Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Horton Principle

I enjoy the work of Kansas City Star columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, and I have to hand it to him; I had thought I might have beaten other people to the punch on thinking (and posting) "Willie Horton" when told of Maurice Clemmons, granted clemency by Mike Huckabee and now a person of interest in the ambush murder of four police officers in a coffee shop south of Seattle, Washington.  
But I think Abouhalkah overstates his impact scenario...
But, if Huckabee pardoned a man who went on to kill four cops, this will be a lot worse than the Willie Horton incident of the 1988 presidential campaign. Huckabee's credentials to lead the Republican party to victory in 2012 would evaporate if Clemmons indeed is the killer in the Washington case.
Indeed, sure, let's wait and see whether it costs Huckabee like it did Michael Dukakis in 1988; Dukakis approved a furlough program that allowed a convicted murderer, Willie Horton, to commit assault, armed robbery and rape while on a weekend furlough. Lee Atwater (the guy Karl Rove wishes he could be) coordinated a campaign that made Willie Horton a household word (and, eventually, a verb, as in, to "Willie Horton" a political opponent). Like Horton, Maurice Clemmons is African American, which makes it more likely that this would be thrown at Huckabee in the primaries than the general election (although Clinton's people didn't seem to have a problem throwing a little racism around in 2008).

But it's also entirely possible this will go nowhere.  Yep, I said go nowhere.  "The rules," whatever they may be, of two-party bourgeois politics do not preclude the exploitation of shame and failure, and they certainly preclude nuanced distinctions that could vindicate a clemency gone wrong.  But the fact remains that some candidates can do bad things--costly when other pols do them--and come out okay.  These perpetually enacted inconsistencies seem to favor the GOP.  Bush the Younger enjoyed the highs of cocaine, maryjane, and alcohol, and everyone knew it; but more than a few politicians to W's left have been brought down by a joint or two.  Theocrats, in particular, have their own rules governing redemption, guaranteeing a pass to their men (invariably men) who commit personal or policy transgressions. 

So while what Clemmons allegedly did (he is presumed innocent, another principle the mainstream media will abandon where he is concerned) is far worse than what Horton did, and while in a fair, consistent, deliberatively ethical world this would be clear, applied accordingly to the decision calculus of voters and opinion-makers, the capriciousness (a meanspirited capriciousness, if that's possible) of American politics leaves this cowboy doubtful. 

Hat tip, as they say (I find the term awkward) to Meg for alerting me to this story.

Supermax!

I have to say, understanding the context of these remarks, and having grown up on the Wasatch Front, well, go Max.  Don't hold back, man...
BYU senior quarterback Max Hall may have known he'd face a reprimand from the league for violating the rule on sportsmanship, but after throwing the winning touchdown pass in BYU's 26-23 overtime win over Utah, he apparently did not care.

Hall didn't hold back his contempt for the opponent.
"I don't like Utah. In fact, I hate them — I hate everything about them," said Hall.
"I hate their program. I hate their fans. I hate everything. So, it feel good to send those guys home. They didn't deserve it. It was our time, and it was our time to win. We deserved it. We played as hard as we could tonight, and it felt really good to send them home and to get them out of here, so it is a game I'll always remember."
A year ago, Hall lost a fumble and threw five interceptions in a loss at Utah. Since that date, he's been the brunt of criticism from both fan bases and media.
On Saturday, Hall avoided throwing an interception but did throw two touchdowns. His 12 completions against the Utes was a career low.

Saturday, speaking to a room full of reporters, he was asked to elaborate on why he has issues with Utah. "Do you really want me to go into it? I think the whole university and their fans and organization is classless. They threw beer on my family and stuff last year and did a whole bunch of nasty things. I don't respect them, and they deserve to lose."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pre-Kurdistan 1

On December 10, I'll be on a plane, beginning a journey with lots of stops and transfers, culminating in a 3-hour ground journey from Erbil to Duhok on the 12th, to begin a week of lecturing and coaching debate at the Iraq Debate Academy and Mesopotamia Debating Tournament.

This incredible opportunity results from my fortune of knowing three people, all of whom will be in Duhok with me during this important week: Muhammad A. Ahmad, who was in a lab I co-directed at the 2007 Asian Debate Institute in Seoul; Jason Jarvis, director of that institute and a longtime academic colleague, and Alfred Snider III, one of the great debate coaches and a significant force in the internationalization of academic debate. After returning to Kurdistan from his education in Korea, Muhammad formed Iraq Debate, whose mission, in their own words, is the following:
1. Iraq Debate’s mission is to promote debate culture among Iraqis, especially Students across the universities and schools, to provide them with the modern concepts of analysis and communication skills so that they can meet the challenges which face Iraq. Iraq's challenges and diversity means that it can and should be a leader in Debate Education and Research.
2. Promoting the value of Education.
3. Showing Iraq's unique cultures and civilization to the world.
4. Promoting a sense of community.
5. Promoting Peace through dialogue and understanding.
The organization has already begun international travel and has received favorable media coverage--although (all my friends in the media take note) it needs plenty more.

I am indescribably excited about this teaching and learning opportunity, particularly as it occurs on the tail-end of my career in academia and academic debate. I'm excited to visit Kurdistan because the Kurdish people are heroes who have been through a lot. More importantly, the peoples of Iraq, regardless of how we in the west feel about the means by which they were liberated from Saddam Hussein, deserve engagement by non-governmental organizations devoted to critical thinking and pluralism. It may fall short of many of my absolutist notions of social justice, but communication, even in a context soiled by occupation and geopolitical games, is better than killing. And I happen to think Jurgen Habermas is right in believing that the conditions of genuine argumentation are the conditions of solidarity (my words, not Jurgen's, but I know he'd agree).


Kurdistan is an autonomous region of Iraq, although it is much more than simply that.
Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region is an autonomous, federally recognized region of Iraq. It borders Iran to the east, Turkey to the north, Syria to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. Its capital is the city of Erbil, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr. The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to the March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government after years of heavy fighting. Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats. The current president is Massoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years. The three governorates of Duhok, Arbil and Sulaymania accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population between 4 and 6.5 million. Disputes remain between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish government about predominantly Kurdish territories outside the current borders of Iraqi Kurdistan, e.g. Kirkuk.
I hope to learn a great deal more about both Kurdistan and Iraq in the coming weeks.

I am overwhelmed by the thought of jumping into the cradle of civilization. The last flying leg of my journey will be Amman, Jordan to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Erbil's Citadel is 8,000 years old, and is one of the longest (if not the longest) continuously inhabited structures in the world.

The mound has been formed by successive layers of settlements: Assyrian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius the Great in a battle which was fought thirty kilometres north of Arbil. The area of the Citadel is over ten hectares; the population is about 5400, only a fifth of whom are descendents of original families.
The new international airport terminal where we'll land, in Erbil, has been long-anticipated. We'll see what it's like.

Joe's Trippin' gave two pieces of financial advice concerning Kurdistan:
Iraqis (at least the Kurds) are shockingly honest about pricing. There isn't much need to bargain. There is only one ATM in Arbil that works only half the time. Brings cash! [sic]
And I found some more good advice about transportation, given that I'll need to take a few (incredibly inexpensive) taxi rides...
Taxis seem to only travel on roads controlled by Kurdish forces. There are LOTS of security checkpoints, probably 10 or more on a 3 hour journey, usually before and after towns. You have nothing to fear at these checkpoints, in fact you should be grateful for them keeping Iraqi Kurdistan safe from terrorists. At some the soldier will just wave the taxi through, but at most ID will be checked. Have your passport ready. At some checkpoints, they'll want to check on foreigners more carefully, and you may end up being questioned by the head official. Just be honest and open and you should be fine. But, if they're suspicious of you, it helps to have a local Kurdish contact who can vouch for you. ... Dohuk - Erbil: 20,000 dinar ($16) per person. 80,000 dinar per car. Approx 3 hours. The road goes close to Mosul, but doesn't actually pass through. Apparently the road is controlled by Kurdish forces, but a few soldiers I saw had Iraqi flags on their shoulders...
Wow, overwhelmed and excited to be going here...I will be blogging, recording spots for the Shared Sacrifice podcast, and communicating using any and all means I have access to during this groundbreaking trip. Speech is universal, argument is universal, talking is building, and peace. Dear readers, I hope you will follow my journey wherever you are.

afghanistan fail 2: the 25% solution

The shocking 25% awol/desertion rate for members of the Afghan army certainly explains why the occupiers are losing (the occupiers are training the insurgents). But mainstream media coverage of the statistic also reveals the depth of naivete and contempt with which the affiliates of empire treat the people of Afghanistan.

We are essentially told that stifling the success of Afghan resistance hinges on One Man and One Man Only: General Stanley McChrystal, alternatively monster and ubermensch. In the end, the combination of failure and arrogance among military elites and political hacks compels them to (basically) lie to Congress:
Meanwhile, the Defense Department (DoD) sought to obscure the problem of the high ANA turnover rate in its reports to the US Congress on Afghanistan in January and June 2009, which avoided the issues of attrition and desertion entirely.
Entirely? Seriously? The actual number of occupying troops needed to subdue the entire nation (an accurate description of what is necessary, given the U.S. desire to stick with Karzai) is 600,000. That such a number is not even being contemplated is a testament to the will of the people, the ordinary working people in the U.S. and Europe who won't sustain such an obscene number, a majority of whom wish the occupation to end altogether. The fact that this desire is shared by the peoples of Afghanistan shouldn't need restating, but the 25% statistic is another powerful reminder anyway.

[All this reminds me, too, to suggest reading about the Pashtun people, although I am always leery of emphasizing nationalism too much. Culture is real, and forging solidarity requires understanding. This is just something miseducated Americans don't learn about when we should.]

It looks pretty bad for the President, in any case. Con Coughlin of the Telegraph points out that
... the President has convened no fewer than nine sessions of his war council in the White House situation room, where he has pressed his advisers to provide exhaustive details on the policy options. ... Mr Obama has dropped heavy hints about what his overall strategy will be. In essence, the plan is to destroy the enemy and bring the troops home, all within a clearly defined time-frame. Or, to use the phrase coined by the US press, a policy of “escalation and exit”. ... The latest opinion polls show that the majority of Americans are opposed to the war in Afghanistan and want an immediate withdrawal. More worrying for the President’s political mortality is the fact that his personal approval rating has suffered the sharpest drop of any president in the past 50 years during the same stage of their first term, mainly because of what is perceived to be his dithering over Afghanistan. And even if, as is being widely predicted in Washington, the President approves an Iraq-like surge, the chances of it achieving the level of success needed to undertake a withdrawal by the time he seeks re-election in 2012 are remote.
Stupidity, arrogance, humiliation, an insistance on pushing and punishing and killing and other noncreative solutions to conflict. That's what this ruling class has in store for us, folks. That's the best they can give us on foreign policy. We can do better than that. An approach that treats the people of Afghanistan as ends in themselves rather than means to an end would be a good start, but such a policy can only be an extension of governments that do the same at home.

Update on the extent of said stupidity: Our correspondent in Detroit alterts me that Obama won't be signing the landmine treaty. (Like many crimes against humanity, the use of landmines is currently "under review" by the administration.) Clearly, he's too smart for us or something...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

here's a little ditty about SNT

from the twitter to the mp3
the online PS delivering messages to the FB
somebody analyze this for me
social networking technology
does it make us free?
does it promote community?
does it feed the hungry?
it could be made to do all three

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

we should all just move there

David Sirota brought this to my attention:

The 34,000 troops Obama will send will not be enough to saturate Afghanistan, which is the only way the U.S. could "win" the occupation. "The U.S. Army's recently revised counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan's population would require about 600,000 troops." Get that? 600K, folks.



Image courtesy of The Click

Our criticism and theirs: what to say when you hear "Hussein"

Progressives need to criticize Obama unrelentingly for his corporate ties, his incompetent incrementalism, and his cowardice in the face of the minority GOP.  But we also have to distinguish our criticism from theirs.  The mark of an intelligent, thoughtful left is the ability to criticize Obama's ruling class ineptitude and liberal naivete while simultaneously condemning any racist, nationalist, or other right wing attack on the president. 

So, when you hear people refer to him as "Hussein," be aware that it's an enthymeme, and a powerful one.  And here's what you can publicly say (in person, on social networking sites, etc.) when you hear it:

"Hey righty--The only reason to call him "Hussein" is to evoke an "enthymeme" (look it up) equating him with what you are not gutsy enough to come right out and say. We don't refer to presidents by their middle names normally. Such language is irresponsible and deliberately provocative. It also reveals that you are a reactionary crank rather than a serious political critic."

Because they're not helping us.  Just hurting the president's credibility is not enough.  Hitler's arguments against the liberals were not the same as the socialists' arguments against the liberals.  The difference is worth dying for, and you can be sure that the right will be willing to kill for it soon enough. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

life imitates onion

Unintentional? Who knows?  The story starts like this, and reads like an Onion headline:


"Capitalism is still alive and well, say the world's two richest men..."

Exporting Hate: fighting them there because they can't win here...

The Antigay Highway: New Report Details Mutually Beneficial Relationship Between US Evangelicals and African Antigay Clergy Religious Right ReligionDispatches

"A new report documents the trend of evangelicals like Rick Warren exporting sexuality issues to Africa, whose clergy, in turn, support the minority antigay view in mainline denominations, weakening them.

"Renewal groups, such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, have long sought to conservatize or split mainline American churches—frequently over gender or sexuality issues—and liberal scholars have traced many of the mainline schisms that have dominated headlines over the past several years to groundwork laid by groups like the IRD.

The report documents "a clear trend of the US Christian right exporting its battles over social and sexuality issues to Africa. .. As a result ... a culture of vicious repression of gay rights has emerged, shaped by US evangelicals ranging from more 'respectable' figures like Rick Warren, to fringe activists like Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively (author of anti-gay book The Pink Swastika, which suggests that Nazism was a gay plot).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hate is Everywhere: Radical Rabbi Says Kill Gentile Babies

In "What's Wrong With Traditional Religion" episode infinity plus five...
Just weeks after the arrest of alleged Jewish terrorist, Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank rabbi on Monday released a book giving Jews permission to kill Gentiles who threaten Israel. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro, who heads the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the Yitzhar settlement, wrote in his book “The King’s Torah” that even babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the nation. Shapiro based the majority of his teachings on passages quoted from the Bible, to which he adds his opinions and beliefs. “It is permissable to kill the Righteous among Nations even if they are not responsible for the threatening situation,” he wrote, adding: “If we kill a Gentile who has sinned or has violated one of the seven commandments - because we care about the commandments - there is nothing wrong with the murder.” Several prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Yithak Ginzburg and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, have recommended the book to their students and followers.
Loonwatch rightly asks: What if Shapiro were an Imam?

Shapiro advocates 'creating a "true balance of terror" through savagery..."Children should not be exempt from this fate,"' his book adds. the West Bank Rabbi writes. "There is a reasonable explanation for killing infants if it is clear that they will grow up to hurt us, and in this situation, the strike should be directed at them." Now, Judaism's authority is never a stable thing. The more important question is the material fruits of such language. Whether it's settlers burning olive trees or this--
During the Israeli onslaught against Gaza earlier this year, Mordecahi Elyahu, one of the leading rabbinic figures in Israel, urged the army not to refrain from killing enemy children in order to save the lives of Israeli soldiers.
--the point is that it has undeniably real impacts, just as the garbage spewed by Osama Bin Laden, or some mullet-headed Grand Cyclops or whatever. And the vast majority of Jews, Muslims, and rednecks I know are better than that.




Monday, November 16, 2009

quote of the day


This is a good one, from Eric "Postcapitalism" Schechter's FB note this morning:
But the libertarians are like the jesuits of the market fundamentalist movement. Do you remember the Jesuits? They were terribly good at logical arguments, but they also bore some of the responsibility for the Inquisition. Logic doesn't always get you the best answers. I'm actually the author of a textbook on mathematical logic, and so I can tell you this with great certainty: Logic merely shows you the consequences of your assumptions; it does nothing to help you choose your assumptions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

sobering news on two fronts

Well, the GOP has edged ahead of the Dems, according to Gallup, in anticipation of the mid-term elections. It all seems to hinge on who "the independents" are. I have suggested in the past that all the conservatives boasting that Bush's ineptitude made them leave the GOP are lying to themselves--that they'll come back in droves, as they appear to be doing--and will re-identify eventually, once they discover that they really can't "live off the grid" proverbially or literally.

Meanwhile, this very sad and enraging statistic on Veterans' Day: Last year over 2200 veterans died due to lack of access to health care, particularly in the form of health insurance. I hope people aren't reluctant to spread that statistic around today on social networking sites.

music because it's wednesday



If you haven't heard The Books yet, give this a listen, then acquire their album The Lemon of Pink. In this video, a f***ing impressive solo by Paul de Jong begins at around 3:05. It may just make you fall in undying love with this quirky duo from New York.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"a Crumbulated Genesis"

I share Naomi Seidman's enthusiasm for R. Crumb's new illustrations of Genesis.  It may be the most delightful and, in its own way, profound release of the year.  Seidman writes:
For those of us who were reasonably familiar with both the Bible and underground comix, the experience was not of being introduced either to a new artist or to an ancient literary work but rather of their unexpected juxtaposition: Where Genesis and Crumb had until now occupied distinct areas of the brain or psyche (the academy versus the comic book store? The cerebrum versus the reptilian cortex? The superego versus the id?), they now coexisted on the cramped quarters of a single page. There are some peculiar pleasures in the union of these realms, in a biblicized Crumb, a Crumbulated Genesis.

I've included instructional pictures in this post--for future potential idiots

Not sure whether to put this in the Hate Crimes Department, the News of the Stupid Department, or refuse to categorize it altogether due to its profound absurdity. In Florida, A Marine reservist has been charged with attacking a Greek Orthodox priest whom said reservist believed was a terrorist. A terrorist dressed in religious garb. With no weapons. Asking for help.

"When officers returned to his apartment for an additional interview, his lawyer was present and he was uncooperative, they said."


Thanks to Meg, who runs Wyoming News Underground, for bringing this to my attention, although I am also irritated that she did, because now all day long, instead of celebrating the anniversary of the Marine Corps in honor of my father, I will think about this intellectually-challenged reservist.

I mean...


                                                        This is a Greek Orthodox priest...


                                                    ...and these are your typical Al Qaeda terrorists...

My favorite, well-understated part of the article (and the real clincher as to why this guy is deserving of a Darwin award even though he didn't die): "Bruce also told police he heard Marakis yell, 'Allahu akbar!' — Arabic for 'God is great,' according to Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Marakis, however, does not speak Arabic, McElroy said. He speaks Greek."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Same-Sex Unions (not marriage) Win in Washington: why would you oppose this?

The narrowness of today's vote in Washington state, approving Refendum 71 and same-sex partnerships, presents a very good opportunity to call out conservative groups who are opposed to even "marriage-lite" as uncompromising and extreme. This will further harden such groups but separate them from the more "moderate" position that supports civil unions but opposes "marriage."

It's yet another instance in which those who scream about us uncompromising radicals are themselves unwilling to compromise, even in a way that will grant basic, stripped-down, second-class civil rights.

What do we do with "hate lyrics" from good artists?

For those who are unfamiliar with the context of the conversation, I don't have time to re-trace its entire history. But the specific discussion --a Facebook discussion-- concerns what to make of artists (we've specifically discussed Immortal Technique) whose otherwise impressive lyrical catalogues contain hateful slurs against marginalized groups.

There seem to be two debates happening here: One has to do with how we should interpret and engage lyrics we find objectionable in artists we otherwise like. I like that debate. The other is whether we should defend an artist's right to hate queers (or by extension other groups different than them, particularly minority or marginalized groups). I don't want to participate in that debate. On the "fragmented communities good/bad" debate I've pretty much made up my mind and will sail with those who have made up their mind a similar way; my looming life changes reflect this commitment.

I am also beginning to think that in order to be intellectually honest about this, I need to disregard my like or dislike for particular artists and just "study the phenomenon."

The foundational question, and we can dance around it all we want, but we wouldn't even be talking about this if there weren't this foundational question: Given that we have decided, as progressives, to reject _normative homophobia_ and the moral and political positions that subordinate homosexuality, do/does the artist(s) in question cultivate that normative/political/moral subordination?

Given that foundational question, I would ask three additional questions in regard to particular artists deploying homophobic lyrics: Has there been any media/alternative media commentary about this? Is there a case to be made for irony or some other alternative interpretation? Is it consistent with the artists' other relevant lyrics?

Finally, if an artist offers up a personal interpretation of their lyrics, we should in some sense privilege that interpretation, but as we know, it's not decisive; there is room to weigh the artist's intent with other considerations.

The answers generated by these questions won't always be definitive or final. Interpretation, as we know, doesn't have a final end point and some would perceive these questions as being too certainty-seeking. But as has been clear from the outset of this conversation, I am not demanding people stop listening to artists whose lyrics marginalize.




PS: I like Steve Greaves' review of IT here, because it both respects and questions.  Sometimes you'll go to those lengths when you recognize an artist's brilliance and are appalled by their ignorance. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday morning thoughts

My friends inspire me. Their cleverness, and their nuanced synthesis of faith and cynicism, remind me to be honest. Each of my friends has taught me something. They each carry a spark of the universe of reason. Today, I am thankful for them.

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A lamentation from a British friend for the return of UK troops from Iraq and Afghanistan yielded a good conversation this morning, during which I said: "It's not that I don't care about the people of Iraq or Afghanistan--I'm teaching for a week in Kurdistan in December--It's that what we've engaged there in the last seven years hasn't helped anyone--not them, and certainly not the families and communities of U.S., British and other soldiers. People on both sides need to demand a better system, a new way of thinking, and an end to these destructive policies of rich, destructive old men."

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This is, by official Stannardian declaration, FUNNY AS HELL!!!

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