Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Readings for 17 December, 2008

The Third Stage of University Education - New York Times: I've said it before and I believe it is true that the nonprofit sector will surprise many as their future preferred employers. I'm also really excite that Obama-Biden want to grow Americorps and Peace Corps - two programs that really get the most bang for the buck. Combine these federally-subsidized service mini-careers with massive public works and the U.S. economy and civil society look promising. Enter Harvard's strategy to create a bridge between retiring executives and the impending leadership vacuum in the nonprofit sector.

I Think I'm Turning Japanese
- NewYork Times: I'm moving back to the U.S. in February and I couldn't choose a better time to start buying dollars - 1USD ~ 90JPY, when I arrived last year 1USD~120JPY. So I've basically made an extra 30% recently. Anyhow.... I return to an American economy that is in tatters and about to really start getting Mad Max-y by the summer of 2009; maybe September. The Fed has dropped interest rates to about 0% which is about what I'm getting here with my savings account in Japan. At least that won't feel too weird.

I'm Sure Walt Whitman Wrote About This - Wired: Or maybe it was Emerson? Although I'm not at all a transcendentalist I sure do like those American Transcendentalists (Yes I'm thinking of Song of Myself). The Earth and the Sun seem to be breathing together. I know, I know: it's kinda flaky-sounding to say "We're all part star" but it's a science fact. We interare.

The Rhythm Is Gonna Getcha - Wired: Oh Gloria Estefan! Here's a great example of using your head and not your gun to do the work necessary to draw a bright line in the minds of your community. The insurgency is being fuelled by fundamentalists? Take a page from the book of Kevin Bacon and encourage the local kids to dance it out. Music holds a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Readings for 16 December, 2008

I'm back. Many thanks to those of you that periodically drop by here and a thousand pardons, again, for not being able to offer more recently.

Secondary Education as Birth Control - Nature: I've mentioned earlier that children are viewed as social security in developing countries and that children are often abducted and forced into military service. Periodically the argument is put forward that education will solve, seemingly, all problems. One trend that seems pretty convincing is that the more educated women become the more likely these women are to delay the birth of their first child. Delaying this first birth is crucial in a number of ways; for one, there is a reduced strain on what are already, typically, strained health care systems. More importantly, there is less poverty when women delay the birth of their first child because these women are able to pursue careers (not necessarily Murphy Brown-type careers) with minimal damage to their society. Your typical first year Sociology or Anthropology student should be able to tell you about that one section of their primer where they learned that, in certain South American cultures at a certain moment in our recent history, teen mothers did not even name their child until the first year because that child was too likely to die before the first year was up. Why was this mortality rate so high? Because the mothers were leaving their children unattended at home while they went to work in factories (making products at everyday low prices, no doubt) so that the mother would not be out in the streets. They cannot afford day care and are likely to be without a social system that can provide for this child if they are one of the masses of people leaving the countryside to the cities where they perceive their lives will be better.

The Human Terrain System Doesn't Work - So Sayeth Nature: I agree with Nature here, but they make no case as to why. I will be posting on this topic in the not-too-distant future.

Let Me Use My Mind Enhancing Drugs, Man!
- Nature: My ass twitches, just so, whenever I read a manifesto like this one from academics. It's unfair, I know, since I am an academic; but what can I say? These guys begin with a great statement and then miss the boat completely. One of the ways that you know to raise your hackles is when social scientists reference Francis Fukuyama, ADHD research, and make strong statements calling for policy change by using BOLD fonts. The argument begins by discussing a phenomenon they think they understand is occuring on college campuses: they hear that students are using methylphenidate and other amphetamines to enhance their performance in classes. "Good for them," seems to be the authors' argument, "because they are adult enough to realize they can maximize their abilities with these drugs." But, they don't really know that. They don't have evidence that this is what is meant when the students tell them they do this (as someone who recently graduated from college where plenty of kids with money were buying Ritalin and Adderal, I have my doubts about the authors' appreciation of their students' lived experience). They also don't know what the actual mechanism at work is here. ADHD research is the most widely published topic in psychology in the world and they don't know what the disease is. Period. They don't know how these drugs work, they don't know how to measure the effectiveness of the treatments, and they don't know how to collaborate (thus the field continues to churn out garbage where people publish minor modifications to existing work and state that they've developed a new method or scale). So, they call for evidence-based assessments of what might be the benefits of allowing people who don't get prescribed methylphenidate, etc. and what might be the long term problems associated with this usage. I agree that drug laws should be changed, but I disagree with the authors here. Where do they really miss the boat? They don't even address the nature and meaning of being educated. It is assumed that education means "this," and then they proceed to talk about education being enhanced by people feeling more organized or focused. I wouldn't disagree that focus and organization are the lynchpins in successful academic endeavors but I would not also consider you well-educated if all you were really skilled in was organizing and staying on task. But maybe that's beyond the scope of their argument.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deleuze & Confucius?!

Below is a short sample from the third revision of a paper originally published in Interplay: Selected Proceedings from the 4th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference. Aflague, Jones, Swanson; eds. Marietta: Luxor Media. 2006.

This is where I've been for the past two weeks; I've been preparing this for my writing sample to be considered by Emory's Philosophy department. It's also how I arrived at the name of this blog. Don't worry: it's only a very short sample.

Kudzu Kongzi: A Rhizomatic Zhongyong中庸
Paul Boshears[1]

Does not the East…offer something like a rhizomatic model opposed in every respect to the tree?[2]

The way of heaven and earth can be captured in one phrase: Since events are never duplicated, their production is unfathomable.[3]

If we accept Foucault's position that Anti-Oedipus is primarily an introductory text to non-fascist living, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus should then be first thought of as an educational text. In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world by reconceptualizing desire as meaning production, Anti-Oedipus was thought by its authors as creating an “air sain,” a healthy region that would overcome the tyranny of psychoanalysis. There were unexpected results: some took the text as advocating experimentation in all manners, including drug abuse, thus leading to self-destruction and the opposite of health. Deleuze and Guattari always felt a sense of responsibility for those that took this path.[4] Their schizoanalysis engendered novelty generation, a mode of self-creation that would overcome the tyranny of structuralism by emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything such that no structural boundary can resist constant ebb and flow through its borders; Anti-Oedipus sought to show this as the nature of things. Their emphasis and trust in the co-creative nature of humanity and faith that promoting this will ensure a flourishing human community is shared by the Classical Confucian text, Zhongyong中庸.

To suggest that Confucianism could be understood in any way other than as institutionalized apology and bureaucratic oppression will likely strike the reader as not only odd, but that Confucianism and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari share mutual worldviews is perhaps perverse. In no small part this is due to a fundamental misreading of the texts by the first translators of the Chinese traditions. Primarily these were completed by Christian missionaries who simply had a bias towards teleology and an ontology of fixed identity that had not been the worldview of the Chinese philosophical tradition.[5] With the philosophical translation of Roger Ames and David Hall the reader and text benefit from a radically different Confucius (and China), this is largely due to the translators use of Whitehead’s process theory and their use of the language of both John Dewey and William James.[6] The central concern of Confucianism, then, is not about establishing an unbroken chain of authority but an exploration of how one becomes authoritatively human. Virtuosity is determined in how well one can perform their humanity, a creative process of synthesizing what has come before and harmonizing its contents with the changing world in which we find ourselves.

The elevation of the human being to co-creative status is one of the truly distinctive features of the Zhongyong[7] and it is here that we see the most obvious harmonizing with Deleuze and Guattari's works. The central message of the Zhongyong is to promote an understanding that tian (天), the predominant natural, social, and cultural circumstances shape (ming 命) both the initial human tendencies (xing 性) and overall human development (dao 道); the text then suggests that education (jiao 教) is crucial in the process of self-creation.[8] The primary gift of education is personalization and this transactional process is a creative act as it is, “the realization of the focal self and the field of events – the realization of both the particular and context.”[9] We are told that developing our ability to harmonize the particular with the context is “the great root of the world.”[10] It seems fair to say that the plant growing from the nourishing soils of Deleuze, Guattari, and the Zhongyong will not be arboreal and tree-like, but rhizomatic like kudzu.[11] In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world we may consider how one might live and this is certainly a matter of pedagogy, of teaching creativity.

[1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 13th National Asian Studies Development Program, Seattle, WA, February, 2007; and has benefited greatly from comments it received there. I thank David Farrell Krell for his comments.
[2] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Brian Massumi, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2003. 18. Hereon ATP.
[3] Ames, Roger T. and David L. Hall. Focusing the Familiar: A Philosophical Translation of the Zhongyong 中庸. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press. Verse 26. Page 107. Hereon FF.
[4] Stivale, Charles J. Gilles Deleuze’s ABC Primer with Claire Parnet. “D as in Desire.” Found at
[5] On the importance of translation to philosophy see Charles Bernstein’s comments in his “Breaking the Translation Curtain: The Homophonic Sublime,” stating, “philosophy in translation suffers perhaps more greatly than poetry if only because its readers are often less conscious of the semiotic cost of translation…and even less willing to cede significance to what is unrecoverable.” Found in Toward a Foreign Likeness Bent: Translation. Jerrold Shirma, ed. Sausalito, CA: Duration Press. 2004.
[6] See their Thinking Through Confucius Albany: SUNY Press. 1987; as well as The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China. Peru, IL: Open Court Publishing. 1999.
[7] FF, 30
[8] Ibid. 26
[9] Ibid. 32
[10] Ibid. 89
[11] Based on comments from readers outside the southern United States I should clarify both kudzu as a plant and kudzu as a social phenomenon. Kudzu was imported into the southern U.S. to combat rapid soil erosion, the result of the wide-spread deforestation that accompanied the industrialization of the south after the Civil War. Kudzu was seen as drought-resistant and a panacea for farmers. Ask anyone who tends a garden in the southern U.S., however, and you are likely to hear one of many stories of the bale that this plant has become. The plant is now listed by the U.S. Congress as a Federal Noxious Weed and anyone with familiarity will tell you that this once ornamental plant is measured in miles per hour rather than inches per year. I choose the image less for its noxiousness and rather to stress its success in propagating itself through a decentralized physiognomy.

A Thousand Pardons (or, On Getting Into Emory)

I've not been writing here lately, but I can share a little about why:

I am writing. I am writing my admissions materials for a PhD program. Over the past few days I've been revisiting a paper I presented in Seattle last year and I am writing my Statement of Purpose.

I am applying to Emory's Philosophy Department and I'm really sweating it! Emory has an awesome program that is very strong in both Continental and American pragmatic philosophies. I'm particularly interested in working with Cynthia Willett and John Stuhr.

Stuhr is the new department chair, coming from Vanderbilt (a great school featuring David Wood). Were I accepted I'd be all over hearing Stuhr discuss John Dewey's philosophy of experience as critique.

Cynthia Willet is the former department chair at Emory and her work is right up my alley. I recommend you buy her new book Irony in the Age of Empire; you can read a good bit of it here for free. That's right, a philosophical text discussing the implications of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

As insipid or trite as this might sound, I'm actually really excited to be among all their faculty. I think that they're doing really interesting work and I feel that I would develop very well in that community. I think their focus on social and political thought from both the Classical American tradition and the Continental tradition would really foster my development and guide me toward civic engagement and Public Philosophy.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The 100th Post!

I wish it were otherwise, but the 100th post here will be an apology for radio silence: I just had two wisdom teeth pulled and this week we're hosting a conference on the state of ADHD research in Japan (this Friday in Onna) so I'm just not really able to write much right now.

Actually, it is Thanksgiving week so I will thank you for reading, and for the feedback I've received. I am wishing you all a happy holiday and I hope the best will come to you and yours.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reading About Terrorists

So here are some good-reading articles in the popular press about life as a terrorist.

I think that Nir Rosen's recent article in Rolling Stone is a good read, albeit not particularly informative of why people are terrorists, per se. What his article does do well, and I think this should perhaps be more broadly the approach used, is to point out that "terrorist" is a poor description of who we are fighting around the world.

Probably the best reading I've done on the matter recently, and a read that ties the above article with my next article, is Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown. While many will say that above all Rushdie's is a novel, I must point out that the power of the novel is it's truth-telling. Shalimar the Clown, even if read as only an exploration of how people would live in response to their times, did a great deal for me to begin to understand the nature of the lives of those that call the Silk Road region their home.

The novel does a great service because it illustrates very well an uncomfortable truth about te future of America: Americans have watches, but we have no sense of time (which I am lifting directly from the Rolling Stone article). This is a conflict that simply knows no bounds, Shalimar the Clown is also without boundaries. The book doesn't even resolve one of its central tensions: the resolution of a blood feud. I think that there is a profundity in this that Americans are not going to want to hear but it's a truth that we will have to become more intimate with: peace is not the absence of violence. Wars cannot be won.

Dan Murphy's three-part series (in the Christian Science Monitor) on the bombing of a Balinese night club and the rise of violent Islamist extremists in Indonesia is another excellent resource in trying to uncover the not-so uncanny humanity of "terrorists." We learn in part one about the role of marriage to bring social cohesion and as a vector for the transmission of violent extremism in areas of the world where the authority of a state looks pretty much like the stability of war lords. Marriages in many parts of the world are primarily social buffers, a marriage can ameliorate tensions between competing groups by bringing the two groups together.

Marriages also, of course, improve the social security of those involved: marriages facilitate the production of children that can increase the group's overall productivity (by working the land, or manning the family's shop, say), it also means that two people (husband and wife) can put their hands to managing the needs of the house; of course, there are numerous other significant benefits of marriages.

Marriages can also amplify the meaning of the social context of those involved. A marriage is a social construct, how one performs one's role in a marriage very much matters: in the U.S. beating a spouse is not tolerated, both genders are free to (theoretically) do any kind of work. The roles of those involved in marriages matter. In societies where subsistence farming is the primary means of life support, children are necessary to ensure survival because they introduce more hands to gather food. Children, especially boys, can be used as soldiers, as Amnesty International has been telling us (I bring up Congo here because of the on-going deterioration and overall catastrophe there). The young boys are either press ganged (as in the Sudan, read What Is the What) or see no other option available to them.

When you're married to a man that dies in the conflict and your sons have been sacrificed to the struggle, what do you do next? In Iraq the demographics of the suicide bombers are starting to spell it out: women are becoming the next wave of suicide bombers. This seems to reinforce the earlier research suggesting that what primarily drives people to become involved in terrorist networks is not so much political motivations as such, rather the lack of meaning outside of these affinity groups. When the State no longer can provide the order, when the social fabric has become of too little value to those sown into it - why not take an active role in a grand narrative of adventure and righteousness, of purpose-"fullness."

We are seeing this same pattern in the Horn of Africa today. In the wake of a disintegrated Somalia and constant warfare between Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and what was Zaire (now Congo), what happened? Nations bordering the Indian Ocean began sending their fishing boats into the fertile areas around the Horn and plundered the Somali's livelihood. In response, during the 90's Somali fishermen began to patrol their coast acting as vigilantes, extracting "taxes" on these foreigners. It was a small step for them to then steal, say, super tankers and 30,000 tons of wheat. Africa and Central Asia are going to continue to be living hells for millions, I predict that Africa will become a key site for exporting instability across the globe, thanks to growing contact between Central Asia and China.

The European Community should be primarily concerned were this to happen, particularly France, because of that nation's tacit involvement in the "African World War" including the genocide in Rwanda, and the destabilizing effect their late-involvement (or mismanagement of affairs) in the region has produced.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Phil Gramm Says He Didn't Do It

"It won't me," as we sometimes say in the South.

We Can't Win in Iraq - Here's Why

Armstrong's If They Don't Know You Won, Did You? was the one that made me see it: why public diplomacy matters, because this may be the only way to understand peace.

And here's where I had my "aha!" moment, reading AngryBear's Iraq Is Won?

In the latter link I read that the war in Iraq is pretty much over now, and we won!

But, why doesn't this feel like we won?

It doesn't feel like the U.S. won anything not only because there's been no "reliable source" to announce the victory - even when Bush donned his jumpsuit and got the big ol' billboard to saying we'd completed our mission: this war pointed out something that America has been avoiding for at least 40 years, wars are unwinnable.

"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake," it was stated years before me by a fellow Georgian (well, she had property in Watkinsville), the first woman to serve in Congress, Jeannette Rankin. The situation in Iraq only amplifies this message.

At best what can be done now is to promote a revisionist history of the war in Iraq: state that there were two wars, we won the first one (and so Bush didn't lie about victory) and in the immediate aftermath of American victory a civil war broke out in Iraq. This civil war is what has been claiming the lives of our soldiers and thousands and thousands and thousands of innocent Iraqis.

With the massive promotion of this new history, a stage can be set where America can claim a victory. But it will likely require some other massively traumatic event to occur first. Why? Because wars are won in the popular imagination when their is agreement between belligerents. Petraeus walks into an office, the leader of the oppositional forces shakes his hand, they sign a treaty announcing that the war is over and everyone starts popping corks.

But that's not what we're fighting is it? Victory implies in the popular imagination that bullets stop flying, that families are reunited, that stability returns in the form of picking up where the belligerents left off.

But the war America is fighting isn't a war for territory, it's not even for oil (apparently). America's been fighting a war against the global poor and has been losing since at least the fall of the former colonial powers in the 1940s. America's "War on Terror" could be successful if it were to inject capital into these battle sites through infrastructure and bread trucks instead of injecting capital through ballistics. The areas where terrorism flourish are those where the least amount of justice have been present.

The more I think about it, the more and more I wish I wasn't making these things publicly viewable - but I will keep publishing because I'm hoping someone helps me think this stuff through.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Diplomacy Video from Japan

I got this from Matt Armstrong's excellent Public Diplomacy blog, MountainRunner. This video is excellent for making intuitive complex phenomena.

Small World

I'm trolling the internet trying to find demographic information for Okinawa's prison population for an upcoming United Nations University presentation and I came across this article:

Former Marine who sparked Okinawa furor is dead in suspected murder-suicide (Stars and Stripes)

If you read the article you learn that:
  1. The United States had to agree to give back the land of Okinawa to Japan at an accelerated rate in order to reduce the diplomatic strains caused by the gang rape of a 12 year-old girl committed by several U.S. Marines stationed here - and,
  2. That one of the guys who committed this heinous crime (and played no small role in shaping the international security policy of the worlds largest military power) killed himself after he raped and murdered a woman who went my university and lived right down the street from me.
How about that?

Yet another reason for me to really commit to doing my best while living here in Okinawa; of course I can in no way reduce the heaviness of these events, I can actively seek to reduce the burdens of those around me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Video Games... 2 of 2

I will refer the reader/player to Rohrer's statement about Passage.

So there's a debate, now about the meaning of video games. Ian Bogost draws heavily from Marshall McLuhan and (months before Ledonne) states:
When we acknowledge videogames as a medium, the notion of a monolithic games industry, which creates a few kinds of games for a few kinds of players, stops making any sense. As does the idea of a demographic category called “gamers” who are the ones who play these games. The point is not whether games qualify as art or not. Nor whether games are useful tools or not. Rather, the point is that there are lots of other things people can and do accomplish with videogames.
Rohrer responds a bit more passionately (and unfortunately to the detriment of his argument I would say) in his mock conversation between Roger Ebert, himself, and Clive Barker. Overall the argument is a little plodding, but it's going in the right direction.
But if the player of the game is rightfully the co-artist, and a given gameplay experience... is the work, then couldn't that particular gameplay instance be a work of high art in itself? If we continue down this track, we might conclude that the games themselves are not art, but instead tools that have the potential of producing art experiences for their users.
Rohrer is pointing out that there is a process inherant to the creation of art, and that the "artist" is distinguished from other agents by her participation in the events unfoling. Here's where the conversation becomes more interesting, to my mind, and shows what Bogost has failed to discuss in his "End of Gamers" argument. And unfortunatley for Bogost the connection is right there in his argument.

In his argument he calls for abandoning the idea of the "gamer" as a class of people for whom video games are made because games are used for entertainment. He points out a game that is a recreation of historical events in Australia and then I had my "a ha," moment: what's so enjoyable about recreation?

Is there a common thread that ties Doom 3 players, Katamari Damacy players, Braid players, and Civil War reenactors?

What does it mean to re-create in the context of video game play? If Nietzsche is right about the will to return, do we evaluate a video game that has limited replay ability in the same way that we evaluate a game that is infinitely different with each play?

I'd like to read more phenomenology of video games....

But Rohrer spends too much time trying to make an argument that sounds like, "movies have come to be seen as art and video games are like movies, so it must be art." Maybe it's because he's "speaking" with Roger Ebert; but even if he were able to make the argument stick he does a disservice to his medium by trying to make the medium look like another medium. No one who is half serious would try to argue that paintings are like photographs and so they should be judged with the same criteria. Video games are not like cinema, at least not "good" video games and "good" movies. They are constitutionally similar butI would argue that they are not tethered to the same problems.

The problem of cinema, as Peter Greenway has pointed out, is that it continues to be tethered to the written word. Movies must make sense in the same way that written narratives or they are simply no good. People just assume that first the movie has a script and then the movie is made. But are video games similarly limited?

Rohrer just misses the boat on this point when he says:
...[Y]ou must acknowledge that some form of audience collaboration is necessary for an art experience.... Some films ... demand quite a bit of participation, leaving the audience hanging at the end with unanswered questions....Couldn't we say that the very best art films are the ones that rely on the most heavy lifting from the audience? .... However, if we push too far in that direction, can't we cross the line? I mean, if we start pulling audience members up on stage with the actors, we end up with a real mess.
Rohrer is of course forgetting that Pirandello did exactly that with his Six Characters in Search of an Author. Granted, it was not well-received at first, but 70 years later people continue to reproduce (rip-off) this work and it's still considered fresh.

The assumption that living itself is not an aesthetic act is what makes this debate about video games so difficult to listen to and why it always sounds so tinny. From Ames and Hall's Zhongyong:
Creativity involves both the realization of the focal self and of the field of events, the realization of both particular and context. Self-actualization is a focal process that draws upon an aggregate field of human experience....Human realization is achieved not by whole-hearted participation in communal life forms but by life in community that forms one whole-heartedly. (32-33)
If we think about a community of video game players we begin to see something more telling about the very conservative nature of video games because video game players are so conservative. I think that Rohrer is right, people don't want to be given total freedom in a video game, that's why Mario Paint never sold well; perhaps also why Nintendo's new Wii Music game is doing to poorly. Video game players mostly want their recreation time to be mostly masturbatory recreations of the ordered lives they live when not playing video games.

The perfect image of this masturbatory nature of most video games comes from, surpise to none I'm sure, The Sims. I had someone very close to me create a game where the house was set up exactly like their own house with the same number of parents and children in the house with the same personality types. Surprise! In their game their sim sat in the house and played video games while the rest of the people went about their lives. Recreational recreation.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Video Games.... 1 of 2

"The larger question for each of us to answer when we ask ourselves how to evaluate art--whether in games or cinema or literature--is what we expect it to accomplish." Danny Ledonne

I'm pulling this quote from Henry Jenkins' three-part interview of Ledonne, the creator of Super Columbine Massacre RPG! I started thinking about video games this morning because of this little history of the Sega Genesis video game platform at Ars Technica.

I was staring at the pixelated goodness and was caught in a little nostalgia-hole. This sense of nostalgia, perhaps, that Phil Fish is referring to in his interview at Arthouse Games.

The question that Ledonne puts forward was answered for me several years ago when I simply stopped playing videogames. In part this cessation was the result of playing Star Wars Pod Racer against a child (all of 10 years) in a Blockbuster and feeling like the technology had simply lapped me. At the time I believed in the infallibility of video games to distinguish generations: I held, very dearly, the moment that I beat my father at video games.

It was, for me as a child, a moment for me to begin to assert that I was someone more than just the child that must do as he is told. This sense of rebelliousness (so totally useless in all fact) was perhaps also fuelled by the marketing that has come to dominate American life. As a child we learn, through the television, what is expected of us, we learn broadly what the range of responses to social cues can be - some are funny, some are sad; all can be amplified with a Sony Walkman and a 2-liter of Coca-Cola. But I've digressed... or is this the uncanny mechanism of nostalgia?

I believed in video games. The logic of the side-scrolling world was a given. In fact, I'd argue that much of my worldview was shaped by the video games I played. In a side-scrolling action game like Goonies you don't even need the instruction book: you are supposed to go from here to there and while doing that you must learn patterns of how events unfold. If you pick up an object on the way it's likely to be of use later in the game. This was a profound lesson for me because it emphasized that seemingly mundane items, like a slingshot, or a red passkey, are equally as likely to effect the outcome of my life as anything else I'd learned to that point. And, really, that logic has yet to fail me; it's what draws me most closely to the Confucian classic Zhongyong, whose message is so similar, "When making an axe handle, the model is never very far away." Take that, Heidegger!

But, what do we expect from video games? When I was about 22 I failed most of my classes in college for two reasons, I've joked: Sid Meier's Civilization II and Tenchu 2. I simply couldn't stop playing these games; they were far more interesting and rewarding than my Music Appreciation class, say. I found them fascinating because in them I saw so many assumptions about how people are, how events unfold in time, the rewards of making some decisions and not others. At the time my head was swirling around exotic ideas metaphysical ideas: a steady diet of Marx, Qabbalism, Sufism, Alan Watts, Robert Anton Wilson, Tim Leary, Carl Jung, and Josephy Campbell - they all seemed to be conspiring and each moment seemed so rich with significance and synchronicity that playing video games suddenly stopped being fascinating and became depressing.

I'd come to expect more from video games. That this was just at the dawn of the explosion of the internet perhaps explain why I didn't continue buying video games - I'm far too social. I loved CivII and Tenchu 2, but they were games that could only be played alone. My gaming experiences were thus taking turns playing Tony Hawk at my friend's apartment while hanging out or playing Final Fantasy X alone. In no way could video games compete with what was happening to me at school, though. Suddenly finding patterns and persevering made a difference in unexpected ways: I might not have to work in retail and food service for another 6 years, say. No amount of saving princesses or gold coins could buy me that. True, I started to hear rumors about some friends that were able to make real money doing things in Everquest - but I also saw plenty of real relationships lost to Evercrack.

I'd come to expect more from my life than what video games could offer, so I quit playing video games. Besides, to be a game enthusiast meant having to save lots of money (which I was terrible at) because the platforms and games were so damn expensive; I could barely keep me and the dog fed, let alone drop $500 on a game system, much less a game. Video games couldn't give me anymore insight into how to live my life; nor would playing video games help me know what to do after college. Video games had this terrible tendency of showing the player that things weren't as they seemed, but then cynically expecting the player to get a dumb job that paid them enough to continue to buy and play video games. Too much of a rat's treadmill for me.

But then, I played Katamari Damacy at a friend's house and I knew that someone else had been having much more interesting and productive conversations about just this problem.

Then today I played Passage. The game is free and lasts only 5 minutes, so please, play this game right now, then come back and read more here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How To Save America? National Service

On the morning of September 13, 2001 I read several newspapers and was struck by two things:
  1. the world was saying that they were with us ("Nous sommes toutes Americains," as the usually very critical Le Monde stated)
  2. I had spent most of the night before with my friends identifying caravans heading to New York City and discussing how we were going to organize with our fellow students a civic response.
Of course America largely squandered both of these responses and did so rapidly and repeatedly.

I voted for the Obama campaign because I agreed with their policy proposals on national service.
Not because I think that America will now become a Deep Blue paradise.

As an Americorps*VISTA alum I have seen first hand the transformative potential of service of this kind in the U.S. and I would suggest that there is a significant pool of talented, well-trained, and civically-minded people between 18 and 35 that are available and anxious to be engaged in their communities. America is ready for more civic engagement, I think this is true for the college-aged as well as for those of retirement age (just look at the RSVP program also under the Americorps umbrella).

Actually, when I reported to my orientation for my year of service I was most surprised by the median age of those hundreds of fellow volutneers. I went in expecting 19 year olds and I was surprised to see so many people in their 50's and older. I was also struck by the similarities of economic status at my orientation. Where I would have expected primarily trustafarians and rich kids I was hearing stories of mothers being recruited by the nonprofit organizations that provided the community low-income housing or subsidized childcare in their poor neighborhoods.

Their stories were not so different from mine: I had been working full-time and going to school for 13 years, off and on, and had next-to-no savings and no health insurance when I broke my arm and couldn't wait tables anymore. I was finally going to graduate from college in two months and I was tired of working food service and retail jobs that could care less about my social science education. That's when I saw an ad that paid little, but was involved in the community and offered a health benefit and very much wanted someone with my skill set. It turned out I'd be working in the Americorps*VISTA program.

I do think that there is a large number of people that will be willing to serve in the next five years, voluntarily. I predict that historians will view this volunteerism as simply an economic response to the deterioration of the American economy - like the WPA during the New Deal. But I think that these will be unduly cynical historians. It's true that public works are going to be necessary to shore up the American economy over the next six or eight years, but that's a coincidence.

Americans are looking for a way to reconnect to one another after decades of civic decay at the hands of people that say from one side of their mouth that: they are promoting freedom while they torture, stand for the rule of law and strip prisoners of basic rights, dispensed with the transparency and regulation essential to modern capital markets and claim to still be the beacon of free enterprise. That course has left us all feeling more alone.

Look here for the opportunity to serve, at the Office of the President-Elect; and here at the home page for Americorps.

Other Big Events

These are historical times, to be sure. What is not getting much talk, I'm fairly certain, among many in the U.S. are the following court cases:

Google settled with publishers (like McGraw-Hill and Pearson Scientific, text book makers, and we know THAT'S a racket) that claimed their copyrights were being violated by Google for scanning and making available sections of their books. As part of the agreement Google must help to establish a program that would seek-out copyright holders and ask them if they would be willing to have their "orphaned" works available online. I suspect this organization won't have teeth and pretty impotent, actually.

The Internet can rejoice because the FCC has unanimously ruled in favor of allowing the white spaces in the tv spectrum be used for high speed internet activity. Ars Technica and Computer World both have great discussions of why this is a landmark case for America. In short: this is on the same level as breaking "Ma Bell."

And, of course, those goons at the Motion Picture Association of America have begun lobbying our new President. The U.S. is going to have a new "Copryright Czar" I guess because all the other czars we've had were so great at what they did. We're still fighting that War on Drugs, right?

More On China's Economic Downshift

I posted last night some links to articles discussing how the Even-Greater-Depression that seems imminent is effecting China, here's a link to Naked Capitalism where an article by Nouriel Roubini is discussed.

From the discussion comes a link to an article discussing the Hukuo System (a system used to restrict the movement of the population, hopefully to avoid massive amounts of rural poor relocating to the cities where they will become the urban destitute).

Now That Obama's President, What Next?

Here are some responses in the media to Obama's first day in office.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama will likely be appointing Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, they state Emanuel would be the "bad cop" to Obama's "good cop." The WSJ article makes it sound as though Obama's cabinet will be filled by a crowd of mutual fund overseers and associates from Harvard Law School.

The New York Times today offers more options that Obama might persue. Some interesting speculation about who might take the leadership of the State Department, and also stresses, at the end of the article, that Obama is not trying to undermine Bush. Hmm...

More expansively, the overseas press discusses what the Obama presidency might mean for the world community. The Guardian, towards the end, points out the need to reform the WTO and IMF and asks an interesting question:
"...the IMF has an image problem as a creature of the US. The voting structure gives the US, which has a 17% share, a veto over decisions that require an 85% super-majority. Meanwhile, even large emerging economies such as China and India have small shares of 3.5% and 2% respectively."
I'm very much interested to know where this presidency is going to go with China.

The Mainichi Daily News reports some of the concerns of those running Japan now that Obama is President-elect, again, stressing the concerns about how the region is going to respond to North Korea and China. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that they will proactively state to the U.S. "what they want and what it can do."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm So Relieved Obama Is Our President

My office window faces East, toward the U.S. and is near the ocean. This afternoon I sat in my office and watched the BBC's live feed of Obama's speech. There was one of those crazy-huge helicopters flying by on the horizon and enormous clouds, indicating there would be a change of weather soon.

I teared up, I admit it. I was so nervous the whole time he spoke on that big stage, I kept thinking, "Oh my God, please, someone get on that stage and protect him," and he kept on talking without fear and only in the affirmative. He kept putting out the message that he's not the change, we, the people of this world, are the agents of change.

And I teared-up because I knew he was right, and that enough people in America had finally decided to shake-off their apathy and participate. Then he spoke about what Americans today would think in a hundred years and I teared-up a little because I haven't heard an elected official talk about the future in a positive sense for so long.

The Obama-Biden campaign has pledged to increase voluntary national service and to beef-up both the Americorps and the PeaceCorps as well as begin to develop other public diplomacy organs - I feel like these are really necessary and if coupled with large-scale infrastructure projects and a reduction of military occupations will spell the beginning of a good period for America.

Please support programs like Americorps and the Peace Corps, these programs have amazing transformative potential for both those that volunteer as well as their communities they serve. Some of the best research that needs to be conducted in the U.S. is in the nonprofit sector and these two programs are shining examples of how it goes right.

Here's a great article from last year in the Atlantic that I think pretty-well nails why Obama's candidacy is important and I suspect ushers in the Post-Boomer politics. It's a great read.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Readings for November 4, 2008

Anti-intellectualism in the U.S. - ahh, like coffee in the morning - it's familiar and it's feels like it's never going to go away. I didn't really go to college until I was about 23, between 18 and 23 I worked at Starbucks (and kept working through college), and I remember one of my regular customers looking at me cock-eyed when I told him I was going to college soon. He said, "Why? Those who can't, teach." Well, hopefully this report shows what I learned when I went to college: that any ol' schmoe can get a degree and not learn a single thing, let alone be indoctrinated.
The Air Force has put out a call for solutions to their internet problems.
The People's Bank of China has announced that there will be a sharp decline in housing prices not unlike what has been experienced in the U.S. They have also announced that there will likely be liquidity strains and that their economy is going to slow in a much more significant way than they've let on so far.
China has passed new labor laws and regulations that seem to have resulted in raising the cost of manufacturing in China, up about 30%. Yeah, how do you like them apples, Wal-Mart?
I'm not sure what happened to bring this change about. I know that about a week ago some folks from one of the bases crashed their plane in a field near the biggest city in the northern part of the island, but I don't know if it's related to the Marines not being allowed to talk to children without written permission from the principals of the local schools. They're not even allowed to go to the local playgrounds. The last time there was a major incident, soldiers and family weren't allowed off base, which meant that my wife and I got mean looks from a lot of folks because if you're white and in Okinawa, you're probably in the military. Hopefully it doesn't come to this.
Here's a nice Q&A explaining a little bit about the role that teacher unions have played in stirring the stew in Japanese politics.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Radio Silence Explained

There have been few postings lately because of a hectic running schedule as well as the OIST Junior Researcher Retreat.

The weekend before last we ran the 10k at Kumejima, which has to be one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Okinawa.

This weekend (Sunday) we ran the shou ha shi half marathon (尚巴志ハフマラソン) in Nanjo, and I cannot recommend that run enough!

The course is gorgeous and just difficult enough. The first 5 kilometers are pretty flat, but then there is about a kilometer that is simply straight up into the air! Seriously, it's gotta be a 40 degree incline - just nuts! But, when you get up there it's gorgeous: amazing tropical ocean and sugarcane and the hills of Okinawa, breathtaking, really. There was a monstrous rain storm that unleashed on us once we got up to the top of the hill and thank goodness it did, otherwise I might have been too overheated to finish the race (which was how I felt in Kumejima where the race began at 30 degrees celsius (about 86 F) and got hotter with no clouds and bright sun).

After running through the top of that monstrous hill the next couple of kilometers are gorgeous and downhill in Chinen 知念(where I want to retire). My finishing time was nothing to write home about, but I am very proud that Karen and I finished a run that both of us were thinking we couldn't.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Voted (Absentee) and You Should Too

I voted this week, absentee ballot, for Obama because I served in the Americorps*VISTA program last year in my hometown of Atlanta and I realized that there are tremendous resources for making the world a better place already established, but most people won't give their time (which is money) to these amazing programs. Lyndon Johnson established the VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program as a domestic version of the PeaceCorps. The mission of VISTA is to eradicate poverty. The VISTA program is all about capacity-building: helping link nonprofits and government and community leaders so that the collective abilities and collective resources can overcome the challenges they face as individual entities. Isn't that why we even have a government, because infrastructure cannot happen without an entity the size of a government? Isn't that what community is about, coming together and adding our talents to make life a more rewarding experience? The Obama campaign has been the most effective in pointing that out and I suspect that this is probably an artifact from his work in Chicago.

The reason why Obama is going to win on the 4th is because he welcomed everyone to support him and he pointed out the truth: the more people invest themselves into this campaign, the more successful it will be. He has better policies than McCain and his campaign has done more to involve the marginalized in society than any other in my lifetime.

Standing back and poo-pooing the American electoral system and not offering any constructive community-building just doesn't change the world, I'm sorry. The past eight years have shown me that there is a wide disparity between those I've worked with in the anti-globalization/peace movement/social justice-type movements and those that are actually working with the local community leaders, nonprofits, and the State. And I'm really happy to say that working with the government entities and with local nonprofits and actually sitting down and working-out strategies for developing the world I want to see has been infinitely more rewarding than any of the marches where I was yelling with a bunch of other marchers, much more effective than helping set-up the Food Not Bombs fundraiser, and so on. Most of my friends from those more DIY-Social Justice movements simply don't see that getting into a group with a bunch of other yellers and then accosting neighbors is not capacity-building, it's yelling.

The VISTA program requires that you volunteer for one year, paid at the poverty level (yes you can get Food Stamps and all the other benefits that the poor have available to them), and that's what kept most of my peers from choosing to do this amazing and transformative work. It paid too little. That's why I think it's pitiful when I hear McCain and Nader complain about votes being bought. Serving that year with so little money was difficult, it was really hard because all of my adult life to that point I simply took a second job to give me a little fun money (go see a show, buy a cd, get some cigarettes) but in the VISTA program this isn't allowed. So, my income was made really artificially low because I couldn't even have a hustle. But once I got into my work and started understanding how my community works and listening to the needs of my fellow man, and knowing that we were both suffering the same, I realized that working in the community was priceless and that there are plenty of naysayers in my social life, but they simply won't put their money where their mouths are: they won't commit to one year in the Americorps*VISTA program to transform their community.

That's why I voted for the Obama campaign, because I know that it's really meaningful when you allow as many people as possible to give just a measley amount of time and money to a program. I supported the Obama campaign because I believe that the more people invest themselves into the political process, the better our civic life will be.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone that talks about how there's just one party with two names and being politically involved is useless because there's too much money being funneled into "the system" and so it's all pointless until it's all smashed is a parasite on their community and the real source of the evil in the world today. Yes, it's that banality of evil that Hannah Arendt pointed out. Put your money where your mouth is, give one year service in the VISTA program.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things Convicted Felons Can and Cannot Do

Senator Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican senator, has been convicted of all seven corruption charges.

And, as the AP reports, there is no law barring a convicted felon from running for office and holding said office.

But, did you know that if you're a convicted felon you are barred access to funding from the Small Business Administration loan program? There were several clients that I worked with while serving in the Americorps*VISTA program that had an inordinately-difficult time trying to get assistance in starting a small business because of this felony record.

Why would we, as a nation and with the largest prison population and largest incarceration rate in the world, allow convicted felons to serve as Senators but not give these same people access to capital to start small businesses? This is a particularly odd position since many prisoners in Federal prisons (this is at least true in Georgia) work on infrastructure projects such as building highways - these prisoners have the technical know-how and plenty of work experience to run construction businesses.

Why should Americans allow themselves to be legislated to by people convicted of felony corruption, but not allow for felons to build their sidewalks?

On "Crank Dat Soulja Boy"

I moved to Atlanta in 1996, I was 18 and briefly attended a high school near Northlake Mall in DeKalb. That's when I first saw the dance that would become the "Crank Dat____" insert title here.

The best discussion I've seen so far about the phenomenon is probably here, at HateOnMe

Now these dudes claim they came up with the dance called it "crank dat roosevelt" and did it about 3 or 4 years ago.

I got the clip off an old friend, Jordan Merz, who djs for eastvillageradio's baller's eve, he posted it in 2007. So we can guess that the dance was being done in 2003-04.

But, I'm telling you that dance-style was around when I was 18, like '96.

I just want to put that out there and I'm curious to know if anyone out there can corroborate what I'm claiming here: over 12 years ago kids in Atlanta were dancing like this:

How To Crank Dat Soulja Boy- Instructions - Celebrity bloopers here

Readings for October 27, 2008 + What Is Justice?

I'm back from the Kumejima race. Kumejima is a beautiful place, the people are exceedingly kind and I cannot recommend a visit more. It was crazy-hot, though.

Checking the email last night, this was circulating:

Eight years, really? The world passes and I feel less capable of doing anything to stop this march of cruelty except love more emphatically.

I received my absentee ballot on Sunday, so Karen and I have voted today. And that's what made this so funny for me:

Totally unrelated links, then, are in the offering today:
Toyota and Tokyo University have designed a robot that can complete household chores, they say, because of a predicted labor shortage in the future due to a decline in birthrate and an aging population. I'm reminded of BladeRunner...
Originally referred to this by Threat Level at Wired, but I had to go to the source to make better sense of the story.

I'm kinda torn on this one. A part of me wants to say, "What!? Throw the book at him!" That the judge brought Derrick Williams in for the sentencing makes me feel a little bit better. I'm glad that it's on public record that Ryan Goldstein has gone to jail for both theft and for his child pornography. The first commenter on the article seems to be saying that Derrick Williams should be given a sentence in line with the sentencing guidelines and that Goldstein, having not been charged for possessing child pornography, should not be given a heavier sentence.

If I understand the argument, Goldstein's cooperation with the police was given because he asked for a lighter sentence. This cooperation would lead to seven others being arrested. Thus, Goldstein's possessing child pornography should not factor into any other discussion within the Court. The judge felt that justice could not be served by him that day if he allowed Goldstein to walk away without his child pornography being held against him and also follow the guidelines established by his peers when sentencing Williams. The first commenter seems to think that the judge is simply being Politically Correct and introducing race spuriously into a house of justice. But, and forgive me, I'm thinking while writing, the first commenter is all wrong.

The judge realized a dilemma: the State has a vested interest in getting criminals involved in networked crimes to turn in their partners in crime. As Goldstein's case shows, reducing sentences and throwing out charges works; Goldstein's cooperation helped to get seven more people. If anything I've ever heard about men who are arrested and jailed for child pornography is true, Goldstein must have been very nervous about being at least beaten, probably violently raped, and perhaps killed by his fellow inmates. So Goldstein went into court, probably hoping to escape being imprisoned because of his cooperation.

Of course, I don't know anything about Mr. Williams' case so I am perhaps wildly speculating here, but... The judge, in sentencing Goldstein (who had about the same amount of child pornography as Williams) to a lesser amount of time is tacitly allowing Goldstein to purchase a more lenient sentence; that is, Williams would be serving a longer prison sentence because he had no criminal capital to spend.

I'm not a judge, but I recognize that law is effectively a contract between those that have come before and those that will come in the future. We have received our notions of what is acceptable over generations, we've codified this and have debated for centuries what is to be allowable behavior (and so, legal), and what is not (thus illegal). The legislator and the judge are also pressed to try to create and enforce laws that make sense in light of future events. Laws are, therefore, future events to be contested and are to be contested by virtue of having been written. They are not immutable and to have laws contested is to strengthen the community that enables them, this contestation vitiates all civic life and I suspect is at the heart of what Thomas Jeffereson meant when he said citizens should rise against their constitution and laws once a generation. I bring this up only to say that I understand that the judge in this case is expected to follow the sentencing guidelines established by his community. But to do so in the Williams case would mean that he must also tell future generations of children likely to be molested either by Goldstein or by those who would create the conditions for Goldstein to enjoy this molestation that their molestation was facillitated in the name of a crooked deal.

I suspect that this judge would have to also say that torture is unacceptable. For a judge to allow evidence into court that was collected by torture is to, again, make criminal capital an acceptable currency.

But, ultimately, the judge cannot sentence Goldstein for his child pornography crimes because Goldstein has not been charged for this crime and I think that the judge's response is perhaps brilliant.

What is justice? It's certainly situational, it's infallibility is impossible and because justice is so likely wrong it is more trustworthy - what's the point of trust if it cannot be exercised? So, our judge, Michael Baylson, brings together Ryan Goldstein and Derrick Williams so that they may both become collaborators in this justice project. Just as Goldstein has been sentenced to jail and convicted for his botnet crimes, deploying viral programming code that turn personal computers into zombies that do the bot herder's bidding, so now Goldstein and Williams face each other and learn of each other's fate. It seems that judge Baylson appears to have tried to recruit Goldstein and Williams in court. Why did Baylson introduce the race of both men? I suspect it's to spell it out most clearly: not everyone has equal rights, not everyone has equal ability to have the violence of the State (in the form of prisons) attenuated.

Usually we shrug this off. But when it's your day in court and you are shown another man, just like you, who will face multiple years of potential sexual abuse in prison and perhaps death in those years, and you will only have to face this for ninety days; would that not affect you?

What is justice if it is not this meme? This idea that replicates and metamorphosises incessantly, clogging the efficient disposal of information....hmmm...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Readings for October 24, 2008

Here are two interesting articles from Wired's Threat Level:
This led me to another interesting virtual-life-gone-wrong story:
Totally unrelated, here are two stories from the Japan Times:
  • Japan's Getting Old - Japan's population over 65 has tripled since 1986
  • Japan Gov't Chose To Make Secret Deal with U.S. - In the wake of WWII, under occupation by the Americans, the Japanese government decided it would be best to not inform its citizens that they wouldn't be pursuing crimes committed by GIs unless they were big crimes...
This one, though. Boy. I know that I should get better at discussing the shortcomings of arguments put forward by others. I shouldn't just rant and rave. I do, and I apologize for my screeds. Apparently you can have the Nobel Prize in Economics and be a real jerk, as is the case with Edward Prescott.

After having read that email exchange I became super-anxious and started checking this blog for the many typos that I (unintentionally) leave. Please let me know if you find any.

Well, we're running a race at Kumejima this weekend, wish us luck. We're not going for speed, really; we just like having an exercise regimen. On the 8th we're running a half-marathon in Nanjo, we're told it's the premier event of the Ryukyus....we'll be at the back of the race if you're looking for us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Privatized Cities

I got the heads-up about this from reading AngryBear, and so many thanks to SKG and AB.

I've called Atlanta my home for the longest part of my life and feel fortunate to have been involved in its transformation over the past 12 years.

Here's a video for you to consider:

here's the posting at AngryBear

In reading this I realize that I should probably write a bit more about what poverty looks like in Georgia and what poverty looks like in Atlanta (because the two are very different stories and they're both very interesting stories).

But, it's 10pm in Japan and I'm too tired to do it tonight, so mata ne (later, huh)?

Republican Elitists

Point of order:

O'Reilly states in the New York Times that no one would blink an eye at a candidate that bought suits, which can run into thousands of dollars. I thought I was fancy when I bought two suits for less than $600, I'm such an elitist snob.

Would Mr. O'Reilly politely show me how in the world the party of Joe the Plumbers can claim to also require a wardrobe that costs over $150,000?!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Understanding America's War On Terror & the War in Iraq

First let's begin with something from the Mainichi Daily News that corroborates what Abrahms published: people pursue a life as a terrorist for social reasons, not political reasons. In the above linked article to the Mainichi is reported that the vast majority of suicide bombers in Afghanistan appear to have been physically disabled.

What do you do when you lose a leg to a land mine, or the Coalition Forces bomb your village and you lose half a hand, or you're born with physical disabilities and you live in a nation that can't even provide simple infrastructure like railroads or regular roads, let alone health care services? You probably come to see your life limited to such a degree that the value of living is greater than simply ceasing to exist. Why not become a suicide bomber in a place where the insanity of nearly thirty years (the insurgency began in 1975) of constant combat have reduced any semblance of hope.

But what got me thinking today was what I read by Meacham in this week's Newsweek that suggests that America is a conservative country at heart. This was the quote that got me:
Eight years of Republican rule have produced two seemingly endless wars, an economy in recession, a giant federal intervention in the financial sector and a nearly universal feeling of unease in the country....
I got incensed because it's the failure of the fourth estate (the media) to report KNOWN FACTS that has gotten us to this place in the world. There have not been two wars during Bush. The war in Afghanistan has been covertly and overtly fought by the United States for 30 years. The war in Iraq began during dubya's father's administration in 1989 and has continued through today.

Wha?! I thought we left Iraq and then returned 10 years later... Yes, the American tanks left, but the bombings continued sporadically. And you're missing the point: the sanctions were economic and financial warfare.

I've been reading Unrestricted Warfare, a document that seems to be a lit. review published by the Chinese military discussing warfare in the 20th century (at least so far as I've read, I'm still reading it). What's jumped out at me is their perspective on how the U.S. has been waging war. The purpose of their work is to stress that warfare, as fought by the U.S., is going to continue to be visited on its enemies in a number of creative and deadly ways (because America's still great at innovating).

Sure, there's some kinda odd stuff about George Soros being some sorta financial warrior (I'm trying to be generous and assume they are being hyperbolic with Soros for the sake of making their example more clear to the audience). But their description of economic warfare starts to really make sense when I started thinking about what the War in Iraq looked like to the rest of the world during the 1990s.

We in the U.S. were told the war in Iraq was over and that it had been mostly a success - we "liberated" Kuwait (a country where 90% of its residents are not considered citizens). We were told that there were economic sanctions in Iraq, but the popular understanding of sanctions is pretty sanitized in the U.S. I, for one, have thought sanctions meant no cigars are imported from Cuba to the U.S. and Cubans don't get American tourist dollars - no big deal. But the sanctions imposed on Iraq were a big deal. Perhaps a crime on humanity big deal.

More than twice as many children (just children) died as a result of the economic warfare put to Iraq during the 1990s (Please see my other post for the numbers and links to back it up).

Never mind that the near majority of Iraq's entire population has been under the age of 16 since 1987. That means that since 1989 America has been fighting a country dominated by children for going into 20 years.

If America is interested in reducing the number of people who feel marginalized and in search of a community (those who would become terrorists) - it should begin by stopping its war against children. In Iraq, an estimated 2.5 million children simply stopped going to school - their parents lost 88% of their income. That means not only can these people not read, they also know next to little about the outside world other than what the world has been dropping (bombs, depleted uranium, propaganda, and relief agency provisions) on them for the majority of their lives. Odds are that two generations of Iraqis have been living with simply no hope. What hope can you have in that situation? Look at how miserable so many Americans are when a hurricane messes up their gas supply; now imagine every aspect of your life was that messed up. Let's further assume that the next generation of Iraqi children will be raised by the above-mentioned crushed people.

What kinds of questions do you think they will be asking their teachers? What kinds of answers do you think their parents will have?

Better still: what are our children and our children's children going to tell them? America needs to begin to develop answers to these questions because the search for answers to these questions is going to provide the contours in which the world will be defined for the next several generations, just like the end of the colonial era resulted in the World Wars and the Cold War.

Expanding the definition of warfare to include economic/financial warfare is going to do a lot to equip us in the 21st century as we seek to understand how to minimize the destruction wrought by America's foreign policy.

Demographics from nearly 20 years of war in Iraq

Here's what the American media should have been saying about Iraq before the US began its second invasion:
  • A near majority of the population of Iraq were children under the age of 14 - 45% of the country were kids
  • Half a million children died in Iraq between 1991 and 1998 (that's 1 in 20)
  • Per capita income in Iraq went from $3510 in 1989 to $450 in 1996
  • Between 1990 and 1998, twenty-five percent of the children of Iraq stopped going to school
  • The parents trying to support their children lost nearly 88% of their income. How, as a parent do you raise a family when you lose 88% of your income? We know that the Iraqi government was giving out rations of food to 60% of the country. These rations, by the way, covered less than half the calories we recommend for a person to live.
  • The population of Iraq in 2000 was about 22 million (CIA World Factbook, 2000), that means just over 9 million were children - at least 1 in 20 children died as a result of these sanctions
Today Iraq has 11 million people (nearly 40% of the population) under 16 years of age, 1.6 million Iraqis live as refugees within their own country.

So we can infer the following about the effects of the American wars against Iraq:
  • Since 1987, America has fought a war against a country where the population for the most part has remained below the age of 16 - that's 20 years, at least two generations of children raised with America waging war against them.
  • Almost as many children died during the Economic Warfare of the 1990s as the total number of Iraqi civilians during Gulf War II (150,000 in the report given to the WHO)
  • more than twice as many children died from economic sanctions during the 1990's than all casualties of the first Gulf War (Gulf War casualties estimated at just under 30,000) and all casualties from Gulf War II (all deaths in Iraq seem to be about 180,000) combined.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Mr. Magoo President

Maybe it's because I spent so much time in Georgia, maybe it's because I believe in the work he's done since he left office, but I believe in that man from Plains, Georgia: Jimmy Carter.

From the 1980 election through today there has been this attempt to use Carter as some sort of prat fall president, like Mr. Magoo: just incapable in every way. The argument recently was put forward by that opportunist and purveyor of baseness, Peggy Noonan, in effect saying, "Thank god we had Reagan, imagine what Carter would have done!" Never mind all the good that Carter has done. The man won a Nobel Peace Prize, for crying out loud!

What did Reagan do other than lower America's credibility around the world and sink America further and further into national debt? What is his legacy? He promoted McCarthyism early in his career and his general distrust of humanity would be his long-term legacy on America - a country now perceived by the rest of the world as meddling and self-absorbed. A nation of avenging cowboys, all flash and no substance.

Anyhow, here's a link to Carter's "Malaise" Speech made in 1979. In this speech Carter calls for Americans to reinvest in their communities by practicing more conservation, calls for Congress to reappropriate funding to create a solar bank (a reserve of energy from solar energy rather than a reserve of only oil), and to treat energy independence as a national security issue. He presciently noted that America in 1979 was at a fork in the road: choose either the path of sacrifice in the name of community, or go down the path of self-interest and fragmentation.

Clearly Carter was correct in his assessment of America's trajectory. The history of the last thirty years is the story of individual insularity (a real marked drop in civic engagement) and the resultant international bullying swagger of a nation so scared of itself that rather than address its own monsters it bullies all the other kids at school. America's gone Lord of the Flies, convinced there are no adults around. Now all political leaders look like Piggy to America.

I Don't Beat My Neighbor's Wife Because My Boss Is a Jerk

This War on Terror is un-winnable and has damaged America's place in the world to a degree that will take at least two generations of good work to overcome. To occupy and terrorize two of the poorest populations on the planet in the name of promoting democracy is absurd. To seek vengeance in Iraq for the events of 9/11 is like beating your neighbor's wife because your boss is a jerk.

In today's Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan has had her opinion published. In short she thinks that Americans should feel proud, and the rest of the world should thank us for what we've done in the world since September 11, 2001. I'm not making this up.

Because I believe that my grandchildren are going to want to know what I did during America's Nazi period I am going to respond to Noonan. I feel Noonan's opinion piece here reflects a general sensibility of many Americans over the past seven years. The general trajectory of popular sentiment has been expressed well by Noonan in this article. But, general sentiment is what adolescents excel at, adults make clear statements that are actionable and reflect insight garnered over the years. Noonan lacks that. Well, probably has it and chooses instead to fan the fires of hatred and ignorance to her own profit. Thanks, Noonan.
We are about to startle and reorder the world. We are going to win this thing, and in the winning of it we are going to reinspire civilized people across the globe. We're going to give the world a lift.
The world’s pretty much gotten over the startling they got when we reordered the world by announcing that countries are now allowed to preemptively attack other countries on the suspicion that maybe someone might no something about who might attack at some point somewhere in the future. That was pretty startling. Now the world’s finding ways to do without us. Great.
It is going to mean, first, that something good happened. This sounds small but is huge. The West has been depressed since Sept. 11, 2001. It has been torn, riven. It has been a difficult time. The coming victory is going to be the biggest good thing that has happened in the world, the West and the United States since the twin towers fell.
It’s depressing living in America when lies are repeated as truth. It’s depressing that you would make a career peddling deceit that bolsters the lies that send our people to die in foreign countries. You’re putting the cart before the horse here, America’s war mongering problem is not too dissimilar to an alcoholic’s problem. The alcoholic doesn’t say, “hey I’m not drinking anymore, so I’m no longer depressed!” It doesn’t work like that. First thing’s first: the depressed have to recognize they have a problem, then ask for forgiveness to those in its community.
It will demonstrate that we are not part of a long and unstoppable slide, that we can move forward and win progress, that we don't have to cower in blue suits behind the Security Council desk. We can straighten up, join together and make things better.
The only person that would be cowering behind their desk seems to be you, mirroring yourself in this editorial. When has the U.S. not sent its troops into countries without regard to the logic of the engagement or the long term Foreign Policy ramifications? Just look at the first go-round in Iraq, at Iran, at Chile, at Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, Nicaragua, Argentina, Israel, the list is pretty convincing that the problem America is having at the U.N. is that it won’t stop ripping its shirt off at its desk and then announcing, “who’s gonna get a whuppin’ next!”
The United States is showing to the world, to its friends and foes, that it will pay a high price to make the world better. We will put it all on the line. This country is, still, the place that will take responsibility when no one else will. In this our entire country is like the firemen of 9/11 who looked up, saw the burning towers and charged. In the past few days, weeks and months, America charged. It has a lot to be proud of. (Being America it will soon be beating itself up again, but it should take some time over the next few weeks to feel the healthy pride it's earned.)
America can spend all the money in the world and still can’t win, that’s what’s happening right now. That’s because Bush’s administration never even established a clear enemy or goal. The Bush Administration simply spent all the money and blood it could.

In the case of these firemen, it was clear there was a fire, there were people that needed to be rescued, and they did as their profession called. There is no connection between what happened in New York on September 11, 2001 and what was happening in Iraq that day. In fact, the guy running Iraq hated the guy that planned the attack on New York. But Bush decided to kill the guy that wanted to kill the guy that killed Americans. Nice.
The American president has, meanwhile, demonstrated to the entire world that he is neither a bombastic naïf nor a reckless cowboy but, in fact, another kind of American stereotype: the steely-eyed rocket man. Don't tread on him. It is good for the world that it see him as he is.
Rocket man? The world knows Bush as a naïf and not bombastic, but as the solid C student he was, just average. Your average American, that’s what Bush looks like. He is the embodiment of what Hannah Arendt would describe during the Nuremburg Trials as the “banality of evil.” There’s nothing remarkable about the character of Bush, just his very plain determination to act on his misguided values and lack of ability to find a better solution than to kill as many people, spend as much money, and create as many nights of terror and horror as was possible during his terms in office.
The American victory will mean that the United States has removed a great and serious threat to the innocent people of the world. An evil man who was gathering to himself weapons of mass destruction was, is, a danger to the world. And so, with the successful prosecution of the war, the world will be safer.
Which evil man are you referring to? You use the verbs “was” and “is” but which is it? Where is/was this person with WMD’s didn’t we all establish that there were no WMD’s in Iraq? So where are the WMD’s? Where is/was this person that was threatening the US?
With Iraq taken care of the United States will be able to move with enhanced strength toward an Arab-Israeli peace that might last.
What do you mean "with Iraq taken care of?" Will the tanks role out and the bread trucks role in? Will the U.S. begin the herculean task of compensating for the six years of occupation and decade of economic sanctions which left Iraq without medical supplies and foods? How is the U.S. going to tell Israel that they must give up their territory and give it to the Palestinians? How is that connected to the desolation the Bush Administration has made of Iraq?
And, finally, victory in Iraq means this: every terror state and terror group is more than ever on notice and newly aware that the West does not exist to play victim.
When was it that the West was attacked by Iraq? Again: I don’t beat my neighbor’s wife because my Boss is a jerk.

Ultimately, how proud can the people of America feel when the Bush Administration made up new rules for how international law functions and then announce, when it's become apparent that the mission of violence and terror that the U.S. visited upon the people of Iraq can no longer continue due to Bush leaving office, "We Won! Mission Accomplished! Again!!!"