Saturday, December 01, 2007


Because the policies of Biden, Richardson and Dodd do not diverge significantly from those of their higher-profile peers, I'll jump ahead to Kucinich, who I believe is responsible for pushing Edwards into what was previously an upper-tier vacuum on the left. Had Edwards failed to make this move, it would have invited the rise of an alternative candidate from below, all while exposing him to continued losses to Hillary on terrain that she dominates. Richardson is apparently the establishment preference in this regard, with his party connections and energy sector ties. But, like so many candidates, Richardson cannot meaningfully distinguish himself on policy grounds; thus, he is forced to wait in the wings for the colossal misstep of his first-tier opponents which might lend relevancy to his campaign. In contrast, Kucinich's legitimacy is drawn from popular social movements -- the anti-war, environmental, civil rights, and social justice causes, for example -- which doubtless alienate significant portions of the owning classes, thereby precluding the kind of financing which becoming president in this country necessarily requires, but nonetheless resonate deeply with large swaths of the public.

Monday, November 12, 2007

News Digest from the Financial Times

Sick of it all

"Bellicose comments" from the White House on Iran are "not particularly helpful" according to Central Command chief, Admiral William Fallon, who stated that military action against the country "is not in the offing."

"None of this is helped by the stories that just keep going around and around that any day now there will be another war," he said.

"It astounds me that so many pundits and others are spending so much time yakking on this subject," to which the admiral might have added, "and by that I don't mean throwing up." Alas, it would seem one does not inherit the helm of Central Command with the deployment of double-entendre alone.

Hard for Dick

Meanwhile, Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has outlined the obstacles hawks face within the administration while pressing for another war: "The national intelligence director is saying we have time before the Iranians get the bomb, the secretary of state is saying diplomacy still has a chance, the secretary of defence is saying the military is at breaking point and the political advisers are saying another war would probably not be a good idea." So suck on that, Dick!

Bush's little helper

In case you missed out on the spectacle, Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman last week accused the Democratic party of being dominated by a "hyper-partisan, politically paranoid" liberal base who "are inclined to see international problems as a result of America's engagement with the world" -- or, as less-demented observers still call it: "Iraq."

Saturday, November 10, 2007


To John Edwards' credit, he has moved closer to popular concerns as his campaign has been superseded by Clinton and Obama, adopting positions that would otherwise be the domain of Kucinich alone. Edwards has accepted public financing and has made "a New Deal-style suite of programs" the centerpiece of his campaign, including free schooling from pre-kindergarten to college. Significantly, he was the first of the front-runners to lay out a coherent universal healthcare plan, long before his two leading opponents; and to the extent that his plan does not invite insurance or pharmaceutical lobbyists "to the table," it is superior to the later offerings.

It is unlikely that Edwards' positioning on these issues derives from any deeply-held principles, but, as with his late acceptance of public financing (he accepted it after he was out-financed anyway), is instead a calibrated response to political realities "on the ground." In effect, everyone is being outplayed by Clinton on the right, and with the Clinton/Obama amalgam firmly entrenched in the center, Edward's best chance has been to move left in a populist bid to appeal to voters on economic issues that typically alienate the US aristocracy. Edwards was not getting enough money from the possessing classes to compete with Clinton and Obama, anyway; subsequently, he was left with little incentive to run a campaign tailored to their concerns. If Edwards is to win the nomination, he will have to create the kind of upset in Iowa and Ohio that he has clearly committed himself to in the second half of his campaign. The fact that he is polling comparably to Clinton in these states is an indication of the kind of audiences he has there, and a testament to the logic of the strategy he has adopted.

Friday, November 09, 2007


One can't be blamed for hardly knowing where to begin with Barack Obama, since one hardly knows where he stands on anything. This is not entirely his fault, as it is apparent the national media give much more coverage to Clinton. However, Obama has not done himself any long-term favor by running his campaign on persona, even if it has gotten him this far. At least the negative attention which coalesces around Clinton can be tied to her policy proposals, which after all presupposes that she has some, thus rendering them positive in comparison to someone's that are not known. What does Obama have of his own besides "hope" and a desire to "change the tone" in Washington? And anyway, how is this accomplished -- or, even better, why is it desirable? Washington needs to be strung up, not coached on diction. This is just the kind of empty rhetoric which adds nothing to the debate.

Of course, Obama has policies -- good policies -- but one only learns of them by visiting his website. That is not a good thing, since he should be running on them, and making sure people know about them. For whatever reason, that is not happening. The media doubtless play their part, but so does reducing oneself to a "brand" in a presidential campaign.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some reflections as the air turns cold

Perhaps the time has come to make some mention of our presidential hopefuls, painful though it may be for my fingers to tap the accursed keys. By way of an introduction, I will only say that my observations here should reflect many hours of shielding myself from most of what passes for "campaign coverage" -- or, the tallying of that quickly depreciating entity, someday to be remembered fondly as the American dollar, as it is deposited into the respective "war chests" (or, in the case of Kucinich, "sanity's tip jar.") However, as it is virtually impossible to talk "politics" without being pulled into the same vortex of refined inanity that accompanies celebrity concerns of any occasion -- sport, film or whathaveyou -- I am resigned to offer some elementary observations.


Hillary Clinton is as terrible a place to begin as any; so, for our purposes, she should prove satisfactory. What is the best thing that can be said her? Indisputably, she is a woman; clearly, this holds monumental symbolic value in a nation that preferences men. As president, she would truly be the first of her kind. Unfortunately, so was Margaret Thatcher, which only underscores the reality of how dangerous the conquest for power really is. It is the reason why Frodo threw the One Ring into the fire, rather than adorn it for the feminist cause or for any cause: because power becomes an end in itself -- invariably so in its concentrated forms. To paraphrase Foucault, it is hardly a service to the woman's cause to bow at the altar of the very god which dominates and exploits them -- not sexist attitudes, per se, but the infrastructure of power which amplifies their effects until they prove harmful. Of course, passage of an Equal Rights Amendment under Clinton is a real possibility; on the other hand, it is virtually assured that many innocent people will pay the price for her presidency with their lives in whatever foreign theaters she hopes to act out her "executive resolve." The value of human gain must always be weighed with the human costs which accompany them; this is the balance which power always strives to conceal.

Naturally, Clinton cannot be singled-out in the conquest for power, since this is what pursuing the presidency currently means. But it is worth underscoring the inevitable violence of power, especially so in instances where we perceive some likely benefit to ourselves -- in this case, having a woman as president. We do ourselves a disservice to ignore the full spectrum of probable outcomes of a Clinton presidency, whatever conclusions we finally draw from them.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Into the Wild

Chris McCandless left society in the early 1990's, ostensibly in protest of its modern dimensions. The resonance of his story, now over a decade old, persists because while many people identify in contemporary society a broad range of deficiencies, few modify their lives boldly enough to register the full depth of their objections. That McCandless was successful in this regard is doubtless a significant part of what has drawn audiences -- including those that documented his life -- into a sympathetic reading of his account.

McCandless's grievances with modern society were never articulated coherently so much as communicated through his lifestyle. To the extent that he employed a principled critique, he mostly derived it from naturalist writings of the 19th century, or moral philosophers from the same period, such as Tolstoy. Many of these writers extolled simple living in pastoral settings as a means of preserving independence against the dominant institutions of their time -- organized religion and the state, namely. These entities were viewed as unduly coercive at best, actively immoral at worst. The solution prescribed by these writers involved disengagement from mainstream society for the moral health of the individual and clearer discernment of "truth," though usually as a precondition for some alternate, sustainable kind of engagement with the world (as opposed to permanent seclusion).

It is possible to imagine a different outcome for McCandless had his rebellion been informed by different, or at least more varied, intellectual traditions. In one respect, this has to do with intrinsic limitations of 19th century naturalism as applied to late 20th century US society. Opportunities to "live off the land" are not what they may have been in Thoreau's day, when small farming was still a viable enterprise, and land, especially in remote regions, could be had for cheap (at least for those permitted to own it). This is why McCandless was more likely to wind up wandering a state park than anything else: they offer the greatest space for the least commitment, and are less prohibitive than private lands. However, that they also attract people invariably contributed to greater risk-taking in the pursuit of a "genuine" exchange with nature. Such risks would have been less necessary in the 1800's, when "the wild" could not yet be classified as a commodity, and therefore required no exotic undertaking to experience it.

Another consideration when evaluating the role naturalism played in the ultimate fate of McCandless is what drew him to it in the first place. While it is possible he was predisposed to a heightened appreciation for nature, the evidence suggests that McCandless's break with convention drew greater inspiration from his anger at forms of authority which were inducing distress in his personal life. Salient among these was his parents' unsolicited overtures to help administrate his post-graduate development, coupled with the homogenized, materialistic values that such an arrangement implied. McCandless responded to these pressures mainly through evasion, his flight from his family and their lifestyle probably being one of the most destructive options available to him, at least judged by its consequences for others -- arguably for himself, as well.

It is plausible that the fundamental reconciliation which McCandless sought in his wanderings had more to do with knowing how to engage with authority satisfactorily than objecting to modern life per se. Never living past his early 20's, he had not learned how to creatively respond to that which aggrieved him in a way that might also reinforce the relationships he valued. There is no clearer example of this than the equal treatment he dispensed toward his parents, whom he discounted, and his sister, whom he adored. Arguing that this was a necessity is only true under the assumption that McCandless couldn't have stood up to his parents openly, and then proceeded with his plans accordingly. But his reading of nature as a viable alternative to the problems inherent in human relationships created a disincentive to learn how to constructively address them. A different exposure might have led him to become a union organizer or poverty campaigner, civil rights activist and so on -- i.e., someone who confronts social ills without boycotting society. He also might have challenged his parents' presumptions about the kind of person he was meant to become. It will remain an open question what the outcome of such an approach could have been.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

White House champions progressive taxation

While the Bush veto on expanded children's healthcare continues to stand unscathed, it is interesting to learn of the underlying motivations behind the White House position. I'm not referring here to the philosophical uneasiness among modern-day conservatives in using public money for public purposes -- what our president in this case calls "socialized medicine" -- though this reason is well known. It appears there may be some "compassionate conservatism" at play as well: The White House has opposed the means of funding the proposal, which would involve higher taxes on tobacco. Their reasoning? The taxation would be regressive, because poor people smoke in greater numbers than the affluent; as such, it would be an unfair burden for them to bear. Doubtless this is good news for poor smokers everywhere -- just so long as they don't smoke those cigs beneath any of our nation's bridges.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad in NY

Iran's president spoke at Columbia University today, opening a sluice chute of supposed "controversy" over whether the event should be allowed to happen. My own feeling is that it is better to be speaking than bombing or shooting at each other; perhaps this is why the neo-conservatives who favor war with Iran are so upset with the event, as it does not directly further their cause. It is why they try so hard to generate controversy around the mere fact that he has come here to speak, since he is a figure they want to demonize.

An awful lot of the accusations employed against Ahmadinejad as a justification for war have little substance behind them. For one thing, the president is the highest elected official in the Iranian system, with powers that are limited to some domestic areas, not international affairs. He does not have control over the Iranian military, for example. This calls into question the relevance of what Ahmadinejad has to say about international concerns, Israel included, since he has no real authority on the subject; it also leaves accusations of "dictatorship" open to question, since Iran's president is at least directly elected (unlike the religious clerics who make the central decisions affecting the country) . These are things the neo-cons and other right-wingers invariably omit when they beat their drums for war.

It's also interesting to learn that Ahmadinejad was denied a visit to ground zero when Iran (along with many other countries) expressed sympathy with the US after 9/11, and the Iranian people held candlelight vigils for the victims.

Here is a transcript of the Columbia talk.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nationalism and Culture

Just as "the will of God" has always been the will of the priests who transmitted it and interpreted it to the people, so "the will of the nation" could only be the will of those who happened to have the reigns of public power in their hands and were, consequently, in a position to transmit and interpret "the common will" in their own way. This phenomenon need not necessarily be traced to inherent hypocrisy. Much more reasonably can we in this instance speak of "deceived deceivers"; for the more deeply the enunciators of the national will are convinced of the sacredness of their mission, the more disastrous are the results springing from their inherent honesty. There is deep significance in Sorel's remark: "Robespierre took his part seriously, but his part was an artificial one."

-- Rudolf Rocker

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On Politics

What's interesting about people's attitudes towards politics is that the same people who love things like The Matrix will take the blue pill when it comes to the "matrix" that surrounds them daily.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Who needs Al Qaeda when we can destroy our own infrastructure through the combined powers of war spending and neglect?

Monday, July 23, 2007

FT/Harris Poll: Public rejects "globalization"

Much hand-wringing must be underway in corporate PR offices around the world: Apparently, people are not happy with the way companies do business, nor do they trust or admire their executives, according to a recent poll.

According to the prevailing analysis, such attitudes are regrettable insofar as they leave the average citizen vulnerable to the "rhetoric" of "populist politicians." Such inversions of reality are common in instances where business has provoked the wrath of the general population: Unable to acknowledge any contradiction between private enrichment and social health, it is the political system which must be blamed. However, if democratic representation has any value, it is an odd argument which complains that politicians might abuse their constituents by adopting their position.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Most acclaimed war films already deal with the insanity and suffering of war; Letters from Iwo Jima tries to do it without seeming to know very much about the Japanese particulars that should carry the film -- thus offering viewers little more than a change of uniform. The subjects might as well have been Portugese; Eastwood never goes deeper than universal themes of familial ties and loyalty to country, saying nothing about what Japan was fighting for in a geopolitical sense, or how this narrative played itself out in the mind of the average Japanese soldier in periods of adversity -- all the more so in moments of despair.

A more masterful interpretation might have focused on the noble myths perpetuated by the Japanese state which persuaded decent people to commit great evil -- precisely by engendering in them the notion that it was good. This is also a universal feature of war, though wouldn't it have been fascinating to learn how it unfolded in a particular historical context -- such as the allied assault on Iwo Jima, from the perspective of the Japanese? Instead, we are treated to a string of Japanese-themed stereotypes, which, while probably true and relevant to the occasion, are nonetheless a little too familiar to American audiences to be the whole explanation here: The Japanese are duty-bound and subservient to authority -- hence the trouble they find themselves in at Iwo Jima.

For reasons like this, the screenwriting convinced me only of the author's familiarity with Japanese custom, not the historical specifics of the chosen setting (to say nothing of the political realities). Any kind of scholarship of the Japanese during WWII would have been welcomed in the development of this story; it might have taught many an interesting lesson about the varied dynamics at play in this unique setting, and lent authenticity to an otherwise banal approach.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Reasoning" from the Scriptures

Into my possession has been delivered a item of great personal interest: an official Jehovah's Witness guide to doctrine and proselytization entitled Reasoning from the Scriptures. Already a fan of such underappreciated discards as The Watchtower and Awake! as found on any metro-Philly public transportation line, this was a welcome development. As with business and government publications, it is one thing to read what is written for general consumption and another to read what is written for people operating within a given institution.

I have always been impressed with the amount of research Witnesses bring to their publications. Not surprisingly, this is often scriptural in nature, but frequently extends to include the work of contemporary scholarship. General interest items such as those featured in Awake! regularly cite mainstream scientific and other expert sources, often with no obvious religious agenda.

Reasoning from the Scriptures
is persuasively written and generously supported from a wide range of external sources. The text is organized by subject, and there are many -- everything from birthdays to government to sex. A section on evolution quotes text from Darwin and draws on scientific findings relating to the fossil record. Another chapter devoted to the "cross" consults the original Greek word, stauros, which has traditionally meant a stake or "upright pole," and suggests that today's popular symbol is not accurate in relation to the crucifixion of Christ (or anyone else in that period). This was news to me and of particular historical interest.

To its credit, Reasoning often concerns itself with basic questions of accuracy like these, doubtless fitting for a publication designed to bolster engagement with skeptical audiences. It opens with an introduction on usage, including How To Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers, which includes sample dialogue. In all cases, the tone is respectful: for example, nowhere is it suggested that pressure or manipulation be employed to gain or keep an audience. Its motivating ethos seems to be that some people are more receptive to new information than others; what's important is communicating that information well when it is welcomed. This was an issue I was very curious about regarding Jehovah's Witnesses prior to reading this text, since their eccentricities are prone to confusion with the eccentricity of other not-well understood religious groups.

My only real grievance with the publication is the same one I maintain towards the religion as a whole, and this primarily relates to its distribution of concerns. For example, it is unconscionable to me in a Christian guidebook, apparently "comprehensive" in subject matter, that "poverty" somehow goes unmentioned. In this respect, Witnesses seem to place a heightened emphasis on some biblically-prescribed activities and concerns to the apparent exclusion of others. In itself, this is probably to be expected; for my part, I would tend to pay more attention to something like the Sermon on the Mount -- e.g., how my behavior affects others right now -- rather than worrying about the implications of Armageddon, which I don't think is very well understood by anyone, to put it mildly.

Witnesses seem centrally concerned with the role that preaching played in the life of Jesus, and to that end I think they do an admirable job. Unfortunately, until they start talking more about the responsibilities we have towards one another as articulated in the Gospel vs. the end of the world and getting some real estate in heaven, it will be hard for me to relate to their basic mission.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Some notes on Donnie Davies's "The Bible Says": Why it is fake, why it is funny.

Watch this video and permit me to register my feelings on...

Why it is fake:

Apparently the authenticity of this video and its author has sparked some debate on the "internets." My hypothesis is that it is fake, for the following reasons. None of these stand as conclusive proof of fakery, though, so beware.

1. He's not playing the guitar. I understand that's not necessary (indeed, common) in music videos, but the fact that Donnie Davies neither strums in anything resembling a plausible rhythm, nor appears capable of forming chords should warrant an explanation.

2. He's wearing an unbuttoned pink shirt, is purposelessly mustachioed, and in "other ways" completes the perfect parody of himself.

3. The lyrics are rife with double entendres: "Read the bible/you'll be sure/to enter heaven/there's no backdoor"; "Righteous man/get on your knees***/there lies no virtue/in sodomy"; "Jesus, my saviour, is the only man for me"

4. Inexplicably poor songwriting, even by the standards of Christian fundamentalism: After singing "God Hates Fags" three times in the refrain, it was thought necessary to add, "If you're a fag, [God] hates you too" though this qualification imparts no new information.

5. Donnie Davies' website -- for instance, his program CHOPS: "Changing Homosexuals into Ordinary People" (see -- features no credible contact info or external reference for verification purposes.

Why it is funny:

My wife tells me it isn't, but that's only because she hasn't paid enough attention to THIS:

1. The expression on Donnie Davies' face when he sings "sodomy."


Support for Bush

It's at an all time low, and descending. At this point any support -- even an athletic support -- would go a long way towards helping the president's cause in Iraq.