Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

"They worship it, this empty space, it's their highest form of worship. This volume, or I suppose nonvolume, of pure Akaša - being Sanskrit for what we'd call the Æther, the element closest to the all-pervading Atman, from which everything else has arisen - which in Greek obviously then becomes 'Chaos,' and so on down to van Helmont in his alchemist's workshop, who being Dutch writes the opening fricative as a G instead of a Chi, giving us Gas, our own modern Chaos, our bearer of sound and light, the Akaša flowing from our sacred spring, the local Gasworks. Do you wonder that for some the Gas Oven is worshipped at, as a sort of shrine?"

- Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

Brigitte Bardot

Just for the hell of it. I like the photo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Onward Young Christian Kiwi Soldiers

Children from two Christian schools in Wellington were given permission to skip classes Wednesday to join a protest march through city streets demanding that their parents be allowed to continue smacking them if they misbehave.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's Coming

The day of the cosmic Orgasm.

It is an experiment, i would like to verify if really it functions to have an initiative like this…
I Believe that would be very interesting to see that happens if is negotiated globally that a concrete day al year exist a popular tradition by which that day everyone fuck. You imagine you that a tradition exists of each 23 of April at 12 o'clock at night absolutely everyone has an erotic couple that has sought previously although alone be for that night. And to that hour everyone practices the sex, of the same form that in short of year the grapes are eaten.

Revision

A little history (via Max):

... [David] Stockman agreed that supply-side theory was, in Greider's words, "only new language and argument to conceal a hoary old Republican doctrine: give the tax cuts to the top brackets, the wealthiest individuals and largest enterprises, and let the good effects 'trickle down' through the economy to reach everyone else." Said Stockman: "It's kind of hard to sell 'trickle down,' so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really 'trickle down' .. . Kemp-Roth [the supply-side tax bill] was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate." Stockman was saying this privately at the same time that the Administration was denying Democratic charges that the Reagan tax cuts favored the rich.

Even when Stockman helped win the Administration's big battle over the drastic budget cuts in July, Greider found him subdued.

Writes Greider: "Why? Because he knew that much more traumatic budget decisions still confronted them. Because he knew that the budget resolution numbers were an exaggeration." He quotes Stockman: "There was less there than met the eye . . . the numbers are just out of this world." Yet Stockman had used those same numbers as he waged his successful drive to persuade members of Congress to approve the cuts. And, while impressing everyone with his knowledge of all the statistics, Stockman was conceding privately to Greider: "None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers."

At the same time that Reagan was berating Wall Street for doubting the effectiveness of his economic policies, Stockman was staring at his own statistics and concluding that the stock market analysts were right. Stockman's best computer figures no longer added up to a balanced budget by 1984. Big deficits loomed....

Salak

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Zizek in the NYT

Sounds like our Phriendly Phrancophile, no? I think maybe Slavoj has been reading Phronesisaical . . .

SINCE the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques”?

If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pissing in London


Same goes for Paris. Explanation here.

Paris 4

March rain. A bad afternoon for walking in Paris. A good day for cafes, bars, and bookstores. Helmette often tells me she wouldn't want to live again in her hometown, but only because of the weather. I actually like it.

I've said this before most likely, but the reason I think the Paris spring is so celebrated is because you've just gone through a miserable winter. Spring is a theater curtain that lifts one day and you find everything in bloom, lovers strolling along, the cafe terraces full, toy boats afloat in the fountain at the Jardins du Luxembourg, all the stereotypical events, actors, and pastimes of Parisian life. But it all depends on that miserable winter.

Nonetheless, I like the winter here (and we're still in winter) because it is insular. People turn inside for warmth and to get out of the biting rain. I've spent more time in bookstores per diem over my lifetime here in Paris during the winter. Galleries and museums. A movie or two. A guilt-free afternoon beer or two. Food. And, strangely enough, I talk with more Parisian strangers during the winter. They're famous for rudeness, but it's not really that at all. Parisians are like New Yorkers. They're busy, and ultimately kind of shy. But when you stop to talk, they're helpful and friendly. Of course, speaking French goes a long way. If a Swahili-speaker came up to you in New York and asked directions, you'd probably turn them away too unless you knew Swahili.

French is such a proud and lovely language. It's assaulted by English and is peppered increasingly with English vocabulary and phrases. Traditionalists detest this. But they tend to be fairly realistic. English is a practical language used globally. The French know this. Even many traditionalists have given in, since realizing that French is not going to become simply an English dialect. The hardcore traditional, the arbiters of French culture, especially at the Academie Nationale, are famous for their tendency to take organically integrated language from elsewhere and determine that a new French word should be used in its place. Thus the famous French word, "balladeur," when "Walkman" had become au courant. Actually, I admire this one. "Balladeur" is a play on words. It draws from the French term, "ballader" - to go for a stroll - and the French term we use in English, "ballade," as in a type of song. A lovely word, "balladeur." But no one uses it. And no one has Walkmen any more anyway. I nevertheless prefer it myself for its creativeness. What do you prefer? Products with names like Chevrolet "Nova"? That's about as stupid as it gets. For Spanish speakers, it means "no go." For English speakers, it means exploding star. These are both criteria I look for in an automobile.

Even a little French goes a long way. This is the key to Paris, and certainly to getting around anywhere else in France. Many Parisians speak English now, but assuming your own language and culture in a foreign country has always made Americans some of the most annoying visitors. I think Italians are the worst of all, but we Americans have our reputation pretty much set.

I was talking with an American friend here the other night. She hasn't been here long, and she's trying hard to learn the language, but it's slow-going. She's frustrated with what this means for living in the city. But once again the key is the language. It's possible, for those who work in American or English-run companies to speak English all the time. Bad for your French. Like any language, you have to be forced to use it in order to learn it. But Paris seems special in that, given the pride in their own language, and given the proud reluctance to bow to visitors' wishes about how they ought to be treated, and given some visitors' sense of exceptionalism, the city will never be terribly welcoming. When you try in good faith, people are usually helpful. There are assholes - like everywhere - but you shrug them off, and go on to the non-asshole. Once you reach that special plateau with the language, where you're having sophisticated discussions in the language and don't need to hold it up to wrack your brain for the vocabulary or grammar, when things start becoming natural in the language, then the place also changes. Now, you're independent, for one thing. But, more importantly, you're now a participant in the place.

It's only like this that Paris has become a kind of home for me. I have family and friends here, sure. But when I reached that language plateau, that fluency, the whole city opened up as full of possibilities. This changed my life here when I lived here. It took a while, but it was worth it. To be able to call Paris home is a great thing. I've lived in many places around the world, growing up and in adulthood, but only have a handful of places I call home. Texas is one (often shamefully), DC is another. San Diego, because it's my birthplace, is another. So is Paris. Oddly, so is Bangkok, though my Thai was never great. My Japanese gained a certain fluency at one point, now lost, but Japan is still not a "home." In this case, I think it's accessibility, the cultural embeddedness of the language (going so far as to distinguish a vocabulary, katakana, specifically for foreign words), and the hall of mirrors one encounters in personal, intimate relationships... or rather the Get Smart doors that keep opening to lead to yet another door to pass through.

There's a point to this post, I believe, despite its wanderlust. I suppose it has to do with patience. Americans tend to be quick in their judgments of other people, holding onto them with such tenacity that they start to eat at who Americans are. Not all, obviously - many of the most open-minded, interesting, and intelligent people I know are American, and it will always be this way since the US is capable of generating terrific, imaginative human beings. But a lot of us are utter buffoons. Unfortunately, that buffoonery shows up in both individual relationships and in policies that affect others, and many of us don't care (which belies American claims to some kind of moral upstandingness - morality is always other-directed). If you want to look for causes of anti-Americanism, that's where to look. The English-only movement in the US is an instance of the kind, as are the parts of immigration policy that treat others like criminals and sometimes animals. This is not to say that the French are not guilty of the same, or other countries, but there's a difference in that Americans have a huge influence on the shape of the rest of the world. When it's done through that odd, blustering American arrogance born of fear and ignorance, it's destructive for everyone.

This is going to sound really hippie of me (and I'm no hippie) - and maybe it's Paris channeling through me - but I don't see why loving different places and people is a problem. But it does require us to take all those damned resources we're so proud of and actually do something with them. That seems to me a pretty good life - let's call it a new American Dream.

Paris 3

I've got a meeting at UNESCO in an hour on democracy and human rights issues in the Middle East. It would be cool to live-blog it, but I can't. I have to speak. A rare suit and tie - rare for me. I'm an academic at heart. Besides a series of crappy jobs in high school and college, including the absolute worst working on a pipeline in Texas charging along in knee-deep mud with people trying to kill me, I've always had an academic schedule. (In fact, maybe it's time for a worst-job post next week). I've mostly been party-boy here, but today is responsible-man. I apparently have the genes to do both pretty well (though Helmette appreciates only a certain set of those genes).

Later today some more work for an all-day meeting and presentation next week at the NSF, then dinner with old friends, then meeting up with a former NYU grad student of mine who now lives in Paris. One of the old friends is an Irish guy, a musician who has lived in Paris for 25 years. We're doing a massive music exchange - I brought the external hard-drive, he's been spending the night downloading. More friends on Saturday, then dinner with the in-laws, then back home on Sunday. Quick stops in places like the Pont des Arts to take in the view of the Seine, Pont Neuf, the Eiffel Tower. A few stops in cafes along the way. Lots of walking. Kind of a typical quick trip here.

Thanks for the comments on the previous posts. As always, they're interesting and thought-provoking. More soon....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stoopido Rapido

Inhofe informed Gore that scientists are "radically at odds with your claims." Displaying a photograph of icicles in Buffalo, Inhofe demanded: "How come you guys never seem to notice it when it gets cold? . . . Where is global warming when you really need it?"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Paris 2

Sleet/hail. I'm not sure what it was. But it came down like madness from the Paris skies a moment ago. Nice. I lived here for three years and have been here many other times, and I've never seen that.

You know what I like about this city (among other things)? It doesn't change. Of course, the Notre Dame isn't going away any time soon. But it's also really nice to go to a favorite cafe or bar or restaurant that's been here ever since I was a lad. It's difficult to find this in the US. Everything in DC becomes a Starbucks over time. Eventually our houses will be Starbucks - great for the morning coffee, but pretty bad for walking around the house naked with the stereo cranked.

Here, I make little stops. Sometimes I rediscover places - "oh yeah, I remember this place. I was with so and so, who I haven't thought about in years. We had a great time." This is what builds a sense of history, which the French are constantly saying Americans really don't have. That's a double-edged sword, of course. Age-old disputes draw from history. But also the meaningfulness of places and people. There are a lot of people I might never remember if it weren't for places associated with them. Think of what disappears in the US through the constant recycling, building/demolishing of places based on whatever the market tells us is rational behavior. It's not just the places that are lost (and we could use fewer pointless strip malls, after all). But it's the people. They may not be the most meaningful people in one's life, but they're there and they're a part of your history. Our closest friends and family are ones with whom we have meaningful histories, experiences,... the relations of time and space, sounds, smells, thoughts, emotions, and touch all bind us to people. Without these relations, we're lost. There's no such thing as a relationship devoid of other relational qualities.

That's what a city like Paris is. It is a complex bundle of histories built upon histories where some become landmarks, places and sights and sounds imbued with meaningfulness, people who change and people who stay the same. For the flaneur, this makes it one of the richest of cities. You only need to be receptive and active.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Paris

I'm headed to Paris tomorrow for a Friday meeting and to see friends, family, and engage in a bit of flâneurie. Now that one of my favorite cafes and one of my favorite bars both have wireless, I might post a few things from there.

Times are busy here in the non-blog world with some possibly significant life-changes coming along. Plus, I've recently finished off one book, am currently finishing another and have a third in the works. Plus, I'm building a center at the university and recently came into a large chunk of funding to be able to do it. This is all good, but there are some other opportunities and some elements that are out of my hands. I'm a bit on hold regarding the latter.

I know I've slacked off with the blog. Sorry. Traffic has dropped. Damn. I don't want to lose you folks. I'll try to keep up the posts. Please give me feedback. A little comment or two are always helpful in letting me know there are readers out there. Posting will pick up after March.

In the meantime, for those of you who have spring breaks, have fun. But if someone comes around with a video camera, get out of there quickly.

Photo by Helmut

Well, I'll Be

The Independent today:
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's dramatic confessions before a US military hearing are beginning to backfire on the Bush administration. Legal experts are casting serious doubt about their validity as evidence, and human rights activists say they only illuminate a "sham process" of justice in the US war on terror, including the apparent use of torture on Mohammed and potentially dozens of other al-Qa'ida suspects.
Helmut the other day:
...the fact that testimony has been achieved through torture will always haunt the US, morally and politically. No matter how fairly the actual tribunals are conducted, their legitimacy is in eternal suspension. It will be difficult to convince anyone that they are anything other than kangaroo courts, regardless of whether they are or not. This is the legacy of the Bush administration's use of torture in the "war on terror."...

This distrust will bleed into following presidencies. It can only be corrosive of the relationship between the public and its representatives, between citizens and their faith in their democratic government...

The Khalid Sheik Mohammed tribunal will always be a kangaroo court. American legitimacy on such matters is wrecked. This is not our fault for thinking about it or discussing it. This is the result of the administration's conduct of both domestic and foreign policy.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Unliked

Magic Car-Pet

Little Street People

If you haven't noticed it from the wonderful links to your right, please check out the little people street art project blog. Hilarity ensues.

Surfing the Amazon

Non-destructive Amazonian activity. Here.

Chill

It snowed and sleeted in DC last night. When I was a kid, and my family traveled by car from Southern California or Texas into New Mexico and Colorado, driving for hours sometimes at odd hours, and we would stop along the way, just after having reached patches of snow and the chill on the car windows, sometimes sighting antelope, and we would get out of the car, and that dry cold would hit my face, that clean smell of crisp higher altitude air, that snow on the ground so precious to a kid raised in the tropics or subtropics,... that's how it feels early on this quiet morning in DC.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Liberating Iraqis

One of the more unfortunate byproducts of the Iraq War is the massive exodus of refugees...

Where do Iraqis seek sanctuary? Not in the United States, it seems. Last year, only 202 Iraqis were granted asylum in America.

But tiny Sweden took in more than 9,000 Iraqi asylum-seekers last year.

President Bush recently offered to expand the U.S. pool to 7,000 this year. Sweden expects to take in three times that many.

Keep in mind, Sweden was never part of the so-called "Coalition of the Willing." This country deeply opposed the Iraq War. But it has been more willing than any Western country to deal with the steady stream of refugees from Iraq.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Suspect

This is just sad. We all know now that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, "the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," has admitted to all sorts of planned terrorist attacks on the United States. He has admitted his plans through interrogations at Guantanamo, in the end delivering his final soliloquy (available here: .pdf) to a closed American military tribunal, which remains anonymous.

Sheik Mohammed appears coherent in the transcript, apart from the rough English. He admits to a laundry list of attacks and planned attacks. He challenges the notion of "enemy combatant" as a term relative to American justice and politics. And he repeatedly pleads for others in US captivity as innocents caught up in American sweeps, many of whom, he suggests, don't really even know what the Taliban or al Qaeda are, but were simply continuing the fight in Afghanistan against invading infidels (first Russia, now the US). He portrays al Qaeda as an organized effort in this fight.

What's of interest, no doubt, to the US is the admission of responsibility or shared responsibility for the listed attacks. The goal of the tribunal is to classify him as an "enemy combatant" (note that the justification for the prior detention is that detainees are "enemy combatants"). We know that "enemy combatant" is an extra-legal term contrived by the administration to circumvent normal legal procedure.

But what does the tribunal really do here? Khalid Sheik Mohammed had already been accused and condemned prior to the tribunal. Thus, his Guantanamo detention. Presumably, the "alternative interrogation" he has undergone has yielded confessions of various sorts. Thus, the laundry list is no surprise, only some of its contents. What is the point?

First, the post-Abu Ghraib US (and let's not forget Guantanamo, Baghram, rendition country prisons, the black sites, and countless other sites for US torture) has lost its legitimacy when it comes to such tribunals. They are suspect in the first place as legal courts. But the fact that testimony has been achieved through torture will always haunt the US, morally and politically. No matter how fairly the actual tribunals are conducted, their legitimacy is in eternal suspension. It will be difficult to convince anyone that they are anything other than kangaroo courts, regardless of whether they are or not. This is the legacy of the Bush administration's use of torture in the "war on terror."

Second, we know that the US administration has repeatedly used events such as the Sheik Mohammed trial for self-preservationist political goals as much or more than anything else (such as, oh... say, good policy or actual "security"). Various news sources are, of course, reporting on the tribunals. But almost all of them, reading between the lines, wonder what the political gain is for the Bush administration by releasing the tribunal document. This is where public attention is directed. There is very little trust remaining in the American government that it is doing anything in the public interest, as is the general objective of a representative democracy. This distrust will bleed into following presidencies. It can only be corrosive of the relationship between the public and its representatives, between citizens and their faith in their democratic government.

One might say, as administration supporters often do, that we ought not to raise these issues because their very exposure and discussion are corrosive. But there's now no way around this. The Khalid Sheik Mohammed tribunal will always be a kangaroo court. American legitimacy on such matters is wrecked. This is not our fault for thinking about it or discussing it. This is the result of the administration's conduct of both domestic and foreign policy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cool


The Mikiphone, via We Make Money Not Art:
Patented in 1924, it could fold up to the size of a large pocket watch. All the parts --apart from the winding handle-- are stored inside the case which when closed has a diameter of just 4½" (11.5 cm) by under 2" thick (4.7 cm). The 'horn' is in two parts and can be stored inside the case. Le Corbusier said that the Mikiphone was the essence of the esprit nouveau.

Mistakes Were Made In Good Faith

Mr. Trendy:
Among increasingly damning evidence that the government knew what it was doing far more than it let on regarding the fired US District Attorneys, Alberto Gonzales admits today that "Mistakes were made." Note he didn't say he (or Miers, or Sampson, or Rove, or anybody) made mistakes, but that "mistakes were made".

This is a ploy often used by sports stars when they are busted for improper behavior ("I'm sorry it had happened"), and there are definitely people out there who absolutely hate this refusing-responsibility-while-trying-to-appear-responsible... I... absolutely hate this linguistic turn - it gives the speaker credit in the public eye for being recalcitrant even while he/she refuses to acknowledge his/her personal responsibility in wrongdoings.
Peter Levine:
Most of today's newspapers quote the Attorney General's remark, "mistakes were made," which William Schneider wittily calls the "past exonerative." It was indeed a Nixonian grammatical construction, an inept attempt to evade accountability and moral judgment. But Mr. Gonzalez' phrase is not the one to which I would award the Tricky Dick Memorial Prize for Talking Like a Crook While Saying that You Aren't One. That badge of shame belongs to his former assistant, D. Kyle Sampson, whose memo on tactics ended with a wonderfully self-damning use of scare quotes:
I think we should gum this to death. ... Ask the Senators to give Tim [Griffin, the administration's choice for federal prosecutor in Arkansas] a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say "no never" (and the longer we can forestall that the better), then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in "good faith" of course.

What is the meaning of "in good faith" in that last sentence? I think it precisely means "in bad faith," but I'm open to correction.

Renditions Continue

A network of U.S. allies in East Africa secretly have transferred to prisons in Somalia and Ethiopia as many as 150 people who were captured in Kenya while fleeing the recent war in Somalia, according to human rights advocates here.

Kenyan authorities made the arrests as part of a U.S.-backed, four-nation military campaign in December and January against Somalia's Islamist militias, which Bush administration officials have linked to al-Qaida.

The prisoners, who included men and women of 17 nationalities and children as young as 7 months, were held in Kenya for several weeks before most of them were transferred covertly to Somalia and Ethiopia, where they're being held incommunicado, the groups charge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Having Fun With Climate Change

Too late, so there's plenty of political capital to be built right now. The smarter countries are doing just that. Note the target date of 2050.

Gay Smokescreens

General Pace says he thinks gays should not be in the military and, moreover, that homosexuality is a sin. Someone had to say something quick to red herring the revelations by the "support our troops" crowd about not actually supporting the troops.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

"I don't know who I am or even if I am, but I belong with my national and religious roots, therefore I follow them." Thus does the contemporary Hamlet soliloquize, and it is a rare person who does not invoke a primal shelter to compensate for personal disarray.

- Julia Kristeva, Nations Without Nationalism

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Love, Latin American Style

The language used to discuss US policy towards Latin America conceals the problem of US policy towards Latin America. This is not the issue:
  • Latin America as a whole receives less aid from the US in one year than Egypt does on its own.

  • A large proportion of US aid to the western hemisphere goes to Haiti.

  • Much of Latin America feels ignored.

  • This will be the first time Bush has visited Uruguay and Guatemala.

The White House recognises the perception and so has called this a "year of engagement" in the region to counter the negative view.

The language suggests that Latin America is waiting for a United States that pays it more respect, attention, and gives it more money. Sure, this is all important. But you simply cannot develop an intelligent policy towards Latin America without realizing that past and current American policy does more than simply "ignore" these countries. Many of the problems in these countries are related to American policies towards Latin America. Many Latin Americans understand and believe this. The leftward shift is partially a product of it.

Meanwhile, the US administration seems to believe that the goal is simply stopping Chávez from gaining any more influence (if not taking him from power). While Chávez is certainly guilty of spurious and probably unhelpful rhetoric towards the Bush administration, as well as the occasional buffoonery, and perhaps even authoritarian tendencies, the Bush administration has created the figure of Chávez as Public Enemy #1.

Look at the recently published State Department report on human rights. While there are, of course, reasons to be concerned about Venezuela, they don't match up to the Bush administration's rhetoric of Chávez as a dictator and human rights abuser. Look for the comments in the report on the suppression of free speech in Venezuela, a favorite talking point of the administration. What do you find? Not much. Compare the list of HR concerns for Venezuela with those of Colombia, a staunch ally of the US in South America. What do you find? Consider the role of the US in funding Colombian projects such as the drug war. Compare Amnesty International's or Human Rights Watch's reports on the US. What do you find?

Now consider again the sustained criticism of Chávez on human rights grounds.

It is not the case that most Latin Americans feel ignored or can be bought off by more development support. It's that the very paradigm of how the US thinks of Latin American development has been rejected by many, perhaps most, of the people in the region. Chávez provides an alternative (though not a terribly articulate one). That is his attraction. It is not Chávez the person; it is the possibility of an alternative - and not necessarily an old-timey socialist one - through which people other than the political and economic elites actually do see some benefits.

Basing American policy on some notion that Latin America is like a child that needs more attention and perhaps a bigger allowance, and the occasional spanking, is precisely why Latin America has been turning away from the US. Many Latin Americans see the growth of poverty under the American model, and the decrease in poverty under the Chávez model. They've seen US-backed anti-democratic governments, and locally empowering democratic models from Venezuela and elsewhere. Yet, Bush sees only this:

Asked by a reporter about Mr. Chávez’s “so-called alternative development model” calling for nationalization of industry, Mr. Bush said: “I strongly believe that government-run industry is inefficient and will lead to more poverty. I believe if the state tries to run the economy, it will enhance poverty and reduce opportunity.”

He added, “So the United States brings a message of open markets and open government to the region.”

At some point, you have to examine your own ideological blinkers.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lemons

"This Sucks for Libby"

...Or so say the jurors, apparently, acknowledging post-verdict that he looked very much like a fall guy. Pelosi backs them up. Libby's guilty on four of five counts. He faces up to 30 years in prison but will likely receive 1 to 2 years. The defense is, of course, appealing.

It does suck for Libby, caught as he is in an administration that views accountability as a merely quaint ideal for the plebes.

I See Poor People

Not really.
President Bush, laying the groundwork for an eight-day trip to Latin America that's likely to deepen the struggle for influence with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, acknowledged Monday that millions of Latin Americans remain in poverty despite U.S.-backed economic policies and free-trade agreements.

Sprinkling his speech with Spanish words and phrases, Bush announced a series of relatively modest efforts to help the region's poor, including a plan to send in U.S. military medical teams.

"The fact is that tens of millions of our brothers and sisters to the south have seen little improvement in their daily lives, and this has led some to question the value of democracy," he told members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "The working poor of Latin America need change, and the United States of America is committed to that change."
Note the common move to equate economic liberalization with democracy. Latin American poor are not anti-democracy. They may be dismayed by a long history of lip-service to "democracy" (see: Colombia). But the reality is basically empirical (and obviously moral): economic liberalization has destroyed countless lives in Latin America, has further propped up elites, and has exacerbated poverty. They've lost faith in in the economic program because they don't see much good coming from it in their lives. That is going to be the test. If Bush truly believes that it's a loss of belief in democracy, the US is headed further down the road to increasingly disastrous Latin America policy. The dislike of US policy is based in the fact that the US has longed push its own economic and political agendas on Latin America and this has tended to cause war, increased poverty, and the entrenchment of ruling elites. It's a basic empirical matter, but Bush can't see past his ideology.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Fear and the Physical Environment

Most people walk through our built environment without much thought as to the extent to which its structures and patterns reflect not only the whims of architects but also the collective psyche. The reflection runs two ways, however: culture shows up in the structures, and the structures shape in subtle ways how we live. A number of very good books have explored these cultural shapes and shapings: Lewis Mumford's massive The City in History, Jane Jacobs' classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Michael Sorkin's collection Variations on a Theme Park, Mike Davis' Ecology of Fear, among others. Several years ago I edited a journal issue (Philosophy and Geography) on urban environmental ethics intended to look at the issues of how the built environment is structured by and structures the moral imagination.

All of this is to say that there exists a long lineage of studies on the nature of the city, especially pointing out that the American city was going in the direction of what Davis says of Los Angeles, "fortress LA." Most of this move started from developers' images of what a clean and safe, urban business environment should be. This meant exclusion of what they perceived as unclean and unsafe and non-conducive to business. Davis, for example, discusses barrel-shaped bus stop seats, designed to make it impossible for the homeless to sleep there, and park sprinkler systems in downtown LA designed to start up at hours during the night when homeless people might be trying to sleep there. Jacobs discusses spaces intended to isolate and individualize the human experience within them as an ostensible safety device when it is precisely the "eyes" of the crowd that provide greater security.

It's really no surprise to see this article in the NY Times today. No surprise, that is, that Fortress America can be a topic of discussion. I live in Washington, DC, the center of it. It's real. But it is surprising that anyone cares. We have, after all, fetishized fear. It runs our foreign policy; it runs our domestic social policy. When fear becomes this natural, it's a surprise that we can continue to see the fortresses of our daily life at all.

Does it matter that we're turning the aesthetic of our lived environment into simply a function of utility and security to this extent? Yes. Because it is a reflection of who we increasingly are and who we are increasingly has little to do with the actual nature of threats, the existence of threats, and intelligent responses to them, and more to do with a realm of fantasy in which we believe erroneously that everyone wants what we have and envies us for it. They want to destroy us and our self-satisfied symbols of freedom and prosperity. We must protect it. But what, precisely, is the it that we are so desperate to protect? I'm not so sure we have any idea.

The author of the NY Times article writes, "[t]o some, compromise may be preferable to surrounding our cities with barbed wire and sandbags. The notion that we can design our way out of these problems should give us pause, however. Our streets may be prettier, but the prettiness is camouflage for the budding reality of a society ruled by fear."

"Pretty," however, might just become synonymous with the way in which the perspective of fear looks out at the world and sees "security."

Top photos/image: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times; Royal Collection, via Agence France — Presse. Middle image: Silverstein Properties. Bottom photo: Reinhard Krause/Reuters.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Words of a Torturer

This article by an American interrogator is very much worth reading. It demonstrates just how thick the institutionalization of American torture really is; how systematic the program is; how widespread; and how incongruent.

Plus, there are other bits of valuable information for us on the conduct of the US war. One example:
In Fallujah, one of the goals of identifying the corpses was to determine how many foreigners were involved in the insurgency there. “The army and MI guys were squeezing everything they could out of these bodies to make them foreigners. If a guy had a shirt that was made in Lebanon the guy was Lebanese. If they found a Koran on him that was printed in Algeria then he was Algerian. If they found currency on him that was Syrian—which wasn’t uncommon because Iraqi currency was worthless—he was Syrian. So they published those numbers too—this is how many foreign fighters were among the dead in Fallujah.”
[Via 3 Quarks Daily]

Kundera on the Novel and Novelty

This essay by Milan Kundera in The Guardian is a bit scattered, but it's lovely and filled with interesting ideas. Read it, but not simply for what it tells us about the novel. Some morsels of nourishment:
"A minute." In that precise unit of time there is the whole enormity of the scene. He lingers, he gazes, finds himself handsome. For a whole minute. Without budging. He is in love, but he is not thinking about the woman he loves, so dazzled is he by his own self. He gazes at the mirror. But he does not see himself looking into the mirror (as Flaubert sees him). He is enclosed in his lyric self and is unaware that the soft gleam of the comical has settled over him and his love.

The anti-lyric conversion is a fundamental experience in the curriculum vitae of the novelist: separated from himself, he suddenly sees that self from a distance, astonished to find that he is not the person he thought he was. After that experience, he will know that nobody is the person he thinks he is, that this misapprehension is universal, elementary, and that it casts on people (for instance, on Frédéric, standing there at the mirror) the soft gleam of the comical. (That gleam of the comical, suddenly discovered, is the silent, precious reward for the novelist's conversion.)

Toward the end of her story, Emma Bovary, after being turned away by her bankers and abandoned by Léon, climbs into a coach. At its open door a beggar "emitted a sort of muffled howl". She instantly "flung him a five-franc coin over her shoulder. It was her whole fortune. She thought it quite fine, tossing the coin like that."

It really was her whole fortune. She was coming to the end. But the last sentence, which I put in italics, reveals what Flaubert saw very well but Emma was unaware of: she did not merely make a generous gesture; she was pleased with herself for making it - even in that moment of genuine despair, she did not miss the chance to display her gesture, innocently, wishing to look fine for her own sake. A gleam of tender irony will never leave her, even as she progresses toward the death that is already so near...

Artists' fame is the most monstrous of all, for it implies the idea of immortality. And that is a diabolical snare, because the grotesquely megalomaniac ambition to survive one's death is inseparably bound to the artist's probity. Every novel created with real passion aspires quite naturally to a lasting aesthetic value, meaning to a value capable of surviving its author. To write without having that ambition is cynicism: a mediocre plumber may be useful to people, but a mediocre novelist who consciously produces books that are ephemeral, commonplace, conventional - thus not useful, thus burdensome, thus noxious - is contemptible. This is the novelist's curse: his honesty is bound to the vile stake of his megalomania...

Alas, miracles do not endure for long. What takes flight will one day come to earth. In anguish I imagine a time when art shall cease to seek out the never-said and will go docilely back into the service of the collective life that requires it to render repetition beautiful and help the individual merge, at peace and with joy, into the uniformity of being.

Saturday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

A wise man said,

"When we see the world as fragments, we're compelled to seek the whole, the circle, eternity, certainty. When we see the world as continuous, relational, we learn to live with the fragments and uncertainty."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Evil Lullabies

The Bush Administration doesn't like lullabies sung by women from the select Axis of Evil Group, even when in duet with Western singers. This is curious. You would think that a person from a Good Country combined with a person from an Evil Country would favor the Good side since Good is supposed to outweigh Evil, and since one Brown or Yellow Life apparently equals about one-tenth of one White Life. Yet, in the case of children's lullabies, the administration must figure that the potential for nefarious influence on innocent American children from even one note from an Evil Country Person outweighs any Good engendered by Lila Downs. This seems to me really to be the fault of the record producer. He should have hired a choir of hundreds of Good Country People to drown out the Evil Country Person.

Download a few of the songs here at WFMU at your own risk.

Guatemalan Sinkhole

I'm apparently a bit late on this,... but it's never too late in my view to note a giant sinkhole. It's the wave of the future, you know. They're going to spring up all over the place. Guatemala and Oklahoma are just the beginning. How else do you think a planet goes to hell?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Walls and Contradictions

Global Guerrillas:
  • India and Bangladesh. A 2,500 mile (~$1.2 billion dollars) fence to seal the border from what India fears could become the "new Afghanistan."
  • US and Mexico. A 2,000 mile state of the art barrier being constructed in incremental installments.
  • Israel and the West Bank. 436 miles of concrete barriers.
  • Saudi Arabia and Iraq. A 550 mile wall at a cost of $600 million (part of a ring to encircle the entire country, as with the fence to the south with Yemen).
  • Spain and Morocco.
  • Thailand and Malaysia. 75 km border fence.
  • Pakistan and Afghanistan. A 2,400 km fence.
  • Kuwait and Iraq. Upgrade to the 215 km fence with Iraq.
  • Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
  • UAE and Oman.
Question: if the Berlin wall (et. al.) were a sign of a fundamental contradiction in the communist system that ultimately destroyed it, are these walls a sign of a similar contradiction (albeit different, given the change in directionality)?