Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

"And here they say: Don't question, humble yourself, fall on your knees, try, drive out base thoughts, chase away the tempter. So perhaps this is the way, perhaps one should begin not with love for Thee, but with hate for Thy enemies? Hate is so much easier; how can it be, Oh God, that the road that leadeth to Thee should begin with hate? Can this be so, when Thou hast ordered us to purge from our hearts all hate for our enemies? For if, as Thou teachest, we are to love our enemies, this must include Satan, who is our enemy too. And so even that only road, the one shown by Thee, begins in contradiction to Thy commandment. And if one is allowed to begin with pure hate on the road toward Thy feast, why cannot one begin with sinful love, which, though sinful, must carry in it the vestiges of some warmth from Thy hearth, while hate exudes only coldness? So I should begin with that sinful love, but I cannot do so because its sinfulness grips me like a hoop on the pillory in front of Thy people. And thus I must return to where I began, as always, to where I began."

- From "The Prayer of Heloise," Conversations With The Devil, Leszek Kolakowski

When Iraq Is Israel

This is helpful, especially since Israel represents a source of peace and stability in the region. From TPM:
Hed: Bush cites Israel as model for Iraq

President Bush held up Israel as a model for defining success in Iraq, saying Thursday the U.S. goal there is not to eliminate attacks but to enable a democracy that can function despite violence.

With his Iraq policy under increasing criticism from the public and lawmakers in both parties, Bush went to the U.S. Naval War College to declare progress and plead for patience. At the same time, his top national security went to Capitol Hill to hear out Republican critics.

We'll have succeeded in Iraq when it's like Israel.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Our Candidates: Mitt Romney

In a Phronesisaical public service series of brief glimpses we hope will shed light upon the deepest, hollowest recesses of the current slate of presidential candidates, we begin this week with Mitt Romney.

...Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., has angered animal rights activists for strapping his dog to the roof of his car on a family trip from Boston to Ontario, Canada.

According to the Boston Globe, in one of the family's 12-hour drives to their family's cottage in Canada over 25 years ago, Romney strapped a dog carrier to the roof of the car for the whole trip -- with the family Irish setter, Seamus, inside.

Seamus protested in a scatological way, going to the bathroom on the roof of the car.


The defeat of the comprehensive immigration bill may be the tastiest victory for the mau-mau right since "Rathergate," but it's dealt a deflating blow to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. To exploit the bill's unpopularity, Romney's crack team of advisors had planned to strap an illegal alien to the top of Romney's motorcade limo and chauffeur the undocumented worker around New Hampshire from campaign stop to campaign stop. This publicity brainstorm was intended to serve double duty: highlighting Romney's opposition to illegal immigration and converting the media storm over his strapping the family dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, to the roof of the car on a long vacation trip until the poor animal diarrhea'd ("'Dad!...Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window...") into a political plus. His staff convinced their doofus boss that his best bet to defuse the controversy was to tackle it head-on on his own terms. To prevent similar bowel troubles from bedevilling the wind-whipped rooftop Guatamalan or Mexican in custody, Romney's "people" intended to have a Port-o-potty hooked up to one of the motorcade cars and make regular "pit stops" at gas stations where Mitt could have his picture taken at the pumps. With the defeat of the immigration bill, alas, the lease on the Port-o-potty has been null-and-voided and Mitt's eager-beaver staffers have been pulled off the manhunt for a suitably grungy looking illegal immigrant with no English language skills and sinister eyebrows.
UPDATE (29 June):

Ouch. Romney responds:
"...PETA is not happy that my dog likes fresh air."


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Real Persons

I haven't met many fellow bloggers in person. In fact, only one: Neddie (well, and bloggers I know personally first and their blogging second). Ned and I went to a Ray Davies concert together along with XTCFan (see here, here, and here). But Cheryl Rofer of Whirled View is in town for the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference and we're meeting up this afternoon at Bistro du Coin in Dupont Circle. What a pleasure to have such occasions.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

No Mercenaries Here

I apparently once gave a blog post the title, "Mercenary Jobs." I haven't done an actual tally of google search terms, but it appears that, by far, "mercenary jobs" is the most common google search that brings people to this here blog. That and "naked people doing naughty things." The "mercenary jobs" hits come from all over - most from the US, as usual, but also many from the UK, Australia, the Persian Gulf countries, and SE Asia.

We regret to inform you that there are no mercenary jobs here. Although you are fine candidates, and we have had to choose from among other excellent candidates, we have found that other items fit our needs at this time. We wish you all the best in your future search.

Don't say we're not helpful, though. Below is the main address to contact for those of you looking for well-paying jobs, mercenary and otherwise. We suggest that you inquire into the availability of the "donor," "good old boy," and "uses for meat" package options.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500 USA

Monday, June 25, 2007

Grateful Philosophy

Fellow blogger and philosopher Steve Gimbel's new book is on the shelves: The Grateful Dead and Philosophy.

I hope that girl - that girl - the sad one who was holding up one finger that night in the cold, pouring rain in Paris - I had been given two "VIP" tickets to see the Dead at Zenith - hadn't found anyone to go with me - that cute forlorn girl, a drenched lonely moppet in an over-sized sweater - I walked over to her and handed her my extra ticket - she didn't even look at me - she yelled out to friends nearby (I didn't know these were friends nearby), "I got one!" - she snatched the ticket and ran to the front doors - no acknowledgment that the ticket was given to her by another human, no thanks - it was as if it was a lucky but natural occurrence, the ticket was a trout and I was the stream - fool, was I - yeah, I hope that girl reads Steve's book.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Climate Change Chic

Brought to you by Diesel® (via Next Nature)

The Anti-Democrats

Democracy, as almost all thinkers about democracy have argued, is about more than a concrete set of procedures such as universal suffrage. Voting, after all, is not simply an activity randomly chosen from among other things we could do in politics, such as throw all political opponents onto the pyre. It is justified by a deeper set of norms, which are themselves the product of trial-and-error reforms, historically cumulative wisdom, rational argumentation, and evolving sentiments about human relationships. But it is a mistake also to think of democracy as equivalent to suffrage. It's not. Saddam Hussein's Iraq voted. Our own current US administration has no interest in a fair outcome to a vote, perhaps especially now given their radical unpopularity. They are only interested in maintaining the public illusion of protecting the thing they actually want to destroy in their own favor.

Further, however, equating democracy with static institutions such as the vote is a way of saying that democracy is something that can arrive at completion. You get the vote, you're done. Now you're a democracy. Tally ho.

The problem is that democracy is by its very nature an idea that embodies social and political dynamism and evolution. This goes not only for the outcomes of its procedures but also those procedures themselves. John Dewey, the great philosopher of democracy, went so far as to say that democracy as a political entity is best seen as the very best we can do now. But we should never think that it is final answer to human organization - we would already be a fair piece down the road to becoming anti-democrats by doing so. The grounding for this general political form over other political forms is that the world is such that things evolve, change, require new ideas and new actions. Regardless of how far human beings can go in understanding the nature of the world through science, social science, and so on, we will never be in complete knowledge of who we ought to be and can only speak to others' desires about who they want to be to the extent that their desires do not cause harm to others or general social harm.

Democracy is therefore born out of radical uncertainty and contingency and the use of experimental intelligence in attempting to find the right socio-political configurations for the time-being in response to particular, historically contingent problems. As we construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct the idea of democracy and its concrete institutions, we then require a number of key features to democracy if we are to maintain an intelligent and decent democracy. These features include transparency, accountability, relatively accurate information, and some level of equal participation by those who would be affected by democratic procedural outcomes. Those who have a particular interest in corroding any of these elements of democracy, even if they genuinely believe they are doing so in the public interest, are anti-democrats. We now see how it is possible to have a popular vote and yet be non-democratic. In fact, most tyrants have excused their intentional erosion of democratic institutions and qualities through appeal to some form of the claim that "these are dangerous times" and we thus don't have time for such fluffy notions as democracy. Not only is this disdainful of the citizenry, it is an assault on the basics of democracy itself.

And thus we come to today's lesson. We know about Cheney's outlandish claim that his office is outside of the Executive branch. We know about his and Bush's ongoing secrecy and deceit. But let's now read the excerpts below through the lens of the democracy discussion above.

NY Times editorial
(via Norwegianity):
Since the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Bush has tried to excuse his administration’s obsession with secrecy by saying that dangerous times require greater discretion. He rammed the Patriot Act through Congress with a promise that national security agencies would make sure the new powers were not abused...
Washington Post:
Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."...

Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

A Reminder

Photo: Sudan, 1993 by James Nachtwey

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

The human agent, shaped and manacled by context and tradition, by established arrangements and enacted dogma, fastened to a decaying body, surrounded in birth and death by enigmas he cannot dispel, desperately wanting he knows not what, confusing the unlimited for which he longs with an endless series of paltry tokens, demanding assurance from other people, yet hiding within himself and using things as shields against the others, somnambulant most of the time yet sometimes charged and always inexhaustible, recognizing his fate and struggling with it even as he appears to accept it, trying to reconcile his contradictory ambitions but acknowledging in the end or, deep down, all the time that no such reconciliation is possible or if possible not lasting: this is the one topic from which there is no escape.

- Roberto Unger, The Self Awakened: Pragmatism Unbound

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The United States of GDP

US states named after countries with similar GDP (GDP = consumption + investment + government spending + (exports – imports)). From Strange Maps (via Cynical-C).

An Ethiopian Civil War?

This is a terrific article from the Monday NY Times that I would have missed if it weren't for Truthout. Read. A cobbled summary:

In village after village, people said they had been brutalized by government troops. They described a widespread and longstanding reign of terror, with Ethiopian soldiers gang-raping women, burning down huts and killing civilians at will.

It is the same military that the American government helps train and equip — and provides with prized intelligence. The two nations have been allies for years, but recently they have grown especially close, teaming up last winter to oust an Islamic movement that controlled much of Somalia and rid the region of a potential terrorist threat.

The Bush administration, particularly the military, considers Ethiopia its best bet in the volatile Horn — which, with Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, is fast becoming intensely violent, virulently anti-American and an incubator for terrorism...

“We’ve not only looked the other way but we’ve pushed them to intrude in other sovereign nations,” he added, referring to the satellite images and other strategic help the American military gave Ethiopia in December, when thousands of Ethiopian troops poured into Somalia and overthrew the Islamist leadership...

Its leaders, many whom were once rebels themselves, from a neglected patch of northern Ethiopia, are widely known as some of the savviest officials on the continent. They had promised to let some air into a very stultified political system during the national elections of 2005, which were billed as a milestone on the road to democracy.

Instead, they turned into Ethiopia’s version of Tiananmen Square. With the opposition poised to win a record number of seats in Parliament, the government cracked down brutally, opening fire on demonstrators, rounding up tens of thousands of opposition supporters and students and leveling charges of treason and even attempted to kill top opposition leaders, including the man elected mayor of Addis Ababa...

The armed resistance began in 1994, after the Ogaden National Liberation Front, then a political organization, broached the idea of splitting off from Ethiopia. The central government responded by imprisoning Ogadeni leaders, and according to academics and human rights groups, assassinating others. The Ogaden is part of the Somali National Regional State, one of nine ethnic-based states within Ethiopia’s unusual ethnic-based federal system. On paper, all states have the right to secede, if they follow the proper procedures. But it seemed that the government feared that if the Somalis broke away, so too would the Oromos, the Afar and many other ethnic groups pining for a country of their own.

The Ethiopian government calls the Ogaden rebels terrorists and says they are armed and trained by Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor and bitter enemy. One of the reasons Ethiopia decided to invade Somalia was to prevent the rebels from using it as a base.

The government blames them for a string of recent bombings and assassinations and says they often single out rival clan members. Ethiopian officials have been pressuring the State Department to add the Ogaden National Liberation Front to its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations. Until recently, American officials refused, saying the rebels had not threatened civilians or American interests.

“But after the oil field attack in April,” said one American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “we are reassessing that.”...

Many Ogaden villagers said that when they tried to bring up abuses with clan chiefs or local authorities, they were told it was better to keep quiet.

The rebels said thats was precisely why they attacked the Chinese oil field: to get publicity for their cause and the plight of their region (and to discourage foreign companies from exploiting local resources). According to them, they strike freely in the Ogaden all the time, ambushing military convoys and raiding police stations.

Mr. Mohammed, the government spokesman, denied that, saying the rebels “will not confront Ethiopian military forces because they are not well trained.”

Expert or not, they are determined. They march for hours powered by a few handfuls of rice. They travel extremely light, carrying only their guns, two clips of bullets, a grenade and a tarp. They brag about how many Ethiopians they have killed, and every piece of their camouflage, they say, is pulled off dead soldiers. They joke about slaughtering Ethiopian troops the same way they slaughter goats.

Progressive Foreign Policy Points... or Attitudes

Max Sawicky, in the context of a discussion of the recent "Take Back America" (and a remark by Digby), outlines some basic considerations for progressives regarding US foreign policy.

1. There is no 'we.' Never was. Policy is of, by, and for elites.

2. Morality is not the policy. U.S. policy is always justified on humanitarian grounds, but never motivated by such considerations.

3. "Get a life." Genuine 'existential' threats to U.S. interests justifying the use of mass violence are rare. A nuclear Iran is not such a threat.

4. Let's look at the record. The practice of U.S. foreign policy (as for most great powers) is soaked with the blood of innocents. Blowback is the result, and the setting in which foreign policy should be evaluated.

5. It wasn't a mistake, it was on purpose. Characterizing Iraq or, say, Vietnam, as a 'mistake' glosses over the actual intents of policy-makers, as opposed to their public apologetics. Because the use of force is padded with phony justifications, the failure to achieve purported objectives is seen as the result of error, rather than the fact that such objectives were never seriously entertained to begin with.

6. Good stuff can happen. Positive outcomes from U.S. policy are possible and have been observed, but they are typically fortuitous, rather than the fruits of intelligent design.

I humbly suggest that failure to appreciate these points weakens our ability to forestall the next criminal war.
Unfortunately, I think - at least today - that this is basically right. Even non-governmental policy on the part of American-operated organizations addressing, say, international development issues is often formed by an eternal quest for funding which relies ultimately upon some of those same elites. This often undercuts any original humanitarian rationale, which remains as much a rhetorical gesture as it does any sort of problem-solving reality. Thus, because recipients are not stupid, even much of the best-intentioned policy can result in "blowback."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Autograph Tree Fruit


We here at Phronesisaical have been saying this over the life of this blog and beyond: it's a matter of legitimacy (do a keyword search of "legitimacy"). Now Princeton's John Ikenberry says it too and Harvard's Dani Rodrik thinks it's "the best thing I have read from a political scientist in a while." Sigh. Ikenberry (.pdf):

The most serious threat to American national security today is not a specific enemy but the erosion of the institutional foundations of the global order that the United States has commanded for half a century and through which it has pursued its interests and national security. America’s leadership position and authority within the global system is in serious crisis – and this puts American national security at risk. The grand strategy America needs to pursue in the years ahead is not one aimed at a particular threat but rather at restoring its role as the recognized and legitimate leader of the system – and rebuilding the institutions and partnerships upon which this leadership position is based. America’s global position is in crisis, but it is a crisis that is largely of its own making, and one that can be overcome in a way that leaves the United States in a stronger position to meet the diffuse, shifting, and uncertain threats of the 21st century.

The grand strategy I am proposing can be called “liberal order building.” It is essentially a 21st century version of the strategy that the United States pursued after World War II in the shadow of the Cold War – a strategy which produced the liberal hegemonic order that has provided the framework for the Western and global system ever since. This is a strategy in which the United States leads the way in the creation and operation of a loose rule-based international order. The United States provides public goods and solves global collection action problems. American “rule” is established through the provisioning of international rules and institutions and its willingness to operate within them. American power is put in the service of an agreed upon system of Western-oriented global governance. American power is made acceptable to the world because it is embedded in these agreed upon rules and institutions. The system itself leverages resources and fosters cooperation that makes the actual functioning of the order one that solves problems, creates stability, and allows democracy and capitalism to flourish. Liberal order building is America’s distinctive contribution to world politics – and it is a grand strategy that it should return to in the post-Bush era.

The Bush administration did not embrace the logic of liberal hegemonic rule or support the rules and institutions on which it is based – and America is now paying the price in an extraordinary decline in its authority, credibility, prestige, and the ready support of other states. Along the way, the Bush administration has made America less rather than more secure and its ruinous foreign policy is fast becoming an icon of grand strategic failure.

UPDATE (20 June):

I should clarify a bit. Legitimacy is the key issue for me here, not "liberal order building." The US has indeed represented some decent liberal values, ones that are hardly exclusive to the US. It has also engaged in some terrible actions that belie those values (Iraq being only the most recent). One reason other countries have, in spite of the horrible actions, continued to support the US is its economic influence and their economic dependency. Another reason is that the US could be counted on to stick up for - even when hypocritical, and even when highly selective - some notion of a decent international order representing widely shared values we might call "liberal." These two strands run throughout US history, especially during the 20th Century. But the current administration in my view has decided that international relations are about force and turning the screw of economic dependency alone. They've horribly misunderstood that, given alternatives, a country that disdains any international order than one that serves its own interests is one that is undeserving of support and ultimately will only receive cynical and opportunistic support. And when it comes to legitimacy, economic dependence is either too weak a factor to sustain the underlying values that constitute claims to legitimacy or so strong as to deceive political leaders into believing that they can get away with anything. For many in the world, the latter is what they view as American "liberal order building" where the rules are always written by America in America's favor. The Bush Administration has confirmed this view both implicitly and explicitly.

Climate Change Fairness?

I earlier summarized some of the main political and ethical points of dealing with climate change. One central political dispute is, of course, the participation of China and India and other large developing nations in any future climate change regime. The dispute centers on conflicting notions of fairness.

The US (and now the G-8) maintains that it is unfair for rapidly growing greenhouse gas emitters - China and India - not to be part of the international environmental regime. It worries, of course, about US economic standing vis-a-vis China in particular, but the more reasonable case is that China and India should not exacerbate the problem while other countries attempt to mitigate climate change (notwithstanding the fact that very little has indeed been done to date by the developed nations). China and India maintain, rightly, that the problem was created by countries such as the US and that developing nations should not have to pay economically for a problem created by countries that have reaped the economic benefits of pollution. In the earlier post, I put the matter as follows:
  • that the US views ratification of Kyoto as not in its national interests. This position assumes that a) national interests are synonymous with economic interests; b) that there is no technological alternative for economic growth [also a value assumption] to increasing emissions; and c) that only national interests matter when it comes to climate change.
  • that developing countries excluded from the first round of Kyoto should have been included, especially China and India, along with the developed Annex I countries...
...The basic argument from the developing nations is that, given the disproportional emissions on the part of the industrialized countries - which are a direct result of industrialization or modernization of their economies - to call for regulation on emissions from developing nations is to unfairly disadvantage their own industrialization or economic growth. In other words, it is a luxury to have modernized economically, while producing the majority of emissions, and now demand of economically developing nations that they reel in emissions (and thus, by implication, halt their economic growth or experiment with new technologies, something which the US in particular has been wont to do). This is, of course, not perceived to be in developing countries' economic interests by those countries.
Peter Singer in a recent essay summarizes the matter similarly:
China, India, and other developing nations, have a point – or rather, three points. First, if we apply the principle “You broke it, you fix it,” then the developed nations have to take responsibility for our “broken” atmosphere, which can no longer absorb more greenhouse gases without the world’s climate changing. Second, even if we wipe the slate clean and forget about who caused the problem, it remains true that the typical US resident is responsible for about six times more greenhouse gas emissions than the typical Chinese, and as much as 18 times more than the average Indian. Third, the richer nations are better able than less well-off nations to absorb the costs of fixing the problem without causing serious harm to their populations.

But it is also true that if China and India continue to increase their output of greenhouse gases, they will eventually undo all the good that would be achieved by deep emissions cuts in the industrialized nations. This year or next, China will overtake the US as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – on a national, rather than a per capita basis, of course. In 25 years, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, China’s emissions could be double those of the US, Europe, and Japan combined.

Now, most environmental issues involve questions of justice. When an environmental problem is created as a by-product of economic activity, not only are the costs usually externalized when evaluating the benefits of that economic activity, but the by-product has to go somewhere and ends up affecting someone. This is most clearly illustrated in environmental justice cases of toxic waste disposal - toxic waste generally tends to gravitate miraculously (since few claim it to be policy) to poor neighborhoods or poor countries.

In the case of climate change, everyone is potentially affected in multiple, complex ways from immediate effects of coastal or small-island flooding, for example, to long-term indirect economic losses, for example. But some - the industrialized nations - have contributed far more to the problem than developing nations, and some - poor nations, generally - will be more drastically affected than the industrialized nations. This puts the whole climate change regime framework on an unfair footing in the first place. Again, the issue is fairness or justice. Singer has a proposal:

...there is a solution that is both fair and practical:

  • Establish the total amount of greenhouse gases that we can allow to be emitted without causing the earth’s average temperature to rise more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the point beyond which climate change could become extremely dangerous.
  • Divide that total by the world’s population, thus calculating what each person’s share of the total is.
  • Allocate to each country a greenhouse gas emissions quota equal to the country’s population, multiplied by the per person share.
  • Finally, allow countries that need a higher quota to buy it from those that emit less than their quota.

The fairness of giving every person on earth an equal share of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb our greenhouse gas emissions is difficult to deny. Why should anyone have a greater entitlement than others to use the earth’s atmosphere?

But, in addition to being fair, this scheme also has practical benefits. It would give developing nations a strong incentive to accept mandatory quotas, because if they can keep their per capita emissions low, they will have excess emissions rights to sell to the industrialized nations. The rich countries will benefit, too, because they will be able to choose their preferred mix of reducing emissions and buying up emissions rights from developing nations.

I think that this is perhaps the best we can do, at least in terms of an argument from fairness. But it requires the all-important factor that individual states commit to, first, acknowledging climate change as a serious problem that demands efforts from all countries and, second, accepting the climate change problem as currently grave enough to require a change in national policies today rather than tomorrow. Furthermore, it requires that individual states view the issue as a matter of fairness in the first place.

Now, here's the rub: I don't think there is enough pressure at this point for individual states, especially the United States, to take up the seriousness of the argument from fairness. Much of US federal policy is dictated by "national interest" (and, remember, this is almost always determined by particular economic interests), and the current administration is too beholden to a world-view that is so constricted it's a dot. There are already plenty of economic incentives to enter into climate change mitigation, but these seem to have made little dent in US federal policy or foreign policy, at least not relative to the gravity of the climate change problem. There are those in the US who look at climate change exclusively in terms of the damage caused to the national economy and geography and then suggest that the US can rather inexpensively adapt. That is the limit of the ethical claim for these people.

The key issue is that taking up a proposal like Singer's requires that we view the world in terms of more fully taking responsibility for our own actions, especially when those actions cause harm to others. It requires that we view non-citizens more fully in moral terms. But US policy - whether environmental, humanitarian or whatever - seems to me today to be concerned principally with US self-interest. Note how the US often demands of other countries things that it itself has no intention of doing (on, say, nuclear energy policy and proliferation). The ethics of self interest is the most primitive and unimaginative of ethical thinking. Much of our thinking about politics, economics, and so on remains at the normative level of self interest, whether individual or national. This is a cognitive framework for continual morally stunted policy.

In the Richest Country in the World...

The cash-strapped city of New Orleans is turning to foreign countries for help to rebuild as federal hurricane-recovery dollars remain slow to flow.

Kenya Smith, director of intergovernmental relations for Mayor Ray Nagin, said city leaders are talking with more than five countries. He wouldn't identify the countries, saying discussions were in the early stages. But he said the city is "very serious" about pursuing foreign help.

"Of course, we would love to have all the resources we need from federal and state partners, but we're comfortable now in having to be creative," Smith said. He did not know if the city would have to overcome any obstacles if it got firm pledges for aid, but "we want to make sure we're leaving no options unexplored."

For months Nagin has complained bureaucracy is choking the flow of much-needed federal aid dollars to New Orleans - slowing the city's recovery. As of June 8, the city said it had received just over half of the $320 million FEMA has obligated for rebuilding city infrastructure and emergency response-related costs. The city has estimated its damage at far more than that - at least $1 billion. And that doesn't include other improvements - such as raised neighborhoods - meant to help build the stronger city promoted by Nagin and his recovery director.

Discussions with foreign representatives have been occurring off and on since the storm, but Smith said the city became re-engaged after a news report in April that millions of dollars in aid offered by foreign countries after Hurricane Katrina went unaccepted.

It wasn't clear how much of the $854 million in aid originally offered remained on the table.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Helicopter Questions

Today is the first day of the Paris Air Show, always a wondrous occasion in which is celebrated humankind's gravitational léger de main. The IHT, of course, writes about the big business side of the show: Airbus vs. Boeing and how many contracts they rake in. But the organizers are celebrating 100 years of the helicopter this year. (Via Frogsmoke).

The first working helicopter was invented by Frenchman Paul Cornu, whose contraption is shown above. The feat of the bicycle-maker and engineer is all the more astounding because the contraption resembles less a bird, as regular aircraft do, and more an abstract notion of suspension. Many ideas for new technologies began through a continuity by conceptual analogy: the thorned branches of osage orange hedges and barbed wire, stones and hammers, birds and airplanes. Others came from new principles of physics, chemistry, engineering, such as the steam engine. But where did the helicopter come from? The Chinese had a flying top too made out of bamboo as early as the 5th Century. Leonardo designed a flying machine in the 15th Century based on his observations of bird flight.

Other European inventors designed prototype models to Cornu's version through the 19th Century. But, still, how does one move from the observation of bird flight to the rotary wing of the helicopter? Perhaps, rather, the source was the seeds of maple trees?

"If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose."

You must read this latest Seymour Hersh article in The New Yorker on General Taguba.
“From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

Monkey Fruit

Coke Wars


From Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris:
I just stumbled across this article that was posted on an ecommerce website eight months ago about strategies for countering bad news from your foreign business operations (like accusations of complicity with torture and murder, etc.). The piece begins like this:
That a labor union at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Columbia was accusing the company of hiring paramilitary groups to torture and assassinate union leaders is just an interesting side note; the real story, as circulated by those in this ecommerce industry, is how Coke turned the tides on its accusers with targeted keyword public relations.
It then goes on to how to affect search results to affect the PR spin. Here's one peice of advice from the article:
1. Keep the story quiet in your home country. Look: Google News results for the term [killer coke] yield 57 links, not all of which actually refer to the lawsuit, even though the suit was filed in 2001. This is good because you don't want too many links to the list of bottling plant union leaders tortured, kidnapped and/or killed.
I guess it has been pretty effective, although Coke was criticized in another article for not being savvy enough in its search engine strategy to tamp down PR on the Colombian case.

In any case, as the original article summed it up:
The lesson here, then, obviously, is when you're beating back an image problem centering on paramilitary assassination accusations, it's important to have your search marketing campaign ducks in a row. The marketing gods at Coca-Cola should have known better.

Monkey Break

Courtesy of BibliOdyssey

More Tributes to Rorty

These are at Slate (picked up from Abbas at 3QD). I'm particularly fond of Stanley Fish's little list of favorite Rortyisms, each containing a world of argument.
A good way of teaching Rorty is simply to give students a baker's dozen of sentences and invite them to tease out the thought of the man who produced them. I have my own "top 10," and the list includes: "The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not." "A conviction which can be justified to anyone is of little interest." "One would have to be very odd to change one's politics because one had become convinced, for example, that a coherence theory of truth was preferable to a correspondence theory." "What counts as rational argumentation is as historically determined and as context-dependent, as what counts as good French." "It seems to me that I am just as provisional and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Sturmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause."
UPDATE (19 June):

Also via 3QD is this brief essay by Todd Gitlin in the Boston Globe.

Photo: Getty / Steve Pyke

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Shadow Surges

The Washington Post reports that contractors in Iraq (i.e., mercenaries) are engaged in their own "surge."

While the military has built up troops in an ongoing campaign to secure Baghdad, the security companies, out of public view, have been engaged in a parallel surge, boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up evasive action as attacks increase, the officials and company representatives said. One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, according to previously unreleased statistics; one security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.

The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, in part because of bureaucratic delays and corruption in the Iraqi government licensing process, according to U.S. officials. Blackwater USA, a prominent North Carolina firm that protects U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, and several other companies have not applied, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Blackwater said that it obtained a one-year license in 2005 but that shifting Iraqi government policy has impeded its attempts to renew.

The security industry's enormous growth has been facilitated by the U.S. military, which uses the 20,000 to 30,000 contractors to offset chronic troop shortages.
Meanwhile, Sunni insurgents are stepping up their "surge."

It is indicative of the U.S.'s inability to crush the insurgency that commanders are trying to find ways to split it. The military is urging Sunni nationalist groups to take up arms against their former al-Qaeda allies and has begun supplying some of them with weapons. In the immediate future, however, such efforts are unlikely to protect U.S. troops from an increasingly sophisticated and tenacious enemy — and may even put Americans at greater risk. A TIME investigation reveals that militant groups have responded to the U.S. surge with a big push of their own, unleashing a flurry of new or rarely used tactics and innovations designed to maximize the death toll. Their most potent weapons are the roadside bombs being fashioned by men like Abdallah, which now account for roughly 80% of U.S. deaths, up from 50% at the start of the year. "People are calling me all the time, asking for new ways to ..." Abdallah says, pressing down his right thumb on an imaginary remote control, and adds, "... Boom!"

The military's current security push in Baghdad, known to Iraqis as Operation Fard al-Qanoon, or Imposing Law, has elicited opposite responses from Iraq's two warring sects. Shi'ite militias like the Mahdi Army have decided to lie low; their leaders went underground or on vacation to Iran. Sunni groups, especially al-Qaeda's Iraqi wing, have girded for battle. Groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization controlled by al-Qaeda, began to confer with one another and with other Sunni groups. "The first thing we realized is that we would need lots of IEDs and car bombs," says al-Nasr Salahdin's field commander, who was involved in some of the discussions. "Once the Americans were fully deployed, it would be hard to move bombs around, so we had to make them quickly and distribute them."

Some insurgent commanders fell back on tactics that worked before, such as moving their operations into areas where there are relatively few U.S. troops. Al-Qaeda elements driven out of Anbar province by the Marines and a coalition of local tribes began to cluster in Diyala. In recent weeks, bombers have struck even farther north, in Mosul, Kirkuk and long-peaceful Kurdistan. But most groups remained in Baghdad and even called in reinforcements. Many al-Qaeda fighters moved from Anbar to the capital, and the Islamic Army, the largest Iraqi insurgent group, called on its fighters to rally there for a cataclysmic showdown with U.S. and Iraqi troops. They began to attack new targets, like U.S. helicopters and important bridges that connect Baghdad to the rest of the country. "These were all new kinds of attacks, and there were so many of them, it was hard to keep track," says a Western official in Baghdad, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak with the media. "The message from al-Qaeda was, You do your surge, we'll do ours."

With everyone but the Mahdi Army surging (for the time being), what do you think happens?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Capitol Poo

Witnesses said they couldn’t believe that a single culprit could have produced the volume of poo present or that a person could have, well, deposited it the normal way without attracting attention. Several witnesses speculated it had been brought in from elsewhere.

Cursor Kite

Via NextNature, here's the "cursor kite."

Iguana Pop

I don't want to post the picture myself.

Kill Me Now

I like (like, in the sense of appreciate its tragicomedy) this headline from TomDispatch:
The Pentagon v. Peak Oil: How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them
The article by Michael Klare is worth a read, though the title says it all.

US Foreign Policy: Creating Civil Wars

A Tiny Revolution:

Thanks, Washington Post, for your eloquent descriptions of what never happened:

Under international pressure, Arafat agreed to name Abbas as a newly empowered prime minister in 2003...

When Arafat died at the end of 2004, Abbas won the elections to replace him as president of the Palestinian Authority. Despite deep Israeli misgivings, the United States encouraged Abbas to hold Palestinian legislative elections -- and Abbas invited Hamas to participate, believing he could beat them at the polls. But Hamas won...

Then, Washington organized a financial boycott of the government, in an effort to showcase Abbas as a moderate alternative in his role as president...The United States had just begun delivering nonlethal aid and training to security forces loyal to Abbas when Hamas decided to strike and seize Gaza.

Meanwhile, back in reality:

In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas elections, last January [2006], Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House office with talk of a “hard coup” against the newly-elected Hamas government — the violent overthrow of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant — the U.S. had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government...


Egypt transfered a large quantity of arms and ammunition to PA security organizations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, with Israel's approval...

The shipment included 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and two million rounds of ammunition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Photo: Dave

Stolen Watch

Bush's watch gets stolen in Albania. Video here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Richard Rorty Dies - "He reveled in contingency..."

Richard Rorty, the ever-controversial, iconoclastic, and important American philosopher, died on Friday. My very best wishes to his family.

I'll have more soon.

UPDATE (12 June):

I've been meaning to write a longer piece on Rorty, but I have not been able to find the time. Shame on me. Up until last week Rorty was one of the greatest living philosophers. Only perhaps Jürgen Habermas meets his level of influence and renown. He has been hugely influential for me as well, often by representing the positions I want to argue against, always representing positions that can't be ignored. I deeply admired his provocative style, his gentle wit, his decency, and of course his intelligence.

I didn't know Rorty very well. I met him on two occasions - first, when I had just moved to philosophy from engineering as an undergraduate, and later when I had just finished my PhD. But we had email exchanges over the years about a number of things, and he contributed an essay to another book I'm editing. A busy man, Rorty nonetheless took the time to correspond in the same witty and thoughtful way that he wrote philosophy.

I've noticed that the few discussions out there about Rorty's life and death mostly take the opportunity to bash him again as a postmodern relativist. That discussion is too hackneyed for my tastes and, frankly, requires too much effort to plod through again. As with other pragmatists, most of the critics have never spent much time actually reading their works. And, as with other pragmatists, we often find ourselves spending far too much time defending pragmatism, not merely as an opposing set of substantive philosophical arguments, but as a matter of getting critics to understand it in the first place. This is exhausting. Read the books, I say. Rorty took up the task as his own.

Here are a few links to obituaries and commentaries. They're really too few and far between.

Habermas on Rorty at Signandsite

David Luban on Rorty at Balkinization

Todd Gitlin at TPMCafe

A final interview with Rorty at The Progressive

The Washington Post obituary

The San Francisco Chronicle obituary

The NY Times obituary

The Nation's obscenely brief obit (Rorty was a longtime contributor and supporter - maybe they'll rethink this)

Rorty's 2006 essay, "Democracy and Philosophy" at Eurozine

And, finally, Rorty's 1992 autobiographical essay, "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids"

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Toll of Mining

Open-pit mine in Siberia

While much of the world focuses on the geopolitics of oil exploitation, mining remains one of the largely hidden modes of resource extraction known for its high human cost and exploitative and corrupt political arrangements. This is at the root of Bolivia's recent leftward shift, for example, although the US press only seems to understand Bolivia as a puppet of external political interests. The central concerns are control of national resources (the main source, after all, of revenues for especially least developed countries); water and air pollution; exploitative labor arrangements; long-term health problems for workers and locals; and the oft-corrupt contracts that are a boon for national/local elites and mining companies but a disaster for the citizens of the country. Mining usually takes place in areas of high poverty. Curious, that. It thus opens the issue as one of environmental justice - why should income level determine whether or not one has a right to a healthy environment?

[Some cases: El Salvador gold mining, Eastern Europe uranium mining, Argentina gold mining, Honduras, Peru, West Virginia mountaintop coal-mining, Romania, cyanide leach mining, Mexico, Papua New Guinea copper mining, Africa generally]

When I was in Honduras last year, there was a protest that shut down the country's main highway. Asking around about the reasons for the protest, I learned that the demands centered on a mining law that allows open-air mining and opens up thirty percent of the country to mining firms while these firms are required to pay in return only one percent of their revenues in taxes. One percent.

A lawsuit on behalf of the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea making its way perhaps to the US Supreme Court demands restitution for upwards of ten thousand deaths over a decade and a half of copper mining at Panguna by the mining firm Rio Tinto. The case encapsulates the complex issue of mining: its politics and its human disaster. The story omits the consumer end.

In November 1988, militants forced the mine to close through blowing up power pylons and other acts of sabotage. For a decade following the mine’s closure, a war raged between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Papua New Guinean and Australian military forces trying to quell the independence movement and reopen the mine. By the time a ceasefire was signed in 1998, more than 10,000 Bougainville residents—about one-tenth of the island’s population—had been killed.

The lawsuit alleges that, in addition to the 10,000 dead, the mine also caused the destruction of a way of life—the matrilineal tribal and subsistence fishing and farming culture that earned it the name “Sacred Island.” “A deep sense of social malaise set in, which expressed itself in clan tensions, depression, alcohol abuse, rage, traffic accidents and incidents of violence—all distress signals of a people severed from their roots,” the suit claims.

The suit quotes tribal leader Perpetua Serero, who says, “We don’t grow healthy crops anymore, our traditional customs and values have been disrupted and we have become mere spectators as our earth is being dug up, taken away and sold for millions.”

An alternative view on Panguna here (see also here).

Note: It is curiously difficult to find photos of Panguna. The ones below are borrowed from here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Dinner Party Conversation Stopper

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse, I know I'm not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hopes it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11. more than five years later, however, nearly half the American people still believes that Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought it was the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just unfortunate excess --- and unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our news media. now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsession that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

Late in the summer of 2006, American news coverage was saturated with the bizarre false confession of a man who claimed to have been p[resent at the death of JonBenet Ramsey --- the six-year-old beauty queen whose unsolved murder eleven years before was responsible for another long-running obsession. A few months prior to John mark Karr's arrest in Bangkok, the disappearance of a high school senior in Aruba and the intensive search for her body and her presumed murderer consumed thousands of hours of television coverage. Both cases remain unsolved as of this writing, and neither had any appreciable impact on the fate of the Republic.

Like JonBenet Ramsey, O.J. has recently been back at the center of another fit of obsessive-compulsive news, when his hypothetical confession wasn't published and his interviews on television wasn't aired. This particular explosion of "news' was truncated only when a former television sitcom star used racist insults in a night club. And before that we focus on the "Runaway Bride" in Georgia. And before that there was the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra levy tragedy. And of course we can't forget Britney and KFed, and Lindsay and Paris and Nicole, Tom Cruise jumped on Oprah's couch and married Katie Holmes, who gave birth to Suri. And Russell Crowe apparently threw a phone at a hotel concierge.

In early 2008, the wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death, embalming, and funeral plans and the legal wrangling over the paternity and custody of her child and disposition of her estate, served as yet another particularly bizarre example of the new priorities in America's news coverage.

And while American television watchers were collectively devoting a hundred million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness.

Al Gore
(From Digby)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Turks, Kurds, and Americans

I mentioned this earlier as a brewing problem about to bubble to the surface and spill hot liquid all over the laps of the Mayberry Machiavellians (that's what they get for drinking while doing foreign policy).... OK, that's pushing the metaphor far too far, but this is rather serious. Turkey is not going to allow an autonomous Kurdistan, while this could very well be a necessary element of any settlement that gets the US out of Iraq. The AP reported yesterday that Turkey sent some troops across the border into Iraq on a brief incursion (Turkey has already built up its presence on the frontier). This may or may not be true. It's denied from a number of different quarters with different interests at stake. But the reality is that this situation is brewing, and the killing of three Turkish soldiers today and Turkey's setting up of "security zones" looks to set the place alight.

Pat Lang has more background:

...The tensions between the Turkish government and dissident Kurds is what it has always been. Sporadic fighting and terrorist action in Turkey is a continuing fact of life in the region. The Turkish government regards northern Iraq, with some justification, as a sanctuary and redoubt area for Turkey's Kurdish rebels.

The United States has encouraged the ambitions of Kurdish Iraqis for political and social autonomy in the north. The US has protected a nearly independent Kurdish autonomous zone for over a decade. It should be obvious that the real aspiration of the Kurds is northern Iraq is independence.

Turkey regards that as a threat to its long term stability and territorial integrity.

Should the American government not have foreseen that? How difficult was it to see that coming? Has the US government tried hard to resolve the potential for further war in the region over this issue?

Now Turkey is assembling its forces on the border. It is not too late to act. The US government shold aggressively seek an agreement in which Turkey and the Kurdish entity in the north accept a US guarantee (enabled by an American military presence) that preserves both Kurdish and Turkish equities. The US is now a Middle Eastern regional power and must accept its responsibilities as such.

We Are All Democrats Now?

Poll: Americans Lean Dem By Wide Margin
The new AP-Ipsos poll has a fascinating number. Respondents were asked they identified as Democrats, Republicans or independents, and then independents were asked which way they lean. With leaners, 54% of Americans are Democrats, compared to only 36% Republicans — an almost 20-point Dem margin. This is likely a product of recent Washington scandals and mishandling of foreign affairs by Republicans, but it could very well turn into a full-fledged political realignment if the Democrats can sustain it.

Unripe Cacao Pods, Honduras

Photo: Helmut

The Argument from Authority for Pirates

And there is a strong case to be made indeed.

The parents of one of my fellow five-year-olds are taking him to Los Angeles today where they will, among other things, visit Disneyland. Now I'm not a fan of Disney Corp., but I've got some pretty fond memories of going to Disneyland as a kid. These fond memories almost all revolve around the ride, "Pirates of the Caribbean." So I told my little friend (I usually call him "Monkey Boy") at dinner last night that he absolutely had to go see the pirates.

And what do pirates say, Monkey Boy?


Good boy.

"But... but my friend at school says that there are underwater bumpercars. I want to do that. Are there underwater bumpercars?"

Maybe. But what's important is that there are pirates. You have to go see the pirates.

"Do they shoot guns?"

No, they mostly swordfight, just like we do - you know, when we're going "aaarghh!"

"Will they get me? Do they come close to you and go 'rrraaawww'?" [tiger claws and grimace]

Oh, not that close. They're mostly swordfighting among themselves. They also shoot cannons at each other from their ships. You get a little wet when cannonballs fall near your boat.

[sotto voce] "Are they real pirates?"

Uh. Well, yeah, they're real pirates. They sing.

"Are there underwater bumpercars?"

Dude, Disneyland is all about the pirates! Go see the pirates!


Pineapple Fields, Hawaii

War Profits!

You too can profit from the Iraq War! Follow along with your favorite characters, the ones who produced and marketed the war, and whose stock portfolios are now fabulous! Invest now, and see how good you can actually feel about war!

In this age of outsourcing, 70 percent of the nation's estimated $48 billion intelligence budget goes straight into the pockets of private contactors—and an additional $58 billion is earmarked for homeland security. For security and defense firms, the road to profitability is paved with government contracts. But landing those coveted deals is often dependent on having friends in those high places where procurement decisions are made.

Lately, we've noticed a stream of former Bush Administration officials and insiders signing on as directors at obscure companies that compete for contracts at their old agencies. Where other observers might see revolving-door corruption, or perhaps an orgy of military industrial profiteering, we see a tantalizing investment opportunity. Just because this crew, which includes George Tenet, Paul Bremer, and Richard Perle, monumentally bungled their duties to the American tax payer doesn't mean they aren't capable of feathering their own nests—and yours.

Torture and Democracy

Another book plug! Friend Darius Rejali's most recent book is the massive, Torture and Democracy, which will appear in early fall. You can pre-order here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Paris Hilton Prison Diaries

Thirty days in jail, with my back turned to the wall
Thirty days in jail, with my back turned to the wall
Yes you know some other skinner must be kickin' in my stall

Hey mister jailer please, will you please bring me the key
Hey mister jailer, will you please sir bring me the key
I just want you to open the door, cause this ain't no place for me
- Clarence Smith / Lightnin' Hopkins, "Jailhouse Blues"

Yes, we've got the Hilton diaries, courtesy of the LA Times. Some excerpts:
DAY 1: Arrived late Sunday night. So tired. Asked if I could check into my room immediately. Quite possibly the rudest concierge I have ever met. I told him he was fired. Not the effect I'd hoped for. And no, I did not register under the name "Little Miss Whore." What kind of hotel forces you to strip and delouse (maybe Marriott?). Although instead of a robe I got a fabulous orange jumpsuit with a cute number on it. Nothing to do at night. I'm told (as there was, like, no information in my room) that there is no bar or lounge area. I wish I'd brought flats...

Day 3: So that's what a bitch slap is. Wow. Just … wow. MUST remember not to make that sarcastic face again anytime soon...

Day ??: I have stopped counting the days. I live in the now...
Lately I'm identifying with the Jews and all the horrible things that happened to them during Vietnam....

Sisters in the Struggle

Chummy-chums Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and Nicolas Sarkozy bummed around for a while yesterday -- the latter explaining the problem of illegal immigrants to the former, who shared with the latter the drawbacks of leading a country in danger of being overrun by violently fractious crime syndicates. They don't appear to have had a conversation, so much as a pleasant exchange of sound-bite rehearsals; but that's what political allies are for, right?

The leaders, who hit it off like a pair of Catholic schoolgirls, had nothing, it turns out, on their wives. At a cozy dinner last night, Sarkozy's old lady and Calderón's old lady found that they had, like, so much in common:
En la cena, su esposa Cecilia Sarkozy coincidió con Margarita Zavala en que ambas estudiaron en colegios manejados por las hermanas de la Asunción, y que incluso la francesa había previsto asistir al Vaticano -como hizo la mexicana- a la canonización de la madre María Eugenia de Millares, fundadora de la orden religiosa.

It left me in mind of the recent Lesbians on Ecstasy track, "Sisters in the Struggle," with its sticks-in-your-head refrain: "we've been waiting all our lives / for our sisters to be our lovers."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Arid Down Under

I don't believe I've mentioned anything Australian since the ignominious first day of this blog's life. Here's something.
Excerpts from UN's IPCC report on the threat of global warming to Australia and New Zealand:

"As a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are projected to intensify by 2030 in south and east Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and eastern regions."

  • "Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically rich sites, including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland's tropics. Other sites at risk include the Kakadu wetlands ... and the alpine areas of both countries."

  • "Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and south-east Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand) are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050."

  • "Production from agriculture and forestry by 2030 is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increases in droughts and fires."

  • "The region has substantial adaptive capacity due to well-developed economies and scientific and technical capabilities, but there are considerable constraints to implementation ... Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity."
  • Integrity and Honor

    From A Tiny Revolution:
    ...Here's how Kissinger pretends to see the world, when writing to a judge:
    I met Scooter early in the second Bush administration, when he served as Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney. In that capacity, he attended all my meetings with the Vice President. He also acted as a kind of liaison for me to the National Security process. I was deeply impressed by his dedication, seriousness, patriotism and essential my observations, he pursued his objectives with integrity and a sense of responsibility.

    Here's how Henry Kissinger actually sees the world, from The Final Days:

    Kissinger counseled his aides that deviousness was part of their job [on the National Security Council]. "You systems-analysis people have too much integrity," he told one of them. "This is not an honorable business conducted by honorable men in an honorable way. Don't assume I'm that way and you shouldn't be."

    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Random Monday

    Unable to do much today - although it has nevertheless somehow been one of those "busy-work days" - and unable to find much of interest in the news - everything seems so... obvious today, if that makes sense - I can really only post a random ten (OK, twenty) of songs from my iTunes library. Matt at Tattered Coat used to do this on Fridays, but he's been busy too.

    Here they are, completely random and thankfully avoiding embarrassments this time. Feel free to play along.

    1. Buddy Holly, "Every Day" (1959).
    2. Nina Nastasia, "This Is What It Is" (2002).
    3. Ramona Cordova, "One Day Someday" (2006).
    4. Ms. John Soda, "Unsleeping" (2002).
    5. Shiina Ringo, "Souretsu" (2003).
    6. Isabel Parra, "La Celosa" (1970s?)
    7. Nourallah Brothers, "Lightness and Space" (2004)
    8. Eddie Gale, "Black Rhythm Happening" (1969)
    9. Gilberto Gil, "Palco" (1994)
    10. Sonic Youth, "Incinerate" (2006)
    11. Rykarda Parasol, "Hannah Leah" (2006)
    12. Machine Go Boom, "Captain Obvious" (2004)
    13. Arzigul Tursun, "Yarbagi" (2006)
    14. Forget Cassettes, "Quiero, Quieres" (2006)
    15. Carla Bruni, "Quelqu'un m'a dit" (2003)
    16. Les Sultans, "Je t'aime bien" (1967)
    17. Urusei Yatsura, "Plastic Ashtray" (1995)
    18. Cristina Branco, "Corpo Iluminado" (2001)
    19. The Only Ones, "Lovers of Today" (1977)
    20. Sly and the Family Stone, "Family Affair" (1971)

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    Mangosteen, mon amour

    Climate Change Policy

    Since Bush announced that he will pursue a side-agreement as an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol at the G-8 summit this week, there's been a lot of misinformation floating around the internet, including misleading statements from the US government. The right, of course, wants to show how the US stance on Kyoto is ultimately Clinton's fault. But the left, also erroneously, wants to demonstrate how it's Bush's sole fault.

    Some historical facts are in order. If you need the basics on the science of climate change, there's no better place to start than here at RealClimate. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change also provides good information on the basics as well as more advanced downloadable documents.

    The good news about Bush's proposal is that the administration has finally decided - last in the world to do so - that global warming is real and anthropogenic (and note the uncertainty range in the graph above - "scientific uncertainty" was the basis for denying the reality of climate change). I guess their calls for "more research" finally panned out. But they've replaced that stalling tactic with a new one.

    The central problems for the US regarding the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed by the US in 1998 but never ratified (the latter is necessary for an international agreement to become binding, though the US has broken plenty of other binding agreements over the past six years) are:
    • that the US views ratification of Kyoto as not in its national interests. This position assumes that a) national interests are synonymous with economic interests; b) that there is no technological alternative for economic growth [also a value assumption] to increasing emissions; and c) that only national interests matter when it comes to climate change.
    • that developing countries excluded from the first round of Kyoto should have been included, especially China and India, along with the developed Annex I countries.
    172 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol to date, but effective policy action has always been held up by US intransigence, given that it is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases whether one measures by total emissions or per capita emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions represent the largest GhG with industry and transportation being the largest sources of CO2 emissions. The implication is that control of emissions means drastic policy changes for industry and transportation. Residential changes (say, conversion to solar energy technologies) would impact, at the wildest limit, 17% of total US emissions.

    China, today, is the second largest carbon dioxide emitter, but only if measured by absolute emissions for the country. Per capita emissions remain quite low (Americans are responsible for five times the CO2 emissions per capita), although they are rapidly rising as China's economy continues to boom and produce a mass-consumer class. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Chinese remain poor - poverty entails lower consumption, which entails less pollution, at least per capita.

    The basic argument from the developing nations is that, given the disproportional emissions on the part of the industrialized countries - which are a direct result of industrialization or modernization of their economies - to call for regulation on emissions from developing nations is to unfairly disadvantage their own industrialization or economic growth. In other words, it is a luxury to have modernized economically, while producing the majority of emissions, and now demand of economically developing nations that they reel in emissions (and thus, by implication, halt their economic growth or experiment with new technologies, something which the US in particular has been wont to do). This is, of course, not perceived to be in developing countries' economic interests by those countries.

    As some of the bloggers on the right correctly point out, the 1997 Byrd-Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98) on which the US Senate voted 95-0 stated that the US would not ratify any agreement that would harm the "national interests" of the United States. Read: "economic interests." But this was not a binding legal rejection of the Protocol. A Simple Resolution (abbreviated "S. Res.") in the Senate is a non-binding political statement of the Senate's general views on a given matter. As bloggers on the right often do not note, President Clinton, knowing thus that the chances of ratification were basically nil, never submitted the Protocol to Congress for ratification. In other words, he was not willing to submit the Protocol to final defeat.

    Nearly immediately after taking office, Bush hammered the nail in the coffin of US participation in Kyoto by stating that the US would never ratify the Protocol. Although Clinton was hindered by Senate reluctance and thus, politically, was unable and/or unwilling to submit the Protocol, Bush flatly rejected it and all hope of US participation. The reasons were the two noted in the bullets above. As comparative rejections of Kyoto go, Bush's was a flat statement of rejection. There is absolutely no argument to be had on this.

    Now, Kyoto is not a panacea. It was, as my friend Richard Benedick (architect of the Montreal Protocol on the ozone layer) says, "a product of game theory." It ultimately calls for a global 5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2012, which will hardly make a dent in the problem of global warming. Moreover, emissions have increased during the period since Kyoto, the US hardly containing itself at all, even if there are a number of promising local and state measures.

    Finally, it appears most countries won't even make their own individual commitments. What Kyoto did do, however, is put climate change on the map as a serious problem requiring serious normative commitments. Without US participation, whether during the Clinton years or the Bush years, those commitments have lagged.

    Current discussion about climate change mitigation turns on whether we ought to focus, rather, on adaptation to the effects of climate change. This new focus is fatalistic - likely realistically so, unfortunately - but also gives up on the least developed countries and Small Island States which are and will be most affected by the consequences of climate change. This is an unforgivable ethical shortcoming because those who have contributed least to the problem will face the most dire consequences. Countries that have generated the problem, like the US, largely look the other way. Adaptation might be a necessary strategy, but it cannot be a sufficient one.

    Any future agreement that really does mitigate climate change will require the participation of the US, the largest emitter, as well as China, the fastest growing emitter. The US has made Chinese participation a condition of its own participation, mostly because the US fears Chinese economic dominance. This concern was less pronounced at Rio in 1992 (the UNFCCC, from which the Protocol was developed) and is much more so now. The concern with Chinese emissions is a very real one, but the conditionality of Chinese participation in any climate change regime is used politically by the US to deflect its own obligations.

    Bush now proposes an alternative agreement to the UN process through an endless series of meetings designed to outline individual nation efforts. He is a fan of "voluntary measures" to reduce emissions, which he will apparently also propose at the G-8 summit. We need only look to Bush's time as governor of Texas, where he also favored voluntary efforts, to see the effects of that policy.
    Texas, where coal barely edges out cleaner natural gas as the top power source, belches almost 1 1/2 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide yearly. That's more than every nation in the world except six: the United States, China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany.