Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Must Read

Everyone should read the following article from MSNBC:

Interesting details from Woodward's new book, State of Denial,that focuses on unbelieveable, heart-wrenching, gut-churning mismanagement within our current Administration.

1st Blogiversary!

My dear friends: today marks the one year anniversary since the lackluster first posts on this blog. I write today to celebrate this fact, and dedicate a few moments of my (and hopefully your) day to its consideration. But in a larger sense, I cannot now consecrate -- cannot now celebrate -- this blog. For it is you, my friends, fellow bloggers, readers, and commenters, who have already done so. Each time we take one another's thoughts seriously enough to consider them, to roll them around in our minds, to debate them, and each time we respect our friends’ minds enough to expose our opinions to them--it is these times when we truly celebrate the grandness that is Washav Huffy Crew. For it is obvious, if you read the posts I cite above, that this place is nothing if it is not a community of minds and opinions. Indeed, although I celebrate the blog's one year anniversary, its true essence and consciousness did not come into being until a month or two after its birth from the internet's digital womb. It is thus not any single writer's opinion or beautiful writing (despite the delicious prolificacy of some) that makes this blog worth reading and anyone who says so has not grasped the concept that we celebrate here. That concept--a cooperative pluralism--is what makes democracy, debate, and community worth while. If we continue to write in its celebration, I can guarantee that there shall never be a schism, with two separate concepts of washavism and washavaticism. Instead, this blog shall last a thousand years. Long live Washav! Long live Huffy Crew!

Friday, September 29, 2006

I thought I knew shit

I don't really believe in one-sentence posts, but are you fucking kidding me?

A kinder, gentler military dictatorship

Has anyone else found the recent reception of Pervez Musharraf (above, center) in the United States rather strange? Barring for a moment the bizarre sideshow of he and Hamid Karzai squabbling while Bush looks on smiling, Musharraf is also here promoting his book and appearing on the Daily Show. When Jon Stewart puts Musharraf in the "Seat of Heat," we all get a good chuckle out of him saying that both Bush and bin Laden would "lose miserably" in a Pakistani popular vote. Of course, the joke's on us and the Pakistani people: Bush and bin Laden can't possibly win, not when you're guaranteed to win every Pakistani election in the foreseeable future, you asshole. Truly a strange day when we shoot the shit with illegal usurpers of power.

Musharraf's book title, In the Line of Fire, is a source of endless amusement, if only because it could easily be subtitled In the Line of Fire, because after all I did Lead a Military Coup. Intrigued by the idea of a dictator writing a memoir, I have searched for other such books, but it seems they don't make 'em like they used to. I found a few good ones, though, especially Our Socialism Centered on the Masses Shall Not Perish by Kim Jong-Il. Does anyone know of any others?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sydney Poitier, Eat Your Heart Out!

There’s a trend in TV/TV commercials that I’ve been noticing for the past few years. This formula typically involves an good-looking, intelligent black man acting as the voice of authority/reason as he explains something to a dorky/stupid white guy. (I realize how taboo this topic might be, but please be smart and realize that I'm not racist. [This disclaimer is only meant for unique visitors to this blog])
Here are some examples of the trend that I’ve thought of in the past few minutes:
1. The Washington Mutual commercials where the young black banker explains the concept of free checking to the old, stupid, greedy white bankers. (In this commercial, there is one black guy and literally 20 old white bankers, all penned-up behind velvet rope like slaves. Hmmmm).
2. McDonalds commercials where a dopey looking white guy tries to give a black guy ‘five’, but the black guy doesn’t even acknowledge him (neither do his compadres), as they all realize, without even speaking to each other, that this dorky white guy just isn’t with-it.
3. The All-State commercials where this smart black man talks to the audience about car insurance, sounding like god himself.
4. A commercial where Tiki Barber (a black NFL running-back) charmingly persuades his unassuming white cable installer to get very excited about the NFL football package his company provides.
5. So many other commercials that take place in offices where the smart black employee explains something to the inept white guy (I swear they’re out there… Why don’t you believe me!?!?).

Hopefully, it doesn’t seem like I’m on some crazy tirade, because I am not. I bring up this idea because I wonder what has suddenly changed to cause this shift in media portrayal. Is it because the public’s perception of blacks has changed, or is it because some marketing gurus realized that hip-hop sells and have blindly lumped all black people into that category. Is it due to a backlash against the way black people have been portrayed in the media over the past many years, or is it because test audiences seem to somehow respond more positively to a smart black guy paired with a stupid white guy than any other combo? Do both blacks and white see blacks as cool and whites as uncool, or is this a label that one group places on the other/both groups?
I really do wonder…

Arts & Letters Daily Watch, pt. 2

I'm sensing a pattern here. It seems that when AL Daily wants to say something tacitly or not-so-tacitly inflammatory about Muslims, its editors turn to...Efraim Karsh. I suppose this article is "relevant" due to its discussions of Popegate, but it takes no pains to hide that it's an outright attack on all Muslims, not just extremist factions. (Karsh's hope, seemingly, is that one day after being fed enough of his propaganda I, too, will no longer make that distinction.)

As in the other article, a review of Karsh's book Islamic Imperialism, Karsh's tactic seems to be to set up a straw man, usually an "inaccurate" historian of Islamic history, quickly dismiss their views and proceed to paint a bigger picture, totally irrelevant to questions of 7th century history, about the "looming threat" we face today.

The sap this time around is Karen Armstrong, who is a "prominent representative" of the view, perpetuated by "Western apologists," that "dismiss[es] the worldwide wave of Islamic terrorism as an excessive reaction by misguided fringe groups to America's arrogant and self-serving foreign policy." In what way does the description "excessive reaction by misguided fringe groups" count as a defense or a dismissal? Even the President of the United States would only change this description to read "against America's freedom and way of life." In fact, only "misguided fringe groups" in America ascribe terrorist violence to all of Islam. Karsh doesn't take the time to list any other "apologists" like Armstrong, probably because hers is the view more or less agreed upon by almost everyone.

As in the other AL Daily-linked-to article, Karsh gives examples of Islamic imperialism from 1300 years ago as if this were pressing on the present, and with absolutely no mention of Western imperialism in the interim.

"Not only was the conquest of Spain, some 2,000 miles from the Arabian homeland, a straightforward act of imperial expansion, it hardly satisfied Islam's territorial ambitions. No sooner had the Muslims established themselves in that country than they invaded France in strength. Had they not been contained in 732 AD at the famous battle of Poitiers in west central France, they might well have swept deep into northern Europe."

Yes, brothers and sisters, we were that close to being assimilated by the swarthy people. Now, considering that this article purports to be perplexed about "Muslim rage" when it's not openly ascribing violence to Islam's "essence," Karsh could benefit from more recent history, specifically the invasion of Iraq by the United States. If the US attacks Iran as well, no army will have "famously" stopped America from "sweeping deep into the Middle East." (I think I can safely say we're already past that point anyway.)

The problem with being a bigot is that your words ring hollow, even when you're telling the truth. So when Karsh, describing instances of Muslim anti-Semitism, says "In these works they [the Jews] are portrayed as a deceitful, evil, and treacherous people who in their insatiable urge for domination would readily betray an ally and swindle a non-Jew," one is unfailingly struck by his blatant hypocrisy: if one simply replaces the word "non-Jew" with "non-Muslim" in the sentence above, you're left with Karsh's own description of the worldwide Muslim community.

"I couldn't agree more [that the Western and Muslim worlds should learn to tolerate and appreciate one another]," says Karsh. "Provided of course this is done in good faith and without rewriting the historical truth, let alone violently suppressing critical minds and dissenting voices." Yes, if we gloss over the entire history of the US's Mid-East foreign policy and the "suppression of dissent" in the form of 100,000 dead Iraqis, we too can start from the same enlightened first principles as this eminent scholar. If we ascribe the acts of stateless terrorists to over 1 billion peaceful religious practitioners, while ignoring the acts of aggression and threats from national governments--which are, in fact, supposed to represent the will of their citizens--we are well on our way to opening up dialogue.

And I still want to know why this chauvinist garbage is on Arts and Letters.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Jeremy Bentham's Auto-Icon: Really, really creepy

I'm reading some Bentham for my 'Justice' course, including his famous 'Critique of the Doctrine of Inalienable, Natural Rights,' in which he calls the phrase 'natural and impresriptible rights' 'nonsense on stilts.' I wanted to know Bentham's dates so I Wikipedia'd him (their dates: Nocember 34, 4012 to the third day after the nones of Februarius, 34 BC) and found this strange phenomenon. Apparently Bentham wanted his body preserved and kept on display at University College London (serious historical study here). The Auto-Icon contains Bentham's skeleton, padded with hay and dressed in a plain suit. The UCL history page says "both hands are present inside the gloves--the feet were not examined." Yes, quite... Bentham's friend Dr. Southwood Smith took care of the head; in his own words, "I endeavored to preserve the head untouched, merely drawing away the fluids by placing it under an air pump over sulphuric acid. By this means the head was rendered as hard as the skulls of the New Zealanders; but all expression was of course gone. Seeing this would not do for exhibition, I had a model made in wax." (Sheriff, perhaps someday I will have the pleasure, entrusted to me in your will, of slowly sucking the juices from your cranium.) The wax head sits atop the skeleton, screwed in with a spike. As you can see, its looks not unlike Benjamin Franklin. The aforementioned real head is at Bentham's feet; the eyes are made of marble. (According to legend, Bentham kept these same eyes in his pocket for the ten years up until his death.) The picture on display here is an old one, however; Bentham's skull has since been removed from the exhibit due to continual theft, usually perpetrated by students. Bentham's skeleton holds his signature cane, called 'Dapple.' (I suppose every man needs an ass to lean on...) The figure also seems to suffer from an extreme case of camel toe.

My only question is: What the hell does this have to do with the principle of utility?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Spreadin' this game like mustard...all over the world

Just so you all know, the site meter really warms my heart these days. Paris, Madrid, Cairo, New York, D.C., Stanford...Fuck yeah! We are--Huffy Crew International! Next stop, Bilderberg Conference.

To the Sheriff, re: Scimitar watch

From today's Victor Davis Hanson column:

"True, bin Laden’s mythical Volk doesn’t bath in the clear icy waters of the Rhine untouched by the filth of the Tiber; but rather they ride horses and slice the wind with their scimitars in service of a soon to be reborn majestic world of caliphs and mullahs."

Wherein we get the double whammy of the "Arab=Jew on horseback" scenario and the scimitar slicing.

From, about a "Jihad auto dealer commercial":

"The Council on American-Islamic Relations Sunday had complained publicly about plans for a commercial it said would have proclaimed a 'jihad' on the U.S. auto market, offering 'Fatwa Fridays' with sales representatives giving play swords to children."

This shit writes itself.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Initial thoughts on Arendt's On Revolution

I'm about half-way through Hannah Arendt's On Revolution, which is quickly proving to be an excellent book. It's got me thinking about several other good reads from this summer, particularly Walter Lippmann's Drift and Mastery, which I reviewed here. One of the main insights I picked up from Lippmann's book was that private gain, in the form of unfettered, "rugged individualistic" self-interest, can never be a replacement for cooperation and the public exchange of ideas. Thus he preemptively discredits, almost 80 years in advance, Reaganism and its "return" to small government, pro-business ideology. Arendt, like Lippmann, thinks that there is an inherent virtue in public participation, one that stands apart from narrow notions of private interest, rather than being a continuation of the latter. Indeed, "freedom" for her means "freedom to" be political, in a manner totally different from "freedom from" incursions on civil liberties. This she would call "liberation." There is another sort of liberation, "freedom from" necessity, or poverty, which she calls the "social question" and claims to have been the problem behind all radical revolutions, from the French to the Russian.

I think both Arendt and Lippmann are definitely on to something. As Robot rightfully noted back during our discussion of Lippmann, the latter is surprisingly for big business, that is, the trusts of the early 20th century. This would seem to contradict his democratic leanings, at least in our early 21st century minds, which (in my case at least) see a direct conflict between the power of the corporation and the power of the people. Not Lippmann, who saw opportunity for open and communicative practices in nearly every social and economic innovation of his time. In other words, he saw in the trusts the potential for democratic decision-making and the full participation of the working class, who hitherto had been a largely silent entity.

The extent to which things have not turned out to Lippmann's liking should be apparent to us; in fact, rampant big business (of a hierarchical order) and creeping bureaucracy more or less forced Lippmann to retract his early optimism and insist upon the guiding hand of "enlightened" technocrats. However, to return to Arendt: she and Lippmann share an enthusiasm not only for the freedom from harassment (if not from necessity), but for the freedom to participate. This, I think, has to be a fundamental aspect of democracy, if by democracy we mean something distinct from republican constitutionalism. (As an aside, Arendt offers the thesis that the founding fathers of the US always believed in this "freedom to" as well, but that later interpretations of their philosophy and of the Constitution have obscured this aspect and emphasized the "limited government, pro-private interest" picture.) For my own part, I think that any question of how to encourage this participation on a widespread level has to take into consideration the "social question" simultaneously, because participation has historically been limited to those who have the time and leisure to "afford" it. But here is my crucial point: there is no guarantee that alleviation of want, that is, a greater welfare state, will go hand in hand with greater participation. In fact, we can imagine a state of affairs in which all basic necessities are completely taken care of, but to the absolute detriment of political freedom; a situation which could hypothetically arise in an autocracy and which indeed seemed to be the case under Soviet Communism. I think this goes a long way in disproving "vulgar Marxist" conceptions of social revolution or complete collectivization of labor as being the only necessary condition for "true" freedom. In all cases, welfare remains a "freedom from" certain conditions and never a "freedom to" greater ideals. (This encompasses the problem of bureaucratization, which mid-century social commentators were not ignorant of.)

My ideal, then, shares some similarities with libertarianism (a curious connection I've noted before) or at least localism, but not the localism promoted by "compassionate conservatives," who usually encourage it for the purpose of winning the most reactionary social disputes (e.g. gay marriage) or promoting "faith-based initiatives" which cannot by themselves deal with the problems of healthcare and basic welfare. A true localilized governmental structure, under the aegis of "socialism" or "social democracy," would present citizens with opportunities to participate in legislative questions of all arenas, be they economic, municipal, educational, etc. Perhaps the federal government could duplicate this process but it would mean a restructuring of it away from the entrenched, oligarchic, money-driven form it has become--perhaps through stricter term limits, publicly funded elections, and so on.

These are half-finished notions with admittedly not much intellectual firmament behind them yet. Perhaps all that is needed to dispel them is a cursory reading of Isaiah Berlin's "Two Concepts of Liberty," which fervently opposes "positive freedom." Thoughts?

Pragmatism, Evolution and Faith

Having been released into the murky, intellectually questionable waters of the real world, I've recently come into visceral contact with a species whose existence has, in the last few years, been merely an intellectual concept: the evolution-denier. This contact, like any primordial experience, thrusts one into the moment--my pupils dilated, mouth dry, fists clenched, I drop into a crouch and reach for my gun, only to realize that I pawned it away in a moment of naivete. Pitifully attempted poetics aside, I have recently been forced into a reevaluation of my stance in the evolution debate. It is not that I have begun to question that evolution occurred, or that it's the best possible explanation of the current situation vis-a-vis life on earth (how could a thinking god have created dull zionists from the University of Florida?). Instead, I'm asking myself why I engage in the same old evolution argument at all. I've been yelling at dumb-ass creationists for years, at least since summer camp '96, when I earned the rather dubious nickname of "Fishboy", and I have not convinced one creationist to lay down her superstions.
Enter pragmatic epistemology, which (according to my simple and rather uninformed interpretation) demands that we value an idea on the basis of its practical value. At first glance, the idea of evolution, or its existence in the minds of our populace, has significant day-to-day: consider advances that the evolutoinary perspective has yielded in psychology, biology, medicine, pharmacology, neuroscience, etc.
But the benefit that life science reaps from evolution can't justify my arguments with co-workers and others. It seems that only an ideological or aesthetic explanation will do; a narrow, unaesthetic pragmatism would have to sit this round out. Alternatively, we could embrace a less banausic and self-serving pragmatism in favor of one with a society's-eye-view, as I believe that any true believer would. Human beings have evolved with a need to share common beliefs with others around them because disagreements on these kinds of issues can indicate that other, more dangerous disagreements may be lurking.
So what exactly is the point of these arguments? The answer gets to the origins(Ursprungen!) of pragmatism itself--pragmatism does well on this issue probably because its roots are so closely tied into darwinism. Peirce defined pragmatism as "faith in reason"; belief in evolution can easily be seen as that faith in practice. Challenging evolution is not challenging the facts; instead, it is challenging the very method that pragmatism embodies. Thus an ideological response in this area is the only one that can be expected, precisely because it is the only thing that pragmatism is ideological about.
This leads me to a further point. Local politics is often praised by intellectuals, although I've never been sure why. Instead, I choose to praise local social interaction, of the kind that Tocqueville noticed. This is the kind of interaction that is not political because it does not involve exerting force over others (in the traditional definition of force). Instead, it requires that you demand an account from others of their ideas.
But there's another reason that this social interaction should not be called politics, namely that it does not require universalism or altruism. Rather, it demands only a firm conviction that you are right and the desire to convince others of this fact. And that, my friends, is something I, at least, have plenty of.

"Lumping together," on the Right and the Left

Political Theory Daily Review, with its tendency to group together several articles all concerning the same subject, makes this sort of post all the more likely, since it (helpfully) allows problems and topics to emerge that would not otherwise be readily apparent in scattered, dispersed articles. In this week's weekend edition, two back-to-back articles, this book review at National Review Online (I know, I know, I can't get enough of these guys) and this review of David Mamet's startling new book at the Jewish Daily Forward, brought this troublesome trope to my attention: the stereotype of the "self-hating Jew." I will touch upon this subject briefly before exploring what I think were the greater problems inherent in these articles, and then relating those problems to similar instances on the Left.

To speak very briefly about the "self-hating Jew" trope, we see it called to use in the National Review article primarily as a means of discrediting Jewish intellectuals who criticize Israeli policy. Furthermore, the author Emanuele Ottolenghi says, the "self-hating Jew" often wittingly or unwittingly perpetuates anti-Jewish stereotypes among anti-Semites, including notions of "blood libel" and the "wandering Jew." The problem with this strategy, it seems to me, is that it itself relies upon a stereotype, precisely that of the "self-hating Jew." "The phenomenon of self-hatred among Jews is not new," says Ottolenghi. "Jewish self-loathing," says Mamet, "will not be overcome by revelation...only habit will suffice." Admittedly, there are two different strategies at work here. Ottolenghi wishes to discredit "self-hating Jews" by showing that they are not really Jews at all, i.e. that their claims to be taking part in a "self-critical tradition" in Judaisim are hypocritical. Mamet, on the other hand, wishes to say that "self-hating Jews" (by which he seems to mean any that are remotely secular or independent-minded) are the worst sorts of "turncoats," "neurotics," and "Epicureans," who have no claim to legitimacy because they don't conform to what Jews "must be," seemingly by inherent (racial?) definition. In both cases, however, we are presented a "type" of Jew, easily recognizable, who seeks to "subvert" and "undermine" his or her society owing to some inherent flaw, that is, the "eternal" problem of Jewish self-hatred. Does anyone else find this, um, problematic?

My second, but primary, topic is that of "lumping together." Obviously, both articles are rife with this tendency, as Ottolenghi wants to show how Jews who are critical of Israel are no better than the most disgusting, racist anti-Semites and Mamet says (even more extremely, I think) that Jews who favor a two-state solution seek "the end of Israel." Leaving aside for a moment the question that is constantly begged throughout Ottolenghi's article, namely "Is Jewish criticism of Israel even possible for you?", we see in these instances a tactic that has been utilized extensively by the American Right over the past few years, that of equating one's critics with one's enemies. Of course this is not a new thing, but I find the current escalation of its use in American discourse probably the most disturbing instance of it since McCarthyism. It has come to the point where a millionaire businessman like Ned Lamont, a beneficiary of the American system if there ever was one, "encourages al-Qaeda types," according to the Vice President.

This is hardly a centrist call for brotherly love, because I can guarantee that I hold opinions far more radical than those of Ned Lamont. The point is that if he is a terrorist appeaser, I am practically a terrorist in the minds of these people. Indeed, anyone who is against the Iraq War in principle, as opposed to holding to the ridiculous propagandistic line that it is a "noble effort gone wrong," can expect this kind of reception. One has to accept the "civilizing mission tragically ruined" canard in order to enter into the "acceptable" terms of "dialogue" about Iraq, insofar as dialogue is allowed at all. turn the tables a little bit. The subject line says "on the Right and the Left," after all, so this is where I make my "responsible" criticisms of what I see as excesses by the other side. But seriously, the flip side of "lumping" together your critics and your enemies is lumping together your friends and your opponents. In that regard, how are we to take statements such as Judith Butler's that "Hezbollah and Hamas are part of the global left"? Or the regular Hezbollah flag-waving over at left-wing blogs like Lenin's Tomb? Or pronunciations at rallies that "We are all Hezbollah" and the like? Of course, stray comments by bloggers and academics can in no way compare to the power wielded by the United States government, but insofar as we think that anti-war movements are important, and that they can effect real change, we want to get our alliances right. And I should state right off the bat (not that it really matters to anyone) that I do not consider Hamas part of the "global left."

I realize this may sound like similar statements from members of the "decent left" who end up acting more or less as mouthpieces for Bush and Blair (Christopher Hitchens, anyone?). But in all seriousness, where does one go from here? Is there a viable (left, progressive) alternative at this point both to the odious policies of the United States and the equally disturbing prospect of societies based on fundamentalist religious law? Feel free to castigate me if I have misframed the question or if I am leaving out some important consideration.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

If you see da police...

I have an incredibly wealthy "old southern money" friend who is turning 21 next Saturday. This girl has literally everything she could ever want and more, and I have been racking my brain trying to come up with a good present to give her that's not as expensive as a Marc Jacobs shirt, but not as lame as an iTunes gift certificate. I'm going home next weekend to accompany her and some others to the Rolling Stones concert, so it's getting down to the wire. Finally, tonight, the idea for the perfect gift hit me. I can't take full credit for the idea, as Scantron was the first to introduce us all to this little cultural gem, but check out what I got:

click here

I think I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that this is at least one thing that my friend does not have. peace my brothas.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thoughts on Kwai

Tonight, I rechristened my love of David Lean movies by watching the first thirty-seven minutes of Bridge On the River Kwai. A scene at the beginning of the movie, the significance of which I missed the first time I saw it, struck me this evening as not only central to the themes of the film (law, will, honor) but as a sort of parable for a changing world. Kwai came out in 1957 but was made several years prior; it's set during WWII in a POW camp in Burma and follows a brigade of British soldiers, led by Alec Guinness, who had been ordered by higher-ups to surrender to the Japanese. The British are ordered to build a bridge, and this sets the film in motion. The scene I have in mind takes place during the brigade's first night at the camp: the British officers have gathered, along with an American major posing as a Naval officer, to discuss their predicament and the possibility of escape. When the American learns that Guinness intends to fulfill the command of his general by ordering his men to remain in the camp, he protests - "But this is not a civilized place," to which Guinness responds, "Then we shall have to introduce civilization here." He then argues that the only way for the men to remain soldiers is by obeying the letter of the law, and their officers, or risk becoming lawless slaves. "I'm just a slave, only a slave," responds the American, who later escapes.

Sherief and I agree, I think, with the opinion of Hardt, Negri, and others, that the characteristic shift in American thought and politics during the course of the past half-decade has been from imperialism to empire. Certainly we are not so far out of the mainstream in our thinking. This shift is writ large in Kwai, in which it is the American (no surprise) who, following no law but that of his own skin, leads to the downfall of the bridge project and to Guinness' death. There is something so consummately imperialistic (not imperial) about Guinness' civilizing ambition and fidelity to military code - and especially so, given that he is a prisoner of war, a citizen of the camp, the nightmare situation of our own imperial time. It is, I think, a shock to see this British unit march whistling into a POW camp as if through friendly territory. In our present situation, one cannot imagine this scenario - reasoned discourse between two commanding officers, one prisoner, the other captor. We are of another era entirely: for us, the notion of diplomacy with enemies of the United States has become, it seems, unacceptable, while the horizon of our politics has undergone the shift proper to empire, such that we now speak of a world in which there can be no enemies. This is, to be sure, the world of the American poseur, who kills, lies, and fights for bare life without concern for the law.

In giving up the trappings of imperialism - distinctions based upon the binary civilized/savage - have we acceeded to empire? And if we cannot go back, how can we relate to our enemies without making of them the Other of human rights, whose skin is best maintained under the auspicies of empire? Is it that we must have human enemies who are nevertheless enemies? This is, I think, one of the movie's lessons. Kwai ends famously, with the destruction of the bridge and with the death of its creator, Guinness, who, turning to look upon his accomplishment with horror (realizing that in carrying out his orders he has aided the efforts of the Japanese), utters a stunned "What have I done?" and collapses upon the detanator, causing a very dramatic explosion to be had.

If empire is our lot, I can't help but think that to have survived its downfall, or made arrangements to carry on without it, is the best we can strive for. And whether they realize it or not, this is what lies at the end of Hardt and Negri, Deleuze and Guattari, and even Badiou: the way out of empire is to think after empire, to conceive of the carrying-on of politics beyond the assurances of our age. And this I find frightening indeed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful.

Dear Huffy Crewers,

Consider this a sort of shoddy virtual postcard from sunny Palo Alto, CA. I'm much pleased to announce that the move-in went well, the accomodations are excellent, and Hoover Tower is suitably phallus-like (see above--I'm sure VD Hanson is proud). The palm trees are a trip and I keep thinking every guy over sixty with white hair and a paunch is Richard Rorty. I arrived at the student ID center today with wind-blown hair (bicycle in full effect, yo) and ended up looking rather Wittgensteinian. For those who were fans of my '95 Toyota Camry, crappy antenna and all, it will sadden you to know that the ol' gal broke down shortly after reaching the Pacific ocean--2000 miles from home. I guess it was always her dream to see the sea. She's now in San Luis Obispo at the Toyota dealership, and we're all keeping our fingers crossed as to the outcome.

For dorks who are interested, my courses (which start Monday!) are looking like Latin Survey, Latin Prose Comp, the "Semantics of Grammar" (mysterious...), Homeric Religion, and possibly a course in Political Science simply called "Justice." (Can you say Rawls vs. Nozick vs. Milton Friedman? Now can you say AWESOME!!!? God, this shit's so impractical in the real world; I love it.)

I've been out of the loop for a few days, but I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about Popegate and the Thai Coup later. (Did you know, for starters, that the Prime Minister of Thailand's party is roughly translated "Thais love Thais"? How sweet is that?) Much love, sisters and brothers.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Swingandamiss, strike two!

There's the choicest subtitle of sorts to the Guardian's most recent article on Popegate '06

"Apology offends Jews"

You can't please all of the people all of the time, but this guy can't even please some of the people none of the time.

also... "The Vatican took the unusual step of translating the papal apology into French and English for the press"
This is obviously to quell the St. Louis and Dearborn riots.

The scary question we must ask is: have we gone back to conspiring "warrior popes"? Is the Rat really just bringing about the clash between "violence" and "reason" that he himself is fabricating in his speeches? Does he have his eyes on recapturing Constantinople and the Holy Lands for the good people of the Clash of Civilizations??

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm realizing shit all the time, you know

So I passed by a Cairo TGI Friday's tonight. Just before you issue a collective groan in anticipation, this post has nothing to do with critique/anticapitalism. I was just thinking that the "sabbath," if you will, of the Muslims is on Fridays. This gives the glib name of the family restaurant new significance perhaps. "Yes, brother, thank God indeed that it is Friday..."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Culture Shock and Awe II

I'm sitting in a McDonald's in Cairo because it was the closest/only place I could find with Wi-Fi. There are three Germans talking to a vieled woman in German beside me, it's about midnight but there were just children wide awake for dinner behind me, and there's arabic hip-hop playing on the sound system. At least I didn't order the Mc Arabia (Two kofta "patties," tahini lettuce and onions on pita), right? There's a conversation in front of me taking place in sign language.

This is not reality, I must be asleep. This is not my dream though, I have entered Tom Friedman's wet dream--

I'm cringing in anticipation of the climax.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

If this were 2003...

This would absolutely, positively, without a doubt mean we were going to war with Iran.

But it's 2006, and there's a sliver of a chance that history has taught this administration something. Maybe.

Bush's speech today reads almost exactly like his warmongering against Iraq in 2003--just substitute "Iran" for "Iraq." There's the painful recollections of 9/11, the dubious connecting of dots between al-Qaeda and other Middle East regimes we happen not to like, the threat of nuclear weapons, and talk of "continuing to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution," the subtle, unilateral undertones of which we already know too well.

There's absolutely no hint of a suggestion that Iraq is going badly. Instead, Iraq has been "transformed into an ally in the war on terror," and "millions of Shia [in Iraq] have defied terrorist threats to vote in free elections, and have shown their desire to live in freedom," even though a million marched in the streets to defend Hezbollah and Nasrallah, and Nuri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, is a member of the Dawa Party, which has historically been a radical Shiite militant group supportive of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. With friends like these...

The segments about Iran are astonishing in their implications. Shia terrorists are "just as dangerous, and just as hostile to America, and just as determined to establish its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East." Even more forceful: "The Shia extremists have achieved something that al Qaeda has so far failed to do: In 1979, they took control of a major power, the nation of Iran, subjugating its proud people to a regime of tyranny, and using that nation's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue their radical agenda." So, a regime that we have sustained rocky but ultimately bloodless relations with for almost 27 years has now outdone even al-Qaeda in its fiendishness? I would think that whatever Iran has done, they have "failed to do" (as if they ever planned it) what al-Qaeda has most certainly accomplished: executed a terrorist attack on American soil. In Bush's words, however, Iran is "attacking Israel and America by proxy" by funding Hezbollah. That all adds up to this: "The Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies have demonstrated their willingness to kill Americans -- and now the Iranian regime is pursuing nuclear weapons." Can anyone say "Cobra III"?

I was not able to listen to the speech, but the written version of it, from the looks of it, is rhetorically brilliant. Which is to say: It certainly says all the right things, but skimps heavily on strategy. It has everything to make commentators at the National Review get all happy in their pants: Historical allusions to the Nazis. (And Lenin this time! Namely, "What is to be Done?") Heavy emphasis on scary Islamic concepts like "global caliphate." Refusal to "appease" or "negotiate" with terrorists. A sneering suspicion of the media. (I.e. the terrorists will wage a "media war" in which they try to deceive Americans into abandoning the Bush government. Don't fall for it, citizens! Be ever vigilant!) A smiling nod at the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. Manichean depictions of the armies of light and darkness lining up across the battlefield of the Middle East.

But as I mentioned, a big speech on ideas is not the same thing as a speech of big ideas. The "five points" from the new "National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism" retread old ground. The plentiful bin Laden, Zawahiri, Nasrallah, and Ahmadinejad quotes provide some flavor but point to nothing we didn't already know. The only really important question is what the Bush team is trying to do with Iran. They have seriously exaggerated its threat, which should not surprise us, but they do so now at the risk of repeating the Iraq mistake. I can't imagine the public could be seriously swayed to undertaking another war, although public opinion ultimately matters little, or only to the extent to which it can be manipulated into believing certain connections exist. I don't want to underplay the amount of serious conversation that must be taking place right now concerning attacking Iran. No doubt it's a very real and very precarious argument among the White House's best and brightest. At least in this case there must be more thought being given to the fact that Iran poses no real threat at present. In the case of Iraq, of course it didn't matter at the end of the day whether Saddam still had weapons or not, but if we had happened to find some, we would have been "heroes;" if we didn't find any, well, "all the intelligence pointed to it." Iran would be the first truly pre-emptive strike of the Bush Doctrine.

The other major point I would mention is that while Bush & Co. are having a blast painting everyone they don't like with the simplistic "just as bad as al-Qaeda" brush, the actual situation is patently confusing as hell to anyone who takes two seconds to examine it. As I mentioned above, Iraq has a Prime Minister that for all intents and purposes has a history of Iranian Shiite sympathies, and the Shiite majority of Iraq overwhelmingly supports Hezbollah. So, the democratic, voting majority of one of our democratic pet projects has a thing for a political party of one of our other petri-dish experiments (Lebanon), but we label that point of mutual interest a "terrorist group." Also, there is absolutely no mention of Palestine, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, the first of which also suffers from that paradox that stupefies the Bush team, the combination of democracy and the election of "terrorist" groups (Hamas). Egypt and Saudi Arabia remain our buddies, despite their own histories of rights abuses, as well as the fact that Saudi Arabia contributed the most terrorists to the Sept 11 plot and continues to produce the most homegrown terrorists.

The simple answer is that Egypt and Saudi Arabia do our bidding and welcome our capital investments. Iraq and Iran were/are regimes that most certainly do not want us dipping into their oil supplies. It's an old and hackneyed explanation for Bush administration critics, but it makes the most "big tent" sense. In any case, it's undeniable that American economic interests and all the pacifying perqs they bring drive a significant portion of our foreign policy and form the basis for the neoconservative vision of the American empire outlined by the Project for the New American Century.