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  • Monday, October 30, 2006


    Reveille for Radicals

    In short, cool anger and conscious understanding based on experience have made my actions far more calculated, deliberate, directive, and effective. Now my actions are designed primarily to induce certain reactions based on an analysis of circumstances. I have learned not to confuse power patterns with the personalities of the individuals involved; in other words, to hate conditions, not individuals. Thus I have learned to become in many ways the master rather than the servant of my tactics, and to develop far more effective tactics -- economic, political, and social -- than the simple, hot, angry, personalized denunciation. One must learn to see one's opponent in the context of circumstances to which one must respond. Understanding these forces enables one to develop the strategy which my opponents describe as Alinsky-style mass ju-jitsu. The opposition is always stronger than you are and so his own strength must be used against him. I have repeatedly said that the status quo is your best ally if properly goaded and guided. I have also learned to avoid succumbing to a rationale which would permit me the escape of becoming a rhetorical radical and not a radical realist.
    Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, Introduction to the 1969 Vintage Edition (the book itself was written in 1946.)


    The Death of Outrage: Narrowing Options

    One thing I notice when I read the history of popular protests and movements in this country is the passion and the outrage that forces people into the streets to voice their protest and gives them the courage to put their bodies on the line for their beliefs. Protests still go on today but their message is often muted and hidden by the mass media.

    Mostly, I blame the internet.

    Bloggers are enamoured and dazzled with the power of owning their personal press and soapbox. (I most definitely include myself in this statement.) This is known in my circle as the "Yar yar yar" factor. That is, the tendency to talk (and write) about a subject endlessly without taking concrete steps to voice their concerns beyond the internet, to organize and attend physical events.

    Sometimes I get the feeling bloggers believe we've evolved beyond the need for real action in "meatspace," the necessity to boldly proclaim our beliefs in real time, in real places.

    It's been said before but I'll say it again: The blogosphere is a fine place to talk but if you want change, you'll have to go out and do it.

    Merely pointing out misdeeds and expressing indignation and outrage in a blog, no matter how elequently, is a chump's game. I would even argue that there is a certain level on which blogs drain energy out of popular movements for change. It's called blowing off steam.

    It used to be that the protests and the events people attended were the culmination and expression of careful planning. Such events grow out of the burning desire to physically protest injustice and demand justice. Often, these events now appear to me as afterthoughts or adjuncts to the central action of verbally and intellectually expressing opinions in a clever way in blogs. As the saying goes: opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one. It could be said that bloggers are mutants with more than are needed. I'll let you decide which word I'm referring to.

    Opinion doesn't make you an agent of social and political change, actions do.

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006


    Calming the Phantom Stranger

    Some of my recent posts seem a tad shrill about my stats. I'm calmer now. I think I went though a kind of personal equivalent to moral panic. However, I am still adding to my blogroll by visiting new blogs and reviewing their content. It's a pleasant occupation with the benefit of learning more about the blogging landscape. I'm also coming across a fair number of defunct blogs. Some of these are still referenced on numerous blogrolls.

    My criteria for adding blogs/sites? The parameters are pretty loose: I have to like the content and they need to have new posts on a regular basis. There's no particular focus although most seem to be political, feminist, or personal opinion blogs/sites. Politically, I'm not so keen on listing conservative sites so I'm keeping mostly to the liberal/ progressive/ radical end of the scale. So, despite the fact that Andrew Sullivan is the kind of conservative who's views I have some respect for, I'm not listing his blog. Of course, my decisions are made on a case by case basis, so I wouldn't be surprised if I made some exceptions.

    It should be no surprise that I'm mostly mining the blogrolls of my fave blogs for likely suspects to add. Major sources in the endeavour: Pam's House Blend, Big Brass Blog, Feministing, mediagirl, and Shakespeare's Sister. Also no surprise: these are predominantly blogs belonging to women.

    Eventually I may divide the blogroll up into sections but I'm just adding them on the list for the moment.

    I've been doing some modifications to my BlogRolling account to alter the presentation of the list but it's acting kind of funky. I wanted to add the word "new" after the newer additions but it's adding it in a incomprehensible pattern. Some of the links it's adding the word after have been on my BlogRolling list for a very long time. I'm puzzled but it's really a rather minor concern.


    A Fine and Private Halloween

    Halloween and its surrounding traditions have old, old roots. It's easily the most "pagan" secular holiday celebrated in the USA. Many of the images and practices of Halloween in the US come originally from Celtic cultures, particularly from the Celtic holiday of Samhuinn.

    Um, I thought I'd have more to say but I'm empty-headed tonight. Hey, like a carved pumpkin! Ho, ho, ho!

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006


    Suffering Mortal Blows to My Ego

    I am Jack's self-esteem bleeding out.

    After doing my recent linkage posts, I decided to check out sitemeters on a few of them.


    I am floored and sucker-punched. I've only sporatically tried to drive traffic to DemiOrator and it shows. I rarely comment in other blogs, particularly in the last year, so it shouldn't be a surprise that my traffic hasn't changed significantly in quite a long time. Here are my sorry-ass stats today:

    Total: 15,605
    Average Per Day: 46
    Average Visit Length: 0:59
    Last Hour: 2
    Today: 41
    This Week: 323

    I thought I was used to being a kind of backwater blog, destined to putter along in my meandering way until I tired of it. Then I saw some other blog stats. Here's a smattering of their stats:

    Corrente - Total: 687,899; Average Per Day: 2,851

    first draft - Total: 2,643,975; Average Per Day 2,641

    American Leftist - Total: 370,545; Average Per Day: 317

    To be fair, there were also several other blogs which were only somewhat ahead of me on their stats but still... Perhaps I should consider the option of expanding my blogroll to the massive behemoths I see so often on other blogs. It's not like my blogroll is representative of my highly refined taste and quality control of the highest order. My illusions on that matter have sadly dissipated. So would it be selling my soul to blogroll folks who I generally like? Even if I never read them beyond my initial visit? That seems so... crass and artificial. But I have to note that there are already people on my blogroll like that.

    Perhaps I need to "get with the program." We live in a milieu of many kinds of shallow and superficial relationships. I won't get cooties from my blogroll, will I? It's not an endorsement deal. I'm not vouchsafing the behaviour and words of everyone on my blogroll, am I?

    Yet I still hesitate because I'm afraid something unsavory will come out about someone on my blogroll. Like finding out an acquaintance you're friendly with is a serial date rapist. "Gee, he seemed like such a pleasant fellow... Who could know that?" Of course, this is all pure bullshit. I have no control over what anyone else does and any such bad behaviour has a rather weak reflection on me.

    You know, I worry too damn much. This is not a grand ethical dilemma and I'm not some untarnished paragon of righteous perfection. It's just a f***ing blogroll; deal with it, you narcissistic idiot.


    Don't Crush That Blog, Hand Me the Links

    Apparently I am running on intellectual fumes at the moment, unable to construct a coherent blog entry of independent thought. Thus, you get more links ("More linkage," screamed the crowd. "Give us linkage and set us free!") (inflated ego much?) instead of brilliant minutia about my irridescent life. And, obviously, many over-the-top adjectives.

    This is my way of blogrolling: I like to visit sites new to me and see what's up with them. It helps me get back to basics, back to what I find valuable about blogs.

    First is Demagogue, opinion on politics, economics, and the like.

    Legal Fiction is concerned with (what else?) issues involving the law.

    American Leftist has an extensive four part study titled China: End of an Era? Good substantial stuff. The conclusion is here.

    Then there's first draft, more opinion on politics and subjects of the day. I found the subtitle all too true and amusing as well: "writing is only real on the first draft." Ho ho ho. One of the posts led me to another blog...

    Corrente, and a post saying that there are as many as 35,000 in American secret prisons. That is astonishing.

    Pinko Feminist Hellcat has some scathing words on some guy who, the more you read of his own words, the worse he becomes. Truly horrific but in a schadenfreude kind of way.

    Go now and web surf in peace and harmony.


    Learning Curve of Anarchism

    As I've mentioned in passing in this post, I have a certain affection and affinity for Anarchism as a social and political philosophy. I'd never really call myself an Anarchist, mostly because I'm not up for the hassle involved in explaining myself to folks who have no idea what it means. More to the point, I don't want to have to explain myself to "serious" Anarchists.

    I pick up copies of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed at the local bookstore on a fairly regular basis. I read it with interest but, despite decades of irregular and haphazard reading of Anarchist magazines and books, I remain very alienated from the Anarchist "community." Part of my ambivalence comes from what I perceive as sectarian divisions and turf disagreements among various groups of Anarchists. From the outside, these often seem inexplicable and puzzling.

    "Anarchy Summer Tour Burns Across the Country" (by Aragorn!) in the #62/Fall-Winter 2006 issue of Anarchy contained a rather cryptic reference to "NEFAC - the Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists, a federation of Platformists scattered throughout the North East (from Baltimore to Montreal.)" It was obvious from the context that NEFAC and its members had major conflicts with either Anarchy magazine, other branches of Anarchism, or both. After going out to lunch with NEFAC members and finding their concerns and conversation similar to other Anarchists, the author says "I survived lunch with the NEFACers unscathed!"

    Off the top of my head, I'm guessing that "Communist" Anarchism is a rather different type of Anarchism than "mainstream" Anarchism (if I may use such a phrase.) The NEFAC home page doesn't give me many clues beyond their use of the word "communist" which seems unusual when combined with "anarchy," at least to me.

    In other places in Anarchy, there are mentions of "the green menace." I remain uncertain exactly what this refers to although it seems important. And that's the rub: I often feel like I'm missing many of the subcultural references and touchstones when I read contemporary Anarchist publications. Obviously prominent crises and events remain oblique and undefined to me as a reader. I'm sure it could be argued that I'm just not paying close enough attention. Perhaps.

    But I'm not naive or completely unfamiliar with the subject. I've working in collectives. I've participated in street actions and protests, as an individual and as a member of groups. So why do I still feel puzzled by much of what I read?

    I liked the article I quoted above, despite one or two cryptic moments. I also liked "Anarchy 101: The Spanish Revolution." Perhaps I am still stuck at the 101 level because of my lack of active participation in these communities. I still feel grumpy about it.

    [Edit: It might not be clear but I do like Anarchy magazine; I wouldn't keep picking it up if that wasn't the case. I'm mostly using it here as an example.]

    Monday, October 23, 2006


    Night of the Linking Dead

    More bloggy linkage love through the channel of The Truth Laid Bear (TTLB) and DemiOrator's metrics. Because I've paid my debt to society..., wait, wrong soliloquy.

    fatcat politics is good, perhaps a little too good, if you know what I mean and I don't think you do, right? End of the Revolution is a good rant and I like it like that. TTLB says fatcat politics is an Adorable Little Rodent.

    Dr. Forbush Thinks has a subtitle: "Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them...." Thoughtful and worth reading. TTLB calls the good Doctor a Marauding Marsupial.

    Blog with a View has poetry and graphics. I was particularly amused by
    Jar Jar Agonistes, a sort of found "Google poem". Inspired by this example, I attempted to do something like it but failed miserably. Perhaps it was because I plugged in "Tim LaHaye" of the Left Behind books. Blog with a View is a Crawly Amphibian.

    Sleep soundly, sweet prince.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006


    A Special and Humorous Buffy the Vampire Slayer Graphic

    *Sigh* I'm just not always as serious as I want to be. I'll never focus purely on politics and social action. I need humor and usually I end up subjecting someone to my twisty brain bubblings. Today, the someone is you.

    I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Actually, it might be my favorite TV show of all time. So when I finally bit the bullet and bought season six on DVD (I had a box of videotapes of all the episodes), I immediately played with some screen captures from the musical episode "Once More With Feeling." I thought the caption was funny but perhaps I should explain it for those who find it impenetrable and cryptic.

    Some of you may be familiar with claims made by some feminists and Neopagans that nine million "witches" and "pagans" were killed during the Inquisitions in Europe and England. A more accurate number of people killed during the period is probably 40,000 to 60,000. This historic period is referred to as "the burning times" by modern Neopagans. A slogan heard occasionally is "Never again the Burning Times!" This means not allowing religious persecution to run rampant in society, a declaration to not stand passively idle before the forces of religious hatred.

    The character in the image above is named Anya and she is very, very afraid of rabbits. That's really all you need to know. I just thought it was funny to put the caption on the picture.

    Huh. I thought this was going to be a throwaway post but I've managed to put a little substance in it.


    Crazy Linkage Love

    The Truth Laid Bear (TTLB) is an odd sitemeter/ranking system DemiOrator is registered with. I'm lax about checking it but it provides interesting site metrics (albeit only between registered participants.) It compares a site's inbound and outbound links and visitors and then it ranks your site on a evolutionary scale. The levels have names like Multicellular Microorganism, Crawly Amphibian, Slithering Reptile, Adorable Little Rodent, Large Mammal, Mortal Human, and Higher Being. DemiOrator is currently ranked # 7242 and designated a Crawly Amphibian. You can see DemiOrator's specifics here.

    So I figured, in an effort to repay some of the blogs who have linked to me, I might want to visit them and give back some bloggy linkage love. (To those who think this is a subterfuge to drive traffic to DemiOrator with these links, fie! Fie on you to ascribe such dishonorable motives to me! Let me definitively say "No comment." Satisfied? And it wouldn't be a very good plan even if it were true, so there!)

    I'm a little uncertain if After School Snack has a particular focus but I did enjoy this story and commentary on the ratio of prison beds to public housing units. TTLB says After School Snack is a Marauding Marsupial.

    Alternate Brain has a lot of serious political commentary. I am unable to completely load the page for some reason beyond my ken. I liked the excerpt and commentary on a review of Destined for Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush (Hardcover) by Scott Dikkers and Peter Hilleren. TTLB says Alternate Brain is an Adorable Little Rodent.

    Brilliant at Breakfast is subtitled "Card-carrying factinista and brainiac on the nerd patrol." The blog name is taken from an Oscar Wilde epigram, always a plus in my book. Substantial quotes and commentary make posts like this one on Republican election shenanigans worth reading. TTLB says Brilliant at Breakfast is a Flappy Bird in the ecosystem.

    That's all for now. Blogger got flaky on me and I'd just like to post this before it acts up again. Perhaps more crazy linkage love later.

    Friday, October 20, 2006


    Friday Random 10 Songs: Bread and Roses Edition

    A Friday random 10 songs off my Jukebox. And, no, I don't know why three different groups showed up twice on the list since I supposedly have 9,526 songs. I suspect a flaw in the "randomizer" which is making it not entirely random. Perhaps it tries to create a theme of particular artists or something. Or perhaps coincidence is loose in the universe and found a home in my computer. If you're curious about what I mean by "Bread and Roses Edition," follow the link and learn something new. It's fun!
    1. Everybody's Crying Mercy by Elvis Costello
    2. Mandocello by Cheap Trick
    3. Your Funeral, My Trial by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    4. Love Me by Love and Rockets
    5. I Can't Hold On by Squeeze
    6. Happy by Nils Lofgren
    7. Sweetheart Come by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    8. Blues Won't Let Me Be by Left Hand Frank
    9. Strict Time by Elvis Costello
    10. Down on the Bay [Live] by Cheap Trick
    Bonus track: Do You Wanna Touch me (Oh Yeah) by Joan Jett

    FYI: I pick the bonus track from the five or ten tracks after the first ten so it's not really random. Joan Jett was number 15. Like you care.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006


    Casual Relations, Carnal Knowledge, and Linkage Goodness

    (Um, carnal in the more general sense, not in solely sexual terms. Just so you're straight, ah, clear about what I mean; you don't have to be straight... dammit, you know what I mean, right?)

    I realise I've neglected my duties as a good and neighborly blogger. I'm never commenting, barely reading other blogs, and generally being a self-centered bastid. My blogroll, never very extensive, is woefully out of date and undoubtedly contains dead links. I'm going to make an effort tonight to ameliorate this situation with some links and perhaps weed through my blogroll.

    I've been sadly irregular about checking my mailbox. Thus I'm almost a month behind in reading the announcement of the formation of a sister blog to Straight, Not Narrow. Straight, Not Narrow focuses on spreading a Christian message of tolerance, particularly about the LGBT communities. The new blog is Disciples From the Left. The subhead reads: "You don't have to be a right-wing Republican to be a Christian. God speaks to both sides of the aisle, but it seems that those on the right are not hearing His voice very clearly these days. Readers here will see what we're hearing Him say on the left side." I see too few Christian voices from this perspective even though I know they are out there. And I hate that I let the vociferous psycho-"Christians" of the far "right" negatively affect my opinion of Christians in general, despite my knowing better. (I'm religious in a non-Judeo-Christian tradition.)

    Have I mentioned WhiteHouseHypocrisy? This blogger has a knack for creating poster-ish pictures with slogans and images. Some are really very funny. Forgive me but I'm reproducing one here. I love the "vote for exorcism." You should visit the blog because there are lots of others. He often creates variations on the same basic graphic with differing words and such. It's a little weird because comments are completely disabled, there's no history/archive links, no blogroll. Very plain and utilitarian. Compared to most of the blogs I see, it's very stark despite the graphic content in most of the posts. [Edit: My dialup connection strikes again. The sidebar and extensive blogroll is there and the blogger is male.]

    OK, I'm going to stop now. Perhaps more tomorrow.

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006


    Sheesh! What Do You Want? Our Lawyers Said It Was Legal...

    I doubt this is an original idea but it keeps popping up in my mind today.

    The Bush administration works sooo hard to circumvent the checks and balances of the US governmental system that the shambles being created will take years to resolve.

    I believe this is deliberate. I believe the movers and shakers in this administration (and their allies in Congress) are so focused on achieving their goals in spite of the legal and structural restrictions, that the aftermath will drag at the government for a long time.

    Take the current "Military Commissions Act of 2006" (pdf) (please!) It was introduced after the Supreme Court (SC) handed down rulings against the current US policy of detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the use of secret CIA prisons to hold people without any rights. The administration's response? Create a law which seems destined for challenge up to the Supreme Court. The buying of six months to two years before the SC actually hands down a ruling? Priceless.

    I think the actors of the administration construct blatantly shaky legal rationales and arguments as ways to circumvent the law. While these are challenged and being appealed (and I doubt all of them are challenged), these policies can be carried out. They can say things like "Of course we'll abide by the SC's decision when it's handed down." Meanwhile, X amount of time has passed, X number of prisoners have been detained, X number of people have been subjected to "stress positions."

    This is a calculated tactic. They aggressively use the law as a means of furthering their goals despite their legal and moral turpitude. I don't use a term like "turpitude" lightly. Under Section 948b. Military commissions generally (pdf) is this nugget:
    (g) GENEVA CONVENTIONS NOT ESTABLISHING SOURCE OF RIGHTS. -—No alien unlawful enemy combatant subject to trial by military commission under this chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights.
    And of course we trust our government to treat these "alien unlawful enemy combatants" fairly because the USA always treats people around the world humanely, right? I doubt the military would abuse people accused of "unlawfully" shooting and bombing them. (I'm not questioning the military code of honor but, rather, how the military would treat people specifically defined (by this law) as being outside the considerations of the code of honor.)

    Despite the Bush administration's claim that the "War on Terror" is a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy, these kinds of attacks and combatants are not new. This ad campaign is designed to paint our government-designated enemies as subhuman savages, undeserving of civilized treatment accorded "legitimate" adversaries. This is the newest version of "Asians don't value life like we [non-Asians] do." (attributed to General William C. Westmoreland) Prez Bush even said the same thing in at least one speech:
    These are the folks who hijacked a great religion, and take innocent life without any hesitation. See, they don't value life like we do. In America, everybody counts. Every life has worth, every life is precious. That's not the way the enemy thinks. The enemy doesn't care. They've got these designs on America, because we love freedom.
    I see this as typical demonizing of the "enemy," a sophism designed to allow dehumanizing treatment of prisoners. The underlying postulate is "Our enemies are less-than-human therefore we have no responsibility to treat them as human."

    Perhaps you think me a soft-headed liberal fool, incapable of grasping the hard and necessary acts needed to prevail in this war. Perhaps I am. But my view is that the US government has, for the last 60 years,consistentlyy and aggressively gone after the wrong people in the wrong countries for the wrong reasons. I can't think of a single exception. So you'll excuse me if I am less than sanguine about this administration's current military adventures.

    I go along with Smedley Butler's book title: War is a Racket.

    Monday, October 16, 2006


    Welcome to the Era of Rationalized US Torture

    It still stuns me that a law has made it through Congress (and is set to be signed by Prez Bush on Tues. 10/17/06), a law which allows torture upon an "alien unlawful enemy combatant."

    Even a cursory glance through this bill shows all kinds of tweaks and disturbing details. Take this line from "Sec. 948d. Jurisdiction of military commissions":
    (a) Jurisdiction- A military commission under this chapter shall have jurisdiction to try any offense made punishable by this chapter or the law of war when committed by an alien unlawful enemy combatant before, on, or after September 11, 2001.
    How nice to mention such an arbitrary date. Note it says "before, on, or after." Hmm. In other words, the date is only included as a goad, a "9/11 changed everything" reminder.

    What I also find fascinating and quite disturbing is the Bush imperium's denial of internationally recognized definitions/standards concerning torture of prisoners. The standards for treatment of prisoners set up by the international community (including the USA, I might add), the third Geneva Convention, gives pretty explicit guidelines. The Bush administration thinks it's being clever by exploiting phrasing in this Convention, thus redefining who is a "prisoner of war." Too clever by half, in my opinion.

    Perhaps I'm willfully thickheaded, blind, and naïve but I cannot fathom this bill, cannot envision any credible national or international advantage from its enactment.

    Torture is illegal under international law and therefore illegal for the US, period. The US government is bound by its own constitution to respect and abide by international law. This makes the US a "rogue nation" by any reasonable standard.

    The so-called "ticking bomb scenario" justification for torture is so ethically abhorrent, so morally repugnant, I can't believe it can even be put forward in public without being greeted by great roars of ridiculing laughter or massive public weeping.

    Some describe these techniques as merely "stress positions" or precise applications of "psychological pressure" or processes for creating "disorientation" and "discomfort" in prisoners. This is one of the most facile and disingenuous loads of bullcrap I've ever heard. It's an attempt to tart up torture in soft terms to ease consciences and deceive the public. It's disgusting.

    There are many things the Bush administration has done that I've protested. There are many things Congress has done that I strongly disagree with. But the moral outrage and shame I feel upon the passage and signing of this bill is so beyond those feelings. It is the shattering realization that evil intentions can dress in a suit and tie and can name a mechanism of ethical degeneracy "H.R.6166: Military Commissions Act of 2006."

    Today I am ashamed to be a US citizen, to be even distantly associated with a government that attempts to legitimize brutal behaviour behind a facade of acting in the name of "national security."

    Don't worry, it's just another landmark on our descent, our imperial enterprise to efficiently spread our peculiar form of "democracy."

    Don't worry your pretty little head about it. Once your heart is removed, you won't feel a thing for those dirty foreigners. Besides, those people don't feel physical or psychological pain as acutely as US citizens do. Or so I've heard.

    Friday, October 13, 2006


    Friday Random 10: The Bad Seed Edition

    A freshly generated song list for Friday. I'm not an emo dude today.
    1. "I Got a Feeling" by Barbara Randolph
    2. "Quicksand" by David Bowie
    3. "Tumbling Down" by Venus in Furs
    4. "Stone Cold Fever" by Humble Pie
    5. "You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)" by Bruce Springsteen
    6. "The Right Profile" by The Clash
    7. "Gotti" by The Smithereens
    8. "Passover" by Joy Division
    9. "O Children" by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
    10. "Generator" by The Foo Fighters
    Bonus track: "I'm the Slime" by Frank Zappa

    Brought to you through the auspices of the Music in My Head Foundation.



    Denial is Bush's Strong Point

    A recent post over on Majikthise pointed me to a Washington Post story on the growing use of the word "unacceptable" in Prez Bush's utterances.
    But a survey of transcripts from Bush's public remarks over the past seven years shows the president's worsening political predicament has actually stoked, rather than diminished, his desire to proclaim what he cannot abide. Some presidential scholars and psychologists describe the trend as a signpost of Bush's rising frustration with his declining influence.

    In the first nine months of this year, Bush declared more than twice as many events or outcomes "unacceptable" or "not acceptable" as he did in all of 2005, and nearly four times as many as he did in 2004. He is, in fact, at a presidential career high in denouncing events he considers intolerable. They number 37 so far this year, as opposed to five in 2003, 18 in 2002 and 14 in 2001. ...

    Having a president call something "unacceptable" is not the same as having him order U.S. troops into action. But foreign policy experts say the word is one of the strongest any leader can deploy, since it both broadcasts a national position and conveys an implicit threat to take action if his warnings are disregarded.
    I'm reminded of tantrums by children who don't get what they want. Except this child commands the most powerful military force in the world.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006


    An Iraqi Army of the Dead

    The recent Lancet report that estimates the median number of Iraqis killed by violence since the 2003 invasion at over 600,000 is of interest on its own but what I find fascinating is the media treatment of it.

    Most of the news stories I find listed used a lead focusing on Prez Bush's response to the report. Now, I don't want impugn Bush's professional reputation but he is not a statistician. In other words, even if he is being advised by statisticians on this matter (and I strongly doubt it considering the swiftness of his response), the value of his opinion on the report is less than zero. When an ordinary citizen speaks authoritatively on matters s/he is ignorant of, that's technically called "talking out of your ass." When a president does it, that's full-blown ex officio, ex cathedra ass talking on a bully pulpit scale.

    Now, I too am fairly ignorant of statistical analysis and proper distribution patterns for random data gathering in order to create a representative sample universe to extrapolate and scale to valid results but I am willing to cede judgments of that sort to experts who are able to evaluate the methods used to get the results. (What the hell did I just say? Did that even make sense? Or did I just do some fast ass talking myself?)

    So far, the objections I've seen to the results of the study have all been opinion-based, not methodology-based. This is where our "news" system often falls down: in presenting the story, Bush's comments get higher exposure than serious evaluations of the validity of the study. This is part of the cult of celebrity, where famous people are able to expound on subjects they are ignorant of and their opinions are taken seriously. Sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion, even an ignorant one, but that doesn't make it worth listening to or worth spreading as a valuable insight.

    Then again, I think little of what our esteemed president says is worth listening to.


    Ivan Illich and Shadow Work

    I recently picked up a slim volume by Ivan Illich called Shadow Work. I was interested in following up on Illich because his book Deschooling Society made a deep impression on me when I read it. I found him to be an incisive and provocative thinker.

    One theme I found was an analysis of non-economic work, work not considered as part of the economic overview in society. I think modern economics consists almost entirely of quantifiable factors: wages, employment, capital movement, large transactions, etc. These are all things which are relatively easy to track and plug into equations and spreadsheets. Illich concerns himself with work less easily tracked: work in the home, so-called "women's work," unpaid and non-quantifiable work which nonetheless provides the foundation of society and enables the existence of extra-familial and extra-community work.

    Saturday, October 07, 2006


    Rep. Mark Foley and Horatio Alger

    Coincidence is always full of surprises. As the Congressman Foley scandal was unfolding last week, I happened to be reading Fog Facts: Searching for the Truth in the Land of Spin by Larry Beinhart. The link came when Beinhart was describing Horatio Alger's real life and its connection to his "inspirational" novels.

    While the phrase "a Horatio Alger story" is often used mean a young boy in poor and destitute conditions rising to success through unstinting hard work, Beinhart's reading of the novels is different. Horatio Alger (1834-1899) was a minister in Brewster, Massachusetts. "He was having sex with boys in his congregation. Two of them told their parents.. He admitted to a certain 'practice.' He resigned and moved to New York City. There he became a writer and began churning out these fantasies as dime novels." He wrote about 130 short novels.

    Beinhart says they all have exactly the same plot.
    They feature a boy just at, or on the verge of, puberty, from the country or the slums. He comes to the center of the big city. He does work, but he doesn't work astonishingly hard, certainly not as compared to the majority of other working children in the days of legal child labor. He doesn't start his own business or invent a better mousetrap or find the Northwest Passage.

    What really happens is he meets a rich older man who takes quite a fancy to him and sets him up with money and educates him and teaches him how to dress and conduct himself.
    Now this isn't exactly parallel to the Rep. Foley affair but it does have some strong echoes. The Foley affair has also brought out the typical homophobic cannard that homosexuality and pedophilia are closely connected. The San Francisco Chronicle has an article about this.
    But researchers say that the data cited to back up such stereotypes is flimsy, exaggerated and sometimes made up.

    "That fact that an adult has a pedophile diagnosis or pedophile tendencies tells you nothing about their adult relationships. It tells you about what kind of children they are attracted to," said Jack Drescher, chair of the American Psychiatry Association's committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues.

    In Foley's case, the clinical definition of pedophilia -- an attraction to prepubescent children -- does not apply; the congressional pages receiving his advances were 16 and 17 years old.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006


    Censored 2007: Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran

    This is the first of an irregular and open-ended series of posts exploring issues and stories from Censored 2007: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Press). Disclaimer: I am not connected with Project Censored and the views presented here are my responsibility, not theirs. (Well, except if I quote bits.) Text for all of the 25 stories can be found at the index for Censored 2007. Go there and learn.

    The second story in the book is "Halliburton Charged with Selling Nuclear Technologies to Iran." Good ol' Halliburton. Never let it be said they let politics get in the way of profits. The information is based on Jason Leopold's work in the article "Halliburton Secretly Doing Business with Key Member of Iran’s Nuclear Team."
    In attempt to curtail other U.S. companies from engaging in business dealings with rogue nations, the Senate approved legislation July 26 [2005] that would penalize companies that continue to skirt U.S. law by setting up offshore subsidiaries as a way to legally conduct business in Libya, Iran and Syria, and avoid U.S. sanctions under International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is part of the Senate Defense Authorization bill.

    "It prevents U.S. corporations from creating a shell company somewhere else in order to do business with rogue, terror-sponsoring nations such as Syria and Iran," Collins said in a statement.

    "The bottom line is that if a U.S. company is evading sanctions to do business with one of these countries, they are helping to prop up countries that support terrorism - most often aimed against America," she said.

    The law currently doesn’t prohibit foreign subsidiaries from conducting business with rogue nations provided that the subsidiaries are truly independent of the parent company.

    But Halliburton’s Cayman Island subsidiary never did fit that description.

    Halliburton first started doing business in Iran as early as 1995, while Vice President Cheney was chief executive of the company and in possible violation of U.S. sanctions. According to a February 2001 report in the Wall Street Journal, "Halliburton Products & Services Ltd. works behind an unmarked door on the ninth floor of a new north Tehran tower block. A brochure declares that the company was registered in 1975 in the Cayman Islands, is based in the Persian Gulf sheikdom of Dubai and is "non-American." But, like the sign over the receptionist's head, the brochure bears the company's name and red emblem, and offers services from Halliburton units around the world." Moreover, mail sent to the company’s offices in Tehran and the Cayman Islands is forwarded to the company’s Dallas headquarters.
    So on one hand, you have the Bush Administration condemning Iran's nuclear ambitions. On the other hand, Cheney's old company is selling them the technology. (A story in Censored 2007 I will probably touch on at a later time is about how "Cheney's Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3,000 Percent Last Year." I'm sure his defense would be about how his stock is in a "blind trust." Yet he will still eventually reap the rewards.)

    There's plenty of scandal and outrage to go around. Grab a slice.

    Sunday, October 01, 2006


    Censored 2007 and the Pitter-pat of my Heart

    I commence a happy little joy-dance when the annual Censored volume comes out. Censored 2007: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Press) is always an education and I love reading it cover to cover. I have a deep interest in looking beyond/below/behind the mainstream media (MSM) news. I've reached a point where I believe watching MSM television news actually lowers my understanding of the events in the world. The priorities, the emphasis and the presentation are all designed to distract rather than inform the viewing public. The amazing trick? You come away with the impression that you have learned something worthwhile.

    We live in the wonderland of infotainment. I haven't read it but I've always loved the title of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) because it pithily describes what is wrong with media. It's a circus. My only question is: Where's my bread to go with it?

    So I'm savoring Censored 2007. It always shows me how little I really know. I read a lot of alternative press sources and still 10 out of the 25 stories will probably be new to me. I'm thinking of basing a few posts on some of the stories that interest me. You know, include links and background information. We'll see.

    Here's what I said last year about Censored 2006. It includes some linkage for some of the stories and articles as well.

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