Saturday, September 30, 2006

In the absence of ideology

Brenden O'Neill's Spiked article, Iraq: the world's first Suicide State, is worth a read.
[. . .]

Iraq looks like a country committing suicide rather than aspiring to independence and liberty. It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians, including civilians who have signed up for Iraq’s ragbag police force, rather than against America and Britain’s occupying armies. Iraq takes today’s ‘cult of the suicide bomber’ a stage further: we could say that Iraq is the world’s first Suicide State, responding to war and occupation not by mobilising the masses in opposition or organising resistance armies, but rather by destroying itself, by committing suicide in front of the world’s cameras. As strange and unsettling as this may seem, it requires an explanation. It strikes me that the new Suicide State of Iraq is not quite as foreign or ‘evil’ as commentators and officials would have us believe. Rather, it seems to have been shaped by some very contemporary political trends, and by the denigration of international politics over the past decade.

[. . .]

The insurgency’s lack of political ideology is often also remarked upon. Steven Metz of the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute says ‘it is really significant’ that three years into the insurgency ‘there hasn’t been anything like any kind of ideology’. ‘If you look at twentieth-century insurgencies, they all tend to be fairly coherent in terms of their ideology. Most of the serious insurgencies, you could sit down and say, “Here’s what they want”’, says Metz (10). Not so with the Iraqis. They seem to be a new breed of post-ideological insurgents. At a time when political ideology is derided, and when fighting or agitating for a clear self-interest is looked upon with suspicion, we seem to have an insurgency fighting for nothing in particular: one that expresses itself almost emotionally rather than politically, in suicide bombings that can be seen as individuated expressions of frustration rather than part of a collective strategy to expel Coalition forces and take the reins of power in Iraq. The demise of the old ideologies of left and right, or West vs East, has given rise to seemingly aimless and unwieldy movements, especially in more volatile parts of the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In present-day Iraq, we can glimpse what violent struggle looks like in the absence of politics. Without the old structures, or any new ones to take their place, the Iraqi insurgents express no distinct political interest or ideology, show no interest in winning mass support or strength, and focus their efforts, like many others today, on making an impact through the media. The insurgents’ separation from the masses and from any clear political goals goes some way to explaining why they seem so much more unrestrained and brutal than earlier militant movements. Freed from responsibility to a distinct community, and with few ties to national territory or political principles, they have fewer constraints on their actions. It is because the insurgents are really free-floating agents rather than rooted political actors, reflecting the broader demise of politics in recent years, that they can execute what appear to be unthinkable acts. In the absence of conventional political structures that might define and direct a violent campaign, they have little compunction about killing or injuring scores of innocent people. As Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute of International Affairs has argued, because contemporary violent movements are often ‘not motivated by political ideology on the far left or right’, they are more likely to be ‘extremists…with an apocalyptic mindset’ (11).

Friday, September 29, 2006

Go ahead, call me that, and see if I care

From Reuters: Zawahri calls Bush a failure.
DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called President Bush a "lying failure" for saying progress had been made in the war on terrorism, according to a video posted on the Internet on Friday.

“Bush you are a lying failure and a charlatan. It has been 3 and-a-half years (since the arrests)...What happened to us? We have gained more strength and we are more insistant on martyrdom," the Egyptian militant leader said.

Let me guess how simple minds will play this out.

Zawahri thinks Bush is a failure.
Zawahri is an Islamofascist.
Some Americans think Bush is a failure.
Therefore, some Americans are Islamofascists.

Neo-Con Futurology

Stephen Holmes’s LRB review of Francis Fukuyama’s latest book is very good reading. Read Neo-Con Futurology. I will not excerpt the article since it is a tightly argued position against Neo-Con international relations ideology and Bush Administration foreign policy.

It is an argument those on the right must assail when justifying the Iraq war and occupation.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


MarketWatch reports that MBA students are the biggest cheaters in college.
Students seeking their masters of business administration degree admit cheating more than any other type of student, from law to liberal arts.

"We have found that graduate students in general are cheating at an alarming rate and business-school students are cheating even more than others," concludes a study by the Academy of Management Learning and Education of 5,300 students in the U.S. and Canada.

Many of these students reportedly believe cheating is an accepted practice in business. More than half (56%) of M.B.A. candidates say they cheated in the past year. For the study, cheating was defined as plagiarizing, copying other students' work and bringing prohibited materials into exams.

Skepticism is a Virtue

My all time favorite postcard is one I found in the rack at my local bar. It says:
Skepticism is a weapon.

It deflects spin, propaganda, P.R., B.S., press agents, publicity seekers, hearsay, unnamed sources, and anyone with a hidden agenda.

Skepticism is that little voice that tells you you’ll never be a millionaire with little or no money down.

Skepticism is that sneaking suspicion that all aspirin are alike.

Skepticism is a quality shared by truth seekers, freethinkers, and realists.

Skepticism demands that proof and facts be unsanitized, uncensored, and unembellished.

Skepticism makes the world accountable.


The card is an advertisement for Brill’s Content magazine, a short-lived media magazine since acquired and closed.

The skeptic should suspect a definition of skepticism published as an advertisement for a media magazine. I still find it a fine manifesto even if the authors did not believe what they wrote. In addition, the manifesto fits on the front of an easy to reference postcard.

Sometimes, it is not ideas that interest me, but the stories behind the ideas. Who believes what and for what reasons? When do ideas become ideologies and narratives that try to explain more then what they are capable? What sorts of events do ideas and ideologies cause? Why do people cling to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary of their truth?

These questions are part of what fascinates me about the Iraq war and occupation. Many people have told just about every imaginable untrue story about it, and many have believed the stories. Healthy skepticism is on holiday.

To be a good and productive skeptic you must understand the stories behind the ideas. The good skeptic understands that the human species distinguishes itself by its collective imaginative power and its seemingly limitless creativity. People will always create a good tale in their attempt to convince.

The skeptic is suspicious of essentialism and foundationalism. Those most wedded to ideologies encourage us to choose sides. The skeptic realizes that ideologies are never as perfect as their devotees make them out to be. Absolutist ideologies never manage to fulfill completely the desire for happiness. Skepticism is not nihilism, but recognition of the limits to certainty.

The skeptic has every right to be wary.

Who is Saddam Hussein?

I recall this story from an episode of PBS Frontline several years ago. Joseph Stalin was a hero of Saddam Hussein during Hussein’s youth. He kept a poster of Stalin on his wall. Saddam was also an opponent of communism. When someone finally informed him that Stalin was a communist, he was very surprised.

Saddam was on tolerable relations with the US before he invaded Kuwait. We have all seen the famous picture of Rumsfeld shaking hands with him in the eighties. Saddam badly needed cash after his long and expensive wars with Iran. Kuwaiti oil seemed a sure way to get it. He misread US reactions when he did it.

After Saddam’s defeat in the first gulf war, Islamic elements in his country tried to overthrow his regime. Generous truce terms allowed him to maintain control of the country. He kept helicopter gun ships that helped suppress rebellions in the country. Islamic leaders led these rebellions.

Saddam at the time of his downfall was not on good relations with his neighbors or Islamist extremists such as bin Laden. Saddam, if anything at all, was the prototypical case of the strongman dictator. No one believed any ideological pronouncements coming from him. Saddam’s ideology was what was in the interests of Saddam.

Linking the Saddam regime to Islamist organizations seems a big stretch given his biography. Under his control, Iraq was a rogue state, but it was certainly one of the old-fashioned kinds, one with a strong man dictator with no ideological axe to grind. One wonders why the US could not have dealt with him as it often does with other strongman dictators, which usually end on agreeable terms to both parties. It worked with Gaddafi.

Almost time for the champagne

With the Cubs in last place in the National League and the White Sox out of the playoffs, many people think Chicago baseball is over.

Not true. I have a nearly insurmountable lead in my fantasy baseball league with only four more days to go.

It is almost time to break out the champagne.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hook 'Em Fire

The Chicago Fire beat the L. A. Galaxy tonight to win the U. S. Open Cup. Think of the Open Cup as a poor man's FA Cup. However, it has been contested since 1914.

The Fire also have a firm grip on second in their MLS division, and appear headed to the playoffs. And once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.

Good luck with your bogus intelligence information

Many have discussed torture regarding its moral reprehensibility, as well they should. Torture is also a lousy way to obtain accurate and actionable intelligence. The tortured, either because they no longer want to endure the physical pain or are mentally undone, will say about anything to avoid more torture. Experienced interrogators know and tell us this.

That is why the rush by Congress to pass a torture bill before they recess for the fall elections seems so macabre. They know the positions taken by experienced intelligence experts against torture as a means of gathering meaningful intelligence. They know the position of military attorneys against what is contained in the bill. Yet they persist against expert and world opinion.

Their cynicism, just to gain a few votes, is downright creepy. There can be no doubt about the shallow group of folks Americans have elected to administer the nation’s business. If we cannot trust them to do the right thing on something this easy and basic, then with what can we trust them?

A Note on Trevor

Tom and I were talking about William Trevor’s short stories the other week. We both agreed he is a great writer, but also dark and depressing. If I read too many of his short stories at one time, I fall into a funk.

I suspect it is because Trevor always draws the limits and boundaries of our happiness. He never flinches when his stories arrive at conclusions that are never entirely satisfactory for his characters. He is a good tonic for fuzzy thinking about the human condition in that sense. Truth consists in recognizing the gap between expectations and reality.

I would illustrate the point from his writing, but you would be better served to read a couple of his short stories to see what I mean if you are not familiar with him.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Admit it

What would be the value of the Middle East countries in Western eyes if they did not possess the largest share of the world’s petroleum resources? They would be the equivalents of sub-Saharan countries. We know how much the West cares about those countries. Sure, religious extremists and fanatics would still fight over a few feet of so-called Holy Land. Fanatical religious Westerners would take sides, but not many would care if the religious extremists exterminated each other. (Stupid killers deserve to die stupid deaths.) Other than that, the area would not amount to much in Western eyes.

Admit it. You know it is true.

The end of ideology?

Deertown Times links to this revealing BBC news story: Iran's gulf of misunderstanding with US.
In the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US, there were some tentative steps.

In Iran, vast crowds turned out on the streets and held candlelit vigils for the victims. Sixty-thousand spectators respected a minute's silence at Tehran's football stadium.

Some of Iran's leaders also sensed an opportunity. America quickly fixed its sights on the Taleban in Afghanistan with whom the Iranians had nearly come to war just three years earlier.

With a common enemy in the Taleban, the two found grounds to co-operate.
After the Afghan war, US negotiators worked closely with Iranian counterparts to form a new Afghan government.

Some of the talks between US and Iranian officials moved beyond Afghanistan and there was hope that it could lead to tentative re-engagement and eventually a restoration of relations.

But back in their respective capitals, there were voices of dissent.

Debates in Washington and Tehran paralleled each other. Hardliners and moderates clashed about whether it was worth talking to the other side and whether it could ever be trusted.

The article succinctly tells how the Bush Administration missed opportunities to alleviate tensions with Iran by erecting a hard line stance of confrontation rather than at least attempting to negotiate US/Iran differences based on shared interests.

I suspect if the Bush Administration has an ideology it is a simplistic ideology of using escalating military action as the solution to all conflicts at the expense of all other solutions. This strategy gives the lie to their espousal of spreading freedom and democracy around the world. It makes the concepts of freedom and democracy meaningless. This strategy of large-scale military conflict is not an ideology in itself.

Despite the pronouncements of the Bush Administration that we are fighting a new kind of war, they persist in fighting this new war using old strategies and tactics that do not apply in what is a postmodern world political order. We have a group of people who cannot move beyond Cold War thinking: use large military interventions when they perceive an opponent is militarily weak, and use brinksmanship when they perceive an opponent is militarily strong.

The Bush Administration claims Saddam Hussein could have eventually produced weapons of mass destruction. Now, very conveniently, this claim supports the US invasion of Iraq. This is supposed to be the rope that ties bin Laden and Hussein together. Well, anybody with enough smarts and cash can produce weapons of mass destruction. Instead of concentrating resources on those who have announced they are actively seeking WMD, the US has focused on bogeymen, Saddam Hussein being the most notable example.

The Bush Administration pursues a strategy against terrorism that clothes itself as an ideology, yet the strategy they pursue negates any claim to ideology. When “kill all the suspects” is the ideology, we are at end to ideology, or at the door of totalitarianism. That is a harsh thing to say. The Bush Administration is, in many ways, the unwitting victims of their own strategies. However, continuing revelations as to what transpired within the Bush Administration between 9/11 and today has made many former allies skeptical of Bush Administration claims and competency. The Bush Administration brought this state of affairs on their own heads. The days of sympathizing with their mistaken policies are at an end for most of the people living on the planet.

The Bush Administration does not know how to protect the US from terrorists nor does it know how to nurture nascent freedom and democracy movements. To do either requires an ideology and they have no ideology of which to speak except a strategy of outdated militarism.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A punch in the nose

I enjoyed this clip of President Clinton’s interview with Wallace on Fox News.

In grand Fox News style, Wallace led with a long preamble and question about bin Laden and terrorism designed to embarrass Clinton. Clinton then got totally in his face and set the record straight. My favorite line from Clinton was, “yes, I failed to get bin Laden, but at least I tried.”

I always enjoy it when a wannabe tough guy Fox News broadcaster gets punched in the nose and slinks away. Maybe, they can hire a real tough guy in 2009—President Bush. He would be perfect for it. He can continue reading the script off the teleprompter.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling Fox News broadcasters a bunch of sissies. By the way, how is President Bush doing in the hunt for bin Laden? Fox News never reports on it.

I have always been mystified at the radical right’s attitude toward liberals. They do not hesitate to call them appeasers and cowards, yet when a so-called liberal such as Clinton gets in their face they call him belligerent and angry, which is the image I thought all the radical right tried to cultivate. The inconsistency seems blatant.

The irony is that calling Clinton a leftist creates the ultimate straw man.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I have been wondering for some time whether a government can use hypocrisy and incompetence as tactic to advance its political ends. Hypocrisy and incompetence can camouflage a government’s true interests. Issues merely become matters of who can best execute policies rather than what those policies ought to be.

In fact, hypocrisy and incompetence are common human traits. We readily forgive other’s incompetence. We may not notice when incompetence becomes the norm rather than the exception. We set our standards flexibly whether low or high.

Those seeking to understand the interests of those in power must continually confront what might have been if the authorities had executed better. This is a war of attrition. Many people exhaust themselves trying to do it.

The Iraq War and Occupation gives a good example. The authorities have managed and executed it very badly. The consequences are the exact opposite of what one hoped, which is to locate, isolate, and neutralize a small group of terrorists. Instead, the war created terrorists in droves. Was that the consequence intended all along?

If the real end of the Iraq conflict is to spark a final conflict for hegemony, then incompetence and hypocrisy seem to serve as a useful tactic. The authorities create the enemy they oppose. Public opinion bounces around support for a continued stay in Iraq as people focus on which party might be more competent in accomplishing that objective. Distasteful ends and interests remain hidden and unrecognized.

Incompetence could be like the old rope-a-dope tactic used by Mohammad Ali in his fight against George Foreman. I will leave it to your imagination as to who between the authorities and the public is Ali and who is Foreman.

Creating your own demise

A NYT headline says Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

We have created the condition the Iraq War and Occupation was supposed to prevent--something more than a few intelligence experts have said in the past. In the era of the spy, the spys have no credibility with the government.

I cannot wait to see the Bush Administration and Congress put lipstick on this pig.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Off to Iowa

I had fun in Chicago this week. I saw Golden Smog at the Vic. Tonight, I saw a dynamite production of Come Back, Little Sheba at the Shattered Globe Theater.

I'm off to Iowa tomorrow. I'm not doing anything except listen to the crickets, frogs, whipoorwills, and night owls while I'm out there. Should be fun all the same.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Throw the dog a bone

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan claims US officials, Dick Armitage for one, threatened to bomb Pakistan unless he cooperated with the US in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The relations between Musharraf and the Bush Administration are murky and complex. Both parties walk a tight rope. Musharraf has lots of folks to appease within his country. The Bush Administration must assist him in managing the appeasement. I wonder if both parties are not complicit in making this announcement on this Sunday's 60 Minutes. The Bush Administration can deny it with impunity while Musharraf throws a bone to his critics at home.

If that upsets you, then just repeat after me: we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, we are spreading freedom and democracy around the world, we are ...


I grew up watching American Bandstand. In fact, my great grandmother turned me onto it. I would come home after school, the fourth grade, and she would be watching American Bandstand. Rock ‘n Roll had not captured my imagination yet, but it was not long before I caught the fever from watching American Bandstand with my great grandmother. My great grandmother was a wiry tough woman who liked her pro wrestling too.

Now, we remember American Bandstand: squeaky clean well-groomed kids hoppin’ and a boppin’ to the latest hits. The squeaky cleanest of the group was Dick Clark. Who but he could have turned the image of Rock ‘n Roll as the devil’s music into the image of having good clean fun?

One of the best parts of the show was the rate-a-record segment. Three kids would listen and rate two new records. The rules were that you had to rate the records on a scale of 33 to 98. The theory being that no record or artist was so bad he/she deserved a zero, and no record could ever attain absolute perfection. (I still insist Jerry Lee Lewis’s Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On deserves a 100, but let’s not quibble.) The kids would have to justify their ratings. Invariably, you would hear I liked the beat and it was easy to dance to as the justification for a record someone liked.

The rating system still seems sound to me. The world would be a better place if we rated each other on that scale and with that underlying motivation.

This may be my day to turn saccharine, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Gushing on the road to reality

One of my small projects is working my way through Penrose’s The Road to Reality. Penrose attempts to explain all of modern physics, including its mathematics, to the untutored. In fact, the first third of the book presents the required mathematics.

At first, I thought of skipping the chapters containing the mathematics I know. I am glad I did not. The introduction contains a discussion of ideas in the philosophy of mathematics such as whether we create mathematics or discover it. He hooked me once I read the introduction. I was curious to see how he could explain physics from the ground up and decided not to skip any of the chapters.

He often introduces concepts in an unexpected way, ways you will not find in a standard textbook. He also makes liberal uses of pictures and geometry to motivate the concepts. That allows him to gallop at a brisk pace. For instance, his introduction to complex numbers explains why complex numbers are more useful than real numbers in explaining the convergence and divergence of infinite power series. He does not waste a lot of time explaining all the nuances of infinite series before that, but includes the necessary ideas in his presentation including the geometry of the situation.

Even though I have not traveled far into the book, I am beginning to believe it is a masterpiece of exposition. I would never have believed that someone could conceive of such a book, let alone, write it.

As you can tell this is a rather gushing review of a book of which I have barely scratched the surface. However, I do not believe that gushing is always a bad thing.

I do not doubt that his book is more exciting to me, somebody who likes his mathematics, rather than someone who suffers from math phobia. However, if anyone can cure math phobia, it is Penrose.

I really like the beat and it is very easy to dance to. I give it unqualified ninety-eight.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The real issue

I would not dream of choosing sides between a conservative Pope and a radical Imam. I am a religious skeptic; it would not make sense.

The recent reaction in the Islamic world to Pope Benedict’s rather dry and academic appeal for religious toleration has made the news. Toleration, at times, has not been one of religion’s strong suits. No sooner is the call made for toleration, than the finger pointing and accusations fly as to who is not tolerant.

The issue in the West over this dispute has once again evolved into one about the value of free speech and the response to challenges to that value.

However, at the same time, the dispute has once again degenerated into name-calling and angry shouts from both sides to audiences who are not listening.

Is not the real issue how to negotiate value differences so that people reach reasonable agreement, or, at least, do not kill each other over their value differences? Is that not the more difficult and perplexing issue? Is that why we tend to avoid it?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sam Harris takes sides

Sam Harris is no friend of religion. I enjoyed reading his End of Faith if for no other reason than it validated some of my opinions about religion. One of the faults I found with his book is that he does not realize that religion comes naturally to us; religion will be with us for a long time. Religion is not the kind of thing that is amenable to persuasive logic. Skeptics tend to forget this.

Harris weighs in on Islamic extremism and the Liberal response with this LA Times opinion piece: Head-in-the-sand Liberals.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb — and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

I am sympathetic to that statement. However, he goes on to say:

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

This is where my sympathy ends. This taking of sides between Israel and its enemies is exactly the sort of thing the religious skeptic should not do or recommend if the skeptic wants to maintain consistency. The US ought to be the leader in bringing both sides to task, negotiation, and settlement of disputes. Israel contains its fair share of religious extremists too, and they influence a policy of brinksmanship and war as the ultimate solution. All kinds of people think that the only thing you need to do to get to heaven is be right in your own mind when you die: another one of those things that is pretty to think so.

The religious skeptic who recommends reason as the curative for overcoming religious zealotry and destructiveness ought to apply the tonic to all afflicted parties equally.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From big to small

Let us start big, then work our way down to what is small and fragmentary. Let us not waste too many words arguing or explaining.

The concept of god is dead. The concept of god no longer organizes worldviews and lives as it once did. St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante were the last to unify metaphysics and morals within the concept of god.

Renaissance, the nation state, scientific revolution, enlightenment, capitalism/communism, and technology have fractured and fragmented all unifying and totalizing worldviews even as they have sought to unify and totalize reality.

I search for truth and goodness rather than Truth and Goodness. The boundaries surrounding my certainty have shrunk.

My propositions are fragmentary attempts at explanation.

I think in fragments. The Canon serves as background, not foreground.

The sheer number of things about which I am curious forces me to think in fragments. I have no time for dallying across whole oeuvres.

The words I write are fragments.

I am a fragment doing the fragmentary.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Building the bomb

Some nuclear arms experts say that there is a high probability that someone will detonate a nuclear device in a major city within the next few years. The privilege of a few now belongs to the enterprising and intelligent with the cash to build a bomb. These same experts tell us that the nuclear powers have been lax in securing the material needed to build a weapon. You would think with the current emphasis on preventing terrorism this would not be the case.

Global capitalism might be part of the problem. It knows no boundaries when it comes to this sort of thing. If you have the cash, you can have anything.

I wonder if governments have given up on securing nuclear material as part of their strategy. Finding terrorists could be easier than stopping respectable business people who sell the material.

We also have the notion that once universal liberal democracy has taken hold, nations will not squabble and threaten each other with complete destruction.
Isn’t it pretty to think so.

Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises

Building universal liberal democracy seems the long way of going about preventing unwanted nuclear detonations. Securing nuclear material and destroying current arsenals seems the quicker route to safety. Besides, we live in the era of precision sanitized bombing, which is much more aesthetically and morally pleasing when viewed on the television screen. Why not go with that?

The three c's

I always carry around a confusing set of philosophical beliefs. This is the current list: Epicureanism, Humean skepticism, Marxism, pragmatism, postmodernism, and a romantic attachment to Enlightenment ideals.

My beliefs always collide, conflict, and beg for consistency. I would not mind but it makes writing about anything very difficult.


I really liked this post by Sinthome at Larval Subjects: Worlds in Fragments. I will not spoil any of it by quoting from it out of context.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just Sports

I received the broadcast of the Iowa/Iowa St. football game yesterday. My alma mater, Iowa, won. This is a great sports weekend for me.

This morning I will get a live broadcast of the Manchester United vs. Arsenal football game. Man U. is undefeated after four games. Arsenal has had a disappointing start. They have not earned a win in there first three games. A draw seems imperative for Arsenal, but that is easier said than done at Man U.

After the Man U./Arsenal match, it's time for the Chicago Bears/Detroit Lions football game.

The baseball season is heading down the stretch with the Chicago White Sox fading in their attempt to make the playoffs and repeat as World Series champions--much to the consternation of White Sox fans. The White Sox tee it up against the Oakland A's in Oakland. Oakland has won the first two games of the weekend series. The White Sox dearly need a win.

After the Bears game, it's the Chicago Fire soccer game. The Fire, after a slow start, stand in second place in their division with good chances of making the playoffs.

I got my laundry done bright and early this morning, so I can at least say I did something productive today.

Third Camp Movement

Renegade Eye has a terrific transcript of an interview with Hamid Taqvaee regarding the Third Camp movement.
Maryam Namazie: You wrote the Manifesto of the Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism, which many people are now supporting. Why did you feel the need to write it?

Hamid Taqvaee: If you have a look at the political situation of our era, it seems that there are mainly two forces that actually determine everything in the political arena in the Middle East, the west and even the world. These two forces are the USA and its allies on the one hand and Islamic terrorism on the other. But the fact is that it is not only these two. What we are saying is that neither of these two forces actually represents people. Even people living in Islamist societies, and I can say especially those people, are not represented by political Islam, or by Islamic governments such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Third Camp addresses that force which represents the majority of people of the world – a majority which has no interest in the war between these two poles of Islamic and US-led terrorism. They reap no benefits from their war.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

At the bar: what is postmodernism?

I was sitting in the bar the other night talking to a friend when he asked me, what is postmodernism? I double clutched, then replied, I can't explain it. As we know, postmodernism is like many other broad and deep isms; it defies succinct description and definition.

Besides, if I had had a ready made answer and started to expound upon it, his eyes would have glazed over and within a few seconds he would have changed the subject or found a reason to talk to somebody else. We moved on to other things like the merits of the new Iron Maiden album and how it had zoomed to number 9 on the charts the first week of its release.

The next day I looked up Postmodernism on Wikipedia in hopes that I would find a summary I could print for my friend. Which I did.

I was struck by this bullet point contained in the explanation:
The belief that all communication is shaped by cultural bias, myth, metaphor, and political content.
(see Cultural relativism)

I have always been mystified as to why this postmodernist belief is linked to cultural relativism. It seems as though it is a set of observations that can be verified and a set of propositions that can be proved or disproved. What's relative about that? It seems down right scientific.

What also mystifies me is why so many conservative critics of postmodernism try to make this link to cultural relativism. The selling of the Iraq War and Occupation seems to provide ample evidence for the above claims by some postmodernists and critical theorists. Are these conservatives disingenuous or are they confused and mistaken?

I suspect it is a bit of both, plus other things.

A fragment about the new world war

We are in a world war some say. Yet when I walk out my front door the world looks like the day before the world war started. This is particularly startling since I live in a country which is supposed to be one of the major combatants.

I ask myself why the world looks just the same. Only one ready made answer comes to me; we are not in a world war, for much of the world is not engaged in it.

I don't have any other explanation at the moment. That's why I'll leave this as a fragment. Fragments are sometimes best anyway, especially in a blog.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Degrees of certainty

I read three blog entries this past week that I enjoyed and found interesting. Here are their opening statements/questions.

Jodi writes of Theory and the Man at Long Sunday.
Why is it that even the most post of the posties end up caught up in adulation of or resistance to single great thinkers? Why is the hold of a Master so strong even after decades upon decades of critiques of the subject, of agency, of originality, of individuality, of authenticity? Is it precisely because of these critiques? That answer seems too easy.

Sinthome writes of Philosophical Despair at Larval Subjects.
Periodically I go through a sort of crisis point in my thinking where everything I've been working on suddenly seems to fall apart, where I lose the thread of where I'm going, and suddenly I experience myself as detached from all that I'm doing.

Curtis at Empty Rhetoric writes of Perspectives as part of his ongoing project to interrogate the shrillness and divisiveness American political discourse.
The current debate over what constitutes fascism, and the war of words that has erupted over it is endemic of a wider clash of philosophical and political perspectives based on differing assumptions as to the 1)scope, the 2)motivations, and 3)goal of militant Islamic sects in the Middle East.

I will not comment on these articles because they elicit feelings I cannot describe, at least not at this point. I suppose my failure relates to my uncertainty about propositions I keep telling myself I hold dear.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The One Percent Doctrine

Once you give up your integrity, everything else is easy.
J. R. Ewing

I finished reading Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine yesterday. It is an absorbing and fast paced narrative about the search for terrorists after 9/11. The book has been widely reviewed, so you don’t need one from me. I can’t resist a few comments.

The one percent doctrine was minted by Vice President Cheney. It states that if there is even a one percent chance that someone is hostile to US security, then swift and forceful action must be taken against them. I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination as to what some of the consequences of the doctrine might be.

Suskind’s book confirmed my worst fears about how President Bush and Vice President Cheney have changed basic governmental processes, institutions, and roles for the worse. Suskind does not state that in his book, yet his reporting allows no other conclusions about the Bush Administration leadership.

Analysts and policy makers no longer provide valuable input to important political decisions. Instead, they are political operatives who craft the messages around the prejudices and decisions of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. This has led to a wholesale defection from government of America’s policy makers. Suskind tells the story of how the Bush Administration eviscerated the CIA and turned it into a machine whose function is to confirm the suspicions, prejudices, and whims of political leaders.

If you read Suskind’s book and don’t like it, don’t blame Suskind. Blame the facts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

9/11: the shredding of a privileged illusion

We return to long held ideas and rethink them even though we suspect we will find little reason to doubt our beliefs. 9/11 is an event whose legacy drives us in that direction.

9/11 did not change everything, but it did change something. It shattered an illusion born of privilege. Some people learned what many around the world already know from hard experience. The world is a thoroughly violent and dangerous place. Sudden and violent death can be the everyday norm rather than the exception.

I live in downtown Chicago one of the most well policed and protected plots of land on the face of the earth. The mugging I witnessed earlier this summer two blocks away from where I live was a near statistical impossibility. The tourists, conventioneers, and people rich enough to live here must be protected at all costs. And they are. We have the money. Our money makes the place go and thrive. It's amazing how many of my neighbors forget this fortunate reality when discussing the merits of war. It is easy to choose war when you know you won't have to pay for it or suffer its consequences.

Some people are forced to chant and repeat, “9/11 changed everything,” as proof of their adherence and allegiance to a political ideology. The more introspective and honest response might be, “9/11 changed everything for me.”

The “9/11 changed everything” mantra signifies a desire to return to the privileged illusion that money can buy any amount of safety and security. It also unfortunately shows a lack of empathy for those who spend all their days amidst violence and destruction. Too many people claim they were victimized by 9/11 when they do not know what being a victim is really all about.

I wish I could say kinder and more productive words about the whole affair, but I don’t care to support certain peoples’ illusions. They do a good enough job of supporting it on their own.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cubs Woes

The Chicago Cubs have suffered through yet another year of pitching woes. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have been on the DL, once again, for virtually the whole year. When you add the other many and assorted pitching injuries to the list, it does indeed look like a hard luck season.

However, what gets lost in the shuffle is that the Cubs are also the worst hitting team in the National league. Yes, Derek Lee, one of baseball’s premier hitters, has been out for a significant part of the season, but it stretches credulity and patience to believe his presence would have turned an abysmal hitting team into a marginally respectable hitting team.

As a die hard Cub fan, I can’t help speculating about what we are going to do next year. Anybody of any consequence on the team doesn’t represent much trade bait. The best you can hope for is that you end up at the status quo from any significant trade. The young hitters and pitchers are an unknown quantity. How do you assess a young pitcher when they get no run support from their team?

When you review the Cubs wins per dollar of player salary over the years, they must be about the worst team in baseball in that regard. The Cubs might realistically be three years away from respectability again. The price of ignominy comes very high, or higher than what you could reasonably expect.

Now that I’ve said that, I might wait another three years before thinking about the whole situation again. It is too depressing on a rainy day such as today, that’s for sure.

What next for the Iraq Occupation?

The NYT reports that a Marine Report Sees Grim Outlook in West Iraq.
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 -— The political and security situation in western Iraq is grim and will continue to deteriorate unless the region receives a major infusion of aid and a division is sent to reinforce the American troops operating there, according to the senior Marine intelligence officer in Iraq.

The article goes on to give sobering details contained in the report. What does the report signal beyond the grim facts of US forces stretched to the maximum in trying to occupy Iraq in the midst of ever escalating violence?

Speculation continues that Washington military, intelligence, and political insiders have recognized that the continued occupation of Iraq is not tenable. A pull back from Iraq Murtha style is imminent and inevitable after the Fall elections.

Before pursuing the prediction, it is always worth repeating a few of the facts about the Iraq War and subsequent Iraq Occupation since you will not hear the truth from folks such as President Bush. Planning for the Iraq Invasion began as soon as President Bush took office prior to 9/11. Intelligence proving the existence of WMD and Iraq links to al Qaeda was spurious and wildly speculative at best, yet was used to justify the invasion in the eyes of the world. Intelligence assessments predicted the inevitable consequences of an Iraq occupation, consequences we continue to see every day in Iraq as witnessed by large scale chaos, death, and destruction. The goals of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East were made prominent after other justifications proved barren and fruitless.

If the rumors prove true that a pull back from Iraq is in the offing, what will that do to the spirit of the most ardent supporters of the Iraq Occupation? The Bush Cult will call it a brilliant strategic move on the President's part while conveniently forgetting the battle in the House of Representatives over the original Murtha proposal. That response is predictable and almost not worth mentioning except to remind the ever forgetful about what really happened regarding current events.

For other supporters it could lead to skepticism about the reality of what they have been told by the government, the sort of skepticism we have yet to see. Belief systems, however, hold a powerful sway over sober reflection of the facts. We are not easily convinced of the errors of our most well entrenched beliefs.

Will a pull back to the perimeter in the Middle East lead to more stability in the region? It is difficult to believe that moving US forces from one Middle East country to the next will ease the underlying tensions in the region. Unrest in one hot spot will resurface in another.

All of the major issues regarding world stability and prosperity remain unresolved. The economic and political leaders in the US have yet to demonstrate they know how to crack that nut, or that they even care. Within the US, the goals of maintaining US preeminence in political,economic, and military power will not change despite the lack of a coherent strategy to accomplish those goals. Questioning the goals and their rightness is off the table for discussion.

At any rate, the Iraq experiment shows that one cannot disregard hard practical and pragmatic concerns about political and economic reality. Massive disruption and dislocation in the political and economic spheres is not to be undertaken lightly. When you fail to assess the consequences, you suffer the consequences. History presents ample evidence of this, yet we fail to learn.

The most severe critics will call warnings of caution reactionary, or at the least reformist appeasement. (Pick your favorite critics from whatever party.) However, the most noble aims are nothing but dangerous in the hands of blundering fools.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fictional technique: Highsmith and Hemingway

I tend to like fiction that breaks the rules. I don't mean those works of fiction that deviate from theories as to what a work of fiction ought to be or ought to do. By rules, I mean the more technical instructions one receives about narration, voice, point of view, dialogue, plot, character, etc.

Let's take Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley for example. Ripley is a cold blooded murderer, a fraud, and liar. The murders he commits are motivated by Ripley's own selfish interests for financial gain or to prevent people from finding out about his frauds. However, during the course of a Ripley novel Tom Ripley elevates hiding his guilt into an exquisite art form. I forget about what the man is even though Highsmith constantly reminds me. Will he get caught becomes the central concern. Ripley also loves his wife, cares for his housekeeper, enjoys the company of his friends, plus he is cultured. That grounds him as a reasonably nice person under the right circumstances. Ripley is never deluded about what he is doing. Each time he tries to justify his actions as more noble than they are, he quickly catches himself and sees them as acts of gratuitous self interest.

Highsmith has broken a basic rule though with her Ripley. I have been instructed that one should make a protagonist a good guy however flawed. Highsmith writes the mirror image of this rule with her Ripley character. She makes the protagonist a bad guy however flawed with goodness. I, although not sympathetic to him, am engaged enough to be fascinated by him without turning away in disgust.

The tyranny of art is mastering technique so that one can eventually break the technical rules with impunity. As we well know, that is not easily or often done.

That leads to me to wondering about Hemingway and his A Moveable Feast fictional memoir. Did he know what he was up to when he wrote it? That is, did he know that he was lying and being unkind to those he knew? Or was he being merely self serving to protect his image right up until the end?

However one views the Hemingway technique, we know he was wildly influential with that technique. Was A Moveable Feast one more piece of pyrotechnics he tried to pull off before the end?

A note on kindness and generosity

We know that Hemingway, in his memoir A Moveable Feast, was often unkind and mean spirited towards those he knew in Paris in the 1920s. We also know he killed himself before the book was published.

I suppose it is difficult to be kind and generous to others when you are being unkind and mean spirited towards yourself.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Media, Propaganda, and Candy

Let us say I watch the proposed 9/11 docudrama (polemic?) and find it deeply offensive and a product of right wing shills. What could I do to boycott Disney?

I could refuse to watch Desperate Housewives on ABC. That would hurt because it is one of my favorite TV shows, in fact, the only network show I watch. What good would it do if I then turned to Sunday Night Football on ESPN, also owned by Disney? To really stick to my convictions, I'd have to boycott all four ESPN channels I watch and ABC, which means I won't be seeing any Iowa football games for the rest of the season. Ouch!

The History Channel runs some good shows on Sunday Night, and you cannot go wrong by tuning into PBS on Sunday with its Masterpiece Theater and Mystery Theater. I guess I could do it and not suffer much. But this thing has turned out to be much bigger than I thought now that I have started thinking about its implications.

That is where Big Media has me. You see it is not just about the bitter pills they try to make me swallow occasionally, but also about the steady stream of candy they feed me.

Let's take one more example. I find Fox News abysmal, yet I love my Fox Soccer Channel because that is almost my only window on world football games. I don't boycott all of Fox because I find O'Reilly and his ilk offensive.

TV feeds me a steady diet of candy that anesthetizes me to the propaganda.

Don't watch TV, Lynn, some will say. I have spent a lot of years not watching TV except for the occasional sporting event. I don't work the crossword puzzles because I don't know the answers to any of the TV questions. Now, I have a few favorite shows like Battlestar Galactica and Desperate Housewives that I like and even find valuable. After years of wandering in the cultural desert, I may never have escaped. If I stop watching TV again, I'll never know what people are talking about. Maybe, I should annoit myself a cultural theorist to excuse my TV watching.

What is the cultural desert? TV or the complete lack of TV?

The 9/11 polemic is a dilemma. Like many dilemmas it is also an eye opener.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Simple Lie

Yesterday, I cited a NYT story about the new Senate Intelligence Committee report concluding al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were not linked. That came as no surprise to me. What I found interesting about the story was that President Bush said that Saddam and al-Qaeda were linked in a speech he gave two weeks ago.

The Senate report was based on a report from the CIA issued in October 2005. That means President Bush was lying when he gave his speech. It is simply not credible that the President did not know the contents of this CIA report to the Senate Intelligence Committee on a highly politicized matter.

He lied. That aspect of the story is not getting much attention. I imagine it is because half the country already believes he is a liar and half the country doesn't care one way or the other.

Meanwhile the death and destruction caused by the Iraq Occupation remains unabated with no end in sight. Oh well, President Bush now tells us Iraq was never about WMD and al-Qaeda. I suggest everyone draw their own conclusions without the help of Mr. Bush.

World III, World War IV, or World War Whatever

The renewed message coming from conservatives is that we are fighting World War III. Norman Podorhetz thinks we are fighting World War IV, World War III being the Cold War. Funny how you can spend most of your life not even recognizing you have fought a third world war. But, as usual, I digress already. Let’s not get hung up on what number world war we are fighting, but concentrate on whether we are fighting a world war at all.

First of all, who is the enemy? Well, it’s terrorists and Islamo-fascists. Islamo-fascist is a term that was popular among conservatives, but quickly fell out of favor because it insulted Muslims who are not fascists. Now, President Bush has revived it and it is again wildly popular with conservatives. Since we are fighting a world war, conservatives compare it to fighting World War II. Osama bin Laden hiding out in his Pakistan cave is like Hitler presiding over a country like Germany even though you will never locate bin Laden’s country on the map. Iraq is like the Spanish Civil War. Either you can connect the dots or you are too dull witted to understand. For conservatives people who are skeptical of the Iraq Occupation continue in their skepticism on account of their dull witted appeasement, just as folks did during Hitler’s rise. Appeaser is the new code word for coward in the right wing mind.

One hopes the “war on terror”/World War III analogy will blow over because those espousing the idea don’t really believe it themselves given the evidence to date about the nature of terrorism and terrorist organizations. If you want to romanticize real terrorist organizations, you might call them partisans fighting without official state sanction. That is about the closest you can come in any comparison with the Spanish Civil War in the Thirties or World War II.

Questioning other people’s motives is risky business. But sometimes you just have to do it to make sense of things. Cranking up the volume on the world war analogy coincides with the 2006 elections. It certainly appeals to the belligerent sort sitting safely in their snug homes. They can denounce the appeasers without ever getting off their asses to fight, while feeling good about their bravery and their patriotism, plus conveniently forgetting that sooner or later trillion dollar military adventures need to be paid for. That sounds harsh, but I know enough people like that.

Then there are the skeptics that conservatives hope to scare or shame back into the fold. I suppose the skeptics are supposed to say, gee, I never thought about it that way. However, skeptics have thought about it that way and find the evidence and logic against the proposition overwhelming.

Then we have the attendant notion that this ties into spreading freedom and democracy about the world: yes, like propping up a monarchy in Saudi Arabia, supporting Saddam Hussein in the Eighties, and finding other allies who have no scruples about being tyrants and dictators. History has not changed when it comes to that. We live in a world of convenience. Some don’t pay much attention to messy details such as whether their allies are dictators as long as they are conveniently supporting their political and commercial interests. If a dictator can line their pockets with coins and create an agreeable environment that promotes their interests, they flat out go for it. It’s always been the best game in town.

A contradiction arises when conservatives claim we are safer now, but we are also in a world war. How does being in a world war make anybody safer? At least they could show a little consistency, but that is too much to ask.

The world war analogy is a tune played in an echo chamber. Long after the orchestra has stopped playing the unobservant will continue humming and whistling the tune because they believe the orchestra is still playing. It’s like a song that gets played a lot on the jukebox. After awhile you are tired of hearing it. Yet some people keep playing it even after it is over a year old, and think they are really hip.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Surprise, surprise

This just in from Reuters: Senate panel finds no prewar Iraq-Qaeda link.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
Saddam Hussein had no relationship with al Qaeda, including Iraq-based guerrilla Abu Musab al Zarqawi, despite claims by President George W. Bush and other administration officials, a Senate report released on Friday said.

The report, one of two newly declassified reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, drew on a previously undisclosed October 2005 CIA assessment as Americans prepared to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

Gee, no kidding?

The NYT reports this:
The disclosure undercuts continuing claims by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The Republican-controlled committee also sharply criticized the administration for its reliance on the Iraqi National Congress during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The findings, in two new reports, are part of an ongoing inquiry by the Senate committee into pre-war intelligence about Iraq. The conclusions went beyond the committee'’s earlier findings, issued in the summer of 2004, by including criticism not just of American intelligence agencies but also the administration.

[. . .]

As recently as two weeks ago, President Bush said at a news conference that Mr. Hussein "had relations with Zarqawi."’ But a C.I.A. report completed in October 2005 concluded instead that Sadddam Hussein'’s regime "“did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward Mr. Zarqawi and his associates," according to the new Senate findings.

The C.I.A. report also directly contradicted claims made in February 2003 by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who mentioned Mr. Zarqawi by name no fewer than 20 times during a speech to the United Nations Security Council that made the administration'’s case to go to war. In that speech, Mr. Powell said that Iraq "“today harbors a deadly terrorist network" headed by Mr. Zarqawi, and dismissed as "“not credible" assertions by the Iraqi government that it had no knowledge of Mr. Zarqawi's whereabouts.

In fact, the Senate investigation concluded that Mr. Hussein regarded Al Qaeda as a threat rather as a potential ally, and that the Iraqi intelligence service "“actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success."

The report by the committee specifically criticized a decision by the National Security Council in 2002 to maintain a close relationship with the Iraqi National Congress, headed by the exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, even after the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency had warned that "the I.N.C was penetrated by hostile intelligence services," notably Iran.

The report concluded that the I.N.C. had provided a large volume of flawed intelligence to the United States about Iraq, and concluded that the group "“attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorists."

Is it even remotely plausible that the Bush Administration can find the truth, understand it, and then say it?

I can't wait to see the hand waving and foot shuffling by the Bush Administration during the next few days. When President Bush is questioned he'll say, "golly, I didn't know any of that. Nobody ever tells me anything around here."

War Profiteering

Annotated Life has a good survey article, Defense and Oil Companies Reap Windfalls, on war profiteering and related matters.

Free Library

Project Gutenberg has accumulated 19,000 free on-line books. If you have a computer and an Internet connection, you’ll never lack for an impressive library.

I recently discovered the charming treatise Non-Euclidean Geometry (1901) by Henry Parker Manning at Project Gutenberg. The book should be accessible to anyone with a high school course in geometry. The book is one of the more gentle introductions to non-Euclidean; however, by modern textbook standards it is somewhat dated.

I Googled Henry Parker Manning and discovered his is the first English language text on non-Euclidean geometry. You can find a short biography of Manning at this Brown University site.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Darned Generals

Reuters reports that Bush is criticized over terrorism suspects trial plan. Guess who is criticizing the plan.
Pentagon lawyers balked at Bush's proposal to limit the terrorism suspects' access to evidence.

"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," Brig. Gen. James Walker, U.S. Marine Corps staff judge advocate told a Congressional hearing.

Darned limousine liberal generals.

How would it feel?

We return to certain books we like. Why we like them may not have much to do with their quality. We may have read them at a time when their words resonated, so we return to recapture a little of the magic.

For me, one such book is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his memoir of being a young writer in Paris during the 1920’s. People learned in literature tell me it is a terrible book. I’ll take their word for it. But I still love it and will continue rereading it.

In his preface to the book he says this.

If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.

This is the first paragraph of the book.
Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside. It was a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies, and the sour smell of drunkenness. The men and women who frequented the Amateurs stayed drunk all of the time, or all of the time they could afford it, mostly on wine which they bought by the half-liter or liter Many strangely named aperitifs were advertised, but few people could afford them except as a foundation to build their wine drunks on. The women drunkards were called poivrottes which meant female rummies.

That paragraph makes me feel as though I am sitting inside the evilly run Café des Amateurs with its sour smell of drunkenness on a winter day.

As for the book, it made me wonder for the first time how it would feel to write well.

Best Preface?

What is the best preface ever written for a philosophical treatise? I vote for Spinoza’s in his Theologico-Political Treatise. You can find it here at the Gutenberg Project.

Too much

I wrote too much and for too long yesterday. While I was writing I kept telling myself to stop, for I was using up all my words and there would be none left for today. Damn, I was right.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sweet dreams about Iran

The religious leaders and, coincidently, rulers of Iran give theocracy a bad name by the repressive regime they control. That cannot be good news for Christian theocrats in the US whose brand of theocracy is enlightened and beneficent. You don't want to mix up your flavors. I digress already.

There is a serious Iranian threat. For the US it is its nuclear threat. For Iranians it is its repressive government. In a theocracy, those who are not sufficiently devout will suffer Hell on earth. The political dissident will not fare much better. It is one thing to be a devil outside the flock, and quite another to deviate from the true way inside the flock. You can't have a bunch of people running around thinking and saying whatever they want.

Ok, let's use our imaginations for a bit. You are an Iranian citizen and you hear the roar of the US jets come to blow up nuclear facilities and other mission critical facilities such as power plants. Here's what you are thinking.

"Oh goody. Here come the Americans to blow up the nuclear facility next to my house. I can hardly wait."

Or maybe that is not what you are thinking.

Another way to attack the Iranian situation is by supporting those dissidents inside and outside Iran in their struggle to defeat oppression. That's not so easy as blowing up a bunch of stuff, but revolutions do happen.

However, the way things go with this kind of aid is that a dissident has to have the correct ideological purity. Proudly announcing you are for free markets once a new regime takes control will get you lots of cash. For others it is not so easy to climb aboard the gravy train known as US business interests. You might think the US could make an exception in this case, but don't count on it.

You can blow up a bunch of stuff in a country whose citizens live on a dollar a day and it will cripple that country. But when a country like Iran is drowning in oil, that stuff is just going to get rebuilt, especially if it is needed to make bombs.

There's a kind of irony in calling Iran a rogue state when you are reaching for your wallet to buy more oil from them. Unfortunately, that irony is lost on a lot of people. One of the more sensible things coming from President Bush is his call for the US to free itself from its dependence on foreign oil. When you get down to cases as to what can be done, things get messy in a hurry.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of heroic Iranians trying to alleviate the suffering caused by a repressive theocracy. And the US is not doing much to help them. For some dissidents it is because they do not possess sufficient capitalist ideological purity. For others, it is because the US is spending all its time and energy figuring out how to blow up Iran once and for all so that it will no longer be a threat to US interests. Wouldn't you know, we expect the Iranians to be real happy about us bombing them, no matter what their political persuasion.

Such are the sweet dreams of those who can't figure out anything else to do but blow up stuff.

Another bright and shining moment in Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is pressing students to demand the purge of liberal and secular professors from Iran's universities. I suppose you can never get enough that good old time religion from the Koran if you live in Iran. Oh well, Iran was not high on my travel list anyway. Some interesting questions, however, present themselves.

I suspect that he won't be purging those scientists who happen to be handy with building nuclear technology. You don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

I suspect anyone who knows how to convert petro dollars into economic development will be somewhat secure in their positions. Iran has a high unemployment rate and suffers from economic underdevelopment given the amount cash sloshing around the country from oil sales. We know how unruly the unemployed can get even when they are treated to a heavy dose of solace and hope from the Koran.

I've got an idea. Let's take some of the cash sloshing around the US and create positions in US universities for Iranians. All dispossessed professors and students in Iran will be invited to attend our schools.

Then the US can thumb its nose at Iran and say, "good luck building your nuclear power plants and bombs from the instructions in the Koran."

Don't you just love religious fundamentalism during its most brilliant and shining moments?


Kurt Godel proved the consistency of first order logic in 1930. That's odd.

First, logic was considered a foundation for reason for over two thousand years, yet nobody knew if you could derive a contradiction by using its axioms.

Second, it took over two thousand years to prove the consistency of FOL, and it took a genius to do it.

What if the consistency of FOL was still not proved? It seems the equivalent of building houses on the side of an active volcano. They might be inhabitable for a long time. Then the eruption could come and sweep everything away.

Well, Godel proved the consistency of FOL, so we can all sleep soundly in our beds at night.

What's that rumbling I hear?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Let's Talk Baseball

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs tonight to put the Cubs one half game behind the Pirates for last place in the National League. But that is not what I want to talk about even though I am a die hard Cubs fan.

What I really want to talk about is White Sox baseball. As you well know, the White Sox won the World Series last year. The team did not have any injuries and the starters pitched very well. In fact, the Sox led from pole to pole in the regular season, then won an incredible 11 out of 12 games in the playoffs.

The White Sox are a different team this year, even though the only changes in their starting lineup are Brian Anderson in Centerfield and Jim Thome at Designated Hitter. Once again, they have had no injuries. They have trailed Detroit most of the season. Now, Minnesota has passed them.

A lot of White Sox fans assumed that the team would win the World Series again. The White Sox still have a decent shot at getting into the playoffs. Their current three game losing streak doesn't look all that bad, except it's September and they need to make up ground on the teams ahead of them.

I would remind the White Sox fans about hubris, but I don't think they would listen. I'm not seeing as many fans wearing White Sox hats as I did a few months ago.


I have been using Blogger for over two years. It possesses the fifth cardinal virtue; it's free. And who does not love and take advantage of that virtue at every opportunity?

But Blogger goes through extended periods of outage and instability that sometimes make it frustrating to use. The problems have all the symptoms of poor project management, change management, and maintenance discipline. They need some folks who know how to do those kinds of things properly.

Things will go much better for them when they add some discipline to their efforts.

Parsing the Bush Message and a Note on Bravery

Rami G. Khouri reports on Bush's Terror Tales at Tom Paine.

There is something sad about a grown man playing children's make-believe war games in a tree-house in grandpa's back yard--which is how George W. Bush came across Thursday night in his speech on the importance of winning the war in Iraq in the global battle against terrorism. Rarely does a leader of a great country like the United States malign history, his people's intelligence and the dignity of over a billion Muslims in one speech. But Bush did that Thursday night and will probably keep doing it for a while.

[. . .]

The president's speech Thursday night was most compelling for its capacity to say nothing new--nothing that he has not said repeatedly in the past three years‚--while adding new layers of misinterpretation and diversionary confusion that he sells to the American public on the basis of emotionalism, patriotism and nostalgia. His main thesis sums up his shameful misanalysis: "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.''

Really? The decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century is launched by a small band of criminal deviants like Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri from caves in Afghanistan, who play on the lost minds and restless psyches of young, mainly Arab and Pakistani men already angered by conditions in their societies? The terror problem is one that some good quality American high school guidance counselors could probably diagnose accurately, if given a chance to do so without the distorting dictates of domestic politics.

I can think of a lot more credible candidates for this century's decisive ideological struggle, including fighting poverty, expanding equitable global trading patterns, promoting good governance and the rule of law around the world, giving ordinary people everywhere a sense of being treated with dignity and justice, safeguarding the global environment and a few others.

[. . .]

Bush also does a disservice to the world and insults his own people's intelligence by mixing together into one ideological movement what is in reality a range of very different movements, inspired by different local and global causes. By linking Iraq, the recent Israel-Hezbollah war, Iran's nuclear ambitions and Syrian policies as elements in a single threat that must be fought by America's freedom agenda, he generates a common threat that does not exist as a single, coordinated adversary. This is one reason why Bush is having such a hard time with his foreign policies achieving any goals in the Middle East, or reducing the threat of terror attacks.

[. . .]

George W. Bush is responding to the terror of what started as a small band of miscreants with a shameful form of intellectual terror that has empowered them to recruit and expand. It is tragically sad when a man who should know better behaves like an adolescent and fights make-believe enemies in tree-house environments.

That pretty much encapsulates what leaves me cold when contemplating the pronouncements of President Bush. It is the extreme conflation of history, international political reality, the nature of terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, the confusion of cause with effect, and the scrunching of complex matters into one one or two political sound bites. It insults my intellect. All nuance and complexity have been whitewashed away.

I no longer care to meditate on his motives. He might be, as some claim, a true believer of what he says. He might not possess the intellectual requirements to lead the US. He might be a tool of ideologues. He might be the rankest of political opportunists and cynics. He might be a man mesmerized by the prospect of obtaining absolute power.

Whatever his motivations might be, he is totally and irretrievably wrong. Too many very smart people still buy into the sort of political speachifying we hear from President Bush. As to their motivations for believing him I write it off to wish fulfillment on my more charitable days.

Simplistic messages such as "the global war on terror", "cut and run", etc., create their own corollary messages; those who parse the Bush Message and find it lacking in all degrees and dimensions are cowards, traitors, or fools. As the ranks of the true believers shrinks, the epithets encompass more people. The political pundits and journalists on the extreme right don't understand that calling someone skeptical of the Bush Message a coward and traitor might anger the skeptic to the point where they might care as little about logic or reason as the worst of the radical right. Now that they have made it personal, it changes everything.

Who are these political pundits who so bravely talk about blind maniacal war as the answer to every political dispute? What are their military and war records? Look it up and you will find that almost to a person they have no credentials to call into question another person's bravery. We have a league of well protected armchair generals inciting others to carry the fight to the enemy.

There are folks on the right who make an heroic effort to add nuance, meaning, and perspective to the Bush Message. What they fail to see is that once they have completed the exercise, it is no longer the Bush message. There are folks on the right who do not participate in the personal attacks that some on the radical right make, yet they are blind as to how insulting those attacks are to folks who actually had the guts to join and fight in a war, regardless of how misguided they now feel their actions were.

I look at various episodes involving the radical right such as the attacks on John Murtha as a "cut and run" coward. The irony is that Murtha is a veteran with an impeccable and unimpeachable military record and whose physical bravery is unquestioned. He's done as much as anyone to create the current US military machine. He's the guy who has fought the hardest in Congress to see that veterans and military personnel aren't forgotten and treated like shit. Who are these people calling Murtha a yellowbelly? It ain't the generals or any veteran who knows his track record.

I've said all the nicest things I can say. Time to crank up the volume and remove the muffler. Here's what you might hear some veterans say regarding that special class of folks on the radical right who think everyone who disagrees with them is a coward and a traitor.

Now that you've made it personal, shut the fuck up, motherfucker, because you haven't been there and you don't fucking know. When you grow the balls to walk the walk come talk to me. And when you call me a coward you better fucking smile, you slimy piece of fucking shit.

Despite those harsh and crude words, there is a sort of logic operating there--a logic that some on the radical right don't know and don't have the inclination to learn. Time to take them to school.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Charlie Varrick

TCM is showing Charlie Varrick tonight. The Yahoo TV listing says the movie was released in 1973, but I discovered it a couple of years on IFC or Sundance channel.

Walter Matthau plays a small time crook who robs a mob bank. Thus he is pursued by the police and the mob. Simple premise, yet Matthau delivers a wonderful little performance as a smart, ruthless, and gutsy guy. The plot has enough quirky scenes, telling gestures, and mystery to leave you watching it all the way to end to see what happens.

Check it out sometime to see Walter Matthau playing outside his usual roles. Joe Don Baker and the other actors do a honey of a job too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I'm in Iowa; that's where the tall corn grows

Dear Everybody,

I’m in Iowa. And you can’t beat that.

The Iowa Hawkeyes beat Montana 41-7 yesterday. Everybody was happy, except for the few Montana fans that attended the game.

The corn is turning brown, but it appears to be a bumper crop. We shouldn’t lack for corn this coming year.

I’m on the worst wi-fi connection in the USA, so I’ll stop here.

I hope you are all doing well. I wish you were in Iowa because everything is always wonderful in Iowa.



Friday, September 01, 2006

Clank; Rev

I should be on the road to Iowa. Instead, I am drinking coffee and watching the workmen lay the foundations of the new high rise building across the street. I am procrastinating.

The cranes drill large holes in the ground. I suppose the holes will be filled with concrete that will later become the pillars that found the building. I watch and tell myself I should be running away from this construction. Yet another voice tells me I should make note of the construction each day. I might learn something useful. I’ll never have the chance again to watch the construction of a tall building from a front window seat. I am related to the project.

I recall bits of conversation from yesterday.

“So, what is Lynn doing this weekend?” she asks.

I note the third person impersonal.

“I’m going to Iowa.”


I can’t let the silence be.

“I’m going to the Iowa football game on Saturday,” I say.

More silence.

What I want to say to her is that it was impolite of her to ask when she doesn’t care. But I would never say that. I swallow it as a rancorous pill not easily digested.

Steel clanks. Crane engines rev. The arc into Iowa and the past stretches before me. I do not yet have the energy to lift the anchor, cast off, and hoist the sails.

Garbage plays on the radio:

I’m only happy when it rains
I’m only happy when it’s complicated
And though I know you can’t appreciate it
I’m only happy when it rains

You know I love it when the news is bad
And why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains

Pour your misery down, pour your misery down on me
Pour your misery down, pour your misery down on me

I’m only happy when it rains
I feel good when things are going wrong
I only listen to the sad, sad songs
I’m only happy when it rains

I only smile in the dark
My only comfort is the night gone black
I didn’t accidentally tell you that
I’m only happy when it rains

You’ll get the message by the time I’m through
When I complain about me and you
I’m only happy when it rains

[. . .]

I like the beat and it’s easy to dance to, so I’ll give it a ninety-eight.

It’s break time. The clanking and revving pause. Silence of a sort.