Friday, October 19, 2007

Great Wall of China, Part Dieux

Manny's on the story:
It's difficult to decide whether I should roll my eyes and shake my head or point and laugh.
WASHINGTON – Members of Congress' steel caucus say they were alarmed to learn that pipes made in China have been used in the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

Republican Representative Phil English of Pennsylvania says he found out about it when he was given a photo apparently taken in San Luis, Arizona that shows black piping used as a fence post with ''China'' written on it in white letters.

linkage
So let's see where this leaves us:
  • Pesky bloggers point out the idiocy of building such a structure by referring to it constantly as the Great Wall of America™ to show its similarity to the Great Wall of China.
  • Congress authorizes funds in a bipartisan manner to build said wall, even though it has been proven that it increases the number of border-crosser deaths.
  • Burial sites of indigenous ancestors are dug up to make way for it despite protests of direct descendants and supporters.
  • Portions of the wall end up being constructed incorrectly on the Mexican side of the land.
  • Environmental protections are given the shaft by the Department of Homeland Security
  • Photographic evidence proves that it's the Great Wall of China, after all.
¡Ay! Dios mio.
Dios mio, indeed.

Who's knocking on the door?

Yes, Benito Giuliani’s foreign policy team is very … Halloweenish. In addition to Daniel “Ethinc Cleanser” Pipes, we have one Martin Kramer, as profiled by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“‘Academic colleagues, get used to it,’ warned the pro-Israel activist Martin Kramer in March 2004. ‘Yes, you are being watched. Those obscure articles in campus newspapers are now available on the Internet, and they will be harvested. Your syllabi, which you’ve also posted, will be scrutinized. Your Web sites will be visited late at night.”

Kramer’s “Campus Watch” is devoted to harrassing anyone on campus who doesn’t kowtow to The Lobby. How would you like to see him as, say, Secretary of Education?

If Rudy makes it to the White House, and you’re an academic, especially one involved in the realm of Middle Eastern studies, get ready for the knock on the schoolhouse door at night ….

nerdified link

Sometimes a Mea Culpa amounts to empty words

Jim Watson, Nobel laureate, recently made some racist remarks:

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks " in full". Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really". He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

Now he issues something of a mea culpa, although given some statements he's made in the past (including apparently in his latest book), it somehow rings hollow.

Watson is hardly the first European or American intellectual to make such statements. Rather he is merely the latest prominent intellectual in a long line of learned men to either write or speak along such lines when discussing the concept of race and intelligence. Following is a very brief sampler from the Enlightenment era through the late 19th century:

Voltaire (1694-1778) "Essai sur les moeurs" On the difference in the measure of intelligence:

"Their round eyes, their flat nose, their lips which are always thick, their differently shaped ears, the wool on their head, the measure even of their intelligence establishes between them and other species of men prodigious differences.

"If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours, it is at least greatly inferior. They are not capable of any great application or association of ideas, and seem formed neither in the advantages nor the abuses of our philosophy."

View on monogenism?

"It is a serious question among them whether [the Africans] are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything." ["Lettres d' Annabed", p 462]

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher, quote as saying:
"The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish. The difference between the two races is thus a substantial one: it appears to be just as great in respect to the faculties of the mind as in color."

"The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish. Hume invites anyone to quote a single example of a Negro who has exhibited talents. He asserts that among the hundred thousands of blacks who have been seduced away from their own countries, although very many of them have been set free, yet not a single one has ever been found that has performed anything great whether in art or science or in any other laudable subject; but among the whites, people constantly rise up from the lowest rabble and acquire esteem through their superior gifts." ["Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime."]

Peter "Petrus" Campier (1722-1789) -- a Dutch painter was one of the first to suggest that skull measurements could illuminate the natural relationship among apes, Negroes, and Europeans; for him, skulls revealed natural relations between humans, not cultural artifice. Campier sorted apes and humans by his newly devised linea facialis ("facial line"). Having invented an elaborate instrument for this purpose, he took numerous measurements of skulls in order to determine the angle of "prognathism," or forward jutting of the jaw. He set as the ideal an angle of one hundred degrees, a facial angle acknowledged not to exist in reality but often used to portray gods and goddesses in Greek statuary.

"If I make the facial line lean forward, I have an antique head; if backward, the head of a Negro. If I still more incline it, I have the head of an ape; and if more still, that of a dog, and then that of an idiot..."

This notion of the (construed) similarity of African and beast fueled "polygenist" theories. The prognathous (protruding) jaw became a sign of lower development and of a closer relationship to primitive man.

Concerning his skull collection, Campier writes:

"It is amusing to contemplate an arrangement of these [skulls], placed in a regular succession: apes, orangs, negroes, the skull of an Hottentot, Madagascar, Celebese, Chinese, Moguller, Calmuck, and divers Europeans. It was in this manner that I arranged them upon a shelf in my cabinet."

With his facial angle Campier developed the central visual icon of all subsequent racism: a hierarchy of skulls passing progressively from lowliest ape and Negro to loftiest Greek.["Petrus Campier On the Origin and Color of Blacks"]

Galton: As a cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton had published several articles and a book, "Hereditary Genius", which argued that human traits, and particularly great ability, can be inherited from previous generations. Galton believed that black people were entirely inferior to the white races and that Jews were capable only of "parasitism" upon the civilized nations.

"....the average standard of the Negro race is two grades below our own.... [the Lowland Scot and the English North-countryman is] decidedly a fraction of a grade superior of the ordinary English. [The Greeks of c. 500B.C. were] very nearly two grades higher than our own, that is about as much as our race is superior to the African negro." [The comparative worth of different races', Hereditary Genius]

One of the South African tribes he studied was the Damaras, of whom he wrote,

"These savages court slavery....You engage one of them as a servant, and you find that he considers himself as your property, so that you become the owner of a slave. They have no independence about them, generally speaking, but follow a master as a spaniel would." ["Tropical South Africa"]

It was not until 1883 that Galton coined the term "eugenics," and it was 1904 before he formulated his classic definition of eugenics as "the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally." He also stated:

"I do not see why any insolence of caste should prevent the gifted class, when they had the power, from treating their compatriots with all kindness, so long as they maintained celibacy. But if these continued to procreate children inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness." [Fraser's Magazine 7 (1873), quoted in Aristotle to Zoos, Peter and Jean Medawar, 1983 p. 87]
Such was the Zeitgeist that gave rise to the eugenics movement. Eugenics was defined as "the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally" (cited in Guthrie's Even the Rat Was White, 2004). The intellectual roots of Galton's eugenics goes back arguably to Plato's Republic. Galton eventually went on to establish the Eugenics Society of Great Britain in the early 1900s and shortly thereafter began publishing a journal called the Eugenics Review. Around the same time the American Eugenics Society was founded. A number of these eugenics advocates gravitated toward the early IQ tests - which were used and abused to support their thesis that those of Western European stock were superior to those of other races. By arguing that individuals of African descent (as well as those of American Indian and Mexican-American descent) were intellectually inferior, they could advocate various restrictive laws regarding marriage between races, as well as the legalization of involuntary sterilization of those deemed "unfit."

The eugenics movement was largely discredited over time, namely due to the shoddiness of much of the research purported to support its thesis, as well as legitimate questions regarding the definition and measurement of intelligence. On the former, it became quite apparent that individuals who didn't share the same educational and socioeconomic advantages and experiences of a predominantly white upper class and upper middle class would be at a disadvantage from the get-go. Also, it turns out, as Guthrie (2004) points out, that cultural factors could influence test results - for example kids from the Dakota tribe considered it impolite to answer questions in front of others who might not know the answer. The question of what actually composes intelligence is also rather thorny - Howard Gardner has perhaps come as close as anyone to developing a comprehensive theory of multiple intelligences; and his theory goes to underscore the limitations of standard IQ tests (which typically measure spacial and verbal ability and little else; see also research on intelligence by Robert Sternberg).

Virtually all eugenicists supported compulsory sterilization for the "unfit"; some supported castration. Indeed, compulsory sterilization laws became commonplace in the US during the first couple decades of the 20th century. The last prominent group to promote and practice eugenics was the Nazi regime in Germany. Their reign of genocidal terror is well-documented. It should be mentioned that US eugenicists during the 1930s looked at the Nazi approach to eugenics with a mixture of admiration and envy.

Eugenics, though discredited after the mid-20th century (after the Nazis took the movement to its logical conclusion) has remained latent, and still has currency in some circles:
Nearly all the research that Murray and Herrnstein relied on for their central claims about race and IQ was funded by the Pioneer Fund, described by the London Sunday Telegraph (3/12/89) as a "neo-Nazi organization closely integrated with the far right in American politics." The fund's mission is to promote eugenics, a philosophy that maintains that "genetically unfit" individuals or races are a threat to society.

The Pioneer Fund was set up in 1937 by Wickliffe Draper, a millionaire who advocated sending blacks back to Africa. The foundation's charter set forth the group's missions as "racial betterment" and aid for people "deemed to be descended primarily from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States." (In 1985, after Pioneer Fund grant recipients began receiving political heat, the charter was slightly amended to play down the race angle--GQ, 11/94.)

The fund's first president, Harry Laughlin, was an influential advocate of sterilization for those he considered genetically unfit. In successfully advocating laws that would restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Laughlin testified before Congress that 83 percent of Jewish immigrants were innately feeble-minded (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). Another founder, Frederick Osborn, described Nazi Germany's sterilization law as "a most exciting experiment" (Discovery Journal, 7/9/94).

The fund's current president, Harry Weyher, denounces the Supreme Court decision that desegregated schools, saying, "All Brown did was wreck the school system" (GQ, 11/94). The fund's treasurer, John Trevor, formerly served as treasurer for the crypto-fascist Coalition of Patriotic Societies, when it called in 1962 for the release of Nazi war criminals and praised South Africa's "well-reasoned racial policies" (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94).

One of the Pioneer Fund's largest current grantees is Roger Pearson, an activist and publisher who has been associated with international fascist currents. Pearson has written: "If a nation with a more advanced, more specialized or in any way superior set of genes mingles with, instead of exterminating, an inferior tribe, then it commits racial suicide" (Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right and the Republican Party).

[snip]

These are the people that financed nearly all The Bell Curve's "data" on the connection between race and intelligence. (Murray and Herrnstein themselves have not been funded, although Weyher says of Herrnstein, "We'd have funded him at the drop of a hat, but he never asked"--GQ, 11/94.)

Take the infamous Chapter 13, which Murray has often claimed is the only chapter that deals with race (far from it--there are at least four chapters focused entirely on race, and the whole book is organized around the concept).

Murray and Herrnstein's claims about the higher IQs of Asians--widely cited in the media as fact--are almost entirely cited to Richard Lynn, a professor of psychology at the University of Ulster.

In the book's acknowledgements, Murray and Herrnstein declare they "benefitted especially from the advice" of Lynn and five other people.

Lynn has received at least $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). He frequently publishes in eugenicist journals like Mankind Quarterly--published by Roger Pearson and co-edited by Lynn himself--and Personality and Individual Differences, edited by Pioneer grantee Hans Eysenck. Among Lynn's writings cited in The Bell Curve are "The Intelligence of the Mongoloids" and "Positive Correlations Between Head Size and IQ."

[snip]

Media reports also treated as fact Murray and Herrnstein's claim that black IQs are 15 points lower than whites. "For as long as Americans have been IQ-tested, blacks have trailed whites by that 15-point margin," ABC's Dave Marash reported for Nightline (10/21/94). "Murray sees in the consistency of these gaps proof that intervening to raise low IQs just doesn't work."

But The Bell Curve cites as its primary sources for this assertion R. Travis Osborne, Frank C.J. McGurk and Audrey Shuey--all recipients of Pioneer grants. Osborne, who has received almost $400,000 from Pioneer, used his "research" into black genetic inferiority to argue for the restoration of school segregation (Newsday, 11/9/94).

And, in fact, even the data collected by these racists does not show a consistent 15-point gap. The studies they present show a wide range of results, ranging from no black/white IQ disparity at all to the absurd finding that most African-Americans are severely retarded.

As for the "consistency of the gaps," even The Bell Curve acknowledges that more recent tests have shown a narrower black/white difference, ranging from seven to 10 points. SAT tests have shown a similar convergence. But Murray and Herrnstein warn that "at some point convergence may be expected to stop, and the gap could even begin to widen again"--because "black fertility is loaded more heavily than white fertility toward low-IQ segments of the population." In other words, the bad genes will triumph, no matter what the evidence says.

That sort of circular argument abounds in The Bell Curve.

[snip]

Another person whose advice Murray and Herrnstein "benefitted especially from"--and who shows up constantly in their footnotes--is Arthur Jensen, whose very similar claims about blacks having innately lower IQs were widely discredited in the 1970s. The Pioneer Fund has given more than $1 million to this "giant in the profession," as Pioneer chief Weyher describes him (GQ, 11/94). And it's easy to see why: "Eugenics isn't a crime," Jensen has said (Newsday, 11/9/94). "Which is worse, to deprive someone of having a child, or to deprive the child of having a decent set of parents?"

Elsewhere, Jensen has worried "that current welfare policies, unaided by genetic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial portion of our population." (cited in Counterpunch, 11/1/94)
Although I'm not at this point calling Watson a eugenics proponent per se at this point (although some of his prior statements cited above should make one wonder), he certainly seems to be a transmitter for a pseudoscientific perspective on race and intelligence, and given his credentials and general respectability in the scientific community, one whom a lay audience would give undue credence, especially to the extent that such statements would "feel good" to those wishing to maintain an already racist status quo. Watson comes across like any of a number of Pioneer Fund-sponsored pseudo-psychologists. It is useful to also remind lay audiences that the company that Watson is keeping is eerily similar to the Nazi doctors of an earlier era.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Friendly Reminder

What follows is nothing especially new to me, but given that Halloween is a couple weeks away, bears repeating:
More evidence that Americans increasingly live in a climate of fear of their own making.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the tradition of Halloween trick-or-treating came under attack. Rumors circulated about Halloween sadists who put razor blades in apples and booby-trapped pieces of candy. The rumors affected the Halloween tradition nationwide. Parents carefully examined their children's candy bags. Schools opened their doors at night so that kids could trick-or-treat in a safe environment. Hospitals volunteered to X-ray candy bags.

In 1985, an ABC News poll showed that 60 percent of parents worried that their children might be victimized. To this day, many parents warn their children not to eat any snacks that aren't prepackaged. This is a sad story: a family holiday sullied by bad people who, inexplicably, wish to harm children. But in 1985 the story took a strange twist. Researchers discovered something shocking about the candy-tampering epidemic: It was a myth.

The researchers, sociologists Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi, studied every reported Halloween incident since 1958. They found no instances where strangers caused children life-threatening harm on Halloween by tampering with their candy.

Two children did die on Halloween, but their deaths weren't caused by strangers. A five-year-old boy found his uncle's heroin stash and overdosed. His relatives initially tried to cover their tracks by sprinkling heroin on his candy. In another case, a father, hoping to collect on an insurance settlement, caused the death of his own son by contaminating his candy with cyanide.

In other words, the best social science evidence reveals that taking candy from strangers is perfectly okay. It's your family you should worry about.
--From pp. 13-14 of Chip Heath & Dan Heath's Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.
I noticed that Scruggs made reference to the availability heuristic. In a nutshell, the more easily we can recall examples of an event (real or imagined), the more likely that we will overestimate or exaggerate the probability of that event's occurrence. Vivid stories about kids being poisoned by candy or harmed by razor apples collected during the course of Trick-or-Treating are ones that will stick in memory and will be easily recalled later. There's also an element of a sleeper effect going on as well. Even though the urban legend surrounding Halloween candy tampering was debunked about 22 years ago, belief in the legend continues to persist. My guess is that folks remember the basic gist of the stories that have been passed down over the last few decades without necessarily recalling that the sources of those stories were long ago demonstrated false.

This is one of those occasions where I can safely say, "don't worry; be happy." As for ourselves, we'll just keep celebrating Halloween like we do every year, and just make sure that the kiddos don't overdo it on the candy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The difference between US torture and Egypt's (or Burma's)?

The US government outsources much of its torture.

Whenever Junior Caligula and his partners in crime over in the UK (currently the New Labourites led by Brown) pontificate on the human rights abuses of varying designated enemy regimes, I can only shake my head and sigh. The Fanonite caught this column that highlights the PKB nature of US/UK protestations regarding Burma's human rights abuses:

The Bush administration has called for the respect of human rights in Burma, a pretty safe piece of posturing, but it remains silent as Egypt’s dictator, Gen. Hosni Mubarak , unleashes the largest crackdown on public opposition in over a decade. Our moral indignation over the shooting of monks masks the incestuous and growing alliance we have built in the so-called war on terror with some of the world’s most venal dictatorships.

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 26 years and is grooming his son, Gamal, to succeed him, can torture and “disappear” dissidents—such as the Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal, who vanished four years ago—without American censure because he does the dirty work for us on those we “disappear.” The extraordinary-rendition program, which sees the United States kidnap and detain terrorist suspects in secret prisons around the world, fits neatly with the Egyptian regime’s contempt for due process. Those rounded up by American or Egyptian security agents are never granted legal rights. The abductors are often hooded or masked. If the captors are American the suspects are spirited onto a Gulfstream V jet registered to a series of dummy American corporations, such as Bayard Foreign Marketing of Portland, Ore., and whisked to Egypt or perhaps Morocco or Jordan. When these suspects arrive in Cairo they vanish into black holes as swiftly as dissident Egyptians. It is the same dirty and seamless process.

We have nothing to say to Mubarak. He is us. The general intelligence directorate in Lazoughli and in Mulhaq al-Mazra prison in Cairo allegedly holds many of our own detained and “disappeared.” The more savage the torture techniques of the Mubarak regime the faster the prisoners we smuggle into Egypt from Afghanistan and Iraq are broken down. The screams of Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghans mingle in these prison cells to condemn us all.

We know little about what goes on in the black holes the CIA has set up in Egypt. But snapshots leak out. Ibn-al Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured by U.S. forces in late 2001, was an al-Qaida camp commander. He was taken to a prison in Cairo where he was repeatedly tortured by Egyptian officials. The Egyptian interrogators told the CIA that he had confirmed a relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The tidbit, used by then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in his United Nations speech, turned out to be false. Victims usually will say anything to make severe torture stop. Al-Libi was eventually returned to Afghanistan, although he has again disappeared.

Mamduh Habib, an Egyptian-born citizen of Australia, was apprehended in October 2001 in Pakistan, where, his family says, he was touring religious schools. A Pentagon spokesman claimed that Habib spent most of his time in Afghanistan and was “either supporting hostile forces or on the battlefield fighting illegally against the U.S.”

Habib was released a few days after The Washington Post published an article on his case. He said he was first interrogated and brutalized for three weeks in Islamabad. His interrogators spoke English with American accents. He was then bustled into a jumpsuit, his eyes were covered with opaque goggles and he was flown on a small jet to Egypt. There he was held and interrogated for six months, according to Joseph Margulies, a lawyer affiliated with the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School, which is representing Habib,.

Habib claims he was beaten frequently with blunt instruments, including an object that he likened to an “electric prod.” He was told that if he did not confess to belonging to al-Qaida he would be anally raped by specially trained dogs. Habib said he was returned to U.S. custody after his stint in an Egyptian prison and flown to Bagram air base, in Afghanistan, and then to Guantanamo Bay, where he was kept until his release.

Al-Libi and Habib are but two cases. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands more. These accounts of American-sponsored torture in Egyptian prisons are not new. They hardly make news. But the close cooperation between Egyptian and American security officials represents a frightening melding of despotisms, an international cabal of state-sponsored brutality and abuse. It does away with the concept of law and human rights. It mocks international protocols and treaties. It permits the despotic states we support, such as Egypt, to veer away from democratic structures and propagate, with our assistance, a more ruthless tyranny and brutality. It enrages and finally empowers those who oppose us to engage in the same behavior. It is dividing the world into competing spheres of intolerance. In this new world order there is nothing left to appeal to other than the mercy of someone standing over you with an electric prod.

Mubarak has in the past few weeks decided to shut down the last remnants of opposition. He has sent in riot police to arrest dozens of striking labor leaders, rounded up more than a thousand members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group, and tossed seven journalists into prison. The charges against the journalists range from misquoting Egypt’s justice minister to spreading rumors about the health of Mubarak to defaming his designated heir, Gamal. The detainees, as usual, complain of torture and beatings. And persistent rumors of death squads, bolstered by the “disappearance” of some of the regime’s most outspoken critics, have turned Egypt into a state that has mastered the art of internal and external extraordinary rendition.

The few lonely Egyptian voices and institutions that dared to speak out against the mounting repression have been silenced, including the Association for Human Rights and Legal Aid, which was shut down by the government last month. The government also recently arrested two political activists—Mohammed al-Dereini and Ahmed Mohammed Sobh, both members of Egypt’s tiny Shiite minority—after the men publicized testimonies from prisoners detailing torture in the Egyptian prison system. Egypt’s most prominent dissident, the sociologist Saad Edin Ibrahim, is in exile, too frightened to go home and repeat his own brutal experience in an Egyptian prison.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths—three of which took place this year—that the group “strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment.” There are now 80,000 political prisoners held in Egyptian prisons. The annual budget for internal security was $1.5 billion in 2006, more than the entire national budget for health care, and the security police forces comprise 1.4 million members, nearly four times the number of the Egyptian army.

The United States has subsidized Egypt’s armed forces with over $38 billion in aid. Egypt receives about $2 billion annually—$1.3 billion in foreign military financing and about $815 million in economic and support fund assistance—making it the second largest regular recipient of conventional U.S. military and economic aid, after Israel.

We have nothing left to say to the Mubarak regime. The torture practiced in Egypt is the torture we employ for our own ends. The cries that rise up from these fetid cells in Egypt condemn not only the Mubarak dictatorship but the moral rot that has beset the American state.

We are losing the war in Iraq. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are pitiless to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens’ expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront our hubris and the lies we tell to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, if we do not remove from power our flag-waving, cross-bearing versions of the Taliban, the despotism we empower abroad will become the despotism we soon experience at home.

Consider that last paragraph as both a history lesson and a harbinger. Imperial tyrants don't merely preserve their wrath for those abroad, but also eventually, and increasingly, at home. The writing is on the wall, if one is willing to pay attention. The 21st century's version of The Enabling Act (i.e., the Patriot Act), the removal of Habeas Corpus protection, the increased restrictions placed upon freedom of movement and assembly are merely the opening salvos in the war of terror being fought against the rulers' most feared enemy of all - their own citizenry.

One might quibble as to whether the US has truly "lost" its Iraq war. Indeed, to the extent that the main goal is to pad the financial empires of some cronies in the oil and mercenary businesses, one could make a reasonable case that the war is going according to plan. True, there is also a level in which the war is a quagmire, leading to cataclysmic devastation at ground zero, and probable long-term economic ruin for those of us who aren't already independently wealthy. The perps have good reason to believe that barring some unforeseen catastrophe, they'll be able to ride out the remainder of their lives in luxuriously appointed armed compounds in Uruguay, or really just about wherever they desire. But I digress.

I've been saying for a while that this is a critical juncture in our history where we must call things by their names - not so much in the hopes of persuading the ruling elites to change their evil ways. They won't. Rather, the more modest aim is to keep alive a few faint reminders when subsequent generations judge us that there were a few who were willing to voice dissent, perhaps putting our careers and our physical well-being on the line in the process.

Any pretense by any current political player that this government's policies have anything to do with promoting freedom or human rights is nothing more and nothing less than empty words. The brutal reality is staring us squarely in the face.

Mahalo.

Open letter to Condoleezza Rice

Condi:

Recently, you said:
"In any country, if you don't have countervailing institutions, the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development."
Certainly that was an astute observation. We seem to have a similar problem in the US. Do you plan to address our own Stalinization any time in the near future? I'm shivering in anticipation.

Sincerely,

You Know Who

Sunday, October 14, 2007

genocide: look for early warning signs

MONTREAL • Diplomats and human rights experts said Friday that genocide is preventable if the international community responded to early warning signs and warring parties redefined their political interests.

But panelists meeting at a three-day global conference in Montreal said by the time genocide is under way, there is little the United Nations can do to stem the bloodshed.

"Once a genocide has begun, it's too late for the UN to intervene. I think it's too late," said Gregory Stanton, former US State Department official, now president of Genocide Watch.

Stanton instead called on civil society to watch for warning signs of genocide - such as demonising one's opponent-and put pressure on states to act.

"If we're going to develop the political will to really do something, we're going to need to build an international anti-genocide movement very much like the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century, otherwise our leaders are not going to take action. That is the problem, it's because our leaders don't take action even if they know what the early warning signs are."
nerdified link

Never mind that the UN has to cater to the planet's biggest genocide perpetrator, as what's going down in Iraq should make abundantly clear. Definitely, demonizing of the soon-to-be victims is one warning sign that should be actively challenged by anyone in civil society. Genocide Watch has a taxonomy of eight stages of genocide that should be useful to those trying to determine what some early warning signs might look like. If we notice a tendency to classify, symbolize, and dehumanize other groups either within a particular nation or in the process of colonial conquest, that's the time to stand up and be counted. Once the killing starts (both in the physical and social senses), there's not much left to do but to try to bring the perps to justice after the fact.