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!!!"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Human Terrain Systems

I've got this thing for dogs and the Silk Road, I keep finding my self thinking, "If I understood how dog phenotypes (what the Kennel Club people call breeds, but are simply lying to themselves) got spread around on the Silk Road, I'd understand people and history a lot more." So I found a lot of great pages discussing the U.S. military's Human Terrain System.

I'm a little saddened by the comments that are left on the Wired pages and the overall complexity of the arguments being made about HTS. The American Anthropology Association has shown some sac and is calling a spade a spade: the military's use of social scientists is unethical.

There are arguments like, "those academics don't know what they're talking about, because they don't understand military engagement." Well, that problem is mutual, actually. Those making the above argument aren't recognizing that AAA's concern is to avoid recreating the conditions that allowed medical doctors (conducting scientific research) to perform surgeries on unanesthetized civilians captured by military forces, like what happened only 60 years ago.

The basic tenet of social science research and the performance of social science is informed consent. That means that both parties must agree to communicate with one another without feeling coerced into doing so. Being in a war zone does not allow for informed consent. It simply doesn't. Because war is always unethical. The best we can do is "sanitize" war, remove it from our immediate field of vision, get the enemy as far away from us as possible so that we don't have to acknowledge that we just killed someone that has a family just like we do, or dreams just like we do. Which leads me to
There's a great point in the article where Giunta states, in a rage, "The richest, most-trained army got beat by dudes in manjammies and A.K.’s." Both the American soldiers and the Afghan fighters are doing the same thing, they are fighting for what they believe is right in the best way they know how. According to the latest research, what they believe in most is not some political end - they believe in community, in social solidarity.

That's not so surprising, right? We see it in all the conventional Hollywood movies, soldiers fighting for their buddies. When their buddies are face down in the muck they look around, wild-eyed, wondering how they got to this point. You can't hold it all in, I guess, so you just go with what you know: that your buddies got your back and you'd better have theirs also. What Giunta and Rubin are pointing out is even more sad: we're simply raining tons and tons of metal (piles and piles of excess capital) onto some of the poorest people in the world. So we have two groups of people engaged in the very same activities, and have been doing so for years and years. The definition of madness is doing the same thing in the same way and believing with each attempt that a different outcome will arrive.
Another problem is a ludicrous faith in the ability to predict human behavior using models that rely too heavily on the bias of the programmer - that is, the person that creates this model has an assumption about the values of Others that probably isn't going to match well with what the Other actually values. So we have an effect that doubles: first their if the faulty assumptions of the author of this model, then there is the faulty assumption that the map is the territory. Then, it gets worse as people start making poor decisions based on these first two false leads.

Ultimately, what's most disturbing is that the U.S. forces are being asked to do so many things all at once. Soldiers should not be asked to win hearts and minds. That's not the role of a soldier. If soldiers want hearts, they should cut them out. If they want to win someone's mind they should beat the brains out of their opponents. That's what soldiering should be.

Militarizing the services that the State is necessarily going to mean having a military state, not a democracy. A look at the history of terrorism will show you that terrorism only occurs in States that are free. Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes don't have terrorists.

That means, you are only as free as you are able to trust that your society will trust you to not become a terrorist. The less your neighbor trusts you, the less democratic your society becomes. Like Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Where Jonathan Jones Got It All Wrong

Once again, the ARTNEWS listserv serves up good stuff. This time it's an article published in the Guardian by Jonathan Jones discussing Bell's palsy and a (bad) genealogy of the notion of beauty.

And it is bad. At first I want to say that he's so brave for talking about his half-paralyzed face, but, then I get the sense that the art critic, "doth protest too much." And then I realize that he's just all wrong on the nature of our notion of Beauty.

So, if you'll entertain my nit-picking:

Jones states, "Our ideas of beauty and ugliness ultimately originate in Renaissance art." One, who is this Our, Paleface? Two, this is simply wrong. Renaissance means "rebirth," what was being reborn? The Classical Greek world. But this rebirth was more accurately a project to create, maybe Classical Greek 2.0. The Renaissance itself is a moniker the era picked up in the Enlightenment (so named because the Early Moderns felt they were extending a project). Prior to the era we now call the Renaissance was a little something we like to call, because of the Enlightenment, the Dark Ages.

The best treatment of the Greek world and it's vision of value, for my money, is in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, and Jones as an art critic is simply anemic if he's not read this book. But, that's a personal jibe, I s'pose...

To do a great disservice to the world I will summarize thus: the Greeks, after Socrates, became committed to trying to overcome the "problem" posed by Heraclitus, that you cannot step in the same river twice. (This is a great wikipedia article, by the way)

What the philosophers after Socrates were trying to establish throughout what those in the Renaissance considered to be a Golden Age of civilization, is how do understand our identity in the face of a world that is in constant change? To paraphrase, how do I know that this monitor and keyboard will be here when I open my eyes after blinking? The response that those in the Renaissance chose to celebrate was the more abstract, less personal response.

During what became known as the Middle Ages (the Dark Ages as opposed to the "Enlightenment" of the 17th century), was an exploration of faith and the widespread adoption of Christianity throughout Europe. From the 17th century forward we would popularly understand the Middle Ages as the age of faith and antithetical to reason.

If we accept what Kant, et al. have to say, the Greeks of Antiquity, rebirthed by those Renaissance men, sought to understand an underlying reason for why the world changes. Does the Sun set because it enters a cave on the other side of the horizon? Reason gave us a different narrative: the sunset is the time when the Sun leaves our field of vision as the Earth completes another rotation during its revolution around the Sun.

The real joy of this reasoning was that the story could be translated into a neutral language, mathematics. Because math works independent of the limits of language (so thought the Classical Greeks-Renaissance-Enlightenment-folks, and still today think many) this is knowledge that is publicly-verifiable using the same method.

I'd like for Mr. Jones to note that this is truly key to our (whoever they are) notion of beauty: the marriage of what is publicly verifiable with the notion of how the world really is. The Beautiful became what could be measured as such. The ideal human form would have divine ratios: the distance from each fingertip when your arms are extended should be as long as you are tall, say. If this symmetry was established then we would all see the Divine Planner. Taking a page from the Greeks, the Renaissance artists put forward that what is more ideal is more godly because what is godly is unchanging, even when we see things changing. So the notion of "timeless beauty" arose.

Jones uses examples of wonderful Renaissance paintings of hideous people to point out how much more humane these people are because they are not perfect. It's easy to say, well, he's clearly wrong, Renaissance painters should be more concerned with symmetry and timeless beauty. But he makes a choice here and seems to be arguing that our understanding of beauty (today's understanding) is rooted in a conversation with the "age of faith" and these painters were trying to rescue that more personal, less public, beauty.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Readings for 18 October, 2008

It's that good ol' "not keep a good idea down" attitude that has generally been hanging around America, albatross-like, over the past 20 years or so (I guess that's an arbitrary date, I just feel like American education has been dumbed-down over the past 20 years, thus we have degree inflation, where plenty of people have degrees and are really not that smart). In this particular re-telling of the Classic, a really useful set of descriptive data is being claimed in court as owned by a company. The data simply describes neighborhoods, which is really useful when organizations are trying to address issues such as disease outbreaks or community development. Right now the public domain information that is readily available comes in the form of census maps, but these are horrible for trying to address real neighborhoods.
The British government decided it was best to cover-up the slaughter of POWs during the War in the Pacific because it was thought that too many Japanese war criminals were being executed and the moment for justice had passed (if you believe in an eye for an eye). This is the kind of story that I know Americans are going to be appalled to learn about in the not-too-distant-future. America (hopefully) is going to enter a phase of reconsideration not unlike Germany's in the aftermath of WWII. People are going to say, "but I didn't know that they were torturing them! I didn't realize that our soldiers were killing hundreds of thousands of civilians..." And who am I to distance myself from these crimes? I don't know.
I like reading about Organized Labor's arguments here because the basic assumptions are so drastically different from those I'm used to in the U.S. Having universal health care just does something that makes Labor sound less about the exploitation of immigrants and more about dignity in a way that Americans, I suspect, just can't process.
Stewart's really adamant that he's not a journalist, Bill Moyers wonders why. I'll tell you why: the American Fourth Estate is a monster. It's the elephant in the living room. I think that Stewart's also a little too reluctant, also, to simply state it as it is: he's making too much money to stop talking only in terms of "the absurdity of our times." Like Postman stated decades ago, we're amusing ourselves to death. I sometimes wish that I could watch his show.
Just as it says.
I'm lazily surfing around, learning about the gangs in New York during the 19th century and then I see there's a link for secret societies related to organized crime. Now I'm learning about Propaganda Due, a secret lodge within the Freemasons in Italy. Fascinating and leads me to the next weblink:
Totally awesome, I'm learning so much more about why the garbage is outta control in Italy. This is one of the few websites where I really question which parts are real and which are totally fabricated and have become real.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

China & Democracy Rants

This is kind of simply a place holder for today, I apologize. This is turning out to be a distracting week and I'm not able to really discuss much.

I'll return to form shortly, promise.

Here are two links to blogs I read daily, I'm feelin' 'em today:

Costs & Benefits of Increased Participation in Democracy - from Economist's View

China - from Angry Bear

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Readings for October 14, 2008

Detailing the situation inside an NSA wiretapping center at Fort Gordon.
Everyone that takes a Statistics course, or a Research Methods course, learns this right away. Just because you see the pattern doesn't mean that it's caused by what lead you to see that pattern. Just another example of what's wrong with American coverage of the election.

Today I read a lot about Biology, all from Wired:

All Life Uses the Same Amount of Energy
So if you've got an elephant and a mound of bacteria the size of an elephant, then it's gonna be a comparable amount of energy being consumed.

New Form of Life About To Be Created by Mankind
This team of researchers seems confident that very soon a life form will be created by their team and will uncover a vast new realm of understanding.

Earliest Culture Found in Stone Age Sahara
I've been slowly ruminating on Stone Age Cultures for the past couple of years now; wondering what happens when we finally "know" about our forebears, what does it say about us today that we spend such resources on understanding our past (versus a species that spends all it's time in the future, say)... I just can't let go of this fascination.

The first two get me thinking about the third in this way: the first two spend a lot of time discussing what's the most likely purpose of life and so the third is discussed in this light. There is a purpose that is knowable and always toward an end, a teleological plan always present in everything. The rest of this blog would be more insipid and inchoate wandering right now. Allow it to suffice that the three above get me navel-gazing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Chomsky's Jockin' Me: Hip Hop & the Myth of a Democratic American Economy

I was 19 years old when I read my first Chomsky book. I'm not saying I completely understood it, but I knew that I was reading the right person for what I wanted to say.

I've continued to read and consider Chomsky's works and I greatly admire his longevity and commitment to fighting the good fight. Woody Guthrie's guitar was a machine that fought fascism and I imagine Chomsky's a similar machine.

I just checked my email and read Chomsky's Op-Ed piece on our financial situation (full disclosure: I got the piece from someone on the always-appreciated Atlanta-based ARTNEWS-listserv). Reading the title I think, "Whoa, I totally called that." Didn't I?

I did, four days ago I posted a similar title.

But, my title is just wrong. There's nothing democratic about America's economy, as Chomsky points out; although I would suggest that a cursory look at America's media (especially mainstream hip hop) suggests that the myth of a democratic economy is a widely-promulgated myth.

I mention hip hop in particular because there is this constant narrative being amplified on the radio waves by major rappers that any G in America can become a Don if he just hustles enough and girds his loins enough. But that is simultaneously the challenge that rappers put out there to show just how tough they really are, isn't it? That's how we can understand T.I.'s recent insistence that although he has both the number 1 album and number 1 single in the U.S. right now, he's still really the underdog.

I know, I know, pointing out that rappers are full of it is like pointing out that George W. Bush is the 21st century Hitler - too obvious - but, let's look at the plain truth of the world I live in, k?

If people (other than my super-supportive wife and immediate friends and family that I annoy into reading this blog) read this blog they might take exception to me characterizing Dubya as a fascist genocidal leader. I'm sorry, but that's how history will remember him. I assume that most Americans don't see it that way for two reasons:

1) just as with the Germans of Hitler's times, it would be too painful to admit to yourself everyday when you woke up that you were tacitly supporting such a monster and to ease that feeling,
2) the American media is a web of lies, pure and simple as evidenced in this article about T.I.

The article begins with T.I. saying,
"Nobody has ever given me a win and nobody has ever said, 'T.I., you know he's going to do this thing.' They always (say), 'He's not going to do this much, he's not going to do that good, I don't believe he'll do that well.' So its always been an uphill battle for me no matter how big I get I'm always the underdog."
and then, in the very same page, they quote him saying,
"It wasn't like I said let me get Jay, Wayne and Kanye on the same song," he said. "The song started off with me and Kanye and it was just me and Kanye, and mutual associates of all four of us suggested, 'Hey man, if Jay and Wayne were on here too, it'll be one of the biggest songs in hip-hop history.' So I said, 'You know what, that's a great idea. It's ambitious, but it's a great idea.' So we reached out and they agreed and it's a pleasure to have them involved.
So, clearly, very influential people were telling T.I., "Hey, you'd do really well if you did this."

I know this seems infantile, maybe an exception that proves a rule, but look at this election campaign: one lie overcome by another lie, and the media doesn't bat an eye when they report the opposite of what is clearly true.

I used to think that it was absurd and exceptional that a professional wrestler would be a state governor.

But now I'm beginning to realize that Mike Judge was spot-on in his movie, Idiocracy: the very power structure under which we toil and serve is best characterized as professional wrestling/Ramboesque posturing.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Impact of the Interwebs

This is a commercial website that sells advertising by luring students from around the world to search their site for help with their education. Never mind the position it's hiring for, read the comments section at the bottom. Reading these reminds me of my summer in Ghana, where my fellow students were hitting me up, hoping I might be able to sponsor their education. Here in Okinawa I'm hearing similar stories as the PI's in the labs here are on constant hiring duty. But they are being solicited, largely, by folks trying to flee Iraq, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. because their homelands are too unstable to continue to be academics.
It's become fairly old hat to say that the Internet's widespread adoption is as revolutionary as the Gutenberg Press. Americans are also very much aware that China has their Great Firewall, keeping the Chinese people from seeing everything we see on the 'net. I'm going to make a gross generalization and say that most Americans see this as censorship and one more sign that the Chinese are Communist and backwards. But I want you to read the above article and then read this article and kinda chew on it a bit as you think about the Internet in China:
Okay, yes, the Chinese government is monitoring what's available to their citizens through the Internet. Yes, they are very much so doing this....

But there's, like, OVER A BILLION people in China. And they're not all "Chinese." There are as many ethnic groups in China as there are in Europe. And they're not all destitute and starving, like our parents raised us believing. There certainly are destitute people in China, if I had to hazard a guess there are more people living in destitution than the entire population of the United States.

I'm not going to be an apologist for the policies of the PRC, I can't. I'm going to take the Chris Rock's position on the first OJ Simpson Trial, though: I can't condone it, but I can understand.

China's in a horrible position right now, as they develop their capitalist economy they are experiencing unprecedented shifts in population centers and so enormous social strains are occurring simultaneously: disease, crime (not thought crime either), and massive death tolls from naturally-occuring disasters.

There are too many people in the countryside, and to relieve this tension they go to the cities to find work and to support their families back in the sticks. They get there and encounter lifestyles they've never fathomed, they work like slaves (to make the cheap stuff Americans like, not need), they live in close quarters with people that don't necessarily know how to keep themselves from getting sick due to poor hygiene. If I lived in these conditions, I'd be pissed a lot too.

One way you keep the people from going at one another's throats is by promoting a sense that "We are ALL in this TOGETHER," like the British did when they were being bombed everynight of World War II. And this message in Our China has worked remarkably well thus far. But those social tensions are always sitting there, waiting to be let loose.

Yes it's a shame that the people of China are not able to express themselves as freely as Americans should be able to (if they're not being spied on by the U.S. government). But I really don't want to live in the time when all of Asia collapses into chaos because China collapses under its own enormous gravity. What do we do then? Let Japan or South Korea begin administering China? Taiwan? Russia? India? The world itself needs an orderly and predictable China in order for the world to function as it does now.

Readings for October 9, 2008

Japan's economy cannot function without its exports to the United States. If the U.S. experiences a recession, Americans will buy less of everything, especially big ticket items like Japanese cars. So, Japan is very keen to do all it can to ensure that Americans are able to buy things like Hondas from them so that their own economy won't implode. But it's a sticky wicket right now because both the U.S. and the Japanese are holding elections for their executive positions right now. The JT is predicting that one dollar will equal between 90 and 95 yen soon. That's exciting for me because I will be able to buy dollars very cheaply and I have student loans in payable in U.S. dollars. Hooray!Japan has a serious demographic shift under way, seemingly everyone's going to be over 80 years old in the next 10 years. The rest of us will be working two jobs: one at Makudonarudo and at the senior day care center with oji- and oba-chan. We're gonna sooooo tired from pushing those patties and wheel chairs around... But wait! Tsukuba presents HAL, the "hybrid assitive limb" so that the elderly as well as disabled will be able to walk around, lift things, and other miracles. I am excited to see how this interfaces and I do recognize what a boon to humanity this will be. However, they will definitely have to get a different name for this technology in the U.S. "I'm sorry, Dave..."Matt Armstrong's blog is awesome. Period. One day I will be able to keep a real blog where I will post profressional blogs on timely subjects that deal directly with my field of expertise. When that day happens I will have a blog more like Matt's and less like this one.

Anways, the above link discusses one of the implications of having the majority of America's Public Diplomacy mission being conducted by the Pentagon: the very real possibility that domestic propaganda programs are deployed. The link discusses FCC hearings being conducted to form a policy of full disclosure when analysts are used in the popular media. Matt's bang-on that the American fourth-estate is pitiful.

I was just reading on some site like the Washington Post and the journalist introduced how disturbing it was that younger people looked to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report as reliable news sources. HELLO!!! They, at least, tell us that they're sorta lying about what they report is "really happening."

Back to Matt's post:
What this points out is that America is losing a very real war. As Matt's pointed out before, there's some guy in a cave and, like, $20 worth of broadcasting equipment and he's generating much more energy and enthusiasm from that than the United States. The United States, if it wants to win any war in the future, is going to have to be successful at first winning this war of words and images.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

American Citizens Tracked as Terrorists by U.S. Gov't

I began by reading it in Wired's "Threat Level"

The quick synopsis is this: 53 activists in Maryland (interested in ending the war in Iraq and/or ending the death penalty) were labeled as terrorists by the Maryland State Police and then included on Federal Anti-Terrorist and Drug Trafficking Databases where they were tracked for 14 months.

From Wired I went on to read the articles in the Washington Post

Here's a bit from the Official Letters that the Maryland State Police are sending to these concerned citizens:
"suspected of involvement in terrorism but as to whom [Maryland State Police] has no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime....You are one of the individuals whose name was placed in the ... system under this designation.... As the Superintendent of the MSP I am looking forward to... moving beyond these issues to continue the necessary work of the Maryland State Police."

There's no apology, there's not even the recognition that this was an error. There's no suggestion that the citizen addressed in this letter has any legal protection from this material being used against them in the future.

Those who have been given the license to conduct these domestic spying should be read the following from Edward R. Murrow (I'm emphasizing throughout):

"We will not walk in fear, one of another.... if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility."

So here we are once again. History is begging for someone to step forward and speak the truth, with compassion, and with the nobility that always accompanies those who work for the betterment of their community.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lines of Flight

This is a great article I found over at ...My heart's in Accra about the introduction of a Maori dance and chant called the Haka. The Haka has become internationally known since the national rugby team of New Zealand (the All Blacks) began performing it before matches.

It's totally kick-ass and it's now totally in Texas high school football.

Read all about it here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Readings for October 6, 2008

Japan is experiencing a demographic crisis: the largest part of the population is going to be at or over retirement age soon, the young people needed to maintain Japan's pension system just aren't being created, because the young people aren't getting married as early or having as many children. What's the response? Move to developing Asian countries like the Philippines or Thailand, naturally. The U.S. does not seem to be on this trajectory, and I would suspect it has immigration to thank for that. Japan, this year, announced that they would begin raising the number of gaijin that could study, live, and work here. Probably because they need the bodies.

Here is discussed the fallacy of thinking about Strategic Communication (a synonym for Public Diplomacy) as orchestra. Matt Armstrong would have the group operating less as a symphony and more as an improv outfit, so that flat notes and lines astray of the theme are less noticeable. I like this way of thinking and I can't help but feel like I suggested operating in these terms (granted, I did not know that Public Diplomacy was a State Department entity) a few years back. The more I read Matt Armstrong's blog, the more I feel like there is a community with whom to work using these conceptions.

  • War & Health a blog by Christopher Albon, PhD candidate at UC-Davis
Here's an interesting area of overlap: public health and armed conflict. I like that the author explicitly states he will not rant and rave. I should try to emulate his example.

My internship with the Anti-Prejudice Consortium and my Thesis were focused on understanding how racism in embodied (i.e. how gender might effect understanding racism) and tracing out the history of how racism has been studied over the past century. The most recent research has been on aversive racism, where the agents don't think of themselves as racist yet act in a racially-biased manner consistently. Nicholas D. Kristof introduces the concept to his readers, but doesn't really go anywhere with it, simply suggesting that racism may cost Obama somewhere around 6% of the potential votes for him.

The Changing Language of Finance - Getting Rid of Democratic Capitalism?

A funny article that has me thinking from the Financial Times
I was just thinking the same thing last week and so I laughed a little when I read Francesco Guerrera's Op-Ed here. He points out the Biblical and WeatherChannel cliche's, the one that keeps interrupting my reading these days is the word "outsized."

I've seen it referred to the massive amount of debt investment banks were carrying, but I've also seen it used recently when discussing the Presidential candidates. I don't like the word so far.

But that's neither here nor there.

Reading Guerrera's article got me thinking about something, here's the quote:

The panicky state of capital markets and investors' visceral desire to cut their losses means companies are being thrust into a crisis faster than you can say "collaterised debt obligation".

Many in the market media are saying that the reason we're going into this depression (since we've been in a tacit recession for about a year now) is because investors have been getting panicky. Note that it's not because these businesses were being poorly managed or that their wheelings and dealings were untenable globally. There is this push to shift the conversation away from the investment banks and Wall Street, discussing where these robberbarons went wrong, and instead put it squarely on the shoulders of the masses of subprime loan holders.

But here's the problem with doing so:

The people that "invested in real estate" usually through subprime lending were being encouraged to do so by the investment banks on Wall St. In fact, Wall Street could not make their money unless the masses were using the investment vehicles that the people on Wall Street had created. Think about the process a bit:

Those on top of the financial world, the power elite, make significant deregulations to how loans can be originated and to whom those loans can be sold.

The investment banks start telling those beneath them in the food chain about these great, new investment vehicles. They sweeten the sales pitch by saying, "look, it's a win-win: people who couldn't afford housing now can, and those that were just able to own one house can now own several and capitalize!"

The loan officers at banks are told to keep pumping out loans because they will not only get commissions but since these loans are being guaranteed by Really Big Names (those that pushed for the deregulation) the loans are more safe than previously we would have thought. This line of thinking was promulgated because the general message was that America, always the leader in innovation, no longer needed to focus on innovating materials, really, America can innovate financial technologies.

These technologies couldn't fail, not only because Really Big Names were insuring them, but also because entities like hedgefunds were using people's pensions to invest in these loans. So, even if these subprime loans as a class of loans went somewhat sour, no worries because the risk of this happening was minimized by both the Really Big Names insuring them but also because hedgefunds were investing in them. The whole thing had to work, you know?

So why is there this sudden anti-populist sentiment that's being leaked onto the people of the United States?

Because the elite always harbor a very real disdain for the masses. Think of There Will Be Blood and you get the drift.

Food Procectionism in the U.S. and Japan

The Intersection of BioEthics and Market Regulations - from The Volokh Conspiracy and Food Law Prof. Blog
So, Japan and Korea both have limited beef imports from the United States for fear of bringing BSE (mad cow disease) into their food supply. Both countries argue that the U.S. does not adequately guarantee the safety of their foods (they made the case after mad cow disease was found to have been imported from the U.S. to them a few years ago). The three links do a great job of introducing the recent decision by the D.C. Appellate Court, I also recommend this link from the Iowa State University Bio-Ethics folks. But why don't I also summarize?

Creekstone Farms wants to be able to purchase the BSE testing kit that the USDA has exclusive license to. The ranchers at Creekstone claim to have lost 30% of their sales because of these bans in place by Japan and Korea. Creekstone paid to have a lab built on site (which probably wasn't cheap) and now would like to buy the testing kits so that they can assure the Japanese and Koreans that they have safe beef. There will be many in the U.S. that will see this court case as simply a case of the Fed (and liberals, always the lib'rals) imposing harmful regulations on what should simply be laissez-faire capitalism. What these people will fail to see is that this is more properly understood as protectionism on the part of both the U.S. and Japan.

The Japanese cannot fail to have egg on their face this month because of the recent tainted rice scandal. Japan's Agriculture Ministry has been selling rice that they deem unfit for human consumption (but could be used for making glue, say) at auctions for years now. Mikasa, a major food supplier, has been buying this rice at ridiculously low prices (their bids were always much, much lower than the competitors), and claiming that they would be selling this moldy, toxic rice to glue manufacturers. The Ministry looked the other way, even when they could have seen that Mikasa, had they actually sold this rice to the glue makers as they said, would be doing so at a very steep loss. Mikasa was, yup, selling the toxic rice to others (like rice ball makers, candy makers, school lunch makers) and claiming it was regular-ol' rice, and so making quite a handsome profit.

So, the idea that American food is somehow more unsafe is likely a ruse on the part of the Japanese food safety folks (I mean, the Japanese don't even have a USDA or FDA type regulatory agency). Making it difficult for the Americans to send their beef here means that Kobe beef is cheaper, though. It means that Japanese beef (and New Zealand or Australian beef) is more readily available and ensures that these players have less competition. Now, it seems that the USDA is a bit concerned that if Creekstone tests its beef, they will have a competitive advantage in foreign markets over the rest of the American Ranchers. Or, as Jonathan Adler put it, the USDA is afraid that if one Rancher insists its beef is more safe than the rest of the beef in the U.S., then the domestic beef market will shrink as American consumers are afraid of eating tainted beef.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Readings for October 3, 2008

Can Nokia help save the failed business model of the major recording companies? I think this is a great idea - subsidizing the music download subscriptions of cellphone users, I'm not sure that it will work unless Apple does it too, but I think it will work eventually. The reality is that people experience music in a way that cds just don't address, people will continue to believe that music should be free because it is ubiquitous. There is no experience known to Americans that is not mediated by music.
Push polls, where people living in highly politically-contested areas are directly confronted with (but anonymously) with lies in the form of opinion surveys were first made known when Bush ran for office in 2000. This is simply psychological warfare conducted on the American people by those with a vested interest in a particular politician. It's done by calling potential voters in an area, asking them questions about their voting habits and then introducing misleading information, such as asking, "Would you vote for Barak Obama if you knew that he was being funded by Palestinian terrorists?"

Nietzsche said that back in the 19th century and we still don't have a response. In fact, it still sounds radical to people living over 150 years later. This is a story about what prisoners use for money now that cigarettes are banned: cans of mackerel. Yes, the fish. And yes, that's what money REALLY is.
Here's a review of a new book published here in Japan discussing how former Prime Minister Koizumi (the guy that kept going to the shrine of the War Heroes) and George Bush have hobbled Japan in the near future. Both leaders suffer from an accute lack of vision, meaning neither have done anything to put their respective countries in a better place than they were before they arrived in office. I like how succinctly the book's author, Minoru MORITA, puts it: step one on the road to recovery (for the U.S. and Japan) is to admit that the Bush administration has made the world less secure than it was before he came into office.

This is really important for America to understand: Japan is likely going to ask that the U.S. leave in the next decade. The Japanese people are increasingly distrustful that the U.S. can protect them from enemies like North Korea (because North Korea has successfully launched missiles across Japan without response from the U.S.) Furthermore, the U.S., with the largest military force in the world, has become unwieldy - like an overweight American. All you have to do is run for more than two minutes and the guy gets too winded to keep up; you don't even have to punch him. Increasingly the battles that America is going to engage in (and potentially lose) are going to be without bullets, that is they will be fought over access to information, as well as simple sabotage of complex machinery (like when China accidentally destroyed that satelite and it scattered debris all over space thereby making it unsafe to operate satelites in the area). Moving over half the soldiers off Okinawa and to Guam is going to make it really problematic to keep the other half here.

But what about the economic implications to Okinawa, Paul? Don't worry, Koizumi's economics policies have probably destabilized confidence in his party enough that the Japanese are likely to pursue a very different economic approach. The fall out from the Great Depression coming in the next few years will damage Japan in such a way that a greater interdepence with China and Korea is more likely to be the solution to Okinawa than the continued presence of the U.S. military.

Beer from Space also from The Japan Times
It's Friday here, loosen up. Sapporo asked that barley be cultivated at the International Space Station the other year. Now they are ready to see what happens when you make beer from the stuff. Take that Korea! They brought kimchi up to the space station the other month ago.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Shame on You, Calomiris & Wallison

I was forwarded a copy of their Op-Ed piece this morning and was given the caveat, "this will get [my] blood going." The caveat is appreciated, and I think it's true: I am stirred-up by what passes for quality argumentation by two (seemingly) accomplished research fellows. I now have a lower opinion of the work being conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, thanks to Messrs Calomiris and Wallison.

If I may I will briefly quote the problematic text:

Many monumental errors ... contributed to the ... financial turmoil in which we ... find ourselves.... the vast accumulation of toxic mortgage debt ... was driven by the aggressive buying of subprime and Alt-A mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities, by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.... these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) ...are largely to blame for our current mess.

The role of government in this situation is to ensure that mortgages are backed and to relieve the pressure that banks (who make these terrible loans in the first place) experience when they have loan portfolios that are tanking.

To suggest that it was government ineptitude that created these loans that needed to be backed is putting the cart before the horse.

After tracing out an alternative history where Freddie and Fannie are the originators of subprime and Alt-A loans (they weren't), the authors then try to rewrite the history of deregulation. They out-right-lie that it wasn't deregulation that created the ability to invest in these subprime and Alt-A loans (Special Investment Vehicles, gentlemen, please). They even claim that it's because investment banks were able to engage in this madness that these banks are safe today(!!!!), the very banks that are melting down and are begging for hundreds of billions of your money!

As a result, U.S. commercial banks have been able to attract more than $100 billion of new capital in the past year to replace most of their subprime-related write-downs. Deregulation of branching restrictions and limitations on bank product offerings also made possible bank acquisition of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, saving billions in likely resolution costs for taxpayers.

This is ridiculous. One, $100bn attracted to all U.S. banks over one year is a drop in the bucket. It's like me saying that I saved $50 in one year.

We, the people, are not saving money in this situation: Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch went caput because they owed more money than they could afford. Why did they owe all this money? Because the deregulation of banks allowed them to say that debts owed to them in the form of subprime mortgages (another doozy created in deregulation) were deemed to be assets and so treated like money.

The authors then say that if legislation (and here they even say it, Democrats) had been passed in 2005 there would not have been this subprime mess today. But this too is obsenely untrue because adjustable rate mortgages work like this:

For the first 5 years you pay this little bit of interest, then more interest rates go up for the next 15-25 years. If you got a loan like this in 2005, that means 5 years from then you will be paying (a lot) more interest:

2005 + 5 years = 2010

The subprime mortgages began to really tank in 2007, by the way.

And besides, this is still only the year 2008, so by the authors' own reasoning we shouldn't experience this "credit mess" for another 2 years!

Thus simple, elementary school mathematics shows you that the growth in subprime loans that the authors blame for all this mess have actually yet to come due.

Ultimately this argument doesn't stand up for the same reason that people today don't think that gun makers should be held responsible for the deaths caused by their products.

If investment banks had not been allowed to invest in in these loans in the first place, we would not be in this situation. They wouldn't have invested in these loans if the bubble hadn't burst. The bubble wouldn't have "burst" if those viewed as leading our economy (the Treasury, the Fed, the Senate committees, etc.) had not so aggressively pushed for the deregulation that neoliberal economists had been fever-preaching ("NAFTA's gonna create all the jobs, Capital is gonna rise, like Lazarus, and we will all be awash in the holy fire that is the power of Capital as it circles the globe"). We wouldn't have pushed for globalization in this manner if... the list goes on.

Shame on you, Calomiris and Wallison. The end times is nigh, chumps; why don't you spend time offering solutions rather than creating schism on this sinking ship?

The problem we are in now is the same problem we've had during all the financial scandals of the past 20 years: accountability is not being insisted upon. No one wants to be the adult here.

Instead we have a bailout plan in excess of $700bn and the full knowledge that this is not only NOT going to correct the problem, but no one in a position to effect change has a pair and willing to midwife the solution.

Their shame-fest can be found here, hold your nose.

Thoughts On Globalization and Terrorism, & Adbusters

Below are two longer quotes from Christopher Hayes' article in The New Republic Free Traitors:

Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, agrees, saying that the proper response to the anxieties about globalization "lies in changes in our domestic policy: universal portable health insurance, portable pensions, much better unemployment insurance. ... We just have to do a better job of dealing with the downsides, and the costs, and the losers."


Lawrence Summers, who served as President Clinton's treasury secretary during the headiest days of free-trade enthusiasm, is now having some very public second thoughts. Writing in the Financial Times, he noted that globalization "encourages the development of stateless elites whose allegiance is to global economic success and their own prosperity rather than the interests of the nation where they are headquartered." In a subsequent column, he concluded that the "domestic component of a strategy to promote healthy globalisation must rely on strengthening efforts to reduce inequality and insecurity. The international component must focus on the interests of working people in all countries, in addition to the current emphasis on the priorities of global corporations."

Globalization was sold in the spirit of reciprocal benefit, that is at the heart of all contracts, really. But what the neoliberals have come to realize is that the benefits must be to people and the places those people live in. This article is great in some ways, but it does so little to point out who has been saying this for years: the very people who are now considered terrorists in many parts of the world. Prime example being the Zapatistas in Chiapa, Mexico. Why did they rise in arms nearly 15 years ago? Because that was the day NAFTA went into effect and exacerbated the destruction of their local community by taking away their land and then bringing the northerners and multinational corporations into their homes, and not offering the indigenous anything but prostitution and squalor.

Why is piracy so rampant off the coast of Somalia? Because in the wake of the collapse of Somalia's government, tuna boats from all over the world came to pillage their resources. Initially these were simply fisherman scaring away these looters, but the world's governments continued to ignore this raping and so those fisherman became reinforced in their vigilante groups. Now they have the world's attention. They may be called pirates here, but they would simply be terrorists in Israel or Afghanistan.

Adam Smith stated blunty that the Invisible Hand is not the mechanism which ensures that all benefit in the free market, it is the constant pursuit of Justice in the marketplace that ensures that free market capitalism is a boon to humanity. Absent Justice, capitalism seeks to destroy humanity. There was a great Adbusters campaign ten years ago that pointed this out:

"everytime someone gets cancer, the American GDP increases, everytime a tree is cut down the GDP goes up... perhaps economists need to learn how to subtract."

I just went looking for the video and found this really great page. Not a site, just one page that points out that Adbusters promised a lot and simply sucks. It really does. I really wanted it to work, too; but they get the simply worst writers and then publish their screed in these really cool looking design rags. Don't you see, Adbusters, you've become a design rag, not a political intervention. Check out Rtmark, I feel they're keeping it real-er.

Readings for October 2, 2008

Provides a link to Max Abrahm's recent work to discuss what I've been saying for at least the past three years: the model of the terrorist as rational agent working toward rational ends is to miss the point. I've not read Abrahm's work yet (although I am now excited to be doing so), but it sounds like it's great. Really great work is work you read about and you say, "well duh..." and then realize that you were the one that should have said it first. So it's, duh...I should have followed that train of thought. I'm very excited to read Mr. Abrahms' work.
I now understand better why China is so keen to keep Tibet in "Our China" - massive amounts of water. Tibet is the source of a number of the most important rivers in Asia. China wants to develop its Wild West by redirecting water from Tibet using the Great South-North Water Transfer Project. The East-West Center's Christopher McNally seems to be heading a research project on China's western development. Is it possible that China will use water as a soft power weapon of mass destruction? Here is yet another example of why it's so crucial that the U.S. begin to make very significant inroads to developing the technologies that will minimize ecological destruction.
Japan is viewed as a model nation for a number of good reasons. One area that is totally under appreciated is Japan's homelessness problem: in fact, it's thought widely here that there is no homelessness problem in Japan. Some of the reasons for this attitude are the role of extended families in Japan (kids stay with parents well into their mid-30's, even married couples live with the parents for long periods of time). But also, you just don't see many homeless people in Japan. This article (about the recent arson in Osaka at a video viewing business) suggests some of why you don't see homeless people in Japan: they are sleeping in internet cafes or these video rooms, not in the streets (as is practiced in the U.S., say).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

To bsetser

bsetser: thanks for reading, and I apologize for my tone in commenting - I've not really expected anyone to read this but myself and possibly family, and so I will strive in the future to be less caustic. Many thanks, also, for not only reading but commenting. Not many are willing to both read and discuss.

If we blame China for freeing up money for Americans to then go and buy mortgages and invest in Ponze Schemes (as they were told to by those in positions of influence and authority), then we have to blame gun makers for all the people killed by their products.

The interest rates were kept artificially low because those who could have adjusted the rates (Greenspan, et al.) chose not to raise them. Full stop.

Why did they decide to maintain these interest rates?

Because America seems to have a terminal lack of vision at its executive levels, and I am afraid it will continue to be a myopic nation for years to come.

Because they are invested in the United States playing the same kind of brinkmanship game learned during the Cold War's Arms Race* but now played openly in the economy over the past 15 years. If America goes down, everyone goes down.

We cannot find fault with China for investing in the U.S. during this time because the U.S. has been very keen to bring China closer to the United States - the U.S. wants China invested in America.

Having China invest in the United States has been a great first step in the reciprocity that is needed between the two if the world as we know it is to continue in the way we know it. What America should be focusing on with these investments made by China are not finance technologies like these toxic loans, but green technologies.

China simply cannot maintain its development at this rate, there just aren't enough natural resources in the world for the U.S. to consume as it does and have China develop at this rate. What the U.S. should have been doing with those investment dollars that the Chinese "freed up" was (and is) to invest in technologies that would reduce the resource limitations placed on China. Then, the U.S. would be manufacturing real goods, meaning China could continue to be manufacturer to the world, and in so doing we create a more sustainable consumption pattern.

Instead, funding for the sciences (infrastructure innovation for the 21st century) by the Federal government over the past 8 years has been drastically cut, and the American economy has been running on the nutritional equivalent of protein bars.

Now the economy's got diabetes: it's not fatal if managed properly.

*I would argue (and I suppose now I will write a post here) that the Cold War was simply an economic war and what we see today is the logical outcome of that same war game.