08 December 2006

Milliken v Bradley, 1977 and Chemerinsky 2003

I have been asked to comment on a proposal for SCOTUS action based on the Chemerinsky 2003 article found in the North Carolina Law Review. Please note that while I am making some arguments, this essay is not to be cited. I still have friends and interests in certain activities and this essay’s citation would require a discussion with which I am not concerned. This essay is a vehicle for me to help organize some thoughts and a place to begin research on the issue at hand.

There is a call among some scholars for the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Milliken v Bradley (1977) on the grounds that the requirement for proof of discriminatory intent places an undue burden on the plaintiffs instead requiring proof of discriminatory impact. I think this approach is inadequate and an imprecise reading of the Chemerinsky article.

It needs to be clarified at the outset that Chemerinsky, at least in this article, makes no call for Milliken’s overturning. The closest he comes is when he lists an alternative decision among a litany of other alternative decisions as things that would have caused a substantially less resegregated public school system. At no point is there an argument that reinterpreting Milliken would rectify the harms contributed to by the earlier decision. That genie has left the bottle and other facts presented in the Chemerinsky article prove this.

Chemerinsky finds Milliken irrelevant in Southern States, because it is easy for plaintiffs in those cases to demonstrate de jure segregation. The Milliken problem is in the northern states where state policies are discriminatory in their impact and not necessarily in their intent (a discriminatory housing policy may cause a segregated school district but because it is not an educational policy it is deemed to not intentionally cause a segregated school district.)

Chemerinsky’s discussion of more recent court decisions proves the ineffectualness of the proposed Milliken decision. Courts are no longer willing to issue new desegregation orders, even in the face of irrefutable proof of school resegregation. Milliken provides the court with a type of remedy to mandate upon school districts, but a lack of court willingness to even issue a desegregation order means the Milliken revision would do nothing. Chemerinsky discusses 3 cases that halt the issue of new orders; the Milliken revision would need to be accompanied by action on these precedents. Voluntary desegregation efforts fall under a different problem, one which was recently addressed in oral argument before the Supreme Court and the fate of which is still unknown.

Even if the court were to overcome a failing of the above plan and be able to order school districts to implement multi-district desegregation remedies, there are still some problems. The white flight problem is not entirely circumvented as there will be boundaries marking the limits of the interdistrict cooperation. A student in downtown Detroit cannot be bused to Ann Arbor because the drive would take too long. White flight would then still be a possibility, it just means the flight will go further out than just a single school district boundary.

Chemerinsky also tries to head off the private school argument. He contends people do not go to private schools to flee the desegregation efforts because they did not. Private schools account for 17% of status quo segregation (Chemerinsky cites a source which I have not investigated because of a lack of need.) Assuming this 17% figure is accurate we need to remember that it is a measure of white flight when there is a viable alternative (relocation to a suburb). If Chemerinsky is correct that Milliken overcomes the white flight possibility then the 17% would increase as private schools become more than they are in the status quo to those that do not want to be part of a desegregated school district. Overall, white flight would still be a problem which could easily mitigate a significant portion of any gains the Milliken revision might have accrued.

The ultimate limitation upon the judiciary to bring about social change is easily seen in this instance. People may be racist and want segregated schools and will act to make it happen. There are so many other decisions on the periphery of the issues at play in Milliken that actual enforcement will never happen without more comprehensive judicial revisions. An example would be the complicated school financing issue. Even if some districts cooperated to end segregation there would still be inequities in school financing which can cause the very ills desegregation is supposed to resolve.

One possible action Chemerinsky does advocate however needs to be discussed. I am curious how after reading this article someone can contend it argues for a change in the burden required by Milliken. What there is a call for is to recast education as a fundamental right. The court found in these education cases that a strict scrutiny standard is inappropriate because there is neither a suspect classification at work (the poor is not a suspect class) nor a violation of a fundamental right. Chemerinsky hints that the solution lies in getting to the strict scrutiny standard.

I do not want to argue that education is not a fundamental right, but Chemerinsky is right about why the court does not make that determination: because then there would be an increase in burdens placed on the government. Recasting education as such would force a heightened standard and arguably one that would cause Milliken and the other cases mentioned above to be recast. This is the appropriate mechanism for action on Milliken and the better reading of the 2003 Chemerinsky article. While this solution would open a whole new can of worms, it is the only possible action on Milliken alone that can overcome the deficiencies I have illustrated with the limited Milliken ruling.

This is a diverse and interesting body of literature and I am surprised someone has decided to make a call for SCOTUS action based upon this one article. It is even further disconcerting that the reading of this single article is a poor reading and too simplistic for the complexity at work.

Conolly 2002

Ther Iraq Study Group presents an interesting problem for American foreign policy. Clearly there are questions about if Bush will follow the recommendations and how so. There is also an interesting question about qualifications, some saying the ISG proves the current Republicans are immature and incompetent, whereas the old guard still possess erudite qualities.

But there is another question that needs to be pressed to this scenario, and it is one easily confused with the first question I highlighted. What will Bush do? But I am not concerned (not here, at least) about the political calculations involved. I am instead more concerned with Bush’s resistance to the ISG and how it will effect the political decisions sure to follow.

There is an Oedipal connection to be explored as Bush measures the recommendations from key members of his father’s foreign policy apparatus (most notably James Baker.) William Conolly (2002. The Augustinian imperative. NY: Rowan & Littelfield Publishers, Inc. pp. 52-3.) provides in the passage below and exploration of the difficulty of actually doing what one knows she ought to do. This passage contains some block quotations itself from Augustine, so the formatting may seem off. I am also going to bold portions of the passage to further bring out what I think are the most important parts. None of the bolding is Conolly’s.

As Augustine confesses the sins of his past and the problem of evil he is moved to ponder the character of human will. The confession here parallels the confession of memory. Augustine finds that he has done things he did not will and has willed things he did not do. This leads him to suspect that the source of evil and human suffering resides deeply within the will itself, in the very structure of human will and desire. [Begin Conolly's block quotation of Augustine]

Why should it be? Mind commands body, and it obeys forthwith. Mind gives orders to itself, and it is resisted. Mind gives orders for the hand to move, and so easy is it that command can scarcely be distinguished from execution. Yet mind is mind, while hand is body. Mind commands mind to will: there is no difference here, but it does not do so. Whence comes this monstrous state? Why should it be?

[End Conolly's block quotation] Augustine is not worried about the mind/body problem that has perplexed Western thought at least since a mechanistic conception of nature became popular in the 17th century. This is not a Cartesian question about how the mind interacts with the body. For that relation is pretty reliable: “Mind gives orders for the hand to move, and…command can scarcely be distinguished from execution.” Augustine is concerned about a mind/mind problem, about a perplexity or dissonance interior to the will itself. You will not to invite your attractive friend for a late drink, but the words crawl out of your mouth anyway. Augustine wills to be continent, but he is incontinent. His friend, Alypius, wills to forgo the violent blood of the circus, but under the prodding of friends he sinks into it again. The question is not whether those acts are okay despite the values of those who resist them, but why one does the thing one wills not to do once one has willed not to do it.

The answer, for Augustine, is not that the body overwhelms the will or that the will is in combat with dark forces that sometimes overmatch it. The first answer would take him too close to Platonic paganism and the second too close to the heresy of Manicheanism. The source of the conflict must therefore be a division within the will itself. [Begin Conolly's block quotation of Augustine]

It does not will it in its entirety: for this reason it does not give this command in its entirety. For it commands a thing only in so far as it wills it, and in so far as what it commands is not done, to that extent it does not will it…But the complete will does not give the command and therefore what it commands is not in being.

I hope this passage helps us understand a reason why things go wrong. It is especially helpful for why things may go wrong in the worst possible places for them to go wrong: Iraq. Maybe the abuses US soldiers are accused of are not a failing of leadership or even training. Instead they may be the inevitable outcome of placing people in situations predicated on violence and death. Maybe the insurgents are merely acting out this mind/mind problem and there is nothing the US can do to ease the problem.

I find it unlikely that Iraq is a hodgepodge of forces that can be identified and dealt with. There are things at work we may never understand and while some may call that life, given the circumstances in Iraq we instead call it death. This is a sobering possibility and one that right now is too abstract to provide an ethic for dealing with Iraq, but with time and work maybe Augustinian insights can provide some help and relief. Everyone sees the status quo and asks the same question: why should it be?

05 December 2006


There is an old newspaper account of a mass execution in 1922 of some Greek leaders after a failure in a military campaign against Turkey. The Greeks were brought into a courtyard and one of them was very ill, barely able to walk to the execution site. Supposedly, this one man was unable to stand for his execution and despite efforts to stand him up, the executioners decided to shoot him with his head on his knees. This account is somewhat misleading.

People interpret this as the man being very ill, but why is that necessarily the case? Could it also be that the man was resisting. If he is about to be killed, why make it any easier on his executioners? Why allow them to think there is a dignity in the process? Maybe the scene was filled with the dignity of a Picasso, a scene rife with challenges and hegemonic forces encountering their own resistances.

23 November 2006

Studio 60 is not so bad after all

Gavin Edwards uses the latest Rolling Stone (November 30, page 44) to talk about what ails NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” except he misdiagnoses the problem. His solution is to make the sketch comedy, in case you do not follow “Studio 60” is a show about a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show, funny. This is not the problem, rather I think it speaks to a larger desire Edwin has, and that is the real problem for NBC.

If Edwards’ theory is correct then it means people tune into an hour long show for a glimpse of A joke (usually at the end of the show.) I doubt that is what motivates people and consequently I doubt making that change would keep people coming back for more. If the sketch comedy were funny maybe there would be more viewers in the last half hour, just as SNL these days is viewed exclusively (at least by my friends) for the first half hour, but this seems to be a pretty low mark in quality that I doubt would make any show’s producers happy.

There is another problem with Edwards’ theory. I do believe the American public is able to watch TV with a necessary suspension of disbelief, not everything has to be an accurate representation of our current world. People know the sketches are supposed to be funny in the world of “Studio 60.” This is the same world where Matthew Perry’s character is established as a comic genius. This is the same world where everyone in Pahrump, Nevada is a country yokel. This is not our world and yet Edwards’ basic complaint is that it is too different. “Lost,” “Battlestar Galactica,” and “30 Rock” are some of the success stories that disprove Edwards’ need for realism.

The real problem of “Studio 60” is that it is based on SNL, a successful SNL. I suspect Edwards longs for the good-old days when SNL was funny. I suspect it is this appeal which compelled NBC to buy Sorkin’s latest text book - writing text books is what Sorkin does. “West Wing” was his way to educate us about politics. “Sports Night” was an education about ESPN. And this should teach us about SNL. The problem is that SNL is an anachronism. Maybe the quality has dropped and that has led to its demise as a cultural force, or maybe its importance was declining which is why it is no longer a quality show (maybe both) but the result is the same.

“Studio 60” is held on by NBC not as a vehicle in itself to make profits, but also as a way to invigorate a once great NBC institution. I will admit I watch SNL more than I used to because of what I am learning from “Studio 60.” While I think the comedy writing for “Studio 60” is not funny, I do not think it should be. SNL is based not on just being funny but also on being witty (even though those moments do not make it onto the greatest hits highlights). People know what is funny, they need to be taught on what is witty and why it is witty. “Studio 60” does a great job teaching that. The last episode contained a brilliant running commentary on humor, Quentin Tarantino and gore. I feel smarter having seen the last episode.

People are judging the show based upon the show it purports to be, a SNL that is a cultural force. No show airing these days matches up to that standard and a new comparison for profitability needs to be found.

That better model for “Studio 60” to follow is “ER”. The big concern then was if people would watch a show that was steeped in medical knowledge and refused to dumb it down. But people watched, learned and loved it for a long time. Surely the educational quality was not the sole reason people watched but regardless it was a bold gamble. I am confident the “Studio 60” gamble will pay off. It could be funnier and have more of a draw, but I am happy with the show and I will continue to come back to NBC on Mondays.

If I were at NBC I would wait until the show was losing money before pulling this plug. It may take some time, but I think it will pay off. This is, after all, what leadership and being a cultural manager is all about. Sometimes you may think things can be better, that does not mean you can just plod ahead, but you need to plow through resistance. I am confident people will come around.

17 November 2006

Connolly 2002

These are some rough ideas of something I am trying to work out. But given the timliness of Bush's comments to what I am thinking I felt it important to put something out there for some feedback:

The worst thing to happen to the War in Iraq is for Bush to have gone to Vietnam and to see things working well. It has become for him proof about the power of democracy and freedom to prevail in the fight over evil and (Islamic) Fascism. I really these terms are nuanced and not all applicable to past or present Vietnam, but this is how Bush sees the country. There is an obvious reply here, if freedom prevails in Vietnam even though we left it to be under the heel of a communist regime, does that not prove we do not need to be in Iraq to bring them freedom? Possibly, but with Bush in the White House that argument needs not be fleshed out because we will be in Iraq to bring them whatever it is we bring them.

The main problem with the War in Iraq is how US policy is grounded. Clearly there are some issues about planning that need to be examined. But there is something larger at work. The goal that Bush wants has been turned into such a mythic figure of happiness that it now stands as the coercive utopian ideal. These ideals are so powerful that any sacrifice becomes worthwhile and any deviation is seen as the embodiment of evil.

William Connolly discussed this in his book about the effects of St. Augustine. While the passage I am about to re-cite is discussing polytheism as opposed to monotheism, it is applicable as Bush’s war of a value versus the all of the different fanatics and their polyvalent (the individuals may not be fighting for multiple values, but the aggregated enemies of the US are polyvalent). This clash is automatically predisposed to not only resistance but also to a violent response to such resistance.

The key defect in the multiple, limited, disputing pagan gods is that they did not have enough power, separately or in combination, to hold out the realistic prospect of eternal salvation to hu8mans, a prospect “which is the essential aim in religion.” Augustine endows his god with omnipotence to enable it to deliver on the promise of salvation. He endows it with care for humanity to make it want to do so. When these three demands are combined (omnipotence, care and salvation), you generate a god who must be the author of an intrinsic moral order and you have a moral order under powerful pressure to constitute itself restrictively and coercively. (The Augustinian imperative. NY: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 48-9).

14 November 2006

Zizek 2003

What, then, does the self-beating in Fight Club stand for? IN a first approach, it is clear that its fundamental stake is to reach out and reestablish the connection with the real Other, that is, to suspend the fundamental abstraction and coldness of the capitalist subjectivity best exemplified by the figure of the lone monadic individual who, alone in front of the PC screen, communicates with the entire world. In contrast to the humanitarian compassion that enables us to retain our distance toward the other, the very violence of the fight signals the abolition of this distance. Although this strategy is risky and ambiguous (it can easily regress into proto-fascist macho logic of violent make bonding), this risk has to be assumed – there is no other direct way out of the closure of the capitalist subjectivity. The first lesson of Fight Club is thus that one cannot pass directly from capitalist to revolutionary subjectivity: the abstraction, the foreclosure of the others, the blindness for the others’ suffering and pain, has first to be broken in a risk-taking gesture of directly reaching toward the suffering other – a gesture that, since it shatters the very kernel of our identity, cannot but appear as extremely violent. However, there is another dimension at work in the self-beating: the subject’s scatological (excremental) identification, which equals adopting the position of the proletarian who has nothing to lose. The pure subject emerges only through this experience of radical self-degradation, when I let/provoke the other to beat the crap out of me, emptying me of all substantial content, of all symbolic support that could confer on me a minimum of dignity. Consequently, when jack beats himself in front of his boss, his message to the boss is: “I know you want to beat me; but, you see, your desire to beat me is also my desire, so, if you were to beat me, you would be fulfilling the role of the servant of my perverse masochist desire. But you are too much of a coward to act out your desire, so I will do it for you – here you have it, what you really wanted. Why are you so embarrassed? Are you not ready to accept it?” Crucial here is the gap between fantasy and reality. The boss, of course, would have never actually beaten up Jack: he was merely fantasizing about doing it, and the painful effect of Jack’s self-beating hinges on the very fact that he stages the content of the secret fantasy his boss would never be able to actualize. (Slavoj Zizek. 2003. The ambiguity of the masochist social link. In Rothenberg, Foster & Zizek, eds. Sic 4: Perversions and the social relation. 112-25. 116-7.)

This passage sums up to me why psychoanalysis is such a fun literature to pursue. It possesses a creative and penetrating gaze into events, with a startling ability to explain what is going on. However, it is a reductionist science (read: too creative) and denies the possibility of many differing interpretations (assuming the main principle of psychoanalysis that intent is not important.)

My reading of the scene Zizek discusses is different and probably more in line with the simpleton’s reading: Jack wants to extort money from his boss and fakes a beating to force his boss to give in to the demand, because the boss’s description of how Jack was beaten up by himself would not be credible to anyone except for Zizek.

Zizek’s reading of the scene, however, attributes the same fantasy to both Jack and the boss – to beat Jack up. This is the psychoanalytic tradition: reducing human desire to a basic immutable truth. While desires fluctuate across situations, there is not an allowance in this dyad for differing desire. There is not account in either the movie nor in Zizek’s re-presentation of the movie of the boss wanting to beat Jack up. This is an asserted desire on Zizek’s part and it is understandable why, if the boss does not share jack’s desire then Zizek’s argument falls apart. The boss is no longer a coward. The boss is no longer demonstrating the gap between fantasy and reality.

10 November 2006

The al Qaeda trick

What about Pan Am flight 103? Was it also the result of terrorism rhetorics? The tragic incident over Lockerbie epitomizes, for the American public, the ultimate proof of terrorism’s extreme danger. What is altogether missing is a public appreciation of the extent to which terrorism discourse itself might have contributed decisively to the tragedy. Pan Am flight 103 was preceded by the downing, “by mistake,” of an Iranian passanger [sic.] airliner by the American warship Vincennes. Most experts and family members of the Pan Am victims remained skeptical with the official version that blamed two Libyan officers; the clues pointing to Iran were simply too obvious to ignore. In any case, what made the crew of the Vincennes commit so grave a mistake as to sacrifice with impunity the lives of 290 airline passengers? Isn’t this the reality-making force of a discourse that allows itself to act as it assumes the enemy will? In doing so it provokes as well the self-fulfilling reaction from the enemy that proves that it was the feared monster after all. Nevertheless, the incident that has turned into the paradigm of terrorism for the American public has been viewed by some terrorism experts as a type of “blood feud.” It is by forgetting the symmetry between the Iranian airliner and Pan Am flight 103, and by erasing the assumptions and justifications surrounding the Vincennes’ “error,” that terrorism discourse conceals its own self-generating logic. (J. Zulaika & W. Douglas. 1996. Terror and taboo: The follies, fable sand faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge.)

I know I have cited and discussed from this Zulaika & Douglas book before, but I try to choose these nuggets at random. Besides, I really liked this book. It was fascinating to read and that was before September 11 and our current (pre)occupation in the War on Terror (hereafter called WoT.) Some dismiss the writings before September 11 as anachronistic, but these writings are now timelier than ever as they address the exact same problem but do not reflect the trauma we are so fixated on trying to suture. The same reason doctors should not operate on their children is a reason why these writings are so valuable: we are too emotionally involved to see clearly.

There is a clear parallel to draw between the cover-up Zulaika & Douglas reference to the current WoT. This is not to say it was the US government’s doing, I do believe the al Qaeda story we are told, but there is a government dismissal of why al Qaeda did what it did. Some will dismiss, they have when others said it, what I am about to say as sympathy for the evil-doers but it is not sympathy. No matter how cruel al Qaeda thinks we have been to them and their cause it does not justify what they have done, but we should take some time to at least understand why they did what they did. Unfortunately, Bush is happy to dismiss this as hatred of America and as sympathy for them.

I contend al Qaeda is in the midst of a civil war within Islam. Unable to gain ground in this war because of the riches of it’s enemy, al Qaeda has sought out the source of it’s enemy’s wealth: the US. We prop up the Islamic modernists with our patronage of oil and our military assistance. Thus al Qaeda, like the IRA, needed one of two things to happen. If al Qaeda could convince us to remove our patronage or to get us more involved so other Muslims would then see just how involved we are then they would gain ground in this internal conflict.

Al Qaeda’s plan then needed a way to catalyze us into action. They did what we have done, attacked non-military religious targets. Fundamentalists see our western mechanism of development and trade and commerce as a direct attack upon traditional Muslim values. Al Qaeda thinks our religion is money and so they struck at what seemed to the ultimate symbol of that religion, the World Trade Center. There is a reason the only 2 foreign-born terrorist attacks on US soil targeted the same place. The towers (still) hold symbolic value and we reacted exactly in a manner they wanted. Bush says those of us that disagree with him are giving in to what they want by conceding the fight. While conceding the fight was a desirable outcome of the attack, so is what Bush is doing. His binary black/white world fails to see the world is at least tertiary (black/grey/white.) A third way should have been sought out.

I digress from Zulaika and Douglas. We can see this pattern of war fought in Saudi Arabia against the very people that become al Qaeda. Modern forces there terrorize the conservative Muslims. They do this terrorism with US made thumbscrews, with US made tanks, with US soldiers looking on, with US led sanctions against infrastructure development in Iraq. Even if we do not do all the things al Qaeda claims we do, the material conditions in those places are such that those claims have credibility. Why is that? It is this credibility, not the actual truth of the claims, that needs to be fought and countered. Yet Bush seems to have fallen the al Qaeda trick.

08 November 2006

Windschuttle 2006

In the ensuing controversy, Churchill was exposed by real American Indians as a fake. The American Indian Grand Governing Council said “Ward Churchill has fraudulently represented himself as an Indian, and a member of the American Indian Movement and … has been masquerading as an Indian for years behind his dark glasses and beaded headband.”

More importantly, a University of New Mexico specialist in Indian law, John Lavelle, accused Churchill of fabricating evidence in no less than six books and eleven published academic articles.

That the work of such a moral [sic.] bankrupt and scholarly charlatan could be paraded as weighty commentary by the editors of Australia’s leading journal in Aboriginal history is a good indication of what an intellectual shameless this subject has become.

The anti-colonialism of these historians is also highly selective in that it ignores empires other than those of Europe. The truth is that all great civilizations have absorbed other peoples, sometimes in harmony, sometimes by the sword. The Islamic world, so often portrayed today as victims of British or American or Israeli imperialism, is hardly innocent. The Ottoman Turks conquered and ruled most of the Middle East for a thousand years. The British and the French displaced them in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the approval of the Arabs who by then wanted liberation from Ottoman rule. In India, Muslims from Arabia and Persia were imperial overlords for eight centuries until the British arrived. The British overthrew Muslim rule, with the active cooperation and grateful applause of the Hindu population.

I am torn in the debate about indigenous peoples. This passage is from Keith Windschuttle, a conservative historian in Australia. While my politics are more in line with Windschuttle’s than with Churchill’s, I find Windschuttle’s, and many other conservative historians, arguments to be inadequate in the face of the criticisms lodged against them.

Churchill makes an indictment about Indian identity, that the definition of an Indian is a government controlled definition, a definition that forces Indians into a marginal position. Yet, Windschuttle feels it compelling to point out that Churchill does not meet this government definition of Indian-ness. An argument that is clearly non-responsive to Churchill’s criticism and may actually prove the scope of the problem Churchill identifies. As for being a member of the American Indian Movement, it may be accurate that Churchill claims to be a member and yet is not. It could also be that Churchill claims to be a member of the American Indian movement and Windschuttle confuses that with the American Indian Movement. One is a structure and the other is an informal community bound by shared ideas. While this difference may not explain away the argument, it is a nuance that I would not be surprised, given the quality of his work, to find Windschuttle not realizing.

I am curious about the supposed fabrication Windschuttle alludes to, but it is important to note that Windschuttle references merely an accusation by a single person, not a finding and not even an accusation by a group. This fabrication issue is also potentially suspect given Churchill’s indictment of the history of American Indians. A discrepancy in Churchill’s and the official’s record may be called fabrication by Lavelle yet in Churchill’s account may actually prove his argument. I will admit that this debate is a passing fancy and not important enough for me to spend time researching and investigating.

The final argument in the Windschuttle passage is about the history of colonialism. I will posit his condition (even though it seems suspect) that all civilizations (great civilizations?) absorb others, yet that does not absolve the US of what it has done. Churchill does focus on the US ‘absorption’ but that does not constitute the selective charge Windschuttle issues. Claiming the US did something wrong is not a valorization of the Ottomans or other non-Western empires. This argument is a sophomoric link of omission argument.

The ultimate problem of the Windschuttle piece is where he attacks Churchill. This is also where I draw difference with both Churchill and Windschuttle. While I find Churchill’s prescriptions naïve and overly simplistic (how do I live my life as if the US did not exist?) I find his descriptions of what has happened depressingly accurate and sobering. Windschuttle, however, is focused almost exclusively (at least in this piece, I do not want to commit the same link of omission error he does) on Churchill’s descriptions instead of his plans to change the world.

07 November 2006

Tatchell 1997

To-day’s passage from the backfiles is one of the better arguments I have stumbled across in quite some time. Not only is a well-structured argument, but also I find the writing to be good: it is concise and yet the language is not too lofty and obscure. Peter Tatchell is a British human rights activist and I am also assuming he is gay, proud and pissed off. After reading this passage his anger seems not only understandable but also justified, I especially liked the portion that talks about how our society does not protect queers:

Such a statement sums up the way the just demand for an end to homophobic discrimination by the armed forces increasingly has become an unjustifiable endorsement of militarism and war. The experience of being marginalized by society as “abnormal” and “deviant” ought to give us queers a more critical attitude towards all social institutions, including the military. Instead of blithely assuming that everything straight is wonderful, we should have a healthy skepticism towards straight culture. No hetero institution is more deserving of our skepticism than the armed forces. It denies democratic rights to its own members, tolerates bullying, lacks mechanisms for public scrutiny and accountability, discriminates against lesbians and gay men (and women and black people), and has a been used frequently to suppress popular movements for social justice and national liberation in countries like Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and Ireland. Above all else, the military is a straight institution. It is organized and dominated by the hetero majority. Part of the function of the military is the defence of a society ruled by straights (as well as big business). It serves straight interests and upholds the macho straight values of violence and homophobia. Everything about the military is inimical to queer freedom: hierarchy, domination, prejudice, aggression, conformity and authoritarianism. Moreover, the military is an instrument of State power. The State is homophobic, enforcing legal discrimination against lesbian and gay people. As a part of the repressive apparatus of the State, the armed forces embody this anti-gay discrimination, banning queers from joining the military and forcing out those it discovers within its ranks. In defending the State, the military also implicitly defends the anti-queer repression of the State, including the unequal age of consent, the arrest of gay men for victimless cruising, the ban on the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, the denial of legal recognition to queer partnerships, and the lack of redress against homophobic discrimination in housing and employment. Lesbians and gay men have a right, and even a responsibility, to refuse allegiance to a homophobic government and its homophobic military apparatus. Faced with unjust laws that discriminate against homosexuals, queers are duty-bound to deny legitimacy to the straight governing elite and to withdraw all consent and co-operation from governmental institutions such as armed forces. According to liberal theory, rights carry with them responsibilities. But in the absence of civil and human rights, the duty of reciprocal responsibilities ceases to exist. This means that we queers are under no obligation to join the military to protect those who refuse to protect us. Instead, there is an onus on us to withhold our loyalty from the institutions of a homophobic State, such as the armed forces, and to do everything in our power to sabotage the straight system which treats us as second class citizens. You don’t have to be a queer revolutionary to realize this, just a homo with a bit of common sense and self-respect. The idea of queer non-compliance with homophobic institutions like the military is rooted in the civil disobedience tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They argued: unjust laws must be broken, not obeyed. When governments deny human rights, those excluded from full citizenship have a moral right to rebel against tyrannical rulers. These principles are just as relevant for lesbians and gay men today as in Britain as they were in the past for the Indian independence movement and the US black civil rights struggle. The armed forces do not respect gay rights. Why, then, should we enlist and serve? Is there any reason for queers to give a damn about the fate of the straight State? We homos (and our straight allies) have no obligation to defend the fraudulent democratic system that denies us equality. On the contrary, the queer self-defence requires that we subvert and destroy the hetero institutions that hold us down. Collusion with a homophobic State and a homophobic military is collusion with anti-gay discrimination. To do the bidding of those who victimize us betrays the cause of queer freedom. That’s why all queers everywhere have a responsibility to refuse collaboration with the oppressive military system. By so doing, we can help strike a blow for lesbian and gay emancipation, and against oppressive militarism and war. (1997, Why we shouldn’t’ march straight. Queer Words, issue 3)

The problem I have with this argument is its reductionism. Tatchell seems to believe homosexuals are fundamentally democratic and neither bullies nor aggressive. The military, in his world, is only used to repress progressive movements. These reductions place the military/homosexual pair as automatically opposed and impossible to coexist. I contend, however, that they are opposed in their manifestation and not in some basic kernel of their selves. Everything he says may be accurate, but that does not mean the military must be used to quash progressive movements. Was the Taliban a progressive movement? While there are some problems surrounding the crushing of the Taliban, the quashing of a movement concerned with social justice is not be one of them.

I am also curious how people in the Netherlands would view this passage since the military there allows homosexuals to serve openly. This passage seems uniquely British. An indictment of the British state, even though Tatchell attributes it to the State fundamentally, would be read differently in a different country.

I am also concerned that the bodies in Tatchell’s argument are not marked. I was told in graduate school to do the following test: whenever an unmarked body is presented (in this case the soldier and also the civilian) I should assume the body is white. Do bodies of color change the calculus of this passage? Tatchell would probably argue that does not change his call to resistance. That is the very functioning of whiteness. The military may provide a way out of certain situations, a liberatory way out. Michael Moore highlights the US military recruiting methods, targeting black neighborhoods, but we have to ask why do so many black people sign up? Even though it pains us to point out the truth (the real reason John Kerry came under such scrutiny) it is still the truth: the military can provide a better life for people on the margins of our society. Tatchell does not address these people. He has an interpretation, one which is valid, but there are other interpretations. It this essentializing of reading the military that is the problem in Tatchell’s argument.

What I am Watching: Heroes

Last night’s (November 5) episode of Heroes was an interesting one. I was able to successfully watch the show while doing some work, which means the show is not complex and not one of the better shows on TV (I would never try to watch an Aaron Sorkin show or Friday Night Lights in this manner.)

Another problem with this show is exemplified by what happened last night: there are too many “mutants” and their powers are too diverse. I place mutants in quotation marks because I fear the explanation for these strange powers will not all be mutations. This show is beginning to resemble a comic book universe with too many characters and too much going on, which is why both Marvel and DC have to periodically clean house by killing off some characters.

The other problem with these new revelations is that they are too convenient. We learn that a little boy has an ability to manipulate electronics at precisely the moment when he needs to call his mother and the pay phone just happens to be out of order. The cop can read minds but the power is not activated until the story needs a clairvoyant to find a little girl. It is just all too clean. It would make more sense for there to be a single mutation that several people around the world have, but some are more experienced in the use of the mutation. I think that would make for a better story and some more interesting scenarios. It would make for a greater constraint on the writers, which is what I (and I am guessing others) respond to, to see how the writers work there way out of problems. If there are any comic book illustrators out there, let me know as I have some rough drafts of books that need some illustrations for this plotline. I think it could be fun and entertaining and also a good seller.

Despite all of these frustrations, I will continue to watch Heroes because it is, after all, a good show. I enjoy some of the people and I am hooked by the mysteries they have yet to explain. I think there are ways to improve the story, most of these problems are not fatal and some can be uncorked, but it would require a more subtle touch than I fear the current writers possess.

02 November 2006

Ride of the Penguin

Dr. Dean, her first initial is J but I am unsure if it is Jody or Judy or what, has a great post to-day on her blog called "The Ride of the Penguin".

What makes this post so good is, of course, the story but also the slight dissection of how the story works. Being a Southerner (sort of, some family thinks being Texan qualifies me and others argue that Texans are not Southerners) myself I can relate to how Southern stories function. Being with the girl I can also relate to the desire to kidnap a penguin.

25 October 2006

Terrorism and conspiracy theories

Here is another passage I recently found in my files. Although it was written before the current terrorism ‘craze’ it still seems as erudite to me now as it did to me then. Some would say this passage does not speak to contemporary times, and in response (does this argument not prove the very argument it is supposed to refute?) I would contend that this book was written in a state of terroristic ‘craze’. The book was a study of Spain and the Basque problem at a time when ETA was very active and most of the Spanish population was concerned about terrorism. While things may have changed here in the US since the publishing of this book, it is arguably the same environment as the environment that created the book.

It is hard to imagine a better and more widespread example of what Richard Hofstadter labeled “the paranoid style in American politics” than the rhetoric of experts such as Claire Sterling. She replicates, almost literally, the fears of other alleged grand world conspiracies, such as the panic that broke out at the end of the eighteenth century in New England against the Bavarian Illuminati, and which merited a leap into fantasy by the other well-known author John Robinson when he charged that the association had been formed “for the express purpose of…OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.” Soon the Illuminati were held to be the Antichrist and denounced from the pulpits of New England, even though it is uncertain whether any of them ever came to the United States from Germany. The anti-Masonic movement of the 1820s and 1830s reflects the same obsession with conspiracy, thus illustrating the essence of the paranoid style, which posits “the existence of a vast, insidious, preternaturally effective international conspiratorial network designed to perpetrate acts of the most fiendish character.” Such an apocalyptic framework is quite characteristic of terrorism discourse. (J. Zulaika and W. Douglas. Terror and taboo: The follies, fables and faces of terrorism. NY: Routledge. pp. 53-4.)

There is a conversation on many blogs that I read about conspiracy theorists and why those conspiracies believe what so few believe. I think this passage sheds some light on the topic. The mainstream story we are told is a conspiracy theory, so why is the counter-narrative so preposterous from a rhetorical perspective? It is a peculiarly American political narrative that makes the conspiracy a credible story for our community. There are probably many arguments, beyond this note and my background, which illustrate this peculiarity. Analysis of conspiracy theories, which some of the writers are not guilty of omitting, needs to begin not with the conspiracy inquiries but rather an examination of conspiracy theory versus conspiracy theory. Why does one gain more salience than the other? That should be the starting point of these discussions.

The passage, however, should not be used only to counter the War on Terrorism critics, but should also be a lens through which we examine the War on Terrorism. Zulaika and Douglas seem particularly prescient as they could be writing 5 years later without having to change a single word from this passage. I could do some work and find the ramblings of our administration to highlight the passage in to-day’s context, but I will not. The passage is, I believe, an enthymeme: everyone knows the continuation without needing it to be told to them. If I am wrong about this, if you do not see the Bush criticism in the passage above then let me know and I will expound.

04 October 2006

Review: Lost Episode 1: Exceptionaly Good

The season opener of Lost was exceptionally good, and I have a scale to prove it. As I watch TV I am often working through a newspaper or magazine or something. If the show is really good I will watch the show intently and fast forward through the commercials. If the show is good then I will watch the commercials and read through them. If the show is not good then I am often reading through the show. If it is not even worthy of being background noise, then the show is crap and will probably be the next breakout hit for the network. Last season Lost was occasionally good, but to-night’s episode was an improvement. I wish I had delayed watching it so I did not have to wait a week for the next episode, which is why it earns the exceptionally good rating.

Besides being an intriguing story, the show also taught us a valuable lesson about free will (a lesson that was foreshadowed in the opening book club sequence.) In the beginning of the episode Jack finds himself in a cage with a woman telling him to stop pulling on the chain that hangs from the ceiling. She asks him to sit in the far corner of the room so she can open the door and give him some food. Jack consents and sits there, only to then run at the door and attack her.

Every person knows when they are placed in a powerless situation such as this one. They know they have little choice. It is the truly free will, however, that sits there and behaves knowing that while they are following another’s orders they have the ability to resist. It is the resistant that acts to preserve the free will, but it is the obedient that knows the free will is not in jeopardy. Not attacking the woman would have been best. In the end, Jack ended up in the room again, in the exact same situation except he had only managed to upset his captors. A hard lesson to learn and one that we as Americans are not supposed to accept.

Now comes the inevitable political extrapolation. I could resist doing this, but then I know that I can resist it even if I do not. Bush needs to accept that the genie of nuclear proliferation is out of the bottle. The spread of weapons is inevitable and continuing to threaten war and control supply only makes nuclear weapons more prestigious and appealing. While some actions can be taken instead of making nuclear proliferation more likely through our counterproductive policies we should instead focus on not being anyone’s enemy and consequently not anyone’s target for the newly acquired weapons of mass destruction. We need to not confuse the desire for non-proliferation with a danger of proliferation, because the real danger is when we try to prevent the proliferation.

27 September 2006

What I Am Reading: H. Blum & J. Connolly 2006

This will be a short entry. I also do not think this piece was written not first published in 2006, but that is the only date I have. Yesterday I walked downtown to meet her after work and I went into Border to grab a book and an iced tea while I waited. The first book to catch my attention on the new release shelf, I go to the trade paperback book table in case I want to buy something. I hate dropping $35 on a new hardcover.

I am a slut for the Best of series. The one that caught my eye this time was the Best Crime Writing of 2006. I forget whom the editor if this volume is, but it was somebody that I have heard of. (sidebar)While I hate ending a sentence with a preposition, I see Mrs. Knight making fun of me in front of the 3rd grade class, the alternate ending, ‘of whom I have heard’, does not sound right.(/sidebar) I was reading “Hit Men in Blue?” which I think was originally published in Vanity Fair. The story was about NYPD cops turned bad that were on the take for the mob and even served as hitmen.

It read like a movie treatment. The opening paragraph could have been the text displayed on the screen right at the beginning of a movie (for the life of me I cannot find what the term for this on-screen text is.) What was missing, however, from the piece was an admission of this Hollywood intrusion. I cannot imagine the authors did not think about how some readers would find the story too seamless and too complicated to be non-fiction. If I had been writing the piece I would have made an admission in an effort to distance myself from its unbelievability. I guess that is one excellent reason they are paid to write professionally and I am not.

I did not finish the story because my mother called and then after I was done with that conversation the girl called me. She was done with work so I left the cafe to meet her. But there was a funny event that I was witnessed. While I was in the cafe there was a woman on the other side speaking rather loudly into her cell phone. Not a big deal. Next to her was a man with a book in Hebrew propped on a bookstand. Immediately in front of him was a Hebrew-English dictionary and a blank journal where he was busily translating the Hebrew text. The woman finished her calls and started to clean the mess at her table. She turned to the translator, who was rather professorial looking, and apologized for being so loud. He walked away in a manner that did not attract my attention.

A Borders employee came into the café to clean up books left behind and she told him of the rude man, rather loudly. “He looked at me like I was trash. People in this city are so rude, the rudest city I have ever been in. I was trying to apologize and he just looked at me like I was trash. I guess I should wear my PhD on my sleeve.” I swear she spoke like this: rapid fire, she was not waiting for the employee to acknowledge her or to even affirm her. “See now, you are only speaking to me,” I did not think he was speaking at all, “because you work here.”

Next to the employee at a table next to mine, in between myself and the woman, was a man who also alone and also reading. I felt the urge but he acted on it. To disprove her whitewashing of DCists as rude, he looked up at her engagingly. She saw him and started in again: rapid fire not waiting for acknowledgement or affirmation. “I apologized for being loud and he looked at me like I was trash. People in this city are so rude. I guess I should wear my PhD on my sleeve.” As if she wasn’t wearing it on her sleeve.

How silly. In the heart of think tanks and policy institutes, this Borders might be in the most highly educated square mile in the world, and this woman thinks she is special because she has a PhD? And, if she were being rude then it is all excused because she has a PhD? She reminded me of one of my professors in graduate school who was also really proud of her PhD and was shocked when we did not give her the respect she thought she deserved. This woman was not at all intelligent and she would agree with everything this particular graduate student said, even when he was messing with her by being contradictory. A large middle-Tennessee looking woman: dumpy, black dress, pink undershirt and a matching large floppy pink hat.

I thought it was going to be a short entry.

What I Am Reading: Graham Allison

I just finished the recent article by Allison in the current Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He claims that nuclear terrorism is easy to carry out, which when coupled with the easily believed willingness to carry out makes my knees clatter. This article makes me think my grandmother might have been correct to beg me not to move to DC and not to take a job in Manhattan. If a nuclear device is set off in the US it seems the only way I will not be caught in it is if I am on the train in Delaware.

There is another place the article struck my fascination. When Allison discusses the reason 9/11 was allowed to happen was because of a lack of imagination he touches on a subject I have been dealing with for a while now. Clearly he thinks fictionalizing terrorism before 9/11 could have allowed 9/11 to have been prevented. Maybe the airport security would have been looking for box cutters or, this seems more plausible, the passengers would have been less cooperative. It is this very reason that I find the current rules preventing sharp objects on planes to be not only ineffective but also counter-productive.

Flight 93, which was supposedly crashed in Pennsylvania instead of the White House, is the proof of my argument. The passengers knew what had happened to the World Trade Center towers and maybe even the Pentagon, which is why they abandoned their cooperative tone and attacked the hijackers. Until 9/11 we were told hijackers wanted to leave the country so we should cooperate and we would be safe. The hijackers knew this story and used it to their advantage. Flight 93 proves things are now different. People will fight back. Let the hijackers arm themselves with box cutters, I say they will be horribly outnumbered by the normal passengers, who are also able to be as well-armed as the hijackers. What is needed is a ban on explosives and devices that rely upon explosives, such as guns. But knives? All the ban does is make the crew and the passengers more vulnerable to an unarmed hijacker trained in combat. The hijackers did not break into the flight decks with box cutters, rather they threatened to kill people. This threat combined with the SOP for dealing with hijackers, the pilots allowed, as they were supposed to, the hijackers into the flight decks. The danger is and was not the weapon but the story we told ourselves about airline hijacking.

We failed to imagine a different type of airline hijacking. We failed to imagine them attacking military and non-military targets in the manner they did. Allison argues we are failing to conceive of other scenarios. The DOD’s hiring of movie producers and creative folk in the aftermath of 9/11 makes me question this analysis. Maybe we are not being creative enough, maybe we need to plaster the airwaves and our media with terrorism stories. Although then we will have a population more afraid than they normally would be.

The fictionalization of cataclysm would also allow us to minimize the scope of the Real and prepare for things that would normally catch us off guard. Instead of cowering in fear, more fictionalizations would allow us to be reactive and might even save some lives. Had we anticipated the collapse of the twin towers we could have saved the lives of many police and firefighters. We also could have devised some recovery methods and maybe saved some of the people trapped above the burning floors. Fiction should be a realm of politics and political scientists. Instead of scoffing we need more proactive stories, more exploratory stories.

I am afraid for my life and the lives of my loved ones. But I do love living in DC. I love commuting to Manhattan. I am willing to take such risks partially because I think the stories we are being told are too insecure. Life needs to be lived and not reduced to corner cowerings. I think there is less risk from a terrorist attack than Allison and Bush think there is. Although maybe I tell myself that. Maybe the reason I want to post my thoughts so badly is precisely because I do think something is inevitable.

Review: "The Class" and "Brothers & Sisters"

I am supposed to devise a 5 step penalty phase for an associate editor, Brian A. Klems, that continues to procrastinate. The 5 punishments are supposed to vary in nastiness, and it is supposed to be an escalating scale. To answer some of you that may find this harsh, let it be known that I do not really care for Brian nor this assignment. So…..

1. He will have to stay late at work and be forced to watch the pilot episode of "The Class" over and over until his work is either completed or he has seen the episode 5 times (2.5 hours)

2. Punishment # 1 will be administered again and… he will be given the script for his favorite TV show ever and be forced to cut the tip of his ring finger with the cover sheet.

3. Punishment #2 will be administered again and… he will have his hands bound behind his chair while the Jackass boys dance around him. They will be under orders not to touch him, but he will not know that.

4. Punishment #4 will be administrated again and… the Jackass boys will be allowed to touch him, including but not limited to the pranks they have played on others in their movies and/or their television show.

5. He will be forced to watch the pilot for "Brothers & Sisters".

26 September 2006

New Look Same Feel

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. I read all of these people that are funny and smart and good writers and published and I can also be all of those things. But I am not. So, for now on I will start to act like I am smart and funny and a good writer and published. I will act self-important yet with a self-deprecating tone. For a model I will use Nick Hornby who has several books out but I have only read one and liked it and I have only almost read one, which I hear was very bad. He has a column over at McSweeney’s (I do like McSweeney’s more than I like Nick Hornby) about what he reads, so I will start one too. Like him, I can watch soccer all day long, I may even throw in some football too. I can have awkward barber shop visits. Are there non-awkward barber shop visits? And then I can also publish them all into a volume named something silly.

I feel better.

25 September 2006

Edkins 2000

Certainly, the portrayal of famines as disasters promotes a depoliticized, technologizing approach. This stress on disaster reflects a fascination with what Zizek calls the sublime and, at the same time, a need to tame and domesticate an encounter with the Real. The distinction between nature (raw, uncontrollable, traumatic) and society (ordered, under control, calm) is a distinction between the Real and what we call social reality. This distinction is central to the process of constituting social reality and subjectivity. Hence media interest in stories where this contrast is featured would not be surprising: they deal with something central to what we call existence itself.
The experience of disaster as an encounter with the real is one that, like the gaze of the victim, forces us to confront the impossibility of social reality, the void at its heart. The Real is that which cannot be symbolized. The symbolic or social order is always incomplete or impossible. It can only be constituted by the exclusion of some (nonsymbolizable) kernel – the Real. The literature on trauma and post-traumatic stress emphasizes that not only those caught up in a disaster experience this shock of an encounter with the Real, but also those who witness it. Whole communities can be caught up in it; indeed, those who share a traumatic experience of this type feel themselves both part of a new community of a special type (a community made up of those who share a revised view of the world, produced by trauma, that they must continue to bear witness to) and apart from all usual social links.
However, for witnesses of disaster the traumatic element is not so much the encounter with the real as the encounter with “the gaze of the helpless other – child, animal – who does not know why something so horrifying and senseless is happening to him. It is not, as might be supposed, the gaze of a hero, willingly sacrificing himself, that is so striking to observers of tragedy, but “the gaze of a perplexed victim,” the passive, helpless casualty. It is this gaze that gives rise to the compassion felt by outsiders. It is not, as we might think, the outsiders in distant countries who are the passive ones in cases of humanitarian disasters, who do nothing, who do not want to get involved. Rather, it is the people caught up in the events themselves. They see the horrors that are engulfing them but cannot understand how such horrors are possible and are unable to act. Their gaze, the gaze of the uncomprehending victim, is unbearable and gives rise to guilt in witnesses to distant disaster. It is to avoid the pressure of this gaze that we feel compassion toward those in trouble. This compassion can be related to the reflexive nature of human desire, which is always desire for a desire. Compassion is “the way to maintain the proper distance towards a neighbor in trouble.” By giving, we present ourselves so that we like what we see when we look at ourselves from the position of the victim. By responding compassionately, we present ourselves as that which is desired by those who are suffering. This account does not in any sense invalidate compassion; on the contrary, it shows why it is so important and necessary. The reaction of the subject of compassion, the victim, is a separate matter.

I think there is some need for refinement in this passage from Jenny Edkins, a professor of international politics at the University of Wales (Whose hunger? Page 112-3. 2000). This is an interpretation of compassion, but I am holding out for the possibility that there is another possible interpretation of the compassionate action. What it is I am not sure, but I do find psychoanalysis useful even if it is totalizing in explaining people’s actions. That being said, I want to talk about the Real. I think the Real is less ‘that which cannot be symbolized’ but rather ‘that which has yet to symbolized’. Katrina seems an apropos discussion given the Edkins passage about natural disasters.

Many who were not in New Orleans had the reaction Edkins describes. I did not. I think this is because I have constantly been exposed to stories of catastrophies that have happened and also those that could have happened and even could happen. So, I saw Katrina as awful, but I am not shocked or awed or appalled. It was not an encounter with the Real for me. I think this is because I have symbolized it and, if not previously symbolized, it fit easily into my symbolic realm.

Therein lies the purpose of fantasy: a way to symbolize the as yet encountered, which delimits the realm of the Real. Here is another example; a professor of mine was once driving with his wife on the highway when there was a sudden explosion of noise, glass and wind. It took him a while to figure out that his windshield was struck by a large semi-trailer tire and was shattered. He pulled over, but in those first moments he encountered the Real. He was terrified and scared and had no idea what was happening nor what to do. Then he was able to process it and it became symbolized, allowing him to act and calm himself. This example shows the temporary (temporal) quality of the Real: it will become incorporated into the symbolic and lose its Real-ness. If that were ever to happen to him again the Real would have even less impact on him than it did. If it ever happens to me it will have less effect on me than it would have had because I have now incorporated into my symbolic realm. I have imagined (fantasized about) it and how I would act.

This may be why I like reality TV. It allows me to see things I would never imagine myself and to fantasize about how I would act in those situations. I can do this with fictional TV also, but the events on reality TV are more likely to be new to me than the fictional scenarios. In short, reality TV expands my symbolic realm via the fantasmic more than fictional TV. Because I have seen both Lost and Fight Club I would not be as afraid if the airplane I was in suddenly broke in two (even though there would be nothing I could do except carve a love message into my flesh). Because I have been an avid follower of Survivor I would be more capable of surviving on a desert island than I would be had I only seen Lost or Cast Away. I do not watch Reality TV to become a better survivalist but because it provides my symbolic identity with a richer experience. Maybe I would laugh more if I watched Will & Grace instead of The Real World, but Will’s exploits do not interest me at all.

18 September 2006

Callahan 1973

To-day’s quotation is a blast from the past, straight out of the Cold War, but of some relevance for to-day. Callahan, I think Mary, but am not sure, wrote about when it is acceptable to listen to the doomsday scenario as a justification for a government policy. She sets up a criteria for when those draconian measures are acceptable and when they are not acceptable. Some would use her to argue the War on Terrorism is not justified, but I think this is from a reading of Callahan that is looking for justification for belief instead of really reading Callahan. Why does the War on Terrorism make life so uncomfortable for both the winners and the losers that her threshold is tripped? The following quotation is from the book Tyranny of Survival from 1973. I will try to find more complete citation information at a later date:

As I hope the forgoing discussion will have made clear, the relationship between survival and an optimal use of technology and population growth is complicated by a number of shifting variables. The need for survival is modified by the need to realize other values as well, notably freedom, justice and a sense of dignity and worth. The meaning of survival, once one moves beyond the level of bare subsistence, will be subject to a variety of different national, group and individual interpretations, primarily because survival will usually be interpreted in terms of desired standards of living and the preservation of values seen as integral to a satisfactory self-identity. The problem which remains is to see if it is possible to set forth some general standards concerning the use of survival as a value.
The first requirement is that a way be found to respond to the need for survival without, at the same time, allowing that need to become a tyranny. The tyranny can result either because of a panic in the face of a genuine threat to survival, because survival is invoked for self-interested or totalitarian political purposes, or because of an unnecessarily or unrealistically high standard of acceptable survival. Perhaps it is possible to do no more in the face of the last two possibilities than to be aware of their potential force, and by political and cultural debate to neutralize of overcome their baneful effects. The panic which can result from a real threat to survival will be more difficult to cope with, a panic which can lead to draconian measures in the name of self-preservation. At that point the question must be faced whether there can be such a thing as too high a price to pay for survival. I believe there can be, particularly when the proposed price would involve the wholesale killing of the weak and innocent, the sacrifice to an extreme degree of the values and traditions which give people their sense of meaning and identity, and the bequeathing to future generations of a condition of life which would be degrading and dehumanizing. The price would be too high when the evil of the means chosen would be such as to create an intolerable life both for the winners and for the losers. While it might be possible to conceive of individuals willing to have their lives sacrificed for the sake of group survival, it becomes more difficult to imagine whole groups being willing to make such a sacrifice. And there is a very serious moral question whether that kind of sacrifice should ever be asked for or accepted, even on a voluntary basis.

StoopidNoodle Sports, Sept. 18 Update

Last week was not much better. There was some improvement, but those improvements only resulted in a more a heartbreaking loss. The Baseball team was playing for the consolation prize of 5th place. The week started off poorly with a 3-7 deficit, but by Wednesday I was able to bring it back to a 5-5- tie. It was a 5-5 tie going into Sunday, but when I woke up this morning I was wholly disheartened. Soriano batted .91 ERA for me without a single home run. I had only 3 home runs on the week, 2 by Michael Young and 1 by Mike Cameron. Even Teixeira was a poor producer this week.

My football team played so well. Buttressed by the play of Amani Toomer and Donovan McNabb, I was really confident. My final score was really good, being the 4th best score of the league, but Jets on the Clock beat me by .6 points. Maybe if TO had not broken the finger and had one more catch then I would have won.

The soccer team in the Hattrick league won the game, but this game was pretty much a guaranteed win. However, two players went down, which stresses an already stretched roster. The roster had 19 players with 3 of them already hurt, making it a nail bitter to field a team of 16 players. Now with 2 more players down it will be a made scramble to the transfer wire to get some replacements.

Disappointing all around and I doubt I will be handing out any Christmas bonuses this year.

15 September 2006

Realism Equivocation

The LSAT podcast that randomly came up during my jog to-day was about equivocation. The podcast defines this as when an ambiguous word is used across its different meanings. The example offered is the following syllogism:

Nothing is better than a juicy hamburger.
Brussels sprouts are better than nothing.
Therefore, Brussels sprouts are better than a juicy hamburger.

There is a simple test to see if the meaning is a shifting meaning, substitute ‘nothing’ for what it could mean: ‘no food.’ Now let us rerun the syllogism.

No food is better than a juicy hamburger.
Brussels sprouts are better than no food.
Therefore, Brussels sprouts are better than a juicy hamburger.

So, the poetry is lost, but notice that the syllogism is the same in either case. Therefore, the fallacy is not one of equivocation, but rather it is in a misunderstanding of ‘better.’ Notice that the first term in the comparison is placed above the second term in a hierarchy. If the fallacy was equivocation then switching the order of the terms would not matter, but since ‘better’ is a conditional term, the order is what determines the meaning and consequently that is the fallacy of the syllogism. The folks at Princeton review should be ashamed.

So, what then does equivocation look like? I like the confusion over the ‘realism’ debates. There are two different debates and two different meanings for realism, but these distinctions are often lost and literature in one conversation is often introduced improperly into the other debate.

The first realism is an epistemological question: how do we know what is real? The realist assumes that reality can be measured and accurately perceived. The usual criticism is that reality is not measurable, rather, reality presents us with data which we must then filter through and interpret. The different schools of philosophy will then disagree about how we go about with that interpretation, but the need to interpret dispels the real of reality.

The second realism is in international studies and is a theory of how nations interact with other nations. Realism maintains that a nation’s foreign policies are the result of exogenous factors, usually the foreign policies of another nation. The usual criticism of this realism is that nations make foreign polices based upon internal constituencies. For example, President Bush goes to war to secure re-election or to gain political capital for domestic programs or because he believes he was elected to go to war. The realist would say the decision was in response to the security dilemma.

An example of equivocation comes when someone is armed with an international realist’s response to criticisms, for example John Mearsheimer argues that the anti-realists are chasing a pipedream because ultimately all states will make security policies based on foreign threats, regardless of what constituents want. ‘Realism is inevitable’ is a simple way to characterize this argument.

So, let us now return to the first debate. The psychoanalyst would tell the analysand to stop calling the significant other passive-aggressive, when she says she has no preference of where to eat dinner. The psychoanalyst will then interpret the passive-aggressive interpretation as a projection of the analysand’s anxieties upon the significant other. Being passive-aggressive would be the realist take on things, whereas the realist critic says (that while the person may be passive-aggressive) that diagnosis is an interpretation of data and not an objective measure. The lesson of the psychoanalyst (one of the schools that criticizes realism) is: your diagnosis of the other is not real, but rather a projection of something in yourself onto the other.

Back to equivocation. We now have the first realism debate and then enters the confused realist in response. The realist invokes Mearsheimer’s argument: realism is inevitable. This response does not measure up and is a non-sequitor. I am told to not try to improve my relationship with my girlfriend because I will inevitably be a realist and forget the lesson of the psychoanalysis. But, even if I will forget I should still employ the lesson for the added happiness it can bring me. Trust me, it brings happiness because my girlfriend hates being called passive-aggressive.

Nuclear Proliferation, slightly visited

Here is a little gem I discovered to-day in the files. It is from Kenneth Waltz in his book (1995, The spread of nuclear weapons: A debate) where he engages Sagan (I think it is Sagan) about the benefits of nuclear proliferation:

Second, deterrent balances are inherently stable. This is another reason for new nuclear states to decrease, rather than increase, their military spending. As Secretary Brown saw, within wide limits one state can be insensitive to changes in another state’s forces. French leaders thought this way. France, as president Valery Giscard d’Estaing said, “fixes its security at the level required to maintain, regardless of the way the strategic situation develops in the world, the credibility – in other words, the effectiveness – of its deterrent force.” With deterrent forces securely established, no military requirement presses one side to try to surpass the other. Human error and folly may lead some parties involved in deterrent balances to spend more on armaments than is needed, but other parties need not increase their armaments in response, because such excess does not threaten them. The logic of deterrence eliminates incentives for strategic-arms racing. This should be easier for lesser nuclear states to understand than it was for the United States and the Soviet Union. Because most of them are economically hard-pressed, they will not want to have more than enough. (31)

While I think I may fall more on the Waltz side of the debate, that nuclear proliferation is not as dangerous as we are supposed to believe, I still find some problems with this comment.

The first sentence belies the fundamental assumption Waltz makes, that reality can be measured. To be stable someone needs to know exactly what is happening, and in a security dilemma that observer would need to know what is happening on both sides of the equation. This is an impossibility, because reality is data which needs to be interpreted. Reality does not present warrants. Let us say that France has a minimal deterrent, the stated goal of proliferants according to Waltz. If France were to perceive German arms acquisitions as a capable first strike force then the minimal deterrent is no longer preserved, it is now an insufficient deterrent. A French minimal deterrent also depends upon French interpretations of German willingness to sacrifice. If France thinks German leaders are willing to allow a large population to die, known as willing attrition (which is fair to say the German culture has allowed), then the French minimal deterrence is now not large enough.

Waltz also assumes a security dilemma that is bilateral. Let us assume France (mis)perceives German intentions and reacts accordingly. There are more actors than France and Germany: Russia, England and others might see this move as hostility and as a willingness to first strike or even as a willingness to absorb retaliatory strikes. I think Waltz’ model makes sense in a simple bilateral security dilemma, but that simplicity rarely exists. Maybe it explains the Brazil/Argentina case, but clearly not the India/Pakistan case because China is also involved.

The gap that introduces this problem is actually touched upon by Waltz when he speaks of credibility. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder, what the beholder interprets as an other’s interpretation of the beholder’s actions. Interpretation is too messy and too unscientific to be relied upon.

Waltz also assumes that nations and those security policies are in response merely to exogenous factors. Maybe there is a prestige issue at work and Iranians want to develop nuclear weapons not out of a desire to protect itself or to assert itself, but to (re)establish Persian culture as a major player in the world. US non-proliferation efforts are then seen not as a security action, but rather as a racial action, an attempt by the European Americans to keep down Persians, a recurring story in Persian culture. Waltz’s model neglects these calculations, although this argument’s politics is often in line with Waltz’s politics: allow the proliferation to occur.

Waltz’s defenders have some answers to these arguments, which I will discuss in length later.

12 September 2006

StoopidNoodle Sports, Sept. 9 Update

It was a bad weekend for the fans and ownership of the StoopidNoodle Sports Empire. The baseball team lost its playoff match. It had been a strange season, with a consistent ranking in the top two until the final week when Dan Kolb Sucks and SleepingUgly mounted charges from behind. The manager had this to say about the team’s untimely demise, “It was a strange series. Soriano batted well and Texiera had heated up from his early season slump but the bats of Dan Kolb Sucks just all went hot at exactly the same time. I don’t know which high priced sports psychologist they hired, but we will pay them more money to hire them next year.”

The soccer team also had some success, but just not enough. Two weeks ago in a home match against Dindin, the two teams played to a tie game. StoopidNoodles retained their lead on the top of the fixture with the point. Last week’s match, however, was a match they were supposed to lose. Beytar Hills has been in the league for at least a season longer than the StoopidNoodles, so it is not surprising that they had some superior talent. The game was tight, however, as the StoopidNoodles scored three goals and only lost by a single PK late in the match.

Monday night saw the conclusion of the week as the football team took a loss in its first week. Donovan McNabb’s strong played helped buoy the team, but the mismanagement of Shelton Quarrles may have cost the match. Quarrles was reported to be in fine health and to be slated to play, but a last minute scratch meant that he occupied a roster spot and did not produce for the StoopidNoodles. “A stupid mistake that I will make sure not to make again,” Manager Jonathan McSweezyneezy told this reporter.

09 September 2006

Little Miss Sunshine, Reviewed

Here is what I think the producers were thinking: let us solve problem of Vacation. All sorts of stuff goes wrong in this road trip movie, many of them similar to the dilemmas in Vacation (death of an elderly family member, car troubles) so similar in fact that I think it is an homage to the classic. But the homage has too prominent a place in this movie. A homage should be a reference but not a central driving arc of the movie. Here is what I am thinking: maybe the writers thought they were perfecting some of the problems faced by the Griswolds, but they are wrong.

A review of a new road trip movie deserves some discussion of the search for identity. A uniquely American genre, the road trip is a national search for an identity, or a families search for its identity. My conclusions about what this movie prescribes is below, but is fairly obvious from the beginning. Once we learn the story of Steven Carrell’s character the lesson of the movie is set and the remainder is merely a reinforcing of the lesson. I find Chris Vogna to be correct that the life lesson is well-woven into the fabric of the story that it is bearable. But not by much.

This movie is not an improvement to the road trip genre. In fact, I am scared to see the other entries at Sundance if this was the darling of the festival. It was a fun movie, but not worth more than the $7 matinee price I paid for it. Here is the problem I allude to above. In Vacation Clark Griswold continues to drive across country despite all of these horrible events when the easy response, and the most likely, is to turn around go home. Now I do not subscribe to the theory that this is a problem because Vacation (and this is the genius of the movie) has the perfect solution, make Clark Griswold more than a funny loser by making him a funny lunatic.

Little Miss Sunshine tries to solve the problem by making us fall in love with the cute little girl, the supposed Miss Sunshine. They press on because the girl wants to go compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, but the problem is that we do not fall in love with her. We watch the movie waiting for the moment we realize why the characters are willing to do this for the girl, but, there is the catch; if I were Greg Kinear I would also press on for my little girl, although when the conflict with the brother plays out I would then turn it around. The girl has never asked to press on despite the problems and the way the girl’s character develops I think she would gladly offer to have the family go home.

The gimmick of the movie about her performance is clearly highlighted and we are made well aware of our anticipation. We know that we are supposed to fall in love with her after her performance, but even then we don’t. There also is little time left in the movie for her to work on us with her newfound capital.

The ending is obvious and predictable, except the message is almost too political to stomach. Yes, we should all be happy with ourselves even if we are not all winners. We should try to be happy but also not beat ourselves up over our shortcomings, let alone others’. The critique of child beauty pageants is funny but too obvious and too gross.

The movie is formulaic. It takes several people that have nothing in common and are all supposedly losers in their own rights and put them in a small car for a long trip, since they are family it is supposed to make some sense. Then throw some unusual complications at them and let them laugh until they realize their hang-ups and all come together to fight a common foe. Despite the plot-by-numbers it is a fun movie and worth some money. For me I am putting the threshold at $7. I would easily pay more to see Vacation and even Road Trip.

30 August 2006

Beltway Boys, the Move

A friend of mine from the Dallas days called upon us to help him move from an apartment in northern Bethesda to Roslyn. Sori was not able to help for too long as he had a game late that day, a 12-6 loss to the Phillies, although Sori did have a solo HR and another run off a Zimmerman(?) double. DoubleU was useful, surprisingly so. We all expected him to dawdle and complain about how movers could easily make this move happen. He has over the years become more ingrained in the sybaritic life. He was always well off ever since I first met him, but the change in attitude has been palpable lately.

We had another friend, JewBoy, come to help us but he showed up late. So late, in fact, that he arrived after we had already arrived in Roslyn. He showed up late because he was busy smoking a bowl. And he was wearing flip flops. Have you ever tried to walk backwards down a truck ramp while carrying a sofa while wearing flip flops?

Here’s the thing that annoyed me most about JewBoy, and I do apologize if this is not politically correct, but as I came back downstairs to make another trip upstairs with some stuff, I saw him for the first time. He had one end of the sofa and said HI and then asked me WHAT ARE YOU GETTING OUT OF THIS? I was annoyed. HE IS A FRIEND. He is a friend and friends do not need coaxing to help with things like this, otherwise we are hired help. I do know that he will make it up to me, buy me dinner or some beer or whatnot, but that arrangement is a given and it is rude to speak of it and arrive at an agreement beforehand.

WELL, I AM GETTING FOOD. SO MNNEHH. Now, most of my friends talk about these stereotypes but I just think it is talk based upon enclaves of groups, such as the Jews in Merchant of Venice. But then something like that happens and I come to believe more and more that the stereotype may still have some predictive power.

Everything eventually moved into the new place and our friend was in a time crunch, so we all returned to our respective homes. All in a day’s work for a friend.

29 August 2006

Eternals #3

Despite what the guys at Comic Book Hater Podcast say, I like this series. The first issue was not very good admittedly, but it has improved and issue 3 helped speed the arc along, somewhat. At the end of this book, though, we do not know anymore of the backstory, which is where the magic really is. We have only seen to this point an (re)awakening of supernatural abilities and some character development of the Eternals.

The art does leave something to be desired, although I hesitate saying that because much comic art these days is so overdone. Too many lines, too many shadows, too much action and movement. While Romita Jr. does a good job in this sense, he does not really draw you into the book with the art, rather it is Gaiman’s storytelling that draws me in and keeps me buying the books.

I wish there was more explanation of the mystery of the backstory, instead of hints of the mystery. Seriously Neil, we know there is stuff you have not told us, why tease more with our ignorance? As with most comics the interior art which advertises upcoming books is better than the art in the very book for which I have paid. That is annoying.

The thing I enjoy most about the storyline is the complications provided by the supernatural abilities. This issue deals with mark Curry’s ability to move ultrafast, and the science involved. Bullets still retain kinetic energy, enemies wielding guns are disarmed in a less than gentle manner. It would be easy enough to pass this skill off as a Flash-like cool thing, but instead Gaiman spends time making us realize how difficult it is to wield such powers. There are some other superpowers reveled in this book but yet none of the same attention seems to be devoted to it. I hope the remaining books discuss this, but if it does not then that makes the series only slightly better than all other comics instead of much better.

Overall, the books seem well produced and I am excited to see what comes in the future. These seem like the type of books that would come with product placement and also benchmarks for high quality productions in American entertainment.

24 August 2006

Beltway Boys, the Return

I know I have probably let some of you down these past few weeks. I do have a backlog of stories about the my boys, DoubleU (DoubleU hates it when we call him that, preferring George or even Will, he says DoubleU is too much like the Texan name for President Bush, no shit, since Sori and I have both lived in Dallas) likes to refer to us as the Beltway Boys, so I will probably be posting them more frequently than I used to for a bit. Sori told DoubleU that there already was a Beltboy Boys and DoubleU then turned on his no-nonsense voice, dropped his chin so it makes that double chin thing and then lectured us about how that was a TV show so we could still claim it, and how even if they did refuse our appropriation of it that they would be unable to get us to drop the name and how it was a bad show and how his show is much better, even with Dweebie George.

I know that last sentence was long and possibly confusing but that is how DoubleU speaks when he is ad-libbing, most of what he says on TV has been rehearsed, sometimes enough so that he can actually write down his arguments before the show. Anywho.

A couple of weeks ago, on a Wednesday night I met my girl at her office for Date Night. We walked to the Helix Lounge, which is on Rhode Island over by Scott Circle, not exactly close to L and 20th, but not a far hike either. On Wednesday nights they serve cheap burgers and beer (which is why we went there) and they also have (which we learned) dog night, so there were all these dogs around. The dogs were cute and we had a fun time watching them. I think she might even be looking forward to getting a dog now. She always told me we could have a dog when she had a ring on her finger (= fair enough), but now I may not have to wait for that moment, although I am not so sure it will be a long wait regardless.

After that we walked up the 18th Street Lounge to meet some friends, but it just was not our thing, as it was reggae night. That means there is this really loud and obnoxious music playing, music that was designed for poor folks to resist the upper class, nevermind the crowd at 18th is anything but poor. The musicians were easily the poorest lot on the bar that night, any night. They also burn incense, and a lot of it (ostensibly to cover up the marijuana smoking.) My sinuses were being torn up and I wanted to leave, so we started to leave when we ran into DoubleU and Sori outside the club. Sori had the day off from a 3 day swing into Philly, so he was enjoying the rare night out. ‘Rare until October’ we always tease him, although I was happy when he ended up not being traded to another team that might be using him in October.

They decided not to go in when we told them about Reggae Night. DoubleU invited us back to his place to watch some movies. His TV is always on, when not watching baseball he is always watching movies. I wonder how he manages to get so much work done.

He had just received Hitch from NetFlix so he put it in. We all made fun of him for this choice, but he was relentless about giving it a try. I must admit the movie was much better than I thought it would be. There was some horrible dialogue, advice to writers: stop working it, let it happen. I must admit I am surprised Will Smith would even agree to say some of that crap. The Tom Brady cameo was odd. Eva Mendes has a big bootie and they were not afraid to let it show. It was entertaining, I think because Will Smith made it happen; I bet he can by sheer willpower make things happen and make things work. Fresh Prince. Enemy of the State, lord knows that was not Gene Hackman’s doing. *pun alert* If you disagree with me here, then suffice it to say you “just don’t understand.” *pun alert off*

After Hitch it was late and we all had to get some rest, although I guess Sori and I had the next day off. But DoubleU had some work to do so he turfed us out and the girl and I returned home. It was a gorgeous night out and I wish these days of summer would never end.

Not a great return of the Beltway Boys, but there is more stuff I am working on writing down in between commercial breaks of the Rescue Me marathon I have DVRed.

23 August 2006


Form the backfiles and recently discovered from the November/December 2004 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

Nuclear terrorism would be horrific, but nuclear war would be far worse. As Lynn Eden reported in “City on Fire,” fire damage from nuclear explosions has been vastly and systematically underestimated – a move that allowed early U.S. war planners to demand a much larger nuclear arsenal. As Eden wrote, a single 300-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated above the Pentagon on a clear day would engulf the surrounding 65 square miles in firestorms that would “extinguish all life and destroy almost everything else.” And that’s a conservative estimate.

It is nice revisiting this as I now live within 65 miles of the Pentagon. I guess the worse fear is that if my death was not immediate then I would be frightened and possibly in bodily pain. The worse part though is thinking that the girl and I would be separated. She works only a few blocks from the White House, so odds are good I would not see her again. Would I try to fight my way there to check on her, or would I flee hoping to put some distance between myself and the cataclysm so I could hopefully survive? I don’t know what I would do. Not knowing also scares me, as Denzel Washington’s character in Man on Fire says, “there is no tough, there is only trained and untrained.” I want to be trained, having gone through these scenarios in my mind so if they do happen then I can act and not be paralyzed or even delayed in action.

BTW, how bad are the Nationals looking these days? I just try to imagine how great a year Soriano would be having if he were on a good team. More scenarios for which, I am sure, Sori is probably preparing himself.

19 August 2006

Adams Morgarita Fest

As I write this I am a little tipsy, so please pardon my dust. To-day was the first annual Adam Morgarita Fest. The girl and I rose out of bed around 2 in the afternoon and decided we would cruise the bars in Adams Morgan in search of the best margarita.

The first bar we went to was Ventnors. There were many other bars we would have ende dup at except that it was only 2 and they were not yet open. It was very strange and the topic of most of our discussion while at Ventners. The ritas were good. She felt they were too sweet, but I relay enjoyed it. The free popcorn was excellent and except for the Yankees fan cheering (they were beating the BoSox at this point) it was a nice excursion. We left and the next open place we found was Tom Tom. The girl .had been here a couple of times in the 2 months I had been away working in Detroit, but it was a nice place. My margarita was almost tasteless, but I felt that was probably due to the quality of the pours involved. After Tom Tom she was drunk so out of a N of 2, I can say that Ventnors had a better margarita, $1.50 more expensive, than Tom Tom. And she will say Tom Tom had the cheaper, although without the yummy free popcorn, and tastier margarita. Mind you, she was drunk.

We then stopped by Safeway and bought some crackers, Basque cheese, hard salami and a bottle of Berringer’s 2005 White Zinfadel. I also snuck in a box of Chicken on a Biskit, which is the ultimate remainder of my white trash life, which she likes. We then came home and ate the crackers and wine while watching the last few episodes of Season 3 of Simple Life. What a great show for a Sat. afternoon.

On the way home there was a set of drawers sitting on the corner which looked acceptable. Since my return from Detroit we realized we needed to get her a set of drawers for the closet, and this seemed perfect, if only because it was light enough for me to carry back to the apartment in a slightly inebriated state.

The last season is genius. Paris, being lazy hires a double and then schedules her for the wrong day, so Nicole shows up and makes the double do all kinds of craziness. About to give a damaging interview, Paris is informed of the double cross and then shows up, so we get the eventual Paris v. Nicole showdown, only to be continued next season. But, the production of it is just brilliant. We were so happy with it. With our wine, cheese and salami and crackers. We think we are the ultimate in white trash disguised. Maybe she is disguised, my friends know me for what I am, but she would shock people with her trailer like qualities.

I declare Adams Morgarita Fest a success. Now back to the Colorado at DC United tied game and the Halo Graphic Novel.