Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Malay Apple

Escalation

No "weapons of mass destruction."

No democracy. No human rights.

No electricity. No employment.

No security. Massive death toll.

Civil war.

What to do? Escalate the whole damn thing (AKA, make some people rich) by arming the Sunni against Shiites and Iran.

A high-level US delegation will hold talks with foreign ministers from allied Arab states in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday on a planned military package for allied Middle East states.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is being joined for two legs of her Middle East tour by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told reporters that the proffered package was a continuation of pre-existing relationships and was designed to bolster US allies in the Persian Gulf.

From Sharm, Gates and Rice fly to Jeddah for talks with Saudi officials on the package. Saudi forces are expected to receive the bulk of the arms package with subsidized purchases, projected to top US$20 billion. Egypt is also expected to receive US$13 billion over the next decade.

Despite Rice's efforts to paint the intended arms sales as a bid to maintain a "balance" of forces in the region, it is clear that the US grant is intended to bolster the US arms industry...

The US package has been accepted as a fait accompli by the Israeli government in a fundamental reversal of past Israeli foreign policy.

Israeli acquiescence was bought with a 25 percent boost in the annual US military aid grant to US$3 billion, and constitutes an Israeli recognition of a shift in US regional priorities away from the Israel-Palestinian crisis to protecting its strategic interests in the Gulf following the eventual withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

While this is not stated publicly, Israel and US-allied Arab states have been drawn together by the perceived mutual threat of the growth of Iranian influence and by the efflorescence of Sunni militant groups, and related strengthening of political Islam in Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan...

Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner, who will introduce a resolution to block the package, told the Washington Post that "despite the fact that the administration has done everything to portray them [Saudi Arabia] as part of the moderate Arab world, members of Congress of both parties are increasingly skeptical."

While muted, US criticism of the weapons and monetary offer raises the fundamental issue of whether the deal and the significant rise in large-scale military aid for Egypt and Israel contributes to the escalation of tensions in the Gulf and wider region.

It is clear that these tensions have a major impact on the global economy, with crude prices spiking in recent months on supply concerns, and that an escalation in tensions in the Gulf, where US-led and Iranian naval forces are already locked in a tense standoff, is not in the interests of US regional allies.

It is also becoming apparent that the linkage previously made, if sporadically, by the Bush administration between democratic and civil reform and the provision of military aid has been largely forgotten. A June congressional decision to withhold US$200 million in annual military grants to Egypt over the suppression of the political opposition is effectively reversed by the intended rise in the military stipend.

Ultimately, the planned military package will serve to undermine the authority of recipient Arab governments, which are already seen as US toadies by significant sections of their citizenry, while encouraging the increased involvement of neighboring states in the Iraq civil war and the bleeding of these tensions into the Gulf....

The US is arming Sunnis within Iraq who are supposedly fighting against al Qaeda but also against Shiites and US troops. And the US is arming predominantly Sunni governments in the region who are already unpopular and increasingly unstable.

Now, Saddam Hussein was Sunni and the US also armed Saddam in Iraq's war with Iran in order to constrain Iranian influence.

What has the war done to make a difference today?


See also Patricia's take on this at Whirled View.

Is It the End of Cinema?


Yesterday, Ingmar Bergman, today the news of Michelangelo Antonioni's death (both on the same day).

The NY Times obit.

Monday, July 30, 2007


A nice little musical homage at Motel de Moka.

Obit at the International Herald Tribune.

Obit at IndieWire (film news).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Congratulations, Contador

Photo: AP / Peter Dejong

And to Tom Boonen for the sprinter's green jersey, Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez and the best climber's polka dot jersey, and Amets Txurruka for the best young rider's white jersey (actually, after Contador and Soler). One of the overlooked facts is that this is a very young group of great riders. This bodes well for the future of the Tour. Older, high-profile riders who doped were caught (kicking out Vino and Rasmussen is huge - see Dan's previous comment). Rather than interpreting these doping cases in terms of a corrupt sport, they really ought to be seen as a sincere effort to clean up the sport. The young riders are, in a fairly obvious sense, the future of the Tour. But the word is that it is also the younger riders who are leading the anti-doping sentiment within the peloton. This year's Tour, rather than being a scandal, may turn out to be historic.

AND...

Photo: AP / Dita Alangkara

Congratulations to Iraq for its victory in the Asian Cup, and having, for once, cause to rejoice.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Venezuelan Arms

Much has been made in the US about Venezuela spending $3 billion on a new array of arms. Why, some Americans ask, does Chávez need such weapons if he doesn't have regional ambitions of extending the "Bolivarian Revolution"? The claim then develops that Chávez is not only a domestic dictator but also potentially an imperialist of his own stripe. The US then seeks to build up concern about Chávez in the region and bluster in the US (even using that old fear-mongering standby: that Chávez harbors al Qaida terrorists!). Even if the US has no plans to beef up direct destabilization programs in Venezuela for the time being (and I have no idea on this one way or the other), the rhetoric - which Chávez also participates in - serves to maintain an unstable relationship with the leadership of the country and frame the Chávez government in the same terms as Ahmadinejad's Iran and Kim Jong-Il's North Korea. The comparison is ridiculous, but this group identification now shows up in illustrious places such as the Washington Post and New York Times as if it is common knowledge. What the grouping does represent is a small victory for the US in the rhetorical battle over ignorant citizens and knee-jerk partisan hacks, as well as lazy journalists.

This article is much closer to reality in terms of the facts and the reasoning behind the various political stances. The US has set up a rhetorical battle with Chávez that Chávez uses for his own political gain, and vice versa. Chávez seeks to export the ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution, but I know for a fact through contacts at the ministerial levels that the Venezuelan government has no intention of becoming another Cuba. I have been told by some that Venezuelan is not even "anti-capitalist," but is simply faced with their huge poverty problem, a problem long-neglected by those in Venezuela that the US government supports. On the other hand, when chavistas claim that the CIA is operating in their country - and opposition figures and Americans scoff at the idea - the chavistas are correct. Indeed, I personally witnessed CIA recruitment classes running openly in a wealthy opposition district of Caracas.

So, is Chávez just another paranoid dictator? Perhaps. But not yet. Is the US an actually threatening state? Perhaps not, but it is making clear to Venezuela that it maintains the potential and will to overthrow the elected Venezuelan government. If the US is truly concerned about Venezuelan arms purchases, then it is engaged in backwards policy towards the country because its own threats have contributed to - perhaps prompted - Chávez's sense that there is a need for new arms. Any observer of US-Venezuelan relations must simply understand this if they wish to engage in a reality-based discussion. Unfortunately, not many people on the American or Venezuelan side wish such a discussion because they have created the appearance of hostility and this apparent hostility has been shown to be politically advantageous in different ways for both sides.
...since 2006 Caracas has withstood an embargo by the superpower in military weapons, equipment, and spares parts. Israel and Sweden could join this boycott. Since the May 2006 naval maneuvers carried out in the Caribbean by the United States, Holland, and Great Britain, alarms went off in Chávez's country because they were the largest undertaken in the region since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. In August of that same year it became known that the U.S. National Intelligence Agency had created a special post for specific intelligence and operations tasks for Cuba and Venezuela.

As of that time Caracas began purchasing weapons, but it had to resort to countries that do not have good relations with Washington, among them Russia, China, and Iran, although also Spain. Already more than 52,000 AK-103 machine guns have been delivered of the 100,000 bought from Russia to replace Belgian FALs dating back to the 1950s. It also seeks to buy anti-air M1 Tor missiles (similar to the ones just acquired by Iran), 24 SU-30 jetfighters, 30 transport and attack Mi-35 helicopters, all from Russia, and half a dozen Military Corvettes and a dozen Spanish transport airplanes.

Until now Venezuela has spent US$3 billion in weapons and now there is speculation that it could acquire between five and nine conventional submarines (diesel-electric). According to military analysts, despite the fact that the submarines are not of the latest generation, they "constitute a potential threat to any naval or amphibious operation," as shown by the Falkland Islands War, when a single, old Argentine submarine created enormous difficulties for the British forces.

Although it doesn't amount to talk about a regional arms race, the truth is that Chávez appears to be developing a defense strategy. From the Iraq experience he has learned the importance of armed militias in the development of an asymmetric war in the face of a possible invasion. That explains the massive purchase of machine guns, which he might be in the position of manufacturing if negotiations to erect a plant in Venezuela come to fruition. At the same time, if he chooses to buy the submarines he might be indicating that the country may be preparing itself for an eventual blockade by sea that could disrupt petroleum exports.

In any case, it is best to take the above facts with a grain of salt. Venezuela depends as much on petroleum exports as the United Status depends on imports from that country. Imports of Venezuelan crude increased from US$15.2 billion in 2001 to US$34 billion in 2005. Venezuela is already the third largest exporter of petroleum to the United States, having displaced Saudi Arabia from that position.

See also this very good article on American aid activity within Venezuela. That is, if you want to understand the situation rather than simply provide fodder for your own pre-established political position.

Tour Time Trial

Today is the time trial in the Tour de France, the penultimate stage before tomorrow's normally ceremonial ride in to Paris. It's happening right now. The way things are developing, the top three spots could shuffle around. As of this morning before the start, Contador is in the yellow jersey with almost two minutes on second place Evans, with Leipheimer coming in third at 59 seconds behind Evans. Contador is riding well, but Evans and Leipheimer - all of them on the road as I write - are making up time. Evans has made up 55" on Contador at the 35km mark (out of 55.5km). But Leipheimer may be riding the race of his life. He's in the lead of the stage at the 35km mark, having made up 35" on Evans. He's now 1,'20" total behind Contador. Leipheimer looks to win the stage at this point. But there's a chance he could very well overtake Evans, difficult as that may be, and perhaps even Contador if the yellow jersey tuckers out. Interesting. Contador is trying to hold off Evans and keep the yellow, and Evans is trying to hold off Leipheimer and at least keep second place. Leipheimer has no such worries and apparently believes he can leapfrog them both and take the yellow jersey today.

Perhaps tomorrow won't be so ceremonial after all.

UPDATE (11:23):

Leipheimer wins the stage! He made up all but 8 seconds on Evans.

UPDATE (11:30):

A great ride by all three, but especially Leipheimer to put the fear of a vengeful god in Evans and Contador. 31 seconds separates the top three riders now for tomorrow's final stage. Contador retains the yellow jersey but now has only a 23" advantage on Evans. Evans has only an 8" second advantage over Leipheimer. The top five looks like this:

1. Alberto Contador (ESP) DSC
2. Cadel Evans (AUS) PRL - at 23"
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) DSC - at 31"
4. Carlos Sastre (ESP) CSC - at 7’08"
5. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) EUS - at 8’17"

So what of tomorrow's ceremonial stage into Paris? First, it's rare in any given year that so little time separates the top riders on the final day. This usually allows for lower-placed riders to look for a stage win on the glorious Champs Elysées and for the jersey winners to partake of champagne along the route. This is enough time for Contador to hold onto the yellow jersey. He looks to be the winner of the Tour de France this year. But Contador and Evans won't be having any champagne tomorrow as Leipheimer may very well attempt a break and try to win the race on one of the final tours of the Champs Elysées.

Levi Leipheimer, Photo: AP/Peter Dejong

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

...not even the fountains of youth, which biotechnology may have to offer one day to circumvent the penalties of it, can justify the goal of extorting from nature more than its original allowance to our species for the length of our days. On this point, then, the private good does concur with the public good. Herewith I rest my case for mortality as a blessing.

- Hans Jonas, Mortality and Morality

Gamboge

Links for a Hot Friday

Photo: Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

I've been wanting to write about each of these topics discussed in the links below, but this morning just haven't had the time. I'm linking anyway and will try to get back to them this afternoon. They're all worth a read.

Nations and development

The new politics of political aid in Venezuela

In the Amazon: Conservation or Colonialism?

And then check out this peculiar item at the BBC:
Document uncovers details of a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by a group of right-wing American businessmen... The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Today's Winner


A question posed at the Washington Post:
Former senator John Edwards this morning plans to announce new economic proposals intended to close what he considers corporate loopholes and raise taxes on what he considers the wealthy to finance initiatives to help poor and middle class Americans. All of which raises an interesting question: Is the political dialogue in America moving back to the left after nearly three decades defined to some extent by the ideas of Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush?
Continues here.

Tom Delay's Foreign Policy

[Max] Blumenthal opens the video by interviewing Tom Delay, who when asked how much the "Second Coming" plays into his support for Israel, says, "obviously, it's what I live for, I hope it comes tomorrow."

Delay closed by saying, "we have to be connected to Israel to enjoy the second coming."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vive Le Tour

Photo: DOMINIQUE FAGET-AFP-Getty Images

One of the problems with doping in cycling is that it elongates one's legs unnaturally (see photo - that's Michael Rasmussen, the current leader).

Ha ha. Really, kids, doping is no laughing matter. Today one Christian Moreni, Italian from the Cofidis team, got his entire team retired from the race when he tested positive for testosterone at the finish. Unfortunately, the highest placed Frenchman this year, Sylvain Chavanel, is a rider for Cofidis.

Rasmussen won the stage after furious attacks on the final mountain, the Col d'Aubisque. American Levi Leipheimer was second with Spaniard Alberto Contador third. I think Rasmussen won the entire race with his performance today since this gives him a 3-minute gap on Cadel Evans, who is the only real threat to pull serious time back from Rasmussen during the time trial on Saturday. Today was Contador's final opportunity to try for the yellow jersey. He'll now work to hold onto his second place and will be satisfied with the white jersey of the best young rider. This leaves only a battle between Leipheimer and Evans for the third podium place. Given that Evans is a better time-trialist, Leipheimer will have an extremely difficult time moving up from fourth. But fifth place, Carlos Sastre, is too far back to take away Leipheimer's fourth spot. So, barring accident, that looks like the podium, folks: Rasmussen the winner, Contador second, and Evans third. Soler has won the polka dot jersey of the best climber on this last day in the mountains. The sprinters' green jersey is currently owned by Belgian Tom Boonen, but it will be up for grabs over the next few days. Go Thor.

The doping noise and excitement of today's race came after a brief sit-down protest at the start by French riders tired of the smearing of their great Tour. And it is a great race. For sheer physical derring-do, mind over matter, there's nothing like it in the world. A 200-kilometer ride through the Alps or Pyrenees amongst people with unnaturally shaped lungs and thighs and a bearded devil appearing at the side of the road is itself hallucinatory. The race has great feats of courage, wonderfully sneaky tactics, and lovely gestures of sportsmanship among the riders. The "tour" is a perfect advertisement for the tremendous beauty and diversity of the country. I, personally, love the race more than I do any particular riders. I don't think the doping scandals can destroy the race, as some overwrought commentators suggest.

In fact, dope has since at least the 1920s, been part of the Tour de France: cocaine, heroin, alcohol, opium, cigarettes, amphetamines, in addition to the various new drugs and techniques to manipulate blood chemical levels banned on the current Tour (for a good discussion of current techniques and a dash of conspiracy theory, see this article). Testing only came to the fore when British rider Tom Simpson collapsed on the Mont Ventoux in 1967 and died of heat stroke sometimes thought to be linked to drug use (for a good, quick history, see here). Mitch Mueller writes,
Before World War Two amphetamines were synthesized and athletes immediately understood the advantage they gave. Through the fifties it was clear to observers that riders were doping. There were pictures of racers with dried foam on their faces or of riders driven mad by a combination of heat and amphetamines stopping in the middle of a race to find relief in a fountain. After riding until he collapsed Jean Malléjac lay on the ground still strapped to his bike, his legs convulsively pumping the pedals. Others would remount their bikes and go the wrong way. Sometimes one could almost follow the route of a race by the trail of syringes left by the side of the road. Roger Rivière crashed in 1960 because he had taken so much of the opiate Palfium to kill the pain in his legs that he couldn't feel the brake levers. Bahamontes said that he loved a good hot day in the mountains because the riders juiced up on amphetamines couldn't take the heat.
Doping in the race today is simply more sophisticated. It's also more widespread. What to do? I don't know. The race is legendary, and is far greater than any given rider. But what happens when nearly all riders are doping in one form or another? Although this is probably not the case, the only answer can be stronger testing so that all riders are starting from the same advantages or disadvantages of their particular natural physiology, training, and skill. The big thing the Tour has going for it regarding doping is that it tests and it tests. It often catches riders cheating and it sends them home. This is much more than we can say for most sports. When the director suggests that the Tour is winning the "war on drugs," I think he's right to a degree, but in terms mostly relative to other sports. If there was serious testing in American football or baseball, would we be able to hold onto those sports as national pastimes? We do while suspecting as much about doping in these sports, but there's so much money and history involved that we don't want to admit it. The Tour does have this over other sports - its struggle for honesty exposes some real ugliness.

The reason there is such outrage over doping in cycling - when it's not bandwagon outrage - is not only because doping is widespread but because the Tour is sublime.

UPDATE (6:36):

Wow, big news. Rasmussen has been dropped by his team and is out of the race.

"Michael Rasmussen has been sent home for violating (the team's) internal rules," Rabobank team spokesman Jacob Bergsma told The Associated Press by phone.

The expulsion, which Bergsma said was ordered by the Dutch team sponsor, was linked to "incorrect" information that Rasmussen gave to the team's sports director over his whereabouts last month. Rasmussen missed random drug tests May 8 and June 28.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Maquilapolis

Maquilapolis was screened on Sunday at the Laredo Center for the Arts -- a last stop in the most recent border tour for the filmmakers and activists involved in the project. The film project is an inventively collaborative one, in which the subjects -- women maquiladora workers in Tijuana organizing into a small, tenacious community environmental advocacy group (the Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice) -- were given video cameras with which they contributed their own footage, stories, interviews. The ways in which this approach avoids sentimentality where it is most tempting are obvious, but welcome; in one scene, a prominent figure in the film talks -- no pride, no shame, either -- about the house she built for herself and her children from discarded garage doors from the United States. Mostly, she can't understand why we throw all that away, up here.

Given its construction, the film is filled with the imagery of what we consider in the United States to be unlivable urban poverty: floorless houses constructed of discarded garage doors, bathwater heated over an outdoor fire, wires -- delivering pirated electricity -- snapping and popping in streets muddied with raw sewage; but its having been shot this way (I think about a third of Maquilapolis is shot by its subjects) complicates the anthropological-voyeuristic perspective we've come to expect in films that mean to raise awareness about working conditions or living conditions or, in this case, both.

More importantly, the blurred boundaries between filmmaker/subjects resonate with other elements of the film: yes, for example, the maquiladoras are "outsiders," but then so is that fringe population (overwhelmingly women) who have built rambling colonias (at the rate of an acre per day, according to the film's director, Sergio de la Torre) on the outskirts of Tijuana and other border cities to earn around US $60/week. The whole thing seemed like a moving picture response to Helmut's question, way back when (also called "2005"): What is Globalization?

Maybe the most compelling collapsing-boundary theme has to do with the film's subtext regarding the complicated relationship between global capital and the individual self (may Helmut forgive me for using such stretched-out terms). The film emphasizes the idea that maquiladoras were constructed with the confidence that masses of nameless, uncomplaining women, most of them from poor rural communities in the south of Mexico would readily arrive to become color-coded ("blue smocks are for operators") components of the factory production of other components. That mass anonymity makes them cheap, it makes empathy with them difficult; it makes invisible their role in the construction of the computer monitor with which I am currently blinding myself. Maquilopolis counters that anonymity by giving these women cameras, and they in turn show us who, individually, they are, lead-sick, weary, and, on the whole, apparently happier than the guy who almost ran over me in a Hummer earlier today.

And yet: their most remarkable achievement in the film is a community achievement: in forming a coalition of women literally sick of pollution caused by the factories for which they work or have worked, they accomplish quite a lot. They piss people off. They get the US EPA to fork over many thousands of dollars.

That story of the individual, striving, capitalist self is twisted round -- and not necessarily dismantled -- in weird and beautiful ways in Tijuana. Be sure to see it if you get a chance.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Stop Making Sense

Photo via Frogsmoke

Friend ES sent me this entertaining IHT version of the plea last week by Sarkozy's Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde - in a moment of performative confirmation - for the French to quit thinking so much and try to make more money.

In proposing a tax-cut law last week, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde bluntly advised the French people to abandon their "old national habit."

"France is a country that thinks," she told the National Assembly. "There is hardly an ideology that we haven't turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already Roll up your sleeves."

Citing Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," she said the French should work harder, earn more and be rewarded with lower taxes if they get rich.

In other words, become more American. That hurts. We're the people the world looks to when you want stupid. But... the philosophes snort back.

"How absurd to say we should think less!" said Alain Finkielkraut, the philosopher, writer, professor and radio show host. "If you have the chance to consecrate your life to thinking, you work all the time, even in your sleep. Thinking requires setbacks, suffering, a lot of sweat."

Bernard-Henri Lévy, the much more splashy philosopher-journalist who wrote a book retracing de Tocqueville's 19th-century travels throughout the United States, is similarly appalled by Lagarde's comments.

"This is the sort of thing you can hear in café conversations from morons who drink too much," said Lévy, who is so famous in France that he is known simply by his initials, BHL. "To my knowledge this is the first time in modern French history that a minister dares to utter such phrases. I'm pro-American and pro-market, so I could have voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, but this anti-intellectual tendency is one of the reasons that I did not."

UPDATE (24 July):

But then, take a look at this op-ed by Krugman discussing the rise of French on-linery. I think this was basically a fairly simple problem. Technologically, France was at the forefront of interactive web technology early on with Minitel, a basic internet service provided to nearly all homes as early as the late 1980s. Minitel was always primitive, especially in hindsight (which is the same for most technologies), but it offered quick searches on addresses, movie showtimes, and so on. It was transformed by users into an online dating service, thus underscoring the potential flexibility of this kind of technology.

But when it came to the internet as we know it today, the problem in France was the near monopoly France Telecom had on telecommunications technologies. This was not simply because it was a near-monopoly, however, so the French system cannot be interpreted in a knee-jerk "monopolies-are-bad" sort of way. The problem was the pricing system for services. French telephone users paid by the minute. Most internet connections were via a phone modem with the same pricing structure. You paid by the minute. It became extremely expensive to engage in aimless internet surfing, as Americans and others were doing. In other words, the incentives for building up an online presence were backwards for the French. This has changed, however, with the breakup of France Telecom's grip. France has become a country of software innovation and a rapidly growing online presence. Krugman notes that France has more broadband users today per hundred than the US. Ultimately, this will entail not only greater online presence, but also greater innovation. Anyway... those French sure work hard.

Vino Gets a Win

Photo: AP
This year's Tour de France is a good one. Some complain that the peloton doesn't have a leader, an Armstrong or Patani or Indurain who orchestrates the entire thing and gets the public excited. The Dane, Michael Rasumussen snatched the the yellow jersey in the Alps last week, which he could very well lose in a few days during the time trial the day before entering Paris. Denmark, famous for its soaring mountains, has produced the best climber of this year's Tour. The Spaniard, Alberto Contador, is on Rasmussen's heels in second overall and tried to peel away some time today in the French Pyrenees. No luck, although they both gained time on other rivals in the overall classification, which will be crucial come Saturday's time trial.

Today belonged to Vinokourov, the big Kazakh, who won the stage. At the beginning of this year's race, he was considered the main contender for the yellow jersey. Vino had been hurt in a crash early in the race, and had lost time on the leaders. He won the time trial two days ago and looked to be back in contention for the yellow. Yesterday, however, he cracked on the first day in the Pyrenees, coming in 28 minutes behind the winner of the stage, Contador. Today he pulled off a big win - too late to ever gain the yellow jersey (he remains over 20 minutes behind overall) - but nice that the guy showed his stuff.

There's one more day in the mountains on Wednesday (rest day tomorrow), and a difficult one. Unless one of the leaders cracks, we shouldn't see too much of a change in the standings since the top five or six will all be carefully marking each other. Contador likely cannot make up the 2:23 on Rasmussen during the time trial, so he will attack tomorrow in the mountains. Evans, Leipheimer, and Kloden will try to attack Rasmussen as well to gain a bit of time for the time trial.

Although we'll see furious attacks on Wednesday, Rasmussen has looked very strong in the mountains, and it appears that we're on our way to the time trial on Saturday. It will be worth watching. Rasmussen, the yellow jersey, is not known for his time trial prowess. Contador gained time on him in the first TT. Cadel Evans, currently in third at 4 minutes behind, is a good time trialist and will push for the yellow jersey. The sole American with a chance for the podium, Levi Leipheimer, is in fourth at 5:25 back. He's also a decent time trialist. And Andreas Kloden, another pre-race favorite, is fully capable of winning the TT. He's 5:34 back as of today. These are rather large time gaps and the race would be over if, barring accidents, Rasmussen and Contador were better time trialists. They're surprisingly solid for mountain specialists, but Evans, Leipheimer, and Kloden are all capable - especially with a bad day by Rasmussen - of having a place on the podium in Paris on Sunday.

UPDATE (24 July):

Well, damn.
Tour de France rider Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for a banned blood transfusion after winning last weekend's time trial, prompting his Astana team to pull out of the race Tuesday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

You have to be first, best, or different.

- Loretta Lynn

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What Are We Doing When We Do Political Philosophy?

I'm a political philosopher and ethicist by training, pitch, wow and flutter. But I've strayed from the flock due to an interest in several interrelated considerations, all with their attendant doubts, of course:

1) That philosophy ought to be and can be more than a set of intellectual puzzles. Teaching philosophy is one thing - among other things, we want students to exercise and develop their minds, become analytical thinkers and decent people, to explore how we say things and what experience is about, and so on. Philosophical puzzles are sometimes a good way of contributing to that. They just become amusement, however, when you're a professional philosopher.
2) That many philosophers confuse the difficulty and complexity of the puzzles with an inherent merit to philosophy when it is human experience in its difficulty and complexity that lends philosophy any merit it has.
3) That the most difficult intellectual puzzles anyway are not found in, say philosophy of mathematics or contemporary metaphysics, but are in how philosophy is connected to other human practices in ways that are descriptively faithful to and normatively critical of those practices (including philosophy).
4) That if you want to make normative arguments in philosophy, you probably ought to have some idea of how a normative claim might be actualized, what that would entail and what it would mean.
5) That this requires a person to move in circles outside of philosophy in order to be a philosopher - you have to continually educate yourself. Which circles you choose depends on which parts of human experience you want to try to figure out and what the content is of the normative claims you're busy making in philosophy proper. Much of the time, doing political philosophy is a way of explaining to yourself what you're doing while you're engaging in politics. That, I like.
6) That this is all experimentation. Philosophy is good at exposing and critiquing erroneous assumptions and beliefs, unjust ideas and institutions, and untruthful claims. But it's not very good at allowing itself to be jettisoned when it's merely creating puzzles for itself. Philosophy can live under delusion just as much as any other discipline or belief system. In other words, it often loses its own experimental edge for reasons similar to those in any other areas of experience (familiarity, habit, ignorance, lassitude, etc.).
7) That political philosophy ought to be modest about its potential, and ought to take as one of its keystones the daily and historical realities of policy and politics. As Peter Levine writes in a recent post that inspired this present one,
I doubt that philosophical arguments about politics are all that persuasive, except as distillations and clarifications of experience. Too much about politics is contingent on empirical facts to be settled by pure argumentation. (In this sense, political philosophy is profoundly different from logic.) Thus I read The Theory of Justice as an abstract and brilliant rendition of mid-20th-century liberalism. But the liberalism of the New Deal and Great Society were not caused in the first place by political theory. They arose, instead, from practical experimentation and negotiation among social interests. Rawls' major insights derived from his vicarious experience with the New Deal and the Great Society--which makes one wonder how much efficacy his work could possibly have. It was interesting analysis, no doubt; but could it matter?
Precisely. Peter probably won't like the comparison, but I take this to be a rather Rortyan point. Richard Rorty thought there was little reason to try make rational philosophical arguments to people disinclined to listen (which is most of us most of the time, though he used Nazis and racists as examples to dramatize the point) to even the most sterling of philosophical arguments, and thus suggested - famously - that we're better off telling "sad and sentimental stories" to each other about what needs changing in the world and about what a better world might look like. Extrapolating, we could say that philosophical argument is just one tool to be used in politics and not all that useful of one. Images, stories, protests, organizing, etc. can all be much more effective tools for prompting political change. These are all ways of making arguments if, by "argument," we mean something much looser than the usual philosophical sense. A Kantian-style systematic argument for a contemporary version of liberalism, such as Rawls' A Theory of Justice, really has little force in actual political change. Thus, as Peter says, we need a "theory of change" to go along with our political philosophy. He cites Marx's famous dictum from the Theses on Feuerbach that the point is to change the world, not merely interpret it.

But do we? That is, we need to understand political change and its mechanisms, but do we need a theory of change? Well, yeah, kind of. That's what I've tried to outline above, what led me away from philosophy departments and into policy analysis. But this isn't theory in the good old political philosophy sense because any theory of change is going to have to allow itself the possibility of its own demise, its own jettisoning. (Besides, the above are mostly observations rather than an attempt at theorizing change - I'm not trying to convince you to come to my position).

One of the things I do professionally is institutional analysis, specifically focusing on international agreements and global governance. Institutional analysis could be said to be a collection of theories of change whose objects are, after all, the institutions through which we live. Scholars have a variety of ideological leanings, methodological preferences, and pet analytical instruments. They often spend much of their time defending those positions and instruments rather than using them to tell us something about institutional change. Those instruments embody, in many ways, theories of change tracking the dynamics of institutions in qualitative and quantitative terms. But there is always a surplus to any theories we come up with for explaining change and/or attempting it. That surplus is located in the contingencies of experience and it is what makes experimentation possible and worthwhile. It ought to make us more modest as political theorists and theorists of change. That modesty could even go some distance towards opening a bit larger space for political philosophers' ideas in politics.

There's no overall point here. No matter, though. I'm simply suggesting to you a few observations on political theory and change. I'll gladly allow my mind to be changed if you have a good argument or story to tell.

Terrible Twos


I just noticed. Phronesisaical turned two years old at the end of June. It seems like a bloody eternity. First fruit posted were Thai mangoes.

A Reminder

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"We Will Help You"

This seems, well, how shall we put this,... wacky. The folks at RAND must be giggling themselves out of their Aeron chairs. "And, and,... let's put Karen Hughes in charge."
Like the maker of an out-of-favor car or sneaker, the U.S. military needs a new "branding" campaign to earn civilian support in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots, a report for the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

"We will help you" could be the pitch, said the 211-page survey by RAND Corp., a nonprofit research group that carries out many studies for the Defense Department.

It said the U.S. military "brand" had been tarnished by, among other things, images of Abu Ghraib prison; the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and post-invasion gaps in getting Iraqi civilians electricity and clean water.

But then there's the reasonable element too, that element that might indeed be helpful, and which is an entirely different thing than branding (in sum, "wild bullshit doesn't always work, even when, astonishingly, you believe it yourselves"). This is the part where the main recommendation is basically to get a new commander in chief.
"It's not just a matter of putting the right 'spin' on U.S. military actions," said Todd Helmus, a behavioral scientist and the report's lead author. "It's synchronizing what we say with what we do."

Bael Fruit

Photo: Dave

The US Wants "Dialogue" with Iran

As a follow-up to the meeting in May between American and Iranian officials over the future of Iraq, the US wants more direct talks with Iran. As we all know, just as we know that the sun sets to the west, the American Iraq adventure isn't going all that well. The US scores a few political points domestically by insisting that Iran provides material and moral support to the Shiite side of the insurgency, which it obviously does. But this is really less of a short-term concern than a longer-term one. The insurgency is diverse and complex, but from what I can tell via news accounts and discussions with people who have been on the ground there, the Shiites are hardly the root cause of violence in Iraq. The longer-term strategy for the US is what? To avoid Iranian influence in Iraq? That influence was a foregone conclusion as soon as the US invaded.

Meanwhile, the US seeks to destabilize the Iranian regime through a combination of international diplomatic rhetoric, and covert actions within Iran. The US has been recently making noise again about attacking Iran, which, apparently, Cheney in particular, is itching to do.

As with all diplomacy, some attractive offers have to be on the table as incentives for each party to come to the table. The linked article, however, only discusses all the rough and tumble demands the US wants to make to Iran. As discussed earlier (here and here), the Iranian regime is not foolhardy, as they are so often portrayed in the US media.

So, here's the question: what is on the table for Iran?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Anal 626

Sticking (fixating?) for a moment with the puerile ass theme of last week, Ned passes along a game well worth a try. Here's his post in full.
As I rode home this afternoon, listening to the Don and Mike Show, a caller suggested a game you can play on the highway: You add the word "anal" in front of the car models you see.

Started doing it myself, almost wrapped the damned truck around a pole.

The truck so wrapped would be an Anal Ranger.

My motorbike is an Anal Triumph.

Wonder Woman drives an Anal Pathfinder.

I drove past Anal Explorers, Anal Probes, and Anal Accords, whose drivers may have been mystified by the howls of laughter emanating from my Anal Ranger.
Oh, and read the comments chez Ned for more.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Eat Food

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Michael Pollan says kind of the obvious, really, inverted into the less obvious, then returning again to the obvious. Along the way, you'll get a good read on the nature of our food systems (via 3QD).

Bonne Fête


Some French and France-related blogs worth your time on this holiest of French days:

Frogsmoke
SuperFrenchie
Libé blog
F(r)oggy Notion
Le nid du Piou
Inside the USA
Amerloque
Le Monde Blog
Filles Sourires

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

One needs to see that one's own way of life and habits of speech and of thought, not only seem wrong to large populations, but can be repugnant in very much the same way in which alien habits of eating, or alien sexual customs, can be repugnant.

- Stuart Hampshire

"Obedience"



Nice set of photos and an interview with street artist Shepard Fairey at The Morning News. If you've walked around NYC, you'll recognize some of his images. I particularly like these two above.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"It's not individual atrocity. It's the fact that the entire war is an atrocity"

This major report in The Nation is worth reading: "The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness."
"Here's some guy, some 14-year-old kid with an AK47, decides he's going to start shooting at this convoy. It was the most obscene thing you've ever seen. Every person got out and opened fire on this kid. Using the biggest weapons we could find, we ripped him to shreds..."

"I just remember thinking, 'I just brought terror to someone under the American flag'."

"A lot of guys really supported that whole concept that if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Eros of the Other Mind

I came upon this really lovely article in The American Scholar, then discovered that 3QD and Aspazia have both posted on it. It's really worth a whole read, but here is one of the passages I most admired. Then check out Aspazia's piece (and SteveG continues with an offshoot discussion on Nietzsche's priests).
Sex is the god we worship most fervently; to deny that it is the greatest of pleasures is to commit cultural blasphemy. In any case, how can you have an eros of souls if you don’t have souls? Our inability to understand intimacy that is neither sexual nor familial is linked to the impoverishment of our spiritual vocabulary. Religion still speaks of the soul, but to the popular mind, at least, it means something remote from our earthly self. What it should mean is the self, the heart and mind, or the heart-mind, as it develops through experience. That’s what Keats meant when he called the world a “vale of soul-making.” And because we’re unequipped to understand the soul in this sense, we’re unequipped to understand Socrates’ belief that the soul’s offspring are greater than the body’s: that ideas are more valuable than children.

Another blasphemy. If there’s one god our culture worships as piously as sex, it’s children. But sex and children, sexual intimacy and familial intimacy, have something in common — beyond the fact that one leads to the other: both belong to us as creatures of nature, not as creators in culture. After Rousseau and Darwin and Freud, and with evolutionary psychology preaching the new moral gospel, we’ve become convinced that our natural self is our truest one. To be natural, we believe, is to be healthy and free. Culture is confinement and deformation. But the Greeks thought otherwise. To them, our highest good is not what we share with the animals, but what we don’t share with them, not the nature we’re born with, but the culture we make from it — make, indeed, against it.

That is why, for the Greeks, the teacher’s relationship with the child was regarded as more valuable and more intimate than the parents’. Your parents bring you into nature, but your teacher brings you into culture. Natural transmission is easy; any animal can do it. Cultural transmission is hard; it takes a teacher. But Socrates also inaugurated a new idea about what teaching means. His students had already been educated into their culture by the time they got to him. He wanted to educate them out of it, teach them to question its values. His teaching wasn’t cultural, it was counter-cultural. The Athenians understood Socrates very well when they convicted him of corrupting their youth, and if today’s parents are worried about trusting their children to professors, this countercultural possibility is really what they should be worried about. Teaching, as Neil Postman says, is a subversive activity — all the more so today, when children are marinated in cultural messages from the moment they’re born. It no longer takes any training to learn to bow to your city’s gods (sex or children, money or nation). But it often takes a teacher to help you question those gods. The teacher’s job, in Keats’s terms, is to point you through the vale of soul-making. We’re born once, into nature and into the culture that quickly becomes a second nature. But then, if we’re granted such grace, we’re born again. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his mortal soul?

This is the kind of sex professors are having with their students behind closed doors: brain sex. And this is why we put up with the mediocre pay and the cultural contempt, not to mention the myriad indignities of graduate school and the tenure process. I know perfectly well that not every professor or every student feels this way or acts this way, nor does every university make it possible for them to do so. There are hacks and prima donnas at the front of many classrooms, slackers and zombies in the seats. And it doesn’t matter who’s in either position if the instructor is teaching four classes at three different campuses or if there are 500 people in the lecture hall. But there are far more true teachers and far more true students at all levels of the university system than those at its top echelons like to believe. In fact, kids who have had fewer educational advantages before they get to college are often more eager to learn and more ready to have their deepest convictions overturned than their more fortunate peers. And it is often away from the elite schools — where a single-minded focus on research plus a talent for bureaucratic maneuvering are the necessary tickets to success — that true teaching most flourishes.
Googling the author's name, William Deresiewicz, I came upon another nice piece by him from the NY Times, cited on a Villanova writing program webpage. The opening paragraph is a good one.
I CAME across the following sentence in a term paper recently. The student was about to describe how she had arrived at her conclusions. This is what she wrote: ''The following methodology was utilized.'' I see this kind of thing all the time. Not ''the following method was used''; not ever ''this is what I did.'' Like nearly all the students I've taught, this young woman has learned to believe that the English language does not have room for her. That it is a secret code known only to the initiated. That the language she speaks is uneducated, inferior and incorrect. Hence the corseted tone, the vocabulary that strains at sophistication, the way she absents herself from her own writing. This is a student who has been taught to worship the volcano god of Correct English.

Felonious Bully

This is from a reader at TPM, re Bush's pressure on Harriet Miers.
Invoking a privilege is one thing, but telling a person not to show up in response to a subpoena -- if only to actually invoke the privilege -- is quite another. It's not just worse, it's a felony under federal criminal law. See for yourself.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 1505 : ... Whoever corruptly ... influences, obstructs, or impedes ... the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress ... [s]hall be fined under this title, [or] imprisoned not more than 5 years ... or both.

18 U.S.C. Sec. 1515(b): As used in section 1505, the term "corruptly" means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including ... withholding, [or] concealing ... information.
p.s. given the ponderous profundity of my professional pursuits, the occasion seldom arises in which occurs to me such a passing trifle as the present consideration that a rather humorous moniker for the current US president might be "Felonious Monkey."

UPDATE (12 July):

Cass Sunstein, writing in the Boston Globe, suggests that legal interpretation on the matter of executive privilege is a wash. That is, despite any appearances of political impropriety we might wish resolved, there are legal cases to be made on both the president's case for executive privilege and Congress' case for disclosure. Forcing the case in court would be the decisive factor, perhaps, but it appears that we wouldn't have any inkling of which direction the decision would go until we had the decision in our hands. This strikes me as odd in this particular case, at least. This is a country legally unprepared for a presidential abuse of power, even when most of us recognize it as abuse. We ought to question the broad assumption that law ought to trump ethics, especially given the dependence of law that is genuine in spirit if not in letter on ethical reasoning (but not necessarily the other way around).

The president's best answer is that this is not a judicial proceeding and that Congress has not demonstrated anything like sufficient need for these materials. The Department of Justice argues that Congress has received "thousands of documents and dozens of hours of testimony already." The department adds that Congress must do more than to say, in a general way, that it fears wrongdoing or that the materials "are of public import"; it must show that they are "demonstrably critical" to Congress' effort to exercise its constitutional role.

Congress' strongest reply is that the evidence reveals a real need for the documents, which are indispensable to establish whether a genuine misuse of executive power has occurred. Congress might add that its own lawmaking prerogatives are at stake. If partisan politics has affected the decision to replace US attorneys, it might seek to enact corrective legislation.

In arguing for inherent authority to engage in torture, and for the power to make war without congressional approval, the Bush administration has made some extravagant arguments about executive power. But the president's authority to resist congressional subpoenas has never been well defined. If the issue gets to court, anything can happen.

What Helmut Needs, Badly

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

W Loves a Parade

Unfortunately, after all is said and done and demolished into rubble and blood, I think this is probably right.
People ask what we're doing in Iraq. And you can answer in a hundred ways and in a thousand shades of literalism to metaphor. But at some level we're in Iraq because President Bush wanted a parade. It's not hard to imagine how he must have imagined it. A withdrawal of most American troops from a staunchly allied pro-American Iraq. Waving flags. Heartfelt thanks and vindication for the president who had the guts and character to see it through.

And that's why we stay. Because somehow if he just keeps at it someday he might get his parade. Or rather if he just keeps us there forever he doesn't have to really deal with what a disaster he's created and fundamentally what a failure he is.

And after all the foreign policy wonks are done, the IR theorists have come and gone, the historians continue to debate arcane and meaningless presidential statements, and real human beings continue to mourn their losses, all we'll have is the reality of an ass with a beanie and an ice cream cone wishing for his parade. The American Dream, eh?

Cempedak

Photo from Wikipedia

Hands Off My Pleasure Center

A single pill appears to hold promise in curbing the urges to both smoke and drink, according to researchers trying to help people overcome addiction by targeting a pleasure center in the brain.
More here, if you want.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Categorically Complex Strife

Chart from RFE/RL

It's nice to blame everything in Iraq on al Qaeda, as is the official administration line to the public. This makes the war more understandable and gives the public an easily identifiable foe. But it's also untrue and perhaps counterproductive.

Abu Aardvark has a terrific post based on this RFE/RL report outlining the diverse factions in Iraq. The chart above shows different factions, numbers of attacks claimed by each faction, and so on. The Bush administration, however, insists on presenting a public story of a "war on terror" where the opponent is al Qaeda, which must ultimately be defeated on a global battlefield. That is a fake war since the chart above could be expanded to other countries as well, showing that in Indonesia, for instance, not all militant Islamic groups have any connections whatsoever to al Qaeda. Furthermore, one wonders about the degree to which al Qaeda is indeed an American creation. There's certainly a core group led by Osama bin Laden, and there may very well be connected cells placed around the world. But characterizing al Qaeda as the guiding, organizing, opposing force makes for a neater public story than attempting to explain the complexity of positions, demands, interrelations (and lack thereof), and political connections.

It must be further noted that many of these groups - whether in Iraq or elsewhere - did not exist prior to the invasion of Iraq.

AA suggests that,
the labeling of all violence as al-Qaeda has the effect of shutting down discussion of the political goals of the insurgency factions - at precisely the time when comprehensive political dialogue in Iraq is most urgently needed. At a time when everyone claims to recognize that the military efforts will only matter to the extent that they produce political reconciliation, this would seem to matter. Shrinking the field of Sunni positions to 'cooperating with the US' and 'al-Qaeda' simply defines away the overwhelmingly dominant political stance within the Sunni community - the nationalist, anti-US and anti-Maliki line represented by the major insurgency factions, the AMS, and so forth. This risks someday becoming a textbook example of tactics defeating strategy.

But the real harm comes in the wider Arab and Muslim world, where the exaggeration of al-Qaeda's role works directly and devastatingly against American goals. It magnifies al-Qaeda's perceived power, strengthening its own media campaign and feeding its most powerful propaganda instrument. Attributing all these attacks to al-Qaeda certainly doesn't hurt al-Qaeda's image: Iraq is the one place where al-Qaeda's violence is actually widely supported in the Muslim world (a recent PIPA survey found that over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American civilians were against Islam and illegitimate, but over 90% of Egyptians thought that attacks on American troops in Iraq were legitimate). The administration in effect claims more power and military success for al-Qaeda in Iraq than al-Qaeda claims for itself - for which the al-Qaeda leadership can only be bemusedly grateful. Forget al-Hurra - if you're looking for a real public diplomacy fiasco, you'll be hard pressed to do worse than the US acting as al-Qaeda's agent in promoting its Iraqi success.

Ass Policy

A Tiny Revolution, one of the most entertaining blogs out there, documents Bush's peculiar "ass-based foreign policy."

This is from the new book The Blair Years by Tony Blair's spin master Alastair Campbell:

Shortly before the Commons debate, Mr Campbell recalls President Bush promising: "If you win the vote in Parliament, I'll kiss your ass."

This is from Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn:

As Fleischer recounted [an exchange with Helen Thomas about Saddam Hussein] for the president, Bush's mood changed...Out of nowhere, he unleashed a stream of expletives.

"Did you tell her I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast?"

This is from Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait by Israeli journalist Uri Dan:

“It was an excellent discussion with the President,” Sharon told me afterwards when we sat in a fancy colonial furnished corner of ‘Blair House’..."The President was very friendly and he replied that he is decisive in continuing his total war against Bin Laden...” and here Sharon stopped for a moment, like someone who finds it hard to express the President’s words, but he got over it and smiled: “He told me about Bin Laden – “I’LL SCREW HIM IN HIS ASS.”
There's yet more.... My favorite from our National Pixie, regarding Vicente Fox: "spray gold and silver glitter onto [his ass]."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Just Around the Corner," aka "In 6 Months," aka The "Alternative Evidence" Presidency

The press finally catches on to important inherent qualities of the slippery slope-y, goal-post shifting-y, fakey report-y, dissembling-y Bush Iraq policy.
The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy, according to senior administration officials closely involved in the matter. As they prepare an interim report due next week, officials are marshaling alternative evidence of progress to persuade Congress to continue supporting the war.
Now including just plain stupid-y.
"There are things going on that we never could have foreseen," said one official, who noted that the original benchmarks set by Bush six months ago -- and endorsed by the Maliki government -- are not only unachievable in the short term but also irrelevant to changing the conditions in Iraq.
And hope? You want hope? Even a faint glimmer?
"The heart of darkness is the president," the person said. "Nobody knows what he thinks, even the people who work for him."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lebanon's Compounded Tragedy

“We have no sleeper cells in Lebanon.... They are all waking up.”
There's nearly enough packed into the above sentence to explain the current state of Lebanon. But not quite. For one thing, post-invasion Iraq has been the country in which the currently ascending militant groups have trained. That fertile chaos has spilled over, finding a home in the more resentful segments of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. These camps, of course, are a product of Israeli expansion, which provides ideological sustenance for recruitment. Hezbollah, on the other hand, gains its force through providing social services that the Lebanese government is not in a position to offer and gains further strength through Syrian support. Lebanon proper is a balancing act among complex and diverse political factions. Syria and Israel manipulate these factions in order to maintain instability in the country.

But... Lebanon today is equally shaped by the US invasion of Iraq. We're only now starting to see the potential devastation of this lovely and tragic country. One wonders whether the central principle underlying American policy in the region is to create violence and chaos. If not, then we have to assume a colossal incompetence, a colossal disregard for consequences, and a criminal disregard for human life. If so, these still hold, but they're augmented by a policy attitude that assumes that massive strife is in American interests, and must simply be contained within the region through the Israeli proxy and American military bases. Are we prepared to admit this?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

In such gray hours, when the sun is sunk and the skies are already sad, it will often happen that one reflection at some occasional angle will cause to linger the last of the light. A scrap of window, a scrap of looking-glass, will be full of the fire that is lost to all the rest of the earth.

- From G.K. Chesterton, Manalive

Papaya

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Happy Really Short Vacation, Everybody

"The United States is in a class of its own," the report says. "It is the no-vacation nation."
A report from the European Trade Union Institute points out that Americans get very little vacation time relative to other developed nations. Combine this with the reticence towards overtime pay, worker's rights, and insurance benefits, and you've got a nation of working people squeezed from all sides.

I'm in a rather luxurious position. Academics have plenty of time off and can work on their own projects much of the time. But this has changed in academia too as universities think more and more like businesses. Some universities and university departments are so strapped for money that they become overly conservative about project with great academic merit but that bring in little funding. Basically, many are starting to have to pay their own way to work in universities through combinations of grants and adjunct-type pay. Vacation, in this sense, ends up meaning very little when the time you do have that is free of formal obligations is entirely consumed with trying to survive over the next couple of years. This system is going to break.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Two Americas Penal System

Bush commutes Libby prison sentence

You knew it was coming. Now it's here. But, as Bush says, it still "leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby." He must pay $250K and is on probation. Whoa! Ouch. Crime doesn't pay! But this isn't an official pardon, so Bush is able to skirt rhetorically the good-old-boys pardon issue.

And, on the other hand,
A federal judge increased the possible sentence for former Gov. Don Siegelman from more than 10 years to more than 15 years Thursday, saying he believes Siegelman's actions damaged the public's confidence in state government.
UPDATE (3 July):

And how painful will that $250K be to Libby? His legal defense fund already has $5 million. Well, he might have to provide return services. And he'll have to do it on probation (which means no crack for a while)!

Plus, Josh Marshall:
The deeper offense is that the president has used his pardon power to shortcircuit the investigation of a crime to which he himself was quite likely a party, and to which, his vice president, who controls him, certainly was.