Wednesday, April 11, 2007

RIP: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, the creative genius behind such concepts as Bokononism is dead, at the age of 84. I've had a great deal of respect for his work since my dad turned me on to Deadeye Dick back in the early 1980s. Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five are my two personal favorites from his collected works. His cynical humor and keen sense of awareness of our dark times will be missed. Perhaps a final sentence from The Books of Bokonon would be a fitting epitaph:
If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.
Indeed.

On a more personal note

Today marked our 11th wedding anniversary, and the 15th anniversary of the day we met. Can't say the road wasn't bumpy a few times, but Madame, you've proven to be my soul mate.

A Tale of Two Pictures

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times..."

Here's a picture from the anti-American protest held in a square in Baghdad. Notice the crowd. Looks like a fairly good turnout for a protest.

Now let's travel back in time to four years ago, during those heady days when the "Decider in Thief" and his neoconmen were seemingly riding high and whose "coalition of the swilling" had just "conquered" Baghdad. Among other spectacles, the television screens in the US were graced with the demolition of the Saddam Hussein statue in that same Baghdad location. Notice the "crowd" on hand on that day. Not exactly what I'd call an overwhelming show of support for the invasion.

Nerdified link. Next time anyone whines about opportunity lost in Iraq, we would do well to remind them that there was no opportunity to begin with.

Coburn and Inhofe hate diabetic kids

By voting against funding stem cell research, our fine Oklahoma Senators do us proud by making the world safe for fetuses, one deceased diabetic child at a time:

Diabetics cured by stem-cell treatment

David Rose

Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.

In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.

The results show that insulin-dependent diabetics can be freed from reliance on needles by an injection of their own stem cells. The therapy could signal a revolution in the treatment of the condition, which affects more than 300,000 Britons.

People with type 1 diabetes have to give themselves regular injections to control blood-sugar levels, as their ability to create the hormone naturally is destroyed by an immune disorder.

All but two of the volunteers in the trial, details of which are published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), do not need daily insulin injections up to three years after stopping their treatment regimes.

[...]

Previous studies have suggested that stem-cell therapies offer huge potential to treat a variety of diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and motor neuron disease. A study by British scientists in November also reported that stem-cell injections could repair organ damage in heart attack victims.

But research using the most versatile kind of stem cells -- those acquired from human embryos -- is currently opposed by powerful critics, including President Bush.

"Pro-life" my ass.

Racist cop abuses authority

File under "that could never happen in America":

The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the oldest Sikh American civil rights and advocacy organization in the country, today called upon the Joliet Police Department to investigate the actions of one of its officers when patrolling a local neighborhood.

On Friday March 30, 2007 at around 3:00pm, Mr. Kuldip Singh Nag, a Sikh American who was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in the U.S. Navy during the first Gulf War, was at his home in Joliet, IL when a local police officer noticed that a van parked on Mr. Nag’s private property had expired registration tags. Upon being confronted with this, Mr. Nag’s wife, Vera Kaur Nag, informed the officer that the van is parked on their driveway and was inoperable.

Mr. Nag then came outside to answer the officer’s questions regarding the van. The Joliet police officer then demanded that Mr. Nag park the van inside his garage and not on the driveway, to which Mr. Nag responded to the officer that it was not possible and that regardless, the van is parked on his private property and he has a right to park it on his driveway.

At this moment, the officer pulled out his pepper spray and attacked Mr. Nag. As Mr. Nag screamed in agony, the officer removed his baton and violently struck Mr. Nag numerous times until he fell to the ground. While the assault ensued, the officer was reported by both Mr. and Mrs. Nag as saying, “You f****** Arab! You f***** immigrant, go back to you f****** country before I kill you!”

Mr. Nag’s wife and six year-old child both witnessed the violent assault, which resulted in Mr. Nag immediately being admitted to the hospital where he stayed for five days due to complaints of intense pain and head trauma. Mr. Nag also received numerous bruises and a serious head injury which have caused him to go blind for several minutes at a time

Nerdified link. Via Madman in the Marketplace. When you have a societal Zeitgeist that demonizes people of other races and cultures, results like the above are one of the consequences. Really this is no different from the effects of a Zeitgeist that is fundamentally hostile towards women leading to death threats.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Questioning the "Clash of Civilizations"

Lenin's Tomb has the lowdown. Postmodernists (and of course their precursors such as Nietzsche) often were challengers of the fundamental assumptions underlying "Western Civilization" that are part of our socialization process. One of those assumptions is that we in the West "own" the Enlightenment, when in actuality such an assumption is dubious at best. The "civilized" Europeans/Americans against the "barbarian hordes" from the Middle East and elsewhere makes for a wonderful fairy tale - albeit one that has deadly consequences as our current sorry era amply attests. See, the problem is that we end up with an edifice that excuses the demonization and demolition of the Other in the name of spreading our "obviously superior" values and way of life across the globe. You know, the "White Man's Burden", "Manifest Destiny." Same song and dance we've seen for centuries now - with abundant corpses left to show for it.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Speaking of Churchill

Here's something I wrote a couple years ago, that I think is every bit as relevant as it was then:
Basically he's an easy target for the start of a right-wing purge. Professor Churchill's main thought crime as near as I can reckon is this: he dared to not only question or challenge a core assumption held by the vast majority of Americans, but thoroughly tramples it. That core assumption is fairly simple: the American government in its dealings with others outside its borders (as well as with its own people within its borders) has noble intentions. If one accepts that as a starting point, then the parameters of debates regarding foreign and domestic policy are well-defined. One might question the consequences of policies but not of their intentions - we're the nice guys spreading democracy and freedom around the globe. Professor Churchill refused to accept that core assumption, and in the process argues that not only have the consequences of the US government's actions been awful for many both inside and outside its borders but that those actions by the government were not even well-intentioned actions to begin with. From the former perspective, terrorist attacks, like the ones experienced a few Septembers ago, are senseless. From the latter perspective, taken by Churchill, such attacks are perfectly understandable. One may or may not agree with the tactics of slamming a Boeing into a highrise, but one can at least have some idea of why someone might be motivated to take such actions (note: for the record, while I find the 9-11 attacks as understandable I also found them abhorent; much as I find the Dresden-style air raid on Fallujah perpetrated by our government abhorent). Churchill's argument, if given serious consideration, has high potential to introduce a great deal of cognitive dissonance. His words, and the meaning behind those words, simply make folks too uncomfortable. The easy way out, and I've seen plenty of self-styled "liberals" who really should know better, is to dismiss the argument without considering its merits and to distance oneself from those who make that argument - even if it means standing idly by while the angry mob tries to silence Churchill, or perhaps to grab a pitchfork and join that mob.

A few Septembers ago, in the days after the 9-11 attacks, a friend of mine made the statement that "the birds had come home to roost." My immediate reaction to his words was very negative, to say the least. But it didn't take long before I began to reconsider and reread the works of Chomsky and others and ask some rather uncomfortable questions regarding my own assumptions. I can not in good conscience consider our government's treatment of others to be well-intentioned. The evidence to the contrary, if one is willing to look outside of the "official" history is simply to great to ignore. The gulf between the noble words found in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the actions of our elected leaders is simply too wide for comfort. Those noble words, however, to the extent that a few thoughtful people still take them seriously, give me hope that the US can do better. That certainly won't happen in the immediate future (not with the current makeup of the White House and Congress), but perhaps down the road. Until Americans face their demons, both past and present, meaningful change will not happen. Hence, the importance of the work of the likes of Chomsky, Zinn, Churchill, and others, and hence my willingness to stand up and be counted on to defend their freedom to continue their important work. As a scholar and citizen I am increasingly trying to face those dark truths - sometimes feeling like another voice in the wilderness.

Like it or not, the birds have started coming home to roost. There are those who would prefer we remain ignorant of that basic fact: but ignorance in this case is far from bliss. Ignorance, as we have seen, can be quite lethal. We owe ourselves and our children much better.
To an extent, I could probably write something similar regarding Finkelstein's situation. His primary "sin" appears to be that of challenging the prevailing orthodoxy regarding one facet of American political and social discourse.

Say Hello To

Norman G. Finkelstein Solidarity Campaign. As it turns out I have some passing familiarity with his work, and the research of his that I've seen has been impeccable. His work is controversial, but well-respected by his peers. Thing is, he's running into one hell of a tenure battle. At the faculty level, he has been recommended for tenure. However his school's dean has been a potential roadblock - attempting to over-ride the favorable recommendations by his faculty peers. Hopefully things will work out favorably for him (for reasons I won't go into now, I can empathize with Finkelstein and hope things turn out well in the end for him as they eventually did for me).

Hat tip to The Try-Works, who are also keeping us up-to-date with the situation surrounding Ward Churchill, who's fighting to hold onto his job in the wake of saying some very un-PC things about the causes behind the 9-11 attacks.