Thursday, December 31, 2009

I dislike the concentration of power in the Federal government but not the functions that it performs

Which is something that I think a lot of people who are either anti-Statist or libertarian don't consider. I would love to see authority devolve to the States, however I think that in that scenario the local setup would fulfill the functions that the federal government does today, along with more. Regulations are great, so are programs, they help keep people from being hurt and keep society in some sort of working order. It's just that when you have a small, centralized, administration of these things overseen by an equally tiny Congress bad things can happen. For one thing the stakes are so high that corporations pour millions of dollars into subverting the process.

The solution isn't to do away with the sorts of things that regulations accomplish by eliminating them but instead to make sure that all of it isn't administered by a centralized top down bureaucracy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Just for the record, I oppose the mandate part of the health care bill

The part that mandates that people buy private insurance and that penalizes people 2% of their income if they don't do it. I can understand paying for universal health care through taxes, but this goes way, way, beyond that into territory that I don't imagine most people will be comfortable with. Guess what the Republicans are probably going to campaign on in 2010? It will also give the tea party fanatics something with an actual substantial reality to crow about.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"A Nation of Five Year Olds" from Scholars & Rogues

"... What i don’t understand is the idea that Americans are entitled to perfect security. Here we are (and for the record, all the troops stationed everywhere in the world are you and i) crashing around the globe and blowing shit up, yet those of us in God’s country should face no threat. And for the most part, we don’t face any threat. Nobody’s bombed any of the weddings i’ve been to over the last few years. I’ve never thought, “I don’t think i should go downtown, because somebody might suicide bomb where i shop.” I’m convinced that the Canadians will launch their plan for world domination any day, by invading the social and evolutionary cul-de-sac of America where i live. But as of yet i have not had to contend with RCAF close air support in the neighborhood.

Still here we are, gripped by fear and willing to submit to whatever the organs say is necessary to protect us. Hunter Thompson used to say that we’re a nation of pigs. I disagree. (Unless he was being Orwellian.) The comparison is unfair to that noble and intelligent, barnyard beast. We’re a nation of five year-olds whose parents don’t say, “No, no, there’s no bogeyman in the closet because there’s no such thing as the bogeyman.” Our parents keep telling us that the bogeyman is real and he’s out to get us. He could be in any, or every, closet. In fact, he probably is in every closet!

True, it is a good way to keep us out of the porn collection and drug paraphernalia.

I’m not being glib nor am i underplaying all those “very real dangers” that we face in the post-9/11 world. I’m saying that if we don’t want to live with the dangers then we might want to stop provoking them. I’m saying that there is no such thing as perfect safety and security; you are going to die someday and you probably won’t go to heaven. And i’m saying that our government consistently overplays any actual threats (and their probability) in order to control us through fear."

Excellent Glenn Greenwald: "Cause and Effect in the 'Terror War'

From the Article:

"In the wake of the latest failed terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines, one can smell the excitement in the air -- that all-too-familiar, giddy, bipartisan climate that emerges in American media discourse whenever there's a new country we get to learn about so that we can explain why we're morally and strategically justified in bombing it some more. "Yemen" is suddenly on every Serious Person's lips. We spent the last month centrally involved to some secret degree in waging air attacks on that country -- including some that resulted in numerous civilian deaths -- but everyone now knows that this isn't enough and it's time to Get Really Serious and Do More.

For all the endless, exciting talk about the latest Terrorist attack, one issue is, as usual, conspicuously absent: motive. Why would a young Nigerian from a wealthy, well-connected family want to blow himself on one of our airplanes along with 300 innocent people, and why would Saudi and Yemeni extremists want to enable him to do so? When it comes to Terrorism, discussions of motive have been declared more or less taboo from the start because of the dishonest equation of motive discussions with justification -- as though understanding the reasons why X happens is to posit that X is legitimate and justifiable. Causation simply is; it has nothing to do with issues of morality, blame, or justification. Yet all that is generally permitted to be said in such situations is that Terrorists try to harm us because they're Evil, and we (of course) are not, and that's generally the end of the discussion."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Skepticism about centralization of power, healthcare reform, state governments

The recent health care bill has got me thinking. Although universal health care is a great thing, I would also be somewhat skeptical about the desirability of strengthening Washington DC even further. So what could be done? Well, one thing that I'd like to see is a return to power of the state and local governments, with a lot of the power that DC has currently devolving back onto them. These state governments would exist in a sort of confederation that could meet to agree on common standards and practices. Instead of one centralized health care bureaucracy you'd have fifty state administered health care plans that would most likely be 95% similar to each other. We could push for something like this in the mean time by just using the powers in state government to try to accomplish something along these lines, on a more limited basis. This would mean engaging with the State somewhat, but engaging with it in a way that would be somewhat more controllable than DC is. A push to the regional and to the local would be a natural complement to this. However, just a word there: if local is going to go anywhere it has to break out of ghettoized alternative communities and work with a broader range of folks. That said, some sort of devolvement of power in the way I'm describing would take a constitutional change to accomplish. But I still think that working from the bottom up we could do a lot, if we keep our eyes on the prize.

An excerpt from the beginning of "Homo Sapiens" by Przybyszewski

Hopefully demonstrating why I went and got it right when I found out about what's going on at Third Place Books:

"A sad smile flickered over Falk's face.
Yes. In despite of everything. Rather perish of hunger than yield an inch.
What was it, after all? What was it that sustained him in the face of all failure, insult and hate?
He lay down on the sofa again.
It was the great, wonderful art, the art of new worlds, worlds transcending phenomena, transcending knowledge, transcending tangible forms, worlds so ingraspably fine that all distances vanish and melt, worlds comprehended in one look, one movement, one flash of a second."

The future of publishing is possibly here

Look at this article: "Reviving Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The future of publishing is at Third Place Books" by Paul Constant of The Stranger. Third Place Books, which is a huge bookstore north of Seattle in Lake Forest Park, now has something called the Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine is a self contained print on demand contraption that takes a print ready PDF and makes a book out of it in as little as fifteen minutes, more likely thirty when all is said and done. If that's not enough, Google Books has signed a contract with these folks allowing all the public domain books that they've scanned to be eligible for printing, at $8.95 per book. So many, so so many books that were terminally out of print are now available to print through this thing. Dude, it's not even funny.

When I first read the story two titles that I'd partially read through a university library and the central Seattle Public Library that are now completely out of print, and that I'd found on Google Books popped into my head: "Homo Sapiens" by Stanislaw Przybyszewski and "The Inferno" by August Strindberg. This morning I went up to Third Place Books, made my order, and now I'm in possession of both of them, all for the price of one trade paperback.

I'm really hoping that, as the article says, these things start spreading. It seems that Third Place Books is part of a sort of pilot program. Besides just being great for book lovers what it could possibly mean is the first really publicly accessible concrete manifestation of all the information made available and floating around the internet. There's lots of great stuff out there, great ideas, great potential, but unless something besides PDFs come of it most of that potential will remain just that. People want something that they can touch and feel when it comes right down to it. They don't want to have to spend loads of time behind a computer screen scrolling down through a large file. Print on demand through a service like Lulu, where you can buy my book through, while a step in the right direction, doesn't bring people across all the way either since everything is mediated by shipping. One thing that all of this promises, as noted by the article, is an era where people will be able to work with a tech person at their local book machine place (within reason) in order to create their finished product, that is then uploaded to a kind of central database where it can then be printed by anyone at any book machine elsewhere.

I'm so happy about this. Hopefully now we can start realizing some of the information age's Great Expectations.

"Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon

"For the fog to burn away, and for something else this time, somehow, to be there instead." This is the last sentence of the book and something that could encapsulate the whole thing. Inherent Vice is a detective story set in 1970 in LA but different from most stories like that in that the PI is a hardcore hippy and the world that he runs in is the heart of the counterculture in Los Angeles County. What Pynchon has done is to create a novel set in what was to him a much better, healthier, and happier time, one that stands for a lot of values that are somewhat lost today. Love, kindness, cooperation, things like that, along with less focus on getting ahead, more tolerance for pursuing personal truth and lots of non-addictive substance use. It's the milieu that really comes to the fore here, because the story itself has a lot of flaws and the book is much more lightweight than usual Pynchon fare. I got it on Christmas, I finished it last night after three days of non-stop reading. That usually doesn't happen with almost any book, not to mention one by Thomas Pynchon. All in all it's a good book, but I would wait till it comes out in paperback. It's also very funny and dirty, showing that the times have possibly caught up with Pynchon as opposed to the other way around.

If former Guantanamo inmates really were somehow involved in the Detroit thing

My guess would be that the prison spawned them, not that they were super dangerous individuals who shouldn't have been let out. If what happens there was done to me I'd be mighty upset too. Doesn't excuse trying to blow up an airplane, if in fact these people really were involved, but it also doesn't justify keeping people indefinitely locked up without charges or trial.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is Joe Lieberman the devil?

Inquiring minds want to know. He now wants the U.S. to "Take Action" in Yemen, and supports holding Guantanamo detainees not convicted of anything, presumably indefinitely, if they're from Yemen, both of which assertions are in This article. He might not be the devil but he sure can go to hell.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

All politics is not local

The House of Representatives has no problem weighing in on national issues not related to local politics when it serves their purpose. When they want to obstruct things, though, the pledge to the local is always trotted out, arguing that since it doesn't effect the district that they don't have a reason to care about it. This is an excuse, not a principle. Politicians making a plea for the local also don't have a problem accepting money from out of state interests who have little to do with their district, but I guess that's rather a hush hush topic.

Linking our unsustainable lifestyle to exploitation

It's important to realize just what makes our high consumption possible. Simple preference is not the only factor. I would put forward that a lot of what contributes to it is the fact that the U.S. as a whole doesn't pay the true cost for what it consumes. This goes beyond just the environmental cost into basic things like labor costs and resources. The fact is that most of what we consume is imported from countries where they pay workers next to nothing, far below what any notion of a fair wage would dictate that they should earn even adjusted for developing world circumstances. We get the surplus value that they produce for the companies in the form of prices for goods that are always low, always. These low prices in turn enable us to consume more of what's being produced than we otherwise could have.

Although the consequences of a globalized economy on workers in the U.S. are now manifesting themselves, for the most part the road down into greater class division in the U.S. has been a slow one, with wealth from globalization inflating the upper classes to a much more dramatic extent than the downward pressure of people doing worse because their jobs are moving overseas. Over time, though it adds up. People can consume more on the way down than they otherwise would be able to. Of course the cheap prices for essentials also have a downward effect on wages since it's now possible for workers to live on less and not be in open revolt, creating a new floor that's also lower than what would be possible if people were paying more reasonable prices for things. So it cuts both ways. But both of those ways destroys the planet through resource use.

If we want to save the planet it's not enough to just cut down our own consumption of products. We have to start paying the true cost of what we consume, and this includes both labor costs and environmental costs. If we start doing this it will encourage people to consume less and to adjust their spending patterns in a way that's more rational with regards to the true situation of things. How internal class divisions within the United States will effect this is easy predict, and it has an easy solution: socialism. Increased costs passed onto the consumer will hurt the poor and workers the most unless our class divisions are dealt with and wealth redistributed. But we also need job creation so that we're actually generating funds that can be distributed through society, that will pump money into the economy as a whole, especially now in our current economic situation. If people in the third world countries where we get our goods from are paid more it will bring costs up to a point where products from the first world will become more competitive, leading to more American products selling on the world market. But of course all of this will only be possible if we can wrench the political and social system away from the largely invisible top of the wealth pyramid that now benefits from all of this--in both their corporate roles and their role as wealthy individuals.

So let me get this straight: no public option, required private insurance, and a tax on some insurance plans

Namely those held by unionized workers. You call this progressive reform? Add to that a provision stopping the reimportation of drugs made in the U.S. from other countries for a cheaper cost and you've got yourself a real winner.

About air travel:

The only 100% safe system out there is one that's authoritarian. Unless we want to make our air travel completely resemble a fascist's wet dream instead of just mostly resemble it we've got to learn to live with the risk that something like this could happen. The dude was reportedly hiding his explosive in a condom put around his balls. Why not publicly strip search everyone boarding a plane, being sure to inspect their genitals? Can't be too careful in defending our way of life now, can we be?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Now is the test for Obama...Detroit

I think we all know what Bush would have done if there was an attempted bombing of a plane in the United States. Whether or not Obama will go batshit crazy over this and move the country towards authoritarianism or not will likely be a defining question. I hope that he doesn't, and my instincts tell me that he won't, but there's always the chance that something irrational will come out of it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Personal responsibility and ignorance in American politics

Of course I'm not thinking about the Tea Party movement when I say that large parts of the American public are politically ignorant. Would never do that. Anyways, when it comes down to our low, low, political literacy here in the U.S. it helps to look in the mirror. Conservatives are fond of talking about personal responsibility, but the personal responsibility I'm talking about comes through having grown up in a really well off country, on that for the majority of people alive today was the the quote 'leader of the free world'. Even though we have internal class divisions, and in the very current moment are facing an extremely bad economic crisis, as a whole we've been remarkably prosperous, so prosperous that it sort of twists the mind beyond credibility to say that social forces alone are responsible for a situation where lots of people, probably still people today, believed that Iraq and Al Qaeda worked together to commit 9/11, and that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. I think that on the whole folks had plenty of opportunities to become aware of current events, aware of political issues, aware of history, but that they chose not to do so, and instead chose to munch chips and watch TV instead. We had all the fixins' to make us an edumacated nation but we chose not to do so. And now we complain about know it all elitists. Perhaps the people being called elites aren't really so much completely elite as they are just cognizant of the world in which they live. There's lots of room to go upward in sophistication compared with what you need to know to intelligently understand current events. So I guess the question is the eternal one--"What is to be done?" And I don't have the answer to that, but neither am I an elitist who is willing to just throw most of the American public overboard and give up on them.

When you hear about the "broad international support" for the attack on Afghanistan remember this:

That is that the triggering mechanism for the NATO invasion was designed to be used for when the Soviet Union invaded western Europe. Despite claims of multinational support, the U.S. had to invoke a provision designed to be used in the event of World War III to invade Afghanistan with a shred of legality. That provision said that any attack on a NATO member country [by a nation state] would be considered an attack on all of them. Since Al Qaeda is not a nation state and Afghanistan did not attack the United States even that provision is of doubtful legality. Significantly as well, the invasion of Afghanistan was not a UN operation, which would have been a test for true international support. What the U.S. did have was the sympathy of the world after 9/11, but that's a little different than the support the measure that the U.S. rammed through the UN with the help of its cronies had. I'm just saying, if you need to invoke military doctrines that have nothing to do with terrorist acts to support a war of this sort you probably don't have a leg to stand on internationally, despite whatever sympathy the world might have for you in the wake of a terrorist attack, the reason being that most governments in places other than small pacific island states [that often vote for U.S. measures in the UN] have an understanding of international law.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Why is Obama Ditching the Public Option--And You?" by Jane Hamsher

Basically I agree with this article, and it's good to have someone tell it like it is.

"The Obama White House managed to successfully triangulate against the public option by saying it was too "liberal," and presenting their corporate-friendly plan that gives Aetna and PhRMA everything they want as "centrist" by comparison. Because that's the left/right puke funnel that the media must feed everything through. So even though taking out the public option goes against public opinion, because "liberals" will be upset, it must be a good "sensible" thing to do.

Having Joe Lieberman act as front man was the perfect delivery mechanism for achieving that goal.

Obama is triangulating against you today. They want all those diaries of outrage by "liberals," so that right wingers will look on and think "good for him - like Joe Lieberman, he really knows how to stick it to liberals." It's the move of a deeply cynical politician who believes in nothing but shameless manipulation for political convenience. Meanwhile, the media will completely overlook the fact that this bill is nothing but a corporate giveaway written by sleazy greedy whores willing to hold the nation's sick hostage in order to pull off the biggest Shock Doctrine scam in world history."

And here is Obama on the campaign trail saying that his health plan includes both a public option and support for women's reproductive health

So if this is decadence then what is it based off of?

Self analysis is a tricky thing when it comes to writing. First off, there's the question of whether it's warranted at all or if no one really gives a fuck. Second, the person who does the writing is often the worst person of all to judge where they are in the greater continuum of things. With that in mind lets do some self analysis.

I look at what I'm doing here as being a transitional thing between Generation X/Y and the next folks to come down the pike. I have the constant sense that I'm part of the end of the road in taking something as far as it can be taken without society as a whole radically changing. Unless society becomes substantially more cynical and open to black humor it's likely that while I won't dead end personally there will be less and less writers in my vein as time goes on. So I see myself as pursuing a decadent phase of a greater cultural trend, one that might be seeing its last days. But every decadent movement has to be based on a movement that was at one time progressive. That, in my case, seems ultimately to have been the '60s.

The '60s spawned Generation X, which defined things down the pike for their (sometimes much) younger siblings. Despite having a different ethos, Gen. X wasn't really reactionary against counter cultural values in a pure sense. They weren't Reagan. Instead, you could say they followed a trend that started in the early '70s that saw a cultural mutation take place that changed love to occultism and witchcraft, and music going into heavy metal and punk. Gen. Y seems to be taking what Gen. X started (in its more conventional cultural manifestations) to its logical conclusion. That conclusion is irony and blackness, cynicism and negativity, taken to a terminal extreme, albeit mixed with some very positive things politically speaking.

The six six six sixties spawned the nihilistic nineties, and the '00s will surely go down in history as a time of lovely running through fields with puppies and rainbows.

But something has to come next. I have no fucking clue what it's going to be but hopefully it'll be something that will resemble my writings on politics and philosophy, because what I've been trying to do in these areas is to go straight beyond nihilism and negation and into some more positive (in the sense of substantial) content.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What else is going on in the world...

I have no idea what's happening out there that's significant. All I'm trying to do is to do my own thing at the moment. We're in a sort of post-Copenhagen news lull it seems. So what is my own thing? Hard to say, but increasingly political. There's been a little detour going on in this side of the screen lately. My personal researches have taken me far, far away from politics of any conventional sort, even beyond philosophy, into areas that I can only call Weird Shit, with capitalizations on both words. But this sort of Weird Shit isn't the sort of strangeness I talk about on the website so I can't share the ineffable wisdom that I have accumulated on this subject with folks. However, we, and by we I mean me, are getting back to more familiar territory slowly but surely and hopefully will have more acceptable things to talk about soon. Maybe they'll have to do with 19th century romantic philosophy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

So we've gone from a bill to provide public health care to one where you're required to buy insurance in the current system

Does anyone else see a problem here? Does anyone else think that this is basically signing away lots of rights to new corporate masters? If you want to talk about statism this would be a great place to start. I mean, the folks who we'll have to buy insurance from are the same people who are the problem in the first place, and 'have to' is the operative term there. How would that in any way advance health care in this country?

Americorps and the SS

Or, a look into Glenn Beck's universe. From the article on Media Matters about him being named Misinformer of the Year for 2009:

"In his uninterrupted efforts to attack and smear progressives, Beck would repeatedly prove the accuracy of Godwin's Law. Beck called Obama's proposal to expand the foreign service, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps "what Hitler did with the SS" and compared the closing of car dealerships to what happened under the Nazis, warning, "Gang, at some point, they're going to come for you." Incidentally, this would not be Beck's only reference to Martin Niemoller's lectures. Responding to Anita Dunn's criticism of Fox News' overt partisanship, Beck compared the channel to Jews during the Holocaust, with other media outlets representing the silent bystanders."

Now we're attacking Yemen and killing civilians there

Another rendering speechless moment. Article from Glen Greenwald:

"... President Obama late last week ordered cruise missile attacks on two locations in Yemen, which "U.S. officials" say were "suspected Al Qaeda hideouts." The main target of the attacks, Al Qaeda member Qasim al Rim, was not among those killed, but: "a local Yemeni official said on Sunday that 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed in air strikes against Al-Qaeda, which he said were carried out 'indiscriminately'." Media reports across the Muslim world -- though, not of course, within the U.S. -- are highlighting the dead civilians from the U.S. strike (one account from an official Iranian outlet began: "U.S. Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama has signed the order for a recent military strike on Yemen in which scores of civilians, including children, have been killed, a report says")."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Obama is looking more and more like the "It's always sunny in Philadelphia" president

I mean that in reference to this one episode where the gang is at this open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles: they've been promised a speech by the coach, and so he drives up in his car, says for all of them to do good work and eat at McDonalds, then drives away. Obama is looking like that drive by coach.

A critique of Nietzschean anti-humanism

Nietzsche's philosophy can be read in many different ways, but one of the strongest features present in it is his opposition to what he considered to be traditional humanistic values. Human nature comes in as being a concept manufactured by Christianity and tied to mediocrity, but more significantly the fix that Nietzsche prescribes is to go beyond all categories of humanistic thought, beyond the very concept of a good and an evil, in order to remedy the situation. This is like invoking the nuclear option to deal with a minor annoyance, however it forms the more substantive part of Nietzsche's anti-humanist philosophy. It also somewhat undercuts his argument against Christianity, unless you want to believe that categories of thought are radically socially determined and not just partially socially determined by historical forces. In either case, what Nietzsche is trying to do is to get at a concept of increasing truth or validity by negating the conventional in a radical way.

This would be all right both culturally and philosophically if his negation were not so complete and total. The things that he labels culturally determined, like the very concepts of a good and an evil (not just good and evil as abstract ideas), are likely categories of thought that strike to the heart of the human experience even though they ultimately take different forms depending on the culture that they exist within. It's not as simple as condemning someone who has ideas that you might not agree with either since these constants relating to morality are just one of a package of constants relating to our perception of the world and to how we as humans interface with the world around us that comes undone if one thread is seriously frayed.

Kant's ideas relating to moral sense and other kinds of perception point to our human nature and our inborn humanistic sensibility as the best tools that we have for understanding the universe at large. We may be flawed creatures but somehow despite our limited self knowledge of the world outside our window we manage to interface with and interact with the world in a way that basically works. Science manages to use math to great effect even though we can't demonstrate that math as we perceive it flows from a purely logical basis, which suggests that some of those inborn categories are responsible for its connection to reality, for example. Hegel made a substantial advancement to the whole scheme by suggesting that human nature in a limited way does adapt the categories to culture, even though his progressive scheme of evolution may not be valid. But to throw the categories overboard entirely puts us into territory where none of those rough correspondences work anymore. It puts us into a sort of radical skepticism where to make any sort of valid judgment about the universe is increasingly hard to do. Our humanism may have flaws from one perspective, yet we're locked into it if we want to perceive and interact with the world in any sort of a halfway valid way. And so we have the prototypical existential condition.

All this doesn't exclude having a cynical perspective, being a curmudgeon, or in most cases radically rejecting the cultural context around you. I perceive all of that as only modifying cultural standards that are mostly accepted as being valid, and not as attempts to totally replace them completely. Think of a ripple on the top of the ocean, where the surface changes but the undercurrents mostly stay the same. What it does exclude is taking that cynical critique all the way and effectively losing the forest for the trees.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And now the White House is saying that Dean is irrational for opposing the health care bill with no public option whatsoever

Welcome back John Kerry! From Huffington Post: starting with White House Press Secretary Gibb's statement: " "If this is an insurance company's dream, I think the insurance companies have yet to get the memo," he summarized.

In actuality, the insurance companies do seem to have considered the recent round of negotiations a victory, with one executive telling Ben Smith of Politico: "We win." "

Tropicalia and its significance to us.

I'm getting most of this info from Caetano Veloso's book "Tropical Truth". What these artists were trying to do in Brazil in the '60s was to combine avant-garde artistic ideas with social commitment. They attempted to make socially relevant art that could be popular without talking down to their audience or watering down their innovative ideas. Their idea of concrete social commitment was different from what the norm is as well in that they didn't buy into the idea that people on the bottom of society should be treated as paper cut outs inserted into someone's ideology. Instead, the people that they celebrated and talked about were the people as they actually existed in Brazil, complete with lots of regional cultural variations. They were willing to make references to people liking Coca-Cola even though it didn't fit in with official ideology about how people should be. Through this approach they also avoided nationalism while expressing their support for their society.

To me all of these factors are important and are things that we can learn from today. Popularizing avant-garde ideas and art, fusing that with social relevance and in fact redefining what the objective of social relevance really is. If this strategy is performed right it can hopefully avoid all of the establishment ideas that usually go along with package deals like these, including that of folks such as the later surrealists who subordinated their avant-garde ideas to official Communist doctrine more or less. Instead, living vibrant art is possible, art that says more than what can be written on the back of postage stamps.

Excellant article by George Monbiot w/commentary: "This Is Bigger Than Climate Change. It Is a Battle to Redefine Humanity"

Yay for Monbiot!: "The meeting at Copenhagen confronts us with our primal tragedy. We are the universal ape, equipped with the ingenuity and aggression to bring down prey much larger than itself, break into new lands, roar its defiance of natural constraints. Now we find ourselves hedged in by the consequences of our nature, living meekly on this crowded planet for fear of provoking or damaging others. We have the hearts of lions and live the lives of clerks.

The summit's premise is that the age of heroism is over. We have entered the age of accommodation. No longer may we live without restraint. No longer may we swing our fists regardless of whose nose might be in the way. In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live in the moment, as if there were no tomorrow.

...

The angry men know that this golden age has gone; but they cannot find the words for the constraints they hate. Clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged, they flail around, accusing those who would impede them of communism, fascism, religiosity, misanthropy, but knowing at heart that these restrictions are driven by something far more repulsive to the unrestrained man: the decencies we owe to other human beings.

...

While economies grow, social justice is unnecessary, as lives can be improved without redistribution. While economies grow, people need not confront their elites. While economies grow, we can keep buying our way out of trouble. But, like the bankers, we stave off trouble today only by multiplying it tomorrow. Through economic growth we are borrowing time at punitive rates of interest. It ensures that any cuts agreed at Copenhagen will eventually be outstripped. Even if we manage to prevent climate breakdown, growth means that it's only a matter of time before we hit a new constraint, which demands a new global response: oil, water, phosphate, soil. We will lurch from crisis to existential crisis unless we address the underlying cause: perpetual growth cannot be accommodated on a finite planet."

I agree with all of it and congratulate Monbiot on using ideas from the young Marx about species being in a good and cogent way. Our golden age in the United States is indeed ending, with the economic crisis being only one sign that this is occurring. One large strand of truth behind our lack of progressive programs and politics in this country is that for much of the postwar era our growth was so spectacular that even though there was inequality people largely were able to get high standards of living without the need for redistributive policies. Other countries weren't so lucky, particularly developing countries and countries in Europe that were ravaged by World War II and who were struggling to rebuild their economies. It appeared that prosperity would be possible by naturally letting the market go its own way, leading to the deregulation and neo-liberalism of the '80s and '90s. But it was all an illusion brought on by our position as an intact economy post World War II that could expand to meet the vacuum left by that destruction of nations. Now it's all ending.

We will indeed have to learn to live within constraints, but our basic humanity won't be threatened by this. On the contrary, constraints and how to live within them will give us the opportunity to organize our society in order to establish justice, since automatic prosperity will no longer be assured. If we have the will to do it we can take control of our destiny in a valid way. If we don't, and we don't organize, we face the eventuality of widespread chaos possibly giving rise to fascist and dictatorial movements that could take control of the country.

The choice is ours, progressive reordering or climate chaos, but either way the golden age will not be coming back and we better get used to it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wow, now there's neither a public option nor a Medicare buy in in the health care bill

In other words making the health care reform a complete failure. I'm in agreement with Howard Dean here: this bill shouldn't be passed.

GOP.am and a creative link for it I found

GOP.am is a URL shortening service that puts the logo of the GOP plus a membership plea and a money plea over any link that's put into it. There have been a number of creative uses of it that have repurposed the service quite a bit. Here's one of them that I found: http://gop.am/BAaQ. My guess is that the people involved would like to see the GOP itself do this.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The batshit crazy U.S. government wants to attack a city in Pakistan with 850,000 people

No other way to describe this:
"Senior U.S. officials are pushing to expand CIA drone strikes beyond Pakistan's tribal region and into a major city in an attempt to pressure the Pakistani government to pursue Taliban leaders based in Quetta.
 ....
The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta -- or at least threatening to do so -- is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.

[Then at the end of the story]

The province of Baluchistan, however, has a distinct ethnic identity and its own separatist movement. It is one of Pakistan's main provinces, and strikes against its main city, Quetta, would probably be seen as a violation of the nation's sovereignty."

No shit. Too bad it took paragraphs of apologias and justifications of declaring war on Pakistan to point that out. As always, the LA Times shows itself as truly fair and balanced.

Why Seattle was paralyzed by snow last year

It became the object of jokes around the country that Seattle couldn't deal with a little bit of snow, but there were actually very good reasons why snow shut large parts of the city down for a few days. I think every one knows about the lack of both snow plows and deicing supplies in the city, and the fact that we just don't get much snow, but less known is that the geography of the city contributes heavily to large amounts of snow and ice causing lots of problems.

Seattle's topography is similar to that of San Francisco's. There aren't a lot of large, flat, places in it. Instead what you have are lots and lots of hills, many of them really steep. To get around virtually anywhere, including your own neighborhood sometimes, you have to navigate inclines and little valleys. This means that when ice and snow hit en masse the result is difficulties climbing hills and safely going down them, leading to general hardship in safely getting around the city. The weather of the northwest contributes to this as well.

Last year a lot of the problems that I had in navigating Seattle didn't have to do with snow, although I literally had to shovel out my car in order to move it a couple of times, but with ice. Since there's a huge amount of ambient moisture in the air here that snow often falls on sheets of ice. Add that to the hills and inclines of Seattle and you have a very dangerous situation. Ice combined with hills is the reason that Seattle was paralyzed last year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The idea that since many countries have stolen other people's land Israel is right in annexing that of the Palestinians

Which is an idea heard sometimes from right wing Israelis, especially when dealing with Americans who they gleefully point out are sitting on Native land. Maybe this sounds defeating to conventional American liberals but let's broaden the context and see what we find. For instance, since taking land is part of lots of country's traditions surely it was right that Germany annexed Czechoslovakia and invaded Poland, incorporating it into Germany and shipping Germans into both places to colonize them, right? Sounds different when Germany does it, doesn't it. You see Israelis use this example because they probably want to be associated with Americans, but they most definitely don't want to be associated with Germans. If the shoe fits though, why not wear it?

Tony Blair says he would have gone to war even if there weren't WMDs

Here. Now people are calling for a prosecution of him for war crimes. The difference between Britain and America is that lots of people over here pretty much knew that the whole thing wasn't about WMDs and didn't really care. They wanted to go to war anyways. When it turned out that there weren't any in Iraq there wasn't a sudden uprising of people who previously had bought into the WMDs thing. Instead, they just changed their justifications and kept on supporting the war. These are the wonderful Americans that the world points to when confronted with a crisis. The sheer amount of cynicism and insularity of us people here in the U.S. resembles that of a state like Serbia rather than any sort of decent democracy.

An excerpt from Strindberg's "The Cloister"

This book deals with the "Schwarze Ferkel" or Black Pig bar in Berlin that Strindberg and confederates Stanislaw Przybyszewski, Edvard Munch, Dagny Juell, and others frequented. The following is part of an account of a New Year's Eve party at the bar:

"But the Russian's [Przybyszewski] musical instinct rose to the occasion, and when he interrupted this hymn to the banal with a bubbling czardas on the piano, everyone in the Knight's Hall broke into a wild dance. Strains from times immemorial awakened evil passions, reverberations from the sacrificial songs and magic chants of pagan days evoke the primeval man and, in an absolute frenzy, the Savage leapt on the table and continued the dance among the glasses and bottles which he crushed underfoot, and those that his foot could not reach he broke with his sword."

Ann Coulter's book pictures

Back from the bookstore/cafe. I swear that with every book of Coulter's that's released they add a half pound of makeup to her. Or maybe it's just Photoshop. Either way, the appearance on her books is so far removed from her actual appearance as evidenced in TV interviews that they might as well be two different people.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm such a stereotype

Just got done doing some music theory homework on the back of a book of Edvard Munch paintings gotten from the Seattle Public Library, was reading Kierkegaard earlier, and did in fact have a cappuccino earlier. All I need is bongos and I'll be ready to go.

The wail of the oppressed

From RawStory: "Arguing that the location of their local congressman's office infringes on their right to free speech, Tea Party protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, have asked Democratic House Rep. Tom Perriello to relocate so they can protest him more easily."

Which of course is how you know that these folks are truly suffering under President Obama. I mean, those freedom haters won't even allow their offices to be accessible to the cheese puff munching multitudes that make up the Tea Party protesters.

Curious about the Black Bloc at Copenhagen

Basically over what the goal is. I can understand it when the goal is to stop something from happening, like the WTO, IMF and World Bank protests, but Copenhagen is productive if watered down. I'm not in a huff condemning all of it, I'm just wondering how people expect this to lead to a better deal or more action on climate change.

Songs from the '40s

Looking through April Winchell's weird audio page I realized that I may never understand American pop songs from the '40s. The thing is that there are songs about the most common stuff turned into epic significance. I'm half expecting to see a popcorn song appear, where people are singing the praises of popcorn and how good it is, how they love popcorn, popcorn popcorn popcorn, over and over again to an old timey sounding banjo and brass band. I don't understand it.

A paraphrase the movie 'Mishima'

'I was acutely aware of two contradictory truths: words, that could change the world, and the world, that has nothing to do with words. '

This was another one that I used to not understand.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I need to cross post more stuff I post on Facebook here

Because a lot of the funny stuff and more spontaneous stuff gets posted there and never makes it here.
For instance, this song Homer the Happy Homosexual, from Regretsy.com's April Winchell. A lot of good gay fun.

The problem of fascism versus earlier forms of ultra-conservatism

There is a difference. I've been chewing on this one for a while. Others have put it like this: previous ultra-conservatism was opposed to revolution, was not revolutionary, while fascism is. I didn't accept that for a long time, in part because I view revolution as a very positive thing and not something that could easily be tainted by its association with something like fascism. But I've come around. What I think one of the primary differences is is that conservatism and ultra-conservatism are concerned with restoration while fascism offers revolutionary change in the service of ultra-conservative values. Restoration implies just a return to either a real or imagined state of affairs that used to exist and that now doesn't, while revolution doesn't require what's being pursued to have existed before whatsoever.

By severing the direct link with the past and essentially going all out to try to put together an ideal state of affairs fascist ultra-conservatism strikes an especially dangerous note. Usually conservatism implies some sort of restraint, including especially a restraint on revolutionary change and in how far social change should go. But if ultra-conservative values are just adopted by people who don't care about imposing them wholesale on a population by force, then that thread of potential saving grace is gone and there's nothing but force left, especially if the people in question are skeptical of democracy and of there being some need for a democratic or popular basis for social change.

Similar things can be potentially said of any revolutionary movement, but socialism in general builds on the liberal tradition instead of holding it in contempt, Stalinist policies exempted from this, and even if it hasn't always exhibited perfect respect for liberal norms of treatment it has at least held them as goals, if only in official doctrine. Fascism on the other hand does what the Bush administration has done with regards to torture, war, and the invasion of the civil liberties of citizens, that is to say justifying them outright without even bothering to give an excuse as to why these things should go on. The human rights records of regimes in South America that completely and  unapologetically abandoned all liberal norms in order to pursue ultra-conservative goals are further testimony to what happens when there isn't even debate on whether or not they should be regarded as good things.

To shift gears for a second, our country is actually probably more likely to get into a fascist movement for its conservatism than others, with the Tea Party people being a potential candidate for that. The reason is the a-historical bent of much U.S. conservatism. There's a great myth that folks in the U.S of A. have this great regard for Edmund Burke's belief in a kind of evolutionary halfway strategy that combines moderate liberalism with traditional values and a slow but limited belief in social change. The truth of the matter is that this sort of belief has only really been held by the upper classes, namely people with the ability to know who Edmund Burke is and to have read him. In reality, the conservatism of large parts of America is almost medievalistic in its apparent lack of any sort of historical consciousness whatsoever. Values in most of American conservatism aren't regarded as being part of some sort of Tradition but are instead viewed as absolutes handed down from God on high that are unalterable. The creationist museum in Tennessee is a great example of this. Here you can see modern science negated in its entirety by biblical reinterpretation of natural history. These people aren't aware enough to realize what subtle historical traditions are. When these folks are galvanized by a revolutionary movement, such as one that draws on the motif of the American Revolution for legitimacy, their beliefs and actions are likely to be indistinguishable from fascism.

The Tea Partiers are so put out by Obama that they're threatening die-ins in the halls of Congress

Poor tea party goers. They're so frustrated by the change of regime and they're irrelevance to it that they're convinced that serious protest is the only way to stop what they see as tyranny. Now they know what liberals and people on the left felt like for the seven years post 9/11 that Bush was President. Join the club. The difference is that they're wrong and we're right. I say this unambiguously because the tea partiers seem like a much stupider caricature of the most extreme sign carriers at liberal anti-war rallies. And because Bush authorized torture and the invasion of civil liberties and is therefore much more of a Nazi than our African American president. Supposed 'Death Panels' don't really stack up against actual torture practicing prisons at Guantanamo, Bagram air force base, and Abu Ghraib. Attacks on President Obama's birth certificate don't stack up well against the demonstrated draft dodging of Bush during the Vietnam War. The list could go on. Maybe if they learned how to spell they're cause would be more compelling. Anyways, that's it for now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What the 'missing white woman syndrome' points to

The 'missing white woman syndrome' being the media's fixation with stories having to do with cute white women who disappear. The phenomenon of coverage like this could be broadened to include other elevations of trivial situations into national prominence, though. For instance, the U.S. news section on the Seattle PI's website currently lists a story about missing hunters in northern Arizona being found. Whew. I was really holding my breath over that one. Like there aren't substantive issues going on across the United States that are more important than stuff like that. Well, of course there are, but the problem is that it takes some creativity and investment to find them. Or, potentially, looking into what papers in other cities or what other television stations are reporting on locally and repeating some of it. But obviously that's a little bit too much effort. I mean, come on, hold on, we wouldn't want our news people to do anything crazy now, would we?

I know, those wop guineas and the Amanda Knox trial


From Milt Priggee

Personally, to be accurate I think that this picture should make the sword that little Amanda Knox is letting go be covered with blood.

Turley: "Obama ignores Nuermberg"

Obama ignores Nuremberg, pretty shocking, about the Obama administration arguing that torture memo author John Yoo cannot be sued for the consequences that his actions lead to.

"The president literally has gotten onto a plane this evening to go to Norway," he told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Wednesday, "to accept the Nobel Prize, while his Justice Department is effectively gutting a major part of Nuremberg."

"The Obama administration is arguing not only that they shouldn't be prosecuted," Tuirley emphasized, "but it's now saying that you shouldn't even be able to sue them civilly. ... It's an international disgrace."

Turley pointed out that several legal advisors to Germany's Ministry of Justice were convicted during the Nuremberg trials held after World War II for providing the legal advice that justified Nazi war crimes. Now the Obama administration, in its desire to uphold executive privilege at any cost, is willing to toss that principle aside."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

"Call it Ecocide", by Robert C. Koehler

"This is the news I take with me into Thanksgiving and the season of gratitude and family togetherness: that doctors in Fallujah, the Iraqi city we devastated in two military assaults in 2004, have begun documenting a startling rise in birth defects - about 15 times the pre-invasion occurrence of early-life cancers and brain and nervous-system abnormalities, according to the U.K.'s Guardian.

...

Young women in Fallujah, the doctors wrote, "are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs."

What might be causing this nightmare? The most likely factors are chemical or radiation poisoning, according to the Nov. 14 Guardian article, which noted: "Abnormal clusters of infant tumors have also been repeatedly cited in Basra and Najaf - areas that have in the past also been intense battle zones where modern munitions have been heavily used." "

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Alternatives to Christian ethics, or, you don't have to be an aggressive asshole to be a proud pagan

First off, I'm not saying that most pagans are assholes. What I'm talking about is the kind of person who is against Christianity in a Nietzschean sense to the point where instead of love and compassion they want only hardness and some sort of cruelty. This, of course, is a small small subsection of people who would call themselves pagan. But be that as it may, as a pagan myself I've tried to reckon with this point of view because I would like to be compassionate without being a latent Christian, or a person who has just shifted gears from one theology to another without actually changing anything.

A couple things stick out with regards to the sort of aggressive, let us say Roman, approach to paganism. The first is that the biggest sons of bitches on the planet are people who are just hard and cruel, who put their own egotism in front of anyone else and who don't listen to any sort of pleas to restrain themselves. These folks aren't so much liberated as just public nuisances, people who unfortunately expect others to resort to what the legal system calls "self help" and who may actually be surprised when other more legitimate ways of settling things are invoked. Like the legal system putting them in prison. The second thing is that in many ways compassion just makes sense. But how do you justify it beyond saying "It's just a good thing"?

I think that eastern philosophy can shed some light on this. The philosophical aspect of Taoism provides a kind of template that can be used to base some of the ideas that in our culture would automatically be associated with Christianity on. Compassion makes sense because it's a rational way to treat people in opposition to the irrationality of our first impulse. We may like to look at situations and only consider our own self interest or only want to close ourselves off from them, but if you take a step back and consider whatever it is and really think about it, not acting in a forceful, inconsiderate way is often the best course of action. It doesn't rely on a Christian belief in always turning the other cheek. Instead, it relies on the basic ethical principles that people normally use to navigate through their day to day lives regarding what's just and what are just ways to treat folks. I would wager that in practice the outcome of using just more consideration and not being carried away by whatever passion or automatic response it popping up at the time is more similar to basic Christian ethics than people would like to admit. More nuanced, to be sure, and with more options not to be nice, but on the whole decent and ideally just.

The idea is basically that of the stereotypical eastern martial arts teacher who inculcates in his students a philosophy where through thinking they can either avoid a fight or do only what needs to be done to solve the issue without creating more problems.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The thing about New York City

That they don't tell you, is that while it's very difficult for people from the outside to make their way there it's a somewhat different story for people who have lived their whole lives either there or in the New York metropolitan area. These folks have the hometown advantage; they have a better grasp of the situation and of how you can actually make it all work out for you. I found this out when I was a student there: you had, on the one hand, kids who were from thousands of miles away who were basically alone apart from their friends while on the other hand there were kids who came in on the train from Long Island, who went home on the weekends, or who spent their free time with their friends in the outer boroughs. The same situation exists in every city, but in a city known for being hard on people it was surprising to find folks who had lots of advantages from the start. As for me, I was just a student there, eighteen, and would probably have had a less than glorious time of it if I had had to make it there on my own.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Copenhagen editorial to run in 56 papers world wide tomorrow

56 newspapers to run editorial on climate change tomorrow, coinciding with the start of the Copenhagen talks. The full text of it is Here. Excerpts:

"The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

...

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level."

A quick search of the web provided a confirmation of what the graphic accompanying the story looked to be saying: the Miami Herald and its sister paper the Nuevo Herald are the only papers in the United States to be running this. It looks like the Sarah Palins of the United States have gotten the best of sane, non-idiotic, policies of reducing consumption in order that we don't fucking die.

Reportedly, according to her father, Palin left college in Hawai'i because Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable

Here. "But Palin's father, Chuck Heath, gave a different account to Conroy and Walshe. According to him, the presence of so many Asians and Pacific Islanders made her uncomfortable: "They were a minority type thing and it wasn't glamorous, so she came home." In any case, Palin reports that she much preferred her last stop, the University of Idaho, "because it was much like Alaska yet still 'Outside.' ""

Chavez nationalizes banks---nice

I like this guy. From Rawstory: ""We will create another large bank... as a result of a merger" between the closed institutions, Chavez announced on his weekly television and radio program "Alo Presidente."

The new bank, to be called Banco Bicentenario -- in honor of Venezuela's 200th anniversary of independence next year -- will be created from the remains of Confederado, Central, Bolivar and Banco Real, all shuttered to investigate the alleged irregularities."

Where's bin Laden? He's probably running, probably hiding

Some say he's living at the Khyber Pass, let us say he's at the Bush's ranch. So goes the song "Khyber Pass" by industrial group Ministry. It underlines the fact that currently there'sNo bin Laden in sight. According to Secretary of Defense Gates, they haven't had anything solid on where bin Laden is in years. Which is actually not that much of a surprise. People for a long time have suspected that bin Laden has been out of sight, and that the Bush administration was using the constant threat of him as an empty rallying point for its policies. Now we have confirmation. I think it's good that the Obama administration has come clean on this one.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Here's the reality of global warming

From the Seattle PI: "What a difference one degree of global warming makes!" "A new report says climate change is accelerating much faster than expected. The "Copenhagen Diagnosis," which took a year to complete, is a synthesis of hundreds of research papers about human-induced climate change that have been published since the most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. The new report says that satellite and direct measurements show:

• Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea level rise at an increasing rate.
• Arctic sea ice has melted far beyond the expectations of climate models.
• Sea level has risen more than 2 inches in the last 15 years, about 80 percent more than expected, and could rise 3 to 6.5 feet by the end of the century.
• Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were about 40 percent higher than in 1990.

"This report shows that, contrary to the claims of 'skeptics,' the scientific community actually underestimated both the magnitude and the rate of global climate change," said Edward Miles, a UW professor of marine affairs and director of the Pacific Northwest Climate Impacts Group at the UW.

"In addition, since 2005 the growth in fossil fuel emissions exceeds the worst-case scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, demonstrating clearly that world population growth and increasing demands for fossil fuels from the developing world are now a major driver of climate change," said Miles, who was not involved in preparing "The Copenhagen Diagnosis."

Friday, December 04, 2009

There's a thing in my memory hanging on for dear life

At least that's my recollection of the song "Tom Violence" by Sonic Youth. Fucking strange times that we live in. On the one hand we have a situation, having an African American president who's actually progressive on economic issues, that's utterly unprecedented and new. On the other, the past appears to be repeating itself with this same president endorsing Bush era rhetoric. Despite the compromises in the economics Obama remains a decisive move away from Clinton-esque centrism in this regard, while the Afghanistan policy points to a cynical wish to continue aspects of Bush's regime that Obama finds politically expedient. The latter is what I feared would happen if Kerry was elected--a kind of addiction to the expansion of power given by the former regime leading to a lack of resolve to reverse its policies. It got the endorsement of Karl Rove, didn't it? Many people have said that this is not what we elected Obama for, and this is correct, yet in a sense Obama's administration was too good to be true. But at least a kind of full revealing has occurred, so that now we can work towards pushing the administration into positions that are less schizophrenic.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Nice article by Robert Scheer: "Here we go again"

From Commondreams.org:"It is already a 30-year war begun by one Democratic president, and thanks to the political opportunism of the current commander in chief the Afghanistan war is still without end or logical purpose. President Barack Obama’s own top national security adviser has stated that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan and that they are not capable of launching attacks. What superheroes they must be, then, to require 100,000 U.S. troops to contain them.

The president handled that absurdity by conflating al-Qaida, which he admitted is holed up in Pakistan, with the Taliban and denying the McChrystal report’s basic assumption that the enemy in Afghanistan is local in both origin and focus. Obama stated Tuesday in a speech announcing a major escalation of the war, “It’s important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place.” But he then cut off any serious consideration of that question with the bald assertion that “we did not ask for this fight.” "

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Thank you Obama for moving us back to a kinder, gentler time of authoritarianism

Back to a time before the Iraq war broke up our national unity, back when we were all united in our hatred of Muslims and where Ann Coulter could lovingly talk about invading countries and converting them to Christianity. You know, the good old days. Why, back in those days you could even beat up a Sikh because he was wearing a turban and no one would even bat an eyelash. Yes kids, it was truly a wondrous time, when we truly knew the value of being an American.

Welcome back Bush---Obama's Afghanistan speech.

Full text. If ever there was a betrayal it's here. This speech was full of the same rhetoric that Bush used for seven years. It sanctions a continuation of the "Global War on Terror" as well as continued restrictions of civil liberties at home, plus threatening war with Yemen and Somalia Here are some relevant excerpts relating to all of that:

"To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

....

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy - and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden - we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the UN, a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

....

But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe-haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient Security Forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

....

So no - I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

...

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

...

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now - and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance - would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

....

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict. We will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold - whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere - they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we cannot count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we cannot capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

...

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades - a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for - and what we continue to fight for - is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

....

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united - bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we - as Americans - can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment - they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people."

What a wonderful confirmation of Noam Chomsky's ideas on self interested power shaping the U.S.' foreign policy.

Another post from the past: "Kitsch, Neo-Romanticism, and the Beats", from 2003

Sunday, April 13, 2003 Kitsch, Neo-Romanticism, and the Beats...
To illuminate the principles of Neo-Romanticism further, and to show which side we're on, it's necessary to examine the phenomenon known as Kitsch, as well as the truly Post-Modern.
The Post-Modern to me, is precisely what comes after the break up of the cultural force in American society which dominated from roughly the end of the civil war to the end of the second World War. Modernism, as a cultural force, was not something abstract and debatable. That after the Second World War it disappeared is a fact.
The Post-Modern is most visible in writing and poetry, mostly that generated by the Beats. If you compare Ginsburg's poetry with that of William Carlos Williams, or Kerouac's writings with Faulkner's, you'll see a great deal of continuity. Indeed, these were the guys they were all reading, as was everyone at that time. Take Ginsburg's later statements that he got it all from Whitman as just so much bullshit, please. But, there is an essential difference between Ginsburg and Williams, or Ginsburg and T.S. Elliot, or Kerouac and Faulkner, which can be stated thusly: although all authors explore consciousness and the experiential material of life, the modernists always subsume their explorations under an overarching theme; whether it be the decay of Southern life in Faulkner, or the polemics of Socialism in William Carlos Williams, or the more subtle observations about society which T.S. Elliot generated.
Even Henry Miller has a subtext, that of the struggle of the working class.
The Beats, on the other hand, kept the experiential information but never put a cap on it. Instead, they were satisfied to just keep on exploring the experience in depth without ever really coming to a summation.
The difference between the Modernist need for a summation and the Beat comfortableness with a lack of it is what distinguishes the Modern from the Post-Modern in literature.
William S. Burroughs creates Interzone in Naked Lunch, where everything comes together in one huge market bazaar, while Paul Bowles subsumes similar experiences under a dreary North African subtext.
After the war, and the breakup of the idea that the technocratic faith of the previous generation was really a viable alternative to religious culture---as evidenced by the Atomic Bomb as well as the scientific Racism of the Nazis, not to mention Stalinist reductionism---- American culture took off in a multiplicity of directions, with more openness to new ideas than had been present before. The Beats were clearly a catalyst for this. By not subsuming everything under a greater theme, Americans were able to see the East on it's own terms, as well as examine the experience of Native Americans on theirs, among other notable enlightening experiences, for example seeing the experience of Blacks in the South on it's own terms....but anyways....
This, I would argue is the truly post-modern.....and it's connected to the current pop-culture movement which emphasizes Kitsch and things like Tiki culture and Lounge culture and Rockabilly music, and the interest with gaudy popular representations of Christ, etc....satirical lunch boxes with Soviet posters of Lenin on it, you get the picture.
The origins of this cultural movement, while obscure, clearly reflect the urge of people to explore deviate paths from establishment culture, as manifested in the fifties and early sixties. Through deviance comes knowledge and the establishment of ones own path out of the current culture and into something more viable and interesting.
This fits directly into the conceptions of Kitsch which Susan Sontag defined as being at the heart of American culture, I believe, and it also fits in with the architectural praise heaped on Las Vegas as being a quintessential American city because of it's gaudiness. This is post- modern architecture, by the way.
We're seeing a movement of young people towards culturally sanctioned deviance which stems from low culture as opposed to high, and this movement will probably yield some very interesting fruit as time goes by.
You could conceptualize the movement towards the post-modern as taking place on two levels: on the level of High Culture you have the Post-Modernism of the Beats, especially the extraordinarily literate Beats on the west coast associated with Reed College; on the level of Low Culture you have the Post-Modern as it's manifesting itself in interest with deviant Kitsch and cultural forms related to that. After all, Las Vegas might typify something about American Culture, but it surely isn't the accepted, mainstream, culture which we would like to see all around us. It's the very definition of deviance, after all.
The movement to the post-modern amongst youth culture comes as a competitor to the post-structuralist idea of culture, which has claimed it's own towns and adherents, and has generated it's own sort of counter-culture. As opposed to dour post-structuralists who dress
in black, think of themselves as Avant-Garde, and intone that everything is a text and that all texts are false, and that nothing is true, the Post-Modernists show their colours by embracing the camp and the deviant, and explore those very texts that Post-Structuralists say have no value, sort of getting meaning out of them and saying, at the same time, to the dour post-structuralists "Yeah, so what's your point?".
The most sublime form of modernist oppression is that which says that since modernism doesn't work anymore, that nothing works. This, when you strip Post-Structuralism of it's garb, is what it's saying. It's why they're such a boring group of people. Post-Modernists, on the other hand, accept from the outset that there probably is no overarching meta-theme to life, but rather a whole lot of interesting side roads that a person can take and get some meaning out of, and then they take it, get the meaning, and thumb their nose at the Post- Toasties.
Post-Modernism is also a lot more congenial to Social Welfare programs than is Modernism. Ironically, the laissez-faire attitude to exploration which characterizes the Post- Modernists also leads to a realization that even if Socialism, in big neon letters, doesn't provide the answers to every problem in society, that that's no big deal; it's still been proven to really help out with SOME things, like health care etc.... and that's all that really matters...not whether Socialism is in the grand cosmic design for the next phase of all human civilization.
So Socialism in the realistic sense is OK.
The interaction between Post-Modernism, the Beat experience, and the Neo-Romantic is very deep. The Neo-Romantic seeks to liberate the experience in a Beat way through the Post-Modern. The Post-Modern is a door through which the Neo-Romantic practitioner can exit out of established society in order to eventually find his or her own way towards a reflexive, high culture, Beatnik-esque pursuit of value and true human interaction.
It opposes Post-Structuralism as life killing and obsolete.
The author himself entered into the Lost Highway which led to the Neo-Romantic through the Post-Modern, although he did not think of it like that at that time. For him, Conspiracy theory and Pop-UFO books, along with some of the weirder aspects of Drug Culture, led out of established society and into that realm of cultural freedom where one can then reflect on the world in a more intelligent, high culture, way. All of those things mentioned above could be considered Post-Modern artifacts of late 20th century culture.
Not that I'm advocating you to pursue that way, please, don't; culture has changed severely, people need to find their own Post-Modern escape hatch out of the Dominant Positivistic society---preferably one that does not destroy brain cells along the way.
The Neo-Romantic Movement situates itself along the cultural space opened up by the Post-Modern and the Beat pursuit of individualistic cultural knowledge, which exists in a sort of limbo apart from the established society as a whole. The Neo-Romantic is distinguished from the purely Post-Modern and experience seeking part of this culture in that it is not content to just sit in a small alternative it's whole existence but wants instead to take the values of this counter culture and apply them to society as a whole, to change society so that the production of strange little subcultures, the need to separate, becomes less. The policy of Separate but Equal is inherently unfair. This region does not exist autonomously, but is the product of the damage that a positivistic, science oriented society, based on industrial capitalism, has done to people. No matter how hard we try to forget it, the enemy is always out there.
The current ghettoization of Post-Modern culture, or more precisely of people professing to be neo-beat, or neo-romantic, is not a victimless act. Existing within our little subcultures is a nice illusion for a while, but eventually time and experience prove that society as a whole has to change for balance and sanity to be restored.
The Neo-Romantic, then, is the activist wing of Post-Modern culture, the evangelist wing, which says "You know, we're here for a reason, and eventually society will have to change because of us; we're not here because of individual problems or inadequacies, we're here because the system has put us here, and it's the system that's going to have to change, not us."
If we choose after the revolution to stay in our little post-modern subcultures, that's our business; but at least it'll be a decision based on free will and not on compelled resistance to a corrupt system and society.
Go forth, ye apostles of the weird, the valuable but rejected, the high and low paths of knowledge and deviance, and multiply ye-selves within the greater culture; travel under the veil of secrecy if you must, but assert the true culture, the culture of the 19th centuries in Europe and of the early 20th, and make this place more like the rest of the world....
In the words of Guizot, Enrichez Vous! Enrich Yourselves, and your culture. Whew..... posted by Summerisle @ 5:42 PM posted by Summerisle @ 10:34 PM
Saturday, April 12, 2003
I should add that Magical Realism, the literary style from South America, as well as the Magical Urbanism described in an interesting book about Hispanic culture in America, are both kindred spirits to the Beat, the Post-Modern, and the Neo-Romantic........much in the way that Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were kindred spirits, exploring the psychedelic space just as they had explored the space of low-lifes and subterranean culture, to the Beatniks.....We are Family, you and all my sisters and me....

One good thing about the economic downturn

Is that it's increased social solidarity. A lot of people who might have unquestioningly accepted a lot of what the propagandists for unfettered corporate power had been putting out for the last decade or so are now chucking all of that overboard and are instead choosing to believe in both their own experience and the experience of their neighbors instead. This brings people closer to a perspective where the solution is based on people working together in a community helping each other as opposed to the extension of market based corporate power. State intervention is no longer seen as completely evil, and the myth of personal responsibility or lack thereof being the cause of either success or failure has come under quite a beating since the economy tanked.