Wednesday, November 30, 2005

DIRE WARNING

Posting here at the blog has been pretty sparse lately because I recently began a new job, and I'm still making requested revisions to my dissertation. But this morning, before I head out for the 35 minute drive to work, I wanted to weigh on an impending crisis-cum-tragedy. Seymore Hersch in the New Yorker has already alluded to it, as have a number of bloggers. But because I've followed U.S. military intervention in foreign countries closely since 1980, I wanted to put in my two cents, which comes in the form of a warning.

The situation in Iraq is going to get much much worse in the months ahead. As U.S. ground troops begin withdrawal, the air war will intensify, and this will mean many more Iraqi civilian casualties. Many more. In addition, the volitile situation already unfolding will, in the eyes of the newly minted vanguard, necessitate a severe crackdown on dissidents, jihadists, and other non-Baathists, historically accomplished by roving death squads. The insurgency is not, as the Pentagon and President would have us believe, primarily orchestrated by non-Iraqi terrorists or al-Qaeda operatives, but mostly by Sunni Baathists, those who backed Saddam and who belong to the religious minority of the nation. They quite correctly sense that majority rule will mean not only political and social disenfranchisement but persecution, oppression and most likely death or imprisonment for Sunni leaders.

If you don't think this is the likely course of action, then consider U.S. involvement in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvadore, the Phillipines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Angola, and God knows where else. It is a consistent pattern of U.S. "less is more"--less obvious presence and fewer numbers for more concentrated violence.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

RANDOM THATS

Signs of Intelligence
Whether or not you've been following the debate between evolution and intelligent design, this article by Justic Webb of BBC News is very much worth reading: a short summary and some key questions at the heart of the matter. And in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Kenneth Miller sums up the Catholic position on the weird science.

Burden of Class
Evidently, the upper-classes will also be feeling a pinch in the pocketbook. Seems the supply of caviar is dwindling at an alarming rate because scores of poachers haunting the shores of the Caspian sea are raping the waters for "the briny eggs." I guess I'll have to forego my valet's Christmas bonus. And Jeeves' was so looking forward to that new gold-plated shoehorn.

Up Comes Religious--Again
In Egypt, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is widely anticipated to come out a winner in upcoming elections. In Malaysia, the war is on between the religious and the secular. And in all of Southeast Asia, religious harmony is unraveling fasting than you can say 'Om'. Something tells me it's not going as planned for BushCo. Now, where do you suppose they went wrong? Was it the invasion of Iraq and the continuing lawless way of life there? The mispoken reference to the Crusades? The fanatical and militant Christian dispensationalism at the core of Bush's base? Or could it be that enormous not-white elephant in the room, the old black leviathan called Oil? I just can't decide. Would you like a congeries with that Martini, sir?

More Deja Vu
Judith Coburn takes us back to Watergate, reminding us that the real scandal was not the third-rate burglary of an office but the covert and illegal carpet bombing of Cambodia. The Nixon administration, and especially Henry Kissinger, deceived the public and Congress about an unwinnable war far from home. Sound familiar? It should, both Cheney and Rumsfeld served President Nixon, and ever since have obssessed over the issue of consolidating power in the execute branch. Perhaps Karl Rove, when leaking it to the press, would call it Double Secret, Super-Duper Executive Privilege. Given my interest in Weimar German philosophy, culture and politics, I prefer the more concise and accurate 'dictatorship.'

*****

Are we living in the End-Times, as Jerry Jenkins and Tim Lahaye keep saying in their Left Behind novels? No. But we're certainly coursing through an auspicious moment in world history. Start keeping a journal today, and remain a devoted scribe of your daily thinking. See if your grandchildren aren't touting it on a future episode of Antiques Roadshow as a "beautiful window into a significant period in history." Cut off your ear or go insane, and it will be worth millions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

DEJA VU

On November 17, 1973, thirty-two years ago, President Richard M. Nixon told the Associated Press, ""People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook." Nine months later, on August 8, 1974, he resigned in disgrace, having tried in vain to cover up crooked, political trickery.

We know that at about this time, a young George Bush was going into hiding, ducking his reponsibility to the Texas Air National Guard. A sure sign of character.

But where were Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld at the time? As it turns out, Rummy was White House counsel, and Cheney his deputy assistant. Corruption of power and complete loss of moral clarity stick on these guys like mud on swine.

So let's fix ourselves a daiquiri, pull up a beanbag chair, put on the Beverley Hillbillies, and reminisce. Think back to a time when the standard was set for poor taste and absense of integrity. When Elvis was king, there was no Prince, and the Jester was you and me. The No.1 song: "Keep on Truckin'" by Eddie Kendricks.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

RHETORICAL DEFLECTION

Just a quick note before I return to the pressing responsibility of revising my (never ending) dissertation.

This week President Bush chose Veterans Day to attack Democrats for saying we were misled into the war in Iraq. Shrub suggested the dissenters were "rewriting history." This Sunday morning, I came across CNN's Howard Kurtz interviewing former CBS producer Mary Mapes about the ill-fated National Guard story, which was based on forged documents. And two weeks ago we were hearing much about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his indictment of Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, I. Lewis Libby.

Examine the Republican talking points on all these issues and a clear, discernible pattern emerges: Do not talk about the issue--deceiving the American people into war, shirking responsibility to the Texas Air National Guard, exposing classified information. Instead, derail the debate by attacking those who insist on talking about the issue. In other words, invoke one of the oldest rhetorical and legalistic strategies of debate: attack the character of the person making the charge, rather than discuss the specifics of the charge itself. This, as we all know, was the strategy of O. J. Simpson's defense team, which went after LA police detective Mark Thurman and his racism. But in spite of the jury's verdict, everyone knows who killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Moral point: When you see this strategy going into overtime, you can be quite sure that there is some truth to the accusations against the fulminating character assassins. Like the child caught red-handed eating the stolen cookie: "He's lying. I didn't take it."

Mr. President, your approval rating is at 36%. You've been caught. Whine all you want for the next three years. We know you're lying. You're toast. And you know it too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

UP COMES RELIGION

From time to time, when I'm making my rounds through liberal blogs, I come across the occasional article on religion, be it a glib rant on the ironic evils of fundamentalist Christians or the assurance that genuine Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. While there are a few among the self-decribed liberal or progressive bunch who profess a religious faith, the general tone I sense is one of perfect secularism, and a dismissive if not hostile gesture toward all things religious. Which is why this faction of the body politic is usually at its best when arguing over the separation of church and state.

But, dare I invoke Freudianism, they're in deep denial over the reality that is religion in the age of globalization. I can't help but think that they're either drunk with Enlightenment optimism and the charm of the Peace of Westphalia, or completely taken in by the new electronic media to the point where their way of being, their Dasein, their epistemology, becomes one of mystical or neurological transcendence well beyond the vulgarity of ancient religion. Be it a view of historical and horizonal, or eternal and verticle, too many progessivists are quite convinced we've moved beyond the provincial worlds of theistic Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and so forth. (Some do however revere atheistic Buddhism, or some New Age variation that is somwhat mystical, mildly ritualistic, and certainly not overly textual.) In other words, liberals don't seem to see the significance of religion in the world today. This, unfontunately, is an enormous oversight.

With the notable exception of Jim Wallis in God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, the vast majority of progressives and centrists have failed to draw the obvious conclusion that the so-called Secular Age is little more than a specific worldview which is certainly not the condition of most of the globe, and probably not a fixture of Hegel's historical dialectic inching its way toward full realization in some future Age of Godless Perfection.

On the one hand, we have all the seeds of global class rebellion, much as we did in the mid-1800s, when Karl Marx wrote of an international class of workers. Then, as now, we were on the eve of economic globalization, the shock of which contributed greatly to the Russian Revolution and two World Wars. The wars, in turn, stalled globalization, as the war-torn economies of Europe, Asia, and the Americas necessarily turned inward and centralized. Economic survival mode. But that's all changed now. In the 1980s, Reagan and Thatcher launched the big push for privatization, deregulation, and increased international competition, thus creating transnational economic unions in the Americas, Euope and Asia. And today we routinely talk of the statelessness of multinational corporations and the boundless potential of cyber-economics. Such rapid growth and fragmentation of older ways has a way of intensifying the gap between rich and poor, upper and lower socio-economic classes, and thus bringing about a great deal of anger and violence.

On the other hand, we also see quite a lot of religion in terms of group identity making its way into the news headlines. The street rioters in France are youths both poor and Muslim. In the United States, Bush's base is routinely referred to as the Religious Right, a political euphemism for fundamentalist Christians and scriptural literalists. The war in Afghanistan toppled the ultra-Orthodox Muslim Taliban. In Iraq, religious Shia and Shites are at odds over the fate of the country. Ireland's anguish has been one of both class and religion, middle and lower, Protestant and Catholic. And then there's Israel/Palestine, Jews and Muslims. Today, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need for increased Catholic-Lutheran relations as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Revolution in 1517. The Paris riots seem a fitting end to the illusion that we live in an increasingly secular world, for it was in Paris in 1789 that the people threw off the mantle of Church and Crown. And led us all to believe in the hope of Westphalia, that indeed there would be no more religious wars. Such optimism. Such naivete.

For the liberals and progressives who want to talk about the state of the world and what to do with it, but who don't believe in God, they should just adopt the methods of Wissenschaft ("science") and treat religion as an important sociological fact, like preparing food, minding the home, or making tools. You may find it superstitious, anachronistic, or downright stupid, but the simple fact is, the vast majority of the people of the world are religious in some way or another. And this must be taken into account when dicussing the political, social, and economic machinations of the world. It's misguided to contend that the world is becoming less religious when the facts are clearly otherwise.

Rather than indulge in prophecy and preach a coming doom and gloom, I would just point out that whatever comes our way in the weeks, months, and years ahead, in terms of what we might call Big Historical Events, the confluence of factors will most definitely include religion, in a big way. Always has. Always will. Ask yourself, for example, if today the war in Iraq has no significant religious factor? Or whether or not the Marxist challenge to Buddhist tradition in 1970s Cambodia was not a religious conflict? Or if the Holocaust of European Jewry at the hands of an explicitly pagan Nazism was absent of religious symbolism and conviction? Has the religion section at the local bookstore grown larger or smaller in the last ten years? Are more and more politicians not openly invoking religious affiliation? Does the institution of the modern nation-state and its factitious governance not stand like an aging superstructure ready to collapse among a landscape filled with enduring church buildings, eager to take in the disenfranchised of the nation?

God is dead, Nietzsche declared, but went on to point out that his shadow is cast upon the wall of the cave in which we dwell. Which is to say, God is not dead, so long as the people say so.

Friday, November 04, 2005

THE FABLED WAR

For quite a while I've had my suspicions about the so-called leadership and planning of the insurgency in Iraq, the insurgency that is killing scores of American miltary personel everyday as well as countless innocent Iraqis. The official line is that the endless stream of suicide and roadside bombers is more or less an al-Qaeda operation headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Constant Pentagon and State Department references to his name and face just seem much too convenient as the planned progress for New Iraq ground to a halt--following the ill-timed Mission Accomplished declaration--and everyday conditions descended into bedlam.

This morning, Billmon over at Whiskey Bar has (as usual) a must read post based on a conversation he had with history professor and blogger Juan Cole of Informed Comment.
Cole's hunch, as put forth by Bill, is that Zarqawi is something of a red herring. Instead, the insurgency is mostly a Ba'athist revival, which means that the U.S. is essentially still fighting the war with Saddam Hussein's loyalists and infrastructure even though the Head Honcho is in the dock awaiting his unfree fate.

What this means is that the Pentagon's 'fly paper' strategy of drawing al-Qaeda terrorists to Iraq to fight them there instead of here in the U.S. is completely bogus, in addition to being utterly stupid on every level. Misled to believe they're fighting al-Qaeda, U.S. soldiers are actually at war with an underground network of Ba'athists, who are happily supplied with arms and equipment by neighboring countries Syria and Iran.

Go read Bill's analysis. It's a sobering assessment, and frankly a damning indictment of the Pentagon's complete ineptitude and campaign of disinformation.

As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, the people must be manipulated through lies and deception. And the bigger the lie, the more apt they are to believe it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

THE AGE OF UNREASON

The Cheney Administration either has a collective pathological deficit of brain functions, or, like the reaction against reason and rationalism in early modern Germany, we are bearing witness to a fundamental shift to unbridled emotionalism. Sturm und Drang, the Germans called it. For Germany, it was a fateful turn of culture and society, eventually taking them right to Auschwitz and their long death march to historical infamy.

It's now a matter of public record that this administration openly advocates and uses Soviet-style torture. Evidently, they weren't listening when Senator Biden openly derided General Gonzales (now Attorney General) for signing off on torture. We don't torture prisoners and other captives so that when our men and women in uniform are captured by our enemies, they will less likely be tortured. It's not a guarantee, but the once agreed-upon strategy does have a reliable historical record of showing it works most of the time. Moreover, time and time again it has been demonstrated that torture does not get reliable information.

Now, however, all bets are off. And through the vengeful short-sighted policies of our now unpopular government, U.S. military personel, as well as all Americans, stand a pretty good chance of suffering a slow, painful, torturous death if and when captured by terrorists. Cheney and friends have uped the ante in the terror gamble because they have no personal stake in it. And no military experience to back up their irrational policy.

So, now that we know Cheney and his buddies are using torture around the world, we have to ask ourselves: what's the difference between this administration and that of Joseph Stalin?

I guess the Age of Reason and the ideals of the Enlightenment are officially dead. I don't know what lies ahead, but if history is any guide, I'd say we're in for not just dishonor and the shame of government scandal, but more and more violence. Let's set our clocks back, not just one hour, but, say, about 150 years. To a time when men were men, the nation-state was young and carefree, and war was a way of life.

Nostalgia 1. the state of being homesick. 2. a wistful or excessively sentimental sometimes abnormal yearning for a return to some past period or irrecoverable condition. From the Greek nostos + algia, to return home. A term coined in 1688 by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, diagnosing a malaise that affected Swiss mercenaries fighting abroad in the Franco-Prussian war. Also used during the American Civil War, nostalgia was rendered 'shell shock' during the First World War, 'battle fatigue' during World War II, and 'post-traumatic stress disorder' during the Vietnam conflict.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

SEE SAW

Light blogging for the next few days while I settle into my new job as document specialist--basically trying to coordinate dozens of different company procedures from dozens of different people into a single, readable format. Much like trying to teach a band of toothless, drunken paddies how to speak perfect Oxford English.

The good news is I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance.

Tut tut. Cheerio. And all that sort of rot.