Thursday, August 28, 2008

Extreme Pawlenty

Via T. Miss, Pawlenty goes for a joyride in a stolen car.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spent Sunday riding around Pennsylvania in a stolen van.

The theft was inadvertent; his Keystone State driver was told to pick up the keys to the vehicle in which he was to shepherd the governor at the Holiday Inn in Allentown, Pa.

"He did exactly what he was told, except it was the wrong Holiday Inn and the wrong van," said Pawlenty, who campaigned through Pennsylvania for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Saturday and Sunday.

The van the driver picked up was a tricked-out touring vehicle, complete with an LCD video screen, an Xbox and video games and an iPod-ready, six-speaker stereo system.

Wrong Way W

Via Sullivan, Peggy Noonan:
The best line of the convention so far? Ted Strickland of Ohio, when he echoed the 1988 Democratic convention joke about George H.W. Bush, that he was born on third and thought he hit a triple. Strickland said of George W. Bush that he was born on third and then stole second.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dragon Fruit

RZA on McCain

Richard Gowan is right. Enough with the clichés and ad hoc narratives of the pundit class! RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan is a much better and more enlightening read.

What do you think of Biden?

I don’t know Mr. Biden. I just saw him on TV yesterday.

He got in trouble last year for saying Obama was the first “clean and articulate” African-American candidate we’d ever had run for president.

He got in trouble for that?!

I guess it was seen as stereotyping.

A lot of us ain’t clean and articulate, because we grew up in harsh conditions. So Mr. Obama is clean and articulate. I’m actually proud to watch him on TV, myself, as a black man, because I think we hold our dicks when we walk — know what I mean? — and he got something about him that’s really classy. It’s like in every nation and every race, you have some people that are born as a prince because of the natural way they are.

Do you support him because he’s the first black candidate or for other reasons?

I’m not really a political guy. Some of my friends were supporting Hillary in the beginning, and I do what my friends do. I was trying to help Hillary in the beginning.

Really? Why?

Because I thought, When the Clinton family was in office, my family had better food in their house. I could call my aunt up and she could say, “Yeah, things is good.” Now everybody calls me for money. So I thought that Clinton could help out families better. But when she moved out of the race and I started watching Mr. Obama, I actually became a fan of his. You know, this man has something elegant about him!

And I watched Mr. McCain, too, and I know he went through a struggle with the war and all that. But in all reality, if you’re a P.O.W., it means you’ve been locked up and in jail. And in our country, you can’t vote as a felon. A lot of people can’t vote because once you’ve been locked up and incarcerated, it changes your mentality. He did that for his country. That’s a great thing and a great sacrifice. But people I know have been making comments, saying, “You know, a man who’s been through that … Rambo was crazy!”

Far Away

Regarding the most recent mass killing of civilians in Afghanistan by the US,
Imagine if an airstrike from a foreign power killed 60 American children - even in an accident. It would be an historic event that would be seared into the Western consciousness for ever. And yet, US bombs just killed exactly that number and the odds are: this is the first time you heard about it.
That's right.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Public Space Art

Pruned has more on Wifaa Bilal, who I mentioned earlier, as well as some other interesting spatial art projects. Two of my favorites:

Adrian Kondratowicz, TRASH: anycoloryoulike, 2008. Photo by Gina Marie. Source.

Michel de Broin, Superficielle, 2004. Photo by Michel de Broin. Source.

See more.

Steve McQueen Fixes a Radio

From If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger....


Ouch (from Eschaton)... Roger Ailes:
The McCain campaign keeps emphasizing that McCain was a prisoner in Vietnam, as proof of his qualification for the Presidency.

Well, so was Gary Glitter, and I'm not voting for him either.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I like the Biden choice as VP for a number of reasons, most of which have been elucidated elsewhere. Obama's choice, to me, shows something he has demonstrated over and over: his understanding that the past always informs the future, even if critically and even if that future needs dearly to break with the bad habits of the past. This often tragic feature of the human condition is the main core truth shared by thoughtful conservatism (which barely exists today) and thoughtful progressivism. It's Peircean semiotics for everyday consumption.

Obviously, one can't agree with all of Biden's policy choices, and everyone makes fun of his capacity to talk, but I've always liked the guy mainly for the reason that he's smart, no-nonsense, has a fine wit, and is one of the few congresspeople who really does have a grasp of foreign policy concerns in both the big picture sense and the localized, human dimension. I like to hear Biden talk because he has something interesting and important to say. I honestly can't say the same thing about most politicians. McCain's foreign policy statements (as with Bush's), for example, can basically be predicted before he opens his mouth ("POW" is the least of it). There's no hard work involved. If we can do that, it's a good sign we don't have much leadership.

Furthermore, unlike those who think Biden's "foreign policy experience" fills a gap for Obama, I think Obama actually also has a strong foreign policy sense, in both the big and local picture. It may not be in terms of experience itself (using the language of "experience," by the way, automatically cedes the debate to McCain), but it is certainly in terms of diplomatic charisma and intellectual judgment. Compare McCain's reckless cold-warrior statements on Georgia, which got both the description and the prescription wrong. Obama-Biden is a strong ticket in this sense and, given McCain's ongoing gaffes on what is supposed to be his strong point, Obama's VP choice just won that territory, in my view.

Acknowledging that VP choices don't usually have a huge impact on elections, the Biden choice nevertheless also humanizes Obama's image at this point in the campaign. I mean this in a very strict sense. The Obama "brand" (yech, an awful term) does indeed have a certain amount of saintliness about it, which has occasionally given even strong supporters pause. If it didn't, the McCain camp's incessant criticisms of "The One" and Obama-as-celebrity would have no purchase on the public. Polls suggest otherwise which in turn says that the Republicans have effectively made inroads on the Obama image. Biden - partially because of his faults - brings the Obama brand back to earth; or to the kitchen table:
Your kitchen table is like mine, you sit there at night after you put the kids to bed and you talk about what you need. That's not a worry John McCain has to worry about. He'll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at.
Nice. As many have noted, Biden won't back down from a fight and we can all relish the debates to come. But there's another crucial factor composed of two parts that seems to have been overlooked in today's commentary across the internets. Yes, Biden does well among older voters and "undecided" voters, which FiveThirtyEight (prior to the Biden pick) suggests have heavy overlap:
Biden's case is probably stronger than I indicated, because he tends to be most popular among voting groups with a lot of undecided voters, which means a lot of persuadables. In particular, Biden's strength with senior citizens could be a real asset. How so? Because seniors are far more likely to be undecided in this election than their younger counterparts.
But even further, one data point that's nearly impossible to poll is racism or, to put it euphemistically, racial discomfort (racism, after all, isn't always black and white, so to speak - its existence and effects come in a range of degrees). It's heartening that racism genuinely seems to have withered among this generation's younger vote. When I've talked with European friends about Obama, they've often said they don't think he'll win because of American racism. I've always responded that I think this has changed. But that response is inadequate. The reality is that it has changed among the youth vote. This may even be part of the promise of Obama, as when he himself uses the language of being merely a mirror or a blank slate for this generation to write its aspirations. But things are different with the senior vote.

Jacob Weisberg, writing in Slate, claims that the one thing that could lose this election for Obama is the racism of a significant chunk of the American public.
Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month's CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth examining in detail if you want a quick grasp of white America's curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say the country isn't ready to elect a black president. Five percent of white voters acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.

Five percent surely understates the reality. In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that it didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly. The responses in Ohio and even New Jersey were dispiritingly similar.

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he is a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thank you, Geraldine Ferraro—he only got where he is because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel in the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who, as president, would favor blacks over whites. Or he is an "elitist" who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn't one of them. Or he is charged with playing the race card, or of accusing his opponents of racism, when he has strenuously avoided doing anything of the sort. We're just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.

Then there's the overt stuff. In May, Pat Buchanan, who writes books about the European-Americans losing control of their country, ranted on MSNBC in defense of white West Virginians voting on the basis of racial solidarity. The No. 1 best-seller in America, Obama Nation by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., leeringly notes that Obama's white mother always preferred that her "mate" be "a man of color." John McCain has yet to get around to denouncing this vile book.

Racism was always going to play some role, and we can set aside the overt bigotry of Buchanan, Corsi, and others who'll only ever vote for a white male Republican. I don't have much to go on but a hunch, but I suspect that Corsi and other's swiftboating won't have as much of an impact on this election. It's not that John Kerry was swiftboated; it's that the swiftboating of John Kerry gave us four more years of the hugely unpopular Bush.

But there are the others along the spectrum of euphemistic racial discomfort for whom the sense of racial identity is more complex and ambiguous. These are the people who hear the racial code language of "good American" or "elitist" or "patriot" or "us" from John McCain and picture white, even while they may say they're not racist. That's the code of demagogues. It's the kitchen table around which "people like us" usually sit. It's traditional America, the past informing the future, memory anchored politically by the senior vote. That ambiguous place is not necessarily racism, at least not overtly so, but it's easily convertible to "racial discomfort" racism by demagogues, an eternal truth of political elections.

Not to instrumentalize the whole affair (because I don't actually think it's so), this is where choosing Joe Biden, with his avuncular wit and his appeal to seniors, is an extremely clever move. His very presence shuts down the code by showing a gentler, reality-based version of a pluralistic kitchen table - which Obama embodies and which the younger vote already admires - than the one antagonistically presented by demagogues to the fears of racially uncomfortable, white senior voters.

But this is also less about election gaming and more about the consistency of Obama's character. He wanted someone to challenge him. Biden will do that in the best of ways as a smart thinker with long experience that doesn't hinder fresh ideas. I can easily see a terrific working relationship and a good friendship developing in an Obama-Biden White House, one that combines both dynamism and security. It is, however, also about the complex picture of American racial and class reality that Obama has been painting with perhaps its high point in his brilliant post-Wright speech on race and religion. This is a picture that understands that we always carry the past into the future, shared with conservatism, but that also understands that we can always tweak and evolve the meanings of national and international existence so that we don't merely repeat the past. It's a wise choice and says very good things about the wisdom of Obama himself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Photo by Alex Hofford/European Pressphoto Agency, via No Caption Needed.

Elitists in Hawaii

Oh, a bit of campaign palaver here today, cause I've got nothing else to say. Besides, it was a fun day for the battle of campaign rhetoric.
Cindy Hensley met John McCain more than 20 years earlier at a party in Hawaii. He was a 43-year-old naval officer, married at the time. She was 25. They married a year later — in 1980 — and they signed a prenuptial agreement, which was fairly rare at the time.

Just so we are clear- visiting your grandmother while vacationing in Hawaii, the state where you were you were born- elitist.

Meeting the millionaire heiress daughter (who you will soon begin an affair with and divorce your first wife and then go on and buy a ton of houses) in Hawaii and then going on and honeymooning in Hawaii – not elitist.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

These Two Things Go Together

Kevin Drum (and Matthew Yglesias):
Matt Yglesias takes a look at John McCain's record on foreign threats and describes it this way:

In short, not only is Russia on the march beyond Tbilisi to Ukraine, Finland, and substantial swathes of Poland but that's not even the transcendent issue of our time. And North Korea's nuclear program is "the greatest challenge to U.S. security and world stability today" but that's not the transcendent issue of our time. And Islamism is the transcendent issue of our time, but not a serious international crisis or an especially great challenge to U.S. security and world stability. Now of course there's no way to make sense of that, because it's not supposed to make any kind of sense. McCain just thinks that overreacting is the right reaction to everything. It's a hysteria-based foreign policy.

I know I'm not making an original point here. Conservatives, and neoconservatives in particular, have always thrived on a sense of being surrounded by manifest, civilization-threatening dangers. But somehow, even compared to their usual hysteria level, they seem to have turned their internal threat-o-meters up to 11 for this campaign. They're convinced that Russia is on the march, China is on the rise, Islam is a transcendent threat, we live on the cusp of world historical times, and if Barack Obama becomes president we're all probably doomed. And that's one reason the campaign has gotten so nasty. If you think the survival of the nation is at stake, you're certainly not going to be worried about a bit of freelance political smearing, are you?

Glenn Greenwald, via Thoreau:
The idea that the U.S. can, should and must be, more or less, in a state of permanent war, and can start wars in a whole host of circumstances having nothing to do with defending the country from an attack or imminent attack, is as close to an unchallengeable, bipartisan article of faith as it gets. We’re a country that fights wars and uses military force in far more places and for far broader reasons than any other country in the world, by far. Again, regardless of one’s views about whether our wars are really Good and Just — even if one believes that what we drop on other countries are Good and Loving Freedom Bombs — it’s still just a fact that no country views military action as a more appropriate response in more situations than the U.S. does.

Pace Mamey

Academia of Debauchery

Having, on frequent occasion, spent evenings like this past Saturday with friends who are also academics, collapsing political and lightly philosophical discussions in the early morning hours into creating the crudest possible limericks and converting those into salsa songs (Una dama que venía de Nantucket...), it is worth reminding myself on occasion of the noble roots of my calling.
If the Bacchanalia created a blueprint for our most depraved debauches, the ancients also bequeathed us its more elegant counterpart: the learned drinking party or symposium. Like the Algonquin roundtable of 1920s New York, it was a brilliant excuse for all forms of excess: In classical Athens, A-list philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates loved to gather for wine-fueled intellectual bouts, during which they would recline on sumptuous couches, sip wine from ornate goblets, be entertained by beautiful lute girls and handsome dancing boys, and throw themselves into scintillating debate. In fact, Plato’s fundamental tract, The Symposium, is based on a real party in 415 B.C. Athens, attended by a revolving cast of artists, thinkers, and politicians, including the playwright Aristophanes and the dashing, up-and-coming general Alcibiades. The wine was mixed with water in a bowl called a krater, then passed amongst the guests in a communal cup engraved with erotic drawings; the food was simply prepared, with plenty of olives, honey, feta, and freshly grilled fish. Plato says the boozing and philosophizing went on all night, until everyone except Socrates fell asleep in a stupor.

Many other symposia were far less dignified. The fourth-century B.C. poet Eubulus describes a typical evening in Athens, when the bright conversation degenerated as the wine cup was passed around. While the first few drinks inspired moments of brilliance, he writes, “the fourth libation belongs to Hubris; the fifth to Shouting; the Sixth to Revel; the seventh to Black Eyes; the eighth to Summonses; the Ninth to Bile; and the tenth to Madness.” After the parties, philosophers and their golden-haired boys would run around the dark streets, scribbling graffiti under sophomorish pseudonyms like Sacred Erection, and squander their inheritances on the beautiful and talented Greek courtesans, called heiterai, who lay in wait.

After conquering Greece, the Romans adapted the symposium tradition for their own more civilized banquets frequented by poets and great minds. Around 200 A.D., one of the unsung classics of Western literature, Deipnosophistae — “The Drunken Professors” — was penned by the bon vivant Athenaeus, a Greek-born author who grew up as a scion of the Roman Empire. Set at a fictional dinner party, it is basically a compendium of anecdotes about great moments in the history of food, wine, and entertainment, drawing on the whole Greco-Roman world. Of course, the issues that were mulled by these boozed-up professors are still fascinating at social gatherings today, and it could be said that this column is a direct descendant of Athenaeus’ noble project.

The Iron Border Dam

Image: Faulty design turned border fence into dam, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
America's own Iron Curtain is turning into an iron dam. Bryan Finoki has been on the case.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Aufhebung, or "Crunchy"

Justin Smith at 3 Quarks Daily:

Some years later, Hünn-Tuk took part, along with four other members of the Vendyak community, in the aboriginal-peoples contingent of a conference on the anthropology of food at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Their hosts had taken them to a diner a bit out of town called ‘LeAnn’s’. A professor from the Slavic department was along to translate for Hünn-Tuk into Russian, who in turn translated for the others into their native tongue. I was at the conference, and heard about the incident first-hand from the professor (we had been roommates during my years at Michigan).

The Vendyak were very curious about everything on the menu, as the diner had been played up to them by their hosts for days as featuring ‘authentic’ local cuisine. Just as the Russian professor was struggling to come up with an adequate rendering of the concepts of ‘cheese grits’ and ‘chicken-fried steak’, one of the Vendyak pointed to the cover of the menu and asked to know the meaning of the phrase underneath the name of the restaurant: “LeAnn’s: Home-cookin’ just like granny use [sic] to make.” The professor translated the phrase into Russian, and at once Hünn-Tuk’s face contracted into a worried cringe. He tried to hide it, but the other Vendyak had already become excited, and Hünn-Tuk found himself unable to invent a lie under pressure. They demanded to know what the phrase meant at once, and he gave in: “This food is prepared as if by an elder woman,” he told them sombrely in Vendyak.

Two of the men ran out of the restaurant at once, right out across the state route, and disappeared into the forest on the other side. The youngest of them dropped to the floor and began convulsing, as if in the early throes of an epileptic seizure. The fourth, a man of nearly 60 with grey whiskers and a few teeth, marched over to the anthropologist who had arranged the outing, an innocent young Melanesianist who had simply taken it for granted that love of granny’s cooking was a cultural universal. The Vendyak grabbed the Melanesianist by his throat and bellowed: “Do you want to poison our people!? Do you want to shrivel our testicles and make our arms too weak to hunt!?”...

Read the whole essay.

Televised Ego Physics


...If Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer raced toward the same MSNBC camera at the same velocity from converging angles, would they...

a) Bounce off each other upon point of collision

b) Fuse upon impact (smack) into one super-talkative, tele-addicted, Kali-armed, dual-cam ego'd uber-Senator?

I suppose "a" is the more plausible outcome, but "b" would enliven Senate hearings and might angrily bite the bug head off of George Stephanopolous in the middle of one of his schmancy interrogations, which is something I think we'd all appreciate.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Who Is John McCain? Part 2

Despite the air-headed silliness of the likes of the aburdism enthusiast Cokie Roberts, and the usual conspiracy lunacy on the far right, Obama is pretty much vetted as a presidential candidate. Frank Rich points out today that this is not really the case with John McCain. As someone said the other day on NPR (as I was driving, and I didn't catch the name), using that hackneyed and bureaucratically meaningless marketing term, McCain has a strong "brand." Brand McCain, in Rich's words:
What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the president’s response to Katrina; he fought the “agents of intolerance” of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.
Rah rah. Rich tries reality-based:

With the exception of McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.

McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didn’t start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after “Mission Accomplished.” By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didn’t get to New Orleans for another six months and didn’t sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.

McCain long ago embraced the right’s agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCain’s own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.

Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Post’s February report that lobbyists were “essentially running” the whole operation, the fact remains that McCain’s top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

They Call It a Recession in Europe

None of that namby-pamby, Pollyanna-ish euphemistic speech about the economy like you get from the tough guys in charge in the US, quibbling over technical but purely conventional definitions of "recession." The Europeans call it as it is. By the way, as we've learned so often during the past eight years, acknowledging reality makes it easier to engage in genuine problem-solving.

Why Do You Want to Kill Our Olympic Athletes With Your Consumer Behavior?

There's lots of talk about how bad the smog is in Beijing for these 2008 Olympics. We've all seen the photos. That's bad smog. The Australian goes so far as to say - or repeat that an "expert" says - that athletes could die in the smog.
The "noxious cocktail" of athletes pushing themselves to the limit and the Games' city's dirty atmosphere could trigger a serious - and potentially lethal - asthma attack, Murdoch University Associate Professor Peter Dingle said.
It turns out that you, American, if you can step outside of the consumer matrix for a brief moment, are the killer. I know you're worried about high prices on all consumer goods this summer, the most popular complaint having to do with gas prices ('cause that's good domestic-drilling politics). But while you're bumping along through life, saving your spare change this summer, and watching the Olympics tsk-tsking about the Beijing smog, you're killing the Olympic athletes. McCLatchy:
Earlier this summer as the Olympic Games approached, the Chinese government sent businesses around this capital city an unmistakable message: China would do everything possible, including shutting down whole industries, to ensure the games' success...

The measures, analysts said, have paralyzed industries in Beijing and much of five affected regions and will be felt around the world long after the Olympics.

With China dominating global production of many goods, U.S. consumers will likely see higher prices if not outright shortages for products such as mobile telephones manufactured in the affected areas. The Olympics restrictions will also affect world supplies of auto parts, semiconductors, Vitamin C, steel and domestic Chinese supplies of cement and aluminum.

It would be easy to read this with a groan about coming higher prices. But the actual message is that that smog sustains your lifestyle. It's either your consumption practices or the athlete's lives. Be a patriot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Remote Killing

Did you see this? I honestly think it's one of the most important pieces of performance art in the past 20 years, Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension (originally titled, Shoot an Iraqi). The full work is, at the same time, beautiful, banal, deeply tragic, and a brilliant commentary on war and the complicity of those for whom distance creates a sense of false reality and moral neutrality. Make sure you read Bilal's full story (via 3 Quarks).

...For 30 days, Bilal lived in a 4.6 by 9.8 metre performance space, while people around the world watched – and targeted him – through a webcam attached to a remote-controlled paintball gun, capable of firing over a shot per second at the Iraqi in question...

In April 2004, Bilal’s 21-year-old brother Haji, was killed in Kufa by a missile fired from an unmanned Predator drone. “Muqtada’s people were taking over the city and a lot of my brother’s friends joined the Mahdi Army,” says Bilal as we sit in Sultan’s Kitchen, his falafel sandwich cooling with each question, the senselessness of the story depressing the musical tempo of his speech. “I told him, ‘Stay away from these people,’ but apparently they generated so much pressure on him, they convinced him to go out and fight.

“They have a checkpoint at the Kufa bridge,” he continues tremulously, “and these guys know when a drone comes, it’s either going to fire or it’s going to take pictures, so they ran. Haji wanted to prove he’s not afraid. He stood there. Then a missile strikes and shrapnel runs straight to his heart and kills him on the spot.” Bilal’s father – a carpenter, philanderer and habitual abuser who once placed Bilal’s brother Safaa in a wooden box and began drilling holes in it randomly – couldn’t handle the pain, stopped eating, and died two months later.

Not long thereafter, Bilal read a news story about the US military personnel who control the Predator drones, firing missiles into Iraq and Afghanistan from cubicles in Las Vegas and Colorado, interacting with their prey on the other side of the world through a computer monitor. And Domestic Tension was born.

Using the same basic technology that controls unmanned drones – an EZIO board crucial in robotics – Bilal and his colleagues built a paintball gun that could be aimed and fired remotely from any computer in the world. “The same technology you use to send a missile to destroy a village,” he says, “was used here to create art. That’s dual-use!” All that was left for Bilal was to endure 30 days in the crosshairs, a bravado performance that dramatised the stress of living and maintaining sanity under bombardment at the same time as it revealed the extent to which technology has sanitised violence.

“I’ve seen a lot of activism in art,” says Bilal, “and instead of engaging, it’s alienating. Since we live in the comfort zone, we’re alienated by the direct message. We reject anything that’s going to challenge us, so you have to balance aesthetic pleasure with the aesthetic pain.”

“Technology,” he confesses over lunch, “has allowed any man to become the Trojan Horse.” He was referring, of course, to the portable nature of mass murder in the modern age, to suicide bombers or the lethal combination of box cutters and aeroplanes. But there is no better metaphor for his work: what else could you call this culture trap, in which the audience is lured by a video game into participating in a demonstration of its own complicity?

Domestic Tension’s website was more than a place to take potshots. Participants were encouraged to chat (producing 2000 pages of running commentary) and view Bilal’s daily video diaries, which recorded his vacillations between boldness and disintegration. To watch them on YouTube is to reprise his torturous ordeal, abridged, from the first salvos of paint to his eventual freedom and tears on the steps of the gallery. It’s all part of Bilal’s intention to say “You can take it with you,” to challenge the notion that art resides solely in sterile rooms with guards and seismographs, to liberate it from the finite, static nature of the object and make the experience more ephemeral, protean, mobile...

Over the course of his month under fire, Bilal’s transformation is marked, a poignant and painful narrative of decline. The jocund Bilal who wryly observes on day two that “somebody brought a box of Cheez-Its to feed me; that was nice” can be seen hours later strewn on his bed whispering in a withered voice that he wishes “people just enjoy life and stop the senseless killing”....


Legitimacy and Hubris

I've been plugging the legitimacy issue for so long that it's now just tiring (see here and here). But the Russia-Georgia affair just underscored it again. Basically, while a handful of remaining benighted US citizens and a batch of insiders in Washington DC continue to believe in American global dominance, the reality is that the Bush administration's wars and its war crimes have destroyed the glue that holds together US global power: that is, legitimacy, both political and moral.

The case of Georgia is what legitimacy looks like when it has deflated.
Russia's blitz into the former Soviet republic of Georgia has exposed starkly the limits of US military power and geopolitical influence in the era following the invasion of Iraq.

Georgia is one of the closest US allies in Eastern Europe. President Mikheil Saakashvili has visited the White House three times in the last four years. Yet this warm relationship did not stop the Kremlin from unleashing a ferocious military response after Georgian troops entered the separatist province of South Ossetia.

US efforts to expand Western influence and spread democracy along Russia's borders may now be threatened. US relations with Russia itself, at the least, are in flux.

"This gets at the stability of the framework the US thought was going to govern the post-cold-war world," says Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

It sure does. But that framework - as enacted by the Bush administration - always had a certain unreality to it. Perhaps this goes back to the Reaganite idea that the US "defeated" the USSR in the Cold War, rather than the Soviet Union collapsing under its own incompetence and illegitimacy. This overly simplistic belief encouraged the further belief that the US is a modern Rome (remember all the empire books?), with only technologically inferior barbarians at the gates to fend off. This is the belief that military and economic power are the sole criteria of extending one's wishes to the entire globe. That belief has failed, but it's still hugely influential not only within neocon circles but also within what is often portrayed as the only other feasible alternative, a neo-realist view of foreign affairs. What this all amounts to, ultimately, is hubris. But I can't see that hubris ending anytime soon - it has become the lens through which Americans view the world. At least Georgians have learned the hard way to take off those rose-colored glasses.

When it comes to Georgia, especially faced with the evil genius of Putin, the US is limited to three feeble options, all of which are colored by the hubris:

1) the "get out of my clubhouse" option:
Expulsion of Russia from the G-8 group of industrialized nations was among the few apparent strong actions the US and Europe could take.
2) the "cut it out" option:
"The United States, its allies, and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that creating 19th-century-style spheres of influence and redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace," said Ariel Cohen, senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation, in an analysis of the impact of the crisis.
...and 3) the"blame someone else" option:
"Nothing meaningful can be done as a matter of American policy if there is no consensus among European states that this represents something deeply shocking," says Mr. Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Bear in South Ossetia

Gary Brecher:

There are three basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:

1. The Georgians started it.
2. They lost.
3. What a beautiful little war!

I disagree! (With the third point...). But, despite the liberal truism that war is hell wherever, there seems to be an inordinate amount of hand-wringing in the on- and off-line commentariat about this war (as many of them apparently come up to speed on precisely where South Ossetia is). (Here's one hysterical instance among many; here's another). The intentions of Russia are not all that unclear, for one thing, and a quick tutorial from Cheryl Rofer is helpful here (see also Rob Farley).
With most of its boundaries on the land of the Eurasian continent, Russia has always been vulnerable to invasion, whether from the Vikings to the north, the Germans and French to the west, or the Mongols to the east. The way the tsars, and later the Soviet Union, coped with that was to annex or co-opt the states on their borders, which provided battle grounds so that Muscovy, and later the vast expanse from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, might be protected. But every extension produced another boundary, the need for additional buffers and additional expansion...

...the Soviet messing with populations and boundaries set up problems that persist. Having ethnic populations that can be subverted in those buffer states encourages Russian intervention to keep them weak. Separating ethnic groups so that they wound up in two or more post-Soviet states provides another area of manipulation. And Russia has continued that manipulation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia...

Despite the promises to Russia that if Germany (one of Russia’s invaders) was reunified, NATO would not extend further east, the former satellites and the Baltic States were taken into NATO, and the EU as well. So much for Russia’s preference for buffer states on the west. NATO was the alliance of the West against the Soviet Union, any new purpose never stated...

The Russians aren’t bringing back the tsarist empire, or even the Soviet Union. But the policies of those entities have helped to bring about the unrest in South Ossetia, and Russia would like to continue its tradition of weak neighbors.

Isn’t it time for us all to move into the 21st century? Time for the United States to give up its Cold-War poking of the bear with sharp sticks and time for Russia to accept independent neighbors?
Well, not for cold warriors Dick Cheney and John McCain. Whatever. Stick-poking seems to be at the longer-term root of this war from all sides: Russian, Georgian, and American. Gregory Djerejian gets the short-term root right:
...perhaps a more proximate causal factor contributing to this explosion of misfortune in Georgia, namely, that of stupidity, or at least, severe miscalculation. Saakashvili, an apparently quite idealistic 40 year-old former NY lawyer, seems to have erred too much in thinking that giddy summitry with Western big-wigs might pay dividends (or too his far too excited involvement in the Iraq adventure which, incidentally, looks to be coming to a quite precipitous end) but unfortunately, insufficiently appreciated the disastrous waning in U.S. power these past years, despite his constant hankering for NATO membership (which a resurgent Russia will never accept regardless of Kosovo or whatever else, best I can tell), and thus has fallen short with regard to better appreciating a variable which would have been more apropos, namely, a harsh dose of realpolitik...
Brecher puts it slightly more breezily:
Most likely the Georgians just thought the Russians wouldn’t react. They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then…uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators?...

We’ll probably give them a ride, but that’s about all we can do. We’ve already done plenty, not because we love Georgians but to counterbalance the Russian influence down where the new oil pipeline’s staked out. The biggest American aid project was the GTEP, “Georgia Train and Equip” project ($64 million). It featured 200 Special Forces instructors teaching fine Georgia boys all the lessons the US Army’s learned recently. Now here’s the joke—and military history is just one long series of mean jokes. We were stressing counterinsurgency skills: small-unit cohesion, marksmanship, intelligence. The idea was to keep Georgia safe from Chechens or other Muslim loonies infiltrating through the Pankisi Gorge in NE Georgia. And we did a good job. The Georgian Army pacified the Pankisi in classic Green-Beret style. The punch line is, the Georgians got so cocky from that success, and from their lovefest with the Bushies in DC, that they thought they could take on anybody. What they’re in the process of finding out is that a light-infantry CI force like the one we gave them isn’t much use when a gigantic Russian armored force has just rolled across your border...

The quickest way to see who’s winning in any war is to see who asks first for a ceasefire. And this time it was the Georgians. Once it was clear the Russians were going to back the South Ossetians, the war was over. Even Georgians were saying, “To fight Russia by ourselves is insane.” Which means they thought Russia wouldn’t back its allies. Not a bad bet; Russia has a long, unpredictable history of screwing its allies—but not all the time. The Georgians should know better than anybody that once in a while, the Russians actually come through, because it was Russian troops who saved Georgia from a Persian invasion in 1805, at the battle of Zagam. Of course the Russians had let the Persians sack Tbilisi just ten years earlier without helping. That’s the thing: the bastards are unpredictable. You can’t even count on them to betray their friends (though it’s the safer bet, most of the time, sort of like 6:5 odds).

This time, the Russians came through. For lots of reasons, starting with the fact that Bush is weak and they know it; that the US is all tied up in that crap Iraq war and can’t do shit; and most of all, because Kosovo just declared independence from Serbia, an old Russian ally. It’s tit for tat time, with Kosovo as the tit and South Ossetia as the tat. The way Putin sees it, if we can mess with his allies and let little ethnic enclaves like Kosovo declare independence, then the Russians can do the same with our allies, especially naïve idiotic allies like Georgia.

If South Ossetia wasn't lost to Georgia before this unpleasantness, it is now. And Georgia learned a hard lesson about US rhetoric, which has had a particularly long way to flutter to earth from its pre-2003 tough-guy superpower talk to the hollowness of 2008 that Putin and Medvedev have quite clearly seen through.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Non-Lethal Capability Set

If you're wondering what to do for the weekend, you might consider picking up a Non-Lethal Capability Set. It's the latest in technology designed to subdue and repress others. In the future, America's largest industrial sector will be the production of such "kits" to subdue those protesting the erosion of civil liberties and basic human decency.

The four modules include: the checkpoint module, crowd control and detainee ops module, convoy module, and dismounted module that includes various non-lethal items troops can use during dismounted patrols.

The kits are put into large, weatherproof containers, and include everything from high-intensity lights to loud speakers. The checkpoint tools, for example, includes "equipment to establish and operate hasty and deliberate checkpoints." That means tire spikes and capture nets.

Other nonlethal sets have been fielded in the past, but the NLCS "includes items not found in the previous sets, such as tasers, Phraselators, Vehicle Lightweight Arresting Devices and Ex-Spray, which allows soldiers to detect explosive residue."


By William Larson (via Space & Culture).

Todorov on Europe

Nowadays, a country is basically a space of solidarity, not so much a space of common values, because the countries belonging to the European Union all share the same political and moral values, the more important values, but we do not share the same solidarity space. By this I mean that we have social security, which is a kind of insurance for health problems or for pensions or education for our children. All these things are related to the entity of the former State and I cannot see why that State should disappear. I am not sure that having a one single social security system for the whole Europe would work better than the French, Italian or German social security systems. So I think we have to accept this belonging to different entities - some of them larger, some of them smaller - we will manage very well. Human beings are capable of adapting to this plurality of belongings.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Washington's Corruption of the Very Idea of Governance

Thomas Frank, writing at TomDispatch, discusses the tendency to "bad apple" (as a verb, which should become au courant) corruption in Washington. The bad apple Jack Abramoff accepts the rap for what is basically organized crime. It's interesting how similar this is to the torture cases at Abu Ghraib, in which systemic, institutional torture comes pre-packaged with its scapegoats or "bad apples" too dumb to defend their own morally indefensible actions.

Those of us who live in this city know full well that the city is full of corruption (being careful to distinguish DC as a city of real residents and DC as a city of governmental interlopers, political operatives, politically inbred media stars, lobbyists, and assorted hangers-on living off of or seeking the generous hand of the party-driven government). But we've also seen the corruption accelerate over the past eight years. It is distinct, this acceleration, and it has filtered through nearly every aspect of the federal government and its scions. Apart from the vast corruption embodied in the current administration and many of its policies, and the even larger sphere of corruption which is the ongoing relationship between private money and public policy in Washington, everyone connected to the federal government in some way or another has their stories of censorship or ideological favoritism or graft or other cozy, obsequious relationships between incompetent federal officials and the centers of political influence and power.

Frank suggests that this acceleration of corruption over the past several years was basically preordained.
...Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we've come to expect from Washington.

The correct diagnosis is the "bad apple" thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the last few years. Hang around with grassroots conservative voters in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people. Even our story's worst villains can be personally virtuous. Jack Abramoff, for example, is known to his friends as a pious, polite, and generous fellow.

But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the "values" that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities -- priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.

Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.

There's an opportunity in this of the kind the traditionally conservative Obama-con Andrew Sullivan has espoused for the past several years, and many working in civic politics and political theory have been saying for eons. That is, it's necessary to conceive of government as capable of operating in the interests of the public good, decided democratically, before government can actually progress towards that ideal. Skeptics (and cynics) of government in itself are corrosive of the possibility of good governance, which is necessary, the fantastic claims of some poorly-read anarchists, Ayn Randers, and libertarians notwithstanding. The ideology-driven skeptics/cynics are in power, they've convinced much of the public that government is in itself fundamentally corrupt rather than their actual governance, and as such have enabled themselves to be accepted by the public, when caught, as "bad apples" while their corrupt institutional practices go on unimpeded. This is partially why public perception does matter. Government leaders who can overtly demonstrate not only decent governance but the concrete importance of principles of transparency, democracy, and accountability can go a long way towards helping the public reconceive of governance as a public good. And that is a necessary condition of truly getting anything done in the way of good policy.

Mp3 Find of the Day

Lalith Mendis, from Sri Lanka. Found at Radiodiffusion Internasionaal, an absolutely terrific and educational mp3 blog specializing in rare, obscure international music. It's a weekly stop on my internet music tours.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On Tire Gauges and Republicans

"So now the Republicans are going around -- this is the kind of thing they do. I don't understand it! They're going around, they're sending like little tire gauges, making fun of this idea as if this is 'Barack Obama's energy plan.'

"Now two points, one, they know they're lying about what my energy plan is, but the other thing is they're making fun of a step that every expert says would absolutely reduce our oil consumption by 3 to 4 percent. It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant."
Regarding the anti-intellectual streak in American culture, which also manifests in the level of discourse of American politicians (and party zealots)... isn't at least trying to be smarter and trying to learn more stuff fundamentally a good thing?

Monday, August 04, 2008

American Massacres in South Korea

This has received nearly zero press in the US (but see here), and was largely tamped down by the US-supported rightwing governments of the country since the war. If the new democratic South Korea makes serious demands for reparations from the US, it'll trickle into the US media. I posted something briefly about it a while back. But here... again. What is the message to draw?
South Korean investigators, matching once-secret documents to eyewitness accounts, are concluding that the U.S. military indiscriminately killed large groups of refugees and other civilians early in the Korean War.

A half-century later, the Seoul government's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has more than 200 such alleged wartime cases on its docket, based on hundreds of citizens' petitions recounting bombing and strafing runs on South Korean refugee gatherings and unsuspecting villages in 1950-51.

Concluding its first investigations, the 2 1/2-year-old commission is urging the government to seek U.S. compensation for victims.


Who Is John McCain?

Some serious questions while the press and apparently much of the American public gets sidetracked again by race-mongering... Joshua Marshall:

Out of general fondness, the Washington press corps (which is not just a phrase but a definable community of people) has for almost a decade graded John McCain on a curve, especially in the last eighteen months when he's slipped perceptibly. Now, in response to the bludgeoning and campaign of falsehoods his campaign has unleashed over the last ten days, a number of his longtime admirers in the punditocracy have written articles either claiming that they'd misjudged the man or lamenting his betrayal of his better self...

Let's be frank. On the campaign trail this cycle, McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries' names wrong, forgets things he's said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused. Any single example is inevitable for someone talking so constantly day in and day out. But the profusion of examples shows a pattern. Some of this is probably a matter of general unseriousness or lack of interest in policy areas like the economy that he doesn't care much about. But for any other politician who didn't have the benefit of years of friendship or acquaintance with many of the reporters covering him, this would be a major topic of debate in the campaign. It's whispered about among reporters. And it's evidenced in his campaign's increasing effort to keep him away from the freewheeling conversations with reporters that defined his 2000 candidacy. But it's verboten as a topic of public discussion.

The other point that again goes almost totally undiscussed is McCain's two reinventions of himself over the last decade. From a mainline conservative Republican to progressive reform candidate to Bush Republican. The reporters who have been covering him for the last decade know that there is virtually no public policy issue of note which McCain hasn't made a 180 degree change of position on in the last half dozen years. An ideological shift of that magnitude is far from unprecedented. And such turnabouts or transformations can be a product of searching insights into the changing terrain of American governance. But two such shifts in the course of a decade strongly suggest either instability or opportunism.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday Readings

And a beautiful Sunday it is here in DC....
  • The new Rand report on terrorism, notable for its suggestions that "The United States cannot conduct an effective long-term counterterrorism campaign against al Qaida or other terrorist groups without understanding how terrorist groups end."
  • Scientific American reports on the mix of cognitive science and moral philosophy in experiments in which, it appears, utilitarians are more careful deliberators than deontologists. As always with such things, however, the way the terms and rules of the game are designed from the outset is crucial.
  • Will Kymlicka interviewed at Eurozine on multiculturalism and liberal rights.
  • Nancy Fraser interviewed at Eurozine on recognition and "parity of participation."
  • A fascinating essay in the NY Times Magazine on the "vicious group hunt" of trolling. NYT: "“Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity."
  • Americans leaving America at a more rapid clip.
  • MudCain. John Heilemann, in New York Magazine, on what I think we all know - McCain can only win the election by embracing the Rovian mudslinger, which he has.
  • A nice piece on Jimmy Carter, also in New York Mag.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Patterns 2

Answering a question about his approach to combatting crime, John McCain suggested that military strategies currently employed by US troops in Iraq could be applied to high crime neighborhoods here in the US. McCain called them tactics 'somewhat like we use in the military...You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement.'


Obama responds (via Balloon Juice, which calls out the "mediocre press"):

"This is the classic dilemma of politics,'' Obama replied. "We get four or five shots in a row (assertions by McCain), that I would rather lose a war so that I can win a campaign, that I am not willing to visit the troops, that I somehow am full of myself, that I'm an empty-headed celebrity, whatever repeated attacks have been launched this week, so when I say, boy those are kind of silly arguments, the press says, isn't that being negative. Well no, I'm describing what their strategy has been for the last week... I'm just stating the facts....

"Ultimately, what I think we've got to do is keep driving home the essential message of this campaign, that we've got to change business as usual... What we've seen this week ahs been politics as usual... This is the same thing that was done four years or eight years ago... You guys are all familiar with this. You've seen this before. We've seen this movie before.''

Friday, August 01, 2008

De-Romancing Žižek

Poor Slavoj Žižek. Now even his followers are on to "the Slovenian philosopher, self-proclaimed Stalinist and academic superstar."
Žižek's mounting eccentricities and difficulties go beyond Bloomsbury. Over the last twelve months, between an Argentinean dance club being launched with his name, and the International Journal of Žižek Studies selling doggie T-shirts embossed with its logo, Žižek has championed the Hollywood action film 300 (a comic-book adaptation of the Battle of Thermopylae) as a suitable model for left politics, advanced the almost LaRouchian view that "liberal communists" (Silicon Valley CEOs, plus George Soros and court philosophers like Thomas Friedman) "are the enemy of every true progressive struggle today" and appeared in the advert breaks of the British television station Channel 4 as a sort of human screen wipe, delivering pearls of gnomic wisdom in fifteen-second bursts. As a result of these incidents, many of Žižek's former allies in his natural constituency of the para-academic blogosphere have begun to desert him. "The gruesome spectre of another Hitchens looms," noted one former admirer in the wake of the 300 rave, while another, blogging under the pithy title "Žižek the Embarrassment," suggested that "the dialectical 'double movement' that used to serve Žižek's uncompromising intellect has become a contemptible tool for his egotism."

Billmon Returns

One of the best political commentators in blogdom, the enigmatic Billmon of the long defunct blog Whiskey Bar, has returned as a diarist at Kos. He returns on fire with a post about John McCain and the political pattern of the McCain brand.
...McCain and his new team of Rovian handlers now realize they won't have a prayer in November unless they can motivate the conservative base and (to use Lee Atwater's charming phrase) "strip the bark" off Obama. And they have to do it NOW, so McCain can pivot back to a softer, more upbeat message in September.

So that's exactly what McCain is doing – instantly, unapologetically, without shame or embarrassment. His enormous cynicism about the political process and his contempt for the voters – not to mention his vast sense of self-entitlement - have led McCain to take exactly the same low road as the Bush family and its various henchmen (Atwater, Rove): Whatever works; whatever it takes.

And so it’s finally dawning, even on some members of his media "base" (ever the hapless clowns in our political theater of the absurd ) that McCain isn’t quite the straight-talking, straight-shooting military man of honor they thought he was. The White Knight has morphed into the Great White Hope – the GOP machine’s last, desperate chance to avoid the mortal humiliation of being defeated not just by a Democrat, not just by a liberal, but by a liberal Democratic black man.

Some of the suckers are even starting to suspect McCain’s been lying about them, too. Despite the cozy chats on the Straight Talk Express, the Arizona barbeque weekends, the cheerfully misogynist jokes and the teary-eyed moments when John tells one of his patented POW stories – despite, even, the donuts with sprinkles – he isn’t actually their friend at all. In fact it’s pretty obvious he despises them almost as much as he despises a system that forces him to pander both to them and to the voters.

Nature's Way of Telling You Something's Wrong

This is not a cat

Children have lost touch with the natural world and are unable to identify common animals and plants, according to a survey.

Half of youngsters aged nine to 11 were unable to identify a daddy-long-legs, oak tree, blue tit or bluebell, in the poll by BBC Wildlife Magazine. The study also found that playing in the countryside was children's least popular way of spending their spare time, and that they would rather see friends or play on their computer than go for a walk or play outdoors.

The survey asked 700 children to identify pictured flora and fauna. Just over half could name bluebells, 54 per cent knew what blue tits were and 45 per cent could identify an oak. Less than two-thirds (62 per cent) identified frogs and 12 per cent knew what a primrose was.