Saturday, March 14, 2009
1. What skill(s) would you teach a child to aid their passage through this world?
Critical thinking skills, practical skills for a post-peak oil environment (e.g., carpentry, food growth), empathy.
2. If you could have a new society tomorrow, how would you describe the relationship of its citizens in this new society?
3. What are you going to write a song about tomorrow?
I don't write songs, but I might write a poem or haiku, perhaps about death or loss.
4. Have you heard of anyone yet having a satisfactory explanation for the success of P. Diddy (a.k.a. Puff Daddy or Sean Combs)?
He's in tune with the American Zeitgeist - consumerism, greed, selfishness.
5. It’s time to make a choice. Would you fight or flee, and why?
If it's come to that, I'd flee if possible (I hate harming others); otherwise, I'd fight hard.
6. When did the first monkey go to Hell?
What? They had calendars back then?
7. If you were a stock character in a dystopian sci-fi film/novel which would it be: the overlord, the scientist, the ultimate warrior, the lone explorer, etc.?
That's a tough one: most likely the scientist - my slogan would be "we can still fix this."
8. What food/meal do you make that requires the most effort to prepare?
9. What was your last moment of clarity?
August 2008, when I looked my son in the eye when he approached me about creating a petition to fight some very unfair school handbook changes. I realized that I'd been theorizing too much and not acting enough in my community.
10. Are we all fucked?
I'm too optimistic to believe that. I do think that the next few decades will require major changes in our way of being with each other and with the planet.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Like many reporters, Seymour Hersh has a lot of trouble keeping a hot scoop to himself, and dropped a major bomb at the University of Minnesota the other night. This is the second time he's spilled the beans on an upcoming story at a public forum:
After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.
"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...
"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.
"Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.
"It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.
"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.
"I’ve had people say to me -- five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’
"But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.On a personal level, I can say emphatically that it was precisely the knuckle-dragging intolerance expressed by many of evangelical Christianity's leaders (Falwell, Dobson, Robertson, etc.) that turned me off as a teen and young adult. I suspect that the millenial generation, which is now reaching adolescence and adulthood is even less interested in all the culture war nonsense than I was at that age (by the way, the older I get, the more cranky I get when dealing with culture warrior types). Unfortunately, that was my experience of Christianity until later in life. Once I realized that one could have faith and, say, be a socialist, or a green, or an anarchist; could have faith and embrace friends and acquaintances who are openly gay or bi; and so on I was able to keep an open mind to Christianity as well. Sometimes, my wife and I can find a really cool church with a really cool pastor and congregation - sometimes not; just depends these days. I rarely blog on matters of faith, but I do wish to highlight the possibilities that one can get a lot out of the message without necessarily accepting the bile spewed by some of the messengers.
The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I won’t link to WorldNetDaily unless I have to, and unless I’m typing with lead-lined gloves. But Matt Drudge linked the conspiracy site’s story about Wikipedia deleting Barack Obama Birther conspiracies, and the mysteriously popular GatewayPundit informs us that this is tyranny.
Communist tyrany (sic) Joseph Stalin routinely air-brushed his enemies out of photographs.The Ayers comment is a lie: Wikipedia maintains a comprehensive page on the Ayers-Obama relationship. As it should. For one, Ayers and President Obama actually knew other. For another, it was a legitimate campaign issue pushed by Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Obama’s main page doesn’t mention Ayers, but readers can follow the links to Ayers pages. And this is fairly typical Wikipedia page management. George W. Bush’s page doesn’t even go into the CIA leak case, for example. It simply provides a link to that scandal’s Wikipedia page.
Wikipedia airbrushes any controversial information about Dear Leader from its webpage including his 20 year relationship with mentor Jeremiah Wright and his long relationship with terrorist Bill Ayers.
As to WND’s main complaint, that Wikipedia is “completely lacking… any mention of the well-publicized concerns surrounding Obama’s eligibility to serve as commander-in-chief,” that’s also untrue: Wikipedia maintains a page about discredited Obama conspiracy theories, just as it maintains a page on 9/11 conspiracy theories. What WND and Gateway Pundit are complaining about is the refusal of moderators to let racist, libelous junk into its main page on Obama.
UPDATE: See, here’s why I post about this stuff. Two hours after my write-up, Instapundit links Gateway Pundit with the headline “Still airbrushing Obama’s Wikipedia page.” And thus, a false story from a conspiracy web site gets promoted by a mainstream author and law professor.
As for urban legends, I make a point of not mentioning them except to discredit them, and to point readers to some useful internet tools for fact-checking the various rumors that circulate. I strongly suggest looking at snopes.com and factcheck.org if the information you stumble across seems to be suspect. I also want to acknowledge that the true believers in whatever misinformation is circulating about Obama will probably discount anything that snopes.com or factcheck.org will say - I can only hope to reach those who are sufficiently open-minded to factual information even if it goes against pet beliefs or wishful thinking. I personally think that there is plenty about Obama's actions as president that deserves critical commentary - stuff that is actually factual - without resorting to weirdo crackpot conspiracymongering.
Last October, I recall journalist John Ross writing:
Of course, readers are probably already aware that a root cause of the problems in Mexico is the precipitous decline of Mexican oil production and an even faster decline in the level of oil exports. Add to that declining remittance incomes being sent home by migrant workers in America, declining tourist revenues, and lower revenue per barrel of oil exported, and the Mexican state is experiencing a severe financial crunch.
While the fiscal stability of the Mexican state is impacted by continually declining oil production and oil exports that are declining even faster, this impact is mitigated to some extent because PEMEX hedged the majority of its oil production through 2009 at roughly $70/barrel. Depending on the price of oil in 2010, Mexican oil revenues stand to drop off a cliff as PEMEX loses hedge coverage.
Does this mean the Mexican state is finished? The current crack-down by the Mexican military and federal police is, I think, best seen as a last-ditch effort to save the state. But it is also evidence that, by the very existence of this pitched battle, the state retains enough viability to pose a threat, and therefore to be targeted.
Sinking oil prices as energy demand tails off into a deflationary spiral will cripple investment in PEMEX, the national oil consortium Calderon so ardently wants to sell off to Big Oil - PEMEX accounts for 40% of the nation's budget. Even more ominous is the nosedive in "remesas", remittances sent south by Mexican workers in the U.S. that is the only sustenance for whole rural regions and which constitute Mexico's poverty program - one out of every four Mexican families now subsist on the remesas. Remittances are Mexico's second source of dollars, right behind petroleum.Similar sorts of commentary can be found around blogtopia. For those who find some significance in the year 2012 and the Mayan calendar, there could be some sort of vindication I suppose. Something very huge is in the process of transpiring. I wonder how all these events will influence the Zapatistas and their attempts to create an autonomous society. Will they have more breathing room with Mal Goberniero collapsing? Or will they find themselves more vulnerable to drug cartels and mercenaries?
This August, the flow of greenbacks from the north diminished by a shocking 12% and total remesas have sunk 4.4% in the first five months of 2008. Prospects for relief are dim. Mexicans working in the U.S. are the last hired and the first fired. With U.S. national unemployment topping 6% - California where more Mexicans work than any other state registered 7.9% unemployment last month and the construction industry which employs many Mexican workers is off 14% - workers are beginning to return home even though unemployment and inflation here are hitting highs not seen since the Meltdown of the 1990s.
Although the Calderon administration minimalizes the return migration, estimating that no more than 200,000 workers will come home to Mexico in coming months, many immigration watchers are calculating that the numbers could stretch into the millions. Despite labor secretary Javiar Lozano's happy face forecast that Mexico will be able to provide jobs for the returnees, it should be remembered that these workers fled to the U.S. precisely because they could not find work here.
Moreover, Mexico, which runs a serious trade deficit with the U.S., will see exports and the jobs they generate dry up in 2009. Automobile and auto parts orders, a big chunk of Mexico's export basket, have been cancelled due to sagging sales up north and workers are being laid off on both sides of the border. Manufacturing orders for border-based maquiladoras are plummeting and hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost to even lower wage countries like China in recent years.
The news gets worse. Workers' pension funds, privatized under Zedillo to allow for investment in money markets, have lost 62.5 billion pesos since the first of the year. The credit collapse has gutted the Mexican stock market as sorely as it has eviscerated U.S., European, and Asian exchanges - the Bolsa de Valores has lost over a thousand points just in the last month, panicking the nation's top Forbes list billionaires.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
First on the torture memos:
The American use of torture has been public knowledge or surmise since very early in President Bush’s war on terror. Not many Americans seemed to take note or to protest at the time. There were individuals who protested; the American Civil Liberties Union was on the job, as were Amnesty International and other American nongovernmental organizations and citizens’ groups. They were mostly ignored. Questions were asked in Congress, but little ensued.Then on the other memos:
This was the amazing thing, really. Very few people among the American public seemed to care—except Fox television executives, who recognize a commercial opportunity when it hits them between the eyes.
Fox began a drama in which each program was devoted to the American president’s torturer doing whatever had to be done to thwart a new threat to the American republic. The hero would apply one of the tortures pronounced legally OK for Americans to use, until the terrorist, gasping or screaming, blurts out where the nuclear bomb has been planted.
This turned out to be one of the most popular programs on the air. It seems that President Bush himself watched. People in the torturing business joked that they got some good ideas from the program.
What if 65 years ago in Germany entertainment radio had broadcast a popular program in which SS and Gestapo officers tortured American OSS officers, or captured American or British airmen, to extract vital information from them at any cost? Adolf Hitler himself might have tuned in. He had decreed that Allied commandos in military uniform should be treated as terrorists rather than as soldiers.
The final thing I will say about this is that many or most of the documents now being issued on how President Bush might ignore the U.S. Constitution had to do with domestic surveillance and the (illegal) use of American military forces against the American public.You'll note that I say "possibly" narrow escape from dictatorship as I remain skeptical that the architecture that has been put in place over the last couple decades will truly be dismantled. I also am concerned about the extent to which American society is truly willing to take on the forces of fascism. The acceptance of the practice of torture in our pop culture artifacts has been mentioned elsewhere (with attempts at satire duly noted). Here's what I said last year in Hollywood, the Ticking Time Bomb, and the Banality of Torture:
That probably would have begun in a small way. “Troublemakers” disappearing here and there. Protest groups rounded up and sent to camps. Possibly a day would have come when some conference of lawyers, or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or Americans for Democratic Action, or the Cato Institute, or some political pressure group like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, did something that seriously annoyed the White House.
If a battalion of military police took over the hall and the participants “disappeared,” it would certainly have made the newspapers, if the newspapers still reported such things. But considering the precedent of the American popular reaction to torture, what else would have happened? Possibly there would have been a popular new television program about the subversive forces at work in America, and how patriots should deal with them.
Not only has torture become normalized, but the likability of its fictional perpetrators on prime time television has made it seem noble. With very few exceptions, the torturers on prime time shows such as 24 are attractive individuals to whom their primary audience can relate, with the victims portrayed in manners that dehumanize them. Not only are these fictional torturers ones to be admired, but also to be imitated; and if you spend just a bit of time over at the Human Rights First website that I linked to initially, one will find that just as with any other form of media violence, fictitious torture events are stored in memory and - to the extent that they are rehearsed - strengthened to the extent that some of these viewers go on to become real-life torturers in their own right.More broadly, let's revisit something Edward S. Herman once wrote:
So, we're bombarded by scenes of torture committed by likable characters based on an extremely unlikely premise in a manner that appears realistic and reinforcing. On the other hand, the counterpoint - torture as an evil and ineffective practice - gets almost no air time. When I ask myself why more folks haven't spoken out against torture and demand that those responsible in our government for green-lighting the abhorrent practice, and done so in an organized manner, all I have to do is realize just how banal torture has become. Hell, by the time the Abu Ghraib pictures first began surfacing in 2004, Hollywood had already had a good couple years of time in which to normalize it. Those of us struggling for the human rights of those victimized by torture have our work cut out for us in the present cultural Zeitgeist.
Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization." This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done." There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. The late Herman Kahn spent a lifetime making nuclear war palatable (On Thermonuclear War, Thinking About the Unthinkable), and this strangelovian phoney got very good press. ~Time to revisit once more the concept of banality of evil.
In an excellent article entitled "Normalizing the unthinkable," in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of March 1984, Lisa Peattie described how in the Nazi death camps work was "normalized" for the long-term prisoners as well as regular personnel: "[P]rison plumbers laid the water pipe in the crematorium and prison electricians wired the fences. The camp managers maintained standards and orderly process. The cobblestones which paved the crematorium yard at Auschwitz had to be perfectly scrubbed." Peattie focused on the parallel between routinization in the death camps and the preparations for nuclear war, where the "unthinkable" is organized and prepared for in a division of labor participated in by people at many levels. Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. "Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone."
Peattie noted that the head of MlT's main military research lab in the 1960s argued that "their concern was development, not use, of technology." Just as in the death camps, in weapons labs and production facilities, resources are allocated on the basis of effective participation in the larger system, workers derive support from interactions with others in the mutual effort, and complicity is obscured by the routineness of the work, interdependence, and distance from the results.
Peattie also pointed out how, given the unparalleled disaster that would follow nuclear war, "resort is made to rendering the system playfully, via models and games." There is also a vocabulary developed to help render the unthinkable palatable: "incidents," "vulnerability indexes," "weapons impacts," and "resource availability." She doesn't mention it, but our old friend "collateral damage," used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, came out of the nukespeak tradition.