Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lost Highway starts running ads

Because the economy is tight and click through ads aren't exactly the type of thing that brings in buckets of money. Instead, the return for one click is fairly small; after all, it's just someone on the internet clicking on an ad. But it may help defray costs, mostly costs in terms of time spent blogging, that are incurred in the making of this website.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Israeli army finds itself not guilty of killing unarmed people in Gaza

Here. I think that if the Israeli army wants to go it alone and buck world opinion that it should pay for its own weapons, not rely on the U.S. to bankroll its military. If Israel is really the "making the desert bloom" success story it claims to be, surely it doesn't need the U.S. in order to protect itself from its neighbors.

Thank god--surveillance power of the PATRIOT-ACT challenged in new legislation

Here. Strangely enough called subpoena power instead of searches and surveillance in the headline. National Security Letters, or NSLs are issued without the need for court approval, and gag people who supply information from talking about it. These letters can be used against libraries, credit card companies, internet service providers, for information about specific people. So how many people are deemed to be National Security threats? According to the article. there are an average of 50,000 requests per year. Inter Press Service has a more in depth account of it Here. The 50,000 figure comes from government sources, and deals with 2006 statistics, with 49,425 being the exact number, up 5% from 2005, which would mean that 2005 had around 46,660 requests. 57% of NSLs in 2006 were specifically against U.S. citizens: 28,172.

*oh, and USA PATRIOT-ACT is an acronym standing for the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001" and so capitalization is justified.

And on the subject of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", China supported the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan

It's not a secret, just obscure. China did support the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan who gave birth to Osama bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war, teaming up with the United States to do so, although of course I'm sure that particular fact wasn't widely broadcast here. It's a sad day when socialist states team up with out right reactionaries to fight each other.

Khmer Rouge trials starting, with limits about who can be tried.

From Here. Fears that China and the U.S. will come out as being involved. Well, the U.S. did in fact support Pol Pot during the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, under the theory that an enemy of our enemy is our friend. The Vietnamese invasion was what finally put an end to the ongoing horror that Khmer Rouge Cambodia was. We were, of course, on the right side of history with that one.

American Bar Association accused of giving more approval to Democratic party nominated candidates

At the Federal level. The ABA has been delegated the authority to oversee the certification of lawyers in the majority of U.S. states, including the most populous U.S. states. Without passing the bar in California or New York you can't practice law. So far, there hasn't been a challenge saying that the ABA is biased regarding the certification of all the lawyers in California. Strange how on the Federal level, where there are a vastly smaller number of judges, there is.

The Federal bench is so small that it makes sense to evaluate candidates person by person instead of according to the administration that nominated them. Might I suggest also that the reason that Democratic administration candidates fared better is that administrations like those of Reagan and Bush suggested candidates so unqualified and so obviously chosen for purely ideological reasons that they were simply unacceptable?

It's funny that after eight years of Bush, with torture being approved of, that folks are questioning the rationality of a group that objected to things that outside of the U.S. are publicly acknowledged as outrages, where the dramatis personae now have warrants out for their arrest.

Albania and Croatia set to join North American Treaty Organization

Or NATO. I like that better than "North Atlantic Treaty Organization" because it reflects reality a little more accurately. One wonders whether or not the effect of this will be to make Albania something close to an official U.S. colony and make Croatia even more belligerent to Serbia than it already is. Bosnia, interestingly enough, is not on the board as being slated for NATO membership. The horrors of the civil war are still too new for it. And 40% unemployment. Meanwhile, Albania, which is mafia run and whose economy is destroyed as well, but for the reason of Enver Hoxha and not war, is now a reliable U.S. ally, no doubt because of Kosovo and the aspirations for a Greater Albania at the expense of other regional countries that it possesses.

One would hope that with the reduced status of the U.S., NATO would lose importance compared to the European Union and the United Nations, but that doesn't look like it's happening.

*on edit: ah yes, we arm the world, we arm the people, we are the ones who give the military aid that destroys countries.

Gary Locke as Commerce Secretary

This is a relatively old topic but a good one. Gary Locke is the former governor of Washington state, and his appointment as commerce secretary points to a potentially very positive shift in the way things work in relation to commerce. Washington has been criticized for having too many regulations; the charge is that businesses just don't want to move out here because it would cost them too much money; but those same regulations have increased the quality of life here to a point where it supersedes that in most other states. Whether people are aware of it or not, they're the beneficiaries of this extra regulation. So Locke, the democratic governor who preceded Christine Gregoire, who is another topic entirely, comes from a state where the regime of regulation is anti-neoliberal, and will no doubt bring that philosophy to his tenure as commerce secretary.

Better than a person from the power structure of a state that allows massive open air pit mining or strip mining.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gomorra/Commora, stunning film

About the Napolitano mafia. Napolitano refers to Naples, with Scampia, the place it happens in, being Campagnia, the surrounding area, as named in the local diletto, or dialect, of the region. Directed by Matteo Garrone, Gomorra is a severe neo-realist treatment of organized crime in Naples, one that dispenses with virtually all of the romanticized story telling elements of mafia movies in the United States. Instead of using them, it roots itself in the reality of the grinding poverty of Naples' public housing projects, projects that in turn are descendants of housing slums that go back to Roman times. There's no dapper sophistication here, just poor, violent, people wearing Adidas track suits listening to Italian versions of U.S. rap. In fact, there's so little styhy more than a fictional movie. Because of it's style, it ends up being scary as hell, terrifying, more so than it would be if the director had portrayed the people involved as embodiments of ultimate evil.

You can read other people's account of the four interweaving stories for more background.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lula declares that blonde haired and blue eyed people are responsible for the financial crisis

He has a point. I'm not going to object to it.

From Here

"As Mr Brown looked on during a press conference, Mr Lula da Silva said that action was urgent since it would be intolerable for the poor — who were blameless for the collapse of financial markets — to suffer the most from its effects.

“This was a crisis that was fostered and boosted by the irrational behaviour of people who were white and blue-eyed, who before the crisis they looked like they knew everything about economics, but now have demonstrated they know nothing about economics,” he said, mocking the “gods of wisdom” who had had to be bailed out. “The part of humanity that is responsible should be the part that pays for the crisis,” he added.

His remarks threatened to overshadow the announcement of proposals for a £100 billion injection of finance to kick-start world trade. Mr Brown said that the expansion of credit was the minimum required as exports collapsed around the world."

Friday, March 27, 2009

I think it's possible to dismantle Al-Qaeda, but probably not to win against the Taliban

I'll have to look at Obama's plan. These are two separate goals. The Taliban hosted Al-Qaeda, was the product of the same civil war that produced Bin Laden, but was not Al-Qaeda. I think that the Taliban truce in northwest Pakistan is probably going to be the way of the future in the region, with limited concessions to the Taliban happening in exchange for a ceasefire. With Al-Qaeda figures being a liability to the Taliban, if it was communicated to them that they'd be able to retain their territory in exchange for giving up Al-Qaeda figures, it may be very attractive for them.

*on edit: it seems that there will be engagement with moderate Taliban. There's also folks dedicated to economic development going to Afghanistan, which is a good thing. People have compared this to the Surge in Iraq, but I don't think that's appropriate. While on paper the Surge was supposed to be about winning hearts and minds, I have yet to see evidence that it consisted of much more than additional troops kicking people's ass. The international press seemed to think there was something to the hearts and minds component, but here in the U.S. the coverage was solely about an escalation of violence on the part of the military. I'd love to see some articles from U.S. newspapers suggesting that hearts and minds was actually the case, and I invite you to publish them here in the comments section, but my guess is that the 'kill 'em all' crowd dwarfed the number of articles suggesting that any constructive help was being given.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why is it unpopular to help auto workers?

I'm sort of taken aback by this. How dare workers in other industries condemn all the members of another industry? Where do people get off making generalizations about an industry that employs an enormous amount of people, an industry that completely supports one state---that currently has a ten percent unemployment rate. The people who condemn the auto industry should be careful not to come to Michigan and express those views; the result may be ugly. They're not condemning abstract principles, they're condemning people's lives, and real people tend to get pissed off when you suggest they should be thrown out of their jobs and onto the street.

An interesting quote from Obama's March 24th press conference that illustrates the difference between him and Bush

About regulating AIG and the need for new powers because it isn't a bank:

"And the reason is, is because we have not obtained this authority. We should have obtained it much earlier so that any institution that poses a systemic risk that could bring down the financial system we can handle and we can do it in an orderly fashion that quarantines it from other institutions."

That quote alone speaks volumes. Can you picture Bush actually referring to 'systemic risks' in a correct way? It's good to have the adults back in charge, even if they're not as radical as their critics make them out to be.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Progressives: making politics fun again

It's interesting: I went to highs school during the '90s and in that period the overwhelming majority of kids who wanted to study politics were Student Government types who liked to play local party machine participant, who's idea of politics as a kind of stupid, content free, popularity contest was perfectly crystallized in the form of the Clinton administration. Politics was largely, both on the national scale and in the microcosm of the school age world, the province of shallow party operators who focussed on winning without having any particular principles, who could reach out across the aisle---and literally fuck across the aisle in the case of James Carville and Mary Matlin--without perceiving any hypocrisy in the act.

The rise of Progressives has made politics interesting and relevant again, and temporarily challenged the power of the idiots who know how to glad handle and network but know how to do little else.

On the lighter side of editorial cartoons...

Most of them are overstated and rely on ham handed commentary to make cheap points.
That's why I like "The Onion"'s faux-editorial cartoons. Like this one:

I'm curious what the critics of Pat Oliphant's cartoon said about the Muhammad cartoons when they came out

That is, if they rushed out and said that these too should not be published because they were inflammatory and embodied racist stereotypes.

The Oliphant cartoon in question is this:

I'm well aware of the potential offensiveness of it, but it would strike me as rather odd if the ADL and folks associated with them took umbrage at it while remaining silent on the Danish cartoons. One of the charges that's been labeled against Jews by anti-semites is that they only care about their own interests and don't really give a damn about anyone else's. Let's hope that the folks who criticize this cartoon stick up for a universal conception of what's right or wrong for comics to contain and not fall into helping reinforce a bad stereotype.

Otherwise, they really would not have any credibility. Especially since this cartoon deals with the slaughter of over 1300 people in Gaza.

*on edit: a slaughter that miraculously ended several days before Obama assumed the Presidency. Funny how that happened.

*on edit 2: maybe I should explain myself more. One of the things that gives groups like the NAACP legitimacy is their moral stance on issues. They don't automatically approve of everything that their group does, or go to bat for anyone that has problems regardless of the cloudiness and ambiguity of the situation. If they did, they'd transform themselves from being civil rights organizations to being narrow lobbying groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, who are paid to put a good spin on anything that their members do, no matter what it is. Hopefully, the groups upset about this cartoon, which deals with over 1300 people being killed and the U.S.' silence on it, unique in the world, look at the conflict with a moral lens as well and don't just rubber stamp killings because the state connected to their interest group did them. If not, they shouldn't be regarded with any more consideration than the tobacco lobby. Which isn't to say that they should automatically come down on the Palestinian side, but to suggest that having no considered opinion about these things undermines their moral legitimacy in the extreme and also sheds doubt on the validity of things like their objections to this cartoon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

"The Lost City of Z" by David Grann--disappointing

The Lost City of Z is a book by a New Yorker author about an adventurer named Fawcett who went in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold in South America, in the 1920s and was never heard from again. Fawcett was an experienced explorer and had made major expeditions into the Amazon rainforest. David Grann tries to tell the story and provide a hook, something that will interest readers, namely that he has found a secret diary that has accurate longitude and latitude coordinates for Fawcett's last major stopping point before he disappeared. Misleading coordinates had been published in a posthumous book on the expedition by Fawcett's son. Grann is going out to find the real Lost City of Z, to succeed where others failed by finding both it and the remains of Fawcett's expedition itself. But wait, after trudging through descriptions of things like Fawcett's time in Morocco and in his service during World War I, back and forth with his rivalry with Dr. Rice, we find out in the end that the place Grann went to, where he ended up, weren't obscure places to folks who had been trying to find Fawcett and Z. Instead, without the benefit of the now revealed secret coordinates, enough explorers were able to find the first town and ask if the folks there had seen Fawcett that the sole surviving witness to his coming through asked them who he was since all these people were looking for him?

That town is named Bakairí Post.

Then, going further into the Amazon they reach another city far away from the original coordinates given called Kalapalos, but here too Grann recounts that the ground had already been plowed: the Kalapalos Indians were wary of talking to him before they knew he wasn't a relative because they'd been accused of killing Fawcett before and feared revenge killings. Not only that but a Brazilian had found the village, traveled to it, and had found bones he claimed were Fawcett's, and had announced it to the world and gotten publicity for it. So, no real advancement there.

Finally, Grann goes to a village called Kuikuro to meet an archeologist named Michael Heckenberger. Here he comes to the end of his journey. I'm not going to give away the punch line, but...it so happens that this same village is where a recent Brazilian team setting out to find 'Z' had been stopped and abducted by Indians. They managed to get out of it, but it's not like no one had thought of this location before. It's not like Grann doesn't know: he tells us this in chapter 2.

The book itself is poorly organized, switching between Grann, Fawcett, Fawcett's rivals, and general background with a predictable regularity that doesn't correspond with any discernible need to do so. Chapters look like they were chopped up and resorted, with padding about pointless details of Fawcett's civilian life thrown in to round things out.

The book 1491 is relied on really heavily, so heavily in fact that certain passages are pretty much lifted from it wholesale. This is not such an earth shaking accusation, actually, because 1491's author Charles Mann provided a blurb on the back cover. Obviously he's ok with it.

Overall, this is a case of a book being written that's much longer than the subject actually warrants. I don't want to know the details about Fawcett's rivalries; he's too colorless of a man for me to really care. Instead I want to know about his expedition.
Also, and perhaps most frustratingly since I've read at least one story by Grann in the New Yorker, the book is popular non-fiction, but is written without an understanding of what makes popular non-fiction work. Popular non-fiction may not quote Kant but it tends to be well organized and well written, to flow well and to make sense. "Lost City of Z" as a whole isn't and doesn't.

*on edit: I can't really whip myself into a froth mouthed frenzy over this book. Truth be told, I think that the problems with it are more the result of extreme sloppiness than anything else.

Orientalism, hmm, maybe not the menace we've been told it was.

There's a weird phenomenon that's been going on for several decades, and that is to focus on liberal accounts of other cultures that are positive but naive as being destructive as opposed to focussing or paying attention to outright racism and hostile dismissal of these same cultures. The image of the Middle East in the West in the 19th century has been raked over the coals so much that we forget, if we ever really learned, that at the same time that some writers were conjuring up images of palaces and seraglios others were dismissing Arabs as being inferior mentally, culturally, and racially, as well as outrightly dismissing Islam and Muhammad as being cheap frauds. While folks like Gerard Nerval were journeying to Egypt and to Syria and viewing it through the lens of everything that they thought Western culture wasn't, the French and British armies were conquering the world, massacring the indigenous peoples in fights to seize their territories as colonies. There may have been a fascination with India because of the Theosophical Society, but while Westerners were eagerly taking in accounts of foreign religions the British were very concretely playing local leaders off against one another in a game that ended with India's very real subjugation.

The worlds of the decadent writers weren't the cold hard facts of colonial exploitation, and I think that they shouldn't be treated as if they were, with their Orientalism being invoked to dismiss their insights and their artistic achievements, and in the case of travelers their understanding, though flawed, of these cultures flowing from a time before mass media and communications.

I think that the truth of it is that the idea of malicious Orientalism is really a comment on our own time, although with antecedents. The sixties were so good at liberating people from racism that instead of having to only fear bigots who thought they were inferior minorities now had to contend with well intentioned but naive young people who ultimately wanted to trivialize their culture. The idea of Orientalism provides a good justification for refusing these attempts, but the thing is that the racists are still out there.

Native American culture has been hurt most of all by this, to an extent that even black culture has not been, but there are still the descendants of settlers who live on and around Indian Reservations who beat up Native Americans, harass them, see them as drunks and lazy, mock them and their customs. Surely, while doing harm to Native American culture, New Agers aren't on the same level as these people. Surely, as well, white people in the suburbs who have no idea of what life in the poor black sections of cities is like who affect the style of "gangsters" are less malicious than people who want to physically attack blacks when they feel they've strayed too far from 'where they belong'. Even the blues is the same situation, although one that's more accepted because less obviously demeaning than white 'gangsters' driving daddy's Mercedes-Benz.

So I think that while Orientalism within the context of current society is a valid concern the pendulum has swung too far, so far that more energy is spent attacking liberals than is outlining racists, real racism, and oppression.

"China's top banker proposes new world currency" by Stephen C. Webster

Really good article reporting that China is discussing doing what should have been done a long time ago: giving up the dollar as the world benchmark and instead having international institutions, the IMF in this case, back an international reserve currency with gold and silver. China holds billions of dollars in Treasury bonds, which will now either have to be sold to make money or will be cashed in, making the U.S. pay the dollar cost for what it promised to pay on the bonds in the first place. Both of these alternatives will be bad for the U.S., but they're made possible and inevitable because the United States abused its position as the holder of the world currency to the point where the present economic collapse could occur, financial mismanagement on a massive scale. There's no longer any reason to have faith in the U.S. economy so no reason to continue to prop it up by buying bonds with the understanding that they'll never be repaid. So how does the new spending bill fit into this?

Well, it probably depends on what steps are taken with regards to the banks. Money will be tighter because of this and it makes more sense not to sponsor a giveaway that will line the pockets of executives but instead to severely restructure the financial sector instead. Forget about being nice about it. When China starts calling in their bonds it's going to be even more unpopular for the executives who got us into this mess to receive golden parachutes paid for by tax payers. Instead, people are going to want some sort of action that works without being overly costly.


I fear that I'm trapped or getting trapped in a very attractive and beautiful but hermetically sealed cage. I look around my house and see that virtually all of the books I own, a hell of a lot of books in total, are either rare, used, special order or only available through specialty bookstores like those attached to major universities. Almost nothing is from right off the shelf of a big chain bookstore. Most, well many, of the books are out of print and would be very hard to recover if I were to lose them. This is what I draw a lot of my ideas from; this is where big parts of my worldview comes from. They're there, out in the world, and yet most of them are so obscure that few if any people have replicated the ideas and inspiration that for me are as normal as anything else.

They're nice, but because they're so obscure and weird I question sometimes how they'll ever be earthed and brought back to the world at large. A construct can be enjoyable, but what does it mean if a person gets in their vessel, happy as can be, and then disappears, forgotten, the ideas that he constructed and wove forgotten with him?

Balzac once made the statement through one of his characters "Now do you admit that Paris is bigger than you are?", meaning that the objective world is greater still than deep, deep, and broad subjective explorations. Which is why I'm concerned that I'm becoming more and more detached from things and not truly making what I have relevant to an outside audience.

I don't want that to happen; I want to bring all of it forward and put it in front of you all, preserve it, even if people say they don't give a damn about it, because I feel that all of this needs some documentation so that it all doesn't go to waste.

This is the seventh anniversary of this blog

Started on March 23 2002. It's outlasted a score of others and has at this point been going longer than both Atrios and Daily Kos. Both of them started several weeks after mine. Like them, I got the idea of starting a blog from Tom Tomorrow's site. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that a cartoonist who I liked had his own website where he wrote actual straight words on top of making comics. Although I had been accumulating information for a while that I wanted to write about, the very specific idea to start a website was something I did almost in a state of megalomaniacal drunkeness. Blogs were far from breaking out, far from having a Time Magazine cover with a mirror on it that was in reference to them, and I wasn't sure if anything would come of it or whether it would be something interesting that I'd play with for a little while and then lose interest in. Instead, starting writing lead to a kind of snowball effect, where the more I wrote the more I found I had stuff to write about, leading to even more writing, leading to having even more ideas and ideas about stuff to research to get more ideas about things to write about. It was like the equivalent of setting yourself on fire in one big poof. It has certainly changed me, and has become one of the most important events in my life.

Here's to writing even more, being even wordier, and hopefully still hitting it hard.

Chavez, why the insult to Obama?

Calling Obama an "ignoramous". Obama is far from being "Señor Peligro", so I don't understand why the increased offensive against Obama. Maybe it's because Obama will likely allow states to score less propaganda points than Bush did. I'd really like to believe that Venezuela isn't one of the countries jumping on that bandwagon.

The jumping of countries on the anti-Obama bandwagon is something that warrants its own comment. North Korea is the prime example. Bush likely benefited North Korea because he gave them an opportunity to retrench and put forward a hard line instead of being drawn back into the peace process. Now that Bush is gone and Obama isn't saber rattling there's less of an excuse to not discuss reunification with the South. North Korea is extremely fragile, though extremely authoritarian, because its economy is fundamentally destroyed and incapable of meeting the basic needs of its citizens. The military is the only sector of North Korean society that actually functions, and it actually has constitutional status as the leading institution in the country. Without a military threat the status of the military becomes jeopardized.

It looked like Iran was jumping on the bandwagon too, but has moderated the fanaticism in recent days. Certainly it's bad for Ahmadinejad that the U.S. has abandoned the "Axis of Evil" concept. Iran, for those who don't remember, was well on the way to reform when Bush designated it part of the "Axis of Evil", but the invocation of the "Anti-Comintern Pact" between Germany, Japan, and Italy put that on the back burner. Now, like in North Korea, there's less of an excuse to not suggest reform again

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Breaking up the banks" is an inapplicable and stupid theory

Olbermann seems to think that small is beautiful and that you should just break up banks into banklets for no other reason that large banks have too much power. It isn't that simple. Here's Olbermann's comment:

""... Mr. Pandit's corporation [Citigroup] should be cut up into little pieces. And when he and the other ultra-millionaires wonder what hit them, we should make sure they are easily reminded. Our representatives should entitle the legislation that ends their moral ponzi schemes, 'The Punish Vikram Pandit Act of 2009.''

The truth of the matter is that by cutting up banks into little pieces you create competing fiefs that magnify the inefficiency that the banking system experiences by several orders of magnitude. Decentralization of this sort is a cop out; the true question isn't whether or not banks should be big or small but who controls them. If they stay in private hands they become massive, authoritarian entities; if they're nationalized and put under public control that same structure can be transformed in a rational way to be more democratic, without losing control.

Bottom line is that if banks are broken up they will still be in private hands, and bankers will still have undue influence over things while giving themselves large salaries, even if they're regulated "within an inch of their lives", is also being suggested by parties. You won't have changed the fundamental power balance, only made it more complex. Nationalization and public control are the ways to truly hold banks accountable. Breaking up banks and busting the trusts has always been a stop-gap strategy, and one that's meaningless in today's world.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A thought, having to do with Celine

Louis-Ferdinand Celine, writer. Celine was famous for saying, and I'm paraphrasing, that if he really wrote about society in black enough, truthful enough terms, that they'd come and kill him, and then it would be over. However, when they really did come for him and he was imprisoned in Denmark, he didn't seem to have enjoyed it.

And another thing: fuck Amanda Knox

Seattle has a strange belief that Amanda Knox, a.k.a guilty as sin, is somehow a passive victim in this whole sordid affair. Going to Seattle Prep no doubt helps her image here. The coverage around here has looked like it's come out of bizarro world since the beginning, to use the name of Tom Tomorrow's topsy-turvy alternate universe.

Wow, Seattle PI online is now posting stories from "The Olympian" in its local news section

Instead of doing reporting itself. This really, really, sucks, not specifically picking on Olympia but instead referring to the PI's new situation in general. It used to be one of the best second tier newspapers in the country, now it's posting stories from other papers that aren't worthy of getting any press whatsoever outside of their little fiefdom. Hearst newspapers made a serious mistake in stopping the PI, and will end up losing more in prestige than it would have in money if it had kept it going.

Goodbye halfway decent news, hello being forced to rely on the Seattle Times, the conservative newspaper in the area.


In other news, Seattle now has its own Football Club/soccer team, the Seattle Sounders. This may be a good thing...

Ah, a better story about Iran's response to Obama's message, based on things that happened in real time

Because most of the stories that came out originally made it sound like Iran was taking a hardline against the U.S. as evidenced by the Supreme Leader not compromising in the face of Obama's olive branch. But the flaw there was that, as revealed in a story about it in "The Guardian", the message from Khamenei was pre-recorded before Obama had even sent his message, meaning that it wasn't truly a considered rejection of Obama's sentiments. Ahmadinejad's office was more conciliatory.

Now Khatami has presented a direct response to Obama that is open while being honest about the relationship of the U.S. to Iran and to the Middle East in general:

""If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude," Khamenei said in a groundbreaking address to thousands of Iranians in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad which was broadcast on state television.

Speaking a day after Obama offered Tehran a "new beginning" to turn back the tide on decades of mutual animosity, Khamenei -- the final decision maker on Iranian strategic issues -- said however Iran is yet to see any change in Washington's attitude towards Tehran.

"We have no experience with the new American government and the new American president. We will observe them and we will judge," he said.

"We cannot see any change. What is the change in your policy? Did you remove the sanctions [against Iran]? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. We can't see change even in the words of the new American president. Change only in words is not enough. Change must be real," Khamenei said."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ah, the patina of an FMLN victory in El Salvador rubs off so quickly

Here's an excerpt from an interview with Mauricio Funes from The Nation:

"What's the first message you'd like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can't get mixed up in repealing CAFTA...nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we'd be facing serious problems because we wouldn't have enough investment to stimulate the national economy."

*on edit: there's also the consideration that El Salvador could fall back into civil war if the FMLN goes too quickly. Democracy in El Salvador is tenuous already and so I'm sure that they're trying to not promote another round of fighting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Seattle P-I


What Coulter and company don't realize is how much of their appeal was based on transitory circumstances

The Bush administration created an atmosphere of intimidation that legitimized far right ideas that in any truly open context would have been pushed to the outer rung of things. Coulter and her compadres flourished within this environment, got on tv a lot, sold books, got influence, well beyond what they would normally have been expected to get. America was in a sense held hostage by the Bush administration, with fear and the threat of violence against people who refused to tow the line keeping sane people quiet and allowing the crazy ones that agreed with the Bush administration to have full sway. Well, now times have changed. We live in a different situation. The far right is no longer as popular as it once was. Book sales will continue to fall. I think lots of the right wing supporters of these people were/are really opportunistic cowards who were willing to put down money for it when it was socially acceptable but who now will (mostly) fade back into the woodwork. At least many of them. The Bush administration's politics will likely be with us for a long time to come, with the hard core of the far right that supported him continuing to be an unfortunate influence, but these people, who only came out with their real opinions once they thought that they could get away with it without any consequences, will in large part magically disappear.

At least that's my prediction. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stories about capital flight, or "capital loss" as they're referring to it as, may be the most important stories you'll read these days.

Starting with This from RawStory:

"US capital flows negative in January

Foreign investors sold a net 43 billion dollars in long-term US securities in January as the flow of capital turned negative, US Treasury data showed Monday.

The decline in foreign holdings was the steepest since August 2007.

The decline came after a revised capital surplus of 34.7 billion dollars December."

Capital flight is what destroyed the southeast asian economies in '98, particularly Indonesia. Investors withdrew en masse and the currencies collapsed, stopping the "Asian Tigers" phenomenon and destroying the credit of the governments, forcing them to rely on the IMF for reconstruction and economic recovery. The only power that wasn't effected by it was China, who put (or had) a strict system for controlling capital outflow in place, thereby preventing investors from taking all their money out of China during the crisis. Malaysia seems to have had something like that as well.

Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand sucks

It's true. Now all I have to do is lay back and watch her rabid supporters pile on comments about this post; it's so dependable I can set a clock by it: pissed off Randroids with no independent take on the world so upset by any negative mention of her that they feel compelled to post anywhere and everywhere said mentions take place.

The FMLN has won in El Salvador

This is a really good day/good thing. The FMLN fought a hard civil war in the '80s against U.S. backed Contra forces because it wanted to have a leftist society and not be pushed around by U.S. imperialism anymore. They've since become a legal political party, as part of the agreement in the cease fire. El Salvador was the country where Archbishop Romero was assassinated. It remains extremely poor, supported mainly by money sent from Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S., and has directly suffered from globalization through the coffee that they used to grow there being undercut on the market by cheap coffee from Vietnam. Hopefully an FMLN victory, which was probably made possible by Obama winning in the U.S., will mark an upturn in the country and maybe even an end to the oligarchy that controls the majority of the land there.

Russian bombers in Cuba?

This is a repeat of an old story: we encircle Russia with bases, Russia seeks to put a base by us. The solution is for us to get rid of the bases in Central Asia and the missile system aimed at Russia, as well as to stop NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. If we did that, Russia would likely not put a base in Cuba. While we're at it, why do we have bases in other countries anyways? Evo Morales gave a great answer to the question of would he allow a U.S. base in Bolivia: he said he would only if Bolivia could have a base in Florida. Regular powers don't have bases outside of their territorial boundaries because it implies military occupation of the country that they're located in. We don't have a right to have bases outside of the U.S. and Russia doesn't have a right to have bases outside of Russia. Unfortunately, we're the ones on top, not Russia, yet we will probably become inundated with a Red Terror type of propaganda about how Russia is so much of a threat to world security, while of course the U.S. will be regarded as not threatening at all despite Iraq, Afghanistan, Bush, our new world order, etc...

Saturday, March 14, 2009


The argument about who to fund, the banks or the people being thrown out of their homes, comes down to what sort of blame is more important. Lots of people applied for mortgages that in any other time besides that of a housing bubble they couldn't have afforded, and that in any other time the banks wouldn't have approved them for. Banks in turn stacked and resold the mortgages for profit, investing more and more of their money in risky bubble based money making schemes. The problem in picturing the whole situation is that it's easy to find examples of people who more or less, sometimes much more than less, defrauded banks in picturesque ways in order to get mortgages while what the banks did is harder to picture because it's more abstract.

I think that in this case, it's really the banks' fault that people got bad mortgages that they can no longer pay for. The drum beat for years, on television and elsewhere, has been to get a second mortgage on your home and refinance your existing one to get money for stuff like vacations, which was literally one of the suggestions in an add I saw a while ago. No matter how much people out there intended to defraud the system, none of it would have happened without the banks' permission. Regular people cannot give out thousands, hundreds of thousands, in loans: it takes a deep reserve of capital to make that work. So bailing out people who can no longer pay their mortgages isn't really giving approval to dishonest behavior; instead it's a recognition that there are different levels of guilt here and that keeping people from getting thrown out of their homes is more important than saving the banking system as it is. Instead, a reorganization of the banking system plus help in paying mortgages, or even better a readjustment of mortgages to fit current rates, would address both sides of the problem, and a corresponding system of regulations on the bottom rung to keep mortgages and loans like the ones that fueled the crisis from being approved in the future would balance things out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why simply restoring consumer confidence won't make a difference

It won't make a difference because the theory behind the importance of consumer confidence is that lack of it contributes to a downward spiral that turns recessions into depressions: economic downturns are made worse by people becoming unwilling to spend money, which in turn causes hardships on business causing more people to be fired, which makes people less willing to spend money. The problem with that is that it assumes that the underlying economy is relatively sound and that all that's required is a burst of money to stabilize it. In particular, it assumes that the industrial infrastructure of the country is sound, and that it's only been reduced in output through lack in demand. Instead, the underlying industrial economy of the U.S. has been shipped outside of the country in large part in the last two decades, hollowing out the basic industry of the country.

Stimulating consumer spending won't work because we don't have the companies making the things that people would buy anymore.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A defense of impulsive writing via Jungian psychology

I don't mean spontaneous writing, or a purportedly pure unedited stream of consciousness writing, but writing where you're going about your day, thinking about things, and you suddenly get an idea, and you decide to write about it. Usually you think it over some more, turn it around in your head, and then sit down to elaborate on it, but in any case there's usually not much formal planning that's gone into writing this thing about this particular subject. Impulsiveness is something that's been kind of relegated to a lower level of precedence, but the things that you're impulsive about can reveal a bigger underlying pattern.

That's where Jungian psychology comes in. Jung had the idea that in every person's head there was something called an Anima or an Animus, always the opposite gender, and that this Anima represented a kind of flickering transmission from your subconscious mind. Consciously, the Anima appears as a sort of hunch about the world that you perceive to be on the edge of your experience, something that can lead to fertile areas of exploration in knowledge and in fact. Jung's idea was that the transmissions from the subconscious in the form of the Anima aren't random but correspond to undeveloped portions of the self that want to be developed both individually and collectively through integration with the rest of the overall personality in individuation. If you chart the things that the Anima illuminates, the things that it spits out, over time, there's a pattern that's not random but instead should correspond to more or less stable categories of knowledge and experience. Getting impulsive ideas, writing about them, and also following up on them and seeing where they lead you, becomes about describing a figure that's hidden from your conscious mind but that can be spotted on reflection, especially by people looking from the outside in.

Writing, documenting your self development, can have a big impact that goes way beyond vanity because if you've found something useful for yourself other people will likely find it useful for themselves, may find it interesting, may be effected by it, inspired by it. They can see it as worthless or think that the stuff you think is the most important to yourself isn't really that useful to them. They can also find that something that you don't attach that much importance to has become really important to them. But by recording the journey you can keep that moment of creation open for anyone who wants to look into it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Folks, we may have a contender: The Daily Beast

A contender for a news and opinion site that actually has some guts to be ironic and negative. Although my feeling is that they may have copied it from the "Buffalo Beast", started by Matt Taibi, preliminary studies have indicated that the sarcasm is, well, is there and somewhat intelligent. I don't want to go overboard with this, but something ironic and negative is what we need. Huffington Post makes me feel like I should be getting paid by Progressive candidates for blowing them after I read it, and Daily Kos is so inoffensive it edges onto the 'shit rainbows' territory. Atrios has the appeal of a gorilla pounding away on a keyboard, which is all the more funny since Duncan Black has a PhD in economics. Hopefully, the nattering nabobs of negativism will take their place in the blogosphere, somehow.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

American Tropicalia plus Gil and Caetano Veloso

This is an update to some older posts. The idea of Tropicalia in Brazil was to adapt the intellectual and cultural traditions of other countries to Brazilian situations in order to produce something that both fit reality and proved that Brazil was more than a third world country. This was manifested through music and some art, with the music being a combination of a celebration of local variations with philosophy and other things usually associated with 'high' culture. Way back in 2003 I wrote that the U.S. needed its own version of Tropicalia. At that point it seemed kind of insane no doubt to say it.

Six short (well not so short) years ago the U.S. was still a premier global power, was occupying Iraq and Afghanistan with virtually no limitations on its activity. U.S. culture, although taking a hit on the international level from Bush's policies, was still the culture of globalization and free trade, still the culture that was eroding other cultures. In other words, the U.S. wasn't in a position of having to prove itself to the world; the world still had to bend to the U.S. How times have changed. Our standing in the world has fallen to an extreme degree and our economic model has failed. It's becoming clear that the U.S. can't unilaterally set terms any more but instead has to be the one that asks others for help. We've become much more like a supplicant than we were back then.
This puts us in a position where an American Tropicalia may in fact be a good and viable option.

Basically, the idea is to improve the U.S. by introducing the U.S. to world culture and to philosophical and other currents contained in that culture, as well as to replace the nationalistic idea of the U.S.A. in big letters with something more humble and reflective of American reality. Of course part of this includes communicating socialist ideas to the U.S. in a way that's non-dogmatic and viable, but it isn't just a front for political organizing. Instead, it goes deeper than that. Our awareness of what transpired around the world essentially ended in 1812, when the war against Britain for final independence lead us into an insular and rabidly nationalistic phase that we've really never come out of, although the nationalism has come and gone in degree. Even before that it seemed that we had hit a philosophical cul-de-sac, being stuck in Enlightenment thought about the self and society, about science, about life, without almost any of the criticism of that position that was raging in Europe in the early 19th century translating over. About the only writer that did seem to make the trip across the Atlantic was Edmund Burke, whose "Reflections on the Revolution in France" influenced American conservatism profoundly. Isolated people translated some of what was happening in Europe over to us, notably Ralph Waldo Emerson, but no one followed up on what Emerson was doing, and contemporaries who have since become popular, like Thoreau, were much more obscure in their own day. Awareness of what was going on on the other side of the Atlantic was thus somewhat limited.

There was a sort of explosion of ideas around the time of the Russian Revolution, and enough time had progressed by then that folks who were immigrating had already had contact with socialist ideas in the old country and brought them with them; however, I think the influence of these folks was mainly in their own communities and in ethnic newspapers printed in their native tongues; they don't seem to have 'infected' the U.S. with the idea of socialism, which was part of the great xenophobic fear that swept the U.S. after the first World War. An American Tropicalia would change all that.

The way at least that I proceed forward with this is to start at the first disjuncture between American and European ideas, the criticism of the Enlightenment manifested in the Romantic period in Germany, and then somewhat later in France to a limited extent, and attempt to translate some of what they were saying into American terms in a way that's relevant to American reality. I tend to stay away from English Romanticism, which people are familiar with because of linguistic purposes, because it was mostly literary and not as philosophically geared up as was the movement in continental Europe. Wordsworth in "Lyrical Ballads" and Coleridge in general are good. The one exception in philosophy seems to be Thomas Carlyle, who did echo much of what was going on in Europe in his writings. So what does that mean in practice?

Kant, Schelling, Fichte, Schlegal, Novalis. Some Hegel. Their critiques leading into idealism, that also consist of the core Romantic philosophers, are the ones that are valuable. It's a steep learning curve though. There's also a tenuous connection to Marx through the ideas dealt with in Sidney Hook's book "From Hegel to Marx", still a classic.

Possibly there also needs to be a revival of American thought that's been forgotten that's congruent with all of this. A great example is that of the Pragmatic philosophy of William James and John Dewey. Although they may have protested loudly against the idea, they demonstrably were influenced by the Hegelians and the people who came after Hegel who mixed his ideas with the previous idealists, the other names on the list. John Dewey in particular was influenced by them. The red scare did Dewey in, but even before then he had, at least in my opinion, become too popular in the way he wrote his books and had started to make broad generalizations about topics that were originally much more subtle and complex.

Anyways, the 19th century is the treasure trove for information that could spark a revival of American thought.

About Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, the two original Tropicalia innovators: originally I had planned this post to be shorter. All I was going to say is that Gil's statement that Caetano could be anything, a professor, but chose to be a musician, while Gil was fated to be a musician only is contradicted by the fact that in the late period of Tropicalia Gil was giving statements about musical movements that quoted Heidegger. The idea of who is 'fated' to be a professor must be fluid indeed.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

On a slightly different note: NPR

Personally, I think that NPR would be much better if a significant amount of the people they interviewed were drunk and didn't give a damn what they were saying. That would spice it up. But then that's just me.

A refutation of scientific materialism

Using arguments from August Comte and the original Positivist movement. Note that this is really a refutation of it as an organizing principle for helping us understand the world. Scientific materialism is the belief that everything that exists exists as distinct objects, that engage in predictable behaviors that can be demonstrated in the laboratory. Applied to human society it posits the idea that human beings are like individual atoms, and that society is simply the aggregation of all of these separate atoms bouncing into one another, with a measure of freedom and self determination.

To see what's wrong with this idea lets take the metaphor of the universe being like a big billiard table where balls that have been set in motion bounce into one another in constant reactions. While one ball hitting another one and causing a reaction may be as straightforward as can be, what happens when the result is chaos? When the situation gets complex enough it doesn't matter anymore that you know the balls hit each other in predictable ways; instead, in order to make meaning out of what's happening you have to try to detect patterns in how the billiard balls as a whole interact with each other on the table. Are there predictable patterns? Patterns that repeat in certain ways? Strictly speaking these patterns aren't things in and of themselves: they're just relationships existing between the balls; yet the relationship becomes essential to understanding the behavior of the whole.

The same could be said of society. Everyone is an individual, and has a will of their own, and yet people exist in social relationships with each other. People are enmeshed in the relationships of family, friends, neighborhood, city, region, profession, work place, interests, hobbies. Likes, dislikes. While these relationships aren't 'things', if you want to understand how a society functions or even how an individual truly exists in the world you need to look at these things and take them into account. History is another significant relationship that everyone finds themselves in. If I said that I want to study a person, find out what they were really like, what formed and shaped them, and then said "Well, their family life doesn't matter that much, the significant events in society that happened while they were in their formative years doesn't matter that much" you'd probably think that I was far off base. The same criticism could be applied to society as a whole. The question of what society is, then, turns on what you mean by "is". If you mean literally what are the physical basics that make up society you could say individuals and stuff. But if you mean something more interpretive by "is", and believe that interpretations, although not strictly 'things', nevertheless carry force, then examining the social relationships that people find themselves in is essential for understand what society is.

The same thing applies to science in general. You have isolated chemical reactions, and then you have how those reactions exist within a given system or environment. Strictly speaking, the system or environment that they take place in isn't a 'thing' because it's an aggregation of stuff interacting together, but for the purpose of understanding what's going on it has to be thought of as a thing.

How does the circulatory system function as a whole, how does the gastro-intestinal system function as a whole? How are the various parts of cells constructed and how do they work together?

While some of the concepts are abstractions, for the purpose of understanding they serve to illuminate things.

You can apply the systemic, or organic, conception to politics, provided that you understand that it's a metaphor and that a relationship isn't a physical thing. We're individuals, and yet we find ourselves enmeshed in social relationships. We find ourselves born into a particular family of a particular social class, in particular environment, like a city or a suburb or a small town. If you're conservative you can make the argument that the family relationship is so important that social legislation has to be passed to protect it, because a break down of that relationship leads to a decrease in the quality of life. If you're radical you can make the argument that although people are independent actors the economic structure of society that they find themselves in is such a substantial factor that it should be treated as something almost separate from them, and that social policy about the economic structure--what's the level of justice it embodies and what should be done to ensure that it serves justice by its organization--should reflect that. No one person has created the economy, no one organization controls it, it's a creation of many, many, people that has a distinct history that's been developing for hundreds of years. The situation we find ourselves in today wasn't made by a person named Ralph, and as individuals we, for the most part, have no power over the course of the economy or over its structure as a whole.

Both the right wing critiques based on the importance of family, or an xenophobic arguments regarding culture, and the economic critiques on the left, are rooted in this common sort of criticism of scientific materialism which developed in the early 19th century. It was a social phenomenon in Europe, something going beyond partisanship. Virtually all of the Materialism so-called, including Marx's materialism, that developed after this incorporated the critique into itself.

*on edit: it should be noted that there were two attempts to take the concept of organic relationships out of the abstract but valid, in my opinion, area in which they existed: one of them was one we've already dealt with, Marx's materialism, which focussed on how the economic structure of society as it existed influenced that society as a whole. The other attempt to anchor this in something was biological racism, which saw cultural and familial relationships as coming directly out of the racial and ethnic background of the people involved.

One of these lead to socialism and social democracy, the other one lead to Naziism.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ernst Röhm and the SS

I'm reading a history of the SS now, actually two histories of it, and one of the interesting things is what happened after the Night of Long Knives, where Röhm and the Brown Shirt commanders were killed. I'm using the term Brown Shirts instead of SA, the abbreviation of Sturmabteilung or storm troopers, because I want to keep in the forefront just who we're talking about. These were the people who beat up Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, rival militias from other quarters. Some people have made the argument that they were kinder and gentler than the SS, the people who ran the death camps, but that's insane. However there was one interesting difference, one that surprised me and that I don't think many people at least in the United States know about: while the Brown Shirts were right wing, racist, xenophobic, they were drawn in large part from unemployed people in their twenties who had been collectively hit by the depression and turned to the Nazis and violence because of this. The SS, after the leaders of the Brown Shirts were assassinated, made a direct and open effort to recruit people from the mainstream of society, from the establishment, the aristocracy, from big business, from rural districts, meaning that ultimately the SS was not a limited phenomenon but instead represented a wide swath of German society, who share in the guilt of the crimes that the SS committed.

That was what I was not aware of. The Brown Shirts were like Rush Limbaugh supporters, rabid and violent, but when push came to shove the Fascist power structure didn't want psychopaths like them at large. Instead, they drew people from all over the place to grow their psychopathic organization, one that was less crass and stupid than the Brown Shirts.

*on edit: to give an example of how someone could be against some capitalists but not be a leftist consider this: I'm from the Detroit area, and I know that there have been people who have been laid off from their companies, who hate the suits or the white collar executives and workers, but who also hate every black person they come across because they feel they're all living on welfare. A person believing this would be not happy with the bosses but would hardly be a leftist.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Class system inertial

Not just in the sense of people who are born to a certain class tending to stay within that class but also in the sense of what familiarity brings to the picture. For people who are working class, the working class world offers a lot of security. People know how to get jobs in it, they know how to maneauver and to plot their courses. Once you venture outside of the comfort zone things get much more shaky and vulnerable, such that the sureties of life are no longer there and failure may mean being forcibly being put back into the working class itself, thereby wasting time, money, and people's hopes in you. But the navigation of this space, the space between the bourgeois world and that of the working class, isn't shaky for everyone. No, for people who are born into it this world is just as stable as the working class world is: it provides predictable job prospects, predictable life paths, careers, such that if you do x, y is likely to happen. It's only the in between space that proves to be vulnerable to people. Bourgeois people, though, have the great advantage over working class people in that their corresponding in between space, that between the bourgeois world and the true upper class, doesn't have the threat of impoverishment attached to failure.

But workers are at the mercy of the bourgeois world for any mobility. There could be an effort to truly bridge this divide of 'cultural capital', with the bourgeois class welcoming in workers who were talented and interested in getting better jobs, but that isn't the reality of the situation. Instead, the bourgeois world presents itself as as insular and guarded as any other community, with no equality being shown to candidates for a job one of whom comes from a working class background and the other of whom comes from a bourgeois one. The worker has to prove himself in order to be let in to the pearly gates of the bourgeois class, because he or she is an unknown quantity, potentially one of 'them', while grand fuckups from the bourgeois world are retained and given advantages in situations that would get a worker permanently shit canned and sent back to the lower income brackets. The gate keepers are insular pigs. Maybe that's going a little bit too far, but what right do they have to play with other people's lives like they do?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My hope, or one of them at least

Is that the current economic crisis will show people a little bit of where their headspace has been at for quite a while. I like philosophy. I like sociology. I like anthropology. They're all interesting subjects, and I've studied them to varying depths in college. Invariably when talking to people about them there'd always be one or two folks who would laugh at the fields themselves, talking about how they had absolutely no practical value and would make a person absolutely no money in the real world.

Well, I hate to say it but we've seen where just focussing on what makes a person money in the Real World gets us haven't we?
Short term gain, business being able to do what it wants without regulation, an ethic of wanting to make a quick buck for yourself by fucking over other people--competitors, the public, other employees. It seems like the courses that help you make it in the Real World in the sense that these people meant are the ones that helped us along on our path. Maybe if folks knew about and had taken courses in the social sciences and humanities they would have known that what they were doing was fucking stupid and that it would lead to serious consequences down the line.

In other words, critical thought and knowledge about the external world beyond your business function often help to mitigate the making of very stupid decisions.

But then the incentives throughout the whole system are for behavior like I've just described, so that if less than a sizable amount of folks had chosen to go against the grain they would have been forced out and nothing would have changed.

Publicity, I need publicity

The problem with doing the kind of writing I do is that the people who would be interested in it are scattered, decentralized, and generally distrustful of the internet because rightly or wrongly they assume people are monitoring their movements. Although Anarchoblogs has been reformed it remains to be seen if it will take off and be used or not. One of the protests against complaints by me that not enough people are reading my blog is that I'm not making an effort to reach out and market and promote it. But how exactly would I connect with the people who would be interested in it?

It's either find a way to connect with lefties or seek mainstream acceptance, hopefully with minimum damage done to my writing.
Even in the mainstream it's unlikely that they'd really understand me. Instead, they'd probably view me as a charming misanthropic figure who can write well.

So where does my constituency lie? Anarchist kids, people who are independent Marxists who aren't part of Trostskyist sects (or the Revolutionary Communist Party), academics and other hyper literate people who are interested in philosophy, politics, and some culture? Beyond that I don't have a clue about what the profile of a likely reader of my site is; maybe he or she would be a grab bag from lots of different sources, like I am, but that's an even worse demographic to try to connect to.

Any thoughts out there?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The quest for the ultimate and politics, a philosophical post

By "the ultimate" I mean the ultimate meaning of life, the universe, and everything, and not "42". Instead, there seems to have been a breakdown somewhere in the late '60s and early '70s between people who decided to pursue answers to the ultimate truths of being and those who wanted to stick hard to politics in order to facilitate social change. The split is still there to some extent but it doesn't have to be.

To get close to the pulse of the universe, to the ground of being, to the center of the universe in pursuit of some sort of universal truth is a great thing, something that people have pursued through religion, philosophy, etc..., but the question comes up of the relation of one's individual quest or subsequent revelations and everyone else. If the truth stays an individual truth, wouldn't it therefore go to waste, since there's so much more out there than individual lives? Additionally, just because a person as an individual is pursuing these things doesn't mean that issues in society don't matter, or that the individual and society aren't connected; instead, there's a very important concept that connects the two spheres and that is the idea of justice. Most quests for meaning include a notion of right and wrong, of wisdom that talks about the human condition. This information has direct social implications, and if you have a concept of justice, what's just and unjust, it matters more on a social level than some of the other insights. Indeed, justice almost implies other people, unless you just look a lot at the relationship of yourself to nature because you live isolated from society. If you have a concept of justice that you've developed it becomes less acceptable to dodge current events and issues, or to say that your own personal truth matters to the point where no one else deserves any consideration. Your own personal truth may in fact mean everything to you, but concern for yourself and concern for society are not mutually exclusive. You can continue to pursue your personal truth while engaging with society and giving your two cents about what's right and wrong with it according to your idea of justice. You can still pursue your own truth while trying to work for that justice to manifest in the world, having good arguments to back up your views of course.

So there you go. You can be a total idealist in the sense of an almost mystical belief in the existence of ideals, and still be present in the very material world of group politics. In fact, I think that the adoption of vulgar materialism by sections of the left was an unnecessary act and one that alienated many people who otherwise would have agreed with it. The Enlightenment is over; Enlightenment materialism was torn to shreds by Romantic and other trends in philosophy which started in the early 19th century. Trying to resuscitate it won't work. Instead, my stand is that neither materialism or total non-materialism are probably totally right and that in any case we really don't know enough to make a final determination on it.

Anyways, that's my take. Bottom line is that journeys, whether they be religious, mystical, to the center of the mind, to foreign lands, in search of what it's all about aren't normally incompatible with social justice.

A picture offered, with commentary:

You notice that it says "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom". Maybe they should change that slogan to "Mein Ehre ist Freiheit", My honor is freedom, a slight modification of "Mein Ehre ist Treue", my honor is loyalty, which was the slogan of an SS battalion, in fact the Death's Head battalion who served as concentration camp and death camp guards. So the connection with Guantanamo is apropos.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Ah yes, Earlham College, how could I forget

I went there and they royally fucked me over in virtually every way possible. You see, I suffer from bouts of depression. When I was at my first semester at Earlham I gradually became depressed to the point of being suicidal and had to leave school. When I met with the counseling office to arrange the leave of absence they didn't tell me the proper procedure to withdraw from classes. Instead, they only said that I needed to have an exit interview with counseling and to have documents sent over from my doctor. It turns out that I needed to personally deliver a notice of withdrawl to each of my teachers, plus file other paperwork, plus they lost or didn't get the paperwork my doctor sent. So I'm out of school and am recovering when I get a letter from them saying that I've been put on academic probation because I got no credit in two of my classes and a D+ in another, plus an inexplicable A in a two credit class. I was notified that I was nine credits behind and told that I should see the counseling office more often, and that the regulations are complex and to call if I needed help understanding them. Then I was sent a letter saying that my medical leave would be reviewed unless a doctor sent a note in explaining the need for it, verifying that someone actually approved it and that I wasn't making it up. So here I am, recovering from being so depressed that I was suicidal, with some other things going on at the same time and I'm informed that according to the college I'm faliing, that it's on my permanent record, and that it can't be taken off, the reason being because I didn't file the paperwork for leaving in the right way, because they never told me that I needed to file the paperwork in a certain way. What a wonderful ego boost.

One of the reasons for being suicidal was verbal abuse by my counselor John Newman, who I was seeing because I had a pre-existing condition that sometimes made special arrangements necessary for study. After talking with me a few times when I started having trouble he decided, in the face of intensive testing by a neuropsychiatrist that there was something going on, that I was faking it and was just lazy. His meetings with me became increasingly abusive as he lost his patience, and humiliated me and reduced me to tears on multiple times. After the last session I started to be outright suicidal, because, brace yourself, I felt that no one was listening to me and that there was no hope. I began to actively plan my suicide, which would have involved driving my car over the barrier on a specific overpass, falling to the road beneath. It was then that I decided to withdraw from school.

Because of the grades given me by Earlham I couldn't transfer to any other four year school.

Anyways, this is a good insight into the peaceful world of the Quaker College known as Earlham: manifest cruelty and incompetence, and I should say it also persisted in phone calls attempting to sort the whole thing out, towards a student who was suicidal.