Saturday, December 31, 2005

Good News! We've got Peace on Earth. Next: Goodwill towards all.

A nice little year-end piece by Timothy Noah of Slate outlines the "Peace Epidemic." (His words, not mine, or at least, his editor's.) Unlike, say, a bird flu epidemic, this is a very pleasant thing. Apparently, violence in the world has gone down! (Linked Refs: Washington Post, Human Security Report 2005.) This, of course, belies the impression we can't help but get from the Bush Administration, that these are uniquely perilous times. Danger is eminent, real, and can only be stopped by sacrificing our civil liberties -- according to our Dear Leader.

As Noah points out: Terrorists, yes, bad, potentially very deadly. BUT: war, genocide, state-sponsored killings: also bad and potentially deadly, and on the decline. In point of fact: these things are MORE deadly, historically, than terrorism. There have been around 3,000 deaths from terrorism since 9/11. These deaths are to be mourned, certainly. But considering the perhaps 100,000 Iraqis killed in our War on Iraq -- Bush himself has admitted as many as 30,000 likely have died -- well. We've likely killed ten times more civilians in our war on terror as was lost in 9/11. Are these lives to be discounted because they are Iraqi? Are they to be discounted because we're pursuing a goal that may save, erm, one tenth the number of lives it's costing? Are they somehow discounted by the thousands dying in Sudan while we pursue our ambiguous goals in Iraq to the exclusion of stopping genocide in Africa?

In other words: EVEN IF WE WERE STOPPING TERRORISM BY FIGHTING IN IRAQ, WE'RE GOING AFTER THE WRONG GOAL. The world is safer, and terrorism, while not to be ignored, is still at its worst a minute part of the preventable deaths going on in the world.

When over a billion people are malnourished in the world, and six million children dying each year from hunger, why in goodness's name is our focus on terrorism? When the equivalent of most of New York City dies each year in terms of children only, should our money go primarily towards averting terrorism (where the most deadly attacks to date have killed thousands, and the most deadly imaginable, nuclear attacks, are not being address at all by our current program/pogrom), or should it go towards feeding children in a world where there's enough food per capita and children are certainly starving in conditions that even the most uncompassionate conservative must admit are not of their own fault or making?

Happy New Year, World. Unless we stop Bush's madness, our increasing Peace On Earth is Dead.

Long Live Peace on Earth.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Virginity Fraud???

File under Useless Things You Probably Wish I Hadn't Told You. William Saletan of in his Human Nature column today highlights the growing Re-hymenation industry:
Business is booming in "revirgination," i.e., hymen reattachment. Cost: $2,000 to $5,000. Unmarried immigrant women are getting it to avoid family disgrace by hiding the fact that they've lost their virginity. Married women are getting it (along with vagina-tightening surgery) to thrill husbands on their anniversaries. Objection from the left: It's female genital mutilation. Objection from the right: It's virginity fraud.

I think this calls for a Patented J-AHHHHHH.


As far as I can tell, there's no free way to get to the Wall Street Journal article on-line without subscribing (i.e. in this case, paying). Using the magical power of being a grad student I got to the article.

Take it from me and J-Friend Lindsay, under no account should you get to the article.

Here's a preview that the sane among you should take as warning enough:

It's the ultimate gift for the man who has everything," says Ms. Yarborough, 40 years old, a medical assistant from San Antonio.

Gynecologists are marketing hymenoplasty in magazines, local newspapers and online. They report business is booming.

Religious groups that value abstinence until marriage say hymen repair is a deception. (Their frickin' problem with hymenoplasty is HONESTY? Not, i.e., the fact that "Some feminists liken hymenoplasty to female genital mutilation." Gee, who knew religious groups weren't tapped into deconstructionist post-modern feminism? --ed.)

"Revirgination" costs as little as $1,800 at Ridgewood Health and Beauty Center, a spa and cosmetic-surgery center in the New York City borough of Queens. To promote the procedure, the center's owner, Cuban-born Esmeralda Vanegas, has given away hymenoplasties on a Spanish-language radio station.

"Losing your virginity is like losing a member of your family," Ms. Vanegas says. "We can make it seem like nothing ever happened."

"I thought it would add that extra sparkle to our marriage," says the woman.

Ok, so maybe those don't appear so bad. But I warn you: we didn't get to the part about how "midwives used to disguise a broken hymen with a needle and thread, sometimes using membrane material from goats and other animals."

Need I say more? GOAT HYMEN.

This sounds almost like a cautionary tale against pre-marital sex by itself. "'Don't give yourself to your man until you are married, or else the GOAT HYMEN will get you,' my old Aunt Baruska warned me before we came to the New World, fire in her eyes, as animals whickered and whinnied and stirred in the night."

So, my readers, go forth and sin no more, else this Old World Terror come claim you late in the night.

P.S. Is anyone else reminded of the Sneetches?

“My friends”, he announced in a voice clear and clean, “My name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean. And I’ve heard of Your troubles. I’ve heard you’re unhappy. But I can fix that I’m the Fix-It-Up Chappie. I’ve come here to help you. I have what you need. And my prices are low. And I work with great speed. And my work is one hundred per cent guaranteed!”

Perhaps that's Dr. Sylvester McMonkey McBean?

On reflection, probably not a name that would inspire hymenoplastic-trust.


I'm done now.

P.P.S. Someday real blogging will resume. Really. Honestly.

Some day.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Never suck this man's carrot.

A scary, scary travelogue here with a prominent California resident as a lecherous Rio de Janeiro tourist (sadly, playing the role of "Himself").

Also: never, ever, vote this man into high elective office, and not just because of his Farrah hair.

Oh, wait, too late.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Brief Bit of Mega-blogging

I'm a pretty meager blogger right now. And the amount of work a PhD requires (who knew?) seems to preclude me resuming my previous productivity any time soon. (The time then was debatably better otherwise spent, as well.)

Until such time as I can resume my own trenchant, highly relevant, witty, urbane, and modest commentary and analyses, I return to my old standby,

First, from today's Today's Papers, we find out that the US Gov't, not content to buy commercials and hire (psuedo-) intellectuals to hype itself at home, but now it's spreading santorum, er, US democracy's vital dubious government-funded propaganda in Iraq as well!!! Yay!!! Go, Democracy!

In other (bad, what else?) news, also from, Fred Kaplan has cogently analyzed the new(ish) Bush strategery for Iraq, and found it wanting.
"Let's put it this way: If the war in Iraq truly were as serious as the wars against Nazism and Communism, then where is the military draft, where is the trillion-dollar defense budget, where are the steps to put the entire economy on war footing, where is the all-out effort to train thousands of officers and intelligence analysts in the relevant foreign languages? Bush cannot equate the war in Iraq with the 20th century's wars for Western civilization—and yet insist that it requires no sacrifice except from the brave members of our all-volunteer armed forces." (emphasis added)

"The American occupation itself is strengthening, legitimizing, and radicalizing the insurgency. This fact—acknowledged by nearly everyone but the president—is what makes the issue of troop levels so complex: Our troops are, in one sense, fighting the insurgents and making Iraq more secure; but in another sense they're bolstering the insurgents and making Iraq less secure. The net effect—both of the continued occupation and of a withdrawal—is debatable, but the president will fail to engage the debate as long as he pretends the dilemma doesn't exist."


Finally, in addition to ignoring problems and trying to hire people to say those same problems are actually pluses, the government (and the media) is returning to the fact that we have/have not/have/have not/well, ok, we have used chemical weapons in Iraq. Specifically, what is essentially Napalm II (note that this story is from over a fucking YEAR ago!!), and we've used white phosphorus, usually used for illumination, to much the same effect. Jesus H. Christ, people, when will Joann and Joe Average stand up and say THIS is NOT OK???? (warning: 2nd link refers to extremely graphic proof of our use of person-melting incendiaries in Iraq -- and on what one has a hard time believing are not primarily -- if not solely -- civilian, human "collateral damage" beings).

And you want a real fucking trip? Try searching Google News (or anywhere else) and see just how many publications you recognize reporting on this. Hmmm? How many prominent outlets have reported on this CONFIRMED story that's been exposed and still happening on the ground for over a YEAR? It's worth noting: we've (the US gov't) admitted to using these... see the links above, especially the one from, which contains our government's convenient parsing our use of such vile weapons thusly:
"The Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which it calls Mark 77 firebombs. They weigh 510lbs, and consist of 44lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel.

Officials said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were 'remarkably similar' to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage.

But John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: 'You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it.' Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs 'napalm'."

There is, of course, a treaty against just this sort of thing, which, surprisingly, the US has signed AND ratified, but reserved for itself an exception to the rules when the party it's fighting against hasn't signed the treaty. (In this case: Hussein's Iraq, AND present-day Iraq. If I were them -- the Iraqi government -- I'd get signing.) I guess the argument is that our principles only attach if everyone follows our principles... which makes the idea of "bringing democracy" a little complicated, no? We'll bring it to you, not only at gunpoint, but using tactics illegal in countries with nominal democracies. That is: IF YOU'RE REPRESSED, WELL, SORRY, BUT YOUR POPULATION IS FAIR GAME FOR MELTING. (Of course, along with Somalia, the US also reserves for itself the privelege of not agreeing to the human rights of children. Even if one thinks it would redundant for us to ratify it (I don't), what is the possible point of joining Somalia in being the only ones in the world NOT TO?)

Well, folks, our time is up. I didn't even get to the death squads.

That's right.

DEATH. SQUADS. (Gee, I remember those. Surely a coincidence that Negroponte was ambassador to Iraq for a time, right....?)


Ok, I'm going to go lie down until my head stops spinning with horribleness. (And hope that J-Meta-Quasi-Girlfriend decides to drop two hyphenated adjectives.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Strangest Place

For racism, the last place I'd think to look would be PRI/BBC's The World. I'll get links up here to the specific stories in a couple days, but one was on aid from foreign countries for US and Hurricane Katrina. I guess in this case, "racist" isn't the right word, but rather perhaps Eurocentric or extremely BIASED towards junk propaganda, but in any case: talking about 3rd world countries donating money and resources back TO the US (since they are usually aid receivers), the host mentioned poor countries like Bangladesh giving some money to the US out of good will, and solidarity, and other feelings of bonhomie. But for countries we're politically unhappy with, in this case, Venezuela and Cuba, they said there may have been ulterior motives involved. Some expert they brought in gave offensive conjecture about Fidel Castro and his Foreign Secretary chomping on their cigars and laughing at the US because of the diplomatic conundrum Castro's offer of 1500 doctors put the Bush Admin in. (In case you're inclined to agree: Cuba's health system is so good, the hardly-communist World Bank has sent reps there to study how they dealt with AIDS, and the even-less-communist US itself sends, or at least sent until Bush II Term 2, medical school students to Cuba to observe their system frequently. In fact, crazy-craze John Bolton's allegations of bio-weapons in Cuba have almost universally been debunked, observing that international observers to a person say that what he claimed were weapons were indeed simply the advanced pharmaceutical facilities they said it was.) (Nota bene: Further, we turned down the doctors, presumably for political reasons, since Cuban doctors have been sent abroad many times and are, as I implied, well respected internationally for their prowess.) (Links to come, in spades.) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, against whom Crazy-Craze Pat Robertson recently issued a fatwa, offered to send oil (which I think we eventually accepted), and The World reported that he would simply love to curry favor from the US. (Not that this is not true, but it is insulting when pretending that this realpolitik somehow differs from Bangladesh or other countries' -- that is, as if those others gave from the heart and not out of desire for goodwill FROM the US into the future, whereas Chavez is just a lowlife giver hoping something in return.) Since our government has repeatedly charged him with being anti-democratic, when he's been democratically elected 3 TIMES (once a pleibiscite at our insistence eventually declared clean by international observers including ex-Prez Jimmy Carter's group) and after we lukewarmly SUPPORTED a coup against him that was clearly illegal and unconstitutional and what's more, undesired by most of the population i.e. the POOR PEOPLE.

The second example of The World's craziness was yesterday's story of mad defrauding of Iraq by some of its former pols, specifically, some $800 million from the Defense Ministry (if I remember correctly). The host asked if this was a unique case, or just like general "graft in the 3rd World." IN THE 3RD WORLD?!!????? aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. Beyond the fact that graft and greed aplenty occurs in the 1st World, they wondered at the size of this debacle, with NARY A MENTION OF THE LARGEST DEFRAUDINGS OF ALL TIME, WHICH WERE EXPOSED A SCANT FEW YEARS AGO -- they were in the private sector, but with publicly traded companies -- as much a violation of the people's rights as any government that was INSTALLED BY US undemocratically. (The Iraqi defrauding took place during L. Paul Bremer's late and unlamented Interim Coalition Authority and the Iraqis they appointed to lead the country -- no mention of it occurring on our watch, though!) To add heinous insult to subtle injury, the reporter said that much of the money ended up being defrauded through no-bid contracts. But surely, says the host, no-bid contracts have some pedigree as legitimate, after all, they were extensively used by the Coalition Authority to award contracts to Halliburton and others. AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. This same Halliburton that has been widely reported to HAVE SWINDLED THE US GOVERNMENT, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, AND OUR TROOPS IN THE FIELD??!!!!???? This host must be: a) an incredibly biased ideologue (medialogue?) staying on message, b) really really dumb, and/or really, really uniformed, or c) tryiing to be weakly ironic by pointing out another case where fraud is KNOWN to have happened (and it seems to me likely it was on a similar scale) and hoping his guest would point it out so that his ass-covering "neutral" self wouldn't have to. It sounded to me, however, most like A or B. Ahh.

Just cuz the short memory of the American people has slipped past the numerous reports of Halliburton's malfeasance, DOESN'T MEAN IT NEVER HAPPENED. Ah P.S. Ahhhhhhhh.

Speaking of ideologues, I know that I've thought that David Brooks has lost his mind, but wow... Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson reportedly (reportedly since I can't find the primary source) said of the President's speech: "[Bush's] line that 'racism causes poverty,' and that federal spending is the solution to that" is "not conservative" and "to hear a purportedly conservative President say that is unreal." Racism of course is not the cause of modern poverty, at least, not in its blatant form, but rather in institutional racism, which some don't seem to believe, or which Tucker Carlson (and, sadly his liberal guests) don't appear to have heard of. Chuck D, Rachel Maddow (two Unfiltered alumni!) both were unable to answer his questions about how a predominately black city, with a black mayor and predominately black first responding force, and a governor elected with a lot of black votes, could possibly be racist. (Apparently he's never read Norm Stamper*.)


I hate it when people who agree with me, and, effectively, represent my views on the national media just don't seem well-informed on how things actually work (or at least are believed to actually work by us reality-based lefties).

*From a story about Norm Stamper, former Seattle Police chief:
"His voice gained credence on the San Diego force as a series of enlightened chiefs came to power that, with Stamper's help, made the department nationally famous. One, Bill Kolender, called for an investigation of racism in a troubled graveyard patrol squad. He assigned Stamper, then a captain, to the task. The year was 1976. What he found, as described in Breaking Rank, was shocking. Thirty out of 31 officers admitted to using racial epithets and demeaning terms. The use of the N-word was just the start. Officers said they radioed "no human involved" for a situation involving blacks, or used the code for an injured animal. One cop refused to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a black woman. Another sang, "Mammy's little baby loves shortnin', shortnin',"to a suspect in the back seat of his patrol car. The only black officer on the squad fell into a weeping jag when he admitted that he went along with it all."
From the The Seattle Weekly; see also Mr. Stamper on CSPAN's booknotes.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Quick Bits: More Roberts and More

The aforementioned (previous post) article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate Magazine, Humble Fie outlines how Judge Roberts, essentially, "sees almost no role for courts as remedial institutions. Judges should limit themselves to interpreting the law, parsing statutes, and nothing more. Anything else, he feels, is overreaching." This may sound staid and solid, but think about how often the courts ARE used remedially: to correct non-enforcement of environmental regulations, to promote and enforce civil rights (desegregation, Roe v. Wade, job discrimination, housing discrimination), to (hopefully) enforce limits on corporations who are legally people but seem to be held to lower standards (like the freedom of speech to lie), to enforce fair process for those illegally detained (i.e. the still largely-uncharged Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who despite supposedly being "bad people" contains many civilians and a number of children, none of whom have had evidence presented to back up their presumed badness) -- no roll for the courts? Some argue that the actions of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Topeka may have had a laudable result, but perhaps irresponsibly freed Congress from addressing race (presumably for a better result). This Congressional Supremacy of our elected officials is one of the more bizarre ideas that have come up in conservative discourse, in my opinion. This is because the judges are unelected and making decisions that effect us. But they're meant to be unelected, such that they are not affected by public swings of opinion but rather serve as an independent guarantor of our rights. And they can be impeached, by our elected officials, meaning if we have so much control over them that apparently they are a more perfect embodiment of our democratic desires than judges, if and when we want judges our our elected officials should get them out. A conservative (I'm guessing) argues here about too-expansive judicial powers, but concludes feebly that Congress simply have "no understanding of the proper use of impeachment." But I thought Congress was so responsive to citizen demands! The conservative also makes a silly argument about Congress being better than the judiciary on race relations, giving very real examples of Supreme Court fuck-ups -- but they were fuck-ups of course that I think on the whole represented the general feeling of the people in the US to some extent (i.e. the various rulings sustaining slavery by the court) and s/he ignores completely Congress' long-time fucking about with rights (the long, long process to finally get a civil rights bill passed during the flagrant CR violations of Jim Crow, much less John Quincy Adams fighting the gag rule against talking about slavery, or the simple fact that Northern Republicans proposed eliminating slavery in the Constitution, but instead were banned from eliminating slave trade for 20 years, and then of course it took about a century with trying to avoid Congress rarely the radical step abolitionists wanted before Independence. Meanwhile, in 1772, British courts ruled slaves escaped to Britain could not be deported back to the country where they were slaves against their will, and implied more generally that a slave had rights and personhood.

Anyway, that is to say, courts: not all bad. Roberts: pretty bad. Congress: not all good.

Roberts: Don't Be Fooled By the Lack of Substantive Information

Or, that is, lack of substantive information getting through the press.

Here's the J-take from a letter I've sent to my Senators:
I am writing as a constituent of yours to implore you to reject the nomination of John Roberts as Supreme Court Chief Justice, using a filibuster if necessary, based on not only disturbing, and outside-of-the-mainstream conservative views, but also on ethical grounds.

What troubles me the most about the Roberts nomination is his behavior in the Hamdan case. As he was deliberating this case in the D.C. Court of Appeals, he was also secretly meeting with one of the defendants in the case to interview for a job. That defendant, of course, was President Bush, and the job in question is that of Supreme Court justice -- a job offer that requires your consent to be final. And his ruling in Hamdan supported a far too expansive view of executive power, a view in my case that is unconstitutional and frankly, frightening, a view allowing un-American detentions and even severe human rights abuses.

If confirmed as chief justice, John Roberts would be the most powerful judge in America for decades to come. If he can't clearly understand and apply the ethical guidelines that mandate he recuse himself from a case concerning a potential future employer, how can we ever trust him as a fair and impartial arbiter of the nation's laws? This is beyond duck-hunting with the Vice President. Judge Roberts has already demonstrated that he will put his own interests -- and those of the Bush Administration -- above the impartial ethics required of someone in his position. Political expediency vs. impartial ethics
and rulings is a recurrent theme in the Supreme Court -- and he has made his stance on that clear.

I'm also deeply troubled by what I know about Mr. Roberts so far -- including his viewpoint on a "so-called right to privacy," his dissembling with regards to Federalist society membership, and apparent inclinations to strike down national environmental laws based on a narrow interpretation of the commerce clause.

As one can see here (link:, or from Slate magazine's Dahlia Lithwick here (link: Judge Roberts seems to think that
civil rights, by and large, are not an appropriate area for the judiciary to intervene, when often it has been the last resort, or the only resort, for those overlooked in our society. From the Christian Science Monitor (link: he:

Believe[s] the Constitution empowers Congress to strip the US Supreme Court of jurisdiction in controversial areas such as desegregation, school prayer, and abortion. (Though he also wrote that any congressional effort to do so would be
"bad policy.") Nevertheless, such a broad view of Congress' power is startling in these days of a Republican-controlled Congress, willing to pass legislation to attempt to cut off the courts' repeated findings for _one_ person (Terri Schiavo) and with primarily the Court standing between the President and his claims of near absolute executive wartime powers.

? Was a strong advocate for presidential power, ranging from the commander in chief's ability to wage war without interference from Congress, to the president's authority to make recess appointments in in the face of congressional opposition.

? Consistently adopted narrow interpretations of civil rights and voting rights.

? Generally favored law enforcement over the rights of criminal defendants.

? Believed silent prayer in public schools did not necessarily violate the First Amendment's establishment clause.

Therefore, I ask that you oppose the nomination of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court. I ask that you communicate your views on this matter to me as soon as possible.


This was adapted from a form letter from "Working for Change" -- or, I guess, technically ActForChange, a MoveOn-like group that allows one, like MoveOn and TrueMajority, to quickly send off letters to your Congresspeople, and encourages coordinated phone-calling drives to our Congresspersons when a necessarily urgent cause arises. (And for those of you who occassionally claim that none of this does anything, I'm told that they assume every caller represents X other people -- with numbers varying from 20 to 100 or so -- because others inevitably will feel the same but will not have called. I can't say this is true for sure, but it makes sense as a formula to keep tabs on your constituents as a rough estmation.)

Today in Slate, there are several new articles deserving of attention (for a change! Slate's been going downhill in my opinion for a couple years now), such as The Real World: Why Judicial Philosophies Matter by two professors of law (Goluboff and Schragger, if you were wondering). Their question: "The central debates of the nominations process mirror those concerning the government's response to Katrina: How much responsibility does the government, and in particular, the federal government, have in ensuring the safety and security of the inhabitants of this country?" They then analyze what they call "The Constitution in Exile" view, a prototypical conservative view. Highlights:

The answer to their question: "To conservative jurists who take a parsimonious view of federal power, the answer to that question is: not much. Their philosophy of limited government, states' rights, and local control belittles the place of the federal government in our system. To the conservative jurist, the federal government is inevitably something to be feared; they assume that centralized power only leads to a loss of liberty."

"The Constitution in Exile sees government as the enemy of individual rights. It insists that the preservation of such rights requires that government refrain from amassing power. And the individual rights it deems paramount are those of property and contract—" -- The rights of property and contract are not ones that J views as "natural" rights, or even the most paramount of human rights, if you recall. (In contrast to the views of Libertarians and Exilers.)

"The modern constitutional vision remembers that the purpose of the Constitution is to provide for the general welfare. The general welfare in turn requires the government to affirmatively ensure the safety and security of the person, to maintain the minimal material conditions necessary to sustain one's civil and political life."

"The outrage Americans on both sides of the political spectrum have expressed toward the sluggish federal response to Katrina suggests just how divorced the Constitution in Exile, and those who reify it, is from the expectations of the great majority of the population. Those left stranded in New Orleans felt acutely the absence, the national government's abdication of responsibility..."

"Were the Constitution in Exile to return to its allegedly rightful home in the Supreme Court, the national government would likely be prevented from taking on responsibility for any future Katrinas. After such a horrific display of what happens when the nation faces a disaster of national proportions and the national government falls short, it is clear that Judge Roberts, and Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, should be asked if they endorse such a vision."

They go on to list a set of questions that Judge Roberts should be asked. I'll stretch Fair Use a little bit more to implore you to pass these along to your Senators, as well:
"Judge Roberts should be asked whether he believes in a Constitution that permits and even demands that national resources be brought to bear to protect the safety and security of the person.
He should be asked whether he believes that FEMA, or the Department of Homeland Security, for that matter, are constitutional.
He should be asked whether the notion of civil rights includes the right to a minimally competent federal presence in the lives of the people, and an affirmative duty on the part of government to ensure basic necessities.
And he should be asked whether the Constitution should be read as a document that has as one of its aims the promotion of the general welfare—as the Constitution's preamble states."

Go read the whole article, but first, write and/or call your Senators.

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Tired of this shit": More Braindumping from the Vaults

This rant, dated some time earlier this summer, is inspired by the "Islam: Heal Thyself" meme that I so detest. Dont' get it? Read on: you will. (Or, at least, maybe you will -- the rant is not presently completely, in the strictest sense, coherent.)

...Even my hero, Jon Stewart, talking to Fareed Zakaria last night (video) (where last night = July 21,2005 -- ed.), seems to have bought into this claptrap. That claptrap, of course, being the “Muslim world’s” responsibility to save itself, or to save us from it. Thomas Friedman is only the latest and most egregious example of this idiotic conflation of religion and uniting cause. (Nice critique of a later -- and similar -- Friedman column here, and another TF critique here; and a really nice critique of Zakaria-on-the-Daily-Show here... Sad to say, actually, these critiques might make my points better than I do in my "rough draft" brain dump below, but please, don't let that stop you from reading the following... even though I've just given you good reasons not to continue... doh....)

Why does Friedman, or anyone else, think that Muslims have any more ability, much less responsibility, to stop radicalists among them from carrying out terrorist attacks? The radicalists conducting these attacks, by and large, don’t seem to consider moderate, progressive, or even non-violent conservative Muslims as valid fonts of religious or personal directives. Not to mention the new study which says there’s NO CORRELATION BETWEEN RELIGIOUSITY IN ISLAM AND TERRORISM. No shit. But at least there’s now clinical proof. (Nota bene -- regular attendance at a mosque was a relatively good predictor for support of terrorism, but nevertheless a majority of the millions who attend mosques do not -- but apparently it is their responsiblity to control the some thousands who may support it; somehow; after all, by comparison, the Pope has absolute control over Catholics, right?)

Let’s go through how this “Islam: Heal Thyself” nonsense is about as valid, helpful, or non-bigoted as trying to get the “House Niggers” to control the field folk.

Ok, so A) like I said, linked to here, religious conviction NOT LINKED to extremist terrorism. This is unsurprising as there are, perhaps, thousands of terrorists and potential terrorists from Muslim and Arabic countries. There are, what, 900 million to 1.4 billion Muslims in the world? Let’s see: even assuming 50,000 ready & willing terrorists, that’s… 50,000/1.000,000,000 … 5/100,000… 1/20000… less than one hundredth of a percent of Muslims in the world. Unsurpisingly then, it is hasty and inaccurate to link any religion too closely with a phenomenon that, even extremely generously, represents about 1 in 20 thousand (0.005%) of its adherents. Why don’t I count more Muslims you say – surely more than 50,000 are agitating for violence, what with the flag-and-effigy-burning protests of recent years, in addition to terrorist attacks? Because it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Muslims encouraging violence, we can only count Muslims willing to conduct violence against civilians – otherwise, we become even more hypocritical because how many Christians, in the here and now, advocate violence against Muslims, and/or other non-Christian/non-White groups? We’ve got our Michigan Militias, our anti-abortionist radical murder-advocating crusaders, our Klu Klux Klan, even our TV Talking Heads (Ann Coulter) advocating the violent destruction of other people (i.e. "It would be a mistake if we just futz around and the whole country became like one long Falluja. I thought we were wasting way too much time on that. This is a war, let’s go in and win it. Just take the city! I think if it got to the point where it was going on for six, seven years, and it was just Americans patrolling without killing anyone—I’m getting a little fed up with hearing about, oh, civilian casualties. I think we ought to nuke North Korea right now just to give the rest of the world a warning." Just a joke, maybe? (Answer: No.)*). Just because Ann Coulter or her ilk would call it self-defense does not make it so – and it also can’t be dismissed as not terrorism just because we have the military might to aim at military targets and “only” collaterally kill thousands of civilians. (Apparently only the blood-sucking baby-eating liberals of Ann Coulter's fevered imaginings would have such respect for human life that they allow this respect to cross international borders...)

So there are many radical Muslims advocating violence. So what? There are plainly, besides Ann Coulter, millions of radical Christians advocating indiscriminate violence as well. The only ones we are allowed to attempt to jail or kill are those actually using violence and those plainly in a group inciting them to violence that they later commit as a direct result. (Only my extreme devotion to freedom prevents me from saying Ann Coulter should be arrested right this second.) The Islamic terrorists aren’t listening to just your average angry Imam, but a very specific set of people who are more akin to our jailed pro-murder pro-lifers than to our Ann Coulters – and their Ann Coulters are no more guilty of incitement than ours.


B) More on why Islam has no relationship to terrorism.
So we’ll just say that perhaps 1 in 20000 Muslims are theoretically willing to commit terrorism. Given the non-Muslim groups I’ve listed, plus the IRA, the Basques, and any number of Christian or Christian-country related terrorists (rightwing guerilla armies in Latin America, say, or, say OUR armies in Latin America, which were illegally bombing Nicaragua in the 80s, supporting Manuel Noriega, and helping to bring Augustus Pinochet to power), it would seem at LEAST 1 in 20000 Christians are prone to terrorist violence as well. Is it then the “Christian world’s” responsibility to fix this? And if so, we don’t seem to have completely figured it all out, and certainly not over a brief period, and certainly not just by “condemning” terrorism from our “good Christians” (some of whom, like our President, nevertheless have effectively advocated/ordered the death of thousands of civilians – Iraqis, Iranians (the CIA coup), Latin Americans, Cambodians, millions of Vietnamese, hundreds of thousands of Japanese, Africans…), even if couched in military necessity, these millions of civilians are still dead at the support of Christians.**

How did we resolve many of our internecine Christian conflagrations? Through negotiation, in most cases, with the mainstream groups with similar grievances (and/or connections to) the terrorist groups. And in other cases, our problems were homegrown and Christian-backed – we are only recently plausibly able to say that we don’t have many of the civil society problems we point to in Muslim and Arab countries. Lynchings are way down in the US. But 40, 50, 60 years ago – when there was vast Christian support for lynchings – was that Christianity’s problem, world wide? In a more recent example, was something wrong with Christianity that allowed millions of its adherents to be complicit in the massacring of thousands of Jews (the Holocaust, and Hitler’s Christian overtones), much less our earlier practices of enslaving millions of Africans (throughout Christendom, though the US was a long hold-out on our particularly Christian “peculiar institution”), and kill millions of First Peoples?

And given that First Peoples the world over are still, by and large, fucked – from the indigenous peoples in Australia or Taiwan to those of Canada or Hawai’I – whose civilizational problem is that? What are we doing about Christianity’s Cold War against the once and present victims of Manifest Destiny, who we don’t kill in cold blood any more, but are nonetheless dying behind curtains of “semi-sovereignty”, the formulation explicitly made by President Andrew Jackson to fuck the Cherokees and bypass their legitimate demands to be treated either as citizens or as a sovereign foreign nation?

Or, let’s get a little crazy here, the millions, upon millions of children and adults who die each year because of hunger? In Christian countries as much as any others? Sure, it’s less flashy than terrorism**, but there is good reason to believe that the way we set up our economies, or colonialist history, is the reason that they are hungry in large part – the reason that poor people starve in India while SURPLUS wheat rots (link link), the reason that it’s estimated that we could eliminate poverty in 20 years (sez Jeffrey Sachs, who of course, has his critics***). We’re not talking about handouts here, we’re talking about structural change – we’re talking about taking advantage of people through the WTO, blockading Cuba while trading with far worse regimes, blockading Iraq and blaming Saddam Hussein for the immense starvation and death that flowed from the sanctions as almost a direct result, the vast resources against terrorism, which kills thousands each year, versus the less than 1% of our budget we spend on foreign aid, for lack of which MILLIONS die each year – and you know what, THAT’S what’ll fucking bring peace to the Middle East, and much of the rest of the world, not democracy per se.

Equality. When people are equal, equal in terms of their opportunities and their ability to get what they need to have healthy lives, that’s at least as important as democracy. And to pretend that now that outright colonial exploitation is over it’s not our responsibility to help those whose resources we plundered is not only un-Christian, it’s hypocritical, illogical, and just plain bullshit. We talk of bringing democracy, yet two democracies, South Africa and Brazil, are two of the most inequal societies in the world. China, which we do not consider a democracy, and India, which we do, both have millions upon millions of poor and starving. Shouldn’t, by our logic, India be vastly better off than China, having had democracy for decades longer than still-Red(ish/ State Capitalist) China? Does it matter if we bring democracy if those at the bottom of it see no change for the better no matter who they vote for? Does poverty and violence in democracies continue just because the poor aren’t voting for the right mainstream parties? (I think not.)

From the violent Zionist settlers in Israel and Occupied Palestine (the poorest “region” in the world – what would be the poorest country if they had a sovereign state), to “raghead”-hunting bigots, volunteer civilian border patrols (link), to well-meaning soldiers inflicting thousands of collateral deaths, to hunger in the midst of plenty throughout the world, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, and any other, democracy and autocracy, the bettering of our fellow human beings’ conditions is all of our responsibilities, not one more than the other, and that hard-to-pacify .1% of all of our civilizations that is determined to use means the rest of us may consider unjustified is not any more or less one skin color, creed, religion, or nationality’s responsibility than any others to do all we can to bring about a world where there will be neither excuse nor reason for such violence, not because in such a world we will have killed all the “bad people” but rather because the good people have no reason to want or need for radical violent change, radical help that some will use as an excuse for violence against unwitting or innocent members within or outside their own group.

*She continues: "Nuke North Korea?
"Right—and this is tied to my point that, in Iraq, let the Marines do their job. There may be some civilian casualties—that’s known as war. Americans can live with that. And when did we become the guardian of the world to prevent all civilian casualties, ever—how about our civilians?"

After we bomb North Korea, what’s the next country we should invade?

"Iran. Though that’s the beauty part of Iraq: It may well not be necessary. Because precisely what I’m saying with nuking North Korea—despite that wonderful peace deal Madeline Albright negotiated with the North Koreans, six seconds before they feverishly began developing nuclear weapons. They’re a major threat. I just think it would be fun to nuke them and have it be a warning to the rest of the world.""

**See related speeches by Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva here and here, where, notably, he sort of scooped Bush's "terrorism is our biggest threat" meme with the staggering extent of global hunger (more than a billion people affected, millions dying each year) vs., in Bush's speech, what equates to hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths in terrorism. Where's the real global threat? (Answer: hunger. Imho. Though not so humble -- I'm pretty sure I'm right.)

***The last of whom (critics of Sachs) does make a superficially good "grand plans for 'us' to fix 'them' don't work" argument, evoking the spectre of "The Chicago Boys" I think. Of course, I think he's wise to play on liberal imperialist dogmatic fears, but on the other hand, I think Sachs is proposing something much more in the decentralized vein of public policy discourse of the past decade or two, which has fundamentally different rubrics than the Chicago Boys' version of, more or less, centrally controlled capitalist economies, where the central control came from their planning "expertise" and interdigitation with the US economy. But I digress. Suffice it to say, Sachs has something there, imho.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Just Label it "Brain Dump"

The title comes from the J-Sister's advice on how to deal with my desire to post some thoughts from the past few months but lack of time to properly edit my previously written brain dumps. So, as the Americans say, Viola -- here it is, a (mostly) uncorrected/linked/edited screed from late June. J is still in the midst of organizing post-re-move to Ann Arbor, in addition to a summer involving a bit of traveling, surgeries (not for J but for one of his loved ones), reacculturating, house-hunting, and moving, besides normal attempts at research and exercise. This dissertation, apparently, is not going to do itself.

So here for your enjoyment: half-formed J-Thought Brain Dump Part 1.

...Entry for blog, based largely on 6/27/05 Daily Show, Bill Clinton’s “Indiscretion” & distortion of facts vs. the current administration. Also of course, Cheney & Rumsfeld’s lies (links pending). They have given false statements, almost certainly knowingly – were any of these statements before Congress and thus possibly could be made a rallying point from the point of view as a) a personal offense against the Congresspeople lied to (not to mention the public) and b) a criminal offense in defrauding the US government? What other pertinent crimes may apply here? – It’s not lying under oath, seemingly, as the Prez & Co. have largely avoiding saying anything under oath. Of course, one would think the standard for lying to the Public and defrauding Congress would be high enough that it would not be excusable simply because, in the specific cases, the man hadn’t expressly vowed not to lie.

Begin: Draft (very much draft) of open letter for a (Democratic) US Congressperson Re: Impeaching President Bush

What would follow after some sort of preambling…

It (the case for Bush’s impeachment) is not just a case of “They got us, let’s get them,” and it’s not a case of political hardball or the unfortunate “attack politics” of the present day. Looking at the evidence (Carnegie report, Waxman report, Downing street memos plural), I challenge one to come to the conclusion that any political concerns here are as compelling as the possibility of the very real betrayal of the US people implicated here. The argument that the Bush Administration has distorted the truth in the goings on before and since the Iraq War began seems unimpeachable – and the President seems to deserve impeachment. (A strict definition of relevant crimes & impeachment should go here, né?)

In these circumstances, the case of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton is not so much illustrative of something requiring reparation, but rather serves as a precedent of what many members of Congress considered to be the standard in this day and age for impeachment. Any call comparing the present case against now-President Bush to the apparent witch hunt of the former President is easily rebutted with the evidence gathered thus far – the crime, after all, President Clinton was convicted of was lying in the course of an investigation that itself turned up no criminal wrongdoing – at best, superficially similar to the present case before us of lying as the crime itself – a crime that has not resulted in infidelity and contrition but rather in thousands of people’s deaths, debilitation, increasingly desperate lives in the country to be “saved”, and the throwing of billions of dollars after an elusive and possibly falsely supported goal. It is essential to the American people and our very way of life, not to mention the lives and quality thereof of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis, and many others, that our President’s veracity be clarified in this matter, and I therefore call on our government, our leaders, our commentators, and you personally to do everything in your power to bring an investigation looking to the possible impeachment of President George W. Bush.

Many may say that this is a doomed enterprise, or that it will not be possible while the Democrats are a minority party (or even that overlooking the possibility of impeachable offenses being committed by the White House is necessary to make a return of the Democrats to a majority palatable to a skeptical public). However, I put it to you in the strongest possible terms that I can see few, if any plausible reasons not to begin an investigation of the President immediately, as the job of you and your colleagues as I understand it as one of your constituents, is not to look solely or mostly at strategies to be elected and re-elected, or support your colleagues in doing so, but rather to respond to the best interests of the American people. I therefore say I must reject any argument of political expediency over an investigation into an enterprise that has led us to almost 2,000 US deaths, 16,000???? casualties, hundreds of coalition deaths and casualties, and perhaps most significant of all, between 20 and 100 thousand dead Iraqis – our supposed charges.

The Administration often talks of the needs in this modern and changing age of terrorism, but the American people don’t only need refinement of our “law enforcement tools” but rather a President and appointees who are as close as possible to being beyond reproach. Should an investigation by Congress turn up adequate rebuttals to the Carnegie Report, the Waxman report, and the numerous cases where one gets the impression of dissembling from our government’s Executive branch, then the matter is resolved and the US truly is safer, with a Commander in Chief proven beyond reproach. We cannot, however, afford to take their own word for it, and neither can the many people involved with US interests abroad – lives are being lost, economies ruined, people’s lives worsened and many put in seemingly intractable danger. We all are owed a full explanation, and an investigation if necessary to obtain this. If this is not something you feel you can support, champion, nurture, and agitate for, in this most important of all issues, I cannot fathom why you should be supported, reelected, or even maintain office in the midst of this most grave time for the world, calling on a level of strength, integrity, and sacrifice perhaps unseen in many a year.

Please do not take this as a personal attack on you or the Democratic party, but rather an expression of the urgency I feel this situation warrants. I feel I am asking for nothing that I and we deserve as your constituency, and I hope to see your response in the days and weeks to come.

Hardly ready for primetime, but as I have not written on the Blog in quite a while, this is something I felt I should post, as it is of the gravest important to me (and, as is apparent, I believe it is of the gravest importance for the US, Iraq, and possibly the world).

It should be noted that my Congressperson, John Dingell, is seemingly supporting Rep. John Conyers, who is going to the mat for this. It is not, however, getting much attention – and attention his efforts do get are often uncomplimentary (see i.e. Dana Milbank’s June 17 report, “Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War” and Rep. Conyers’ response to it). I will be posting more on this as soon as I can (there has been a major J-move recently back to Ann Arbor), but in the mean time, take this mean effort as a jumping off point – or further buttressing – of any efforts at finding the truth in these matters. This is not about liking or not liking Bush. This is about, that favorite of all words in D.C., accountability. (Though in D.C., Iñigo Montoya might have reason to say to those who use it, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tempus Fugit Rumble: Part Two of Some

Here follows more stuff from my anti-libertarian rantings. If you recall, this was a promised topic from J long ago to lay out my arguments against libertarianism, a la the Non-Libertarian FAQ. (Reread some of it yesterday... Ahhh! Still good.) What was promised is now delivered (more or less):
I promised myself I wouldn’t do this… (not because debate isn’t good, but that I should be doing several other things right now)…

[the previous poster said...]“The assumptions of basic capitalism are simply not met by the modern economy.”
Modern mixed economy? Diluted semi-state-run economy? What do you mean by ‘Modern Economy’?

Sorry, I should’ve been more precise. Capitalistic economic theory, liberal economic theory, is based on premises not borne out by reality, and I failed to adequately list them (my post wandered far more than I meant it to): perfect knowledge, [buzzer: ehhhhh!] Sorry, no. While there have been, to my knowledge, proofs that near perfect knowledge on the part of the consumer works out well enough, the fact is that perfect knowledge is actively prevented in our marketplace in the US, and would be only moreso without state intervention (cf. The Gilded Age, or the numerous companies who try to avoid disclosure of vital information, such as safety) — it is unlikely in the extreme that, for instance, pharmaceutical safety and clinical efficacy would be freely provided by companies without state intervention. And of course, environmental externalities are thoroughly mis-measured and not commonly known to their estimated extent (i.e. $300 billion/year in ecosystem services in the US that are common pool and not internalized economically, and therefore seen as costless when they are lost). Perfect competition — we are surrounded by oligopolies, many of which surpass or far surpass the economic “market concentration” rules of thumb, with sometimes 4 or fewer companies controlling 80% of the market. Monopolies are no more, if not less efficient when run by private industry than by the government (there is some scientific reason to think that government can effectively manage some monopolies, i.e. on common pool resources, while private industry will not, see Elinor Ostrom, Arun Agarwal, Bina Agrawal, Herman Daly, Thomas Prugh, Bob Costanza, Amartya Sen, and others). And, as already referenced, efficient markets require properly accounted externalities — and if you survey economists, most by far will say this is not properly done today, some saying as much as 50% or more of the economic effects of the US (and world) markets are unaccounted-for externalities.

[the previous poster said...]“Capitalism is based on several premises simply not borne out by reality”
Capitalism is the only moral system of governance due to its requirements. It is based on reality and the requirements one must meet if one is to be free to operate on your own volition and have the potential to be happy in your own life. Basically answer this: Do you as an individual have a right to exist for your own sake? The answer to that will determine your future and which side you take on this issue.

Ayn Rand much? Morality in this case, and freedom, are not independent entities, existing “out there” for us to discover (despite what Libertarians may assert). I have the right to exist for my own sake — but in the Libertarian sense, taking reality into account, this means I must: purify my own water, recycle/use only the water I personally own, purify/recycle/use air I personally own, raise sufficient food on my own property and buy all inputs and pay for all outputs, including purfiying and recycling my own waste. IF you want to argue we already do this (i.e. by paying for water and sewage), the costs of these services are established as under their real costs. And being truly independent - doing your own thing on your own land, i.e. — has been shown to be beyond our present capabilities; we cannot create an ecosystem that won’t collapse in very short order without maintaining contact with the rest of the biosphere — the very atoms that you are made of earlier belonged to other people, organisms, minerals, etc. — and you did not pay for the complete process to provide you with these components, as in a very real sense, the complete process has required interaction with common property spread the world over.

But I got distracted — your assumptions of freedom and morality are claimedly based on reality — yet you cannot prove them. Your premise depends on your conclusion. Capitalism is the only moral system because it allows the individual to exist for him/herself. Why is existing for yourself the moral basis? Because it is the only way to be free and exist for your own voilition and happiness. How do you prove that? Because capitalism is the system that best provides for people should they all look out for themselves.

What makes your system of beliefs better than mine? Ayn Rand/Libertarian views presume their definitions to be self-evident; the fact that others disagree means they are delusioned, and there is no good basis to argue their presumptions to a logical conclusion, any more so than the presumption “All morality must come from God, and that which is against God is immoral.” Possibly true — but not provable.

Faith in capitalism cannot be a presumptive basis for rational government.

You point out the ‘flaws’ with Capitalism:
“that people are rational actors”
Some are more rational than others…
“they don’t adequately analyze trade-offs in complex situations”
Sadly this is too often the case. …
“they value non-economic commodities which may be contingently valued”
True. (side note — you cut out the part where I explained contingent valuation can lead to flawed and/or irrational results)

Here you acknowledge my points and use them to back up the need for more capitalism. Huh? If you are arguing, like many do, that capitalism is preferable because it leads to the most efficient outcomes for society, these requisites must be met, and you acknowledge they are not. “Relief” from government intervention would do little to change these mismatches. So presumably again you are arguing that capitalism is inherently moral, which, fine, go ahead, but there’s no point in arguing it. You can’t prove morality, or that human self-serving will is the only true freedom, and I can’t prove that humanism best represents the moral solution to a world nearly totally composed of common goods and uneconomic commodities.

Let me point out two more things:
One is that recent theory shows even purely rational actors can make decisions leading to inefficient or sub-pareto optimal results; that means without cooperation and/or intervention, unfettered rational beings may be worse off than they were with a little (assumedly voluntary i.e. democratic) fettering.

Second Much of modern capitalist theory is based on Ricardo, and to a lesser extent, (at least paralells the work of) Malthus. However, both of these men acknowledged that the rules they “derived” would not serve without an elite/rich capitalist class that would disproportionately consume to keep the economy going; this class also must be wise enough not to reproduce above the replacement rate or to consume too much, but rather just enough. Ricardo, additionally, thought land owners were useless and thus did not account for them — only industrial capitalists fit into his analysis. They based their rules on the good sense of the rich and the uncontrolable reproduction of the poor/laborer class. Adam Smith, himself, wrote a book on morals to go along with The Wealth of Nations that proclaimed the importance of caring for each other (”fellow feeling and propriety” — Theory of Moral Sentiments) for a properly constituted society. These theories all assumed out the idea that classes were not/should not be static — an economic capitalist/libertarian must either reformulate them in order to adjust them around the assumptions of a permanent underclass, or to argue with them that a permanent underclass is a requisite condition of humanity (which is itself an unfounded assumption that then must be proved). That, or make their argument in some world inpendent of the idea that capitalism has any socio-moral basis in equality of people (a permanent underclass cannot be said to provide equality even in the limited US individualistic equal-under-the-law context if their very permanence is formulated as a condition for the society), that is, make their argument outside of classic, liberal/neoliberal economic context. It seems to me your only argument here then is - it’s good cuz it is.

I don’t believe in this conception of deus ex machina and I don’t believe you have a base or a right to make me or anyone else in society believe or follow your faith, not your reason.

Repost of the Rumble, Part Next of Some, to come.

Tempus Fugit: Part One of Some

Re-pasting of my first posting on Tempus Fugit's piece on minimum wage. As of now, the last libertarians standing are saying, in effect, "your argument is so stupid I don't need to respond." Read and judge for yourself...

Is it somehow coincidence that the substantive points made by SteveP, Reece, Hugo, and to a lesser extent Chris Beeman aren’t addressed by the supporters of the simplified argument made above?

I, too ended up here as a result of a link from Slate; I guess I can’t complain too much because it is the same way that my blog got a boost in readers; nonetheless, one wonders about them (as I do whenever they publish Steven Landsberg columns). It’s not that points of view shouldn’t be as diverse as possible; it’s that one constantly is forced to say to oneself: “This is the best argument they have?”

The assumptions of basic capitalism are simply not met by the modern economy. MNCs have oligopolies on many, many products; externalities are something one reads about in “Interest” pieces in the papers or in popular science magazines, and are dealt with day-to-day as if they are a drunken would-be passerby sitting outside on your lawn — wait and hope they go away. Of course, if they were ripping up your sod, tearing out your trees by the roots, polluting your air, and pissing in your water you’d think you might do something about it.

Capitalism is based on several premises simply not borne out by reality (though some lit. argues that all preconditions don’t have to be met, they nonetheless change the human costs at the very least and real-world efficiency doesn’t bear out capitalist predictions if you measure efficiency in terms of resources used:items or services produced or in terms of distribution): for one, that people are rational actors, as has been shown in numerous studies, i.e. people will pay more to avoid loss than they will to preserve a gain; they don’t adequately analyze trade-offs in complex situations; they value non-economic commodities which may be contingently valued (i.e. human life) but such valuation is a concession to practicality and not reality-based value (i.e. you can be compensated for loss of a loved one, but only a very cynical minority of people in the world would literally trade, for example, $15 million, for the life of a loved one)… another flaw: the aforementioned externalities — education, the environment, food security, public health (or lack thereof), depletion of resources — oddly enough, you never hear people looking for purified capitalism to call for the end of government subsidization for oil (and I’m not referring to putative wars on terrorism here, though that is oil hegemony is certainly a factor in a pertinent analysis) — the government help to oil companies in innumerable ways, one large one be the externalizing of environmental costs, keeps gas artificially low.

One could go on — but this is essentially what one is paying for in higher tax brackets. At a higher tax bracket, you have, as established by legislation and (the dreaded activist) court cases: more free speech; money = free speech, esp. as embodied in commercials, donations, publicity, coordination, subsidization and budgeting of political campaigns, etc., so those with more money have more speech than me. I can’t finagle a meeting with congresspeople for my personal edification; a captain of industry at the very top has a much better chance at this; and I certainly can’t finance a campaign for myself or others, or even a modest national ad buy; more money is usually the result of greater use of externalized common goods — even if a rich person didn’t go to public school and/or a university and/or in a field with significant government investment (i.e. computer engineering, biotech), if you have a company your employees likely did, and without the public goods of education and health entitlements, a large burden would have been shifted to citizens and employers who want to have large amounts of qualified people; the roads are a common good that makes many long-distance businesses more efficient (i.e. shipping anything by truck), as poorer citizens certainly have needs for roads, but less so for nation-crossing ones and not for huge, important, vital, on-time shipments (which are safely transported owing in part to the paying of law enforcement people and publicly funded rest stops), and indeed the large shipping trucks are already costing us (the tax base) a lot of money in over-weighted trucks requring more frequent repaving of roads; this cost, which is incurred in the service of companies that don’t share their profits with all of us, is paid by all of us.

I could go on. But I won’t. History (i.e. the previous posts) show that detailed refuting arguments aren’t addressed here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Meta-blogging continues

I haven't done much here and a while, and that's going to continue, but my inability to control myself has led to some interesting commentary here, fighting the good fight against (imho) uninformed libertarianism.

I'll also repost it here, without the original comments, just in case TxFx disappears at some point.



Thursday, June 02, 2005

Hot off the Press

Unfortunately, I don't think this is going to be the first of many posts in a triumphant return of the J, but it is the return of erratic posting binging and purging, hopefully. Or in other words, the days of my blogging irregularly have certainly come to a middle.

First tidbit I've been sitting on: Anyone hear the one about free press and Afghanistan? Sadly, it's not a joke. (Note: The article in the link is a bit snippy knee-jerk lefty, but read down -- it's still true, even if snippy.) During a great triumphant press conference emphasizing Afghanistan's newly minted US-installed democracy (democracy not included), Afghan President Hamid Karzai realized he had forgotten to allow freedom of press. That is, they called on the Afghan press during the conference for questions, and were startled to find only one reporter there. But WAIT, it gets better -- they were startled not so much because the Afghan section was nigh empty, but rather because it was supposed to have been filled by American reporters to hide the lack of free Afghan press types. The other 9 reporters from our 2nd newest "democracy", as Karzai well knew, had not been allowed to travel by his aides, because it was strongly suspected that they would flee once inside the US to avoid going back home. DOH!!!!!

As Dr. Katz used to say, sorry, our time is up. Be back in a bit with more news that all should know.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Straight from the pages of Update from Washington

From an e-publication called Update from Washington:
The Humane Society of the U.S. is asking Congress to end the tax breaks of big-game hunters who are "donating" their mounts to US charitable institutions.

According to HSUS, which conducted a 2-year undercover investigation, "HSUS estimates that over 350,000 big game trophies entered the United Statesbetween 1998 and 2003. An unknown number of those trophies were donated to museums....

"HSUS investigators estimate that millions of dollars in tax revenue have been lost because of improper deductions that date back years. Understaffed enforcement efforts have resulted in deductions that are vastly inflated.

"Big game hunters are also eligible for awards offered by Safari Club International (SCI), which promotes worldwide competitive trophy hunting. The competitive nature of trophy hunting is revealed in the group's record
books, which document the size, location and date of the kill....

"Under the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), permits are required to import trophies from threatened or endangered animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the agency responsible for enforcing these laws and for reviewing the permits. Last month, Interior Secretary Gale Norton appointed Matthew Hogan, a former SCI lobbyist, to interim director of the USFWS [US Fish & Wildlife Service]...."


Washington Post Story:

HSUS Press Release, go to April 2005 Press Room at:

Friday, May 13, 2005

John Bolton: Wilford Brimley's Evil Twin

The Bolton clusterfuck is something I think bears interesting comment... however, lacking time to make new interesting comments, I'll instead focus on the Red Herring the Bush Crime Family is trying to put across: the UN needs reform, and so an insane hard-driving yelling a-hole who Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell's former staffers admit had to be kept on a tight leash lest he foolishly reveal, deride, obstruct, or overzealously promote the interior workings of the Crime Family Administration is the one to do the job.


So rather than deconstructing the Bolton side of this red herring, let's go to the UN side: the UN needs reforming. Baby, you ain't kiddin'. But guess as to why I think the UN needs reforming? Hint: it's from the influence of some"one" with a name and initials very similar to the UN... So I've called in as guest writer J circa 2002, from a Fray post in response to an old Slate article on the UN by Max Boot:
Unilateralists' Odd Logic
Date:May 9 2002 12:07PM

Mr. Boot admits much of the UN's effectiveness has been in the past hampered by US actions, and that the US is an essential linchpin.

Relatively close to these admissions, he says the UN isn't and never will be effective, and the US has to take leadership and its own initiative. This seems to be a favorite hawkish argument, but if you put this thought together with the previous one, you get a kind of Mobius strip:

If the UN is often ineffective because of us, the US, and we have to take leadership and initiative into our own hands, then why don't we, guess what, take the leadership and initiative to help increase the UN's effectiveness and advance a multilateral agenda?

Why? Because multilateralism insists on compromising our own interests for larger ones, even in somewhat flawed bargains but supremely important bargains like Kyoto and the International Court. This may sound unpalatable, but stop and think -- are our own INTERNAL policies, agreements, and regulations without flaw? C'mon, think things through here.

The only reason the UN doesn't, and "may never" work is that the world's superpower keeps dragging its feet about it. It may be unimaginable that a world body can ever be effective, but important steps are often unimaginable. (Try explaining US democracy in ancient Sumeria, see how plausible they'd've thought it. Or hey, imagine convincing the post WWI US that today's UN would work at all.) But equally unimaginable is the status quo -- only by *making* the UN effective will the US ever be able to retire as the world's intervenor.

(Editor's Note: This is from a far less revolutionary J; besides which, the "world's intervenor" bit was a more a bone thrown to the opposite side -- who feel we have a moral obligation to intervene and feel it burdensome that we only get criticized when we do so; what does it matter if we only do so for our own self-interest and usually fuck it up? "We're a superpower, it's what we do" seems to be the attitude. In any case, that past last sentence notwithstanding, J is not necessarily a big advocate of US or even UN intervention militarily in most matters (though Darfur might be a good place to do SOMETHING for flying fucks' sake) but does agree the UN is quite often hamstrung in even its peaceful and/or humanitarian goals. The reason, quite often, is the US, which has often been the only objector and has, for example, not signed international agreements committing to children's rights, women's rights, workers' rights, particularly notable in my line of work, signed but never ratified the 1976 Covenant on Cultural, Social, and Economic Rights, which includes within it the right to food and committment of governments to provides means for which their own citizens may all acquire sufficient food for a healthy and active lifestyle). Being the only country, say, using napalm, the largest country still using anti-personnel landmines, the country with the largest number of worldwide military bases, the country condemning other countries for torture while shipping prisoners there to be tortured, to say nothing of our immense prison population, execution of minors and those with developmental problems still legal in some states, capital punishment in general still being legal, and carried out ever-so-sloppily by then-Governor Bush (in the process of which he also bypassed some more international agreements), developing new nuclear bombs...

All that is to say, one of the main problems with the UN is it is dependent largely on the superpowers for it to accomplish anything, in terms of both resources necessary to do them and the votes in the Security Council and the political will to support the UN and multilateralism in general, that if the self-proclaimed world leader refuses to lead in, for example, addressing hunger, which afflicts 800 million people in the world as well as posing dangers to the health and development of an additional 1.2 billion people (i.e. 1/3rd of the world's population give or take) and views expediency as more important than obeying nuclear treaties and justifies increasing the number of times we can raze the surface of the earth and the depths to which we can do so with... well, nothing. We need to be safe, therefore, we need the power to kill you.

And why is this causing a problem with your humanitarian aims which we support less only in money than in rhetoric?... it's simple: all of you other little countries and brown people stop fucking up and allow us to dominate you so that we can slap the shit out of you if you do fuck up, why can't we all just agree to that as a matter of founding UN principle?

Bolton is almost an explicit supporter of this philosophy, saying it in not quite those words but still in no unclear terms... this is the reform we need?

Sending a small child or Ted Kaczinski into the UN as our rep would "shake things up" too -- not all blathering blustering shaking-upping bravado is GOOD for reform, you twits...

Thursday, May 12, 2005

That J is Still Crazy: More Good Sh*t from the Vaults

Heyo, things have been mad busy is the real-life portion of the J Continuum, so very little time for posting. As always, I shouldn't be posting now but rather working, and on the other hand, there are also eleventy billion things I should talk about and be posting on if I had my druthers. Instead, part II of my "Back in the US" diary from my first hours here after returning from Brasil ~ 1 month ago. Enjoy. Or, you know, don't. (Though someone might try COMMENTING one of these days... throw me a frickin' bone here, I don't WANT to be an echo chamber...)

Monday, April 11, 2005, 9:38 AM:
Not sure if I heard the women behind me correctly, but let us assume I did, at least just to be a foil for this rant.

They were talking about traveling and the different politics of different regions – one of them commenting that really it’s only the cities (or hubs was her actual word) that are liberal (blue was her actual word). That the countryside of all the states was red; “I don’t know of one truly blue state,” was what I thought she said, and will pretend that she did in fact say for my purposes here.

Now let’s think about it – it’s worth assuming she said this because it reflects an attitude I think truly exists in the American collective unconscious (or conscious). “Except for the cities, we’re a conservative country.” “Well, most of the state is actually red, but Portland and Seattle are blue so there you go.” Of course, the reason why the “hubs” have such an effect is because that is where
most of the people live. To sort of wish away the crazy liberals in the cities is to disregard half of the country! The fact that half of the country lives in close proximity to each other in cities does not, to me, have much to do with how valid their political views are in contrast with the less densely populated larger LAND area the rest of the people live in. Now, I wouldn’t want to make the same mistake of saying that just because a lot of people live in the sparsely populated countryside their ideas or votes should be disregarded. But how many times have you heard, or got the impression of, “if it weren’t for Chicago/Detroit/New York City/Los Angeles/San Francisco/Portland/Seattle/what have you, that state’d be red”? Well sure, and if dolphins were made of jelly we’d spread them on pieces of bread in the morning and have it with some coffee (it took me 5 minutes to think of something that ridiculous, I hope you appreciate it). That is to say, sure, yeah, you’re right, if it weren’t for the cities, the country would mostly skew red (though not as much as many people think – see here and here and here – most of the US is pretty evenly divided, with most of the clearly red areas being very small population-wise, and by far most of the country "purple hazy", very visible here (from M. T. Gastner, C. R. Shalizi, and M. E. J. Newman, (c) 2004):

...But to talk like these women did, it's, it's... it's sipmly to make up world where most people don’t exist and, I guess, the people in the countryside make their own cars, appliances, cheez whiz and all the other heavily processed consumer products that these days they make in those knees-bent running-about so-called enlightened cities.

Yeah, and if it wasn’t for my horse… (award yourself 85 points on your J Continuum Home Game if you recognize that joke)

At some point later, they were complaining about how hard it was to keep a job these days, especially since once you get a little bit of time underneath your belt in a company, they try and boot your ass so they can higher someone cheaper/younger. “All they care about is money – is about that bottom line,” says one as the other nods in agreement. “But that’s Big Brother for you.”


Does she think the Government (probably composed of some liberal city-like pockets – if it weren’t for those liberal EPA bureaucrats…) is the reason her company and many others fire people in order to hire younger ones, just cuz they’re cheaper and are likely to cost less in health care expenses? Or, is the reason, oh let’s see, who could it be now, could it be…. SATAN! I mean, CAPITALISM? Or does she think Big Brother is just some general term for, I don’t know, institutions that are larger than your circle of friends? Big Brother consisted of faceless bureaucrats and indifferent caprice in Orwell’s 1984; how is it an indictment of liberalism that her company is the same? (Of course, she may not have been connecting this to liberalism but just general… I don’t know, general “things to grouse about”.) Nonetheless – Big Brother? Huh? If only I were a little ruder so I could’ve intruded in their conversation to see what the hell they were thinking (I really wanted to ask the one whose boyfriend still eats only “Freedom Fries” if she and/or her boyfriend knew that “French Fries” are (according to their own accounts) from a country I like to call “Belgium” and that people in the country of “France” don’t give a shit about "Freedom Fries” since French Fries is a long-used US-exclusive name? Or would that be too knees-bent liberal snotty intellectual elitism, to, you know, know what actual words mean and when they might be wrong/stupid/aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh?)

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Back in the US: Part I

From my writings upon first re-entering the US from Brasil two weeks ago.

Back in the US

So, one of the first things I encounter upon getting back home here in the US is “CNN Morning”, which perhaps would be better named as “Clusterfuck Morning” or “Circle Jerk Morning” or “Oh my God this isn’t even funny any more kill me now…. Morning”. Why this dismay and vitriol on my part? Because I entered the US and in the terminal was subject to some kind of important earth-shaking news about SMUCKER’S and how they had made some new confection or muffin or some shit with CRINKLES around the edges. To be fair, I think the reason they were talking about it is because someone sued Sfucker’s or Sfucker’s sued someone over the recipe or idea or the copyright of peanut butter & jelly or something, but c’mon – does it FUCKING MATTER?

Not that there’s no place for this type of “puff piece” news – not everything needs to be talking about Tom Delay’s being chased down like a wounded wolf by the other bloodthirsty wolves in his pack (PS: I’ve been out of the news loop for a little while, but when Rick “Santorum” Santorum is saying you oughta rethink and/or apologize and/or step down, and the Conservative “News” Network is running it matter-of-factly and not as “Democrats claim that” – well, the pack’s closing in on you, and you’re losing a lot of blood). To be precise: the time for this kind of puff news is when YOU’RE 5 and you’re WATCHING SESAME STREET. Or in the present in some alternate universe when there’s just NOTHING ELSE TO REPORT ON (sort of like the day some years ago when the front page of the Detroit News was something like “Upstart Canton tries to Upstage Plymouth” – about my quasi-hometown Canton, MI which was/is trying to buy culture from the much older Plymouth – i.e. buy off the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra and the Plymouth Players with new facilities in Canton providing they become the CSO and the Canton Players; I think they’re overcompensating for having been the home of the Cow Chip festival some years back, raising the horrifying – to my sister – reality that there was, at a time in living memory, a Queen of the Cow Chip Festival). Some universe where there’s universal world peace, and you’re snowed in by a blizzard in the middle of nowhere.

I just came back from Brasil, which has its share of superficial news, but the time and place for “is the crinkly crust trademarked” is the show with a woman who looks like Joan Rivers only still made of flesh instead of space-age synthetic materials, and her parrot puppet as a sidekick – it’s sort of like Sesame Street meets Oprah meets the Today Show.

Ok, obviously CNN is trying to compete with the Today Show. Then, you know, just don’t call it news, ok? Or “American.” They can keep “Morning.” (“Welcome to the Cable News Network’s American Morning!!!!”)

Walking into one of the airport news kiosks, I was also BARRAGED with Brad Pitt making out with some other mega-star, and bunches of “IT’S TRUE!” headlines. And some stuff about Benicio del Toro’s elevator antics, Morgan Freeman’s taste in Cigars, Britney, Jessica, and Reese’s marriages/babies/whatever (nothing screams “important and pertinent news story” like a cover with 3 bleached blond starlets), and US News & World Report leading with Charles & Camilla. And Time had something on the cover that was “TIME’S 100 MOST” something something. It didn’t say something something, it’s just that whatever there actually was 100 of, the print was too small to see from a ways off. Apparently “100” and “Most” were the, well, most important part of the story. I took pass on finding out what (so hopefully it wasn’t “100 MOST brilliant and important news stories including successful new cures to cancer”).

Now, Brasil has its fair share of star news as well – they are probably more invasive and have at least as much star stuff as anywhere else – but one thing that made sense to me about their kiosks: The ACTUAL news was displayed as or more prominently as the “news”. You could find the Estado de Minas, Estado de São Paulo, Folha de São Paulo and, I don’t know, Hoje em Dia or something in the front, in easy view. Whereas here, I had to cross to behind the check-out counter to see any broadsheets whatsoever. It would be vastly exaggerating to call it the “Actual News Ghetto,” but when has hyperbole ever stopped me – let’s just call it the Actual News Ghetto.

I am very glad to be back where: there’s less smoking, my family is, my girlfriend is, my other friends are (including the soon to be married Mrs. Noroon “Milk” Mollon), my school and office is, my wonderful, much-weaker large-mug coffee is, etc. But the news thing: dude. Seriously. Not cool.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Dirty, Dirty Minds

That's right. All of you who were teens before 1995.

Oh, sure, my generation may watch record porn, but apparently we're in the midst of the lowest abortion, pregancy, and birth rates in decades, and the majority of young teens are still virgins, and the size of this majority has been estimated to have been increasing since 2002. We may watch record amounts of porn, and play insanely-violent videogames, but apparently we're not all that bad, after all.

Not the MOST groundbreaking thing to return to the blog with, but ehh. The J-Family has had a lot of things come up in recent weeks, so blogging has stayed in the backseat it stepped into in Brasil a little bit back.

Incidentally, conservatives have often cried and decried about the declining birthrates, worrying about our cultures literally dieing out (or being outbred by immigrants and hence leading to the decline of our great Western Civilization into chaotic rule by the modern-day Visigoths of Mexico, led perhaps by the stereotypical Mexican housekeeper). Hey, conservatives, question: when IS it appropriate for birth rates to decline? Never? So do we have infinite resources lying around somewhere I haven't heard about, or will God's provenance save us? Or do we just have to wait until the Latinagoths die out first?

Sigh. I would link to stuff about the birthrate claptrap, but I couldn't find anything easily. I know Pat Buchanan spouted some of this stuff years ago. That's all I got right now.

Next time: Brief diary entry from my re-entry into the US.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Low Blow?

Oh, something else occurred to me: has anyone else heard that the Pope is refusing further intensive medical care? That's what it says here, and the linked NYT article says "The pope, who decided not to be readmitted to the hospital, was visited in his apartment at the Vatican..." Now, there could be any number of caveats, mistaken details, or lost nuance here, but didn't the Pope say recently that it is a Catholic's responsibility to all they can to prolong life? Ah, he did, but apparently to "prolong life futilely" is not required. What's interesting is that among the "experts" in this USA Today article, some draw a distinction the other way 'round: the Pope isn't near- or partially-brain dead, so a feeding tube is appropriate; Ms. Schiavo had no higher cognitive functions (this was not among substantial debate among mainstream medical doctors), so prolonging her life was "futile" in the sense that all parts of the brain that were Terri were already dead, and her death was caused by this brain damage suffered as a result of her heart attack. Of course, other ethicists said that there is no reason to let the partially-brain-dead die and that it was unethical for Terri since she could have lived years longer (whereas the Pope, clearly, is near complete bodily shut-down, a different case in this regard). It's an interesting argument. Not one that I want to say much more on right now, though.

Relatedly, Christopher Hitchens, dumbass hack losing-talent-left-and-Right journalist, writing at Slate, has what almost approaches an argument I agree with about the Pope and his, er, unfortunate legacy here, but I warn you: this is not for the weak of heart, or those in grieving for the Pope as it takes him strongly to task. I believe Mr. Hitchens has some correct points, and in this case his usual bilious vitriol seems almost justified in my mind, but many believe it is inappropriate to bring up anything negative about a person nearly or recently deceased. I have some sympathy for this stance, though I feel more that it was the person's responsibility to deal with the negatives in their life, and did they not, in a just evaluation and meditation of their life and legacy, there's not responsibility to whitewash or avoid the bad delicately. But I also don't believe in tormenting those that loved the person, so, like I say, don't read this for some time if you are dearly suffering from the Pope's decline and seemingly imminent death. (What's truly needed in such cases, perhaps, is a Speaker for the Dead, one who tells the truth of a person's life, the whole truth -- what they did, what they failed at, what they attempted, what they accomplished, and who they were in their own eyes -- though this would likely not fly in Vatican City.)

Read also about the porn that is modern news here by movie hipster and J sardonic (tv/movie) culture critic, Lizz Dana Penn Stevens.

Lastly, customarily "news-lite" newspaper USA Today apparently has been giving well-done Iraq coverage (and apparently has a bonzo anonymous source policy, a policy that helps to fight the tendency, in Slate's Jack Shafer's words, " degrade the information content of news stories in which they're quoted. Most anonymice spin and leak selectively for political, personal, or institutional gain, and all the "balancing quotations" from other sources can never erase their taint...")

Ok, ok, now on to ants (albeit the southern cousins of those on the linked webpage). Tchau.