News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: February 2007

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bird Flu: The Rats Have It

I haven't kept up on this story, after running with it several weeks last year and even starting a blog. Scientists are looking for it to explode in the Spring, much as it did last year when it raced across Europe in a month or two. The US is expected to experience its first cases of the virus this Spring.

The following story comes out of Japan:

Scientists suspect rats spread the recent outbreaks of avian flu at four farms in Miyazaki and Okayama prefectures after the H5N1 virus strain was brought over by migratory birds from China.

The experts agree that the migratory birds triggered the infections at the four poultry farms over the past month. But they said at a meeting Wednesday that the way the disease spread indicates that other factors were involved.

Inspectors found that nets and coverings were in place to prevent large migratory birds from coming into contact with the poultry.

In addition, dead chickens at three of the farms were found in areas farthest from the entrance of the coops, so the wild birds were not likely the direct source of the infection.

"It's possible that small rodents, such as rats, carried the virus into the chicken coops," said Toshihiro Ito, a professor of veterinary microbiology at Tottori University who chairs the team of specialists.

He said the rats were likely infected by the wild birds from China. ...

As to whether the virus might mutate into one that affects humans, Nobuhiko Okabe, director of the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said, "While there is no need to become overly concerned, we also cannot let our guard down."
Read more!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Antichrist Reveals Himself

A man who says he is Jesus Christ in his second incarnation is now sporting the sign 666 on his arm. Does this mean he is the Antichrist or wants to be or, as he says, that is meaningless anyway since the devil doesn't exist? (h/t NT Today). Read more!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Barbarism and Fantasy

In assessing a present state of affairs, though, it is instructive to look at history and see whether it can teach us anything by way of analogies that might bring present circumstances into greater forms of focus.

There are innumerable historians trying their hand at formulating a framework within which to see the conflict between Islam and the West. Taking off from the well-tested adage that those who frame the history gain an ideological right to wield power, we find in the US many on the right--especially the Neocons--attempting to use concepts borrowed from Cold War and WWII confrontations to assess the supposed dangers posed by Islamic terrorists. ...

Once the historical dust devils settle in several years, though, I am inclined to think that the historians will find that JGA Pocock is correct when he states:

The American universalism of the moment arises from another component of Enlightenment—the belief that if a state can have a commercial civil society and a free market, all other good things, including democracy and the separation of church and state, will consequently be added unto it. My professional bias tells me that there are historical preconditions that must be met before this can be true. (Pocock, "America’s Foundations, Foundationalisms, and Fundamentalisms," p. 8)
Pocock's historical perspective is enlivened by his recent massive study of Gibbon's work on the decline of the Roman Empire. Paramount in that work is the recognition of religion and barbarism and their roles in bringing about decline and renewal.

As Pocock is subtly quick to note, though, the Enlightenment notions of barbarism have their source in a rising capitalism and commerce that they believed would bring about civilization--or "mannered" culture, as Hume and Voltaire (and Gibbon) called it.

Yet, many Enlightenment historians and philosophers were aware of a tension between culture and the ancient value of virtue. This value is that which impels civilizations and people to maintain a personal relationship to their political and natural world which reflects a sense of unity with the forces and powers of the cosmos.

With the spread of mannered culture, however, virtue itself suffered decline. Capitalism unleashes an immense array of alienating passions and desires that ultimately must be bridled to ensure order and stability--for further expansion and civilizing influence.

Daniel Pipes (a Neocon historian) has gone on record as stating that Islamic radicalism represents a new barbarism. Basing himself on an emotionally charged description of beheadings and attacks on civilians, Pipes builds his case that Islamic radicals (if not Islam itself) is inherently barbaric. While there's little argument that these acts are indeed barbaric, one could accuse Pipes of misidentifying tactics with strategy. That is, just as terrorism is itself a tactic in a much larger military effort, so beheadings and other despicable acts are not the entirety of the effort underway by Islamic radicals to confront and somehow delegitimate the West.

Indded, there's surely a sense in which the extremists could counter these accusations of barbarity by pointing to the dark history of capitalist expansionism in other parts of the world, not least of which includes the Mideast. Heart of Darkness has become the ultimate picture of where the Enlightenment project has lead.

While these remarks do not present an exhaustive analysis of the conflict that will probably define the 21st century, it might at least indicate that those who wish to counter ensuing debacles need to rethink essential categories and concepts that so far continue to inform not only our way of thinking about history but also in manifesting it.

At the same time, those who wish to counter future debacles must begin the work of historiography that undermines the attempts by the radical elements in our own midst of wielding ideological power through refashioning history in their own terms. Read more!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sideshow revival

Bring me to the lip of the chemical fill,
let me hear the cries of those who burned
until their nerves could sense no pain;
give me terror’s embrace that finds
repose in silence and shame; it is there
I’d stake the pegs for the revival tent,
and pull the viper from its box
and coil its rattling tail along my arm.

Until you peer into Lucifer’s brilliant eye
and know its poison, you will not hope.
The hope-filled are broken, lunatic artifacts
left discarded beneath the cathedral stairs;
they come for no word or formula or chant;
the blood that fills their eyes knows
the kidney punch and face bruised to meat;
they know each shadow that betrays defeat.

Only those who know defeat will discover hope;
for loss learns us the wiles of certainty and doubt;
you thumb a lost book no eye can see, no ear
can hear, and the soul unwinds its page
and reads the simple heart, the gesture
and rite of light beyond recall and routine.
In the empty hour of an empty year without fruit,
hope is afoot in the cool of the garden.

In a dark and corrupt heart, hope inters
the ghosts that stalk the self-induced cage.
Cherish with inmost fiber this truth
that cannot deceive or betray its hiding place;
this wonder that awes the algorithmic mind
and the most naive alike to abandon hate;
the happiest trick of time is to make us fools
whose despite is bliss and sage belief.

copyright 2007
Read more!

By Way of Evading an Introduction

It is true that the human can’t function without placing the things of this world into pre-arranged cubbyholes. If each view from the mountain crest or desert floor is defined by its horizon, then I must admit that I’m indeed not free. For no matter what height I reach or what nadir I sink to–even from the farthest nook and cranny of the cosmos–I will still find limit and its impetuous opposite unlimit. And as I define myself by my limits, so I define myself against or with my non-limitations. ...

Still, humans cannot live too long without limit. For without limit and structure, the mind melts into a gelatinous mass of chromatically inspiring images whose psychedelic pomp fascinate but only deceive us into forgetting the abyss from which they come and into which they eventually crawl. Yet, just as much as I define myself by the hard scrabble of life to maintain a proper relationship to others and myself, so I must expand those boundaries that close in and reduce me to a particle of less than cosmic dust.

Whatever you want to call it, this thing or experience inside finds no consolation in the actions and reactions to physical rudiments. In many cultures there’s a myth that some use to ward off evil, defend against danger, and heal social and individual ills. In the depths of winter, the coldest and darkest time of the year, when food is low and everyone is getting on each other’s nerves, the myths are told over and over again. When someone is sick, the individual is returned to the primeval origins of the world so that they can regain the power that once ignited the natural world in its fecundity. When invaders threatened to overwhelm the defenses after killing, the myth is told to remind them where they came from and to reinvigorate the will to fight and stave off extinction. The myth served a variable purpose, calling on ages that were simultaneous gone and yet present, it spanned past present and future in one moment of immense simultaneity...

I don’t want to dwell on this argument. It appears to pit subjective versus objective experience and tangentially elicits the debate between humanist and Enlightenment sensibilities, eventuating in the later Romantic versus scientific squabble. For the moment, all that I assert is that experiences of limit and unlimit are common to humans. That humans experience something that they perceive as originating in an internal dimension that acts as a measure for how they see themselves and gauge their potential for action and response in the world. There seems to be an awareness of an internal world or reality that poses routes and possibilities outside the

Further examples must wait for later. May the ghosts of Shestov, Plato, Socrates, Berdyaev, Whitman and so many others (peace be unto their memories) rest soundly, secure in the knowledge that their words have inspired me but have passed over into the nothingness of my everyday life.
Read more!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

MercenariesUSA Inc.

I must admit that I missed the President's State of the Union Speech (SOUS), so I also missed the following little tidbit that's also seemingly left unnoted by Leiter and Pilger. ...

Brian Pilger (via Leiter) rightly remarks on the reference to a form of civilian conscription being proposed by Bush. Pilger quotes the following from the SOUS:

A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.
No doubt Pilger is right to highlight his reading of this segment. On the other hand, I wonder whether there's not something like a ticking bomb in those words that Pilger misses; specifically, changes to laws that cover the use of private soldiers abroad, also known as mercenaries.

I do not know what restrictions there are on using mercenaries in other countries by the US, but there is no doubt that private soldiers are being used extensively in Iraq. According to the Washington Post, there are about 100,000 mercenaries in Iraq (h/t Lenin's Tomb):
There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon's only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country.

It is also 10 times the estimated number of contractors that deployed during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, reflecting the Pentagon's growing post-Cold War reliance on contractors for such jobs as providing security, interrogating prisoners, cooking meals, fixing equipment and constructing bases that were once reserved for soldiers.
Certainly, not all of these "contractors" are engaged in lethal activities. Yet, there's also no doubt that many are--in either direct military action or in security and intelligence operations.

As Democracy Now points out, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld made privatizing the military a top priority. Jeremy Scahill says:
Now, what’s interesting, Amy, is that two years ago Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater USA, was speaking at a military conference. He only comes out of his headquarters to speak in front of military audiences. He does not speak in front of civilians. He's on panels with top brass and others. He’s very secretive. He gave a major address in which he called for the creation of what he called a "contractor brigade." And I actually -- I can read you what he said. He said -- this is two years ago, before Bush called for his civilian reserve corps. Erik Prince, head of Blackwater USA: "There’s consternation in the [Pentagon] about increasing the permanent size of the Army. We want to add 30,000 people." And they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier. And then, Prince added, "We could do it certainly cheaper."
You don't have to be a trained textualist to see how closely this guy's words--spoken two years ago--mirror those of the President's, as expressed several months later in the SOUS.

Blackwater is the largest of those private army outfits vying for work in Iraq and now--according to Democracy Now--the Sudan. They even showed up in New Orleans carrying weapons and with orders to use deadly force when needed. Read more!