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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

cant and the war president


it's appropriate to forget instantly the content of bush's speech of last night. he said nothing, catatonically reiterating the same tired mantras and rationales which long ago were shown unfounded in any reality. the administration has really become something of a one-trick pony: regardless of however the situation advances and metastasizes, bush can only repeat the same words, showing no will to change message to reflect truth.

such disingenuous leadership is a byproduct of plebiscitarian democracy. i don't think any democracy ever existed where the proletariat was not constantly misled, deluded, propagandized and lied into confusion and apathy -- when the childlike mob is empowered, cant is the weapon of necessity. and the mob, for its part, is generally happy to be so abused.

this administration is more effective at propagating cant than any before it, and that has much to do with its militancy in staying on message -- discipline and unity of mind of the highest order on this count is to be seen everywhere. loyalty to the message is sought and rewarded, deviation punished, within and without.

take bush's self-designation as the war president. so assiduously does this get reinforced that bush seems rarely any longer to make a public appearance without wrapping himself in the blood of wars past and future. the more dire his poll numbers get, the more insistent he is on casting himself as a defender of the realm.

fort braggfor example -- where was he speaking from yesterday? fort bragg in north carolina, amid thousands of military men.

among the deadand here? arlington national cemetery, conferring upon himself the gravity of the dead.

new recruitshere, the naval academy at annapolis -- rejoicing with the new cogs in the military machine which ultimately powers the global democratic revolution.

and here -- well, you see.

low cant can simply be specious reassurances, and certainly the administration all but gushes that. but higher cant is something more -- a tendency toward hyperbole, drama, insistence upon the importance of events and causalities for which the speaker -- though posessed of a genuine abstract belief -- has no evidence, all in an effort to construct, consciously or not, the most favorable self-serving case. it's quite different from cynical hypocrisy, the tool of the unethical salesman; cant is founded in self-elevating belief which transcends objectivity to subliminally justify reinforcing deception and masquerade.

the administration has frequently sought to create deeply emotional connections between events that are causally unrelated and perhaps even opposite -- the specious connectivity of invading iraq and september 11, for example, or privatization of social security as a means of adequately funding the program -- by invoking that which the mass of men cannot consider rationally. in the former example, the abject fear and anger of that awful event is redirected to fuel a preconceived and unrelated war. in the latter, fear of a decrepit old age is manipulated to support a truly massive diversion of funds through the political machinery to wall street.

i say again, this is not pure hypocrisy. the idealists in charge really believe they are doing right, fulfilling their benevolent plan. many of them may not even consciously realize any self-serving nature in their actions -- what they know is that they are struggling to pursue a noble cause which justifies all means, so important is it to their charge. the patent ridiculousness and hyperbole is only observable from the outside. i think the high circle of the administration truly believes that war is the only solution to terrorism, that iraq is a war against september 11, and that bush is a war president -- and if any harbor doubt, they dare not voice it. hence the imagery, presented without a hint of irony or comedy.

such detachment from reality seems extraordinary and frightening, and it is. but one must also realize that cant -- that semiconscious, pretentious self-aggrandizement that puts one's self-interest at the heart of great, necessary and momentous world drama -- is almost ubiquitous in the postmodern west. we should recognize and discourage it for what it is in our leadership; but also, so likewise in our own lives. the loss of our willingness to examine the painful and complex truths about ourselves and our smallness has done much to undermine our decadent society.


That speech just made me sad. The constant references between Iraq and September 11 is nothing but propaganda. Propaganda being bought by the public. Wrap your story in the flag and those who question the story become the enemy. This is scary stuff.

 
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

 

our global prison network


allegations are surfacing at the united nations which accuse the united states of maintaining prison ships for counterterrorism detainees.

this would be, if true, yet another strange extension of a massive global prison system which operates well outside american law and jurisdiction.

These prisons and jails are sometimes as small as shipping containers and as large as the sprawling Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba. They are part of an elaborate CIA and military infrastructure whose purpose is to hold suspected terrorists or insurgents for interrogation and safe-keeping while avoiding U.S. or international court systems, where proceedings and evidence against the accused would be aired in public. Some are even held by foreign governments at the informal request of the United States.

"The number of people who have been detained in the Arab world for the sake of America is much more than in Guantanamo Bay. Really, thousands," said Najeeb Nuaimi, a former justice minister of Qatar who is representing the families of dozens of prisoners.

The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al-Qaida and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services -- some with documented records of torture -- to which the U.S. government delivers or "renders" mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning.

All told, more than 9,000 people are held overseas by U.S. authorities with the vast majority under military control, according to Pentagon figures and estimates by intelligence experts.
reports have periodically surfaced about the network, including the frightening stories of some resurfaced detainees and their abductions.

these prisons are not a matter of record -- indeed, no one is really sure of their extent or nature. abu ghraib and guantanamo bay are as close to a public face as the network possesses.

i would simply observe that, if these contrivances to escape the law are necessary to do whatever it is that the administration has decided to do, this society is in a great deal more danger from within than without.


 

the forgotten war


via paul craig roberts, british news media are reporting that president bush has told prime minister tony blair that the united kingdom must rush many more troops into afghanistan.

Tony Blair was warned that war-torn Iraq remains on the brink of disaster - more than two years after the removal of Saddam Hussein - during his summit with President Bush in Washington earlier this month.

Scotland on Sunday revealed last month that Blair is preparing to rush thousands more British troops to Afghanistan in a bid to stop the country sliding towards civil war, amid warnings the coalition faces a "complete strategic failure" in the effort to rebuild the nation.

The grim prognosis was underlined last night by Afghanistan's defence minister, who warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network was regrouping and planned to bring Iraq-style bloodshed to the country.

... despite fears that the security situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, the Americans have now launched a determined rearguard action to ensure Iraq does not suffer from a switch in Britain's military focus.

"The Prime Minister was given a pretty depressing run-down of the prognosis for Iraq while he was in Washington," one senior Ministry of Defence source said last night. "The Americans are pushing for at least a maintenance of the troop numbers we have there now. Our latest intention is to reduce by at least half the number of our troops in Iraq within a year.

"It's difficult to see how we can square that circle."

The appeal to Blair confirms Washington's growing unease about the security of Iraq. Bush is coming under increasing pressure at home to present an "exit strategy" for American troop from Iraq.
mention is made also that the united states is still at the table with the iraqi insurgency -- which is, of course, our only real hope for realizing anything like a face-saving, victory-declaring retreat, not to mention basic iraqi stability, as opposed to being forced into an eventual out-and-out capitulation in iraq.

but at least as interesting is the apparently vastly deteriorated state of affairs in afghanistan. it is not news that the afghani project is a disaster of sorts. but it is encouraging to hear that the administration, whatever lies it foists upon a blind electorate, realizes that they are backed against a wall and facing a total loss. i doubt it's enough to get them to apprehend the obvious truth about the global democratic revolution. but perhaps their increased attention level will be enough to get them to either destroy rumsfeld and reject his flawed strategies or simply patch it up as best we can and retreat -- leaving afghanistan to the taliban and pakistan, but at least not throwing thousands of american soldiers into a merciless, pointless, voracious meat grinder as we are in iraq, breaking the effectiveness of the volunteer armed forces in the process.

indeed, it seems that the latter may be our current situation in spite of our presence, and a source of indian fear.

According to New Delhi, the situation has become worse along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border than it was during Taliban rule. This area is under the control of anti-American and anti-Indian militia which are protected by the Pakistani army. US troops have no capability to break this stranglehold: Washington is dependent on Islamabad to produce an "extremist" as and when they choose.

According to one Indian official, Pakistan will certainly revive its old intelligence and jihadi networks in the region, rolling back the political gains the Indians made since the Taliban were ousted from the areas in and around Kandahar and Jalalabad, among other places, following the US attack in late 2001.
as for democracy, the internal afghani puppet government headed by the american-backed karzai has become an powerless, useless shell which most people don't bother to risk supporting.

At the time of the Jalalabad riots, described by observers as the biggest anti-US protests since the fall of the Taliban, Karzai was in Brussels for talks at North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters about proposals to expand the alliance's role in Afghanistan. He was not in a position to blame Pakistan or the US for the riots. Instead, he took the path of least resistance, proclaiming that the demonstrations were not anti-American. The riots showed only the inability of Afghan security institutions to cope, he said, adding that such freedom of expression was a proof that democracy was taking root.

But Karzai is not fooling anyone, even himself. His days of worry have just begun. His best ally, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, has been shifted to Iraq and the new ambassador, Ronald Neumann, is a well-known friend of Israel. His presence in Kabul will only help the orthodox Islamists, controlled by Islamabad, to go after Karzai in a big way. It should not surprise anyone if Osama bin Laden makes his overdue appearance once more to attack the "Zionist" US envoy.

... After the demonstrations, Karzai, often viewed by his opponents as an American puppet, attempted to assert his autonomy by saying his government should have the final say on US military operations. He also called for the quick repatriation of Afghan prisoners now in US custody. But he lost on both counts. President Bush made clear that US military operations would remain entirely in the hands of US commanders, and the Afghans would have nothing to do with them. It would be difficult for Karzai now to keep a straight face and tell anyone he heads a sovereign nation-state.
jim lobe articulates how our ongoing idealistic war against opium, as part of a broader campaign to westernize afghanistan, is all but guaranteeing our failure by popularizing cultural defenders like the taliban.

In consequence of these blunders, assailing rural Afghanistan’s economy and its culture, de Borchgrave reports that "Britain’s defense chiefs have advised Tony Blair 'a strategic failure' of the Afghan operation now threatens." That term is precisely accurate. Our failure is strategic, not tactical, and it can only be remedied by a change in strategic objective. Instead of trying to remake Afghanistan, we need to redefine our strategic objective to accept that country as it is, always has been and always will be: a poor, primitive, and faction-ridden place, dependent on poppy cultivation and proud of its strict Islamic traditions.
this is a recurrent problem for the american empire of idealism: our continued inability to recognize our freedom and modernity as a potential weakness -- instead consistently confusing it for an universal virtue.

in short, then, we have insufficient troops to keep even basic order, and have given over large sections of the territory to pakistani/pushtun warlords; publicly neutered the puppet "democracy" of our own making in afghanistan; and given the population even greater reason, in a cultural onslaught, than they might have had purely from tribal affiliation to reject our intervention and support a taliban resistance. and we then treat the symptoms of unrest rather than the causes by launching sporadic military assaults and demanding more british troops.

in light of such facts, it's hard to find reason to think afghanistan won't slide into deeper chaos.


I suspect that if you and I were to physically meet, our collective cynicism would trigger a self-sustaining chain reaction that would destroy several square kilometres of optimism.

 
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perhaps it would be all for the better, mr twba. :)

 
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Sunday, June 26, 2005

 

ahmadinejad


surprise is the primary western reaction to the election of mahmoud ahmadinejad to the presidency of iran.

Government figures showed more than 17 million votes for Ahmadinejad, 49, the blacksmith's son who has been mayor of Tehran since 2003, compared with around 10 million for Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president and favourite throughout the campaign who had gained the reluctant backing of the beleaguered reformist movement.

Charges of vote-rigging and other violations, which marred his surprise second-place showing in the election's first round and resurfaced during Friday's runoff, began to fade as Iranians absorbed a political earthquake that promises a re-assertion of Islamic values in Iran and a return to confrontation with the West.
ahmadinejad's appeal shouldn't be altogether shocking, however, even in the united states. his rise has been built upon his image as a homespun populist with a fiercely nationalistic streak, running primarily on issues of domestic and moral concern -- not at all far from the manner that bush puts on for his elections. and those who voted for him aren't far from bush's core voting block either.

'Ahmadinejad's vote comes from two sections of the electorate,' one Tehran-based analyst said. 'The first are genuine hard-core religious voters who rallied behind him when they realised that certain people were supporting him in the Revolutionary Guards.

'The second part belonged to the forces of tradition. These are people who have difficulties coping with the changes in society. They want somebody who appears modest and honest.'
in fact, as the london times pointed out, “Poor provinces have voted massively for Ahmadinejad," which is exactly the rural-social-conservative dynamic one sees in the united states.

for all the concern in the west and among the leading reformists in iran itself, ahmadinejad needn't be a disaster for open society in iran. he is a ph.d. in civil engineering, and has gone out of his way to assuage fears of a hardline crackdown on civil liberties such as they exist in iran.

Ahmadinejad has dismissed such concerns, saying: 'The country's true problem is employment and housing, not what to wear.'

His campaign advisers insist Khatami's modest reforms will not be reversed and that private behaviour will not be regulated.

'We will never stop or prevent any movement which has taken Iran forward and we will never move back,' his media spokesman, Dr Nader Shariatmadari, said. 'We respect people's freedoms in the political, cultural and social realms within the framework of the law.'
of course, what will happen remains to be seen. ahmadinejad can be seen as a pawn for the clerical establishment in iran. but what this election is decidedly not is evidence to back specious american allegations of a "mock election" -- ahmadinejad carried a massive advantage, polling remarkably well among the young as well as the conservative. what the iranian electorate offered up was at least in part a strong statement against the wholesale adoption of western decadence, preferring instead a persian islamic society which adopts change carefully, slowly, with respect for law and social traditon, and through institutional criticism and rigor -- as we once did in more vital and civilized times.

of course, rumsfeld admits openly that, "I don't know much about this fellow", and we can be assured he knows equally little about civilization, theirs or ours. but that unfortunately has never been a reason for him to shut up. worse, it's never been a reason for this administration to stop itself from taking radical action to "solve" invented problems. the future course of administration reaction remains uncharted, but if agents of the administration are already talking about the man as an enemy of democracy, odds are that they will do their level best to turn his election into a cassus bellum in their global democratic revolution. the financial times has already reported administration hawks as having been pulling for ahmadinejad as a means of forcing confrontation and collapse, giving them the half-excuses they need to do what they already desire.

"The Bush administration is as deeply divided as the Iranian government," commented Ken Pollack, analyst at the Brookings Institution.

US "hawks", he said, had a bizarre preference for Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a fundamentalist and hardliner, over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who sought to establish his more pragmatic credentials in part by making overtures to the US during his election campaign.

For the US hardliners, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, Mr Rafsanjani presents the danger of exacerbating the divisions between the US, which is essentially trying to contain Iran, and Europe which favours the engagement approach.

The US hawks also believe that a convergence of hardliners in Iran with the victory of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is more likely to precipitate the collapse of the Islamic regime through popular unrest than the "Chinese model" of social pacification likely to be embraced by Mr Rafsanjani. One hardline official told the FT he saw no evidence that Mr Rasanjani was less committed to developing nuclear weapons.
some noted a change in tone recently regarding iran. one must rely on the iranian leadership to walk a very careful line, not to overplay their hand as others have done against a imperial-hair-trigger-militarist united states -- and even that may not be enough to ultimately avert an inconceivable war.


Friday, June 24, 2005

 

class in america


radical author j. sakai, who authored the wonderfully observant "settlers", offers some insights into his book in this interview.

This liberal intellectual polarity that "race issues" and "class issues" are opposites, are completely separate from each other, and that one or the must be the main thing, is utterly useless! We have to really get it that race issues aren't the opposite of class issues. That race is always so electrically charged, so filled with mass power, precisely because it's about raw class. That's why revolutionaries and demagogues can both potentially tap into so much power using it. Or get burned.
sakai brilliantly deconstructs american racism as a class issue, with the proletariat itself stratified into levels that have everything to do with cultural inheritance -- of which race in our postmodern conception is only an ancillary part. he notes similar stratification occuring in northern ireland, between unionist settlers and loyalist indigenes where religious affiliation serves as the ancillary part, and tibet, where chinese confucianism and tibetan buddhism are in conflict. but neither does he forget the long history of social castes in the american immigrant experience, where the racial classifications of victorian europe separated celt from nord from slav.

paul fussell has written marvellously on the hidden american class structure, which obviously does exist even if it is eternally denied. sakai's contribution to revealing some of the depth of the structure is welcome.

as the failure of american education to promote any longer a common culture has destroyed the primary methodology of assimilation which once mitigated this stratification, one might imagine the gaps between and within classes and cultures would remain or even widen in america going forward. but the experience of past civilizations in this sense is one of a softening and blurring of cultural lines -- without enforcement, the society is slowly deprived not just of a dominant culture but of any identifiable culture at all. a palpable nebulousness -- a sense of society as an undefinable amalgamation of individuals without affiliation -- is recorded in the histories of many declining civilizations.

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Of course in America it has become "wrong" to define anything as the common culture. People cry out cultural oppression and cultural genocide and other assorted useless blather.

Of course, it is just a symptom of the larger problem of the desire to reduce everyone to an irreproachable culture of One where everything and anything a person does or feels should be tolerated. This is not a calm for uniformity which is just as unhealthy but rather the realization at some point that maybe we shouldn't just shrug our shoulders at all that people do.

Note that I don't think this necessarily has to be political/legal matter and is one area where I take strong issues with the social engineering via law of the many Liberal or the morality policing of many Conservatives. People forgot the simple power of reinforcing our societal norms on a personal level.

 
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picasso as lover


an interesting, contrarian view of picasso comes to light from his former young lover and the sketches he made of her.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

 

do as you're told


so much for the autonomy of the legislative branch. bill frist is becoming a something of a joke on the hill, i must imagine.

as one of the neoconservative architects of stovepiping, john bolton is an obvious deleterious influence wherever he's put. but i wonder if the united nations isn't the best place for him. as embarassing and counterproductive as it is to have a barbarian like bolton be the public face of the united states anywhere, he will be digging at smallish embezzlements, not be commanding american armies from that position -- and perhaps he will even begin to concede the relevancy of the united nations on some points, even if only as a manner of self-aggrandizement.

as a matter of method rather than ends, however, the entire affair has been a sad statement on the deterioration of the american government as a construction of divided powers. beyond having bush command obedience from the senate majority leader as though he were his dog, the refusal of the white house to comply with any of three separate lawful requests for documents by the senate relating to difficult spots on bolton's record prior to confirmation is an awful bit of dismissive arrogance on the part of the executive.

bush may consider a recess appointment without acceding to those lawful requests, but that has some drawbacks. if the administration does resort to this, it will serve to underscore the complete (if so far unvoiced) antipathy it has for congress -- or, for that matter, any procedure of oversight which inhibits the unfettered manifestation of its will. that an american presidency can function with such consistent disdain for government as interoperating branches says much about the condition of the constitution. as steve clemons says, "This administration is comfortable with hardball tactics, with re-writing the rules of government, and with undermining the delicate framework of checks and balances that are the core of American democracy."

the dogged support of bolton, particularly by vice president cheney, is completely in keeping with the clannish fraternity of interpersonal allegiance over all else -- including the rule of law -- which is the hallmark of the neoconservative movement. i would not only be unsurprised to see a recess appointment; i'd be unsurprised to see the adminitration expend massive amounts of political capital to see him through.

the washington note has assiduously chronicled the bolton nomination.


 

retrogression in the eu


the new york times reports that the european budgetary and constitutional summit has ended in acrimony.

Most embarrassing for the European Union was a last-minute attempt by its 10 newest members to salvage the budget agreement late on Friday night. They offered to give up some of their own aid from the union so that the older and richer members could keep theirs.

For the new members, that offer was an opportunity to prove their worth. Criticizing the "egoism" of countries driven by national interests, Prime Minister Marek Belka of Poland said, "Nobody will be able to say that for Poland, the European Union is just a pile of money."

But for the older members, it was a humiliation. "When I heard one after the other, all the new member states - each poorer than the other - say that in the interest of an agreement they would be ready to renounce part of the money they are due, I was ashamed," Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's prime minister and the departing European Union president, told journalists after talks collapsed.
a continuation, it would seem, of the backsliding into nationalist particularities.


 

the need of a gatekeeper


at reason, virginia postrel monologues upon the virtue of unlimited consumer choice.

Average Americans order nonfat decaf iced vanilla lattes at Starbucks and choose from 1,500 drawer pulls at The Great Indoors. Amazon gives every town a bookstore with 2 million titles, while Netflix promises 35,000 different movies on DVD. Choice is everywhere, liberating to some but to others a new source of stress. "Stand in the corner of the toothpaste aisle with your eyes wide open and -- I swear -- it will make you dizzy," writes design critic Karrie Jacobs. Maybe the sign in Ralphs is not an enticement but a warning.

The proliferation of choices goes well beyond groceries to our most significant personal decisions. Young, well-educated adults in particular have unprecedented freedom to make whatever they want of their lives: to decide where to live, what to do, whom to befriend, whom (or whether) to marry.
ms postrel goes on to argue of the beneficence of a society unrestrained by such limitation.

there's a difference between the ideology of infinite choice and the reality. most people aren't perfectly informed -- in fact, most people are totally uninformed and have little option but to stay so, even (or maybe especially) about important issues like personal financial planning. ms postrel addresses this in saying

Libertarians sometimes talk as though the act of choosing is a good in and of itself and treat any limitation on choice as some kind of weakness, irrationality, or tyranny. Yet free individuals voluntarily limit their options all the time.
but she doesn't address the problems of a market of gatekeepers, which is that uninformed consumers are uninformed gatekeeper-selectors. as with the media choice explosion, totally free consumers choose their gatekeepers to narrow the field into a set of choices that consistently reconfirm their existing suspicions and tastes, making of the marketplace a sort of personalized ideological yes-man in the clothing of an objective, omniscient and benevolent fountain. (which gives birth to the weekly standard.) this gives the consumer the illusion of breadth and depth of experience while simply serving to narrow, reinforce, radicalize and ultimately mythologize along the lines of previously determined tastes.

gatekeepers, for their part, react to this fracturing of the body politic into self-reinforcing camps by subsequently tailoring their service not to any public empirical benefit but the most popular mythology which gives them the broadest currency within their niche. reliant as gatekeepers in this age of unlimited choice are upon gaining and holding an audience (the art of branding, in the lexicon of commerce), what they can offer their consumers is narrowed and selected to appeal to their corner of the cult of taste.

none of this would be problematic if one core assumption could be held true. at heart, ms postrel's model of choice is based on the idea that human beings are rational monads, machines of a kind which make choices to serve their own best interests. in making tastes and choosing gatekeepers, they are hoped to function to eliminate misleading information, unusable products and unfortunate tastemaking by punishing such gatekeepers as provide them by applying their sensibilities en masse, constituting an invisible hand of corrective action.

certainly, adam smith's scientific vision of the marketplace has some application -- but only, as with all models, within certain boundary limits. in fact, the vast majority of people are highly emotional, gullible and irrational, and usually have no idea what their interests are. in crowds particularly, they are susceptible to act in unison unto death in the service of even the most ridiculous notion for causes that are certainly more physiological and animal than rational.

institutional gatekeepers help moderate these problems by being resistant to the wild vacillations and mythmaking that are part of populism, providing a central framework of law within which a marketplace can function beneficially to its participants. a fundamental tenet of a healthy market is strict enforcement of a regulatory scheme which promotes transparency and honesty among the participants, demystifying motivations and information so that operators within the market at least stand a chance of exercising rational judgment in making their choices. there is a golden mean around which such a framework must stay to be valuable -- but the framework itself is vital to avoiding the degeneration of the marketplace into a sort of hobbesian free-for-all of mysticism and violence.

are such institutions subject to abuse? yes. but i think we're in the process of discovering over the long term that even an occasionally misused set of institutional gatekeepers is a far more durable and benevolent solution to the problem of social stability than freiheit. i think ms postrel totally misunderstands social obligation and its function in human societies:

"Social ties actually decrease freedom, choice, and autonomy," [Barry Schwartz] writes. "Marriage, for example, is a commitment to a particular other person that curtails freedom of choice in sexual and even emotional partners." So gays who cannot legally marry their partners are somehow freer than heterosexuals who can? There's something deeply wrong with this understanding of choice. Freedom to choose must include the freedom to commit.
looking past ms postrel's contra, which is apropo of nothing, it should be observed that a vital society is necessarily integrated by involuntary contracts. you don't choose to be american when you're born in chicago; you don't choose to be catholic when you're baptized as an infant; and yet, these obligations are the bond by which society is defined and maintained. the social ties that are the basis of civilization consist of mandatory, irreversible and powerfully enforced contracts. when people are seeking en masse ways to opt out of or void those -- in fact rejecting the institutional gatekeepers validated by the history and experience of their own society, talking instead about the responsibilities of citizenship and religion as though they were choices and nothing more -- the society isn't far from rupture and chaos.

we once kept institutions to protect ourselves from our inner moral turpitude, to ensure that our populist vacillations would not, in a fit of temporary insanity, undo that which had been learned with such difficulty over so long a time. but it's increasingly clear, with commentaries like ms postrel's gaining credibility in the public eye, that that era has passed. "freedom" is now the watchword -- not simply the right to act within law, but freiheit, inner freedom, total emancipation from mandatory obligation -- and where man is freed of all restraint and left on his own moral recognizance, i would argue social decay and civilizational disaster shortly follow.

the paradox of freiheit gave us such problems as we face -- half the people shedding responsibility onto central authority like burning clothes, half driven mad to the verge of lawlessness by the possibility of central authority growing over them -- and the same conflicted half at that, with the other sleeping blissfully and stupidly! i doubt if people of all political denominations have ever been more obsessed with inner freedom than they are now here. libertarianism itself as a political movement couldn't have existed in any previous western age because none prior has been so consumed, so obsessed, so driven to madness with desire for irresponsibility -- it's hardly accidental that the libertarian party began in the 1971.

i have to say that libertarianism as a means of social government is almost farce, so over the top is it in comic irony. adherents talk incessantly about being personally responsible -- while rejecting any obligation to anything or anyone that is not of themselves, every law mocked, every limitation reviled, every institution feared. as though being totally introverted and self-serving could be equated with real responsibility! it is to laugh to think that anyone subscribe to such thought without soon seeing its irony -- but also a measure of the infection of idealism within libertarianism that many libertarians no longer see responsibility as a social contract under tradition between parties, but rather an inner striving, a duty only to oneself.

the paranoia about obligation within libertarianism is so thoroughgoing as to make it a pinnacle achievement of selfishness. and yet, many libertarians dreamily believe that, if everyone ignores one another, no one need care for anyone else and it will all magically work out because of their misguided apprehension of an inherently limited clockwork outlined by smith and locke.

this is where we are now. libertarianism -- ms postrel's basic normative, which argues all restrictions on practical choices are by definition bad -- is a sledge with which to knock down what little is left of institutional society that could force restraint and moderation onto men -- and she writes for the new york times. it is a sad, ironic joke that some among its adherents truly believe an order which anyone would wish to have will arise from it; sadder still that such a wishful belief would have widespread currency.

locke himself was a moral philosopher who knew the dire need of law in governance. he understood that markets worked only through the force of strong law which allowed them to exist. and he would, as likely as not, vomit at the sight of libertarianism in the context of this society, dying as it is of freedom, all but crying out for order to be imposed in lawless tyranny upon those who could not see fit to order themselves because they fell in love with freiheit.

what nth degree of emancipation does postmodern man need to consider himself free? apparently one well beyond an institutional gatekeeper -- and perhaps a level beyond that which sustains order in a human society, it would seem.


you don't choose to be american when you're born in chicago; you don't choose to be catholic when you're baptized as an infant; and yet, these obligations are the bond by which society is defined and maintained. the social ties that are the basis of civilization consist of mandatory, irreversible and powerfully enforced contracts.

Since I've never been baptized, I must be on the leading edge of societal decay.

 
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Monday, June 20, 2005

 

closer at hand


the economist adds two more articles to the litany of housing bubble examination -- and steals my headline in the process. note that housing prices are already falling in britain and australia, two of the hottest global housing markets.

PERHAPS the best evidence that America's house prices have reached dangerous levels is the fact that house-buying mania has been plastered on the front of virtually every American newspaper and magazine over the past month. Such bubble-talk hardly comes as a surprise to our readers. We have been warning for some time that the price of housing was rising at an alarming rate all around the globe, including in America. Now that others have noticed as well, the day of reckoning is closer at hand. It is not going to be pretty. How the current housing boom ends could decide the course of the entire world economy over the next few years.
the magazine makes a rare prediction as well: that american house prices will begin falling within the year.

angry bear notes the distinct wattage increase in housing bubble talk -- people may remember this as a feature of the 1998-99 period with respect to the nasdaq market as well. if you search amazon for books referring to the terms "stock market bubble", you'll get 250-odd results. sort by date to find the first mention of an american equity bubble was in 1995, with only 20 older matches (mostly having to do with 1987, japan 1990 and 1929). robert prechter's "crest of the tidal wave" came in late 1997 -- but only beginning in 2000 did scads of nasdaq-bubble-related books start to appear. these of course had been written largely in 1999 and spent time being edited and printed.

for a more periodical look, search businessweek's archives by year, and you'll find articles with the word "bubble" went from 32 in 1992 to 72 in 1997 to 101 in 1999 -- at the very height of the mania -- and then began to tail down, falling to 18 in 2001.

constraining the search by two terms ("bubble" and "nasdaq"), one gets an even clearer picture: 1 in 1996, 2 in 1998 -- then 10 in 1999 and 30 in 2000 -- falling to 6 in 2001 and 4 in 2002.

altering the search to the constraints "bubble" and "housing", we find matching businessweek articles numbered zero in 2001, 9 in 2002, 29 in 2003 -- then jumped to 64 in 2004, and in the six months of 2005 thusfar 42.

other bits here related to housing: the adjustable rate mania, bill gross' analysis, the new era hype, why renting is better, fannie and freddie, and the dollar and interest rates.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

 

anxiously awaiting


michael skapinker in the financial times this morning took note of the mozart effect as modern mythology and a way of examining fads in management strategy. the effect was recently analyzed by stanford's chip heath and swiss psychologist adrian bangerter in a paper titled, "the mozart effect: tracking the evolution of a scientific legend," printed in the british journal of social psychology. as was summarized by marina krakovsky in stanford business:

"When we traced the Mozart Effect back to the source [a 1993 Nature journal report titled 'Music and Spatial Task Performance'], we found this idea achieved astounding success," says Heath. The researchers found far more newspaper articles about that study than about any other Nature report published around the same time. And as the finding spread through lay culture over the years, it got watered down and grossly distorted. "People were less and less likely to talk about the Mozart Effect in the context of college students who were the participants in the original study, and they were more likely to talk about it with respect to babies -- even though there's no scientific research linking music and intelligence in infants," says Heath, who analyzed hundreds of relevant newspaper articles published between 1993 and 2001.

Not only had babies never been studied, but the original 1993 experiment had found only a modest and temporary IQ increase in college students performing a specific kind of task while listening to a Mozart sonata. And even that finding was proved suspect after a 1999 review showed that over a dozen subsequent studies failed to verify the 1993 result. While many newspapers did report this blow to the Mozart Effect, the legend continued to spread -- overgeneralizations and all. For example, Heath cites a 2001 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that refers to "numerous studies on the Mozart Effect and how it helps elementary students, high school students, and even infants increase mental performance." In truth, none of these groups had been studied, says Heath.

So why did the Mozart Effect take such a powerful hold in popular culture, particularly in reference to babies and children? Heath and Bangerter surmised that the purported effect tapped into a particularly American anxiety about early childhood education. (Bangerter, who was doing research in Stanford's psychology department during the study, had been struck by Americans' obsession with their kids' education. For example, he saw that a preschool near the Stanford campus had the purposeful name "Knowledge Beginnings," whereas a preschool near a university in Switzerland was called "Vanilla-Strawberry." The latter made no lofty claims about its educational goals.) Concern about education in 1998 to distribute free classical music to new mothers, while Florida lawmakers required state-funded day-care centers to play classical music every day.

To test their hypothesis that the legend of the Mozart Effect grew in response to anxiety about children's education, Heath and Bangerter compared different U.S. states' levels of media interest in the Mozart Effect with each state's educational problems (as measured by test scores and teacher salaries). Sure enough, they found that in states with the most problematic educational systems (such as Georgia and Florida), newspapers gave the most coverage to the Mozart Effect.
i'll be honest -- the cd changer in our car currently holds mozart's haffner, prague, 40th and jupiter symphonies on heavy rotation for my wife and her captive audience who drive to work together every day. (there's also puccini, debussy and wagner in there, but that's more for me.) the point is that we have fully subscribed to this prima facie silly notion -- even to the point of buying everyone else's tots baby einstein toys (itself a company founded in 1997 during the height of the mozart mythos).

certainly, i think that a cultural education is the most denied and yet most fundamental aspect of raising a healthy, socially active and responsible child. the flight from history and society into rootless ignorance that is ongoing in our decadence disturbs me -- and i think the resulting unchecked selfishness is a destructive force to both personal lives and civilization. but that doesn't explain why i'm reading elizabethan poetry to a swollen tummy.

what does explain it is anxiety. as a soon-to-be first-time dad, i have nothing to do -- there's very little avenue to help right now. and yet, there's a vast unknown just ahead in which one is certain one's life's purpose is contained. anxiety is almost too small a word.

i got a wonderful illustration of the power of anxiety last night as our first childbirth class, a sort of seminar put on by our hospital to enlighten first-time parents. the tour of the maternity ward came toward the end, and the expectant parents had become comfortable enough to ask questions.

we were surprised to see that the maternity ward is behind locked and guarded doors. our instructor inexplicably (i thought) spent five minutes outlining the detailed security procedure and how staff were restricted from moving through the ward. left to quietly shake my head, we progressed to eventually to the nursery -- where, presented with seven or eight tiny wonderful new travelers, a flight of security questions found voice: who can get in? why? how would we recognize them? how would we recognize someone who didn't belong there? what color are their scrubs? how would we go about throwing them out?

i repressed incredulous laughter, as did my wife -- but then realized the purpose of the doors. these people must be faced with this sort of bizarre paranoia every day. of course they put doors in. first-time parents would've been calling their lawyers if they hadn't.

it's interesting to read about dr. bangerter's observations on the depth of american anxiety, as manifested in obsessive eccentricities that are truly stranger than fiction. paranoid anxiety is the common condition of the postmodern man, but perhaps nowhere so much as america. conspiracy theories and ridiculous fears find greater currency here than perhaps any society since interwar germany.

timothy melley wrote a very insightful book on this topic, diagnosing postmodern anxiety as the paradoxical synthesis of monomaniacal freiheit with deep concern regarding the civil decay and decline that is its inevitable consequence -- the very quandary that first and most completely swept prussian germany under bismarck. this has since become the western problem of decadence, as i've said before.

the acuteness of anxiety in america stems, i think, from a perceived insufficiency. europe -- particularly france -- has suffered a perverse characterization terribly in recent decades, to the point where important american politicians feel free to openly insult the cradle of western civilization as they see fit. could this not have its root in cultural insecurity?

america has long been praised for its vitality, but simultaneously despised for its shallowness and barbarity among western nations. in many ways, in fact, america has a relationship with europe akin to that which rome had in antiquity with hellas -- which was simultaneously the protagonist of all roman culture and the antagonist of roman "values", which were seen to be moral austerity, force of will and unintellectual pragmatism. roman politicans, notably cato, constantly derided all things greek and the moral dissipation of hellenic society; but there was also in roman society an acute awareness of roman shortcomings in creativity and civilization which made romans insatiable, if duplicitous, admirers and students of the athens embodied in carneades.

likewise, the conflicted bismarckian germany emerging from backwards and barbaric prussia was sharply sensitive to its civilizational inferiority and adopted bellicosity and a sense of superior inner moral strength as remedy while simultaneously harboring deep respect and admiration for the centers of western achievement, particularly england.

of course, in the end, rome was the child of hellas and followed in her example -- becoming the decadent universal state of classical civilization, just as germany's attempt at becoming the universal state of the west as resolution of paradox -- twice -- ultimately failed.

this is the role i suspect the united states is now attempting to fulfill for itself and the west. it bears noting that obsession with individual inner freedom, shocking social decay, fiercely expanding national authority, weakening institutions and widespread anxiety were all staples of late republican life in rome and bismarckian germany as they are now in america.


I don't think you should be so hard on yourself regarding the Mozart and Elizabethean poetry readings. Brain activity during pregnancies starts in the fifth month (I think, don't know the exact time), so reading and music are probably useful activities for stimulating brain activity. If nothing else, I always hoped that they would get used to the sound of my voice and associate it with sleeping, helping me a little after they were born. ;)

 
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

 

mclaughlin in tehran


watching the mclaughlin group over the weekend, i was amused by john mclaughlin's firsthand reporting from the iranian capital. issue two in the transcript:

Next Friday, citizens of Iran will vote on who they want as president. I spent last week in Teheran, the capital of Iran, a busy spread-out city of 12 million people and an incredible number of cars and the scariest traffic in the world -- worse than Cairo, worse than Rome, with most cars manufactured, by the way, in Iran; bazaars, stylish shops, coffee houses, food courts, cinemas, art houses, and museums with some Iranian artifacts 8,000 years old, the cradle of civilization, plus stores with a full range of cosmetics from Paris, Tokyo, Toronto and Manhattan, through Dubai, brand names and locally produced prophylactics on full display in pharmacies, some labeled, quote, "a selection of fruity flavors for every occasion" -- all the trappings of a modern city, somewhat rundown, but not Havana, and not pre-Hariri Beirut -- extremely energized with lots of young Iranians in the restaurants and the coffee houses drinking their beverages laced with ice cream, Mort, during the alcohol-free cocktail hour. Women in Iran dress in black, but most with full faces exposed and head wraps drawn back from the earlier required forehead line, with the wraps now receding to mid-crown at the rate of about an inch a month and some skirts being raised at the same rate, now exposing naked ankles and naked feet.

I moved freely throughout the city, wherever I wished to go. On one occasion I attended what amounted to a campaign rally for Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

I greeted him but got no grant for an interview before the election. His son was there, his campaign manager, and I spoke with him briefly.

The event was staged for Iran's art, cinema and theatrical community. About 10 artists stood before the audience, with Rafsanjani sitting center stage facing the people, like a king. The artist called for more creative freedom and government funding. Rafsanjani took the platform and echoed their freedom call, and then warned against western intervention into Iran's performing arts -- a clever dual position to draw votes from both the right and from the left.

Rafsanjani was president of Iran from 1989 to 1997. Three years later, in 2000, he ran for the national legislature and was humiliated, finishing 33rd -- 33rd. Now he wants to regain standing, and the way to do that is to win the paramount trophy, which means relations with the United States and the end of Iran's quasi- isolation.

What he brings mostly to the table is his ability and power to work with a Muslim conservative, the supreme ruler for life, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

Perhaps my biggest surprise in Iran was how effortlessly the regime was criticized, sharply, with one taxi driver telling me, among others, that he was not going to vote in protest because, as far as he was concerned, they were all SOBs and all on the take. So the turnout is expected to be small, and many will not vote for the taxi cab driver's same reason.

Question: Why is it that the reality of Teheran is so different from its U.S. image? Eleanor Clift.
well, elanor didn't really answer the question, but mclaughin had more.

Does Iran resent the U.S.? The answer is yes. Here's why. Iran is an ancient and proud nation, with participatory government, if not democracy itself, in place for centuries. Iranians believe that it is insulting for the U.S. to think that Iran's leaders would ever use a nuclear bomb in a first strike or even in a counter-strike.

They say history proves it. Saddam Hussein repeatedly used weapons of mass destruction, i.e. chemical weapons, against Iran's forces during the 1980 to '88 war. Iran refused to use weapons of mass destruction and retaliation to Iraq's poisonous chemicals.

Furthermore, Iran is probably the most fiercely nationalistic nation on earth, more nationalistic, I think, than even the United States. This nationalism is fed by the fact that they are Persians living in an Arab world. The mullahs are not and have not been saints by any means, and corruption has to be rooted out. But they refuse to use weapons of mass destruction. And their fierce nationalism is outraged at the thought that they would do so, and being labeled alongside North Korea and Saddam's Iraq on the axis of evil, as I was told repeatedly.

Question: Has our rhetoric against Iran become excessively bellicose and counterproductive? I ask you, Mort.
and mort zukerman did his best to reinforce the strawman/bogeyman by applying standards that the united states itself wouldn't pass and bringing up hezbollah as though hezbollah were unquestionably evil instead of a popular and widespread political party and quasi-institution.

mclaughlin's views on the real tehran -- not the propaganda image fed to us by our government and press, filtered through our biases and nationalism, but the one you see when you walk the streets there -- are important, i think. if popular support is not allowed to materialize for an iranian confrontation, the bush administration will be in a difficult way to manifest both its ideological campaign of global democratic revolution and its great-power-game strategy with respect to iran. part of denying that support can come with simply realizing widely in the united states that life in tehran is not, in many ways, so much different from life in chicago.


I would like to think that the government wouldn't try to start something with Iran but I don't know anymore.

Honestly, though, people like myself (an initially qualified war supporter) are the most to blame.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

 
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I would like to think that the people of Iran, without American aid, will overthrow the totalitarian theocrats.

"Buh-bye ayatollah!"

 
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the raich decision


mark moller of the cato institute has an insightful analysis of the scalia vote in broadening the scope of the commerce clause.

A complete picture of the mind of Scalia must also take into account his theory of judging, laid out in a 1989 University of Chicago Law Review essay entitled "The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules." In it, Scalia professes his dislike for rulings that give future courts broad discretion. That dislike colored his vote in Raich.

Scalia's basic philosophy of judging is one of judicial restraint achieved by deciding cases, where possible, according to clear "rules" rather than vague standards. "When," he says, "I adopt a general rule, and say, 'This is the basis for our decision,' I not only constrain lower courts, I constrain myself as well. If the next case should have such different facts that my...preferences regarding the outcome are quite the opposite, I will be unable to indulge those preferences; I have committed myself to the governing principle."

Thus, he writes, good judges should read the Constitution in a way that constrains future courts to a mechanical menu of decisions.

Scalia's preference for rules carried the day in Raich. Remember: Before Raich, the Court's Commerce Clause cases asked judges to brake Congress when it tries to regulate local conduct that doesn't "substantially affect" interstate commerce. Yet, deciding when conduct "substantially affects" commerce is hardly a mechanical exercise. Taken seriously, it requires hard calls and may yield unpredictable results.

Scalia himself made this point in "The Rule of Law as a Law of Rules," where he expressed "hope" that the Court would give up efforts to restrain legislation under the so-called "Dormant Commerce Clause," which asks courts to restrain state laws that burden interstate commerce. As he explained, deciding whether state laws "affect" interstate commerce "to an excessive degree" is a "standardless" inquiry.


of course, that isn't the entire story. there are many possible rules that one could adopt with the intent of future conformity. scalia chooses that which does most to maximize the power of the more democratic branches of government and minimize the authority of the courts.

moller goes on to claim that this desire for uniformity is antithetical to freedom, but i've said before that -- while antithetical to freiheit -- appropriate systemic law jealously guarded by institutions is actually the sole guarantor of meaningful liberty. scalia, for his part, is doing his level best to undo that law of tradition and the institutions that guard it to manifest his ideas of freedom in an idealistic system that he invented ex nihilo -- standing against both civilization and moller's even-less-lawful disposition of anarchism.


Monday, June 13, 2005

 

solzhenitsyn


via raimondo, i find that no less a personage than alexander solzhenitsyn is concerned about american-financed revolution in russia. as quoted in the sunday times and russian news and information agency:

“An Orange Revolution may take place if tensions between the public and the authorities flare up and money begins flowing to the opposition."

“Democracy is not worth a brass farthing if it is being installed by bayonets. Democracy should grow slowly and gradually.”

Solzhenitsyn slammed the US policy, saying that over ten years ago, the US "launched an absurd project to impose democracy all over the world."
"The US has a strange idea of democracy - they first interfered with the Bosnian situation, bombed Yugoslavia, then Afghanistan, and then Iraq." "Who is next, perhaps, Iran?" the writer wonders. "The US must understand that democracy cannot be introduced by force, by the army," he said.


Good evening Gaius,

I've followed your comments and blog for a while after seeing several of your comments at Reason.Com. I often find you say intriguing (at the least) even if I don't always agree with it 100 percent. Then again, who does agree with someone else 100% of the time?

As for the issue at hand:

America supports such "democracies" as Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Real politik or "pragmatic diplomacy" or whatever people want to call it doesn't particularly disgust me inherently but when we are using the "global spread of Democracy" as our new reason to disrupt half the world, our inconsistencies become shockingly galling.

Also random question:

Is there any particular reason you always write/type in lower case? It is something I've been wondering aobut what for a while.

 
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i tend to agree, mr beard. realism was, i think, unchristian, and violates one's sense of morality when one has been brought up in a christian culture even if one isn't religious. but i do think it machiavellian -- which is a slur in the christian context, but was an object of admiration for a humanist like machiavelli, being the ancient civic ethic of classical civilization.

what i find appalling in our new tack is the admixture of machiavellian means-justification -- which is only a part of the ultimate in social empirical pragmatism, the political antithesis of idealism -- with nakedly idealist and ideological ends. this will be a source of much destruction, internal and external. with most idealist utopians in civility -- say anabaptists or pietists -- there was often at least a humility of means that often forbade much methodology on idealist grounds.

but syncretic promiscuity -- that alchemy of idealism, individualism and abstraction -- has freed us to separate means from ends and recombine them at will and without a need for the logical consistency of the systemic philosophies of past civilization. in our society, we see "christian" leaders advocating civil violence and refusing to countenance forgiveness; and we see those who would manifest "freedom" (more properly, "freiheit") happy to pursue war and empire as the ironic vehicle. and i think that not at all removed philosophically from the pursuits of robespierre, trotsky and hitler -- all men who abandoned any pretense of pragmatic ends while relentlessly utilizing pragmatic means even in irony and hypocrisy. no coincidence that these men followed, in time and philosophy, rousseau, hamann and herder.

on the typography -- e.e. cummings, really. being (as we all are) citizens of the age of irony, i found it easy to take the name of marius -- the most shamelessly fame-hungry, unlawful, antitraditional and populist roman politician of his day, perhaps the man most singularly responsible for driving the republic to its destruction. likewise, cumming's ardent postmodernism -- his dedication to the individual, primitive and personal, his antipathy for law, rationality and criticism -- made him a lovely example of civility in collapse.

thank you for the comment, mr beard. it never fails to surprise me that anyone reads my monologue -- my surrogate memory, as it were -- but dialogue is vital to understanding. comments can be precious.

 
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creating the conditions


the london sunday times has uncovered yet more evidence of deceit in the runup to the iraq invasion. in a piece following up on the downing street memo revelation, a 2002 british cabinet briefing paper outlines the need to "create the conditions" under which the invasion of iraq could be legally justified. the times' michael smith writes:

The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.

“It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject,” the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be “most unlikely” to obtain the legal justification they needed.

The suggestions that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week, that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war. The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.

The briefing paper is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it.
michael kinsley in the washington times notes that the downing street memo itself is perhaps not novel, in that it says what many already assumed to be true.

Of course, if "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that this was true and a half. Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the war in Iraq. But C offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision makers had told him they were fixing the facts. Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that "Washington" had reached that conclusion.

And of course Washington had done so. You don't need a secret memo to know this. Just look at what was in the newspapers on July 23, 2002, and the day before. Left-wing Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer casually referred to the coming war against Iraq as "much-planned-for." The New York Times reported Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's response to an earlier story "which reported preliminary planning on ways the United States might attack Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein." Rumsfeld effectively confirmed the report by announcing an investigation of the leak.
be that as it may, these documents from within the blair government show that the brits (at least) knew they were about to engage in deceiving their electorate and the world by manufacturing a cassus bellum where none existed.

perhaps there's nothing terribly surprising -- or even illegal -- in that. i personally am of the mind that a politician's very essence in this age (and maybe all ages) is deception, and it is up to the electorate to hold him accountable for it. i see no impeachable offense here, as horrifyingly ungrounded as the behavior of american and british leadership may be.

what is most disturbing to me about the information is the utter and complete apathy -- or worse, total denial -- of that electorate when confronted with the disturbing truths about what transpired. what does the lack of energy or will for criticism, insight and reform -- incipient in kinsley's piece -- say about the health of american democracy?


Saturday, June 11, 2005

 

strange meeting


It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said that other, "save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also, I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . ."

-- wilfred owen


Thursday, June 09, 2005

 

adjustable rate mania


kash at angry bear seems to confirm what many have suspected in an analysis of mortgage rates -- people are overextended in trying to enter the housing market.

... the chart above tells the story of millions of home buyers who are spending more than they could afford at an interest rate of 5.5-6.0%. After all, if they could afford their house at 5.5%, and if they don't expect interest rates to fall dramatically, then they would have chosen the fixed rate mortgage, not the AR mortgage.

This is bad news, because an interest rate of 5.5-6.0% is not that high... and yet it's too high for many recent home buyers. If 1-year interest rates to rise by just 1.5%, millions of recent home buyers will find their mortgage payments unaffordable. Yet there are plenty of reasonable scenarios that raise 1-year interest rates by that modest amount in the next year or two... which means that we shouldn't find it surprising if millions of recent home buyers soon find themselves unable to afford to live in their own houses.
when it's less expensive to rent the place you own, when buyers are dependent on a narrow margin of interest rates to stay competitive, the bubble's break cannot be far away.


 

the widening net


the four-year aipac investigation has spread to include several other instances of lawbreaking -- and centers now on the office of special plans at the pentagon.

Based on those briefings, officials said, the bureau appears to be looking into other controversies that have roiled the Bush administration, some of which also touch Feith's office.

They include how the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile group backed by the Pentagon, allegedly received highly classified U.S. intelligence on Iran; the leaking of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters; and the production of bogus documents suggesting that Iraq tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country of Niger. Bush repeated the Niger claim in making the case for war against Iraq.

"The whole ball of wax" was how one U.S. official privy to the briefings described the inquiry.

... Officials at the State Department, the CIA and other U.S. government agencies long have suspected that the Pentagon has pursued its own Middle East policy, aimed at overthrowing hostile regimes.

"Policy officials in the Pentagon repeatedly bypassed the normal interagency process, and there are questions about whether they also may have tried to mobilize Israel's political influence in Washington to lobby for some of their proposals, especially on Iraq and Iran," one of the administration officials said.
douglas feith, michael ledeen and william luti are all mentioned under suspicion. given the recurrence of these familiar names, justin raimondo -- who is covering the investigation prominently -- is given to speculate, "If we observe how we were lied into war with Iraq, and by whom, the whole affair looks more like an Israeli covert operation by the day." while that may be a bridge too far, it does look very much like illegal subterfuge undertaken by the neoconservative clique -- whose nexus stretched between feith's office and the vice president's -- may have been arranged within a larger plan.

of course, the existence of a spy ring transiting american secrets to israel -- or even an exposure of a group of high-level politicians and operatives in fact pursuing the policy aims of the israeli government -- is no guarantee of a meaningful housecleaning. as ha'aretz reported (via raimondo):

"Sources close to the case say the prosecution posed four conditions to AIPAC, which would guarantee that it would not be involved in the indictments: a change of working methods to ensure that such incidents don't happen again; the firing of the two officials and public disassociation from them; no offers of high severance or anything else to make it appear the two quit of their own volition; and no financing of their legal defense."

"AIPAC has abided by the first three conditions – and the severance pay offered the two was considered very low, considering the many years they worked for the lobby. But it is said to be helping with their legal fees, indirectly, through its own law firm."
such leniency in violating the proscriptions of justice department prosecutors does not bode well for a dogged, determined investigation.

laura rozen's piece -- which comes in for some criticism by raimondo -- lays out the course of events surrounding larry franklin and the possible directions of the investigation.

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the institutional value of the catholic church


pope benedict's words on western social trends as "expressions of anarchic freedom" have the adherents of total personal emancipation in a lather.

"The greatest expression of freedom is not the search for pleasure," he said, adding that society seemed to want to tear down the moral goal posts he said were needed for its future.
this isn't, of course, him speaking off the cuff. his statements on these points are the church's defense, as an institutional guardian of western civilization, of a way of life that the western proletariat -- who for hundreds of years saw the wisdom of social coercion and cooperation -- is entirely rejecting for nietzschean idealist freiheit. it is facing -- we all are facing -- the collapse of western civilization; this drive to break all social obligations in an orgy of the personal is a symptom and cause of it.

he realizes it, as do many secular historians. and he's doing what he must do to preserve the west, even if he and the roman church are not ultimately successful.

this is the entire point of having an institution. of what use would the church be if it blew around with the whim of the proletariat? it would have vanished long ago -- indeed, that is the definition of institutional death (and the people in charge of democratizing the world should be made to understand that).

the church is a repository and protector of western man's accumulated wisdom in the form of biblical exegesis. we can all see that the homeric or teutonic epics are mythological repositories of great value to the societies that produced and maintained them -- and that those societies which abandoned them as elevated teaching did so only shortly before their perversion, decline and destruction. why is it hard to imagine that we are doing the same with the catholic church?

this emancipation from history and tradition is precisely the decline of civilization. we may find that the oppression of this-or-that group vis-a-vis another or society at large, or the abuses of power visited upon societies from time to time by even healthy aristocratic systems -- both of which have been part of the story of civilizational ordering -- to be evil in our personal moral judgement. but the fact that aristocracies could wield such influence without maintaining massive armies against their peoples, and that groups representing dissent from tradition could be oppressed often without overt action on the part of institutions -- for what was perceived as the broader good -- was evidence of the strength of civility and the value that was seen in it by the vast majority of western peoples.

instead, in the postmodern period, we find our own individual, changable and frequently unconsidered ideas about what should or should not be oppressed or promoted to be far more valid than the sum of experience. social history and tradition are specifically rejected.

that prior age of social power has passed, i think we can say definitively, as the pragmatic liberty that was ensured by the power of society has been largely overturned for the idealistic rights of man. burke's famous and awesome attack on the french revolution and the rights of man has become the attack validly made upon us. it is not less valid simply because irresponsible emancipation has become more popular as we have become more decadent and self-indulgent -- to the point where we can't even keep families together for fear and anger of trodding on individual prerogatives.

next stop: gradual total disintegration, as people -- increasingly aware of their freedom to be totally irresponsible without obvious consequence -- choose to opt out of everything, especially law.

the advocates of total personal emancipation you should perhaps prepare themselves for a lot more chaos and fear and destruction than they would wish to see our friends and loved ones suffer through, if history is any guide -- all so that we can feel responsible to nothing.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

 

chaos and complexity


via reason, word that national academy of sciences has issued a statement saying that anthropogenic climate change is "real" and must be acted on immediately. ronald bailey sums up their view:

By adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere (chiefly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels), humanity is increasing global temperatures. How much? Uncertain. How dangerous? Uncertain. How best to handle it? Uncertain.
but i have a more fundamental question regarding the "reality" of all this.

let's say i accept the evidence as it is believed to be known:

Carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today -- higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise; the Earth's surface warmed by approximately 0.6 centigrade degrees over the twentieth century.
what have these observations got to do with this conclusion?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that the average global surface temperatures will continue to increase to between 1.4 centigrade degrees and 5.8 centigrade degrees above 1990 levels, by 2100.
putting aside the moral argument, isn't it quite clear that modeling an inconceivably complex, massive and chaotic system like earth is essentially impossible? that any model we can construct will be such a reduced and incomplete version of the reality as to be essentially purposeless for prediction, except as a vehicle for self-delusion? and that the models in existence have never even approached (and can never approach) anything like induction by enumeration -- the fundamental principle of science -- because they cannot test against reality repetitively to gain confidence?

it seems to me that the irreducible complexity of the system will always defy meaningful analysis, despite what adherents of scientism and the cult of techne might like to believe. our models -- such as they are, being hopelessly reductive -- are constructed essentially by backtesting some broad ideas and adjusting parameters to fit the data we have collected on the recent past -- itself a sample size too small to be significant -- and in any case without anything that an appropriately honest scientist would call a well-understood mechanism.

under such circumstances, any prediction our integrated assessment models of the global environment eject on a hundred-year scale then is little better than a coin flip -- for the same reasons that mathematical models backtested to fit the stock market invariably lose money. the reality is itself unpredictable -- the actual open system is both complex and chaotic. observation of past behavior yields no mechanism by which long-term future performance can be even hinted at.

so why should these predictions be treated seriously?

i don't think they can be, frankly. more co2 does not mean higher temperatures in the same way as pushing down on one end of a seesaw raises the other end. that is only assumed by some to be true because of a presumed correlation between atmospheric greenhouse gas content and global temperatures which may in fact be specious.

but that's all besides the point, anyway, isn't it? the earth isn't a seesaw. you apply an impulse A under conditions A' and observe outcome X. the you present impulse A under conditions A' and observe outcome Q. do it again and get outcome Z. the system is fundamentally not predictable; it is complex and chaotic, and people would do well to stop pretending that they have any idea what effect any disturbance -- up, down or same -- will have on it. it isn't a matter of "degrees of uncertainty" at all. the system does not present reproducible outcomes over time under any circumstances, and may very well give opposite outcomes on identical impulses. more co2 might mean warming -- or it might mean cooling -- but which way and to what degree? there is no single answer, and can never be one. the system is both complex and chaotic.

there are circumstances under which some complex systems will behave predictably for short time periods. certain impulses do set up regular responses. but only a diminishingly small minority, as it turns out. and, yet more vexing, the earth is not only complex but comprised of a nearly-infinite number of interacting chaotic systems.

this topic of climate change in the context of complexity and chaos is *vastly* more sophisticated than most ordinary people are capable of treating it, and goes to the heart of why the scientismic philosophy of the world as a clockwork that needs only to be revealed is profoundly wrong -- and why science is, in many places, at the limits of what can be known through it, leaving charlatans and believers in scientism left to surpass those limits with myth and fiction.

cary neeper provides an introduction to complexity and chaos which can function as a primer to a very difficult, counterintuitive topic.

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Here is a good example of the oversimplification of climate change. I expect no more from McPaper.

 
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Wow. Something we can completely agree on.

Check out copenhagenconsensus.com for an interesting take on the importance of global warming, relative to more pressing issues. The global warming debate seems riddled with squishy science, but more importantly, diverts attention and resources (Kyoto's projected costs are in the hunreds of billions) away from real, current problems.

Nice post.

 
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Friday, June 03, 2005

 

syncretic promiscuity


from somervell's argument outlining toynbee's "a study of history":

V. The Disintegration of Civilizations, xix. The Schism of the Soul. (5) The Sense of Promiscuity.

this is a passive substitute for the sense of style characteristic of civilizations in the course of growth. it manistests itself in various ways.

(a) vulgarity and barbarism of manners. the dominant minority shows itself prone to 'proletarianization', adopting the vulgarities of the internal and the barbarisms of the external proletariat, until, in the final stage of dissolution, its way of life has become indistinguishable from theirs.

(b) vulgarity and barbarism in art is the price commonly paid for the abnormaly wide diffusion of the art of a disintegrating civilization.

(c) lingue franche. the intermingling of peoples leads to confusion and mutual competition of languages; some of them spread as 'lingue franche', and in every case their expansion entails a corresponding debasement. many examples are examined as illustration.

(d) syncretism in religion. three movements are to be distinguished: the amalgamation of separate schools of philosophy; the amalgamation of separate religions, eg. the dilution of the religion of israel by combination with the neighboring cults, which was opposed with ultimate success by the hebrew prophets; and the amalgamation or syncretism of philosophies and religions with one another. since philosophies are a product of dominant minorities and 'higher religions' a product of internal proletariats, the interaction here is comparable with (a) above. here, as there, thought the proletarians move some way toward the position of the dominant minority, the dominant minority moves a far greater distance toward the position of the internal proletariat. for example, the christian religion employs for its theological exegesis the apparatus of hellenic philosophy, but this is a small concession compared with the transformation undergone by greek philosophy between the ages of plato and of julian.

(e) cuius regio eius religio? the section is a digression arising out of the case for the philosopher-emperor julian considered at the end of the previous section. can dominant minorities make up for their spiritual weakness by using political force to impose the religion or philosophy of their choice? the answer is that, subject to certain exeptions, they will fail, and the religion which seeks the support of force will grievously injure itself thereby. the one apparently striking exception is the case of the spread of islam, and this is examined and shown to be not really as much of an exception as it at first appears to be. an opposite formula, religio regionis religio regis, is nearer the truth: a ruler who, from cynicism or conviction, adopts the religion of his subjects prospers thereby.
toynbee's observations on the disintegration of civilizations make for exceedingly interesting reading when the conditions he identifies in social collapses are readily observed all around oneself. particularly, however, i should like to point out the underlined passage on the syncretic promiscuity of the philosophies of the dominant elite -- the once-creative class that has since stopped exuding the attractive force of leadership and now tries to maintain position by mere administration -- and the religion of the internal proletariat.

this is exactly what we see today in america in the rise of an ostensibly christian right. this new force has abandoned anything like a christian interpretation of events -- indeed perverting the meaning of the word "christian" in the process -- for a neitzschean ethic that makes the self the only source of virtue and compromise of internal ideals a sort of sin. as outlined immedately thereafter, "...the dominant minority moves a far greater distance...", the evolution of western thought from kant to nietzsche was indeed that greater distance -- the readoption of the spiritual and internal by the intellectual class as a reversal of the objective and empirical development that took root in the scholastics and cumulated in the encyclopedists and hume. the two classes, dominant minority and internal proletariat, have now met in the west -- from the fascists and communists of the early 20th c to the neoconservatives which amalgamate the two the the latter decades, faith in the ideal of personal emancipation is the common understanding the dominant minority have with the internal proletariat.

what that says about the disintegration of the western civilization should be clear.


Not directly related to your post, but I thought you might enjoy this:

article


 
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that is indeed an excellent article. thanks, anon!

 
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the downing street memo


jim lobe is razor sharp in this piece.

Here's a question for international news hounds. Who is the ''son of a bitch'' referred to in this comment by a U.S. Defence Department spokesman?

''People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said. How could he be credible now?''

Is he an unnamed Defence Department source who told Newsweek magazine that he had read a government document detailing an incident where U.S. military personnel at the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, allegedly flushed a Koran down a toilet?

After all, that report, which was printed in a small item in last week's ''Periscope'' section of the magazine, spurred violent protests across the Muslim world, particularly in Afghanistan where at least 15 people were killed and the government of President Hamid Karzai badly shaken just a week before he was due to travel here.

Or is the ''son of a bitch'' U.S. President George W. Bush, whose administration began fixing intelligence at least eight months before invading Iraq in order to make the public believe that Baghdad posed a serious threat to the United States and its allies?

After all, the war and its bloody aftermath have taken a toll of at least 30,000 lives, according to the most conservative estimates, and ongoing conflict continues to kill scores more every week with no end in sight.
but more disturbingly -- and functioning as a rather healthy fisking of the campaign against an activist, liberal media -- is the complete absence in the american media of yet another damning (this time, british) report on the utter primacy of ideology in sending our armies into iraq and the complicity of the bush administration in contriving "evidence" to defraud the public to their side.

Readers of the British press might be inclined to choose the second option based on the sensational leak to the London Times two weeks ago of the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his closest advisers during which the head of the intelligence agency MI6, just back from Washington, reported that Bush had decided on war and that ''the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.''

While that was big news in Britain, it was hard to find any trace of it in the U.S. press.

So consumers of U.S. media would choose option number one, because the Koran story has been the nation's top news story since the magazine published a qualified apology for it Sunday before making a vague retraction Monday.
this memo, of course, serves as confirmation from british intelligence for seymour hersh's reporting about stovepiping and the fabrication of a justification as pretense to begin a war the administration desired for other reasons -- be it the ideology of a clean break or the desire to start a global democratic revolution or both -- reasons of idealism detached from the objective reality of the world, subject to a utopian delusion.


The rather odd thing about Bush fixing the intelligence, is he managed to fix it during the Clinton Administration, which charged Iraq with WMD programs, not to mention UK, France, Russia, and Germany. He also managed to convince the Kurds that they were killed with WMD, and the Iranians that they were also attacked with the WMD during the Iran-Iraq war.

Clever, that W.

On the other hand, perhaps the WMD programs were real, perhaps they would have been continued, though significantly slowed by the inspection program, would have been continued and accelerated as soon as the sanctions were dropped.

 
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actually, you've rather missed the entire point, anon. the admin specifically chose to ignore and bury intel that controverted the view you just expressed, and specifically chose to emphasize intel that backed it. they tailored evidence to fit a verdict they had previously arrived at.

that isn't making a mistake. that's deceiving.

the story you just repeated -- which is the propaganda line emitted by the admin all along -- is a falsehood designed to lure those inclined to support the admin or those who wish to believe teh admin isn't capable of behaving in so ghastly a manner. intel in favor of every view is always in existence. its establishing what information is credible that should keep the admin from making horrifying mistakes like this, which get tens of thousands killed.

the admin specifically circumvented that process of vetting information so that they would not be bound by the facts -- so that they could use any incredible tale they wanted as fabrication for the case for war.

i don't know what your politics are, but you've subscribed to what is being proved to be a lie. please read through the seymour hersh article i linked in the article re: stovepiping, which is what is now being corroborated by the downing street memo.

i would be queasy but not accusatory if i believed what you seem to. i'm not out to crucify bush because he's a republican, like so many partisan idiots are, just as i never crucified clinton merely for being a democrat.

i detested clinton because he lied under oath before federal prosecutors who were trying to uphold the law. i detest bush because he and his administration purposefully constructed a case of falsehoods to lie the united states into an ideological war.

 
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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

 

memorial day


arthur silber remembers war not as adventure through the prism of hollywood spectaculars -- but as deceit and horror through meaningful literature, written by men who fought and knew.


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