Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Incipient Fascist Idiot Whose Handlers Subsequently Stumble To Correct Ridiculous Statements" of the Month Award

Not that I'll necessarily bother to present this award every month, but I anticipate future months when I'll be forced to...

Katherine Harris had this to say about the necessity of electing ONLY Christians to public office in America:
"If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin," Harris told interviewers from the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She cited abortion and same-sex marriage as examples of that sin.

Subsequently, her campaign spokesperson "clarified" Harris's remarks by saying they meant something completely contrary to what Harris had actually said:
Harris campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Marks would not answer questions about the Harris interview. Instead, she released a two-sentence statement.
"Congresswoman Harris encourages Americans from all walks of life and faith
to participate in our government," it stated. "She continues to be an
unwavering advocate of religious rights and freedoms."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Personalizing Class as Argument

Michael Yates's "Class: A Personal Story", in the July/August Monthly Review, is an excellent exercise in using personal narrative (informed by historical context) to generate a set of conclusions of concern to the anti-capitalist movement. His narrative is remarkably similar to my own, even though we are from different "cultures" geographically, religiously, etc. Below are the conclusions, but you should read about how he got there:
1. Those who would lead a mass movement must confront the fear that envelops the lives of workers. In practical terms, this means that we must engage in struggles to make life more secure. Efforts to keep intact and extend social security, disability benefits, workers’ compensation, and unemployment compensation are radical efforts. The same is true of the fight for universal, socialized health care, for the freedom and security of all immigrants, for a living wage for all workers, for an end to the doctrine of employment at will, for the right of workers to organize without employer interference, and many others. Even the environmental movement can and should be promoted in terms of human security. Working people always bear the brunt of environmental degradation and so-called natural disasters. Whatever benefits nature benefits workers. Insecurity and its attendant fear breed passivity toward authority and make it easier for the powerful to promote dissension and hatred of those who might otherwise be allies.
2. Although many have said it, let me repeat that there is no point to talk about class without making it clear that it is backward to talk about class without speaking about gender and race. We must unabashedly demand equality across all differences. We cannot tolerate restrictions on the right of women to obtain abortions. We cannot tolerate gender inequalities either at work or in the home. We cannot tolerate more than one million black men and women in prison. We must tolerate nothing less than full equality for immigrants, regardless of their legal status. If equality were the foundation of our ideology and if we succeeded in making it an accepted thing to believe in and fight for, it would surely be more difficult for employers to pit one group against another and for the state to get workers here to kill workers in other countries.
3. Workers receive a thoroughly uninspiring and mentally and physically destructive education. Struggles to expand and improve public education are, therefore, also radical struggles. The training of teachers is scandalously inadequate, and the freedom of teachers to teach critical thinking is uniformly circumscribed. Where are the teachers’ unions? Indeed, where is the labor movement? If only unions themselves took the time to educate their own members. If only the labor movement financed a network of labor radio stations, television programs, and newspapers. Working people are so misinformed and uninformed that it is no wonder governments everywhere can feed us daily doses of the most ridiculous propaganda.
4. Radical intellectuals need to stop talking to one another and actively engage the masses who alone can carry out a radical social transformation. Speak clearly. Write clearly. Seek a mass audience. And take democracy and an end to hierarchy seriously.

Yates's fine essay, along with one of my favorite essays in the blogosphere or any sphere, John Scalzi's painful and beautiful "Being Poor," form the basis of a narrative-based account of class which makes it more like, but still not exactly as such, "identity." Others can add to it, and can understand it. And it generates arguments that transcend the macro-micro narrative dichotomy, helping those of us who grew up poor understand the universality and historical context of our situations.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

North Korea and the Demilitarized Zone

Well, I've officially walked into North Korea and taken pictures of North Korean soldiers and cities. After taking the highly-regulated but very comprehensive USO DMZ tour, I am exhausted and filled with wonder over the way that geopolitics, history, and propaganda have split a people in half.

As astounding as the sites were, the tour guides were alternatively funny and a little odd. Our Korean guide, pictured below, is the Lawrence Welk of DMZ tour guides (that was my name for him, not some official designation). One of our companions simply referred to him as "a dandy," and that he was! He would say things like "What do you think of ginseng chicken, eh? Perhaps you will eat some...perhaps you will eat some tonight. Yes? Yes, I think you will." And this in the middle of what he kept referring to as "the most dangerous place on earth," all the while smiling smugly (or seductively). He was much more entertaining than the American soldier who took us through Panmunjeom and seemed incredibly amused with his own self-perceived studliness and occasional subtle racist jokes about North Koreans.

The trip through the Third Infiltration Tunnel was comparable to some of the toughest hiking I'd ever done, but definitely worth it. The entire tour was a combination of the harsh reality of "peacetime war" and the ineradicable cheerfulness of Korean tours. But at least I got to walk into North Korea for a few minutes. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Our tour guide, AKA Lawrence Welk, Korean-style.

Below are three shots of North Korean soldiers in Panmunjeom. They were taking a bunch of pictures of us as we were taking a bunch of pictures of them.

Charming bunch, really. They seemed genuinely excited to see us...

The building in Panmunjeom where peace negotiations were held in 1953, and where communication occasionally takes place now. I am taking a picture of the South Korean side from the North Korean side.

Kijong-dong "propaganda village" in North Korea. We were told that only soldiers live in the city.

North Korean guard tower.

A monument to the 1976 Poplar Tree Axe Murder incident, which nearly triggered a second round of the Korean War.

The Bridge of No Return

Portion of the Southern Demarcation Line. I was constantly amazed at how close we were to everything.

Below are photos of a sculpture whose meaning is obvious. The close-up shots reveal a lot of personality in the faces. I enjoyed walking around this and investigating its characters.

The old man is especially compelling.

Finally, no tour in Korea (including, apparently, of the DMZ) would be complete without cheesy cartoonish characters. This is a theater near the Third Infiltration Tunnel. The movie was a 10-minute long South Korean propaganda effort that left my companions and me wondering which side of the border we were really on.

Asian Parliamentary Debate

The format is three-on-three. Each side gets three constructive speeches and a rebuttal. Everything else is virtually identical to American parliamentary debate.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Neocons for Middle East War, Against Rice

This Sidney Blumenthal article is pretty provocative. Read the whole thing at Salon; I have just snipped a few gems below. If it's true, it ought to give Bush apologists pause...or perhaps a stomach ache. And Condi Rice has been marginalized by the neocons. She just isn't hawkish and machiavellian enough for them, I guess (or maybe she reminds them too much of Powell? Kind of a "they all look alike to us" syndrome maybe?)...
By secretly providing NSA intelligence to Israel and undermining the hapless Condi Rice, hardliners in the Bush administration are trying to widen the Middle East conflict to Iran and Syria, not stop it.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.

Despite Rice's shunning of the advice of the Bush I sages, the neoconservatives have made her a convenient target in their effort to undermine all diplomatic initiatives. "Dump Condi," read the headline in the right-wing Insight Magazine on July 25. "Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration's national security and foreign policy agenda," the article reported.