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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This Is The Responsibility Of Us All

An Iraqi family man posts a heartbreaking and diconcertingly rational op-ed at Donkephant (h/t Crooks And Liars.) He concludes:
The summery of it all is, as I see it, is that the world is going through an astonishing phase; for those who posses the money and the decision-making power are in most cases stony-hearted people, greedy, without conscience, or morals, or mercy. And the people who posses mercy, morals and conscience are usually the poor and the crushed, without the power to produce any decision. And here, I remember the call of Mahateer Muhammad: the role of these people should be activated, when we put our hands together, we, the ordinary, peace-loving people, shall have a way to be rid of those villains from that first category, who ruined our lives and turned the globe into a place we no longer like to live in…

There must be away to get rid of those criminals, to remove them from the position of decision-making…

This is the responsibility of us all…
[emphasis mine]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Ministry Of Truth

Eli, who normally posts at Multi Medium, is over at FireDogLake with an important post on our corporate media issues. It is a cogent breakdown of the dysfunctional state of major media outlets, and it offers several suggestions to seed a discussion on what can be done about our current problems with the distorted narratives served up for corporate interests. I find three of those to be the most important:
Reinstate restrictions on media ownership. This just sort of dances around the problem. The media might be owned by smaller corporations, but there's really no guarantee that they would be any less Republican.

Bring back the Fairness Doctrine. This is appealing, but would need to be implemented carefully so that losers like Joe Lieberman and Joe Klein aren't allowed to represent the "liberal" side of any issue. If we can be assured a steady diet of Cliff Schecter and similar liberal attack dogs tearing Republican throats out (um, metaphorically speaking, of course), then I'm all for it.


Pushback. Just like the Republicans swarm like angry bees whenever they see a story that displeases them, we can write letters, send e-mails, make phone calls, and post blog entries. Sometimes the media take notice and change course, sometimes they don't. I haven't been able to determine how they decide when to react and when to ignore; I assume they make a conscious or unconscious calculation of the benefit of leaving the story unreported or misreported vs. the risk of having their dishonesty exposed.

I think this is the most important issue we face, one which affects everything else. How are we to be expected to make informed decisions if the press tilts Orwellian?

The Grip Tightens...

Arthur Silber quotes Chris Floyd over at Empire Burlesque:
I may be writing more on this later, if I have the stomach for it, but read through the above New York Times report on the new oil law approved by the Iraqi government – and gasp in shock-and-awed wonder that the leading newspaper in the United States could file a story like this and only note –in the next-to-last paragraph – that Iraq's oil will controlled by the iron fist of a "central body called the Federal Oil and Gas Council" which will have "a panel of oil experts from inside and outside Iraq" as part of the operation… without telling us that these "oil experts" will in fact be executives and representatives of American and other Western oil companies.

In other words, the Bush-backing oil barons will now have an official stranglehold on the oil of the Iraqi people. No wonder the Administration has been so adamant that "a new oil law is crucial to the country’s political and economic development," as the warm and fuzzy Times tells us.

We're watching - right?

Living Religion IV: Discerning Good - What Is It Good For?

That this post is going to be somewhat, er, tautological is foreshadowed by its tongue-in-cheek title, which may be interpreted as "What Is Good Good For?" (haha,) or alternatively (and correctly,) "What Is Discerning Good Good For?" - which shakes off some of the self-referential tendency in a discussion like this.

Sadly, as I discussed in these posts - here and here - the current crop of powermongers in the world dismiss "Good" as fundamental to human nature. They aver that it's just some moonbatty idea. And, as I inferred (I hope successfully) in those posts, it is not only the "current" crop, but rather that it is individuals who are thusly crippled inside who aspire to power, so everything is in its proper place, really.

As we see the world increasingly through the lens of these sad pessimists, it then becomes an act of profound spiritual urgency that we look seriously at the question of "discerning" good. One point of departure for this logic is for the simple expedience of maintaining good mental health but, as I have deconstructed the primacy of the self, I would like to articulate just what "good mental health" actually means here. I wrote:
Now, what if this "idea" of the self is actually all there is to it? Read that carefully. Yes, I am flat out saying that there actually is nothing behind it. I am saying that the self is a construct of thought, and nothing more. Nothing, nada, zip.

I follow that with the fact that there is such a thing as "good mental health" but, as it cannot reside in a fictional self (which is a neurotic byproduct of thought), then where does it then reside? As I danced around the residency of "Good" in my last post in this series, I so shall conflate this with "good mental health" here, making it just as unbounded.

Unbounded. That is the word which points to the answer which is impossible to state positively, and can only be hedged about. For "unbounded" cannot be seen or apprehended (only lamely conceptualized, but that is just a "bounded" idea of "unbounded"), but we instinctively "know" that reality is unbounded (right?). It is the same with "good" and "good mental health" - these things cannot be "known," but we are going to use the word "discerned" to at least intimate that we can have some participation in them.

It is the very perception of the fictional nature of the self which brings the good into flower. There is no willful way to evoke good, but there are myriad ways to suppress it. It is those suppressive ways (such as belief in self) which can be addressed, however - and I state here (stupidly positivistically again) that if those things are well-addressed, then good shall flower in the presence of your discernment, or perception. This is where Krishnamurti's oft-quoted "The world is me and I am the world" comes from. It sounds like a bunch of mystical horseshit at first blush, but think for a moment of this fact, and its implications.

It means we are responsible. Not in the negative consequential way (reward or punishment, heaven or hell, etc.), but in an engaged, loving, cooperative, supportive way. A "discerner of good" is a helper and peace-giver to all around himself. She is an immediate soother, and bringer of real community security to other people and living things, and it is absolutely reciprocal, and this reciprocity is readily apparent to the discerner, regardless as to how it may appear to outside observers, who will spin any observation into their own "self"-inflicted neurotic interpretation. This is why we must not assign any significance whatsoever to the "bad things" that we see people do. If we proceed from that accumulation of bounded knowledge, then all that will result is a continuation of the consequences of, well, proceeding from an accumulation of bounded knowledge.

As far as the "attainment" of security goes, this is profoundly different than trying to gain security for the bounded self. And it has profound implications regarding the order of the world. This is what "discerning good" is "good for."

In my next post, I hope to muster the ability to discuss "The Urgency Of The Sacred" and, as currently planned, a follow up which touches upon discerning good yet again. Then I hope that I will have the clarity to try to share some of what I see and feel in regards to this whole "Living Religion" thing. Which is really, really dangerous ground, but I am an intrepid fool.

Monday, February 26, 2007

And Must The Thing Go Its Course?

Arthur Silber is well at it with his series Dispatch from Germany, Summer of 1939, parts I, II, and III (via CrooksAndLiars). He is well-sensitized to what is happening regarding Iran, and I urge you to read his posts.

I want to focus on a quote from Milton Mayer's, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, that Arthur includes in Part I (he does so here also). Mayer quotes one German, who said:
"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?

"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction. ..."
[emphasis mine]

This is chilling to me because, while I have very intensive and probing conversations with some serious friends down at the pub, it sadly goes without saying that most people don't want to even hear about the immoral and destructive stance that our government is increasingly taking towards the rest of the world. Others will listen and, while not disagreeing, look at me strangely like I should get a life - hey, you want to see my new car? Did you see the game last night?

Must the thing go its course, citizens? Are you prepared to have the entire planet turn against us, just when our resources are strained? Do you think that our military, scattered across the globe in its imperial police-work, will manage so well as host country after host country casts its wary eye upon it? Do you think you will be free to speak and protest then? Hell, they're already slandering us in Radio Rwanda-style rants in some media. And we know how well that all turned out.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Living Religion III: Discerning Good - Where Does It Reside?

In my prior posts in this "Living Religion" series, I discussed Belief and the Self, in which I dismissed both as unnecessary, and indeed destructive, concepts. I now wish to artfully segue into a discussion of "Good" (which may very loosely be interpreted as a marker for "God" or "holiness" - words which I take pain to avoid as they are far too loaded and tend to evoke a constellation of distracting preconceptions.)

When I speak of "discerning" Good, it once again brings up the question of the "self," as in "Who is discerning, who is the "discerner?" As I am struggling to not be too verbose in these posts (you! Stop snickering.) I will give the easy, positivistic answer which is not very helpful, but true nonetheless - there is no discerner of Good. Good has no relationship whatsoever to thought, which is the only thing which defines, or creates, the self.

In like fashion, any attempt to define Good, to circumscribe its attributes, is to merely create another concept which has no relationship to its actuality. How then, one may fairly ask, does one even posit that there is indeed "Good?" Realistically, one cannot, if one is limiting the sphere of observation to that which is built up by thought, logic, and "rational" discourse. And yet, here I am, discussing this. I will say as little as possible about this, as language (the exterior representative of thought), tends to muck it all up by boxing things into the slice-and-dice of our customary noun-verb thought habits. I cannot stress enough that thought cannot, and will never, be able to apprehend reality in its entirety.

What I will say, and I caution the reader not to mistake the words as the thing itself, is that when one suspends the operation of thought, then the unthinkable (like "Good") has the opportunity to enter consciousness. (There are so many things wrong with that sentence that I shudder to put it this way, but I trust that the reader will faithfully respect my caveat about language.) Now, the philospher Krishnamurti spoke on this subject until he was blue in the face for over 60 years, and from what I've read of some of his most dedicated listeners leads me to conclude that he had little success in articulating what it was that he meant. I have no hope to be any more successful here, to say the least. One of the charming things about K was his approach to truth-telling through negation, for the most part avoiding the stupid trap of positivistic statements like the opening one to this very paragraph. (I use "charming" ironically, as for the first few years of struggling with K's work I was struck with how depressing he can sound with this negation technique. I knew he was on to something, but hearing over and over again that "no, you don't get it" can put a philosopher in a very black mood indeed.)

OK - "suspends the operation of thought." Lord, the monkey-shines that have historically grown out of that hoary phrase. Meditation, prayer - the techniques for stopping the hamster-wheel that is thought are legion... and all pretty well bogus. From my own experience, "suspending the operation of thought" doesn't actually involve the stopping of thought at all. I will now go out on the stupid limb again and say something positivistic about this - again from my own experience - I would say it could also well be described (just a description, not the thing itself!) as "putting thought into its proper place." The problem with this, however, is that it is thought's immediate response to this is to create yet another layer of self which "puts" the rest of thought into place. That will not do at all.

I will say more about this thought-suspension thing in follow-up posts, but for now I just want to say that to "discern" Good, which resides nowhere yet does exist, is not something that thought has anything to with.

I hope perhaps that this meditation on "Good" will become clearer in my next post ("Discerning Good - What Is It Good For?"). I will also be discussing other aspects of living religion, in which all of this nonsense will suddenly all make sense (snark.) Among other things.


Just - wow.
"Strom Thurmond's family owned my family," [Rev. Al] Sharpton said aloud in disbelief.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

For Shame

Oh, the shame of it all. Over half a century since Marine General Smedley D. Butler wrote War is a Racket, we are continuing with our "apple pie" tradition of using the American taxpayers' subsidy of corporate interests, through the bloody application of military might:
...A proposed new Iraqi oil and gas law began circulating last week among that country's top government leaders and was quickly leaked to various Internet sites - before it has even been presented to the Iraqi parliament.

Under the proposed law, Iraq's immense oil reserves would not simply be opened to foreign oil exploration, as many had expected. Amazingly, executives from those companies would actually be given seats on a new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq's reserves.

In other words, Chevron, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants could end up on the board of directors of the Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council, while Iraq's own national oil company would become just another competitor...

God damn us all.

Living Religion II: The Self

In my last Living Religion post, I discussed belief, and offered that the only defense for having beliefs, however weak, was as a comfort for the believer:
...[beliefs] are perhaps a comfort, a reassurance that one is not pitched into the sea of chaos without at least a hand on the tiller handle, and an eye on the North Star....

And so, I discuss the "believer" here, or more properly, the "self." It is important to understand this fundamental fiction in order to blow wide open the fallacies which get us into this predicament whereas "comfort" is sought.

Really, what is the self? It is important that you, the reader, think along with me and not merely read these words. Ask your"self", as it were, what does the self mean to you? Where precisely is it located, for example? While we first jump to exclaim the "obvious" fact that it is "contained" within at least the bounds of our skin, to me the first serious attempt seems to locate it front an center in the head, about two inches behind the eyes. Is this common? Is it so for you?

Again, it is important for you to do this mental exercise along with me. Right now. Because the next point I would like to stress is that we now are creating an image of the self, an image that really has no relationship to the actual mystery of this self thing. And this is where most thinking stops (as we are all not very serious philosophers) - there is no effort to probe this more deeply, if only because acknowledging that we have only an "idea" of the self brings us a little too uncomfortably close to the fact that we have no direct knowledge of the self. We then can (if we are at least marginally honest) defensively acknowledge that, OK, it is just an idea but, as Descartes famously said, "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am" or, in his original French, "Je pense, donc je suis"). That seems to have put the matter at rest for most classic Western philosophers.

But we are hungry for a bit more, aren't we, reader? So let's move further, and we may assure ourselves that while we may get seemingly radical here, we may also note that I am not stitching together something that is particularly original. Other thinkers whom I admire have done the heavy lifting well ahead of me, and I am merely an acolyte of sorts. I will say, however, that following the meditations of these individuals is not as pat an exercise as settling the matter with a pithy "Cogito, ergo sum." I repeat, you have to think along.

We have established thus far that what we "know" directly about the self is merely an idea of it (if not, we have read too quickly and should go back two paragraphs and steep ourselves in that proposition.)

(Aside: I feel inclined to do a little preemptive work regarding those who wish to argue with the above. First, if one feels that they have an argument with this, I submit that it is because one has a competing idea which is just as ethereal as the "idea of self" which is proposed here. I therefore dismiss it out of hand and am not interested into getting into the weeds of another's dogma issues. Second, if anyone even tries to bring up the sophomoric point that I am refuting my own arguments since I am talking about "ourselves" refuting the fact of the "self", well, it will be all I can do not to burst into tears of frustration. Let's move past that pedantic canard, shall we?)

Now, what if this "idea" of the self is actually all there is to it? Read that carefully. Yes, I am flat out saying that there actually is nothing behind it. I am saying that the self is a construct of thought, and nothing more. Nothing, nada, zip.

Now if you accept that this is true - and it is a fact! - we may proceed. If not, then I invite you to return to more important matters, and leave us crazy people to our silly discussion.

To return to the "comfort" argument which marginally justifies "belief," I ask - who then, is comforted after all? And is this truly necessary, once the "self" as a fact vanishes under our careful scrutiny? What is it that is afraid, what is it that requires protection and security? Well - again - nothing, actually. As a starting point for the readers' own continuing investigation into this matter (as it is important for one to see this for oneself, and not just use the "ideas" I have introduced here as some sort of building block for another precious dogma which I may or may not hold) I will, here, offer only this little bit of knowledge - that thought is a quite aware of its ethereal non-reality and is by nature fundamentally insecure and, as we habitually mistake "thought" for the self, we reflexively identify with this insecurity, and thus begins the subsequent thrashing about for "security." And security, just like the self, is merely an idea and is just as unattainable.

I hope to successfully tie these observations to my "Living Religion" series in coming posts, where I will discuss Good, sacred urgency, practical religious living, and the immediate ecstacy available to the daring philosopher. Among other things.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Living Religion I: On Belief

Belief is of no use whatsoever to me. To whatever extent it takes ahold of me, it is to that extent that I am blinded to discovering the truth about anything.

What is belief, after all, if not but a stale paradigm which owes nothing to the actual? Regardless of how closely a belief matches what is true, it is necessarily limited by its own boundaries, and at best paints a simplified caricature of its object. Any serious person would admit that when presented with what is true, then any beliefs about what is true are of a lower utility than that which is actually beheld.

It follows then to ask - why have any beliefs at all?

The only answer to this which approaches sensibility would be to argue that they are perhaps a comfort, a reassurance that one is not pitched into the sea of chaos without at least a hand on the tiller handle, and an eye on the North Star. Fair enough, but I am a deconstructionist and I hate metaphors and I will damn this one by saying the North Star is an arbitrary star and you can steer all you want to, but you are not going anywhere, buddy.

You're already there. It's not directions that you need, it's observation.

In follow-up posts, I will discuss the self, observation, and the urgency of truth. Among other things.

Dick's Blankie

Indybay posts about our intrepid Vice President's "security blanket" during his Australian junket that his wife sent him on (sorry, couldn't resist that):
Several blocks around Cheney’s hotel are being been shut for the four days, and city streets are being closed whenever
Cheney’s convoy passes through, causing traffic chaos. Police and traffic authorities have urged motorists to stay out of the Sydney CBD, warning that “significant delays” will be caused by Cheney’s itinerary, which is being kept a tight secret.

For three days and nights before Cheney arrived, army Black Hawk helicopters buzzed the Sydney CBD, ostensibly for counter-terrorism training. Several residents contacted newspapers to complain of unbearable noise. One reader told the Sydney Morning Herald: “We are ... being buzzed by huge noisy helicopters flying probably only about 20 storeys up. [Five] times in an hour—we can’t hear TV, we can’t talk on the phone.”

Ah, such a light touch Mr. Cheney has. I am reminded of his post-Katrina visits to the impacted areas (to "help," of course), at one point frustrating a local physician who was struggling to return home amidst the gasoline and food shortage issues. He found himself blocked by the VP's security entourage, engines idling no doubt, and had to drive out of his way to get to his residence, wasting precious gas. This fellow, one fine American, he, was moved to approach the press conference photo op and turn Dick's Senate profanity on itself and shout the now-famous "Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney."

Also from the World Socialist Web Site via Indybay:
...hundreds of police and other armed personnel have been mobilised to prevent ordinary people getting anywhere near the vice president.

I am sure he is just avoiding any more unscripted carnal suggestions.

And finally, I recall sometime ago (I can't find the link, dammit!) his refusal to eat at a local restaurant. A real man of the people, Dick is. Makes Marie Antoinette look like Mohandas Gandhi.

Of course, this all makes sense when you believe you are (with some justification) the most hated and feared powermonger on the planet. And he is most likely very aware of what is happening to the food supply for we "commoners."

Yes, I suppose I would choose to travel with my own mobile Green Zone as well.

Update: Scarecrow at FireDogLake discusses Dick Cheney's Honor.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Danger Dick

Our paranoid Vice President Richard Cheney, via ABC News via Dan Froomkin, blathers on about his all-too-personal "war on terror:"
"Cheney: I think the American people want to see first and foremost success in Iraq. I think the preference would be -- even those who are not happy with the current situation, given a choice would prefer -- a situation in which we succeed in Iraq in terms of being able to deal with the security situation, turn things over to the Iraqis so the Iraqis can govern themselves. But I think to do what Nancy Pelosi is suggesting -- and she's made it very clear on many occasions that she, in fact, wants to get out -- that that's exactly the wrong medicine. It's the wrong course of action. It will do nothing but encourage the terrorists. And it will have the devastating long-term consequences in the global war on terror."

And this, from his speech on the USS Kitty Hawk Wednesday.
"[T]he terrorists have declared an intention to arm themselves with chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons, to destroy Israel, to intimidate free countries and to cause great harm to the United States. The terrorists' vision is one of murder and enslavement. . . . That leaves us only one option: to rise to America's defense, to take the fight directly to the enemy, and to accept no outcome but victory..."

Now I don't know if Cheney believes all of the words that come out of his own mouth, some of them, or absolutely none of it. I can say with full conviction that it is indeed bullshit, all of it. On second thought, I think I can also state with a certain conviction that Cheney himself knows at least some of it is bullshit. The part where he talks of "turn[ing] things over to the Iraqis so the Iraqis can govern themselves" is an obvious lie. Our Empire-loving resource-grabbing neocons, of whom Dick Cheney is a card-carrying member, have no love of self-governance by the people here in the United States, let alone a bunch of brown people sitting on his goddamn oil.

We know they want to control the region, we know they want permanent bases. The fact that the locals have turned out a bit more randy than they expected doesn't change that - hence the ongoing slaughter. Be certain that they will have their permanent base - if it means genocide, they'll blame the ungrateful Iraqis and Iranians. If this Congress does not stop them, well, we have not seen the depths of the ugliness to come, regardless as to whether we are beaten back out of the region or not.

I want to turn to this "war on terror" crap he is going on about. I have seen this phrase well-debunked in so many places that I feel like a hack repeating it here, but the fact is that it is still being employed in what should otherwise be sober discussion... nearly everywhere. When do we start pointing and laughing at those who posture with "wars" on [whatever]? War on Drugs, War on Poverty, War on Corruption, War on Terror... you know, these are serious subjects, and it is profoundly un-serious to address them with this rhetoric.

The intelligence community has a tactic called the "honey-pot." This is often an individual that displays just enough "inside" information to lure the curious journalist or investigator in, and then liberally peppers the information with lies and nonsense so as to make any conclusions or reports based on it a complete laughingstock. Well, I look at the whole War on [Whatever] as a sort of honey-pot, in that anyone who seriously runs with that metaphor becomes entangled in the [whatever] they are warrin' on. We have seen the War on Drugs breathe mighty life into an international criminal market, increasing the availability and consumption of unregulated substances throughout the developed world. In the same way, warrin' on terror has made us the most terrifying of all, and has bred a new generation of angry people. And as long as there is one pissed-off person in the world, then violent, random acts (which we so glibly call "terror") are always in potential.

Getting back to Dick Cheney - I think it is obvious that he is in thrall to the same paranoid view of the world and human nature as David Brooks. I said before that I consider Brooks dangerous, I need not stress too much how much more dangerous it is to have a bedwetter like Cheney in the White House.

Any industrial society, especially one which displays such omnivorous appetite as ours, is going to have resistance from people. When this resistance becomes violence, then it has risen to the status of criminal behaviour, and that is the appropriate way in which it must be approached. We did not respond to Timothy McVeigh with a wholesale invasion of the delusional white-militia camps across the country - we prosecuted and convicted those who had crossed the line into criminal activity.

Of course, I think there is a very good reason why Vice President Dick Cheny may not with to handle the singular terrorist act of the 21st century with investigation and prosecution, but that's a whole other post.

Monday, February 19, 2007

David Brooks Goes Fetal

I never really understood the mind-set of those among us who accept authoritarianism as a necessary aspect of human life. I mean, I understand the words that come out of their mouths, and I will grudgingly concede a form of coherence (albeit tautologous) in their world-view, but I have never been able to quite wrap my mind around it.

It must be a terrible horror to live with such a mind. It appears that David Brooks has such a mind. In a recent column in the New York Times (Human Nature Redux), he opens his column with:
Over the past 30 years or so, our belief in natural human goodness has been discarded.

I am not going to bother taking his propositions apart here, as he is especially well-handled by Arthur Silbur and J. Goodrich over at The American Prospect. I want to merely point out the hubris in Brooks' projection: "our belief."

This is why these people are so dangerous. It is certainly good for Mr. Brooks to vent how he really feels, if only to allow us a glimpse at his terrible madness, so that the sane and good-hearted may ken some sort of soothing remedy for such infantilism. Perhaps to watch for signs of it in our children so that we may take some corrective action. But the fact is that people like this are constantly in a fever, maneuvering within society to discover their "place" and perhaps get a grip on the security which so eludes them. When they look at me, they do not see me. They see themselves, and they assume that I am motivated by the same nefarious motives. And they act accordingly.

Some people are trained this way, with unfortunate life circumstances driving them further and further into cynicism. There are some who resist this regardless of the hardship or cruelties they may face. Then there are the sociopaths who are inexplicably incapable of empathetic experience (around 5% of us, according to some.)

I don't know whether David Brooks came by his cynicism "honestly" or is one of the five percenters, but I will make this observation. It is this kind of thinking which causes a wealthy and powerful nation to destroy itself in its ever-elusive quest to "nail down" its place in the "natural order."

And this man pontificates from the edifice of the New York friggin' Times.

Update: More writhing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Supporting the Troops

Over at Crooks & Liars, Nicole Belle comments on Barbara at Mahablog's pushback against those who would conflate opposition to the war in Iraq with a lack of support for the troops. As noted, the Boston Globe opines:
[..](T)here is no end of Americans who insist they "support" US troops in Iraq but want the war those troops are fighting to end in defeat. The two positions are irreconcilable. You cannot logically or honorably curse the war as an immoral neocon disaster or a Halliburton oil grab or "a fraud… cooked up in Texas," yet bless the troops who are waging it.

Now this is clearly foolish - I think one can reasonably make a case against the war while still supporting the safety and well-being of the soldiers. This does not mean that there aren't some people who would eschew such nuance. A very good friend of mine forwarded this article by Lawrence M. Vance over at
...Not only are U.S. soldiers not viewed as responsible for the death and destruction that they bring, we continually see signs and yellow ribbons expressing support for the troops. We also frequently hear from church pulpits that we should pray for the troops. Sometimes this is expanded to praying for the safety of the troops while they are defending our freedoms, but it is usually just the nebulous refrain: "pray for the troops."

Although many defenders of the Iraq war have tried, usually under the umbrella of "just war" theory, it can’t be said that the actions of U.S. soldiers in this war are so different from the actions of Russians, Germans, and Turks that they should be commended instead of condemned. Labeling the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq a just war does not make it one. By no stretch of the imagination can the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq be called a just war. In fact, the war violates every "just war" principle ever invoked to justify a war. So why aren’t U.S. soldiers viewed as responsible for the death and destruction in Iraq – even by many of those who see this as an unjust war?...
[emphasis mine]

Mr. Vance, author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, goes on to argue that such defenders can only stand behind four points (I simplify, please read the essay):

- They're only following orders.
- They are doing their duty as citizens of the state.
- American Exceptionalism - our actions are by definition just.
- We are AT WAR, DAMMIT!

I have to confess that I have lamely, in pub discussions, etc., been somewhat defensive regarding the culpability of those young men and women who are in the middle of the horror. I am smart enough to parse carefully through the mine-field of debate over this issue, and I have done so. But the points Mr. Vance make are compelling.

Still, I considered cowering from this topic, because it is so well-framed by the "patriots" of this nation. As if it were unchallengingly anti-American to question the colors of our military. But I was reminded by commenter L.A. Confidential (at C&L) of the anti-war efforts by the Vietnam veterans, via this YouTube trailer. I came of age during that war, and the excitement imparted to my young mind by the courageously vocal "draft dodgers" and AWOLers is in my DNA.

Part of my weaseling involved a sort of double-think (surprise) that went something like this: Well, yes, I would certainly never strap a gun on to kill people, but I understand how indoctrinated the average fresh-eyed American youth is, some of them are True Believers, and after all - shouldn't we be talking about the Masters of War instead?

And then there's this modern day hero, Lt. Ehren Watada.

In conclusion - while I would not hold all of my fellow human beings to such high standards of courage, it would be a dishonor to the courageous not to, at the very least, make the distinction between the sort of lazy thinking which permits injustice to flourish, and the principled clarity of those (too few?) moral heroes amongst us.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Well, This Is Just Très Charmant (pardon my French)

Via Australasion Transport News:

New Zealand may soon be processing its huge excess of lamb fat into bio-diesel.

The Kiwis currently produce 140,000 tonnes of animal fat each year from their meatworks.

United Kingdom bio-diesel producer Argent Energy is investigating, with oil companies Shell and Chevron, a plant to process 75,000 tonnes of the lamb chop trimmings to produce 85 million litres of bio-diesel a year.

The lamb diesel would help oil companies meet the New Zealand government target to source of 0.5 percent of the country's 5 billion litres of petrol and diesel consumption a year from renewables from 2008.

The technology is proven - sheep fat from the Dubbo meatworks in Australia is currently being turned into biodiesel for heavy trucks.

Now do we really want to go there? This is recycling run amok. We desperately need a new narrative if this sort of thing is going to evolve out of the old one. This kind of rational, cool-headed evaluation of available resources to maintain our "way of life" is a slippery slope greased with, well, you know.

I understand we're fast running out of real estate for graves, and cremation adds to global warming and all. Don't make me invoke "Soylent Green" two posts in a row, and my first two posts at that. Oh, sorry.

Seriously, though - market rules says that when the price of fuel goes up, then we'll be breeding for oil. Oh, swarthy oilmen, put down thy power wrenches and take up the shepherds staff!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oil, Corn and the Elitism of the Middle Class

I read an interesting article the other day titled Oil and War, by Michael Doliner. I think that it's a great summation of our current imbroglio in the Middle East. It sums up well what we are doing over there, and why. Read the essay.

I think that with what is being played out right in front of the public meshes nicely with that summation, and might turn on the light bulb in a few of the docile moto-consumers' minds. On the other hand, how few are those who can climb out of denial even as the reaper approaches?

I would like to direct the reader to another essay that casts a critical eye on a vogueish energy alternative - biofuel - which is gathering attention, Ethanol Production Increases but is it a Valid Alternative to Oil?. There is a darkly hilarious (to me) quote embedded in that discussion which goes "The amount of grain that is required to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol, one time, could otherwise feed one person for a year".

OK - can anyone - anyone! - morally reconcile filling up a gas tank with feeding a person? Alas, we have all become elitists. The horror expressed in the story of "Soylent Green" is but a hollow mock horror. In willful ignorance, we would accept not only the demise of the "useless eaters," but indeed their appropriation to keep our shiny metal boxes snappy and at our service.

The "middle class" are caught up in a delusional self-image. The omni-media hammers the message that they are budding elitists in an ever-expansive club of gentile peerage, willfully blind to the enormous quantities of resources, geologic and human, which must be consumed in order to placate an ever-expanding population of delusional wannabes.

It is a common notion that when the elitists get too fat, grab to much for themselves at the expense of the underclass, that the peasants will grab their pitchforks and exact rough justice. I would submit that the underclass has little interest in such redistribution of wealth. Any such interest is weak, as the exigencies of survival, family, love and leisure are of a much higher order to these "lazy useless eaters." And, I would submit, such interests are have a higher moral signature than issues of wealth and power.

No. The architects of this middle-class illusion will, ironically, not have the underclass to contend with after all.

It is the middle class which will take up the pitchforks, ever in denial of their own role in the grand debacle. It is the middle class which the greedheads will find at the door. For this reason, as events unfold, we will find that attempts will be made, with more or less success, to beat back and persecute the panicking middle class.

When it becomes clear that there just are not enough slices of the glory pie to go around, when the gasoline and food no longer comes easily, these "good people" (I do not mean to be sarcastic - they are well intentioned) will howl over the injustice of it all. After all, they were doing the right thing, right? Just as they were taught, living the American Dream, dutifully putting in their time in their 9-to-5 pension-seeking servitude - they were straight, loyal, good citizens.

I have in mind a lovely person, good and strong of heart. She lost her ex-husband, father to their developmentally-challenged child (who, by the way, is rising to that challenge,) to cancer a some years ago. She is doing an admirable job raising the boy on her own, pushing all the right buttons, visiting the right museums, eating the right ice cream, involved in her boy's special schooling challenges, Cub Scouts, soap-box derby. Heavily dependent on the suburban infrastructure, I feel concern. Yet, if I mention anything to this otherwise extremely intelligent woman about the headlight-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, I get a sharp rebuke along the lines of "You know I hate politics." Politics, indeed. So I must tread lightly.

It is hard for me to contemplate a judgement thrust upon such an ostensible angel. But the sword will fall where it will.

One could weep. But one feels the tears would be wasted.