Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dreadful Politics

It's depressing to see John Edwards bow out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Just a couple of months ago, this presidential campaign season looked exciting. There were good candidates on the Democratic side speaking to serious issues. With the collection of fanatical yahoos on the Republican side, a Democratic president looked assured. Foreign commentators were equally relieved. Spiegel stumbled over itself in joy that American democracy did indeed still seem to work. After eight years of the Bush Administration, the worst and most comprehensively damaging presidency in the history of the United States, it seemed that we were awakening from our dogmatic slumber... or, rather, stupor. Even as we sit here twiddling thumbs, Judge Mukasey continues typically Bushian evasive maneuvers on a most basic of moral questions. And the policies of this president continue the slow slide towards catastrophic failure (see here for the latest on Afghanistan... or open pretty much any reputable newspaper). The Republican Party was fundamentally bankrupt. The Democratic Party through it all was conspicuous in its absence. Lies, deceit, secrecy, terror, authoritarianism, immorality, idiocy, greed, fanaticism,.... But finally - finally! - we were going to do something.

I might be mistaken, but I now sense dread creeping back into the picture. As of today at least, it appears that we'll have a McCain vs. Clinton race for the presidency. Flip a coin. It just doesn't matter all that much. As Dennis Perrin puts it,
...Two nearly identical choices for imperial manager, the one slight difference being that McCain says he's opposed to torture, while Hillary must wait to check wind velocity and direction. I can see the liberals twisting themselves into numerous knots trying to justify a Hillary vote over McCain, assuring each other that it's the right thing to do, and of course reaching back to Bill's criminal years for inspiration. You mules better hope that Saint Obama gets the nod instead. At least with him, the fantasy is easier to pull off. Change! Hope! Stardust! Ponies! If I ruled the world . . .
"Saint Obama," perhaps. As everyone complains, Obama is short on details and long on rhetoric (but what rhetoric!). Look, campaigns aren't about making particularly detailed policy proposals. Every campaign knows this. All that does is leave your candidacy open to attack by your opponents. Every genuine policy option in real life comes with its detractors. The only real option in a campaign is to walk a thin line between promising and hopeful rhetoric and just enough tread on proposals to give them political traction. In my view, Obama has run a smart campaign. He certainly has grassroots support. It's genuine. And, granting that the term "change" is meaningless (change can be positive or negative, backwards or forwards, after all), Obama nonetheless represents the only possible choice we have for a presidency of decency and intelligence with a chance at some needed progressive policies.

McCain is right on two things that I can think of: torture is wrong, and we need campaign finance reform. But, regarding the former, it's more a sign of the moral corruption of our current president and his party and ideologues that we have to say that torture is wrong. It's simply a sign of our current debasement, a predicament that this president has gotten us into. And campaign finance reform? No doubt. But this message also gives McCain good reason to be tight-lipped about the financing of his own presidential campaign. But McCain - regardless of what some of the shrieking pundits say - is fundamentally conservative. This is another matter of perspective - many on the right have driven the country past a reasonable conservatism, thus making McCain appear rather liberal by comparison. Yet, McCain is fundamentally for the Iraq War, which is at the very core of our current condition, suggesting even that it could last 100 years. War is the health of the state, after all. With a McCain presidency, we might have a relatively decent guy, but we'll also have an eternally conservative judicial branch, continuing a tradition of failure that President Bush has instigated with his atrocious choices of judges and his operation of the Justice Department.

McCain is establishment. So is Hillary Clinton. What does this mean? It means that a collection of ideas attached to particular fixed interests will be continued into the ground when they have actually already run their course and desperately need reconstruction. These ideas extend from war to economy, education to business, crime to disease. On these issues there's really very little difference between Clinton and McCain.

So, what? In the general election, McCain will defeat Clinton. In the general election, Obama can defeat McCain. We've seen that the Democrats are fully capable of shooting themselves in the head. Much as I'd also like to see a woman as president, you'd have to be an idiot now to be a Democratic supporter of Clinton over Obama. The bright spot is that the gap between Clinton and Obama in national polls is slowly closing. The dread is that we'll end up with McCain vs. Clinton. What the latter scenario would do to our political hope is unthinkable.

And yes, I've thought about this:

As Whiskey Fire puts it so pithily:

Anyway, the reason McCain is the GOP nominee is that they have no one else.

And the reason they have no one else? Because they got nothing.

The GOP is running on fumes, and not in their usual sense, where they're huffing straight from the propane tank.

In a followup post, Whiskey Fire notes the recent uptick in violence in Iraq and what it may auger for the candidacy of the lesser of several evils:

St. John McCain has made his enthusiasm for The Surge the centerpiece of his argument about why he should be Grand Moff CIC. This strikes me as risky -- it's putting all his eggs in one basket, and it's not even his basket. The people holding it are the Iraqis, and if they want to ramp up their civil war, they will, and all the preznit's horses and all the preznit's men won't be able to keep them from blowing the shit out of each other. Then McCain will have egg on his face. Also there will be many, many dead people.

Also Teh Surge! ends in the summer. Right before the September-November campaign season gets going. A hell of a time to be running on War Forever, as McCain is doing.

So he's in trouble. Of course the GOP candidate was always going to be a total fucknozzle, anyhow.

I still think McCain is the one fucknozzle who beats Hillary in the general election. Clinton's own record on the war is simply too murky.
There's also this crucial element - the youth vote and who gets them going (via Peter Levine):

UPDATE (2 Feb. 2008):

Where Phronesisaical goes, Foreign Policy Passport follows.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Little SOTU Reality Check

Last night in Bush's State of the Union address, he gave the impression once again that "The Surge" has achieved a certain level of peace and prosperity in Iraq. Given that this president has a reputation for deceit in regard to failures and embellishment in regard to successes, it pays to ask what Iraqis in Iraq have to say about such claims. Dahr Jamail does just that in this TomDispatch piece.

"What kind of normal life can you live when you have to bid farewell to your family each time you go out to buy bread because you don't know if you are going to see them again? What is a normal life to Mr. Bush? If we're lucky, we get a few hours of electricity a day, barely enough drinking water, no health care, no jobs to feed our kids…

"Little teenage girls are given away in marriage because their families can't protect them from militias and troops during raids. Women cannot move unescorted anymore. What kind of educations are our children getting at universities where 60% of the prominent faculty members have been driven out of their jobs -- killed or forced to leave the country by government militias? Is it normal that areas [on the outskirts of Baghdad] like Saidiya and Arab Jubour are bombed because the occupation forces are afraid to enter the areas for fear of the resistance? It is always easier to control ghost cities. It becomes very peaceful without the people."

More here.


Check out this more eloquent assessment too (via Wolcott):
It was a night of vintage George W. Bush -- which is to say he was arrogant, alarmist, petty, presumptuous, preposterous, predictable, pompous, bombastic, belligerent, bellicose, dogmatic, defensive, delusional, disingenuous, duplicitous, self-righteous, swaggering, stammering, smug, smarmy, irrational, illogical, impervious, insincere, manipulative, maudlin, far-fetched, taunting, threatening, intellectually bankrupt, ethically bereft, factually impoverished, jingoistic and awful. He gave a performance for the ages and the ages will neither forgive nor forget him for it.

On the up side, so what? There's no longer any need to go after this clown on a lie-by-lie basis. Everyone know he's a joke. Everyone knows there's no salvaging his...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Paw Paw

Our Candidates: Mike Huckabee

Mitt Romney's failure to eat fried chicken with the skin on is nothing short of blasphemy here in the South, according to GOP rival Mike Huckabee.

Romney, of Massachusetts, dug into a piece fried chicken at KFC while campaigning in Lutz, Florida on Saturday, but not before peeling off what most would consider the best part — the crispy skin.

Admittedly, KFC's chicken doesn't exactly stack up against the delectable kind that comes out of deep fryers in kitchens around the South, and Romney said he was looking for the healthiest option available to him for lunch.

Huckabee, looking ahead to a flotilla of southern states up for grabs on Super Tuesday, was told about the move by a reporter here in the Florida panhandle.

"I can tell you this," he said, "any Southerner knows if you don’t eat the skin don’t bother calling it fried chicken."

"So that's good. I'm glad that he did that, because that means I'm going to win Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma … all these great Southern states that understand the best part of fried chicken is the skin, if you're going to eat it that way."

Our Candidates: John McCain

Crist was asked if McCain used that tenacious, unyielding persistence in seeking the guv’s endorsement.

“Well, not that much,” Crist began answering.

“It was just waterboarding,” McCain interjected.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Double Standard Dictatorships

Photo: Larry Burrows / Getty Images

The death of Indonesia's former dictator, Suharto, yesterday is another reminder of the brutality of the twentieth century and how the West picks and chooses its megalomaniacs. Suharto is another case of the West - particularly the U.S. - supporting a dictator in the face of full evidence of crimes against humanity. (see also obituaries here and here).

The Suharto family was and continues to be notoriously corrupt, having siphoned international funds intended for humanitarian relief, to name but one common instance. Worse, obviously, is that Suharto committed one of the worst genocides of the last century. During the 1960s, he led the massacres and tortures of an estimated 600,000 to over 1 million Indonesians, mainly suspected communists and Islamists. Another 200,000 were killed in East Timor from the mid-1970s to 1999, another 100,000 in West Papua, and an estimated 15,000 in Aceh. Throughout it all, the support of the United States, Britain, Australia, and other countries was unbending. John Pilger writes,

Here lies a clue as to why Suharto, unlike Saddam Hussein, died not on the gallows but surrounded by the finest medical team his secret billions could buy. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations officer in the 1960s, describes the terror of Suharto's takeover in 1965-6 as "the model operation" for the US-backed coup that got rid of Salvador Allende in Chile seven years later. "The CIA forged a document purporting to reveal a leftist plot to murder Chilean military leaders," he wrote, "[just like] what happened in Indonesia in 1965." The US embassy in Jakarta supplied Suharto with a "zap list" of Indonesian Communist party members and crossed off the names when they were killed or captured. Roland Challis, BBC south-east Asia correspondent at the time, told me how the British government was secretly involved in this slaughter. "British warships escorted a ship full of Indonesian troops down the Malacca Straits so they could take part in the terrible holocaust," he said. "I and other correspondents were unaware of this at the time ... There was a deal, you see."

The deal was that Indonesia under Suharto would offer up what Richard Nixon had called "the richest hoard of natural resources, the greatest prize in south-east Asia". In November 1967 the greatest prize was handed out at a remarkable three-day conference sponsored by the Time-Life Corporation in Geneva. Led by David Rockefeller, all the corporate giants were represented: the major oil companies and banks, General Motors, Imperial Chemical Industries, British American Tobacco, Siemens, US Steel and many others. Across the table sat Suharto's US-trained economists who agreed to the corporate takeover of their country, sector by sector. The Freeport company got a mountain of copper in West Papua. A US/European consortium got the nickel. The giant Alcoa company got the biggest slice of Indonesia's bauxite. America, Japanese and French companies got the tropical forests of Sumatra. When the plunder was complete, President Lyndon Johnson sent his congratulations on "a magnificent story of opportunity seen and promise awakened". Thirty years later, with the genocide in East Timor also complete, the World Bank described the Suharto dictatorship as a "model pupil".

Photo: AP
The ubiquitous Henry Kissinger was yet again at the heart of human rights violations.

Suharto gained his biggest reward for destroying the Indonesian left when he invaded East Timor in December 1975, only a day after the US president, Gerald Ford, and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had dined with him.

As secret documents obtained in 2001 by the independent Washington-based National Security Archive would reveal, Suharto asked for US "understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action". In reply, Ford told Suharto: "We will understand and will not press you on the issue."

With Suharto's death, amidst the grotesque international eulogies from foreign leaders, a few journalists have thought to revisit the stories of those who suffered under the dictator.

In recent interviews around the city of Blitar, a former communist stronghold, survivors of the atrocities recounted a life on the run, living in caves, being beaten and beheadings of other captives.

"I am disappointed. I saw great cruelties and am lucky I am not dead," said Talam, whose simple two-room home overlooks a valley dotted with overgrown mass graves.

Dragging on a clove-cigarette with trembling hands, he described how he was detained by police but escaped. He stumbled across dead bodies in shallow graves and slept in dank caves with hundreds of others, eating what the jungle had to offer for 50 days, until being picked up.

Talam, a former member of a left-wing union for park rangers, said he was tortured and beaten repeatedly during interrogations while detained on remote Buru island, where about 12,000 political prisoners were held, 1,100 miles east of the capital, Jakarta. "Why has no one been put on trial?" he asked.

In fact, the dark era remains largely unknown to many Indonesians. Those believed responsible still wield influence in politics and the courts. Details of the communist purge are banned from school books, and the military has blocked efforts by relatives to unearth mass graves....

Compare Suharto to, say, Pol Pot or Saddam Hussein, both considered to be the epitome of evil by the civilized world. One could be forgiven for mistaking evil as a relative term of economics and geopolitics, rather than morality.

The Fed's Secret Weapon

The story of Jérôme Kerviel becomes more fascinating by the day. Kerviel is the 31-year-old French trader for Société Générale who, it was first claimed, lost $6 billion through secret stock trades. Despite the knee-jerk reaction of some of the usual suspects on the US right claiming that "the French" were now trying to destroy the American economy, there's now talk of Kerviel actually helping to avert global recession.

Société Générale's chairman, Daniel Bouton, yesterday dismissed as "absurd" suggestions that his decision to dump more than €50bn in unauthorised trades by Mr Kerviel early last week had plunged European stock exchanges into a tailspin. Market experts pointed out, however, that heavy selling by SocGen on Monday – especially of German shares futures – reinforced a mood of panic and helped push all markets down.

This in turn jolted the US Federal Reserve into cutting its interest rates sharply on Tuesday, preventing a copycat crash on Wall Street and possibly also steering the world out of recession.

As a result, some respected US economists are now feting Mr Kerviel as an unwitting saviour. "Merci, Jérôme," said the influential economic analyst, Ed Yardeni, former head economist of Deutsche Bank Securities. "The recession is almost over, thanks to Jérôme Kerviel in Paris and the panic reaction [of the Fed] in Washington... I cannot remember any precedent for such strong support for the economy before the evidence of a recession became manifest."

Maybe. Who knows? But there is, of course, a downside.
A junior trader at his desk on the sixth floor of a building just west of Paris accidentally nudged the steering wheel of the entire world economy. What does that tell us about the uncontrolled might of the immense sums of "electronic" money now being traded on futures and hedge funds?
Shifting to a different story for a bit of perspective, we find the gleeful American celebration of greed even in the face of failure.

Under the stewardship of Dow Kim and Thomas Maheras, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup built positions in subprime-related securities that led to $34 billion in write-downs last year. The debacle cost chief executives their jobs and brought two of the world's premier financial institutions to their knees.

In any other industry, Kim and Maheras would be pariahs. But in the looking-glass world of Wall Street, they — and others like them — are hot properties. The two executives are well on their way to reviving their careers, even as global markets shudder at the prospect that Merrill and Citigroup may report further subprime losses in the coming months.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Wins SC

This citizen-blogger has made up his mind. (photo snagged from Sullivan).

A McCain Supreme Court

Via Bean at LGM, McCain goes for a Bushian model:
On the issue of appointments to the Supreme Court, McCain mentioned that Sam Brownback would play an advisory role in helping decide who he should nominate for the Supreme Court. As models of who he would select, John McCain pointed to Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.
While McCain may be a decent guy and all, a McCain presidency would be a disastrous continuation of Bush 2.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Is Mauve?

Contusions and confusions. Half-mourning and melancholia. Twilight and adolescence, home decorators and homosexuals. Drag queen hair, cheap swag, braggadocio. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley (that “monstrous orchid,” said Wilde). Orchids, especially Cattleya labiata. All things orchidaceous, including the word “orchidaceous.” Prose just shy of purple. According to Nabokov, time itself.

A young chemist tinkering with coal tar, hoping to find a way to synthesize quinine to treat the malaria felling British soldiers stationed in India, discovers, instead, a color. Mauve, the color of disappointment.

But, “strangely beautiful,” thinks the chemist, and dips some silk in it, finds the color takes. He sends a sample to a Scottish dyer, who sees possibilities. The color lasts like no natural purple. And the ladies seem to like it.

Mauve, the color of opportunity...

...Mauve is the color of suspended choice and uncertain boundaries. One of the few colors permitted to women in half-mourning, the period of transition between black crêpe and the full spectrum, mauve signals the transition from despair to reconciliation. A transition that recapitulates the dye’s own emergence from a beaker of black gunk. The association with death is not just metaphorical. Only a few years after Perkin’s discovery, suspicions arose that mauve, and the other new dyes it led to, could raise real rashes, that the efflux of factories could poison villages. And Pynchon traces an arc in Gravity’s Rainbow from mauve to the dye industry, from the dye industry to IG Farben, from IG Farben to Zyklon B.
More here at Cabinet.

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

Rollo sends an email with a Rabbie Burns poem wishing a happy Robby Burns Day. And this provides us with the Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper just at the moment I was rooting around for one. Thanks, Rollo!

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' hands will sned,
Like taps o' trissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

Unaccountable Private Invasion

Regarding the implications of the FISA amendment, Elliot Cohen writes, in "The End of Privacy," that,
President Bush has already made clear he would veto any FISA bill that did not give retroactive immunity to the telecoms. However, if McConnell’s soon to be unveiled spy-at-will plan is turned into law, a separate law giving retroactive immunity to the telecoms would be unnecessary. All Bush and Cheney would need to do to protect themselves from criminal liability would be to make the new spy-at-will law retroactive in effect from the inception of the illegal NSA surveillance program. This would also be sufficient to deflate the civil suits filed against the telecoms because the past illegal spying activities that these companies conducted on behalf of the government would then become “legal.” Indeed, the Bush administration has already done this sort of legal retro-dating and nullifying of civil rights and gotten it through Congress.
And we'll all go back to pencil and paper, smoke signals, and hollering across the valley.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Allez, Tsonga!

A nice story from the Australian Open. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, unseeded at the beginning of the tournament (ranked #38), a guy who's never been beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam, is in the final against Roger Federer. Before we write him off against the mighty Federer, however, keep in mind that Tsonga beat #9 Andy Murray, the dangerous Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, #8 Richard Gasquet, #14 Mikhail Youzhny, and just routed world #2 Rafael Nadal last night to get to the final. He's a good kid and we have a new tennis star in front of us.

UPDATE: Oops. I was a little too quick to put Federer in the final. Sorry, Djokovic.

Out of Iraq

Read this fine discussion at Mother Jones on how to get out of Iraq. After all, "we all own it now."

The Cost of 935 Lies

Scott Horton:
Surely no more than 110,000 people killed, 300,000 casualties and $2.5 trillion in direct costs and likely long-term debt incurred. A pittance. Of course, it will mean a recession—probably a very nasty one. But look at the wonderful things the Bush Administration has achieved? When Clinton left office, gasoline was $1.39/gallon, and today it’s more than doubled, to $3.10, as oil company profits skyrocket. Clinton reduced the national deficit by running up $431 billion in surpluses in his last three years. Bush has run up the deficit by $734 billion in his last three years, and the national debt has swollen under his presidency by $3.5 trillion (it’s much more than that when we tally up the indirect costs incurred, by the way, such as healthcare for the returning veterans. . . but then the Bush Team isn’t so wild about furnishing them with healthcare, as we see from the developments out at Walter Reed). But why should we worry? That will all be left for future generations to cope with, just like the consequences of his misadventures in warfare. Under President Bush the median income in the United States fell by roughly 2%, while the allocation of the nation’s wealth shifted much more dramatically: the poor got much poorer, while the wealthiest 1% of the population got exponentially richer. (Call them the base.) When Clinton left office, the United States was admired and respected by nations around the world, and particularly by our key allies. And after seven years of Bush, the United States is loathed by most of the world and viewed with closely guarded suspicion in the alliances that three generations of Americans sacrificed to forge. This is quite a tally. And it shows the only a part of the costs associated with those 935 lies.
Further, even Bush's "a charge to keep" painting hanging in the Oval Office has a story that doesn't fit with the Leader's fantasy. While Bush says,
I thought I would share with you a recent bit of Texas history which epitomizes our mission. When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.
The story behind the painting is really this:
...that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”
W.H.D. Koerner, “A Charge to Keep” (1916)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Flip Flop Watch

For those who follow along:

...Consider this typical endorsement from the Orlando Sentinel: While McCain "has stuck to his principles at the risk of sinking his campaign," Mitt Romney "has abandoned positions that would have alienated his party's conservative base." (Indeed, I checked a computer database and discovered that, in the national media, Romney is at least six times more likely to be described as a flip-flopper than McCain.)

This does not merely ignore but actually inverts the truth. The fact is that no presidential candidate in either party has flip-flopped as egregiously as McCain on such a wide range of issues. Here's just a small sample of Sen. Straight Talk's recent series of remarkable conversions to politically convenient stances:

-- On abortion rights, McCain has done a 180-degree turn, from favoring only the most minor restrictions and opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade, to supporting an almost total ban, while advocating that the Supreme Court reverse Roe immediately.

-- McCain has transformed himself from a deficit hawk who mocked supply-side economics into someone who sounds like he's drunk deeply from the wackiest vats of supply-side Kool-Aid, to the point where he now claims raising taxes decreases revenues (a claim so wildly in conflict with the facts -- for example, federal tax revenues almost doubled in real terms after the Clinton tax increases -- that it's either a shameless lie or a product of astounding ignorance).

-- In regard to ethanol subsidies, McCain has gone from treating them as the worst sort of pork to becoming a strong supporter of a program despised by economists, but beloved of Iowa farmers and the good people at Archer Daniels Midland.

-- Six years ago, McCain sternly condemned Jerry Falwell as "an agent of intolerance." Eighteen months ago, he gave the commencement address at Falwell's university, while openly embracing one of the most noxious figures of the religious right.

These are just a few examples from a far longer list. On topics ranging from immigration, to campaign finance reform, to gay marriage, to accepting support from various sleazy characters he previously shunned, McCain has either completely reversed his views or seriously equivocated regarding what they are this week.

Tearing Down That Wall

This is beautiful, and immensely sad. What a screwed up world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some Good News from Africa?

The Congolese government and insurgent leader, Laurent Nkunda, signed a peace treaty yesterday.

Under the terms of the agreement, which was completed Monday and is expected to be signed Tuesday after nearly two weeks of difficult negotiations in the eastern city of Goma, the government and the rebel troops will withdraw from some of their positions and United Nations peacekeeping forces will establish a buffer zone.

A commission of Congolese officials and experts from the United States, the European Union and the African Union will oversee the integration of the rebel troops into the national army and the enforcement of a permanent cease-fire.

The rebels will also be granted amnesty on insurrection charges, which would have carried the death penalty, but they could still face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The agreement will also apply to other militias operating in eastern Congo.

This is a conflict that has led to the deaths of an estimated 4 to 5.4 million people, and currently about 45,000 people per month due to starvation and disease (half of them children), according to the International Rescue Committee (discussed in this Guardian article). The IRC refers to it as the "forgotten crisis." For good reason. Unless you live and work in Africa, or have particular ties to the continent, when is the last time you read news about the war in the Congo?

While diplomats, analysts and human rights advocates hailed the agreement as a historic step in a region torn by violence, many of the most difficult questions remain unresolved, like the status of Mr. Nkunda, the precise arrangements for ensuring the cease-fire and integrating the different forces into the national army, and the potentially explosive return of thousands of Congolese Tutsi living as refugees in Rwanda.
See also the IRC's very interesting blog, Voices from the Field.

Our Candidates: Fred Thompson

We can't let Fred give up the lollipop ship without a final word. Here it is:
I hope that my country and my party have benefited from our having made this effort.

Our Candidates: Mitt Romney 2

As he posed for a picture with a group of young people, the typically old-fashioned Romney was relaxed enough to quote from a popular hit single from a few years back.

“Who let the dogs out?” he called out, as he stood there beaming in his shirt and tie. “Who! Who!”
From Lawyers, Guns, and Money.

Previous Installments in the "Our Candidates" series:
Rudolph Giuliani
Tom Tancredo
Mitt Romney 1

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Day Links


Meetings today, so I can't do much. I wanted to do a post on MLK, but highly suggest these posts you might otherwise overlook instead:
And, on another front, see Steve G's discussion of why he's not a Clinton fan. It's a good one and an educational one, and sure beats Andrew Sullivan's anti-Clinton hysteria. Tom Watson is the place to go for defenses of Hillary Clinton, and a healthy dose of Obama-skepticism.

See also Glenn Greenwald's fine piece in Salon on the endless Iraq War and its inheritance with the next administration. And then go to Andrew Bacevich's terrific piece in the WaPo on why "the surge" furthers the perpetual war.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mp3 Find of the Day

The English pop band 10c.c. was infuriating. Some of their music was brilliant - funny, beautiful, and innovative all at the same time. But much of it was simply irritating. I suppose the two sides go hand in hand when you're trying to break from convention. Their biggest hit was, of course, 1975's "I'm Not in Love." Their second biggest hit came after a shake-up in the band that split its two main creative elements. This song was "Dreadlock Holiday," which is today's find courtesy of the blog Art Decade.

This isn't a new discovery for me. I adore the quirky record on which this tune is included, Bloody Tourists. I fully admit that the album is not for everyone, though. The songs may offend the PC-hearted, as well as those who shy away from UK 70s pop. But, in my view, it's a great little concept album about travel. The travelers are generally ignorant, weary, and ugly Englishmen who find bits and pieces of beauty and love in odd places. Ultimately, the record centers on this combination of curiosity and ignorance, mocking the imported provincialism that the cosmopolitan soul never escapes but pretends it does.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"Operation Scapegoat" (AKA, The Bush Administration)

A nice summary of the CIA torture tapes episode by Scott Horton, who concludes,

I doubt severely that this is a complete portrait of what occurred. The official story is a meticulous cherry-picking of the facts to pull out every nugget and detail which serves the ultimate purpose: exculpate the White House and scapegoat Rodriguez. And let’s not forget the fact that this is already the third official account put out for public consumption by the Bush Administration–following the initial account given by General Hayden, and the second account given to the New York Times–at odds with prior accounts on vital points, including the level and nature of authorization given for the destruction.

In Argentina in early eighties, in the wake of the Dirty War, the regime presented la historia oficial–the formal account of what had transpired, which reached even to provide false backgrounds for the children of the Dirty War’s victims who were given up for adoption. Everyone was bound to accept it. And everyone knew it was a lie. We are now witnessing the crafting of the official story of the destruction of the CIA tapes. The scope and meticulousness with which it is being presented are truly impressive. Yes, let’s be impressed with the Machiavellian ingenuity of this process. But the severest skepticism is warranted when it comes to the truth and completeness of the account. Even when the words appear in the hallowed pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. We are watching a grand bamboozlement, and the integrity of our government is at stake.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Rainforest Fruits, Australia

Photo: QT Luong

You Know, for Kids!

Richard Knerr, co-founder of Wham-O Inc., which unleashed the granddaddy of American fads, the Hula Hoop, on the world half a century ago along with another enduring leisure icon, the Frisbee, has died.

A treasure chest of dozens of toys followed that often bore playful names: Superball, so bouncy it seemed to defy gravity; Slip 'N Slide and its giggle-inducing cousin the Water Wiggle; and Silly String, which was much harder to get out of hair than advertised.

When a friend told Knerr and Melin about a bamboo ring used for exercise in Australia, they devised their own version without seeing the original.

They ran an early test of the product in 1958 at a Pasadena elementary school and enticed their test subjects by telling them they could keep the hoops if they mastered them.

They seeded the market, giving hoops away in neighborhoods to create a buzz and required Wham-O executives to take hoops with them on planes so people would ask about them.

Wham-O soon was producing 20,000 hoops a day at plants in at least seven countries, while other companies made knockoffs. Within four months, 25 million of the hoops had been sold, according to Wham-O.

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

Especially if polenta is on the menu:
In terms of its consciousness, corn isn't particularly evolved, endlessly preening itself for having once been used as legal tender in place of gold and silver. Like most feed crops it's fascist at heart, taking strength from numbers. It started out as grass. It doesn't even know how to talk.

Lichen, on the other hand, lives to be very old and can survive the worst the world has to offer. Storms and wars, fires and floods. Lichen speaks a language like some music, repetitive and incantatory: manna star fold star. star star fold reindeer. fold fold fold fold. starlight starlight.
Kathryn Davis, The Thin Place.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

All Hail The Monks

Photo: Gary Burger, 1966

I missed this. Dave Day of The Monks died a week ago. He was, as WFMU puts it, "The Man Who Will Always Own the Electric Banjo," adding that "a banjo will never be rhythmically abused so perfectly ever again."

The Monks were an influential band of proto-punk American GIs stationed in Germany in the 1960s. They were basically the epitome of that brilliant, loud amateurism that began blasting out of American garages in the 1960s, turned into 1970s punk, and still lives today in some of the far-reaching corners of the music scene. Try their first album, 1965's monumental Black Monk Time. The Morning News has one downloadable mp3.

Long live Dave Day.
"We were practicing and I had to take a leak," Burger said. "I laid the guitar against the amp and walked off the stage. I forgot to turn it off and the thing began to make this god-awful racket. It started off humming and then it increased in volume. Roger started hitting his drums and it sounded so right together."

Eddie Shaw went one step further when describing that initial bout with feedback. "Just imagine the sound of the Titanic scraping along an iceberg," he said. "It was like discovering fire."

Gary Burger quickly learned to control the feedback. Wielding a Gretsch Black Widow guitar, his lead lines were run through an audio atom-smasher that masqueraded as a Fender amplifier. A thick and distorted cacophony of black sound emerged. Burger trashed the speakers so often, however, that he had to switch to a heavy-duty Vox Super Beatle that had a custom-made 100 watt amp.

Around this time, the rhythm guitar was traded in for a six string banjo. The band wanted to sound as grating as possible and a banjo fit the bill quite nicely. Dave Day played this instrument, an oddity in rock n roll. To amplify the banjo, he stuck two microphones inside it. He chorded it like a guitar and the horse gut strings produced strange clacking sounds. Day’s frenzied attack is one of the most unique aspects of the group’s departure from conventional rock n roll music. The slashing banjo stays on the beat for the most part, but at times it introduces a counter-rhythm. The effect can be quite disconcerting.

No More Impunity for Mercenaries

Scott Horton discusses the new Human Rights First document (“Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity”(4MB PDF))arguing for an end to impunity to war "contractors." It's not difficult to agree. When one looks at the overall patterns, it really does appear the use of mercenaries and private contractors is an attempt to skirt the rules of just war. The damage, of course, is immeasurable.

A few years ago, Secretary Rumsfeld was asked by a bright graduate student at Johns Hopkins how contractors were being held to account for violent conduct in Iraq? He responded that it was “the contractor’s responsibility.” Now, in a certain sense of course contractors have to account internally and to their contract officer. But Rumsfeld was dead wrong. Contractors are not responsible for enforcing the criminal law. That’s the responsibility of Government.

A few weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, grappling with the controversy surrounding the Nisoor Square incident on September 16, 2006, explained that there was a “gap in the law” and that as a result contractors could not be held to account.

That statement was profoundly irresponsible. The conditions of immunity didn’t just fall from the sky. They resulted from carefully considered policies of the Bush Administration—starting with the decision to issue CPA Order No. 17, granting immunity to expat contractors in Iraq. We’re not saying that it was a mistake to issue Order No. 17, immunizing contractors from criminal prosecution by the Iraqi authorities. We are saying that having done so, the U.S. Government–and specifically the Department of Justice–assumed a heightened responsibility to provide for accountability in the form of law enforcement for violent crimes.

Find the CIA Scandal Amid the Scandals

Marty Lederman says we're missing the real CIA scandal. It's less that the video tapes of torture were destroyed, and more that they quit making the tapes.
But even sticking to the tapes themselves, the greater scandal is not that these tapes were destroyed, but instead that the CIA did not create tapes of all its high-level interrogations. That is to say, the real outrage was the orders from the CIA to stop taping.

No one is talking about this. But it is really rather remarkable that the CIA decided not to videotape its investigations of high-level al Qaeda officials. This is an enemy bent on committing horrifying terrorist acts. Our intelligence about that enemy is minimal, and therefore any information we obtain from these interrogations could be of critical importance. (That was, recall, the justification for the “enhanced” techniques in the first place.) We have not used these techniques in the past, and we are uncertain how effective they will be. It’s a learning process. Moreover, the information gleaned from these interrogations, presumably in a foreign language not known to most of the officials dealing with the terrorist threat, might be quite difficult to interpret. It may be very hard at first to understand just which responses from the detainees are important and which are not, and how their responses fit into the broader intelligence-gathering efforts of the intelligence agencies. Under the government’s frequently invoked “mosaic” theory of intelligence gathering, one might not know the true value of particular intelligence for some time, until it can be viewed in a broader context, alongside a great deal of other intelligence collected before and after. More than likely, the information can best be understood and appreciated only by officials not present during the investigations. According to the Post story, Rodriguez himself told several colleagues that the taping was necessary “so that experts, such as psychologists not present during interrogations, could view Zubaida’s physical reactions to questions.”

According to this very important story in the L.A. Times last month, videotaping is among the current “best practices” of intelligence agencies around the globe—“an essential tool in improving the methods -- and results -- of terrorism interrogations,” not to mention an invaluable research and teaching tool in determining which techniques work. Magnus Ranstorp, a veteran counter-terrorism expert with the Swedish Defence College, goes so far as to say that if agencies don’t save and analyze tapes of their interrogations, “they have been derelict in their duty.”
And Marty has an answer. Read on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Transporting Lyon

BLDGBLOG discusses a plan by Dubai (and Lyon) to build a 700-acre replica of Lyon in the U.A.E. desert.
The resulting metropolis will be called Lyons-Dubai City, and it "will cover an area of about 700 acres, roughly the size of the Latin Quarter of Paris, and will contain the university, a hotel school, a film library, subsidiaries of Lyon museums and a football training center run by Olympique Lyonnais."

It will only be complete, however, if the existing population of Lyons (aka Lyon) is cloned, raised in the exact same way as the source population, reading the same books, dating the same people, working in the same offices, etc. – so that they can wander round, eating tomato salads in sidewalk cafes, stunning future tourists from China....

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sundry Change Agents

Série Lucky Family Yang Zhenzhong, 1995. Photo © Yang Zhenzhong - Courtesy Shanghart Gallery, Shanghaï. In the exhibit Bêtes et Hommes at La Villette in Paris. Via We Make Money Not Art.

In case you missed it on Sunday, take a peek at Steven Pinker's NY Times Mag essay on moral intuition and the human brain. Lots of good stuff to mull here.

See also Jim Johnson's nice little post on democratic competition. He takes to task one of my colleagues, Benjamin Barber (who I never see), and argues a point I also subscribe to about the irreducibility of competition (or as I would put it, conflict) in pluralistic societies. I'm a Whitmanite on this one.

When you're done there, head on over to this Guardian article on Rudy Giuliani. "Change" is so last week, but Rudy seems to have caught on this week. He is, in his words, a "change agent."
"I was a mayor who was a change agent. Whether you agree with my changes or not, I think you'd have to say I was probably the mayor of New York City who, at least in modern times, brought about the most change," he said on his second day of a campaign swing across Florida. "Other mayors have done other things, I'm not taking anything away from them, but I had to make major changes."

Giuliani did not elaborate on what he had done.
Will someone please take that campaign out of its misery.

Though I know at least one Austrian of whom I'm quite fond, the country by tradition does not lack its outrageous bigots: Austrian Politician Calls Prophet Muhammad a 'Child Molester'.

Here comes Elsie squared.

Latin America is getting along quite well without the US. I see a growing economic and military power. One little sign among many others.

Yeah, yeah. But what is a "Christian office supply"?

And did you see the puhala below?


Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Note on the Problem of Climate Change

I have a climate change skeptic in my family who is a geoscientist. He recently sent me some work on the science of glaciation where ice core samples serve as bases for measuring climate shifts. Studies of oxygen-isotope variations suggest that we may have passed the maximum warmth in our current interglacial period. Glacial-interglacial periods tend to run about 100,000 years. We have been in an interglacial warming period since the last "ice age" and, some studies suggest, are now actually on the down-swing. From the perspective of geologic time, in other words, climate change doesn't look so bad and may not even be true, at least based in studies of glacial-interglacial cycles. Of course, understanding climate change is more complex than understanding glaciation itself.

Now, this is from someone who is not only a skeptic in terms of the science - which is generally a good thing in the sciences - but also on the political right. There's thus a further, political purpose in sending me the data writeup. And, as with most of this debate, I detect confusion.

Here's the question, and I think this is crucial to ask regarding the massive issue of climate change: what's the problem?

Here's how I answer this question. Climate change in itself - that is, the brute shift in climate, which has occurred for millions of years - is not a problem at all but a matter of scientific fact. Now, the facts can be disputed since scientific understanding of climate change possesses a fair degree of uncertainty and is obviously incomplete. Facts are disputed when different scientists come up with different data sets suggesting different explanations of what the overall climate is generally doing. They may also be in dispute when different scientists, analyzing the same data sets, develop different interpretations of what the data means. This is one level of the "problem" of climate change, and it is a perfectly appropriate one. A certain amount of skepticism is usually a good thing in science (and other endeavors) because, if nothing else, it can help to flesh out a more precise understanding of reality.

Climate change analysis and understanding obviously requires good science and some degree of consensus. It turns out that we're at that point and have been for some years. Scientific skepticism regarding climate change now involves matters of degree rather than matters of kind (and see the graphs I posted earlier here). There's much talk of "politicization" of climate change (see a review of Lomborg's new book here, for example), but this has less to do with the nature of the scientific consensus and more to do with various other interests interpreting the science for reasons outside of the science itself. Lomborg and others criticize people like Al Gore, the IPCC, and some environmental activists for sensationalizing the coming harms of climate change. Exxon-Mobile funds a political program designed to build a public perception of climate change as not an issue at all. And various politicians use the issue for their own needs. Further, some scientists themselves interpret the data through the lens of their own political, economic, and social values. Sometimes this can radically distort the science itself, although my own view is that value questions are never far-removed from questions of fact (actually, as a philosopher I question the whole distinction) because fact doesn't exist on its own but is always by its very nature interpreted through an epistemological and axiological background framework that is inherited and has little (or everything!) to do with the facts at hand.

This is largely how the "debate" over climate change takes place in the US public discourse. That is, a bunch of people driven by other political and economic concerns interpret the current state of scientific understanding in terms of their own short-term and short-sighted purposes and interests. Some do so wildly and deceitfully, while all do so to some extent. And these interests are often not the public's interests at all. My own view is that this kind of "politicization" is not a phenomenon of the right or of the left in particular, although the Bush administration's eight years of willful ignorance has put the ball in the right-wing court. Basically, politicization in this sense is a battle over self-interest, even if these self-interested entities seek to portray their cause as in the public interest (which is basic political maneuvering - make the particular appear to be universal).

What is the problem of climate change? It is political, as well as economic and moral. Again, the scientific understanding of climate change as a collection of hydro-meteorological phenomena - that there is a rapid warming trend - is not the problem in itself. The problem of climate change only arises as a problem when we look to the effects of climate change on human and nonhuman animal populations. Rising or receding sea levels, for example, are nothing in themselves but hydro-meteorological phenomena. They're only problematic when human populations live in low sea-level coastal areas and may find their lives uprooted, and their land and livelihoods are destroyed.

So, the problem of climate change is in its effects on human and animal populations. The question is clearly an economic one at this point. But it's also a moral question. That is, given that the negative effects of climate change are variable across countries and across different populations within countries, and given that the poor are affected disproportionately, are those in better conditions obligated to assist those who are and will be negatively affected? A powerful affirmative case can be and is made, although I won't go into it here for now. Any genuine assistance will involve massive financial, technological, and human resources. The question then centers on the degree of assistance by countries and organizations in a position to help. This in turn demands political will and political honesty. In other words, climate change in this sense is a problem of distributive and procedural justice. I'll have more to say about this later, but it is a problem of the distribution of resources, and a problem of the fairness of decision-making institutions. This is the basic problem of climate change.

Now, notice that nothing in this discussion thus far is connected to anthropogenic climate change. It can be established quite clearly, I think, that there is an obligation to assist the vulnerable through the development of mitigation and adaptation strategies without ever entering into discussion of anthropogenic climate change. And, of course, if climate change is anthropogenic - generated by human activity - then it's incumbent upon probably all of us, for the sake of ourselves and future generations, to change our practices. It is also possible to change our own activity.

The science on anthropogenic climate change is more disputed by scientists than climate change in general, but we've moved more recently towards a fairly strong scientific consensus even on the anthropogenic features. Yet, given the relatively higher degree of uncertainty, there is more to exploit politically. This is precisely what the Bush administration has done over the past seven years ("more research is needed"), but also in a context of Chinese industrialization and other geopolitical, economic considerations.

Here's the rub. If anthropogenic climate change is fully established and the physical processes (that is, greenhouse gas emissions) by which it occurs are clearer, then it is possible to determine historical responsibility for emissions levels. That responsibility, of course, falls largely on the US, the largest emitter in the world. And, before you complain, note what I wrote earlier,
China, today, is the second largest carbon dioxide emitter, but only if measured by absolute emissions for the country. Per capita emissions remain quite low (Americans are responsible for five times the CO2 emissions per capita), although they are rapidly rising as China's economy continues to boom and produce a mass-consumer class. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Chinese remain poor - poverty entails lower consumption, which entails less pollution, at least per capita.
The issue of historical responsibility shifts the nature of the problem. As a matter of harm in which a few countries have benefited economically from GhG emissions while others have suffered and are largely not responsible, places a much different set of variable moral obligations on the issue of climate change. Countries like the US and China know that taking up these obligations entails serious changes to their own economies and/or lifestyles. Thus, national self-interest in the face of real harms to others becomes the problem of climate change.

But there are also different ways to look at responsibility for burden-sharing. Historical responsibility for emissions is one. But we can also use other approaches such as grandfathering (as with the Kyoto Protocol, tracing back to a baseline year of emissions), carbon intensity, and per capita emissions. Each of these approaches has different justifications and different interests involved. For example, a United States acting on its own interests is not about to use per capita emissions as a burden-sharing approach because Americans emit five times the carbon dioxide as China, for example.

If we're agreed that climate change exists (which scientists do), if we're also agreed that climate change is to a significant measure anthropogenic (which scientists increasingly do), and if the problem of climate change is in its effects on human and animal populations (which is basic to the problem), then the fact of variable effects hitting poor peoples in particular who are largely not responsible for the emissions, and the historical responsibility of the large industrialized nations, indicate that the problem of climate change is, yes, entirely moral and political.

UPDATE (9:44pm, 1/14):

See also, Escalating Ice Loss Found in Antarctica: Sheets Melting in an Area Once Thought to Be Unaffected by Global Warming

By the way, a blog called "Greenie Watch" (with the url, "antigreen") has linked to this post. Welcome, folks. But it's curious to me that the linking post is called "Cooling Coming?" This seems to me to confirm my point about people taking up climate claims for their own political purposes. My post is hardly about a cooling climate. I hope that you readers will take the time to read the entire post, rather than simply the first paragraph.

UPDATE - September 2009:

See Cheryl's excellent post here explaining how and why measuring climate change (or global warming) and understanding the problem go way past referring to one disputed indicator, such as glaciation.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Great Ideas in Iraq Reconstruction

Iraq's parliament adopted legislation Saturday on the reinstatement of thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to government jobs, a key benchmark sought by the United States as a step toward easing sectarian tensions.
"Sought by the United States"? The positive news out of Iraq is that the US supports others resolving problems it created.

Kenya As a Resource Problem

Rob Crilly, journalist based in Nairobi, points us to this article in Spiked by Frank Furedi, "Kenya Is Not the New Rwanda," on the paucity of explanation in media discussions - such as they are - of Kenya's recent violence. Furedi suggests that, rather than US media portrayals have it of an inexplicable upswelling of ethnic violence, the issue is land and resources. And this issue is ongoing, as it is across Africa.
The truth is that the violent clashes in the Rift Valley region so graphically depicted on 24-hour TV news are only the most recent example of ethnic clashes over the ownership of land.

In Kenya, public life has been dominated by the politicisation of ethnicity, since the nation won independence in 1963. Consequently, elections are often perceived to be a contest between different ethnic groups, the outcome of which will decide which community gets access to resources. Clashes during the elections of 1992 and 1997 left hundreds of people dead. The 1992 elections actually anticipated the current spate of political violence. Back then, Kalenjin politicians mobilised their supporters to drive people from other tribes off the land that they occupied in the Rift Valley. According to some estimates, as many as 779 people were killed, and 50,000 were displaced. A report on these events published by the National Council of Churches of Kenya blamed high-ranking officials for orchestrating some of the violence. Many of the most violent clashes occurred in places where conflict is unfolding again today. For example, now, as in 1992/1993, one of the worst affected areas is Burnt Forest (3). Today, as in the past, the focus of the deadly conflict is the attempt to gain access to resources - and most importantly land.

What is striking, however, is that back in the 1990s, outbreaks of violence in Kenya did not arouse much interest or handwringing in the West. So what is new today?

The answer is, in part, Rwanda.
Through today’s promiscuous use of the term ‘genocide’, conflicts become transformed into morality plays about human destruction, and tend to be seen as being both incomprehensible and inevitable. Western reporters see only a sudden, inexplicable outburst of violence - a kind of murderous descent into hell - and overlook the structural causes of crises in the Third World...

A statement issued by Kibaki’s party said: ‘It is becoming clear that these well-organised acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing were well planned, financed and rehearsed by Orange Democratic Movement leaders prior to the general elections.’ Sadly, significant sections of the media were all too happy to embrace this talk of genocide. Quite quickly, relatively unorganised and chaotic gangs of youth were labelled as militias, old-fashioned land grabs were recycled as ethnic cleansing, and despicable acts of human degradation were discussed as the beginning of a systematic campaign of mass rape in what was apparently fast becoming a war. The message of the media coverage was clear: this is Africa, what else should we expect?! As one reporter said: ‘The ethnic hatred of Rwanda, the political divisions of Ivory Coast, the horrific rapes that characterised the war in Congo, all came to Kenya this week.’ (4) It’s all just the same typical African barbarism, isn’t it?

Kenya has more than its share of problems, and the current crisis may well unleash a protracted period of violent upheaval. Competing groups of corrupt political cliques, who have usually managed to cobble together a political deal in the past, may not be able to do so now. But it is precisely because the stakes are so high that the last thing Kenya needs is for its problems to be transformed into a Western fantasy about ‘another Rwanda’. Kenya was not a beacon of democracy or a model of economic stability before the December elections. And nor is it the dramatic setting for a Rwanda-to-be after the elections. All that has happened is that one group of corrupt politicians overplayed its hand, got a little bit too greedy, and forced its opponents to react on the streets.

Furedi would have us focus on the structural conditions of the conflict, as we rightly should.

In general, I don't think there's any need to go back full-stop to Marxist analysis of global conflict. But the fleeing from such analysis on the part of Western/Northern analysts and the media misses a lot. It turns policy into patchwork problem-solving or despairing incomprehension. And it renders incomprehensible a better understanding of some common developing world perspectives and concerns about exploitation. These are very real concerns, but the taint of Marxist language has trivialized and concealed them by and to Western analysts. In many ways, the ideas and attitudes emblematic in the media analysis criticized by Furedi saturate much of the developed countries' relationships with the rest of the world, and certainly run deep in international agencies dominated by Western theories and principles. This all paints a picture of a world of incomprehensible events, and thus facilitates a mistaken reduction to a simple, more recognizable vocabulary, even when this vocabulary explains nothing at all.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

"Luc" (2005) from the series "Attitudes" by Daniel Firman

Security, Property Rights, and Political Whimsy

We seem to have some confusion over conservative first principles going on in South Texas. In the name of the politics of the ridiculous border wall, Homeland Security is confiscating private land. Toss that into the public political debate, won't you.
Homeland Security issued a 30-day notice to south Texas land owners, which expires Monday, January 7, [2008], to seize private lands in Texas for the US/Mexico border wall.
Here's the update:
Feds To Sue For Access To Land For Border Fence: Border Fence Deadline Passes; Fight May Shift To Courts

UPDATE (5:50am, 1/15):

Erik Loomis has a quick and clean critique at Alterdestiny.

Goldberg's Rule

John Cole on Jonah Goldberg's new book, Liberal Fascism:
First there was Godwin’s Law. Then we had the less noticeable Kevin’s Law and Cole’s Law. Now, after reading the Jonah Goldberg interview in Salon, our commentariat has come up with the “Goldberg Principle”:
You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words.
See also this year-old unread-book review.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Deal With Iran

Farideh Farhi makes what I think is the spot-on point regarding Iran (get the pdf here).
Today, Tehran is possibly stirring a return of strategic thinking to American foreign policy, even if the lethargic Bush administration is unlikely to take up the challenge. But the reduction of the Iran question to “the bomb” and “chaos” misses the basic question that is implicit in the NIE report and Bush’s successor has to face regarding Iran: If the regionally ascendant Islamic Iran, with or without an actual bomb, is here to stay, would U.S. interests in the region be better served through a friendlier, even if not trouble free, relationship with it, or further antagonism that pushes Iran to act as a spoiler in the region and look for tactical and strategic alliances to the East to counter to American belligerence?
Although the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions have rightly occupied most people's minds, and the neocons have been irresponsible saber-rattlers for the past seven years, I don't think the extent of the harm of Bush's belligerent foreign policy has been fully grasped. The "Iran problem" is, in some ways, manufactured by this belligerence. And, although the Bush presidency is mercifully drawing to a close, the belligerence continues unabated. We see it still at work in the recent Iran-US confrontation in the Persian Gulf and likely also in the developing policy towards Pakistan.

UPDATE (1/11/08):

See also this interesting piece today by Helena Cobban.
The agility of the Iranian government's information capabilities has protected the US from what could well be an attempt by some moles deep within the Pentagon to jerk our country into a broad and extremely damaging military conflagration with Iran. Now-- as during that the worryingly similar Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964-- the US Congress needs to react....

Monstera Leaves

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Dowd dishes on what the New York Times reporters think of Clinton:
A woman gazing at the screen was grimacing, saying it was bad. Three guys watched it over and over, drawn to the “humanized” Hillary. One reporter who covers security issues cringed. “We are at war,” he said. “Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?”

Another reporter joked: “That crying really seemed genuine. I’ll bet she spent hours thinking about it beforehand.” He added dryly: “Crying doesn’t usually work in campaigns. Only in relationships.”
Because only boys are allowed to cry. Or something.

These people are all broken. Complete monsters.

The Great Destroyer

That's Balkin's title. Jack Balkin:
Although Ronald Reagan will still be regarded with fondness by the Republicans for generations to come, George W. Bush will have effectively destroyed Reaganism. The Republicans will have to start over with a different mix of concerns, agendas and appeals. This is George W. Bush's single greatest achievement. This is one reason, although not the only reason, why he ranks high (or low) among the country's failed presidents-- not only did his policies fail, but he also took the winning coalition that brought him into office down with him.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Book Autopsies

Very cool book art from Brian Dettmer.

New Hampshire Primary Returns

If you're wondering, The Concord Monitor is the place to follow New Hampshire primary returns. As of 8:15pm, with 12% of precincts reporting, the rundown looks like this (taking only the top five candidates):

Hillary Clinton - 38%
Barack Obama - 36%
John Edwards - 17%
Bill Richardson - 4%
Dennis Kucinich - 2%

John McCain - 37%
Mitt Romney - 28%
Mike Huckabee - 12%
Rudy Giuliani - 9%
Ron Paul - 8%

UPDATE (8:54pm EST):
Looks to me like we have a surprise brewing. The primary has been called for McCain on the Republican side. Hillary Clinton is right now up 6 points over Obama. Could all the idiotic, sexist, fatalistic media and political commentary about Hillary over the past week have had a counter-effect?

UPDATE (9:12):
Now, with 34% reporting, Hillary leads Obama 40%-36%. Regardless of how the final tally turns out, it's a good day for Hillary. Rumors had been flying not only about the standard "shakeup" of campaign staff, but about a sinking ship bailing water until February 5th. Not quite....

UPDATE (9:34):
Sullivan (it's a Sullivan day):
There's one other possible explanation for the apparent Clinton revival in the last few days. Maybe Democrats decided that a sudden blowout for Obama wasn't good for their party. Maybe they wanted to see Obama fight some more, to keep the contest more competitive, to give their candidates more testing for the fall. Maybe they just wanted to say: "Wait. A tidal wave is no way to select a candidate. We need to see both of them fight on under the kind of pressure they will face in the fall."
UPDATE (9:39):
Taegan Goddard:
Were today's stories about an impending shake up in the Clinton campaign planted to lay the groundwork for a Clinton comeback story? If so, it was an absolutely brilliant move.
I doubt it. With the numbers she was getting last week, a shake up looked in order, period. Standard protocol for campaigns. But... it may have contributed to the sense of urgency among those sitting on the fence between Democratic candidates. I think Sullivan (above) is right.

UPDATE (9:49pm):
At 50% precincts reporting, Hillary leads Obama 39%-36%. She has won the "big" cities. Obama is apparently easily capturing more rural areas.

The CNN site also has quick updates. 54% reporting, 39%-37%.

Update (10:30pm):
65% reporting: 39%-36%. Hillary's up by roughly 5000 votes.

You've got to love this. McCain pulled off a great win today after having dragged around a tired and seemingly pointless campaign much of the year. Gazillionaire Mitt Romney can't seem to buy a win (okay, Wyoming), or as he puts it, a "gold medal." Sheesh. Giuliani is waiting on Florida, but is basically running a moribund campaign at this point. Huckabee is going to be around a while. It's basically a McCain and Huckabee race.

For the Democrats, Edwards can stick around yet. And as for Obama and Clinton we have a serious race. This is a lot more fun than a clear front-runner. I'm a tad cynical about how American-style democracy has worked these past many years, and it's unlikely we'll see much of a change. But the opportunity is there for the taking to have an intelligent public debate about our candidates. Obama and McCain can push this debate into the open if they wish, and perhaps even go some distance towards restoring a bit of faith in American democracy before we ever get to the general election.

UPDATE (10:39):
Clinton wins it, according to AP.

With 71% of precincts reporting, Phronesisaical's crack team of statisticians calls it for Hillary Clinton.


Astounding. Also via Andrew Sullivan,... introducing the Taser MPH, a taser and iPod all in one.
The player, which has a 1-GB capacity that can hold about 150 songs, is embedded in a holster that slips on your belt. Feel the need to zap someone and you can unholster the Taser, use the built-in laser pointer to aim, and blam -- a couple of darts carrying 50,000 volts hits your victim...

"It's fashion, with a bite," said Taser International spokesman Stephen Tuttle.
You got entertainment in my torture! No, you got torture in my entertainment!