Sunday, January 25, 2009

If you don't answer any questions, the result is "fearless"

Your Word is "Why"
You see life as complicated and intriguing. The only thing you know for sure is that you haven't figured it all out yet. You question everything and believe very little. And whatever you believe is likely to change.

You are interested in theories, philosophies, and religions... even if you don't buy into any of them. You are also fascinated by how things work. You'd like to understand as much in the world as possible.
Also, odds are good that, had I lived in the 17th century, I'd have been a peasant, or, at best, a clerk, not an artist, inventor, explorer, poet or philosopher. Oddly, that wasn't an option.

Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

It's been a while since I bothered updating my Impeachment Index, partially out of exhaustion, attention to other matters, etc.

But the latest issue of Vanity Fair has An Oral History of the Bush White House which is a fairly extensive "greatest hits" based on interviews with a whole bunch of highly placed people. [via]

I'm too much of an historian not to say "take it with a grain of salt." But it's fundamentally consistent with the view we've had for years from the outside: they lied, and broke laws, and got most of the important stuff wrong over and over and over again.

My favorite two bits (though the whole thing is worth reading, despite its length):
Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice-chancellor:
I was invited to a conference in Saudi Arabia on Iraq, and a Saudi said to me, Look, Mr. Fischer, when President Bush wants to visit Baghdad, it’s a state secret, and he has to enter the country in the middle of the night and through the back door. When President Ahmadinejad wants to visit Baghdad, it’s announced two weeks beforehand or three weeks. He arrives in the brightest sunshine and travels in an open car through a cheering crowd to downtown Baghdad. Now, tell me, Mr. Fischer, who is running the country?
Not only did they screw up the Middle East, they thought nothing of screwing over their own people:
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: The Cheney team had, for example, technological supremacy over the National Security Council staff. That is to say, they could read their e-mails. I remember one particular member of the N.S.C. staff wouldn’t use e-mail because he knew they were reading it. He did a test case, kind of like the Midway battle, when we’d broken the Japanese code. He thought he’d broken the code, so he sent a test e-mail out that he knew would rile Scooter [Libby], and within an hour Scooter was in his office.
Yeah, the VP's office was spying on the NSC. I actually laughed out loud at that one.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Lyrics: Power and Glory

The Power and the Glory
by Phil Ochs

Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain
Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)
From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?
Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pride, or Pardon?

So, we're down to the wire. I've been watching the White House News Site as well as the usual outlets, and haven't seen any hint of pardons yet. What's President Bush going to do? Will he:
  1. Issue pardons tomorrow morning on his way out the door? If so, will they be a select few, or a huge blanket pardon? The potential for prosecution is real, and it's their last chance to insulate themselves against the consequences of their actions.

  2. Not issue pardons at all? He and Cheney seem so convinced of the rightness and legality of their actions that it would be hypocrisy to pardon anyone. More importantly, someone who is pardoned can't invoke their right to silence in the face of self-incrimination, which means that those pardoned could well be compelled to testify against unpardoned individuals.

I think the latter course more likely, but I'm going to keep watching. What do you think?

Soundtrack: Presidential Rag by Arlo Guthrie.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why do we only psychoanalyze the misstatements of politicians we dislike? I don't know but we do.

"I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best."
-- President George W. Bush, 12 January 2009

Friday, January 09, 2009

Comment Elsewhere and The Ten Rules of Poststructuralist Prose

In response to an Orac takedown of New Age pseudo-scientific quackery, I wrote
The challenge in studying semiotics or postmodernism is that, unlike studying literature, or history, or medicine, they are not first-order fields. Both of them are the study of the way in which we think, and as such have been very useful. Scholars like Pierre Bourdieu, Thomas Kuhn, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault have really expanded our understanding of our own linguistic and cultural habits, the ways in which we both comprehend the world and limit our scope of action therein.

That said, there have been some truly awful intellectual and linguistic directions taken by postmodernism and semiotics: the former lends itself to a kind of nihilistic relativism which denies truth and meaning entirely; the latter to a kind of free-association in which things end up meaning rather the opposite of what everyone intuitively expects. There's junk science in every field, and these are relatively new fields; the ratio is still kind of high and both tend to attract "maverick" and "ooh, it's new and cool" types.

As I said before, the woo-use of semiotics draws on the way in which "signifier" and "signified" can be very different things: the way the flag stands for the nation, or "White House" stands for the presidency (or the nation). The wooists are taking that fairly straightforward process of unpacking meaning from language, and turning it into sympathetic magic. It's no different from their use of quantum mechanics, and you won't understand semiotics or postmodernism by reading Milgrom more than you'll understand Heisenberg.

One thing I didn't say is that postmodernists and semioticists have been responsible for some of the most opaque and bizarre prose in academic history, which is part of why they are so useful to voodoo peddlers. I remembered a piece I read back when post-modernism was just getting a foothold in US academia, and it was still called by its more linguistic term, "post-structuralism." It's a funny piece, still, for those of us who have to read this stuff:

Ruth and Kenny Mostern, Z Magazine, June 1991, p. 7.

1. Change all appearances of the verb "to be" to "can be represented as." Corrolary: Always refer to the word "is" as the copula.

2. Never "analyze"; always "deconstruct."

3. Never refer to "ideas" or "thoughts"; replace these concepts with "episteme," "habitus," or "ideological structure."

4. Actions are "always already overdetermined" by the categories in rule 3.

5. Feel free to add the following prefixes and suffixes to any word in your vocabulary: "post," "neo," "dis," "over," "quasi," "co," "de," "ism," "ize," "ify," "ness," "ology."

6. Use parentheses and dashes in the middle of words.

7. Every activity is "writing"; all things are "texts"; all people are "subject positions"; all collections of things are "structures"; all that is outside a structure is a "margin."

8. Conclude all discourse with several options and a question.

9. Call anything you don't understand "essentialist" and denounce it.

10. Refer to at least one of the following three French authors in everything you write: Foucault, Derrida, Lacan. Corollary: Appropriate all untranslated French words from your English versions of their texts.

Oh, that takes me back....

See also here and here and here.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bigotry Still Rules

Sometimes you read something you have to share:
In the summer of 2006 I attended the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard. One of the guest presenters was ninety-five year old Johnnie Carr, the woman who took over the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1956 after the successful bus boycott when Martin Luther King, Jr. went on to form the Southern Christian Leadership Convention. Carr told stories and fielded questions. I'm not sure how the topic of gay people came up but at the mention of the word "homosexual" her face shriveled up and she moved her hand in a wide sweeping gesture, then exclaimed, "Those DISGUSTING people!" She made some inaudible comments then said the word “DISGUSTING” again. She said this even though Bayard Rustin, the man who co-founded SCLC with King, who assisted in the creation of the Committee on Racial Equality in 1942, organized the first freedom ride and the March on Washington, and helped King convert wholeheartedly to non-violence, was gay. I looked at Waldo Martin and Pat Sullivan, the two seminar leaders, and they looked away but, to their credit, they did not stop the tape recorder.

After Carr left and our group reconvened, I looked around and asked (it took no small amount of courage for me to raise this question and risk losing their respect or being seen as a troublemaker): "Did she really say that gay people were disgusting?” Everyone shrugged it off. An African American professor from North Carolina said, "Oh, that's just her generation." Martin replied, "She's a devoted church lady, that's just the way they see things." I responded, "That doesn't make it hurt any less."

Now imagine someone lobbed the same spiteful word at a black person in 1955, at a time when key constitutional rights were not yet secured and violence or at least censure was always a risk. That person's entire character would be defined as essentially racist. It would not be shrugged away, especially not now because we as a nation have come to understand the history and impact of bigotry on African Americans.-- Lisa Szefel

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