“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, July 30, 2005

rub raw the sores of social discontent

"The despair is there; now it's up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change. We'll give them a way to participate in the democratic process, a way to exercise their rights as citizens and strike back at the establishment that oppresses them, instead of giving in to apathy. We'll start with specific issues -- taxes, jobs, consumer problems, pollution -- and from there move on to the larger issues: pollution in the Pentagon and the Congress and the board rooms of the megacorporations. Once you organize people, they'll keep advancing from issue to issue toward the ultimate objective: people power. We'll not only give them a cause, we'll make life goddamn exciting for them again -- life instead of existence. We'll turn them on. -- Saul Alinsky


LI recommends this story as the most heartening news of the week. Labor has spent decades as the Democrat’s dog. In return, the Democrats have supported every nasty perk that has puffed upper management to the absurd financial status it now holds, from the awful Lieberman threatening the SEC, in the 90s, not to investigate accounting abuses to the bankruptcy bill that passed this year with crucial Dem support; the Democrats passed Nafta, otherwise known as the spread the impoverishment act; the Dems for a decade left Greenspan, that well known hater of labor, in his place as the most powerful single setter of the economic agenda in America ; and every four years, the Dems tapped union money the way frat boys gang bang a keg to run presidential candidates who ranged on the charisma scale from Mondale (as charismatic as socks) to Kerry (as charismatic as loafers).

We’ve been reading Murray Kempton’s Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties book. It was published in 1955, we believe. At that time, Unions were still gigantic in America, and the politics of the CIO was headline news. Kempton etched an acid picture of Lee Pressman, a communist who became one of the great labor councilors for John L. Lewis. Lewis was a man who breathed the worker cause – Kempton tells a story about how once, in a mine, Lewis had to kill a mule that had become unhinged. He did it with a blow to the head, then covered up the cause of the death, since the mule was company property and Lewis would have been fired for killing it. That it endangered miners was no concern of the company – a dead miner wasn’t a cost. Pressman was, undoubtedly, one of those people who gave their heart to their vision of Stalin’s Russia. The vision was as inaccurate as the vision of Iraq currently promoted by the hawks. But the Commies were excellent organizers, and save for the support for Stalin, mostly right about the issues. The problem, as every witness that came out of the thirties testifies, is that the Communists smashed everything eventually into a Machiavellian framework of politics, the point of which was to drive out other progressive forces. Still, one of the great casualties of the early fifties was a strong, domestic American Communist party. Such a thing would have nicely leavened the American political scene.

Now we live in an America run by villains, of course. The causes next to their compassionate heart are things like helping companies that have poisoned thousand of people with asbestos and who continue to do so with the use, for instance, of asbestos in brakes, literally get away with murder. LI’s notion is that this state of things has happened partly because the balance of forces between social movements and the parties long ago shifted to the parties. As long as the Unions are adjuncts of the Democratic party, Union positions will be abused by that party – for the leadership of it is basically indistinguishable from the leadership of the Republican party, give or take a belief in evolution or two. Whenever that leadership is forced to do something progressive, distress signals immediately leak out of D.C. in the form of articles decrying “special interests’ in the New Republic. According to the WP article:

“Stern began his insurgency two years ago. His vision was that the demands of a rapidly changing global economy require a consolidation by labor. By this reckoning, the loose affiliation of unions, many of them small, that characterize the AFL-CIO is no match for well-financed international corporations. Stern believes that unions must be forced to merge to create larger units that can dominate economic sectors, and that labor must shift more of its union dues into large-scale organizing campaigns and less distributing money to influence political races.

If his ideas prevail, Stern boasted, "the next decade can be a time of innovation, new strategies, new energy, new growth, and new ideas that will bring to life a new, 21st century American Dream."

Unions have a choice, we think: they can continue to be respectable, and disappear, or they can become disrespectable, they can support large scale actions that defy current laws – how about sit down strikes in selected Walmarts across the country? – and become strong again. Class warfare is another name for everyday life. I’d like to see some better generalship from my side of it.

PS -- on the war resistance front: see this interesting post on Counter-recruitment at the Huffington Blog. The poster even uses "Starve the Beast" to entitle the post -- which happens to be the title we gave our own counter-recruitment post two weeks ago. Since then, we've been busy publicizing counter-recruitment. Oh well, no time to worry about intellectual priority -- the cause is greater than our vanity.

Friday, July 29, 2005

the human rights of the last man

In the South Atlantic Review of last summer there is an interesting essay by Susan Maslan (The Anti-Human: Man and Citizen before the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) that wrestles with the identity of “man” and “citizen” as it was forged in the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Maslan’s idea is this: “man” was never a political entity in the same sense as “citizen” before the French revolution. Man could be many things – a creature with ties of blood to other creatures, a soul, a thinker – but as man, he was merely the substratum upon which the political selectively operated. This is a rather natural stance to take for a European society busy enslaving and conquering. Or perhaps I have the causal sequence wrong – it isn’t that the slaving and conquering produced the notion of man – substructure to superstructure – but that both the concept and the activity were held within one large framework, a political episteme.

Maslan finds it surprising that the French Revolutionaries were so quick to identify man and citizen. And she contrasts the result of this – the Declaration – with the American bill of rights:

“The authors of the Declaration understood that they were in the process of elaborating two distinct kinds of rights: rights proper to an individual outside of any constituted political body—that is, in the language
of the eighteenth century, natural rights—and rights proper to a member of an organized political body or state. It would appear, then, that natural rights are those that belong to man and political and civil rights are those at the disposal of the citizen. Asians and Africans, both favorite French examples of oppressed peoples, would be recognized by the Declaration not as citizens of France, of course, but rather in their capacity as men—a title which confers upon them a body of rights that must be acknowledged and recognized by all other human beings, and a title to which the slave, Target [one of the framers of the Declaration] suggests, does not even know he can lay claim. The simple fact of being born—regardless of to whom, where, in what circumstances—endowed the human being with rights. The inclusion of man, as opposed to, say, Frenchman, as a subject of rights within the Declaration is what distinguishes it so radically from the American Bill of Rights, a document that makes no claim to apply beyond the confines of its national authority. It is a wonderful sort of irony, one that demands serious reflection, that the invention of the Rights of Man played and continues to play such a predominant role in the creation and perpetuation of French national identity.”

Maslan’s tends to consider this problem in the light of its object – man – rather than in the light of its enonciation – by men. To track a point in the convergence of man and citizen, Maslan goes back to Horace, Corneille’s 1640 play. Horace is about the liberation of Rome – or its second founding. Horace has the choice of renouncing ties of blood symbolized by his sister’s marriage to Curiaci, of one of the families of Alba – the Curatii – or of loyalty to that blood, and the renunciation of his tie to Rome. The latter is a tie to something that doesn’t quite exist yet – its existence will ensue upon Horace’s action. If Horace defeats the Curatii, Rome will conquer Alba and be set on the road to becoming an empire – a conquest machine. Curiaci pronounces his choice not to duel Horace in a verse that LI wholeheartedly endorses:

“Et si Rome demande une vertu plus haute,/
Je rends grâces aux Dieux de n’être point Romain,/
Pour conserver encor quelque chose d’humain.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, the man modestly remarked. Really, this is our motto vis a vis the American kingdom.

Horace, the Roman, kills Cuiaci and his sister. Of Horace’s unyieldingness, Maslan writes:

“If, however, the criterion for membership in the political order of Rome is the willingness (or, as we shall see in Horace’s case, the eagerness) to exterminate all ties of affection and blood, then not everyone in Rome is fully Roman; indeed, the Roman soldiers described at the end of the first act resemble Curiacemore closely than they doHorace. Like Curiace, these soldiers are both human and citizens: unlike Horace, they persist in recognizing their kin relations and the affective bonds those relations create.”

Such acts of ad hoc resistance (think of the invisible strike against enlistment that is going on, at present, in the U.S.) are marks of the pre-political “man,” separating this entity from the citizen. For Maslan, this means that the pre-Revolutionary troping of “man” makes something about being a citizen “inhuman.” The ties to the state – the mark of the political – are ties of inhumanity.

However, we wonder whether the logic of Horace’s action can be simply projected on the divergence between “man” and “citizen” that, Maslan holds, characterizes those semantic fields in 1640. Notably, Maslan brackets the religious – which is surely a stress upon the use and dynamic of these terms in the seventeenth century. That Rome was pagan was a convenience – it offered a sort of ideal in which to test in dramatic terms the divergence between Maslan’s terms. However, those terms in the purely human world take on a different light in a world in which there is a God of love. Oddly, Maslan’s essay – which begins with a quote from Abbe Gregoire’s pamphlet on the liberation of the Jews – does not take into consideration the religious. We like her resounding final grafs:

“Horace’s project—the creation of citizenship through the destruction of humanity—is a failure because it entails the impossibility of law since law requires the recognition of others as, like oneself, subjects of law andHorace, by placing himself outside the order of humanity, consciously renders himself incapable of recognizing others as ‘‘other selves.’’ Horace is the founding text in what would be a 150-year-long literary-political undertaking to create and to comprehend the categories of and the relation between man and citizen. As in the case of Horace, these imaginings not always but often ended in visions of violence and destruction.When drafters and supporters of the 1789 Declaration announced that the ‘‘truths’’ of the rights of man and of the citizen were not only eternal and immutable but immediately recognizable
to all—‘‘ce que tout le monde sait, ce que tout le monde sent’’ (what everyone knows, what everyone feels)—they, like Rome, were dissimulating, hiding what was in fact an ongoing struggle to form the categories of man and citizen so perfectly that they could end forever not only les malheurs publics but
indeed all unhappiness.

If we tend to think that ‘‘human’’ and ‘‘citizen’’ are or should be corresponding and harmoniously continuous categories it is because we think in the wake of the 1789 Declaration. In the early modern political imagination to be a citizen meant to cease to be human. This is the legacy that the Declaration
tries to overcome and that it conceals. The Declaration sought to reconcile these two forms of existence that had been severed violently. Such an aim, of course, could not be fully realized and so the new Republic turned to—or, better put, invented—the language of universalism to repress and resolve the tensions it could neither dissipate nor acknowledge. It remains today the impossible burden of this language to adjudicate the claims of humanity and the claims of citizenship.”

Thursday, July 28, 2005

eating our words in the great culture of Bush

LI is again having to eat its words this morning. We so often complain that the Bush culture has exclusively favored the wealthy. In a story in the WP this morning, there is a great refutation of that thesis in the lifestory of Sunny L. Sims:

“Three years ago, Sunnye L. Sims lived in a two-bedroom apartment north of San Diego, paying $1,025 in monthly rent. Then she landed a dream job, with $5.4 million in pay for nine months of work.

Now she owns a $1.9 million stucco mansion with lofty ceilings on a hilltop, featuring sun-splashed palm trees and a circular driveway.”

The cool thing is, she owes this upward trajectory entirely to the Bush administration’s decision not to do pesky supervising over private contractors working for Homeland Security. Ms. Sims, in the weeks after 9/11, incorporated a company, Eclipse Events Inc, which subcontracted events planning for another company, NCS Pearson Inc, and went big time on a non-competitive contract “… to help hire a government force of 60,000 airline passenger screeners on a tight deadline. With little experience, her tiny company was asked to help set up and run screener-assessment centers in a hurry at more than 150 hotels and other facilities. Her company eventually billed $24 million.” There are a few minor accounting matters: “$15 million in expenses submitted by Eclipse could not be substantiated. For example, auditors were able to find supporting documents for only $326,873 of the $5.8 million that Eclipse spent directly on accounting, administration, consulting, management and contract labor.” However, given the outstanding success of the Homeland Security department in doing the job that the Confederate government wants it to do – suck money into Republican and Red State venues to profit an array of defense industry businesses – one has to admire the fact that a program that supposedly was supposed to do things like hardening target sites like nuclear reactors has failed to do that almost all along the line, but has been tremendously successful at valeting and pouring sodas for meet and greets with potential passenger screeners.

And Ms. Sims? “The auditors noted that Sims not only paid herself $5.4 million in compensation as "President/Owner" but also that she gave herself a $270,000 pension.”

We are lead by geniuses.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

genes

Jerry Fodor strings together some nice crochets against evolutionary psychology in the TLS this week. His argument, which in itself is pretty hard to beat, is that if psychology relies on motivations, it can’t, uncontroversially, reduce those to the “motivations” of the gene. Fodor uses one of those analytic uninteresting examples – Davidson liked buttering toast and lighting the furnace, and Fodor likes Mr. Jones carrying an umbrella. Fodor says that the fact that Mr. Jones is carrying an umbrella doesn’t tell us Mr. Jones’ motives for carrying an umbrella. He could think it is going to rain; he could want to give the umbrella back to its owner; he could be making a style statement. And then he writes: “It’s more of a problem – and Buller is quite clear on this – that an Adaptationist account of Jones’s behaviour may need to appeal to a motive that explains his action but that Jones didn’t actually have; not consciously, not unconsciously, not at all. It’s a main tenet of psychological Darwinism that the “ultimate” motivation for an adaptive behaviour is to maximize one’s relative contribution to the genetic endowment of one’s breeding group. So (still assuming it’s an adaptation) what Buller calls the “proximal” cause of Jones’s behaviour is that he wants (maybe consciously, maybe not) not to catch his death of cold and he believes (maybe consciously, maybe not) that he won’t catch his death of cold if he doesn’t get wet. But the “ultimate” cause of his behaviour is his wanting to maximize his contribution to the gene pool of his breeding group, which requires, inter alia, that he not be dead. That, to repeat, is what Jones really wants, assuming that his umbrella-carrying behaviour is an adaptation; and it’s what his ancestors were selected for wanting in the old days back on the savannah.

The trouble is, of course, that Jones wants no such thing – not consciously or unconsciously either. Jones may never have so much as heard about breeding groups; his ancestors certainly never did.So, really, what are we to make of motives that explain one’s actions even though one doesn’t have them? And who is it that is motivated by Jones’s genotypic ambitions if it isn’t Jones? Notice, once again, that this is a kind of puzzle that is proprietary to Psychological Adaptationism; it doesn’t arise for evolutionary explanations of the opposed thumb, or of bipedal gait, or of the anatomy of the retina; that’s because neither your motivations, nor your ancestors’, nor anybody else’s, come into the story about why thumbs work the way they do. It’s Psychological Adaptationism, not Adaptationism per se, that is raising this spectre of unattached motives.”

What Fodor is getting at is what Stephen Jay Gould called the bookkeeping fallacy. According to Gould, there is a difference between finding out that there is a mathematical spread of genes through a population and taking it to be the case that genes are riding organisms as vehicles to spread themselves through a population. The one could well be the effect of various causes in the population due to organisms – selection pressure could well be working at that level. The other view, however, has something that makes genes transcend selection. Or at least makes them agents of a mysterious kind. One could say that a successful toymaker has made toys that make him money, but the money hasn’t caused the success of the toys – that success came out of the things money bought, the advertising, the assembly line, the designers, the parents and kids who for their various reasons bought the toys, etc. It isn’t that there isn’t a selection level for money – one could invest in toys or armaments – but that the money itself is not a cause on the toy level (I could spend more money and make a suck toy, that gets nowhere, for instance).

It is odd that Fodor doesn’t mention Gould’s argument. There’s a letter to the Human Nature from Val Dusek that attributes the bookkeeping metaphor to William Wimsatt. Dusek sums up the idea nicely, commenting that it was employed, after Wimsatt, in an article by Lewontin and Sober: “Using Reichenbach's notion of "screening off" causes they [Lewontin and Sober] claim individual genes rarely if ever function as causes in selection processes. Dan Dennett lamely replies in Darwin's Dangerous Idea that counters can be important. Gould and Lewontin do not deny this. They simply say they are results not causes of selection. The situation is similar to that in economics. Labor can be a numeraire of profits, but that hardly justifies the labor theory of value, because many things can be numeraires. Stock predictors who use "technical" approaches do a kind of astrology on share price fluctuations and numbers of shares sold, but do not claim to be following causes of this within corporate structure and production that "fundamentalists" claim to be analyzing.”

I have doubts about this takedown of labor theory, but the analogy to technical analysis is pretty good. Except for one thing – technical analysis really does just use patterns in the past, whereas the theory of gene propagation is dealing with creatures that actually can endow or not, in various ways, their descendents with kinds of chromosomes. Hamilton’s work with ants was not only descriptive, but it has predicted patterns among ant societies having to do with descent. In a sense, the problem here is thinking that “bookkeeping” and the next “level” of selection are completely separate.

Dawkins and Smith and Williams have a different take. This is from Mark Ridley on the units of selection. He is considering lion hunting, which naturally involves selection. But is the important selection done by the organism “lion” or the genes?

“We must discuss one other matter before considering the significance of the genic unit of selection. Critics, such as Gould, have objected that gene frequencies change between generations only in a passive, "bookkeeping" sense. The frequency changes provide a record of evolution, but are not its fundamental cause. True natural selection, the critics would say, happens at the level of organismic survival and reproduction. For instance, the actual selection in the lion example happens when a lion catches, or fails to catch, its prey. The differential hunting success drives the gene frequency changes, and it is a mistake to identify the gene frequency changes as causal. Williams and Dawkins, however, do not deny that the ecological processes causing differential organismic survival produce gene frequency changes within a generation. What they deny is that this ecological interaction of organisms means that natural selection directly adjusts the frequencies of organisms over the evolutionary time scale of many generations.

An easy philosophical method has been developed for deciding whether natural selection works on genes, or larger phenotypic units. We can consider a phenotypic change such as a new hunting skill, and ask whether natural selection can work on it if it is produced genically and if it is produced non-genically. In the lion's case, the skill is produced genically--the advantageous new hunting behavior was caused by a genetic mutation. Now suppose that the same advantageous phenotypic change was caused by a non-heritable phenotypic change, such as individual learning or some developmental accident in the lion's nervous system. The thought-based experiment provides a test case between the organismic, phenotypic, and genic accounts of evolution. In the genic case, we know that natural selection favors the improved hunting type and the gene for it increases in frequency. But what happens in the phenotypic case? The individual lion with improved hunting ability will survive and produce more offspring than an average lion, but no evolution, or natural selection in any interesting sense, will occur. The trait will not be passed on to the next generation. Natural selection cannot work directly on organisms.”

That gives us, of course, a weird dualism in which the genes are something other than the organism. What are they? In the English school, they are ultimately bearers of information. Information longs to be free, and works through the mere lion. But of course one wonders what kind of improved hunting type we are talking about. If the organism doesn’t survive its childhood, or starves to death in a drought, it is not about to pass on those genes. It does seem like the “information” centric idea that has created a distinction between the gene and the vehicle to such a degree that natural selection only works on the information is not an entirely convincing model.

“What matters, in the process of natural selection, is that some of the lion's offspring inherit the mutation. These offspring, in turn, produce more offspring, and the gene increases in frequency. The gene can increase in frequency because it is not fragmented by meiosis (like the genome) or returned to dust by death (like the phenotype). The gene, in the form of copies of itself, is potentially immortal, and is at least Permanent enough to allow its frequency to be altered in successive generations.”

What matters, one feels like replying, is that the lion mates with a lioness. That permanence is so severely constrained that the horniest lion can’t mate with the most agreeable of mice.

In other words, the genocentric view defended by Ridley has the unintended consequence of virtually liquidating the notion of the species, which was where Darwin began. This isn’t good.

Perhaps I should say something about Hull’s interactor model. Or perhaps I’ll leave it for now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

LI is a little bummed. We wanted to stick out our tongue and dance around and pull down our pants and moon a petition that has been cobbled together to “condemn terrorism” that has attracted the signature of loony luminaries, like C. Hitchens and Nick Cohen and, etc., etc. You can tap dance out the rest. The whole gang. But Crooked Timber got there before us. So in the interests of economy, we’ll stick into this post our comment to CT, with some revision. Ah, but to preface this: what wasn’t argued about on the CT post was the very nature of these kinds of petitions. What in the world are they for? Are they supposed to go forth and make the conspiring militants in Samarra tremble as they hold the blasting cap? Are they supposed to rally a victim population that is crushed and trembling because they haven’t heard from the brigade of stalwart intellectuals just over the horizon? Are they supposed to influence policy in any country whatsoever? There is less sense and more vanity in this kind of petition than there is in anonymously dedicating a song to the one you love via your local dj.

Any petition against terrorism that ignores the one glaring and salient fact—that the promise made by George Bush to bring down Osama bin Laden in 2001 was callously and criminally unfulfilled—doesn’t seem to me worth the piece of paper it is written on. I think a condemnation of terrorism that was serious would, at the very least, point the finger at the failure of financing governments like Pakistan’s , which have worked hand in glove with terrorism in the past, to “police” terrorism now; it would condemn any government or coalition that used the war on terror as a disguise to hatch a war for a very different purpose, as the U.S. and the U.K. did in 2002; and it would condemn the villification of real anti-terrorist measures (for instance, police measures) in favor of faux anti-terrorist measures (as in, military action against countries that were not generators of terror), such as happened in the last presidential campaign in the U.S. It would also remark on the continuing civil damage that occurs when the war on terror is used as a diversion to wage a war of choice. That civil damage consists in spreading an unease among the population as governments engage in preliminary deceits that have to be shored up with further deceits. When anti-terrorist politics goes hand in hand with the politics of manipulation and misinformation, we know that anti-terrorist measures are not aimed at terrorists, but at entrenching the governing class’ privileges and assaulting our rights. Among the signatories are many, such as Christopher Hitchens, who have spent a lot of ink in the last two years trying to persuade people that Osama b is either dead or so crippled he doesn’t matter—a use of diversionary propaganda in support of the policies of the invaders of a bystander country that is, arguably, acting with extreme negligence vis a vis any terrorist threat, if not constituting a passive aid to the terrorists themselves. I myself would sign an anti-terrorist petition – being always a brave blogger, willing to put my very signature, that most precious of things in the whole wide world – on a petition that clearly outlined how a malign symbiosis between terrorists and “anti-terrorist” politicians in the West has left civilians more vulnerable to violent death or injury, and how anti-terrorism requires a global reckoning with this fact as a preliminary to a real anti-terrorist policy.

Monday, July 25, 2005

keeping tabs on the latest vileness -- get it while its hot

Keeping tabs on the vile things the Bush administration is doing is an exhausting task. LI sometimes feels that it is all too much, and we should get some sleep. But duty calls. So, this little article in the Sunday NYT about the newest initiative to destroy effective HIV programs in Brazil in the name of that morality that has made the Red States famous (for meth use) caught our attention.

Brazil has a very good anti-AIDs policy. It involves making sure that prostitutes, who have a union in Brazil, have condoms. It involves distributing clean needles. It involves rationality.

“One gauge of Brazil's success in confronting AIDS is to compare the situation here with that of other developing countries, many of which have sent delegations to study the Brazilian program. In 1990, for example, Brazil and South Africa had roughly the same rate of prevalence of H.I.V. among their adult populations, just over 1 percent.

Today, some studies indicate that 20 percent or more of South African adults of reproductive age are infected with H.I.V. or have AIDS, an estimated total of more than 5 million of the country's 44 million people. In Brazil, in contrast, the rate has dropped nearly by half, and the number of patients being treated has held steady, at about 600,000 out of a total population of 180 million.”

The Bush response is to look at this from the compassionate viewpoint. Compassion tells us that a life isn’t worth being saved if it is engaging in promiscuity and getting high:

“Mark Dybul, deputy coordinator and chief medical officer for the Bush administration's global AIDS initiative, is also taking part, and says the prostitution controversy is not only overblown, but is also an example of the many misconceptions about American policy.
"On the ground, this isn't an issue," Dr. Dybul said in an interview here on Friday. "Part of a compassionate response involves meeting people where they are and working with them."
He added, "Each country has a sovereign right to make decisions for themselves, and we respect that." But in order to receive American aid, he said, "it does require an acknowledgment that prostitution is not a good thing and to be opposed to it."”

Isn’t that sweet? And so the U.S. is yanking its support for the Brazilian system, until Brazil does the right thing, the compassionate thing, and criminalizes prostitution, making prostitutes the jolly targets of serial killers and plague, like they are in God’s own country, the U.S. Sometimes, compassion means leaving the world just a little bit more hellish than you found it.

On to the incompetence scene, where an unusual rhetorical turnabout is happening. Back in 2002, Al Qaeda was connected to all America’s enemies, and all of America’s enemies were Saddam Hussein. But now, three years later, with Al qaeda a fully operating organization in Pakistan, the new line is that nothing is connected to Al Qaeda. After all, if the London and Egyptian explosions are connected to Osama, the uncomfortable question might be, who is that Osama fellow? Bush has answered that definitively last year, when he said in the debates, very strongly, that he knew who Osama was. He’d read all about him in the back of the Little Pet Goat book. The CIA had paperclipped a 5 page cartoon book showing him and his nefarious crew. There were arrows, too, pointing to all of the players and giving their names. It was very informative. The president is very informed. The president is very resolute. The president stays the course.

Today's message comes with a little phone tune: don't worry, be happy! It turns out that nothing has anything to do with Osama, that funny little cave dweller. This is from the NYT:

But Al Qaeda's true form these days is a question mark. A majority of the officials interviewed call it a badly hobbled, barely functioning organization. Its top commanders have been captured or killed, and its two top leaders - Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri - have been in hiding for nearly four years.

One senior counterterrorism official said, "Al Qaeda is finished. But there is Al Qaedaism. This is a powerful ideology that drives local groups to do what they think Osama bin Laden wants."

Keeping up the brave tradition of Judy Miller, the article is basically propaganda for the White House conveyed via the anonymous. Good Work! Message: we did not fuck up in the spring of 2002 by arrogently letting Osama escape while we turned to an unnecessary war that we shoehorned into the legitimate concern about terrorism. Not us. Not with a secretary of War as brave and cuddly as Rumsfeld, and his merry men, oh so bright and gay. We smashed Osama way up. He has nothing, nothing to do with any explosions you may hear in the background. Although, remember, he had everything to do with Saddam Hussein, you see, in a sly, subtle, non-verbal kind of way. One of those gang terrorist handshake kind of things.

The amazing success of America’s policy is bringing freedom lovin’ to a neighborhood near you! With compassion, of course, on the side.

The WP has a different story. Must not have surveyed the same top top top counterterrorism officials. It is headlined Al Qaeda Leaders Seen in Control. How terribly bad of those reporters. They obviously were using the wrong Rolodex to survey the proper experts.

“The back-to-back nature of the deadly attacks in Egypt and London, as well as similarities in the methods used, suggests that the al Qaeda leadership may have given the orders for both operations and is a clear sign that Osama bin Laden and his deputies remain in control of the network, according to interviews with counterterrorism analysts and government officials in Europe and the Middle East.”
That is not the right message. Message should be: we are safer today more than we’ve ever been before. It gets worse.
“But intelligence officials and terrorist experts said they suspect that bin Laden or his lieutenants may have sponsored both operations from afar, as well as other explosions that have killed hundreds of people in Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Morocco since 2002. The hallmarks in each case: multiple bombings aimed at unguarded, civilian targets that are designed to scare Westerners and rattle the economy.”

So unhelpful. So uncompassionate. Luckily, we can completely turn our minds off to such articles. And put complete trust in the counter terrorism experts who run the gamut, from Douglas Feith to Karl Rove, in assuring us that there is no man with a bomb behind the curtain.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

one more time

LI’s post, yesterday, on the Nagelian voter,was supposed to be clear as daylight, or the reflection of same from your beloved’s eye at the moment of spiritual union. It was also supposed to fit into our larger project of thinking about politics beyond parties. We take on the big projects at LI. We pull out the autocad. We hire the temps. Rereading it, I see I wasn’t as clear as daylight. There was a lot of scrambled egg in the spiritual union. Two points, then. Harry wrote a reply from the more skeptical side at Scratchings. I think I agree with Harry in one respect, and in one respect I don’t. The agreement is that the specific act of voting itself is a negligible political act. The unimportance of the act is emphasized by the convergence of the parties. The fact that there is no difference between the parties means that there is no difference made by the vote -- or at least that is the instrument used by the governing class to to degrade voting, and thereby assure themselves continued power. They can adopt this strategy because voting is a certain kind of social act. My post didn’t make it clear enough that the effect of the act, which is important, can and should be divorced from the act itself. The difference between the real effect of the vote and the global effect of voting is evidence that we are dealing, here, with a symbolic object in Victor Turner’s sense. To see how the vote is a symbolic object, think of other objects in games. A football, to use a standard example, is in itself merely an unintelligently designed ball, harder to hold than a standard round ball, harder to kick, and a little easier to toss long distances, compared to a round ball of equal size. One’s interest in the ball itself doesn’t really go much beyond these observations. A game in which possession of the football endows the players of the game with their positions and their roles arises, of course, not out of the football itself, but out of its symbolic value. There is some intersection between the affordances of the ball and the role it plays – that is, there is a reason that the peculiar shape of the football fits the game of football – but in general, the interest in the game does not arise from fascination with the ball itself. It is the very rare fan that cheers the ball, or worries about it. Nor do fans puzzle much over the importance of the ball. Other objects in the world can be imagined to have a personality. There are pornographic tales narrated by sofas. When I was a kid, I had to watch an anti-drug film narrated by a drop of LSD. But footballs in themselves aren’t haloed with even that kind of aura. My own view of voting is that there are times that it is better not to vote, but there are no times, in a democracy, when it is better not to be a voter. Not being a voter is a form of social death. A lesser form among the hierarchies of zombies, but a form, nevertheless. This is where I do disagree with the nihilistic approach to voting. It does make a difference that 25 percent of black males in Alabama have been disenfranchised. The termination of their legal right to vote is not the termination of a triviality. Alright then. Clear as a bell, eh? The second point I should clear up is that I meant, in my last post, to be descriptive. Whether or not I like the fact that voters are Nagelian, I think that is how they are. And the voters that are Lockean – the well informed voters, the meritorious voters – are not un-Nagelian. They are a sub-group of Nagelian voter. (The hopelessness of philosophy is that it drives you into these linguistic oddities, but so it goes). What that means is simple: Lockean voters view their intelligence, which convention defines by the comparison mechanisms in schools (an absurd way to define intelligence, but I’m not going to kick against the pricks) as much more important than other groups. There. All better now.