ES -- DX/CL -- isee -- cboe put/call -- specialist/public short ratio -- trinq -- trin -- aaii bull ratio -- abx -- cmbx -- cdx -- vxo p&f -- SPX volatility curve -- VIX:VXO skew -- commodity screen -- cot -- conference board

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


the final dessication of protestantism

there are not often (but neither rarely enough) examples of such clarity to illustrate the total bankruptcy of christian protestantism in the united states as was on display today, where evangelist pat robertson openly called for the murder of a foreign politician.

this corruption of religion, which destroys serene faith as it encourages frightened fanaticism in militancy, has been a growing problem in the west since the first breakdown of the west in the wars of religion in the sixteenth century, when a fractured christianity became a mere justification used by malevolent secular, derelict and heretical powers for the manifestation of worldly aims. such amoral zealotry as became prevalent then cleared the ground for the reactionary enlightenment, which fatally attempted to abandon faith altogether in philosophy and science, successfully making religion at last an object of ridicule and scorn. worse, it seems to have permanently infected and barbarized the free radical christian churches, who have in time succumbed to the drive for emancipation from authority and society that sparked their schism from respublica christiana by becoming finally nothing more than temporal parties which manifest political and financial action at the whim of petty despots like robertson by cultivating personal heroic irresponsibility in the hapless lost souls of western disintegration.

certainly robertson shows himself to be part of that ongoing dissipation of morality, with his blatant disregard for the commandments of his supposed faith. but this is indeed a deeply rooted and widespread problem in the united states, where the resurgence of political activism from the so-called religious right is often mistaken for an actual practice of christian faith when, in fact, it is by its very nature and naked material aspiration an utter abandonment of the ethereal city of god for the mundane city of man, the city of destruction. these churches (undeserving of the name) are much more similar to the thoroughly secularized pontifex maximus of the roman reublican decline -- an overtly political office of material ambition to which julius caesar, among many others, was elected -- than the position which the title of that pagan office eventually came to designate within the church spawned of the final hellenic disaster. likewise, they represent the final dessication of protestantism in the west, having become themselves engines of upheaval, persecution and violence -- they function as waymarkers on the road to western dissolution.

UPDATE: robertson's statements were so egregious and evil as to easily manage to put venezuela's response into a position of moral superiority.

Why should I care more about morals than I do about power?

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Hey Gaius M!

Saw on H&R about the good news.

Congratulations to You and Your (now bigger) Family.

All the Best to you three.

Kind regards,
drf (aka: you-know-who from H&R)

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In my opinion, Pat Robertson doesn't demonstrate the total bankruptcy of protestantism because he doesn't speak for and is in no way revered by protestants everywhere. ...I concur, however, that he demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of the self-described Christians that claim him.

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OMC is dead without you.

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OMC is dead without you...

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Monday, August 22, 2005


perplexities of empire

the front page of the washington post presents a horrifically sad account of what increasingly appears to be the continuing fracturing of iraq into sectarian civil warfare.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to control territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their ascendance has come about because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January parliamentary elections.

Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, which claimed members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties.
this should help put an end to the daft notion that it will be safe and stable within any realizable time horizon to transfer military and police authority to the new iraqi government and draw down american troop levels (if in fact that is ever really the plan at the pentagon, or if they are following a different plan). these "security" forces are iraqi in name only, and primarily tribal and religious weapons of zealotry concerned with revenge and ethnic cleansing, not national instruments of stability or integrity. the bush administration has (again) made the mistake of incorrectly assuming that the entire world and everyone in it shares or can be made to share their views on the primacy of nationalism in determining allegiance. in much of the world, for many people, this simply isn't so and cannot be made so within the limitations of our power short of national suicide.

iraq, along with afghanistan, has become another object lesson in the perplexing difficulties of empire, and one would hope it would be a compelling dissuasion against taking up the sword.

of course, there are probably some in the administration who greet this news happily. some among the neocon crowd, being trotskyites and revolutionists, want nothing more than for the greater mideast to destabilize into a chaos beyond control -- in fact such is a goal to which they have committed resources around the third world -- in the naive and hubristic belief that "americanism" will or can be made to rise from the mire and make a new west out of the east, extending western cultural hegemony in the political sphere over one of the few places on the globe where it does not already supercede indigenous culture to incorporate their peoples into the imperial "great society" of nations.

this attempt to gain by management, technique, subterfuge and war what can not be won on the merit of western cultural charisma is destined to be as much a failure as all prior attempts in history, which are the geneses of universal states in the history of the world. for those who see america as a new rome -- and who see empire as virtuous -- this must seem superficially a wondrous time to be alive. they should look harder at the chaos, restlessness and turmoil that befell the romans who built the empire and all of their descendents.

empire is a consequence of cultural failure, not a step of cultural progress. it is an effort to preserve that which we implicitly understand has stagnated and is in danger of being lost through hyperactive management. success in building an empire, we may find, does not relieve us of the collapse of purpose, cohesion, culture and direction we are experiencing at home -- in fact, it will aggravate these conditions considerably in years to come and succeed in spreading it around the planet.

considering this, one cannot wonder why these islamists and babylonians find our example a conflicted and tenuous model at best. nor can we wonder why our faith in "americanism" is viewed so skeptically in the third world.

i have no idea what motivates senators like john edwards and chuck hagel -- mercurial political ambition, no doubt. but they have begun to tap into a broad uneasiness of some american proletariats regarding the revolutionary empire of liberty that the bush administration is trying to conquer in the name of a decadent western civilization.

that such uneasiness may find voice may not be enough -- jacobins are not known for tolerating dissent from the holy cause. but a vocal dissent is what is needed within the american political structure to remove the burdens of empire from our children and grandchildren before they become the yoke by which they are ground into the dust.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


are deficits the problem?

the economist discusses the recent downward revision of the 2005 federal budget deficit.

As they run up the national charge account, legislators can at least take comfort that the latest round of downward revisions to forecasts seems to cast further doubt on the “twin-deficit hypothesis”, which argues that Mr Bush’s spendthrift ways are driving up the current-account deficit and putting the country in danger of a catastrophic revaluation of the dollar. Trade deficits have continued to soar even as budget deficits have come down, which tends to support a theory advanced by Ben Bernanke, the chairman of Mr Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. He has suggested that a global savings glut is flooding America with cheap money, and that the government deficits may in large part have been mopping up surplus capital that would otherwise have been borrowed by America’s already debt-ridden consumers.

But even Mr Bernanke has stressed that deficit-reduction should still be a priority. “Not catastrophic” seems a poor guideline for fiscal policy, government or personal. For now, however, it appears to suit America’s politicians and consumers just fine.
max sawicky see fit to cut a little more sharply to the quick.

Whatever happens to the 2005 or 2006 deficit is not even a sideshow. It's a flea circus. The U.S. economy is facing two giant imbalances: the projected gap between tax revenues and Federal spending, and the current, growing gap between what the U.S. buys and what it sells to the rest of the world. The measure of our political system's vacuity, fed by a brainless commercial media, is the inability to put these issues on the table. When forced by a crisis to do so, the remedies will likely by short-sighted, panicked, and stupid.
in discussing bernanke, brad delong highlights the same two points.

1) Bush administration fiscal policy is way out of balance in the long run, and this is a very serious problem: if the government doesn't balance its budget (in the sense of keeping real debt growing no faster than real GDP), then the market will balance the budget for it in ways that nobody will like.

2) Bush administration international economic policy is way out of balance as well: the administration should be doing much more than it is doing--i.e., nothing--to try to minimize the size of the financial crisis should foreigners suddenly decide to dump their dollar assets on a large scale.
this potential for crisis is something i've written about before, and sawicky hits it on the head.

Whatever its merits, the elimination of the public debt that was in sight in 2000 has been dashed. But how bad off are we? I think the liberal case for hysteria weakens every day. ... There is no deficit or debt crisis. The terminology of "crisis" implies hanging by a thread that can snap at any time. Or skirting the edge of a cliff. That is not our problem. There is no plausible fiscal event I can think of that could precipitate a blow-up.

... It looks to me that economic meltdowns will come from popping bubbles, commodity price shocks, volatile capital flows, and world politics. Not the next tax cut. Deficits may make us more vulnerable to crises, but they are not the fundamental cause, and tenable reductions in deficits are not central to the most important economic risks facing the world.

The more salient analytical framework is international political economy. A run on the dollar, for instance, creates a whole new interesting situation where the budget does come into play, along with other things. If it happens, it will be quite a party. I have no idea whether or when it will happen, nor how to prevent it. There may not be any way. Just fasten your seatbelts and pass the rosary beads. I am pretty sure there is no political way to raise the issue either.
it's unfortunate that this situation of mounting imbalances comes with a ready-made crisis generator a monstrous consumer debt bubble built on personal irresponsibility, which can offer a spark for the very run on the dollar mentioned above -- but there it is.


The dollar has rallied a bit this month b/c the rest of the world is fearful of a dollar free-fall and the loss of exports, but the general picture for the dollar is quite glum, I agree.

In fact, I have never taken my money out of dollar denominated securities, but am thinking about getting some puts on dollars and calls on euros in the near future.

Anyway, the, ahem, funny thing is how the government is pretty much saying "We want a strong dollar" (b/c it has to for the sake of the world... would you want to be told by a company that you had invested in they were purposely devaluing your securities?!) and simultaneously saying "We want a weak dollar" (to improve exports, forgetting that the manufacturing base in America has been dead for a full decade now).

The so called prosperity seen in the U.S. in the mid-late 90's was pretty much due to Greenspan encouraging debt spending, which first manifested itself in a stock bubble, and now is in a housing/mortgage bubble. Income hasnt appreciated in Illinois in real terms basically since 1997. Yet housing values are up way beyond inflation. Clearly the only explanation is that no new value has been created, rather what has happened is that credit has been flowing. That credit from home "ownership" is then spent. All borrowed money.

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For a different viewpoint:

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005


separated powers no more

reason notes in passing that the president hasn't used his veto pen in some five years in power.

"There is unusual coherence between Republicans in Congress and the president," Professor Mackenzie adds. "So there's very little getting to his desk that hasn't been pre-approved by the Republican leadership."
are we supposed to believe that is an accident?

i myself can barely believe that there is still a debate among intelligent people about the independence of the congress. read what falls from the mouths of the republican representatives. these are footsoldiers in a presidential army and nothing more -- an army of ideology organized as a political party.

congressional money is now controlled by the president to a greater degree than at any point in the history of this society. there is increasingly little choice in federal patronage and simply nowhere else to go for republican patronage -- this by design. the republican party has constructed a conservative money monopoly from the ground up, beginning with think tanks in the 1970s, controlled on very hierarchic lines. so republican small fry -- and many financially-dependent democrats as well -- line up to hawk whatever bush is selling.

the core part of this effort is the republican cooption of k street, the nom de locale of the washington lobby industry. presidential operatives have successfully reconstructed the influence industry -- which brokers the exchange of money for votes -- into a republican ideological power center. (i'll quote heavily below from nicholas confessore's incisive washington monthly piece from 2003.)

The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP. Through them, Republican leaders can now marshal armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts--not to mention enormous amounts of money--to meet the party's goals. Ten years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the political donations of 19 key industry sectors--including accounting, pharmaceuticals, defense, and commercial banks--were split about evenly between the parties. Today, the GOP holds a two-to-one advantage in corporate cash.

That shift in large part explains conservatives' extraordinary legislative record over the last few years. Democrats, along with the press, have watched in mounting disbelief as President Bush, lacking either broad majorities in Congress or a strong mandate from voters, has enacted startlingly bold domestic policies--from two major tax cuts for the rich, to a rollback of workplace safety and environmental standards, to media ownership rules that favor large conglomerates. The secret to Bush's surprising legislative success is the GOP's increasing control of Beltway influence-peddlers. K Street used to be a barrier to sweeping change in Washington. The GOP has turned it into a weapon.
this is different from what the influence business had been earlier in the nation's history. professional lobbyists as we know them did not exist in anything like extant force prior to the 1980s -- whereas exchanges between unions or corporations and politicians had once been direct, political influence has since become centralized and industrialized by intermediaries in much the same way as lawyers have become an interstice between the people and the courts, serving as interpreters and liasons and granters of access. k street has become a community of ex-politicians and operatives who seek to remain in the game without the need for elections. and republican efforts, diligently attended by senator rick santorum and house speaker tom delay, have successfully made k street the home of ex-republicans.

Nearly 52 percent of Republican lawmakers who moved to the private sector since 1998 have registered as lobbyists, the study said. Only a third of departing Democrats took the same path.
coincident with the republican ascent to power in the early 1990s, some highly ideological repubicans took to war against the bipartisan pragmatism of k street.

In 1994, Republicans won control of Congress. All of a sudden, the Democrats' traditional power base evaporated, and with it much of their leverage over lobbyists. New Republican leaders like Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, and a handful of close advisers like Ed Gillespie and Grover Norquist, quickly consolidated power in the House, and turned their attention to the lobbying community. Revolutionaries all, they nursed a deep disdain for K Street pragmatism. "They had a hard time dealing with lobbyists who were used to dealing with Democrats [and] were looking at ways to change this in the interests of the [conservative] coalition," says one conservative activist.

One way was to start ensuring that the new GOP agenda of radical deregulation, tax and spending cuts, and generally reducing government earned the financial support they thought it deserved. In 1995, DeLay famously compiled a list of the 400 largest PACs, along with the amounts and percentages of money they had recently given to each party. Lobbyists were invited into DeLay's office and shown their place in "friendly" or "unfriendly" columns. ("If you want to play in our revolution," DeLay told The Washington Post, "you have to live by our rules.") Another was to oust Democrats from trade associations, what DeLay and Norquist dubbed "the K Street Strategy." Sometimes revolutionary zeal got the better of them. One seminal moment, never before reported, occurred in 1996 when Haley Barbour, who was chairman of the Republican National Committee, organized a meeting of the House leadership and business executives. "They assembled several large company CEOs and made it clear to them that they were expected to purge their Washington offices of Democrats and replace them with Republicans," says a veteran steel lobbyist. The Republicans also demanded more campaign money and help for the upcoming election. The meeting descended into a shouting match, and the CEOs, most of them Republicans, stormed out.
those early efforts to restructure the private prerogative of lobbying companies recovered to flower following the bush victory in 2000.

In the months after, Santorum became the Senate's point man on K Street and launched his Tuesday meetings. Working on the outside, Norquist accelerated what he calls the "K Street Project," a database intended to track the party affiliation, Hill experience, and political giving of every lobbyist in town. With Democrats out of power, these efforts are bearing fruit. Slowly, the GOP is marginalizing Democratic lobbyists and populating K Street with loyal Republicans. (DeLay alone has placed a dozen of his aides at key lobbying and trade association jobs in the last few years--"graduates of the DeLay school," as they are known.) Already, the GOP and some of its key private-sector allies, such as PhRMA, have become indistinguishable.
so successful has this effort become, so restricted to republican routing has access to government become that the party is finding itself in a position to command action from indentured corporations.

Such is the GOP's influence that it has been able to marshal on behalf of party objectives not just corporate lobbyists, but the corporations themselves. During the Iraq war, for instance, the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications Inc. had its stations sponsor pro-war rallies nationwide and even banned the Dixie Chicks, who had criticized White House policy, from its national play list. Likewise, last spring Norquist and the White House convinced a number of corporations and financial services firms to lobby customers to support Bush's dividends tax cut. Firms like General Motors and Verizon included flyers touting the plan with dividends checks mailed to stockholders; Morgan Stanley included a letter from its CEO with the annual report it mailed to millions of customers.
and, of course, the republicans can use their now-unfettered power over government finances to both rebuild governance along their ideological lines and reward these corporate backers for their loyalty.

Recently, as part of Bush's "competitive sourcing" initiative, the Interior Department announced that over half of the Park Service's 20,000 jobs could be performed by private contractors; according to the Post, administration officials have already told the service's senior managers to plan on about one-third of their jobs being outsourced. (Stay tuned for "Yosemite: A division of Halliburton Corporation.") But the Park Service is only the beginning. Bush has proposed opening up 850,000 federal jobs--about half of the total--to private contractors. And while doing so may or may not save taxpayers much money, it will divert taxpayer money out of the public sector and into private sector firms, where the GOP has a chance to steer contracts towards politically connected firms.

Anyone who doubts this eventuality need look no further than Florida. There, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out last year, Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, has outsourced millions of dollars worth of work formerly performed by government employees to private contractors. There's little evidence that doing so has improved state services, as the governor's own staff admits. But it has vastly improved the financial state of the Florida Republican Party. According to an investigation by The Miami Herald last fall, "[t]he policy has spawned a network of contractors who have given [Bush], other Republican politicians, and the Florida GOP millions of dollars in campaign donations."
this is essentially a reconstruction on a vastly larger scale of urban democratic machine politics, where total dependence and therefore total loyalty is the only measure of political value. in the system of absolute hierarchy that total loyalty engenders, the president thereby has direct control of what congress does in the same manner as mayor daley controls everything the city council does.

in the end, bush doesn't use the veto because he doesn't have to. the president, through the republican party, commands their legislative agenda from the white house by simultaneously controlling centralized influence peddling and the federal spoils system. when seen in this light, there's never been a clearer sign of the total breakdown of the separation of powers under our political system than the five-year absence of the veto. there simply is no difference between congress and the executive. members of the legislative branch work for the president -- breaches of fealty are vituperatively abhorred and will, in time, be punished.

frequent use of the veto can indicate an impassioned political debate between the legislative and the executive -- such as what fdr sparked with the populist new deal against the optimates of the old senate (and supreme court). or it can simply indicate a struggle for power between closely matched political opponents.

that we have seen no veto in years should be very frightening to anyone who believes government by dissent and resolution is the fundamental basis of a healthy republic. it indicates that, in the face of central money control, there simply is no meaningful dissent against the president's political, fiscal and military agenda.

that observation, taken in conjunction with and existing despite the fact that much of the bush administration agenda for the republican party and the country is so openly revolutionist, so destructive by design, is a clear sign that something is very, very wrong in washington -- indeed, that we aren't living under a government of separated powers at all, but have transcended republican government in all but name and empty procedure for a new, centralized, authoritarian system that is effectively a dictatorship.

UPDATE: how it happens is illustrated in this ap article regarding the bush administration's dogged and determined opposition to a legislative clarification of the american obligation to eschew torture.

The stalemate began in July when (Bill) Frist, R-Tenn., who shepherds President Bush's agenda through the Senate by deciding what bills get a vote, abruptly stopped debate on the bill. That avoided a high-profile fight over amendments, supported by (Virginia Republican Senator, Armed Services Committee member and former Navy Secretary John) Warner and sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., restricting the Pentagon's handling of detainees in the war on terror.

The White House had threatened to veto the entire measure over the issue and sent Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to press the administration's opposition.

Frist also was concerned that the extraordinary number of amendments proposed — more than 200 — could eat away at time needed for other legislation. An aide said Frist hopes that the bill can be completed but it must be done "in a timely manner and with relevant amendments."

The majority leader has resisted scheduling a vote even as other Republican heavyweights bearing military credentials have lined up behind Warner.

Well, Rome was a Republic for quite a few centuries before it wasnt you know... :-)

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i think that, whatever the truth is, mr anon, we'll continue to tell ourselves that this is a republic for decades to come -- though it is not acting like one anymore. much easier to leave the shell intact and refer to the whole apparatus -- constituion, congress, courts -- as though it meant something.

most romans of the caesarian period really did think the senate had real power -- and it did. it simply didn't retain the capacity to exercize it independently of the emperor.

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FYI, if you're looking for more info try

interior design tip

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Saturday, August 06, 2005


exactly the wrong response

in response to the london bombings, the labor government under tony blair has announced its intentions to persecute muslims, effectively repeating the mistakes of religious persecution which sent many protestant sectarians fleeing britain in the 17th and 18th c for the new world.

The government announced on Friday plans to deport foreign nationals who glorify acts of terror, bar radicals from entering Britain, close mosques linked with extremism, ban certain Islamic groups and, if necessary amend human rights laws. The measures appear to have cracked the spirit of consensus.

The Islamic Forum Europe, a British Muslim group, warned the measures could jeopardize national unity in Britain.

"If these proposed measures are allowed to see the light of day, they will increase tensions and alienate communities. The measures are counterproductive and will encourage more radicalization," said forum president, Musleh Faradhi. "Many Muslims will perceive our prime minister as playing into the hands of the terrorists."

He criticized the government's plans to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir — the radical Islamic group that calls for the formation of an Islamic caliphate and is banned in several central Asian countries. Supporters insist it is a nonviolent group persecuted by corrupt governments.

"Proscribing it will be counterproductive," said Faradhi. "It will give a green light to despotic leaders in the Muslim world to silence political dissenters."
we apparently have lost our own principles of civilization even in the very heart of the west. it was once assumed that liberty within law was good, that communication was good, that religious toleration was good. no longer. fear has replaced them all. perhaps we have forgotten why these ideals were good in the first place.

what westerners must come to understand is that ideas -- islamist ideas -- do not arise in a vacuum. they are a response to a challenge. it is up to government -- nay, up to us as a continuum of western peoples represented by our institutions not to violently repress ideas, but to diagnose the challenges that they arise in response to -- and, if those challenges are found embarassing or destructive, change them.

as with the global insurgency represented by al-qaeda, these british muslims are responding to material problems in the west which we can address. this is the productive, creative path to take. we can not only redress the concerns of muslims in britain and the world peacefully, but we can improve our own moral condition in doing so.

however, if we insist on continuing in our denial and repression of ideas, if we insist on refusing to make the moral changes in ourselves which could fundamentally alter the condition from which malevolence arises, we will find out exactly why our ideals of lawful human liberty and tolerance are good -- why, in fact, they are our only hope.

Two points.
First, the type of exodus that you imply is exactly what is desired. It would not break the hearts of Blair and his co-horts if every Muslim up and left the country. That is the desired outcome. Granted, to keep the illusion of tolerance those exact words will not be espoused. Only the "extremists" will be persecuted.
Secondly, why is this a duty only of the west? Why is it not the responsibility of every individual on this planet? Riddle me that, Batman.

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it isn't, mr ozymandiaz, in my view. why should it be?

i would be the first to say that the islamic society is deeply mired in its own troubles.

however, we don't control that and cannot. we can control (or try to control) and make moral the actions of ourselves. harping on muslims for the problems of their society serves only to anger -- as we clearly overstep the bounds of our moral authority in doing so -- and as a menas of denying that we as westerners have manifold issues that ontribute to the problem as well.

the only viable course of action, i feel, is to set our own house in order -- then let that example produce an attractive challenge to the islamic society to do the same.

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But what access to cheap oil?

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I concur, Gaius, I misinterpreted your post somewhat. I did not mean to say we are without responsibility. I believe, though, that some ideas need to be suppressed and even eliminated. The material problems you speak of are but symptoms and excuses. This is a conflict of ideology. I don’t mean Muslim vs. Christian. I know these groups (terrorists) are referred to as fundamentalist but there is nothing fundamental about them. The fundamentals of all religion I have ever studied are that of peace. These groups preach abhorrent religion based on a biased hierarchy. They are power struggles with simple minds used as destructive pawns. They build religion around them that must be destroyed. Not just in Islam. The ideology exists in the west also. It is an arrogant ideology of hatred. It needs to be gone.

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Didnt know where else to post this. Not sure if you are still following the track of the H5N1 "bird flu" virus, but reports have it increasingly common in Russia now.

The link, however is to Bush's summer reading list, included is the history of salt and the history of the 1918 influenza outbreak (I read both of these so was surprised to see them on Bush's list).

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you can always, anon, append it to the comments of the original h5n1 post. i get emails when a post is put up, so i can take a look.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005


al-zawahiri and the birth of a new islamic chivalry

in the aftermath of the london bombings, a new message from al-qaeda authored by ayman al-zawahiri has surfaced, pointing the finger of cause that provoked that response directly at tony blair and his involvement of britain in the quagmire of iraq.

needless to say, the message also strikes yet again on several tenets of al-qaeda's manifesto which are widely denied -- much to our peril -- in the west. al-jazeera prominently notes that al-zawahiri again questions why the west is not accepting the offer of truce put forward by osama bin laden some month's ago.

"To the people of the crusader coalition ... our blessed Shaikh Osama has offered you a truce so that you leave Muslim land. As he said, you will not dream of security until we live it as a reality in Palestine, and until all your infidel armies leave Prophet Mohammad's lands," he said.

"Our message to you is clear, strong, and final: There will be no salvation until you withdraw from our land, stop stealing our oil and resources, and end support for infidel (Arab) rulers," al-Zawahri added.
again, to those who believe that these people who oppose the west do not have a rational capacity, that they do not have worldly goals, that they cannot be engaged in a productive dialogue because they are mindless killing machines: i encourage you to read those words, and bin laden's words, very carefully. they are articulating what is at least a starting point to negotiations that would center of very material and pragmatic concerns which center on american and british foreign policy and can be addressed by our governments.

what is more, we have no choice. iraq should show us quite clearly that the method in which we have engaged the problem of terrorism -- by fomenting a global democratic revolution with our armies and spies -- is utter madness, not a solution to the problem at all but rather the most terrifying possible aggravation of it. continue on this path of obtuse mismanagement and bludgeoning where only creativity and engagement will suffice, and these people will, in time, become the hoardes rampaging over our frontiers to sack and burn our cities.

i found moreover al-zawahiri's abasement of western freedom to present a simple but devastating critique, offering an alternative picture of morality and law that very much resembles what once was western christian morality.

Liberty as construed by the Americans, he said, was based on "usurious banks, giant companies, misleading media outlets and the destruction of others for material gain".

Real freedom was "not the liberty of homosexual marriages and the abuse of women as a commodity to gain clients, win deals or attract tourists," al-Zawahiri added.

"It is not the freedom of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib," it said, referring to US-run prisons in Cuba and Iraq where serious allegations of torture have been levelled.

"Our freedom ... and the reform that we are seeking depends on three concepts - the rule of Sharia [Islamic law] ... freeing Islam from any aggressor ... and liberating the human being."
there can be little doubt that the civilization of islam, now dissolved into its successor-states and facing a nadir after four centuries of contraction, is mired in its own apathy and chaotic confusion, searching for a direction under a blinding wave of western influence that threatens to drown it -- much the same as the dead, cultureless, blinded roman world of western europe faced the eighth century under nordic, saracen and scandinavian invasion. this was the age of heroic epics in a nascent west -- the sagas of beowulf and roland, king arthur and the volsungs and the cid, of the original romance of which the romaticism of the western corruption would be an archaistic echo.

zawahiri here articulates something that could be construed as a nascent chivalric ethic, centered on a higher plane of nobility in the islamic character.

Likewise according to catalan Ramon Llull a long time ago there was an age when "loyalty, solidarity, truth and justice disappeared in the world", thus "disloyalty, enmity, outrage and falsity spread, causing error and perturbation among the people of God". So it was necessary to restore the lost justice "through fear". For this purpose "people was divided into thousands, and from every thousand one was selected who distinguished himself from others for his kindness, loyalty, wisdom, strength". This man, characterized for nobility, courage, tenacity and devotedness to his own principles of unlimited generosity, was named knight. *
as hard as it may be for some western minds to comprehend, from an islamic perspective, men like bin laden and al-zawahiri may represent to an islamic culture in collapse nothing so much as barbarian knights, a roland or an achilles -- and i would not be surprised to see epic poetry spring to life even in my lifetime recounting their exploits as though from an mythological age when heroes walked the earth. in this, they may represent the birth of a new culture, a new civilization, which now asserts itself for the first time as charles martel first asserted western christendom at tours in 732.

the senescence of many a civilization has come before us; there is much we could choose to learn from the history of the world. that we don't -- or can't -- is the bleakest condemnation of western apathy, rottenness and decadence.

What course of action would you suggest?

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regarding islamic chivalry -- nothing. that of course isn't a problem to be solved.

regarding our role in th east -- instead of technical, managerial solutions, i would suggest a moral one.

first, withdraw. we don't belong in the east and never have. imposing empire upon people is morally debasing for both us and them. there is no economic problem that arises out of leaving which we can't thrive despite.

second, promote republicanism from home, by example and not subterfuge. there is much to value in republican government as a technique -- and we need to rediscover it.

but, more than that, we need a renaissance of moral government. i mean by this nothing of what vicious "christian" zealots and xenophobes would do -- but rather the rediscovery of the state not as a weapon of vengeful action or as an idol to be slavishly prayed to or as an economic and social lever to manifest ideology, but as a flawed but useful tool for the improvement of people's lives.

lastly -- and this most difficult of all -- these changes must come from the ground up. it is not enough to come up with ideas and impose them, as though mere management could mend men's hearts. a fundamental change in the outlook of western man must arrive -- one that sees himself not as a shallow, scientific, abstracted, economic monad of unaccountable will ready to be entertained -- but as a creature whose worth is realized in teh health of the society and tradition he emerges from and remains within.

that's quite a lot, i know -- justifying my pessimism, perhaps.

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Regarding our role in the east:

When do you feel it is "moral" to intervene militarily or with physical force?

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never, anon -- if you've been backed into resorting to force, you've already made incorrect moral decisions earlier up the line; you're simply compounding that immorality by engaging in slaughter.

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Violence is the last resort of the incompetent. The competent don't wait so long to bring it on. Great to know if I'm being mugged, you won't resort to force to help me, because you made a bad decision up the line.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005


the madness of decline

i've mentioned before the neoconservative obsession with iran, which it sees as the bogeyman of their paranoid fantasies. a subject of speculation since the bush administration tried to light the fuse on a global democratic revolution in iraq some two years ago, seymour hersh dug up sources citing invasion as a plan of action months ago, all part of the bringing the revolution to tehran. all in all, the election of ahmadinejad appears only to have whetted their appetite for mayhem.

now comes news from the american conservative print edition that vice president dick cheney -- whose office has been at the heart of american militarism and treasonous criminality since the bush adminstration's inauguration -- has ordered a first-strike war plan involving nuclear weapons, for employment in response to a terrorist attack on american soil, apparently regardless of any actual iranian culpability.

The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney's office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing -- that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack -- but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections.
i have long thought this much about nuclear weapons: no instrument of war ever devised by man has long sat idle and unused. every tool finds its purpose. eventually, there is always a madman mad enough who will use it to further their delusional lust for power and control, to sate an insecure inner child that was never taught how to grow and mature. unfortunately, it seems that several such madmen now occupy offices in the american white house -- spiritual descendents of alcibiades in a new epoch of decline unfolding along very old creases.

we today live in the bankruptcy of western civility. the age of western nationalist technological militarism has, i'm afraid, only begun to wreak its horrors upon us and the world in the manner it has in so many civilizations laid waste by suicidal folly spawned of the social and personal schism and confusion that is the consequence of the rejection of history and tradition. to think this atrocity beyond us is, i fear, to underestimate the capacity for madness that lies in every human soul when unhinged from a moral law that might guide it. we are not rational -- and without a moral law, cannot aspire to be. nihilism looms. said justin raimondo:

The more I look at it, and the more I think of it, the more I sense a monumental evil casting its shadow over the world, and I have to tell you, it makes me wonder how much more time I want to spend on this earth. In my more pessimistic moments, I doubt whether we can avoid the horrific fate that seems to await us just around the next corner, the next moment, looming over the globe like a gigantic devil stretching its wings and blotting out the sun.

It seems to me that the question of whether life is really worth living anymore is inextricably bound up with the question of whether or not these madmen can be stopped. If not, then the only alternative is to live it up while we can and laugh defiantly in the face of the apocalypse. Why write columns, why comment at all, if we can't have any effect on the outcome?

this indeed was also the sentiment of a decadent hellenic world under the yoke of a sequence of insane roman emperors. on the one hand, cynics and stoics preached an ascetic withdrawal yet further into cleansing the personal soul, ending in perfect detachment from the material plane; on the other, epicureans lauded the death of god and fear with the blinding indulgence of the senses with individual gratification. both impulses can obviously be discerned in the makeup of postmodern man -- and neither is the salvation of the west, nor proof against the psychopathology of its leadership, just as it was not for the romans and hellenes of that time.

Monday, August 01, 2005


kangaroo courts

what was easily assumed about military tribunals is in fact true, if air force lawyers are to be believed.

As the Pentagon was making its final preparations to begin war crimes trials against four detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, two senior prosecutors complained in confidential messages last year that the trial system had been secretly arranged to improve the chance of conviction and to deprive defendants of material that could prove their innocence.

The electronic messages, obtained by The New York Times, reveal a bitter dispute within the military legal community over the fairness of the system at a time when the Bush administration and the Pentagon were eager to have the military commissions, the first for the United States since the aftermath of World War II, be seen as just at home and abroad.

During the same time period, military defense lawyers were publicly criticizing the system, but senior officials dismissed their complaints and said they were contrived as part of the efforts to help their clients.

The defense lawyers' complaints and those of outside groups like the American Bar Association were, it is now clear, simultaneously being echoed in confidential messages by the two high-ranking prosecutors whose cases would, if anything, benefit from any slanting of the process.

... Among the striking statements in the prosecutors' messages was an assertion by one that the chief prosecutor had told his subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be "handpicked" to ensure that all would be convicted.

The same officer, Capt. John Carr of the Air Force, also said in his message that he had been told that any exculpatory evidence - information that could help the detainees mount a defense in their cases - would probably exist only in the 10 percent of documents being withheld by the Central Intelligence Agency for security reasons.

Captain Carr's e-mail message also said that some evidence that at least one of the four defendants had been brutalized had been lost and that other evidence on the same issue had been withheld. The March 15, 2004, message was addressed to Col. Frederick L. Borch, the chief prosecutor who was the object of much of Captain Carr's criticism.

The second officer, Maj. Robert Preston, also of the Air Force, said in a March 11, 2004, message to another senior officer in the prosecutor's office that he could not in good conscience write a legal motion saying the proceedings would be "full and fair" when he knew they would not.
the appeal of military tribunals to the bush administration was, to my mind, always in the fact that the complete lack of any method or evidence used to detain people in the war on terror would be utterly exposed by any other method. so it comes as little surprise that the process had to be perverted into a sort of secret show trial, farcical due process for the sake of saying that there was due process.

but it should deflate the argument forwarded by many against the reports of human rights watch and others that the united states government is behaving with contempt for and in apathetic violation of both the geneva conventions and american law.

reason's comment thread.

nice blog

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full disclosure

the washington note considers the regular refusals of the white house to produce documentation relevant to their nominees -- in this case, judge john roberts, but also in the case of un ambassador john bolton -- in the light of robert jackson's 1941 opinion for clarity on the subject.


recess appointment

john bolton is set for a recess appointment to the american chair at the united nations.

i remain ambivalent about the man and his position, even as it represents part of a neoconservative buildup of barbarians at the international level, though i think a recess appointment is less a miscarriage of justice than might at first be assumed. cant, of course, continues to pour from the white house as water from the mouth of a mighty river.

"This post is too important to leave vacant any longer, especially during a war and a vital debate about UN reform," Bush said.
isn't this the same administration that denigrates virtually any international obligation or institution at almost every opportunity as an impediment to national will? how important could they really think it is? not very, if bolton's choice of shop is any indication.

what is perhaps the penultimate hubris for the administration in this affair is that bolton is a suspect in the plame affair which has haunted karl rove so doggedly. he is under investigation at state for his role in the niger-yellowcake intelligence fraud -- the criticism of which earned ambassador wilson the retribution of having his wife's covert status at cia exposed.

... the larger internal administration battle [was] over who would be held responsible for Bush using the disputed charge about the Iraq-Niger connection as part of the war argument. Based on the questions they have been asked, people involved in the case believe that [US Special Prosecutor] Fitzgerald looked into this bureaucratic fight because the effort to discredit Wilson was part of the larger campaign to distance Bush from the Niger controversy.

Wilson unleashed an attack on Bush's claim on July 6, 2003, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," in an interview in The Post and writing his own op-ed article in the New York Times, in which he accused the president of "twisting" intelligence.

Behind the scenes, the White House responded with twin attacks: one on Wilson and the other on the CIA, which it wanted to take the blame for allowing the 16 words to remain in Bush's speech. As part of this effort, then-deputy national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley spoke with Tenet during the week about clearing up CIA responsibility for the 16 words, even though both knew the agency did not think Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
it has been suggested that bolton, who was ensconsed at the state department, may share responsibility for circulating the secret state department memo which made plame's identity to the white house.

bolton further saw fit to lie about his being interviewed by investigators to congress.

"It seems unusual that Mr. Bolton would not remember his involvement in such a serious matter," said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "In my mind, this raises more questions that need to be answered. I hope President Bush will not make the mistake of recess appointing Mr. Bolton."
it may end up being a relatively minor point in the context of the history of american diplomacy. but bolton's appointment serves to underscore the increasingly obvious malignancy of the bush administration, exemplified in total contempt for law, process and morality. faced with rising levels of dissent against their dictatorial absolutism even within the republican party -- even among the heretofore compliant loyalists like bill frist -- one wonders how long that can claim any kind of high ground. despite engaging their friends and organization to pretend that the president is above questioning -- as any proper emperor would have to be -- fitzgerald's investigation marches on, with rumors growing ever stronger that indictments for espionage may come down on prominent white house officials.

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