Friday, December 30, 2005

2006: Bin Laden Remains Free

In our 3rd prediction for 2006:

  • Osama bin Laden remains free in Pakistan, while the USA directs its manhunt for American peace activists, environmentalists, artists, and "radical librarians".

On a related story from this week, see below for how the New York Times suppressed until after the national elections their story about how the Bush admin has a new policy to leave Bin Laden alone, because capturing him would cause too much trouble in Pakistan where he lives.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
by Cenk Uygur

James Risen, the same New York Times reporter who broke the NSA story, also broke a story on where Osama bin Laden is hiding about a year ago. He wrote the story on Osama's sanctuary -- northern Pakistan, in case you were wondering -- for the December 13, 2004 issue of the Times. When we interviewed him a couple of weeks later on The Young Turks, he told us that he had held the potentially explosive story until after the election.

Risen told us, "I wanted to do it after the election. I didn't want to get caught up in the politics of it."

That story could have been politically damaging to the Bush administration before the November election because it contained government sources saying we had made a conscious decision not to pursue Osama bin Laden more actively (for some understandable though debatable reasons, you can listen to the whole interview here). After the election, the story was nearly ignored, perhaps ironically because people thought it made no difference after an election that confirmed we were going to continue with the same strategy as before.

Now, one has to wonder if Jim Risen and the New York Times made a similar decision about the NSA story. As you read Risen's quote about the earlier story, consider if the same thoughts might have run through his head on the spying piece as well:

"I thought that since we wrote this after the election, that it wouldn't be so politicized, that people might look at it more objectively. And that's why I was hoping -- that's one reason I wanted to do it after the election. I didn't want to get caught up in the politics of it."

If the New York Times is holding stories until after elections on a regular basis, we have to question if that's a wise policy. It's imperative that citizens who are about to vote have all the information at their disposal. If a media organization is purposely holding back critical information that can help voters decide who they want to be their leader, one has to wonder if they are neglecting their duty to their readers and fellow citizens.

Not running a story is just as important, and just as political, as running a story. It puts the newspaper in the role of kingmaker, deciding what the people should and should not hear. I was under the impression that their role was to deliver all the news that's fit to print. If they have a story that is well sourced and that they believe in, and they hold it because they don't want to run a politically damaging story, they are making a decision that is inherently political. That decision is driven not by the merit of the story, but by politics. It makes no difference if the NYT was concerned that they would be accused of being political -- the decision was still guided by political considerations, rather than news considerations.

This seems to me to be dangerous. I think we should have an honest debate about whether the New York Times has become too political, perhaps ironically in an effort to be less political.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

2006 preview continues

Following up on yesterday's blog with a 2nd preview of the top stories of the coming year ahead:

  • Conservative Republican Congress avoids, deflects, and suppresses several attempts to formally censure and to impeach President Bush for pissing on the original Constitution. Nevertheless, in 2006 the majority of Americans will believe that something is rotten in the State.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2005 as Preview of 2006

This week, I predict that other blogs will follow traditional news conventions to review the top stories of 2005 as it comes limping toward its final collapse. But this bloggence will offer much more: a preview of the coming year's major stories! In all modesty, I cannot predict everything that might happen in the future, yet all of my past predictions have come to pass. This skill is not based on otherworldly ESP, but rather based on reading the writing on the wall. Today's preview:

  • In 2006, militaries around the world will patrol certain coastal cities after a series of ecological crises leads to declarations of a State of Emergency. In some cases, martial law will be imposed.

"Ecological catastrophes are only terrifying for civilians. For the military, they are but a simulation of chaos, an opportunity to justify an art of warfare which is the more autonomous as the political State dies out. At this point, all civilian populations are helpless victims of the scam, of this ransacking of the world's resources." - Paul Virilio

Monday, December 26, 2005

Monk Meets Monk

Thomas Merton, the widely admired Christian mystic, Trappist monk and spiritual writer, died on a pilgrimage to India on December 10th, 1968. Father Merton published some 60 books and lived a devout life as both a cloistered contemplative and as a social critic of American imperialism. He had traveled to India to meet with Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, after cultivating an interest in Zen by exchanging letters with D.T. Suzuki and writing books exploring the deeper connections between Christian mysticism and Eastern mysticism. A few days before his death in India, he experienced an epiphany on December 3rd while gazing at Buddhist figures carved out of a cliff. Here's what he wrote in his journal about that day:

Looking at these figures, I was suddenly, almost forcibly jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious . . . . The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya . . . everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. . . . my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. . . . I don't know what else remains but I have seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise. This is Asia in its purity, not covered over with garbage, Asian or European or American, and it is clear, pure, complete. It says everything; it needs nothing. And because it needs nothing it can afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered. It does not need to be discovered. It is we, Asians included, who need to discover it. [qtd in Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America 2nd edition, pg 300. ]

A week later Merton died in an accident that apparently involved touching an electric fan while standing on a wet stone floor. This fatal accident occurred within two hours of a speech he gave in Bangkok, Thailand to some Catholic abbots. The topic of his final talk was on "Marxism & Monasticism". A revolutionary student leader from France had once remarked to him, "We are monks also." According to the Fields book cited above, "Merton went on to say that the monk, like the revolutionary, is 'essentially someone who takes up a critical attitude toward the contemporary world and its structures," with the fundamental difference that the Marxist sought to change economic substructures, while the 'monk is seeking to change man's consciousness'."
He then talked about the central concern of monastic life, which is a "total inner transformation." Here's the conclusion of those last words from Merton, delivered in the fullness of his illumination:

And I believe that by openness to Buddhism, to Hinduism and to these great Asian traditions, we stand a wonderful chance of learning more about the potentiality of our own traditions, because they have gone, from the natural point of view, so much deeper into this than we have. The combination of the natural techniques and the graces we have and other things that have been manifested in Asia and the Christian liberty of the gospel should bring us all at last to that full and transcendent liberty which is beyond mere cultural differences and mere externals -- and mere this and that.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Ferlinghetti Christmas

Christ Climbed Down
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
--from A Coney Island of the Mind 1958

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Crowds & the Architecture of Belief

"The future belongs to crowds"
--Don DeLillo in Mao II

Photo of a 21st century megachurch, where Christian evangelism cultivates mass crowd behavior.

Christmas Mass Cancelled

News reports that several mega-churches in America have decided to cancel their Sunday mass services on the religious holiday popularly known as Christmas. This holiday used to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whom christians claim as a god. But nowadays, folks are just too darn busy with consumer values on Christmas to attend church, so in a pragmatic compromise, the megachurches called a day off.

Oh, by the way, Merry Xmas! Now it really is Exmass.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Jesus Was Born, Probably

{Excerpts from a debate among three scholars about historical evidence for the life of Jesus, found in Slate at the link above. }

Alan F. Segal:
. . . .
Although the birth stories in the Bible may be happy tales of religious hope, many New Testament scholars simply dismiss them as legendary, contradictory, and unhistorical. Here's why. The New Testament contains no clue as to the time of Jesus' birth, though the theme of shepherds watching their flocks in the field by night suggests any time but winter. Christmas, the celebration of Jesus' birth, was placed in December in the fourth century to correspond to the Saturnalia, a popular pagan Roman holiday. We have no record of the census (mentioned only in the Gospel of Luke) in the Roman Empire under Emperor Augustus. Likewise, we have no record that Herod savagely decreed the murder of the male children of Bethlehem (mentioned only in Matthew among the gospels). The birth stories in Luke and Matthew contradict each other not only in the details, but in fundamental ways. Even the famous star over Bethlehem, which would cinch the date of Jesus' birth, is famously ambiguous: Either it was a miracle of a traveling star—which no one else at the time noticed—or it was an astronomic commonplace, leaving us with too many comets, super novae, and planetary conjunctions to locate the year of Jesus' birth with certainty.

In fact, we have absolutely no record of Jesus' existence in any contemporary historical source. All reports of Jesus' life come from believers. . . .

Almost all Christians see their own beliefs as grounded in the authentic New Testament facts; the criterion [of "dissimilarity" --see full debate for more on this method] suggests that very few facts are actually undisputable.

For all the rigor of the standard it sets, the criterion demonstrates that Jesus existed. Here are some facts in the Gospels that embarrassed the early church: Jesus was baptized by John (a great theological problem). He preached the end of the world (which did not come). He opposed the Temple in some way (and this opposition led directly to his death). He was crucified (a disreputable way to die). The inscription on the cross was "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (the church never preached this title for Jesus and shortly lost interest in converting Jews). No one actually saw him arise (though evidently his disciples almost immediately felt that he had). Ironically, it's the embarrassing nature of these facts that assures us of their authenticity. The exalted figure of Jesus as a heavenly redeemer and the Lord of the Hebrew Bible, on the other hand, was the response of Jesus' closest disciples to the events of Easter morning. These are tenets of faith, not claims that can be demonstrated historically.

Larry Hurtado:
. . . .
Whatever we are supposed to make of the stories of Jesus' conception and birth, arrogance and religious self-congratulation have no basis in these familiar narratives. I hope that's not banal. Heaven knows it's a point that bears repeating. But I've found that the most devout, and those who have drunk most deeply of their religion, rarely need reprimanding about arrogance. Instead, it's most often those with just enough religion to make them dangerous! So, whether as a celebrant or an observer of Christmas, the stories point us to something worth celebrating, but in humble celebration.

John S. Kloppenborg:
. . . .
But there is an easy confusion between statements of empirical fact and statements of value and belief. We need to be cautious about which is which, especially in the documents that we study, which don't make this distinction at all. As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein puts it, "there is a great difference between disagreements as to whether there is a Last Judgment and whether there is a German airplane overhead." The point is not simply that one cannot verify empirically that there is a Last Judgment; the point is that the statements are of a different order. Statements of empirical fact can be probabilistic; we can hedge our bets. The plane above my head is perhaps German but it could be American; or maybe it isn't a plane at all—maybe it's a bird. It would be odd to say, however, "I believe that there might be a Last Judgment" or "It is probable that God spoke to Moses but I'm really not sure." Religious beliefs are not merely probabilistic, for in that case they would be, as the philosopher David Hume argued a propos of miracles, far less probable than most of the other beliefs we hold about the world—in other words, hardly worth holding at all.

To apply this to the debate at hand: I take the belief in the virginal conception to be a statement of religious belief—that is, a theological statement in Larry's terminology. Therefore, it is wrong to confuse it with a statement about gynecology or embryology. That doesn't make it "less" than an empirical statement any more than "murder is a crime" or "the maintenance of human dignity is a good" are of less value or importance than empirical statements. This also means, however, that whether I can trace the tradition of the virginal conception to a stage earlier than, say, A.D. 80, or A.D. 70, or A.D. 40—all of which would be tentative, historical, and probabilistic conclusions—has nothing to do with the meaning and function of the belief in the virginal conception as a religious belief. So in that sense, I agree fully with Alan that there is no reason why Christians ought to stop celebrating Christmas, or Jews Hanukkah, since the beliefs involved in those two celebrations are not the kind of beliefs that are empirical or need historical foundation. . . .

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Deconstructing theology

{...also excerpted from chapter 2 of Derrida's Of Grammatology, offered here in my dialectical development of a post-metaphysical theory which is neither empiricism as usually understood nor theology as usually practiced, because it moves between the binary opposition between subject and object }

The outside, “spatial” and “objective” exteriority which we believe we know as the most familiar thing in the world, as familiarity itself, would not appear without the grammé, without difference as temporalisation, [or, deferral] without the nonpresense of the other inscribed within the sense of the present, without the relationship with death as the concrete structure of the living present. Metaphor would be forbidden. The presence-absence of the trace, which one should not even call its ambiguity but rather its play (for the word “ambiguity” requires the logic of presence, even when it begins to disobey that logic), carries in itself the problems of the letter and the spirit, of body and soul, and of all the problems whose primary affinity I have recalled. All dualisms, all theories of the immortality of the soul or of the spirit, as well as all monisms, spiritualist or materialist, dialectical or vulgar, are the unique theme of a metaphysics whose entire history was compelled to strive toward the reduction of the trace. The subordination of the trace to the full presence summed up in the logos, the humbling of writing beneath a speech dreaming its plenitude, such are the gestures required by an onto-theology determining the archaeological and eschatological meaning of being as presence, as parousia, as life without difference: another name for death, historical metonymy where God's name holds death in check. That is why, if this movement begins its era in the form of Platonism, it ends in infinitist metaphysics. Only infinite being can reduce the difference in presence. In that sense, the name of God, at least as it is pronounced within classical rationalism, is the name of indifference itself. Only a positive infinity can lift the trace, “sublimate” it (it has recently been proposed that the Hegelian Aufhebung be translated as sublimation; this translation may be of dubious worth as translation, but the juxtaposition is of interest here). We must not therefore speak of a “theological prejudice,” functioning sporadically when it is a question of the plenitude of the logos; the logos as the sublimation of the trace is theological. Infinitist theologies are always logocentrisms, whether they are creationisms or not. Spinoza himself said of the understanding — or logos — that it was the immediate infinite mode of the divine substance, even calling it its eternal son in the Short Treatise. It is also to this epoch, “reaching completion” with Hegel, with a theology of the absolute concept as logos, that all the non-critical concepts accredited by linguistics belong, at least to the extent that linguistics must confirm — and how can a science avoid it? — the Saussurian decree marking out “the internal system of language.”

It is precisely these concepts that permitted the exclusion of writing: image or representation, sensible and intelligible, nature and culture, nature and technics, etc. They are solidary with all metaphysical conceptuality and particularly with a naturalist, objectivist, and derivative determination of the difference between outside and inside.

Deconstructing empirical consciousness

{excerpts from chapter 2 of Derrida's Of Grammatology }

I have already begun to justify this word [writing, ecriture], and especially the necessity of the communication between the concept of arche-writing and the vulgar concept of writing submitted to deconstruction by it. I shall continue to do so below. As for the concept of experience, it is most unwieldy here. Like all the notions I am using here, it belongs to the history of metaphysics and we can only use it under erasure [sous rature]. “Experience” has always designated the relationship with a presence, whether that relationship had the form of consciousness or not. At any rate, we must, according to this sort of contortion and contention which the discourse is obliged to undergo, exhaust the resources of the concept of experience before attaining and in order to attain, by deconstruction, its ultimate foundation. It is the only way to escape “empiricism” and the “naive” critiques of experience at the same time. Thus, for example, the experience whose “theory,” Hjelmslev says, "must be independent” is not the whole of experience. It always corresponds to a certain type of factual or regional experience (historical, psychological, physiological, sociological, etc.), giving rise to a science that is itself regional and, as such, rigorously outside linguistics. That is not so at all in the case of experience as arche-writing. The parenthesising [or, bracketing out] of regions of experience or of the totality of natural experience must discover a field of transcendental experience. This experience is only accessible in so far as, after having, like Hjelmslev, isolated the specificity of the linguistic system and excluded all the extrinsic sciences and metaphysical speculations, one asks the question of the transcendental origin of the system itself, as a system of the objects of a science, and, correlatively, of the theoretical system which studies it: here of the objective and “deductive” system which glossematics wishes to be. Without that, the decisive progress accomplished by a formalism respectful of the originality of its object, of “the immanent system of its objects,” is plagued by a scientificist objectivism, that is to say by another unperceived or unconfessed metaphysics. This is often noticeable in the work of the Copenhagen School. It is to escape falling back into this naive objectivism that I refer here to a transcendentality that I elsewhere put into question. It is because I believe that there is a short-of and a beyond of transcendental criticism. To see to it that the beyond does not return to the within is to recognise in the contortion the necessity of a pathway [parcours]. That pathway must leave a track in the text. Without that track, abandoned to the simple content of its conclusions, the ultra-transcendental text will so closely resemble the precritical text as to be indistinguishable from it. We must now form and meditate upon the law of this resemblance. What I call the erasure of concepts ought to mark the places of that future meditation. . . .

To make enigmatic what one thinks one understands by the words “proximity,” “immediacy,” “Presence” (the proximate [proche], one's own [propre], and the pre- of presence), is my final intention in this book. This deconstruction of presence accomplishes itself through the deconstruction of consciousness, and therefore through the irreducible notion of the trace [Spur, German for "track" ], as it appears in both Nietzschean and Freudian discourse. And finally, in all scientific fields, notably in biology, this notion seems currently to be dominant and irreducible.

If the trace, arche-phenomenon of “memory,” which must be thought before the opposition of nature and culture, animality and humanity, etc., belongs to the very movement of signification, then signification is a priori written, whether inscribed or not, in one form or another, in a “sensible” and “spatial” element that is called “exterior.” . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Democrats Call for Impeachment Steps to Begin

{Excerpt from the Congressional report by the House Judiciary Committee Minority Staff on the Constitutional Crisis, which calls for legal action on impeachment, thereby answering my prayers }
"In brief, we have found that there is substantial evidence the President, the Vice President and other high ranking members of the Bush Administration misled Congress and the American people regarding the decision to go to war with Iraq; misstated and manipulated intelligence information regarding the justification for such war; countenanced torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and other legal violations in Iraq; and permitted inappropriate retaliation against critics of their Administration.

There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-President and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including (1) Committing a Fraud against the United States; (2) Making False Statements to Congress; (3) The War Powers Resolution; (4) Misuse of Government Funds; (5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; (6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and (7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.

While these charges clearly rise to the level of impeachable misconduct, because the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have blocked the ability of Members to obtain information directly from the Administration concerning these matters, more investigatory authority is needed before recommendations can be made regarding specific Articles of Impeachment. As a result, we recommend that Congress establish a select committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war detailed in this Report and report to the Committee on the Judiciary on possible impeachable offenses."
. . . .
{whole report available online from within the link above }

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush Threatens to Spy on More Americans

The news article above gives you the absurd facts of the matter: that President Bush continues to ignore the US Constitution on several fronts, and to ignore the critical advice he's just been given. Basically, like the inflexible King Creon in classical Greek tragedy, Bush insists that he's the Man and he will impose his will on the country formerly known as a democracy, come what may. But come what may -- did we just suggest that the genre is Tragedy?

The democrats are putting more spine into opposing him on this lately, finally taking the Patriot Act out of commission. Here's their reaction to Bush's spy tyranny:
Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., said the president's remarks were "breathtaking in how extreme they were." Feingold said it was "absurd" that Bush said he relied on his inherent power as president to authorize the wiretaps.

"If that's true, he doesn't need the Patriot Act because he can just make it up as he goes along. I tell you, he's President George Bush, not King George Bush. This is not the system of government we have and that we fought for," Feingold told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The president had harsh words for those who talked about the program to the media, saying their actions were illegal and improper. {!?!?!?}
The issue of who is "illegal and improper" in this case should not be so hard to spot. Hasn't impeachment yet occured to anyone in Washington D.C.?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bloom on Twilight of the US

{Today we continue to hammer away at the themes of illiteracy and American decline, with an excerpt from a new lecture by literary critic, Harold Bloom on the "American Religion"}

...I am a teacher by profession, about to begin my 51st year at Yale, where frequently my subject is American writers. Without any particular competence in politics, I assert no special insight in regard to the American malaise. But I am a student of what I have learned to call the American Religion, which has little in common with European Christianity. There is now a parody of the American Jesus, a kind of Republican CEO who disapproves of taxes, and who has widened the needle's eye so that camels and the wealthy pass readily into the Kingdom of Heaven. We have also an American holy spirit, the comforter of our burgeoning poor, who don't bother to vote. The American trinity pragmatically is completed by an imperial warrior God, trampling with shock and awe.

These days I reread the writers who best define America: Emerson, Hawthorne, Whitman, Melville, Mark Twain, Faulkner, among others. Searching them, I seek to find what could suffice to explain what seems our national self-destructiveness. DH Lawrence, in his Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), wrote what seems to me still the most illuminating criticism of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. Of the two, Melville provoked no ambivalence in Lawrence. But Whitman transformed Lawrence's poetry, and Lawrence himself, from at least 1917 on. Replacing Thomas Hardy as prime precursor, Whitman spoke directly to Lawrence's vitalism, immediacy, and barely evaded homoeroticism. On a much smaller scale, Whitman earlier had a similar impact on Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lawrence, frequently furious at Whitman, as one might be with an overwhelming father, a King Lear of poetry, accurately insisted that the Americans were not worthy of their Whitman. More than ever, they are not, since the Jacksonian democracy that both Whitman and Melville celebrated is dying in our Evening Land.

What defines America? "Democracy" is a ruined word, because of its misuse in the American political rhetoric of our moment. If Hamlet and Don Quixote, between them, define the European self, then Captain Ahab and "Walt Whitman" (the persona, not the man) suggest a very different self from the European. Ahab is Shakespearean, Miltonic, even Byronic-Shelleyan, but his monomaniacal quest is his own, and reacts against the Emersonian self, just as Melville's beloved Hawthorne recoiled also. Whitman, a more positive Emersonian, affirms what the Sage of Concord called self-reliance, the authentic American religion rather than its Bushian parodies. Though he possesses a Yale BA and honorary doctorate, our president is semi-literate at best. He once boasted of never having read a book through, even at Yale. Henry James was affronted when he met President Theodore Roosevelt; what could he have made of George W Bush?
. . . .
What has happened to the American imagination if we have become a parody of the Roman empire?
. . . .
Our politics began to be contaminated by theocratic zealots with the Reagan revelation, when southern Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostals, and Adventists surged into the Republican party. The alliance between Wall Street and the Christian right is an old one, but has become explicit only in the past quarter century. What was called the counter-culture of the late 1960s and 70s provoked the reaction of the 80s, which is ongoing. This is all obvious enough, but becomes subtler in the context of the religiosity of the country, which truly divides us into two nations. Sometimes I find myself wondering if the south belatedly has won the civil war, more than a century after its supposed defeat. The leaders of the Republican party are southern; even the Bushes, despite their Yale and Connecticut tradition, were careful to become Texans and Floridians. Politics, in the United States, perhaps never again can be separated from religion. When so many vote against their own palpable economic interests, and choose "values" instead, then an American malaise has replaced the American dream.
. . . .
{continues at link above in The Guardian}

Friday, December 16, 2005

Universities Colonized

State Universities Use Part-Time Professors

For yet another in a long series of stories on the declining state of the professing profession in the U.S. due to the "New University of Excellence" designed by MBA management, see the article above with details about Oregon. The short version: social funding is down because the rich need to get richer despite massive war funding and factory closings; meanwhile class sizes and tuition costs are rising, yet professors are now paid less for more hours as part-time temp workers without even health insurance. Where is all the money going? Journalists have yet to inquire into that minor trivia. The faculty response? An funky ostrich imitation. They often reject unions since they haven't yet realized that they are paid less than plumbers and construction workers, moreover that they are now managed by accountants who are worried about keeping the customers formerly-known-as-students coming back. Such facts are avoided by the usual bourgeois illusions of self-reliance and cultural dignity.

Those young customers now assume that the university is supposed to train them for a comfy position in a corporation. Education = exchange value on the open market. Yet those same corporations have legally maneuvered to avoid funding their own staff training, which now comes down to the individual person paying for their own corporate training, and then working for the next 30 years to pay off the student loan.
Alas for the ideal of the university now sadly worn out under this calculated colonization by capitalism. You can still even today get a good liberal arts education, but my complaint is that you have to fight against the university system in order to do so. The status quo now is a lot of watered down Power Points spoon fed in fragments to bored semi-literate customers by harried parttime instructors -- a perfect preparation for the same world they must work in to pay for this "education".

And that's it for today's news from the U.

{photo from anti-capitalist global protest in Hong Kong, 2005}

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chiang Kai-shek idol falls down

Hey, somebody was listening to me after all!

A bronze equestrian statue of the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek lies on the grass next to a monument reading "Our national savior" in Ilan, Taiwan.

Do you still recall that in 1989 the statues of Lenin were knocked down all over the world in the bloodless revolution as the Berlin Wall came down? That same summer, students and faculty of Beijing University attempted a peaceful revolt for democracy, only to be crushed by the army in one bloody night at Tiananmen Square.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, life went on as usual, that is to say, business. The numerous statues of the Capitalist-Leninist dictator Chiang Kai-shek were left standing in full view, where even kids can see them daily. As of today, December 14, 2005, this is the only case I've heard about where his statue somehow fell down.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie Execution OK'd by Arnold

So you've heard the controversial news about Tookie Williams. He's to be executed later today in this contraption at San Quentin Prison -->

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided not to commute Tookie's sentence to a life behind bars, opining that the condemned man had not shown sufficient remorse or redemption. I find this utterly predictable, since I've watched a few of Arnold's movies, and I've read interviews with this Conservative Republican man of "values". His entire career has been devoted to a show of brute power, where justice comes from the barrel of a gun or a slashing sword. Might is right -->
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Without any hint of irony, Gov Schwarzenegger official statement says, "that he still sees violence and lawlessness as a legitimate means to address societal problems." Obviously "he" in this quote refers to Tookie, yet the statement applies to Gov Schwarzenegger as well. In announcing this very same text, the Gov commits an act of fatal violence "as a legitimate means to address societal problems". It relegates the specific problem to a mere footnote added as an afterthought to the corrected edition later:

"Breaking the cycle of hopelessness and gang violence is the responsibility of us all, not just the most affected African-American or inner city communities. It is important to work together with respect, understanding and patience if we are to one day succeed." [footnote 6 on page 4]

This is technically a performative contradiction of the most destructive kind. I would not trust the author of that hypocritical text with my family, nor would I move into the same neighborhood where he rules.

In stark and revealing contrast, here's what Tookie actually wrote for young kids in the ghetto:

"As a teenager, I didn't know the meaning of power. I thought that by using violence to scare people, I was proving that I had a lot of power. But when you use your power to make someone do something they don't want to do, or to hurt someone, you are abusing your power. The people you hurt will someday hurt you. They may call your parents to tell them the bad things you've done. They may call the police and have you arrested. They may even use a weapon on you."

--from Gangs and the Abuse of Power

"Since I had big muscles and a big reputation, I thought no one could hurt me. But my big muscles and big reputation couldn't stop the bullets that a gang member fired at me one day. Doctors said I would never walk again. It took a long time, but I can walk now. I don't want you to get shot too. That's why I'm telling you my story. You can learn from my mistakes."

--from Gangs and Weapons

It is entirely probable that Arnold didn't comprehend that these words are about himself also.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Aspartame, Toxic Ignorance of Rumsfeld

C.B. alerts me to an interesting bit of research by public interest scientist, Mary O'Brien on how the artificial sweetener, aspartame, was approved by US government officials for human consumption despite empirical results that showed it causes cancers and even "holes in the brain" in animal experiments. Turns out that this typical story of backroom deals and corporate purchasing power involves a guy named Donald Rumsfeld who transferred from Secretary of Defense (sound familiar?) under President Gerald Ford in 1977 over to CEO of the company that owned aspartame and needed FDA safety-approval to market it. Rumsfeld got a Pentagon insider doctor as the medical authority to overturn the FDA decision against aspartame. The rest is history, as you can see by reading the label on your can, your drink, your sugarfree gum and cake and etc.

Agnotology reveals the corporate construction of toxic ignorance again.

Here's Mary O'Brien's moral of the story:

First, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's leap over lack of WMD evidence, his own military's advice, and UN process to get President Bush's Iraq War underway is a well-practiced move.

Second, a child or soldier who dies in Iraq from a bomb and an adult who dies in the U.S. from aspartame-caused cancer share at least one person in common who contributed to their death.

Third, whenever politically positioned people, whether nationally or locally, regard law and evidence as mere hurdles to leap over to get what they want, it's our job as citizens to keep those laws in place, that evidence in the open, and those people in line.

Story originally published in a small alternative press paper, The Eugene Weekly at the link above.
See comment below for update on political action taken on December 14.

Friday, December 09, 2005

How to Get Away with the State of Emergency

Getting Away with the State (of Emergency). In today's bloggence, we teach the up and coming ambitious politico-wannabees how to legally steal, lie, cheat, and yes, even murder -- and then get re-elected. Read on for this guide to the top methods of becoming a True Prince lording it over all those pathetic cowards out there! First lesson is free! Send in just $29.99 for additional lessons!

War Crimes Made Easy
By Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith
Tom Dispatch

How has the Bush administration gotten away with such apparently illegal acts as hiding intelligence reports from Congress, creating secret prisons, establishing death squads, kidnapping people and spiriting them across national borders, and planning unprovoked wars? Part of the answer lies in the administration's deliberate effort, initiated even before September 11, 2001, to tear down any existing legal and institutional means for preventing, exposing, or punishing violations of national and international law by American officials. . . .

{detailed essay continues at link above}

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pinter's Nobel Accusation

Harold Pinter gave his acceptance speech for this year's Nobel Prize for Literature. Here's a section from the middle, the guts of it:
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don't exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. 'We don't do body counts,' said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. 'A grateful child,' said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. 'When do I get my arms back?' he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn't holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you're making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm's way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

Here is an extract from a poem by Pablo Neruda, 'I'm Explaining a Few Things':

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children's blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate.

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives.

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull's eye of your hearts.

And you will ask: why doesn't his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land.

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Whole speech is available at the link above, in audio or video or text in several languages. This has been an update from an earlier bloggence at: A Pint of Pinter Pointers

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Our Climate Ourselves

"The struggle against climate change is a struggle against much of what we have become. It is a struggle against some of our most fundamental urges."
-- George Monbiot

see his speech to the Climate March in December 2005 here:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paris Surrealist Movement on the Riots

Link above takes you to an interesting report about the recent unpleasantries in suburban Paris: weeks of fire, rage, destruction, miscommunication, brutality, accusations, gangsters, youngsters, frustration, racism, and all the rest of 21st century life.
With much of France now in the mood to return to "normal" (otherwise known as the conditions which led to the riots in the first place), this report is worth more careful perusal.

The report is admirably evenhanded, if undiplomatic. But perhaps some frankness is needed in the Francophone world. Coming out of the fire phoenix-like, with an unmistakably avantiste tone of perceptive conceiving and conceptual perceiving, this report is signed by one "Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement". Which now raises a hopeful question: Who are they, and have they more to say?

Here's their conclusion:

"In a society in which all previous forms of belonging, and therefore of associated consciousness, have been wiped out, these events testify to the eruptive and uncontrollable return of the social question, firstly under an immediately negative form, that fire—emblem of all apocalypses— symbolizes. Indeed, unlike the rebellions in Los Angeles in 1965 and in 1992, the population of the districts here did not massively join the rioters. And in contrast to May ‘68 neither poetry nor brilliant ideas are on the barricades. No wildcat strike is going to spread widely with these troubles. But the rulers have been given a good hotfoot and have been forced to unmask themselves.

A democracy which, in order to face up to a quantitatively limited movement (considering the number of participants), has been obliged to put back in force an old colonial law, but also to reveal its constituent deception: that is, where the police abuse their powers, the state of emergency gives to their abuse the legitimacy that it lacks. What we long ago called "individual freedom" is today known as the “discretionary power” of the cops.

In a flash, such warning lights have revealed—during these November nights—the return of a possibility that seemed to be lost: that of throwing power into a panic even when its forces are harassed in a disorganized manner through the whole territory by a handful of forsaken social casualties. From now on, we can imagine the strength of an uprising that would—beyond the inhabitants of the ghettos—include the whole population suffering from the rise of impoverishment, and would turn into civil war against the organs of capital and the state.

Beyond recent infernos presented as the very image of a nightmare, it is time that the dream of concrete utopia is raised anew."

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
If you can read French, they've got a website at:

Monday, December 05, 2005

Planet Changes

Carbon Dioxide

New research has found that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the main cause of global warming - are higher than at any time in the past 625,000 years. HOTTEST EVER

This year is expected to be the warmest ever recorded; 1998 was the hottest so far, but the past three years currently occupy the next three places.


The giant Kalahari desert, already four times the size of Britain, threatens to become larger still, covering farmland in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

Expanding Oceans

The level of the world's seas and oceans is rising twice as fast as in the past, as their waters expand in rising temperatures and glaciers melt.

Ocean Exiles

The people of the Carteret Islands, a scattering of atolls off Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, have started to leave as their homes succumb to rising seas.


Hurricane Epsilon - the 14th of the year - is forming in the Atlantic, even though the worst recorded hurricane season by far formally ended on Wednesday.

Glacier Melt

Greenland glaciers have suddenly started racing towards the sea and melting. Much the same is beginning to happen to glaciers in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Water Shortage

Areas such as the western USA, which depend on mountain snows for their water supplies, are running short as less snow falls - and what does fall melts earlier.

Disappearing Species

Sealife and birdlife have declined catastrophically this year along America's north-west Pacific coast, after a similar meltdown in the North Sea.

Coral Reefs

Corals on the Great Barrier Reef are bleaching out and dying as sea temperatures rise and scientists fear that the whole reef may perish by 2050.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
What you can do about it:
1. Work for radical changes in civilization.
2. The three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle.
3. Vote green; avoid theocratic candidates.
4. Don't buy land at sea level.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Shiites Win Iraq War

How Bush Created a Theocracy in Iraq
By Juan Cole

The Bush administration naively believed that Iraq was a blank slate on which it could inscribe its vision for a remake of the Arab world. Iraq, however, was a witches' brew of dynamic social and religious movements, a veritable pressure cooker. When George W. Bush invaded, he blew off the lid.

Shiite religious leaders and parties, in particular, have crucially shaped the new Iraq in each of its three political phases. The first was during the period of direct American rule, largely by Paul Bremer. The second comprised the months of interim government, when Iyad Allawi was prime minister. The third stretches from the formation of an elected government, with Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister, to today.

In the first phase, expatriate Shiite parties returned to the country to emerge as major players, to the consternation of a confused and clueless "Coalition Provisional Authority."

The oldest of these was the Dawa Party, founded in the late 1950s as a Shiite answer to mass parties such as the Communist Party of Iraq and the Arab nationalist Baath Party. Dawa means the call, as in the imperative to spread the faith. Dawa Party leaders in the 1960s and 1970s dreamed of a Shiite paradise to rival the workers' paradise of the Marxists, with a state ruled by Islamic law, where a "consultative council" somehow selected by the community would make further regulations in accordance with the Koran. . . .
{Cole's conclusion:}
"The real winners of the Iraq war are the Shiites."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Terminal City

An illustration of one chapter of my old dissertation from 1997 about the ideology of the information society. Theme: alienation vis-a-vis "communication".

Painting by Drooker. See more of this art at

Regime Change Made EZ

In recent memory, U.S. covert* imperialism has overthrown three authoritarian governments by funding and organizing soft power and nonviolent civil resistance movements in:
1. Serbia (Milosevic)
2. Georgia (Shevardnadze)
3. Ukraine (Yanukovych)

To do so, the U.S. relies on think tanks to brainstorm how to overthrow governments without deploying the military. A key document of this brainstorming as it was applied successfully is Gene Sharp's FROM DICTATORSHIP TO DEMOCRACY: A conceptual framework for liberation online at:

This work efficiently summarizes the tactics and strategy used to overthrow those three governments listed above. It was supposedly published in 1993 by a Senior Scholar-in-Residence at The Albert Einstein Institution. This think tank / advocacy group was started by Gene Sharp, and it specializes in nonviolent regime change. For an expose of how the CIA and NATO use his approach, see this expose. But don't waste too much time there. We still have a future to win -->

Nonviolent change from bumbling authoritarian regimes to democratic elections is at least a step in the right direction, although of course it doesn't go far enough by half. What we are proposing today is that Sharp's work be redirected: Regime change begins at home! Now that the U.S. itself is mired in a militantly bumbling authoritarian regime that has consistently defied the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, not to mention several international treaties, we believe that Sharp's tactics can be reappropriated to create a mass nonviolent resistance movement.

After all, why reinvent the wheel when it's already on a roll?

~~~ ~~~ ~~~
*By "covert" we don't refer to the overt imperial force applied to Haiti or Afghanistan or Panama or ad nauseam.

**I was tipped off to this connection by the blog Crimes of the State