Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Could poor Iraq get any worse?

Officials in northern Iraq said on Tuesday they were treating 12 patients suspected of having bird flu as a World Health Organization (WHO) team prepared to travel to the area to give urgent assistance.

Iraq's health minister said on Monday the country feared it had its first human bird flu victim after preliminary test results showed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who died two weeks ago had the H5N1 virus.

Patty Melt, Utah

I asked, genuinely, in an earlier post about why 36-42% of the American population supports Bush. Perhaps I phrased the question in the wrong way. I asked what he has done well.

Read this article in the Washington Post on a little town in Utah populated by Bush fans. You have to read past the several paragraphs on patty melts. Then tell me what you glean from that. I could only take away two things: 1. we're patriots; 2. he's a nice guy. (well, and 3. we're braindead, but that also extends to a larger share of the population).

Monday, January 30, 2006


I'm sympathetic to the basic ideal behind Wikipedia, but have similar concerns to Mr. Magnus of Footnotes on Epicycles. There's a lot of un-reviewed dross at the place. Ideally, other readers engage in a collective re-editing of each entry, and I like that ideal as a kind of Peircean community of inquirers. But entries full of false information can settle in and become collective wisdom unless others with a better grasp of the entry's subject spend the time to edit it. It's a classic problem, one Peirce faced. He ultimately understood that there had to be qualifications for participation in the community of inquiry. I'm all for the outsider to academic frames contributing to readjusting those frames to fit broader perspectives. But what happens when those perspectives are false or, to use a technical philosophical term, whacked out? As Magnus says, this can enter the standard assumptions about certain subjects and turn them into a Lego construction of falsities, however consistent those falsities.

It's an idea worth pursuing. But it's also one that needs readjusting. And the balance between good information and public participation is a classic dilemma at the heart of not only much of the communications that pass through the internet but also the idea of democratic participation itself.


See P.D. Magnus' nice discussion of Peirce in response to my link to him. I'd add that Dewey's Logic could also provide fruitful for going further with the Wikipedia analysis.
The mononymous Helmut blogs about my discussion of the wikipedia. He writes: "Ideally, other readers engage in a collective re-editing of each entry, and I like that ideal as a kind of Peircean community of inquirers." As he notes, the ideal, Peircean community doesn't include just anyone. It is open to anybody doing science, but they have to be doing science. People relying primarily on methods of tenacity or authority don't count.

There are serious criticisms of Peirce's claim that the scientific community will eventually come up with the truth. Browsing through recent issues of the Transactions, I can point to a solid paper by Ilya Farber [PDF] and another by Robert Meyers-- and that is only counting the papers authored by friends of mine. It is rarely noted, however, that his claim that the community' opinion will converge on the truth is only about the community for contingent reasons. Scientists need to work together because each human scientist is finite: not enough attention, not enough time. If there were a single inquirer with time and resources enough, then she could converge on the truth as well as an arbitrarily large community.

In this respect, Peirce thinks of scientific methods as definable in terms of a single individual. A scientific community is one in which each member considered individually employs those methods. Contrawise, real epistemic communities are as much defined by the structure of their social networks as by the individuals considered each in isolation.

The issue arises with respect to the wikipedia: Does the structure allow people who do know more to correct for people who know less, or does error swamp wisdom?

Bananas, Maui

Photo: Christopher Wray-McCann

The decline of myths

Jim Kunstler sent by email an interview with Emmanuel Todd from Le Figaro published in September 2005 (here it is translated in Truthout). It gets at the issue of legitimacy in his recent post, excerpted below.

Here's Todd discussing the aftermath of Katrina.

What really resonates with my representation of the United States - as developed in Après l'empire - is the fact that the United States was disabled and ineffectual. The myth of the efficiency and super-dynamism of the American economy is in danger.

We were able to observe the inadequacy of the technical resources, of the engineers, of the military forces on the scene to confront the crisis. That lifted the veil on an American economy globally perceived as very dynamic, benefiting from a low unemployment rate, credited with a strong GDP growth rate. As opposed to the United States, Europe is supposed to be rather pathetic, clobbered with endemic unemployment and stricken with anemic growth. But what people have not wanted to see is that the dynamism of the United States is essentially a dynamism of consumption...

The storm has shown the limits of a virtual economy that identifies the world as a vast video game.
Legitimacy is a kind of practical myth. As long as everyone buys into the myth - in this case of a mighty global economic leader - things run fairly smoothly. Todd and Kunstler are both saying that the myth itself is collapsing. I've said this in the past as well in regard to other factors of contemporary global life. For one thing, we see a shift of foreign students seeking to study in Europe more than in the United States. We see an international sphere look increasingly to Europe or regional leaders (such as Chavez) for moral support. The European Union has strict human rights requirements for membership into the Union, which do not merely receive lip service or collapse into double standards. The myth of legitimacy for the US, however, is empirically challenged by the inefficiencies, double standards, and over-extension of American society and policy. Todd again:
Americans need more heating in the winter and more air-conditioning in the summer. If we are one day confronted with an absolute and no longer relative penury, Europeans will adapt to it better because their transportation system is much more concentrated and economical. The United States was conceived with regard to energy expenditures and space in a rather fanciful, not well-thought out, manner.

Let's not point our fingers at the aggravation of natural conditions, but rather at the economic deterioration of a society that must confront a much more violent nature! Europeans, like the Japanese, have proven their excellence with regard to energy economization during the preceding oil shocks. It's to be expected: European and Asian societies developed by managing scarcity and, in the end, several decades of energetic abundance will perhaps appear as a parenthesis in their history one day. The United States was constructed in abundance and doesn't know how to manage scarcity. So here it is now confronted with an unknown. The beginnings of adaptation have not shown themselves to be very promising: Europeans have gasoline stocks, Americans crude oil stocks - they haven't built a refinery since 1971.

Moreover, there are certain kinds of values in play here. Critical theorists have long exposed the rot at the heart of this system, but it seems to have gained particularly transparent traction in the last several years where the system no longer even tries to conceal it. We might say that the myth is inverted at just the moment where material conditions begin to show the limits of the American consumption/production cycle. Rather than move towards sustainability, we see a darker route. Todd refers to this "ideal" as "predation."
This social system no longer rests on the Founding Fathers' Calvinist work ethic and taste for saving - but, on the contrary, on a new ideal (I don't dare speak of ethics or morals): the quest for the biggest payoff for the least effort. Money speedily acquired, by speculation and why not theft. The gang of black unemployed who loot a supermarket and the group of oligarchs who try to organize the "heist" of the century of Iraq's hydrocarbon reserves have a common principle of action: predation. The dysfunctions in New Orleans reflect certain central elements of present American culture...

American neo-conservatism is not alone to blame. What seems to me more striking is the way this America that incarnates the absolute opposite of the Soviet Union is on the point of producing the same catastrophe by the opposite route. Communism, in its madness, supposed that society was everything and that the individual was nothing, an ideological basis that caused its own ruin. Today, the United States assures us, with a blind faith as intense as Stalin's, that the individual is everything, that the market is enough and that the state is hateful. The intensity of the ideological fixation is altogether comparable to the Communist delirium. This individualist and inequalitarian posture disorganizes American capacity for action. The real mystery to me is situated there: how can a society renounce common sense and pragmatism to such an extent and enter into such a process of ideological self-destruction? It's a historical aporia to which I have no answer and the problem with which cannot be abstracted from the present administration's policies alone. It's all of American society that seems to be launched into a scorpion policy, a sick system that ends up injecting itself with its own venom. Such behavior is not rational, but it does not all the same contradict the logic of history. The post-war generations have lost acquaintance with the tragic and with the spectacle of self-destroying systems. But the empirical reality of human history is that it is not rational.
I think we have to add to this that there is a form of rationality at work here. Orthodox neoclassical economic thought bleeds into all of American policy-making. This combined with the death or historically gradual deemphasis of American egalitarianism in the name of a crude individualism, combine for a particularly wicked form of "predation." This entire scheme itself is "rational," as in rational actors behaving according to their own self-interest. Many of us who have long been critical of this mode of thinking and policy-making, even using American historical sources (Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Dewey, etc.), have argued that a particular framework posing as universal has come to dominate American thought and policy. Its domination is reinforced through its implicit claim that it represents the peak of historical rationality in socio-economic governance. Its irrationality lies in its attendance to solely short-term rational self-acting and the ignorance of values other than those that fit various neoclassical models. Thus, we begin to see the collapse of infrastructure, the consequences of poor planning, the anomie of vacuous residences and neighborhoods, the violence of some of those impatient with the rate of liberation, and a body that feeds on itself. Predation.

In other words, we've never grown up, we little demonic tot omnivores. The events of the past few years - 9-11, Katrina and Rita, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo - appear as grand surprises, even divine (or devilish) strikes against America. And then we ask, if only briefly and through the jumble of short-term memory loss, "how did we get here?"

Banana leaves

Photo: Ian Maguire

And the fishing sucks under global warming

About 100 fishermen have been rescued from drifting ice after it broke away from the coast of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East, but many more remain stranded, a spokesman for local rescuers quoted by RIA Novosti said Monday.

The representative of the local Emergency Situations Ministry said an ice floe with 300 to 500 fishermen was 1.5 km (0.9 miles) away from the northeastern coast of the island.

Finland stays left

Meanwhile, in the most competitive country in the world (that's right, supply-siders, Finland), the leftist president retains her presidency in a runoff election. Congratulations to Tarja Halonen.

Move along, nothing more to see

US President George W Bush said that the photographs of American military guards abusing Iraqi detainees inside Abu Ghraib prison had "disgraced" the United States.

However, in excerpts of an interview, conducted earlier this week, with CBS News broadcast on Sunday, Bush stressed that the US authorities had investigated the abuse and brought those responsible to account. "There’s no question, the Abu Ghraib pictures not only ... we were disgraced," Bush said in response to a question about America’s image overseas.

Year of the Dog

I'm heading for "Mad Dog Come," Cannon Street, third floor. Miss Yeung is the manager, her first name is Wing Shan but she calls herself Florence. The little woman with jewellery in her hair says: "I hope you will like your choice."

Mad Dog Come. From the street the doorway looks like thousands of others in downtown Hong Kong, a staircase that could lead to brothels, manicure studios, or Shanghai restaurants as large as train stations. I go up three flights of stairs, then reach a glass door which resembles the entrance to a doctor's office.

I ring the bell. The door opens. I step into a bright room and am greeted by Martin, Quinton, Jeepsy and the other Fox Terriers, Huskies and Retrievers, seven dogs bark and jump up and and sniff the guests, on some nights the animals wear sport shirts and princess dresses. This Friday most of them are naked, so to speak.

The times, they are Rabelaisian

“Burn ‘em, tear ‘em, nip ‘em with hot pincers, drown ‘em, hang ‘em, spit ‘em at the bunghole, pelt ‘em, paut ‘em, bruise ‘em, beat ‘em, cripple ‘em, dismember ‘em, cut ‘em, gut ‘em, bowel ‘em, paunch ‘em, thrash ‘em, slash ‘em, gash ‘em, chop ‘em, slice ‘em, slit ‘em, carve ‘em, saw ‘em, bethwack ‘em, pare ‘em, hack ‘em, hew ‘em, mince ‘em, flay ‘em, boil ‘em, broil ‘em, roast ‘em, toast ‘em, bake ‘em, fry ‘em, crucify ‘em, crush ‘em, squeeze ‘em, grind ‘em, batter ‘em, burst ‘em, quarter ‘em, unlimb ‘em, behump ‘em, bethump ‘em, belam ‘em, belabour ‘em, pepper ‘em, spitchcock ‘em, and carbonade ‘em on gridirons, these wicked heretics! decretalifuges, decretalicides, worse than homicides, worse than patricides, decretalictones of the devil of hell.” (Rabelais from Le Quart Livre)

Kunstler on legitimacy

...It is easy to see the potential loss of legitimacy among all the authorities in American life today. In government, it is the astounding denial of such obvious dangers as global warming, recklessness in finance, and the gathering permanent energy crisis. The news media also fritters away its legitimacy, as when CBS's "60 Minutes" show broadcast a mendacious segment telling the public that the tar sands of Alberta would immunize us from a global energy shock. The arts lost their legitimacy decades ago, leaving little besides irony over their failings.

But if the American public becomes subject to political despotism in the years ahead, it will come from somebody other than Bush and it will come because the public will demand it. The American public itself has been so grossly passive, complacent, and irresponsible in its raptures of credit-card shopping, infotainment, and easy motoring, that when our society runs into trouble due to the things we have ignored, the public will beg to pushed around, they will crave to be directed toward some purposeful action to save their asses....

A piece from McSweeney's

To: All Staff
11:01 AM
Subject: re: what the fuck?!

Wow. Today just ain't my day! I've been told that I have more "explaining" to do, re: "the realm of the imaginary." So here goes: I probably should have told you that for the past two years, give or take a few months, I've imagined myself as a talking horse and that, as this talking horse, I've ruled a fantasy kingdom populated by you guys, my co-workers. The 27 images I included in the first e-mail are, in fact, Photoshop montages, not actual photos. Carry on!


... things are not all right at the Fitzwilliam Museum (via Majikthise).
Historic vases smashed in stumble

The 300-year-old Qing vases were among the best known artefacts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

The visitor is said to have slipped on a loose shoelace and fallen down a staircase bringing the vases crashing down as he tried to steady himself.


...things are going just a little bit of all right over at Exxon Mobil.
Exxon Mobil Corporation reported today that its earnings in the fourth quarter of 2005 were $10.71 billion, or $1.71 a share, up 27 percent from the $8.42 billion, or $1.30 a share, in the final quarter of the previous year.

Links update

A few new links, and some deleted. I'll let you guess the deleted ones. Here are the new ones. Take a look.

Footnotes on Epicycles : Philosophical foofaraw
Adventures in Ethics and Science : what the name says
Pandagon : a big politics blog many visitors will likely already know
Frieze : art
McSweeney's : good writing
Paris DailyPhoto : photos from a Parisian
コロコロザイーガ : Japanese kookiness

And what would this world be without Demonic Tots?

Oh! And here's the perfect soundtrack (posted earlier): Devo sung by Disney kids.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The man who wasn't there

In the latest Foreign Policy Magazine is an article on Hugo Chávez titled "Hugo Boss." The basic idea is that Chávez is a contemporary version of the same old authoritarian tyrant (not my words).

The article begins with the premise of Chávez being a dictator, then runs through the usual litany of opposition arguments against Chávez, ignoring those facts and arguments that are simply inconvenient to the image of Chávez as autocrat. In the first introductory section of the essay, the words "tyrant", "authoritarian," "dictator" are used ten times before we get to any substance in the article. So, there you have it. Corrales, the author, writes, "Many experts, and certainly Chávez’s supporters, would not concede that Venezuela has become an autocracy. After all, Chávez wins votes, often with the help of the poor. That is the peculiarity of Chávez’s regime. He has virtually eliminated the contradiction between autocracy and political competitiveness."

Don't let appearances deceive, Corrales says. This really is a dictatorship in "democratic disguise" even if there aren't pogroms, purges, and mass deportations.
There are no mass executions or concentration camps in Venezuela. Civil society has not disappeared, as it did in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. There is no systematic, state-sponsored terror leaving scores of desaparecidos, as happened in Argentina and Chile in the 1970s. And there is certainly no efficiently repressive and meddlesome bureaucracy à la the Warsaw Pact. In fact, in Venezuela, one can still find an active and vociferous opposition, elections, a feisty press, and a vibrant and organized civil society. Venezuela, in other words, appears almost democratic.
So what's the problem? First, Chávez changed the constitution so that a simple majority of congress can pass legislation rather than the previous two-thirds. This mattered when his party had only a simple majority in congress. It doesn't any more. Corrales doesn't deal with the reasons for this, but this is what he has to say: "Chávez has achieved absolute control of all state institutions that might check his power."
Chávez thus controls the legislature, the Supreme Court, two armed forces, the only important source of state revenue, and the institution that monitors electoral rules. As if that weren’t enough, a new media law allows the state to supervise media content, and a revised criminal code permits the state to imprison any citizen for showing “disrespect” toward government officials. By compiling and posting on the Internet lists of voters and their political tendencies—including whether they signed a petition for a recall referendum in 2004—Venezuela has achieved reverse accountability. The state is watching and punishing citizens for political actions it disapproves of rather than the other way around. If democracy requires checks on the power of incumbents, Venezuela doesn’t come close.
Furthermore, he has practiced a politics of polarization. And so on. I don't have the patience to continue this. But read the article. It is a standard treatise of the Venezuelan political opposition. That standard treatise lays claim to a few basic notions whose truth is is disputable. For one thing, the reason Chávez has complete control of the government has as much to do with the tactics of the political opposition, perhaps more so, than anything else. They boycotted the last elections and this boycott was led by the media (so much for total control over the media). The abstention rate was high. The result was a sweep of all the congressional seats by pro-Chávez candidates. Yes, he has total control over the branches of government. The opposition gave it to him. Crying foul and accusing Chávez of authoritarian government is just a bit too politically twee. His reign is as orchestrated by the opposition as it is by "The Boss" himself. Corrales suggests that Chávez has such total control that he has somehow polarized politics in the country all by himself by creating a polar opposition as if they had never existed and had never run the country!

But, then, here's the conclusion of the article below. The same line of thought that leads countries to invade others in the name of democratization when it's actually liberalization they're after. The opposition in Venezuela does not care about democracy. History has shown this, and the presidency of Chávez is a result. He was, after all, elected. Note that writers such as Corrales imply that the poor, the majority of which are Chávez supporters, are poor, unthinking dupes.
Ultimately, all authoritarian regimes seek power by following the same principle. They raise society’s tolerance for state intervention. Thomas Hobbes, the 17th-century British philosopher, offered some tips for accomplishing this goal. The more insecurity that citizens face—the closer they come to living in the brutish state of nature—the more they will welcome state power. Chávez may not have read Hobbes, but he understands Hobbesian thinking to perfection. He knows that citizens who see a world collapsing will appreciate state interventions. Chávez therefore has no incentive to address Venezuela’s assorted crises. Rather than mending the country’s catastrophic healthcare system, he opens a few military hospitals for selected patients and brings in Cuban doctors to run ad hoc clinics. Rather than addressing the economy’s lack of competitiveness, he offers subsidies and protection to economic agents in trouble. Rather than killing inflation, which is crucial to alleviating poverty, Chávez sets price controls and creates local grocery stores with subsidized prices. Rather than promoting stable property rights to boost investment and employment, he expands state employment.
Yes. Now poor people can eat, go to school, have basic medical care, and often receive decent and safe housing. I've been to the clinics. They are not "ad hoc" and they are new additions to the poor ranchos, whereas previously poor Venezuelans had very little access to medical care and only outside of the ranchos. Yes, Cuba has sent doctors to staff the clinics and train Venezuelan workers. Cuban medicine is famous for its competence and skill. The clinics are clean and modern.

Most importantly for Corrales and for the monied class of the opposition, however, is their concern about property rights. Who owns property? The poor?

Look, Chávez is an interesting and complex character as a man and as a phenomenon in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America. There are any number of ways to describe him and the phenomenon. The upper class opposition version is just that - one version among many. It also happens to be the most common version in obnoxious publications such as Foreign Policy Magazine (who goes to Davos or assembles the richest fifty people in the world when it wants to measure the pulse of the planet). It is the most common view from the North. It's an oversimplified one and US policy is doomed to failure if it continues to take oversimplistic assessments as the basis for foreign policy and its use of violence, whether military or economic.

Carter, the human president

Jimmy Carter separates the wheat from the chaff.

Carter, who led an 85-member international observer team from around the world organized by the 'National Democratic Institute' in partnership with 'The Carter Center,' urged the international community to directly or indirectly fund the new Palestinian Government even though it will be led by an internationally-declared foreign terror organization.

"The Palestinian Government is destitute, and in desperate financial straits. I hope that support for the new government will be forthcoming," Carter said at a Jerusalem press conference.

He added that if international law barred donor countries from directly funding a Hamas-led government than the US and the EU should bypass the Palestinian Authority and provide the "much-needed" money to the Palestinians via non-governmental channels such as UN agencies.

"Regardless of the government, I would hope that potential donors find alternative means to be generous to the Palestinian people [even] if the donor decides to bypass the Palestinian government completely," Carter said, stressing that his main concern was to avert the "suffering" of the Palestinian people, which he said could lead to a new cycle of violence.

Military Industrial Complex

Congress has granted unusual authority for the Pentagon to spend as much as $200 million of its own budget to aid foreign militaries, a break with the traditional practice of channeling foreign military assistance through the State Department.

The move, included in a little-noticed provision of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act passed last month, marks a legislative victory for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who pushed hard for the new powers to deal with emergency situations.

But it has drawn warnings from foreign policy specialists inside and outside the government, who say it could lead to growth of a separate military assistance effort not subject to the same constraints applied to foreign aid programs that are administered by the State Department. Such constraints are meant to ensure that aid recipients meet certain standards, including respect for human rights and protection of legitimate civilian authorities.

Just a thought, but as a legal matter, would it be possible to impeach the whole damned lot of them: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Congress?


From the Albany Times Union (via Truthout):
Forget the war on terrorism. President Bush is engaged in a full-blown war on Americanism.

Ridiculous? Unthinkable? The idea that an American president could epitomize anti-Americanism is certainly counterintuitive. But it's a lot less shocking if we consider just what defines this country's core values.

And if that list includes such essentials as freedom, responsibility, justice, humanity, respect and fairness -- and doesn't it? -- if that's what it means to be American, then George Bush is indeed at war with Americanism.


If you are, as I am, interested in photos of small ruined and quiet pieces of beauty in the world, check out Michel-Jean Dupierris' Le Monde photoblog. Here's the photo from today: "Chinoises."

This is your money, Americans

Iraqi money gambled away in the Philippines. Thousands spent on a swimming pool that was never used. An elevator repaired so poorly that it crashed, killing people.

A U.S. government audit found American-led occupation authorities squandered tens of millions of dollars that were supposed to be used to rebuild Iraq through undocumented spending and outright fraud.

In some cases, auditors recommend criminal charges be filed against the perpetrators. In others, it asks the U.S. ambassador to Iraq to recoup the money.

Dryly written audit reports describe the Coalition Provisional Authority's offices in the south-central city of Hillah being awash in bricks of $100 bills taken from a central vault without documentation.

It describes one agent who kept almost $700,000 in cash in an unlocked footlocker and mentions a U.S. soldier who gambled away as much as $60,000 in reconstruction funds in the Philippines.

"Tens of millions of dollars in cash had gone in and out of the South-Central Region vault without any tracking of who deposited or withdrew the money, and why it was taken out," says a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which is in the midst of a series of audits for the Pentagon and State Department.

More tardiness

Not "starting to debate" irreversible climate change.... This issue has been around for three decades and has been "debated" by scientists, forward-thinking members of the United Nations system, and environmental ethicists. This administration as well as those of Clinton and Bush the First have actively ignored it. Exxon and other corporate powers have actively produced propaganda saying it's not a problem. And news outlets such as the Washington Post have been slow to say anything counter to this ongoing, active ignorance. Now it's as if there's beginning to be real concern? Too late, WaPo.

Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.

This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible.

There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

Iran hearts US

Did anyone see all this coming pre-war? With a basic understanding of geopolitical dynamics, the occasional read of Juan Cole, and some knowledge of the history of US machinations in Central and South America and throughout Asia, warnings from US military leaders such as Shinseki about spreading troops too widely, and the strengthening of Iran's position through general hatred of US policies and the power of the Shiites in Iraq, you did see it.

So far, though, Iran's mullahs aren't feeling much pain from the Americans next door. In fact, officials at all levels of government here say they see the American presence as a source of strength for themselves as they face the Bush administration.

In almost every conversation about Iran's nuclear showdown with the United States and Europe, they cite the Iraq war as a factor Iran can play to its own advantage.

"America is extremely vulnerable right now," said Akbar Alami, a member of the Iran's Parliament often critical of the government but on this point hewing to the government line. "If the U.S. takes any unwise action" to punish Iran for pursuing its nuclear program, he said, "certainly the U.S. and other countries will share the harm."

Iranians know that American forces, now stretched thin, are unlikely to invade Iran. And if the United States or Europe were to try a small-scale, targeted attack, the proximity of American forces makes them potential targets for retaliation. Iranians also know the fighting in Iraq has helped raise oil prices, and any attempt to impose sanctions could push prices higher.

In addition, the Iranians have longstanding ties to influential Shiite religious leaders in Iraq, and at least one recently promised that his militia would make real trouble for the Americans if they moved militarily against Iran.

All of those calculations have reduced Iranian fears of going ahead with their nuclear program — a prospect that frightens not just the United States, Europe and Israel, but many of the Sunni Muslim-dominated nations in the region, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Crooks, Liars, More of the Same

It isn't clear if Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN are reinventing leftist movimientos, or reinventing self-foot-shooting. But a few days after renouncing politics in general (and a few months after dissolving the political wing of the EZLN), Marcos still has lots to say about Mexico's current presidential race. The left of center (PRD) candidate and the institutional center (PRI) candidate, López Obrador and Madrazo are crooks and liars; the right candidate (PAN) will just be more Vicente Fox.

The effects of the subcomandante's opinions on the PRD--the party whose base is most sympathetic to the EZLN--remains to be seen.

El subcomandante Marcos, líder del Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN), criticó ayer a los tres principales aspirantes a la presidencia de México.

En un parque de la ciudad, Marcos tachó de “mentirosos” y “criminales” a los tabasqueños Roberto Madrazo, del PRI, y Andrés Manuel López Obrador, del PRD.
Marcos dijo de Madrazo, cuyo partido va aliado al Verde Ecologista (PVEM), que es un “criminal” que ha despojado a los campesinos de sus tierras, y de López Obrador opinó que no es de fiar “porque se olvidó de los pobres y ayudó a los ricos” cuando gobernó la capital mexicana (2000-2005).

UPDATE (Helmut):

Here are a couple of helpful links on the Mexican elections from O de Potomac:



Happy Chinese New Year and Tet

One day this will be our main holiday. Burn those dollars so that the gods get to report to the Jade Emperor. Or yuan -- probably a bit more valuable if you want them to go by express. Year of the Dog.

Happy leprosy day

Sunday is leprosy day -- an attempt to remind the world that this almost forgotten disease still defigures nearly half a million people every year even though it can be cured if caught early enough.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

No comment

Former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday to spare the life of a death row inmate because the man has apologized for his crimes.

Starr told the governor Michael Morales should be granted clemency because he has repeatedly expressed remorse for the rape and murder of a 17-year-old girl in 1981.

How about simply "fog"?

On Katrina:

The White House, Mr. Rapuano said, finally received confirmation about the levee breach about 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the morning after it occurred. But even then, it does not appear that word got immediately to Mr. Bush, who was on vacation and who later said that he had had a "sense of relaxation" and had thought the city had "dodged a bullet."

"We are left with a picture of a White House that was plagued by the fog of war," said David Marin, the Republican staff director to the House committee investigating the government's response to the hurricane. "The committee is likely to find a disturbing inability by the White House to de-conflict and analyze information — and that had consequences."

The Hamas budget deficit: nearly American

The US is trying to help yet another government turn to Iran for support while not quite understanding that deficit spending is the American thing to do.
Hamas leaders, savoring their landslide victory in Palestinian elections, faced an array of threats on Friday: a huge government deficit, a likely cutoff of most aid, international ostracism and the rage of defeated and armed Fatah militants.

Of the many questions that the Hamas victory presents, the need to pay basic bills and salaries to Palestinians is perhaps the most pressing. The Palestinian Authority is functionally bankrupt, with a deficit of $69 million for January alone.

That will be an urgent question when the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, known as the quartet, meet in London on Monday to discuss the Palestinian vote, especially if, as some American officials fear, Hamas turns to Iran to make up some of the difference.

Speak no evil, NASA man!

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

Here's the analysis (via Norwegianity)... until it gets the axe by the Bushies.

Spying ethics

It's taking university philosophy departments by storm. In fact, I'm working on a paper entitled "Diversity and Identity in Perfidious Spying and Assassination Dreams":
Is there such a thing as an ethical spy?

A group of current and former intelligence officers and academic experts think there is, and they are meeting this weekend to dissect what some others in the field consider a flat-out contradiction in terms.

The organizers say recent controversies over interrogation techniques bordering on torture and the alleged skewing of prewar intelligence on Iraq make their mission urgent. At the conference on Friday and Saturday in a Springfield, Va., hotel, the 200 attendees hope to begin hammering out a code of ethics for spies and to form an international association to study the subject.

Conference materials describe intelligence ethics as "an emerging field" and call the gathering, not sponsored by any government agency, the first of its kind. The topics include "Spiritual Crises Among Intelligence Operatives," "Lessons From Abu Ghraib," "Assassination: The Dream and the Nightmare" and "The Perfidy of Espionage."

Organizers said conferees would ponder such timely issues as how many civilian deaths can be justified in a C.I.A. Predator missile strike to kill a known terrorist, or what legal assurances a National Security Agency eavesdropper should demand before singling out the phone calls of an American who was linked to Al Qaeda.

More American censorship

(Via The Wege, via SusanG at Daily Kos) see this Knight-Ridder article:
The State Department has been using political litmus tests to screen private American citizens before they can be sent overseas to represent the United States, weeding out critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to department officials and internal e-mails....

Late this week, after Knight Ridder inquired about the litmus tests, Alexander Feldman, the head of the department's International Information Programs bureau, which runs the speakers program, sent a memo to his employees warning that "no one is to speak to the press without following the procedures" and getting approval. Knight Ridder obtained a copy of the memo.

Feldman, a political appointee and former media executive, was traveling and couldn't be reached for comment. Seven calls made to two of his press officers and to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack weren't returned by the end of the day Friday.

The effort, known as the "U.S. Speakers/Specialist Program," is part of a public diplomacy effort to change negative foreign opinions of the United States. It's overseen by Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, although the questionable practices reportedly began before she took up her post in September.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Photo: Selvin Chance

It's a PSYOP world after all

Check this out:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged in a document made public on Thursday that information spread by the Pentagon to influence foreign peoples and enemies increasingly seeps back home and is "consumed by our domestic audience."

The Pentagon argued the "psychological operations" information was truthful. But the research organization that obtained the document through the Freedom of Information Act described it as propaganda planted overseas that inevitably made its way back to the United States....

"Secretary Rumsfeld's road map says the American people can't be protected from the Pentagon's psychological operations abroad but it doesn't matter as long as he's not targeting the American public. It's the collateral damage theory of propaganda," said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington.

The document stated that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP (psychological operations), increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa."

Personally, I think this explains quite a bit. Hear me out. See, the US planted the story that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to puff up Saddam Hussein's ego as a way of keeping Iran in line. The story circulated and returned to the US where it was picked up by the Bush Administration. The administration then promptly told the truth to the American public about Saddam having WMDs confirmed by foreign intelligence assessments and the guy on the street corner selling chickens. Since Saddam had WMDs, it was imperative that he be stopped before he nuked or gassed any of his neighbors or anyone else. Since PSYOPs had also planted stories about Bush's even bigger ego, Bush took this to heart quite proudly and decided the US must invade and occupy Iraq in order that Saddam's ego not get too carried away. It would be a slight on the US to suggest that Saddam had a bigger ego and bigger weapons than the US, and Iran had to understand this. In fact, Bush had the all-powerful weapon of love (but not homo love!); the love that brings welcoming paths of rose petals to the streets of Baghdad and wafts of frankincense and myrrh. Christ had Christian love, Bush thought. Saddam did not because he took those bad weapons the US gave him and gassed people in his own country rather than using them for Christian love purposes. Bush then discovered that Iraqis are mostly Islamic rather than Christian. He then understood that they are evil and he needed to good-ize that world.

Now why was the president so angry at the CIA for "intelligence failures"? Because Bush learned that the whole thing had been one big PSYOP and, once the disorientation subsided and more brush cleared, he thought the CIA was mocking his ego and his big weapons. So, Bush did his own PSYOP, see, and he planted stories [giggle] that the CIA's neighbors were up to no good, planning on toilet papering the front yard, letting the air out of their tires, and other mischievous activities. So the CIA went to the wires with the NSA to see if they could figure out who would paper their yards. It could be anyone! The only solution was to monitor everyone. Faithful as they were to the meanwhile furtively tittering George Bush, they reported to Bush about what they were doing. Bush said, "yeah sure. Good work, boys. Keep it up [titter]!"

This is the story of how the US invaded Iraq and then spied on its own people. But the story doesn't end there, our investigators show. The US also planted the story that democracy is good [titter, heh heh]. A bunch of people all over the world started to believe this nonsense and elected leftwing governments and their favorite political parties. It was worse than letting the air out of the tires! The problem was when Iraqis began to believe it too. The PSYOP messages returned to Americans through Iraqi spies in the liberal media and made Americans believe that the US was doing democratic stuff all over the place (but they secretly wondered why they couldn't elect the person they actually wanted to be president). The problem was that Iraqis got pissed when they saw that democracy means that an occupying power gets to put people it likes into government and keep them in an emerald palace called the "Green Zone" while most of the others just get killed. When this propaganda made its way back to the US, Americans started to think that if they lived in a democracy, they could have emerald palaces too. One guy in particular, Jack Abramoff, went all over congress telling this story and talking about how to invest money so that every congressperson could have an emerald palace with Scottish golf courses and Cuban cigars (so naughty!) and live in the palace forever and ever. Bush caught wind of this and wanted in on the action. The White House, after all, was always just one step towards The Emerald Palace where Bush could ride his exercise bike, pick his nose, and play video games as Zorkan Emperor of God Land all day long forever and ever.

Of course, now no one knows up from down, day from night, good from bad. But this is Iraq's fault because they believed PSYOP propaganda and then it came back to the US. This meant Iraq was attacking the US with PSYOPism. So Bush, via Rumsfeld's atrophying brain, realized that he'd have to kill pretty much all of them except the people in the Emerald Palace. Dumb Iraqis, of course, still haven't realized that all that PSYOPs stuff about developing a democracy was planted as a really funny joke on Iran. And Americans keep believing they live in a democracy where you eventually get to live in an emerald palace. [titter].

Just a thought....

The Virginian

In the wild, wild world of Virginia, where men are men (but we'd better pass a constitutional amendment just to make sure) and good men are packing, it is apparently now necessary for state lawmakers to be armed while legislating.

We learned this yesterday when Delegate Jack Reid, a Republican from Henrico County in the Richmond area, accidentally discharged his handgun in his office at the General Assembly building. He shot into his bulletproof vest, which was hanging on his office wall. No one was killed.

Oh, I get it, ha ha ha ha ha, hee hee, ho, whew

I really detest posting anything about Ann Coulter, that cackling psychopath. But here she is making another "joke" about liberals she wants to murder. This makes for an awfully large tally now. I have no doubt that if I said something similar about murdering someone on the right -- in jest, of course, because murder is just so damn funny -- I'd have someone knocking on my door in half an hour. Loonbag.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, speaking at a traditionally black college, joked that Justice John Paul Stevens should be poisoned.

Coulter had told the Philander Smith College audience Thursday that more conservative justices were needed on the Supreme Court to change the current law on abortion. Stevens is one of the court's most liberal members.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

We're coming for your women

Oh, so that's why they're pissy about jailed Iraqi women. This is just wrong.

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

The issue of female detentions in Iraq has taken on a higher profile since kidnappers seized American journalist Jill Carroll on Jan. 7 and threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are freed.

Darwin and geology

Via Butterflies and Wheels, here are two review essays on Sandra Herbert's book, Charles Darwin, Geologist. One in the Times Literary Supplement, the other in American Scientist. Much of the recent debates about Darwin and evolution focus on biological elements. This book on geology and evolution is a nice addition.

Beyond geology itself, it's worth noting that plate tectonics, the theory of the Earth's plate movements, is entirely dependent on evolutionary theory as well. Plate tectonics as a theory and course of scientific study is only about 40 or so years old, pieced together by scientists from around the world all of whom were working within the framework of the fundamental tenets of evolution. See this fascinating account. It's worth remembering that not only would modern biology not exist without Darwin, neither would most of the physical sciences.

Mexico's Next President?

Andrés Manuel López Obrador addressed a big, rambunctious crowd yesterday in Tijuana, speaking particularly to the issue of Mexican migration into the U.S. His argument--that Mexican economic growth and job creation will enable Mexicans to stay home, where they would prefer to be--isn't anything terribly new or special. But it isn't something Fox has been shouting about a lot, either (energetically committed as he has been to the belief that neo-liberalization will, someday, somehow, lead to such economic development in Mexico). And AMLO has an opinion about the recent surge of anti-immigration panic in the U.S. lately: "Our neighbors," he said, need to understand that nothing is going to be fixed by wall-building, Border Patrol increases, hard-line anti-immigrant legislation, or threats. Instead, all of these things will lead inevitably to more human-rights violations and strains between the two governments.

Sobre todo cuando el candidato presidencial de la alianza formada por los partidos de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), del Trabajo y Convergencia expuso los lineamientos de lo que será la relación del gobierno que espera encabezar con Washington, basada en compromisos conjuntos.

"Debe quedar claro que si no hay crecimiento de la economía y generación de empleos en México, no se podrá enfrentar el problema migratorio. También debe quedar claro a nuestros vecinos que nada se resolverá con la construcción de muros, ni con mayor patrullaje fronterizo, ni con leyes severas o con amenazas de mano dura".

Todas esas medidas, agregó, sólo provocarán más violaciones a los derechos humanos y más conflictos en la relación bilateral entre ambos gobiernos.

Silly Mexicans Wait for "Search Warrants"

Mexican officials have discovered a marvelously-engineered half-mile-long, marijuana-filled tunnel crossing sixty feet below the U.S.-Mexico border. I don't know how they managed it, after waiting around for a search warrant like a bunch of constitution-obsessed smuggler-lovers.

We don't need no stinkin' search warrants.
Mexican authorities, after waiting one day for a search warrant, raided the small warehouse on Wednesday. Agents entered the tunnel and ran its length into the U.S., popping out from underneath a tile-covered floor in an office inside the warehouse.
A day? A day? Poor hobbled bastards.
As for our team:
On Wednesday, several miles west of the big tunnel, authorities found a smaller one about 2 feet underground and extending 30 feet across the border near a storm drain after a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle hit a sinkhole.
Well done, Border Patrol Agent Clouseau.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Iran-US freundschaft

In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, a coalition of 40 organizations, led by the Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called for an explanation of the vote which aligned the United States with governments that have long repressed the rights of sexual minorities.

Mao and Sparkles the Sockpuppet

Photo via the Defeatists

"An army without culture is a dull-witted army, and a dull-witted army cannot defeat the enemy."

Fascism's faces

Riffing further on dcat's post today about Jonah Goldberg's forthcoming book with the funny self-explanatory title, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton....

Fascism, among fascism scholars, is notoriously difficult to parse as a political phenomenon. Richard Golsan is one of these scholars. He has always insisted that there are elements of the left as well as the right in historical fascist movements, and not necessarily anti-Semitism (early French fascism was not anti-semitic; and many Jews in pre-war Italy initially flocked to the fascists). Our two prime examples of fascism are, of course, Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy. Both, we can say, were anti-liberal, and fascism has often been an explicit revolt against liberalism. In some cases this means basic market liberalism; in others, it means how we generally take "liberalism" in the US today. In fact, given liberalism's devotion to equity, equality, and liberty, it's a rather large leap to combine "liberal" with "fascism." Of course, this would never stop an intellectually insignificant writer such as Goldberg from making such a flaming claim in the very title of his book.

Roger Griffin writes that,

Historically there has been a high level of agreement among different fascists on which forces threaten the health of the nation [a core obsession of fascism], namely Marxism-Leninism, materialism, internationalism, liberalism, individualism, but considerable variation in what forces are advocated as their remedy and the degree of imperialist and racist violence envisaged in order to impose it. Blackwell Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Social Thought.

As with any political ideology, liberalism can be guilty of absolutizing itself to the exclusion of other political ideologies, taking itself to be the only true answer to political conflicts. But the best and most fruitful variations of liberalism are precisely the opposite and, rather, entail commitments to pluralism, fallibilism, meliorism, and egalitarianism, to anti-absolutism, anti-fundamentalism, and anti-totalitarianism. The best liberal thinkers, in other words, are committed to rooting out the shortcomings in their own political philosophy and practices and absolutism or “totalitarianism” is simply anathema. This internal tendency has produced some of the best political philosophy of the past couple of hundred years. One cannot say the same of right-wing ideology of which fascism is a variation.

A principal aspect of conservatism is traditionalism, which is by its very nature opposed to change, especially that which arises through critical self-examination. Conservatism reifies tradition, religion, property, family, the nation, and an eternally unchanging constitution. The latter, especially, is a myth. There is no such thing as an unchanging constitution that can be interpreted by the judicial in completely faithful terms. We no longer live in a world of muskets, sabers, and candles. Conservatism has some important elements, I think. For instance, we are never entirely detached from tradition either. Our contemporary experience is always “funded,” to use one of John Dewey’s terms, with the accumulated historical results of past inquiry and practices. And we are social beings rather than Lockean atomistic individuals isolated in theory from each other and then reified into microeconomic conceptions that focus on the behavior of self-seeking rational individual actors whose behavior yields a guide to individual preferences that drive markets. This is the variant of free-market liberalism to which conservatives and liberals alike often adhere.

Anthony Quinton, in his entry on "Conservatism" in the Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Political Theory, discusses non-conservative right-wing ideologies, including fascism, authoritarianism, and elitism. All of these elements can be found in both American political parties and, perhaps, in the present system of American government. The authoritarian “gives the highest place among political values to security.” The elitist believes in “the limited political rationality of the bulk of the public” and of the need for “a ruling minority which makes laws and determines policy, and a ruled majority which obeys it.” They look to “techniques of deception by means of which elites preserve themselves in power.” The latter, inherited from Plato’s discussion of the guardians in The Republic, is a central part of the philosophy of Leo Strauss, godfather of neo-conservative thought. And we know well about the fetishization of security (or “s’curity”) under the Bush regime.

What of fascism? Clearly, it’s not on the side of liberalism but more closely allied with right-wing political ideology. Goldberg is already on very shaky ground in the title of his book. Quinton says of fascism that it “combines an intense nationalism, which is both militarily aggressive and resolved to subdue all aspects of public and private life, to the pursuit of national greatness. It asserts that a supreme leader is indispensable, a heroic figure in whom the national spirit is incarnated.” Think Bush on the deck of the “victory” aircraft carrier and Ann Coulter’s grotesque discussion of his “sexiness.” Think NSA and spying on citizens and non-citizens alike. Think military aggression. Think Cheney’s obsession with consolidating the power of the executive branch.

F. T. Marinetti, the Futurist artist and proponent of Mussolini’s brand of fascism, wrote in his 1908 futurist manifesto that “we intend to glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy, the strength of daring.” “We will glorify war – the only true hygiene of the world – militarism, patriotism,….” “We will destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice.” Tempted to speak out against this brand of futurist fascism? Marinetti replies, “Your objections? Enough! Enough! I know them! I quite understand what our splendid and mendacious intelligence asserts. We are, it says, but the result and continuation of our ancestors – Perhaps! Be it so!... What of that? But we will not listen! Beware of repeating such infamous words! Rather hold your head up!"

Now, I have nothing against daring-do or against constantly reconstructing the present in terms of evolving ideals and the lessons of failed pasts. But fascism exalts the elimination – look at the emphasis on war – of past practices and ideas, especially idealistic ones about common human hopes, with the assistance of or in homage to the charismatic leader. Remember the mantra of our present administration: “September 11th changed everything.” What does this mean but a license by fiat to burn the ideals of liberals and the left, to justify any sort of policy in the name of security including the elimination of basic liberties, both positive and negative? Consider this 1997 remark by the philosopher John J. McDermott,

...fascism will not come to America as an anti-democratic movement. Quite the reverse! If it comes, it will be as an eruption from within our self-preening, self-deceiving confidence in our own ‘practice’ of democracy…. I do see… the contemporary crusading religious fundamentalist coalition as deeply foreboding, for they parade under the anthem of God and Country, thereby replicating the most dangerous of the historically numbing and oppressive movements. Hegel speaks of the cunning of history and here we face just that! Under the fake guise of pure American values and traditions, we are being coaxed into patterns of separation in our schools, opposition to gun laws, and a morally self-righteous smear on all alternative lifestyles. The insidious and seditious hook in this movement is its ability to convince many that their positions are not only authentically American but exclusively so. If ever there were the warning signs of an unhappy consciousness about to detonate itself, these are now before us. (From “Threadbare Crape: Reflections on the American Strand”)

Combined with the Cheneyite consolidation of executive power and full license to engage in acts, such as torture, that destroy the basic fabric of liberal decency and liberalism's abhorrence of cruelty, don’t we have precisely a new form of fascism? It parades under the “anthem” of “democracy” and “security” and “freedom” all the while eliminating the basic foundations of democracy, freedom, and even security. It does so in the name of a mythologized -- even religious -- event that changed the course of not only American history but also human history. And it achieves this by demanding allegiance to the charismatic supreme leader who stands above the law. “Liberal fascism”?! Oh, Goldberg and his red herrings. Poor dumb bastard. We live right now in a time in which, regardless of the academic vagaries involved in defining fascism as a political ideology, there has never been anything closer to America’s own brand of fascism.

Wow, new (old) Caravaggios

The French town of Loches in central France was last night celebrating the discovery of two works by the Italian old master Michelangelo Merisi, more widely known as Caravaggio. The paintings were stored under the organ loft of the Church of Saint Antoine de Loches until a local curator became curious about a coat of arms on the works....

One painting shows Saint Thomas putting his finger in Christ's wound, and another shows Christ at Emmaus.

Sometimes a little bit of justice

A South Korean court on Thursday ordered two U.S. manufacturers of the defoliant Agent Orange to pay $62 million in medical compensation to South Korean veterans of the Vietnam War and their families.

The Seoul High Court ordered Dow Chemical in Midland, Mich., and Monsanto Company in St. Louis to pay the compensation to about 6,800 people. It was the first time a South Korean court has ruled in favor of victims of Agent Orange.

There's always the foldout couch at the Kissingers'

The eldest daughter of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has asked the United States to grant her political asylum after she fled tax charges in Chile, Chilean officials said.

Hamas wins

The Islamic militant group Hamas said Thursday it won control of the Palestinian parliament and officials from the ruling Fatah Party confirmed the estimate — though Palestinian election officials delayed the release of preliminary official results....

...Officials with Fatah also said that Hamas had won about 70 seats, which would give the Islamists a majority in the 132-seat parliament. They spoke on condition of anonymity because counting in some districts was continuing.

The man who should be prez

At Sundance:
...Among the film's lessons: Earth's glaciers are melting, the polar bears are screwed, each year sets new heat records. Al Gore sometimes flies coach. He also schleps his own bags.

The morning after his debut as leading man, Gore pronounces this whole Sundance thing "a most excellent time." He is wearing earth tones again. He seems jolly . He brought Tipper and the kids. He is attending parties and posing for pictures with his fans and enjoying macaroni and cheese at the Discovery Channel soiree. He's palling around with Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who says, "Al is a funny guy." But he is also a very serious guy who believes humans may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Stop being so German and dance!

An American professor has developed a theory that Germans are bad-tempered because pronouncing German sounds puts a frown on the face.
(via 3 Quarks Daily)

Devo sung by kids

If you're into that.

True statement

I was doing a quick browse of the news before heading off to my campus office and I saw that Alberto Gonzales said at Georgetown University Law School that NSA citizen surveillance -- the "terrorist surveillance program" -- is not illegal or unconstitutional. I thought, who cares what Gonzales or Bush or Cheney says? I mean, really. Does anyone actually give such statements any credence any more? They are statements, flat claims or even fiats. Yet, they aspire to being truth claims. The basic method of the administration is that if you say it, it is true.

There is an entire history of philosophy and there are hundreds of intricate theories built around the nature of truth and of truth-claims. The basic guidepost regarding true knowledge, found in Plato's Socrates, is that knowledge is justified true belief. That is, we know something when it is true, we believe it to be true, and we can provide an account or convincing evidence of its truth. For this administration, knowledge and truth seem to be simple belief. Not even... rather, a demand that you the citizen believe, whether the speaker -- Gonzales or Bush or whoever -- believes the statement to be true or not. Justification hardly ever enters into the equation. And truth is always tenuous at best. In fact, we could say that knowledge and what citizens and non-citizens should believe is, for the administration, whatever the administration says it is. This method only has purchase on claims to truth and knowledge if one is an omniscient god. The administration, in other words, assumes it is god. You, therefore, must believe the statements of the all-knowing. If day is night and night is day, you must believe.

Fortunately, this method appears to have run its course with most people. There are still the clingers-on: the cowering conservatives whose fear leads them to any security blanket in a supposed storm, the person incapable of basic inference, those who have something personally to gain by lying or by pitching the party line. But for the most part, it's difficult to pay any attention any more to anything the administration says. Unfortunately, it often appears to believe its own lies and dictates. Unfortunately, what is said -- unjustified false belief (or maybe non-belief) -- is "news" and reporters repeat this news as if it says something of substance. It thus takes on the appearance of being information that contributes to the supposed justification of true belief.

We have neither justified true belief from the administration nor information nor any reason to believe anything further they say. Yet, their words are constantly in front of us forced there by the mediators, the media. The system is broken. The ship is rudderless. The emperor has no clothes. It's no wonder there is little sense to American policy.

Davos blog

The IHT blogs Davos.

Katrina papers

Katrina is also apparently a national security issue.
The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.

Amplifying fear

I didn't know there was an election in VA....

The Washington region's emergency managers have concluded that the high-tech devices put in place since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are not enough to warn masses of people. So they are looking at the system that alerted the World War II and Cold War generations: the piercing wail of a siren.

Arlington County and neighboring Alexandria will become the first communities in the country to experiment with sirens as alerts to terrorist attacks. They are preparing to buy as many as 15 modern sirens to mount on telephone poles, buildings and even traffic lights in a few neighborhoods in a federally funded pilot program that is being closely watched by other area governments.

Medical advance?

A good trend in the medicine industry. Let's see how this develops.

Declaring that the pervasive influence of drug industry money is distorting doctors' treatment decisions and scientific findings, a prestigious panel of medical experts called on their colleagues yesterday to adopt far-reaching new conflict-of-interest policies.

In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the group said that voluntary efforts to limit corporate inducements have failed, resulting in the overprescribing of some medications and the withholding of negative discoveries about others. Highly publicized cases involving the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, antidepressants for children and spinal implants made by Medtronic -- all occurring while voluntary guidelines were in place -- highlight the need for stricter measures, they said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Phronesisaical has been nominated for two categories for Koufax awards. Giddy us, giddy-up. Best New Blog is one, as mentioned below, and the other is Blog Deserving of Wider Recognition. Thanks to MB at Wampum for doing all the work of sorting through hundreds, perhaps thousands of blogs. And thanks for giving us the nomination nod in two categories. It's greatly appreciated.

To be entirely honest, we don't have enough readers to get a doubleneck guitar chainsaw pin-you-down to make you vote award. And there are plenty of blogs that will muster the energy and readership to make the pitch for voting for them. Here's mine: please vote if you get the opportunity. But the nominations themselves are nice.

Instead of pitching ourselves for the award -- of which a glorious victory would mean having to take blogging seriously -- I'm taking bets in the comments. The winner will receive a gazillion dollars worth of half-assed blogging posts for at least the next few months. Plus a cd burned from some randomly chosen record of the day on the Helmut turntable (which has developed a rather annoying hum). Comments on Phronesisaical average about .37 per post, so your odds are pretty good of winning this prestigious first possibly-annual-competition-if-we-feel-like-continuing-it.

By Neddie Jingo, bless his heart, wants the thing and is in the same category as us (he nominated us for one of them, kind Jingo). He deserves it. So does Neil Shakespeare. Whirled View deserves wider recognition as does, obviously, Norwegianity. I think they know a lot better than I what a grand victory would mean, so vote for them. A vote for us would be appreciated, but we're just looking for more comments, not having to do more work. Thus, the betting. Wagers open now. Place your bets.

Paris Metro

Photo: Helmut


Oh, Canada

Does this matter?
Strained relations between the world's largest trading partners were expected to improve after the election of Conservative leader Stephen Harper as Canada's next prime minister.

Shining city on a hill

At the point at which phosphorescent tubes in the ass no longer work, fake vaginal blood smeared on them no longer works, water-boarding no longer works, the sleeping bag technique no longer works, dog attacks no longer work, flushing the Koran down toilets no longer works, pummelling them into bloody pulps no longer works, making them simulate sex no longer works, chaining them up by the thumbs no longer works, just kill 'em and say it's all legal and right because we have an entirely efficient and just system of capital punishment. Sick, really sick policy. Get these people out of here....

New US military rules mean that executions of condemned "war on terror" detainees could be carried out at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the US Army said.

The new rules authorize the army to set the location for executions "imposed by military courts-martial or military tribunals and authorized by the president of the United States."

More Venezuela news

Via Cursor:
Venezuela's vice president on Monday told top U.S. Republican Sen. John McCain he could "go to hell" for suggesting that "wackos" were governing the oil-producing South American country.

Commenting on U.S. reliance on foreign oil supplies, McCain told Fox News Sunday, "We better understand the vulnerabilities that our economy and our very lives have ... when we're dependent on Iranian mullahs and wackos in Venezuela."

By the way, those "wackos" send something like 50% of their oil to the US. Regardless of the regime in the US and Venezuela, the oil never stops flowing. McCain is full of crap on this one. You want to not depend on mullahs and wackos, you come up with a plan to develop energy alternatives. There is no other solution. The US cannot drill itself to oil self-sufficiency. That's just political rhetoric that has been taken as reality by politicos like McCain.

Chavez, the supposed anti-Semite

The regular press and some blogs, both left and right, were quick to slam Chavez for his supposed anti-Semitic remark. I held off on this one because nothing is ever as it seems in Venezuela without further inquiry and experience. Here, FAIR does the work for us. Take a look.

Reading conservatives

Take a look at this article by Bill Kauffman in The American Conservative. I might get hammered for this by some readers, but I think we could generally use a dose of reading sites such as AmCon rather than paying any attention to Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter, Malkin, and other blowhards. Bloggers for the most part spend their time excoriating these easy targets. They appeal to the really really drunk and falling down in us all. AmCon, however, often makes decent arguments worthy of engaging. This particular essay is on the importance of George McGovern. You might not agree with it all, but it's worth mulling. Take these quotes of McGovern, cited approvingly in the article:

But at its not-frequent-enough best, McGovernism combined New Left participatory democracy with the small-town populism of the Upper Midwest. In a couple of April 1972 speeches, he seemed to second Barry Goldwater’s 1968 remark to aide Karl Hess that “When the histories are written, I’ll bet that the Old Right and the New Left are put down as having a lot in common and that the people in the middle will be the enemy.”

“[M]ost Americans see the establishment center as an empty, decaying void that commands neither their confidence nor their love,” McGovern asserted in one of the great unknown campaign speeches in American history. “It is the establishment center that has led us into the stupidest and cruelest war in all history. That war is a moral and political disaster—a terrible cancer eating away the soul of the nation. … It was not the American worker who designed the Vietnam war or our military machine. It was the establishment wise men, the academicians of the center. As Walter Lippmann once observed, ‘There is nothing worse than a belligerent professor.’”

And then check out this final line by Kauffman:

At 83, George McGovern remains a voice for peace and freedom in a party that looks ready to nominate the militaristic schoolmarm Hillary Clinton as its next standard-bearer. Oh, how the Democrats could use a bracing shot of McGovernism.

Literally, this couldn't have been better said by a Democrat.

Friedman slam of the day

Number 7 on the list of Most Loathsome People in America, from The Beast via 3 Quarks Daily (which you should be reading).
The worst of all creatures in the political opinion jungle: a cretin who thinks he’s a genius. Friedman’s intolerable knack for converting irreducibly complex geopolitical/socioeconomic situations into simplistic, tin-eared insta-clichés makes him one of the most dangerous people on the planet, arming people even stupider than him with the illusion of knowledge in the form of a crude vocabulary of badly mixed metaphors and ill-conceived flashcard images, thereby having a negative net effect on the nation’s intellect. India and China are “like a bottle of champagne” which someone has been “shaking for 40 years;” the modern economy dictates that “you need to be at a certain level to be able to claim your share of a global pie that is both expanding and becoming more complex;” and the threat of terrorism is a "bubble” that threatens to "undermine" open society. Friedman’s disorienting literary ineptitude is nearly enough to distract us from the indisputable fact that he has no fucking idea what he’s talking about. For this dolt-friendly parlor trick and a slavish devotion to globalization and technology as abstract, almost mystical tenets, Friedman has achieved iconic status. Exhibits the easy smile and benevolent smugness of an unjustly celebrated man who has never thought very deeply or rigorously about anything at all.

Political fear redux

I'm going to do something I've never done before and repost an earlier post. I've seen a number of recent posts on other blogs about fear. This one comes from back in September 2005, a few months after this blog started. One often gives up on or moves past earlier ideas or thoughts, but I stand by this one because it combines two basic characteristics of human nature: finding flatulence to be funny, and finding fear to be, well, scary.

Political Fear

A few years ago and for two years, I was living in DC (as I am now), but commuting to work at New York University (a few days in DC, a few days in NYC). Those were the days of the constant red-alert, orange-alert, Ernie-and-Bert terror warnings from Homeland Security. Absolutely no one I knew believed the alerts were anything other than fear-mongering. We see now that the colors corresponded nearly precisely to the political polling vicissitudes of the administration. Sick people, these fear-mongerers, except that no one believed them. Maybe in the hinterlands, trained in the mushroom clouds of the Cold War 1950s, people went to the basement with a month’s supply of canned baked-beans, but in DC and NYC people did whatever they were going to do anyway regardless of the color code of the day. Go to work, buy a book, sit in a cafe and chat, play violin in the subway.

So, I thought at the time it might be interesting to write a book on the political use of fear and I started to do a bit of research on it. I gave up on the project when I discovered there was already a book on the market on a similar topic (I only read bits and pieces of it for my own purposes of comparison with my own idea and I can’t remember the title — but it was enough to give up on the book idea).

I didn’t want to do a psychoanalytical approach to fear or a study of phobias, but a work on political fear, its uses and abuses. I was convinced as I still am that this administration is expert in frightening and manipulating its citizenry into agreeing with its will without then having to provide an honest explanation for its misadventures. So I saw the project as part political theory and part critique of contemporary politics.

As many researchers do before setting out on a new project of this sort, especially those trained in philosophy, I first cracked open Aristotle. This is what I first learned from Aristotle: "those who are frightened fart." (Problems, Book XXVII.9, 948b26). I’ll let you fill in the jokes, but I imagine Homeland Security to have some serious sewage backups.

Now I love that line of Aristotle, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I looked a bit further at Aristotle. "Anything causes us to feel fear that when it happens to, or threatens, others causes us to feel pity." (Rhetoric, II, 1382b27).

Is this true? This seems like a great theoretical leap from flatulence to moral imagination. We don’t wish others to pity us because we see ourselves in the mirror of those whom we pity? The poor and downtrodden, the strivers who fail miserably, constantly, those who may merit but never receive recognition, the failure, oh, the failure.... Pity is not, then, a form of empathy as we so commonly like to flatter ourselves it is. It is the inverse, a secret smile or smirk at the problems of others. If it is pity that we fear, we do so because it is shameful to our own self-image, to our self-esteem or sense of dignity. Shamefulness is a synonym that completes the circle. We fear pity upon ourselves. But then, rational beings as we are, we also fear the conditions that cause pity. Modernize a moment and then ask why is the most seemingly fearful society the one with the least material worries?

The conditions that cause pity evolve over time as more numbers of people gain the material aspects whose lack causes one type of pity. Pity moves from fearful mockery at lack of material well-being to lack of the ever-reproducing minutiae — the I-Pods and BMWs — of material well-off-ness.

Aristotle also says we don’t fear things that are distant. That seems obviously correct but it providdes us with a clue to our flatulence: we’ve heard quite a bit about mushroom clouds originating in a burned-out, bombed-out and obviously incapacitated land in which we carry out the violent reactions of our fears. And starving people eat grass in Afghanistan, yet we fear them. We fear the situation of not having things others have, but have everything at the same time it seems. Yet, others pity, others who live better, and they are near. Fear (and resentment) is constant comparison. Sartre said, all-so-famously, that hell is others. Fear is others, is perhaps more accurate.

But the genius of political fear is in rendering distant normally unfeared and even unknown things near. Saddam at our doorstep. Iran at our doorstep. Chavez’s socialism at our doorstep and the necessity of his assassination for the highly particularistic televised Christian good of neighborly nearness (and, thank the Lord, abated flatulence). The Mexican mafia or just darker people. Muslims in our midst. Canadian pharmaceuticals. The UN and global governance. Liberals. The gun culture of the US is a result of fear (do they fart more than the average non- gun-owning person? Do they fart when they shoot?). And, yes, the xenophobia of our own "tired and hungry," "welcoming the multitudes" culture.

The regime of fear now extends to the trumping of civil liberties. Why not? When our fear is great enough, we will cause all sorts of havoc to protect against the agents of fart-inducement. US fear is fear of ruined corporate businesses, ruined political power, of competing political and economic powers, of competing opiates of the masses and competing skin colors. And perhaps most commonly it the fear of what one of the greatest and most American of thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, utterly rejoiced in as the effort "to draw new circles," "to forget ourselves," "to lose our sempiternal memory and to do something new without knowing how or why." (Emerson, "Circles"). Such beauty in Emerson, so forgotten for our culture, and so vulgar and utterly embarrassing of me to translate — "be free of Zantac."

Fear can be a genuine response to survival. But fear is also a kind of insanity in which we create a world in response to perceived threats that we otherwise would never imagine wanting to live under. A world reshaped in which lives are increasingly and more persistently reminded of an increasingly vague threat based on increasingly benign features of others (skin, ethnicity, etc.).

Aristotle wondered, "Why do states honour courage more than anything else, though it is not the highest of the excellences? Is it because they are continually either making war or having war made against them, and courage is most useful in both these circumstances? They, therefore, honour not that which is best, but that which is best for themselves." (Problems, XXVII.5, 948a31-4). The state of fear as a political device. A fearful populace believes anything its leaders desire it to believe. Fear is an earner of great benefits for those who instigate, propagate, inflate fear.

Oh, poor Aristotle, it has come to this.... The Bush Administration is the first in which the defining motto is, yes, "freed’m," (and "s’curity"), but a certain kind of ringing freedom: "Let the people fart." Aren't we ourselves the source of the mushroom cloud?

That man, Abramoff

Nice line about the Bush-Abramoff relationship by The Wege:
He did not have a relationship with that man.


Here's a question for you meant in all seriousness (although it's quite the mind-twister): what has George W. Bush done well while in office? Be fair. I'm trying to understand why 35% of the US population thinks he has done something well while pretty much the entire rest of the world thinks he's a dangerous failure.

UPDATE (Jan. 26th, 1am):

Bob Herbert gives the answer (via Atrios):
That was early on the morning of last Aug. 29. On Sept. 1, with the city all but completely underwater, the president went on television and blithely declared, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

This guy is something. Remember his "Top Gun" moment aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln? And his famous taunt — "Bring 'em on" — to the insurgents in Iraq? His breathtaking arrogance is exceeded only by his incompetence. And that's the real problem. That's where you'll find the mind-boggling destructiveness of this regime, in its incompetence.

Fantasy may be in fashion. Reality may have been shoved into the shadows on Mr. Bush's watch. But the plain truth is that he is the worst president in memory, and one of the worst of all time. Many thousands of people — men, women and children — have died unnecessarily (and thousands more are suffering) because of his misguided and mishandled policies.

Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser for George H. W. Bush, counseled against the occupation of Iraq at the end of the first gulf war. As recounted in a New Yorker article last fall, he said, "At the minimum, we'd be an occupier in a hostile land. Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out?"

George W. Bush had no such concerns. In fact, he joked about his failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Like a frat boy making cracks about a bad bet on a football game, Mr. Bush displayed what he felt was a hilarious set of photos during a spoof that he performed at the annual dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association in March 2004.

The photos showed the president peering behind curtains and looking under furniture in the Oval Office for the missing weapons. Mr. Bush offered mock captions for the photos, saying, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." And, "Nope, no weapons over there, maybe under here."

This week, as the killing of American G.I.'s and innocent Iraqis continued, we learned from a draft report from the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction that, like the war itself, the Bush plan for rebuilding Iraq has been crippled by incompetence and extreme shortages of personnel. I doubt that this will bother the president any more than any of his other failures. He seems to truly believe that he can do no wrong.

The fiasco in Iraq and the president's response to the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe were Mr. Bush's two most spectacular foul-ups. There have been many others. The president's new Medicare prescription drug program has been a monumental embarrassment, leaving some of the most vulnerable members of our society without essential medication. Prominent members of the president's own party are balking at the heavy hand of his No Child Left Behind law, which was supposed to radically upgrade the quality of public education.

The Constitution? Civil liberties? Don't ask.

Just keep in mind, whatever your political beliefs, that incompetence in high places can have devastating consequences.

We are all terrorists now

Dick tater, yesterday, in a move we can call the back double-axel, when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife flip (hand touched the ice) wherein he calls us all "terrorists." Dear NSA, if you're reading this, I am not a "terrorist," despite what your king implies. I am an anti-fascist and anti-royalist.

President Bush pushed back Monday at critics of his once-secret domestic spying effort, saying it should be termed a "terrorist surveillance program" and contending it has the backing of legal experts, key lawmakers and the Supreme Court.

Several members of Congress from both parties have questioned whether the warrantless snooping is legal. That is because it bypasses a special federal court that, by law, must authorize eavesdropping on Americans and because the president provided limited notification to only a few lawmakers.

"It's amazing that people say to me, 'Well, he's just breaking the law.' If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?" asked Bush.