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Friday, February 25, 2005

 

koufax


the koufax awards is a sort of leftist blogger self-affirmation ceremony that goes on annually -- cutely appropriating the name of the greatest southpaw. (well, maybe second-greatest.)

one of their winners is a series called "the rise of pseudo-fascism".

i personally would drop the pseudo- as too reassuring. but it makes interesting reading.


good riddens to whitey civilization. whitey has done enough havoc and murder around the world.

 
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disappearing


italian prosecutors are investigating the disappearance of an islamic militant from milan last year, and may have linked his abduction to the cia.

Spataro (the milanese prosecutor) was quoted earlier as saying that if any Americans played a part in Omar's abduction, "it would be a serious breach of Italian law."

The newspaper La Repubblica reported last week that some targets of the investigation worked for the CIA. The leading Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera of Milan, said Thursday that "at least 15 persons have been under investigation for months."

Another paper, Il Giorno, reported that all 15 were CIA employees. One source told the Tribune that the police are satisfied that they know the identities of those who carried out the abduction, and that Spataro is now trying to determine at what level the action was approved.

Spataro was able to link Omar's disappearance to Aviano through records of cell phone calls made by his abductors as they drove the 175 miles to the air base from Milan, Corriere della Sera reported Thursday. The calls included conversations with someone at the base, the paper said.

The newspaper reported last year that, about 14 months after his disappearance, Omar telephoned his wife from Cairo to tell her he had been released from prison by the Egyptians.

During that conversation, monitored by an Italian police wiretap, Omar reportedly told his wife that he had been kidnapped by American and Italian agents, "narcoticized," and, after several hours of questioning at Aviano, flown aboard a small plane to Egypt.

Once there, he said, he was imprisoned and tortured by the Mukhabarat, the Egyptian intelligence service. The Italian police said Omar was re-arrested by the Egyptians a few weeks after that phone call and has not been heard from since.

The subsequent discovery that Omar had been taken to Egypt has raised questions about the fate of the former Al Qaeda chief in Italy, Abdelkader Mahmoud Es Sayed, another Egyptian Islamist who disappeared from Milan two months before Sept. 11.

Like Es Sayed, Omar was one of several Egyptian militants opposed to the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who were granted political asylum by the Italian government.
it's becoming clear that the united states government is "disappearing" people that it considers dangerous via the process of extraordinary rendition. as kevin drum poignantly notes, this is the sort of behavior by which we once identified the soviet union as an "evil empire". now it is our modus operandi -- all in the name of freedom.

before this is done, i suspect most americans will abhor and fear freedom as they once did monarchy.


Interesting stuff!

 
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on freedom


at reason, michael young is again banging on for revolution, using hariri's killing as a reason to agitate for syrian withdrawal.

the thing that really destroys me about mr young and others of his mind is this:

The killing of Hariri removed all the stops, dissolving fear and allowing the pleasurable indecorum of the incanted insult. And while many in the United States might today be jaded when it comes to liberal impulses in the Middle East, increasingly there are those in the region who see recent elections in Iraq (and democratic movements in Ukraine or Georgia) as deeply relevant to their own fate.

Like Ronald Reagan in Eastern Europe, Bush has shown in the Middle East that simple, indeed simplistic, ideas can go a long way when expressing the frustration and anger of populations afflicted with tyrannies refusing to accord them even minimal respect.
you'll note nothing of these comments addresses specifically the problems of a post-syrian lebanon, which are sure to be many. syrian troops were there in the first place to end lebanon's 16-year civil war and keep the resulting peace. little realism, then. there is only the praise of uninhibited self-expression -- insult, frustration, anger -- and the "simplistic idea" that makes it right: freedom.

i boldface those sections of young to highlight the implication is that unrest is good. riot is good. war is good. and not good as a means in the pursuit of some end -- no, an intrinsic good, a moral end. for that is what freedom is, is it not? the right to the prerogative to change all that is to suit you as your reckless fancy dictates. schiller said best what mr young means: "law has reduced to a snail's pace what could have been an eagle's flight." therefore law, tradition, inconvenience must go.

what this view of the world advocates is not the end of tyranny as it was once conceived. few elizabethan englishmen saw in their queen a tyrant. burke loved freedom, but mourned the death of aristocracy in france: the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded.

no, tyranny has been recast to mean anything that is not the rule of the mob. it is the final triumph of sturm und drang, overwhelming and destroying our inherited british ethic of lawful compromise and self-restraint. and if violence is what comes then love it -- for it is the sting of freedom. as herder exclaimed, "i am not here to think, but to be, feel live!" this is naked schwarmerei.

the danger of this should easily be seen. again burke: "They made and recorded a sort of institute and digest of anarchy, called the Rights of Man." what rule, what law is to stand in the face of freedom? clearly, when not law but freedom is the virtue, none long can.

mr young further says, on the lebanese shock at hariri's killing:

This suggested the extent to which the Lebanese today understand (as many should have, but not so long ago didn't) that autocracy is the triumph of the aberrant and the promotion of the inferior.
i submit that many lebanese -- many sensible people the world over -- understand that autocracy is neither aberrant nor inferior nor evil a priori, though it certainly can be. people in lebanon long understood this because they endured a civil war between parties who each acted without restraint for the pursuit of their freedom. they understand -- as americans have forgotten -- that the pursuit of freedom without law and limitation is lawlessness and endless war and the basis of tyranny.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

 

this wondrous woven band




THOU art my very own,
A part of me,
Bone of my bone
And flesh of my flesh.
And thou shalt be
Heart of my heart
And brain of brain—
In years that are to come to me and thee.

Before thou wast a being, made
Of spirit, as of flesh,
Thou didst sleep beneath the beats
Of my tumultuous heart, and drink,
With little aimless lips
And blind, unseeing eyes,
From every bursting vein
Replete with life’s abundant flood.
Ay! even of my very breath,
And from my blood
Thou didst imbibe the fresh
And glorious air, that holds the sweets
Of nature’s sure and slow eclipse;
That ceaseless round of life and death
Which are the close entwinëd braid
Of all the seasons’ subtle mesh
And endless chain.

In a soft and silken chamber set apart—
Here, just beneath my happy heart,—
Thou didst lie at dreamy ease
While all my being paid
Its tribute unto thee.
What happy hours for thee and me!
As when a bird
Broods on its downy nest—
So would I sit
And watch the flit
Of idle shadows to and fro,
And brood upon my treasure hid
Within my willing flesh.
And when there stirred
A little limb—a tiny hand!—
What rapturous thrills of ecstasy
Shook all my being to its inmost citadel!
Ah! none but she who has borne
A child beneath her breast may know
What wondrous thrill and subtle spell
Comes from this wondrous woven band
That binds a mother to her unborn child
Within her womb.
As in the earth—
That fragrant tomb
Of all that lives, or man or beast—
Soft blossoms bud and bloom and swell,
So didst thou from my body gain
Sweet sustenance and royal feast.

Then through the gates of priceless pain
Thou camest to me—fair, so fair,
And so complete
From rose-tipped feet
To silken hair!
And there beneath each pearly lid,
There glowed a jewel—passing rare!
It moves and breathes! It slakes its thirst
At my all-abundant breast!
Oh, moment born of life—of love!
Oh, rapture of all earth’s high, high above!
Three lives in one—
By loving won!
My own—and thine—
Oh, bond divine!
Our little child! Our little child!

-- julia neely finch, "the unborn" Posted by Hello


Congrats Mak! Fatherhood is a wonderful step in the journey of life.


Eggbert

 
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the assad rulership


across the bay has kept in print an affirmation (with quotation) of a removed post from josh landis' insightful syria comment. perhaps unsurprisingly, landis links the personal interests of syrian leadership to decisions regarding syria's state policy towards lebanon -- particularly the term extension of emile lahoud.

The diplomat I spoke with believes the reason the Asad family overruled the older generation of experienced Lebanon hands was that family members such as Bashar’s brother Maher and his cousin Rami Makhlouf had important business dealings in Lebanon which depended on Lahoud. “They needed Lahoud to stay for their own interests,” he said. “The family members were pushing for his retention. Perhaps they were trying to create their own Lebanon policy and side-line the ‘old guard,’” he added. “Maybe Bashar went along because he is trying to create his own base of power?”
this is an important insight, and the disturbance it creates in damascus which encouraged landis to remove it (for the safety of his friends and family) connotes proximity to truth. it means that the assad family -- multiple individuals -- is in rulership of syria, and that they have the initiative to trump the bureaucracy that the assad patriarch placed over decades to assist him.

if this is true, then some of what i said earlier must be reassessed:

it would surely take a massive miscalculation on the syrian government's part -- a government that, even with a change of leadership, still retains much of the infrastructure that was responsible for what pipes calls "tactical genius" -- to put them behind this act.
indeed, landis is saying that the syrian government's infrastructure has been sidelined. this would put the assad family in a much more likely position of guilt. despots are very capable of myopic miscalculation where tangible self-interest lies even when the state's abstract interests lie elsewhere.

it's important to note that everyone is grasping at straws to a great degree. no one knows what is in the mind of bashar assad or ariel sharon or douglas feith. and despite everything just said, it still would take a monumental and counterintuitive miscalculation on the part of the syrian ruling family to make it so. but the assad family may indeed be the mover behind this act, even as it gives their ideological enemies the cassus bellum to destroy them.


 

daniel pipes and syria


reason points to neoconservative daniel pipes' musings on bashar assad's ascendancy to the syrian dictatorship as the reason syria is suddenly capable of blind stupidity and irrationality in all actions -- a blanket case for attributing all manner of evildoing to a nation that pipes and other neocons have ideologically sought to destroy for more than a decade.

i personally can't believe reason credits that bloodthirsty monster. it's like praising charles manson.

it is one thing to be a machiavellian -- it is another to need to see blood. pipes wants to see muslim blood spilled for his cause, and rationalizes a paranoid politics, including a speculative ubiquity of islamofascist terrorism and racist suspicion of all muslim arabs, from that starting point. there is no hardbitten civitas in that, no acknowledgement of the fluid dynamics of politics. he himself describes his views as "the simple politics of a truck driver". so the only valid views are those without complexity or nuance? has antiintellectualism made such inroads into the american psyche that this becomes credible?

what pipes says eminates from the central passion of needing arabs to die for their sins against the ideology of "freedom". as non-saint christopher hitchens notes, pipes has "relish" for death. he may be informed -- so was robespierre. what of it? he is mad. someone at a magazine named 'reason' has to acknowledge that.

regarding hariri's horrible assassination, whatever the actuality is, a realist must admit that the cui bono analysis -- unevidenced as it is -- leads to the neoconservatives. that does not mean that cui bono is a statement of fact. but the possibility must be countenanced.

as has been noted in many well-informed quarters, syria does not benefit in any way from this -- and it is contra to much assad has done recently to try to reconcile on some superficial level at least with the united states. assad knows that regime change is a risk. it would surely take a massive miscalculation on the syrian government's part -- a government that, even with a change of leadership, still retains much of the infrastructure that was responsible for what pipes calls "tactical genius" -- to put them behind this act.

israel too had seemingly little to gain. as josh landis noted:

“How can it be the Israelis? It doesn’t make sense for them to do it. They had everything going their way in Lebanon and they didn’t have to do a thing. America and France were doing all the heavy lifting for them. The Lebanese opposition was organizing against Syria in a way that Israel had failed to achieve in 1982. If the world discovered there was Israeli involvement it would be devastating for Sharon.”
however, the neoconservative view is that syria is the linchpin of the region and longterm key to securing israel's security. is it really coincidental that the plan articulated in 1996 by richard perle, douglas feith and others called for damascus to be secured through baghdad?

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions. ... But Syria enters this conflict with potential weaknesses: Damascus is too preoccupied with dealing with the threatened new regional equation to permit distractions of the Lebanese flank.
i would agree that there is little realist advantage in what they've done -- but so was it for iraq. fanatical idealism is their commander. "reality-based" solutions are disdained.

i know a lot of folks don't want to hear that we might have done this thing. i'm sure cathy young would now label me a self-hating american. but cui bono is often a better analysis that occam's razor -- and this is a political cadre that adores machiavelli while perhaps misinterpreting his meaning and has neutered cia to hold the reins of intel and black ops. many have predicted that they would wield them recklessly. perhaps they just did.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

 

the first pebbles?


angry bear cites a financial times article on news from asian markets in recent days -- which have seen a sharp backslide in american treasuries and the dollar, while gold has surged.

the bank of korea is talking about diversifying its foreign exchange assets -- the fourth-largest in the world -- out of dollars.

“The dollar sell-off is a clear indication that the focus of the foreign exchange market seems to be shifting away from interest rate differentials and on to current account funding concerns and central bank diversification speculation that undermined the dollar considerably in the final quarter of 2004,” said Derek Halpenny, senior currency economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi.
the dangers of a dollar crash are manifold, and the chances of a run against the currency are rising.

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negotiation


it's hard to get too excited -- talks wandered on and on with the ira for years. but time magazine reports that negotiations are underway which may bring an end to the iraqi insurgency.

revelatory is the razor that cuts through the bullshit that the american public has been told:

What do the insurgents want? Top insurgent field commanders and negotiators informed TIME that the rebels have told diplomats and military officers that they support a secular democracy in Iraq but resent the prospect of a government run by exiles who fled to Iran and the West during Saddam's regime. The insurgents also seek a guaranteed timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal, a demand the U.S. refuses. But there are some hints of compromise: insurgent negotiators have told their U.S. counterparts they would accept a U.N. peacekeeping force as the U.S. troop presence recedes. Insurgent representative Abu Mohammed says the nationalists would even tolerate U.S. bases on Iraqi soil. "We don't mind if the invader becomes a guest," he says, suggesting a situation akin to the U.S. military presence in Germany and Japan.
doesn't sound much like the "nihilist" warriors we've been told of prior to now, does it? of course, very little the average american thinks he knows about iraq and our being there is true.

it is important to note what this would not be. it would not be a solid bulwark against civil war -- the american-installed democracy can easily (is likely to, in fact) fail in iraq even if the insurgency stops, leading to a power struggle. it would not be a panacea that solves the problems of a divided iraq where shi'ites and fundamentalists grab power, kurds seek independence and sunnis and secularists live in fear or leave.

but it would be a face-saving way for america to avoid the endless losing war that it is fighting now.

it may also be, as raimondo notes, a promising sign that the idealism regarding iraq may be on the backburner now, forced by mounting disaster to give way to some realism.

but that is only a possibility. one must also remember the ghastly inaugural speech bush gave, and note the mounting propects for war against iran and syria. a declared peace would free our armies to be turned against other targets from their central location in iraq.


Friday, February 18, 2005

 

the american dream


i'm shocked more than ever at the state of real estate around my home turf of chicago. it seems ungodly sums can be commanded by even the shoddiest properties.

the federal reserve has done much to encourage the boom, embarking in 2001 on a plan to suppress interest rates to real negatives -- where the prime rate is significantly less than inflation, offering massive incentive to borrow for private interests everywhere -- in the aftermath of the stock market bear. he even threatens to run the printing presses to create more dollars ex nihilo. it's rather like free money. the government is paying large lenders to borrow -- and they do. massively. the cheap money finances a huge housing boom, but leaves everyone in ever greater debt.

one of the products of this amazing housing boom has been the expansion of the federally-chartered mortgage giants fannie mae and freddie mac. these twin monsters buy mortgages from banks, keep some and bundle the rest into saleable chunks of debt known as mortgage-backed securities. this provides liquidity to the mortgage market -- the banks that lend to people are relieved of their risk at some profit and can go out to lend again, collecting the closing fees that have become an engine of bank profitability.

the economist renews its warnings about the state of affairs this week, citing the testimony of alan greenspan.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

mercenaries beyond the law


nbc is reporting on four mercenaries who quit their contracts in iraq because of the routine acts of murder and mayhem their fellow contractors perpetrated.

They worked for an American company named Custer Battles, hired by the Pentagon to conduct dangerous missions guarding supply convoys. They were so upset by what they saw, three quit after only one or two missions.

"What we saw, I know the American population wouldn't stand for," says Craun.

They claim heavily armed security operators on Custer Battles' missions — among them poorly trained young Kurds, who have historical resentments against other Iraqis — terrorized civilians, shooting indiscriminately as they ran for cover, smashing into and shooting up cars.

On a mission on Nov. 8, escorting ammunition and equipment for the Iraqi army, they claim a Kurd guarding the convoy allegedly shot into a passenger car to clear a traffic jam.

"[He] sighted down his AK-47 and started firing," says Colling. "It went through the window. As far as I could see, it hit a passenger. And they didn't even know we were there."

Later, the convoy came upon two teenagers by the road. One allegedly was gunned down.

"The rear gunner in my vehicle shot him," says Colling. "Unarmed, walking kids."

In another traffic jam, they claim a Ford 350 pickup truck smashed into, then rolled up and over the back of a small sedan full of Iraqis.

"The front of the truck came down," says Craun. "I could see two children sitting in the back seat of that car with their eyes looking up at the axle as it came down and pulverized the back."
it's long been understood that the united states has been forced to hire mercenary armies in afghanistan and iraq because its forces are either insufficient in number or too expensive to operate in certain tasks. they are a consequence of imperial overstrech, and have been for millennia. for that reason, they aren't going anywhere. the empire of liberty needs them.

the trick, it would seem, is how to use them effectively and retain control over them. plainly the defense department has not yet completely worked out how to do that. and they will likely never -- mercenary armies are notorious in history for being nihilistic vicious, unresponsive and halfhearted, and ours are surely no different.


 

dissent in farmland


farmers don't appear just too upset at the bush budget.

farmpolicy continues to report by collecting from diverse sources and is a source for information and reaction.

it should be noted that the administration may have played it just right:

The article also said that, "Wisconsin Rep. Dave Obey, the Democratic leader on the Appropriations Committee, said during the hearing it was 'highly unlikely' that Congress would approve the farm spending cuts proposed by the White House.

"Subcommittee member Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican, said the White House 'is trying to balance the budget on the backs of farmers' and trying to rewrite the terms of the popular 2002 farm subsidy law."

Mr. Abbot also reported that, "[T]he House Agriculture Committee met and flatly opposed the administration proposals. The panel approved a letter saying 'we should let programs operate as designed,' which was sent to the House Budget Committee. The budget committee has first responsibility to respond to the White House plan."
as i wrote previously, saddest of all, i'm certain the bush administration has taken no great step here -- the ag lobby is incredibly strong in congress, and the bush budget was constructed with that knowledge. even under such fiscal duress as we endure today, subsidies will probably not be allowed to lapse.


 

social and political philosophy


as a resource, an outline of political philosophy, ancient and modern, consisting of citations.


 

propaganda: gannon/guckert


there's little i can add to this sinister laugher, but to note that everyone from salon and their blog and kos (beginning on february 8 but continuing) to americablog (and continuing) to the daily show to atrios to christian science monitor is amazed at the ongoing brazen manipulation of what most innocent americans believe is real information honestly disseminated.

government produced propaganda videos in news format; third-party commentators in the secret employ of the white house; now fake reporters planted in white house press briefings to lob softball questions and in other briefings to attack with classified information.

what is the lesson? this adminstration considers the flow of information to be not a discourse with the people nor the due diligence of responsible government but a weapon by which to control the masses.

the bush administration is at war not just with terrorists or drugs or totalitarianism -- it is at war with the citizens of the united states. the level of demagogic contempt these actions express for the people underscores the barely-mitigated fascist approach to politics -- the morality not of the christian west but of the machiavellian strong prince and the roman civitas -- that the administration has adopted.


 

judicial nominations


kos notes that the bush administration has renominated twenty failed nominees for the federal bench. the battle to push them through may be the death knell for the filibuster, the most potent weapon in the senate's minority arsenal. previously rejected by the senate amid hundreds of approvals as too ideological, the administration is apparently unwilling to concede to the senate the authority to refuse the imperial will.

the article i linked to above, from the center for individual freedom, advocates ending the filibuster with the following rationale:

The irony is that the very majoritarian rule suggested by the text of the Constitution is deemed "nuclear" by those who have sworn an oath to uphold "the supreme Law of the Land."
of course, this is an entirely too common recasting of history and the intent of the founders to serve current ideological expediencies. with the possible exception of jefferson, the founders feared democracy, as well we should -- for they had read their plato, and viewed majoritarian democracy as unstable, chaotic and ultimately tyrannical. they intentionally constructed the senate and the supreme court to be insensitive to the will of the mob and replete with conservative tradition and powerful weapons for the minority. the founders were english parliamentarians, not french revolutionaries. they read burke, not rousseau.

kos' comment:

Bush has never been interested in building concensus. Despite the best confirmation record in a generation, Bush refuses to brook even the mildest dissent.
i have to say, it is to be expected from here on out.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

 

a clean break


events in lebanon continue to unfold, but the vitriolic american response is perhaps best contextualized by reading some recent history -- a paper called "a clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm".

authored in 1996 by a neoconservative group including richard perle, douglas feith and others, it is an outline for an israeli foreign policy of militarism against its neighbors as a means of insuring israeli domination of its environment. the focal point of the paper: syria.

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.
raimondo warns:

Syria was seen by these Likudniks as the main target of the Israeli advance. However, Israel could not invade Iraq and outflank the Syrians. Only Washington could change the strategic environment for the Israelis – and that is certainly what has happened. The theme of the "Clean Break" scenario is that the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad, and phase one of the Likudnik mission has been accomplished. We are now entering phase two – the Syrian phase – of the "Clean Break" strategy. Get ready for "shock and awe" over Damascus.
it is this context that makes the american response to harari's assassination so menacing. trial balloons had already been floated in syria's direction. the event provides some justification to employ the army we already have in the region, just as it is "relieved" of its responsibilities in iraq thanks to a much-trumpeted election.

will that justification be enough to sell another war on the home front? or will a renewed propaganda assault be undertaken to deceive the american people of the necessity of invading syria?

or will the imperial presidency simply ignore opinion and congress?

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anti-semitism and anti-zionism


by way of al-hiwar, a reference on the line between anti-semitism and anti-zionism. i have to admit that i find this insufficient.

i see israel (not judaism, of course, which has a historical and geographic diversity much deeper than western civilization -- indeed, informed the christianity that is so fundamental to the west) as belonging at least in part to the western body of nations -- it was carved of the british hegemony in 1947 under the auspices of the western powers. israel has further maintained close cultural and economic ties to the west, and vice versa. israel, despite its implied religious nature, is a western nation -- part of western civilization.

as such, i feel not at all wrong in holding israel to a standard political higher than i would attempt to hold non-western political entities. if israel is to be civilized, it must meet the standards of western civility -- a standard that many mideastern nations do not attempt to meet. i find it a confusing statement, then, to hear that anti-semitism can consist of just that point:

Critics who habitually single out Israel for condemnation while ignoring far worse actions by other countries (especially other Middle Eastern countries) are anti-Semitic.
the implication is that the government of israel need aspire to behave no better than any third-world despot. this sort of moral relativism i find appalling and insidious; such a lowering of standards as it allows constitutes a retrogression into barbarity. can advocating that be pro-israel?

moreover, i am disturbed to see that questioning the utility of the creation of israel -- even if it should prove to ultimately be horribly damaging to both the jewish and palestinian peoples -- is also "off limits":

Attacks on the merits of Israel's existence rather than individual government policies are anti-Semitic.
again, the presumption seems to be that the creation of israel is an essential good, a noble ideal sparked of virtue. what if in fact this proves not to be so? and what if we discover that some of the principles by which israel was formed and developed now seem unsustainable and incompatible with ethics and civility? such dissent seems vital to me, and finds vigorous voice within judaism itself.

mind you, i am no opponent of jewish empowerment -- i highly respect and enjoy rabbinic judaism for its ethical and talmudic traditions and cultural integrity, aspects which offer a vision of education and society that i wish the broader west would more closely emulate, and deserving of authority by its very nature. but there is, as marc ellis and milton viorst have considered, as much to question about israel and what ellis sees as "constantinian judaism" as there is about america or britain or france.

i pose no question to israel that i would not pose to the united states, my home. i have said repeatedly that the united states' invasion and occupation of iraq was reprehensible on every level; and i can find virtually no aspect of history to stand in defense of regarding the american treatment of native americans. does this make me anti-american? i should certainly think not -- the process of criticism is that by which we can reinforce our identity and assure our civility of continued health. the abandonment of critical examination of israel under such a broad definition of anti-semitism does israel no justice. and, as viorst notes, the stakes are intolerable:

After two thousand years of strenuous survival in exile, it would be a grim irony if homecoming is remembered by history not as the seed of the Jews' redemption but of their self-destruction.
FURTHER READING: "jewish power" by paul eisen.

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calling our bluff


lee smith at slate sums up the situation pretty succinctly, if the syrians are in fact (as he supposes they are) the party behind the assassination of rafiq harari.

For his part, however, Assad is gambling that for all its tough talk, the White House has neither the troops, the time, the energy, nor the domestic political credibility to back up its threats. The Syrians are probably not wrong. After all, what kind of meaningful action can the United States take? A missile strike against Damascus will add much to Syrian prestige in the region and little to that of Washington, unless the White House is willing to commit troops—and right now those troops are tied down in Iraq. In short, Assad has called Bush's bluff.

To understand the repercussions, remember that the White House has maintained that success in Iraq would have ripple effects throughout the region. As it turned out, this is true. The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq indicated that the United States meant business, a posture that encouraged the Lebanese opposition to challenge Syria. But the ripple effect also works the other way. If opposition figures are assassinated in Beirut, this is a message that, for all its power, the United States can't always be there to protect you. Even worse is that if the Bush administration does nothing about Hariri's murder, the message will be that Washington cannot and will not protect you at all. It will be very hard to get people in the region to work with the United States if everyone believes that there is no difference between sticking your neck out and handing an executioner his weapon.
it must be said that it may not matter who did this thing; if it is widely believed that the syrians are responsible, that variation of the game is what will be played. in that case, smith's analysis means that the bush administration is in a situation where it is nearly impossible to step up but it cannot -- if bush's words and threats are to mean anything to anyone in the mideast -- back down even as the neoconservatives prepare for war against iran.

it seems to me that, despite the logistical difficulties, there is a significant danger of armed american intervention in syria being moved to the front burner if assad cannot be convinced to withdraw from lebanon (as many syrians even seem to think is likely). the next few weeks will be very important.


 

just looking


imagine the utter hysteria and total belligerence that would ensue here if an iranian spy drone overflew an american nuclear facility.


 

beating the drum against syria


as events continue to unfold in the aftermath, it's becoming obvious that rafiq hariri's killing has become a rallying point for lebanese opposition politics, much as ukrainian opposition politics found a focal point in yushchenko's loss.

the passing of un resolution 1559, which followed an overreaching lebanese government effort to constitutionally extend the term of pro-syrian president lahoud -- a move which breathed new life into the lebanese opposition and moved hariri and others to the political forefront -- evidently jeopardized hariri's life.

but the question of guilt remains. evidence -- the bomb's size and complexity, primarily -- indicates state sponsorship of the act. but syria is so obvious an accusation that the way was open for other nations who would wish to unsettle lebanese and syrian political stability -- or simply machinate a cause celebre for intervention -- to act under that political cover. many religious groups within lebanon opposed the western-style secularist hariri. moreover, there's the question as to whether bashar assad has full control of all the syrian political elements that could have perpetrated such a crime. none of this is to say that assad could not be so brazen; but the political risk of this event for syria seems so high that there is certainly room for speculation regarding other actors.

but the united states hasn't missed a beat, taking the opportunity to raise the ante with syria -- a ba'athist autocracy which is certainly on the neoconservative hitlist for global democratic revolution.
U.S. deputy ambassador Anne Patterson urged Syria to pull out its troops from Lebanon and said the United States would be following up with Secretary-General Kofi Annan immediately to see how the statement is going to be implemented.

"The United States is calling on Syria to comply immediately with the provisions of resolution 1559, and that is totally consistent with the statement the Security Council has just passed," she said.

Asked whether the United States blamed Syria for Hariri's assassination, Patterson replied, "We don't know who did this horrible act at this point, but let it be clear that the message (from) the council is that other countries should get out of Lebanese affairs."

The U.S. envoy became angry when a reporter asked whether the United States was politicizing the assassination by referring to 1559.

"Well good grief, a man just got blown up in downtown Beirut in the middle of the day and hundreds of people have been injured," Patterson shot back. "This is not a political act on our part and what I think that you need to take on board here is that the Security Council has a long history of engagement on this issue. The message has been very consistent -- that other countries need to stop interfering in Lebanon."
which is obviously not an answer to the question.

the drumbeat in the american press has been to associate the syrians not only with guilt but belligerence, as though the causal link was evident a priori:

"I have been very careful to say we really don't know who committed this murder at this point, but we do know what effect the Syrian presence in Lebanon has," Boucher said. "And we do know that it doesn't bring security for Lebanese."
these are three factual statements -- but how is the first necessarily connected to the latter two? no evidence exists yet, but that hasn't stopped the united states government from implying the link -- much as they've done under other circumstances quite effectively for political and ideological expediency. soon enough, i suspect, the rabble-rousers will be unleashed.

lebanon is not an inherently stable place. many lebanese wonder if this now is not the beginning of darkness there, and openly talk about the iraquization of lebanon. one can only hope that stability prevails -- and that lebanon does not fall victim to the fire.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

 

fair use


as a reference, fair use for bloggers.


 

rafiq hariri


a couple of articles on the death of former lebanese prime minister rafiq hariri, which has brought sabre-rattling from the united states and retributive riots in sidon and beirut and a mobilization of the lebanese army. the beirut daily star even laments the possible death of democracy in lebanon, which has scheduled elections for may, and the abyss of civil war again looms large in many opinions.

why such a big deal? tim cavanaugh explains:

He was the Middle East's single most persistent and energetic advocate for civil society, for unrestrained media, for business-based solutions to the Levantine dilemma, and for a free, capitalist, forward-looking Arab world.
in a world where the united states is laboring for global democratic revolution with military excursions, this is a severe blow to peace. the pre-emptive conclusion -- which may be right -- is that syrian interests in the lebanese government are responsible, as the attack came on the heels, as michael young notes, of an article published in Al-Hayat yesterday suggesting that he any attack against him was a "red line" for the Syrians as far as the international community was concerned.

syria controls the current lebanese government and much of lebanese politics to this day as a legacy of their intervention in lebanon's 16-year civil war. the united nations called on syria to withdraw under un resolution 1559, which the united states and france (from whose sykes-picot dominion syria and lebanon were cut) are increasingly pressuring syria to comply with. hariri was certainly pro-western operator and backed 1559.

there's also a second theory, based on cui bono analysis which suggests that israel and mossad may have been working to destabilize the international situation with respect to syria in an effort to force american intervention against its enemy in syria. this is thusfar entirely unevidenced, as far as i know, but the syrian and iranian governments have forwarded the idea noting that this would have been particularly obtuse timing:

Maan Abdul Salam, the director of a Damascus-based publishing house, Etana Press, said that Hariri's death was not only shocking, but of no conceivable long-term benefit to Syria.

"Everyone seems to be in such a hurry to accuse Syria," Abdul Salam said. "I don't know who is doing this, but I can't see how this can benefit us. If anything, it will be used as an excuse to be harder on Syria."
UPDATE: via yglesias, blog commentary from joshua landis at syria comment and the arabist.


Monday, February 14, 2005

 

the animal within


via reason, a stanford study which suggests that backing a political candidate is based partially on how much he looks like you.

this can only come as a surprise, it seems to me, to people who dispute or disregard the deeply animal nature of mankind and the extent to which our behavior is hardwired by genetics.


 

buchanan, sharansky and israel


the elevation of natan sharansky to a position of ideological verisimilitude by the bush administration in recent months has been drawing attention and criticism from around both the leftist and paleoconservative world. raimondo draws attention to pat buchanan's skewering of sharansky's militant idealism on this week's edition of "meet the press".

sharansky comes off as something of an idiot, in my humble opinion -- his utterly naive belief in the universal virtue of men and of freedom idealized and his simpleminded polarization of the world into dark and light as his ideology's litmus test defines it are childlike, unevidenced and wholly idealistic:

America was attacked because it is the leader of the free world and the world of terror where the values are very different. ... I believe that all the people, when given opportunity to choose between living in fear or living in freedom, choose to live in freedom. ... Dictatorships are very dangerous but they are very weak from inside. The moment the Free World stops supporting them, they fall apart. ... There will be no justice without democracy.
all these statements dress up the hardest of hard lines: there can be nothing but antagonism toward all who are not just like us -- or, at least, what we suppose ourselves to be.

at core, however is one grand delusion driving it all:

... the security of the United States of America, people in the United States of America, depends on the level of freedom of people in the other countries because democracies are peaceful, because the leaders of democratic countries depend on the will of their people.
this is such a horrid fallacy that one wonders where such dreamy stupidity can emerge from.

it first supposes, against all prior evidence, that all political systems overseas have a significant effect on american "security" -- a term now so overused as to be meaningless. what is indisputable is that the united states has not been invaded since 1812 -- and then by the lockean parliamentary republic of great britain. in the time since, countless authoritarian regimes have existed, many quite powerful. only one of them has so much as attempted to threaten to invade -- the empire of japan in 1941.

on this evidence, then, we're to assume that all the minor undemocratic nations are suddenly a threat to us? even those who are openly friendly towards us? because one group of fanatics committed one horrible act against us? -- an act that, as buchanan ably points out, has little to do with american freedom:

MR. RUSSERT: The president said that on September 11th, "Freedom came under attack."

MR. BUCHANAN: The president of the United States was profoundly mistaken. He has misdiagnosed the malady. He has misdiagnosed the reason for the attack, Tim. The United States was not attacked because we are free. Bin Laden was not attacking the Bill of Rights. We were attacked because the United--over here because the United States' military and political presence is massive over there. Bin Laden in his fatwah, his statement of declaration of war on the United States, said the infidels were standing on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. They want us out of the Middle East. They don't care whether we have a separation of church and state.
the entire idea is so frail that it bears no weight of inspection.

more incredibly and profoundly damning, however, sharansky's statement further supposes that empowering the people will reveal an innate condition of virtue, peace and prosperity -- a concept the opposite of which has been displayed in resplendent devastation innumerable times in history. the people are the mob -- and sharansky simply supposes that the mob is virtuous.

that simple statement of fact without ideological euphemism exposes the fundamental, delusional and complete wrongness of sharansky's core principle.

the very constitution this nation once governed itself with it evidence of his (and the neoconservatives') error. enumerated within it are the rights of men, derived of the theory of natural law -- speech, assembly, the press. are these rights provided and protected by the virtue of men? utterly not -- indeed, they are so enumerated so as to prevent the mob from denying them as might be their whim. and why would they deny them? because men are not reliably rational, nor moderate, nor virtuous. they cannot be trusted to decide what is right and moral for themselves, and prove so at most nearly every opportunity. the point, the very function of law and institutions that uphold them is to prevent men beguiled of an idea -- not simply misguided individuals, mind you, but the mass of the citizenry, the mob and its leaders -- from acting on their will precisely because such acts are so often so terribly amoral and destructive.

sharansky, in effect, denies that historically-evident fact.

worst of all, these statements of warrantless ideology in practice have brought what they must. israel, a democracy -- and recall, sharansky knows democracies are peaceful -- has fought five major wars in the space of sixty years, three pre-emptively, empowering arafat and the plo by occupying the west bank and gaza in 1967, forcing the formation of hezbollah by invading and occupying lebanon in 1982. as buchanan acidly observed:

MR. BUCHANAN: Look, every American supports the right of Israel to exist and...

MR. SHARANSKY: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: ...almost every American supports American weapons to Israel to defend its national security and national existence...

MR. SHARANSKY: Yeah.

MR. BUCHANAN: ...however, we do believe that Israel has got to give up the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank because this problem in the Middle East, which is caused there, is causing acts of terror -- not only against you, but against us. It is making us hated in a part of the world where the United States was never before hated, was admired, if you will.
buchanan pounded sharansky hard enough for him to reflexively tap out of the fight under a specious use of the rubric of antisemitism:

MR. SHARANSKY: Israel is the only member of the United Nations who's under constant threat of total annihilation--total annihilation. We have to fight for our rights to exist on this world...

MR. BUCHANAN: That's right.

MR. SHARANSKY: ...from the day we were born and I have to say unfortunately one of the modern problems of anti-Semitism is the denial of the right of Israel to exist.

MR. BUCHANAN: All right.

MR. SHARANSKY: They say all the Palestinians have to go back to Tel Aviv and all the Jews who came there, it's a colony. They have to leave it. That's what they hear now more and more in...
i have a very difficult time seeing what is antisemitic about opposing the conquest and occupation of the homes of palestinian arabs in 1967, or the forced eviction of millions of palestinians in the formation of israel in 1947-8. why was it not possible to leave the arabs where they were, to allow them to return? because israel was conceived as a religious state -- and for it to be both religious and democratic, those of the "wrong" religion had to be expelled (or exterminated, which was thankfully not the path taken).

is it antisemitic, then, to say that israel was wrongly conceived as a jewish state? that the incompatibility of a democratic theocracy and human decency in this case, with the fate of so many non-jews in the balance, was too great and has since been the source of almost limitless suffering and destruction? and that even now, being faced with the growth of the arab israeli population to majority status, the future of israel must be as an arab state -- because the alternative is to provide again only those awful options of eviction or extermination which are the very antithesis of the freedom sharansky so duplicitously advocates as a real weapon against arabs but an apparent inconvenience to the idea of israel, spawning so much hatred and violence?

unfortunately, i'm sure bush loves sharansky's ideas for those very reasons that have least to do with this terrible reality of israel's legacy. and that -- american leadership succumbing to such fanatic, fantastic notions with militant zeal -- is nothing less than a prescription for the final blow to our republic on the altar of perpetual war in search of attaining the unattainable.


Friday, February 11, 2005

 

agricultural subsidies


american farmers have been alarmed at the bush budget allocation for agricultural subsidies, which represents a 5% cut this year and reductions of a third over the next ten years.

this is something of a shock, as the economist noted:

In the surprising category is farming: the president proposes cutting the Agriculture Department’s spending by $2 billion, or 9.6%. Much of this reduction would come by capping subsidies (much of which go to big farms) at $250,000 per farm. This will infuriate communities in the farming states of the south, mid-west and west, most of which have up until now been firm supporters of Mr Bush.
the united states is no longer an agrarian nation, but these subsidies have come to represent two things. first, a redistribution of funds to politically-powerful agribusiness; and second, assistance for the oft-romanticized small farmers.

the former is a typical method of rewarding political backers and currying future favor, and what can be said about it has already been said everywhere else. but the latter is often assumed to be a virtuous cause, as visions of puritan families in the heartland rouse strong emotions of the american mythology.

but it is not virtuous. such subsidies keep many small farmers in business, instead of being bought out by more successful and efficient farms or simply shuttered. the resulting glut of production capacity undermines commodity prices, pushing yet more small farmers to the brink. much of this inefficient production should be allowed to end, allowing prices to rise naturally and reducing the need of subsidy.

subsidies can also be capricious. one of the greatest strikes against small farmers was instigated by president reagan's 1981 farm bill when he dramatically increased support for small farmers. being suddenly flush with cash from price supports, many small farms invested in expansion, often unwisely. when overproduction took hold, these farmers were caught out overextended as markets tanked and were crushed throughout 1983-5, with thousands going into bankruptcy and foreclosure. farm aid and scarecrow resulted.

but, perhaps most profoundly, government farm policy make american commodities competitive with third-world agricultural output that would, in a free market, undercut western producers and give poor nations the much-needed area of comparative advantage that could improve the impoverished conditions of their societies. titanic agricultural subsidies and strict tariffs in the developed world may be the single greatest global impediment to progress in eliminating poverty and starvation. they are the source of a great deal of third-world concern and complaint, destabilizing trade talks, and the poor nations have been validated powerfully by the wto in their claims.

saddest of all, i'm certain the bush administration has taken no great step here -- the ag lobby is incredibly strong in congress, and the bush budget was constructed with that knowledge. even under such fiscal duress as we endure today, subsidies will probably not be allowed to lapse.

railing against farm subsidies is at least as old as h.l. mencken. add me to the litany.


 

extraordinary rendition


the new yorker ran this week a jane meyer piece regarding extraordinary rendition, the reviling and entirely savage practice of the bush administration by which uncharged detainees are exported to nations like syria and egypt for the purpose of torturing them and extracting information (regardless of quality) for american intelligence agencies.

Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, “an abomination.” What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects—people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants—came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms “illegal enemy combatants.” Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime. Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association, estimates that a hundred and fifty people have been rendered since 2001. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that a more precise number was impossible to obtain. “I’ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,” he said. “They refuse to answer. All they will say is that they’re in compliance with the law.”
if you still retain any doubt that all sense of morality is lost among the cancerous, evil jacobins in the white house, who are apparently intent on becoming everything our forefathers despised and fought, read the entire lengthy article.


 

understanding fascism


geoff price of rational revolution maintains an extremely insightful and informative page on fascism, its origins and propagation since its advent as a reaction of marxism -- and how it has been a part of american political development since 1933.

the question of what to do about it was put to me recently by a friend.

i have no answer. little bouts of zeal are turned back or run themselves out when they are eddies in broader currents. but what does one do when the broader current turns to chaos and destruction? has anyone noticed that that britain and australia both are having similar fits of what might be termed neofascism?

i think what we're faced with is probably beyond the realm of reasoned discourse and modesty to resolve. when nietzschean ethics appeared in the 1890s and subsequently became the common underlying basis of human interaction, individualism in western civilization stepped over something like that same line which it did in rome when the gracchi were killed. these ethics read like the western manifesto now -- but they are profoundly destructive to an orderly society based on rule of law, common cause and compassion. they are the seeds of totalitarianism.

i think the anglophone world relied on the strength and inertia of its institutions -- inherited of the british tradition of the long parliament, locke and the parliament of 1688 which emerged from the wars of religion -- to defend itself from the insidious antisocial nature of unchecked individualism which swelled from the romantics onward through the counter-enlightenment. in latecoming pseudonations like germany and italy, or those with weak and backward political content such as spain and russia, there wasn't much to stem the tide.

it's simply taken several more decades for the empirical, utilitarian, parliamentarian, materialist, lawful british tradition to be undermined and corrupted by the individual idealism encoded by nietzsche. i think we're today adopting fascism under the same influences that constructed the dictatorships of the 1920s and 30s. we exhibit similar symptoms of heroic national destiny, the abstraction of nation-as-individual, rampant militarism, security paranoia, plebiscitarian politics and a bizarre abundance of pride and arrogance. we are at war everywhere against the forces of decay and decline. our leaders openly study the fascists -- which is entirely appropriate, as the aims of neoconservatism and fascism are the same: the reinvigoration of a decadent and declining high civilization in primitivism. when spengler wrote "decline of the west" in 1927, he pinned the decline on "liberalism, democracy, socialism, free-masonry" -- all the products of the empirical tradition. this is terribly familiar rhetoric.

the idea isn't far from marxism, either, except in the diagnosis of the method. fascists find reinvigoration in primitivism -- be they wolfowitz or spengler -- while marxists think they can unlock in revolution the next utopian stage in dialectical materialism. but the central recognition in common is that the west is dying. the 20th century dialogue can be seen as the argument over how best to save civilization in the aftermath of the first world war and the realization of absurdity and decadence.

the events that marked the end of the 20th century clearly resolved that argument: fascism has won the debate over how to preserve the west. materialist marxists, once inveterately modern, rationalist and industrial, have been exposed as utopians, economically discredited, and have been in the main corrupted into socialists -- primitivist individualists all the same. (no surprise then that so many neocons are converted trotskyites.) the modern western leftist now espouses all manner of primitivisms such as environmentalism, sanctity of indigenous culture, controlled trade, limitations of the arts and speech. these are fascist arguments, of which materialists have been convinced or compelled to accept.

socialism was conceived as the confluence and dilution of utilitarian principles with romantic sanctity of the individual. as we're seeing now in the rise of ideological fascism and religious cultism in america, the materialist component has been ever further eroded over the last few decades -- to a point where it is now barely discernable -- allowing government utilities like social security to be butchered for the sake of personal emancipation.

the iterations of socialist policies that now dominate the anglophone west are neither a progressive step to marxist utopia nor a third-way compromise but naked romantic individualist escapism -- the means of foisting the onerous duties of truly free men onto the state so that the nietzschean individual can run about irresponsibly in search of self-fulfillment. their dislocation from any empirical reality can be seen in how they are financed, itself an echo of prior fascist fiscal schema, which were distinctly keynesian.

the end of the cold war -- which long kept the west in a tension that meant realist discipline -- has released nietzschean individualist fantasies of self-indulgence without counterpoint on the west like a storm. i think the united states and britain have grown to be what are essentially fascist systems which are gradually approaching dictatorship -- for example, could congress really stop the president? and would anyone risk trying?

it's going to become more and more apparent over time that congress is a shell of authority that has become an advisory panel. that will eventually be made obvious to all, probably in the resolution of crisis, and some or all the anglophone democracies recognized as fascist dictatorships. and i don't think there's much of anything that can be done to keep it from happening -- after all, fascism has won, for better or worse, the ideological debate for the western future.

UPDATE: other web resources regarding the ascendancy of fascism in america include scott mcconnell at american conservative, paul craig roberts of the stanford university conservative thinktank the hoover institution, justin raimondo as editor of antiwar.com, and mises institute head lew rockwell.

SEE ALSO: national socialism in the contemporary


Thursday, February 10, 2005

 

freehold


reason notes the first municipal elections in decades which have taken place in saudi arabia, noting that the franchise is there extremely limited.

and that's frankly as it should be. for all george bush's sermonizing on the virtues of plebiscitarian government, a great many of the ills of democracy stem from the fact that too many people have the vote. granting suffrage to the indigent, uneducated and idiotic -- who inevitably outnumber the industrious and educated by a wide margin -- is a manner of sowing the seeds of tyranny, as has been demonstrated time and again in history.

i would prefer a property-requirement, simply because it means that such voters have a large stake in the outcome of elections -- the owners have the assets and income which the government taxes in order to operate.

such a restriction would have a great limiting effect on the size of government -- the explosion of governmental size in the west was certainly related to the successful movement for universal suffrage.

all the states of the original union restricted suffrage to freeholders of some minimum amount -- "freehold" being the outright ownership of some real estate without debt against it. alexander hamilton wrote in the farmer refuted:

If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote? But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.
this was then a society that still sensibly looked askance of indebtedness because it so clearly puts one in a position of dependency. receipt of government entitlement should, for the same reason, be an obvious disqualifier specifically to prevent the inclusion those who hamilton refers to as "some who are suspected to have no will of their own". putting people who are dipping into the till the chance to determine who guards the till is the quickest path to economic implosion. as historian and jurist alexander fraser tytler, lord woodhouselee, is reputed to have said in a series of lectures early in the 19th c regarding his studies of the decline and fall of the athenian democracy:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.
that said, such a government is still best when run by lockean principles -- rule by law and separated powers. an aristocratic government so divided is checked by the people (who still hold the pitchforks and torches, after all) to ensure that their power does not grow beyond the proscription of law.

none of this is new, of course. it's exactly the system the english fought for in the 17th c and that we subsequently constructed in the 18th. what is new is that we have completely forgotten it.


 

inverted yield curve


as the american treasury-bond market has rallied yet again, the news from europe is that of a coincident rally which threatens to invert the yield curve, as has already occurred in the british market.

the yield curve is simply a plot of the yields of the various durations of treasury debt, from 30-day bills to 30-year bonds.

generally, lenders demand higher interest rates for longer obligations of debt because the lender assumes more risk over that time -- risk of the borrower's default, risk of rising rates that make this lending look poor by comparison. so the yield curve normally rises as it moves to the longer durations.

interpreting yield curves gives some insight on what the market expects of the economy. as markets set rates, the curve can steepen or flatten -- steeper curves implying that markets expect interest rates to rise over time, flatter curves that rate movement will be indeterminate. as rising interest rates accompany inflation and often a strengthening economy, steep curves are seen as harbingers of economic growth.

inverted curves -- where the longer-duration, more-uncertain yields are actually lower than the short-term yields -- are rare. the occurrence of an inverted curve suggests that rates are expected to decline over time, an event which would normally accompany recessions. the expectation of recession gives lenders reason to loan money for longer durations, locking in current rates prior to the expected decline.

the inverted curve can be a powerful indicator of trouble in the months ahead. (the yield curve in the united states inverted in early 2000, indicating the onset of the recession of 2000-2002, for example.) when accompanied by widening credit spreads, the implication is quite ominous.


 

rice in europe


new secretary of state condi rice has won widespread support for her message -- which is, essentially, that we have a common outlook. rice has pointedly put abstractions first, talking about freedom and dialogue while leaving specifics like regime change for another day.

presenting the softer face of american ideological fascism has given some in europe the public opportunity they desperately desire for reconciliation. the estrangement of atlanticism has worn nerves raw for many who view a relationship of opposition, even antagonism with america as a potentially catastrophic step.

but reconciliation will have limits, as the tactical differences remain -- and, more profoundly, the philosophy has changed. the united states has moved steadily away from internationalism and utilitarianism since the 1960s.

we shall see -- rumsfeld heads to europe this week. if no news emerges of his bluster from the nato meetings in nice, it will be a victory for the bush administration.


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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

 

nietzschean ideas


just wanted to make a note of a reference page -- The Influence of Nietzsche:

The goal of life should be to find yourself. True maturity means discovering or creating an identity for yourself.

The highest virtue is to be true to yourself (consider these song titles from a generation ago: "I Gotta Be Me," "I Did It My Way").

When you fall ill, your body is trying to tell you something; listen to the wisdom of your body.

People who hate their bodies or are in tension with them need to learn how to accept and integrate their physical selves with their minds instead of seeing them as in tension with each other. The mind and body make up a single whole.

Athletes, musicians, etc. especially need to become so attuned to their bodies that their skills proceed spontaneously from the knowledge stored in their muscles and are not frustrated by an excess of conscious rational thought. (The influence of Zen Buddhism on this sort of thinking is also very strong.)

Sexuality is not the opposite of virtue, but a natural gift that needs to be developed and integrated into a healthy, rounded life.

Many people suffer from impaired self-esteem; they need to work on being proud of themselves.

Knowledge and strength are greater virtues than humility and submission.

Overcoming feelings of guilt is an important step to mental health.

You can't love someone else if you don't love yourself.

Life is short; experience it as intensely as you can or it is wasted.

People's values are shaped by the cultures they live in; as society changes we need changed values.

Challenge yourself; don't live passively.
and a summary of the nietzschean critique of mass culture.


 

current account


stephen roach at morgan stanley ruminates on the words of greenspan prior to this week's g-7 meetings.

Greenspan’s admission came when he finally made the connection between the excesses of America’s property market and its gaping current account deficit. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time he ventured into this realm of the debate with such clarity. He starts by conceding “…the growth of home mortgage debt has been the major contributor to the decline in the personal saving rate in the United States from almost 6 percent in 1993 to its current level of 1 percent.” He then goes on to admit that the rapid growth in home mortgage debt over the past five years has been “driven largely by equity extraction” -- jargon for the withdrawal of asset appreciation from the consumer’s largest portfolio holding, the home. In addition, the Chairman cites survey data suggesting, “Approximately half of equity extraction shows up in additional household expenditures, reducing savings commensurately and thereby presumably contributing to the current account deficit.” In other words, he concedes that a debt-induced consumption boom has led to a massive current account deficit. That says it all, in my view.

... Alan Greenspan’s confession finally sets the record straight on how he got us into this mess. But it is a confession that is still steeped in denial. The presumption that natural market forces can cure all ignores the lingering perils of an all-too treacherous endgame. Let’s not forget that nearly five years after the equity bubble popped, America’s imbalances -- to say nothing of the world’s imbalances -- remain in uncharted territory.
roach's assessment of the asset economy here.


 

umberto eco


a blog called vox popoli reprinted an english translation of an article by italian thinker umberto eco:

... one cannot avoid the thought that Roman democracy had begun to die when its politicians understood that they no longer had to be serious about their policies but had only to engineer the obtaining of the sympathies of those we might well call television viewers.


 

the fifties


david castronovo's new book on the american literature of the 1950s was reviewed by the weekly standard (via reason).

it was in reading northrop frye that i came to understand how criticism's relationship to art is like that of physics to nature -- an observing and systematizing of phenomena that must endure a process of review and revision which, while always reductive and never capable of capturing the whole, was capable of adding understanding and meaning through context and examination. frye thought the critical process much more than a container filled by the artist subsequently emptied by the critic. criticism is instead a vehicle for understanding the structure of society as revealed by art, often in ways the artist could not have intended.

so castronovo apparently examines the literature of the fifties. included in the review is a revealing glimpse:

In a concluding chapter, Castronovo quotes the late Marion Magid, a Commentary editor who provides another glimpse into the uniqueness of the 1950s by noting that "it was the last time it was possible to have a 'personal' life. There was a sense of discovery then, but later everything became so codified. Now relationships are mapped, there are pre-established attitudes. There's a sense that everything's been ransacked--every secret, ethnic and sexual. There's no more privacy. You meet and everyone exchanges credentials. We had more room to live the inner life."
this is so indicative of the decadence of modern life -- the notion that its all played out, there is no meaningful originality anymore, every fjord explored, all the shows reruns. majid's comment a really clear statement of the descent into intellectual sterility that accompanies decline, which has also been manifested in part by the farce of political correctness.

i think the 1950s were perhaps really the time when intellectuals, in recovering from the world wars and the depression, first were able to take full stock of how things had changed -- and how the question of la belle epoque had been answered. the realization paved the way for the disorder, fractured utopianism and embrace of antiart and commercialism of the 1960s.


Monday, February 07, 2005

 

the coming crash


brad delong turns the president's pitch for social security into the economic case for a stock market crash.

The fact that economists are forced to choose from among these three options--for there is no fourth way out--has interesting implications for Council of Economic Advisors, "Three Questions About Social Security," February 4, 2005. That memo denies that the equity premium has fallen. It denies that future growth will be fast. And so we have the CEA forecasting a stock market crash.
what the numbers spit out to -- a two-thirds decline in the market to a p/d ratio near 20 -- is just what market oldsters like richard russell, sir john templeton and walter rouleau have been forecasting since the late 1990s. it seems very few people really understand long-term market dynamics and how the market is destined to revert to the mean.


 

solar output climate change


more discussion at reason led to a bit of searching for studies of solar-output model for climate change.

while climate change is historically evident -- it obviously happens -- i remain skeptical of the idea of manmade global warming simply because the evidence of actual rising temperatures is still far too vague and taken over what is a remarkably small time sample. (industrialization is, after all, less than two centuries old.)

even if one admits rising co2 levels from 280ppm to 368ppm as fact, we still have no vision on what that means in terms of climate change because no manmade model adequately captures the system -- indeed, climate is irreducibly complex and probably well beyond the ability of people to model. priem's paper ascertains this to be true even of the co2 subset:

But are changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide really such a major factor in bringing about climatic change? Does there exist a simple cause-and-effect relationship between changes in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and global temperature change? Does the enhanced greenhouse effect due to man’s injection of carbon dioxide warrants the alarm for an imminent calamitous climatic warming? Evidence from the historical and geological record does not lend support to such a governing role of atmospheric carbon dioxide as a climate forcing factor.
his paper goes on to reinforce this statement.

priem states concisely what i've said before at length:

The scary scenarios rely on computer models that attempt to quantify mathematically the multitude of physical, chemical, biological and geological factors, both natural and man-made, that play a role in the climate system. Such models are necessarily reductionistic and deterministic. Many climate forcing factors and feedbacks are not or incompletely understood – for example the roles of clouds, the biosphere, and the most important natural greenhouse gas: water vapour. The different factors influential in climate change also operate at varying scales of time and space and are extremely complex, even when they function by themselves. When they act together, or are coupled, the complications multiply greatly. The models have to cope with numerous feedbacks simultaneously. Climate is a non-linear, "chaotic" system, and small changes in one factor can produce large, but unpredictable changes in the result. The long-term forecasts by the computer models represent essentially a "virtual reality".
solar output climate change would not alleviate any of the complexity of the system of global climate -- nowhere can it be implied that higher solar output must mean immediate higher terrestrial temperature in any linear relationship. but its potential importance does demonstrate how little we truly know about the systems at work in climate.

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Manmade climate change began with agriculture thousands of years ago. When farmers plow the soil, more evaporation takes place. Water vapor is a more significant greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The envirohysterics target CO2 because they want to control industry worldwide. They seem to be immune to our arguments.

I notice you don't get many comments. It isn't because of the quality of your writing. I enjoy reading your thoughts even when we disagree.

 
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you're kind, mr twba -- thank you. i guess i started this thing as a surrogate memory for my poor biological one; it's become a sounding board for comtemplative thought; and it occasionally reads like polemic. what that's worth, i don't know... :)

it fascinates me that people sometimes read and comment on things i write. the dialogue is really important, imo, the missing element of the modern world. so thanks for doing so.

 
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Saturday, February 05, 2005

 

circa regna tonat


sir thomas wyatt wrote this poem, titled v. innocentia veritas viat fides circumdederunt me inimici mei -- latin for 'my enemies surround my innocent, truthful, faithful soul'.

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.
the latin circa regna tonat is a phrase that i find carrying increasing applicability with every passing month. wyatt wrote these words in the tower of london in 1536, having been arrested in a sweep by machaivellian thomas cromwell as he machinated to align england into a reconciliation with slighted catholic spain.

as he watched, five men falsely accused of being intimate with anne boleyn, the mistress-cum-wife-cum-inconvenience of king henry viii whose marriage was made possible by the king's divorce -- an act which required the founding of the anglican faith and the break with rome -- were sent to the executioner.

wyatt witnessed a few days later the beheading of anne boleyn herself from the bell tower -- "The bell tower showed me such sight/That in my head sticks day and night./There did I learn out of a grate,/For all favour, glory, or might,/That yet circa Regna tonat."

wyatt's words are a warning. as this society grows more and yet more unwary of the massing of power under one command, and as the office of that command is ever more praised, reviled, watched and acknowledged to be the primal source of power -- with or without the complicity of tradition and law -- his testimony to the terrible fire of national monarchy and the awful price of standing too tall grows ever more relevant.

circa regna tonat -- 'around the throne, the thunder roars'.


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