Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Iraqi court orders Saddam must die in 30 days

The story here:

And some brilliant commentary:

Pinto2355 [10:39 A.M.]: saddam is too crazy to even know what a death sentence is
Stannard67 [10:39 A.M.]: oh I think he knows...he's requested to be shot rather than hanged
Pinto2355 [10:40 A.M.]: he should request better ways, drawn and quartered, drowned, crucified
Stannard67 [10:40 A.M.]: crucified. definitely

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Eating the Heart of the Rabbit...new euphemism?

A very surreal picture of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the actual symbols deployed in the symbolism, from Reuters:

Iraqi soldiers bit the heads off frogs and ate the heart of a rabbit as signs of courage on Wednesday at a ceremony to transfer Najaf province, home to one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines, from U.S. to Iraqi control...Politicians, tribal and religious leaders and soldiers watched displays of military prowess and one demonstration, hailed as a display of courage, in which five soldiers stopped before the grandstand to bite the heads off frogs. A sixth holding a live rabbit slit open its stomach and ate its heart before tossing the carcass to his comrades to chew on. Under Saddam Hussein's rule, his feared Fedayeen militia carried out similar
acts, and in one instance were videoed hunting a fox and then tearing it
apart with their teeth.

and of course, behind the symbolism:

Troops paraded round in shining new vehicles...but Iraq's Deputy Chief of Staff...conceded there were problems with procuring equipment and setting up supply lines, for which the Iraqi forces still depend largely on U.S. support. One soldier, Corporal Ali Abdul Hasan, said the army needed everything from helicopters to guns. "Some vehicles arrived with parts missing and we have old weapons. They didn't even give us pistols," he said.

Debate and Personal Agency

I haven't posted here about debate in a long time. But my commitment to particular processes of argument informs my life politics in so many ways. And I'm in the middle of another debate about debate: particularly the value of "switching" sides, or occasionally/frequently advocating things with which one disagrees as a competitive AND pedagogical tool. I say it's acceptable, good, ethical, to take positions with which you personally disagree. Others say not. My position is Levinasian and Habermasian, or in plain English, my position has to do with how we engage other people, and make fair rules to do so. We should step into the other's shoes. We should, in a "game" like debate, occasionally be required (or at least strongly encouraged) to do so.

Below is my latest post on this discussion, the entirety of which can be found here, on the thread entitled "criticisms." The actual discussion of agency, ethics, etc. begins around page six.

While contemplating the fact that nobody has answered the debater/judge advocacy question (if we can't expect debaters to take up advocacies they don't endorse personally, why should we expect judges to dispell their personal beliefs as a reason for decision?--a question whose answer might reveal a lot about people's differing conceptions of debate's educational and political purpose...), I have come up with a set of questions, inspired by the last several posts on this thread. Anyone can answer them, or nobody needs to, or whatever, I am really just thinking out loud and trying to be transparent about my thought process.

1. Regarding taking positions one personally disagrees with, is there a threshold to this expectation? Must we be willing to expect "racism good" along with "U.S. hegemony good?" The dilemma is that making a distinction seems political in itself, but not making a distinction allows scenarios at least as plausible as Joey's "rape good" scenario, or even more realistically, Nomad's question of whether a Palestinian student ought to be expected to defend Israel in a debate.

To the latter question, I can only answer what seems irrefutably obvious to me: Israelis AND Palestinians ought to meet together and take EACH OTHER's sides in debates. Does anyone really think this would be a bad idea?

2. Should this decision be left up to the debaters? In a very significant way, it already is. Debaters can win the debate that their personal conviction, or the ideology it represents, is a reason to transcend normal resolutional and ground expectations. What is more important to me is that they must do this according to a set of rules that are relatively ideologically neutral: they must take turns to speak, speak within time limits, and, in 99% of the debates, ANSWER each others' arguments. These constraints serve the same deliberative function as "switching" (debating in and out of your personal agency) but the latter has the additional ethical benefit of exposure to the positive side of oppositional ideas. I believe that at the point that debaters learn to transcend the reasons why they "can't" debate from personal conviction, their level of understanding of the debate process has come close to meeting the same level of benefits that radical immersion in "switch" debate might provide.

In the larger sense of the question: I object to games where people get to do whatever they want, but I also believe that UNREFLECTIVE evasion of taking the other side guts a huge part of what is ethically (and intellectually) beneficial about debate.

3. Does the ethical transformation argument unwittingly rely on a dramatistic view of advocacy, in that I might be playing a role I don't like if I argue something I don't believe in?

I ask this because of what people say about roleplaying. I'm not sure where I am going with this question, but it seems interesting. I was in theater in high school and a tiny bit in college. I played a lot of characters I didn't like or agree with, and I think I learned something "internal" about them. Having long held that debate is argumentative oral interpretation, it seems to me that hypothetical enactment has a similar pedagogical effect as that of theater.

4. Habermas readily uses the term "universalization" to describe his ideal deliberative conclusion about norms. He genuinely believes we can build universals (although in a way very different from what Kant or metaphysical ethicists believe--he believes they can be built through democratic institutionalization). Does my description of ethical debate also imply the possibility of universals?

5. Does Nomad's hypersimulation argument undermine the ethical value of traditional debate? Depends, first, whether the argument is sound. I don't necessarily believe that the world, and rhetorical acts within the world, function the way his authors believe it does (more detail on that, obviously, to follow).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bush will move to the right on Iraq

...with a free pass. He has ignored the main recommendations of the B-H commission (the administration's latest line is that they "embrace the work of the commission" not the recommendations). He is meeting with the Joint Chiefs today; whatever they say, he's likely to spin it to suit his needs. He will do what McCain wants and increase troops. The Democrats are going to roll over. They already are.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Did Bush Win by Losing?

By absolutely screwing the pooch in every single way, from inception to justification to execution, Bush has, perhaps inadvertently, won the domestic struggle over Iraq. In the past week he has successfully turned hardcore conservatives against a panel that included both James Baker and Al Simpson. Without lifting but a finger, he has re-mobilized the Iraq hawks (is that a term we've ever even used? If so, only for a short time...) and forced the "opposition" to fall in line behind the need to "finish the job" in Iraq.

Pragmatists find this turn of events desirable on the grounds that it's better to get out of the quagmire than place the head of its maker on a pike. Because of this, centrists will likely give Bush a free pass for a while, and cheer on the cheerleaders, and even agree with John McCain, who seems to be saying (more articulately, naturally) the same thing as the Bush White House.

Such momentum tends to take on a life of its own in this spectacle. Talking heads will call Bush's upcoming speech a success. Factions of the ruling class will compete as if they were in an essay contest..."How to Win in Iraq and Redeem American Power." Baker, Hamilton, Simpson, O'Connor and others have fallen on phantom swords to obscure real ones.