Friday, April 29, 2005

Island of Contention: Taiwan Nationalism(s)

The latest issue of the New Left Review features analysis of Taiwan's nationalist consciousness and the political struggles over "one China" versus independence and several positions between. (link above).

The author, Chao-hua Wang, of course leans heavily toward national democracy. Much of the article is sensible and worthy, although when the author recommends that the Taiwanese must first fully acknowledge the de facto separation of the island from mainland China's rule over the past 50 years, I would immediately add to this a larger necessity: The political struggle here would become easier to resolve once China fully recognized this de facto separation. The millions of Blue Camp KMT ROC supporters are often motivated simply out of desire to avoid conflict, especially military conflict, with mainland China -- in the face of hundreds of missiles pointed their way a mere few minutes of flight time over the Taiwan Strait, and in the face of weekly threats from China's war hawks. If such threats were removed, if Taiwan's de facto separation was given some de jure legitimacy from within China, then the political clashes over conflicting nationalisms on the island of Taiwan would soon resolve themselves more readily.

Here's how the NLR article concludes:

"To free the population from a sense of political impotence, unleash active civic participation and ignite the inspirational force of social movements, ought to be the goals of a Left on the island today. Taiwan is seeing the growth of non-governmental organizations engaging in activities of a charitable nature or cross-Strait cultural exchanges. These in themselves are highly commendable. But it is in the nature of such enterprises that the target groups are rarely thought of as political forces. Similarly, the attempt last year to muster a ‘million invalid votes’ in protest against the narrowing of political options in the system, though it sought the formidable moral strength of a radical platform, risked encouraging citizens away from political involvement or debates altogether. As such, it may not have been the best cure for a widespread sense of powerlessness. A real social movement should not confine itself within the sphere of welfare, still less run away from electoral participation. Otherwise, the long-term fate and future of the people of Taiwan will continue to be twisted by manipulative great powers and murky local politics."

Today's bloggence is brought to you by our sponsor, "Orphan Punks for Poetic Orgasms", and is an update on previous and in many ways more interesting entries regarding this theme:

Thursday, April 28, 2005

U.S. to Ban Books; Venezuela Gives Free Books

Literature in the news with striking contrasts:
a legislator in Alabama has proposed a law to ban gay authors from libraries, while the popular socialist president of Venezuela gave away a million free copies of Don Quixote.

Authors who would be banned in the state of Alabama include Tennessee Williams, Walt Whitman, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Alice Walker, and many others. Originally the legislator wanted to ban a bit of Shakespeare too, seeing as how he had some sort of "homosexual agenda." But after criticism from his colleagues, the law would exempt "classics". Nevertheless, he still has no definition of what constitutes a classic. Is Tennessee Williams a "classic" author, or just a melodramatic gay hack?

CBS News | Alabama Bill Targets Gay Authors | April 27, 2005

President Hugo Chavez, miraculously still leading Venezuela despite a CIA sponsored coup against him in which he was kidnapped for a few days, has marked the 400th anniversary of Don Quixote by Cervantes by giving away 1,000,000 (that's one million) free copies.
Noting that the famous Man from La Mancha dared to dream of a better world and to act out that dream, Hugo Chavez said, "To some degree, we are followers of Quixote." You will remember that Don Quixote too was treated with derision very much the way Chavez is being treated by the capitalists today. Both are called madmen. Yet at the end of the quest, ironically it was the sublime chivalry of Quixote's dreaming that caused those around him to give him belated respect and to regret that they had been so careless in rejecting him.

So, two governments enact two ways to relate to literature. Alabama seeks to ban books out of bigotry and fear, while Venezuela seeks to give free books to the poor out of idealism and empathy. The macro-irony of course is that the mainstream opinion is that Chavez is the crazy one, while Alabama is reasonable. To see more clearly that this world is upside-down and inside-out should not be so difficult. Sooner or later we will see, but alas belatedly too and filled with regrets.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The University & the Undercommons

Why are grad students in the U.S. so angry? Why all the strikes, protests, clashes with police in California, Washington, Connecticut, and elsewhere? Whence the anxiety and revolt? Why do I call for my colleagues to remove their professional blinders? Two grads explain the macro-political state of the university today in a manifesto. They cry out with 7 theses:

  • The Only Possible Relationship to the University Today Is a Criminal One
  • There Is No Distinction between the American University and Professionalization
  • Professionalization Is the Privatization of the Social Individual through Negligence
  • Critical Academics Are the Professionals Par Excellence
  • Incarceration Is the Privatization of the Social Individual through War
  • The University Is the Site of the Social Reproduction of Conquest Denial
  • The Undercommons of the University Is a Nonplace of Abolition

    The University and the Undercommons: Seven Theses
    Fred Moten and Stefano Harney

    "To the university I'll steal, and there I'll steal," to borrow from Pistol at the end of Henry V, as he would surely borrow from us. This is the only possible relationship to the American university today. This may be true of universities everywhere. It may have to be true of the university in general. But certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of—this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

    The Only Possible Relationship to the University Today Is a Criminal One

    Philosophy thus traditionally practices a critique of knowledge which is simultaneously a denegation of knowledge (i.e., of the class struggle). Its position can be described as an irony with regard to knowledge, which it puts into question without ever touching its foundations. The questioning of knowledge in philosophy always ends in its restoration: a movement great philosophers consistently expose in each other. — Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics

    I am a black man number one, because I am against what they have done and are still doing to us; and number two, I have something to say about the new society to be built because I have a tremendous part in that which they have sought to discredit. — C. L. R. James, C. L. R. James: His Life and Work

    Worry about the university. This is the injunction today in the United States, one with a long history. Call for its restoration like Harold Bloom or Stanley Fish or Gerald Graff. Call for its reform like Derek Bok or Bill Readings or Cary Nelson. Call out to it as it calls to you. But for the subversive intellectual, all of this goes on upstairs, in polite company, among the rational men. After all, the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings. And on top of all that, she disappears. She disappears into the underground, the downlow lowdown maroon community of the university, into the Undercommons of Enlightenment, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.

    What is that work and what is its social capacity for both reproducing the university and producing fugitivity? If one were to say teaching, one would be performing the work of the university. Teaching is merely a profession and an operation of what Jacques Derrida calls the onto-/auto-encyclopedic circle of the Universitas. But it is useful to invoke this operation to glimpse the hole in the fence where labor enters, to glimpse its hiring hall, its night quarters. The university needs teaching labor, despite itself, or as itself, self-identical with and thereby erased by it. It is not teaching then that holds this social capacity, but something that produces the not visible other side of teaching, a thinking through the skin of teaching toward a collective orientation to the knowledge object as future project, and a commitment to what we want to call the prophetic organization.

    But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching. Before the research post with no teaching, before the graduate students to mark the exams, before the string of sabbaticals, before the permanent reduction in teaching load, the appointment to run the Center, the consignment of pedagogy to a discipline called education, before the course designed to be a new book, teaching happened. The moment of teaching for food is therefore often mistakenly taken to be a stage, as if eventually, one should not teach for food. If the stage persists, there is a social pathology in the university. But if the teaching is successfully passed on, the stage is surpassed, and teaching is consigned to those who are known to remain in the stage, the sociopathological labor of the university. Kant interestingly calls such a stage "self-incurred minority." He tries to contrast it with having the "determination and courage to use one's intelligence without being guided by another." "Have the courage to use your own intelligence." But what would it mean if teaching or rather what we might call "the beyond of teaching" is precisely what one is asked to get beyond, to stop taking sustenance? And what of those minorities who refuse, the tribe of moles who will not come back from beyond2 (that which is beyond "the beyond of teaching"),as if they will not be subjects, as if they want to think as objects, as minority? Certainly, the perfect subjects of communication, those successfully beyond teaching, will see them as waste. But their collective labor will always call into question who truly is taking the orders of the Enlightenment. The waste lives for those moments beyond teaching when you give away the unexpected beautiful phrase—unexpected, no one has asked, beautiful, it will never come back. Is being the biopower of the Enlightenment truly better than this?

    Perhaps the biopower of the Enlightenment know this, or perhaps it is just reacting to the objecthood of this labor as it must. But even as it depends on these moles, these refugees, they will call them uncollegial, impractical, naive, unprofessional. And one may be given one last chance to be pragmatic—why steal when one can have it all, they will ask. But if one hides from this interpellation, neither agrees nor disagrees but goes with hands full into the underground of the university, into the Undercommons—this will be regarded as theft, as a criminal act. And it is at the same time, the only possible act.

    In that Undercommons of the university one can see that it is not a matter of teaching versus research or even the beyond of teaching versus the individualization of research. To enter this space is to inhabit the ruptural and enraptured disclosure of the commons that fugitive enlightenment enacts, the criminal, matricidal, queer, in the cistern, on the stroll of the stolen life, the life stolen by enlightenment and stolen back, where the commons give refuge, where the refuge gives commons. What the beyond of teaching is really about is not finishing oneself, not passing, not completing; it's about allowing subjectivity to be unlawfully overcome by others, a radical passion and passivity such that one becomes unfit for subjection, because one does not possess the kind of agency that can hold the regulatory forces of subjecthood, and one cannot initiate the auto-interpellative torque that biopower subjection requires and rewards. It is not so much the teaching as it is the prophecy in the organization of the act of teaching. The prophecy that predicts its own organization and has therefore passed, as commons, and the prophecy that exceeds its own organization and therefore as yet can only be organized. Against the prophetic organization of the Undercommons is arrayed its own deadening labor for the university, and beyond that, the negligence of professionalization, and the professionalization of the critical academic. The Undercommons is therefore always an unsafe neighborhood. . . .

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

    Their manifesto continues to name the problems. Their explanations and sense of alternatives are not merely "debatable", but shift the very ground of what hasn't been debatable for too long now.

    Whole article, typos and all, is available at:

  • Monday, April 25, 2005

    Cognitive Consumerism

    excerpt from an article in U.S. News & World Report by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak
    Consuming thoughts.
    Gerald Zaltman uses examples like these in many of his conversations. He may be an emeritus professor from the Harvard Business School, but he thinks about layers of consciousness like a neuroscientist. He is also a founding partner in Olson Zaltman Associates, a consulting firm that provides guidance to businesses seeking to better understand the minds--and in this case it is quite literally the minds--of consumers. As a professor of marketing, Zaltman obviously was very interested in figuring out what made people buy one thing and not the other. In the world of neuroscience, this goes to the heart of the profound questions of motivation. In the world of business, this goes to the bottom line.

    When trying to probe the minds of consumers, Zaltman wondered if there was a way to move beyond the often-unreliable focus group to get at the true desires of consumers, unencumbered by other noise, which would finally result in more effective sales and marketing.

    His solution became U.S. Patent No. 5,436,830, also known as the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, which is, according to the patent, "a technique for eliciting interconnected constructs that influence thought and behavior." From Hallmark cards to Broadway plays, from Nestle's Crunch bars to the design for the new Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, ZMET has been used to figure out how to craft a message so that consumers will respond with the important 95 percent of their brains that motivates many of their choices. How? Through accessing the deep metaphors that people, even without knowing it, associate with a particular product or feeling or place.

    Language is limited, Zaltman says, "and it can't be confused with the thought itself." Images, however, move a bit closer to capturing fragments of the rich and contradictory areas of unconscious feelings. Participants in his studies cut out pictures that represent their thoughts and feelings about a particular subject, even if they can't explain why. He discovered that when people do this, they often discover "a core, a deep metaphor simultaneously embedded in a unique setting." They are drawn to seasonal or heroic myths, for example, or images like blood and fire and mother. They are also drawn into deep concepts like journey and transformation. His work around the world has convinced him that the menu of these unconscious metaphors is limited and universal, in the manner of human emotions like hope and grief. . . .

    ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

    Later in this article we find out how such "deep" findings are being applied to market Coke versus Pepsi. This is your university hard at work making the world safe for free trade. I suppose that the capitalists are planning for the day, soon enough, when they can go beyond merely colonizing your mind ideologically, psychologically, and socially. Next it will be cognitively. And soon after it will be genetically. This is your brain on capitalism.

    Saturday, April 23, 2005

    Fish to Avoid

    Earth Day includes the oceans. Oceans affect human health.

    Eating fish is good for you -- or it used to be good for you. Nowadays eating fish is to gamble with your health. Pollution from every corner of the globe has collected in rain, rivers, lakes, and even the oceans -- now to the point where many studies have concluded that such pollutants are causing birth defects. Pregnant women should drastically reduce the amount of fish they eat, according to several medical reports. Three reasons to eat certain types of fish but never others:

    • PCB poisoning (cancer-causing, birth defects, lowered IQ)
    • mercury poisoning (birth defects, lowered IQ)
    • ecological endangerment (species endangered, over-fishing, destruction of environment)

    Which types are to be avoided? See the handy-dandy charts and wallet cards below:

    Consumption Advisories: Fish to Avoid

    Friday, April 22, 2005

    Letter to the Liberals

    Dear Liberals:
    You describe yourself as a good old liberal to the letter. You're a walking exemplar. Nothing overwhelmingly wrong with that in my view, and pretty good too --as far as it goes. "Far" here meaning that liberalism is in wounded retreat against the rise of the Right again. The self-imposed limits of liberalism is part of that rightward success, as both sides know. We obtain the kind of society in the future that we collectively deserve, alas. Today it looks like great prospects for expanding patriarchy, theocracy, economic exploitation of the working class, social fragmentation, and the depletion of natural resources while polluting the rest.

    Of course in the long run this is unsustainable, according to those who've done the math. The inevitable implosion or more likely the bitter decline more and more looks to be within the lifetimes of my students and hopefully I'll be dead by then. I wonder if anyone at all will remember that Dr. Heroux even mentioned anything about this in class, back around the early part of the 21st century. Maybe nobody will remember, but not because I didn't try to get their attention. At the very least, it would be a shame to me if I saw these problems and yet never even attempted to say anything constructive about them, not even slipped into the middle of some grammar comment or summary of so and so.
    So I do attempt . . . which is not of course to succeed. Part of my failure is my own set of limitations, and part of it is because I get so little help from the curriculum. None of us can do anything alone. Professors as a group are comfortably bourgeois, middle of the road, and enact the full spectrum from mildly quiet to indifferent. Even the odd "radical" turns out to be most interested in getting the kids into private school and getting a better mortgage rate. I'm not above all that. We're all dependent upon the same systems that frustrate us. But the idea floating around that university churns out radicals would have to explain why the stats don't show this, and why the university system is a strong supporter of military R&D, of corporate expansion, of managerial prerogatives, of technocracy, of ethnocentrism, of nationalism, in sum, of the status quo.

    The status quo system is deeply implanted in our traditional ideas and our socio-economic structures. When I say that I seek to "destroy" the status quo, I don't literally mean that I go to class with a pipe bomb, nor even with a modest cigarette lighter to burn the books. I don't even mean figuratively that everything and anything is intellectually rejected by some kind of total Revolution. This is why the term "deconstruction" is preferable, because it doesn't actually destroy, but moreover it continues to recognize the functioning traces of what it has shown to be constructed. For a single and overly partial instance, I somewhat follow the line of the Frankfurt School critical theory and of Foucault in approaching a criticism of Enlightenment rationality only from within the Enlightenment not from without. Or: I criticize modernity from within modernism not as a premodernist reactionary. Or: I criticize patriarchy not males. Or: I criticize the spectacle, but not the spectator. Etc, ad nauseam.

    As we attempt to depart from the status quo, care and close attention must be devoted to how we depart and in which direction: toward the center, the left, or the right; or toward the rear, the side, or the front; or up, down, or around. These political and rhetorical choices are unavoidable, since any step throws you into and out of somebody's camp -- including the not-taking-a-step choice. I'm not a centrist on most problems, in small part because the centrists whom I encounter are oddly ignorant about the open secrets of their own society. They talk and act as if they have only a little information. When confronted with new information, they typically retreat into quietude, nothing to offer. This is not helpful. And their idea of departing is too often to remain seated. Their tolerance soon becomes intolerable. Centrism is the ideology of the overly compromised on their way to their own execution. "Don't upset the jailor and don't tell the prisoners. We're OK for now." Well, good luck to you.

    As for defining my teleology or the end of the path I would walk, this isn't in my line either. We make a path by walking, as a few of the poets said. I've noticed, though, that most of the books I like turned out to have been supporting similar versions of social anarchism, loosely defined. It took me years just to realize that much about my favorite authors. My point is that I don't tell students what path to take, but I'm something of a catcher in the rye. There are abrupt and fatal cliffs ahead the way we're rushing. And because we're now being pushed along that way against our own better judgment, my criticism is becoming more insistent and is aimed at the pushers. But to tell you the truth, I'm not getting very far and I need more help from you.

    Sincerely yours,
    E. Heroux

    P.S. If you are one of those rare liberals who can't read, here's an illustration by Ted Rall of the duopoly problem you've caused:

    Earth Day program on warming

    Battle over Global Warming

    PBS Airdate: Friday, April 22, 2005, at 9 p.m.
    (Check local listings at

    Scientists are alarmed about global warming, so why is Washington not listening?

    Scientists say that over the last century, almost every glacier on earth has gotten smaller and that the Arctic, which serves as the "air conditioner" for the world, is warming twice as fast as anywhere else. It's part of the evidence, they say, that humans are changing the atmosphere and causing global climate change, which has enormous implications for the health of the planet and its inhabitants. So why are some in government still claiming that global warming is a hoax? On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 2005 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), NOW analyzes the latest from the scientific and political fronts on climate change. The report looks at recent scientific evidence that has set off alarms about the implications of melting glaciers for rising ocean levels and talks to one coal-burning energy company that voluntarily has pledged to stabilize its greenhouse gas emissions.

    NOW | PBS

    Thursday, April 21, 2005

    Wilderness Calms Wild Child

    The Value of Green Time for Kids with ADHD

    New scientific research proves children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) function better if they spend part of their day outdoors in nature.

    The research results were very specific. In order to improve ADHD symptoms, the children in the study had to be outdoors in a natural setting.

    The more natural and the more “wilderness-like” the setting, the more the children’s behavior improved. For example, playing outside in forests and open spaces calmed the ADHD children more than organized sports in park fields. Active play in indoor gymnasiums or outdoor play on paved surfaces, such as skateboarding in a city parking lot, did not reduce symptoms as much as time spent in a wilderness setting. . . .

    { thanks to C.B. for sending this. The article is documented and explained more online at: }

    Meet The (Slime) Beatles

    According to Harper's Weekly, "entomologists named three newly discovered species of slime-mold beetle after George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld."

    And who said that entomologists have no sense of humor?

    Now all we need is a ring-mold beetle to name after Ringo.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2005

    What He Didn't See in Iraq

    What I Didn't See in Iraq
    by Jim McGovern

    "Trust me when I tell you things are so much better in Iraq," said one US military official to me on my recent visit to that war-ravaged country. I didn't know whether to scream or pull the remaining two strands of hair out of my head. I was in Iraq as part of a delegation of eight members of Congress, led by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Everything we have been told about Iraq by the Bush Administration has either been an outright lie or overwhelmingly false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; we have not been greeted as liberators; and the cost in terms of blood and treasure has outpaced even their worst-case scenarios. Trust is something I cannot give to this Administration.

    If things in Iraq are so much better, why are we not decreasing the number of US forces there? Why is the insurgency showing no signs of waning? Why are we being told that in a few months the Administration will again ask Congress for billions of dollars more to fight the war? Why, according to the World Food Program, is hunger among the Iraqi people getting worse? It's time for some candor, but candor is hard to come by in Iraq. . . .

    {see rest of Congressman McGovern's essay in The Nation

    Vatican Answers My Letter

    So the Cardinals meeting at the Vatican have answered my open letter , albeit in the most reactionary manner imaginable. They said: "We don't give a shit. We're hanging on to the old program. And we're bringing in the rottweiler."

    Despite calls for radical improvements in the Catholic Church's miserable record and its harmful effects in poor countries, the good Cardinals voted in an even more conservative pope. Unbelievable! Here's how The Guardian introduces the new pope:

    "Ratzinger [ now Pope Benedict XVI ] has long served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the institution once known as the inquisition. He was known as "God's rottweiler" for his unswerving defence of Catholic orthodoxy.

    He has denounced homosexuality as evil and other religions as "deficient". He also reined in proponents of Latin American liberation theology."

    We're slipping into another very dark age.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2005

    Reverse Sokal Hoax

    "A bunch of computer-generated gibberish masquerading as an academic paper has been accepted at a scientific conference in a victory for pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. . . ."

    In an inverted echo of the infamous Alan Sokal hoax of the '90s, in which humanities scholars accepted a bogus scientific-sounding paper for journal publication, now scientists accepted a scientific-sounding conference paper. The former incident made Sokal famous and was then seized upon by innumerable reactionaries who show hysterical misunderstandings of postmodernist theory. Sokal later wrote two books continuing this attack which further shows that he and his fans hold oddly simplistic misunderstandings of scientific epistemology too. It has been yet another symptom of a general drift into slacking off intellectually into superficial polemics based on dubious reading skills.

    Consider this excerpt from the new hoax:
    "the model for our heuristic consists of four independent components: simulated annealing, active networks, flexible modalities, and the study of reinforcement learning" and "We implemented our scatter/gather I/O server in Simula-67, augmented with opportunistically pipelined extensions."

    On first reading, a scientist will have the impression that it obeys the discursive rules of some new sub-specialized field. It sounds vaguely like a lot of scientific papers, but only vaguely. We assume that somebody else out there would probably understand the jargon.

    Both hoax incidents show that acceptance for publication is based on trust because the jargon used in science is sub-specialized to the point where only a few individuals could actually judge it at first reading. This process of specialization has been increasing since Henry Adams talked about it back around 1910. Adams pointed out 100 years ago the advent of confusion among scientists themselves, when very few scientists -- don't even mention people in general -- were then able to assess the main idea of the cutting edge publications in science by Madame Curie or Willard Gibbs or others. Today this problem is even more intense and has led to confusing and improbable attempts to translate across discourses. It is the problem of incommensurable knowledges expressed in very specific lexicons.

    In order to cover up this awkward problem, most people who maintain that they are educated now resort to dismissing strawman simplifications of what they haven't learned. Ironically, a key exception to this general trend of reactionary dismissal is for science itself. The prestige of science, its apparent objectivity and practical results, lend it a holy aura of authority. While most science (both its methods and its results) is indeed highly valuable and of great interest, what this exceptionalist faith in scientific authority misses is that some science is and has always been plain old wrong. There is such a thing as bad science, and it is more common than we tend to admit. The badness resides at different levels among aims, methods, results, and misleading rhetoric.

    But again, fortunately there is also a lot of good science going around too. Judging the difference is not easy. And judging the difference between good theory and bad theory is even harder.

    Monday, April 18, 2005

    The City vs The Country: China Divide

    The Empty Village - What about the 750 million Chinese who aren't getting rich? By Henry Blodget

    After a few days in Shanghai, it is easy to think that China has already become the world's leading economic superpower. This illusion is not dispelled in Beijing. When I lug my bags from the train station to the Grand Hyatt, I walk right by the Lamborghini dealer.

    Of course, as many observers have noted, China is two countries, urban and rural, and they are as different as Los Angeles and Appalachia. The Appalachian part would have remained theoretical for me, but one morning I was invited to ride shotgun in a dusty Jeep Cherokee with Tim Clissold, the author of Mr. China, for a drive to the north.

    Statistics in China are easy to come by and hard to have faith in. But here goes: About 750 million Chinese are farmers, and about 85 million make less than $75 a year. The average rural per-capita income in Sichuan province in 2002 was $253, less than the fees required to attend a local middle school. Rural incomes have almost doubled since the mid-1990s, but taxes have jumped four to five times. (To register to get married, for example, you have to pay 14 taxes.)

    Of course, poverty alone doesn't lead to social unrest, which many people cite as one of the biggest threats to the Chinese economic miracle (the others being overinvestment and a fistfight with Taiwan). To trigger the class riots that frequently occur in China these days, you also need a sense of unfairness. There is plenty of that, stemming from corruption, limited opportunities, and income inequality. Experts disagree about exactly how China's rural/urban income gap compares with that of other countries, but the dispute is confined to whether it is the most extreme in the world or merely extreme. In an extraordinary series in the New York Times, Joseph Kahn told the story of Zheng Qingming, a brilliant farmer boy who aced his high-school admission test but couldn't scratch together the $80 necessary to take the college entrance exam—and solved the problem by stepping in front of an express train. In China, Inc., Ted Fishman described a villager, who, after demanding that the spending of local authorities be publicly audited, was taken into custody and beaten to death.

    Clissold and I drove until the city's superhighways narrowed to single-lane strips and brown mountains appeared. Then, after winding through a dusty town near the Ming Tombs, we parked near a cluster of stuccoed brick buildings and walked. . . . .

    {see rest of this article over at Slate in the link above}

    Environmental Justice Mobs in China

    The Taipei Times today reports that "an unruly mob caused such damage to a Taiwanese-financed factory in Guangdong's Chaozhou City that it had to close down temporarily."

    This is a new protest in mainland China, not the same as the brazen Huankantou village protest that I blogged about yesterday (see below). The domino effect that the ruling party fears seems to be happening. Despite censorship and a news blackout, word of the successful defeat of the police force has spread and is inspiring other villages. Both protests state that they are against factory pollution which has destroyed local livelihood.

    We just witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon in history: angry mob riots for environmental justice. This is again to illustrate the point about our post-contemporary times. Welcome to your future; it just happened yesterday.

    See article in Taipei Times at:

    Sunday, April 17, 2005

    Tourists Admire Village Rebellion

    Bloody Revolt In Tiny Chinese Village
    By Jonathan Watts in Huankantou
    The Guardian -- UK

    There is a strange new sightseeing attraction in this normally sleepy corner of the Chinese countryside: smashed police cars, rows of trashed buses and dented riot helmets.

    They are the trophies of a battle in which peasants scored a rare and bloody victory against the communist authorities, who face one of the most serious popular challenges to their rule in recent years.

    In driving off more than 1,000 riot police at the start of the week, Huankantou village in Zhejiang province is at the crest of a wave of anarchy that has seen millions of impoverished farmers block roads and launch protests against official corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between urban wealth and rural poverty. China's media have been forbidden to report on the government's loss of control, but word is spreading quickly to nearby towns and cities. Tens of thousands of sightseers and wellwishers are flocking every day to see the village that beat the police.

    But the consequences for Huankantou are far from clear.

    Having put more than 30 police in hospital, five critically, the 10,000 residents should be bracing for a backlash. Instead, the mood is euphoric. Children have not been to school since Sunday's clash. There are roadblocks outside the chemical factory that was the origin of the dispute. Late at night the streets are full of gawping tourists, marshalled around the battleground by proud locals who bellow chaotic instructions through loudspeakers.

    "Aren't these villagers brave? They are so tough it's unbelievable," said a taxi driver from Yiwu, the nearest city. "Everybody wants to come and see this place. We really admire them."

    "We came to take a look because many people have heard of the riot," said a fashionably dressed young woman who had come from Yiwu with friends. "This is really big news."

    Although the aftermath is evident in a school car park full of smashed police buses, burned out cars and streets full of broken bricks and discarded sticks, the origin of the riot is hazy.

    Initial reports suggested that it started after the death of two elderly women, who were run over when police attempted to clear their protest against a chemical factory in a nearby industrial park.

    Witnesses confirmed that the local old people's association had kept a 24-hour vigil for two weeks outside the plant. Many said they had heard of the deaths, but no one could name the victims. The local government of Dongyang insists there were no fatalities.

    Like many of the other disputes that have racked China in the past year, frustration had been simmering for some time. Locals accused officials of seizing the land for the industrial park - built in 2002 - without their consent. Some blamed toxins from the chemical plant for ruined crops, malformed babies and contamination of the local Huashui river.

    The village chief reportedly refused to hold a public meeting to hear these grievances. Attempts to petition the central government also proved fruitless. Locals said they had lost faith in the authorities.

    "The communists are even worse than the Japanese," said one man.

    Memories are still fresh of the fighting on Sunday. "It was about 4am and I was woken up by an unusual noise," said a Ms Wang, a shopkeeper who lives next to the school where the fiercest fighting took place. "When I looked out of the window, I saw lots of riot police running into the village. Many men rushed out of their houses to defend our village."

    Accounts of the conflict differ. Residents say 3,000 police stormed the village, several people -- including police -- were killed, dozens wounded and 30 police buses destroyed. But the Dongyang government says about 1,000 police and local officials were attacked by a mob, which led to 36 injuries and no deaths.

    The outcome is also unclear. Locals say the village chief has fled. In his place, they have established an organising committee, though its members are a secret. This suggests a fear of recriminations, but the public mood is one of bravado.

    "We don't feel regret about what we have done," said a middle-aged man. "The police have not come back since they withdrew on Monday. They dare not return."

    Some, however, admitted to anxiety. Among them was an old woman -- also a Mrs Wang -- who reluctantly opened her doors to visitors who had come to see her collection of trophies from the battle.

    "I am scared," she said, as she showed two dented riot police helmets, several empty gas canisters, a policeman's jacket and several truncheons and machetes. "This is getting bigger and bigger."

    But there have been no arrests and no communication from the authorities. The current leadership will be keen to avoid a Tiananmen Square-style confrontation, including prime minister Wen Jiabao, who pleaded with the Tiananmen protesters to leave before the tanks came. At the same time, the authorities are committed to social stability.

    According to government statistics, protests increased by 15% last year to 58,000, with more than 3 million people taking part. In many provincial capitals, roadblocks occur more than once a week. Last weekend, anti-Japanese demonstrators rallied in three cities, including Beijing.

    But in Huankantou, villagers do not seem to realise that although they have won the battle, they may be far from winning the war.

    Amid a crowd of locals beside a wrecked bus, one middle-aged woman won a cheer of approval by calling for the government to make the first move towards reconciliation.

    "It's up to them to start talking," she said. "I don't know what we would do if the police came back again, but our demand is to make the factory move out of the village. We will not compromise on that.",7369,1460263,00.html

    {thanks to Ken Knabb for the heads up on this article updating our previous bloggence on "Violent Protests Against Pollution in China")

    Saturday, April 16, 2005

    All-too-human Puritans

    Arthur Kroker just published a long essay about "The Born Again Ideology". He begins by showing that an old classic of sociology must be updated for the new era of imperialist Puritanism -- Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has proven to be historically right about how the puritan practices supported the rise of capitalism. The protestant ethic and puritanism especially emphasized hard work, "industry and frugality", pursuit of a calling and a trade, of mastering this world in service to an afterworld, and private rather than public enterprise. Altogether this package deal led to the unintended consequence of accumulated wealth and concentration of capital on a private basis to the neglect of public good. Hence, capitalist forces have been supportive of protestantism and vice-versa. They were always united in mutually coadaptive principles. This was the core of Weber's many-faceted jewel of a study.

    Now, circa 2005 thrown into the age of neo-empire and its endless war against infidels, along with the reassertion of both the puritan ethic (rightwing fundamentalist christians in power) and the spirit of capitalism (neoliberal global corporatism), Max Weber again seems more relevant than ever. But of course history returns with a difference, spiraling back in surprisingly unprecedented ways. Kroker details what's new in this old formula. He also reads Nietzsche as predicting the human-all-too-human struggles of the "last man" in today's American ideological struggles.

    This is how Kroker concludes his analysis:
    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    It is, I believe, the primal spirit of the Puritan Vampire --
    redemptive, violent, extra-terrestrial in its spiritual ambitions,
    steeped in the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament -- it this
    spirit of the Puritan Vampire which issues again through the
    political rhetoric of faith-based politics. Here, "brittle piety" is
    swept away by feverish faith. Individual "bitterness" is collectively
    masked as the "culture of life" movement. "Hatred of existence" is
    transformed into the missionary consciousness of the "redemptive
    empire." Signs of the Puritan vampire are legion: from fundamentalist
    faith in the vision of "premillenial dispensationalism" to the new
    Covenant of the Mayflower Compact; from the current language of
    crusading imperialism to Puritan beliefs in the necessary application
    of redemptive violence against the body, particularly the unruly
    bodies of outlaw women, witches, and sorcerers. Signs of the ecstatic
    spirit of disciplinary Puritanism are everywhere: from the
    military's obsession with sexual perversion -- Abu Ghreib rethought
    now in the words of a Texas defense lawyer as normal "cheerleader
    sports" to an almost fetishistic obsession among the "organized weak"
    with purifying "traditional marriage" of the perceived "social
    contamination" of gay and lesbian love. From delirious White House
    ecstasy with visions of Armaggedon to the Puritan rapture of the New
    Protestant Ethic, public life embodies a sense of time curving
    backwards, with the spirit of the Puritan Vampire as the future of
    faith-based politics.

    Here is the moral essence of American triumphalism. Here is why
    American empire, which may objectively -- strategically -- already
    in rapid decline from economic over-indebtedness, military
    over-expansion, media hubris, could also only be in its infancy.
    Nietzsche once remarked of that strange creature we call a human
    being that for all its resentment, cruelty, paranoia and fetishes,
    for all of its panic fear of the inner abyss and desperate struggles
    against the cage of its own moral conscience, it was a will, it was
    a going forth, and "nothing besides." Stopping for a moment from
    their game of wagers, the pantheon of gods took notice that with this
    birth of the "human, all-too-human," something fundamentally new was
    happening. But then Nietzsche was always the first philosopher of the
    American mind. If he could prophecize that he would only be
    understood posthumously, perhaps it was because his reflections on
    the "last man" as the final outcome of the will to power would only
    really take hold in the shadows of American empire in the 21st
    century. Equally, Nietzsche's philosophical twin, Rene Girard, could
    write so eloquently and truthfully about "sacrificial violence"[15]
    because he too sensed the advent of the desolation of redemptive
    violence with its cruel episodes of "scapegoating" and "sacrificial
    violence" as the "end times" of Armaggedon. Strangers in their own
    times, migrants of the darkness of intellectual imagination,
    Nietzche's "last man" and Girard's "sacrificial violence" remain
    strong psychic pulsars, pointing the way to the social apocalypse of
    Puritan eschatology once resurrected in the form of faith-based

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

    If this sounds right, follow the link above to his whole essay.
    If it doesn't sound right, then follow the link below to his whole essay.

    Thursday, April 14, 2005

    Situated Knowledges

    Situated Knowledges
    Donna Haraway

    Above all, rational knowledge does not pretend to disengagement: to be from everywhere and so nowhere, to be free from interpretation, from being represented, to be fully self-contained or fully formalizable. Rational knowledge is a process of ongoing critical interpretation among 'fields' of interpreters and decoders. Rational knowledge is power-sensitive conversation (King, 1987a):

    hermeneutics:semiology::critical interpretation:codes.

    Decoding and transcoding plus translation and criticism; all are necessary. So science becomes the paradigmatic model not of closure, but of that which is contestable and contested. Science becomes the myth not of what escapes human agency and responsibility in a realm above the fray, but rather of accountability and responsibility for translations and solidarities linking the cacophonous visions and visionary voices that characterize the knowledges of the subjugated. A splitting of senses, a confusion of voice and sight, rather than clear and distinct ideas, becomes the metaphor for the ground of the rational. We seek not the knowledges ruled by Phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the One true Word) and disembodied vision, but those ruled by partial sight and limited voice. We do not seek partiality for its own sake, but for the sake of the connections and unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular. The science question in feminism is about objectivity as positioned rationality. Its images are not the products of escape and transcendence of limits, i.e., the view from above, but the joining of partial views and halting voices into a collective subject position that promises a vision of the means of ongoing finite embodiment, of living within limits and contradictions, i.e., of views from somewhere. . . .

    {This is a key passage of a very influential essay by Haraway. You can get the whole essay at the link above or
    It is a chapter of her book, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature .

    Wednesday, April 13, 2005

    Dominionist Plan to Christianize USA

    The Crusaders
    by Bob Moser

    It's February, and 900 of America's staunchest Christian fundamentalists have gathered in Fort Lauderdale to look back on what they accomplished in last year's election -- and to plan what's next. As they assemble in the vast sanctuary of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, with all fifty state flags dangling from the rafters, three stadium-size video screens flash the name of the conference: RECLAIMING AMERICA FOR CHRIST. These are the evangelical activists behind the nation's most effective political machine -- one that brought more than 4 million new Christian voters to the polls last November, sending George W. Bush back to the White House and thirty-two new pro-lifers to Congress. But despite their unprecedented power, fundamentalists still see themselves as a persecuted minority, waging a holy war against the godless forces of secularism. To rouse themselves, they kick off the festivities with Soldiers of the Cross, Arise, the bloodthirstiest tune in all of Christendom:

    "Seize your armor, gird it on
    Now the battle will be won
    Soon, your enemies all slain
    Crowns of glory you shall gain."

    Meet the Dominionists -- biblical literalists who believe God has called them to take over the U.S. government. As the far-right wing of the evangelical movement, Dominionists are pressing an agenda that makes Newt Gingrich's Contract With America look like the Communist Manifesto. . . .

    {Thanks to Mac for the headsup on this. See more in the link above}

    I guess we can't say that we didn't see it coming. We've been warned.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2005

    Violent Protest against pollution in China

    You heard about the recent Chinese protests against Japan, protests that got a bit out of control. And this news is common. China is coming apart at the seams, a little here and a little there, but chronically. The rich cities versus the poor countryside is a persistent theme in China's history, and this tension is again reaching an extreme point.

    The protest against Japan is nothing compared to the desperate protests out in the provinces. Consider this:

    "Violent demonstrations are becoming increasingly hard to suppress in a country where economic growth has exacerbated frustration at corruption, environmental destruction and the growing gap between rich and poor.

    Government statistics say the number of protests grew by 15% last year to 58,000, with more than 3 million people taking part. In many provincial capitals, roadblocks occur more than once a week . . . ."

    The link brings you to a dramatic story about a 2-week protest of some 200 elderly women against 13 chemical factories. They held signs saying, "Give me back my land. Save my children and grandchildren." The police were finally sent in to disperse them. In the resulting chaos, villagers claim that two old women were run over by police cars. So thousands of villagers went on a rampage, smashing police cars and the windows of 50 buses carrying some of the 3,000 riot police who were outnumbered and afraid. As you might guess, some people were injured.

    The transition to capitalism with Chinese characteristics is not going that smoothly.
    Chinese village protest turns into riot of thousands

    Monday, April 11, 2005

    Christian Nationalism Trashes Constitution

    America's Religious Right - Saints or Subversives?
    By Steve Weissman
    t r u t h o u t | Investigation
    Wednesday 06 April 2005

    Part I: The Lure of Christian Nationalism

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
    -- First Amendment to the United States Constitution

    The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine.
    -- George Washington

    When Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin boasted that his God was bigger than Islam's, many people demanded his scalp. But, as angry as his critics were, they dismissed what he said as little more than military machismo, political insensitivity, and bone-headed public relations. How could we possibly win Muslim hearts and minds when this highly decorated Crusader so callously belittled Allah?

    Few critics asked the tougher question: What did Gen. Boykin's remarks mean for the U.S. Constitution, which he had sworn to support and defend, and which - in the very first words of the First Amendment - forbids any "establishment of religion?"

    Dressed in full military uniform with his spit-polished paratroop boots, Boykin spoke to at least 23 evangelical groups around the country, proclaiming that America was "a Christian nation." . . . .

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    {Read more at the link above: the author continues to name names in this detailed expose of the Christian rightwing movement to subvert the US constitution on its way to establish a fundamentalist theocracy. You and I might dismiss them as a minority of fools, but they are highly placed in positions of power, including the executive branch. There is still time to shut them down through the legal system. But if we wait too long, that system will be modified in their favor, and it will be a more violent struggle against their puritanical, patriarchal and militant doctrines. These folks do not respond to reason, because they prefer ignorance. They only want power to establish their bigoted world of security. If I were you, I would begin to resist these efforts vigorously, as if democracy itself depended upon the outcome.}

    Or if you can't wait for Steve Weissman to finish this series of reports, then meanwhile I recommend this book:

    With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush's White House by Esther Kaplan.

    Sunday, April 10, 2005

    Open Letter to Vatican

    April 10, 2005
    Taipei, Taiwan

    To: Cardinal electors, Vatican City, Rome

    Dear Cardinals:
    I noticed your ad prominently placed in the newspapers, "Vacancy: Pope Wanted", and so I searched online to find the job description and the policy procedures for electing a new pope of the Catholic Church. I was surprised to find that the policy details the election procedures, but does not specify who is qualified or unqualified to stand for election. This encouraged me to imagine that you might elect someone completely different, someone who might at last raise the church out of its medieval cloister and into the 21st century.

    Today is a Sunday, and as usual I did not go to church, despite being raised in the Catholic faith, and despite the determined good intentions of my poor mother. As a youth, I served as an altar boy for a few years under a Monseignor in Pennsylvannia. Both he and my mother briefly hoped that I might enter the priesthood or at least a seminary. I did not. It was an interesting job for a while, but I have long since moved on to more interesting occupations. In fact, although I have never been excommunicated, I have not been in communication with the church for the past 25 years. I am one of those millions of ex-catholics who have written you off as hopeless. But this current election allows some little renewal of hope.

    We are all now wondering if the church is going to really reform this time, or if it going to continue business as usual. The crippling moral blindness of this institution these past few centuries could now at this historic moment be overturned. Rather than selecting a new pope on the basis of pseudo-qualities such as you are now discussing -- things like nationality, power-base, and ethnicity-- we millions of ex-catholics are hoping that the Cardinals will take a stand for progress by selecting a pope who is instead wise and revolutionary.

    There are especially urgent problems to be addressed by the next papal authority: the church's embarrassing lack of response to pedophile priests needs to be dealt with realistically for a change. The dramatic drop in new clergy is another. These two issues alone require deep and revolutionary changes in the structure of church traditions. Other problems are equally distressing, such as the papal decrees directed at poor and uneducated believers in undeveloped countries, orders against condom usage that led to a disastrous AIDS plague. A different, but theologically related problem, is the hierarchical exclusion of women throughout the church.

    Such problems, and there are several related others as I am sure you are aware, can only be addressed honestly and effectively by electing a pope who has already taken a revolutionary stance toward them. I know of several such church officials who are good candidates. But because your procedural policy puts emphasis on secrecy among the Cardinal electors, I will not reveal their names here. Please write back if are curious. I and millions of observers ask that you think carefully about the need for deep changes in the church at this pivotal moment.

    E. Heroux

    Saturday, April 09, 2005

    Pope Against Global Capitalism

    John Paul II's Economic Ethics
    by Mark Engler

    A steady feature in Pope John Paul II's obituaries has been mention of his unwaveringly conservative stances on issues such as abortion, birth control, gay rights, and the ordination of women. While these positions were sources of consternation for many American Catholics, they far from represent the whole of John Paul's ethical beliefs. Particularly in his teachings about the global economy, the Pope advanced a vision of social justice that challenges narrow political debate about "moral values."

    Many commentators have highlighted the Pope extensive travels throughout the world and his use of advanced telecommunications to spread his message. Less noted is the fact John Paul's vision of globalization sharply countered the pro-corporate triumphalism spread by "free trade" boosters.

    Reflecting on the process of globalization during his 1998 visit to Cuba, the Pope contended that world is "witnessing the resurgence of a certain capitalist neoliberalism which subordinates the human person to blind market forces." He claimed that "[f]rom its centers of power, such neoliberalism often places unbearable burdens upon less favored countries." And he remarked with concern that "at times, unsustainable economic programs are imposed on nations as a condition for further assistance."

    Coming at a moment when protests against the type of "structural adjustment" mandated by the U.S.-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund were beginning to make headlines, the targets of John Paul's condemnation were not mysterious. Because of such economic policies, the Pope argued, we "see a small number of countries growing exceedingly rich at the cost of the increasing impoverishment of a great number of other countries; as a result the wealthy grow ever wealthier, while the poor grow ever poorer."

    John Paul elaborated his arguments in his 1999 exhortation, Ecclesia in America. There he asserted that the increasing global integration of the current era presents an opportunity for progress. "However," he warned, "if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative." He spoke out against "unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority."
    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    Read the rest of Engler on pope over at ZNet:

    Friday, April 08, 2005

    Get Your War On

    Posting this just in case you've never seen the tonic satire of the long Get Your War On series. As of today, David Rees is up to about 400 strips, ongoing since the invasion of Iraq.

    Rees' comics are strong medicine of cynical protest. His work is outrageous because he's outraged. It is obscene because of the obscenity that displays itself as normality in political life now. Did I mention that it also makes me LOL? Oh, well it also makes me laugh out loud.

    PopeMan SquarePants

    homopater Pope John Paul II is being reborn in a Colombian comic book as a superhero battling evil with an anti-Devil cape and special chastity pants. Picture of 'HomoPater,' a comic featuring the late Pope John Paul II by Colombian artist Rodolfo Leon Valencia shown in Bogota, Colombia, April 4, 2005. (REUTERS/Daniel Munoz)

    The title could be translated loosely as "Pope Man" although in Latin it would be more like "Father Man". The super pope is saying, "Hey buddy, careful with that gigantic pencil!"

    If you have the creeping suspicion that this is at all irreverent, then shame on you. How could you even begin to think such a thing!?

    Thursday, April 07, 2005

    Almost Insane Reaction to Global Warming-- Bill McKibben

    On Not Quite Getting It
    by Bill McKibben

    "Late last summer, dozens of scientists aboard a trio of icebreakers visited a submerged mountain range in the Arctic Ocean near the North Pole. They drilled core samples fourteen hundred feet beneath the sea's surface along the Lomonosov Ridge, recovering sediments that revealed clues to the planet's past: a period 49 million years ago, for instance, when for several hundred thousand years "so much fresh warm water apparently topped the Arctic's oxygen-starved salty depths that the polar sea became matted with tiny Azolla ferns, resembling the duckweed that can choke suburban ponds." What the new cores show, Dr. Henk Brinkhuis, a geobiologist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, told The New York Times, is that "you can get a really strong cascade" of events toward global warming that can then last for eons.

    That's interesting—and it accords with a thousand other puzzle pieces that pile up weekly in the scientific journals, all showing that we stand on the brink of changing the planet's climate so abruptly that the world we were born into will be thrown into wild chaos.

    But what's more interesting was the reaction to the news. It wasn't: Oh my gosh, let's get to work on global warming. It was: Let's find out if there's oil down there. If sandstone and clay formed a lid over all those dead ferns, then perhaps they've been cooked into petroleum in the intervening years. "This could be a promising sign for oil and gas prospectivity in the Arctic Ocean," a former exploration geologist for Shell told the Times. "Oil prospectors will be very excited, and will be watching the results of analyses with keen interest." Indeed, the Times editors chose the headline "Under All That Ice, Maybe Oil."

    Which, if you think about it, is an almost classically insane way of thinking."

    See more from Bill McKibbon's article in Orion linked above or:

    Wednesday, April 06, 2005

    Academia's Dirty Secret

    Recent polls in the USA indicate that significantly more professors describe themselves as liberal rather than as conservative, and that more profs vote Democrat rather than Republican. The question being batted around now is why so. Of course the rightwing conservatives see this as bias and prejudice in academia. The usual idea is that the social sciences and humanities are especially biased against conservatives, but the polls also show fewer conservative Republicans in the physical sciences.

    Also, if we're going to talk about it in this manner, then we should ask why 75% of career military individuals are Republican conservatives. Does this mean that the military is biased unfairly against liberals? A moment's thought will reveal that something else is going on. Military officers volunteer for reenlistment and push their own careers by dint of sacrifice and hard work; something very much like that happens in academia, with its relatively low pay and longer years of training. A career tends to mirror _and to shape_ the character of one's worldview, as sociologists have shown. Rightwing Republicans co-adapt in the niche of a military worldview: a world of rank, of authority and obedience, of toughness and belligerent defensiveness. It makes a lot of sense then that few liberals would choose to stay in such an environment, and that such an environment wouldn't produce many liberals, but rather quite a few rightwing conservatives. This is not "bias" but something deeper; the same dynamic works in academia.

    As a leftist of course my own take on this is that the rightwing conservative worldview today attracts individuals who haven't done their homework. My conservative students in Oregon back in the '90s would come to class and argue boldly about essays that they hadn't read. Their arguments were like shadow-boxing against imaginary positions that aren't in the essay. Yes there have been indeed rightwing intellectuals, such as Leo Strauss who taught the neoconservative hawks everything they know, but his work just doesn't measure up. In fact, it is a joke. And with today's rightwing slide into theocracy and anti-science, it is hard to imagine how conservative evangelical individuals could succeed in the fields of biology, geology, genetics, astronomy, paleontology, and such. Can you be a scientist who argues against science-- based on your religious orthodoxy?

    The real dirty secret of academia is this: we profs are passing many students who really shouldn't be passing. A famous example is George "C -" Bush, whose ex-professors at Yale are now embarrassed to appear in the media. They gave him below average grades, but they still passed him. Imagine how history might have been different if they did the right thing and failed him. By extension, this happens daily all over the USA, and thousands of little Georges are out there in management postions with their classy degrees, running this country into the ground.

    Meanwhile, this is not simply an open debate. The rightwing is now attempting to legislate their worldview and impose it upon academia, to shut down debate. Below is an op-ed piece in the New York Times that names a few names:

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    Consider the statements of Dennis Baxley, a Florida legislator who has sponsored a bill that - like similar bills introduced in almost a dozen states - would give students who think that their conservative views aren't respected the right to sue their professors. Mr. Baxley says that he is taking on "leftists" struggling against "mainstream society," professors who act as "dictators" and turn the classroom into a "totalitarian niche." His prime example of academic totalitarianism? When professors say that evolution is a fact.

    In its April Fools' Day issue, Scientific American published a spoof editorial in which it apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution just because it's "the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time," saying that "as editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence." And it conceded that it had succumbed "to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do."

    The editorial was titled "O.K., We Give Up." But it could just as well have been called "Why So Few Scientists Are Republicans These Days." Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans.

    Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.
    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    see more about this in the link above

    Tuesday, April 05, 2005

    The Death of Animals?

    Con Slobodchikoff, the scientist cited in my previous post about the word for "human" in prairie dog language, replied to my email query today. No, he has not found a prairie dog word (or semantic reference) for "death" or for dead animals. But he thinks that this question is very interesting, and he's now starting to imagine how he might design an experiment to find out whether or not prairie dog communication ever denotes "dead". He's not sure how, since such an experiment would not be easy.

    All we know so far is that they, like many species, certainly have signals for degrees of danger and for identifiable types of predators. They tell each other something like, "fox at northeast, but kind of far away" or "man behind you really too close!". I'm elaborating here to a human transliteration from their range of semantic references strung together in strings of chirps and chattering.

    There is however other evidence that some species think about death and recognize what a dead animal means. Contemporary philosophy is rethinking the modernist take on this. Giorgio Agamben, the Italian philosopher who is this year gaining international recognition, starts with Derrida and goes further. Agamben's Language & Death began with exactly the same passage from Heidegger that Derrida also began with, where around the same year both philosophers rethought Heiddegger's odd claims that animals don't have a consciousness of death like we do, because they don't have a language. (I'm not sure which philosopher was literally first there, nor how much they read of each other. But if you find Derrida hard to read, then don't even think about reading Agamben's book. It is not for nonspecialists outside of continental philosophy.)

    Since Heidegger's days, the ethologists and zoologists have come out with numberless studies of animal communication, some of which overlap considerably with our criteria of language (see previous post). What do you think of this example:

    • Most people are familiar with the myriad of studies involving apes, gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys. One that gained national attention is that of Koko, the gorilla. It was through this sign language that Koko told her trainer, Dr. Francine Patterson, she wanted a cat for her birthday. Koko named her new friend All Ball. Being a kitten, All Ball would occasionally bite Koko. When this happened, Koko used her usual expressions for disapproval: “dirty” and “toilet.”

      When All Ball escaped one evening and was killed by a car, Koko was asked about her thoughts on death. “Where do gorillas go when they die?’’ she was asked. Koko replied, ‘’Comfortable/hole/bye” (the sign for kissing a person goodbye). “When do gorillas die?” Koko: “Trouble/old.” “How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?” Koko: “Sleep.” {see more here}

    This might be a childlike discourse of death, but doesn't it tend to make you doubt Heidegger on both claims of ontological difference from humanity -- language and death?

    Meanwhile, if you really cannot get through a page of Derrida's avant garde prose, and I don't blame you, then I recommend a book for the general yet serious reader. Mary Midgley is a celebrated British philosopher. Back in the late '70s she published Beast & Man, a book in plain accessible prose, with what I call Oxford clarity, a combination of apt analogies but no frills, common sense, and skeptical but open minded inquiry, all laid out in graceful linear fashion. It was recently republished in a 2nd edition. Learned in the canonical philosophical tradition and also up to date on the science of ethology (animal behavior), Midgley writes not as an outsider revolutionary like Derrida, but rather as a comfortable thinker working with and through the obvious little errors of other Anglo-American colleagues, and always with the nonspecialist reader in mind. Her main theme in this book is the similarities between animals and humans, addressing especially the topics of culture, rationality, and language. One valuable aspect of Midgley's book is how it argues so well against Wilson's infamous sociobiology. That is, this is not another reductive biology. Midgley's view is more thoughtful, and in many respects quite compatible with what Derrida said also on this issue of a supposed essentialist gulf between animals and humans.

    Nevertheless, Midgley's line of thinking comes at times uncomfortably close to setting up natural foundations for human society, something that the more postmod Derrida scrupulously avoids. I don't read her as actually slipping over that line into a full-blown foundationalism, but it is easy for those who haven't learned why that line is fraught with political dangers to (mis)read her in that direction.

    This vexing problem --of how to conceive of a properly poststructuralist nonfoundationalist nonessentialist approach to our own natural roots is something that is only today, circa April 2005, still being grappled with in seminars and conferences and journals. Already though, we have signs of some progress being made in this direction. Send more money, and we'll keep blogging on this.

    Monday, April 04, 2005

    The Laugh of the Animal

    To follow up on this ongoing question of the animal, today's bloggence points out two recent scientific findings: animals joke around and they use language.

    1. In the history of western thought, it has been our Language and more specifically our Logos that essentially distinguishes us from the animals. Derrida deconstructs this tradition, namely through his critique of Heidegger's argument that animals do not have a language and thus lack an awareness of death. Again, as in the question of the animal for the past two blogs (see archives to your right), this appeal to some essential foundation for humanism has been kicked out from under us. We still acknowledge a shifting set of differences among animals, but such differences are no longer so absolute -- much less grounds for a binary opposition that upholds the traditional hierarchy of Man over Animal. Instead we wind up with complex polythetic sets of overlapping similarities and differences, some of which contradict our superiority complex: as we suggested in the case of shame about feeling shame under the gaze of the animal.

    Some of you my dear readers are still having trouble getting a sense of what that might mean. Just feel lucky that you aren't in some godforsaken monastery under my tutelage, because it would now be Zen Master time, unsparingly cruel with the rod time -- the old smack with the stick and get back to meditation and quit wasting your time response. This is not allowed by the current technology of blogging, so consider yourself unfortunate because the legends of enlightenment say that this sudden smack upside your head is sometimes indeed a rude awakening, but far better than never awakening.

    Just kidding. Even humans are said to have a sense of humor, sometimes. And now so are animals. To get a better sense, or a smack-free sense, of the background assumptions about animals today, here are two popular science reports.

    1. The laugh of the animal. Several different studies "suggest monkeys, dogs and even rats love a good laugh. People, meanwhile, have been laughing since before they could talk.
    "Indeed, neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along." This is one of the complex of meanings when Derrida, e.g., writes that he is "following" the animal. To read more about such studies of animal laughter, see:
    Now, hasn't it ever occured to you that animals laugh at you? This is a singular instance of what Derrida means here by "response" being a larger concept than "conversation."

    2. Prairie dogs' language includes a term for "humans". Prairie dogs not only laugh, but they have a word for you. Since we usually kill them as pests, I doubt that they laugh very often at us, but maybe on special occasions. The reality of animal languages has slowly been gaining recognition. What do we mean when we say "language"?

    "Linguists have set five criteria that must be met for something to qualify as language:

    • It must contain words with abstract meanings
    • possess syntax in which the order of words is part of their meaning
    • have the ability to coin new words
    • be composed of smaller elements
    • use words separated in space and time from what they represent."

    The scientist said: "I've been chipping away at all of these." Apparently many animals have systematic communication that includes some of these features, again in shifting polythetic sets. But prairie dogs have a word for you. And that's with the language of little prairie dogs, not to mention the language of dolphins who compared with humans have larger brains with a more convoluted neocortex (the higher brain functions) and a signal range, or medium of communication, that is several times greater than our own, potentially. Plus it is eerie that they have permanent smiles -- perhaps because they get to cruise around all day singing songs and sending X-ray pictures to each other.

    See more about this report at:

    The gaze of the animal who gazes at you now includes aspects of language and humor.

    Sunday, April 03, 2005

    Question of the Panther

    Part 3: The Gaze of the Panther

    Yesterday I blogged about the question of the animal and promised to return to this question further today. Where yesterday the animal was a chesire cat that told us "we're all mad here", today it is a much larger cat, Rilke's panther, that impatiently gazes. One of Derrida's many points, and he's not the only one to make this point, is that the animal is more than the object of our gaze. We are the object of the other animal's gaze also. In the case of large predators, this objectification we experience is the horrifying realization that we're just another flavor of meat, a possible dinner item. But in the case of other kinds of animals, this gaze in which we find ourselves caught as the object is "an abyss" of the absolute other. The quality and meaning of that gaze could potentially be many, many different states of consciousness, perhaps resembling our own gaze right back at them.

    In developed countries, this encounter with the gaze of the animal occurs most often in the mediating structure of the Zoo. The species, Homo sapiens, gives itself the right to imprison other species in cages to become objects of our gaze. In the zoos I've visited, the consciousness behind our gaze is chiefly amusement, and only intermittantly wonder. How rarely we dare to look the animal in the face, that is, face to face with enough awareness to see that we are being seen. To make that connection is then to see from the other's point of view, from behind the bars, in a funhouse mirror wherein we are able to see ourselves through that silent enigmatic gaze. This is the question of the animal too. A trip to the zoo should not reinforce the illusion of a facile Humanism: we look at our caged creatures, subjected to our priorities by a superior technology. Instead, a trip to the zoo should surprise us with the uncanny recognition that the encounter is doubled, that we too are animals trapped in the other's gaze. One human reaction is again, shame.

    The German poet Rilke went to the zoo in Paris one day to look for a poem. He found a famous poem in the gaze of a Panther.

    The Panther

    His tired gaze --from passing endless bars--
    has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
    To him there seem to be a thousand bars,
    and out beyond these bars exists no world.

    His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides
    that gently turn in ever smaller circles
    perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
    a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.

    But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
    the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
    of past encounters enter while through his limbs
    a tension strains in silence
    only to cease to be, to die within his heart.

    Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming, the best English translation I've seen out of dozens. See also original in German below

    Rilke's greatness as a poet derives from his power of empathy. First he goes to the zoo expecting to look at something for inspiration; but then he winds up looking back out from the other side of the bars. His encounter with the panther moves well beyond amusement and beyond wonder at the Other's otherness. Rilke expresses the panther's gaze, translates it into our language. A closer reading shows that this poem evokes a face to face encounter in which Rilke and his species is also caught, implicated in the Panther's weary frustration. The poem is not about the poet's subjective "will", but about the panther's gaze in which Rilke is surprised by sin, so to speak.

    It is not the poet's gaze which objectifies the animal, but the panther's gaze that objectifies the reader.

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
    Der Panther

    Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
    so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
    Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
    und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

    Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
    der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
    ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
    in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

    Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
    sich lautlos auf -. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
    geht durch der Glieder angespannter Stille -
    und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

    [Rainer Maria Rilke]

    Saturday, April 02, 2005

    Question of the Animal

    Aperiodic poetry bloggence time, on the question of the animal, in which we ruminate on Mark Twain, Rilke, Derrida, the shame of humanism, and the gaze of the animal. Our task is to explore the other side of post-humanism -- not the promethean side of genetic engineering, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence wherein we move closer to the gods; but rather the other side on which we discover new epiphanies of our inhuman nature, and beyond that our human-animality or animal-humanity.

    Part 1
    In the beginning, so says the 1st page of the Bible, we were without shame and we lollygagged around just as naked as the rest of the animals. Actually we weren't even "naked" in the sense that the animals are not really naked -- that is to say more properly, they aren't nudes. But as the myth of Genesis says, at the beginning of our fall into shame, and knowledge, and labor, and mortality, and strife, and all the rest of our fate somewhere east of Eden, there occured at that moment the significant novelty of a sudden need to cover our shame. Humanity is cotemporaneous with Clothing. We are the only animal that gets dressed in the morning. You can quote me on that.

    Or if you don't want to quote me, you can quote Mark Twain, who is always more witty: "Man is the only animal that blushes -- or needs to."

    One of several related questions of the animal, therefore, is whether or not this distinction between humanity and other creatures is sufficient ground to set up humans above animals. Or is it a matter of something like general craziness, something for which psychoanalysis attempted to find a cure? Now we are ready to go down deeper into the madness. Please follow me, like Alice through the looking-glass that mirrors our self-regard, down to meet the gaze of the vanishing Cat who will announce that "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." All that remains of that cat is the gaze, our own mirror stage in which we reflect upon the error of identity, or the illusion of our separateness.

    Part 2
    I learned something about this from reading Derrida. In his final few years, Derrida said he was "turning green" -- which in English has a few idiomatic meanings that he didn't intend. No, Derrida was neither nauseous nor jealous, as far as I know. That would be Sartre, a different French intellectual. The green in Derrida's statement is the same green as in "the green fields" or in The Green Party as in environmentalists. His late work was about the human / animal binary opposition, and of course if you've heard anything at all about Derrida, you know that such polar opposites are what he got out of bed in the morning in order to deconstruct -- presumably right after he got dressed. Deconstruction teases out the mad contradictions of our neat categories, so as to show how the hierarchy in place can be rethought as a mere difference, and moreover as a difference that keeps shifting and moving depending upon which terms we use to think about it. Derrida raised the "question of the animal" -- where that "of" generates two meanings by reversing the object and subject. Derrida talked at length about the animal's question for us, and about how the gaze of the animal, a gaze which we today increasingly recognize, in which we are ashamed to be caught especially when we are naked, raises the question of how and why we set ourselves above mere animality and yet feel shame about that. To make matters worse, we postmods today even feel "shame about feeling shame" when caught in the gaze of the animal. We begin to suspect that animals are people too; and vice-versa, that people are animals after all.

    Derrida's essay is very long, very dense, very funny, and very serious. In short, we can't do all of that here. To follow all of that, we'd first need to read Heidegger, Lacan, Levinas, and Lewis Carroll, after which we'd all be about as old as Derrida was when he died of old age. Recall that death and aging is what also arrived at the very moment of our fall into the human condition. We don't have world enough and Time. But I will suggest that you take a bit seriously this momento mori: Death is a keyword of Derrida's essay, except that this knowledge of death also fails to distinguish us from the animals, if by "distinguish" we imply distinguished, as in dignified. If anything, death makes us undignified, since exactly like our shame, our knowledge of death drives us into unholy forms of escapist madness. Again, the animals come away looking rather blamelessly shameless in this regard too.

    In short, Derrida deconstructs the binary opposition between the human essence and the animal essence. This common illusion is dis-solved in his own unblinking gaze. He will still see a difference, albeit fleeting and provisional and inextricable from an array of related differences that sometimes pertain and sometimes do not. But it is not an essential difference, or a constitutive difference on which we might lay the foundation of Humanism in the old way. The traditional framework of ideas that propped up the Human over the Animal is kicked out from under you. Well, it is if you can spot the madness inherent in that framework. Derrida's posthumanism is one that overlaps with animality, a curious self-reflexive animal that can reveal itself as naked and say "Behold the Animal, I say! (with words)." Derrida writes, "ecce animot" as a dense pun plus a coinage and a homonym thrown in too -- about which I'll explain later. Much later and not here.

    Tune in, turn on, and drop by tomorrow for a bigger cat in Part 3: Panther, Panther Burning Bright / In the Cage of Human Right when we will discover that the madness continues . . . .

    Friday, April 01, 2005

    The nature of Nature

    Environmentalism is up against the ropes, and the final bell is about to ring. Just as a new and major report is released about the unprecedented degradation of the Earth over the past 50 years, the US environmental movement has been advised that its strategy is losing. We're being told that most people just don't get the rational analysis of sustainability as being in their own interests. And they just don't respond at all to doom and gloom warnings about the decline and fall of their ecosystem. Instead, what they do identify with is ironically the pre-rational spirit: the sacredness of Nature!

    Ecological activists are lately being told that their new strategy will have to emphasize less on rational self-interest because we're all going to die, and instead give out more warm and fuzzy feel-good notions about protecting God's creation. It's either that major PR shift or just pack up, go home, and wait for the collapse into extinction. People can't feel the stats. And their minds refuse to engage with the doom and gloom. They're not able to visualize how their own breathing and drinking and eating depend on the health of other organisms. So how do we reach into their untrained minds? Well, they do love Nature if it's the transcendental sublime, the connection to something greater than us. So, it might be back to Romanticism or else continue the present decline into climate chaos and species extinctions. If you want to learn more about (neo)Romanticism for your PR work, come visit my grad seminar this semester.

    The link above takes you to an article about the stategic advice --but also about alternatives today to merely following that vague PR shift. Here's a snippet:

    • In December, Adam Werbach, 31, who served in 1998-99 as the Sierra Club's youngest president, attempted to flesh out a specific philosophical framework for the future. In a San Francisco speech titled "Is Environmentalism Dead?" Werbach argued that environmentalism is endangered because the commons are threatened. By commons, he means the assets we inherit as a community, rather than as individuals. He says American democracy and culture have relied on "commons values" for economic and cultural growth since the Great Depression: "From Social Security to public education to the Clean Water Act, the framework for progressive political action has been the commons."

      Werbach says the best way to fight for the environment at this point in our history is to fight for the broader commons values.

      In practical terms, this means that in addition to working for the direct protection of land, water and air, environmentalists should place more emphasis on championing massive investments in the creation of new alternative-energy industries.

      One example is the Apollo Alliance. This cabal of labor organizations and environmentalists proposes what it calls a New Apollo Project . . . .{follow link above for more}

    And about that new major report:
    "It has cost $24 million and taken more than 1300 scientists in 95 countries four years to put together. This week, the first ever global inventory of natural resources was finally published. Its overwhelming conclusion: we are living way beyond our means.

    According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), approximately 60 per cent of the planet's "ecosystem services" - natural products and processes that support life, such as water purification - are being degraded or used unsustainably. What is more, this degradation increases the risk of abrupt and drastic changes, such as climate shifts and the collapse of fisheries.

    But amid the doom and gloom there is hope.... " see more at
    And the homepage of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: