Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Bananas and a Monstera

Top photo: Selvin Chance. Bottom photo: Ian Maguire. Monstera bowl photo: Helmut.

A Halloween Story

From The Morning News.
...Henry turned for the door and tried to flee, but he was met in the yard by zombie cops, who arrested him, took his mug shot, and then ate his face on a wheat cracker....

Global Economic Justice

A review of Robert Wade's new book, Economic Justice in an Unfair World. A lot of faults in the essay, including - among others - the assumption that academics who write on globalization and international development hardly ever do ethics. In many ways, whether explicitly or not, that is precisely what discussions of globalization and development are about. But my own world of this kind of work is comprised of plenty of academics who do explicitly ethical work. In fact, that starting assumption allows the reviewer at least - perhaps even Wade? - to overlook a long tradition of complex thinking about ethical issues - economic justice, etc. - at the level of globalization and international development. Political thought since 1971, for instance, has been dominated by at least some sort of dialogue if not direct confrontation with Rawls' hugely influential A Theory of Justice, which is precisely an argument about the just distribution of economic goods (based on a just distribution of "primary social goods"). The limitation of the starting assumption appears even in Wade's own view of liberal internationalism and of the view of states as ethical agents. Nothing new there.

As for more substantial matters, I'll leave this to you.

Thanks to SC@MD for the link via email.

The Congolese Vote

Dcat on the vote in the DRC this past Sunday.
After more than two months of wrangling and politicking and counting and violence and false starts, the Congolese went to the polls on Sunday in the runoff election pitting incumbent Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former warlord whose main areas of strength are in the most anarchic regions of the DRC. Kabila ought to win handily, as he claimed 45% of the tally in the multi-candidate first round of voting. Because of infrastructural and logistical issues (such as the fact that the DRC is the size of Western Europe but has about 320 kilometers of paved roads) results may not be known until mid-November. Which leaves plenty of time for shenanigans and violence, such as the mob rioting and violence that swept through the most volatile part of the country, the region's northeast, today. The long and tedious and potentially fraught process of counting the vote is now underway.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Paris and Practice

Helmette is in France for a week visiting family and friends and Helmut is spending that time... working. All of a sudden, a kind of freedom. What do I do with it? Well, I did take a Venezuelan friend and one of my favorite grad students, two lovely and interesting women, to the Dolls show on Friday, but apart from that it has been work. I also ordered a pizza. One of my neighbors brought me some chocolate chip cookies. That was sweet. And I fell asleep very late last night in front of the TV; dancing in my head were dreams of new and exciting infomercial products and, I swear, someone talking earnestly about bodily "fecal matter backup" (I managed to open an eye - an excitable plastic man with some anti-fecal backup product to sell - my eye closed before I determined whether it was a pill or a spatula).

Apart from a work weekend of torture and globalization and developing a new seminar on ethics in management and leadership, my thoughts have wandered over to, well, Paris, and to a problem that constantly arises for a philosopher teaching at a public policy school: the moment of policy practice. There's a vague relation between these two disparate items. Bear with me, and I'll see if I can weave them together.

Paris: Paris is a big city, of course, but it's also very small. I don't mean this only in the sense that - like other European cities - it has a center from which the rest of the city radiates, turning the city into something more intimate, walkable, and experientially and historically rich than we usually know with American cities. I mean this also in a sense that a relatively unknown French photographer I like, Michel-Jean Dupierris, has a clever eye for: the tiny, passed-over worlds underlying the city. Paris is grand, yet infinitesimally complex. Dupierris, like other artists before him, notices the small and complex. He has the eye of an abstract expressionist.

In another, now-parenthetical lifetime, I, Helmut, was a painter (before going on to grad school and the career I have now). I even had shows and sold paintings, mostly in Paris. It was fun, and I met plenty of interesting people, but it was grueling in terms of making a living. As, I think, for any artist, you have to learn when to throw individual works away rather than keep at them tenaciously while their mediocrity grows in front of you. This is integral to building up a collection of work that you find to be good. I would tear up pieces that, it had become obvious, were going nowhere. Sometimes I had worked on them for days. One thing I noticed, however, was that the little worlds found in the shredded pieces were more interesting than the original painting I had made and decided to toss. I ended up keeping many of the pieces, as did Helmette (I find them sometimes being used as bookmarks or glued onto a page of her design journals). The odd thing is that I didn't really do them, at least not intentionally. I painted the larger works. The small pieces were accidental worlds. They wouldn't have existed without the larger work, but they were what they were, created only by my often-exasperated ripping and shredding.

At that time, I also knew a Japanese artist named Kozo (via my friend, the late Dominican monk Père Gilles Vallée, who created and managed the little Left Bank gallery, Galerie du Haut Pavé). Kozo became known for his interior designs and, in my view, not the best of his work. His best work was/is the little paintings and drawings he would make of the unnoticed features of nature, the smallest details, pieces of nature in their most austere simplicity. A bean, for example. A petal of a wild coquelicot. I first met him as he walked up from the Dordogne River to his medieval house. He had a fish, whose details he proceeded to rub with charcoal onto paper. Kozo and Père Vallée insisted - literally, religiously in Père Vallée's case - on the cosmic significance of the infinitesimal. I only figuratively bought the religious claim, but I think I did come to appreciate the small and passed-over, something perhaps shared especially with Kozo as he drew out an aesthetic I hadn't recognized in myself from living in Japan as a child: the aesthetic of restrained elegance found in objects not traditionally considered beautiful (for what it's worth, maybe some of my silly fruit photos reflect this).

Our eyes - perhaps especially American eyes - are accustomed to the grand and exciting and... exploding. They've forgotten Thoreau. In this sense, Dupierris's work is representative of Thoreauvian eyes, even if nature - as traditional "nature" - is not the subject. Dupierris builds or, rather, discovers a now-absent human history in his photos, a bit like Atget, retaining the mystery of the subject's potential use or past use. Use doesn't matter. That it was used does matter.

A world like that of Paris is comprised of infinite layers of use, misuse, detritus, and the little histories that lead to an object being here rather than there. Signs of something and of nothing. This is how I know Paris, and why Dupierris' work, for me, is a kind of vicarious experience of the city.

Practice, then: my background, as many of you know (despite the blog!), is in philosophy. I now teach graduate seminars in a public policy program. The seminars are generally viewed as some of the more philosophical that students will take in the program (although philosophers might see them as more policy-oriented than philosophical). Allowing for this line in graduate education is something I love about this particular university. It doesn't take a merely number-crunching approach to policy analysis. Nevertheless, some take to the philosophical dimensions of policy issues much more immediately than others. For those others, a common remark is that they don't see the practical import of more philosophical analysis (conceptual, normative, etc.). I think this is a common question encountered by "applied" philosophers. After years of teaching, I still really don't have a good answer. And I'm not sure I'm actually seeking one. I try to teach the intersection between philosophical reflection and practical policy issues as one of an ambiguous terrain of conflict, experimentation, self-examination, criticism, contingency, the importance of experience, moments of decision, and exploration of where the limits and limitations of human inquiry are located. This intersection is a fundamentally "problematized" one, especially when policy analysis and decision-making is necessarily a matter of collective action. Working through the intersection can stultify at the necessary moment of the policy decision, the time when one has to choose to do something rather than something else (or nothing). So why go through it at all?

My philosopher's answer runs along the lines of an epistemological claim - that theory and practice are always bound together, ought and is are always in conflict, normative and descriptive are never isolated from each other, policy instruments are always historically and epistemically contingent tools, past history and future goals and ideals are always reconstructing the present, that moment in which policy "practice" is commonly thought to take place. We are here, now, faced with this problem, with these tools to figure it out, they say. Yes, indeed. But why are we here rather than there, with this problem instead of that one, with these tools rather than others? This might seem an academic question or set of questions. But I really don't think so. Now, there's a book to be made out of these questions, and a lot of history of philosophy to draw upon. But a short response might be that the practical moment is always funded, in Dewey's sense of the term, with the detritus of things that have been used, misused, thrown away, taken on as habits of action, little histories that lead to us being here rather than there. Theory doesn't need to be viewed as grand systems theory, the view inherited from Kant and Hegel and Marx as "footnotes" to Plato. It can be viewed as any moment of generalization, when we have to make a general out of a collection of particulars, which we do constantly as human beings. "We have such exorbitant eyes," Emerson said, "on seeing the smallest arc, we complete the curve...." In this sense, when someone wants the particular and concrete and "practical" - just the facts, ma'am - it can be a great danger to forget that the moment of "practice" is anything but just the facts, ma'am.

There is no such thing as a neutral, innocent moment of practice, even when we turn our practices into a function of numbers and graphs and models, as in orthodox policy analysis. These are important, no doubt. But if, however, we understand the ambiguous intersection, the layers upon layers of wisdom and stupidity, the ways in which the future affects our decisions here and now, the ever-present conflict embedded potentially within nearly any decision, I think we can come to get something richer (wiser?) out of policy, philosophy, and experience.

All photos by Michel-Jean Dupierris. See his Le Monde blog here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Pyongyang Chronicles

WFMU ponders The Pyongyang Chronicles. Go see.

Actually Using Nuclear Weapons

While the world, led by an American push, concerns itself with relatively primitive tests of a nuclear device by North Korea - home of the plastic submarine - and Iran's development of nuclear energy, Israel actually uses nuclear weapons. Robert Fisk in The Independent:

We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know - after it first categorically denied using such munitions - that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.

But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry - used by the Ministry of Defence - which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.

Dr Busby's initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium." A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.

State of Paranoia

The state of fear is headed towards the state of paranoia. Fear quickly becomes a basis for misguided political argument; paranoia becomes a basis for unreality. Two examples:

U.S. digs for vote-machine links to Hugo Chávez

School Safety Drill Upsets Some Parents

The Dresden Dolls, 9:30 Club, DC

The Dresden Dolls played in Washington, DC last night at the 9:30 Club with deliciously messy kabuki freakshow opening act, The Red Paintings. I was clearly one of the older people (in professor uniform) in an audience comprised of an assortment of goths, cabaret punkers, teenyboppers in boas, DC chic-lensed hipsters, and wannabe performance artists. Lots of fishnet stockings, black, and glitter. But, hey, I was much less comfortable seeing Los Lobos a couple of years ago among middle-aged types with gray ponytails, especially when the band ended with The Who's "My Generation" and everyone sang along. Clearly, none of that crowd was actually hoping to die before they grew old. They would have been dead already. I had to bolt. I'm more at home with The Dolls' crowd, what was known years ago as a Cure crowd (toss in a dab of Kiss or glam-era Bowie). The boy in the jack-in-the-box with his party-dress girl/assistant. The electronic, painted kabuki man. The soap-bubble blowers. The Dolls' music inspires the scene.

Calling their music "Brechtian cabaret punk," Amanda Palmer (piano and vocals) and Brian Viglione (drums and the occasional guitar) put on a hell of a vaudeville punk show, the two instruments and the voice belting out significant energy. Honestly, in my if-I-were-a-rockstar moments, I've been waiting on writing that undermines pop tropes as the simple interpretations of love that they are. The blues and some country music get much closer to the realities of love and hate. Pop music has tended to wallow in idealistically sweet moments, seldom venturing even into the territory where the roses in the vase are dead.

Palmer's lyrics lay out typical figures of emotional popsong love, heartbreak and sex, her voice setting them up in a young girl's innocent lament (and desire for "fickle little bitch romance") only to be ripped apart by her punk sensibility, turned over and inside out, exposing brief glimpses of fragility and pain, concealing them again behind the theatrical wink of cabaret sexual wisdom, revealing them again like a faintly lifted skirt, flirting with their truth and their absurdities. "You can tell from the scars on my arms and cracks in my hips and the dents in my car and the blisters on my lips that I'm not the carefullest of girls... I'm the girl anachronism."

Her piano teases with playful tinkling at the moments where the little girl ought to know better, and the keys are pulverized in moments of pain which her powerful voice expresses with the faintest and loveliest of tired cracks, as if her vocal chords were an extension of heartbreak. "And when I let him in I feel my stitches getting sicker. I try to wash him out but like she said: the blood is thicker. I see my mother in my face, but only when I travel. I run as fast as I can run but Jack comes tumbling after...."

While Palmer is clearly the star of the duo with her terrific voice and energy, Viglione is the mime-like partner. But he's also one of the best rock drummers I've heard in some time.

There are a number of sounds hinted at in his drums apart from the standard punk beats and naughty cabaret tinkering - some jazz, some metal bombast, and even the slightest touches of having at some point listened to Latin American percussion. The guy could play in any band, and Palmer could go solo. But Palmer and Viglione are, in the end, the perfect musical couple.

I have no idea how much staying power The Dolls have, whether their act will grow old at some point like so much pop music. I suspect we're witnessing stars, a band that should be "big" in some sense of the word. The "big" may remain among a growing, idiosyncratic group of fans since their music and act runs beyond tastes that prefer to remain in the territory of live roses in the vase.
Check out some of their downloadable songs. Go see this band. Enjoy the friendly and proudly odd crowd. Have a good time with some terrific music that has it. Do it in garters, boas, and pancake makeup.

Bad World Series

Not only bad, but one of the worst I've seen. That sucked. A mediocre St. Louis team beat a somewhat (supposedly) superior Detroit team because Detroit couldn't do what Little Leaguers are trained immediately to do.

Ick. Thanks a bunch Detroit and St. Louis for giving us a pointless display.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Horned Melon

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

"If it happens that non-existence precedes it, then the thing comes into being, but if it does not happen that [non-existence precedes it], then it does not come into being, [even though it is caused]."

- Avicenna, The Healing, Metaphysics, 6th Treatise, I

Proposing Anti-Gay Marriage

From Bullseye Rooster:
Maybe you can take your congressman out on a rowboat. Just two guys looking for bass. Reach into your tackle-box and find that tiny locket. Hand it over. He’ll look all confused, but tell him to go ahead, open it up. Lend him your reading glasses because that elegant, curvy script can be hard to read. Watch him gasp with delight as he reads, Will you prevent gay marriage with me?...

Republican Campaign Slogan

I hear this one was tested and rejected.

The Republican Party: Anti-Gay, Pro-Pedophilia.

Double Losing

Krugman, via Norwegianity:
If we stopped trying to do the impossible in Iraq, both we and the British would be able to put more troops in a place where they might still do some good. But we have to do something soon: the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan says that most of the population will switch its allegiance to a resurgent Taliban unless things get better by this time next year.

It’s hard to believe that the world’s only superpower is on the verge of losing not just one but two wars. But the arithmetic of stability operations suggests that unless we give up our futile efforts in Iraq, we’re on track to do just that.

Developing UN Arms Trade Agreement

I'm not quite sure yet what to make of this. I'll have to look at some details and mull it over further. But I wanted to post the link anyway.

The global arms trade isn't simply about increasing violence or defense or good business or whatever one might immediately think it's about. It's also about political control. Poor countries with unstable governments will often sell off rights to national resources to buy arms and consolidate their power. This not only further oppresses the people of the country in question, but also further impoverishes them since ownership of resources is transferred out of the country and domestic revenues are taken from other potential projects.

People in the development organization world often talk about this as corruption on the part of political rulers of the purchasing country. But it's also a case of moral corruption and political opportunism on the part of arms selling countries. The major ones are, of course, the US, China, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK, all of whom - except for France and Germany - have either voted against (solely the US) or abstained from joining any new arms trade agreement. The US and Russia, in particular, sell massive amounts of arms to developing countries. Sales from the US have increased post-9-11, including to human rights violators. France and others, by comparison, sell largely to industrialized countries. (See here for who buys and who sells). In the US, the industry is heavily subsidized (this means that we citizens fund the trade). (For more information, see the FAS' Arms Sales Monitoring Project).

On the other hand, this statement strikes me as absurd:

The UK ambassador for disarmament at the UN, John Duncan, said the vote was "a great success".

"We have 139 nations which have said: 'Yes, we want a responsible arms trade and we're prepared to discuss it in the UN, with both the consumers and the producers,'" he said.

(One of the development practitioners calling for a halt to the trade is the economist / philosopher Amartya Sen. See this June 2006 opinion piece in the IHT).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm a Waterboarder and I'm Okay

I might be slow on this one, but it seems not to have received much media play. Yes, Cheney says the US waterboards, and he's apparently quite okay with it. Waterboarding, by the way, is torture.
Vice President Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected captured senior al-Qaida suspects to a controversial interrogation technique called "water-boarding," which creates a sensation of drowning.

Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. "It's a no-brainer for me," Cheney said at one point in an interview...

"It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president `for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," Cheney replied. "We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that."

And I'm still looking for what these people mean by "torture." I'm sure these bogus tough guys wouldn't need much to squeal.

Ghostly Ruins

At The Morning News.

By Harry Skrdla

Voting GOP

Via Steve Gilliard, take a look at this handy list of reasons to vote for the GOP, courtesy of Michael Petrilis.

We're Number 53!

In Reporters sans Frontières' world press freedom index. The US comes in at number 53, tied with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga. As usual, the Scandinavians rule.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Stupid Numbers

Global Guerillas:
...In classic US fashion (a reflection of the paucity of strategic thinking in our general staff), training to the numbers (quantity) and the early effectiveness of the unit in a fire fight (expediency) was deemed more important than loyalty of the unit to the government. The long term implications were not considered.

The result is that over the last two years the US military has actually created an environment that is conducive to a bloody and chaotic civil war. By partnering with paramilitaries, we accelerated the development of those forces that would take the war to the Sunnis.

What can we do? Nothing but leave. We can neither expect the leadership of US military to develop sound strategies for mitigating the damage done, nor can we reverse drivers of chaos that have been initiated over the last three years. This chaotic system is now running smoothly under the power of its own internal dynamics and continued intervention will only continue to worsen it. Withdrawal is the only option. The faster the better.
Numbers are often stupid, in the sense that relying purely on numbers - which is how much American policy analysis goes - often yields results we may really not want. But the inability to think clearly about what we want, what's right, and how we get there appears to reign. We end up with stupid numbers. Funny, that.

"You may end up with a different math, but you're entitled to your math," Rove said. "I'm entitled to 'the' math."

October Surprise Watch

Need some October Surprise paranoia? Billmon has it, reasonably. I share it. We all scream for ice cream.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cranberry Bog

Al Gore Cites Adorno

Damnnnn.... [via Jesus' General].
Adorno conducted a kind of autopsy on the Third Reich and he said the first sign of this descent to hell was when this happened, and these are his words: All questions of fact became questions of power.


And I'm not drawing an analogy to what happened there. I'm not. But it's dangerous when we allow questions of fact to become questions of power.

Republican Candidates

Check out as many of these as you can. If you're a blogger, consider posting this html source code.

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl
--AZ-01: Rick Renzi
--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth
--CA-04: John Doolittle
--CA-11: Richard Pombo
--CA-50: Brian Bilbray
--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave
--CO-05: Doug Lamborn
--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell
--CT-04: Christopher Shays
--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan
--FL-16: Joe Negron
--FL-22: Clay Shaw
--ID-01: Bill Sali
--IL-06: Peter Roskam
--IL-10: Mark Kirk
--IL-14: Dennis Hastert
--IN-02: Chris Chocola
--IN-08: John Hostettler
--IA-01: Mike Whalen
--KS-02: Jim Ryun
--KY-03: Anne Northup
--KY-04: Geoff Davis
--MD-Sen: Michael Steele
--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht
--MN-06: Michele Bachmann
--MO-Sen: Jim Talent
--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns
--NV-03: Jon Porter
--NH-02: Charlie Bass
--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson
--NM-01: Heather Wilson
--NY-03: Peter King
--NY-20: John Sweeney
--NY-26: Tom Reynolds
--NY-29: Randy Kuhl
--NC-08: Robin Hayes
--NC-11: Charles Taylor
--OH-01: Steve Chabot
--OH-02: Jean Schmidt
--OH-15: Deborah Pryce
--OH-18: Joy Padgett
--PA-04: Melissa Hart
--PA-07: Curt Weldon
--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick
--PA-10: Don Sherwood
--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee
--TN-Sen: Bob Corker
--VA-Sen: George Allen
--VA-10: Frank Wolf
--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick
--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Fair, Balanced, and Dotty

[John Gibson of FOX News] says, "If Democrats who hate Bush and who hate the war in Iraq win, the insurgents win. I'm sorry but it's true. America will set a date to get out and Jihad will have carried the day."
Bonus dotty:

Likening the times to the late 1930s as Nazi Germany was rising to power, Sen. Rick Santorum said last night that if he loses his re-election bid, it could set the stage for terrorism to become more of a threat than the Nazis ever were.

"If we are not successful here and things don't go right in the election, there's a good chance that the course of our country could change," he said. "We are in the equivalent of the late 1930s, and this election will decide whether we are going to continue to appease or whether we will stand and fight while we have a chance to win without devastating consequences.


Wouldn't it be cool if...

...both pitchers threw a no-hitter in a World Series game?

...John Coltrane and Thomas Jefferson met?

...computers were designed to be ergonomically flexible, so that you could adjust the computer to your optimal sitting or standing or supine position?

...everyone got around downtown major urban center in bumper cars?

...fire wasn't hot, and tasted delicious (so, lighters were like Pez dispensers)?

...surfer dudes were still like they used to be in the 1960s and 1970s?

...you hooked up a vocoder to your dog? Or a flock of birds?

...all bigots suddenly became incontinent?

Brice Marden Meets Bangladesh

From NASA Earth Observatory: “Stretching across part of southwestern Bangladesh and southeastern India, the Sundarbans is the largest remaining tract of mangrove forest in the world. The Sundarbans is a tapestry of waterways, mudflats, and forested islands at the edge of the Bay of Bengal. Home to the endangered Bengal tiger, sharks, crocodiles, and freshwater dolphins, as well as nearly two hundred bird species.”

Above from Pruned. Below from Artnet.

Brice Marden, L.A. Muses, 1999

A Question

Is today a Stay the Course day?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Following the Midterms

Norwegianity reminds us that, to follow the midterm elections, there's really no place better than MyDD and Kos. I'm sure not going to do it, living in disenfranchised DC and everything.

Consciousness Is Back

So says John Searle in the New York Review of Books in a review of a new book by Nicholas Humphrey. I'm not so sure that consciousness - meant as a topic of discussion in philosophy - ever went away.

It is true that the study of mind has been taken over by neurobiologists, neuropsychologists, and artificial nitelligence programmers over the past two decades. Philosophers of mind often think of themselves as doing this kind of work, rather than more traditional studies of consciousness, which Searle notes raises again the old, shopworn mind-body dualism.

This problem, the traditional problem of the relation of conscious experiences to the physical brain, of "mind" to body, is precisely Nicholas Humphrey's target of investigation in Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness. I think he would agree with my definition of consciousness and with my claim that it is irreducibly subjective. But he takes exception to my claim that one of its important functions is conscious perception and he strongly disagrees with my claim that a central problem is to try to get an account of how brain processes cause conscious experiences. He, on the contrary, thinks that all perception is unconscious, and that instead of trying to find a causal explanation for consciousness we should try to find an equation: i.e., if we are going to solve the problem of the relation of the mind to the body, we have to show that conscious mental experience is identical with the content of the physical brain.

It is important to see the differences between these two approaches. On the standard account, neurobiologists are seeking the "neuronal correlate of consciousness" (NCC). The idea is that if we could first identify the NCC—the events in the brain that occur when we have subjective experiences—we could then test to see if the correlation is causal, and finally we would like to develop a theory showing how the neuronal correlates cause the conscious experiences. This research is currently widely pursued and is making some progress. Humphrey's entire approach differs from mainstream philosophy and neuroscience. He dismisses the search for the NCC on the grounds that it "privileges neuronal events over all the other ways we might wish to describe what is going on in the brain." For him any explanation has to be of the form mind = brain, m = b [Searle, rather, takes a causal account, rather than this kind of equation assumption]...

...Mind and brain appear to be in different dimensions, because mind has qualitative subjectivity and brain does not. If you try to say, for example, that the experience of red is identical with neuron firings, the terms of the equation seem to be in different dimensions, because the conscious experience of red has the qualitative sub-jectivity that I described earlier, while neuron firings do not. It is a first-person phenomenon, whereas neuron firings are objective, third-person phenomena that would theoretically look the same to any observer, if they could be observed.

That's the classic problem, the one even Descartes may have thought he had resolved by locating the nexus between physical, objective brain and nonphysical, subjective consciousness in the pineal gland. This was always, perhaps even for Descartes, a pretty silly explanation.

But there has been quite a bit of work done on consciousness and Searle's own assumption that there is some kind of "return" to studies of consciousness requires overlooking quite a bit of research and philosophical work. Searle, in fact, operates here on his own variation of the assumption that m=b.

Owen Flanagan, among others, has long worked on consciousness as a function of body where the brain plays a significant but not exclusive role in first-person consciousness. Rather, consciousness is a set of evolutionary processes that require phenomenological, neural, psychological analyses. Yes, the mind is basically the brain, but where the brain is taken as an evolutionary nervous system of mutation, genetic drift, natural selection, migration.

The ego, the conscious self of subjective experience, is therefore emergent in the context of environment. Wiping away the full context and panoply of processes involved in understanding consciousness in order to reduce it to 'm=b' or 'b causes m' seems to miss real possibilities of understanding and explanation, and it may very well be the fetishiziation of explaining mind-body via artificial intelligence programs that has served to set aside context and complex processes. Apparently, some neuropsychologists are even returning to William James' 100+ year-old notion that the body, more generally speaking, is the source of consciousness given that there is evidence that the body - and not simply the brain - "knows" before the mind does.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Old Orange

Photo: Helmut

Televising the Moral Imagination

Remember right after 9-11 when Americans asked that question, "why do they hate us so?" That question was so full of promise. It had seemed that the attacks of 9-11, and their horror, had prompted real self-examination and reflection. I wrote in an academic journal in Spring 2002 that, to the side of the option that would be chosen, one of the (admittedly unlikely) options open to us was,
...a sea-change in policy - of that policy of incommensurability between saying America represents one thing, a set of liberal principles and humane values, while acting in ways that often violate those principles for which we supposedly stand (previously in the countless corners of the Cold War world, and now, perhaps, in the countless secret corners of the global war on terrorism). This would be a change from what others perceive as arrogance and what Americans tend to perceive as God-given rights and the moral certainty of a "chosen" country. Part of this change would consist in a renewed attempt to perceive the actions and beliefs of others through their own cultural lenses. Rather than attempting to export our own self-certainty, we would view the world in its contingency with a hearty sense of our own fallibility. Perhaps it would be a change which would take fully into account our tradition of democracy, fallibilism, and commitment to pluralism...

...the two cultural attitudes - self-admiration and moral absolutism - are especially odd for a pluralistic nation that produced the eloquent philosophies of fallibilism found in Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Peirce, James, and Dewey... [A]s a whole they represent a tradition that sought to move us beyond the need to rely on absolute certainties as guides to action, especially those which appeal to a form of transcendence. This tradition sought to have us fully accept the responsibilities of living in a precarious world by understanding that our certainties are historically-bound tools that, once applied in the concrete, would invariably yield other uncertainties requiring further experimental applications of intelligence - new tools for coping with the world. This tradition sees little use in stunting our moral and intellectual growth by chastising, humiliating, or denouncing those different than ourselves. Indulging in these actions has been shown repeatedly to work only for a few. Moral arrogance of this sort in the face of incomprehensible dangers boils down to bluster, and is stultifying for the individual as well.

Thrown into a confrontation with the precariousness of the world, the morally rigid tend to be confused or lash out blindly... This tends often to be an anger that requires that shroud of moral certainty, of outward-directed humiliation and ridicule, as well as a lack of moral imagination, a lack which is necessary to maintain the certainty.
The questioning, of course, didn't go in this direction. It had its opportunities, but it was politically and rhetorically guided back towards the Cold War mentality of ambiguous evil that required defeating, which lurked ominously outside of the American sphere. Civilization was at stake. We were civilization.

Here and there, however, we see little attempts at understanding. One of the most interesting things, for me, is to try to place one's mind in the position of another. Travelers and expatriates know this - in difficult situations, you have to move some distance in the direction of understanding what the others around you think and believe. Greek scholars know this as well when they try to understand the very meaning of a Greek term, not to mention the metaphysics of Parmenides.

Think of also, for example, the documentary made by Irish public television, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," about the 2003 coup attempt in Venezuela. The filmcrew was serendipitously placed to document the coup as they had simply wished to do an exposé on Chávez at the time and found themselves in the middle of the coup. But what it shows us is a fascinating story of the chaos of such an event, and the uncertainty over what to do, placing us in a position of understanding the Chávista government and its very human mindset.

The point is not that this example is a case of understanding the "enemy," as I don't see Venezuela as an enemy - this is a story the US has created, aided, of course, by Chávez's often overwrought rhetoric about US imperialism. This anti-imperialist rhetoric - with its underlying serious concerns and historical-empirical bases - is easily transferred into anti-Americanism, just as anti-Zionist positions are immediately translated as anti-Semitic language for political purposes, to deflect any criticism by cutting off its very possibility.

Or take a look at Riverbend's writing from Iraq, which is all too rare, and is certainly precarious. Her recent long absence from blogging worried many of us.

Here, today, is another small attempt on the part of the BBC to understand the Taliban from their own position, to understand why they hate us so. What I find surprising is how short and simple the article is. One would think that such an effort to enter the realm of the Taliban could produce something other than a light article such as this. The conclusion of the essay is that the British are disliked because they haven't rebuilt the country quickly enough, which doesn't show the roots of anything since it portrays the British as well-meaning but somewhat inefficient. Efficiency, as we well know, is that value that seems to trump all others in the West. Since efficiency is a quality of instruments, means rather than ends, emphasis here constantly defers actual criticism and self-understanding away from more substantive issues towards things we apparently all want - paved roads, electricity, Snicker's bars. That mindset kills off substantive self-examination. But at least this article is an attempt to extend the moral imagination.

As often happens, fiction comes to the rescue in assisting our collective moral imagination. If, for example, you want a better understanding of how Latin America views the North, read Eduardo Galeano's trilogy, Memory of Fire, which develops an alternative history of the Americas.

The occasion for these musings is that I just watched the first two episodes of this season of Battlestar Gallactica, which I think is by far the best show on TV (and worth paying for the download, if you haven't seen them on the telly). In the first two episodes, the enemy (the Cylons) occupies the human planetary outpost, submitting the humans to their end-goals of, apparently, creating a hybrid race in which the synthesis of human and machine is completed. Curiously, the Cylons are monotheists who view themselves as doing the work of God, even when this work becomes oppressive and, they think, requires propaganda and psy-ops techniques, detentions (often carried out at night by forcibly taking people from their homes), torture, executions, and the use of a puppet human government in order to force the humans to submit to their will, which is further, it appears, to spread their form of what it means to be "civilized." The humans are polytheists (and the writers of the show borrow heavily from Greek polytheism in particular, including the names - a secret hybrid child is named "Hera"). The battle between humans and Cylons involves not simply territory, but questions of fundamental religious beliefs, racial purity, the dark means by which war is fought, and consciousness of a world lost for eternity. The series began two seasons ago with the near-total victory of the Cylons over the humans, and the remaining living humans having to flee their own planet. Hope lies in finding the mythical Earth, the main goal of the humans. The human mythology mentions the existence of the planet. Its existence, however, requires a kind of faith found in the religiously-inclined of the human population. Earth, for Commander Adama, on the other hand, represents a will to survival regardless of whether the actual planet exists or not.

What is interesting in these first two episodes is that the humans play the role of insurgents on the Cylon-occupied planet. They're engaged in terroristic attacks on the Cylons and even come to the conclusion that a "spectacular" attack is necessary to make their point, beyond the smaller attacks on infrastructure and Cylon military units. Desperate, they begin to engage in suicide bombings, taking with them human collaborators who are widely viewed as traitors. We, the viewers, are not meant to be entirely sympathetic to either the humans or the Cylons. The show never develops simple binaries or simple resolutions to ethical dilemmas like most police and hospital TV shows. We're meant to wonder about the humans' terroristic tactics, especially as they kill collaborators, while we're also meant to see the differing views within both the human and Cylon populations, especially those Cylons and humans who have developed complex sympathetic relationships with members of the other side.

The show is one of the very few places - whether intended or not (but it seems clearly intended in these first two episodes) - where we're able to take on the position of those we don't understand in the non-TV, war-weary world. Taking on this position within the show is a matter of taking up our normal place as humans, but then also the difficult real decisions they have to make. The robotic Cylons are, according to typical sci-fi convention, the natural enemies. But they're often portrayed sympathetically, so that we can even sympathize with the occupiers at the expense of the oppressed humans. The perspective switches throughout the show, destabilizing any neat lines between good and evil. Our positions of trust and loyalty are rendered precarious. Most immediately (but only immediately), for our context, is that we come naturally to identify with the insurgent humans engaging in terroristic acts. "Freedom fighters" they are, but the lines between "freedom fighter" and "terrorist" are blurred sufficiently to question any easy support for the humans. Even collaboration, in the show, is fraught with ethical difficulty.

It is odd that a fundamentally complex world, which we tend to simplify in order to wrap our understanding around it, is rendered once again complex by a TV show, which is usually a central medium through which we simplify the world and set it aside as entertainment. This, it seems to me, through television, through the fictional use of the moral imagination, is the closest we've come to an understanding of why they hate us so.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Breaking News!

A local news station promises to tell us whether a local man has managed to assemble the world's heaviest rubber band ball. In other news, two mentally ill people have recently died in local police custody, local and statewide elections are rapidly approaching, and the wheels are falling off the world. More on the rubber band ball to follow.

Update to breaking news!

Steve Milton of Eugene, Oregon believes that his rubber band ball weighs at least 3300 lbs, breaking the current world record. Anchorman Jeff Gianola tells us it takes up half of a two-car garage! Kelly Day, anchorwoman, adds that Steve's not satisfied--he wants to add another 1000 lbs. (Whoa, Steve--that's crazy!) Wait, weatherman Jack makes an excellent point, where does he find rubber bands big enough to fit around that ball? Whoops, time to break for a commercial; time on the clock: 11:15 pm, PDT.

Chinese Berry

Photo: Dave

Habeas Corpus Suspension Just Can't Wait

Moving quickly to implement the bill signed by President Bush this week that authorizes military trials of enemy combatants, the administration has formally notified the U.S. District Court here that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider hundreds of habeas corpus petitions filed by inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

In a notice dated Wednesday, the Justice Department listed 196 pending habeas cases, some of which cover groups of detainees. The new Military Commissions Act (MCA), it said, provides that "no court, justice, or judge" can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future....

Bonus Conversation Stopper

US Under Secretary of State for Interfaith harmony, Karen Hughes, has likened Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to Amara bin Al-Rehman, a wise women who lived at the time of Prophet Mohammed.

Addressing a gathering of Muslim diplomats and journalists at a State Department Iftar reception, Hughes said that Rice like Al-Rehman, was an extremely knowledgeable woman who shared her knowledge with many famous men of her time.

“Recently I was told a story from the time of the Prophet about a famous man who expressed a desire to seek knowledge. He was advised, by another man to join the assembly of a well-known woman jurist of the day named Amara bin Al-Rahman,” the Daily Times quoted Karen as saying.

“She was described as a boundless ocean of knowledge and she shared her knowledge with a number of famous men which kind of reminds me of our boss Dr Condoleezza Rice when she shows up at a national security meeting and shares her boundless knowledge with all the men in the room,” she said. (ANI)

Art As Experience for Today!

"Art-O-Meter is a device that measures the quality of an art piece. It bases its evaluation on the amount of time that people spend in front of an artwork compared to the total time of exhibition. The measurements are graphically represented by comments and a 5 star rating system.

Without the interaction of a viewer, the Art-O-Meter will register time like a regular clock. However, when a user enters the area covered by its motion sensor, a second timer is triggered and it will count time as the viewer observes the artwork."
From We Make Money Not Art.

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

...What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live weeds and the wilderness yet.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1881.

One More Side to the Humanitarian Disaster That Is Iraq

Methinks it's time to consider humanitarian intervention in Iraq.

The disintegration of Iraq's health service is leaving its civilians defenceless in the continuing violence that is rocking the country, Iraqi doctors warn today.

As many as half of the civilian deaths, calculated at 655,000 since the 2003 invasion, might have been avoided if proper medical care had been provided to the victims, they say...

In March, the campaign group Medact said 18,000 physicians had left the country since 2003, an estimated 250 of those that remained had been kidnapped and, in 2005 alone, 65 killed...

2,000 The estimated number of Iraqi physicians murdered since 2003.

Andean Rain

Photos by Helmette

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Good Stuff

Roxtar muses about Clinton and Bush.
The truth is, the world is the weak. And we're the tyranny of evil men. But we've gotta try harder, Ringo. We've gotta try real hard to be the shepherd again.

Peter Levine muses about King Lear.
"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. / They kill us for their sport."

Geoff Manaugh muses about Antarctica's underground cathedral.
A hundred thousand years later, the cathedral reaches the sea, where its vast internal voids are broken open and revealed in the glacial cliff face. Sections of nave and pulpit can be found floating in the water, sculpted rims of prayer-domes drifting north in the smooth surfaces of icebergs. Here and there a complete chapel; elsewhere a crypt, its tombs' chiseled inscriptions melting slowly in the sun.

Bullseye Rooster reflects on faith-based body armor.

Three Marines were killed when a powerful verse from Isaiah 43:2 remained on a server in Maryland and did not reach the Anbar province in a timely manner. The verse, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God” was instead returned to the software company after 48 hours.

Jack Balkin on torture again.
There are many things that are deeply distressing about the Military Commissions Act of 2006. One of the most distressing is its deeply cynical attitude about law. The President has created a new regime in which he is a law unto himself on issues of prisoner interrogations. He decides whether he has violated the laws, and he decides whether to prosecute the people he in turn urges to break the law. And all the while he insists that everything he does is perfectly legal, because, the way the law is designed, there is no one with authority to disagree.

Riverbend is back, thankfully, and writes a post on the Lancet study.
There are Iraqi women who have not shed their black mourning robes since 2003 because each time the end of the proper mourning period comes around, some other relative dies and the countdown begins once again.

Rick Santorum's disease is apparently viral [via Lawyers, Guns, and Money].
And if people remember the wonderful and amazing movie, Deer Hunter, in Western Pennsylvania, there was an understanding of the war even then. It was a controversial movie, and people can have...but this has never been other than a hyper-patriotic state.

Lance Mannion, with more on Lord of the Rings politics.
The Armies of Mordor are mustering to destroy the World of Men, but the Armies of Mordor include men. The Easterlings are not literally enemies from the East. They are not Nazis or the Soviets or the Red Chinese or Islamic terrorists. They are the men of the West, the men of Rohan and Gondor, facing themselves in the mirror, the way West and East face each other across the compass dial not in opposition but as two names for the same ideas, "Where we are" and "Where we are going," with either being either. We could be going one way as easily as we could be going the other.

Bryan Finoki muses about border fences and walls.
So, I ask myself, under what circumstances would a securitized border fence be tolerable? Is it that I'm just opposed to every type of fence or wall out there? I don't think so. And, in fact I can't answer my own question, yet. But, perhaps it has to do with more about the moment when the fence begins to define the context rather than the other way around. Do border fences help address the exodus of the refugee, or only compound it? Do border fences help decide territorial disputes, or contain them in a state of perpetual irresolution?

Pat Lang on the suspension of habeas corpus.
Americans, you are now "subjects" and not citizens. Accept your new role... If you watched Generals Hayden and Pace who were artfully positioned behind the sovereign at the signing, you saw a lot of blinking. They know what they have done... At the end of his program tonight Keith Olberman said to Professor Jonathan Turley, who had commented on the import of the day, "I'll see you in Guantanomo."

Cheryl Rofer posts a timeline on the leadup to North Korea's nuclear test.

SteveG muses about the death of neoconservatism.


Ha ha. Isn't that a clever title? Check out this great new resource: the Complete Works of Charles Darwin online.

Link fixed. Thanks, Gordo.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Nice frontpage for The Independent today.

Lord of the Rings, If You Know What I Mean....

Let's take this out of context. It's much more fun that way [via Raw Story].
Embattled U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said America has avoided a second terrorist attack for five years because the “Eye of Mordor” has been drawn to Iraq instead...

“As the hobbits are going up Mount Doom, the Eye of Mordor is being drawn somewhere else,” Santorum said, describing the tool the evil Lord Sauron used in search of the magical ring that would consolidate his power over Middle-earth.

“It's being drawn to Iraq and it's not being drawn to the U.S.,” Santorum continued. “You know what? I want to keep it on Iraq. I don't want the Eye to come back here to the United States.”...

A spokesman for Democratic opponent Bob Casey Jr. questioned the appropriateness of the analogy.

“You have to really question the judgment of a U.S. senator who compares the war in Iraq to a fantasy book,” said Casey spokesman Larry Smar. “This is just like when he said Kim Jong II isn't a threat because he just wants to "watch NBA basketball.' ”

"Embattled" on the Plains of Dagorlad, Senator?

UPDATE - More News From the Plains of Dagorlad:
Sen. Conrad Burns said at a debate Tuesday night that President Bush does have a plan for winning the war in Iraq, but he isn’t about to share it with the world.

Bush Knows Torture

"Just a frat prank." Check this out,... Bibliosquirrel dredged up a 1967 NY Times article on Bush's frat hazing [via John Brown's Public Diplomacy Review].
New Haven, Nov. 7 - A Yale fraternity accused by the student newspaper of burning its initiates with a brand will have its fate decided Friday by student fraternity leaders.

The fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, could face the temporary closure of its house and a $1,000 fine resulting from alleged violations of rules previously passed by the Interfraternity Council, which consists of Yale's five fraternity presidents.

The charges against Delta Kappa Epsilon were made last Friday in a Yale Daily News article that accused campus fraternities of carrying on "sadistic and obscene" initiation procedures.

The charge that has caused the most controversy on the Yale campus is that Delta Kappa Epsilon applied on "hot branding iron" to the small of the back of its 40 new members in the shape of the Greek letter Delta, approximately a half inch wide, appeared with the article.

A former president of Delta that the branding is done with a hot coathanger. But the former president, George Bush, a Yale senior, said that the resulting wound is "only a cigarette burn."

Lime, et al.

Photo: Helmut

Undemocratic Constitution

An interesting essay by Sanford Levinson on the regressive elements of the US Constitution. A brief excerpt:
To believe that our Constitution is perfect — or even truly adequate to the world we live in — is equivalent to believing that it is safe to continue driving a car with bad brakes and dangerously worn tires. Even if we have been able to make trips safely in the past, we are criminally negligent in believing that we can continue to do so.

Ohio Crank

Remember the state that brought you the 2004 election? How about the man centrally responsible for four-more-years? That would be Ken Blackwell, who trails Ted Strickland in the polls by double digits. What to do? How about this (via TPM)....
With Republican Ken Blackwell trailing by double digits in almost every poll, Blackwell's campaign Tuesday tried to link his Democratic opponent to child sex predators - and the state Republican spokesman even raised questions about Ted Strickland's sexuality.

Blackwell and the state GOP say they are only questioning Strickland's integrity and judgment.

The Strickland campaign said the GOP ought to be "ashamed."...

"Where was Frances?'' McClelland said of the candidate's wife. "Voters should be able to look at it and make their own decision. We're not going to sit here and say whether or not we think Ted Strickland has a certain preference. It's just not our business. Our job is to try to win elections."

Strickland campaign spokesman Keith Dailey reacted: "I think it's telling just how low the Republican Party has sunk. These are the same ridiculous innuendos that the same party apologized for'' after firing a GOP committee employee for smearing the Stricklands in an e-mail in late July, he said.

Give Me a Home Where the Old Tinhorns Roam

Norwegianity and Eyeteeth alert us to this very odd item:
Prensa Latina reports that George W. Bush has purchased a 98,842-acre farm in northern Paraguay, between Brazil and Bolivia. In one way, it makes sense: why not retire in the land where the US military has had a visible presence for over a year and that's ruled by a pro-market, Bush friendly president? Plus, Paraguay gives foreign investors all the same protections it gives its own: for people in Bush's income bracket, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agreement Agency (MIGA) "insures investors against risks such as expropriation, currency inconvertibility and damages caused by revolution, war or civil strikes."... while the US and Paraguay have an extradition treaty, there's one glaring exemption: "political offenses."
If this is true, it is exceedingly odd. Could the man really be worried about his future? I doubt, after all, that he's planning on farming. Those Bushes....

The Mexican Revolution: 2017

We got yer backs, Mexico.
A conservative public interest group has released a report which claims that a California elementary school which instructs urban children from immigrant families in native languages to foster the indigenous identity of the students is training the next generation of Mexican revolutionaries with U.S. taxpayer money, RAW STORY has learned...

"Parents of students from Academia Semillas del Pueblo, an elementary charter school located in El Sereno, CA, will gather at the KABC-AM station to address concerns regarding the safety of their children," according to a media alert. "The parents are reacting to threats received by the elementary school that occurred after a segment on KABC-AM’s McIntyre in the Morning radio program aired on Wednesday, May 31, 2006."

"The report depicted the elementary charter school as a racist institution funded by local taxpayers," the school's statement continued. "The parents are demanding that Disney intervene and hold KABC-AM accountable for the inaccuracy of the information disseminated from its station on behalf of the safety of the students of the Academia Semillas Del Pueblo."...

– Academia offers an 8th grade United States history and geography class entitled, "A People's history of Expansion and Conflict – A thematic survey of American politics, society, culture and political economy; Emphasis throughout on the nations the U.S. usurped, invaded and dominated; Connections between historical rise of capitalism and imperialism with modern political economy and global social relations."

Disney to the front lines!

Seriousnessly, any action on this by authorities will provide a precedent for ensuring that no children learn anything other than the party line, especially those things which are critical of US policy. But, frankly, this is wacky territory. Far right conservatives have created a new bogeyman, not only out of Mexicans (that one's old), but out of a very minority view that the US southwest belongs to Mexico. Here's another case of irrational fear integrating into policy proposals.

I'd Post More About Government Corruption...

... but I can't keep it all straight. Actually... not true. It's easy to keep your Democratic corruption organized. Republican, however, whew. That's like compiling an index to a 1000-page book.

Space Is the Place

President Bush has signed a new National Space Policy that rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit U.S. flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to anyone "hostile to U.S. interests."

The document, the first full revision of overall space policy in 10 years, emphasizes security issues, encourages private enterprise in space, and characterizes the role of U.S. space diplomacy largely in terms of persuading other nations to support U.S. policy.

"Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power," the policy asserts in its introduction. [my emphasis]

In other words, more "fuck off" foreign and defense policy. At least there are no insurgents in space.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

And Ye Shall Become the Axis of Evil

The bipartisan task force, which was asked by the US Congress to examine the effectiveness of American policy in Iraq, has reportedly been looking at two options, both of which would amount to a reversal of the Bush administration's stance.

One is the phased withdrawal of US troops, and the other is to increase contact with Syria and Iran to help stop the fighting in Iraq....

Double-Double Effect

"Double effect" is a mitigating element in just war theory regarding the killing of civilians. As the claim goes, killing noncombatants unintentionally in an attack on combatants can be justified if precautions are generally taken not to kill noncombatants and even if noncombatant deaths are foreseen as the unfortunate result of a military attack on combatants. Michael Walzer takes the doctrine further and argues that a military must take risks not to kill noncombatants. The effort must be serious, not spurious.

The whole thing is complicated further when we're talking about humanitarian intervention as opposed to outright war. Verbum Ipsum:
This post by the Bull Moose blogger (via Marvin) brings to mind a point made by Robert Holmes in his excellent On War and Morality (I don't have the book in front of me, so I may not get all the details right).

Pacifists and anti-interventionists are often criticized for their unwillingness to take up arms in the defense of the innocent. According to interventionists, the blood of those innocents is on their hands.

However, Holmes points out, interventionists usually deny that they are morally responsible for the innocent lives lost in the course of waging war. But how, he asks, can they fail to be responsible for the deaths of people they actually kill, while pacifists are held responsible for the deaths of people they had no part in killing?

In other words, if double effect is sufficient to get the "warist" off the hook for the innocent deaths the war he supports causes, it should be more than sufficient to get the pacifist off the hook for the deaths he merely fails to prevent by refusing to wage (or support) war....

Mountain Apple Blossom


Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when the sound of the military airplanes patrolling the skies of Manhattan were still traumatizing everyone, I picked up some books on bin Laden, the Middle East, and Islam. I also peppered with questions the few people I knew back then who had some expertise on the subjects. In fact, lots of people I knew were doing the same thing; we were passing around books, articles, and clippings, emailing links to each other.

This strikes me as totally unremarkable behavior. We were scared stiff, and the first thing we wanted to know - other than that the attacks had stopped for now - was what the hell was going on.

But even today, people involved in counterterrorism policy in the United States still don't know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.
That's right. This is still baffling to me. Not only was there a lot of pomp and ignorance going around at the time, there was also seemingly very little attempt to think about foreign policy in more intelligent terms. There were debates among friends; there were plenty of arguments and analyses by people in the know and those with even a casual bit of understanding predicting precisely what has happened in the GWOT and in Iraq. I recall hearing that the DoD department of post-war planning for Iraq consisted of two guys in a makeshift office in the Pentagon with the name of their office marked on masking tape on their door.

I don't need to say this, given the utter disaster the US has spawned, but you would really think that those ruling the US might know at least a wee bit, a modicum, a little dash, a trifle tad, a smidgen of something/anything about the country they were about to invade.

Inspiration Satan

About a decade ago, in a church ceremony baptizing my nephew, I was the godfather. It was all very baptismal. I had a few lines,... questions to answer, really, from the pastor. They were pretty easy, questions about whether I would look out for my godson and so on. The one that gave me pause, however, was "do you renounce Satan?" The pastor glared at me in the eyes - he was serious, although I wanted to burst out laughing. But then I got nervous and paused. The pastor squinted. I thought, well, I don't believe in Satan's existence, so it's pretty easy to renounce him (although there was a brief liberal arts moment of wondering whether his effective existence in myth was enough to grant his existence in practice as a metaphor for the cruelty portion of human nature). In the end, it was kind of like renouncing the X-Men. I answered, with a dab of self-satisfied stentorian flourish, "yes, I renounce Satan!" I may get myself into trouble, and I may get my godson into trouble (when he's of age, of course), but I was pretty sure it would never be through the inspiration of Satan.

When Ahmadinejad says that "Satan inspires Mr Bush," I'm inclined to agree since Bush appears to have the decision-making traits of a Prince of Darkness. But then I remember that Satan doesn't exist and I go back to thinking that Ahmadinejad is kind of kooky.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Headlines, Really?

From Sunday's NYT (my apologies for being so late at this, and--really, to Helmut--for not spelling him during the hard academic work he does (also: does Helmut really need to learn Spanish, too? I mean, can't I have--even if in a half-assed way--one language he doesn't?), much more devoted and important stuff than those of us teaching freshman composition and sophomore lit surveys . . . ):

Should the following really be headlines? On the front page?

"Competitive Electricity Markets Fail to Deliver Promised Savings"


"'I'm no Terrorist' Finds Deaf Ears"

I didn't forget to link the stories. I just didn't see any point.

The Enemy Within

Julia Wilson, a student at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, Calif., is shown with her laptop computer, Friday, Oct. 13, 2006, in Sacramento. The 14-year-old high school student was pulled out of class and questioned by Secret Service agents after posting a message threatening President Bush on the social networking site MySpace.com. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Torture Precipice

I've been going on and on here about torture. As mentioned earlier, I'm on a strict deadline right now to finish up a manuscript on the subject and am spinning wheels furiously like Wile E. Coyote over the precipice. On a crisp Sunday morning in Washington, DC, the air clean and blue, the trees beginning to change colors, light sweaters, and an urge to do a long city walk, it's not easy ensconcing oneself in the house in front of this screen, dredging through tales of terror and specious moral arguments. I go outside, rest against my car with a book, listen to the birds, observe the brilliant engineering of a mockingbird's feather, and pet other people's dogs as they pass.

You know DC has quite a bit of wildlife? It's the unsung network of relatively wild park that goes by the name of Rock Creek Park. Look at a map of DC - you'll see the park's green fingers extending throughout the city. The park is home to deer, foxes, raccoons and possums, and plenty of different kinds of birds. All of them make their little encroachments on the city - I've seen them all in my neighborhood....

The military jets were flying over the city the other day. I'm sure they'll be in taxpayer-funded action again in a couple of week's time....

Torture. It's a legal, moral, and political issue. A State of Exception. But did you know, as I now believe, that it's an issue about reality itself? From the early Middle Ages to the 18th Century, those who were accused of being witches were tortured and thrown on the stake. Not, however, before being forced to give up another name of another witch, and not before having been tortured into explaining reality from the metaphysics of witchdom.

See, one of the accusations made against witches was that they determined the weather - more precisely, bad weather. Lightning, thunderstorms, high winds, were all the doing of witches. For a seafaring age, this influence had economic and political importance as well. When witches were tortured, they were forced to confess their dark manipulations of the weather.

Under torture, of course, one will say anything. This requires that the institution and "triangulation" of torture (and political torture is always institutionalized) engage in the practice broadly so that someone, sometime will surrender useful information out of all the desperate misinformation. In saying anything - perhaps, in the delirium of torture, even believing it - the accused witches would provide the most fantastic stories about their devilish manipulation of the weather. These were stories constructed not only from mere fantasy, but from dreamlike contradictions and paradoxes. So, one tortured story went, the nefarious coven rowed out to sea in a sieve to conjure storms against the king's ships bringing them near the dangerous, wave-strewn rocks.

Various scholars during the period attempted to explain that witches were unlikely to be the source of foul weather. But these scholars risked their own fate on the stake, and, in fact, many were doomed as heretics over the centuries. Notice that, then, the reality of weather was explained through a fantastical delirium that confirmed the mythical suspicions of church and political rulers. Fantasy confirmed fantasy through the abused and uncontrolled imagination of torture and, hence, became reality. Apart from the political uses of torture and the stake, the delirium of the witch became, in effect, the science of weather, something which, to this day, lies beyond fully accurate scientific prediction and technological control.

This is what is at stake in the current institutionalization, the precipice, of torture: the very nature of reality.

Have a nice Sunday.