Tuesday, May 31, 2005
american torture reviewed
The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the “war on terror” continued to make a mockery of President George Bush’s claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security.moreover, the growing confluence of the war on terror with its counterpart war of ideology, the war on drugs, led amnesty to comment on an increasing appearance of totalitarianism in the americas.
President Bush’s refusal to apply the Geneva Conventions to those captured during the international armed conflict in Afghanistan and transferred to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was challenged by a judicial decision in November. The ruling resulted in the suspension of trials by military commission in Guantánamo, and the government immediately lodged an appeal. The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to "disappearance".
The "war on terror" and the "war on drugs" increasingly merged, and dominated US relations with Latin America and the Caribbean. Following the US elections in November, the Bush administration encouraged governments in the region to give a greater role to the military in public order and internal security operations. The blurring of military and police roles resulted in governments such as those in Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay deploying military forces to deal with crime and social unrest.the administration, for its part, expressed reaction ranging from the dismissive to the outraged (what an objective observer would have to say is a continuation of the public denial of quietly-pursued objectives) while repeating again the religious, demagogic assertion that america is the global repository of freedom -- to the point of assuming that trademark of idealistic propaganda, embarassing nonfactual hyperbole.
The US doubled the ceiling on the number of US personnel deployed in Colombia in counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics operations. The Colombian government in turn persisted in redefining the country’s 40-year internal conflict as part of the international "war on terror".
"I think the fact of the matter is the United States has done more to advance the cause of freedom, has liberated more people from tyranny over the course of the 20th century and up to the present day than any other nation in the history of the world," Cheney said.the credibility gap widens with such statements, i'm afraid, as the administration appears to be taking refuge from very difficult facts in denial and ideological fantasy.
amnesty's report sticks to what has happened, and doesn't include (as far as i have read) a discussion on the political dialogue, which turned very black indeed for human rights activists as the white house openly discussed death squads while its backers became apologists and even cheerleaders as the scale of american indecency became clear.
the sort of abandonment of the standards of civility reviewed here -- continuously documented not only by amnesty but human rights watch and the international red cross -- is, as i've long argued, counterproductive to facilitating a safe, free and meaningful society.
the european union will continue to function under its existing law. what exactly the vote meant and what the electorate was trying to say is subject to much speculation, however. widespread belief is that the no vote spoke not only against the constitution, which was the actual object of the plebiscite, but also the entire liberal vision of the brussels political elite of a common (if far from laissez-faire) market and even european integration itself -- particularly against turkey and eastern europe, states that many see as unmanagable, poor and prone to american imperial influence. economic difficulty in france is also believed to have played a role, as it has for schroder in germany, as many have come to believe europe to be a retraction of the national social safety net without any accompanying economic vitality.
The problem for Europe's leaders is that French voters have not just rejected a treaty but the very basis of what the EU has become: a machine for opening markets and extending Europe's borders to the east.alain juppe, quoted in the economist, summed up the french mindset:
"The problem is that the French, constitution or not, no longer see the European Union as a construction that brings them progress and security in a world full of menace."market fears outline not simply liberal economic policy setbacks but a concern for european integrity in the face of nationalist particularities.
"It is another sign that Europe is on a slippery slope towards more disintegration and less stability," said Joachim Fels, economist at Morgan Stanley. The risk of the eurozone breaking up had increased, Mr Fels added, although such a scenario remained unlikely.i myself have said repeatedly that european integration is a centuries-old dream that has remained unrealized despite a hundred ambitious attempts, from charlemagne to barbarossa to the habsburgs to napoleon to bismarck and hitler. failure would not be surprising, especially in an age of pervasive decadence.
one of the grave difficulties of democracy is the unreasoned vaccilations of popular will. electorates are crowds -- and crowds are, after all, panicky herds of animals who can behave in the most irrational and self-defeating fashion. for all the searching for the meaning in the vote -- and there is some meaning -- what goes uncommented upon is the truth that some significant aspect of the vote may have little rational definition at all. it may be instead a vote for selfish particularism in the face of what could help european peoples remain economically, socially and politically vital (or even relevant). much of the west is in a long process of rejecting the old institutions -- the catholic church, the aristocracy, the nation-state, even the family -- for emancipation from authority in favor of maximum individual autonomy. the rejection of an organized europe can be seen to be just another articulation of that romantic sentiment -- the same that rules american minds in the discussion of social security.
however, one must also say that the european union solution was a longshot from the start in rome 1957. the spontaneous creation of institutions of wide authority by fiat is always an extremely difficult and often very dangerous solution to any problem. the most effective institutions i can recall all survived by chance a perilous initiation to be crafted organically by necessity, experience and time. most such plans are destroyed in the early going by the course of events. that course is made all the more difficult by the direct involvement of the people.
Friday, May 27, 2005
it must be said that the side i follow has won the champions league in dashing style yesterday, coming back from 3-0 at the half to force a shootout -- whereupon jerzy dudek, having saved the team in extra time, mounted a colossal effort to secure victory.
it was, without hyperbole, one of the great big-stage matches ever played. gerrard is, if not the greatest, one of the greatest midfielders alive -- and his quality showed throughout the incredible second half, netting one and securing the crucial penalty with his phantasmagorical play against a world-class side in ac milan.
an explanation, part ii
the german state of mind at the fin de siecle isn't hard to conceive for a postmodern man -- we hold it. the ideas that are common to the modern world -- struggle as strength, strength as will, will as experience, experience as virtue, virtue as not social nor merely ethical but spiritual, individual freedom. very little about the modern mindset thinks good of law, government or tradition, which are almost universally held in contempt as the implements of oppression or tyranny. this was the basis of the romantic impulse from the time of herder, hamann and goethe -- to throw off the burden of a society which demanded responsibility for a perfect spiritual isolation.
how it came to be our mindset it the story of the first world war.
the artist had led society in this development, as they virtually always do. movements are a confluence of flows, of course, but the modern age could be said to be born in art in 1913, with the premiere of stravinsky's ballet, le sacre du printemps (the rite of spring). the composer collaborated with diaghilev and the dancer/choreographer nijinsky, whose dynamic ballets russes had taken europe by storm in 1910. nijinsky's choreography to debussy's music in le apres-midi d'un faune had been utterly shocking to civilized parisians that year -- complete with a masturbatory scene, capturing both the unlimited personal expression and the desire to shock inherent in the new modern ethic. indeed, as we have seen, this desire is rooted in the philosophy of nietzsche -- of which all the moderns, including stravinsky, diaghilev and nijinsky, were adorers -- which praised the intensity of experience as the highest virtue.
le sacre went farther. nijinsky threw away all traditional concepts of beauty in dance. smoothness was destroyed for angularity, harmony for dissonance in both dance and music. overt sexuality dominated. for the audience of paris -- themselves becoming more and more a part of the performance of the ballets russes as the art encouraged surprise and emotional overload -- the shock and energy were too much, and the performance was staged as the crowd rioted.
in the immediate aftermath of the war, stravinsky's ballet would be widely seen for the modern masterwork it is. but the mindset of paris -- indeed, the west -- changed radically to accommodate that view. it is much harder for us to adopt the mindset of a parisian or londoner of this period. tradition, authority, law, morality, society -- above all, the selfless execution of one's duty to others -- represented the highest aspirations. artists, though admired and encouraged, were also feared and reviled as loose cannons. self-expression was generally disdained, as time-honored manner and procedure were seen to ensure the smooth operation of civilization and allow the whole to attain desirable goals. the point of living was to behave in an honorable way, a sporting way, to remain unflappable and poised despite all that may come, so as to ensure the continued peace and tolerance of a god-fearing civilization. to do otherwise was to entertain barbarity.
however, there was also an awareness of the age and increasing difficulty of civility in adapting to change. decadence was a topic much discussed in intellectual and popular circles alike. melancholy was the general mood of the waning years of the 19th c, as the explosion of the impressionism gave way to expressionism and cubism, leaving art less and less relevant as social commentary and fuelling a sense of confusion and aimlessness. tremendous advances in german industrialization, technology and urbanization in conjunction with a thoroughly modern philosophy were observed with resignation. an undercurrent of doom began to rear in art, particularly in the poetry of thomas hardy and others.
the systematic and materialist philosophy of western civilization represented all that the german romantics hated. duty had little analogue in german kultur, where experience and self-expression were seen as paths to an superior existence. conversely, germanic thought was considered barbaric, provincial and undisciplined in the centers of high western civility. the conflict of world conceptions ultimately became the driving force in the war, well after any archduke or trade dispute was forgotten, prolonging it beyond endurance. one side considered itself engaged in a predestined darwinian struggle to manifest the german world-soul which could not be lost, while the other fought for nothing less than the preservation of civilization itself -- against exactly what had been seen in le sacre and the ballets russes.
great euphoria, even a sense of relief accompanied the declarations of war in 1914, particularly in germany, where the national destiny was seen to be at hand. most expected a war something like the napoleonic wars -- armies in movement, meeting on open battlefields. few understood how technology had changed; those who did frequently misconceived the consequences -- the machine gun was seen before the war to be a powerful offensive weapon, for example. indeed, there was nothing in the experience of civilization prior to the war that prepared it in any way for what had just befallen it.
the story of the war, taken from fussell's brilliant "the great war and modern memory", has been laid out here before: 1914 -- 1915 -- 1916 -- 1917 -- 1918. furious maneuvering in the opening months yielded a stalemate, with both sides entrenching in flanders by october 1914. the full horror of attrition in a war of efficiency had stretched ghastly wings over europe by 1915.
the war quickly grew so entirely appalling to its participants that a sort of wide-eyed shellshock can be said to have set in throughout civilization. the scale of the effort was utterly incomprehensible as industry mobilized for total war -- the battles were the largest ever fought in the history of man, with dead and wounded to match. abstraction quickly proved the only useful tool of comprehension, irony the only tool of conversation, and the shattered and frightened were forced to resort to mere sentimentality to avoid madness. fussell:
the need for a stiffening of (british) home-front morale at the beginning of 1916 can be gauged by the poet laureate's issuing in january an anthology of uplifting literary passages of a neo-platonic tendency titled the spirit of man. such was the military situation, robert bridges implied in his introduction, that "we can turn to seek comfort only in the quiet confidence of our souls." we will thus "look instinctively to the seers and poets of mankind, whose sayings are the oracles and prophecies of loveliness and lovingkindness." the news from belgium and france, not to mention turkey, was making it more and more necessary to insist, as bridges does, that "man is a spiritual being, and the proper work of his mind is to interpret the world according to his higher nature...." such an outlook is now indispensable, for we are confronted with "a grief that is intolerable constantly to face, nay impossible to face without that trust in god which makes all things possible."reality had become so horrifying, so ghoulish -- the rape of civilization -- as to be truly beyond belief in a way that many desensitized postmoderns probably cannot conceive. faced with a situation so absurd and shocking (the ultimate expression of modern art, many ruefully observed) droves -- entire classes -- intellectual, bourgeois, proletarian -- first began to back away from reality, eventually to turn and flee at full metaphysical speed. as the war effort just kept from falling apart on both sides, the influenza of 1918-19 struck as if from the fields of the dead and rotting to bring the devastation home to the civilians with flourish.
the rejection of horrible reality quickly adapted to the implements available to it. language describing events beyond willing comprehension deteriorated to euphemism. unthinkable news was substituted by propaganda. contemplation of matters too terrible to comprehend yielded to a widespread numbness and disengagement. earnestness collapsed into irony. society and faith in something larger gave way to alienation and despair. the western psyche, forsaking the outward, turned inward -- to the self, to the abstract, to the ideal, to the fantastic.
the war echoes in our society even now by our continued devotion to these instruments of subjective isolation, by which we create our own realities in favor of external truth -- indeed, the age of mass ideology began in the war and has not dissipated. they soon became the tools of a second outbreak of global war, which most germans -- having in defeat fallen into a state of wild denial, knowing as they did that the german racial-world-spirit would lead them to glory and ecstasy -- believed to be predestined from the very end of the first war. indeed, the nazi party was founded in 1920.
germany would lose that war as well, of course -- but the idealism, individualism, nihilism and subjectivity of the german worldview rose victorious and unchallenged throughout the west.
st. simeon stylites
Thursday, May 26, 2005
an explanation, part i
to start: i am a profoundly conservative person -- much more than you are, if i read your blog correctly. i fully agree with you that idealism is one of the primary questions of the age. however, its answer and its influence on modern society was decided long ago -- long before you and i were born.
idealism was originally the province of men like rousseau, herder, hamann and kant. when hume destroyed the precepts of the encyclopedists with his brilliant observations on causality, he made clear that the fundamental underpinnings of science -- that cause leads to effect -- was wrong, or at least impossible to know. this observation became the dagger in empiricism, a blow from which it never recovered, and spawned german idealism. faith, not experiment, was seen to be the basis of all things.
kant applied hume's observation, in his "critique of pure reason", to assert that causation existed because all objects exist in the mind. this profound refutation of an external world that could be considered real -- and, as substitute, the advocacy of a world which was only idea and intensely introverted and transcendental -- became the basis for all idealism afterward.
hamann applied hume's observation, intended only to reduce causality to probability in the observable, to pauline faith in the unseen, sparking a rebellion from the enlightenment of voltaire and diderot. hamann rejected the classification and systematic outlook on the world embodied by science, observing that the particularity and strangeness of the world was smoothed or ignored by it. hamann, a pietist, particularly detested this as it was applied to men -- no two of god's souls being the same.
hamann explicitly rejected the observable, empirical world of laws and systems which could be the shared basis of a common understanding -- and put primary the individual human soul. this inward impulse -- the dionysiac, as opposed to the apollonian; the metaphysical, as opposed to the physical; the poetic, as opposed to the scientific -- was championed and popularized by goethe (and much ridiculed by french enlightened), becoming the foundation for romanticism.
i reject this! i reject this inward turn, because in my age it has become the dominant feature of human personality, and it is inherently destructive. herder shouted to his critics, "i am not here to think, but to be, to feel, to live!" the force of his words echo in every postmodern assertion of "i want" and "i need". this focus on individual experience as the root of virtue has led western man to the verge of rejecting law -- and law is the basis, the necessary condition of civility.
freedom within law is a powerful force for social improvement. the very point of the english empirical movement -- locke, berkeley, hume -- was to free man from the "interested error" of corrupted traditions, but to do so under the moral law of god and within the institutions and traditions of western civilization.
hamann rejected law as the tool of oppression. better, he thought, to live in wild isolation than to submit an ounce of experience to compromise. hamann was a radical in his day, but this manner of decadent self-indulgence -- which is societal collapse -- has become massively widespread since.
hegel attempted to reconcile, in his way, the primary nature of the individual experience with the systemic philosophical approach of the french cartesian school in dialecticism and deduced an objective "world spirit" which linked all mankind. he became the most prominent german idealist of the age. in the end, he accomplished the fusion of society with the individual in the concept of a national spirit of history, which conflated individual reconciliation with the world with the glory of the nation.
german idealism reached, in the late 19th c, its apotheosis in nietzsche. compromise became simply unacceptable in any form, and was ridiculed wherever he found it. god was dead, he said, and the church simply a coercive weight on man's freedom that must be destroyed; of the nation, he felt the same. all of an individual's activity, thought nietzsche, should be focused on the self -- self-improvement, self-esteem, self-consciousness. the intensity of experience was paramount -- good and bad being oppressive social concepts he rejected, experiencing intense evil was of the same virtue as intense good. nietzsche rejected any concept of a common good. there is only individual will, and those of powerful will become heroes -- inflicting their will on the world, creating experience even in destruction, enhancing life even in death. nietzsche eventually went insane.
what use of all this? the development of german idealism turns out to have had earth-shattering consequences in the realm of human affairs. kantian philosophy swept the intelligensia and leadership of the 18th c into the cult of the self, and romanticism became the primary focus of education, politics and development in germany. britain, the repository of lockean empiricism and tolerance, and france -- which, despite its contribution to individualism in rousseau which was manifested in the french revolution under the jacobins, retained its devotion to the system and order of voltaire and the encyclopedists -- continued to resist romantic selfishness for the institutions they had built to ensure civil order on a large scale. but germany -- being then divided into a thousand small provinces, only loosely affiliated and with no collective national history -- had no such institutional linage to protect it.
with the rise of prussia under bismarck, the german national spirit of hegel suddenly seemed manifested, and the incredibly rapid industrialization of germany -- capitalized by its resounding victory over france in the war of 1870-71 -- reinforced ideas of cultural superiority at a time when darwin's "origin of species" seemed to be making clear the power of struggle and intense experience in strengthening the individual and the nation. many germans (indeed, many englishmen and frenchmen as well) took this newfound economic superiority, national consolidation under prussia and military victory to be evidence of germanic supremacy ascendant -- all based in vitalism that was central to german idealism. it became common to talk about the german destiny as the hero-nation that would lead the world to freedom through the experience of inflicting its will upon the world.
and that's exactly what germany did. the catastrophe of the first world war was conceived, especially on the german side, as the beginning of the darwinian struggle to demonstrate the heroic german destiny -- and was accompanied by an intense national euphoria which lasted for years after. gradually, as the war tore the guts out of every participant, murdering an entire generation in industrial slaughter, the pointlessness became very apparent to many on both sides -- but the utter shock, the raw horror of mechanized slaughter profoundly changed our civilization.
By the way, I never asked for "proof", "only for concrete examples". I think I can hang with you in this discussion even if it resides in the abstract, or in the theories of DWEs, but consider what one of your referenced philosphers once said:
“I’ve now, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine and Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labor studied through,
And here I stand, with all my lore
Poor fool, no wiser than before.”
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By the way, GM, we may not agree, but I wouldn't consider using a term like "anti-intellectual drivel" in a debate. You hurt my feelings, you big bully.
Oh, and the quote is from Goethe.
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as least goethe isn't drivel.
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You should not be so threatened by viewpoints that are different from your own. Philosophy is more about what you don't know than what you know, don't you think?
Goethe was just recognizing the limitations of the mind, a sign of humility, not anti-intellectualism.
Anyway, any specifics yet? Again, I think this is reasonable to ask for in a healthy debate like this.
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i'm sincerely happy to have you read what junk i write to whatever extent you wish to, and maybe i'll stop through your neighborhood once in a while.
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You should not presume what might be confusing for your reader, although I have no doubt that you find answering challenges to your "intellectualism" boring.
I'm familiar with Barzun, and many other writers and thinkers that you have referenced. I just don't wear it on my sleeve. I make no assumptions about your intellect, and I suggest that you try to do the same with others.
That said, I consider none of this a waste of time. I'll read through your new post and see if there are any specifics.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2005
a new center
If it persists, this new political center could force President Bush to negotiate with Congress to a degree he rarely has done. Even if this centrist coalition doesn't endure, its successes this week suggest that the post-Sept. 11, 2001, deference of the Republican-ruled Congress to President Bush no longer is automatic.a militant white house is already threatening a veto -- but if forced to follow through, bush would be mercilessly painted as the tool of the cultist right, itself a victory of sorts.
"Whether it's a stable governing coalition remains to be seen," said Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota. "It took great duress to create this center."
Experts expect more such maverick coalitions to appear as Congress feels pressure from Bush's ambitious agenda and interest groups on both sides demand take-no-prisoners fights. Such all-out confrontations fuel electoral politics, fundraising, and radio and television ratings for the 2006 and 2008 elections, but they also antagonize many voters, and centrists seem to be responding.
one can only hope that these new coalitions hold together under what is sure to be extreme duress from both party leaderships. pressure has been building in washington verging on violence, and this may be the third way to defuse rising anxiety.
I find these reactions not only short-sighted but also surprisingly unconservative. They reflect a willingness to put possible short-term partisan gain (and I emphasize the word possible) over both principle and long-term advantage.one of the incisive observations that can be made as a result of all this majoritarian radicalism is the disingenuousness of calling the republican party "conservative" -- particularly the fascist/protestant alliance to which men like bill frist and george bush answer to.
What is a - arguably the - basic conservative principle? Russell Kirk taught:Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. ... Burke’s reminder of the necessity for prudent change is in the mind of the conservative. But necessary change, conservatives argue, ought to he gradual and discriminatory, never unfixing old interests at once.The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay - to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not "merely by temporary advantage or popularity" but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?
... In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.
... Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries.
it really is a reincarnation of fascism -- by which i mean, the employment of the trappings of the old as a mask for radical reinvention. mussolini invoked the rebirth of the roman empire and a return to western civility; but what he truly meant to do was bring the introverted, narcissistic nietzschean ethic of conflict to politics and the nation -- an escape from the limitations of law and tradition in order to not just conserve but reconstruct and rebuild. for all the teutonic mysticism which hitler used in nazi ideology, his program was intensely, painfully progressive. to rebuild it sought to tap the chivalric ideal, the self-indulgent spiritual nobility that was the soul of german romantic individual writ large, but combine it with the cult of technology as a vehicle to total emancipation. fascism was thoroughly electrified with the postmodern desire of emancipation, of escape, of flight -- from history, from objectivity, from the war -- into the ideal and the self. in the rejection of the civilization of centuries before it, to manifest the ideal necessitated embracing change -- the faster, the better.
similarly, even as it calls for constitutional originalism and cites the reinvented intentions of the founders, american neoconservatism is seeking to abandon all limitations on the will to power wherever it finds them -- in the press, in the judiciary, in international treaty and now in the senate. it finds ready allies in reductive protestant fundamentalists, who play their own analogue game in claiming fealty to the bible but constructing personality cults around charismatic men who reinterpret the book along the lines of the introspective, emancipatory ideology they invent. both are characterized by the rejection of the empirical for the pursuit of the introspective, heroic and noble -- to slip the limitations of the material for something greater and more perfect but ultimately self-defined. consequently, the common ground between all fantastic utopians of totalitarianism -- the refusal to brook any compromise of the vision, which is personal and therefore inviolate -- has been very fertile for cooperation.
the upshot is that the party of conservatism isn't conservative anymore. we have cast ourselves adrift from history. america is now without a party of christian compromise, as the ostensibly humble adopt the language of war and selfishness, even as we demand -- demand! -- complete freedom.
one should be mindful that the threat to the filibuster is not over. it simply relocates the power to destroy it from majority (and majoritarian) leader bill frist to this block of fourteen senators -- more particularly, the seven republicans led by sen. john mccain.
mccain managed to recruit seven out of the 55 republicans away from frist's control, reducing frist's camp to 48 and ending the possibility of executing the parliamentary maneuver that josh marshall outlined with a 50-vote split.
Asked Tuesday how senators would determine what "extraordinary circumstances" might warrant a filibuster threat in the future, McCain indicated on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the bipartisan group of senators who worked out the compromise would retain sufficient leverage to make such a determination.in other words, if mccain's seven should feel at any time in the future that the boundaries of the compromise are being abused in circumstances which are not "extraordinary", this entire process can be repeated with dramatic speed.
"We're not asking all 100 senators to make that determination," he said. "We have 14 of us who are together and I am confident we will act in a way that if the circumstances are extraordinary, everyone will agree to that."
i imagine that the first real test of that will be with the death of aged supreme court justice william rehnquist. if the bush administration decides to nominate another antonin scalia -- or, worse, a john ashcroft -- to the bench, mccain will become the broker to which the white house must go for approval.
this is an immense coup for mccain, and puts him in the catbird's seat for any future supreme court nomination. it also affirms his popular reputation as a charismatic, sensibly moderate republican, bolstering his case for the republican nomination for the presidency in 2008 as a statement against the rising power of the fascist right. it's a threat they already see coming.
Dr. James C. Dobson, head of the Focus on the Family, one of the conservative groups that had made an end to judicial filibusters a top priority, said the agreement "represents a complete bailout and a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats."but, while a victory for compromise, i cannot think it entirely healthy that the rights of the minority have warded off the threat of majoritarian usurpation only to be delivered into the hands of one man. the greatest defeat for the filibuster has already been delivered -- in 1917, when it became an obstacle to introspective affirmation of life, purpose and heroism in war that is wilsonian idealism -- a defeat that can be reconsidered or regretted but probably never undone.
UPDATE: the text of mccain's empowerment. and, via tpm, a link to chris matthews' transcript with lindsey graham indicating that the mccain group isn't done.
MATTHEWS: Social Security, do you think the president‘s plans for some kind of personal accounts has a better shot now?UPDATE: the debate at reason.
GRAHAM: It has a shot versus no shot. And watch this group of 14 to come out with some deal for Social Security.
GRAHAM: Just keep watching.
Monday, May 23, 2005
in praise of empires
In a breathtaking, quick survey of ancient and modern empire, Lal argues that empire has served as a governance mechanism for disparate peoples who otherwise would have been trapped in the conflicts and inefficiencies of anarchy. Echoing Niall Ferguson's Colossus, Lal also contends that the United States, following in the footsteps of the British, is the last surviving empire; its global rule has been mostly informal and indirect, but it has been crucial in the creation of an open world economy. The book's most interesting argument regards the dangers facing the U.S. order: Washington advances the interests of itself and the global order by spreading material values but endangers this order by spreading Western moral values. In other words, empire put in the service of capitalist modernization is sustainable, but empire used to spread Western beliefs generates backlash.the boldface is mine, but it is the essential reading point for current-day americans. lal discussed this a bit -- again on book tv -- and made the clear distinction between empires of civil order and empires of grand enterprise. his view is that the former -- for which he takes the roman, chinese and early british empires as example -- are sustainable in no small part because they are vehicles of prosperity for all involved. says lal: "The order provided by empires... has been essential for the working of the benign processes of globalisation, which promote prosperity."
this economic view of empire is a perfectly valid one. free trade indeed does carry massive benefits for its participants, and can be used to justify "benevolent dictatorship". lal mentioned in his talk that civil and economic freedom are far different and separable from political freedom -- a point not well taken in america, but historically much justified.
but lal was quick to criticize american imperialism on two counts. first, american empire has never accepted in his view what the british did -- the profitability of complete laissez faire within the sphere of its power. instead, america has worked hard to limit trade to terms it considers favorable and regulate it deeply -- recently going so far as to abandon the wto for a bilateral spaghetti bowl. this is to defer or deny precisely that aspect of empire which makes it most worthwhile to its participants, an argument many a third world country would certainly understand.
secondly -- and more philosophically -- lal pointed out that american empire has been ideological and is increasingly so. the militant cause of freedom and anarchy has been disastrously but correctly perceived around the world as the assault on law, tradition, culture and civilization it is, provoking all manner of blowback (political and military, from allies and enemies) against the united states. this devotion to revolution at home and abroad puts american empire into an extremely dangerous and undesirable league, with destructive 20th c empires of enterprise like russia and germany. it forces the defenders of civility in the rest of the world to ally against it in self-interest for fear of chaos and the end of identity. this is the paramount point, in my estimation: the united states entertains self-destruction in the promotion not of simple order but of freedom.
but there is more that lal apparently does not consider. morality is often the first victim of conflict, and the sustained global policing and periodic wars that are the necessity of imperial stewardship even on small scales are an extremely deleterious influence on the universal social solidity of ethics upon which law relies. the decline of rome is largely the story of internal rot, promoted by the rejection of the selfless roman moral ethic embodied in cincinnatus for a decadent, relativist, inwardly-directed hellenic worldview embodied by carneades. this selfish, inward worldview has also been the adoption of western civilization in postmodernity -- from nietzsche, proust, stravinsky and diaghilev -- and its great militant bulwark is now america.
lal, as an economist, does not consider the possibility that this flight from civility and history into idealism, escape and the self might be in part a consequence of empire and war. but that is nonetheless part of the entire picture.
blau worked as military correspondent for a jerusalem weekly, kol ha'ir, between 2000 and 2002. a number of his pieces from that period can be found here.
blau quoted several israeli soldiers recounting war crimes and human rights violations committed by idf forces, israeli settlers or they themselves.
Blau: How does being on checkpoint duty change your outlook on life?response to that piece revealed something of the depth of israeli denial about what is really happening in the territories they occupy, events which profoundly contradict the morality of many.
Erez: These checkpoints, and the fact that you can treat people this way, all of this makes a guy more confident. I mean in general, not me personally. I really didn't like treating them that way, taking part in that game, as Yaron put it.
Yaron: You think that way because no one close to you has been hurt. You'll have that experience, and then you'll believe me.
Erez: I understand this attitude, but personally I have a really hard time with it. I'm in a calm area; they're actually good people, and most of them are stoned. They don't care. People want to work, to bring home some money. They don't want trouble. When there's a closure they go crazy. They have nothing. They can't work anywhere. When I'm on checkpoint duty, I almost always bring the Border Police. Those guys start screwing them up, slapping them around, etc.
Dubi: They have to be afraid of us, otherwise tomorrow they'll eat us up.
Roi: In the territories the borders are so unclear that the only chance you have to remain sane is to stop feeling afraid. The only way is to develop this crazy apathy. You just can't go on being afraid all the time, so you no longer care about anything. It does affect me as a human being. The only thing the army has given me is emotional trouble. It makes you indifferent. I come home and clam up, because three hours earlier I emptied a whole ammo crate, and now I'm suddenly home with my friends who live in a bubble world and don't even watch television.
Blau: Did any of you ever shoot someone?
Roi: When I first got to Hebron I wouldn't open fire on little children. And I was sure that if I ever killed or hurt anyone, I'd go so crazy that I'd leave the army. But finally I did shoot someone, and nothing happened to me. In Hebron I shot the legs off of two kids, and I was sure I wouldn't be able to sleep anymore at night, but nothing happened. Two weeks ago I hurt a Palestinian policeman, and that didn't affect me either. You become so apathetic you don't care at all. Shooting is the IDF soldier's way of meditating. It's like shooting is your way of letting go of all your anger when you're in the army. In Hebron there's this order they call "punitive shooting": just open fire on whatever you like. I opened fire not on any sources of fire but on windows where there was just wash hanging to dry. I knew that there were people who would be hit. But at that moment it was just shoot, shoot, shoot.
Erez: What do you mean "punitive shooting"? A reaction to something?
Roi: Reaction to their shooting. In Hebron there's punitive fire. Shoot at everything you see. Cars, things, anything that moves. It's like taking out your anger on everything. Shooting relaxes you, like meditation.
Tzvi: I find what Roi said a bit sick, that shooting people is therapy.
Roi: Don't you release stress when you shoot?
Tzvi: No, not at all. I don't even have the energy for that anymore. I'm totally apathetic. I've had occasion — I believe everyone here has — to shoot people.
Roi: We had a five-day operation in the territories on firing grounds, and basically Bedouins are not allowed to be there. The officer stops the vehicle and asks, "Who's ready?" I step out, another guy steps out, and then about 300 yards from us we see a poor Bedouin shepherd walking out on the grass at the firing ground. The officer says, "Okay, go ahead." We lie down, one bullet to the left of the herd, one bullet to the right of the herd . . .
Roi: Because shooting live ammo has become so fluid, so trivial.
Tzvi: You can live with having shot at an old man grazing his sheep? Just like that? If my officer were to tell me to open fire on a shepherd who's obviously not endangering anyone, I would beat my officer up.
Roi: Officially you don't open fire just like that. On the ground our guys would do it for the hell of it, as though they were returning fire. For them, shooting in Hebron is simply a video game.
Erez: If anyone were to tell me, "You have to open fire on a seven-year-old girl," I'd shoot without hesitation.
Erez: Yes. Because that's what you have to do. If that's what I'm ordered to do.
Uri Blau, the former military correspondent for the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'Ir, published several testimonies by soldiers. The IDF tried to stop him, he said, and in trying to identify his sources arrested a female soldier and imprisoned her for several weeks. Details of her trial were released to the media with no mention of Blau who surmised that she was targeted to scare other soldiers from cooperating with him.among his articles is documentation of a harrowing premonition of abu ghraib in southern lebanon.
Not all the soldiers who told him about human rights violations in which they had participated thought that they had committed an offense.
Sometimes they said: "We had to do it because this is the only way the Palestinians would understand," or 'this is the way it works." They realized that something was amiss only after they had seen their disclosures published in the newspaper, after which they usually broke contact with Blau.
But the stories of harassment, abuses and excesses that he did publish barely created a ripple. If anything they provoked negative reactions. Israelis preferred to remain deaf and blind to any wrongdoings by the IDF. "People just don't want to hear those testimonies," said Blau, who was told on more than one occasion that Israel is at war, and that this is not a time to publish stories that will weaken morale and hurt the IDF.
i bring all this up because i think it's becoming increasingly clear that one can view the israeli situation as a sort of possible moral destination for the united states. what goes on in our aggressive occupations of iraq and afghanistan -- and our attempts to repress, rationalize and deny it all -- serves to warp and destroy our morality in a manner quite similar to what israelis are suffering. one doesn't need to be a theologian to see that these idf soldiers have been hollowed out by israeli state militarism, desensitized and made useless to a civilized world. and the angry reaction of much of the israeli public against blau -- when clearly the point of fault lies within the message and not the messenger -- is altogether similar to the reactions of many in america when faced with evidence of our own sins.
one question that americans must answer for their future, it seems to me, is whether or not we desire to subject what remains of our morality to the inevitable loss this abuse of temporal aspiration will force, to become lost in the moral trap marc ellis calls for israel "constantinian judaism" -- the conflation of spiritual and ethical values with state power, serving to misguide and ultimately destroy both. those who would falsely hope for cultural reinvigoration in ideological war -- the affirmation of life in death -- have already had their day and shown their bankruptcy, all but ending our civilization in manifesting catastrophe.
do we wish it again?
Saturday, May 21, 2005
a change in tone
Iran is an acceptable, "stable" government, and the US is on the verge of a dictatorship.
O inverted world.
"Faced with the choice between changing ones mind or proving a point, most of us will get to work on the proof."
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but i do very much want to live under a government which is not tyrannical. and the movement in the west toward dictatorship is unmistakable, imo.
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Are you saying that the world is worse off today than in 1944? Do you have any concrete examples of how "pervasive and deeply rooted" fascism is today "than before"? All I see is convoluted logic and jargon.
Humor me. Explain, in English, how we are on the verge of a "dictatorship". Or, at the very least, how fascism is more prevalent today "than before".
And, you may not offer a detailed "defense" of the Iranian government, but your characterization of their regime as "stable" is clear, and seems like an implied defense to me.
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fwiw, don't bother with mitch albom. vacuous sentimentalism.
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Asking you for concrete examples of imminent totalitarianism seems to be a reasonable question to me, regardless of my personal beliefs.
I have not read Berlin Diary, although I am always on the look-out for good history.
The Mitch Albom post is a joke, not a very good one I guess.
But thanks for stopping by the blog. Hope you can come again.
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oh, sorry -- not really intended so. i'm very used to people on search-and-destroy missions on the net, who have zero interest in discussing anything so much as seeking perverse personal gratification in confrontation and conflict. i sincerely hope that's not you.
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Hard to say. If you take "perverse" out of the statement, this probably is an attribute of mine.
However, I am sincere. Just beating the bushes I guess.
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Friday, May 20, 2005
counting on someone else's spine
the illinois senate passes restrictions on video game sales to minors in a law that many representatives acknowledged is unconstitutional and will be struck down.
The sponsor, Sen. Deanna Demuzio, denied the measure would interfere with free speech rights.if you needed an example as to why democracies are transient forms of government that decay into populism, lawlessness, chaos and tyranny, look no further than this. any wisdom or intelligence that might have been brought to bear is utterly vacated by the stupidity and gullibility of the proletariat to whom the lawmakers are beholden.
"Video games are not art or media," she said. "They are simulations, not all that different from the simulations used by the U.S. military in preparation for war."
But other senators said the courts have already struck down similar laws elsewhere. They predicted the Senate-approved measure would never take effect and the state would end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Still, even some critics said they would not vote against the measure for fear it would be used against them politically.
"I'm going to vote for this bill, but I'm voting for it for one reason — because this is a political bill," said Sen. Mike Jacobs. "If I vote against it, it will show up in a campaign mail piece."
these lawmakers take for granted that some other, less publicly accountable branch of government will do the right thing, void their spinelessness and try to follow the law.
but i ask you: what if it doesn't? what if that branch is packed with political partisans and kept men? what if that branch wants to nullify its own authority before the tide of populism?
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
the nuclear option
Whether you call it the 'nuclear option', the 'constitutional option' or whatever other phrase the GOP word-wizards come up with, what "it" actually is is this: the Republican caucus, along with the President of the Senate, Dick Cheney, will find that filibustering judicial nominations is in fact in violation of the constitution.it may indeed be about power for some -- but i fear that it isn't anything so cynical for many, especially in leadership. this is about the manifestation of the ideal, the vitalist ideal, the rousseauian ideal, the romantic ideal, the nietzschean ideal. this is about the emancipation of power, freedom from the tyranny of law, self-enabling will to set the course independent of history or tradition.
(Just to be crystal clear, what the senate is about to do is not changing their rules. They are about to find that their existing rules are unconstitutional, thus getting around the established procedures by which senate rules can be changed.)
Their reasoning will be that the federal constitution requires that the president makes such nominations "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate" and that that means an up or down vote by the full senate.
Nobody believes that.
Not Dick Cheney, not any member of the Republican Senate caucus.
For that to be true stands not only the simple logic of the constitution, but two hundred years of our constitutional history, on its head. You don't even need to go into the fact that other judicial nominations have been filibustered, or that many others have been prevented from coming to a vote by invocation of various other senate rules, both formal and informal, or that almost countless numbers of presidential nominees of all kinds have simply never made it out of committee. Indeed, the whole senate committee system probably cannot withstand this novel and outlandish interpretation of the constitution, since one of its main functions is to review presidential appointees before passing them on to the full senate.
Quite simply, the senate is empowered by the constitution to enact its own rules.
You can think the filibuster is a terrible idea. And you may think that it should be abolished, as indeed it can be through the rules of the senate. And there are decent arguments to made on that count. But to assert that it is unconstitutional because each judge does not get an up or down vote by the entire senate you have to hold that the United States senate has been in more or less constant violation of the constitution for more than two centuries.
For all the chaos and storm caused by this debate, and all that is likely to follow it, don't forget that the all of this will be done by fifty Republican senators quite knowingly invoking a demonstrably false claim of constitutionality to achieve something they couldn't manage by following the rules.
This is about power; and, to them, the rules quite simply mean nothing.
very little of it, i fear, has to do with a power grab in the cynical sense. but it is precisely, as marshall says, about the rules meaning nothing -- not as a matter of convenience, but as a matter of the sworn ideology of the emancipation of the will, and all its damning implications for civilization.
senator william ezra jenner, speaking in 1957, as cited by senator robert byrd:
In the past quarter century we have seen a phenomenal growth in the power of the executive branch. If this continues at such a fast pace, our system of checks and balances will be destroyed. One of the main bulwarks against this growing power is free debate in the Senate . . . So long as there is free debate, men of courage and understanding will rise to defend against potential dictators. . .The Senate today is one place where, no matter what else may exist, there is still a chance to be heard, an opportunity to speak, the duty to examine, and the obligation to protect. It is one of the few refuges of democracy. Minorities have an illustrious past, full of suffering, torture, smear, and even death. Jesus Christ was killed by a majority; Columbus was smeared; and Christians have been tortured. Had the United States Senate existed during those trying times, I am sure these people would have found an advocate. Nowhere else can any political, social, or religious group, finding itself under sustained attack, receive a better refuge.consider what is really being done in the senate chamber over the next few days. it has little or nothing to do with a few forgettable would-be judges; they serve only as a pretext. the real accomplishment of this administration -- and it is the administration behind it -- would be to block the senate's last defense against its own evisceration.
julius caesar used his influence to pack the roman senate under the guise of reform against patrician obstructionism, permanently sidelining it in roman politics and clearing the way for empire. hitler ended the weimar republic with the enabling law, managing to assemble the two-thirds majority needed to pass it in the hysteria that followed the reichstag fire. it is the american protection in checks and balances from this fate that is under attack. if it goes, the united states is separated from despotic tyranny only by some short amount of time.
this is indeed the nuclear option.
UPDATE: it begins.
now the administration took, in the guise of scott mcclellan's may 17 press conference, a huge step toward manifesting a policy of censorship by extortion and intimidation. when i heard the blurb on wgn this morning as i got dressed, i wanted to disbelieve it -- to think i heard it wrong. i sadly didn't.
Q Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?this is masterful manipulation -- equating provocative reporting with dangerous irresponsibility, denying what he's doing as he does it, pressuring without "pressuring", insinuating great damage where none exists, moving responsibility for a horrible american image away from the administration that undoubtedly created it and to a newsmagazine that almost no one abroad reads. masterful and terrifying.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's what I talked about yesterday. This report, which Newsweek has now retracted and said was wrong, has had serious consequences. People did lose their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged; there is lasting damage to our image because of this report. And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region.
And I think Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong, and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran. The military put in place policies and procedures to make sure that the Koran was handled -- or is handled with the utmost care and respect. And I think it would help to point that out, because some have taken this report -- those that are opposed to the United States -- some have taken this report and exploited it and used it to incite violence.
Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help --
Q You're pressuring them.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them --
Q It's not pressure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.
make no mistake -- this is a contemptible and entirely lawless attempt at muzzling what criticism of the administration that does make the pages of mainstream media in america. newsweek, for its part, must understand that it has been handed an ultimatum: run favorable propaganda, or face continued assault -- not only from us, but from our militant grassroots organizations -- and be denied access to the white house flow of information. moreover, the assault may be personal, singling out certain individuals for culpability and destruction.
how mainstream media responds to the ultimatum will be a revealing measure of just how far american journalism has gotten into bed with american government, valuing access over balance, observation over reporting, easy convenience over uncomfortable truth.
UPDATE: silber is incandescent on this point.
in our pocket
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
justice anthony kennedy
but i'm happy to have added links to crooked timber, nouriel roubini, arthur silber and others.
Chuck from OMC
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the coexistence of fact and faith
rambunctious theocrats in the east prussia that is mittelamerika, influential of kansas' board of education, are seeking to deny the reality of overwhelming evidence supporting some number of evolutionary methods at work, including darwinian natural selection. that evolution as an effect exists is as much a fact as gravity; how precisely is works is still theoretical (as is gravity) and is therefore called as much. to pretend that the transformation of species over time is somehow subject to speculation, however, is a (very unchristian) lie -- an intentional mischaracterization of the facts as we know them to exist for the purpose of defrauding the uneducated faithful.
i don't see a way to reconcile such ignorance or (worse) willful deception with civility or faith -- where there is truth, there is god. it is up to us to try to understand how revelation and reality overlap, not deny one or the other or lie to our fellow man in an effort to gain their authority in proxy. but that, though the main thrust of what is going on in kansas, isn't my point.
the kansas ideological conservatives have danced around their greatest fundamental underlying strength in making this ridiculous argument.
(Advocates of "intelligent design") want to define it as "a systematic method of continuing investigation," without specifying what kind of answer is being sought. The definition would appear in the introduction to the state's science standards.au contraire, dr. miller. science is precisely what they would call it. the counterpoint provided by the american association for the advancement of science, a respected public advocacy group which has undertaken the difficult task of countering the rise of mysticism in the hinterlands, suggests an equally acceptable alternative of "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."
The proposed definition has outraged many scientists, who are frustrated that students could be discussing supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in their science classes.
"It's a completely unscientific way of looking at the world," said Keith Miller, a Kansas State University geologist.
the difference, of course, is in the limiter "seeking natural explanations". scientific method begins with observation; what is observable is what is natural, that is, external, sensible phenomena and real in the empirical sense. the definition presented by the aaas, then, is a more rigorous one -- but that being forwarded against it is not "unscientific".
to be fair, i doubt dr. miller was addressing this point with his comment. "intelligent design" and creationism are, in fact, unscientific explanations for the origin of species. but why they have currency at all in postmodern society is interesting.
the conception of science has developed over time into an abstraction, not at all the four-point method employed by bacon but rather a philosophy of externality. this philosophy dictates that all phenomena in the world have physical mechanisms which causally precipitate them; that these mechanisms are rationally deductible with sufficiently close observation and ingenious discovery; and that mechanisms can be proven by the demonstration repeated experiment which are observably consistent with the prediction of the model mechanism.
this, it must be said, is an article of faith every bit as baseless and dogmatic as any religion. indeed, hume showed irrefutably that causality cannot be demonstrated on the smallest scale -- even as the existence of quarks and other subatomic particles are postulated and observations are collected relating to them, their makeup and the nature of the forces which make them manifest are utterly inexplicable. we know that particles act on one another; why they do will forever be mysterious. science, after all, never reaches a conclusion -- only a theory waiting to be disproven by the next observation.
moreover, the universe is not predictable. indeed, as quantum theory advances, we are beginning to conceive that physicality on the smallest scale may be random, not orderly, and guided only by states of probability. it is perfectly consistent with such speculation that, if one strikes a board with a hammer enough times, the probability that the hammer will pass through the board without interacting with it will eventually become manifest. such as this is, it puts great force behind hume's assertion that induction by enumeration -- repeated experiment -- is not a valid means of argument. repeat the experiment often enough, and the mechanism will inevitably be demonstrably violated.
the basis of science, then, is false. every mechanism will eventually be disproven by observation because any mechanism is only a probable path of events, and any actual event can at any time -- for reasons we not only don't understand but fundamentally cannot -- vary from the expected outcome. perfect predictability is an impossibility.
this realization is compounded by the difficulties which science increasingly faces in constructing meaningful experiments in problems of irreducible complexity, such as global warming -- where the system is so vast and chaotic and with so many variables as to defy any model that can be humanly constructed or comprehended, by our inability to both conceive of the variables and their codependencies and predict with any certainty in the face of the compiled randomness of each variable, which makes the system inherently chaotic to a great degree. scientists can model the planet to the best of their ability to make global warming "predictions" -- but the models in use are far, far closer to a tennis ball than any reality. if their predictions are shown to be approximately correct, it is necessarily a function of luck and not the closeness of the abstract model to external reality.
so should observation then be abandoned? obviously not. but the achievements of scientific method should be understood by people as a narrowly limited subset of solutions to the vastly, indeed infinitely greater number possible questions that can be posed.
"In order to live in this science-dominated world, you have to be able to discriminate between science and non-science," said Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "They want to rewrite the rules of science."and therein lies the difficulty for dr. leshner and his fellow advocates of science. we do not now nor shall we ever live in a "science-dominated world". we do, however, live in a particular human age which has been disproportionately obsessed by the new, the technological and the scientific as a result of the questions answered by pursuing scientific method and real benefits derived of those answers. this obsession with scientism -- science as an abstract concept -- has led many in the modern and postmodern period to reject even the possibility of solutions to human questions that are not "scientific" or "naturalistic" -- that is, empirically derived, abstract and analytic -- even though we know as philosophers that the vast majority of questions which can be posed fundamentally cannot be answered by the application of scientific method.
this is an exclusionary, basically unhealthy approach for human beings to use in making sense of the world, and it's unsurprising perhaps for the doctrine of scientism to experience a backlash of irrationalism -- just as the age of western civility experienced such damning backlashes as beset it in 18th c france and 19th-20th c germany. indeed, this decline into mysticism in america can be seen as a continuation (evolution, if you will) of the romanticism, german idealism and particularism that first saw light in rousseau, goethe, herder and schiller and have advanced powerfully against rationalism and civilization ever since. this increasing awareness of the weakness and limitation of scientific method emboldens those who would aver a different view.
what can be done to counter this, from the viewpoint of one who advocates rationalism? i think first and foremost is the need of leading scientists to explicitly and without fear acknowledge the limitations of science and its fundamental inability to explain the world. this would, one hopes, subdue the fear that many have of scientism as a overreaching force of philosophical militancy and destruction.
secondly, and at least as importantly, educators need to return at least partly to a classical pattern of education that arms students with at least a rudimentary understanding of western philosophy, including theology. without it, people are without the faculty to understand the nature of either science or faith, much less the interaction between the two. the technical education offered in american schools today is abysmal in conveying this knowledge, which is so important to healthy human development. dr. leshner calls for fact and faith to coexist only outside schools; indeed, that they do is exactly the problem.
Monday, May 16, 2005
censorship on the horizon
So what is the logical result of all this? There are at least two major results, and two major goals: first, strengthening the idea that, whatever the United States does, it isalways right and anyone who questions our policies is wrong, and anti-American -- and if we do make any mistakes, they are trivial and barely worth mentioning, thus trying yet again to shut down all debate; and second, if the Bush supporters and warhawks had their way, censorship.
Censorship is what they're after, and don't let them tell you otherwise. They announced this goal unmistakably at least a year ago. (Here's the classic, regret-filled formulation: "And here's a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?") Of course, they "regret" that censorship might be necessary. It's a terrible shame and all that. But damn it, if magazines like Newsweek ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE KILLED -- well, what can we do? We obviously have to shut them up. They brought it on themselves. It's their own damned fault. Of course, wed like to have a free press, but THEY'RE GETTING PEOPLE KILLED!
And please, please don't say it can't happen here. It did happen here -- during World War I and World War II. They want to go back to the good old days, when people got thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public.all this is given yet more force by the realization that newsweek is errant only in factchecking against a particular internal pentagon report -- that it isn't even reporting new news when it reports on american interrogators' desecration of the quran, which has been widely repeated in the print media for two years. meanwhile, the bush administration and pentagon behave with unimaginable indignance -- as though it were somehow inherently above actions they clearly are not.
it is with great regret and trepidation that i understand the campaign against an activist, liberal mainstream media has become analogous to the campaign against an activist, liberal judiciary -- both of which are conveniently aimed at the remaining independent sources of authority which might prove troublesome to fully emancipating executive power from law -- each every bit as specious, paranoid and radical as the other.
there clearly is bias in every media outlet and there always will be. reporting for profit is far from truth-telling, after all. but it has always existed, is far from conspiratorial or unique, and -- most importantly -- cannot ever be used as justification for infringing upon the first amendment. to the extent that the media opposes the government, i say hurrah! for that is their all-important role in a free society -- to act as watchdog, harasser, prober, factchecker against an institution that would easily run amok into tyranny without it. whatever human peril results from that balance of antagonism is easily endurable when one considers the massive jeopardy our entire society would be placed in without it.
the story centers on allegations of american interrogators desecrating the quran during sessions with muslim detainees at the nefarious american room 101 at guantanamo bay.
"We can understand torturing prisoners, no matter how repulsive," says computer teacher Muhammad Archad, interviewed last week by NEWSWEEK in Peshawar, Pakistan, where one of last week's protests took place. "But insulting the Qur'an is like deliberately torturing all Muslims. This we cannot tolerate."the pentagon has elicited an apology from newsweek for the article. but read the apology closely, however, and you'll find that very little has changed except the spin and blame.
Last Friday, a top Pentagon spokesman told us that a review of the probe cited in our story showed that it was never meant to look into charges of Qur'an desecration. The spokesman also said the Pentagon had investigated other desecration charges by detainees and found them "not credible." Our original source later said he couldn't be certain about reading of the alleged Qur'an incident in the report we cited, and said it might have been in other investigative documents or drafts. Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges, and so will we. But we regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst.so the reaction to the story -- not the story, but the reaction to it -- provoked the white house and pentagon to lean on newsweek and its source in an effort at damage control, with which newsweek is complying by saying that it might well be right.
did interrogators actually desecrate the quran? perhaps unsurprisingly, nowhere in this lot does anyone say that they didn't. it's been previously reported elsewhere that they did in other ways desecrate the quran; internal sources do not deny the discovery of such evidence as would support the conclusion, only now question the investigation which revealed it; and the pentagon itself does not deny these particular charges -- only other unspecified charges, which were found to be "not credible".
newsweek does have something to apologize for here. factchecking is a very difficult business, but must be pursued with great diligence to maintain credibility.
in the end, however, it's all somewhat beside the point. pakistanis and afghanis are not rioting because of a newsweek factchecking error but because the story is utterly believable. this administration authorized and pursued a well-evidenced and publicly exposed policy of torture which included smearing menstrual blood on muslim detainees to defile them before their god and then refusing them the facility to cleanse themselves in order to atone. what is below them? denials from the administration ring absolutely hollow and self-serving in light of these facts. in short, we have returned to the nixonian credibility gap.
this is a problem which will haunt this administration for the duration -- and very likely american government in toto for years to come -- as a result of their consistent attack on the high standards of civility and the rule of law designed for our benefit -- a benefit that the administration has savagely refused and continues to refuse to acknowledge and understand, obsessed as it is with the narcissistic emancipation of power alone.
UPDATE: the white house is now calling for a retraction.
"It's puzzling. While Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story," said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. "I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met. In this instance it was not.except, of course, that newsweek really may not have the salient facts wrong, certainly hasn't acknowledged that they have, and their source maintains that he did in fact read such allegations but "could not be sure he read about the alleged Quran incident in the report Newsweek cited, and that it might have been in another document." this is how we play the game in washington nowadays.
"This was a report based on a single anonymous source that could not substantiate the allegation that was made," McClellan added. "The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged. I just find it puzzling."
more from the arabist and informed comment.
the army has failed to meet its recruiting goals for four months running -- despite adopting what is best described as press-gang tactics.
In late April, Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Kelt left a voice mail message on the cell phone of Christopher Monarch, 20, of Spring, telling him to show up at the Greenspoint recruiting office by 2 p.m. or a warrant would be issued for his arrest, according to Monarch and an Army official.desperation is the mother of invention and all that.
Monarch said he didn't receive the message until after the designated time. "I was scared," he said.
He said he had not made an appointment to meet the recruiter and was not interested in joining the military.
Monarch said he called Kelt the next day to clear up the matter. Kelt told him threatening to issue an arrest warrant was a "marketing technique," according to Monarch, a version of the story the Army confirmed.
"What the recruiter did in Houston was inappropriate. He lost his cool and said some things that shouldn't have been said," the Army official said. "It was similar to a spike in problems we've seen across the country. So there was a decision to take a day to address that, to reaffirm Army values, and the recruiting values the Army teaches."
espionage, fifth columns and america
(Federal Security Service chief Nikolai) Patrushev's remarks reflected concern in President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin as it grapples with waning regional influence following the ascent of pro-Western governments in ex-Soviet states. The Kremlin is also worried about outside influence within Russia amid U.S. accusations of backsliding on democracy.iri is just one of a number of american rabblerousing outfits at work in the former soviet union and mideast which are funded by the american government through the national endowment for democracy and usaid, which is administered by osce-member freedom house. these programs were openly involved in subverting the ukrainian government last year through, among others, pauci -- 'polish-american-ukrainian cooperation initiative' -- which subsequently provided money and manpower to victor yushchenko, the man subsequently installed as ukrainian president and a board member of pauci.
"Along with classic forms of influence on political and economic processes, foreign intelligence agencies are ever more actively using nontraditional methods," including working through "various non-governmental organizations," Patrushev told lawmakers.
"Under cover of implementing humanitarian and educational programs in Russian regions, they lobby the interests of the states in question and gather classified information on a broad spectrum of issues," he said.
Patrushev said his agency, which is known by its Russian acronym FSB and is the main successor to the Soviet KGB, "has prevented a series of espionage operations" carried out through foreign non-governmental organizations."
He named the Peace Corps — which pulled out of Russia in 2002 amid FSB spying allegations — as well as the British medical aid group Merlin, the "Saudi Red Crescent" and a Kuwaiti group he called the Society of Social Reforms.
"Our opponents are steadily and persistently trying to weaken Russian influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the international arena as a whole," Patrushev said. "The latest events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan unambiguously confirm this."
Patrushev said the International Republican Institute, a U.S. democracy support organization, held a meeting in Slovakia last month during which "the possibility of continuing 'velvet revolutions' on the post-Soviet space was discussed."
Patrushev suggested Russia believes the next Western target is Moscow ally Belarus, where U.S. officials have not masked their disgust at authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and have called for free elections next year. Bush has called Belarus the last dictatorship in Europe, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for a change there.
He claimed that the IRI has earmarked $5 million to finance opposition groups in Belarus this year and asserted that there were efforts under way to bring Ukrainians involved in last year's "Orange Revolution" to train opposition forces in Belarus, which has close ties with Russia.
ultimately, such dealings have underlaid this entire string of color-coded "revolutions", which are utterly contrived and purchased by the american government. none of them are materially different from past coups d'etat arranged directly by the american government through the cia -- sins for which america continues to pay a terrible price.
these fifth columns are designed along the lines laid out by gene sharp to consciously provoke civil unrest with one of several possible aims in mind -- but all of which constitute the expansion of american imperial influence in a great-power game against russia and china, either by installing pro-american governments or justifying military intervention on grounds of human rights violations. what is less apparent is how those actions fracture order in the world in ways that cannot be controlled.
as a response to patrushev's statements, we will soon, i suspect, be inundated with cries of intolerance and despotism from many sources in america, both the left and right, who understand neither that these ngos are essentially extensions of the american military-intelligence complex nor that russia is right to fear for its own sociopolitical integrity under these increasingly bold maneuvers by the lawless, hubristic bush administration which wants to restart the cold war.