Friday, June 30, 2006

This is from Andrew Sullivan, but as many of you do not venture to the Gay/English/Catholic/Republican nexus of the blogosphere, I thought I should post it here as well. You must watch it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Prime Minister, a King, and a Deli

We need more in-depth reportage on this from our men on the scene. Will there be parades in the streets? Are the kids (or Black Lodge employees) breaking out their Nintendos in celebration? Will The Glass be performing a live show at the Deli exclusively for Mr. Koizumi? Will the King rise?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crazy Russian jumpers make the movies

Check out the preview for the new Bond movie. Notice the clip right after the shot of the woman coming out of the water. Has someone been watching "Le parkour"???

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Here is a much needed defense of Walmart
by Jason Furman, and here is a response by Barb Ehrenreich. I've been debating the Wal-Mart Issue with a young progressive lately (see my upcoming Letters to a Young Progressive for more), and I think I have a bit more to say on the issue. We don't often enough compare Wal-Mart to the sacred "family businesses" that it replaces, and while Furman points out the virtue of low prices and attempts to argue the wage issue, Ehrenreich successfully pokes some holes in his evidence in her reply.
First, low wages. Ehrenreich argues that the $9.68 average wage Furman cites cannot be correct--a point with which I tend to agree. However, the fact that she was hired at $7.00 an hour is not the strike against Wal-Mart that she thinks it is. To me, that sounds like a pretty standard wage at retail outlets in general. Thus it is not an argument against Wal-Mart as much as an indication that we do not pay retail workers very much in this country, especially inexperienced ones. So we should not judge Wal-Mart qua retailer based on this fact.
Second, the quality of work. The young progressive I referred to earlier complained that Wal-Mart jobs suck. I agree. But so do all retail jobs. Working for a local employer does not make anyone any happier. And we should celebrate Wal-Mart because its more efficient supply line reduces the number of retail jobs we need. That means less shitty jobs. Now, before you complain that less jobs means more unemployment, go take an entry-level economics course. Many industries have become more efficient, and yet modern economies employ a much larger section of the populace than ever before. This is because you have to look at the whole economy, not individual sectors, to determine the effect that efficiency has on the workforce.
Third, homogeneity. Many, including Furman (Wal-Mart’s defender), bemoan the fact that Wal-Mart makes American culture even more homogenous and soulless than it already is. Well, I'm sorry; I actually prefer consistency and predictability in both the products I buy and the places I buy them. I love the fact that I can go into almost any Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Lowe's, Home Depot, McDonald's, etc. and get exactly what I want, for a price I can be pretty sure is fairly cheap, without having to deal with a lot of high pressure sales or stupid local "flavor". When I buy something, I do not want to interact with anyone, I want to buy something. To me, the desire for "service," i.e. subservience and servitude, is anachronistic and rather sick. No one goes inside the bank branch instead of using the ATM so they can get "service".

Fourth, music availability. The first I ever heard of Wal-Mart was during the 90's, in the era of alternative music, when many complained that its demand for censored CD's infringed on free speech. Well, it doesn't. It would be unfortunate if Wal-Mart actually had the ability to prevent us from buying CDs with swear words in them, but, in the era of the Internet and, I am not really worried about Junior's inability to buy his shitty Nickleback CD. If he can't figure out any other way to get it than buy it at Wal-Mart, he's got other problems.

Five, organic/local food. If you prefer local food, don't shop at Wal-Mart. If you're really worried about the energy costs of shipping food nationally, then you will see that there's no threat from Wal-Mart. Surely high energy prices will deal with the problem.


Monday, June 26, 2006

'Reading Leo Strauss,' by Steven B. Smith - New York Times

If Robert Alter's review of Steven Smith's Reading Leo Strauss is accurate, I couldn't agree more with him about Strauss' real meaning. As Alter says:
"[Strauss] strenuously resisted the notion that politics could have a redemptive effect by radically transforming human existence. Such thinking could scarcely be further from the vision of neoconservative policy intellectuals that the global projection of American power can effect radical democratic change. 'The idea,' Smith contends, 'that political or military action can be used to eradicate evil from the human landscape is closer to the utopian and idealistic visions of Marxism and the radical Enlightenment than anything found in the writings of Strauss.'"

Strauss believed that politics would never be open and democratic in the way that we hope that it could. This belief is not an endorsement of that fact, but an acknowledgement of reality. It is the kind of anti-utopianism endorsed in the Federalist--a belief in the unperfectability of mankind. Thus the "secret" of Strauss' thought is that there is no secret--politics is not a science to be perfected but a skill or art that must simply be polished, practiced, and, occasionally, reinvented.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What's my Nature again?

There's a conservative article of faith that goes something like this: Conservatives, unlike liberals, communists, and other utopians, recognize that there is a Human Nature that we cannot transgress; that human beings are not so completely malleable as to be made perfect subjects of a world-wide cosmopolis, socialist paradise, or what have you; that attempts to change drastically the established order of humankind will be more disastrous than beneficial.

I'd like to make a start at pulling this argument apart a bit. The important thing to note from the beginning is that this argument comes in different forms, sometimes lacking one or more of the key components I've listed above. One strand of the argument might rely simply on the Human Nature foundation: in such a case, Human Nature is usually radically ahistorical and founded upon the edicts of a god or, in a more sophisticated form, Lockean man or homo economicus. Another form might be a strict adherence to the status quo or to a mythical past which might never have existed. Thus William F. Buckley's famous pronouncement in the first issue of National Review that conservatives stand astride the world yelling "Stop!" In this case, conservatives admit that societies do change over time, but that conservatives are somehow smart to resist that change, always and everywhere. Finally, there can be a separate and independent argument strictly from history, which surveys the disastrous results of the 20th century and decides that de facto we ought to rely on conservatism lest we lead ourselves into nightmarish dystopias.

Of course, these arguments often blend together, resulting in the complete article of faith I listed above, or certain presuppositions from some may indirectly support arguments in others. But that is largely unimportant right now.

Right now I'd like to raise some points against all these arguments, however you decide to combine them. First, there is the ahistorical argument for Human Nature. Now, that description might be damning in itself, since we usually think it unwise to describe anything ahistorically, outside of its proper context. But even if we do not wish to use this reasoning as a prima facie dismissal of the view, we can pretty easily raise the questions it begs. Because right now the conservative view of Human Nature would probably run something like this: people desire private property and the traditional moral principles dictated by God, family, and country. But what "private property" means now and what exactly God, family, and country demand are incredibly complex and changing phenomena. So of course many hundreds of years ago another human being might casually be described as your private property, and God might dictate for you never to drink alcohol or to beat your wife for her insubordination. In more recent times Tradition has told us that women, blacks, and gays are not to be treated the same way. (We might bring up more mundane cases such as how much we will tolerate being taxed and how large we will allow the federal government to be.) In most of these cases (although certainly not completely and not in all of them), conservatives now disavow what Tradition used to tell us. They have a New and Better conception of what our supposed Human Nature is. But if our Nature has changed, then there is no reason to believe that it will not again; and until we have pegged down what exactly is Natural or Essential about ourselves it would be silly to stand blindly by one conception of that, especially if in the past such obstinance caused so much pain to so many people. So we have more or less successfully historicized Human Nature to the point where it is quite unwieldy.

Second, despite all I have just said, there is nothing inherent in the idea of Human Nature that would make it the bulwark for a decidedly conservative or status quo-abiding scheme. Marxists, of course, have a conception of human nature--that of human beings working in an unalienated fashion and distributing to each according to his/her needs. (This argument has the confusing attribute of also being historicist because historical materialism implies that this realization of human nature could not have happened at any previous stage of economic development. Human Nature proper begins with the unworking of capitalism.) I was struck by this similarity between Marxism and conservatism while reading Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Marcuse makes the argument that modern, bureaucratized, technologically efficient life tries to warp human beings into something contrary to their nature, and that socialism is the answer to this "one-dimensionality." Thus Communists are not necessarily the enemies of conservatives strictly because they want to make human beings into something contrary to their Nature; they want to make them conform with their Nature, but the two sides have radically different views of what that Nature is. Liberals, on the other hand, might actually pose a risk to both groups because out of all of them liberals seem to have the murkiest conception of Human Nature; in fact, a liberal paradise would be one in which every single individual is free to exercise their radically different Natures to their fullest capabilities.

So there you have the conundra for the conservative argument enumerated above. If we have a purely ahistorical Nature, who's to say it isn't the one outlined by socialists, or any other group with a conception of Human Nature differing from that of conservatives? Might not the present state of affairs be the one that distorts our true Essence? And if there is a historical argument to be made for defending the status quo, isn't there also a very strong historical case for attacking it?


An allright article from Bad Subjects about so-called "theory blogs."

I point it out because A) I like to read Bad Subjects (quarterly(?) web-journal) occasionally, B) I think we've done our fair share of theory/philosophy wrangling, and C) Many of the blogs referred to I have read or pointed out to fellow Huffians.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Summer book blogging, pt. 2

I have a long enough summer reading list already, but I couldn't pass up the chance to participate in a book drive at the Memphis library. The rules: fill a grocery bag full of as many books as you can for only $3. It seemed like most sections had been picked over pretty thoroughly already (and the philosophy section was wimpy to begin with--absolutely dwarfed by the religion section), but I managed to find such gems as the Book of Mormon, The Shame of the Cities by Lincoln Steffens, L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, some new age spiritual crap by Carlos Castaneda, John Kenneth Galbraith's memoirs, and C. Wright Mill's The Power Elite. In other words, a whole big bunch of America.

So far I have read one of books I bought at the library, and it was wonderful. That book was Walter Lippmann's Drift and Mastery, and I heartily recommend it to everyone reading this, especially those with burgeoning political/political philosophical careers.

Lippmann published Drift and Mastery in 1914 when he was only 25 years old. So he was sort of the Matthew Yglesias of the Progressive Era, although in all honesty that's an insult to Lippmann. Both are certainly wunderkinder. Lippmann of course had a long and storied career lasting until his death, but in Drift and Mastery he seems free from the sort of realpolitik and cynicism he would later acquire. Don't they just all start out that way? This book is Lippmann at his most idealistic, starry-eyed and hopeful in the face of a completely new, industrialized, urbanized, seemingly democratizing America. This was before two World Wars, the Depression, the Cold War, Vietnam, Reaganomics, etc., so I suppose Lippmann could afford to be enthusiastic. Reading him today, though, it's painful to see such a free and open discourse and to note all the unfulfilled promises of the "American century." I'll give you a few samplings:

"There are certain preliminaries of civilization which the great mass of workingmen have not yet won. They have not yet won a living wage..." (p. 61)

"Governments can eat more and more into unearned wealth by income taxes, graded drastically, by inheritance taxes on large fortunes. If these funds are spent for civilization they will not impair industry, they will on the contrary increase its efficiency. The state may encroach continuously. The question at issue always is whether the state can spend the money more wisely than the private individual." (p. 71)

"The courts are making law all the time, of course. Now if they made law that met with new situations, there would be no revolt against the judiciary. The American voters are not doctrinaires. They don't care in any academic way whether Congress, the President, or the courts, frame legislation." (p. 95)

"The sense of property may be a deep instinct. But surely the nineteenth century home stimulated that instinct to the point of morbidity. For it did almost nothing to bring the child into contact with the real antidote to acquisitiveness--a sense of social property. To own things in common is, it seems to me, one of the most educating experiences in the world." (p. 130)

And finally (and lengthily):

"It is curious how little faith conservatives have in the institution of the family. They will tell you how deep it is in the needs of mankind, and they will turn around and act as if the home were so fragile that collapse would follow the first whiff of criticism. Now I believe that the family is deeply grounded in the needs of mankind, or it would never survive the destructive attacks made upon it, not by radical theorists, mind you, but by social conditions. At the present moment over half the men of the working-class do not earn enough to support a family, and that's why their wives and their daughters are drawn into industry. The family survives that, men and women still do want to marry and have children. But we put every kind of obstacle in their way. We pay such wages that young men can't afford to marry. We do not teach them the elementary facts of sex. We allow them to pick up knowledge in whispered and hidden ways. We surround them with the tingle and glare of cities, stimulate them, and then fall upon them with a morality which shows no quarter...We thrust people into marriage and forbid them with fearful penalties to learn any way of controlling their own fertility." (p. 132)

I don't agree with all these statements, of course, but the degree to which most of them are either completely verboten in today's political vocabulary or totally unfulfilled is just staggering. The driving force of the 1980s was Reagan's appeal to a sort of rugged individualism and Margaret Thatcher's infamous declaration that "There is no such thing as 'society'; there are only individuals." 70 freakin' years earlier Lippmann knew that those systems would no longer work. That they were cheap fantasies that obscured the reality of a huge American working class that needed leadership and support so that every citizen could have a working shot at opportunity and fairness.

In closing this lengthy post, I will tentatively point out the similarity between Lippmann's position and our own. He grew up, as I mentioned, largely ignorant of wars (c'mon, the Spanish-American War doesn't count) and knowing people who had a memory of the Civil War, who in turn probably knew people in their youth that remembered the Revolution. We, for better or for worse, are in a similar situation with respect to Vietnam and the two World Wars, and I think there may be great potential in that. It might sound irresponsible to say that we are "free" from the harsh realities of those times, but at the same time we are free from their prejudices and hardened instincts. After the second World War, the antidote to political danger and totalitarianism seemed to be quiescence; it was better to be peaceful if somewhat lackadaisical citizens and leave things to professional politicians and bureaucrats. Vietnam and the New Left changed that but only briefly. Perhaps it is time, then, for a new and better Progressive Era. Sorry, I'll take the twinkle out of my eye now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Something I've been wondering for a while...

When you eat chicken, are you always eating the female or do you sometimes get served rooster?

Similarly, when you eat beef, are you always eating cow or do you sometimes eat bull?


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Investing in Iraq's Bright Future

Blessed with a certain "6th Sense" for opportunities I recently took it upon myself to purchase half-a-million Iraq Dinars in 25,000 notes. These notes are being shipped to me via a website I discovered that is actually selling Iraqi Dinars. While the Iraqi government has prohibited the export of Iraqi Dinars, a group of "speculators" has obtained a large amount of the currency and is selling it on the internet. The line that got me was "Each Dinar you purchase represents a share in Iraq's bright future." Currently, $1 = 1469 Iraqi dinars, or 1 IQD = 0.000679094 USD. In other words, 1 Iraqi Dinar is worth a little less than 7 hundredths of a US Penny(0.01). If Iraq's economy were to improve to the point where the 1 IQD was worth .01 Cents(It was worth .31 Centers in 1989) my investment will return me a cool $5,000. What about ten cents to the dollar? About $50,000.

It is a high-risk investment. Currently, the dinar is traded only on tightly controlled markets and the reason it has not been allowed for export or traded on international markets is because the Iraqi Central Bank believes there will be a rout making the currency total unstable, which is anathema at this critical juncture(Every day is a critical juncture). In other words, if it is released to the international community they believe the currency will decline in value.

But I do have the United States on my side. The CPA created designed, and distributed it. The Dinar isn't going anywhere.

And I can sleep well at night knowing I have done my part to support my God, my country, freedom, and the Iraqi people.

My fucking god!

This is absolutely the weirdest thing I have ever seen.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pilgrimage (Pt. 2, Continued From Below)

[N.B. We have devoted a great deal of time attempting to realize the nature of this "liquid chicken," but even our most talented textual scholars can find no basis for it in the records. Its connection to the Huffy Crew remains equally uncertain]

[I believe special attention should be directed towards this image, for behind its cryptic iconography and perplexing subtitle, some primeival will must be at work. Whomever created this signpost clearly intended it to be seen by travellers, and though it is by no means certain that it was specifically related to the doings of the early Huffy Crew, one of our scholars has suggested that perhaps this was an attempt to convey to some of its members a message of some, seemingly insidious, import. Academicians in other fields say that the references to physical appearance and strong use of black in the piece are merely a testament to the famed "Emo Jesus Cult".]

Pilgrimage (Pt. 1)

Here lies some of the early photographic recordings of the Huffy Crew Diaspora. These images largely confirm much of the folk tales about the dispersal of the Crew to farflung regions. An exhaustive forensic analysis of the following photos, purchased from a Viennese trader stopping in Virginia before a junket south, indicates that they were taken along a 300 mile stretch of the what the elders called I-55 between the city-states of Memphis, TN and St. Louis, MO. The following images are undoctored, and I present them with little to no commentary so as not to mute the asthetic-visceral experience. We believe that the following may also provide some early evidence to corroborate speculations that the Huffians Scantron and Sheriff built totems to mark their journies. The provenance of the artefacts pictured are unknown, but their placement and nature does lead our sages to believe that they may have been ironic, and they do suit the critique of capital and spectacular culture popular amongst some some of the Huffy Crew Members. I've said enough, I Shall let the photographs speak for themselves.

[A brief set of extrapolations from the photographs reveals much about America in the time of the Huffy Crew Diaspora. By assuming a uniform distribution of some of these figures over the total area of the country, we find that there were nearly 25,000 of these "Native Americans" throughout the US. Given their prodigious height (roughly 20 feet) and similarly proportioned weaponry, we can see how contemporaries of the Huffy Crew must have lived in abject fear of these giants, especially considering the compounted effect of the terrifying pink elephant-creatures that they rode into battle. This would seemingly explain the need for stringent confinement of these strange warlords in areas such as "Oklahoma"

When mental farts get racist

Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (the same guy who couldn't name more than a few of the 10 commandments on Colbert the other night) wants the Federal government to loosen the unfair grip on Southern states it exercises through the Voting Rights Act. "Singling out certain states for special scrutiny no longer makes sense," he says. Perhaps Westmoreland has forgotten (or wants us to forget) that late in 2005, the Georgia state government attempted to enforce an "ID card" law that would have seriously impeded minorities from voting. Potential voters would have had to show a state-issued license or passport, or else pay $20 for a 5-year temporary voting ID. I guess Westmoreland just plum forgot (or is it just peach forgot in this case?)

New "Democracy" Journal

Just a heads up to those who would like to see a progressive alternative to Commentary, Foreign Affairs, and Policy Review (and to Monthly Review and New Left Review, I might add, just to rib our Commie friends). I actually saw Democracy: A Journal of Ideas founder Alexei Cherny speak on C-SPAN today, but he was such a god-awful poor speaker I couldn't go on, despite how good the idea of the journal sounded. It's free to sign up, and I immediately benefited from the knowledge this article about employee-owned businesses bestowed on me. So pour a cup of green tea (or whatever the hell it is we progressives supposedly do when we relax) and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

CNN: Going straight to the expert sources

It's World Refugee Day, which means over at CNN that "Angelina Jolie is on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10 p.m. ET."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

America is the greatest country in the world...

It's good to be back in the land of efficiency and customer service - a place where businesses do not close from 1pm-4pm every day and all day on Sundays, where water from the tap is safe for consumption, where taking a shower and running the dishwasher does not result in a 24-hour blackout, and where the bank takes 'ponsibility for the ATM that ate your debit card, rather than leaving you without a way to get cash for at least 2 weeks. By the second week of our trip I found myself condemning the "charming" intricacies of the European lifestyle with the passion of a disgruntled low-level government worker, drunkenly extolling the under-appreciated beauty of American currency, and gazing fondly upon a girl drinking a Budweiser at a small Italian bar with foolish and unabashed pride. Our return home was horrifying though, invovling 32 hours of travel (stretched out from what was supposed to be 21 hours), in which every single one of our flights was delayed EXCEPT the final one which was supposed to bring us home to Louisville, and which left promptly after our seats had been resold to stand-by passengers since we couldn't make it to the gate 10 minutes before departure time because we were still stuck on the plane coming in from New York, which left 2 hours late due to the mysterious absence of the entire Delta flight crew assigned to fly the plane.

Anyway, it's good to be back and the moral of the story is that America is the greatest country in the world and everyone wants to be us. Here's the proof: silly Germans

Aight, I'm going to go get in my mom's giant Land Rover and guzzle some gas on the way to Circuit City to buy my dad a Father's Day present while drinking a DIET coke (not Coke Light, mind you) filled with a ton of ice....all on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Episcopal Church as "more" or "less" Christian, and the notion of "conceptual organizations" in general

As most people here know, Jesus and I parted ways a long time ago. However, I have retained an interest in the Episcopal Church, both locally and internationally, mainly with respect to issues of social justice. (Plus, my mother works for the church, so technically its a contributor to my livelihood.) I don't know if anyone's been paying attention, but this year's Episcopal General Convention, held in Columbus, is particularly contentious. Basically, worldwide Anglican churches, who are very conservative compared to Americans, and some conservative American Episcopalian congregations are demanding that the U.S. Episcopal Church repent for appointing an openly gay bishop, Eugene Robinson, and place a moratorium on electing any more homosexuals. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has given his support to the so-called "Windsor Report," which calls upon the liberal church to "apologize" for the Robinson affair. Many conservatives see the Report as too weak, since it demands an apology but not a signal of regret, while many liberals are complaining that the normally progressive Williams is compromising his principles for the sake of church unity. Personally I hope that the US Church sticks by its decisions, even if that results in a schism.

More interesting to me, though, is the whole idea of the debate over church doctrine and who is "more" or "less" Christian. To the conservatives, an acceptance of homosexuality runs counter to Scripture and thus fails to be Christian. The liberals see no contradictions in what they're doing. Now to me, the liberals are obviously no less Christian than the conservatives. Perhaps if the argument were over whether or not Jesus Christ was a human being or instilled with the Divine, then we could legitimately talk about "Christian" and "non-Christian" positions. But this says something about what I take to be the "core" of Christianity, which cannot be altered without doing serious damage to the system.

But then I got to thinking. The Church of today is probably leagues away from what it used to be in ancient times. (The Anglican church is a special case because it was founded by Henry VIII in relatively "modern" times. I mean the church as a whole.) Doctrines have certainly changed thanks to literacy, the Reformation, industrialization, urbanization, globalization, what have you. But I think that functionally, the fact that a huge group of people can affect practical matters through their influence (in the name of the Christianity) means there's a thriving Christian alive today, no matter what the doom-sayers might portend. At the same time, an organization claiming to act in Christianity's name but with absolutely no ideological connections to the religion at all cannot possibly be called properly "Christian," no matter how great its size. But then the core elements of Christianity remain to be explicated.

Basically, what I'm getting to is a question of how you all define "conceptual (ideological) organizations," so to speak--more along functional lines, ideological lines, or some other factor? This is sort of elementary stuff but I don't know that we've had this conversation. For example, socialists and other radical leftists often say that what occurred under Soviet Communism for most of its history, despite its extensive "functionality" (functional enough to kill millions, obviously!) and despite the fact that its adherents referred to it as "Communism," was not "true" Communism, and that actual, collectivized social living has only occurred occasionally, if ever. This would be giving strong "ideological" weight to defining conceptual organizations. Opponents counter that no matter what these idealists and utopians say, the practical consequences of Communism make talk of it in any form dangerous, or they take on the more mystical notion that there is something "inherent" or "against human nature" in socialistic thinking that "inevitably" leads to disaster. The former sort of opposition is functional, the latter more ideological. This debate has reared its head lately in talk of "conservative" ideology, as in, Is George Bush a "real" conservative? Conservative idealogues say no, that "real" conservatism as outlined by Barry Goldwater or Russell Kirk or whoever has never been actualized, while progressives either counter that talking about "true" conservatism is nonsense or that no matter what, conservatism is bad. Once again, functional vs. ideological.

Finally, a more controversial position. We might say that while the United States' form of government is nominally "representative democratic," it is in actuality a constitutional representative and bureaucratic oligarchy, or something like that. A functionalist argument could say that the United States in no way operates according to direct participation, if that is what "democracy" is supposed to functionally mean, while an ideological critique would say that we're not living up to the ideals of democracy, that to speak of the US as a democracy is to nefariously hijack "true" democratic terminology, or whatever. Looking back at what I've written, the functional and ideological stances actually seem to blur together in this instance. A counter-argument could say that what the critics refer to as "democracy" has no meaning in the contemporary world, that it's based on out-dated Greek models, whatever. So then "democracy" is just whatever we conventionally make it, no matter what its etymology or history.

Again, perhaps this is too simplistic, but I'd love to hear everyone's take--function, ideology, or something else? (And here the "function of ideology" or the "ideology of the notion of 'functioning'" are possibilities.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fellow Blogger

They say that networking is the key to success. This idea is not threatened by my own experience, as my network is Washington is diminuitive and so is my level of success. Thus it is always nice to add a node to your network. Ethan Arpi, a fellow alumnus of Washington University in St. Louis, is now a blogging professional. Check his site out--he discusses the developing world, technology, and environmental stuff. I'll also put a link on the sidebar.

What has Bolivarism ever done for me?

I never expected Bolivarism to benefit me or anyone else in the Northern (or Southern, actually) hemisphere. And yet it has provided something that I would have killed for at some times during the last year: Fart-free beans.
The team of scientists from Simon Bolivar University in the capital of Caracas said they have discovered a way to remove the agents in beans that cause gas.The process also increases the legume's nutritional value by 97 percent, the scientists said.
We can only hope and pray that Senor Chavez allows them to be exported. He is such a benevolent man that I'm sure he will help us all. The only thing we need now is a lactase patch.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bush: America, you don't know me! I do what I want!

President Bush's press conference this morning was interesting for several reasons. For one, Bush unwittingly got into a funny conversation with a blind man about his sunglasses. Bush also addressed the Guantanamo Bay suicides, saying that the detention center "provides an excuse, for example, to say the United States is not upholding the values that they're trying to encourage other countries to adhere to." Provides an excuse, rather than provides factual evidence that we are engaged in such hypocrisy. I don't really expect Bush to say it, but no one on the conservative side--no one in the administration, at least--seems to be willing to say that we should close Guantanamo because it is cruel and runs counter to international notions of justice and fairness. It should be closed because it is a tactical blunder, poorly executed, that lends aid to our critics. Bush also said that the Guantanamo inmates were "picked up off the battlefield," which is an exaggeration bordering on a lie.

But the real zinger of this press conference was Bush's proclamation "don't bet on American politics forcing my hand, because it's not going to happen. I'm going to make decisions not based upon politics, but based upon what's best for the United States of America."

Now, "politics" can have a negative connotation, and Presidents often wisely give the appearance that they are "rising above" mere politics in order to do what's best. Americans have a sort of skepticism of politics, after all. But "politics" here usually means "partisan bickering," as in politicians on Capitol Hill who won't give way on pragmatic issues because of ideological differences, personal gain, pleasing constituencies, etc. "Politics" in this sense obscures what's best for the people and what reflects the "general will," in the loosest sense of that term.

Is that what Bush means by "politics" here? Heavens, no! What he actually says is "But my voice, what you hear from me, no matter what these polls and all the business look like, is that it's worth it, it is necessary, and we will succeed." He is answering a question, after all, about public opinion polls which say that the majority of Americans think the Iraq War was a mistake. In other words, "politics" here means the will of the people, the common good, whatever you want to call it. Bush is placing himself in the position of one who knows exactly what's best for the United States, even if the majority of Americans do not agree.

What's pathetic is that Bush pays lip service to democratic processes and political debates before dismissing them. "And I know there's going to be different voices, and there should be different voices out of America. That's where we're great. That's what makes us interesting and great; people can say whatever they want to say, as they try to attract votes." Sure, you're free to say whatever you want, but if you think your voice will translate into actions taken by this government, you're sadly mistaken. Because, yeah, I hate to say it, but he's the decider.

What's doubly ironic is that earlier, when describing the great steps taken towards democracy in Iraq, Bush said "That's the great thing about being elected; you get a sense if people don't kind of like what you're doing, or not. And democracy causes you to respond to the people's needs. Tyrants don't have to. They don't have -- sometimes they may have to, but they always have got kind of an interesting way of helping suppress dissent. This elected government is going to have to respond to the people, and that's a big change. If what Bush said here in any way reflected American political reality, he might have a point. But it doesn't. This administration has acted, at every turn, not in accordance with any notion of "accountability" or "response to the public," but in terms of blanket "mandates," of "political capital" that can be spent however they see fit. Thus the NSA stonewalling and other such instances of executive privilege and secrecy. From what Bush says, then, we might have reason to envy the people of Iraq (if we manage to leave them in one piece), because according to him, they will enjoy a government that reflects the people's desires and interests in a manner that is completely lacking in America.

Update on our Favorite Twins

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer music blogging

Hey hey again, a similar treatment as below, but this time with music.

As for new stuff that's come out that's really great, I just bought Boris' Pink tonight, and it's all the heavymetal psychedelic rompin' stompin' you'll ever need. Also great is the new Espers album, II, which is like one of these new hippy-dippy, "we live in the forest and play three hundred different instruments all made out of teak wood," "my mom just put money in my account so I can buy this silly velveteen hat," "holy shit we just ate a pound of psilocybin between us but this record still sounds great" kind of bands. Fans of Animal Collective, Devendra, "acid-folk" blah-blah journalistic laziness take note. I hated the new Danielson CD. Totally tuneless crap, despite the presence of our boy Sufjan. Sold it back.

On the old stuff/reissues side of things, the Au Pairs' anthology, Stepping Out of Line, is awesome. It's sort of quaint to hear explicitly political, in-your-face feminist lyrics after a generation of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and Sleater-Kinney et al., but the tunes kick ass and the band's tighter than a bout of collective constipation among the Gang of Four. Early eighties "post"-everything guitar-funk stuff, for those who want a genre.

Talk Talk, Laughing Stock is really pretty and Austin-5000, if you've ever obsessed over "It's My Life" you should check out their full albums. The lead singer sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel, in a very expressive/beautiful way and the bands plays these thick, repeating patterns that start to sound like ambient DJ Shadow if you zone out enough.

That's all for now!

Summer book blogging

I figured this would be a good way to keep each other informed of the books we've been reading. I have given myself a formidable list this summer, but I am so uncommitted to doing anything around here and I work so little that I just might get it all done. Ah, the wo/man of letters--surely s/he has always been unaccustomed to changing bedsheets, mowing yards, and generally making some use of herself (she finally decided on that sex change).

Anyhoo, I have decided to start out by subjecting myself to a strict Rigorosum of classics of Western philosophy that had somehow escaped my notice. I'd been reading so much political theory that the epistemology and metaphysics (which normally bore me) of Bishop Berkeley's Principles of Human Understanding came as a nice surprise. I feel like Berkeley, whenever I have heard him spoken of, is usually rather lazily lumped together with Hume as a "British empiricist." Now, empiricism brings to mind facts, observations, perhaps a more materialist view of the universe as opposed to some of the spacier theories of the rationalists. But I found that Berkeley offers one of the most ridiculous, though highly original, theories of reality and understanding that has surely ever dripped from the pen of a pointy-headed philosopher. Basically, Berkeley begins by denying the reality of what he calls "abstract universal ideas," employed extensively, so he says, by John Locke. Whereas Locke says that our reason can help us to formulate the absolute idea of a triangle, one that while being neither scalene nor isoceles is nonetheless a "pure" triangle (kind of like a Platonic Form), Berkeley says this is nonsense, because every thought we have must conform to some aspect of what we've experienced. This seems right (and empirical) enough, and thus we move from a more abstracted essentialism to a realistic nominalism.

But then things get all weird, and Berkeley wants to say also that because all we have are sensations, those are the only things we can prove and we can go no further in conferring "reality" status on an object than whatever we experience in our own mind. Thus what we tend to think of as the "real" world is nothing but images imprinted on our mind by a Will greater than our own, which must be God. All we are is a continual stream of images. How this theory can account for other minds and get anywhere with regard to ethics and the general treatment of others without slipping into solipsism is a little sketchy to me.

I apologize to anyone who's read and thoroughly thought Berkeley through, because that was a very crude description. But I will add, that I was highly amused during my reading because I got the sense that Berkeley's overall practical message, his "praxis" apart from his theory, was roughly this: "These weighty matters I'm discussing and the petty arguments I'm having with Locke don't really change anything, they're just the rational end of our common sense anyway, and no one of the 'vulgar' will be changed by it one way or the other, but hey, doesn't God end up looking great in my system? Take that, you atheists and skeptics! God's awesome; he's my employer, after all. Thanks, God. Thank you for the sweet, sweet pheasant my fat ass will be scarfing down tonight. QED." Lest we forget, we also have Berkeley to thank for his last work, Siris, an essay concerning the positive medical effects of tar-water!

Next week, I take a crack at the awesomeness that is David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. But for now, discuss the good Bishop of Cloyne and talk up your own summer reading.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A letter to my parents

Since I haven't posted in a long time, here is an email I recently sent to my parents.

Alex, Mom, Dad-
I want you to see what they are teaching Alex at his math school. They are teaching him nasty, nasty things. Things that are immoral--evil, even. Please go (in private--not appropriate for your place of work)to
I'm not sure if we can recover Alex, especially considering the suspicious-sounding advance he has made recently. Candidate? For what? Something vile, disgusting, Sodomic, Gommohricious, filthy, lewd, and rapacious. Something bad.
Just thought I'd let you know.

What would David Konstan Say?

Looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me over there in Spain. Ay Caramba.

In seriousness, as ridiculous as it might be to give animals human rights, it does make the U.S. treatment of humans seem a little... err... animalistic.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


The Bilderberg group has arrived for its annual meeting, this year in Canada- Among the guest list:

Henry Kissinger
Daniel Pearl
George Pataki
A Rockefeller
"the heads of Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, the Royal Bank of Canada, a number of media moguls, and cabinet ministers from Spain and Greece."

So they meet in a completely secret session inside of five star hotels every year, and "Discuss public policy." This is really really messed up. It's paternalistic, elitist, and all kinds of icky. More info
Here's A wiki article which lists some of the conspiracies these people have been implicated in. It is for fun.

Actually, I just noticed on the wiki article this quote: " antithetical to the principles of inclusion and [i]populism[i] fundamental to democratic societies." (emphasis mine) Populism is fundamental to democracy??? Was this written by a member of the Bilderberg Group themselves? I must go, I fear the lines are being monitored.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More Sound Byte Politics

But the good kind... Like mom used to make

What they mean when they say "sound byte politics"

This is the best this AP report on could do when quoting Bill Frist on the estate tax repeal:

"This death tax is unfair," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee.

That quotation just struck me as completely useless and infantile upon reading it. Not just the content of Frist's statement, but the fact that that was what the news media decided it would be best for us to hear as the Republicans' side of the story. If the US public is wary of Congress, perhaps it's because the portrait we get of them is one of imbecilic whiners. (I'm not saying that Frist isn't an imbecilic whiner, but you could at least give him a more flattering quotation. Furthermore, we also know that whatever he might have said about the estate tax is bunkum. If the public sees this, they too might more quickly and easily see its bunkumness.)

On the other hand, someone at CNN should be commended for including the full PDF file of Arlen Specter's letter to Cheney. I found this pretty fascinating, especially at the end when Specter rips into Cheney for all the executive privilege bullshit we've seen in the past few months. I've seen some liberal blogs lay into Specter for not pursuing the FISA matter enough, but in this instance it seems he was bamboozled by Cheney and Orrin Hatch. (And sweet Jesus, if you thought John Ashcroft's songs were ridiculous, I've got news for you--four dudes from Wash U aren't the only Hatch makin' music in the house.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bruce Fartlett

Beware, oh naive reader of -- for sometimes you may run across a generally absurd article and not recognize its source. Such a story happened to me this morning, when, reading this otherwise fascinating account of the 1898 race riots in Wilmington, NC. The article, well written and historically accurate, nonetheless seemed to place a rather substantial focus on the partisan aspects of the events: that the violence against blacks that day were committed by offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan, and all card carrying Democrats. The Klan was "essentially an arm of the Democratic Party," while one spokesman (not participant) for the "racist Democrats" "amzazingly ... remained a pillar of the national Democratic Party until his death in 1948." And at this point I stopped reading, read the title of the article -- "A Democratic Party Coup" -- saw the article's author, noted Republican (and Bush hater) Bruce Bartlett, and noted the publication, the conservative "Human Events Online."

I then threw up a little bit in my mouth. How silly of me to think I was just reading a fascinating little history. This was partisan history from hell (06/06/06 was the date of publication, of course). Here we had a serious attempt to link the Democratic Party of Reconstruction with the Democratic Party of Howard Dean (or whoever else is carrying on the current Democratic coup). I'm actually surprised we don't get more attempts by outrageous Republicans to smear the Democrats as the party of slavery. Thank God for Bruce Bartlett, though. There had to be someone out there willing to neglect the 100 year history of a national party's evolution, from Woodrow Wilson (who so many Republicans today are so fond of as the proto-Bush) to Lyndon Johnson (the guy that signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act) to Bill Clinton, while equally ignoring the history of the Republicans in the last 40 years and their "Southern Strategy."

In general, this kind of article makes me very nervous about the current rather tacit alliance of old-guard conservatives like Bartlett and liberals. A Bush hater though he may be, I agree with Bartlett like I agree with milk products: I can either sedate myself and swallow his message, or swallow his message and face the terrible consequences.


well, Americans may have perfected the craft, but Italians sure do know how to capitalize on a trend almost as ruthelessly as we do at home. There is da Vinci shit everywhere...I guarantee that within a couple months Ferragamo will be coming out with some line of clothing or accessories with the Vitruvian Man design all over it. To exit the Uffizi, you had to walk through 10 rooms themed with "the mind of da Vinci," after seeing all this incredible art, and then once you finally get out, there's this entire section of the gift shop with books like "Decoding daVinci", etc. We went to the Academie (sp?) after that....I tell you what, the David has a fiiiiine ass. That crazy nigga ain't even circumcised though! This was really cool though...I'm working on a research paper on a particular style of Roman copies of a Greek Aphrodite sculpture, and as I was walking down a hallway in the Uffizi, I looked up and right in front of me was one of the copies that I've been studying from a picture I found online. I was sure that the museum would have this statue locked up somewhere so I didn't even think to look for it, but it wasn't even encased...I just walked right up to it and could have touched it without anyone noticing.

I would put up a picture if I had my camera with me now, but there are these 2 week old farm kittens living behind our house and they are absurdly cute. They are all fluff and must weigh less than half a pound - I could probably hold two with one hand.

Robbie, the tritones are out of control with these European police cars all over the place.

Miss you to you soon.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

An extra little treat...

If you liked the video, here's the official sure to listen to the songs. The first one is the original. Website.

This is unbelievable

Alright, well the credit for finding this video goes to my brother, but you guys will not believe thought the "whistle goes woo wooooo" was ain't seen nothing yet. Watch this.

Right now I'm in Sienna, and this is the first internet cafe I've found because we're living out in the middle of a huuuuge 15th century villa that the owners suspect was owned by the Medicis, because their crest is on the side of the house...however, they probably only used it as a farmhouse because, you know, it's only about the size of the entirety of 6675 Washington Avenue. Ok, that's all for now....hope summer is treating you all well.

Ciao (ugh i hate it when people do that)

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Not that I ever post, but I'm off to Italy for two weeks of highly concentrated family time...maybe I'll put some pictures up here if I manage to get to an internet cafe. Ohhhhmygodohmygod I'm like going to the place where the Da Vinci Code like happens, you know? Mmmm Professor Robert Langdon is sooooo sexy!!!!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ever get this feeling...?

Usually it involves a new word or phrase. You learn the word--say, "shibboleth" for instance--and all of the sudden it's everywhere. Now, it's possible that you just never noticed it before, although you heard or read it many times, so it's impossible to know whether you're really seeing the word more now than before. But there are other interesting instances of this phenomenon, two of which happened to me personally very recently.

First, I picked up the excellent album And Don't the Kids Just Love It by the Television Personalities before embarking on a long road trip. Just two nights later, I'm sitting in a bar in Denton, TX, and lo and proverbially behold, the DJ plays "The World of Pauline Lewis" from that same record.

Then, just today, I was reading "A Capitalist Road to Communism" by Robert van der Veen and Philippe van Parijs, an article I printed from JStor before we left school because I'm a huge nerdpants. (And doesn't the University's free printing policy come in so handy for our intellectual stimulation, Austin-5000?) The authors basically introduce the idea of a Basic Income Grant (BIG) policy as a non-socialistic way to achieve communism. In the middle of reading this article, I took a break to check my email and the ol' internets in general. Over at Crooked Timber one of the commentators reviews Charles Murray's new book, In Our Hands, which leads to an excellent discussion in which selfsame commentator mentions BIGs and van Parijs himself, whom I had never heard of before today! All I'm sayin' is that coincidence is a mad weird thing, broheim.