patriotic drug smuggler, the future of Beirut, shopping music mp3s, the death of a protester in Oaxaca, two Egyptians tunneling out of Russia (and back in) with a shoehorn, Somali Islamists' attack on pirates, desire, Darfur, the criteria for judging art, the strong Czech Communist Party, the ethics of nose jobs, licensing the symbols of 9-11, UNDP's Equator Prize, Richard the Sophister, French summer country life, Japanese book art, POOTUS, and the ozone layer.

But I couldn't....

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Unintentional Photography


Sometimes failed photographic shots turn out interesting after all. It's a bit like the art of found objects, except that there is an original intentionality built into the photograph. The intention was simply foiled, usually by ineptitude or simply loading the camera and sending off an unintentional shot that made it onto the negative. Accident is everywhere around us - may as well embrace it as an aesthetic since "experience invariably teaches by means of surprises" (Peirce). I've collected these over the years. Hope you enjoy them.


Winter 2005, DC

Acadia Sky


Football, Beaufort, North Carolina

Failed photos by Helmut


One more unintentional photo. I met a good old friend from Poland - a photographer and cinematographer - while taking this shot.

Photo by Helmut


We may now announce with great alacrity that the Phronesisaical Institute for Predictive Science and Holiday-Making (PIPSH) has achieved rigorous scientific results using today's most advanced scientific instruments that correlate terrorist arrests with particular dates on the Gregorian calendar by multi-angulating the variables of lunar phases, the stars, gravity and dark matter, gravitas, and chutzpah.

Major terror arrests, we predict with near-absolute certainty, shall take place in October-November 2006 and October-November 2008.

As such, we further propose a new federal holiday - "Terror Day" (other recommendations for the name are welcomed) - to take place on or around the time of Halloween every two years. We suggest a parade sponsored by the Ministry of Silly Hats. We do not, however, wish to hinder these celebrations from being enjoyed at other times during the year: State of the Union address, major political scandals, massacres, economic downturns, are some suggested dates for less formal ceremonies.

Please help us celebrate this exciting new scientific discovery!


Reader MH writes in with a suggestion for "Interrogators Appreciation Day" as another new national holiday, and suggests retailers start work on their best cookie bouquets.


Nice pair of essays on abortion by Aspazia and SteveG. Read.

Moscow bomb

While in the US, people struggle with all the potential swarth-fired terrorism lurking in the dark corners of American synapses, Moscow dealt with a reality-based bombing on Monday. The motivation is apparently yet again right-wing racism.
10 people, including five Chinese nationals and one Vietnamese, were killed in an attack on a Moscow market Monday, Russian officials said on Tuesday. Prosecutors said the two young suspects could belong to a racist group, Russian NTV television reported Tuesday morning.

The suspects are students at a Moscow university, a source at the prosecutor’s office told the RIA-Novosti news agency. The source went on to say that the young men had manufactured explosive devices themselves with the intent to blow up a multi-ethnic crowd of vendors at the market. At first both denied their alleged involvement but then agreed to testify.

Rumsfeld cannot go

According to Laura Rozen [via Raw Story], Bush has asked around about replacing Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. So far, rejection.

Garden of Phalluses

No, not the Bush administration, sillies. It's a real one, erected in South Korea. It is Love Land.

Now, I have seen the phallus festivals in Japan, marching the Giant Penis through the streets towards the female shrine, but I have never witnessed "...the nipple mountain crowned with pink nubs or the sturdy erect penises that rise up from the goldfish pond like a fountain."

If you visit Love Land, but do not have a date, do not dismay. There is also the "Masturbation Bike" (note the feathers).

Monday, August 21, 2006

Durian king

See more photos of the Thailand Grand Invitation World Durian Festival 2006.

Basque cuisine

A Helpful Hint from the Homestyle Kitchen of Helmut: Basque food is delicious and impressive and often simple to make. Take the refinedness of French haute-cuisine, the freshness and earthiness of French and Spanish country cooking, the spices of Spanish cuisine, robust red wines, and throw in several dashes of originality, and you get Basque cuisine. I received a book some time ago by the California-based chef, Gerald Hirigoyen, titled The Basque Kitchen. I've made several dishes from it, experimented a bit with them, and have made very nice discoveries along the way.

It's also a cuisine that has politics. One, apparently, that seeks "a peace that is not as ephemeral as... red cabbage gelatin with liquefied chard."

Euskal Blog excerpts a rather ridiculous story from the LA Times that intertwines the politics and food of the Basque country (mostly the politics). Go for the food.
The Basque Country was always an incongruous place for revolution. Its gently rolling hills, quaint fishing villages and spectacular sea views belie deep-seated political and ethnic anger. It is one of Spain's most prosperous areas, a place of unique gourmet cuisine, but one where the intelligentsia need bodyguards, where bombs go off at universities, and where outlawed rebel partisans give news conferences in fashionable hotels...

Berasategui, a stocky man dressed in chef's whites, yearns for a peace that is not as ephemeral as his red cabbage gelatin with liquefied chard...

Berasategui and the other chefs were questioned in late 2004 by judicial officials in Madrid about whether they had paid ETA to leave their restaurants alone. Spanish authorities maintain that extortion was ETA's most lucrative source of income, along with kidnappings. Up to a billion dollars may have been collected over the years, used to finance attacks, support fugitives and aid prisoners...

"In the Basque Country, before we learn to walk, we learn to cook," he said, with a rare smile.

"We are a country with spark, living historic moments. If all sides would just leave us alone."

Pasolini or Gibson?

From 3 Quarks:
...The problem, though, is that when these rigorous demands [attempting to articulate the concept of God from a standpoint and language that is all-too-human] are pushed as far as they can go, and one by one all the features projected from human experience are stripped away, we find that not all that much is left, and the apophatic path leads us to something that looks troublingly like atheism. God is an old man on a throne or he is, quite literally, nothing...

Consider in this connection the expression of the religious sentiment in art. Pier Paolo Pasolini, before he was murdered by an underage hustler he had unashamedly picked up in some back alley of Rome, managed to make one of the most beautiful pieces of religious art of the 20th century: his film rendition of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. The best religious art of the last 100 years was created by a homosexual communist.

Perhaps the worst religious art (using that term generously) of the same period was created by an aggressive and empty-souled goon with outsized daddy issues who, when on break from belching hatred, remains unable to shut up about his personal relationship with the divine. Rent his Passion of the Christ together with Pasolini's masterpiece sometime, and watch them back to back. Then ask yourself whose side you want to be on come Judgment Day.

"No soup for you"

This is one of those internetaciously neat things that is neat because it starts to look like reality rather than virtuality. Isn't that odd? It's on a par with how we anthropomorphize a pet's behavior: isn't it funny how the monkey smokes cigarettes?

Soundseeker is mapping sounds of New York City onto GoogleMaps. Neat. [via WFMU]. See also this one as well as the smell map. Randomly associating, see also Bullseye Rooster's global odors discussion and the punk band, The Swell Maps. The latter brings us to this band, The Barracudas, which links us right back here. And, thus, here. Look at the monkey act like a blogger.

Where next for US foreign policy?

I suppose this might be old stuff to many of you too - I'm still catching up with reading (all I really read in Honduras was Michael Frayn's interesting novel, Spies)....

Here is Stanley Hoffman in the NY Review of Books from a week or so ago writing about US foreign policy. It's worth reading. Skip past the book review part. Walt is interesting, but Fukuyama's recent work is an exercise in self-rehabilitation. I don't care enough about him as an individual to want to follow along. Hoffman is the interesting one here, so section 3 is most worth reading. He outlines what he thinks ought to be American foreign policy, and it doesn't look much like the Bush administration's. I think you'll also notice several of the themes we have nearly fetishized here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Country Roads of Death?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been on the edge of my seat since Friday, waiting for the second half of this story, in which a woman was detained in an airport in West Virginia after some of her cosmetics were mistaken for explosives. Would a terror cell be exposed? Had al-Qaeda finally made it to the Blue Ridge?

Sadly, it was makeup. Even more sadlier, I had to work to learn that. No problem finding out about the potential explosives. But everybody seemed only too happy to let that lingering fear hover there.

But here was the best part of the story, or, I mean, the "really important" part:
"The story here, though, that is really important," Mr. Chertoff said, "is the system worked even at a regional airport in West Virginia."
No: fuck you, Chertoff. How--how?--is this an example of the system "working"?

More importantly: even in West Virginia? Hey, asshole, you want a backwater to showcase your achievements? How about New Orleans? Leave the Mountain State out if it, you cocksucking failure.

Barba de Chiva feels a little bit better, now.

Barbara Feldon Sings

Quick, while the .mp3 file is still accessible, run over to Dans Mon Café and download Barbara Feldon (Agent 99, Get Smart!), one of Helmut's first true loves, singing "99."

The Bush Administration: Comedy Gold

Frank Rich helps us pronounce the Reign of Terror to be over.
It's not as if the White House didn't pull out all the stops to milk the terror plot to further its politics of fear. One self-congratulatory presidential photo op was held at the National Counterterrorism Center, a dead ringer for the set in "24." But Bush's Jack Bauer is no more persuasive than his Tom Cruise of "Top Gun." By crying wolf about terrorism way too often, usually when a distraction is needed from bad news in Iraq, he and his administration have long since become comedy fodder, and not just on "The Daily Show." June's scenario was particularly choice: As Baghdad imploded, Alberto Gonzales breathlessly unmasked a Miami terror cell plotting a "full ground war" and the destruction of the Sears Tower, even though the alleged cell had no concrete plans, no contacts with terrorist networks and no equipment, including boots.
Look, there simply comes a time when the administration boosters are no longer worth dealing with. I think this threshold was crossed several years ago. But others have continued to talk about the Malkins, Coulters, O'Reillys, the Rumsfelds, Cheneys, and Bushs as if what they say is significant in some greater war for the truth. They've lost. And you now have to be a complete bozo to hang on to whatever these utter brainturds have to say. It's over. To know that it's over takes only a wee bit of investigation now - or simply paying attention - a bit of common sense, and a bit of an aversion to living your life according to the caprices of authoritarian propaganda. Time to take our laxatives. There is nothing more for these people to say.


Here's the full Rich article (at the indispensable Wealthy Frenchman) for those of you without the NY Times subscription.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pineapples, Gracias, Honduras

Photo by Helmut

Jobs in France

Sitting in the Miami airport a week ago waiting on my flight, I saw CNN on the tv. I couldn't hear the sound of the panelists discussing something or another; I could only see the images. Try this some time and see what kind of message you take from the images without the overlaid discussion. The images in this case ran roughly like this: first, a shot of the Statue of Liberty, then another patriotic shot that tied Lady Liberty to the 9-11 bombings. Next, there was an image of Jacques Chirac. A following sequence of juxtaposed images showed the Eiffel Tower (we're in France), last fall's riots in the Paris suburbs, Al Gore (?!), a Nazi symbol, and chaos in Iraq.

Now, it depends, of course, on how these images are strung together by a verbal narrative. But somehow I doubt the narrative said that Al Gore and the French were attempting to defend our freedoms by opposing the war in Iraq.

France, in the US media, is equated with socioeconomic ennui, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, arrogance, a bloated social system and sluggish economy, and general intransigence. Move farther to the right in the media, and you find the most offensive of stereotypes (unwashed and smelly, cowardly, "Sacre Bleu!"-saying, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys"). I had an email exchange with former Reagan speechwriter, John Podhoretz, over a month ago in which I questioned unsupported statements he made about supposed French anti-Semitism and compared anti-Semitic attacks in France to those in the US. There are more in the US by a factor of nearly 8. The population of the US is greater than France's by roughly a factor of 4.5, which means more attacks per capita. But we don't call the US anti-Semitic for the most part. Podhoretz responded by calling me a "preposterous fool," "Foucault" (to which, at this point in the heated exchange, I unfortunately responded by calling him "Beavis"), and told me to go back to my "environmental bullshit." He didn't respond to the questions I raised, but immediately went for the ad hominem. I take this as par for the course, even from a Reagan speechwriter, when it comes to France. Helmette, who is French, and I have put up with the nastiness since 9-11 - some of it coming from my own family, and even living in liberal Washington, DC. Like Podhoretz's response, this nastiness doesn't seek to respond to criticism but simply to disparage.

Somehow it has become acceptable in the mainstream to say the very worst vituperative things about France, things that would be considered racist, ethnicist, or otherwise bigoted if applied to anyone else. For some reason, it is normal to disparage France in this way, and this is embedded within the mainstream media as well. I mostly see it as a product of the general political climate of critics of the Bush administration being cowed and threatened.

At any rate, lookee here. New job news from France.
The French economy, the third-largest in Europe, is suddenly creating jobs at its fastest pace in five years and starting to enjoy the mild upturn that may be starting to take root across the region.
Europe, and in particular those countries that use the euro, has been plagued by paltry growth rates in recent years, during a time when the global economy has been expanding at its fastest pace since the early 1970s.
But the last week or so has brought a raft of good news. France, until recently missing from the broader picture of improvement, last week registered a sharp gain in economic growth in the second quarter of as much as 1.2 percent, its strongest in almost six years.
At the same time, the French unemployment rate has fallen to 9 percent, its lowest level in four years and down sharply from the five-year high of 10.2 percent in May 2005.
And this too:
If members of ethnic minorities have long been present on French construction sites and factory floors, they are still a rare sight in management positions and higher-profile jobs that routinely bring them into contact with customers. But now something is happening in the whitest of white-collar sectors: the largest banks and insurers in France appear to be spearheading efforts in the country to diversify their work forces by tapping into a growing pool of educated second-generation immigrants.
Outreach programs in the French financial sector have quietly multiplied in recent years, but three weeks of rioting in immigrant suburbs last autumn abruptly propelled them into the spotlight, giving them a heightened significance.


The Marine officer who commanded the battalion involved in the Haditha killings last November did not consider the deaths of 24 Iraqis, many of them women and children, unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, according to a sworn statement he gave to military investigators in March.

"I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines, said in the statement.

The release of the statement was apparently intended to explain why it took so long to report the Haditha massacre (and we'll call it that, okay? Kids were shot in the back of the head.). One of the oddest things is that nobody anywhere in any of these proceedings seems to have any remorse about the killings. It's clinical. It's pathological.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

"The learning nervous system is a deterministic system with a relativistic self-regulating organization that defines its domain of interactions in terms of the states of neuronal activity that it maintains constant, both internally and at its sensory surfaces, and that specifies these states at any moment through its functioning, and through the learning (historical transformation) itself. Consequently, it must be able to undergo a continuous transformation, both in the states it maintains constant, and in the way it attains them, so that every interaction in which new classes of concomitances occur effectively modifies it (learning curves) in one direction or the other. Since this transformation must occur as a continuous process of becoming without the previous specification of an end state, the final specification and optimization of a new behavior can only arise through the cumulative effect of many equally directed interactions, each of which selects, from the domain of structural changes possible to the nervous system in its structural dynamism, that which at that moment is congruent with its continued operation subservient to the basic circularity of the organism. Otherwise the organism disintegrates."

Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition.

Pitchfork's 200 greatest songs of the 1960s

A change of pace, and back to music for a moment. Today, Pitchfork wraps up their list of the 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s. The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" comes in at Number 1. I'm glad to see that Iggy and the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" made the top 20, and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" ranked third. I'm also glad to see The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" up there. Very different songs, but all masterpieces. Check out the list, let me know what you think.

Oh, and speaking of somewhat embarrassing tastes below (and I've expressed my love for Pilot, which is another embarrassing one, but also the hipsterly acceptable Robert Pete Williams, and many others here and here), I'm now really into... Lily Allen. 20 years old. There, I've admitted it. The Pilot days wash over me again and the metalheads beat me up behind the bleachers. Make of it what you will, but first do me a favor and listen to the eminently catchy tunes, "LDN" and "Smile." I know this will come back to haunt me like my Spice Girls global groupie days or my early years buying beers at 7-11 for the Backstreet Boys.

Horrors Never Ceasing

Over the last six years in Bizzaro World, I've found myself missing the mind of Ronald Reagan. I've pined for Henry Kissinger's wisdom. I've even thought, "why, oh why, couldn't the nation have chosen somebody as respectful of our Constitution as Richard Nixon?" But today something happened that was so strange, so unbelievable, so unthinkable that, well, I'd never thought of it. Unimaginable, inconceivable, that's what it was. Not in even in bad trips or malarial fever nightmares would I ever have come up with this, but it happened, it's true and it's real:

I missed Dan Quayle as Vice President.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Young rambutan, Honduras

Photo by Helmette

Bomb-plot skepticism

Rodger Payne at Duck of Minerva leads us to this interesting blog post by the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray.
...this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time...

As they were all under surveillance, and certainly would have been on airport watch lists, there could have been little danger in letting them proceed closer to maturity - that is certainly what we would have done with the IRA...

In all of this, the one thing of which I am certain is that the timing is deeply political. This is more propaganda than plot. Of the over one thousand British Muslims arrested under anti-terrorist legislation, only twelve per cent are ever charged with anything. That is simply harrassment of Muslims on an appalling scale. Of those charged, 80% are acquitted. Most of the very few - just over two per cent of arrests - who are convicted, are not convicted of anything to do terrorism, but of some minor offence the Police happened upon while trawling through the wreck of the lives they had shattered.
As always, it is worth being very critical in one's acceptance of claims about terrorism made by the US and UK governments (or anyone, including Murray). This has nothing to do with conspiratorial thinking; it has to do with precedent. When you're sold a supposedly fresh bill of goods that proves repeatedly rotten and you continue to buy, your actions are providing an instance of the meaning of stupidity.