Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Spintelligent Design

The spin by creationists and fundamentalists in response to the recent Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in Dover, PA is simply amazing. Aren't Christians instructed not to lie???

Initially, a couple of key things to read. Here is Judge Jones's court decision. The decision by itself should more than adequately reveal the misrepresentations occurring in the articles I cite below.

Next, in the interest of fairness, Stephen C. Meyer's much-cited definitive essay on Intelligent Design. The essay validly points out alleged flaws in the theory of evolution, but engages in speculative thinking (albeit lucidly written) about form and function in order to do little more than establish the feasibility, the possibility, of design as an alternative to random chance. There is a world of difference between this article and what the Dover school board tried to do. The Dover board explicitly and unapologetically mandated the introduction of Intelligent Design in biology classes for religious reasons. One board member said, after the meeting in which the decision was made: "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." At another point, he said "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" And, of course, the book the board mandated science teachers suggest to their students, Of Pandas and People, is an openly religious book that, according to its critics, misrepresents everything from its own orientation to the fossil record and extinction evidence.

So now for the spin:

Lee J. Strang writes in the National Review Online that the ruling is an example of the broad, oppressive reach of the Establishment Clause, and that it's yet another case of attempting to "purge religion from the public square." Hogwash. The ruling purges religion from a science class. Strang admits (he has to in order to retain any intellectual integrity) that the Dover school board (most of whom were booted out of office over this fiasco) overreached, and made the mistake of wearing their religious purposes on their sleeves. But Strang insists that an Originalist perspective would allow religious explanations to be taught alongside scientific ones. Of course, what Strang doesn't say is that this needn't be done in science classes, and in fact creationism and all religious accounts of the universe can be, and are, taught in elective comparative religion and philosophy classes in public schools all over the country. Strang really has to stretch the arguments and implications of Kitzmiller to prove some kind of overall, categorical hostility toward religion. In this particular case, such hostility is only to religion in a science class. Strang also insists that Intelligent Design theorists have good arguments, but that's beside the point. Intelligent Design is indistinguishable from ancient and classical teleological arguments for the existence of God. Those arguments, once again, belong in philosophy and religion classes, not science classes. By its very nature, a Design thesis is an argument about the philosophy of science, the metaphysics of science; an argument ABOUT science, not an expression of the scientific method. Read Meyer's essay and judge for yourself.

Family News in Focus, the website of Focus on the Family, reveals an even greater degree of buffoonary in its editorial by Steve Jordahl. Jordahl simply lies in this piece, saying that Judge Jones ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach ANY alternatives to evolution. ANY. That's a flat-out untruth, of course (Jones only ruled that ID was unconstitutional, because it was religious in both intent and content), but it gets better. "Under the school board’s plan," Jordahl writes, "religion would not have been brought into the classroom." Not true. The school board's plan required teachers to alert students to the existence of a creationist book in the school's library, and encourage students to read that book. You really should read Jordahl's editorial for yourself. It's laughable, poorly edited and full of errors, reactionary, and looks to have been written by a 5 year-old child. Oh, and it quotes an ID advocate as saying there's plenty of empirical support for ID, but of course, no such support is specifically identified.

A house editorial in the Wheeling News-Register contends, without a shred of warrant, that ID possesses "at least as much validity as ... evolution." Wow. You'd think they'd mention some of that validity. Nope.

Ah, Chuck Colson chimes in as well. If you're too young to remember him, he helped to organize the illegal wiretapping of Democrats by the Nixon people. Subsequently he founded a Christian prison ministry outfit. Anyway, as we know from observing the careers of Ollie North and Mark Fuhrman, corrupt public officials can always schlep for conservative news organizations, and Colson is no exception. His Townhall.com editorial doesn't really make any arguments at all. He just says he "strongly disagrees" with the ruling. He reluctantly admits that the school board overplayed its hand. But the real purpose of the editorial is to push the reader towards "informative" links at the bottom of the page--from a book available through Amazon making the case for intelligent design (although the book in question does so from an evangelical perspective, doesn't present both sides of the issue, and doesn't use the scientific method at all), to links to a "research and information page" that is full of editorials against evolution rather than any actual research and information.

I am much more sympathetic to the viewpoint of William Grassie of the Metanexus Institute, which advocates meaningful, critical dialogue between religion, philosophy, and science. Grassie says the real problem here is that students don't sufficiently understand the underlying philosophy of science, and that such an understanding is a prerequisite to understanding how to discuss the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, the politics of the scientific and religious communities, and why evolution still has the preponderance of evidence on its side even if it's not "perfect."

But this is worlds away from what creationists want. Implicit in their arguments, further illustrated by the dishonest and warrant-free spin of the articles cited above, is a desire to eliminate critical thinking altogether, in favor of appeals to authority, tradition, and doctrine. A citizenry that is taught to believe that all things exist merely because of the will of a divine creator will easily take the next step: That a few authorities are appointed to speak for that creator. The next step: Those authorities have a monopoly not only on theological and scientific truth, but also on moral and, of course, political truth. There is a free, open and short road running from creationism to religious authoritarianism. Judge Jones has closed that road--for now. Thank God!!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Same Intelligence," My Arse

Thanks to Joshua Micah Marshall at Talkingpointsmemo.com for bringing this to our attention. Diane Feinstein (even hacks are right every once in a while) doubted Bush's claim that Congress received the same pre-war intelligence as Bush did. So she asked the Congressional Research Service. Their response? Bush's claim is not true. In fact, the scope and depth of the CRS's refutation of Bush's lie is overwhelming.

In the current right wing orgy over Bush's stellar jump in approval ratings (possibly up to 50% now), Bush's "shocking" admission that pre-war intelligence was flawed, and the tentative success of elections in Iraq, an evaluation of the legitimacy of the decisionmaking process itself has taken a back seat. Part of the reason it has been allowed to do so is that people are buying into the notion that everyone had the same flawed pre-war intelligence. Well, they didn't.

More important than the deficit in pre-war intelligence was the obviously deliberate spin the Administration placed on the most dubious portions of that intelligence. Regardless of the culpability of other sections of the ruling class, the Administration is responsible for the poor intelligence that fed into public myths about ties between Iraq and Al Qaida . And despite the best efforts of a particularly ridiculous Heritage Foundation argument that all the pre-war intelligence was legit (give us a break!), it's still indisputable that Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all their dogs continued to repeat claims to the media with utter confidence after it was revealed to them that those claims were at least doubtful and probably completely dubious--claims like "nuclear materials," "45 minutes," "mushroom cloud" and the like. Moreover, Bush and Cheney continued, and continue, to invoke 9/11 in defense of the invasion of Iraq.

The subsidiary claim that Clinton and others made the same arguments really proves nothing. Clinton was as much of a warmongering hack as his successor, and in fact bombed Iraq to distract the public from a sex scandal, which may even be more small-minded than the Bush Administration.

Now a couple of pre-empts for the stubborn:

1. Even if it could be proven that Congress had each and every piece of information that the Administration had (and the CRS letter confidently refutes that), this would only make Congress complicit in the non-deliberative process leading up to the invasion of Iraq. I am perfectly comfortable blaming the Democrats. I just want to know what to blame them for, and thanks to the CRS letter, I know I can blame them for spinelessness and impotency rather than unmitigated dishonesty--at least some of them, and at least on the issue of Iraq.

2. "But the invasion and occupation have been a great success! We got rid of Saddam and he was a bad guy! The elections are working out great! The world is a safer place." Yeah, well listen: I have long warned the anti-war movement not to base their criticism on disputable empirical facts. I will say the same for the pro-invasion/occupation folks. Your defense of the war, your eagerness to minimize the impact of torture, your brushing off of international law and global cooperation, your defense of planting and paying for lies in the media, and your deliberate historical ignorance of the way the U.S. and its allies empowered Saddam in the first place (to say nothing of your complete silence on the corporatization of the occupation and the unprecedented corruption sanctioned by the Administration), cannot be papered over with human interest stories about liberated Iraqis. Morality, even political morality, is capable of the complex, simultaneous acknowledgment of good and bad, despite the best efforts of Straussian neocons to eliminate complexity, to ban it, really, from the masses.

Both sides, I will acknowledge are spinning, both sides are converting innocent lives into political capital. I don't trust a Murtha any more than I trust a Rumsfeld. Why should I? But that "pox on both your houses" doesn't excuse the pro-war side from its defense of all sorts of anti-democratic actions, including lying to both Americans and Iraqis through engineered media reports. It doesn't excuse the right from using both 9/11 and Iraq to justify pushing through an agenda they wanted all along.

The ends do not justify the means. Not merely because of some kind of Kantian categorical imperative, but because there is always an intimate, ontological relationship between process and outcome. That is the truth behind the Habermasian test: Decisions made when information is deliberately withheld and distorted, and when those "little people" affected by such decisions are denied the ability to be agents in the decisionmaking process, are always bad decisions. Sometimes the "badness" of such decisions isn't apparent until much, much later. But bad decisions they are, because democratic deliberation cannot just be something we adhere to when it's convenient or politically expedient, and honesty is not something we can choose to deploy only when the outcome suits us. Even if the pro-war folks can spin their way out of each and every objection, even if they seize control of every history book and editorial page for the next hundred years, the lies, distortions, and omissions will show themselves in the end. The CRS report is a good first step in demonstrating that even Bush's clumsy apologetics are based on lies and spin. And if the best answer anyone can give is that all sides of the ruling class are equally culpable in the lies and spin, I will readily accept that indictment.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Remembering John Lennon

Today is the 25th anniversary of the shooting death of John Lennon.

I'm not a fan of "classic" rock, but the Beatles were a band that transcended every genre, pushed boundaries, and above all, made beautiful, thoughtful, powerful music. I always have Abby Road, Revolver, or the White Album on rotation between sets of Bad Religion, Dead Prez, The Flatlanders, Built to Spill, Immortal Technique, etc.

I'm not a big fan of the "hippie-left," but Lennon pushed political boundaries as well. His words and ideas made him dangerous enough to be put on an FBI watch list. His anger and militancy, his insistence on asking thought-provoking and challenging questions concerning the relationship of the personal, political and artistic, separated him from his softer "peace and love" comrades.

There's always been a lot of shit-talk about the Beatles and John Lennon, but I'm really not interested. Some people get off on minimizing the impact of Shakespeare too. People make careers or just get their weekend jollies out of cutting down giants. They think it makes them sound intelligent to say meaningless things about how artists were (gasp) influenced by other artists, or how the Stones were better than the Beatles, blah blah blah. Those silly attempts at establishing objective artistic authority don't even speak the same language as the aesthetic and emotional experience of listening to the Beatles, or much of the later work of Lennon.

Recently files were released confirming what most everyone had long suspected: that the U.S. government manipulated intelligence about the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to justify intervention in Vietnam. If John Lennon were alive today I have little doubt what he'd be saying and doing, what he'd be singing about, and whom he would be ridiculing with his acid wit and absurdist artistic form.

Tonight I'll be listening to some Beatles music.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Dems Blow it Again

Bush just gave a speech outlining the stunning successes of U.S. occupiers in Iraq. This is what the public wants to hear.

In recent days, Howard Dean and others have said outlandish things like "The U.S. can't win in Iraq." This is NOT what the public wants to hear.

[Most amusing: Some of the Republicans' leading pundits have been calling --in all seriousness-- for Dean to be tried for treason and executed. I'll write more about this later.]

The Democrats don't have a prayer in this fight, and here's why:

First, most of them were pansies when given the real chance to oppose the Bush war agenda a few years ago. They hemmed and hawed and danced around the issue.

Second, the Republicans will ALWAYS appear to be the stronger party in terms of military power. That's why Kerry blew it in '04 with his "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty" droolery.

Third, the Democrats' hands aren't clean on corporate and military-industrial complex influence, so they can't effectively criticize the Republicans on the way in which this war, and the entire "War on Terror" enterprise is being spun and manufactured by corporate interests. So the best the Dems can do is level this kind of half-assed panty-waste criticism that goes nowhere and doesn't really say anything.

Fourth, empirical appeals to the failure of the U.S. occupation will always be ineffective because the situation in Iraq, as complex and multi-layered as it is, can always be spun one way or the other, and there's more public support, more media money, and more grand narrative capital to be gained from the conclusion that things are going well there than from the conclusion that things are not. Moreover, by focusing on contingent failures (not enough troops, ooh look an explosion here, a few dead troops there), the Democrats merely give Bush the opportunity to fix those problems, to incrementally improve things. Of course it would be better if the Dems could criticize Bush on the PROCESS he used to make his decisions, but since the Dems are at least patsies and at most collaborators in that process, they lack the credibility to do so.

As much as all you Democrats hate Bush, he and his ilk will ultimately triumph on this issue--up to and including enduring next year's mid-term elections and probably placing another Republican in the White House in '08.

Don't blame this on the "stupidity" or complacency of the American public either. People are doing the best they can. They've been miseducated and thrown into economic and moral uncertainty. Both parties, beholden as they are to hierarchical economic interests, have a stake in an uninformed public.

The Republicans may be evil, but the Democrats are evil AND stupid. Which is worse?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nguyen Tuong Van Executed in Corporate Fiefdom Known as Singapore

As disturbing as another U.S. execution is (and it's bemusing that we live in such a sound-bite society that the "1000th" execution is all over the media like there's something unique about it besides its arbitrary numerical designation), it pales in comparison to Singapore's execution yesterday of Nguyen Tuong Van, a 25-year-old Australian, for drug running. Some particularly disgusting details about this case:

1. Nguyen was a small time runner. The big timers never get caught or killed because they are usually in collusion with cops, corporations, and local little tin-horn government officials.

2. It's death by hanging, the procedure of which is based on the “Official Table of Drops”, first published by the British Home Office in 1913. Like many former British colonies, Singapore retains many traditions introduced by British colonialism.

3. The Howard government, and the Labor opposition, have behaved spinelessly and hypocritically over it. They've turned it into an anti-drug message and have vilified Nguyen, which they can get away with because he's an Asian immigrant. Even though they could have applied actual pressure which probably would have worked (it's worked before) in this case they chose not to because of APEC and tourism and other business considerations.

The facts and the social context of this tragedy override any gut temptation any of us might have to say "well, he shouldn't have been running drugs." The government of Singapore is a barbaric, cynical, glorified den of gangsters and the elaborate system of torture and repression they practice proves how easily a "market economy" can become a corporate slave camp (there are plenty of other examples of course). Of course, the government of Australia behaved quite predictably themselves--using their failure to apply pressure which probably would have worked to instead spew sanctimonious anti-drug messages. Prime Minister Howard himself even said: "I hope the anti-drugs message is stronger, or as least as strong as the anti-capital punishment" message. What a tool.

Thanks to Rick Kelly's good article on this at the World Socialist Web Site.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mukhtar Mai

http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/PersonOfWeek/story?id=1237950&page=1

ABC News

Pakistani Rape Victim Becomes Beacon for Women's Rights

Oct. 21, 2005 — - Three years ago, Mukhtar Mai was brutally raped in her remote village in Pakistan. After a long struggle, Pakistan's supreme court convicted her attackers, and she's only able to talk about it now.

"I feel very happy, and God will look after me in the future," she said. "I am very, very hopeful that I will get justice."

Tomorrow Mai will travel to New York, her first trip out of Pakistan, to receive Glamour magazine's "Woman of the Year" award. And she'll travel around the country to speak on the plight of rural women.

"We look for strength. We look for persistence -- a woman of the year is someone who believes that women can do whatever they set their mind to, and Mukhtar illustrates those qualities better than anybody," said Cindi Leive, Glamour's editor in chief. "This is a story that's going to shock everyone who hears it."

Mai, 33, has never been allowed to attend school in a village traditionally dominated by men. In the rural Pakistan area where she lived, it is common for women to be used as an example to settle disputes, and sometimes women are even traded to resolve problems.

Mai herself was at the center of such a dispute three years ago. Her younger brother was accused of insulting a more powerful neighboring clan. Mukhtar was told that if she begged for her brother's pardon she would be able to clear the family name.

"It was in my mind that this is the tradition of the head of the council -- that if a lady goes there, then he places his hand on the head of the woman and he says, 'OK, you are excused.'"

But that's not what happened. Members of the all-male council attacked and raped her.

"There, in the presence of 200 people, four men took me and they abused me. I told them, they're like my brothers, not to do this. But they did not listen to me," she said.

When it was over, Mai was forced to walk home half-naked and publicly disgraced.

"Not only have you been completely shamed, you have shamed your entire family," said New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. "And the way to wipe that out is to commit suicide. And that's the expectation across rural Pakistan."

Fighting Back, Building Schools

But Mai's reaction was quite the opposite. She pressed charges against the rapists, and 14 men were arrested. Then, at great personal risk, she testified against her attackers in court. Six of the men were found guilty, and one was sentenced to death.

The case made international headlines. The embarrassed Pakistani government awarded Mai a sum equivalent to nearly 20 times the average annual Pakistani salary.

She could have moved away and started a new life. But instead, Mai used the money to build two local schools.

"Education is power. People can be trampled on if they are not educated. But if they are educated they can fight back," she said.

After the trial, the accused men appealed their sentences, and the province let five of them go free. Mai feared for her safety, but she pressed on.

Pakistan's supreme court later took the case and ruled in her favor. All 14 of the rapists and their accomplices are now in prison.

"Sexual violence is an issue for women in every country, and if a woman like Mukhtar Mai can speak out against it with such incredible odds, then really she can be an example for women globally," said Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

In fact, Mai is doing just that.

"I've gained a lot of strength from building the school," she said. "I would not be alive today if I had not gained this strength, and I have more faith in Pakistan because of this."

Copyright (c) 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Cleanup and mood elevation

After writing about discursive determinism, I thought I'd make some simpler announcements about the state of reality in my blogworld...

I have temporarily turned my comments function off because my Coulter post (which I deleted recently) was bombarded with blog-spam. I don't know much about it, but I assume it functions similar to other spam. The comments were things like "Great blog! Do you want to date Black women? Go to this site!" and "Hey, I couldn't agree with you more about what you just wrote. Want to invest in gold? Click here!" Sheesh.

I will take comments in the meantime, at stannard67 [at] aol.com and will publish them here.

In the mood elevation/taking delight in the Republican quagmire department:

"I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation were not a waste of time and dollars."(Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson forgetting Clinton on "Meet the Press," October 23)

Also, Delaware Dem has a Bush Disapproval Map Bush has net disapproval ratings in all states but Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Alaska, and Oklahoma, which net approve of Bush, and Montana and Mississippi, where his numbers are 50%. Bush even has net disapproval ratings in Texas.
Power, Externality and Consciousness

"Power concedes nothing without a demand" indeed. To attempt to be a conscientious opposition, not merely siding with the party not in power, but siding with the people against all misuse of power, requires an understanding of how power affects consciousness, how easily we are duped into docility and defensiveness, and how to find a way out of all that. And then, having isolated that precarious formula, one must absorb the realization that winning political struggles is only partially, and sometimes never at all, about having better ideas, or even the talent for communicating them to others. Most of us have, if we have at all, only localized and limited power to shape the contingencies that surround us and practically define us.

That last limiter is one that new age discursive determinists (translation: academic hippies who think we need a "consciousness shift, dude") find offensive. They think it gives the capitalists and their stormtroopers too much power. Of course, that begs the question; we don't "give" them power by acknowledging them; we didn't create them with our minds, we didn't otherizingly threat-construct them, whatever. If the argument is that we shouldn't "give them power" in our minds when trying to forge strategies and self-consciousness in order to fight for a better world, then point well-taken, but metaphor-based self-motivation is one thing (I'm actually a big fan of it in some contexts) while trying to understand the political world is quite another. If that makes me a dualist, then both of me is proud to call us that.

The explanation I offer does not strip us of our autonomy, while it does embrace the appeal to external facts, the representations of others, to understand the external limitations on our autonomy. It is not a discursive recognition of externality that limits us; it is the discursive failure to imagine remedies to limiting externalities, to imagine ways to transcend limits. What the new agers, the idealists, the lingo-fetishists fail to realize is that we need to give those externalities their due in the first place. It's solopsistic not to; it's stupid, and historically reflective of the naive elitism of thin-blooded aristocracy who, having never gone hungry, had no idea what hunger was really like.

Moreover, insofar as I concede that "truth" in the metaphysical sense is a rhetorical construct, and even find sympathy with Heidegger's awkward but effective attempt to explain the difficult distinction between constructed truth and "reality" in Being and Time, I would simply argue that such constructs, having the political weight they have, ought to be democratized and socialized along with all other public production facilities. If truth is a product, it should be manufactured to meet human needs, not the profits of a few. Undeniably, representation plays a determinative role in the political process, and even in economic exchange and production. Ideology shapes power and is power. To acknowledge that, and even to allow for a great degree of subjectivity in interpretation, does not require a radically subjective view of externalities, alterity, and actually existing structures. It merely requires giving others their due.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Slow, Pleasant Fall of Bill O'Reilly

News Hounds documents here how Bill O'Reilly is stumbling down a long flight of stairs in an effort to discredit Cindy Sheehan. He can't even control his own guests, which must really piss off a control freak like him. Perhaps a few more obscene, sexually harassing phone calls will offer him some relief. You can tell by listening to the guy that he's a classic case of a man who will explode when denied his own way, his unquestioned right to control the agenda (political, sexual or otherwise) around him. I mean, he did express a desire to shoot Al Franken in the head when Franken exposed O'Reilly's lies about winning two Peabody awards...
On the right's inability to answer Cindy Sheehan

In this column, Jonah Goldberg argues that the left is constructing a Cindy Sheehan who is beyond argument, immune from criticism, because of the continual reassertions of (1) her status as a mother of a fallen soldier, and (2) her right to speak, a right Goldberg says is beside the point if what she says is wrong.

Clever column, but, to borrow Golberg's own phrasing, utterly beside the point. It's not that the right exceeds its moral or political authority in criticizing Sheehan. It's that nothing the right has said actually addresses the core symbolic and political significance of her public argument. Maybe Goldberg is partially correct in that elements of Sheehan's message are above argument. If so, I'd say that this simply gives the right, and particularly supporters of the ill-conceived invasion and occuptation of Iraq, a strong and bitter dose of their own medicine.

Several right wingers have been harping on Sheehan's comments about Israel's undue influence in U.S. foreign policy, calling her an anti-semite, adding elements of interpretation to her utterance that exceed to record levels the limits of common sense interpretation. They're having a hard time making such innuendo stick, especially since so many Jewish leftists say the same thing. See, once you accept that, and once you press for a link between criticism of Israel and anti-semitism, the debate becomes extremely complex, and you have to dredge the sewars of right wing bloggery to find all the idiots who say there are "Jewish anti-semites" and argue that derisively using the word "neocon" marks your participation in the secret language of Jew-haters.

For the record, I wish she hadn't made the Israel reference. I don't think it's good form, and it's really beside the point. For me, the role of Israel is not a central component of criticism of U.S. foreign policy (capitalists and imperialists come in all nationalities), and talk like this is all-too-easily misappropriated, as we are seeing in this case.

But a couple of "on the other hands." First, the charge of anti-semitism will not stick, and will only give those ultra-righties who thrive on making such ill-connected accusations the opportunity to look narrow-minded and irrational in the public sphere once again. You want to make the argument, with a straight face, that if I criticize Wolfowitz that means I'm anti-semitic? Sigh. Fine, knock yourself out, asswipe.

[I am imagining here that I'm talking to Omri Ceron, who should know better, but it could also apply to the logic-deprived followers of David Horowitz. If I am talking to Omri, imagine that I said "asswipe" with a loving smile...]

I'll take my friend Scooter's word on this:

I actually left a synagogue-- mid Rosh Hashanah services if I recall-- when the rabbi noted that good Jews have to support Israel. That was around the time that they started sticking the "we stand with Israel" slogan on the mailings. Trust me: That kind of crap pisses off more Jews than Sheehan's questioning of US policy toward Israel.


Second, a final and important counterpoint: We should not forget that the right really gets off on criticizing a number of black-led African states and even arguably and occasionally relies on some potentially offensive assumptions about black Africans in doing so. But they answer charges of "racism" with characteristic defensive outrage.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sheehan IV

Here is Ralph Nader's powerful letter to Cindy Sheehan, documenting Bush's pattern of refusing to meet with, or listen to, anyone outside of his small circle.

The false interpretation of Sheehan's initial meeting with Bush, as well as the distorted and irrelevant swipes on her character that Drudge and Malkin successfully spread early on, have made their way onto every two-bit pro-war blog on the internet. This is all they have, folks: distortions, and the ability to spread them faster than we can answer them, to bloggers willing to uncritically tow the line. Just remember, they are doing this because they are scared shitless. This isn't going away; Sheehan's basic argument is, as I've said before, irrefutable and universal: Bush and the neocons are responsible for creating the conditions in which Casey Sheehan, and many, many other young people, needlessly died. This is true even if, in some general sense, the war was a good idea. This is true even if Bush hadn't lied. This is true even though Saddam Hussein had to go. That's what's going to kill all the last gasping breaths of support for Bush's execution of this war. So it's understandable that the warborgs are doing the very best they can, and doing so by repeating distortions often enough that they'll be accepted as truth.

Ben Johnson over at the uber reactionary Front Page Magazine has decided to try his hand at what every other warborg has failed to do: successfully assassinate Sheehan's character. His arguments:

(1) Casey Sheehan voluntarily re-enlisted

Say it with me, folks: big...friggin...deal. Cindy Sheehan has the right to be against this war and to testify (Johnson calls it "exploit" but that's a thuggish rhetorical choice) of her unique love for her son in order to make her argument. She's her own moral, political agent.

(2) Cindy Sheehan associates with "far left" and "anti-Semitic" figures

We know she's "far left" of Ben Johnson, Front Page Magazine, and Dracula. Johnson epitomizes the McCarthyist style that has made Front Page the irritating and irrelevant rag it is today by listing all the associations and associations of associations Sheehan's been affiliated with (surprised you missed the fact that her plumber's wife's cousin was in the ACLU, Ben!) over the past several years. But anti-Semitic? Johnson gets to that, far enough down in the article he hopes you won't bother to read it and just take his word at the top...she (gasp) insulted Paul Wolfowitz, who's a "well-known Jewish conservative," therefore Sheehan MUST be anti-semitic. Wow, pretty weak sauce. She also says her son joined the military to protect America, not Israel. But given that many, many Jewish people are against many of Israel's policies, including those who perceive that the U.S. foreign policy is unwarrantedly beholden to Israel, linking this statement to racism is irresponsible and inexcusable, and is tantamount to accusing progressive people in general, both Jewish and gentile, of being anti-semitic. Wow, also pretty weak sauce, rendered weaker still when Johnson backhandedly admits the dubious nature of his interpretation.

3. Cindy Sheehan has changed her story.

Nope. See all the stuff I've posted thus far, follow the links, read the original story. You will truly be amazed at how far the warborgs have gone to take the initial story out of context. You'll see, once again, how sad and desperate they are.

4. Others in her family disagree with her.

Ditto and irrelevant.
Sheehan III

"if bush and jesus were really so tight, he’d invite [Sheehan] to the ranch and wash her feet. know what i’m sayin’?" ("spike," commenting on another blog)

David Rovics has a new song for Cindy Sheehan at his website:

Cindy's got some questions
And so does everyone
Because she is every mother
And he was every mother's son


Whether Cindy Sheehan changed her story is extremely doubtful. It's much less doubtful that she changed her emotions about the meeting. Now here's where the attacks from the righties get confusing. First, they say she had an anti-war agenda even before Casey Sheehan went to Iraq, certainly before he died. But then she magically lost this agenda upon commenting on her initial meeting with the President. Then (presumably in response to prodding from anti-war groups), Sheehan went back to being militantly anti-war and anti-Bush. As I said at the very beginning of this discussion, it is impossible to know know exactly what every single agent feels in every instance in this episode (or any other). By focusing their rhetorical strategy on assigning such motives, conservatives force themselves into defending not merely a flip-flop theory, but a trip-flop theory.

But the important thing here, is that there is really no strong evidence that she changed her story, while there is very clear evidence that the story was quickly distorted (and the distorted version aggressively spread) by the right's spinmeisters. Here's Media Matters getting to the bottom of it:
Drudge...took Sheehan's quotes from The Reporter out of context in falsely claiming a shift in her position. The June 24, 2004, Reporter article also quoted Sheehan expressing her misgivings about Bush and the Iraq war:
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."
The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place. ...the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act....Sheehan was not referring to her meeting with Bush as "the gift the president gave us." She was actually referring to the trip to Seattle, as Reporter staff writer Tom Hall noted in an August 9 article responding to Drudge...Sheehan said sharing their story with those families was rewarding...Drudge included that quote in his Monday morning report, but didn't explain that it referred to sharing time with her family, not the president."
Reporter editor Diane Barney also responded to Drudge in an August 9 column, in which she said that Sheehan's positions on Bush and the war have not changed since June 2004. "We don't think there has been a dramatic turnaround. Clearly, Cindy Sheehan's outrage was festering even then," Barney wrote. "In ensuing months, she has grown more focused, more determined, more aggressive. ... We invite readers to revisit the story -- in context -- on our Web site and decide for themselves." ...
Throughout the day on August 8, Drudge's false story needed little time to spread to conservative weblogs:
Drudge posted the Sheehan item on August 8 at 10:11 am ET.
Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin posted the item on her weblog one hour later, at 11:22 am ET.
At 12:40 pm ET, the Drudge story appeared on C-Log, the weblog of the conservative news and commentary website Townhall.com.
At 2:33 pm ET, MooreWatch.com posted the story.
At 3:23 pm ET, William Quick of DailyPundit.com posted the story.


What is particularly depressing for the warborgs is that even if their version of events were 100% true, it wouldn't make Bush and the neocons any better at telling the truth or managing a war.

The President has been forced to respond, in some respectable way, to Sheehan (more evidence that this is a no-lose issue for the anti-war movement and, I'd add, an inevitable outcome of a criminal war conducted in a society with at least some semblence of democratic checks and balances). I will address some of the President's specific points below:

“In recent days, we have seen again that the path to victory in the war on terror will include difficult moments,” the president said near the end of his speech. “Our nation grieves the death of every man and woman we lose in combat, and our hearts go out to the loved ones who mourn them. Yet, even in our grief, we can be confident in the future, because the darkness of tyranny is no match for the shining power of freedom.”


Now, many have commented, both for better and worse, that the power of Sheehan's protest is emotional. I think it's slightly more than that: It's a deconstruction (forgive the term) of the emotional manipulation Bush and the warborgs have repeatedly deployed to exploit 9-11 and the tragedy of war for their own political ends. Dana Cloud has written of the emotionalized closure of the public sphere and the reliance of such closure on assumptions of appropriate behavior by women and mothers. What Bush is doing in the quote above is simply feeding the link to the criticism Sheehan is enacting.

“So we will honor the fallen by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, and by doing so we will ensure that freedom and peace prevail.”


Again, shallow repetition of what has been said again and again. Sheehan's response: What is this mission or noble cause, in the face of your Administration's lies about the reasons we went into Iraq? In the face of your refusal to adequately fund this allegedly vital mission, placing uniformed working people in harm's way? What kind of freedom and peace will prevail based on such lies and inadequacies?

“We're hunting down the terrorists and training the security forces of a free Iraq so Iraqis can defend their own country,” he said. “Our approach can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation.”


As he is prone to do, Bush lifted the "stand up/stand down" quote from an earlier speech, the one he gave at Fort Bragg. And like everything else he says, each sentence and turn of phrase raises more questions. Why do you get to now pretend that this was the reason we went into Iraq? Why do you get to "sever" out of past dubious justifications? What of the fact that our presence there has caused the very terrorism we are now fighting, just as US geopolitical manuevering created Saddam Hussein and sanctioned his evil in the first place? Why must these men and women whose very deaths you invoke as justifications for their mission be sacrificed again and again as pawns of a continuous cycle of hegemony, arrogance, and inevitable blowback? And even granting you every benefit of the doubt, why haven't you made their safety (or the health of ex-soldiers) a top priority? Bush just repeats the same tired slogans over and over, which may explain why as many as 6 in 10 surveyed Americans are opposed to the war.

But he closed the speech this way: “The terrorists cannot defeat us on the battlefield. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve. That will not happen on my watch. Withdrawing our troops from Iraq prematurely would betray the Iraqi people, and would cause others to question America's commitment to spreading freedom and winning the war on terror.”


Ah, how original. If we question the war, the terrorists win. We're spreading freedom (not creating more Husseins and Bin Ladens) Anyone else getting tired of this sad excuse for a President?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The stumbling conservative response to Cindy Sheehan

Let's see...how can I put this succinctly?

People have a right to change their minds. Likewise, people have a right to align themselves with other people and organizations in an effort to promote particular political views. Pointing out that Sheehan has done these things is an utterly meaningless, and purely ad hominem political attack. The fact that conservatives are reduced to these two stellar arguments, that they keep repeating them over and over in a sing-songy, lecturing-the-kindergarteners tone, says all you need to know about the battle between an angry, critical-minded mother and the cynical, content-free war-borgs she is confronting.

To be fair, the range of choices for the anti-Sheehanites is pretty narrow. It's either repeat the above mentioned mantras, or call her names. Apparently, few conservatives see a reasoned defense of the war, delivered through the lens of unconditional respect for Sheehan, to be an option on the rhetorical table. While you might think that the name-calling would be none too appealing given that it will inevitably make Sheehan look better and the war-borgs look worse, this hasn't stopped neo-con David Frum from calling Sheehan an "anti-war crazy," Tony Snow from saying on his radio show that Sheehan is psychologically disturbed, O'Reilly from calling her a tool of the vast leftist conspiracy and even hinting that her behavior bordered on treason (see above--this is an issue of political association which matters not one iota in assessing her arguments or intentions), Michelle Malkin from referring to Sheehan's "crazy accusations,", or this inarticulate keeper of the "Men's News Daily" from accusing Sheehan of crying "crocodile tears" over her son.

Once again, a woman who does something like this must be mentally disturbed or a stooge. Above all, she will never be, can never be, a respectable participant in an argument with multiple sides. That the right cannot fathom treating her that way either means there really is no respectable argument for the way Bush started or conducted the invasion of Iraq, or that the war-borgs are just plain intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Oh, as I mentioned before, these idiots have one more line of attack: That many in Sheehan's family disagree with her, and that she is herself anti-war while her dead son was not. It's pretty easy to see the hidden sexist assumptions in actually treating these contingencies as arguments. The passive, faithful mother should defer to the judgment of the two men in her life, husband and warrior son. She should not assert her own, independent line of political thinking, for to do so would "dishonor" her son (The fact is, Sheehan has never claimed that her son was opposed to the war).

If she would just shut up and respect all those men--her son, her husband, her President, and her God--then she wouldn't be over in Crawford kicking up a fuss while Bush tries to enjoy his vacation and fundraisers.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is asking some great questions

I want the Bush war apologists to keep talking smack on Cindy Sheehan. I want them to continue to call her crazy or a leftist pawn, because the more they do, the worse they look. I want that fluffy right-wing lightweight Michelle Malkin to turn her attack meter up all the way. I want alleged sexual predator Bill O'Reilly to continue to call her a disgrace. As Bush the Younger himself blathered out in a different context, bring it on!

As this brand new AP story reports, Ms. Sheehan is asking some very good questions:

August 12, 2005 CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- President Bush's motorcade, en route to a political fund-raiser near his ranch, passed Friday by the site of Cindy Sheehan's
Iraq war protest where more than 100 people had gathered to support her. Sheehan -- whose son, Casey, was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year at age 24 -- held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"
It's unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, looked at the demonstrators as his caravan passed. The motorcade did not stop. ...


Now, after all, if the worst anyone can say is that Cindy Sheehan is manipulating the public to promote her political cause, that just means she's used the same tactics as the Bush Administration.

But that's not really the point for the war apologists (honestly, are there really that many left who aren't drooling and crapping themselves?). The point is that Sheehan should either celebrate her son's life by supporting the war, or shut up and go back to the kitchen like a good mother. It angers them to no end that this new voice for peace is a female who (gasp) has an agenda of her own. But guess what? She can deal with her son's tragic, unnecessary death any way she wants, and the best part is that the more she is attacked, the worse the warmongers will look. It's really a no-lose deal for her or the anti-war constituency.

"But others in her family disagree with her!" screams the pro-war crowd.

Say it with me: Big...friggin...deal.

Besides, technically, her argument is correct: The President's bad choices are (at least partly) responsible for her son's death.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Jane Fonda and the Anti-War Movement

Some not-too-intellectually-reflective writers on the left are questioning whether Jane Fonda carries too much historical baggage to be an effective "representative" of the current anti-war movement.

Most of this blathering about whether "we" in the "peace movement" should find a better "representative" than Jane Fonda presupposes all sorts of unproven assumptions--that there is a unified peace movement (there isn't), that it has some kind of stable agent with the right or responsibility to approve or disapprove of people speaking in its name (it doesn't), etc.

There is also a self-importance in this kind of judgmental rhetoric that is really unwarranted, since peace movements have never stopped wars. Not to say that they couldn't, just that they never have.

The idea that any celebrity in the peace movement is uniquely more vulnerable than others to attacks from the pro-war crowd is equally unfounded--empirically so, in fact. You can be a veteran whose arms and legs were blown off in Vietnam and still be labeled unpatriotic and treasonous if you oppose Bush's war drive. Your character will be assassinated and your heroism will be questioned, and you'll lose elections, etc. What's at work here is far bigger and more endemic than the relative political vulnerability of one naive, privileged liberal celebrity--who has just as much right and responsibility as anyone else to speak out against this administration.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hard Words, Soft Words, Crap Words

Nobody should be surprised that the Bush Administration is hypocritical and inconsistent, in this case by their toying with "softer" words to describe the war on terror after taking Democrats' "softer" words and concepts out of context both during the 2004 election campaign and in other venues of opportunism, most recently through Karl Rove's blathering. What I am surprised about is how many otherwise intelligent people fall for such rhetorical excrement every time Bush, Rove or others squeeze it out. Bush himself briefly called the struggle unwinnable and always (for obvious reasons) uses the language of permanence describing it. But the way they take the other side to task every time someone dares acknowledge any nuances and complexities is just disgusting. So here they are doing the same thing to themselves...

GRAPEVINE, Tex. (Aug. 3) - President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers on Wednesday in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war."
...
In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word "war," and some of Mr. Bush's top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, "the global war on terror."
In an interview last week about the new wording, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said that the conflict was "more than just a military war on terror" and that the United States needed to counter "the gloomy vision" of the extremists and "offer a positive alternative."
But administration officials became concerned when some news reports linked the change in language to signals of a shift in policy. At the same time, Mr. Bush, by some accounts, told aides that he was not happy with the new phrasing, a change of tone from the wording he had consistently used since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is not clear whether the new language embraced by other administration officials was adopted without Mr. Bush's approval or whether he reversed himself after the change was made. Either way, he planted himself on Wednesday firmly on the side of framing the conflict primarily in military terms and appeared intent on emphasizing that there had been no change in American policy. [The New York Times]

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Former classmate and current birdchaser (as well as my strange political cousin) Rob Fergus provided these links concerning genetics and political orientation:

Here's the press release about the article on genetics and political orientations;
And the actual article itself:

Abstract:
We test the possibility that political attitudes and behaviors are the result of both environmental and genetic factors. Employing standard methodological
approaches in behavioral genetics—–specifically, comparisons of the differential correlations of the attitudes of monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins—–we analyze data drawn from a large sample of twins in the United States, supplemented with findings from twins in Australia. The results indicate that genetics plays an important role in shaping political attitudes and ideologies but a more modest role in forming party identification; as such, they call for finer distinctions in theorizing about the sources of political attitudes. We conclude by urging political scientists to incorporate genetic influences, specifically interactions between genetic heritability and social environment, into models of political attitude formation.


Hmm. Must sharpen Ockham's Razor. More on this later.
Apologies to Michael Berube

Yeah, that was kind of reactionary. My friends will tell you I get that way sometimes.

Maybe it's just that it was golf. You might try bowling. Anyway, try to remember when you were young and impetuous. As someone who also argues for the unionization of grad students and (at our fine institution) the custodial staff, I'd be more than happy to join you.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Letter to David with Thanks for Picture

"I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and the factories; of the men in the mines and on the railroads. I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and in their tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the monster machines while they themselves are being starved and stunted, body and soul. I see them dwarfed and diseased and their little lives broken and blasted because in this high noon of Christian civilization money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. In very truth gold is god today and rules with pitiless sway in the affairs of men." (Eugene Debs, Statement to the Court, 1918)

I had these thoughts looking at my friend David's picture of himself with his father in front of Karl Marx's grave. "Workers of the world unite!" is prominent on the gravestone, appearing above and to the right of Dave's and his father's heads.

For me it just seems intuitively obvious that one might object to a system that even its most passionate and competent proponents admit "causes"* arbitrary harm to innocent people. Maybe all systems "cause" such harm, but as debaters say, a critique doesn't HAVE to be unique. The impact scenarios are unique, and now is certainly the time, but the "moral compulsion" against capitalism seems intuitively defensible. Not so much that I think people who support capitalism are all evil, but that Marx's ideas ought to at least be an accepted part of public political conversation because anyone in their right mind should be able to understand why others desire socialism, even (I know I've belabored the point) if one does not agree with them. Even if socialism is guilty of moral naivete (and I will argue well into the evening and morning why it is not guilty), the instinct and basic idea of social altruism is inherently, logically, and intuitively defensible, and should be communicated as such. That natural understanding sometimes expresses itself in ways which seem sentimental and "unscientific."

Eugene Debs "recognized" his "kinship with all living things"** -- "recognition" indicating both an arrived-upon conclusion and the acknowledgement of something...already there. More and more I think that moral opposition to capitalism, as imperfect as moral schemes are, is an indispensable way, for now, to establish a common space of argument for a socialist political project. Not merely because most other spaces of radical argument consciously or unconsciously point away from "socialism," or because, to a large extent, corporations own the very ground of public argument itself, although both of those observations are important. The main reason I find the moral-ethical argument important is that it contains an intuitive affirmation of human solidarity that one can understand even if one does not agree. This may be because dialectical materialism and socialist politics are fundamentally rational, so it's only natural they would also be intuitive. Altruism may (as has been reported before on this blog) be hardwired or evolutionary. But whatever the reason, we should express it as such, and be no more or less ashamed of its sentimentality than Debs was in that beautifully sentimental language, or of the simple grandeur of "Workers of the world, unite!"


* The capitalist would probably be more comfortable with the phrase "results in arbitrary harm," a concession that would mean more to them than it would cost us.

**"Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." (Eugene Debs, Statement to the Court, 1918)
Another Reason I Hate Golf

Here is Michael Berube's sad attempt at self-effacing humor and an explanation of why he plays golf all summer.
For two consecutive days, I did not revise my book manuscript or work on the copy-edited versions of a pair of new essays (they're sitting on my desk under a packet of golf tees). I did not get anywhere with the tenure cases I'm reviewing this summer -- or with the books I'm supposed to be reviewing.
Then again, I did birdie the hardest par four on the back nine, rolling in a 15-footer from the fringe (it was a devilish pin placement). So there's that.

This piece makes academics look pretty bad, ignorantly privileged, whiny, and trite. But class differences abound in academia. Those instructors and assistants who spend their summers teaching extra classes, to make ends meet, working second jobs, often because of 9-month contracts or just plain inadequate salaries, really aren't interested in Michael's golf scores or his complaints. Even tenured professors with large families often have a hard time of it, and despite his shallow attempts to vindicate professors' 60 hour work-weeks during the school year, Berube ignores the economic situations of those on whose backs he and his "Marxist" friends are playing their 18 holes. He can suck it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Love and Death (1975)

Just saw it on IFC. It's been at least 15 years since I last saw it. I've forgotten how incredibly funny it is.

Some memorable lines:

Sonja: Judgment of any system, or a priori relationship or phenomenon exists in an irrational, or metaphysical, or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.
Boris: Yes, I've said that many times.



Death: You're an interesting young man. We'll meet again.
Young Boris: Don't bother.
Death: It's no bother.



Sonja: To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.
Natasha: I never want to marry, I just want to get divorced.



Napoleon: If this pastry is to bear my name, it must be richer. More cream.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

New Monthly Review Webzine!

From one of my favorite activists and bloggers, Yoshi Furuhashi, who landed this rocking editing job:

MR webzine made its debut today (edited by yours
truly). Here's the lineup:

Thursday, July 14

Adrienne Rich
"A Debt to the World"

John Bellamy Foster
"The Wall Street Journal Meets Karl Marx"

Michael D. Yates
"Let's Put the Nature of Work on Labor's Agenda: Part One"

Richard D. Vogel
“Wal-Mart’s End Run Around Organized Labor -- Aided and Abetted by the State of Texas”

Matthew R. Anderson
"Social Medicine 101"

Gloria Rudolf
"Panama Journal"

Greetings from Liza Featherstone, Eduardo Galeano, Harry Magdoff, Marta Harnecker, Doug Henwood, Louis Proyect, and Annette T. Rubinstein

If you click on the image of the Bastille on the homepage, you can listen to "Ça ira" -- our homage to the French Revolution.

And tomorrow. you'll see:

Bill Fletcher
"Can We Do Anything besides Watch?: Some Ideas for Addressing Labor’s Crisis"

Marge Piercy
"Less than You Bargained for"

"An Interview with Samir Amin"

Soon, you'll be also able to read the work of such regular LBO-talk contributors as Tom Walker and Steve Philion at MR Webzine.

Yoshie Furuhashi
How Many Mothers' Hearts Must Be Mained?

Anyone who has been misled, or is being misled to believe that by killing innocent people he or she is serving God should think again because it's not true.

Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society.

A speech by Marie Fatayi-Williams, the mother of one of the victims of the London bombings (Thanks to Tom H. at Net Benefits for bringing it to our attention):

"This is Anthony, Anthony Fatayi -Williams, 26 years old, he's missing and we fear that he was in the bus explosion ... on Thursday. We don't know. We do know from the witnesses that he left the Northern line in Euston. We know he made a call to his office at Amec at 9.41 from the NW1 area to say he could not make [it] by the tube but he would find alternative means to work.

"Since then he has not made any contact with any single person. Now New York, now Madrid, now London. There has been widespread slaughter of innocent people. There have been streams of tears, innocent tears. There have been rivers of blood, innocent blood. Death in the morning, people going to find their livelihood, death in the noontime on the highways and streets.

"They are not warriors. Which cause has been served? Certainly not the cause of God, not the cause of Allah because God Almighty only gives life and is full of mercy. Anyone who has been misled, or is being misled to believe that by killing innocent people he or she is serving God should think again because it's not true.Terrorism is not the way, terrorism is not the way. It doesn't beget peace. We can't deliver peace by terrorism, never can we deliver peace by killing people. Throughout history, those people who have changed the world have done so without violence, they have [won] people to their cause through peaceful protest. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, their discipline, their self-sacrifice, their conviction made people turn towards them, to follow them. What inspiration can senseless slaughter provide? Death and destruction of young people in their prime as well as old and helpless can never be the foundations for building society.

"My son Anthony is my first son, my only son, the head of my family. In African society, we hold on to sons. He has dreams and hopes and I, his mother, must fight to protect them. This is now the fifth day, five days on, and we are waiting to know what happened to him and I, his mother, I need to know what happened to Anthony. His young sisters need to know what happened, his uncles and aunties need to know what happened to Anthony, his father needs to know what happened to Anthony. Millions of my friends back home in Nigeria need to know what happened to Anthony. His friends surrounding me here, who have put this together, need to know what has happened to Anthony. I need to know, I want to protect him. I'm his mother, I will fight till I die to protect him. To protect his values and to protect his memory.

"Innocent blood will always cry to God Almighty for reparation. How much blood must be spilled? How many tears shall we cry? How many mothers' hearts must be maimed? My heart is maimed. I pray I will see my son, Anthony. Why? I need to know, Anthony needs to know, Anthony needs to know, so do many others unaccounted for innocent victims, they need to know.

"It's time to stop and think. We cannot live in fear because we are surrounded by hatred. Look around us today. Anthony is a Nigerian, born in London, worked in London, he is a world citizen. Here today we have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, all of us united in love for Anthony. Hatred begets only hatred. It is time to stop this vicious cycle of killing. We must all stand together, for our common humanity. I need to know what happened to my Anthony. He's the love of my life. My first son, my first son, 26. He tells me one day, "Mummy, I don't want to die, I don't want to die. I want to live, I want to take care of you, I will do great things for you, I will look after you, you will see what I will achieve for you. I will make you happy.' And he was making me happy. I am proud of him, I am still very proud of him but I need to now where he is, I need to know what happened to him. I grieve, I am sad, I am distraught, I am destroyed.

"He didn't do anything to anybody, he loved everybody so much. If what I hear is true, even when he came out of the underground he was directing people to take buses, to be sure that they were OK. Then he called his office at the same time to tell them he was running late. He was a multi-purpose person, trying to save people, trying to call his office, trying to meet his appointments. What did he then do to deserve this. Where is he, someone tell me, where is he?"


Discuss.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Islamic Militants Beheading Buddhists and Poor Workers in Thailand

From Reuters:

BANGKOK, July 6 (Reuters) - Suspected Islamic militants beheaded a policeman in Thailand's restive Muslim south, officials said on Wednesday, the tenth decapitation in more than 18 months of unrest but the first such attack on police. At least two militants shot senior police sergeant Sampan Onyala, a 43-year-old Buddhist, with a pistol and an AK-47 rifle late on Tuesday in a Muslim village in Pattani, one of the three southernmost provinces plagued by the violence, police said.[...]
Although most of the violence takes the form of daily shootings or small bomb or arson attacks, in the last month militants have stepped up a beheading campaign against Buddhists.
So far, most of the victims have been migrant labourers such as rubber plantation workers.

There is absolutely nothing progressive or anti-imperialist about these actions, nor is there any value to progressives in ignoring, defending, or failing to criticize these actions. These people are ultra right wing loonies. They are fascists. They make it impossibly difficult to forge any coherent or conscientious movement against imperialism, and they make it equally hard to keep U.S. militarism in check.

They are the worst kind of scum, because they capitalize on the misery of their followers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Unscientific Bush Polling Update and other post-mortems

This is weird. Normally, America Online polls (which, of course are unscientific, self-selected, and consist only of AOL subscribers) lean heavily to the right. I've noticed a trend away from that lately...kind of an odd barometer that tells me that the Republicans are slipping. But I wasn't ready for the reaction to Bush's speech:

With over 200,000 votes in, the speech was rated:

Poor 52%
Excellent 28%
Fair 11%
Good 9%

By the way, I rated the speech "good." The thing is, I'm not sure how many people rated it according to how much they agreed with it, or if folks were generally trying to be objective about how well he got it done, but in either case, if Bush can't pull the AOL crowd, I'm not all that certain who he's got left.

With over 104,000 votes in, 77 percent are dissatisfied with the progress in Iraq (that's a ridiculously loaded question of course, one which assumes a stable and consistent definition of "progress" and also assumes everyone measures the goodness or badness of the war in such a way), 65 percent say the U.S. will NOT ultimately defeat the insurgents (that really surprises me...it must be the fault of the liberal media), and 74 percent say the war isn't worth the human cost (I wish I could find comfort in that one, but even disregarding criticism of the war, it may reflect an apathy for the well-being of dark-skinned folk).

Are AOL subscribers drifting towards conservative isolationism? Has there been a huge influx of leftist subscribers to AOL? And most importantly, will Karl Rove make a speech calling AOL subscribers liberal traitors?


Normally I don't think much of Andrew Sullivan or his blog, but that doesn't mean I won't shamelessly steal this gem of a quote, especially appropriate after Bush knocked down the straw-argument of a "time table" for withdrawal from Iraq:

"I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn." - Governor George W. Bush, June 5, 1999, on the troops deployed to Kosovo under president Clinton.



Final thought for the evening: The most disguisting thing I saw during the various post-speech interviews was on MSNBC: Chris Matthews devoting a majority of his panel discussion to listening to (and lapping at the trousers of) the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. You know, asking Tony how we're gonna win the war on terror and all that. If I were a puker I'd have puked. Here's all we need to know about this guy:

Four years ago, Perkins addressed the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), America's premier white supremacist organization, the successor to the White Citizens Councils, which battled integration in the South. In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.


Well, as I discussed earlier, Mark Fuhrman is doing pretty well these days too. It's enough to make me want to be just a minor-league hater, just so I can buy my family a nice house or something...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bush at Fort Bragg: a study in apologetics

Apologetics is the rhetorical term for the systematic defense of a position. It shouldn't be confused with the word "apology," which has come to mean the admission of guilt and the petition for forgiveness. To be engaged in apologetics is not to beg forgiveness at all. That the speaker is defending a position that has come under attack goes without saying, but apologetics need not confront that criticism directly. It can, but it need not.

Tonight, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in front of attentive soldiers, and on national television, George W. Bush engaged in an apologetic of the war in Iraq. Whether it was his finest rhetorical hour is impossible to say; the speech confronted criticism at best indirectly, and each argument in it was contestable, and will be contested. But it undoubtedly did what apologetics seeks most often to do: It will satisfy those who already agree with him and inspire those who want to agree with him. There will be a third effect as well, as I will mention later: The speech re-established the ground of acceptable argument and perspective. It re-established an entire metaphysics of success and failure that crowded out what may be the only viable perspectives against the occupation and Bush's perpetual war. This third effect may, in fact, have been the easiest to achieve, but that doesn't mean it's not important.

Bush's speech emerged from a context of a dramatic decrease in his own approval ratings, and an equally impressive drop in support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. One cannot discount, also, the growing calls for the President's impeachment, or at least further investigation into the charges contained in the Downing Street Memos. Bush faced a nation that has grown skeptical not only of the potential for the invasion-occupation's success, but also of the deliberative political process that led to the invasion in the first place. Effective apologetics can both confront and dodge criticism, and in this case, Bush confronted the opposition's practical arguments about how the invasion/occupation is going now, while effectively diverting attention from the larger questions about deliberation, honesty, representation, and domestic dissent.

No one should be surprised that there is no longer any talk of the threat of the pre-war Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction, not even any mention of Saddam Hussein qua regional or international threat. Bush clearly framed the entire invasion and occupation in terms of democratization of the Middle East, "a part of the world that is desperate for reform." "Troops...across the world are fighting a global war on terror," he said, and "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war." And later: "Iraq is where they are making their stand." The enemy we are facing, defeating, is one who "despises all dissent" and "believe[s] that free societies are decadent and corrupt." He quoted Osama Bin Laden in a curious, post facto way, in terms of Bin Laden's declaration that Iraq is a central battleground against the west. Later, Bush invoked the possibility that, absent coalition success, Iraq would become a base, like Afghanistan, of attacks against the United States. No one should be surprised by the implicit acknowledgment that Iraq was not such a threat before the invasion/occupation. Twice, Bush invoked the 'fight over there so we don't have to fight over here' language. The terrorists, Bush said, in a line probably designed to offhandedly deflect criticism of prisoner abuse, "wear no uniform. They respect no laws of warfare or morality."

In a defense of the occupation that was more specific and reasoned than most criticism I've heard of it, Bush painstakingly went through a list of accomplishments in Iraq. His speechwriters wisely devoted several minutes to this. The facts were multilateral in nature, effectively pre-empting criticism from the multilateralist opposition: The United Nations is helping the Iraqi government write a constitution. Eighty nations recently met in Brussels, as they will meet next month in Jordan, to commit to Iraq aid. NATO has established a military academy outside of Baghdad, part of a multilateral effort to empower Iraqi forces.

The Iraqis themselves were repeatedly invoked as a fool-proof defense against those calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops. Bush's smooth, confident, quotable statement "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" will certainly be repeated for days to come.

Those who claim a certain amount of critical-political capital from Bush's rhetorical inaptitude no doubt cringed as he effectively invoked the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the wars of the 20th century, calling for sacrifice in a war that "demands much of us...we accept these burdens." And to those who might get bogged down in details about the U.S.'s treatment and conditioning of its own soldiers, Bush insisted that "the best way to honor [the lives of the fallen] is to complete the mission." We should emulate those who are "willing to serve a cause greater than themselves."

I have no doubt that this speech will inspire not only the neoconservatives, but also the Wilsonian liberals. There is a certain section of the opposition who share the ideals (probably with more sincerity than the Bush Administration itself) of the U.S. as a shining beacon of light bringing democracy to the world. Tonight, I think Bush effectively won over a large section of that particular opposition. Of course, Bush's real base, the military and their families who constitute 1% of the nation, will, at least momentarily, forget the irresponsibility and rhetorical trickery that committed them to war in the first place. They will be grateful for Bush's domestic call to action--that on the fourth of July, everyone ought to make gestures of appreciation to those military families.

To mention what was obfuscated by the speech is awkward by design. This is that third effect I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Bush obfuscated the lack of honest deliberation leading up to the invasion. He invoked September 11th six times in the speech, a clever and necessary repeat of such invocations in the days leading up to the invasion (tonight's most blatant example of this: "The only way the terrorists can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September 11."). He obscured our memory of the foolishly optimistic projections of quick victory and welcoming Iraqi masses, just as he obscured the larger historical memory of the United States creating Saddam and Bin Laden, or playing such a heavy hand in creating a world where future terrorism is inevitable. One does not need the critical sensitivity of a socialist or a deconstructionist to know which issues and viewpoints carry the "off limits" banner.

The problem is both simple and impossible. The left, whatever its current form or momentum, cannot effectively broach these subjects precisely because they are off-limits in the language, logic, and metaphysics of current discourse about policymaking. Oh, undoubtedly there will be a powerful rejoinder of the speech on tomorrow's World Socialist Web Site, just as the talk show hosts on Air America Radio will nit-pick at the facts and question Bush's sincerity (a questioning that remains utterly unverifiable, as they know). In fact, these two sides of the opposition, the radical WSWS and the patriotic Air America crowd, symbolize the schitzoid nature of those opposed to the war. Neither side has much of a fighting chance in a world where the President can get on television and (a) optimistically list facts that refute the "it's not going well" crowd, and more importantly (b) enthymematically re-constitute political metaphysics, arguing --silently-- that the world we live in is the only one we have. Thus, the left will again be reduced to speaking moral and political truths that seem too unobtainable to pursue on the one hand, or nit-picking about details on the other. Tonight's speech effectively set back the recent momentum that, at least for a moment, promised to bring together systemic and specific criticism of the Administration. It remains to be seen how effective this will be in the long run, but given that the opposition can't decide (and is unlikely to ever decide) whether it wants a more effective war, or a world without wars, Bush and the neocons have little to worry about.
The Great White North indeed

Canada legalized same-sex marriage today.
The Reverse-Culture Jam has been Reversed!

Nike pulled the ad.
Is "Religious Retardation" An Accurate Term? Or just Evangelical Loondom?

"If facts matter, then some certainty has been established about the case of Terri Schiavo: She was in a persistent vegetative state, she could neither see nor swallow, there was no reasonable hope for improvement, and her husband, Michael, had not abused her." (From an editorial in National Catholic Reporter)

Once, a few months ago, I felt ambivalent about letting Terry Schiavo "die." I even wondered whether it was indicative of a "culture of death." Not anymore. A combination of getting the historical facts of the case, listening to the science, and watching the loony hypocrites set me straght. Even if the history and science had been less certain than they are, the loonies would have made sustained rational support for their cause next to impossible. In this way, and in so many other ways, the loonies are the ushers of the true culture of death in America.

It's time for Jeb Bush and his ilk to leave Michael Schiavo the hell alone. This is beyond absurd. Having lost the court battle, having lost the science and medical battle, Bush is now initiating an investigation of impossible-to-prove charges that Shiavo acted with indifference towards his wife Terry. Bush is doing this in order to placate his loony Christian base. It's disgusting and inexcusable. There's no other way to describe it.

The statute of limitations means Schiavo likely can't be charged for anything even if something is trumped up. But of course, that's not the point. Jeb Bush will be able to face his assembly of loonies and say "brothers and sisters, at least I tried!"

One Christian blogger asks whether Christians owe an apology to Schiavo. It seems reasonable that they do, although some of the comments posted in response display the same moral retardation as Hannity, Frist, Randall Terry, et al.

Oh, and Mark Fuhrman! Yeah, he's become an advocate for Terry Schiavo's empty shell as well. Don't you love this country? You can be a brutal, racist, lying nutcase washed-up failure of a cop and still be a hero to the loonies.

I just don't get it. Most illicit drugs don't make you nearly as stupid, irresponsible, violent or destructive as Evangelical Loondom. Why regulate one and not the other?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Reverse-Culture Jam?

Nike stole Minor Threat's logo!
Poorness beyond identity politics...

Don't know if we've heard the last of this. The full story is here.

An unemployed man and his wife set themselves on fire in front of Chile’s La Moneda presidential palace Thursday to protest their impoverished condition and the government’s failure to provide them with adequate assistance.
Vladimir Poblete, 39, and Ana Perez, 56, driven to desperation, took a bus to Plaza Constitucion in front of the palace in the morning. Wrapping themselves in a tattered Chilean flag, they doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire in front of startled onlookers and scores of police.
Engulfed in flames, they managed to reach the base of a statue of Chile’s former President Salvador Allende, who was murdered in the US-backed military coup of September 11, 1973.
Poblete was reported in grave condition Friday, having suffered severe damage to his lungs from breathing in fire and heat. He was being kept alive on a ventilation machine. His wife suffered burns to her face, neck and hands, but was expected to recover.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Is Persuasion Dead?

In response to Matt Miller's June 4 New York Times editorial on the death of persuasion, I recently composed these brief and incomplete thoughts:

In two years of research, and teaching of three graduate seminars related to this subject, I've come up with a list of possible factors in the "death" of civil political conversation. I don't agree with all of them, but here they are:

1. Demoralization of disenfranchized groups: they no longer see the point in gentlemanly petitioning of the powers-that-be. Their interpretation of history tells them that dialogue achieves very little, and that confrontation and the threat of institutional destabilization achieves a great deal more.

2. Distrust of institutional means of political discussion. After Cointelpro, various black bag jobs, political assassinations and coups in other countries, etc., we have seen too many instances of institutional power resorting to "extra-persuasive" or "extra-discursive" means of crushing disagreement or alternative politics.

3. The guise of civility: As Robert Scott and Donald Smith wrote over 30 years ago, a rhetorical theory suitable to our age must account for the fact that civility and decorum often act as masks for the preservation of injustice. (I'm paraphrasing here, but their quote is virtually the same). Miller's call for more persuasive communication seems at best quaint and at worst blind to how standards of "politeness" seem to cover up systemic and ideological hegemony, and often great brutality. People blame journalists or activists for being "divisive" when they point out the corrupt, immoral, "divisive" actions of officials, etc.

4. The decline of "fairness doctrine"-based attempts to provide balance in the media. I'm NOT saying the Fairness Doctrine was a good idea (although this essay argues it was. But the decline of concern over genuine pluralist balance has been part and parcel of media consolodation.

5. The fact that ideas and conversations are basically contextualized by material relations, which means that in a world of growing antagonisms between and among social classes, nobody should be surprised that few people attempt to persuade others in different classes or perspectives.

6. Society's growing religious intolerance and the growth in popularity of totalistic religious dogma. When your religion has all the answers, it's difficult to accept other people's questions. When your religion has all the answers and eternity hangs in the balance, questioning those answers is, by definition, counterproductive, threatening, and destructive.

7. Brutal is as brutal does: Is it any surprise our young people (and even their parents) turn to violence as solutions to disagreements, etc., when (a) that's what our country does, and (b) that's what talk radio does, because it sells?

Just some ideas as to why "persuasion" is dying. I think the communication/rhetoric discipline has been slow to realize the way in which external and foundational factors contextualize and limit the utility of "pure persuasion," but I think those scholars who realize that we no longer live in Aristotle's world (if we ever did) will find some useful, if somewhat depressing things to say.

Monday, June 20, 2005

In recognition of a very important issue, I'm letting my friend Shea Donato post today's Underview blog. Thanks, Shea, for the work you are doing on Bibi's plight.

Mukhtaran Bibi

The BBC has reported another incident in the long list of tragedies inflicted upon Mukhtaran Bibi (also known as Mukhtar Mai in the media) by the Pakistani government. For those who are unfamiliar with Bibi, she made international headlines a while back thanks to Nicholas Kristof who reported her gang rape ordered by her village's tribal council. In Kristof's initial story (done in the fall of 2004), he detailed how it is customary for Pakistani women sentenced to such punishment to commit suicide afterwards. However, Bibi did not commit suicide. Instead, she opened up a trauma center for women in Pakistan, which is funded by donations worldwide that poured in after her story rocked the world. Kristof wrote about how an unofficial group of assassins had Bibi in their sights, yet she continues to run the trauma center. The courage of this woman is not difficult for anyone to see, and her story has inspired women all over the Third World. Bibi's efforts are only a single instance of women empowering themselves in the Third World, yet they have given hope to women all over the Third World.

Not only did she have the courage to continue living in a culture that told her she should be dead, but with the support of a local Islamic leader, she also testified against her attackers, and helped to convict six of them. Unfortunately, her attackers were set free and now Bibi is dealing with an entirely new roadblock set in her path by the government.

Today, Bibi continues to be harassed by the council that condemned her to be gang raped. The same government that has faced international condemnation by people all over the world who were both shocked and horrified by the story has made attempts to block Bibi's movement out of (and in) Pakistan. Bibi applied for a US visa and was "pressured" by the Pakistani government to pass on the invitation to come into the US...whatever that means. The BBC further reports that Bibi has complained of a "virtual house arrest" and Musharraf's government has gone into overdrive trying to enact public relations damage control on his government's image. He is currently touring Australia and New Zealand, and according to some journalists, his supporters claim that "heads will roll" once he gets back and deals with the elements in his
government that have caused Bibi's further dehumanization. However, that remains to be seen. Given the history of the government's apathy towards Bibi's situation, it is difficult to accept its newfound "interest" as anything sincere.

Amnesty International has now jumped all over this story, and will probably be developing possible methods for people like you and me to help out. The biggest question for those of us sitting here reading all of the coverage of this story is what can we do to help? One of the easiest ways to help Bibi is to donate money to her trauma center in Pakistan. Nicholas Kristof has listed several sources through which you can donate money.
I suggest the Mercy Corps because they are taking a very active role not only in Bibi's quality of life, but for the quality of life for all women in Pakistan. Mercy Corps has also been named one of America's best charities, and is certainly a worthy charity to donate a bit of your money to. This is all in the link I provided, but for a quick rundown of the general donation process:

* Over 91% of the money you donate goes to the humanitarian relief.
* Every dollar you give helps them secure $16.51 in donated food
and other supplies.
* It allows you to donate to a specific cause or just generally
where it's most needed.
* Online donations are very safe and secure

In Bibi's particular case, they give an address directly on the website where you can send a check or money order as a donation to this cause. That address is:

Mercy Corps
Mukhtaran Bibi Fund
Dept. W
PO Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208-2669

You can also donate online if you wish. Either way, your money will make it to Mukhtaran Bibi, and will be used to support this very important cause.

Please take a bit of time out of your day and a little bit of money from your checking account for this cause. This isn't just for Mukhtaran Bibi. It is for the women of Pakistan as well. It is for the women in the Third World who are dehumanized, raped, beaten, murdered, ostracized, and oppressed every single day. Every day women all over the world are forced to endure the worst atrocities imaginable in silence. Mukhtaran Bibi chose to defy that fate, and every woman in
the Third World deserves the chance to do so as well. She is a symbol to all the women in the Third World who wish to live a better life than the one they currently have. Supporting Bibi is supporting all women of the Third World and their wishes to no longer live in silence. Please help with this cause.

Shea Donato

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