News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: December 2006

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kierkegaard Carnival II - December 31, 2006


Welcome to the December 31, 2006 edition of Kierkegaard Carnival.

This New Year's edition of the Kierkegaard Carnival includes a congeries of blog postings that cover ethical, philosophical, religious, and biographical aspects of Kierkegaard's work. The pieces provided here are interesting for their diversity of viewpoint on the themes and ideas generated by that amazing writing machine we have come to love and admire.

What strikes any first-time reader of Kierkegaard, of course, is the number of pseudonyms that he writes under. The number of pseudonyms, along with the diverging and often conflicting viewpoints they divulge accounts, perhaps, for the many interpretations of Kierkegaard's work that we find in academia, as well as in the humble pages of this little carnival.

For many people, the idea of a pseudonym means that someone is trying to hide their real name behind a fake one. The reasons for why someone might want to do this can be multifarious--ranging from the con man's alias to the lover afraid to show their true name lest they be hurt by rejection. ...

Kierkegaard acknowledged and embraced the ambivalence of the pseudonym. It allowed him to explore the wide-ranging emotional and spiritual spectrum that exhibits human being. He was wily enough to see that people will hold to their beliefs and precious prejudices no matter what data or facts appear. They must be tricked out of their mind-set to embrace the open-ended reality that is the transcendent.

Using pseudonyms also allowed Kierkegaard to experiment with different views and ways of looking at life that he did not necessarily embrace, feel equal to, or had surpassed. For example, he says that the pseudonym anti-Climacus is a writer whose version of Christianity is much far higher than Kierkegaard himself could live in his own life.

What these comments point to is a cautionary tale about seeking the real Kierkegaard. That may not be possible--and it is perhaps best so, since he the individual would have found it abhorrent to believe that any words of system could capture the uniqueness that is each and every human being.

This is not to say that the works published under his own name--especially the religious discourses--do not represent his personal beliefs and views. Yet, even here there's a progression and evolution in his ideas that often defies categorization and that is often pigeon-holed into preconceived patterns and notions.

With this said, it seems only fair to expect to find in the work of those who are inspired by Kierkegaard's work the same types of diversity that his writings display. This edition of the Kierkegaard Carnival bears out some of these remarks.

(h/t to Without Authority for the link to the Kierkegaard finger puppet that appears above)

Philosophy

Richard presents Philosophy and Literature posted at Castrovalva.

Richard explores the relationship between writing, reality, and self-transformation. Exploring the meaning of irony--a concept dear to Kierkegaard's heart--Richard links up Kierkegaard's views with those of American philosopher Richard Rorty. Especially important for Richard is the notion of self-transformation and how literature--rather than philosophy--enables that activity. In this regard, he sees Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling as lacking in that value.

William presents Soren Kierkegaard - Existentialism, Nominalism, and the Three Spheres of Existence posted at Fidei Defensor.

William provides a historical introduction to Kierkegaard's role as an existentialist in European philosophy. After providing this background, William discusses how Kierkegaard's notion of the Three Spheres of Existence provide a useful heuristic and conceptual framework in understanding the stages in the spiritual and religious life.

Ethics

Thomas at Without Authority presents
Thomas explores four aspects of one of Kierkegaard's greatest works. Works of Loveis the one writing that puts to rest the notion that Kierkegaard was an isolated, brooding man who cared naught for anything save his eternal soul. In this work he explores the meaning of human and divine love, opening up along the way the dimensions of sociality that put into practice that divine commandment to love the neighbor and the enemy as yourself.

Religion

Allan presents Soren Kierkegaard: Postmodern Prophet: #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5 at Allan R. Bevere.

Allan gives the background and context for what has been called Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom. Observing the corruption of Christianity as he saw it, at the end of his life Kierkegaard took to the streets to disseminate his biting satire on the ways that the Danish Lutheran Church--the official state church--and its leaders had betrayed original Christianity. After exploring some of this history, Allan explains how this attack by Kierkegaard has meaning for today's faithful in a postmodern world.

Anna presents Does God take leaps of faith? posted at Grace Freewill.

If there's a single set of words that most people who have heard of Kierkegaard associate with him, it is the phrase, "leap of faith," which itself is often extended to include a "blind" leap of faith. Strangely enough, none of these words appear in Kierkegaard's writings. In Concluding Unscientific Postscript, where he does talk about a leap, the meaning is that one leaps to faith, not from it. Also, the leap is quite self-conscious and not blind. Its understanding of the realities of the situation--that faith can't be proven objectively, for example--are quite apparent to the leaper. Anna provides an excellent personal review of faith, as seen from her reading of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. Who indeed can understand Abraham?

Hakim presents Reasonable Criticisms of the Unconditional posted at Wa Salaam.

Although not directly mentioning Kierkegaard, this short piece investigates in skeptical manner a subject that Kierkegaard wrestled with every day of his life: Is there an unconditional reality that provides the basis for discovering who and what we are?

Arts and Literature

Augustus Young presents A Gloss on Soren Kierkegaard posted at Augustus Young: Poetry and Prose a regular webzine.

Augustus devotes an entire issue of his online webzine to Kierkegaard. Inside we find scenes from a movie about Kierkegaard, as well as a small fantasia examining the correspondences (in the sense Baudelaire meant it) between Kierkegaard and PT Barnum. Did Kierkegaard really see his age as a freak show? It is difficult to say, but it is certainly true that many saw him as a freak and laughed him off the streets he so much loved to roam after nights and days of writing what he later came to say was an enterprise undertaken in the name of the common people.

Popular Culture

Charles presents Confessing America: The TV as Confessional posted at the cynic librarian.

Charles remarks on a side of detective shows like CSI, Law and Order, Monk, and The Closer that he thinks deserves mention: confession of guilt. Not of the characters in these shows but the guilt of the audience who watches the shows. He closes his remarks by citing Kierkegaard on sin and envy and speculates on how these intersect with the type of social confession he thinks this genre of TV show exploits.


That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to Kierkegaard Carnival III using our carnival submission form.

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

I love that movie. It's the one movie that actually makes you believe that ghosts really do exist. And I really do know (as opposed to what, believe?) what it means to work and have no play.

Especially the last two weeks, though this is nothing compared to what I've known. Do I sound grizzled and old yet? ...

Fooling aside, I have been very busy at work. I have only had time to dream of several postings that I might get the chance to write.

I've also been trying to catch up on some real reading. I've wanted to finish Tanabe Hajime's Philosophy as Metanoetics for some time. Finally, I had a chance to do this.

In recognition of this milestone, I've started something of a Tanabe memorial at Wikipedia. It's starting out with a simple bibliography, but I hope to expand it in the next few weeks or so.

Just a few words before I move on and finish up editing Kierkegaard Carnival II: I do think that Hajime is the closest thinker to the spirit and content of Kierkegaard that I have read. Along with Shestov, I believe that I can learn a lot from what he's got to say.

And on that note, that's all I've got to say for now.
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Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Story

Christmas is a difficult time for me. There are many memories and wonderful feelings associated with the season that flow from childhood. Many of these involve family and the plethora of the gifts that fulfill any child's dreams.

There are other stories that haunt my nostalgia. My family's bitterness after the divorce of my parents, the insanity of a wife trying to make up a life of resentment by cheating others, trying to make Christmas meaningful for my children without the greed and gorge.

What is Christmas? How has the story of this divine man's birth come to mean something so ungodly and hollow that it spans cultures and become embodied by a fat old man with a white beard and a penchant for consumeristic insanity? ...

I recently participated in a discussion on another forum about the virgin birth of Jesus. Someone who is probably an atheist had cited a poll in the US that shows the majority of Americans believe in Jesus' virgin birth. The poster of the information provocatively titled the post something along the lines of "Majority of Americans Believe Jesus a Bastard."

I picked up on this line of thought by endorsing the literal truth of the statement. Many of the atheists on the forum, of course, attacked the notion of a virgin giving birth. There was some (to my mind) silly talk by those who hold to the doctrine of the virgin birth about parthenogenesis, the biological phenomenon among animals of a female conceiving without having had sex.

I reject both of these arguments. From my perspective, the atheists are simply misinformed about Christian history and theology and try to score points about the credulous Christians. The apologists are equally at fault since they try too hard to disprove something that does not need disproving.

I believe that Jesus was the product of Mary's having been raped by either a Roman soldier or someone else. Stories in the Jewish Mishnah point to this possibilty. These stories probably reflect older ones that date from Jesus' time.

The word bastard can mean a person born out of wedlock. There's nothing wrong with saying that Jesus was a bastard, should that be a fact, unless you find illegitimate birth itself scanadalous.

The scandal of that fact in that socio-cultural milieu is perhaps incomprehensible to many Americans. Yet the time and place where Jesus was born did not look on illegitimacy in such an "enlightened" way. Even in the US it is only a recent view. Around the world it is still the dominant view.

Because this view is still the norm, the virgin birth stories try to ameliorate the effects of that fact as much as they can. How many people want to think they worship a bastard?

I find it odd that those Christians who believe in this man find it so scandalous that they worship someone born out of wedlock. Is it perhaps out of some sense of desire to appear in good taste that they then revert to such absurd theories that stress his divinity at the expense of his humanity?

All things being equal, it should make no difference whether Jesus was born a bastard than not. After all, he found company among whores, thieves, murderers, terrorists and the other dregs of society. Are you scandalized by those facts as well?

As to an awareness of Jesus' illegitimacy, Jesus himself seems to allude to it and make fun of it:

Mat 12:48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
Mar 3:33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

He could've been talking about his father but instead makes the more radical assertion that he doesn't even have a mother, not to mention a father--except God, of course.

My interpretation of these verses suggests that there was a subtextual recognition of Jesus' illegitimate birth in the early Christian community. That fact may have been somewhat scandalous to early followers, although there is some evidence that the recognition was always there, perhaps in passages such as the one quoted above.

Jesus was the outcast's outcast; his illegitimate birth only made him more so in the context of a society where legitimacy and bloodlines and tribal affiliation were so paramount.

My overall point in this discussion is that the scandal of who and what Jesus was should never be minimized but instead made even more scandalous. The early church found this fact difficult to maintain as it became integrated into normal social practices.

The churches downplayed these aspects of Jesus' humanity--at great cost to the truer message of Jesus' life in my estimation. As many bible historians note, the emphasis of Jesus' divinity at the expense of his humanity verges on the so-called heresy of Apollinarianism.

Jean Paul Sartre, himself no friend of religion, thought that this aspect of Jesus' life lent more credibility and meaning to the overall religious of that life. Others, of course, had said something similar well before Sartre.

The fact of Jesus' possible illegitmacy is something that the mainstream religions de-stress, at the risk of denuding the Gospel of its true meaning. This is not new--Kierkegaard said the same thing long ago. But that message always gets lost because people would rather stress how much Jesus is just like the bourgeois, well-meaning, God loves you, kumbaya singing savior. That's the comfortable, plastic Jesus who conforms to the self-image that people find less challenging, less scandalous.
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Leopold & George: Kings of Atrocity [& Corruption]

Adam Hochschild, the author of "King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa", a novel that exposed the genocidal colonialist project of Belgium's King Leopold, has some words for GW.

(h/t Crooked Timber for linking to the article and for this post's title, which in my mind alludes to Leopold and Loeb)

NB Belgium's Congo was the inspiration for Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

PS Hochschild seems to be responding to reports that GW has read the book.

Hochschild writes in the LATimes:

First, as you [GW] now know, the long effort by King Leopold II of Belgium to bring Congo under his control was driven by his avid quest for a commodity central to industry and transportation: rubber. Does that remind you of anything?

What's more, the king justified his grab for Congo's natural resources with much talk about bringing philanthropy and Christianity to darkest Africa. Now what did that remind you of?

Leopold cleared at least $1.1 billion in today's dollars during the 23 years he controlled Congo, and his businessmen friends made additional huge sums. Much of the money flowed into companies with special royal concession rights to exploit the rain forest. Final question, for extra credit: Do those companies remind you of anything? If you mentioned Halliburton or DynCorp, you're right again.

As a reader of history, you must have been interested, I'm sure, in something else in the Congo story: the case of another world leader facing his own Abu Ghraib scandal.

As you noticed, Mr. President, King Leopold II was a master of public relations. He was really his own Karl Rove — which saved money on staff salaries at the royal palace in Brussels. For years the press at home and abroad dutifully praised his efforts to bring "civilization" to Africa; a whole shipload of Belgian journalists went to Congo in 1898 to enthuse about the opening of a new railroad.

But, like you, he got into big trouble through photographs. These were mainly taken by a British missionary named Alice Harris, and they showed Congolese being whipped, chained as hostages and with their hands cut off by Leopold's soldiers. Through the efforts of a British journalist named Edmund Dene Morel, whom the king liked about as much as you like Seymour Hersh, these photos were splashed on front pages all over the world.
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

War in Iran!?

So my mind was beginning to regain some peace with regard at least to a potential attack on Iran. But the rattling of the teapots started becoming metallic from the neocon wing. Stories began appearing in the liberal press that the US navy was moving its large armada into the Persian Gulf.

Then last week, a military pundit's whose take on foreign affairs I regard highly appeared. Former US Defense Intelligence Agency operative Pat Lang posted at his blog that he believes that there's a better than 50 percent chance that Bush will attack Iran in the next few months.

Adding to the mounting tension is the press coverage of Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s controversial and inane Holocaust conference. The coverage itself was not surprising, but the way that the press painted the idiot as a Hitler avatar made clear that there’s more here than outrage. There’s an obvious attempt to demonize the man in the same way that Hussein was before the invasion of Iraq.

At this blog I have followed the systole and diastole of this story. Beginning with stories about plans by Israel to attack Iran late last year, I have tried to show that any attack would be disastrous for the US.

Most of my commentary has tried to undermine the assumptions made by those promoting this military gaffe. Paramount among these assumptions in my mind is the idea that Iran poses any danger to either the US or Israel. Of secondary importance is deflating the idea that Ahmadinejad has any real power in the Iranian hierarchy.

Today, Glenn Greenwald posts another peeling of the Bush admin/neocon disinformation onion. What makes Greenwald’s analysis superior to anything you’ll find on the web is the exhaustive documentation of sources and his destruction of the fallacious reasoning that accompanies the assertions made by this ideological camp.

With Bush in something of a corner politically, it looks like he’s about to commit another one of those fiascoes that will make his name go down in US history as the president whose actions began the decline of the American system. I have recently characterized Bush’s spiritual/psychological nihilism. It appears that he is bent on carrying out his suicidal foreign policy to its dismal and chaotic inferno.
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Agenda for Liberty or Oppression?

In response to Pat Lang's excellent list of agenda items for broader policy and diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the Mideast, I wrote the following.

I express my own concerns with your agenda in terms of what Machiavelli would call liberty. As you will know, Machiavelli defined liberty as the balance of interdependencies within a social complex. This means that one party should not have more power than another and their interests should accord with the interests of all. One sign of an oppressive system is that where one party has creates one-way dependencies. Being inordinately dependent on one side is the recipe for corruption and loss of liberty. ...

With this definition in mind, I recall the Marxist Zizek's comments relating to the invasion of Iraq. For Zizek, American leftists were akin to those mealy-mouthed accommodaters of Stalin and totalitarian regimes in cold war eastern Europe.

That is, while the Iraqis suffered torture and terrible persecution, leftists sat comfortably and securely in their western liberal legal systems, looking blandly at the atrocities of the Hussein regime while they cast aspersions on perhaps one of the only chances that these people might have to finally escape that oppression.

Yet, Zizek notes that while the hypocrisy of western liberals and leftists is rank, the problem with the US invasion is that it serves US capitalist and political self-interests, most notably those of big oil.

With this in mind, the invasion by the US simply tried to consolidate the hegemonistic imperial designs of those stealth interests that really control the US political system.

With these comments in mind, I think that the US will have to go a long way in assuring all participants in this grand symphony you propose that it does indeed have more than its own interests at heart.

Unfortunately, the history of the US in the region does not harbinger any good in this direction. US foreign policy in the Mideast has always been geared to creating client states whose service to the US is implemented in terms of a one-way dependency. As Machiavelli was keen to show, creating such unequal dependencies is a sure sign of servility and corruption.
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Religious Right Threat?

A fascinating discussion on whether there's a real threat from the religious right is taking place between a collective of left-wing scholars at Larval Subjects, The Weblog, and I Cite. I've added my own extensive comments there, for what they're worth. Read more!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Takfir and Sunni/Shia Alliances

This Sunni Shiite thing, aka takfir, has been abrogated in recent statements by some major Muslim clerics. According to one source, the only Islamic school of thought that wants to maintain this practice is Saudi Wahhabism. ...

The signers of this document include:

In accordance with the fatwas issued by the honourable and respectable Grand Imam Sheikh Al Azhar.

The Grand Ayatollah Al Sayyid Ali Al Sistani, the honourable and respectable grand mufti of Egypt, the honourable and respectable Shiite clerics (both Jaafari and Zaydi), the honourable and respectable grand mufti of the Sultanate of Oman.

The Islamic Fiqh Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the grand council for Religious Affairs of Turkey.

The honourable and respectable grand mufti of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the respectable members of its National Fatwa Committee, and the honourable and respectable Sheikh Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi;

And in accordance with what was mentioned in the speech of His Majesty King Abdullah during the opening session of our conference;
Note Sistani's name. He's the major religious authority in Shia Islam.

I wonder whether recent moves by Saudi Arabia to head off Iran and support hardline Sunnis in Iraq are not related to this statement in some way. IE the Saudis are scared that any consolidation of ties between Iran and Iraq will undermine their own interpretation of Islam.

These comments should also be juxtaposed with Cobban's reading of Moqtada al-Sadr's attempts to forge an alliance between Shiite, Sunni, and secular elements in Iraq. Read more!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Woman with A Dead Eye

One of my coworkers is, by the best intention of the word, an odd looking woman. She has a right eye whose eyeball not only seems permanently skewed to the side but looks dead and is perhaps sightless. She has a set of bad teeth that jut crookedly in a bad overbite over her lips.

I often find myself irritated with her familiarity. She always acts as though she knows what I am thinking and feeling and appears to think that our friendship has been instantaneous from our first meeting. At times, she will say something in response to a statement I make and I feel anger welling in my gut at her presumptuousness tone and response. ...

In another time, another place, I can imagine this woman--with her blind, skewed eye and terrible teeth--being branded from birth as a witch or some other demonically possessed being. She would find life at the margins, perhaps persecuted and attacked when things did not go right in the community. People would cross themselves whenever she looks their way or say a prayer.

She seems to be one of those people where coincidence and happenstance intersect. The weird and odd, she tells me, are always occurring to her. Just yesterday she told me that she'd had to pay AOL double because someone else with the same number and the same street name, in a town thirty miles away, also had an AOL account.

Previously, she'd called me from the median of a highway and though she barely knew me began telling me that some kids had tried to carjack her vehicle as she sat in the median of the highway waiting for a tow.

The other day she was showing people photos of her son-in-law. I didn't think anything of it, though I was hoping she'd pass me by so that she'd understand how I disliked her overly familiar attitude. I was not able to get out of it, though.

The photos showed what appeared to be a wedding party. What she drew my eye to though was one person in particular, a black man in a tuxedo, her son-in-law. I said okay and expected her to move on. Yet, she continued to go through all the photos, always pointing out the young black man. Yes, he was he son-in-law but there were others there as well--like her daughter, whom I don't know either.

I recolied from what I interpreted as her fawning, strangely offensive dwelling on him. It seemed as though she was treating him like a trophy. African Americans are in very short supply in the part of the country I live in, so I could understand her behavior but it still irritated me.

At least once every time since when I talked with her, she managed to bring her son-in-law into the conversation. Each time she did, I tried to think of excuses for what I consider to be at best an ignorant parochialism, at worst some form of fetishistic tokenism.

But last night, I finally realized that all of my thoughts about her are baseless and sorely misjudged.

For some time I'd known that her son was causing her toruble. She'd had to repossess a car from him that he decided to give away to a stranger, though she was co-owner of the car. Things had gotten so bad with him that she called the police and put him in jail for a while. The office was informed that should he show up, we were to call the police.

This morning I got to hear the details of her troubles with her son. She described how after she had their car repossessed, he showed up at work and had cornered her while twisting her arm, threatening her all the time. Her son-in-law, luckily, had appeared and had pulled the son off his mother.

Now I know why she's so proud of her son-in-law. And I only pray that I will learn not jump to conclusions so cruelly again.
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Friday, December 15, 2006

"The Politics of Atrocity"

In a recent posting, former defense intelligence Col. Pat Lang (ret'd) responds to an analysis by Alexander Cockburn of the social chaos that is tearing Iraq apart. Cockburn documents the lack of concern inside the US for the suffering and pain that has resulted from the Bush preemptive war on what the President calls "terror."

Lang suggests that whatever the US does, Iraq will never recover its cohesion again and will instead descend into a hell that will devastate and ruin even more than it has now. According to Lang, Iraq has become a nexus of criminality and bestiality where, he says, the normal operating procedure is "the politics of atrocity." …

Lang writes:

We are going to go all the way down, down down.... All the way down to whatever circle is reserved for the ignorant, proud and presumptuous.

And the Iraqis, whomever they are? They are going to go with us although perhaps to a different circle. Their's may be one reserved for the bloody minded who can't see their neighbors as other than mortar targets.
Bolstering Lang's claims is the Lancet report. Based on sophisticated statistical survey models, this report estimates that between 300-650,000 Iraqis died after the US invasion in rates higher than would have during less violent times.

In Congress’ December session, Representative Dennis Kucinich held a hearing on the Lancet report. That hearing and the report's conclusion did not find their way into the mainstream press. Much like Pres. Bush did when he responded to a question by a reporter on the report's findings, the MSM has turned a blind eye to the report and its necrotic statistics.

For Bush, only 30,000 or so Iraqis have died since the US invasion. Either the President is lying or he is woefully unable to grasp such large numbers. The latter possibility would enhance Bush's image as intellectually challenged. (Does he use that bumpkin image for political advantage, maybe as a way of impugning such "intellectual" studies.

That is, striking that bumpkin pose he can speak to the common man in a way that communicates to him that any results of eggheads are not serious enough for discussion, since it's obvious that they are politically motivated anyway.

Perhaps a better insight into the President's spiritual state vis a vis the war is his recent statement that he sleeps well at night. I am not sure that he should have said this, even if it's true. Maybe he doesn't lose sleep over the deaths of 30,000 dead Iraqis. But it does seem callous not to lose sleep over the deaths of American soldiers.

This indifference to human suffering seems endemic to those who know the reins of power. Rupert Murdoch recently said that only 3,000 US soldiers had given their lives so far in this war. From the view of this man who knows and understands more about the workings of human nature and its world, these are small potatoes. More people have died in other wars, so the expenditure here in this war is minuscule and bearable—no doubt from a profit/loss analysis.

These men with big visions—who see the world from that God-view I’ve discussed before—understand that little men think about such matters. Anything of great import requires sacrifice and suffering. Those who question this wisdom just don't have that vision or the will to dream those great plans and fight for them.

Such themes are immortalized by Dostoevsky's novels and short stories. More disturbing, though, to those in positions to worry about America's soul is that such comments might represent a situation of one so alienated from the ideas that inform these views that such thoughts are meaningless.

The aspirations to greatness seem typically American, informed as it by the Renaissance republican humanist ideals. But what makes the recent imperial plans of the Bush admin and the neoconservative policymakers different from Renaissance ideals is a limiting factor that Machiavelli accepted as paramount.

This limiting factor says that all actions must not just benefit a few but the whole community. The economic abuses of this war have yet to be comprehensively documented, but there are already signs that members of the ruling class have benefited financially from this war.

Of course, for Machiavelli financial gain is not the only factor that determines political corruption. Anything that unfairly benefits one part of society over another and makes the one dependent on another is inherently corrupt and corrupting.

Selfish actions—including those that involve political and social or cultural status—are included. In contemporary American politics, the economic benefits of this war are counter-balanced by the grasping for unlimited political power by the executive branch. Also, the social and cultural battles over who determines the communal ethos show that politicians hope to use war as a pretext for gaining a hegemony of ideals defining who and what this country means.

One thing that's becoming apparent from this war is that America might have to begin defining social interest to mean more than the boundaries of the nation-state. Instead, the US political ideology must start understanding itself in international terms that do not simply give lip service to human aspirations or an intellectually barren notion of democracy.

This expanded consciousness would not only see its own suffering as worthy of concern but also the suffering of others upon whom it visits immense social chaos and human misery.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

US Army Threatened by Loss in a Morass

This question is not simply metaphor or hyperbole. There is a real danger, as I noted over nine months ago that the US could literally lose its army in Iraq. This would occur were the army's supply lines to be cut and then surrounded by various forces that have a unified strategy to surround the army and kill it. ..

William S. Lind is now reiterating those concerns. For Lind, this potential for a devastating defeat and bloodbath would occur if the Iranians are either attacked by Israel/US or they take the initiative and press their strategic positions.

Lind lays out several scenarios for how such a debacle might occur. Unfortunately, as Lind notes, the thinking among the technocrats and the military is immune to these dangers.

Lind writes:

Perhaps the greatest danger lies in the fact that, just as the French high command refused to consider the possibility of a German attack through the Ardennes in 1940, Washington will not consider the possibility that an attack on Iran could cost us our army in Iraq. We have made one of the most common military mistakes—believing our own propaganda. Over and over, the U.S. military tells the world and itself, “No one can defeat us. No one can even fight us. We are the greatest military the world has ever seen!”

Unfortunately, like most propaganda, it’s bunk. The U.S. Armed Forces are technically well-trained, lavishly resourced Second-Generation militaries. They are today being fought and beaten by Fourth-Generation opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan. They can also be defeated by Third-Generation opponents who can react faster than America’s process-ridden, PowerPoint-enslaved military headquarters. They can be defeated by superior strategy, by trick, by surprise, and by preemption. Unbeatable militaries are like unsinkable ships: they are unsinkable until something sinks them.

If the U.S. were to lose the army it has in Iraq to Iraqi militias, Iranian regular forces, or a combination of both, cutting our one line of supply and then encircling us, the world would change. It would be our Adrianople, our Rocroi, our Stalingrad. American power and prestige would never recover. Nothing, not even Israel’s demands, should lead us to run this risk, which is inherent in any attack on Iran.
These points bode very ill for the US. If the Democrats continue to show the stoneless grit that they did before they won the last elections, they will have once again shown their craven kowtowing to Washington machinations and Israeli interests.

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The Bush Bull in the China Shop

Bush was warned before he went in to Iraq that if he broke it he owned it. Now the poop is really hitting the fan. Helena Cobban has a remark on Anthony Cordesman's op-ed that appears to say that the US has already lost in the region. ...

Strangely enough, the one most working to cobble together a coalition that might work is al-Sadr. Cobban reported this little bit of analysis that shows that Sadr is working behind the scenes with Shia, Sunni, and secular Iraqis to form a government that would head off complete descent into hell:

I mean, what is happening is that apparently Moqtada al-Sadr-- who was crudely caricatured on the Newsweek cover this week, and portrayed as some kind of near devil-incarnate-- is entering a coalition with Mutlak (a "Sooni") and Allawi (pretty much of a secularist and a fairly strongly Baath-style enforcer), and between them the three of them are also hoping to split Maliki's party and lure a sizeable chunk of its members over to their new Front....
Of course, that little bit of machiavellian maneuvering would be neutralized by any extra judicial solution (ie, assassination) that's being bruited about by the oh-so culturally sensitive neocon dogs of war. How stupid is that? in a culture that is based in many ways on the very real appreciation for martyrs and martyrdom?

Is it the preceding fact that is spurring the Saudis to threaten Bush with backing Sunni Iraqis? Are they trying to head off some kind of granda alliance that would bring the hope of peace to that tragic society? Have they bought into the Salvador Option that some think has actually given rise to the chaos in Iraq?

Questions perhaps to be unanswered given the secrecy fetish of the Bush admin and the Saudis.

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le decider decidering to decider et couche avec les saudis ce soir

the great deciderer gives this little show this little marionette dance of death going from one office to another office:meeting with group after group:yet it is all wind and all sham and a farce that's make truman fart in his grave. ...

what's the deciderer decidering thou asks? nada zilch nugatory monkeys with their brains on display in the museum of human descent. the deciderer and his brain the roving gnome are putting on this little smoke and mirrors game so that the deciderers fanatical believers will be able to point like so many righteous prayer litanists and say:

[color=blue]see the deciderer doth decidererer.
ho deciderer thou art indeed just and fair and doth seek the judgment of the god that inspiriteth our heart.
oh deciderer thou art great.
oh deciderer thou art wise.
oh deciderer thou art the wrath of god.
oh deciderer thou dost bed the great whore and expose her head upon the pylons of the holy house thou callest home.[/color]

the sacred drama doth indeed quell the waters of chaos. the deluge doth subside. the blood of the mighty doth slicker the floors. the unwilling diseased poor who are god's despised doth line the highways and byways with their entrails bedecking the xmas riots.

for now that the rivers of chaos doth recede the bounty doth begin to flow and fill the tables of god's chosen. and the deciderer is afoot in the land decidering how to keep the dogs of war at bay in the slums of the world and away from our side of the tracks.

chorus of the dead:

pitiful man with a ring in his nose
knows not what he does and takes
hundreds of thousands of innocents
with him over the cliff in his insane
despair that lies to itself and finds
the devil in the mirror for the sleep
of the righteous brings peace
but this wraith's dreams wake
into the light and bring ruin
and wrack to anyone who finds
his footstep across their door jamb

for the terrorist state hast little but brute nastiness to espouse for brilliance. methinks tis a dull light beaconing to the rest of the world:the bright glow that will betoken the mideast shouldest the deciderer let go with a loud fart and loose from his bowels the nuclear waste that rumblest in his gut.

for the magnet of instability with its nuclear option threatens neighbors like a bully with a machete in a shantytown:and now it gets into bed with saudi royals to further wreak terror and rain pain upon the region that it seeks only to keep off kilter so it doesn't have to worry about facing its own apartheid next door.

lies and lies and lies originate in the brain of shrinking souls
when the dead want to glow in the dark they read at the schul
for reading their end in every jot and tittle declines to dusk
until the morning star rises to light the decline of all dreams
all ends all means all love boats except the decline of words
that can express no doubt but only joy that the end is nigh.
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Monday, December 11, 2006

Call For Submissions: Kierkegaard Carnival II

The second edition of the Kierkegaard Carnival will focus on Kierkegaard's social, ethical, and political thought. The main texts for Kierkegaard's political thought include The Present Age, Works of Love, and Practice in Christianity. ...

Other works, however, have also been interpreted as relating to politics, especially The Sickness Unto Death. All of his journalism related to the Attack on Christendom can also be seen as political in nature.

If there are enough quality articles that cover other topics, they will be considered for includion in this edition.

If you decide to include your post in Kierkegaard Carnival II, please see the announcement and submission form for the Carnival.
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Confession in Search of a Dialog (2)

In response to a comment on my previous posting at eteraz.org, I replied with the following:

Katie, I am sorry for responding so late to your comment. I wanted to find the time to thank you in the appropriate terms that your comment requires.

I agree with you that there is this silver lining, as you put it, in my daughter's behavior. Indeed, I am somewhat proud that she ended the relationship in the way that she did and did not simply hang on to it as some might. I think this shows a sense of character and self-awareness that I had hoped she'd develop in this odyssey that she finds herself on. ...

Some on the list may find this irresponsible of me as a parent. While I always advised her not to engage in this behavior until she was older, I did not overreact to the news that she had begun earlier than I would have wished. I've always stressed a healthy relationship in our discussions of this issue, and I did not think that a teenager could do that. So, I fought her insistence that she was more mature than I was giving her credit for.

Yet, I knew that she would have to find her way in these matters as she must in her search for self-knowledge. This is the larger issue that I tried to raise in my original diary entry. That is, as parents trying to instill a sense of ethics and responsibility in children, how do we do that? And for a religious person, doesn't this mean making the children abide by the rules and guidelines set out by the sacred scripture?

The traditional way of looking at this is to instill in one's children a sense of the religion by strict adherence to the practices and doctrines of the religion. In this way, traditions and customs have grown up that explain how and why children should behave so that they become good people religiously and socially.

Perhaps that is best. Perhaps not. What I have suggested is that the objective of parenting must be the development of the child's spirit so that they can become open to religion, should they decide to do that. Since I believe that religious belief must be free and not coerced, this can only happen when a child or young adult is capable of understanding themselves to the point that they also wish to respond to the need of believing in something higher than themselves or society.

This is what I have called the education of life. Perhaps it is best to allow our children to be educated by life so that they then develop the social and biological aspects of their selves. Should they then decide that standing before a higher power is something they need and want, then they will do so as human beings who have grown as far as they can within the given social and cultural contexts provided by time and history.

As a parent, of course, this is a time of trial and fear and trembling. Just as one fears when children go off on their own and engage in things without your oversight and care, so the idea that giving them this freedom to risk failure is a sign of love and perhaps as much a religious undertaking as educating them in the faith.

Thanks Katie for understanding the side with the light on it. I will take your comment as a sign that things will indeed work out for my daughter's betterment, as I hope and pray they do.
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The Fate of the Republic Hangs on a Man's Frail Spirit

Pres. Bush is a dangerous man at this moment. While his lackeys may try to salve his pride with the idea that he's Truman, the only give em hell that George has left is the last sick gasp of a fool running from the derision of history.

Let's hope George listens to his toadies, for if he doesn't then I fear that Pat Lang is right--we are looking at a man who wants desperately to mean something in the world and to do so he just might take us all with him as he jumps off the next cliff. The drug of power may have just put the type of delusion in this man's mind that LSD used to evoke. ...

There's something sinister in looking at recent videos of George sitting next to James Baker as Baker reels off the mistakes that little George has made. You can actually see George shrinking in his skin as the living ghost of his father looms before his eyes and reprimands him for having done something stupid.

But there's even more than this, I fear, lurking in George's shriveling spirit. There's the look of nihilistic fury that a man who believes that heaven is nigh gets when his God has let him down. As that world-shattering vision fades before his eyes and the fatal brutality of the hells he has spawned in his fanatical belief in apocalypse rises up like so many hundreds of thousands of terrorized children there is truly the fear that a sucicidal mania will grip his weak mind.

God save the republic. And may those who believed in this man and brought him to power find themselves rooting around for salvation in the ruins they have made of a once great country.

[xposted as comment at Sic Semper Tyrannis
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Saturday, December 09, 2006

sensory antennae of the empire's decline

start? since when did it stop?
no coffins dead babies
in dead arms of dead parents
grandparents aunts uncles
cousins children dead and dying
in a war the lame duck wading
in his own piss thinks only kills
trees or blows rocks apart
or some such thing though
if he really read ye olde goode
booke he says he read he'd hear
the stones themselves howl
in agony and terror that children
dream at night when his planes
deliver their phosphorescent
love notes bent in a wind
that spells terror from his hand
to theirs yes start censoring now
cause it never stops and never
will when you think god's plan
sits in your nuts and the guts
you wear around your brow
reek of the insane innocence
that spells deceit and lies
and the silence of the dead
and the dying and clawed hands
digging beneath the dirt to reach
the other side of the world
where the demon man with empty
head sits in judgment of child
father mother and all who inhabit
his plastic world of evil and axes
of pain and hell and the corrupt
soul of a state gone in the teeth
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Holocaust Denying Muslims?

Everyone knows that Iran's President is something of a crackpot. One of his stupider thoughts is that the Holocaust never happened. In fact, he's so taken with his own idiocy that he's holding an international conference in Tehran this week on whether the Holocaust happened or not.

Of course, the Holocaust industry won't let us forget how stupid Ahmedinajad is. Nor will the Zionists let us forget that the idiot Iranian president supposedly said that Israel should be wiped off the map. I've written before that this mistranslates what Ahmedinajad said, but no journalist or public figure seems to have the cognitive skills to grasp that. ...

With the sad spectacle of a country's leader foisting lies onto his own people and perhaps the Muslim world, it's good to see that more responsible Muslims tackle the subject of the Holocaust with honesty and facts. One such Muslim is Arab Israeli Khaled Kasab Mahameed from Nazareth. His books on the Holocaust and how it determines the Jewish Israeli's world-view is a testament to cross-cultural understanding, not to mention an inspiration to those who wonder how the Palesitnian-Israeli issue might eventually find resolution.

In an interview with Canadian Broadcasting, Mahameed explains what he's going to tell Ahmedinajad in Tehran. Strangely enough, it seems, the Iranian Holocaust deniers invited someone who knows what they're talking about.
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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Confession In Search of a Dialog (1)

When I first saw Ali's title I was glad because I'd been thinking along a similar line. Then I found he was discussing a policy issue while what I'd been considering was a more personal, perhaps confessional, posting. I was thinking that what often gets lost in many discussions and conversations between people of different cultures is the "personal," even intimate details of our lives.

If different cultures can approach any type of authentic discourse, it seems to me, it is this intimate level that it must reach; otherwise real, heartfelt understanding can't and won't take place. (I think that it's significant beyond simple anecdote that most people overcome prejudices when they have a chance to live near and interact with people they previously were prejudiced against.) ...

What I will confess in the following are details of my personal life, particularly in relationship to my children and my other relationships in life. Some on the forum might be scandalized by what I tell. Others might say how stupid of me, while others will judge my lack of character or other defect. To all, I would say that I am a sinful man--I know that.

I have made huge mistakes--not just ethical mistakes but also sins that are perhaps worse than anything ethical. I say this because I accept the notion that sinfulness is not equated with breaking social laws or customs or traditions.

Having said this, I ask others to exhibit unrestrained, unfettered, judgmental remarks to what I write. I welcome your words. I believe that I am as conscious of my faults as any, or at least I pray that the veil of deception be lifted from y heart. So where I can learn and change I will. Where I see prejudice and unwarranted judgment I will call a spade a spade as Americans like to say.

Do not expect me, however, to accept judgments based on cultural values that are patently limited in time and space to one culture. I do not accept the notion that cultural values and traditions have the type of transcendent truth that many ascribe to them.

Some will perhaps say that all this is nice, especially since I write from behind a pseudonym. There's much to that, I think. Indeed, many will say that I do so because of my shame. There's something to that as well I think. Yet, I believe that it is exactly this issue of shame that must be broached in these types of conversations.

Some will see what I propose as typically American, perhaps a la Jerry Springer. I would hope that those who read my confession might do so with the poets Allen Ginsberg in mind or maybe Sharon Olds. I do see that these confessional writers have their detractors, but I’d remind forum members that the confession goes as far back as Augustine, the great northern African thinker.

Martha Nussbaum has proved quite conclusively I think that shame is a culturally formed emotion. What Americans accept as an issue for shame, others might not. At the same time, what other cultures find shameful Americans do not. Indeed, within American society you will find that Americans are as of many minds about what is shameful as they are about any other issue. For some Americans in fact, it is the loss of shame that tells how corrupt American culture and society are.

In this, no doubt, they agree with the other critics of American secular life that they otherwise consider enemies.

My son has told me that he's moving to the southwest to live with his mother and to go to community college there. He's been working at McDonald's ever since he was put on academic parole for bad grades during his first year at college. He decided to party instead of work on school. Now he is reaping the fruits of his desires I guess.

His mother and I divorced several years ago; the formal divorce happened after a spiritual and emotional divorce, a time during which I lived as though I was single.

After moving east with my son, she remained behind with my two daughters. I have five children. Three from my former wife and two by a previous relationship wherein I did not marry the mother of my two other children.

My son has been living with a young woman for about a month or so. His decision to move to the southwest made her cry several times, he said. I feel very sorry for this young woman who is very nice. She works very hard at her job and she has shown a lot of forgiveness in allowing my son to be with her while he has already expressed his plan to move away.

My daughters who live with my former wife have been living what many would consider a dysfunctional life-style. My older daughter (15) has told me that she has experimented with some drugs though she does not do so now. She had a short relationship with a young man for a month or two but she broke up with him because he cheated on her. She’s been sexually active for several months.

I find myself concerned about both of these incidents. I had hoped that they would not replicate the mistakes that I made in my own adolescence. A product of a broken, abusive, drunken marriage myself, I experimented with drugs, had relationships at 15, and became an alcoholic for 10 or so years. I’ve been drug-free and sober for over 20 years now.

My concern for my children is that they be happy. While I believe that the education I have undergone by life has made me into a better person—for all its suffering and pain, both self-inflicted and other-inflicted—I did not trust the workings so much so that I wanted to entrust the lives of my loved and cherished children to its rigorous regime. Yet, it is perhaps only life that will bring them to the infinite, as I understand it in all my sinfulness.

The Greek philosopher Socrates once laughed at the leading politicians and teachers of his time for being unable to explain how we can teach virtue. He pointed out that those that other people called virtuous often raised children who were perceptibly non-virtuous. In his search for a method to inculcate virtue he was very skeptical that such a regime could be found.

I am not a politician nor prominent member of society. I do occupy a position of some prominence, however. While I would never ask others to imitate my life, I had hoped that I could pass on to my children some of the things I had learned from life. Even my religious practice, though, has never been enough. That is, perhaps because I have moved from a churched person to non-churched. This has occurred because of my disaffection with dogmatic and doctrinal religion but also because I could not honestly say that my life mirrored the virtuous life espoused by those churches.

I’m afraid that this short portrait neither does justice to my life nor the lives of my children. It perhaps draws too much on the shadows to make its point and not enough of the light. Yet, I must say that from perspective such shadows do indeed haunt my dreams and waking life.

Perhaps my airing them on this forum is a way to exorcise them. I don’t know whether that is needed, since my confession to the Other is always more important and more salvific than any social or cultural anodyne might offer up as salve for psychic wounds.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Daily HotShots! 5*2*06

Snowy days bring bad drivers who think that cars make great snowmobiles; white landscapes, horses decked with blankets of snow, rabbits and their tracks in the front yard. I am trying to stay abreast of changes in the political world while keeping in focus personal alignments with spiritual realities that I cherish.

Is secularism part of a greater historical movement to a newer more spiritually advanced civilization? Or are we going to hell in a hand basket? That indeed is the question from my perspective.

100,000 mercenaries in Iraq One of the major threats to a democratic republic is power in the hands of private groups and organizations who operate outside the are of public debate. Mercenaries operate at the behest of those who pay them, not the general good. When will the MSM cover this story?

Following up on the Iraq Fiasco with the CIA's Political Islam Expert Yes, the CIA does have Islam experts. No doubt, they were considered too biased when the Bush admin. ranted and raved for war in Iraq like a bull in heat.

"the politics of the last atrocity" You want straight talk, no spin, no BS on Iraq? Here it is. Now, can you handle the truth? And what you gonna do about it? It's worse than you think. ....

Video Is a Window Into a Terror Suspect’s Isolation The treatment of so-called Dirty Bomber Padilla is getting some coverage in the MSM and rightly so. The physical aspects of torture are always the ones that people glorify. The psychological techniques, though, are perhaps even more barbaric. I know, what could be worse than having your entrails pulled out of your body as you watched? I guess you have to have a soul to understand.

The U.S. Has a History of Using Torture Speaking of torture, it seems that the methods used at Guantanamo and countless unknown tortuaries around the world were begun and refined in the Philippines many decades ago.

'Mugged by Magic Realism' after 911 An excellent little tongue-in-cheek analysis of what's wrong with the neocon agenda.

The Billionaires Club Okay, you know I wear pink pajamas if you've been reading this blog for some time. But hey, as Grissom says, I just go where the evidence leads me. This study in world wealth distribution says something, doesn't it?

The Jihad: An Ironic Contrast with the CrusadesAnother excellent installment in Laura Rosen's series on the Crusades and Islamic reactions. If you haven't seen the other installments be sure to take a gander. This section investigates the ideological similarities and differences between the religious rationales of the protagonists.

Religion and Intolerance This posting provides links to two extensive studies of 1) religion and suicide bombers and 2) religion and intolerance.

Precis of Heidegger, Language, and World-disclosure Over at Eteraz I've been discussing some of Heidegger's ideas on technology. If you're not familiar with that guy, here's a relatively decent overview of his thought.

Emergency ethics — Michael Walzer! Ethicist Walzer explores how much backtracking we can do to justify just about any act.

Merely Christian? Reflections on C.S. Lewis's Apologetics After 60 years by N.T. Wright Anyone familiar with the Christian tradition has to acknowledge the power of CS Lewis' Everyman approach to religious issues. Writing in that wonderful plain style that's the mark of both style and intelligence, Lewis glided easily between imagination and theology. If you ever get a chance, see the movie Shadowlands, based on Lewis' late-in-life marriage and eventual loss of his beloved. It made even such a cynic as I get water in the eyes. Anyway, in this piece, the good Bishop of Durham asks whether Lewis' theology has withstood the advances in historical critical findings in biblical research. Excuse me Bishop, but as much as I respect your scholarship, the power of the imagination is much more relevant to the life of religion than historical-critical jots and tittles.

Biblical Studies Carnival XII Speaking of those pesky biblical historians, take a look at the recent carnival of numerous blog writings on the most up-to-date research in the area. IE Search for the Historical Jesus 4.0--but seriously, this is often a stimulating and informative area of public discourse.

history and the end of the story When do you know that you've got "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to say? In other words, when do historians know where and when to stop in their collection of data?
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Monday, December 04, 2006

The Rabid Dog -- Exihibit A

I quoted Helena Cobban in the original post. Her understanding of Mideast politics is quite extensive. In consultation with other Mideastern political experts like Juan Cole and Pat Lang, she produces some of the most in-depth analysis of Mideastern politics than anything you can find in innumerable think tanks and talking heads on the MSM.

Beamed over the MSM all day today was Pres. Bush's meeting with Shiite parliamentarian Hakim. Amid all the emprty talk and spin, I was left scratching my head in confusion about why the heck Bush was meeting this man at this time. The so-called analysis on the MSM just didn't make sense. Imagine my surprise, then, to read Cobban's understanding of what's afoot in Iraq. ...

That is, while Bush is flailing about like a drowning man but with that shit-eating grin that's really starting to get under my skin, while US troops seem engaged in an insurgency of attrition, Bush's brain trust seems to have had some type of "thinking outside the box" and brought in far left field perhaps a misstep that will not only worsen the political situation but exacerbate the carnage.

Cobban writes quite convincingly that Bush's A-Team has misjudged, misunderstood, and stepped into the cow paddy up to his hip this time.

According to Cobban, the story that the MSM's missing is that the movement that Bush should be concerned about and perhaps backing is the one being ndertaken by the very man that Bush's fascist minions are presently saying he should assassinate--or "take out" as Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs so nonchalantly suggest.

Cobban writes:

I mean, what is happening is that apparently Moqtada al-Sadr-- who was crudely caricatured on the Newsweek cover this week, and portrayed as some kind of near devil-incarnate-- is entering a coalition with Mutlak (a "Sooni") and Allawi (pretty much of a secularist and a fairly strongly Baath-style enforcer)-- and between them the three of them are also hoping to split Maliki's party and lure a sizeable chunk of its members over to their new Front....

Important stuff, don't you think?

The politics of the new Front haven't been described in any great detail that I've seen. But I'm fairly confident that this group of people would be fairly strongly Iraqi-nationalist and anti-occupation. (Though Iyad Allawi looms like a bit of an outlier in this regard.) They are also determinedly cross-sectarian.

So my question remains: Why don't we hear anything about this in the MSM?

I mean, I know journalists can tend to get lazy and use handy labels like "Shiite" or "Sooni" in a fairly sloppy way... But doing so at a time like the present seems to run at least two serious risks: (1) Inasmuch as western media people have any effect on attitudes in Iraq, the too-sloppy use of such labels would seem to essentialize and harden the inter-sectarian differences in question; and (2) This sloppiness leaves the average US consumer of media-- and the average US policymaker-- completely in the dark about what is really going on, while strengthening these people's beliefs that all Iraqis are simply primitive, unidimensional beings who are "consumed by ancient tribal hatreds", etc etc (and thus, that they more or less "deserve" whatever horrendous things befall them.)
You have my vote Helena for Secretary of State. Or how about a position as editor at WaPo?

PS This is an amazing little interview with al-Sadr's spokesman, Baha al-Araji. Listen to this guy; he's intelligent, articulate, knowledgeable about American politics. Imagine seeing this guy on TV--wouldn't that dispel something of the MSM's portrait of the insurgents, al-Sadr etc. as stupid, parochial blood-feeding zombies?

al-Araji says:
The emergence of militias in Iraq is a natural response to the situation here. There is a principle which says that for every action, there is a reaction. So, when there are occupation forces on the ground, there should naturally be a resistance to that occupation. We choose peaceful and diplomatic resistance, so the government and the coalition forces should not exaggerate our activities. Because those of us who are affiliated with the Sadr movement are sensitive, we don’t like to provoke this contentious question.

Do you know that 60 percent of the Mahdi Army already serves in government programs and installations? One of our biggest challenges with this issue is getting the Americans to understand it. The problem is that the U.S. leaders in Iraq, even though they are here, still think in an American way. But Iraq totally differs in its nature, its economy, and its culture from the United States.
Or maybe it's this guy that the Bush brain trust is listening to:
Washington is abuzz with theories offering a potential way out of Iraq, one risk expert poses a new option: split Iraq in two. "We need radical thinking. The military situation (in Iraq) cries out for political experimentation," David Apgar, a risk and development strategist and author of the book "Risk Intelligence."
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The Machine Just Keeps Breaking Down

My car's heater went out. I thought I could get through a few more weeks before I'd have to spend money on getting it fixed. I think the squirrels built their nests in their--like they did the last time this happened--and the heater motor went. This time, it seems to have affected the compressor too--or at least the compressor transmission, something about which I know nothing.

I hate having a sick car. It kind of makes you feel helpless. There's even a rage that wells up when you think about it. I think about my kids and their reactions when I say something like: I had to take the car into the shop. The concern in their voices is very deep. What does it mean that our machinery is such a part of our lives that we develop emotional attachments that include rage and deep concern when they do not work?


I have written in the past about the machine and how it affects the American outlook on life. I am not talking about just some superficial sociological story that extols the blessings of technology blah blah blah. I am talking about this deeply engrained way of thinking aboiut the world that shapes not only how we think about things but also how we think of ourselves and the world. I don't want to get all Heidegger about this, but there's something to his essay on technology that is quite illuminating and profound.

Back to brass tacks: the regular American Joe/Jane thinks in these terms on a deeper level than perhaps others in other cultures realize. Yes, auto racing is the biggest sport in the US. But what does that mean?

As a kid, it meant going off to the racetrack each Saturday and perhaps meeting up with some loose chick. It meant standing around with the guys and looking into a motor and being able to sound tough in talking about horspower, hemis, and MPH.

There are very few writers in the US who understand the relationship that many Americans have with their machines. One of the better writers is Sam Shepherd. I once saw Sam in his souped up muscle car as he cruised the santa Fe plaza. I think he's a genius and laugh at those egghead theatre teachers who think that Sam's too feral for their elitist tastes.

Anyway, while sam understands engines and cars, I am not so sure he understands how borg-like the machinery has invaded our dreams and way of thinking about the world. This means that Americans tend to think of everything in how well oiled it is, how well the gears shift, if the weheels stay on... and so on. Metaphor after metaphor that shows just how much we have become what Heidegger calls "standing reserve", and what my gay friend used to call "fungible resources," meaning me and every other employee in the company he was part owner of.

And you know what's really interesting? Berdyaev had an inkling of all the borg thinking, the robot metaphors, the mechanized society and once asked--this is in the late 20s--whether human life would be able to withstand this mechanization of our lives or whether we'd ultimately become just meat machines.

Is this, perhaps, what any of this war stuff is about?
----------

Postscriptum on Heidegger

I note also the rootlessness that some identify as a main characteristic of Heidegger's thought. Simone Weil's work, The Need for Roots, addresses this question. A religiously-motivated anarcho-sydicalist, Weil says that the loss of culture is tantamount to a kind of genocide.

Some see the situation of those in the secularized world as nomads. I find myself attracted to this concept, since I see that secularization--or levelling, as Kierkegaard calls it--as somehow inevitable, if not indeed something positive.

This might appear at first as some kind of nihilistic religious sentiment a la Pat Robertson, but it differs significantly because it sees that secularization is preparatory to a way of life that will be more religious, more aligned with the universal aspirations of all humanity. Of course, you might recognize this as something Heidegger writes in his essay on the time of the return of the gods (or is it "a" god?).

I am afraid that I am meandering here. I did want to address the issue of Heidegger's notion of "standing reserve." This is the idea that everything is commodifiable, quantifiable and put into a mechanized process. For Heidegger, this is not just relegated to the field of things, but invades the human world as well. We become, as my friend used to say, "fungible resources."

Hubert Dreyfus thinks that the usual interpretation of Heidegger's essay on technology (ie, it's being an anti-technology statement) as a misunderstanding of Heidegger's thought. Instead, Dreyfus says that Heidegger is trying to think the new form of life that this notion of standing reserve will give birth to.

[xposted @ eteraz.org
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when apartheid takes on the divine face of freedom

what does it mean when suffering teaches naught but the gun
in the face the wire around the neck starvation in the cities
where the children meet at night to instigate a fight with ghosts
\of their own memory:for the state is a reliquary of taunts
and history's dead words caught in the throats of a girl
\who gets a bullet in the brain for playing like a terrorist
near the fences that would keep out despair and the memory
the memory the memory that besets those who victims who
would vicitmize the world for being once held captive

yes mirror will not show me the gaunt face the skull face
the terrible curse and sacrifice that only a lost god could
fathom and dredge from the abyss of his love:no they will
not seek justice for evil they will build a temple of eyes and teeth
and seek their sorrow in the cries that they smother beneath
contempt and orchestras of universal shame

A system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights. This is the policy now being followed, although many citizens of Israel deride the racist connotation of prescribing permanent second-class status for the Palestinians. As one prominent Israeli stated, "I am afraid that we are moving toward a government like that of South Africa, with a dual society of Jewish rulers and Arab subjects with few rights of citizenship. The West Bank is not worth it." An unacceptable modification of this choice, now being proposed, is the taking of substantial portions of the occupied territory, with the remaining Palestinians completely surrounded by walls, fences, and Israeli checkpoints, living as prisoners within the small portion of land left to them.
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Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Rabid Dog (The Media) 1

Let me start out with an image: the modern news media remind me of those people who once used to follow behind the circus elephants to shovel their dung into wagons as they walked down main street before the show. The innovation of the media on this humble job, though, is that they take the offal back to the studio, hire pundits to scrutinize every grain and straw in the pile before them.

Of course, if the news media were historians, archaeologists, biologists, or anthropologists such an enterprise might seem appropriate. The crux of the disconnect is not simply that news people aren’t trained in these other disciplines but that type of activity is not what they should do in the first place.

But that raises the question, doesn’t it, about what it is the media should be doing. …

If the press had spent just 10 percent of its time producing reports like the one I just saw Arwa Damon on CNN or those running nightly by Michael Ware in the run-up to the war in Iraq I imagine that their reports would be much different at this point.

The problem with the press is perhaps best exemplified by the way that CNN host Wolf Blitzer is framing the question about whether to call the Iraq situation a civil war. According to Blitzer, CNN has chosen to “leave it up the public” to come to their own conclusions about whether it’s to simply be called a civil war or not. This “discussion” only comes up because of NBC’s announcement that it has decided to call it a civil war.

There are numerous proposes for the failures of the press in covering the political landscape (see, for example, this article). A decent portrayal of one such explanation comes in John Sayles’ movie, Silver City. There we see the fight that reporters have to wage with the corporatizing of the news, especially in terms of reduced staffs, news bureaus, and pandering to corporate interests in having the corporate ethos. The truth of this portrayal can be seen in recent reports that news agencies are shipping jobs overseas.

Helena, Cobban, a journalist for over forty years has an insider view on her craft. Having written for both British and US media outlets, she suggests that the difference between the two ways that journalists in the US and Britain see their place in the power structure is a matter of elitism. She writes:

Since I grew up in England and have worked in both the British and the US media, I have often been struck by the different self-images and self-definitions that journalists seem to have within the two different national cultures. In the UK, as I understood matters, a "good" journalist was always expected to keep some distance from, and a huge degree of skepticism towards, the holders of or aspirants to political power. But in the US a "good" journalist was seen as one with good connections with the holders of power... The norm of US officials anonymously "leaking" tidbits of newsworthy information to favored journalists only strengthened this tendency of these journos-- Tom Friedman comes to mind here for some reason-- increasingly seeing themselves as part of the power structure, judiciously giving their advice to power wielders while helping the powerful to frame the image they presented to the voting public...
What’s common, perhaps to Sayles and Cobban’s view is the idea that the news has suffered a decline in its reporting by renouncing the critical and analytical understanding of the stories that are important.

Mr. Wolf at Blackfive sees things differently. For him, US news outlets have a decidedly liberal bias and show it by reporting only the negative—anti-American—side of stories. For Blackfive, the news media should provide more balanced reporting. It is difficult to see what differentiates his understanding of the media’s role in American politics from propaganda. In this regard, Blackfive’s prescriptions for fixing the news spears quite similar to the goals and objectives that were recently announced for a Department of Defense office that would monitor and correct news 24/7.

I have documented the techniques and methods used by professional political information consultants in molding messages that produce desired effects (see here, here, here, and here.) CBS News’ Dick Meyer believes that the matter rests in the fact that the press is afraid to breach certain rules of civility that are unspoken rules among the press and those they cover. In this way of looking at the issue, the idea is that we need more straight talk. What’s meant by straight talk here is that kind of talk that can go by numerous clich├ęs: taking the gloves off, no holds barred. For Meyer the problem involves the idea that the press is too civil in its interaction with the inhabitants of the halls of power.
Often what I am calling phony emerges after something older, something that felt authentic, has gone away. In politics, for example, there have been phonies, hypocrites and blowhards since the spoken word was invented. But American politics changed dramatically after modern political marketers, pollsters and ad makers transformed politics for the TV-generation and later for the Information Age. They invented a kind of artificial, ersatz politics: wedge issues, Astroturf lobbying, kabuki hearings, spin, "on message," photo-ops and negative television ads. Of course there have always been dirty tricks and showboating in politics. What has happened in the era of electronic media is categorically different.

The methods that Meyer says are the reason for this inauthentic political discourse are, of course, quite thoroughly documented. I have covered some of them in several postings. Yet, even here, there seems to be a more basic undergirding of these practices. That is, the people who want to employ these professional communication consultants and the methods used to mold public opinion to fir policies.

In his work, The Phantom Public, Walter Lippmann writes about insiders and outsiders. The insiders are those who have the knowledge and expertise to run the government. For Lippmann, this makes perfect sense since the idea of running government by common consent or public consensus is tantamount to courting chaos. Government requires knowledge; that those on the outside don’t know what’s going on only makes the job of governing easier.

In recent postings , Glenn Greenwald has undertaken a very detailed analysis of the insider workings and how they make their way into the media. In a recent analysis of the conflict between Pelosi and Harman, Glenn Greenwald comes close to rendering as clear a statement of this insider cult as has Lippmann.

Greenwald writes:
At first I thought that the media's obsession with smearing Pelosi was some combination of its adolescent cravings for cattle-like demonization of the unpopular, loser Democrats, combined with the surprisingly (at least to me) strong and obvious discomfort with a woman being this politically powerful in her own right, not dependent upon appointments or derivative popularity from political spouses. And there is definitely a lot of that driving this chatter.

But now I believe that what is really responsible for this amazing obsession with undermining Nancy Pelosi before she even starts -- over matters as seemingly irrelevant (in the grand scheme of things) as Steny Hoyer and Jane Harman, no less -- is that institutionalized Beltway personalities fear a repudiation of the rotten system on which they depend and of which they are such integral parts.

They were so petrified by the possible rejection of Hoyer in favor of the anti-war Murtha because that would have been viewed by them as a repudiation of their brand of Serious Washington Centrism -- the disease which enabled the Bush administration and brought us this war. It would have meant that those who continue to prop up this war and this administration, either actively or passively, are going to suffer a loss of prestige and credibility. And that is exactly why it is so important to them that Jane Harman become House Intelligence Chair and why Pelosi's refusal to allow that will unleash even more hostility towards her.
If we didn’t have Lippmann’s testimony and that of Edward Bernays, many might consider such views as somewhat conspiratorial. Yet, the truth of the matter comes by way of those privileged enough to see the insiders at work. Steve Clemons is one of those people. Known as an insider’s insider, Clemons lives in Washington and is part of the social class that is allowed to participate in dinners, lectures, and other hobnobbing events where the powerful talk the talk of technocracy—that kind of talk where the hype and disinformation have their birth. More importantly, this is where the plans and processes are discussed in naked frankness.

Consider the following description from Clemons of a dinner where the very movers and shakers of Washington gears within gears gathered one evening:
I really can't discuss the participants or venue of a dinner I attended last night but suffice it to say that some of America's and Europe's leading current and former political personalities were there -- 60 people only -- and among them a few former Secretaries of State and foreign ministers, top intelligence officials, think tank chiefs, Senators and House Members, former National Security Advisors and Secretaries of Defense. The attendance list was extraordinary.

And the conversations -- on the whole -- were about the crappy condition of America's national security position. The guests in this dinner probably represented key participants in any new strategic consensus for the country. If there were brilliant [sic], silver bullet ideas that might help this country move quickly beyond its problems, it would have been in such a crowd where such notions might be taken seriously and have impact.

But nothing. Absolutely nothing. People were depressed and dismayed about current conditions. One very, very senior Bush administration official when asked by me what ideas he had to stabilize Iraq and stop our slow bleed situation said he had exhausted what he felt was possible.

Another top tier official when another guest pushed him to move the President into some rational deal-making that might trigger a more fruitful trend, ominously said "don't hold your breath." (also see this posting)
This description might shock some for its stark display of power brokers stymied by current events. Others might simply be agog that this is how decisions are made—contrary to the media perceptions. Others might ask why these questions and discussions occur behind closed doors and not within what’s known as the public sphere.

All of these questions and reactions are legitimate, I think. For people like Clemons and Greenwald, obviously, getting to that that level of intimacy revealing the inner workings is paramount in ensuring the health of democracy. Yet, unless you happen to have access to the internet and then are lucky enough to find their blogs, what chance is there of this type of information gaining more widespread dissemination?

Some will say that this is exactly what the press is supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be getting the insiders; secret discussions before the public so that those conversations and the decisions that follow are more participated in by the majority.

Let me cut to the chase by pointing out reporters have done this in the past. Look at Edward R. Murrow’s attack on Joe McCarthy. What Murrow did was to present the facts and then present his conclusion about what the facts revealed. This is the proper way to report events—present the facts and conclude what they show. Based on those facts, the journalist then takes what they have found and makes what can best be described as a crusade of it.

This mode of operation goes back to the beginnings of what we have come to know as the public sphere. Voltaire took up the case of a man unjustly tortured and imprisoned for crimes he did not commit. Voltaire used that event not only to publicize the injustice towards the man but also as a means of attacking the very assumptions that seemed to authorize monarchical rule.

It is this mentality that is perhaps most lacking in the press. Cowed by institutional, social, and political process, they have evinced a lack of courage to confront that very structure that would bring corruption and political injustice to light. And—as we have seen—the consequence is a so-called war that will go down in history as the worst military and foreign policy decision in 2,000 years.

Even more importantly, it has also meant the deaths of 100,000s of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children, the deaths of American young men and women, and the padding of the pockets of the military contractors and corporations whose lobbyists have helped plan and sell the war.

To return to the image at the start of this posting and to answer the question about the job of the news media: instead of following behind the circus cleaning up the shit, they should instead be out in front, much like the drum majorette, setting the time and stirring the crowds to want to spend their precious time at the circus.

… to be continued …

PS On the heels of this post Juan Cole comments on the Rumsfeld memo that is making so much news yesterday and today. While most in the press are highlighting the resemblance between Rumsfled's plan for Iraq and that of Democrats like Murtha, Cole focuses in on the "rhetorical" (as one journalist called it today on NPR) aspects of Rumsfeld's memo.

Cole is sensitive to the aspects of this memo that affect the lives of Iraqis. He is also aware of the fact that the insiders don't just come up with ideas, but that those ideas have to be sold to the public. Indeed, the success of a plan--not whether it's a good plan or whether it's workable--depends on the spin and the angle that the technocrat takes in getting that plan in place.

Cole writes:
Rumsfeld spends more time plotting out how to manipulate the American public than how to win the war. Everything is about spin, about giving the image of progress even in the face of a rapid downward spiral into the abyss. Consider these phrases:

' Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi Government and the U.S. — political, economic and security goals — to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the U.S. public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made) . . .

Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis. This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not “lose.”

Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist. . . '

It is about how we talk, how we are perceived to set goals, what is made to look like progress. It isn't actually about getting progress. The point of going minimalist is to reduce expectations among the American public. If you tell them you can only move the ball a yard, you get a lot of points for moving it two yards.
It's the illusion that counts, an illusion that is meant to forestall debate and question and discussion about whether these are the things that this country should be doing now. Read more!