Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thai fruit stand

This particular place is near and dear to me. I bought my first durian here. This was home to most of the mangosteens I've ever eaten. I made a trip here nearly every day for a couple of years during childhood in Bangkok. This one is on Soi Ekamai in Bangkok. Photo by Helmut.

Chips in wine

L'Amerloque has a lovely little essay on the French wine industry potentially lowering standards in order to keep up with the global wine market (California, Australia, Chile, South Africa, etc.). The story revolves around the particularly French notion of terroir. These are the little things that make global markets so unappealing for so many.
Devised and refined over decades and decades, the French concept of the terroir is the basis for classifying and ranking wines. Terroir refers to the combination of natural factors associated with a particular vineyard: soil, underlying rock, altitude, terrain, orientation toward the sun, microclimate … there are many parameters. Each French vineyard is unique and the system is complex, with its numerous and somewhat arcane appellations. The consumer must be educated, which takes time, effort and money: it is not a trivial task.

Winemakers in the "New World" countries usually label their wines by the grapes used to make them -- such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir -- and often add a description of the wines' qualities. Terroir counts for nothing.

Manufacturing processes are quite different, too. French wines ("Great wines are made in the vineyard", the saying goes) are aged in expensive oaken barrels, while the simple addition of wood chips to enhance taste is fully permitted in New World wines. Needless to say, it costs far less to drop a few bags or bundles of oak chips into a stainless steel vat than it does to make wine carefully in the traditional barrel. As a matter of fact, with the former method, the taste can be programmed. Little education of the consumer is required.

Maps of mass destruction

Via 3 Quarks Daily, the Carnegie Endowment gives us various maps on the state of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons arsenals. Click on the .pdfs for the maps. Note, in particular, the US.

The US and international law

Here's the problem in a nutshell. I've gone on and on about international legitimacy on this blog, for a reason. We've seen the loss of domestic legitimacy. This has created a lame-duck presidency. Nobody trusts Bush and company. But their constant dismantling of international laws or their claims to exception have continually eroded the legitimacy of American ideas and ideals in the international sphere.

Economic and military power only get you so far in carrying out foreign affairs. The best thing the US has had going for it, especially since WW II, has been respect for American ideals, even when the US has broken them through immoral policies in Central and South America, the unpopular Vietnam War, and various ventures into the Middle East and elsewhere. This administration has pushed American exceptionalism and hypocrisy too far and it has not only stretched, as it did under LBJ and Reagan, but has now broken. What's left is either half-hearted or John Wayne-ish rhetoric. The US isn't even "tough" any more. The rest of the world knows this, and fears the irrational use of spying and security measures this administration insists on using as the basis for a foreign policy based in American fear of pretty much everything. The tough-guy rhetoric masks a deep sense of fear about a world the land of immigrants ironically doesn't understand.

Now the US is being reduced to a place for economic advancement without adherence to its ideals. One main reason for this is that the ideals have been consciously broken under the current administration and no one really knows what they are any more without making reference to earlier American lights. One searches far and wide in the current American government for anyone with the ideas and guts to make the case for a better world. Thus, the US represents increasingly for the rest of the world a bully of a country that spins its wheels as it attempts to build a national gated community.

This is why I've also claimed that calling Bush's and the neocon's foreign policy a form of liberal internationalism is a mistake. It relies upon the mistaken assumption that this is a pro-democracy country. We must recall that the pro-democracy argument regarding Iraq only arose once the other justifications for the war fell apart in a heap of lies, deceits, and stupidities.

Other countries now provide the hope that the US once did. This is why I claim time after time that this administration is a disaster. It's not only its wastrel use of public funds or its explicit policy-based crimes - such as torture and rendition - but that it presents no clear idea of what is good in a world undergoing radical changes. What does the US want out of the future? Can anyone answer that question? If not, why should anyone look to the US as a place of hope? That is beginning to come from elsewhere. Look, for example, at Europe and its genuine human rights requirements. Look at South America and its attempt to set new terms for the shape of future economies in an age of reforming globalization and regionalization.
It is ironic that such widespread criticism should be incurred by the US. From the Permanent Court of International Justice in The Hague, the Covenant of the League of Nations, and the Charter of the United Nations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many UN conventions, the US has done more than any other country to develop and strengthen both the concept and the substance of international law. It is nothing less than disastrous that a United States administration should have chosen to show disrespect for the international legal system and weaken it at a time when the challenges facing the planet demand more urgently than ever the discipline of a strong and respected worldwide system of law. Those challenges include globalization at almost every level of human society, the deeply troubling evidence of climate change, and the linked threats of international terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. It is true that the United States remains broadly committed to the international rules on trade of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA, rules that are important to the United States not least because they protect the rights of US investors and intellectual property rights...

...Kinzer shows that the expansionist mood of the 1890s was already producing justifications that sound all too familiar today. American presidents and military officers, then as now, said they were intervening in struggles of "good and evil" for humanity's sake and had God's guidance in doing so...

Brushing aside fifty years of international law in the name of the "global war on terrorism" is a bad idea for everyone, including the United States. Violating global rules undermines both America's authority and standing and its long-term strategic interests. An already globalized and interdependent world cannot permit a return to a situation where each nation is entirely free to act as it wishes...

Some US administrations have vigorously supported international regulation in the past. On April 1, 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law that the US "has been and will continue to be the world's strongest voice for the development and defense of international legal norms." She added that America "has historically been the key player in negotiating treaties and setting up international mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of disputes." As Sands comments, "These are important words, but they remain just that."

The French

More on the French protests and the broader meaning of the protests. William Pfaff actually does a damn good job here of laying out the realities - you know, those things that are glossed over in the American media due to an idiotic knee-jerk anti-French stance that makes the ignorant chuckle knowingly at stereotypes they believe to be real. They once had a rude Parisian waiter in the 16th arrondissement, after all. When it comes to France, the American media is more incompetent than even its ability to look into the present American government's corruption and crimes. The difference is that there's no excuse of initimidation or loss of access or however the cowering American press wishes to justify its surrender of the journalistic mission. Here's Pfaff:

...I would suggest a larger explanation for the prevailing anxiety: that, as throughout modern history, France functions as the coal miner's canary of modern society, reacting to political and social forces before anyone else. France's refusal to approve the European Union constitutional treaty two years ago caused an international shock because the voters rejected the view, all but universally held among European elites, that continuing expansion and market liberalization are essential to the EU, indeed inevitable. The reaction of the European public elsewhere to the French vote seems, on the whole, to have been one of relief.

Similarly, the current unrest in France can be interpreted as a signal of wider popular resistance in Europe to the most important element in the new model of market economics, its undermining of the place of the employee in the corporate order, deliberately rendering the lives of employees precarious. The usual criticism of government intervention in the French economy is that it is protectionist and tends to block managers from downsizing and outsourcing jobs, in order to add "value" to the corporation. The head of the Paris Enterprise Institute, financed by business to sponsor economic internships for French schoolteachers, Jean-Pierre Boisivon, told the International Herald Tribune in April that "in France we are still stuck in 1970s Keynesian-style economics— we live in the world of thirty years ago. In our schools we fabricate a vision of society that is very different from the one that exists in other countries."...

Reminder: tomorrow is May Day

Stay home from school tomorrow, take the day off from work, march in the streets, put up your flags, do something. I'm guest lecturing on humanitarian intervention law for a colleague in the morning, but I'll be down at DC's Malcolm X Park to help out afterwards. Look for me if you're in DC - I'll be the one who looks like he's the grandson of Norwegian and Czech immigrants, who grew up in Asia, lived in Europe and Asia and traveled in Africa and South America in adulthood, and has a French immigrant wife. And... who loves a different idea of what the US is about than the going bankrupt product.

Gasoline politics for the self-interested

Allowing the sale of a dirtier-burning blend, in place of a cleaner-burning one, might alleviate a supply bottleneck that is contributing to high prices. Such a substitution would give the industry time to make cleaner fuel, Mr. Millett said.

Waivers are reviewed case by case, Mr. Millett said, and are issued for 20 days, although extensions can be granted. Increased pollution is a concern, he said. "That's why we have the overall approach of minimizing duration and geographic area." Even last year, when regionwide waivers were issued after Hurricane Katrina, the agency did not see much environmental impact, he said.

But Richard Kassel, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that allowing more pollution would not lead to relief from high gasoline prices.

"It's not clear that there's a problem with supply," he said. "There is an ozone cost to these waivers. They should be granted sparingly — when there really is a shortage, not a political problem."

Unrehabilitating Jacobs

Here's another clueless NY Times article for you. This one is on Jane Jacobs, on the occasion of her passing. It suggests that the Jacobs message has limitations (which it surely does in freeway wastelands like LA or Houston). But that wasn't Jacobs anyway, so the author decides to harp on predecessors with a penchant for gaslamps in new developments and other artifices meant to recall more intimate times. That's not Jacobs either. If you look more carefully than the author of this piece, you'll see that much of America's urban architecture is built around fear and security and consumption - lighting is for security, gates are for security, walls are for security, lines of buildings and their entries and their interiors are built for consumerism.

But here's what the author of the piece has to say,
Perhaps her legacy has been most damaged by those who continue to treat "Death and Life" as sacred text rather than as what it was: a heroic cri de coeur. Of those, the New Urbanists are the most guilty; in many cases, they reduced her vision of corner shops and busy streets to a superficial town formula that creates the illusion of urban diversity, but masks a stifling uniformity at its core...

For those who could not see it, the hollowness of this urban planning strategy was finally exposed in New Orleans, where planners were tarting up historic districts for tourists, even as deeper social problems were being ignored and its infrastructure was crumbling.

The answer to such superficiality is not to resurrect the spirit of Robert Moses. But in retrospect his vision, however flawed, represented an America that still believed a healthy government would provide the infrastructure — roads, parks, bridges — that binds us into a nation. Ms. Jacobs, at her best, was fighting to preserve the more delicate bonds that tie us to a community. A city, to survive and flourish, needs both perspectives.

If you want damaging, look to Robert Moses, who had a racist's distaste for blacks, brown people, and pretty much anyone in the economic underclass. You know those low stone bridges you encounter on Long Island? Moses had those strategically built, figuring that he could keep Long Island's beaches white and affluent since the poor would have to take buses out to the beaches. Buses couldn't make it under the low bridges. This was engineered by Moses himself - not merely the bridges, but segregation through the use of urban space. The expressway that would have passed through Soho and Washington Square? That was Moses' idea. Jacobs saved the Village from that disastrous plan.

Jacobs didn't claim that government couldn't do some of the work of building infrastructure. That's nonsense. She did argue that the organic improvisation of cities such as New York and Boston were products of cumulative history and that that history meant something for the way we lived in those urban environments and the meaning we invested in them. This had nothing at all to do with uniformity. Her argument was the precise inverse. That others have come along with a misunderstanding of Jacobs' ideas on the city is not her fault. It's the fault of idealess people, like the author of this idiotic NY Times piece.

Nepal's new prime minister

Nepalese have been victorious in their demands on King Gyanendra to reinstate a democratic government and democratic freedoms. Congratulations to Nepal.
Nepal's new prime minister took the oath of office Sunday, taking on the challenge of keeping his political alliance together and bringing Maoist rebels into talks as he steers the troubled Himalayan country toward democracy.

King Gyanendra swore in Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala at the royal palace Katmandu -- the first time the two came face-to-face since weeks of bloody protests forced the monarch to give up complete control and reinstate parliament.

Some photos of Kathmandu life, a place dear to Helmut's heart.

Photos by Helmut

Galbraith dies

He was 97. A good long life, but he'll be missed in the age in which nearly everyone is a spokesperson for the people who pay their salaries.

Cynicism without bounds

Yet another infuriating outrage by the US government. If you read further, you discover that (besides being rendition countries) the two main obstacles are difficult negotiations with Saudi Arabia and Yemen. You know, where the US has military bases and can bomb on their soil with impunity.
A long-running effort by the Bush administration to send home many of the terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has been stymied in part because of concern among United States officials that the prisoners may not be treated humanely by their own governments, officials said...

...arrangements have been more difficult to broker than officials in Washington anticipated or have previously acknowledged, raising questions about how quickly the administration can meet its goal of scaling back detention operations at Guantánamo.

"The Pentagon has no plans to release any detainees in the immediate future," said a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon of the Navy. He said the negotiations with foreign governments "have proven to be a complex, time-consuming and difficult process."

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Oim awright, really

SYDNEY, Australia - Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was hospitalized for a mild concussion he suffered while vacationing in Fiji, reportedly after falling out of a palm tree.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sometimes it's best to leave things alone

Farewell, dear Borneo

In the name of economy, we salute you!
The Indonesian government recently signed a deal with China that would rip into some of the last untouched tropical forests here on Borneo, where dozens of new species have been found in recent years in an area so vital it is sometimes called the lungs of Southeast Asia...

Overall, Indonesia says it expects China to invest $30 billion in the next decade, a big infusion of capital that contrasts with the declining investment here and in the region by American companies.

Much of that Chinese investment is aimed at the extractive industries, along with infrastructure like refineries, railroads and toll roads to help speed the flow of Indonesia's plentiful coal, oil, gas, timber, and palm oil to China's ports.

On April 19, Indonesia announced that China had placed a $1 billion rush order for 800,000 cubic meters, or 28.2 million cubic feet, of an expensive red- brown hardwood, called merbau, to be used in construction of its sports facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games.


Eric Boehlert in the Huffington Post suggests it's time for Wired to apologize to Al Gore. The whole fucking media ought to. After all, they've helped deliver up this current massive debacle of a presidency.
Wired ought to apologize to Gore once and for all. In fact, given Gore's continued renaissance, with him being proven stone-cold right about the dangers of global warming and the insanity of invading Iraq -- two positions the MSM often mocked him for in real time -- it's likely Wired won't be the last outlet forced to issue an apology of sorts for its previously dishonest coverage of Gore. But if Wired acts fact, it could be the first.

Media and political junkies may recall Wired News played a key role in helping create the myth that Gore once awkwardly claimed to have invented the Internet. Indeed, Wired's new Gore profile can't resist revisiting the tale in its headline: "He invented the Internet (sort of)." The inventing-the-Internet charade represented a new low in MSM campaign journalism; a case in which a fabricated story came to dominate the coverage. And make no mistake, it dominated. In researching my new book on Bush and the press, I went back to the 2000 election and counted more than 4,800 television, newspaper and magazine mentions during the campaign of Gore supposedly claiming to have invented the Internet. The fact that it was not true seemed to be of little interest to a press corps often obsessed with tearing Gore down. (Gore was a fake and Bush was authentic, remember?)....

An interesting proposal on immigration: open borders

Take a look-see. [via Political Theory Daily Review]. Can one make a legitimate moral, economic, and political counter-argument? Does that hypothetical counter-argument rest on racist assumptions?
Europe has a common market and currency. Customs and passport checkpoints have been abolished at many internal borders, resulting in a peaceful and democratic free zone for travel, work and investment. There are 20 official European languages, spoken by a total of 460,000,000 souls, roughly the population of North America.

The EU is hardly paradise, but it is a model for how many fiercely nationalistic groups, long accustomed to slaughtering each other over the most trivial of pretexts, can create a new and better world from the ashes of devastation and atrocity.

What prevents the US, Mexico and Canada from embarking on a similar road to borderless unification?

It wouldn’t be easy. First of all, it would cost a fortune. We’d need the equivalent of a Marshall Plan to aid Mexico. But if we’ve got $275 billion (and counting!) to wage war and remake Iraq in our image, why not find the funds for waging peace and providing health, education and social welfare for our fellow inhabitants of North America?

There would be countless other obstacles, not the least of which is winning the trust and partnership of the various native cultures and Indian nations with whom our credibility, as well as Mexico’s, is stretched almost beyond repair. We’d also need to address legitimate security and counter-terrorism concerns. We’d need to respect cultural, historical and religious differences. We might have to give up on the idea of military dominance over the rest of the world. But Europe faced similar challenges and is prevailing.

If, like the critics of Victor Hugo, you think a North America without borders is utopian, consider the perils of the anti-utopia currently under discussion: a 2000-mile wall, an ultra-militarized border zone, ghettoization of the Mexican labor force, and criminalization of their presence north of the border. Such a system is a throwback to an age of runaway slaves, collective punishment and debtors prisons. It is impractical, immoral and unsustainable.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Which comes first? The immigration debate or racism?

A tense situation towards the worst, in Texas. [via Andrew Sullivan].

Two white teenagers severely beat and sodomized a 16-year-old Hispanic boy who they believed had tried to kiss a 12-year-old white girl at a party, authorities said.

The attackers forced the boy out of the Saturday night house party, beat him and sodomized him with a metal pipe, shouting epithets "associated with being Hispanic," said Lt. John Martin with the Harris County Sheriff's Department.

They then poured bleach over the boy, apparently to destroy DNA evidence and left him for dead, authorities said. He wasn't discovered until Sunday, 12 hours after the attack.

The victim, who was not identified, suffered severe internal injuries and remained in critical condition Thursday.

"It's more than likely the boy won't live," Harris County prosecutor Mike Trent said.

Guernica / Gernika

The original report on the bombing of Guernica, on this date in 1937, via Euskal Blog.

The surf

Decorabilia leads me to Cuy who leads me to Juicy Fruiter, who's having almost as much trouble as Cuy, who's having more trouble than Decorabilia. I think - but I'm really not sure - that Juicy Fruiter and I have something in common.
Not much about me, just I am a park ranger for a local park, I love my job, but I love juicy fruit even more!

Today's question...

What was the good mayor referring to?
"My first reaction was a smile; it is very creative," said Bert Kuiper, the town's mayor. "My second reaction is that we have to stop this. If we start with sheep, then next it's the cows and horses."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Oil snowjob

Dean Baker:
Proponents of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are happy to make whatever outlandish claims are convenient to advance their cause. A few years ago, they were pushing the line that drilling in the Refuge would generate 500,000-750,000 jobs, citing a study by WEFA, one of the country’s leading economic forecasting firms. We did a short analysis showing the faults of this study. When WEFA refused to stand behind its study, this outlandish job claim quickly disappeared from the debate.

But the nonsense continues. President Bush claimed today that the country would be producing another million barrels of oil a day, if President Clinton had allowed drilling in the refuge. He presumably meant this claim to impress his audience, implying President Clinton’s opposition to drilling in the refuge is a major factor behind today’s high oil prices.

A few simple facts indicate otherwise. First, there is a world market for oil. What matters in determining the price of oil is how much oil is supplied in the world, not how much is supplied in the United States. If we were getting an additional 1 million barrels of oil a day, then its impact would be the same on prices in the United States whether the oil comes from Alaska or anywhere else. One million barrels is less than 1.2 percent of world oil supply. That is not trivial, but it will not hugely affect the world price of oil.

The second point follows directly from the first. Iraq’s average oil output is approximately 1 million barrels a day less than it was before the war. In other words, the Iraq war has reduced world oil supplies by approximately the same amount that drilling in the refuge might have increased it.

The third point is that the oil in the Refuge is a temporary fix. According to the Energy Information Agency, it would take approximately 10 years to reach the peak production of 1 million barrels a day. This peak production would continue for approximately 10 years, and then it would trail back down to zero over roughly 10 years. This means that if we had begun drilling in the Refuge the day Clinton took office in 1993, then we would have hit peak production just over three years ago, and we would begin to see a decline in output beginning in 2013. This is not exactly long-term energy security.

Globalization, poverty, and Mill

Sporadic posting today. In the meantime, here are two articles worth reading. I'll have more to say later.

Does Globalization Help or Hurt the World's Poor?

John Stuart Mill
in Prospect [via Verbum Ipsum]

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Jane Jacobs

You want to know why there's not a freeway like the Cross-Bronx Expressway running through the middle of Greenwich Village, as Robert Moses wanted? Jane Jacobs. She died today.
Jane Jacobs, an author and community activist of singular influence whose classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" transformed ideas about urban planning, died Tuesday, her publisher said. Jacobs, a longtime resident of Toronto, was 89.
If you've never read The Death and Life of Great American Cities, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, whatever you do for a living. It will forever change how you see cities, the built environment, and the human experience of diverse geographies more generally.

Costly intelligence

Peter Levine:
The director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, recently disclosed that 100,000 people work for the US intelligence agencies. Not long before that disclosure, his deputy, Mary Margaret Graham, let slip that the intelligence budget of the United States is $44 billion.

I'm in favor of getting good intelligence, but those numbers look huge when put in context. The total cost of research in American degree-granting universities was $18 billion in 2000-2001. That figure excluded overhead (the cost of libraries, cafeterias, heating bills, etc). Furthermore, academic research is more expensive in 2006 than it was five years ago. Nevertheless, it appears that the intelligence agencies of the US spend more than the cost of research in all 4,236 American institutions of higher education put together...

As libertarians and free-market conservatives should be the first to suspect, a monopolistic, bureaucratic, closed system of intelligence gathering is unlikely to be anything other than inefficient and incompetent. It may amass piles of secret data (to justify enormous budgets and to give it access to information that no one else has), but it will fail to interpret, synthesize, or predict. The late Senator Moynihan once wrote that during the Cold War, "error became a distinctive feature of the [national security] system. This is easy enough to explain. As everything became secret, it became ever more difficult to correct mistakes. Why? Because most of the people who might spot the mistakes were kept from knowing about them because the mistakes were classified." [Moynihan, "The Peace Dividend," New York Review of Books, (June 28, 1990), p. 3.]

Just do folksy

Yeah, Ken Lay did his outrage-'n-indignation shuffle today. You know, they offer courses on O-'n-I in law school now. Betrayed by his inferiors, his modest genius suffered at the hands of avaricious Jews from the coasts who snake-oiled Ken Lay himself, humble sheep herder, into deeds which offend his simple moral values and humble piety. There's nothing like our monthly dose of "folksy."
With a folksy preacher style that alternated between country charm and righteous indignation, Kenneth L. Lay, Enron's former chief executive, took the stand on Monday to argue that he had nothing to do with the crimes that helped cause the collapse of the company he founded...

Speaking slowly and occasionally stabbing the air with his right hand, he portrayed himself as a pious family man with humble heartland origins.

"I am very, very anxious and trying to do all that I can to get the truth out about Enron," he said.

Mr. Lay told the jury he was proud of the wealth he enjoyed after building Enron into what appeared at the time to be one of the nation's most successful companies, adding that he used some of that money to assist his 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 96-year-old father-in-law...

"There is absolutely nothing in my life," he said, "that comes close to the same level of pain and the same enduring pain."

UPDATE (12:21pm):

Today it's "the media."

I haven't worked out the entire procedure yet, but here are some steps along the way.

1) If forced to resign, you are actually "looking forward to spending more time with the family." Refer to your family on every possible occasion throughout the remaining steps.
2) Go folksy and populist. You're trying to sway public opinion and nothing does that like tapping into Americans' admiration for a folksiness that harks back to the "good old times."
3) Attack the media for misrepresenting your views and deeds. This allows you to recharacterize and redescribe the events and views in question. The media is over-sensitive to accusations of bias and misrepresentation. They will adjust with a series of articles on your folksiness and your good will.
4) Continue to deny that you have done anything wrong. If forced to admit a mistake, admit a mistake about something relatively trivial or sufficiently vague so as to divert attention away from more substantive issues. The public finds red herring delicious.
5) Take the high road and accept responsibility. Do so, however, only in terms of having laid down a moral law that happened to be broken. For instance, one may say that one is responsible for encouraging a climate of "generosity and trust" that was, in the end, too readily (and unsuspectingly) abused. You are shocked that people could behave in such a way (avoid all reference to the corporate philosophy of self-interested agents and "greed-is-good").
6) Other tools you may use should the occasion arise: attacking "bureaucracy"; decrying the greed of your inferiors; decrying the incompetence of inferiors; letter from your doctor; the feeble-mindedness defense (popular with the Mafia); ostentatiously giving to charity; holding a barbecue for the city; start carrying a cane; etc.
7) Ask for clemency from your good friend, the president.

The new, exciting Iranian government photography

I don't know how they have done it - busy as they've been with nuclear experiments and slapfights with the Bush administration - but I do believe that the Iranian government has created a new form of photography. Yea, a new school, perhaps. We must understand that it may not be Iranian government photographers taking the photos. The government, however, creates the mis-en-scène, if you will, and the mis-en-scène is everything in the new and exciting Iranian government photography.

This is not your old Soviet realism or ubiquitous "gritty" American street realism. Neither is it official American-style photography drenched in the most prosaic hues of red and blue. What makes this new photography so different, so appealing?

You look at the photo and see a crowd of adoring citizens. You do a double-take only to realize that the only "live" figure is Ahmadinejad. You light a cigarette after fumbling in your pocket for matches. Recall the photo from a couple of weeks ago when Ahmadinejad announced Iran's nuclear breakthrough. Doves fluttered aloft behind the figure of Ahmadinejad. The second glance yielded the doves' artificial permanence on a painted backdrop (also appearing in this photo). The adoring, frenetic crowd in the photo is rendered static not by the paint but by the calm figure of Ahmadinejad.

Observe the lighting. The background is lit by a painted Ball of Divinity. Ahmadinejad, however, is front-lit. The American photographer Philip-Lorca Dicorcia uses a similar effect, although artificially, by illuminating subjects with a displaced and incongruous burst of light from a flashbulb. This creates the effect of a solitary subject abstracted from and internalized in relation to the urban surroundings. The life of the subject becomes intimate, but the intimacy comes at the price of a subject immersed in a living world.

Note the dais in the photo above. It is turned towards the artificial subjects, as if Ahmadinejad has just addressed his people and now turns to the media with the legitimacy of his regime fully intact. This requires simply the rotation of his casually suited body from the painted masses to the photographed microphones. It mocks the American administration. Mocks!

Note also the roundness of the photo, the curving slope from the dais through the crowd, and the downward angle of the photo towards Ahmadinejad. He stands to the side of the photo and to the side of the bank of microphones. There are no converging lines. There is no aggressive symmetry, as in walking to the microphone on a red carpet at the White House. This is a man who can live with uncertainty, chaos.

Now, I'm also a great fan of North Korean government photography. But it holds no candle to the new Iranian photography. This is a brilliant new existentialist statement, destined to take its place at the forefront of contemporary pre-war culture.

Monday, April 24, 2006

New post about nothing

Following up on the previous post about nothing, here's another post about nothing but now with improved links.
I thought I’d gone mad for a while there and was imagining we’re now a country that sanctions torture and secret imprisonment without trial and monarchial, even theocratic power vested in a deeply unpopular ruler and preemptive war and the use of nuclear weapons, but then I got better.


If it's all, you know, straight ahead, how can he know that better days are around the corner? (From John Brown's Press Review).


--President George W. Bush, regarding his bike riding; cited in Elisabeth Bumiller, “White House Letter -- Not 'the Decider,' but Stirring Anxiety” (New York Times, April 24)

Bad Blogger

Blogger has been coy today. Thus, the light posting. There's an outage scheduled for 4pm PDT.

Big blasts in Egypt - Sinai

Three explosions rocked the Egyptian resort city of Dahab on Monday night, and there were at least 100 dead or wounded, according to the doctor who runs Egypt's Sinai Peninsula rescue squad.


In 3 Quarks Daily, Mark Blyth does a rundown of common criticisms of Europe in the American press - you know, the kinds that make Americans feel good about themselves and their own problems. In particular, he looks at the three basic issues: employment, economic growth, and productivity.

Nuclear primacy

During the Cold War, many scholars and policy analysts believed that MAD made the world relatively stable and peaceful because it induced great caution in international politics, discouraged the use of nuclear threats to resolve disputes, and generally restrained the superpowers' behavior. (Revealingly, the last intense nuclear standoff, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, occurred at the dawn of the era of MAD.) Because of the nuclear stalemate, the optimists argued, the era of intentional great-power wars had ended. Critics of MAD, however, argued that it prevented not great-power war but the rolling back of the power and influence of a dangerously expansionist and totalitarian Soviet Union. From that perspective, MAD prolonged the life of an evil empire.

This debate may now seem like ancient history, but it is actually more relevant than ever -- because the age of MAD is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.

This essay appears in Foreign Affairs this month, authored by Keir Leiber and Daryl Press. Read the entire thing.

A new defense

Here's a new defense of the Bush administration. I hadn't seen this one before. Such brilliance of pen! Yet, alas, it has come to this.
Look into the eyes of an Ahmadinejad, or a President Hu Jintao (currently tightening controls at all levels of Chinese society, in direct response to the perceived weakness of the West), and ask yourself whether you wouldn't prefer to be ruled by men like Bush, Blair, Harper.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

There is no more dangerous thing for a democracy than a foreign policy based on presidential preventive war.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A post about nothing

You know those times where you just don't have anything to say and other peoples' and machines' requests for you to respond (email, verbal questions, the phone ringing, George Harrison's unswept floor, etc.) seem laborious?

That's me today. The Blog is sometimes like a ringing telephone when your mouth is full of toothpaste. Clearly, Appliances sometimes do this intentionally. Let it not be said that the world of Electronics has no sense of humor.

Yet, I resent this Autonomy of The Blog. Human beings create blogs; not the other way around. Is not this the case? The Blog increasingly encroaches upon time that could be spent engaged in other productive activities. Blog shapes our values, our concerns, our ideas, our peeves and annoyances. Everything! Yesterday, I watched a starling attempt to kick a woodpecker out of the nest the woodpecker had assiduously drilled into a dead tree. You know what I thought? Blog.

The worst offender, I believe, is Blogged Cat. I look. I see Cat. I blog Cat. Thus, it is Friday. No Cat, it must be Sunday (or at least a 1 in 6 chance).


On another note, back in the halcyon days of a mega-link from PZ Myers just at the point he was receiving 20K hits per hour, someone asked in the comments here why we didn't have a better explanation for what we do at Phronesisaical. The question touched upon the sensitive nerve of blog identity.

We here at Phronesisaical, to repeat, do politics, philosophy, international affairs, and fruit. We also do many other things. All these things together create the Phronesisaical identity:

Mud drag-racing
Unruly Models
NYC garbage
Apostrophe protection
Heterosexual clothed porn
Lionel Richie
Refictionalized fictionalized reality
Ray Davies
Evil twins
Cancer-treating coral compounds
Mango worship
Pink snow
Greggery Peccary
Invisible blog art...

to name but a few....

These Gnostic clues are the collective key to Phronesisaical identity.

A Night at the Races in Encinal

While the rest of you spent another hand-wringing evening worrying about peak oil and dwindling supplies of fresh water, we had our first mud drags in Encinal, TX last night. I'll admit it was an introduction to mud drags for me--I'm sure Flaco Delgado knows the sport well and could even chat comfortably about the big names in mud drag racing. It boils down to 400-cubic-inch domestic engines, unrealistically large tires, water, and dirt.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Je m'accuse

I'm not a celebrity-watcher, but I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy Unruly Model news. Here's the latest from the Unruly-Modelverse.
Former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model May Andersen was arrested after allegedly becoming unruly and striking a flight attendant on a plane from Amsterdam to Miami, police said.

Comedism vs. fundamentalism

SteveG at Philosopher's Playground has a lovely and funny little piece on the "war on comedy" by fundamentalists. Read.
The central concept in Comedism is the joke. Think about how jokes work. There are two parts to a joke. First comes the set up that makes you think about some situation in a particular way. A chicken crosses the road; the Pope, a rabbi, and a Viagra salesman walk into a bar..., some possible world is sketched for you, a scene that you think you understand.

Then comes the punchline. What makes the punchline funny is the incongruity that it forces upon you. You now must make sense of the situation from the set-up in a completely different way. The humor exists in that moment when your brain is struggling to make sense of the two completely different competing scenarios. For a joke to be a joke, there must be more than one way to look at the world.

And that is the central belief of Comedism. There are always different ways to look at reality. The world is a multi-faceted place and it is the appreciation of these distinct perspectives, even ones that seem irreconsilable, that makes life rich, interesting, and most of all, funny.

But this is exactly what the fundamentalists of all stripes deny. They think there is one truth and one truth only...and they think that they alone have it. They do not even allow the possibility that there are multiple ways to understand reality. This is why fundamentalists are not funny and why they have declared a war on Comedy.


I don't care so much about the gist of this article from American Prospect - a call for McCain and Hagel to take up the Fulbright mantle - as I do this quote from Sen. J. William Fulbright. Take a look. Has it been better said in recent years?
Forty years ago this week, Senator J. William Fulbright delivered a speech at Johns Hopkins University on “the arrogance of power.” Talk about a time bomb.

“The question I find intriguing is whether a nation so extraordinarily endowed as the United States can overcome that arrogance of power which has afflicted, weakened, and, in some cases, destroyed great nations in the past,” Fulbright said. “Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations -- to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image.”

Natural reflections

This is an interesting piece in the Telegraph on geometric echoes of natural shapes in the forms of alphabetic symbols (and not simply pictographs). The authors suggest a kind of built-in epistemology to the alphabet based on what the human eye recognizes as meaningful. Since the human eye is embedded within "nature," meaningful symbols are taken and adapted from the recognizable shapes found in the environment.
The team set out to explore the idea that the visual signs we use have been selected, whatever the culture, to reflect common contours, landscapes and shapes in natural scenes that human brains have evolved to be good at seeing."Writing should look like nature, in a way," said Dr Changizi, explaining how similar reasoning has been used to explain the sounds, signs and colours that animals, insects and so on use to tell each other they are, for example, receptive to sex.

To be able to compare Cyrillic, Arabic or whatever, they turned to the mathematics of topology, which focuses on the way elements are connected together in a letter rather than overall shape, so that fonts do not matter and nor does handwriting, whether neat calligraphy or crudely written with a crayon grasped in a clenched fist.

For example, each time you see a T, geometrical features and frills such as serifs may differ according to the font or handwriting but the topology remains the same. By the same token, L, T, and X represent the three topologically distinct configurations that can be built with exactly two segments. And, to a topological mind, an L is the same as a V. In this way, the team could classify different configurations of strokes, or segments, to boil an alphabet of alphabets down to their essentials...

Remarkably, the study revealed regularities in the distribution of (topological) shapes across approximately 100 phonemic (non-logographic) writing systems, where characters stand for sounds, and across symbols. "Whether you use Chinese or physics symbols, the shapes that are common in one are common in the others," said Dr Changizi.
On one hand, this is a fascinating discovery. Alphabets and words are fascinating things; perhaps the most underappreciated human technological innovation. On the other hand, it's pretty obvious. Lewis Mumford, in his great tome on the city - The City in History - suggested a similar point in relation to urban spaces, architecture, and the construction of relations between humans in urban areas. One particular example comes to mind. The scythe was used to mow the grass on pathways and routes within pre-medieval European towns. The pattern left in the grass by the scythe's swath was in the shape of an arc whose peak was, of course, the point at which human arms were both outstretched. But when street-paving was developed further, it often tended to follow that same pattern. We can still find paving especially in the medieval areas of cities that has this curved pattern.

In fact, the Mumford example points to a more complex relationship between humans/culture and nature. Yes, it is one of dependency, forgotten amidst smokestacks, nuclear weapons, the romanticization of nature, and the über-anthropocentric Schumpeterian belief (of orthodox neoclassical economics) that any damage human beings do to the natural environment shall be overcome by human technological innovation. Human beings have long imagined in various ways their independence and superiority from "nature." Plato vaulted the perfection of the Forms over the realm of becoming. Augustine and Kant took animals to be beasts of burden placed on earth for the benefit of human beings. Descartes thought only humans have a soul and the yelping of a dog undergoing dissection was a mechanical feature of nature. Industrialists believed in the mystical might of human technological adaptation and the holiness of economy.

On the other hand, Rousseau thought society/culture were corruptive of individuals from their previously peaceful relations in the "state of nature." Ecological thought - beginning with Marsh and Haeckel (the latter who coined the term, "oekologie"), and extending through Muir, Leopold, Carson, Schumacher, Wilson, and many others - argues an interdependence between human/culture and nature. This interdependence doesn't need to be romanticized, as it is with Rousseau and Muir. It is factual, and the interaction yields "value."

Nature imposes limits - as the study above suggests - on humans that run as deep as what we are able even to see. We can't see - whether with our senses or "the mind's eye" - without some familiarity, some orientation to our surroundings. The relation is more than over-against, and it is more than romanticization of the thing our own activity makes us lose. The human/nature relation is of the essence, if I can use the term, and human attempts to withdraw and exalt humanity over the limiting features of the natural are always drawn back to nature as if by magnetic force. Emerson wrote, "we have such exorbitant eyes, that on seeing the smallest arc, we complete the curve...." We can't, however, complete the curve without the arc.

What goes...

choing choing ching, ching choing dong?

The national anthem of Chinee.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Golden cherry tomatoes

What ever happened to "sleeper cells"?

Friday dinner party conversation stopper

If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.

- Wittgenstein


Photo: Yamagata University/Kyodo

A Japanese team has discovered new geoglyphs in the Nasca plateau of Peru. Awesome.

Protests galore

Wow. Here's a list of immigration reform protests that have taken place over the past two months. [by email from Madam Mayo].


"Women, spend the World Cup summer where men are less interested in football -- and more in you," (mpeg video, 2.67 mb) says an almost irresistible male voiceover in the ad run by Switzerland's Tourist Board. The spot starts off with a bare-chested farmer tossing hay and finishes with the man voted Switzerland's most beautiful man, Renzo Blumenthal, gently squeezing the teats of a cow's udder.

Winning the war on terror, part 372

In Upside-Down Land, the Land of the Faith-Based Community, backwards is also forwards.
The number of terrorist attacks documented by U.S. intelligence agencies jumped sharply in 2005, crossing the 10,000 mark for the first time, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Officials caution that much of the increase, due to be reported publicly next week, stems from a change last year in how terror attacks are counted, coupled with a more aggressive effort to tally such violence worldwide.

But the documents say, and officials confirm, that some of the rise is traceable to the war in Iraq, where foreign terrorists, a homegrown insurgency and sectarian strife have all contributed to political bloodshed.

More than half the fatalities from terrorism worldwide last year occurred in Iraq, said a counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the data haven't been made public. Roughly 85 percent of the U.S. citizens who died from terrorism during the year died in Iraq.

The figures cover only noncombatants and thus don't include combat deaths of U.S., Iraqi and other coalition soldiers.

"There's no question that the level of terrorist attacks in Iraq was up substantially," said the official, who's familiar with the methods used by the National Counterterrorism Center to track terrorist trends. The center is part of the U.S. intelligence community.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Castañeda on the new Latin American Lefts

Intriguing article by Jorge Castañeda, now at NYU, on the rise of different "lefts" in South America. [Via Pablo Policzer]. I like the idea of different leftists, which is clearly true. But I have serious doubts about his characterizations of particular regional leaders. But... take a read, and let me know what you think.
The reasons for Latin America's turn to the left are not hard to discern. Along with many other commentators and public intellectuals, I started detecting those reasons nearly fifteen years ago, and I recorded them in my book Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War, which made several points. The first was that the fall of the Soviet Union would help the Latin American left by removing its geopolitical stigma. Washington would no longer be able to accuse any left-of-center regime in the region of being a "Soviet beachhead" (as it had every such government since it fomented the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz's administration in Guatemala in 1954); left-wing governments would no longer have to choose between the United States and the Soviet Union, because the latter had simply disappeared.

The second point was that regardless of the success or failure of economic reforms in the 1990s and the discrediting of traditional Latin American economic policies, Latin America's extreme inequality (Latin America is the world's most unequal region), poverty, and concentration of wealth, income, power, and opportunity meant that it would have to be governed from the left of center. The combination of inequality and democracy tends to cause a movement to the left everywhere. This was true in western Europe from the end of the nineteenth century until after World War II; it is true today in Latin America. The impoverished masses vote for the type of policies that, they hope, will make them less poor.

Third, the advent of widespread democratization and the consolidation of democratic elections as the only road to power would, sooner or later, lead to victories for the left -- precisely because of the social, demographic, and ethnic configuration of the region. In other words, even without the other proximate causes, Latin America would almost certainly have tilted left.

This forecast became all the more certain once it became evident that the economic, social, and political reforms implemented in Latin America starting in the mid-1980s had not delivered on their promises....


Compare this article from the NY Times on the erosion of the old South American political parties.
From Venezuela to Argentina, many of the traditional parties that built dynasties through patronage and hard- knuckle politics - but also offered stability, a clear ideology and experienced functionaries ready to govern - are disintegrating. Disillusioned by corruption and a failure to deliver prosperity, voters are increasingly captivated by new, mostly leftist movements that promise to redistribute wealth, punishing traditional parties and turning political systems on their heads.


Iran photo blog

Via Lindsey, see this Iran photo blog, NaderDavoodi, for an idea of just who would be attacked.

Good question

David Neiwert asks a good question: "Why wasn't April 19, 1995 the 'day that changed everything'?"

Stalin tourism

Russians have developed various new forms of tourism, including sardonic twists on "poverty tourism." Here's one of the latest - Stalin tourism - for any of you hankering for the old days.

Chins of America


Here's a question for ye. It came up during my seminar this evening. About 2 hours in, running out of steam, time for a break, and all that, I used the non-word "stupider." One of the students politely corrected me under her breath: "more stupid."

Stupid anyway. Yeah, yeah....

Is there a term that refers to the performance by a word of the meaning of that very word (perhaps analogous to onomatopoeia as a word that sounds like the sound to which it refers)? I can think of only two examples - more are welcome. One is "stupider." The other is "mispell."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Mexican Miracle

Not really. The WaPo just forgot to adjust for inflation. Dean Baker:
Readers of the Washington Post might have been surprised to read that since the passage of NAFTA, “Mexico’s gross domestic product has ballooned, multiplying nearly seven-fold, from $108 billion in 1993 … to $748 billion in 2005” (“Mexican Deportee’s U.S. Sojourn Illuminates Roots of Current Crisis,” 4-17-06:A1). This amounts to a world record 17.5 percent average annual rate of growth in the 12 years since NAFTA was implemented.

Readers should be surprised to read this in a front page story in the Washington Post because it is not true. Mexico’s economy has not “ballooned” since NAFTA. According to the IMF’s most recent World Economic Outlook, Mexico’s GDP grew by just 40.2 percent over this period, an average annual rate of 2.9 percent. This translates into per capita GDP growth of 1.3 percent a year. This is weak growth for any country, but it is especially weak for a developing country. (Mexico sustained per capita GDP growth of almost 4.0 percent annually from 1960-80.)...

Human bombs

On the making of terrorists. In The Australian [via Political Theory Daily Review].
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's question two years ago seemed reasonable enough: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?"

It's a popular notion: Charismatic religious leaders and their ideologies inculcate violent convictions among their constituents and desperate or zealous individuals act on those convictions. By this logic, terror is bound to religious extremism.

But a growing body of scholarship on suicide bombing suggests that it doesn't work that way. These authors, primarily drawn from political science and social psychology, concur that suicide bombings with or without the trappings of religion are largely a response to military occupation or, since September 11, 2001, to perceptions of general political oppression in the Muslim world....

Spanking or treat?

Rove's not really gone. Just more political. His replacement, however, is more political as well in that bejumbled faux-Floridian ruffian way. Check out the credentials. [via Josh Marshall].

China visit

In light of President Hu's visit to the US, here are a couple of good blogs on China for your event-following pleasure.

China Law Blog

China Confidential

Here's the trackback for China Law Blog.

America's greenhouse gases

Just so you know.

The United States emitted more greenhouse gases in 2004 than at any time in history, confirming its status as the world's biggest polluter. Latest figures on the US contribution to global warming show that its carbon emissions have risen sharply despite international concerns over climate change.

The figures, which were quietly released on Easter Monday, reveal that net greenhouse gas emissions during 2004 increased by 1.7 per cent on the previous year, equivalent to a rise of 110 million tons of carbon dioxide.

This is the biggest annual increase since 2000 and means that in 2004 - the latest year that full data is available - the US released the equivalent of nearly 6,300 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

China in Africa

China has been engaged in relatively discreet economic negotiations and agreements with countries across the Southern Hemisphere. For the most part, these seem to be beneficial to China not only in economic terms, but also political terms as packages of loans and credit lines, development assistance, and technical assistance appear designed to wrench Southern economies' dependence on Northern/Western-run institutions such as the IMF. In this report, we have the case of China's involvement in Angola, which happens to be doing rather well economically after years of civil war, despite ongoing problems of poverty and corruption.
The announcement earlier this month that Angola had overtaken Saudi Arabia as China's premier supplier of crude oil underlined the deepening ties between the two red-hot economies.

Angola is sub-Saharan Africa's second largest oil producer, after Nigeria, pumping 1.3 million barrels a day (b/d) - a figure the government expects to rise to 2 million b/d by 2008. Record oil prices are ensuring double-digit growth, and the country is in the middle of a reconstruction boom after a ruinous 27-year civil war ended in 2002...

Chinese companies have been at the forefront of Angola's reconstruction bonanza. A new airport is being built at Viana, just outside the capital Luanda, one-third financed by the government, the rest by Chinese interests. The war-damaged Benguela railway, which stretches from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the coast, is being rebuilt as part of a Chinese deal worth US $200-300 million.

The Asian powerhouse has also procured lucrative contracts to rebuild the nation's roads and a rejuvenated Angola Airlines is considering opening a direct route to Beijing...

Nicholas Shaxson, Africa fellow of the UK-based think-tank Chatham House explained: "Chinese lending ... has allowed Angola's government to manage on its own without IMF backing. Angola has used its huge economic potential to secure a number of oil-backed bilateral credit agreements with foreign governments - which further weaken the IMF's leverage."

Nooze u can uze

And then there are the WaPo's tips on tipping. I did like this particular case:
Travelers who have forgotten much of an overseas trip still remember their tipping debacles. Lee Austin of Chapel Hill, N.C., recalls guessing at the appropriate tip in a Paris cafe shortly after arriving in France as a foreign student in 1947. She can still visualize the haughty look on the face of the waiter who returned her tip, saying, "You must need this, Mademoiselle, more than I do."

Sue me

Another Republican money laundering outfit gets a slap on the wrist. But, of course. On and on and on....

Many in the democracy-and-policy world worry about cynicism directed at the US government and American politics in general. The concern is that cynicism-creep leads good people away from careers in government and public service. I have the same concern. Yet, sometimes the corruption becomes so systemic and institutionalized that the institutions themselves breed cynics.
Freddie Mac will pay a record $3.8 million fine to settle civil charges that it violated federal election law by using corporate resources to raise $1.7 million at political fundraisers, most of them for Republican members of Congress and many involving House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio).

The agreement with the Federal Election Commission also settles allegations that the company violated election law by contributing $150,000 to the Republican Governors Association in 2002.

The settlement, which Freddie Mac agreed to without admitting or denying it broke the law, stems from an orchestrated effort by the McLean-based mortgage company to court key lawmakers through lavish dinners and other events, the settlement shows. Organized by then-Freddie Mac chief lobbyist Mitchell Delk, the effort pumped money into the campaigns of more than 50 politicians who had direct oversight of the government-chartered company or were considered supportive of it.

In a key part of the settlement, Freddie Mac asked and the FEC agreed to end its investigations of the former executives involved in the fundraising activities, including former chief executive Leland C. Brendsel; Delk; and another former lobbyist, Clarke Camper...

The FEC did, however, issue "admonishment letters" to Brendsel, Delk, Camper and two consulting firms they used to help with more than 70 fundraisers from October 2000 through May 2003. Many involved dinners at the expensive restaurant Galileo, where Delk, one of the highest-paid executives at Freddie Mac, hosted dozens of fundraisers at a cost the FEC said appeared to be a discount.

The letters cautioned the former executives "to take steps to ensure that this activity does not occur in the future." Delk is now a private consultant, Camper works at General Electric Co., and Brendsel is retired.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Implausible desirability

Bill McKibben writes on solutions to problems you didn't know you had [via Political Theory Daily Review]. This is a riff on the next stage after those desires that you didn't know you had until the objects of desire were made available to you. The first chapter of Thoreau's Walden speaks to the difficulty of discovering the fulcrum between desire and need. McKibben turns it into the fulcrum between desire and implausible desirability.
Question: should anyone who requires a "revolutionary new laser technology system" in order to figure out if they're parking in the right spot inside their own garage really be allowed behind the wheel in the first place? Compared with the other tasks of a driver—making right-hand turns, making left-hand turns, deciphering the red-amber-green vernacular of a stoplight—safely positioning your auto within the confines of your own garage seems like a fairly straightforward task, the kind of thing that might not require a laser.

But you'd be surprised how useful lasers can be. The Hairmax Laser Comb, for instance, used only fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, results in noticeably thicker locks and tresses. And not just lasers. Ions are also surprisingly useful—confusingly, negative ions. A lamp made of salt crystal mined from the Himalayas emits them, aiding you in the fight against "dust mites" and also "depression."

If there's any piece of writing that defines our culture, I submit it's the SkyMall catalogue, available in the seatback pocket of every airplane in North America. To browse its pages is to understand the essential secret of American consumer life: we've officially run out not only of things that we need, but even of things that we might plausibly desire.

The generals

Peter Levine nicely outlines some of the central considerations regarding generals speaking out against Rumsfeld and the war.

The religious exception

A modest proposal.... How about the federal government allows these schools to discriminate against gays, but then allows public and private businesses, government organizations, schools, etc. to discriminate against students who have graduated from these schools? That seems like it might be a fair exchange. If the schools in question are allowed the exception to nondiscrimination laws, why not maintain an equitable consistency (let's even call it "soulforce equality") and allow potential employers to discriminate for whatever reason they wish against graduates of such schools? Then we could see where priorities lie and the extent to which religious exceptionalism in a constitutionally secular society and pluralistic nation holds up. [Link via Raw Story].
Private Christian colleges would be excepted from local and state non-discrimination laws under a proposed amendment to the Higher Education Act - a move that would allow the schools to legally reject LGBT students.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), would prevent accrediting boards from making adherence to non-discrimination laws a requirement.

The measure passed the House last week and is currently before the Senate

Brigham Young, University of Notre Dame, Baylor, Pepperdine and Samford universities have all been lobbying heavily for passage of the bill.

Although few boards specifically make adherence to non-discrimination laws a requirement for accreditation the schools say they want assurances they will not be targeted in the future.

"This is really a pre-emptive move on the part of these schools," BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins told the Deseret Morning News.

Pressure from the school has increased as a result of the Soulforce Equality Ride, a cross country protest of universities and colleges that do not permit gays to enroll.

Last week 30 riders were arrested over two days of demonstrations at BYU, which is affiliated with the Mormon Church.

The Equality Ride began last month in Washington D.C.. Riders have been arrested at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma (story); Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia (story) which is affiliated with Christian Broadcaster Pat Robertson; and at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. (story).

Iranian security

Michael Levi at TPMCafe says that Iranian security - assurances against attack - is a large part of the issue in the Iran nuclear standoff, but that it is neglected in recent proposals about the current Iran situation.

I would think this would be pretty obvious. Nukes are not for invasion purposes. They're for security, raising geopolitical standing, and national ego. Most assessments of the current issue focus on the offensive side of nuclear weapons, and mistakenly neglect the defensive side.

On one hand, there's good reason for this focus: Ahmadinejad's flaming rhetoric about Israel. We have those, especially in the US administration, who propagate the Ahmadinejad-is-crazy theme. By analogy, this echoes American rhetoric about Saddam Hussein in the leadup to the war in Iraq, and this of course presents cause for worry. We can't read the minds of the mullahs, but fairly good circumstantial evidence shows that Iran has played this entire game quite well. I also can't help thinking of the playground version: one way to counter bullies is to get that wild look in your eyes that says you mean business. Bullies, as cowards, will usually back off.

But on the other hand, the whole issue makes much more sense if we include the defensive side. Iran wants to be a serious power in the region. It already is, but nuclear weapons would consolidate this power like nothing else can. Iran would have to be included at negotiating and international policy-making tables. That's a large step up in international standing from the one the country has lived through during the past few decades - of being labeled a "pariah state," part of the "Axis of Evil," of living through economic sanctions and political snubs. Scanning the political landscape, Iran would have to assume that nuclear weapons would change this position. At the very least, it would be in the position of North Korea - not terribly involved in international affairs, but the dangerous state that you leave alone. North Korea, however, is exceptional, and I doubt Iran - which does have good relations with many countries, and is itself a diverse and well-educated society - would ever be in a similar position as an isolated little universe of its own.

In the meantime, Iran does have its own low-tech deterrence policy, noted below: an estimated 40,000 trained suicide bombers ready to deploy around the world. The US is caught in the position of being between the rock of the "war on terrorism" and the hard place of Iran as a nuclear state.

Murray Waas

Murray Waas, "the new Bob Woodward," has his own blog. The only problem is that he doesn't appear to update it often. (Thanks to CM Mayo).

Righty anger

I almost never talk about rightwing blogs or link to them. I believe I've managed to mention Ann Coulter maybe four or five times during the entire existence of this blog. But in the context of the recent portrayal of Maryscott O'Connor as a mad, half-cocked lefty blogger, I thought it would be useful to refer to Michelle Malkin here by way of comparison. She happens to run one of the top three giant blogs in the blogosphere. Let's do this through Ezra Klein:

...Punditry is a game of incentives, encouragement, luck. You write a hundred articles before striking paydirt with one. That zeitgeisty dispatch activates an eruption of applause and adulation, so you try to repeat it. Soon enough, you've got a niche, a style, a persona. The lucky ones, among whom I include myself, find their path opening towards responsible, serious commentary. The sort of articles that allow us to wake up, yawn, look in the mirror, and feel good about what we see. And then there are the unlucky ones, the Michelle Malkins, who achieve acceptance through hatred and venom, and find themselves groping down the darkest path to political success.

Right now, the dark-haired, lashy, Ann Coulter understudy is happily wrapped in one of her typical controversies: a crew of students at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater, protested some military recruiters, and Malkin got hold of a press release with their personal contact information -- a poorly conceived inclusion on the students' part, but then, these are undergraduates, not trained media flacks. Rather than calling and speaking to them herself, which is what members of the press are supposed to use such releases for, Malkin published their personal information on her website, prompting her hordes of orcish mouth-breathers to brandish their pitchforks and inundate the unsuspecting students with death threats (some of which you can read here). When the students frantically called on Malkin to remove their numbers, she posted their contact information again.

The invaluable John Amato, who's got some video from the scene, gets it right. Malkin, he writes, "crosse[d] the line of decency..the death threats are emanating from her blog and she knows it. Malkin understands the nature of the fear and outrage she causes. Will she take responsibility when somebody gets hurt?"...

...Update: Here are some of the death threats the students are getting. They've really got to be read to be believed. Scary stuff.

How not to win the "war on terror": Example #483

Terrorism as a form of deterrence.
Iran has formed battalions of suicide bombers to strike at British and American targets if the nation’s nuclear sites are attacked. According to Iranian officials, 40,000 trained suicide bombers are ready for action.

The main force, named the Special Unit of Martyr Seekers in the Revolutionary Guards, was first seen last month when members marched in a military parade, dressed in olive-green uniforms with explosive packs around their waists and detonators held high.

Sayonara whales

The environmental movement is facing one of its biggest-ever reverses, over one of its most cherished causes: Save The Whale.

In a remarkable diplomatic coup, Japan, the leading pro-whaling nation, is poised to seize control of whaling's regulatory body, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and so hasten the return of commercial whale hunting, which has been officially banned worldwide for the past 20 years.

While the world has been looking the other way, the Japanese have spent nearly a decade and many millions of dollars building up a voting majority in the IWC, by buying the votes of small member states with substantial foreign aid packages.

Their aim is to reverse the moratorium on commercial whaling brought in by the IWC in 1986 as a result of the long Save The Whale campaign by Greenpeace and other environmental pressure groups...

They did so by a form of entryism - encouraging small, poor countries to join the IWC, most of which had no previous whaling tradition at all, and some of which - such as Mali and Mongolia - did not even have a coastline. In return, the new IWC members were given multimillion-dollar aid packages.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fruit bowl

The Afghanistan insurgency

Remember Afghanistan? If you don't, you may be reminded again soon.

...Afghanistan has its own violent insurgency-led by the Taliban and aided by dissident warlords-and it has lately intensified. As the country's harsh winter gives way to warmer weather, the Taliban is promising to make this spring and summer particularly bloody. ''We will intensify suicide attacks to the extent that we will make the land beneath their feet like a flaming oven," said Taliban leader Mullah Omar (the same Omar who led the Taliban regime destroyed by the US in October of 2001) in a recent statement.

Omar's may not be an empty boast. Suicide attacks have quadrupled in the past year, and attacks by improvised explosive devices have doubled. Steven Simon, a former counter-terrorism expert at the National Security Council and coauthor of ''The Age of Sacred Terror," recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan, and he thinks worse is to come. ''There will likely be a crescendo of violence, focused largely on Kabul, this summer," he says. And in the country's unruly south, it's widely suspected that insurgents will try to test the NATO forces that are moving in to take over from more seasoned US military troops.

Kunstler on Ahmadinejad

So it would appear that the practical question is not so much what America might do but what Israel might do first. And that question puts everybody in the West in an uncomfortable position -- since a strike by Israel could 1.) ignite a major regional conflagration leading to even wider war, and 2.) shut down Middle East oil production (or even permanently cripple it). Baer seems to think that this is exactly what President A-jad wants. I think so, too. Crazy as it might seem, it is not crazier than waging war by suicide bombers. It's just kicking it up a notch, in the immortal words of Emeril Lagasse. It's jihad x-treme. And the reward, in Mr. A-jad's thinking might be that a large part of the Islamic world would survive, while Israel would be ganged up on and eliminated -- and the Shiites would get credit for it! (not to mention first-class tickets to heaven and all those waiting virgins).

Therefore one of the more remarkable elements of the story is Israel's restraint so far. By historical measure, the extremely belligerent remarks by Iran's president would have already invited an armed response by any sane nation. You wonder how many more times Mr. A-jad will spell it out before something has to happen.
I don't agree or at least I think there are good reasons to disagree. The remarks about Israel coming from Ahmadinejad are indeed worrisome and complicate how we think about the rationality of Iranian policy. But there's good reason, and certainly precedent, for considering the comments as a populist rallying cry more than a call for mass suicide. Kunstler is adopting the Ahmadinejad-is-crazy line. There are pretty good reasons to consider this line of thinking wrong. See this earlier post, for instance.

And I don't think Israel's "restraint" is all that surprising. A conflagration is in no one's interests. A nuclear attack anywhere in the region will cause nuclear fallout across borders (the UCSUSA link refers to the "bunker buster," but the effect is similar whether an attack on Israel by Iran or an attack on Iran by Israel or the US). The nuclear standoff here involves much more than the relatively isolated geography of the Cold War allowed (the US and Russia being both isolated enough from other countries and large enough that nuclear fallout was less of an issue). Nuclear fallout could very likely extend as far as India. It is a mistake to think of the dynamics of deterrence, aggression, and rhetoric in terms analogous to the Cold War. Kunstler gets this right in one sense - the rhetoric is more frightening because the players involved (Iran, Israel, the US, etc.) have all shown themselves capable of heinous acts against enemies, perceived enemies, manufactured enemies, and their own citizens.

But Kunstler is wrong in assuming (rather, omitting this question) that the fallout problem (among other things), as a variation of deterrence, is trumped by fanaticism from whichever angle. An attack on Israel by Iran would be relatively low-tech at this point given the state of the Iranian nuclear program. Israel is thought to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads. That very success in developing a nuclear arsenal brings various forms of deterrence logic into play, regardless of the possession of warheads by other states in the region.

As for Iran, the elimination of Israel - if technologically possible in the future - would likely also mean the elimination of Palestine. Given that hatred of Israel is inextricably tied to the fate of Palestinians, a nuclear attack makes little sense.

Of course, we can all say that everyone involved is nuts, and this is the frightening part. But I think what we really have here is a complex and interwoven set of two-level games with the domestic rabble-rousing by Iran, the US, and Israel as significant, if not more so, as international threats. The Bush administration has painted itself into a corner where there's little leverage and so it rabble-rouses. Israel cannot fight a nuclear battle, even with so-called precision tactical strikes. Iran is free to play the kook card, but has shown that they're perfectly capable of using it in highly rational ways.

NYC garbage

New York garbage for sale. Via Pruned.

Angry left redux

I think PZ pretty much sums up the issue.
I'm baffled by it all. Shouldn't we be angry about war and torture and tax breaks for the rich and incompetence and corruption? Isn't anger and opposition the appropriate response?

It seems to me that the real news story is all of those angry right wing blogs that are screeching in support of war and torture and tax breaks for the rich and incompetence and corruption. I sure wish a journalist would sit down and make sense of that for me.

See also Glenn Greenwald's take on the My Left Wing piece in the WaPo (via Norwegianity).