Wednesday, April 30, 2008

GOP Going After Obama, Not Clinton

There are at least two ways to interpret this: GOP gives Clinton the silent treatment.
Hillary Clinton’s decisive Pennsylvania primary win last week may have reinvigorated her campaign, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the Republican party.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has purchased $500,000 in anti-Barack Obama ads for use in two upcoming special House elections. The Republican National Committee is flooding reporters with anti-Obama emails. Presumptive nominee John McCain and GOP surrogates have seized on new remarks by Obama’s controversial former pastor.

From top to bottom, from McCain down to the youthful campaign and party staffers who work nearly around the clock to get him elected, the working assumption seems to be that the Democratic contest is over and Obama has won.

Even when Clinton attacks McCain, President Bush or GOP policies, the response is either outright silence or snarky, dismissive ridicule about a failed campaign barely relevant enough to merit a response.
One is that the GOP would rather face Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama in the general election (the Rush Limbaugh tactic), and are thus helping Clinton defeat Obama in the primary.

The other interpretation is that the GOP fully understands that the Democratic primary race is over, Obama has won, and we're now de facto in the general election campaign, if not de jure.

If you're a Clinton supporter, you have to spin this into all sorts of contortions for it to reflect well on your candidate. Either she is the GOP's bet on the weaker of the two Democratic candidates or she has already lost. If there's anything the GOP does well, it is campaign. They're absolutely ruthless, but they're also usually quite savvy, if one can put on ethical blinders and consider campaigning in purely ends-justify-the-means political terms. I'd say that they know better the reality of the situation than the Democrats themselves apparently do.

In the name of parsimonious interpretation - or Ockham's Razor, if you prefer - rather than engaging in Rovian up-is-downism, there's really one conclusion to draw, one that I think was clear over a month ago: Obama has won the Democratic primary. Now, the option is either to damage his chances further or to save face for the party and for Clinton herself and withdraw gracefully. Clinton supporters seem to have chosen the former. Even the GOP knows better.

p.s. C'mon superdelegates: "Superdelegates to blame for enabling destructive campaign"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bon Anniversaire, Dutronc

Yesterday was French singer/actor Jacques Dutronc's 65th birthday. All the best to this good man and his ever-lovely wife, Françoise Hardy.

Filles Sourires has an mp3 of one of Dutronc's biggest hits, "J'aime les Filles." (Plus, various YouTube vids available here). Get the tune from Filles Sourires by clicking on the EP cover below.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Little Reminder from Dwight D. Eisenhower

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

More here.


Photo: Tim Gage

Soros on the Financial Crisis

One of the savviest businessmen on the planet is interviewed in the NY Review of Books by Judy Woodruff:

Judy Woodruff: You write in your new book, The New Paradigm for Financial Markets, that "we are in the midst of a financial crisis the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression." Was this crisis avoidable?

George Soros: I think it was, but it would have required recognition that the system, as it currently operates, is built on false premises. Unfortunately, we have an idea of market fundamentalism, which is now the dominant ideology, holding that markets are self-correcting; and this is false because it's generally the intervention of the authorities that saves the markets when they get into trouble. Since 1980, we have had about five or six crises: the international banking crisis in 1982, the bankruptcy of Continental Illinois in 1984, and the failure of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, to name only three.

Each time, it's the authorities that bail out the market, or organize companies to do so. So the regulators have precedents they should be aware of. But somehow this idea that markets tend to equilibrium and that deviations are random has gained acceptance and all of these fancy instruments for investment have been built on them.

There are now, for example, complex forms of investment such as credit-default swaps that make it possible for investors to bet on the possibility that companies will default on repaying loans. Such bets on credit defaults now make up a $45 trillion market that is entirely unregulated. It amounts to more than five times the total of the US government bond market. The large potential risks of such investments are not being acknowledged.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Luther Blissett and Al Qaeda

Kuipercliff explains the connection. See also his new blog, Ubiwar.

Food Links

Photo: Walter Estrada - AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post does a report today on the growing food crisis and some economic and political ramifications.

The Washington Independent has its own piece focusing on food prices. But I think it wrongly concludes that, "The food debate will eventually break down into two camps: Those who believe supply and demand are the problem, and that the world can't produce enough to meet the needs of growing economies; and those who blame ethanol production." This completely misses the distribution problem I noted earlier. It also misses the crucial problem of food waste in the developed countries.
Here's the FAO's Food Prices Index. The FAO will hold a Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy in June on the crisis.

In the meantime, ongoing biodiversity loss is a related factor thus far not considered in the context of the present food crisis.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Politically Contingent Principles

The best succinct summary of John McCain that I've yet seen is Josh Marshall's:
McCain is absolutely gung-ho and certain that he's right about whatever his position and 'principles' are at the given moment. But they change repeatedly.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pedro Almodovar Helps His Mom Tend to Her Knitting

From If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....

The Virtuous Paying Tribute to Vice

Reading Peter Singer's short piece in Project Syndicate, the news appears somewhat heartening regarding the question of race and racism. Singer cites a series of global polls that suggest racism and sexism have diminished and very strongly suggest - across the board - that very strong majorities of people around the world believe in racial, ethnic, and gender equality. Of course, despite what people believe to be the case, we also have reality. Singer ends the piece on this important note:

This may mean that the surveys I have quoted indicate not widespread equality, but widespread hypocrisy. Nevertheless, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and the fact that racists and sexists must pay this tribute is an indication of some moral progress.

Words do have consequences, and what one generation says but does not really believe, the next generation may believe, and even act upon. Public acceptance of ideas is itself progress of a kind, but what really matters is that it provides leverage that can be used to bring about more concrete progress. For that reason, we should greet the poll results positively, and resolve to close the gaps that still exist between rhetoric and reality.

The gaps between rhetoric and reality, however, constitute a complex eddy in which the movement involved in circling the vortex is confused with progress towards the demise of the scourge. Yes, hypocrisy is the vice that pays tribute to virtue, and a strong case can be made that, despite its philosophical vagaries, the human rights discourse has had significant influence in reshaping global norms even if ongoing practices - in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in Colombia, in Zimbabwe and Rwanda, in East Timor and Sri Lanka, in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, in networks of slave labor and prostitution - belie most fundamentally the norm.

Yet, such norms seem simply to chase racism, ethnicism, and sexism underground, not eliminate them. And when considering their stubborn resistance, we ought to look first at ourselves. In the US, our own Democratic primary campaign distortedly reflects our faces in the eddy. Latent racism and sexism can be as powerful as overt forms, coming not only from the fumbling stupid racism and sexism of the usual redneck suspects but just as much from the NPR class. Race is a social construction, after all, in which all members of a society are implicated.

Consider this comment at The Field:

The Party allows its Black frontrunner to essentially fend for himself while the campaign of a white “Democrat” (who sometimes acts like a Republican), obviously gliding around on white privilege, continually moves the goalposts of what he has to “prove” to show himself *worthy* of being the nominee. Because in the underlying logics of white supremacy, she is automatically by default worthy in her whiteness, and he is by default suspect and less-than and unworthy, and he has to prove otherwise by insane standards.

And of course Clinton’s campaign and its supporters are supporting and encouraging systemic racism/white supremacy in various ways, including but not limited to when they push the line that white working class voters are more important than Black voters (because even though they don’t say the second part out loud, it is obvious in its implications).

All these efforts to make Senator Obama show that he is not foreign, not dangerous, not angry …. all these efforts to tie him to scary dangerous symbolically shadow figures (in addition to the demonization of Dr. Wright, it’s ooooh Weatherguy scary, “do we really know Obama,” etc)– systemic racism/white supremacy in action. And of course the more obvious stuff that everyone has also heard about. Bill Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro and all that.

When it comes to the primary election, I really do think this is precisely the difference between the so-called "establishment," no matter how liberal they say they are, and obviously the establishment right wing, and the young people I teach and work with. The former are institutionally conservative across the board; the latter are the ones looking for a renegotiated, promising society. The latter are sick to death that the sublimated racism of this campaign could decide its outcome. And, if that's how it turns out, I guarantee you that we'll have another generation of people alienated from the political process. All the while the political class, the pundits, and the NPR class - swirling in the eddy while they believe they're making linear progress - will continue to tell us how "bad" racism is, undoubtedly with proud sincerity about their own virtue.


On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan gives a much-needed pep talk.

Or... if you want more cynicism, there's always the heinous Charles Krauthammer, still plugging the guilt-by-association theme, or the dishonest Geoff Garin.

...And then back again to the comforting Andrew Sullivan.

The truth is: the boomer media class is fighting the last war and misreading the current one. As Ambinder reminds us:

It doesn't really matter if Barack Obama isn't doing as well among white working class Dems as Hillary Clinton is. He doesn't need their votes to win.

This election will be decided by white independents, African-Americans, new Hispanic voters, and a vast influx of younger Americans. Those are the people Obama has brought into the process; and they are the people who will change the face of American politics.

In fact, they already have. But the boomer elites have yet to notice.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

American "Desaparecidos"

In a filing yesterday, the CIA said it had identified 7,000 pages of classified memos, emails and other records relating to President Bush's secret detention and interrogation program. Human rights groups quickly jumped on the filing -- which came after their own Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking information about those detained.

The CIA also acknowledged in their filings that the program “will continue.” Terror suspects detained or "renditioned" by the United States are transferred to third party countries that allow torture which gives the US a legal loophole to allow harsh interrogation without being legally liable. Such suspects, who effectively disappear, are held without access to courts.

See also this WaPo blurb.

Game Architecture

Interesting interview with game designer Daniel Dociu at BLDBLOG.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Integrity Works

John Cole:

Step 1: GOP wingnut (is that redundant?) says something offensive, writes a nasty editorial, creates a vicious radio or tv spot.

Step 2: Ad receives widespread coverage and national attention.

Step 3: McCain condemns the ad/editorial/whatever.

Step 4: Chris Matthews and other bobbleheads in the media show off their man-crush for McCain while praising his integrity AND showing the offending ad/editorial on national television.

Step 5: I scream at the television and send another 25 bucks to the Obama campaign.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dark History of the Banana

A review at Salon of Dan Koeppel's new book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. The review is a quick read, but I also recommend the book. That innocent-looking banana in your fruitbowl has a nasty history.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Japanese Cinema Image of the Day

From: Oshima Nagisa, Ai No Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses, 1976)

From an article in Frieze by the filmmaker Hito Steyerl, discussing influences on her work.

Surinam Cherry

Photo: Anestor Mezzomo

Leaders Led Misleadingly

Major piece in the NY Times today:
In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access...

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Din of Cairo

Spice and Scent Market, Cairo. Photo: Helmut (in the reflection)

This article was in the NY Times a few days ago, and I've been reminded of it by Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG.
This is not like London or New York, or even Tehran, another car-clogged Middle Eastern capital. It is literally like living day in and day out with a lawn mower running next to your head, according to scientists with the National Research Center. They spent five years studying noise levels across the city and concluded in a report issued this year that the average noise from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. is 85 decibels, a bit louder than a freight train 15 feet away, said Mustafa el Sayyid, an engineer who helped carry out the study.

But that 85 decibels, while “clearly unacceptable,” is only the average across the day and across the city. At other locations, it is far worse, he said. In Tahrir Square, or Ramsis Square, or the road leading to the pyramids, the noise often reaches 95 decibels, he said, which is only slightly quieter than standing next to a jackhammer.

Mine and Yours

This time it's Sadr City. Soon, the US will need a Secretary of Walls and Fences. The candidate will have a background in political science, postmodern landscape architecture, and construction techniques. Close ties to industry are a plus. He or she will have shown signs from an early age of an intuitive sense of the ways in which space can be constricted. They will have barricaded themselves in their bedroom closets and in tree forts. Through the higher problem-solving skills of an abstract God's-eye view, they will have learned ways in which to keep Barbie and GI Joe separate through a complex, systematic arrangement of Lincoln Logs. The candidate will have a uniquely powerful sense of racial and/or ethnic identity. An added plus in the candidate's resume will be an ability to clean up after others' failed policies. Foreign language skills emphatically not required.

Bryan Finoki:
Essentially, Baghdad is being reconstructed behind a system of neighborhood dams; or, the warfare equivalent of an urban levee network. But, one wonders, when will we celebrate the stories of the walls coming down? Who knows when or how long that story will ever take in Baghdad to surface, or the West Bank, or anywhere else for that matter, aside from perhaps Cyprus (so there may be hope yet). More than likely, however, we may be hearing more about the levees being blown apart in these street corners (remember the recent Gaza episode?) than being peacefully and politically deconstructed.

Best in the World

Lewis Black, via SuperFrenchie:
“The most important part of travel, is when you come home. Because, that’s when you see your country with new eyes. I was amazed to realize that we’re - we’re the only country that - that tells the rest of the world, on a nearly constant basis, that we’re the greatest country on Earth. And that is a little fuckin’ obnoxious! And they know it’s obnoxious. Because, if you were in an office, and there was someone there, who came in every day and said; “I’m the greatest fucker here! And you snivelling shits would die without me! Ahahahaha!” I can guarantee that by the end of the week, you’d have killed him! And eaten him, just to try to possess his power!”

An Ill-Remembered Twentieth Century

Tony Judt at the NY Review of Books:
Today,... we wear the last century rather lightly. To be sure, we have memorialized it everywhere: shrines, inscriptions, "heritage sites," even historical theme parks are all public reminders of "the Past." But the twentieth century that we have chosen to commemorate is curiously out of focus. The overwhelming majority of places of official twentieth-century memory are either avowedly nostalgo-triumphalist—praising famous men and celebrating famous victories—or else, and increasingly, they are opportunities for the recollection of selective suffering.

The twentieth century is thus on the path to becoming a moral memory palace: a pedagogically serviceable Chamber of Historical Horrors whose way stations are labeled "Munich" or "Pearl Harbor," "Auschwitz" or "Gulag," "Armenia" or "Bosnia" or "Rwanda"; with "9/11" as a sort of supererogatory coda, a bloody postscript for those who would forget the lessons of the century or who failed to learn them. The problem with this lapidary representation of the last century as a uniquely horrible time from which we have now, thankfully, emerged is not the description—it was in many ways a truly awful era, an age of brutality and mass suffering perhaps unequaled in the historical record. The problem is the message: that all of that is now behind us, that its meaning is clear, and that we may now advance—unencumbered by past errors—into a different and better era.

But such official commemoration does not enhance our appreciation and awareness of the past. It serves as a substitute, a surrogate. Instead of teaching history we walk children through museums and memorials. Worse still, we encourage them to see the past— and its lessons—through the vector of their ancestors' suffering. Today, the "common" interpretation of the recent past is thus composed of the manifold fragments of separate pasts, each of them (Jewish, Polish, Serb, Armenian, German, Asian-American, Palestinian, Irish, homosexual...) marked by its own distinctive and assertive victimhood.

The resulting mosaic does not bind us to a shared past, it separates us from it. Whatever the shortcomings of the national narratives once taught in school, however selective their focus and instrumental their message, they had at least the advantage of providing a nation with past references for present experience. Traditional history, as taught to generations of schoolchildren and college students, gave the present a meaning by reference to the past: today's names, places, inscriptions, ideas, and allusions could be slotted into a memorized narrative of yesterday. In our time, however, this process has gone into reverse. The past now acquires meaning only by reference to our many and often contrasting present concerns...

...the United States today is the only advanced democracy where public figures glorify and exalt the military, a sentiment familiar in Europe before 1945 but quite unknown today. Politicians in the US surround themselves with the symbols and trappings of armed prowess; even in 2008 American commentators excoriate allies that hesitate to engage in armed conflict. I believe it is this contrasting recollection of war and its impact, rather than any structural difference between the US and otherwise comparable countries, which accounts for their dissimilar responses to international challenges today. Indeed, the complacent neoconservative claim that war and conflict are things Americans understand—in contrast to naive Europeans with their pacifistic fantasies —seems to me exactly wrong: it is Europeans (along with Asians and Africans) who understand war all too well. Most Americans have been fortunate enough to live in blissful ignorance of its true significance.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Photo: Felipe Osbourne Shea

Conservation Refugees in India

Mark Dowie, one of my favorite environmental writers, usually gets to the heart of the problem. Back in 1995, ten years before Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote their widely-publicized essay with the outlandish title, "The Death of Environmentalism," Dowie had already discussed most of the same themes and had done so in book form: in his book with the more modest, less publicity-seeking title, Losing Ground. Nordhaus and Shellenberger were treated as harbingers of a new, self-critical environmental paradigm. I was astonished that students and particularly one well-known environmental ethicist were ignorant of Dowie's earlier, more careful scholarly work.

Here, Dowie discusses the ongoing problem of "conservation refugees," people evicted from lands in order to conserve wildlife and forest. But the story is more than simply the tension between human livelihoods and wildlife/wilderness conservation, which just is the traditional environmental problem. There's always politics, and there are always other interests eyeing that nice chunk of land occupied by indigenous people.

Indian wildlife conservation, which was still strongly influenced by -International and other foreign conservation NGOs, has persistently embraced a model of western practice that focuses on individual endangered species—‘mega-charismatic metavertibrates’—like elephants, rhinos or tigers, rather than on whole habitats or eco-systems. Prominent Indian conservationist Valmik Thapar insists that tigers can only be saved “in large undisturbed, inviolate landscapes” unoccupied by human beings. “As far as I am concerned,” he wrote, “tigers and forest dwellers cannot co-exist.” Following Thapar’s advice, the entire Gujjar community of Sariska, a formerly posted tiger sanctuary, faced the prospect of total eviction and relocation, a process that had slowly begun over a decade before the creation of “Project Tiger.”

No one questions that Gujjar villagers, a traditional grazing community, have had an adverse impact on the wildlife conservation potential of the Sariska reserve or that at least some of this pressure on forests will have to be removed to save it. That is obvious to even the untrained eye. The question in Sariska is why relocation of the Gujjars was selected as the first option for solving the problem, without input from villagers, when so many other options were available for consideration. Moreover, the number one cause of tiger depletion throughout India is poaching by organized networks of smugglers, none of whom live in the forests.

Gujjars and tigers have coexisted in Sariska for thousands of years. The decline in tiger population is a consequence of development—large dams, iron mines and the shifting appetites of distant elites—not the lifeways of forest dwellers whose habitats have likewise been threatened by the same phenomena. “Why then punish one victim to save the other?” asks Indian historian Ramachandra Guha.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pope Wears Prada

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Food Crisis

Photo: AP
Here's a good explanation by Heidi Fritschel of the basics of the food crisis, though the article assumes an orthodox economic response. The crisis has led to riots in Haiti and elsewhere, and these will grow since people in urban areas must buy nearly all of their food. The urban poor are often the most distressed in times of rapidly rising food prices.

Tony Karon, writing at Time, says,
Haiti is in flames as food riots have turned into a violent challenge to the vulnerable government; Egypt's authoritarian regime faces a mounting political threat over its inability to maintain a steady supply of heavily subsidized bread to its impoverished citizens; Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroon, Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Indonesia are among the countries that have recently seen violent food riots or demonstrations. World Bank president Robert Zoellick noted last week that world food prices had risen 80% over the past three years, and warned that at least 33 countries face social unrest as a result.

The sociology of the food riot is pretty straightforward: The usually impoverished majority of citizens may acquiesce to the rule of detested corrupt and repressive regimes when they are preoccupied with the daily struggle to feed their children and themselves, but when circumstances render it impossible to feed their hungry children, normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose. That's especially true when the source of their hunger is not the absence of food supplies but their inability to afford to buy the available food supplies. And that's precisely what we're seeing in the current wave of global food-price inflation. As Josette Sheeran of the U.N. World Food Program put it last month, "We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it."

Famine is a distribution problem, not a supply problem, as Amartya Sen showed in work that won him the Nobel (a nice piece by him here from 1990; and here's the go-to book). The situation isn't one of famine yet, but the riots are signs that it could be, and even while food may sit on the shelves.

This situation appears as a supply problem in that diversion of croplands to other uses is indeed one factor leading to higher prices. Much of the media narrative treats it as such. But it's actually a more complex distribution problem than the famines Sen studied. Poverty and the structural conditions of global inequality which reproduce that poverty are ultimately the combined problem, while rapacious consumerism is the direct cause of conversion of croplands to uses other than human food production. Namely, rising oil prices making alternative fuel sources (biofuels) more profitable, more demands from countries with growing incomes like China for meat products, and environmental factors such as the drought in Australia. That's actually a distribution problem of consumerism (except for the drought), diverting crucial resources towards more profitable commodity-production for wealthier consumers. If we frame it as a supply problem, we're once again assuming that no changes of behavior need take place - only changes in the quantity of industrial production.

Capitalism and its necessary reproduction of rapacious consumers may drive the global economy in raw quantitative terms, but it also causes crises such as this one that are resolvable through smart government spending on food programs and assistance.

Note, however, this item from the Fritschel piece:
Some very poor countries - such as Ethiopia, Malawi, and Sierra Leone - have relied heavily on food aid even when food prices were low. Food aid will be more important to these countries than ever, but as food prices rise, food aid tonnage falls. "Food aid providers like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are going to be hit hard as long as food aid is budgeted in dollars", says IFPRI research fellow Marc Cohen. Because aid donors such as the United States allocate a certain dollar amount to food aid each year, those dollars buy less food when prices are high.

The Pennsylvania "Debate"

Andrew Sullivan:

It was a lifeless, exhausted, drained and dreary Obama we saw tonight. I've seen it before when he is tired, but this was his worst performance yet on national television. He seemed crushed and unable to react. This is big-time politics and he's up against the Clinton wood-chipper. But there is no disguising the fact that he wilted, painfully. Clinton has exposed herself in this campaign as one of the worst shells of a cynical pol in American politics. She doesn't just return us to the Morris-Rove era, she represents a new height for it. If she somehow wins, it will be a triumph of the old politics in an age when that is exactly what this country cannot afford. But Obama has also shown a failure to be resilient in this grueling process. In some ways, I'm glad. No normal reasonable person subjected to the series of attacks on his integrity, faith, patriotism, decency and honesty would not wilt. And we need a normal reasonable person in the White House again. But this is still the arena we have. It is what it is. ABC News is what it is. The MSM knows no other way. Obama has to survive and even thrive under this assault if he is to win. He failed tonight in a big way.

And so this was indeed a huge night for the Republicans, and the first real indicator to me that Clinton is gaining in her fundamental goal at this point: the election of John McCain against Barack Obama. How else will she rescue the Democrats from hope?

Also this:
No questions on the environment, none on terror, none on interrogation, none on torture, none on education, none on spending, none on healthcare, none on Iran ... but four separate questions in the first hour about a lapel-pin, Bitter-gate, Wright-gate and Ayers. I'm all for keeping candidates on their toes. But this was ridiculous. And now we have affirmative action? Again, it's not illegitimate as such - but the only reason it is asked is to try and trip these people up and make Gibson and Stephanopoulos look smart.

Stupid Bitter People

Dennis Perrin:
With all the pious noise over Obama's "elitist" disdain for the unwashed and bitter, it's necessary to emphasize what polite society plays down: there really are violent, bitter, stupid white working (and non-working) people who are not only alienated from the political process, but hold delusional ideas about what's actually going on.
Read the rest. I've got my own experiences - too manifold to list. My family moved back to the States from Asia when I was in high school (from Bangkok, where my father worked for UNDP, to small-town Texas, the biggest culture shock of my life). Not long after arriving, a "kicker" picked a fight with me at school for no other reason than that I was new. I'd never experienced that. Years later, this same guy killed a man in an enraged stabbing attack for sitting on the hood of his car. The rage wasn't unusual at all. I encountered it over and over. It was militaristic, machoistic, homophobic, sexist, racist, xenophobic, and constructed around the few material belongings that constituted one's otherwise broken identity.

That's one little story. There are plenty of others in this one elitist blogger who happens to teach ethics and policy for a living.

Glad We Could Help

We are benefiting from one thing that happened, which is the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the Americans' battle in Iraq. This changed US public opinion significantly in our favor.

Nepal, The Maoist Former Kingdom

Photo: Brian Sokol/Getty
One of my favorite places and people on the planet is bringing to power the Maoist Communist Party, the former insurgent group (which the US officially considers a "terrorist" group) against Nepalese monarchism and the plague of poverty in the country.
Not so long ago, few in Nepal believed Pushpa Kamal Dahal actually existed. The Maoist guerrilla leader was a creature of myth — no one knew what he looked like, or in which mountain fastness he hid, or quite how he and his fighters, ragtag and ill-equipped, had managed to plunge this Himalayan nation into a decade-long civil war that claimed 13,000 lives. But now all know Prachanda, the nom de guerre by which Dahal is more often referred to, as not only a man of flesh and blood, but of suits and expensive pens. Indeed, as results filter in from last week's historic election, the once incendiary, class warfare-waging rebel may be on the verge of becoming Nepal's first ever President.

In an election contested by more than 50 parties, Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist has already claimed some 116 seats of the new 601-member Constituent Assembly in directly-elected district polls. That number will potentially mushroom once the remaining majority of the Assembly's seats are allocated on a proportional ballot over the next two weeks. Observers expect the Maoists to hold the largest number of seats of any party, albeit not a clear majority, in a body that is tasked to draft the first constitution of the Nepalese republic. It's a stunning turnaround from the days when Prachanda and his comrades stalked the jungles in fatigues, most armed with little more than sticks and stones.

Prachanda's rise is testament to the unprecedented political transformation gripping Nepal. Two years ago, Maoist-backed mass protests stripped the 240-year-old monarchy, once thought divine, of much of its power and led to a peace accord between the Maoists and Nepal's political establishment. The monarchy will be formally abolished once the Constituent Assembly meets. Its royal legacy — that of a highly feudal society where power radiated out of the palaces of Kathmandu — will be slowly dismantled as Nepal's politicians reshape the country into a modern, federal republic where previously disenfranchised groups like low-caste Dalits, indigenous minorities, and women will have more say.

Nepal is desperately poor. I hope this is their way out.

Brazilian Oil Boon

Really? The claim - as yet not fully substantiated by researchers - is that Brazil has newfound offshore oil reserves estimated at over 30 billion barrels, possibly more than that. This adds to Brazil's existing 12 billion-barrel reserves. By comparison, the United States has an estimated 21 billion barrels in proven oil reserves. If this new discovery at Carioca-Sugar Loaf and other possible reserves play out, Brazil might come very close to or surpass Russia in proven reserves.

Look for commentators coming out of the woodwork to scoff at the peak-oil thesis.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waning Hope

John Cole pretty much gets it right on Clinton:

Even if she blows him out (and I expect her to win by 6-12 pts), she won’t make up any real ground in the delegate race, which, as we all know (except, apparently, at Clinton HQ), is what matters. All she has is the hope that the super-delegates will give it to her, and the only way that is going to happen is if she absolutely destroys his chances at electability. And she has to do just that, because if the supers give Clinton the nomination under any circumstance other than one in which Obama is completely ruined, expect large swaths of Democrats to bail in the general. Forget the AA vote.

That is her gambit. That is her only hope. She won’t win North Carolina, Indiana will be so close as to give marginal gains, and all she has is this last hope that she can knee-cap him and get it from the supers. Of course, she most likely won’t succeed, and instead we will have a crippled Obama limping into the general against a united Republican party armed with a half year of Clinton video clips calling Obama elitist and out of touch and unelectable and stating she takes him at his word that he is not a stealth muslim. By the end of the week I fully expect her to be asking whether or not he is a Marxist.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


More on the Torture Memos

Stephen Gillers at The Nation:

How could two really smart guys authorize torture using "one-sided legal arguments" that have "no foundation" in law? How could they be guilty of a "stunning failure of lawyerly craft"? The sad answer seems to be that they knew what the President wanted and delivered: torture is OK if you call it something else. Detainees are outside the protection of due process and civilized law. The President's authority is close to absolute. Anyway, no court can review him. (On this last point, the Supreme Court disagreed.)

This incompetence is especially serious because of the conduct it enabled. If a private lawyer gave such a lopsided and wrongheaded analysis to a business client, he'd be history. Lawyers advising private clients about to make important decisions (a "bet the company" kind of decision) meticulously analyze all sides of a question so the clients can assess risk and choose wisely.

The client deserved better, and that raises another issue, the most troubling. Who was the client? The lawyers told the President what he wanted to hear, but the nation was their client, and its sole interest was in thorough and independent legal analysis. Neither the President's political agenda nor the authors' views of what the law should say can be allowed to slant the OLC's work. So maybe the best and brightest lawyers got it so wrong because they forgot whom they served. Maybe they acted politically, not professionally. If so, we are dealing with a perversion of law and legal duty, a betrayal of the client and professional norms, not mere incompetence, which would be bad enough. Whatever the reason, Jarrett should find that this work is not "consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys." Jarrett must hold the lawyers accountable if he means to restore OLC's reputation and vindicate the rule of law.
By the way, Michael Hatfield, a law professor and longtime friend, deals with this issue better than anyone else I've seen to date (in my forthcoming volume, On Torture).

The Influence of Philosophers

Bernard Chazelle, from the same post linked to below, makes note of the relative influence of philosophers on society.
...I like Rawls, too. The man was a giant of 20th c political philosophy, but his impact in the real world has been negligible. Even in the judicial realm, the guy who wrote the book on Justice has had virtually no influence on American jurisprudence. (Does this contradict my previous paragraph? No.) But it didn't need to be so. Rawls was more interested in solving puzzles against Nozick than to be influential in the world at large. That's a pity but that was his choice. On the other hand, Foucault (a deeply original thinker, despite the caricature and some of the idiotic pronouncements he made about Iran) can be credited as much as anyone for the end of capital punishment in France. Not bad for a philosopher who died of AIDS when he was only 57. In this country, if the death penalty is ever abolished, the credit will go to Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun.
This is an endlessly interesting question... for philosophers, at least (to the extent that remains so, the answer may be implicit in the question). Rawls defined Anglo-American political philosophy from 1971 on (the year of publication of A Theory of Justice) - everything was a defense of or critical response to Rawls. The discussion with Nozick (particularly the libertarian work of Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia) was but one piece of the broader evolving framework of political philosophy. Communitarianism as a political philosophy and ethics, for example, largely arose as a critical response to Rawls.

It's true that it's difficult to gauge the influence of Rawls in the larger society, but I don't think this influence can be discounted so easily. I've seen Rawlsian arguments appear in the statements of political figures in the US. I've talked with people at the World Bank who learned from Rawls and had integrated some ideas into their work. I've talked with lawyers who have an easy facility with Rawlsian thought. And I've seen Rawlsian ideas worm their way through public policy discussions.

These are all elites in American society, however. Rawls does not appear to have much purchase at all in the broader society, nor among political activists. Most of my grad students have never heard of Rawls before my class where I teach him.

Part of the issue here is that the US is not France. Integral to French culture is its intellectual life. Even if one hasn't actually read Foucault, one knows his name as a giant of French intellectual life. This is obviously also the case with the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, but even with those with whom many philosophers in the US are not familiar (e.g., Michel Serres, Alain Finkielkraut, and philosophers of lesser fame).

US culture is famous for its anti-intellectual streak. This streak maintains that there is the world of ideas and there is "reality." It suspects that too much delving into ideas merely takes one away from reality. "Reality" is thereby often divested of interesting ideas and new frameworks of thought. Or, rather, certain fields that more directly yield a "product" gain pride of place and influence in American intellectual life. Economics, for example, has its philosophical depths but also provides tools for generating tangible income.

Political philosophical ideas have huge influence over the long term. Democracy as a reflective form of political organization was an ancient Greek invention. Our basic ideas of rights were received from the Enlightenment. Maybe it's best that political philosophers content themselves with the long view.

But, honestly, I think this means ceding intellectual territory and practical influence that political philosophy does not need to cede. Rather, it needs to reinvent itself, or parts of itself. On this point, I'd have to agree with Peter Levine (writing in a somewhat different context):

...It's not enough to know whether a given program causes a particular outcome (such as higher incomes, or more civic duty). We must also decide whether those outcomes are good, whether they are distributed fairly, whether any harms to others are worthwhile, and what means for deriving these consequences are acceptable. Further, it's not enough to understand how to run or structure a good program. We must also decide what forms of governance or administration are ethical. (Mussolini made the trains run on time, but that was not an adequate defense of fascism). Finally, it's not enough to know that a given argument or "message" would produce political support for a program. We must also decide which forms of argument are ethically acceptable.

Thus it's a shame that philosophers tend to cede the "middleground" to social scientists, administrators, and tacticians. As a result, no one raises the serious, complex moral issues that arise when one thinks about political tactics, the design of programs, and their administration. This is not only bad for policy and public discourse; it is also bad for philosophy. Theories are impoverished when they miss the middleground...

Some areas of philosophy have developed a middleground and thereby not only served public purposes but also enriched the discipline. Medical ethics is the best example. It's no longer restricted to matters of individual ethics (e.g., should a physician conduct an abortion?) or matters of basic structure (e.g., is there a right to life?), but also to matters of administration, politics, and program design. Medical ethicists work in hospitals, advise commissions, and review policies... I would generalize and say that across the whole range of policy and social questions, it is worth asking moral questions not only about basic rights and individual behavior, but also about institutional arrangements and political tactics.

Quote of the Day

Bernard Chazelle at A Tiny Revolution,
The outrage of John Yoo is not simply that he's a scumbag. It's that I paid his salary. He spoke in my name. He worked for my government. If I go to Sweden and the locals scream "John Yoo" in my face, I cannot pretend I am not related. I am. Although I never voted for Bush and I never missed a chance to trash his name, I have to answer for Bush's and John Yoo's actions in the same way all Germans had to answer for Hitler's. Self-respect is one side of the coin. The other side is shame.

Some will say, shouldn't we be more ambitious and consider being citizens of the world as the only patriotism worth examining? We could, but this wouldn't be ambitious: it would be a cop-out.

I feel little responsibility for a mad dictator in a country I've never heard of. I might feel bad as a fellow human being for the depravity of my kind. But if I hear the CIA propped him up, then I become responsible. People who refused to connect the CIA's actions to their patriotism are simply deluding themselves about the meaning of words.

Torture in Israel

I received an email from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel on the Israeli exploitation of family members of detained Palestinians to extract confessions. PCATI - itself an Israeli group - works indefatigably against the use of physical and psychological torture in Israel. The email says,
Demonstrating a heightened level of concern surrounding the findings of the report, which show the continued use of interrogation methods that have been condemned as torture or ill treatment under international law, Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee Chairperson, Professor Menachem Ben Sasson, has agreed to PCATI’s request to discuss the report in a special committee session, which is taking place, today, the 13th of April at 13:30 in the Knesset. The extraordinary nature of this act is further demonstrated by Professor Ben Sasson’s calling on the GSS to respond to the report during the hearing.

Furthermore, we are filing a High Court of Justice Petition on this matter in the coming days. The petition and the report represent our attempt to attack this issue at more than one level.
Here's an article on the PCATI report, "Family Matters," in Ha'aretz (soon to be released in English). Another article is here. And here's the Jerusalem Post's article on the Knesset Law Committee's hearing prompted by PCATI, which says further that,
Torture has become an accepted tool of the so called "war on terror" and we cannot stand silently by while this tool is being dressed up and made to appear something less than it is. This is but a small part of our contribution, not only to the local fight but the global one too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lincoln and Obama

Gary Wills on Lincoln's Cooper Union speech of February 27th, 1860, and Obama's March 18th, 2008 speech in Philadelphia:
The most damaging charge against each was an alleged connection with unpatriotic and potentially violent radicals. Lincoln's Republican Party was accused of supporting abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, who burned the Constitution, or John Brown, who took arms against United States troops, or those who rejected the Supreme Court because of its Dred Scott decision. Obama was suspected of Muslim associations and of following the teachings of an inflammatory preacher who damned the United States. How to face such charges? Each decided to address them openly in a prominent national venue, well before their parties' nominating conventions—Lincoln at the Cooper Union in New York, Obama at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia...

In his prose, Obama of necessity lagged far behind the resplendent Lincoln. But what is of lasting interest is their similar strategy for meeting the charge of extremism. Both argued against the politics of fear. Neither denied the darker aspects of our history, yet they held out hope for what Lincoln called here the better "lights of current experience"—what he would later call the "better angels of our nature." Each looked for larger patterns under the surface bitternesses of their day. Each forged a moral position that rose above the occasions for their speaking.

Mangosteen Chic

The beautiful, delicious "queen of fruits" - the mangosteen, Phronesisaical favorite - long banned from the US for pest concerns has been finding its way into Asian markets in the US for some time. Now, it appears to be making in-roads at NYC juice bars and upscale food markets.
The mangosteen, a Southeast Asian fruit, is stepping into the spotlight this year, its second in markets in the United States. It is available at more stores and the price is down, though perhaps only connoisseurs will eagerly part with $6 a fruit at Dean & DeLuca stores and Agata & Valentina, or $4 at Kings supermarkets in New Jersey...

Eric Helms, the owner of the Juice Generation, shops in Manhattan, buys mangosteens peeled and frozen and combines them and their ruby-red juice (the color comes from the inner skin) with fresh kiwi and mango. The mangosteens’ subtle flavor shines through.
Egad! Frozen mangosteens (which is what you find in Asian markets in the US) are an awful, pallid, and mushy impersonation of the real, fresh thing. The only way to eat a mangosteen is to go to Thailand.
[Thanks for the link, Wes].

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The US-Iraq Deal

Leaked to The Guardian.

The draft strategic framework agreement between the US and Iraqi governments, dated March 7 and marked "secret" and "sensitive", is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to "conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security" without time limit.

The authorisation is described as "temporary" and the agreement says the US "does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq". But the absence of a time limit or restrictions on the US and other coalition forces - including the British - in the country means it is likely to be strongly opposed in Iraq and the US.

Iraqi critics point out that the agreement contains no limits on numbers of US forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries. The agreement is intended to govern the status of the US military and other members of the multinational force.
Jonathan Schwartz comments,
...despite the fact that the Iraqi constitution gives the parliament authority to approve all treaties (and the US constitution gives the congress authority to approve all treaties) Bush and Maliki are planning to sign an "agreement" approving a permanent US occupation...without the involvement of either country's legislative branch. Moreover, since Maliki is our puppet, this essentially is the administration agreeing with itself....
And here,

Both the US constitution and the Iraqi constitution require that treaties be approved by their respective legislative branches. Yet Crocker states that Congress will merely be "fully informed" about the US-Iraq agreement. And he doesn't even mention the Iraqi parliament. (It is highly unlikely that either the US Congress or the Iraqi parliament would approve this, let alone both.)

Crocker and the Bush administration justify this by claiming the agreement will not rise to the level of a treaty—that it will be a mere Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which can be concluded just between the respective countries' executive branches. However, all previous SOFAs have merely governed mundane issues, such as "wearing of the uniform, the carrying of arms, tax and customs relief, entry and exit of personnel and property, and resolving damage claims." R. Chuck Mason, the Congressional Research Service's expert on SOFAs, recently stated that a review of over 70 of them found that "none contained the authority to fight." It has always been treaties which do that. The United States does have a SOFA with Germany, but it is the NATO treaty which makes it legal for US troops there to kill people.

Thus the Bush administration position breaks completely with decades of precedent. Moreover, its extremism can be understood by the fact that it logically goes both ways: if Bush and Maliki can together agree without Iraqi parliamentary approval that Americans can be based in Iraq and kill Iraqis, then Maliki and Bush could together agree without US congressional approval that Iraqis can be based in the US and kill Americans.

DC Environmentalist Muslims

I recently posted about students and former students who have blogs. I didn't at the time know of the existence of this one, Green Muslims in the District. Take a look through - good work and good works.

War Crimes Update

Torture decisions were, of course, made at the very top of the Bush administration. ABC News has the story. Jack Balkin comments on possible war crimes charges.

Plant Colors on Other Planets

Via 3QD, here's a fascinating article in Scientific American on what the color of plantlife found on other planets would be, given the variable nature of different stars' radiation spectra and different atmospheric conditions on the planets. A great read.

Fortress Blast Walls

A great little essay by Bryan Finoki at Subtopia on the business of blast walls in Iraq and elsewhere.
...suppose the occupation ends one day, how long will those walls really remain in place, what forlorn legacy is being cemented in the streets of Baghdad today for generations to come? If they were removed at some point, I wonder what would happen to all that concrete? Would it get formally recycled, or broken down into lucrative scrapper markets underground? In such a market, I wonder how much concrete it would take to sustain the life of an average refugee family in Iraq for a month. Who would even own the blast walls if the occupation were to suddenly cease? Would the Americans leave but then come back to reclaim their heaping piles of blast walls one day? Or, could we imagine in a bizarre post-colonial kind of way some newly adaptive reuse project for all these oppressive slabs, say, Bremer Wall refugee rehousing projects? Or is that just too symbolically grim to even consider? How about future bridges and infrastructure made out of old blast walls? Think of all the Iraqi reconstruction projects that aren't getting the attention they deserve compared to the constant fabrication of these barriers.
See also this NY Times article on the US-Mexico border wall. It seems that, in the name of the border wall, 30-some federal laws have been suspended. Border wall law trumps other laws, and Homeland Security is the supreme authoritarian decision-maker.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Lipstick Tree

Iraq Hearings/Questionings

In addition to all the other questions about both the details and the big picture, please also keep in mind a set of questions while listening to, reading about, or humming along with Petraeus' and Crocker's testimony to Congress this week on Iraq progress/regress. The questions are:
  • What purposes or outcomes or situations are served by particular maneuvers in the details of both the political rhetoric and actual on-the-ground actions in Iraq? In other words, what are the reasons for a given policy or action?
  • What interests are served by a given policy or action? In other words, what particular problem is a policy or action intended to solve?
Lost in the daily political wrangling over Iraq and the rhetoric of winning and losing are the reasons for policies in the details and in the big picture. If we ask these questions, we might achieve a better understanding of what the real policy options are so that we can hopefully make wiser choices about what to do and how to reform policies that seem to fail repeatedly even to achieve their stated, immediate purposes. Otherwise, we really are lost in the rhetoric and caprice of "one more corner to turn."


Here's the thing...
No one, not Crocker or Petraeus can describe what success looks like. When asked by Levin, if all went well what would be an optimistic projection of U.S. troops levels at the end of 2008. Petraeus refuses to answer, saying he can’t know. So he won’t make projections of what success will look like. But both Crocker and Petraeus have absolutely no qualms about projecting the future if we withdrawal from Iraq. This to me is ridiculous. What is the plan for "victory"? What are the projections? They should have to answer those questions, especially when asking for a blank check.
What purposes are served by particular policies? What problems are they intended to solve? If the answer is "I don't know," then the policy is reduced to the absurdity of circularity (i.e., in foreign policy terms, a "quagmire").

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Global Climate Change Map

I've been thinking about a major online project which I simply don't have the time, resources, or grant-writing energy to do. It would be an interactive data site presenting a global map of greenhouse gas emissions and other activities contributing to climate change. There is, as far as I know, only this site - CARMA - that attempts to do this. The site, UNdata, adds a bit more that could be integrated into the more comprehensive map. But I would also include estimated effects in both global terms and local/regional terms. It would include low-end and high-end estimates of these effects in hydrometeorological, economic, and social terms, differentiating between different emissions (CO2, methane, nitrogen oxides, etc.). Further information could include an assessment of needed practical changes at both the global and local/regional level.

One of the issues here is that climate change is a rather peculiar environmental problem compared to previous environmental problems. As Birnie and Boyle outline in their landmark, International Law and the Environment, some environmental problems are common property problems; some are shared resource problems; some are common heritage problems; some are sovereignty problems. This doesn't exhaust the possible legal frameworks, obviously, but climate change doesn't fit any of these because the atmosphere is not clearly delineable as property. International agreements have referred to the atmosphere and climate change as the "common concern of mankind." But this requires a perspective that moves beyond inherited perspectives on the nature of property, environment, sovereignty, economic activity, and harm.

A global interactive map could serve as a research tool, a reporting tool/clearing house for national emissions reductions and other mitigation and adaptation measures, a practical tool for developing other policies, and a visualized effort at reconceptualizing international and national norms about climate change.


Here's another new map: a high-resolution map of the US carbon footprint down to 100-square-kilometer segments.


Exactly. What is it that the US would actually win at this point, if it were winning anything at all? And then, why should we hold out for that victory, or the unnamed thing that constitutes something resembling and/or spinnable as "winning"?

Tell me, really.

p.s. Iran already won.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Quote of the Day

"At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt."

Who said it? Find out here.

Back to the Mothership

So, the little creatures are going back into Philosophy, are they?
Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts...

“If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy,” said Matthew Goldstein, the CUNY chancellor, who majored in mathematics and statistics. “I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow.”

Nationwide, there are more colleges offering undergraduate philosophy programs today than a decade ago (817, up from 765), according to the College Board. Some schools with established programs like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, now have twice as many philosophy majors as they did in the 1990s...

“That whole deep existential torment... It’s good for getting girlfriends.”
[Thanks, Wes]

...Children stop yer nu sin' unless yer renderin' fun,
The mother ship the mother ship,
The mother ship's the one.
The blimp the blimp,
The tapes uh trip it's uh trailin' tail,
It's traipse'n along behind the blimp the blimp....
- Captain Beefheart, "The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)," from Trout Mask Replica

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sunday Links

The fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination is also the fortieth anniversary of the Washington DC riots, which happened in angry response to news of MLK's death. The riots affected the city of DC for decades to come, leading first to a "white flight" abandonment of not only some of the city's more dynamic and interesting neighborhoods but also an abandonment of city politics and management. Over the 1990s and thus far into the 2000s, the demographics shifted again towards rapacious real estate investments (or "recovery") driving up prices wildly and ultimately leading to black flight out of the District proper for more affordable housing. There are very few neighborhoods in DC today that are mixed race and mixed income. What remains is just that - what remains in the face of inevitability. Most of the US and world thinks of Washington DC in terms of its federal institutions, the city's terrific museums, and the gigantic mausoleum known as the National Mall. But it has a fascinating history apart from its marble and granite facade, and the riots are the axis upon which the city's recent history still turns. Today, another axis of that history is the continuing appeal to white fears.

And... a song from WFMU.
Forever Guantanamo: Raymond Bonner adds more in the NY Review of Books to the unfolding story of politicized legal limbo for the Guantanamo detainees.
It is unclear why the Bush administration chose to file the charges against the six [high-value prisoners] now. But some have suggested that the timing relates to the fact that the provision of the 2006 Military Commissions Act that denies detainees the right to file habeas petitions is currently before the Supreme Court—in Boumediene v. Bush—and a decision is expected before the Court's term ends in June. "It's all about politics, not justice," a senior law enforcement official told me. Nothing has changed in the last three years, he said; there is nothing we know now that we didn't know then. The official predicted that the Supreme Court will rule against the administration in the Boumediene case, because at least one of the Court's conservatives will join the liberals in upholding the principle of habeas corpus. Bush will then blame the liberals on the Court for obstructing the prosecution of dangerous men, whose habeas petitions will slowly wind through the courts. Democrats, and the Democratic presidential candidate especially, will then be put on the spot to defend, or reject, what the Court did, he argued, and it is not hard to imagine the attack ads on anyone who does not support whatever legislation the Bush administration proposes to cure the defects.
Lewis Alsamari in Guernica on the pre-US history of Abu Ghraib:
The four AIDS-stricken women were dealt with in a fashion brutal even by the standards of the prison. Stripped of their clothes, they were placed, alive and screaming, into an incinerator so that they and their “vile disease” could be utterly destroyed. In this way Saddam “delivered” our country from the horrific infections of the West and from the inequities of the “evil Zionist state.” I kept quiet about my maternal grandmother’s Jewish heritage. She was one of only a handful of Jews who remained in Iraq during the great exodus of 1950. Before that time there were about 150,000 Jews living in Iraq; now there were fewer than a hundred, and it would have done me no favors if anyone suspected that I might embrace Zionism.
Jeremy Waldron on Cass Sunstein's new book and one-percent risk-assessment:
Here’s another example of the way the One Per Cent Doctrine affects real-world decision-making. After we invaded Iraq, it turned out that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction in his possession and did not seem to have been working on a WMD programme for a considerable time. Some American officials and politicians had lied when they said, before the war, that they were convinced he had weapons of mass destruction. They wanted to make a case for war, and they thought this argument (far-fetched as it was) would work with the public; they believed the public would find it harder to understand or accept the geopolitical premise on which the war was really based: to teach the world a lesson, to show what happens when a regime in an area of economic or strategic interest defies the United States. Others, however, sincerely believed it was possible that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, though they were by no means certain. Of those who believed it was possible, very few would have estimated the probability as low as one per cent. They might have said that in at least one in three cases like this (think about Iraq, Iran and North Korea), or one in five, it will turn out that the rogue regime in question really does have or is developing weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, there was a not insignificant probability. And that, for the Cheney doctrine, is enough. Even if the probability of Iraq’s developing nuclear weapons or the capability to weaponise chemical or biological agents that could be unleashed in a crowded Western city is as low as one per cent, the event in question promises catastrophe, and we have no choice – so the doctrine runs – but to act to avert that worst-case scenario.
Tony Karon on a pattern further revealed by the recent Basra assault:
The pattern is all too common: The U.S. or an ally or proxy launches a military offensive against a politically popular “enemy” group; Bush and his minions welcome the violence as “clarifying” matters, demonstrating “resolve”, or, in the most grotesque rhetorical flourish of all, the “birth pangs” of a brave new world. Each time, the “enemy” proves far more resilient than expected, largely because Bush and his allies have failed to recognize that each adversary’s power should be measured in political support rather than firepower; and the net effect of the offensive invariably leaves the enemy strengthened and the U.S. and its allies even weaker than before they launched the offensive.
Jim Johnson discusses Amnesty International protest posters directed at the Beijing Olympics.

Dennis Perrin on the cold dead hands of Charlton Heston:
As president of the NRA, perhaps his greatest acting role, Heston made a big fuss about "fascist" gun control laws, pretending that the countless millions of American gun owners are somehow a besieged minority, like Jews in Nazi Germany. It was an asinine, ahistorical stance, but it played big with his core audience: white guys who whine about being "second-class" citizens in a world dominated by effeminate white liberals, black gangstas, militant fags and lesbians, and assorted multiculturalists who make decent white people feel ashamed of their heritage. Heston pushed for an America where one could "be white without feeling guilty," clearly a pressing problem where whites dominate and own every major power outlet.
Scott Horton on the rating of George W. Bush as president.

And... handing off his problems.
* The coming water wars in Central Asia.
* Private equity firm buys rights to ecosystem services of Guyana rainforest.
* Plastics in the oceans.
* Finally, getting at coal power policies.
* Nope, the sun is not responsible for climate change.
* Dance in a Brooklyn swamp.
And a Spanish cherry: