clap clap blog: we have moved
Friday, May 02, 2003
Well, I was going to type up some Voeglin for you guys today, but when I went to get my backpack from the practice space last night, there were two people sleeping in front of the (interior) basement door--presumably homeless, although I guess they could be residents chronically averse to stairs--so today I am backpack-less. But it did prompt me to start reading Justice as Fairness: A Restatement by John ("Fuckin'") Rawls, and oh man, it's brilliant. Of course. But lemme type up some of that instead. Here's section 1.3:
A third role [of theory], stressed by Hegel in his Philosophy of Right (1821), is that of reconciliation: political philosophy may try to calm our frustration and rage against our society and its history by showing us the way in which its institutions, when properly understood from a philosophical point of view, are rational, and developed over time as they did to attain their present, rational form. This fits one of Hegel's well-known sayings: "When we look at the world rationally, the world looks rationally back." He seeks for us reconciliation - Versohnung - that is, we are to accept and affirm our social world positively, not merely be resigned to it.
We shall be concerned with this role of political philosophy in several respects. Thus I believe that a democratic society is not and cannot be a community, where by a community I mean a body of persons united in affirming the same comprehensive, or partially comprehensive, doctrine. The fact of reasonable pluralism which characterizes a society with free institutions makes this impossible. This is the fact of profound and irreconcilable differences in citizens' reasonable comprehensive religious and philosophical conceptions of the world, and in their views of the moral and aesthetic values to be sought in human life. But this fact is not always easy to accept, and political philosophy may try to reconcile us to it by showing us the reason and indeed the political good and benefits of it.
At first blush this might seem like the kind of positivism that Voeglin decries as leading to the false affirmations of political science, which seek to merely describe current institutions instead of critiquing them or offering suggestions for improvements or renewal. But instead, I think it makes an important point about politics: that it cannot come from anger if it is to be democratic. Anger is, of course, a legitimate reaction to politics, but it is not one that can ultimately produce positive action. (It can, of course, result in profoundly negative action.) It is a spontaneous emotion that requires a quick remedy or response, and since these are (thankfully) rare in politics, it easily turns into apathy. Rawls isn't saying we should affirm our policies, but simply our democratic institutions, and by doing that he does not promote an acceptance of the status quo but a hope for change. Indeed, if anything, anger ends up promoting the status quo. Rawls seeks not to drain political energy from the citizen, as some might charge, but to induce a slow-burning resolve that change can occur. And that political philosophy can help with this, which I think it can. Theory-heads unite!
The other important thing, of course, is Rawls' assertion that a democracy can never be a community. This stands in stark contrast to those who complain about the fragmented nature of American society, or the seemingly intractably opposed interests of some of its citizens. But, Rawls would point out, this is merely the hallmark of a functioning democracy; if everyone held the same views, we would be living under an authoritarian regime. It is a problem that can be alleviated, but largely by a source we are reluctant to turn to: theory. People talk about the relativism of some theory, but relativism is necessary for living and working productively with other citizens in political life. Or so it seems to me.
posted by Mike B. at 5:48 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Also, the AP points out that Lieberman can't campaign on the sabbath. And that in a national taste test, 4 out of 5 Democrats couldn't tell the difference between him and a Republican.
Dueling headlines: Almost Half Say U.S. May Face SARS Scare v. U.S., Britain No Longer SARS Infected. Ah, polls. I'm sure we will face a "scare" (haven't we already?), but I do wonder if we'll face, you know, an actual medical crisis rather than a mass psychological delusion.
posted by Mike B. at 2:45 PM 0 comments Links to this post
meanwhile, up in the spaceship with elvis and steve dallas...
A tape has been found of Sadaam's last wartime speech. It was supposedly made on April 9, two days after he was supposedly killed in an attack.
posted by Mike B. at 2:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Harm points us to an article about an academic symposium about 2pac, which he thinks sounds ridiculous, and which I think sounds ridiculous and AWESOME! (Ooh, 2pac's birthday is Bloomsday? Gotta use that somewhere.) Maybe this is because I'm a music nerd, although I do admit that it might be nice if they took this stuff a wee bit less seriously while still writing about it critically. Harm ends with the pertinent question: "WHY THE F**K AM I AN ENGLISH MAJOR?" Eh, so it goes in the humanities and the social sciences. Creative writing majors have to read a lot of their classmates' shitty poetry. Politics majors have to endure Marxist classes where everyone talks with this Marx-jargon while acting like everyone should understand their Marx-jargon. Sociology majors have to deal with knowing that their field is an utter fraud. Economics majors have to fight real hard to use their knowledge for good-not-evil. (Helps if you're a politics major too.) Psychology majors have to deal with a very trendy body of academic knowledge. And we all have to deal with people who take their ideology (feminism, marxism, liberalism, conservativism, libertarianism) a little further than it really should go.
posted by Mike B. at 11:53 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, May 01, 2003
Well, at least this time we know they were fired on: seven U.S. soldiers have been injured by gunfire and grenades in Falluja, the town in which 17 protesting Iraqis were killed in separate incidents in recent days. The soldiers apparently returned fire, but there is "no estimates of Iraqi casualties."
posted by Mike B. at 3:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One for Jason to poke at: Rumsfeld was apparently involved in brokering a deal to build nuclear reactors in North Korea. Joe Conason points us to a Fortune article. The chain goes something like this:
- Rumsfeld joins the board of ABB, a Swiss firm.
- ABB goes into talks to build reactors for Kim Jong Il; the board is asked for approval.
- In the mid-90's, Rumsfeld "probably" lobbies for approval from Washington.
- In 1994, a deal is cut wherein "the U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for Pyongyang ending its nuclear weapons program."
- ABB provides the designs and key componants for these reactors in exchange for US$200 million.
- Rumsfeld sits on the board of ABB until 2000, during which time he makes a number of speeches excoriating the Clinton administration for this 1994 deal.
- In 2003, North Korea announces it has nuclear weapons.
posted by Mike B. at 1:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is absolutely astounding. From this year's session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women: "The American delegation joined with Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Libya and others in efforts to delete a phrase - included in previously agreed-upon UN statements dating back a decade - that calls on countries to condemn violence against women and "refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration" to avoid the obligation to stop the violence."
I think the really jaw-dropping bit, though, is here:
"For too long, the feminists have been pushing a radical, special-interest agenda under the erroneous mantra made rhetorical cliche by Hillary Clinton: 'Women's rights are human rights,'" writes Janice Crouse, an official of the conservative group Concerned Women for America and a member of the U.S. delegation.
Is this another one of those neo-conservative bugaboos that I don't get because I'm not in the AEI loop? A Google search didn't turn up anything. But, um, aren't women's rights human rights, sort of by definition? The CWFA seems to interpret it as being primarily a pro-abortion phrase, but clearly it's not meant this way in the context of the UN commission, which seeks a lot of things, ending violence against women probably paramount among them.
But see, this is what I've been saying, guys: these people are way, way out of the mainstream, and that means they've very vulnerable. And what I mean by that is that you don't have to try too hard to nail 'em--you don't have to get really worked up and self-righeous and paint things in these all-or-nothing terms. When they're endorsing violence against women, you can get a lot of good material out of that. Just keep cool. Less about "the mysogonistic violence of these male chauvanist pigs," less about the hypocracy of their foreign policy, and more about their disregard for human rights, their endorsement of suffering, etc., and our committment to trying to stop women from being tortured and killed.
posted by Mike B. at 1:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Julian Cope has a new musical project called
Spazareth. The logo is an image of Jesus
in a wheelchair nailed to a cross.
posted by Mike B. at 10:35 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Just call me out of the loop: Niall Ferguson, the Oxford Professor Maureen Dowd quotes today is, in fact, the author of the runner-up article in the NYT Magazine last weekend, entitled "The Empire Slinks Back." It's about basically the same thing that Dowd quotes him in reference to, i.e. America-as-empire. And while there it was just sort of questionable, in the Magazine it's plain old wrong.
Take this bit, where he does, in fact, codify the bit of "conventional wisdom" that I talked about:
The British Empire has had a pretty lousy press from a generation of ''postcolonial'' historians anachronistically affronted by its racism. But the reality is that the British were significantly more successful at establishing market economies, the rule of law and the transition to representative government than the majority of postcolonial governments have been. The policy ''mix'' favored by Victorian imperialists reads like something just published by the International Monetary Fund, if not the World Bank: free trade, balanced budgets, sound money, the common law, incorrupt administration and investment in infrastructure financed by international loans. These are precisely the things Iraq needs right now. If the scary-sounding ''American empire'' can deliver them, then I am all for it.
I hope everyone's bullshit detector is going off at this excerpt, but it does nicely expose the fallacy of the British Empire analogy. We've got a bit of a Heisenberg problem here: saying that a postcolonial country was better off under the colonial power neglects the fact that it was previously under the control of said colonial power, so the British have to accept at least some of the blame for the state of their colonies. And thus the analogy doesn't hold up, because as anti-imperialists would argue, Iraq would be even better off if it was neither colonial nor post-colonial (having arguable already gone through both these stages), but self-sufficient, and that option is currently open to us.
Ferguson's response, I imagine, would be that he doesn't think we should occupy and leave: we should just continue occupying. The main argument he makes for this is that it would be better for Iraq's economy. You'll note that he mentions "the rule of law" and "representative government" in passing but doesn't elaborate upon them, perhaps because there are very good arguments to be made that American occupation would, in fact, be worse for both of those things than self-sufficiency. As for the economics, he doesn't say anything about actually feeding, housing, or clothing the Iraqis, but simply says that American occupation (assuming it lived up to the standards of the British Empire) will lead to Iraq's compliance with IMF guidelines. But there have been fairly good arguments made, most recently in Harper's, that those economic policies, regardless of what institution is implementing them, can often weaken a country's economy. I'm no big fan of the "Bush is a warmonger invading for greed!" theory, but it would be hard to deny that in an "American empire" the economic policies imposed on a country would be primarily for America's benefit, not the colony's, and Ferguson seems at pains throughout the article to portray imperialist policies as good for the conquered.
That the last sentence in my selection contains both condescension and scare quotes in quick succession ('the scary-sounding ''American empire'') is telling. It's not an empire that Americans oppose, Nigel; it's imperialistic policies.
But the weakness of the British analogy really comes out in the following section:
America's British allies have been here before. Having defeated the previous Ottoman rulers in the First World War, Britain ran Iraq as a ''mandate'' between 1920 and 1932. For the sake of form, the British installed one of their Arab clients, the Hashemite prince Faisal, as king. But there was no doubt who was really running the place. Nor did the British make any bones about why they were there. When two Standard Oil geologists entered Iraq on a prospecting mission, the British civil commissioner handed them over to the chief of police of Baghdad; in 1927 the British takeover paid a handsome dividend when oil was struck at Baba Gurgur, in the northern part of Iraq. Although they formally relinquished power to the ruling dynasty in 1932, the British remained informally in control of Iraq throughout the 1930's. Indeed, they only really lost their grip on Baghdad with the assassination of their clients Faisal II and his prime minister, Nuri es-Said, in the revolution of 1958.
The crucial point is this: when the British went into Iraq, they stuck around. To be precise, there were British government representatives, military and civilian, in Baghdad uninterruptedly for almost exactly 40 years.
And that brings up a simple question: Who in today's United States would like to be based in Baghdad as long as the British were -- which would be from now until 2043?
I am, frankly, shocked he can write this with any degree of seriousness. Is he honestly using the British occupation of Iraq as a model? This is the British occupation that ended with a bloody rebellion that shortly brought Sadaam Hussein's Baath party to power (through a CIA-supported coup), the British occupation that was generally regarded (by, for instance, T.E. Lawrence) as cruel and unjust--in other words, the British occupation that is kind of the source of the troubles we're currently there to fix. This is not to blame the British entirely for the subsequent morass Iraq found itself in, but it does indicate that maybe that's not the path we want to be going down.
But let's give Ferguson the benefit of the doubt--he is an Oxford professor and I'm not--and assume that the British empire really did achieve some great things and it's a model that should be followed today rather than, say, the model of the United Nations. Let's further assume that American planners have happened upon the perfect 40-year plan that will leave Iraq a healthy and self-sufficient country that we can leave without it collapsing or, worse, be kicked out of forcibly. (Ferguson talks about the British goal of "civilizing" that would end "in decades, not days" when a country could "ensure the continued rule of law and operation of free markets," but he doesn't exactly point to an example where this actually, you know, happened; presumably we should just hold on and hope for the best.) His complaint then becomes that no bright, young Americans seem interested in helping out overseas, and his solution to this is for America to admit we it is imperial, lengthen our occupation of conquered countries to "decades, not days," replace military commanders with civilian governors or advisors, and stop holding out hope for the UN or NGOs, whose abilities he has little faith in.
Let's take this one at a time. First off, why are so few Americans interested in getting involved with things overseas, as opposed to the hearty civic/colonial/orientalist spirit of the British Empire? Ferguson puts the blame primarily on, in an interesting parallel with activists, greed: "America's educational institutions excel at producing young men and women who are both academically and professionally very well trained. It's just that the young elites have no desire whatsoever to spend their lives running a screwed-up, sun-scorched sandpit like Iraq. America's brightest and best aspire not to govern Mesopotamia, but to manage MTV; not to rule Hejaz, but to run a hedge fund; not to be a C.B.E., or Commander of the British Empire, but to be a C.E.O." In contrast, he writes, "economics alone cannot explain what motivated [servants of the British empire]. The imperial impulse arose from a complex of emotions: racial superiority, yes, but also evangelical zeal; profit, perhaps, but also a sincere belief that spreading 'commerce, Christianity and civilization' was not just in Britain's interest but in the interests of her colonial subjects too."
I'm not so sure I agree. Well, first off, I think good intentions matter not a whit: one of the lessons we've all hopefully learned from the colonial period is that just because we think that civilizing people will improve their lives doesn't mean that it actually will, and it ultimately doesn't matter whether the policy that wrecks a country's economy was conceived in beneficence or greed. And we've learned that lesson: indeed, it is a key component of any course in history or politics (or, really, literature) in a major university. The way that powerful countries can fuck other countries up is a major subject of our education, and you can argue about the liberal bias of professors all you want, but it's still a quite valid one. Americans don't want to help out civilizing the natives because it's seen as basically working for the devil, not because those countries are "backwards and dirty." The only other option is working for NGOs which are, as Ferguson notes, riddled with in-fighting, self-serving policies, and inefficiency. No, this is a job for a state-based apparatus, and not since the early 60's have those institutions had enough credibility to entice the best and brightest to sign up. The idea of America's munificence towards the world took a major blow with Vietnam, and it's never really recovered. What use is there in devoting your lives to helping people when you'll actually make their lives worse? The World Bank / IMF / WTO held out some hope for renewing this commitment, but they've squandered their promise with disastrous policies.
The weird thing here is that Ferguson and I sort of agree: I, too, think that Americans should devote their energies less towards economic gain and fringe protest and more towards participation in government. He just wants to go backwards, to the imperial system, while I would rather go forwards and find a far more refined and far less disgraced system of aiding the world without conquering it. Maybe that's not possible, but it seems a far more moral and, I think, practical way of going about things than reverting to imperialism. And I think we can do that. Most graduates of elite colleges are liberal, and if we did, in fact, redirect our efforts towards government, we might be able to figure something out, or at least construct an apparatus divorced from the current neo-conservative one. We should, for instance, replace military command with civilian, but that command should be international, not American. We should provide an extended support system to ravaged countries, but we should do it in the context of an international system of checks and balances that mirrors the one that has made American government so stable. And, agreed, a lot of these international institutions have problems. But I don't think the solution is to abandon them. If we're willing to have some patience, and if we can look towards the long-term goal of remaking not only domestic government but international institutions in the liberal image--in, if you will, the Clintonian image--I think that's a far better solution for international stability.
posted by Mike B. at 4:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So here's something you may not have known (I sure didn't): the Navy has, in fact, left Vieques. For a few years, people had been protesting the bombing exercises taking place on the Puerto Rican island, and it was beginning to seem a bit like those "Free Mumia" type of campaigns that felt like they were more about protesting than actually getting results. But apparently (with the help of Al Sharpton and a Kennedy) it has been successful. What's weird, though, is that I haven't heard a damn thing about it before this. A Google search reveals that 37 out of the first 40 links are about demanding that the Navy leave, not about the fact that it has actually left. An AlterNet search turns up one article about the extraction which begins with the paragraph: "I don't mean to sound terribly cynical. But I just don't buy it."
Does this strike anyone else as weird? Shouldn't the left be crowing about this? Isn't it a victory? Shouldn't we be using it to raise political capital for other campaigns? I mean--sign in 2000, "NAVY OUT OF VIEQUES!"; headline, 2003, "Navy Out of Vieques." Isn't that an important thing?
Or is it not a victory only because Bush did it? If so, shouldn't we be making sure he doesn't get to take the credit for it?
Well, maybe I just missed the victory celebration. But the left does kind of have a problem with success, doesn't it? We're so focused on equivocation and "well, true, this happened, but this-this-and-this didn't" that we seem to have a hard time acknowleding what we did well, and that makes it much harder to actually accomplish things in the future. Take the Vieques article, for example: the reason the author is dissatisfied with actually getting what he wants is that Bush "only" did it because a referendum in September would have kicked the military out anyway. But why is that a bad thing? That's politics. That's how you get things done. You put people in a situation where they can save face by giving you what you want, and then you get it. I dunno. It's awfully "perfect is the enemy of the good," but it's awful blind Bush-bashing, too. Activists often seem to have the attitude that the authorities will never give them the thing they want, and the only reason they're protesting is because they feel this moral imperative to make their voices heard even though they know it won't make any difference. Maybe I'm misreading them, but it seems like there's not much hope for actually accomplishing anything outside of revolution, and that's always seemed like the worst way to accomplish something, the last-ditch effort when all else has failed. That's not politics. Politics is about compromises, small steps; let's celebrate what we have because it gives us hope for getting what we don't.
posted by Mike B. at 1:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
elsewhere in the world
Just a reminder that things are still going on outside of China and the mideast: after things have settled down in Sierra Leone, things are getting very fucked up in Liberia and the Ivory Coast, partially as a result of groups from Sierre Leone being unhappy with the peace and entering the conflicts there. The UN has reinstated its arms embargo in Liberia, where rebels have seized 60% of the country, including key diamond-mining and -processing facilities; the government has objected to the ban, but it remains in place. The government is led by "elected dictator" Charles Taylor, and he has been blamed for provoking much of the conflict in Liberia (and neighboring Sierra Leone), which is doubly problematic because it spills over into the continued chaos in the Ivory Coast. There, a million people have been driven from their homes after a failed coup last September; the French negotiated a peace accord (damn French!) but hostilities have erupted again, with the most worrying event being the capture and execution of a rebel leader who encouraged people to lay down their arms.
The UN has called for US$85 million in aid, but the US has opposed sending in peacekeeping forces. What's going on in the Ivory Coast is horrific, and there's not much being done about it:
"People's needs are enormous," U.N. envoy Carolyn McAskie told a briefing at the end of a four-day visit to Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa grower and once the region's economic powerhouse.
McAskie said the United Nations was struggling to raise money for the Ivory Coast and neighboring countries affected by the war while international attention was focused on higher-profile countries, such as Iraq.
"What is on television every day. ... Is it Ivory Coast? No, it's Iraq, Afghanistan," she said, adding that aid donations were down significantly on last year.
...which is somewhat understandable given America's lack of security interests there and the need to focus on the mideast, but it seems like this would be a good diversionary tactic and a way to gain some international political capital. But I guess the neo-cons have defined our foreign policy interests for sending forces as "only when we can kill people." Glib? Yes, but not untrue, I think.
...ooh, although there may be an Al-Qaeda connection in Liberia.
posted by Mike B. at 1:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
"this is your father, speaking to you from beyoooond the graaaaave..."
Saddaam writes a letter.
posted by Mike B. at 1:07 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Maureen Dowd quotes at length an Oxford professor:
"America is the empire that dare not speak its name," Niall Ferguson, the Oxford professor who wrote "Empire," told a crowd at the Council on Foreign Relations here on Monday. He believes that America is so invested in its "creation myth," breaking away from a wicked empire, that Americans will always be self-deceiving — and even self-defeating — imperialists.
"The great thing about the American empire is that so many Americans disbelieve in its existence," he said. "Ever since the annexation of Texas and invasion of the Philippines, the U.S. has systematically pursued an imperial policy.
"It's simply a suspension of disbelief by Americans. They think they're so different that when they have bases in foreign territories, it's not an empire. When they invade sovereign territory, it's not an empire."
Asked in an interview about Viceroy Jay Garner's promise that U.S. military overlords would "leave fairly rapidly," Mr. Ferguson replied: "I'm hoping he's lying. Successful empires must be based on hypocrisy. The Americans can say they're doing things in the name of freedom, liberty and apple pie. But they must build a civil society and revive the economy before they have elections.
"From 1882 until 1922, the British promised the international community 66 times that they would leave Egypt, but they never did. If they leave Iraq to its own devices, the whole thing will blow up."
Do we call ourselves an empire and base things on that? Do we really want to follow the model of the British Empire? I guess its colonies ended up the best in post-colonial times, or so goes the conventional wisdom. Still, I thought the whole point of the UN was that we wouldn't have to have empires anymore to perform the kind of useful functions that empires sometimes do, like acting as outside arbiters in territorial disputes. Wouldn't it make more sense to put some real muscle into reforming the UN? Well, this is coming from the CFR, after all.
posted by Mike B. at 12:38 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Nerd of the day:
posted by Mike B. at 12:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Two more Iraqi protesters dead.
"The evildoers are deliberately placing at risk the good civilians," Colonel Green told The Associated Press.
Evildoers? Hmm. If they're putting at risk "the good civilians," we shouldn't fire on them, right? Are they bad people shooting at us or bad people making us kill good people? And what's all this good and bad crap, anyway?
This is politics now, not war.
posted by Mike B. at 11:54 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Neal Pollack weighs in on the whole James Frey issue:
You wanna fuck with my shit, Frey guy? I don't think so. Because I really don't give a flying anal gland about Danny Eggleston or Jonathan Safran Fuckface or David Foster Walrus. Not only do I not hang out with them, but I don't hang out at all. With anyone. No living being is worth my company except for my dogs, and only then because I like to fuck them. Oh, yes, I love fucking my dogs, and then I go to a boxing gym because I love beating up black people and then I fuck my dogs some more. So if you want to fight me, James Frey, then bring it on, because my fists are cast-iron and my screen saver reads "BRING IT YOU BEAUTIFUL MOTHERFUCKER BRING IT!" and my tattoo reads "SUCK MY COCK YOU WHORE." But it's not on my left arm. It's on my cock. Suck my cock tattoo that says suck my cock, James Frey, you whore.
I do love Neal Pollack.
posted by Mike B. at 10:47 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Make of this what you will:
- Osama Bin Laden's huge, estranged family have a ten-million-dollar stake in the Fremont Group.
- The Fremont Group was formerly called "Bechtel Investments" and was owned by Betchel. It currently "enjoys a close relationship with Bechtel."
- Betchel was awarded the first major contract to rebuild Iraq without any outside bids being received.
- Betchel has about a billion ties to the administration.
The writer wants to make a point about Osama bin Laden, and I think it's a tenuous connection at best. Bin Laden's family is huge (he has 53 siblings) and has reasonably convincingly disowned him, for his opposition to the House of Saud if nothing else. Here's a great rundown of his family and its place in the mideast. Basically, the bin Ladins love the Saudis, and they own the biggest construction business in the region. So the article mostly fails on the terms it sets out for itself--to discredit the Betchel contract by pointing out the hypocracy of doing something that we were trying to prove Saddam was doing--because if we had made the claim, it would be invalid since having the same name doesn't mean they profit the same, and anyway we weren't likely to have made it because we didn't want to piss off the Sauds.
And there's the real problem: our continuing entanglement with Saudi Arabia. There are many things worrying about Betchel, but at least they're ostensibly providing humanitarian relief. The Sauds are just evil, and worse, our highly buddy-buddy partnership with them is a big source of our Islamist woes and possibly the major practical obstacle to democracy in the mideast. Sure, we've pulled our troops out of Saudia Arabia, but as Tim Cavanaugh points out in an excellent Reason article, it hardly makes a difference beyond empty symbolism.
It's interesting to me that the left seems far more concerned with stuff like Betchel, which while bad is ultimately only about a corporation friendly with the Vice President getting money instead of one not friendly with the Vice President getting money since I don't think anyone's honestly suggesting that we started the war so we could pay Betchel to clean up our mess, instead of the massive human rights violations going on under the auspices of a US-backed regime. Which is not to say that the left ignores it, but it seems clear that Betchel's getting a lot more attention. Is it because we feel we can do more about Betchel than about Saudi Arabia? (Certainly true, as the Saud situation is a very tricky one.) Is it because we're just concerned about corruption in our political offices? Is it because we want to score points against Bush? Or do we just hate the administration and this blindness is leading us to pursue less-relevant issues?
I do think our involvement with Saudi Arabia is one of the great evils of U.S. foreign policy (Betchel should be more shamed by that connection than they should be by the Rumsfeld one) and I would like to see a concerted campaign to get us out. But it is one that must be waged with much delicacy at first, given both the cross-spectrum support at the federal level for the House of Saud that's not likely to be eroded anytime soon, and the fact that the fall of the monarchy would likely result in a Iran-esque hardline Islamist government, which is not likely to be a lot better on the human rights front than the royal family, and this need for delicacy leads me to kind of hope the left doesn't pick up on it, given its recent record on delicacy. It would ideally build, in opposition to the major PR push by the Saudis, a moral force against the monarchy that would either allow government officials to pressure it to correct its human rights issues, hopefully by using the lessons we gain from nation-building in Iraq, or for the US to gain some capital by distancing itself from the government should it fall to a popular revolution, to the degree that it would be able to engage with the new Islamist rulers. If we are concerned with the mideast--and we should be--this is just as important as Israel, I think.
posted by Mike B. at 5:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is a wee bit worrisome.
posted by Mike B. at 4:50 PM 0 comments Links to this post
a little bit more on regionalism
Jesse replied to my Power Pop post (Power Pop Post!!! Oh man, that's a Zippy phrase right there) which reminded me that Simon Reynolds also has an interesting post on regionalism (currently the last one on his page, from 4/6/03, or archived here, although the blighter doesn't keep 'em up) which is probably worth reading--he advances the idea of pirate radio as folk music. I had two more things to add myself, though.
First: I know I said that the fact that music just sounds better in certain places (and, as Jesse points out, historical contexts) can be used to justify a certain kind of snobbery, but let me clarify. I think the point people miss when they employ that kind of value judgment (i.e. "My blues is better than your blues because I grew up in Memphis") is that it's not so much where you make it, but where you listen to it. A blues song recorded at the Hit Factory might sound as good as a Muddy Waters tune if they're both coming out of a transistor radio besides the Mississippi. At least, that's true if you're going by my crackpot theory.
The other thing is that this needn't necessarily be applied only to traditionalist or purist kinds of genres. For instance: electroclash. I know, I know, we all hate it, and we hate the Williamsburg hipsters, but the fact remains that when listening to electroclash in, say, Club Luxx, if you're in the right state of mind (read: high or drunk) and you're able to get over your annoyance, the music sounds really fucking good. And it may only sound really fucking good in a club in Williamburg, or a few other similar places. That's maybe why it inspires such hatred and confusion everywhere else in the world. I mean, you can make fun of the kids all you want for dressing up and throwing stupid parties and doing lots of coke, but in a certain way it's a very collective thing: everyone gets over their self-consciousness and dresses up because when everyone's dressed up and looking fabulous and ridiculous and there's this fabulous ridiculous music playing and you've done a few lines of coke, everyone feels great. So it's snobbish to say, "Oh, you just don't get electroclash because you're living in Atlanta," but is it any less snobbish than saying "you don't get country because you're not from the midwest" or "you don't get hip-hop because you're not black"? Moreoever, is it any less true? I dunno, and this is all weirdly making me like electroclash more. See it as a local, participatory genre in which everyone pretends to be famous not because they are famous but because it's just more fun that way, and it sounds a lot more...well, crap, egalitarian. I think people take it too seriously--they're pretending they're hip not because they want to be better than you, necessarily, but because it's more fun that way. If you don't like it, that doesn't make you un-hip, it just makes you a hipster who doesn't like electroclash.
Brr, better back off from this conclusion, eh? I'm gonna lose all my cred!
posted by Mike B. at 1:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Daily Kos points us towards a story about an American treaty with an Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, that America has designated a terrorist organization. (As, it's said, a gesture towards Iran.)
Under the deal, signed on April 15 but confirmed by the United States Central Command only today, United States forces agreed not to damage any of the group's vehicles, equipment or any of its property in its camps in Iraq, and not to commit any hostile act toward the Iranian opposition forces covered by the agreement.
In return, the group, the People's Mujahedeen, which will be allowed to keep its weapons for now, agreed not to fire on or commit other hostile acts against American forces, not to destroy private or government property, and to place its artillery and antiaircraft guns in nonthreatening positions.
The accord is apparently the first between the United States military — which in early April was bombing the group's Iraqi camps — and a terrorist organization, and it raises questions about how consistently the Bush administration intends to apply a policy that had vowed to crack down on terrorist groups worldwide.
The Kos'ers make a little too much of this, and of the fact that the group was designated as terrorist only under the Clinton administration. Sure, it's hypocritical that we're making treaties with terrorist organizations in the War on Terror, but hypocracy in politics is like water at a swim meet: don't go in if you don't want to get some on you. The better question would be whether it's a good idea. (Although I do think that Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens' excuse for it--"that the State Department was responsible for decisions about the status of terrorist groups"--is pretty sketchy in light of Gingrich's/Rumsfeld's recent anti-State campaign.) It's called "a pragmatic approach to a security problem for an American military that already has its hands full trying to stabilize Baghdad," and maybe this is true:
At a time when United States forces are stretched thin in Iraq, the Mujahadeen organization is one of the few groups of armed fighters that had been affiliated with the Hussein government that is not a threat to American forces, they said. American military officers in Iraq said they expected that some of the group's weapons might be confiscated once the capitulation agreement was signed.
One motivation for allowing the People's Mujahadeen to keep some weapons, they said, was to leave in place a balance of power between the group and the Iranian-backed fighters known as the Badr Brigade. Some of those fighters are based in Iraq and have continued to focus on the organization even since the fall of the Hussein government. If the Mujahadeen group were disarmed, American forces would have to assume the responsibility of separating the two antagonists, a task the heavily burdened American forces do not want to assume.
Let's admit that this is a war against some terror and get on with it, I think--we do, apparently, need some help policing Iraq.
posted by Mike B. at 12:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Atrios points out that Bush has made a, um, interesting appointment to the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank:
The White House made a number of recess appointments last week as Congress fled for spring break. One was April H. Foley, a "homemaker," according to campaign contribution disclosure documents, from South Salem, N.Y. She was named to the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank. The appointment is good until Congress adjourns next year.
So why a homemaker for this job? Well, "early in her career," the White House announcement says, she was director of business planning for corporate strategy with PepsiCo Inc. and director of strategy for Reader's Digest Association. More recently, she was president of the United Way of Northern Westchester County, N.Y. Not all of it, just the northern part.
Still not locked in on the merits? Did we mention she used to date George W. Bush when both were at Harvard Business School and has remained friends with him?
Yes, that's right: he appointed his ex-girlfriend to the board of directors of the Export-Import Bank. Yeah, that EXIM bank. I'm not sure if this is just ridiculous or part of an effort to shut down something that conservatives aren't too fond of. Probably not though, right guys? Uh, guys?
posted by Mike B. at 12:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
American soliders have killed 15 Iraqis at a demonstration. The soldiers say they were fired upon, which is not unlikely. It's all a mess right now, and there's no sense in affixing blame, but it might be worth asking what happened to all those non-lethal weapons the military was touting for crowd dispersal post-Somalia.
posted by Mike B. at 11:56 AM 0 comments Links to this post
more than words, less than jake, but better than ezra
So as alluded to yesterday, I picked up a new CD while on "vacation." (I don't think taking the bus to Binghamton and going to a wedding counts as a vacation, but let's go with it.) Unfortunately, I left my CD wallet at work, and as I was about to get on the bus to go home I really started dreading not having anything besides a Spoon CD to listen to the whole way home. Thankfully, though, we stopped at a truck stop, and I could buy a CD. My choices were Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits, the Wrestlemania album, and Power Pop: the 90's Decade. It was a hard choice, but I eventually went with the last one. Here's the tracklist. Read it and weep.
1. Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms
2. Open Up Your Eyes - Tonic
3. Break It Down Again - Tears For Fears
4. The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You - Bryan Adams [something new to request at Ryan's concerts!]
5. What's Up - 4 Non Blondes
6. Shelter Me - Cindarella
7. Love and Affection - Nelson
8. I'd Do Anything for Love - Meatloaf
9. More Than Words - Extreme
10. Wind of Change - Scorpions [has this whistling hook that sounds like a Billy Joel song]
11. P.A.S.S.I.O.N. - Rhythm Syndicate ["P-A-S-S-I-O-N, got me in a jam again..."]
12. Everything About You - Ugly Kid Joe
Obviously I was in ecstacy, because these were all songs from my formative years, most of which I hadn't heard in a long time--I mean, honestly, when was the last time you heard "I'd Do Anything For Love"? Most of them struck me as the kind of songs that got cut from modern-rock playlists when rap-rock and boy bands came along. Anyway, some were disappointing (maybe I was just in the wrong mood, but "What's Up" seemed to pale next to, say, Blind Melon's "No Rain"), but by and large it was a very enjoyable listening experience. Except for Nelson. I mean, it's not exactly all power-pop--if the Meat Loaf song isn't a power ballad, "November Rain" is a fucking hardcore song--but it's still good.
The interesting thing, though, was that I listened to it twice. The first time was on the bus, riding through the country, and the second time was on the subway ride home, and they were very different experiences. Driving on an open road under blue skies and all that crap, Meat Loaf sounded majestic, powerful--I mean, it sounded indescribably cheesy and overdramatic, but still, it did so in a good way. Same with Extreme, and Tonic, and even (shudder) Bryan Adams. But then when I got in the subway--nuh-uh. Maybe it was because I already listened to them once, but they just didn't sound as good without trees whooshing by. It was something about the way the subway moved, and its starts and stops. I can't quite explain it, but I got the definite sense that the music just didn't sound as good as a direct result of my surroundings.
So then is there some actual basis for localism, geographic snobbery and "authenticity" based on where you grew up or where you're living now? Is that why people on farms prefer country, people in the suburbs prefer rock, and people in cities prefer hip-hop? More importantly, is that why, say, urbanites disdain suburbanites who like hip-hop, since it just can't sound the same without the subways and the vacant lots and the housing projects and the dingy parks? Is that why country fans disdain people who listen to it in the city, since it just doesn't sound right without trucks driving down big highways and all like that? It all sounds terrible cliched, but right now I can't help but think it's true.
There's no question that your surroundings dicatate how you respond to music, and certain places just feel more right than others. It's easy to see why, for instance, hip-hop beats match the mood of a city, or why some country rhythms match that of trains going by, or folk songs reflect a bucolic existance, or one lived on the road. For me, Blur's "Essex Dogs" never sounded good except when I was wandering through Regent's Park on a grey Sunday, and Radiohead's OK Computer never sounded as good as when I listened to it on a National Express bus going down an English highway at night. Do other people experience music this way? They have to, don't they? There has to be some reason certain music is linked to certain geographic areas. And if it is, is that a legitimate reason for snobbery--that it just doesn't sound the same? Should you know when listening to album X in place Y, that it would sound better somewhere else, or if you grew up a different way?
I don't know. I'm all in favor of taking everything and reusing it for what feels right to you, but at the same time I can't ignore the fact that music I make won't effect peolpe in the same way it effects me, or that some albums will take on certain very personal meanings for individuals that it won't have for anyone else--that, in other words, just as the creation of music is individual, so is the experiencing of it. It's a weird feeling. This is why musicians get so obsessive about people hearing things just so, I guess, and about mixing and mastering, and little things that no one will ever hear but them. I'm usually happy to throw it to the wind of chance, but I guess I'm feeling a bit OCD lately. Must be Meat Loaf's fault.
posted by Mike B. at 11:52 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Re Simon's reply: he seems to want to narrow the scope--no undie cos it's not pop enough, no Eminem cos it's too much--and I'm willing to go down that path. So as far as I can tell, he seems mainly concerned with white kids (and that "kids" is important) who listen to hip-hop made by black folk. These kids are the ones who prefer, say, Nas to Jay-Z, DMX to Ja Rule, Outkast to Ludacris, the ones who still listen to Biggie and Tupac and Wu-Tang. Kids, in other words, for whom hip-hop functions much the same way metal or Dave Matthews or drum 'n' bass does for other kids--something they enjoy listening to and something they identify with but something that people very different from them actually make (although this attitude can change), and it is this difference that makes it so alluring, to the degree that they want to preserve the difference rather than collapse it. Kids for whom, as I alluded to in my original post, no small part of the appeal of hip-hop is that it pisses off their parents, and a key requirement of that is that it be made (or presented) by black people. I don't know if Simon is intentionally dancing around this point or not, but it seems key: hip-hop being made by blacks is a huge part of its appeal to some whites, either for reasons of "authenticity" or for the same reason that we like rock stars--they're this aloof, inpenatrable, mysterious presence. And yeah, it's kind of sad that they think of black people this way, but that's the way it goes.
So there are some white kids who listen to hip-hop and want to participate, and if they want to do so, there are many avenues open to them, whether through producing or promoting or DJ'ing or MCing, the latter usually in an undie context. But then there are white kids who listen to hip-hop and don't want to participate, the same way you watch TV and don't want to be living with a wacky housemate or you watch a movie and you don't actually want to be killing terrorists to the degree that you will go out, buy a gun, and kill terrorists. If it's pop, it's entertainment, and entertainment is sometimes passive. I think music critics prefer music that is participatory, since of course music criticism is itself a way of participating in the music. But not everyone wants that. Some people want the fantasy that rap promotes, of guns and drugs and bitches and mansions, and they have no desire for the reality of spending years practicing and freestyling and living paycheck-to-paycheck and playing clubs and touring all the time. And that's OK. It seems so blindingly obvious to be saying, so perhaps I'm just missing something here.
Back to my original point: Simon seems to think it's bad or wrong that there's an "invisible majority of white rap fans," but what I'm saying is that they prefer to be invisible, and if they didn't want to be, there are participation options open to them. Most whites driven to participate in hip-hop probably would feel a certain revulsion at feeding other whites this fantasy of the black ghetto, and they wouldn't be very good at it anyway, so they seem largely happy to be confined to their indie-ish niche. He asks for "the examples, historically, of a music where such a high proportion of its consumers feel discouraged from participating creatively in the culture they identify with," but like I say, I think if you're going to talk narrowly about rap-as-pop, then it just becomes entertainment, which isn't really participatory. On those terms, I don't think rap would "implode through its own contradictions" any more than Jurassic Park does when you realize they aren't real dinosaurs.
posted by Mike B. at 11:10 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Time to give some credit where credit is due: though it clearly pains him to do so, Eric Carr and Pitchfork swallow their pride and give the Yeah Yeah Yeahs album a 7.4. Of course, he bitches about Karen O. a lot, but it's nice to see Brian getting some respect.
posted by Mike B. at 10:32 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, April 28, 2003
Daily Kos reprints a press release from the John Kerry camp attempting to question Howard Dean's (whoops, almost wrote "John Dean's," hahaha) patriotism:
"We've gotten rid of him," Dean said of Saddam Hussein's ouster. "I suppose that's a good thing." Pressed again last week on CNN, Dean refused to concede that Iraq is better off without Saddam. And two weeks ago, while campaigning at a Stonyfield yogurt factory in New Hampshire, the would-be Commander-in-Chief suggested that America should be planning for a time when it is not the world's greatest superpower: "We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military."
Kerry campaign communications Director Chris Lehane reacted to those Dean statements by saying -
"Howard Dean's stated belief that the United States 'won't always have the strongest military,' raises serious questions about his capacity to serve as Commander-in-Chief. No serious candidate for the Presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy."
Well, obviosly the second claim would rest fairly heavily on the CNN transcript, which I don't have handy, and the first claim was probably bad politics, but hardly anti-military.
As for the third claim--honestly, guys, it's OK to say that we might not be all-powerful forever and always. I mean, we won't always have the strongest military. Eventually the roaches will have the strongest military. Simple fact.
Kos is spinning it into a Dems-shouldn't-prey-on-each-other(-yet) thing, which I don't entirely agree with. We do need to keep ourselves honest about the Iraq thing because there are a lot of biiiiig holes we can still step in on the way to 2004, and Dean deserves to be called out on the first statement. (I said much the same thing myself, admittedly, but I am not a Presidential candidate.) It was done in horrendously self-righteous language, though, I'll give 'em that. Leave that kind of talk to Ari et all, and let's try a more, "Howard, maybe you should be more enthusiastic about the ouster of a dictator" kind of thing, OK?
Then again, I guess I'd be very happy to see the Vermont Democrat and the Massachusetts Democrat out of the race, so maybe I'm biased. C'mon, guys, somebody suprise me...
posted by Mike B. at 6:17 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Are you fucking serious?
Saddam Hussein is likely on the run inside Iraq - armed with suicide vests he obtained from his intelligence agency, an Iraqi exile leader said yesterday.
The deposed dictator was trained how to use the bomb-lined vests before the fall of Baghdad and may plan to blow himself up if U.S.-led troops corner him, said Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi.
"He has the ability ... to commit suicide or blow people up with him when they come to catch him," Chalabi told CNN.
Now let's note who this information is coming from--Ahmad "sorry 'bout that Jordan" Chalabi, the Penatagon's pick for the next head of Iraq. I would be interested to hear where he's getting this information from, seeing as how he's been out of the country for the past 20 years and his old contacts may be a bit rusty on the Sadaam-blowing-himself-up tip. That aside, however, it's plain weird, both as a story and a political move. I mean, I'm sure there's people telling that story, but there's people telling the story that Elvis is living in the Empire State Building, too. What advantage does it give you? Should Chalabi be installed because he has the inside scoop about the still-living (or presently-zombified) Sadaam, and so he's best equipped to fight him and his legions of brain-eating cohorts? What? I don't really understand, I must admit.
posted by Mike B. at 5:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Here's a funny MP3, thanks to Gawker, of Tom Brokaw talking about "tax cunts." Which are popular in Ohio.
posted by Mike B. at 4:55 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A section in a NYT/AP article about Bush's speech in Michigan nicely illustrates the ambiguous problem we're facing in Iraq right now:
Helping craft an "Islamic democracy," as a White House spokesman pledged, is dicey business. The United States has promised democracy for Iraq, but has ruled out the kind of Islamic government that democracy could yield. With Shiite Muslims forming more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, a free vote could produce an Islamic-oriented government with close ties to the historically anti-American Shiite clerics who have governed Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States will not allow a religious government like Iran's to take hold in Iraq. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., said Rumsfeld's position "demonstrates the kind of quagmire that we are potentially going to be in Iraq." [and added] "If you talk about a democracy, which means that people vote and select the political leadership that they desire, then you can't say, `But there are certain segments of the population that are off-limits."'
Tricky, isn't it? What isn't mentioned is that there is a growing liberal opposition movement in Iran right now, but the existence of that movement (and the decent amount of power it has been able to accrue) can be traced almost entirely to the fact that its opponent is an Islamist government. That is to say: a legitimate republican/democratic movement, the kind liberals want, can develop organically and naturally, but it will do so most easily in the presence of an oppressive fundamentalist regime, which pretty much everyone in America(miraculously) agrees is bad. So, therefore, the thing most likely to develop in the face of a democratic, western-style government is a popular Islamic movement. This all implies that the best long-term solution for Iraq would be to turn it over to the mullahs for a while, but obviously this solution isn't palatable to anyone likely to actually make that decision. One of the few good things about Sadaam, after all, was that he didn't ally easily with his Islamist neighbors.
The fact that the administration isn't making any of its plans public at a time when making them public would clearly be the best move (Bush's line about the debate taking place inside Iraq is obviously disingenuous, given that the U.S., an outside influence, has already ruled out one of the most popular options) indicates to me that they don't really have a plan yet, and the best idea they have right now is to fall back on the American tradition of installing a nominally pro-Western leader (read: the Shah) that suppresses the kind of popular movements democracy would seem to require. I don't mean this to sound overly critical--like I say, I think we're all stuck in a bit of a Catch-22 here, where the best solution logic would suggest (letting the majority install the kind of government we're opposed to) would get the administration roundly pilloried in all quarters.
I know that fostering a real republic in Iraq is going to be very difficult, and I think Sen. Graham is being a bit glib--actually getting a functioning democracy always requires a certain amount of intolerance and squashing dissent if that dissent is anti-democratic. But I simply haven't heard a plan yet that seems to have any chance of actually succeeding. I would like to see some serious, public thought given to ways that we could actually turn the current situation, where an oppressed minority recently liberated would almost inevitably turn to its traditional mode of governance, into one more favorable to freedom and democracy. Any ideas?
Or should I speak the unspeakable and actually suggest that letting the Islamists run the country for ten years will be the best thing for all involved? That's probably not true, right? Oh, it's all so ambiguous...
posted by Mike B. at 3:05 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Dahlia points me to a new Jarvis Cocker song which is apparently, gasp, electroclash! Not too surprising given the track on the Marianne Faithful album, "Sliding Through Life on Charm," which is both a great song and, I think, the most recent thing he's done before this.
Unfortunately, I can't listen to it, since I had to banish RealPlayer from my work computer, but someone let me know how it is.
I have a great post waiting on this comp CD I picked up at a truck stop near Binghamton, but I left it at home, so it'll have to wait. Stupid, stupid.
posted by Mike B. at 2:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Simon Reynolds graciously replies to my post today. For those of you coming from his page, my original post is here. And, er, sorry for all the politics stuff.
For the more "regular" readers (keep eating your fiber!) hopefully I will find something to post on soon, but I am a bit braindead today--wedding this weekend and I think I'm coming down with something. (Pass the Vitamin C, nurse.) Nothing's catching my eye so far, though. I kind of want to say something snarky about France and the reaction thereto, but I'm not sure if I have the energy, or if I'm even vaguely right. Sigh.
posted by Mike B. at 2:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
There's a voyeuristic thrill in a good party scene, an opportunity to try distasteful behavior on for size. A little voice in your head might scream "Stay away from that balcony, stupid! You're wasted!" or "Is it really a good idea to whip your top off in front of all these people?" But that's your inner parent talking. Your inner road whore is screaming very different things at the top of her lungs, which you would hear if your inner hair-metal band didn't have their amps cranked up so loud.
Heather "Polly" Havrilesky unleashes some of the old magic in a great review of "The Real Cancun." There's a nice bit about midget butts, too.
posted by Mike B. at 12:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So apparently the Strokes have been doing some "musical experimentation" with Nigel Godrich, but it is not turning out so well. (Which seems fairly obvious when you start thinking about "Is This It" with "Sea Change"-ish electro-wiggles over it.) So it looks like they are going to go back to work with their original producer, Gordon Raphael.
Hey kids, I'll produce you! You want the disco sound or the lo-fi, accordian-centric sound?
posted by Mike B. at 10:42 AM 0 comments Links to this post