Sunday, November 28, 2004

Smoking While Iraq Burns

" Genuine impunity breeds a kind of delusional decadence, and this is its face: a nation bickering about smoking while Iraq burns." Thus Naomi Klein interprets the deeper message of a recent icon -- the heroic soldier as Marlboro Man, taking a smoke after the long assault on the city of Falluja. The American "debate" over this icon is only about whether smoking is heroic or not, and remains self-centered about Americans only. The other image of a US soldier killing unarmed and wounded people in the city is simply not part of public discussion. This is another symptom of our new "orgy of impunity". We're not answerable for violating any of the norms of civilization, since we've become Lone Cowboys on the wild frontier. Bubba says put this in your pipe and smoke it! Link is above.

Meanwhile the only good news, in a world where no news is good news, is the dramatic drop of the US dollar in global currency exchange. The US trade debt has reached trillions of dollars, and other countries are no longer willing to risk playing this house of cards game. Impunity does not extend to the real world of relationships of cause and effect. It's sort of Old Testament time for reaping what you sow, no more forgiveness. The resulting drop in the US economy will probably start to make us realize that the political crisis we're in is not going to go away by admiring images of soldiers smoking. The crisis is here to stay, for at least the next few decades, and it is going to get worse before it gets better. So those of you who voted for so-called "values" and against your own economic interests will get exactly what you asked for: more poverty and more "values".

The moral of the story is the oldest one from myths and fairytales of all lands: Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it. Give thanks for that, hallelujah.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Our Moral Values by George Lakoff

"We are the 55 million progressives who came together in this election, voted for Kerry and rejected the Bush agenda.

We came together because of our moral values: care and responsibility, fairness and equality, freedom and courage, fulfillment in life, opportunity and community, cooperation and trust, honesty and openness. We united behind political principles: equality, equity (if you work for a living, you should earn a living) and government for the people--all the people."

Now we are facing 4 more years of the systematic attack on these moral values.

[ for more follow the link above to _The Nation_ ]

Friday, November 19, 2004

2 Turkeys: After Vice President "Dick" Cheney resigned, citing medical problems due to excessive Viagra use, President Bush Jr. nominates Cheney's successor. His favorite turkey, a "2nd cousin" of the Bush clan, promised not to use "the F-word" on members of Congress.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Science and literature: Henry Adams as a case study

My phone is ringing off the hook, and the FAX paper is rolling over onto the floor! Everyone is excited to find out what I think about the science of complexity as it appears in _The Education of Henry Adams_. I'm so busy answering everyone's questions that I haven't had time to finish writing the essay.
Actually, that's not really true, but it sounds so much better than the truth.

Still if you are indeed wondering what the heck I'm talking about, here's the shortest possible soundbite:

Literary productivity sometimes appropriates and alters scientific concepts, leading to insights that may become more interesting in the future—for both literature and science. A new interpretation of the classic autobiography-cum-historiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1907) is argued, showing how Adams used much of the lexicon and concepts of today’s advanced science of complexity – a century ahead of time. While Adams did not offer a coherent and full-blown theory of complexity, and while his application of physical science to human history remains deeply problematic, this uncanny and anachronistic coincidence needs to be explored. While most commentary and teaching on Adams is restricted to chapter 25 on “The Dynamo and the Virgin”, instead I argue that chapters 31 “The Grammar of Science” and chapter 34 “A Law of Acceleration” are more pivotal today after the advent of our science of complexity, and allow a reading of The Education in terms of its search for a new historiography derived from the “uncertainties,” “multiplicity” and “complexity” of modernist science. Hence this is a case study in the transactions between literature and science, the moral of which is anything but simple: models from physical science imported into a literary field do not necessarily need to remain faithful to that science’s discursive rules and results.

Literature, autobiography, and historiography do not necessarily intend to clarify physical science, but rather to complicate and multiply the range of references and analogies and implications within their own discursive fields, or even within a singular text. Here in this case, it is an exemplary Self vis-à-vis the accelerations and discontinuities of a deeply felt history, a self grappling to find some way to predict the future, some way beyond random chaos, only to send out ironic signals of the failure of this search. Call it paralogy or incommensurability if you like (Lyotard 1979) or simply alteration through recontextualization (see Debord on detournement), still the rhetorical complexity of such texts should not be read backwards into the hypothetical or thetical scientific phrases they appropriate. (We might call this the Sokal heresy of the retro-phrase.) After all, one principle of complexity is the “irreversible” nature of some processes, resulting in an emergent property that cannot be reduced to or predicted from the simpler order that preceded it in time. I propose likewise that literary appropriations are irreversible.

So now you see, I've ended the whole Sokal affair single-handedly. Yeah right.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Modest Proposals from the G.I.A.T.

How to return America to American values of democracy, liberty, and minding one's own garden instead of spying on and imprisoning one's neighbor? Glad you asked! You are welcome to borrow or steal, unattributed, the following ideas, generated by the Think Tankers from the Global Institute of Alternative Thought, generously funded by myself and staffed by 1 person. Of course we borrow and steal ideas too. Here's what G.I.A.T. recommends over the next few months to save the world. In fact, we believe that these modest steps, absent any revolution, represent the last best hope before the end of civilization as we know it:

1. Ban Christian Marriage. A new social movement to B.C.M. from the grassroots. In the 11 states that voted to ban gay marriage, citizens form political action committees to put measures, proposals, and propositions on the next election ballot stating the illegality of any marriage license issued for the following indentities:
a. fundamentalist christians
b. born-again christians
c. evangelical church members
d. anyone who actually liked Gibson's _The Passion_.

Ah, but will this be allowed by any constitution, you ask. Smart question -- the answer is No. Eventually every such proposition will be rejected, often even before reaching the voters, since it will be declared absurdly unAmerican and unconstitutional. This raises exactly the point, the critical point that banning marriages cannot be part of American politics. Those state laws that were passed will thus most likely be questioned and repealed on this sudden legal awakening. Call it a dose-of-your-own medicine strategy if you like, but the new BCM movement will revitalize the meaning of American democracy.

2. Deport Theocrats. The foundation of this nation, devoted to the Jeffersonian "pursuit of happiness" does not grant bigots the right to impose their religious beliefs on others. Those citizens who insist on this unAmerican practice should be deported to Pakistan, where they can practice theocratic patriarchy with the best of them. The GIAT proposes that "Bon Voyage" be printed on their deportation orders. The GIAT nevertheless warns against excessive enforcement of theocratic deportations. Citizens have the right to express theocratic opinions, and to voluntarily join patriarchal churches. However, whenever theocracy is foisted onto the American legal system, the perpetrators should rightfully be deported.

3. Terrorism. American voters who feel safer today than 3 years ago voted for Bush, while those who feel more endangered voted for the only available alternative, Kerry. This choice is based on systematic disinformation from TV and talk radio (see "Media education" in item 5 below). As a way out of this wholly false situation, the GIAT recommends an international solution to the Palestinian problem, a situation that requires American cooperation and even leadership. We also recommend that secret security forces in Pakistan be paid a sufficient reward and promise of US immigration in exchange for turning over Osama bin Laden to face a fair trial at the Hague. Following this historical performance of the World Court, the GIAT calls upon the US and remaining Islamic militant organizations to negotiate a truce, while respective demands are negotiated. Meanwhile, the US covert agencies responsible for funding the rise of Islamic militants in Afghanistan should be held financially responsible for the resulting destruction of life and property, according to civil suits. Finally, war crimes such as torture, lethal attacks on journalists and hospitals, massive bombing of civilian populations, and secret detentions, all of which have been encouraged by US officials, viz. the Secretary of Defense, should be tried in an appropriate court of law, following the precedent of the Nuremburg Trials. Taken together, these steps will substantially reduce the trend toward terrorist attacks over the past 40 years.

4. Deconstruct the Democratic Party. This party is damn near hopeless, having betrayed its only strengths in the name of moving closer to the so-called "middle" in a country that is far more rightwing than anywhere else outside of Argentina and Austria. Democratic Party members must call for sweeping resignations and a thorough overhaul of the party structure, probably including a name change. Heads must roll after such an embarrassing failure. Those who don't have the common decency to resign will have to be pushed out. The GIAT calls for an emergency congress of the D.P. to dramatically alter the power structure from within the party. The new agenda and structure should be formed by the membership itself.
4.b: Reconstruct the Republican Party. The GIAT calls on Republican party members to do the same. Any party that encouraged Bush to win twice has got to find some way to overcome its historical guilt. We recommend that consultants from Germany's postwar programs to confront historic war crimes be brought into the Republican party to let the healing begin.

5. Media education. Much of the disinformation circulating in the U.S. has created a monster of irrational decision-making based on illusions and propaganda. The GIAT calls on all universities that grant degrees in journalism, communications, and media to either shut down or reform their programs. Journalists in the future should be hired from the ranks of those who have earned a degree in higher education, (a.k.a. science, humanities, sociolgy) not in the "vocational discipline" of communications. The GIAT likewise calls upon the federal bureaucracies that regulate media to move quickly toward reversing the historic trend toward the monopolization of information. Democracy without communication is impossible. The GIAT fears that this step will not be optional for the revival of a defunct American democracy.

6. Public education. The USA should fully fund its schools, equally in every community. The content of the curriculum should follow the broad consensus among the educated about what counts as fact vs opinion in the fields of biology and history especially. Ideals of reasoned debate based on evidence should be fostered in practice. Illiterate students should be held back until it is clear that they either are literate or should be placed in alternative vocational programs. These basic ideas are indeed ideals throughout most of America, but the ideal is seldom realized due to a lack of public will and funding. The GIAT proposes that the new funds be reappropriated from the military budget, a budget which grossly exceeds that of every other nation in the world, often by a factor of 100.

7. Energy reliance. The GIAT recommends "A Thousand Points of Light". Energy generation through appropriate technologies of wind, geothermal, wave, solar, hydrogen (albeit experimental) should not be centralized but rather distributed at all levels, so that every home generates more power than it consumes, recycling power into the national grid. That this is technically feasible is well-known. That it is socially feasible is a matter of political will. The GIAT recommends a systematic shift toward tax incentives and federal funding toward this goal. The basic shift here would relieve the US military from having to occupy foreign oil producing countries, thereby saving money to instead fund our schools.

8. N.G.O.'s: While the State maintains the old monopolgy on violence (see stats on strength of U.S. military), taking back the State with a popular uprising is a long shot. The GIAT doesn't recommend this. As of November 6, 2004, the potential remains for the FBI to challenge the widespread cheating during the election by Republicans; but given that most of the judiciary is more conservative than an anal retentive grandpa, this challenge would take about 23 years to wind its way through the courts. Thus the GIAT instead recommends that citizens support, join, and form more powerful coalitions among the NGO's. (If you don't know of any NGO worth joining, please write to us for a long list.) The international civil society has seen a positive trend gaining steady strength over the past 25 years, centered on NGO's. These have had small but significant success in challenging both State and corporate injustices.

9. Global Climate Change. This is a veritble "no brainer" and hardly requires the assistance of any think tank, much less from one as prestigious as the GIAT. We all know what must be done, with the single exception of the President. The GIAT therefore recommends going over his head. See NGO's above for how to do so.

Further information, brochures, and interviews with GIAT fellows can be obtained by request from

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Liberal Waterloo by Zizek

According to Zizek in a recent article "The Liberal Waterloo", (accompanied by a hilarious graphic of Kerry-as-Napoleon), we "must now finally confront the underrated mobilizing power of American Christian fundamentalism. Because of its self-evident imbecility, it is a much more paradoxical, properly postmodern phenomenon than it appears."

This observation is as correct as it is late. Talk about Monday morning quarterbacking!

A few more prescient scholars did analyze this very phenomenon of the mobilizing power of US christian fundamentalists -- about 10 years ago. One of those people is Linda Kintz, my ex-prof at the U of Oregon. Her book is one of the most important ever written about American christians today. _Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America_. You can buy it online here:

Kintz's complex take on this involves reactionary but understandable emotions in a world of alienated commodification -- and ultimately the appeal to a patriarchal gender division of so-called "family values" and anti-liberalism. This isn't of course the only study. More standard political and sociological analysis is not hard to find -- much of it from links in the page above. Journalists have for a long time noted that the Bush victory 4 years ago was managed by fusing together two separate strands of very different political animals: the religious right and the neo-conservative imperialists; the Ashcrofts and the Cheneys. They formed a coalition through mutual solidarity (while holding their noses from the stink) out of the political opportunities that each camp realized they would gain only through cooperation. The elites of each side deliberately set out for a new hegemony, fusing together the aspirations of each. The formed the mass of church-goers into a political machinic assembly, using the rhizomatic network of the evangelical pulpits.

It's perhaps more clear to many of you if we translate this from its postmodern terminology back into an older idiom. Propaganda, opportunism, and false consciousness. Isn't it interesting that no matter how you slice it, the capitalist WASP is still in power?

Check back in a couple of days for one of my modest proposals about how to overcome this problem, something that Zizek doesn't offer.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Public Shaming

Reading world news today: The Brits are seriously depressed about Bush. Canada released an official message that Americans would have to wait in line (for about a year) like other immigrants before moving to Canada. The world is looking on in awe at the sheer audacity and ignorance of Americans. 72% of Bush supporters still believe that Iraq caused 9-11. Where have they been hiding? Why don't they know what's been going on around the world? There are separate channels of disinformation circulating among the rightwing, distorting any realistic view of the world. My Taiwanese students analyzed the election news for my Current Events class this a.m. They are left completely stumped about why "christians" voted for an aggressively pro-war president who refused to correct any of his many sins. They started to get the bit about gay-marriage and abortion as being more important for evangelical christian Americans. But still, the shameful display of puritan busybodies all too willing to enforce their anachronistic beliefs on their neighbors' private lives, complete with their scarlet letters and the rest -- instead of attending to the outrageous abuses of our imperial administration. The best scientific estimates of deaths we caused in Iraq was just published before the election in the British journal The Lancet: 100,000 violent deaths, mostly women and children due to bombing. Yet Americans find it more "moral" to prevent women they don't know from having an abortion. The evangelical christians ought to be lined up and whipped senseless for this crime they've perpetrated on the rest of the world. We are in a struggle against a medieval superstition in our own heartland. Whatever happened to the 18th century Enlightenment? This is why the founders of the US insisted on the separation of church and state. Yet we're running backwards into a theocracy by default. Bush was re-elected because Jesus told him to bomb Iraq!
If we want to preserve whatever enlightenment liberties are left, the struggle is going to become more desperate. I think the moral high ground must be seized. Evangelical christians must be shamed morally in public, at every opportunity. And the politicization of rightwing churches must be challenged in courts. Children should be sent back to public schools by law and given textbooks that represent facts, not cosmic myths and historical fantasies. This drift toward superstition is wholly dangerous for both the US and its overseas subjects.
As for the re-elected administration: the lawsuits have already begun. Rumsfeld is being sued for promoting torture and illegal detention. Cheney is next on the block for his Haliburton backroom deals, while Haliburton itself is being critically investigated by an office from the Pentagon and beyond. Powell is about to collapse from pretending to still have any integrity left, after admitting many times that, in hindsight, he presented false information to the UN. And why isn't Rice in prison already? Why isn't the community protecting itself against these sinister criminals?

For an overview of the hair-raising international press reaction to Bush's election, see here:

Monday, November 01, 2004

Beirut, Lebanon 1982

Originally uploaded by zippinski.
This is what Osama bin Laden refers to in his 1st speech and in his latest video about destroying the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon.

The Lebanon war went from 1975 (and earlier) to 1990 (and is likely to flare up again). It is still a mess there, for humanity and for the environment. No objective view of the war is available. We have merely the views of combatants: a Christian view, an Arab view, a Muslim view, an Israeli view, a French view, an American view, a Syrian view, a Palestinian view, a Lebanese view. Inhumane atrocities were committed by ALL of the above during the Lebanon war.

The war affected Americans profoundly in several ways that Americans do not understand because the mass media has not been forthcoming with information. One of those ways of course was the tragic revenge of 9-11. Another was the tragic election of Ronald Reagan, arranged in part by his secret backroom deal to only release the U.S. embassy hostages in Iran until after his election -- in exchange for an arms deal. The very day of Reagan's inauguration, the deal went through and the hostages were released. This is now in the public record, but you must search for it as the news has been censored. It is one of those "Fog Facts" I introduced in the post below. The complex connections between the Iranian hostage crisis and the smaller number of hostages in Lebanon will take too long to explain here, so instead I've given some links below for more background. In general, the struggles throughout that region continue to refer to the Palestinians and also to anti-Muslim intervention from western powers.

Although there is no objective or transcendent view of this conflict, I can tell you my view which is derived from a much longer historical depth than most. It begins in the modern era with the widespread popular hatred of Jews throughout Europe. This pervasive anti-semitism supported the rise of fascist powers that led to the near genocide of the European Jews. After fascism was suppressed at the end of WWII, the Jews still had no welcome place; hence an international agreement was made among the victors and victims of WWII: the creation of a new homeland for Jews in Palestine. This would become Israel, but it meant the displacement of the local population already living there. That displacement was not conducted fairly and with due compensation. In fact, it quickly led to resistance and brutality on all sides.

We will also have to skip over a longer history of western colonialism that divided Lebanon from Greater Syria. And we will have to foreshorten the historical roots to exclude a very very long history of invasions and conquests and defeats by virtually every known peoples in that area, notably the Ottoman Turks, but also just about everyone else including Christian Crusaders in Lebanon.

After 1948, Lebanon was initially a small force against Israel, but became a larger force because displaced Palestinians migrated there and became intensely militant on the shared border with the new Israeli state. Chaotic wars ensued with every group against every other group at some point.

The US sent marines several times, but abandoned Lebanon as hopeless eventually. During the period of the photo above, US warships shelled civilian populations and destroyed many buildings in the city of Beirut. [Please see updated correction of this last claim in the comments link below 11/17/2005.] The bombing of civilians is nothing new in the history of European warfare, but how it is different from terrorist bombings of civilians is a bit of a stretch.

American involvement in the chaos of postcolonial wars is neither good nor evil. It is extremely complex since you can find both good and evil on all sides. But American involvement has not led to much progress, and it has been naive. Sometimes we supported fascists and fundamentalist militants simply because they were against leftists. Incredible atrocities ensued. And now we are suffering through a period of revenge which we fail to comprehend.

The ultimate view for me is, as in Auden's poem: Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

Violence begets violence. There is no end of it, until we finally sicken of it and realize that there are other ways to negotiate conflicts. Neither Bush nor Kerry is willing to lead in that direction. So based on this rather long and depressing history, I predict more violence ahead. I may become a victim, or you, or someone we don't know. But if you are not contributing to the solution, then you are part of the problem. Peace be with you.

Links for further info:
Iranian Hostage Crisis

American Reaction to Hostages in Lebanon & Iran & other historical incidents

Congressional Record testimony of Gary Sick about Reagan's Iranian arms deal, along with numerous articles

Subsequent history of hostage taking in Lebanon

Mid-80s Iran-Contra Scandal of Reagan's administration connected to Hostages in Lebanon

Very informative and loving website about Lebanon