Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Imperium

There's nothing incredibly new here, and I'm not sure I agree with it all, but it is well-written summary of reasons of reasons that more people dislike America's foreign policy than like it.

A few highlights:

Finer connoisseurs of human nature have suggested that Arab anti-Americanism stems from a scapegoating campaign meant to divert the people's attention from their own governments' failings. Its motto: Praise your leader for all that is good; blame America for all that is bad. After all, the scapegoat theory goes, isn't US policy unabashedly, overwhelmingly, ridiculously pro-Muslim? (Hint for those who are having trouble with this homework exercise: Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo.) Were it not for decades of manipulation at the hands of shameless leaders, the Arabs would know how good we are.

They would also know how stupid we are. For what else would you call people who give billions in financial assistance to Arab leaders only so that they can better whip their people into an anti-American frenzy? Why didn't the scapegoat theorists tell us earlier? If only we'd known! Of course, one may criticize al-Jazeera for lacking American-style impartiality, be it the fairness and balance of Fox News or the cool objectivity of Clear Channel. But to think that the Qatar-based TV news network is just a vehicle of power intended to keep the restless Arab masses from turning against their governments is borderline delusional. This is not to say that transference of self-pity into loathing of others might not play a role. (After all, John Ashcroft does it all the time.) But to claim that it is the whole story suggests that Arabs in dozens of nations, thousands of miles apart, suffer from some sort of collective mental disorder: A slur that does not even rise to the level of an idea.

[. . .]

When Condoleezza Rice calls us, war critics, racists, she misses the point. We never said that Iraq could not be a democracy. We simply said that Condi and her friends could not make it into one. The most likely outcome for Iraq in the short term is Lebanon-style guerrilla warfare leading to a mini-Saddam or a civil war. It was ugly before. Bush has ensured that it will remain ugly for a long time to come. Meanwhile he has subverted the war on terror by diverting enormous resources away from it and redirecting them toward fanning the flames of anti-American hatred.

Oh, to hope -- to dream -- sanity returns to the American electorate in November.

UPDATE: Related to this essay on America and empire, I've been hearing some good stuff about about George Soros' new book on the subject, The Bubble of American Supremacy. Might be worth a skim if you're interested in this kind of stuff.

Holiday Reading

Yesterday I boarded a plane for Belgium. Regular readers here will note that this is not extraordinary, since I've been doing this for quite some time now. The best thing about these journeys, besides the amazingly good beer that is made available to me, is that I'm afforded many hours of unfettered reading. Rural Belgium, let's say, is not the hotbed of attention-diverting activity. To my horror, though, upon unpacking yesterday I learned that I'd only packed one book for my week's stay: Joseph Stephen O'Leary's Religious Pluralism and Christian Truth -- not the most compelling title or subject, I must confess. One can only blog and read blogs so much, however, so I've been dipping into bits of it. Turgid prose notwithstanding, there is some very good stuff in here -- his is an understanding of 'truth', more rationally aesthetic than philosophical, religious or otherwise, I can get on board with. I'll spare you the details of that, though.

A quote:

[I]t may be doubted whether any of the great traditions is yet ready to face fully the consequences of its historicity. Since Kant, a basic task of thinking has been to face our finitude, to put ourselves back in our skin, to return to where we already are. If the religions refuse to see the real conditions of their historical existence, the reason is that they transfer to their language, epresentations and history the ultimacy that properly appertains only to that supreme reality to which these have served to witness, thus falling into self-idolatry. 'What is basically wrong with humanity', according to Simone Weil, is 'the substitution of means for ends. It it this reversal of the relation between means and ends, this basic madness, which accounts for everything absurd and bloody throughout history'. Only by taking stock of their extreme fragility can those 'means' which are the religions testify to their 'end' -- to that mystery which can be felicitously named in certain conditions, but which eludes any definitive grasp.

[. . .]

What lends urgency to the problem of meaning created by religious pluralism is the pressure of an ulterior problem, that of truth. To appreciate all religions seems to imply that real assent is refused to any. The great world religions lose their appearance of permanence when one treats them as human institutions born in function of the needs of an epoch, deploying the range of their possibilities over time, and now, to a skeptical observer, nearing the exhaustion of their resources. Yet as they broach a millennial threshold the religions seem in better shape than had been foretold, their mighty engines purring, their rich traditions relucent, despite -- or rather because of -- critical contestation and pluralist dispersion. Perhaps the greatest challenge they face is that of assessing, rationally and responsibly, their status and function, so that in addition to arousing faith and devotion they will also continue to illuminate human minds questing for what is not only meaningful but true.

[. . .]

The question 'how true is religion?', may best be met by asking another question: 'how is religion true?' According to what modalities can religious propositions legitimately be expected to make sense? What sort of reference should we expect them to have? Under what conditions are they statements of truth? How does this truth differ from other kinds of truth? To what procedures of verification or falsification should religious propositions be subject? Since religion is not a unitary entity, the answer to these questions is likely to vary from tradition to tradition.

Many people think of religions as 'supreme fictions', poetic interpretations of the world with no objective cognitive content. They plausibly suggest that the reality underlying the fabrications of religious discourse is nothing more than 'the foul rag and bone shop of the heart'. Yet within the constructions of the religious imagination, so easily dismissed as wishful projection, there are found at key points words which rupture the predictable fabcrications and allow a glimmer of the ultimate reality to penetrate.

A vital religion harbours a capacity for stepping outside the circle of inherited concepts to mime their breakdown before what they attempt to designate. This can be done by an act that speaks at a pre-conceptual level, as when Zen Buddhism names some homely object as the locus of ultimate truth, or when Christianity points to some despised neighbour as the presence of Christ. It can be done in a secondary way by inventing new words or words with new meanings ('emptiness', 'charity', 'grace') which spell an overhaul for the entire discourse in which they are inserted. Such creative acts and words are experienced as a step in the direction of lived truth, rather than as defensive moves to prop up a crumbling belief-system. Assessment of the basic revelation-event (as we may call them), and of the detailed historical claims and doctrinal underpinnings that attend them, seems to demand that we exit from religion as conventionally understood to retrieve its heritage in a more discerning, critical mode, making explicit the subversive potential lodged in it.

Not sure why I share that. Consider it my tireless attempt to justify my interest in, if not adherence to, religion.

The Other That is Me

There's all kinds of talk and writing in my part of the academic world about 'the other', and how our response to that which is other than us is one of the key issues for contemporary thinking -- due in no small part to 9/11. Obviously, this is important, and really quite helpful. However, focussing exclusively on the other without often blinds us to the other within -- the other that looks like us, sounds like us. Indeed, is us. When this happens, when we've unreflectively bought the 'marketing of terrorism' presented to us by our governments and our media, when the war on terrorism is an excuse for political maneuvering, we may eventually find that the danger was a whole lot closer all along. Orcinus explains.

'Welcome to Wal-Mart, Can You Spare Some Change?'

I've been harping on this with friends for the past year now -- not sure at all what sparked it -- but people in America -- not sure if the phenomenon is worldwide -- do not have a very firm grasp on relative levels of poverty and wealth. Considering my current level of debt, I'm not entirely sure I do either. Nevertheless, it would take a blind person to not recognize something is fundamentally askew:

If poor Americans were a nation, the population would top Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia combined.

That's using the Census Bureau's lowball poverty count of 35 million Americans.

[. . .]

The poverty thresholds for 2002 were $8,628 for a person 65 and older, $9,359 for a person under 65, $12,400 for an adult and child, $14,480 for a couple with one child, and $18,244 for a couple with two children. That $18,244 isn't enough to buy the Patek Philippe gold watch and Hermes purse on the Forbes index of luxury goods.

By the official measure, a senior with just $719 a month in Social Security and other income was not poor. In reality America, many people above the poverty line can't afford housing, utilities, food, health care, transportation and other basic expenses, including taxes.

[. . .]

The poverty rate hit its best mark way back in 1973. The 2002 poverty rate of 12.1 percent was 9 percent higher than 1973's. The 2002 child poverty rate was 19 percent higher than its lowest point in 1969.

None of this, perhaps, is news to anybody. Of course, we all know there are a lot of poor people in America. But who are they?

Answer: Wal-Mart employees.

The Walton's combined $102.5 billion – up from $94 billion in 2002 – nearly matches the wealth of the three richest men: Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates ($46 billion) and Paul Allen ($22 billion) and megainvestor Warren Buffett ($36 billion).

The Walton's $8.5 billion wealth gain in the past year is more than the total budget for Head Start, serving nearly 1 million children.

While the Wal-Mart heirs are among America's richest, Wal-Mart workers are among America's poorest.

Wal-Mart's U.S. workers – most without health benefits – average just $8 an hour, compared with $12 in retail trade generally. Wal-Mart's average wage is lower than the 1968 minimum wage of $8.51, adjusted for inflation. Now the world's largest company, Wal-Mart is rolling back wages in the growing areas it dominates from America to China.

Wal-Mart's CEO pay, by contrast, rose 1,767 percent between 1995 and 2003, according to compensation expert Graef Crystal. CEO Lee Scott's 2003 pay package of $29.8 million amounts to more than $3,400 for every hour of every day of the year.

Shopping at Wal-Mart is hell on earth for a reason, folks.

Monday, December 29, 2003

A Holiday Shout-Out

I'm not a huge fan of the song of Desperado, but a good friend of this blog is -- he knows who he is. More importantly, though, he is also a big fan of Johnny Cash. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I link to this. Happy holidays, Pat.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

And Thus Begins a Thesis; or Writing an Introduction After Chapters One and Two

'Beginning is going on. Everywhere. Amidst all the endings, so rarely ripe or ready. They show up late, these beginnings, bristling with promise, yet labored and doomed. Every last one of them is lovingly addressed: "in the beginning." But if such talk -- talk of the beginning and the ending -- has produced the poles, the boundary markers of a closed totality, if "the beginning" has blocked the disruptive infinities of becoming, then theology had better get out of its own way. -- In the beginning, theology starts again.' (Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, p. 3)

'I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were doing when they begot me.' (Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy, p. 1)

'THIS WAS UNCALLED FOR.' (Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)

Where to begin? An introduction, in addition to being a formal greeting or welcome -- hello, out there -- is meant to set the tone and the tenor, and to limn the aspirational ambit of a particular project, so as to hint at the chorus of voices and themes that will, in due course and manner, emerge. In so doing, its ending is translated, or in the case of some malignant tomes, metastasises, to its beginning. Typically written after the book's body, and maybe even its conclusion, introductions can often be slightly shady. They are, Mark C. Taylor affirms, 'awkward, embarrassing affairs -- coy games of hide-and-seek, revelation and concealment, appearance and disappearance.' Which is to say, one's conclusion can never be too far very far from the introduction.

Filled with as yet unsubstantiated assertions, an introduction tends to be, according to G. W. F. Hegel, 'a string of random statements and assurances about truth'. The insidious implication of these 'random statements' and 'assurances', he fears, is that they unfaithfully belie truth as an autonomous, constructive particular that illegitimately precedes an author before she attempts to develop an argument or narrative. Such a truth could range from an author's historico-cultural preconceptions and agendas, to the intentions and purposes read into an absent author by her reader. Following his signature dialectical logic, the immediacy of truth this would assume, versus its eventual emergence through the dialectical play of identity-in-difference, is naive irrationalism; as he famously mocks, it is to present the 'Absolute as the night, in which, as people say, all cows are black'. On the contrary, he continues, 'One can say of the Absolute that it is essentially a result, that it is only at the end what it is in truth'. Introductions, then, Hegel sniffs with contempt, are 'not only superfluous but, in view of the nature of the subject matter, even inappropriate and misleading.' Censure of introductions duly accomplished, he thus begins his Phenomenology of Spirit, the mammoth introduction to his vaunted, and often vilified, philosophical system. While I do not make similar systemising claims for my own project here, I dare not miss the importance of his interrogation, nor the instructive irony. After all, appearances do not always deceive, no matter the cliche, for sometimes things are not as they appear.

* * * * * *
And so it goes from there. This thing, the thesis, it is finally beginning to take shape.

Monday, December 22, 2003

A MUST CLICK...

Wow, the courts are just outta control with giving stupid people enormous, insane settlements, aren't they? Tort reform!! Tort reform!! We need tort reform!

Don't be so sure.

Oh, to Wish

Man oh man, I wish liberals were more like conservatives and never resorted to cheap, dishonest shots at the opposition.

Then [Tom] DeLay lit into "extreme extremist" Howard Dean who was said to have opposed the war in Afghanistan (he didn't) and was accused of lying for accurately noting that Bush's deficits are the largest in history. In the ensuing dialgogue with Tim Russert [a la Meet the Press] on the subject of balanced budgets, DeLay insisted that Bill Clinton deserves "no credit" for the budgets he signed -- in fact, not a single Republican in Congress voted for Clinton's 1993 package -- and claimed that in the nineties the GOP majority passed the first balanced budget in "well over forty years" when the correct number is somewhat less than thirty. DeLay also claimed that the Bush administration has held spending growth below 4 percent after allegedly big increases during the Clinton years, while in fact spending grew 7.6 percent in 2003, and 7.9 percent in 2002, both figures far higher than anything from the Clinton years. Next he insisted that balancing the budget will require more tax cuts and then seemed to liken the whole balanced budget concept to Communism anyway.

[. . .]

Faced with this massive lies-to-airtime ratio, we got basically nothing from Russert. His only efforts to point out the truth consisted of hypothesizing what "the Democrats would say" in response to DeLay, as though the question of what's in the federal budget was somehow subjective. Russert enjoys trying to trip his guests up by bringing up contradictory statements from the past, but when he's faced with someone who's willing to lie consistently he's helpless. In short -- he's the perfect host for today's Republican leadership.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Strange, That

Just looked at my hits, which I rarely ever do, and only just realised that I get far fewer hits when I actually update my site; whereas the place is booming with activity when I don't update for weeks on end. Yeesh, people, is this a hint? If so, you're going to have to try harder than that!

Join the Fight!

I've been thinking a lot more lately about political action, right -- exhorting you all, each and all, to step into the fray and give of your time and your money. Well, friends, the time has come for a specific plea! We gotta fight for the right to get off with a vibrator in Texas.

It's a court case the likes of which this quiet county hasn't seen.

It brings to the historic Johnson County Courthouse a striking defendant, a feisty female defense lawyer, a media-shy prosecutor, a sting operation by small-town police, talk of an anonymous tipster and a parcel of evidence with names such as the Double Hot and the Nubby G.

Some of the players convened Monday in Judge Robert Mayfield's County Court at Law No. 1 for a first appearance by Joanne Webb, proprietor of Passion Parties and a former elementary school teacher now charged with criminal obscenity for selling products she says "enhance relationships" [ed.: I know what you're thinking: double-ended dildos, right? But, surprisingly, no, the case hingest on a vibrator -- which, yes, was a pretty funny sentence to write.]

[. . .]

Joanne Webb said she was ready to stand up for her right to sell the sex toys.

"Our whole purpose in fighting for it is to keep marriages together," she said. "I'm not looking for what's easy. I'm looking for what's right."

Makes you feel downright patriotic, doesn't it? Forget that Sadaam fella . . . this is America, people, we got vibrators to protect! If they take that from Texans, what'll they take away next? Veggie Tale-themed sex toys. (I don't know if there are such toys, but I had a funny thought last night over a delightfully alcoholic cup of eggnog that a ball gag with that little cartoon tomato on the front would be really funny.) No I say! I've yet to find a legal fund for Ms. Joanne Webb, but surely there must be one out there. She's a feisty one, that Webb, and I think we should all get behind her. (Ahem, no, not w/ the vibrator, you sickos).

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Something to Wake Up To

I've been no fan of the Iraqi war, as you well know, but it is difficult not to be happy when a war criminal is arrested. My more cynical friends will say, 'Well, this is just going to help Bush.' Fair enough, and maybe so. More importantly, though, it helps the Iraqi people, who we liberals too often, at least latently and silently, maybe just before we fell asleep or after too many drinks, don't mind see suffering a bit -- so long as Bush was placed in a difficult position. I don't mind playing dirty in politics, indeed I espouse it from the hilltops, but for the most part let's keep it there. Anyway, if S. Hussein has truly been arrested we all should be, even if only ambivalently because of the truly fucked up circumstances that finds us in Iraq looking for him, pleased. Which, of course, is not to say we necessarily must be pleased with how Bush & Co. deal with its repercussions. I have the utmost confidence in them that they'll lose any solidarity on this, too. (By, say, declaring victory once again, installing an amiable strongman, and high tailing it out of the country?)

UPDATE: Speaking of ambivalence.

UPDATE2: Oh, bugger all. Of course, we knew none of this would stem the violence immediately . . . but the difference between preparing for the worst and the worst actually happening is vast.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Crikey!!

Had a conversation with a friend the other day about the flu epidemic in America -- I think she was trying was trying to empathize with me, the sickliest of the sick here in Scotland this year -- so while I was sort of prepared for this article, I still found myself scared witless by this new Fujian strain of the flu. *shudder*

As the virus now spreads from its original epicenters in Texas and Colorado, many of those most at risk of dying from the flu—the old, the very young, and those with underlying medical problems—will not be able to get vaccinated. In addition, because health care workers have been notoriously lax about getting their shots (a mere one-third got vaccinated last year), we could soon be witnessing emergency rooms crowded with people violently ill with the flu and without enough medical staff to care for them.

Is such a drastic scenario inevitable? The virus could die out and not strike other places as hard as it hit the first states, but based on past years, that seems unlikely. Nowadays, doctors can also prescribe four antiviral drugs to treat and prevent influenza—but, no surprise, those already are in short supply because in many parts of the country where the vaccine has run out, doctors already have been using them, and there is no plan for ramping up production. If the epidemic does get very bad, our best defense will be thorough hand-washing and medical masks for health workers and patients brought into hospitals where there are not enough isolation facilities, but we could soon face a shortage of masks as well.

[. . .]

Bad as they are, the difficulties in coping with this year's influenza epidemic are like the tiny tremors in California that remind you of the looming Big One. In the world of influenza, the Big One is a pandemic—a strain of influenza so different from what has circulated before that people have no immunity. That's what happened in 1918 when the flu killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide. Pandemics that killed well over half a million also struck in both 1957 and 1968.

La la la la... not reading any more. La la la la la.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Oh, Feel the Power!

It's good to see America's economy is getting healthier by the day. Happy Holidays to each every 378,000 newly unemployed this month!

Hmm...

Never let it be said that the U.S. doesn't know who its real friends are.

The United States government is paying the Halliburton Company an average of $2.64 a gallon to import gasoline and other fuel to Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice what others are paying to truck in Kuwaiti fuel, government documents show.

[. . .]

The cost of the imported fuel first came to public attention in October when two senior Democrats in Congress criticized Halliburton, the huge Houston-based oil-field services company, for "inflating gasoline prices at a great cost to American taxpayers." At the time, it was estimated that Halliburton was charging the United States government and Iraq's oil-for-food program an average of about $1.60 a gallon for fuel available for 71 cents wholesale.

But a breakdown of fuel costs, contained in Army Corps documents recently provided to Democratic Congressional investigators and shared with The New York Times, shows that Halliburton is charging $2.64 for a gallon of fuel it imports from Kuwait and $1.24 per gallon for fuel from Turkey.

[. . .]

She said the contract was also expensive because it was hard to find a company with the trucks necessary to move the fuel, and because Halliburton is only able to negotiate a 30-day contract for fuel. "It is not as simple as dropping by a service station for a fill-up," she said.

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, Bob Faletti, also defended the price of imported fuel.

"Everyone is talking about high costs, but no one is talking about the dangers, or the number of fuel trucks that have been blown up," Mr. Faletti said. "That's the reason it is so expensive."

Yeah, and we all know those snipers and suicide bombers out there have been oh so discriminate in their target selection thus far, huh? They're singling out Halliburton trucks . . . riiiiiight. War profiteering? What war profiteering?

Iraqi's state oil company, SOMO, pays 96 cents a gallon to bring in gas, which includes the cost of gasoline and transportation costs, the aides to Mr. Waxman said. The gasoline transported by SOMO — and by Halliburton's subcontractor — are delivered to the same depots in Iraq and often use the same military escorts.

The Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center pays $1.08 to $1.19 per gallon for the gas it imports from Kuwait, Congressional aides said. That includes the price of the gas and its transportation costs.

The money for Halliburton's gas contract has come principally from the United Nations oil-for-food program, though some of the costs have been borne by American taxpayers. In the appropriations bill signed by Mr. Bush last month, taxpayers will subsidize all gas importation costs beginning early next year.

Goodie!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

This is Really Good

"The problem today is the apparent impossibility of unifying world politics, of mediating between the polycentricity of our everyday political practice and the utopian horizon of a universally liberated humanity. It is not that we are without utopia, but that we are without paths to utopia. And without a path towards it, without concrete and practical mediation in our field of experience, utopia becomes a sickness." (Paul Ricoeur, "Myth As the Bearer of Possible Worlds," in Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers [1984], p. 31)

Ricoeur's definition of 'utopia' is definitely distinct from its more popular use, but either way it's a great passage.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Welcome to Humble Home

The dollar hit a record low against the euro for a sixth straight day on Friday as investors sold in disappointment that U.S. job creation in November fell short of recent inflated expectations.

But analysts and traders said even if the number of new jobs last month reached economists' consensus estimates of 150,000 -- when just 57,000 jobs were added to payrolls -- there is little to stop the current dollar sell-off.

[. . .]

The euro rose steadily versus the dollar after the jobs data, reaching a new high of $1.2177 (EUR=), according to Reuters data, before dipping to $1.2160, still up 0.60 percent on the day.

[. . .]

Sterling rose to $1.7315 (GBP=), a gain of 0.33 percent and just shy of a fresh 5-year high.

Doubts remain about the dollar's ability to benefit from robust U.S. economic data, barring the disappointment from the jobs report, with many in the market convinced that a recovering economy will do little to help the United States fund its deteriorating current account deficit.

I don't know what any of this really means in the long-run -- be it macro- or microeconomically (for that, go here -- but I do know that it has really sucked the past couple of years paying my tuition from a U.S. checking account.

For my friends visiting me in February, bookmark this. It'll save you the confusion when you look at your bank statement in March.

For the Lack of a Better Gift

The New York Times has a few gift-giving options for all you readers out there. I've not yet read any of the tomes on their Best Books of 2003 list, but will gladly accept anybody's generous offer to buy me a copy of Jonathan Lethem's newest.

Excuse [2]

Oh, and should you need an excuse to never for a moment entertain the notion of changing your citizenship -- or, conversely, of getting the hell of Dodge now while you can and never returning -- consider the case of Canadian citizen, Maher Arar.

The United States can't guarantee there won't be a repeat of the Maher Arar deportation case, the American ambassador said today.

Paul Cellucci, commenting after speaking to a conference on Canada-U.S relations, said that the United States respects the Canadian passport, but reserves the right to act unilaterally when it sees a need to protect its security.

His remarks came a week after Paul Martin, the incoming prime minister, spoke strongly about the need to respect Canadian passports to prevent a recurrence of the incident in which Arar was arrested in New York and deported to his Syrian birthplace, rather than to Canada.

Arar, a Canadian citizen, spent a year in a Syrian jail, where he says he was tortured. He was released without charges in October.

The Americans said he was an Al Qaeda terrorist suspect, although he was never charged with a crime in any country.

It's mindboggling, isn't it, why our northern neighbors dislike us so?

A Healthy Excuse

Do you still need an excuse to truly despise George W. Bush and Co.? Look no further than Jonathan Chait.

Similarly, the Medicare bill, supposedly evidence of Bush's moderation, is in fact typical of his domestic agenda, which revolves around granting favors to powerful interest groups. Again, most of the major liberal and conservative think tanks opposed the bill. But the pharmaceutical companies were ecstatic with it: Not only does it subsidize drug purchases, it specifically prohibits the federal government from using its negotiating power to hold down the cost of the drugs it purchases. (Got that? Those who spend your tax dollars are forbidden from striking a good bargain with the drug companies.) The American Medical Association was brought on board with a promise to boost Medicare reimbursements. And employers received federal subsidies--more than twice what they requested--to help cover the cost of their retirees' health care. As Thomas Scully, the Bush appointee who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, put it, businesses received "way beyond their wildest requests" and "should be having a giant ticker-tape parade." Perhaps deeming a ticker-tape parade unseemly, the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce instead launched a lobbying campaign on the bill's behalf.

Note that all these measures would require the government to spend more money. But they triggered nary a complaint from conservatives. What they hated about the Medicare bill was the part about helping senior citizens buy medicine. When the government gives money to sick people, you see, that's incipient socialism. When it gives money to drug companies, doctors, and employers, that's the free market in action.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Things to Remember

At long last, after a vacated absence of what feels like two years, Glasgow's Grosvenor Cinema reopened this week. Praise Jeebus! It's quite a bit more posh than what it used to be -- then again, two years ago you had to contend w/ the mice and seats that occasionally had no cushion -- but it's still cheap during the week.

Sadly, I wish my reintroduction to an old haunt had been with a better, or at least more memorable, movie. Memorable, Love Actually ain't. Richard Curtis has yet to write a bad movie, but they are getting increasingly vapid. But then again, it's a holiday celebration of love -- if you can't do schmaltz during then, when can you? Whether you should, well, that's a different question altogether. Fifteen hours after the movie ended, the only thing I remember is the Bill Nighy line that I think my (male) friends here shall use for several months to come -- 'C'mon, let's get pissed and watch porn' -- Keira Knightley's ability to be hot, despite (because of?) having a curious-looking mouth, and Martine McCutcheon's willingness to be called, inexplicably, 'chubby' in nearly every scene that features her. Reasons to go out and see the movie if you've not seen it already? Er... I think not. Watch a Waterstones or AT&T commercial instead. Same emotional tug, if you need that to get through the holidays, less money spent.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A Quote In Passing

Speaking and writing is a crazy state of affairs really; true conversation is just a game with words. It is amazing, the absurd error people make of imagining they are speaking for the sake of things; no one knows the essential thing about language, that it is concerned only with itself. That is why it is such a marvellous and fruitful mystery -- for if someone merely speaks for the sake of speaking, he utters the most splendid, original truths. But if he wants to talk about something definite, the whims of language make him say the most ridiculous false things. Hence the hatred that so many serious people have for language. They notice its waywardness, but they do not notice that the babbling they scorn is the infinitely serious side of language. If it were only possible to make people understand that it is the same with language as it is with mathematical formulae -- they constitute a world in itself -- their play is self-sufficient, they express nothing but their own marvellous nature, and this is the very reason why they are so expressive, why they are the mirror to the strange play of relationships among things. Only their freedom makes them members of nature, only in their free movements does the world-soul express itself and make of them a delicate measure and a ground-plan of things. And so it is with language -- the man who has a fine feeling for its tempo, its fingering, its musical spirit, who can hear with his inward ear the finer effects of its inner nature and raises his voice or hand accordingly, he shall surely be a prophet; on the other hand the man who knows how to write truths like this, but lacks a feeling and an ear for language, will find language making a game of him, and will become a mockery to men, as Cassandra was to the Trojans. And though I believe that with these words I have delineated the nature and office of poetry as clearly as I can, all the same I know that on one can understand it, and what I have said is quite foolish because I wanted to say it, and that is no way for poetry to come about. But what if I were compelled to speak? what if this urge to speak were the mark of the inspiration of language, the working of language within me? and my will only wanted to do what I had to do? Could this in the end, without my knowing or believing, be poetry? Could it make a mystery comprehensible to language? If so, would I be a writer by vocation, for after all, a writer is only someone inspired by language?

Saturday, November 29, 2003

On a Roll

If you're not a regular reader of Matthew Yglesias's blog you've really missed out the past couple of days. He's been on a very plain-speaking / punch-to-the-gut roll. E.g., (1), (2), (3), (4), and (5).

Friday, November 28, 2003

Letters to a Young Theologian [2]

Also, I do want to say that I think Foucault is starting with his end as well. He is quick to criticize the historical perspective that assumes we are moving toward an end. His complaint is obviously that they interpret the present with reference to this past that got us where we are and will take us where we’re going. And yet in his denial of a linear history he makes the same mistake, he starts with his end – that history has no purpose. Neither position can be proven or disproven, so both remain valid. (Note: I'm not using 'valid' in a philosophical, but in a popular-level sense.)

Am I right in reading what you write here as implying that your use of 'valid' is more a matter of 'you have the right to say (or believe) THAT', versus a declarative affirmation of a particular truth-claim? If so, I'm not so sure that your sense of the word, in the popular sense, isn't philosophically pertinent to the questions you're troubling yourself with. Or, to put in different terms, the philosophical / popular distinction you've established here might very well be construed as the necessary distinction between metaphysical and pre-&-post metaphysical understandings of truth.

An obscure nugget to chew on, readonly only if you have the time: to what extent do you think we might be able to say that 'validity' (or, 'truthfulness') arises out of the very practice of communication itself, and is not anything metaphysical or transcendent toward which the communication itself strives? That is to say, what if 'validity' / 'truthfulness' do not abide outside language-use, but only ever arise, individually and tenuosly, from the act of communication between one subject and an(other)? 'Validity', then, is the product of interpretive, communicative engagement: for instance, 'I understand you' = some rudimentary validity; 'I believe you' = another level of validity; 'I empathise with you = yet another. Validity, here, is multi-layered, conscious and unconscious, and profoundly subjective.

And yet, all the same, this validity is not relative, at least not in the sense that necessarily privileges that which is 'true for me' over that which is 'objectively' true. Too often, statements like the former have a similar metaphysical assumption about truth as those who might say (and truly mean it!), 'Faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, he who died and rose again, is the only means of having a relationship with God'. Being 'true' in either sense assumes a certain singularity -- be it immanent or absent. I.e., X is true . . . y is untrue; which is to say, x corresponds to some pre-determined category of truthfulness, and y does not. Even the most ardent of relativists, one who says everything is true (and thus it doesn't matter what one believes), is implicitly returning to this very same assumption, as she invariably makes an exclusivist claim about the fact that everything is true. I.e., anyone who says everything is not true, is wrong. This, of course, just brings you back to saying, in essence, x [relativism] is true . . . y [non-relativism] is false.

It is difficult to wiggle your way out of this kind of metaphysical, very logical, matrix, but I think it is definitely worth giving it a try. Perhaps you, implicitly / unintentionally, thinking something similar: that 'validity' is a rupture of the traditional conception of truthfulness as that which is absolutely singular, be it immanent (if you're a romantic) or absent (if you're dualist); that 'validity', maybe, perhaps, is a cornerstone of truth as communicative coherence / comprehensibility; that it emerges from, in the midst or act of, discourse, and is the assumed potential of this discourse that makes it possible (that is, comprehensible) in the first place. This is the kind of truth that most interests me -- the kind that takes the engagement of subject and object in the act of communication seriously.

There is more to say -- there always is -- but I'll stop until I hear from you again.

Best,
Brad

It's the Little Things

There are maybe only two people out there who read this blog who will find this intertesting at all, but I post it only as a cathartic proclamation that is finally finished! You see, these 1,200 words kicked my ass this week. I'd intended on writing it last week, but I was too doped up on meds to function physically (let alone mentally); and thought I'd bang it out on Tues. or Wed. of this, and then send it to the journal editor on Fri. Alas, no. Tuesday because Wednesday, and then Wednesday Thursday -- and I could only manage 125 - 200 words a day. Something kicked into gear today, finally, and the damn thing has finally breathed life.

* * * * * *

Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness. By Richard Kearney. London: Routledge, 2003. x + 294 pp.

In his two previous volumes, On Stories and The God Who May Be, Richard Kearney successfully sought, respectively, to mark the human experience as that which must tell stories and that desires to think the unthinkable impossibility of the God that (may) lie at the limit of the narrative imaginary. In this, the final volume of his 'Philosophy at the Limit' trilogy, he explores the ethical implications and philosophical potential of doing both. The self, he suggests, is fraught with, and defined by, the sense of its own ending, where its self-familiarity ends and the strangeness of others begin. Kearney's desire is that we might more effectively redefine this self-familiar self in terms of the limit-experience of strangeness, in order to avoid the alienating projection onto others of our own unconscious fears of ourselves. Citing religious history in particular, as well as examples from popular cinema like Alien and Apocalypse Now: Redux, Kearney argues here that all too often and far too easily the 'stranger' is made a sacrificial scapegoat, a monster that must be exorcised if the stable, certain self is to identify and safely secure itself. What is lost in this economy of redemptive sacrifice, he continues, is the recognition of 'the stranger before us as a singular other who responds, in turn, to the singular otherness in each of us. We refuse to acknowledge ourselves-as-strangers' (p. 5).

All of this at first seems to be a recapitulation of the by now fairly standard postmodern critique of the self-sufficient subject, as rehearsed by the likes of Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, or Slavoj Zizek. While he clearly owes a great deal to such thinkers, he suspects their 'postmodern obsession with absolutist ideas of exteriority and otherness' of leading to a problematic idolatry: 'that of the memorial, ineffable Other', in which there is no discernible difference between the divine Good and the horrific Abject (p. 229). The key, he maintains, is to acknowledge the division between the self and the other without separating them so far that there is no relation at all. To do otherwise is to make ethical, responsible discernment impossible.

Kearney is at his best here when surveying the 'fetishising' of otherness and critiquing its ethical implications. With the overwhelming emphasis that postmodern criticism places on the infinite sublime that is a conditioning agent of knowledge, and thus not a subject of knowledge itself, its privileging of ethical undecidability (versus the moral stricture of being law-bound) is not surprising. For thinkers like Derrida, thinking the absolutely other, and the unconditional hospitality it deserves, 'marks a break with everyday conventions of hospitality governed by rights, contracts, duties, and pacts' (p. 69). As such, the openness of undecidability that is provoked by absolute alterity necessarily precedes the possibility of ethical discernment. In a turbulent world that has grown weary of theory and has been torn asunder by the ethical aftermath of 9/11, though, Kearney's query is especially apt:

How can we tell the difference between benign and malign others? How do we know . . . when the other is truly an enemy who seeks to destroy us or an innocent scapegoat projected by our phobias? Or a mixture of both? How do we account for the fact that not every other is innocent and not every self is an egoistic emperor? (p. 67)

Of these questions, he contends, much of postmodern philosophy remains disturbingly silent.

There must be, he suggests in response, a middle way between the 'romantic hermeneutics' of the autonomous self (at the expense of alterity) and the 'radical hermeneutics' of emphatic alterity (at the expense of the self). What is needed is a mediation between the poles of sameness and strangeness, which Kearney styles 'diacritical hermeneutics'. Here, the other is not 'so exterior or so unconscious . . . that it cannot be at least minimally interpreted by a self', but rather a debt 'inscribed within me as an uncontainable call from beyond' (p. 81). When that which is foreign is made more familiar, and that which is familiar more foreign, there is the potential of -- the necessity of -- hospitality to the other and the self's ethical discernment coexisting in the practical wisdom (phronesis) of narrative understanding.

All this, of course, stands in stark contrast to the primordial silence of the Immemorial Other. That which cannot be known or recalled, because of its absolute singularity, the Immemorial is invoked by Levinas to highlight the blank abyss, the darkness and madness, at the heart of the self's experience of itself, and thus also of the self's experience of history. To speak the other is, in this perspective, its unthinkable domestication; in fact, we would all be much better if we accepted the traumatic darkness at the root of our existence. It is the implication of the latter that Kearney finds most problematic, as it renders our cathartic mourning in the face of evil, be it apartheid or genocide, mute and ineffectual:

What the catharsis of mourning narrative allows is the realization that new actions are still possible in spite of evil sufferered. Narrative catharsis detaches us from the obsessional repetitions of the past and frees us for a less repressed future. For only thus may we escape the disabling cycles of retribution . . . . which estrange us from our power to act by instilling the view that evil is overpoweringly alien, that is, irresistible (p. 104).

If we cannot make something new and good of the evil in our past, in other words, what hope at all have we of achieving anything good for the future?

Kearney's ethical interrogation is, quite obviously, timely. Indeed, it is powerful, and often very persuasive. Nevertheless, if he does not necessarily argue against a straw man version of postmodern ethics, the weight of his arguments fall upon the hyperbolic implications of its rhetoric. This is most clearly the case in his analyses of undecidability, which he a little too readily accuses of being equivalent to indecidability. The point of the undecidable, rather, as a condition for the possibility of decision-making, indeed of storytelling, is that it marks the inherent, inevitable violence and guilt of the decisions we make and stories we tell. That is, in the face of the unthinkable absolute singularity that beckons us to act and to narrate, our actions and our stories do not simply fall short of representing the alterity of the other, but, more importantly, they cut us off from all the other decisions and stories that might have been enacted or narrated with the best of intentions. In not focussing on the decisive guilt at work in the ethics of undecidability, but rather the indecision he inaccurately espies as its result, Kearney's critique is weakened.

This weakness notwithstanding, Strangers, Gods and Monsters remains an invaluable ethical clarification of philosophers like Levinas and Derrida. Indeed, Kearney's presentation of a hermeneutical / narrative understanding of reality and truth, as that which actively discloses the possible, rather than that which is only infinitely deferred as a condition of possibility, is a significant, helpful corrective to the philosophical paralysis of postmodernity's residual Platonism.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Letters to a Young Theologian

Brad,

If you choose to believe in [a philosophical god (the Absolute, or Ultimate, or Real), Judeo-Christian / Muslim God, nameless Other, Emptiness, etc.] it is exactly that, isn't it, a choice? Can it be anyother but that, as there will never be a logical proof or argument that will make you feel settled -- it just boils down to the fact that you either believe or you don't.

I guess I really am asking this also because i want to know what you think of jumping completely into the abyss and saying there is nothing out there. I know several people who have done that, and I don't think they have any more answers (although I know there may not be any "answers"). They are just as unsettled in that decision as maybe I am in continuing an orthodox belief in light of some things I've picked up this semester. It seems both decisions leave you floating around in vertigo.

What do you think?

I can but say what I've said countless times on this blog: the less religiously inclined I become, the more I get drawn into questions of religion and belief. Why is this? Why do people continue to invite me to riddle their Christian faith with more than nails?

All this got me to wondering, when I should've been working feverishly; it got me to thinking a very unworked-out, quasi-mystical thought. Must belief / faith always be a conscious choice? I understand that self-consciousness, which we can't escape, behooves us to identify ourselves as 'choosers' of some sort; but I sometimes wonder whether this is the end of the story when it comes to religious assent. I remember once talking to a Hebrew Bible scholar about his reading of the prophet Jeremiah as one who, despite his best efforts, could do nothing else but be a prophet of YHWH; when he tried to look at something mundane, for instance, prophecy was still spoken. His number was called in that most enigmatic of texts, and his lot in life was unavoidable.

The email above, I think suggests a very similiar unavoidability. Namely, the unavoidability of (religious) assent -- be it the assent to confessional faith or the assent to irreligious faith. To nihilism. To secularism. Etc. (Cf., S. Zizek's On Belief). I agree that 'jumping completely into the abyss and saying there is nothing out there' provides no more stable ground than believing in God or Allah or Whatever as Absolute. Why, though?

Can it be, perhaps, that the implicit assent that marks one's religious or irreligious 'faith' can itself never be thought, consciously or not, in the singular? This is one of the more interesting aspects of J. Derrida's thinking, though lamentably not explored nearly enough. He says something very similiar here: that faith in whatever is, inevitably, a saying of 'yes, I assent to that'. Notice, though, that this saying is a present participle, it is being lived; it is not a 'yes' that is said, with a referent in mind, and thus referring to something stable and fixed (the bane of someone like Derrida).

In reply to my emailer's question: no, faith, even in something seemingly absolutely negative like, say, nihilism, cannot be nearly as stable, as 'absolute', as the Nietzsche (or Derrida)-quoting third-year philosopher might like to think it is. Rather, the saying of 'yes' in faith can only be achieved in a lived repetition; or, in other words, the saying of assent: 'yes, yes', an affirmation / confirmation of 'yes'. However, once you start such a repetition, as anyone who's ever dealt with basic semiotics might remember, it is quite difficult to know where or how stop (i.e., yes, yes, yes, yes, yes -- in this light, is faith all that different from an orgasm?).

Thursday, November 20, 2003

A Sigh of Relief

Greetings, all.

Let me begin by saying something unequivocal and simple: Being sick blows. I've been nursing myself to some semblance of health since Sunday evening, with only sporadic moments of success. Four days into the brain-crunching, chest-constricting terror of it all, I actually kind of feel like myself today -- minus the ringing in my right ear, which I've actually kind of taken to.

Only a couple of blogworthy things at the moment, though. First, I briefly attended an anti-Bush demonstration in Glasgow. Even at my healthiest I'm not much of a protester -- so you should not be too surprised to learn that I did not (a) march through rush-hour traffic filled streets, (b) carry a placard or a sign with some sort of witty sexual innuendo referencing 'Bush', or (c) spend 50p on a tiny peace button. Oh, and I did not (d) participate in the particularly vile chant 'Who let the bombs out? Bush Bush Bush Bush!' You, my friends, know that there is no love lost between me and my country's leader, and I certainly didn't take offense at the personal attacks on him; but at the same time, most of the chants and such all seemed a bit too youthfully exuberant and naive -- they with their Che Guevara t-shirts purchased no doubt from the local alterna-shop conveniently located next to Ann Summers -- but more importantly, utterly uncreative. If I see one more effigy of Bush dressed like a Taliban cleric, I think I might just vote for him out of good ol' American spite. (Okay, maybe not.) But hey, kudos to the hundreds of pensioners I saw in the crowd. Genial, dignified, and intelligently earnest . . . good on ya. Protests are as much about public relations as they are about making the disempowered discontents feel good about themselves and reinforce their conviction that they aren't the only person pissed off about something. You get enough grey heads with money in those marches, and you have something that really sells to the masses -- well, obviously, not just grey heads, otherwise church attendance would be through the roof in Europe.

I waded through the sea of people and menacing-looking police horses, and made it back to the flat just in time to watch Scotland get the shit kicked out of them by Holland in the away leg of their Euro 2004 playoff, during which a valuable lesson was learned. I.e., watching an ugly 6-0 loss is made even uglier when your girlfriend, due to her allegiance to the lowlands of Europe, is, after each goal, pointing at you from the middle of the living room while slightly squatted, like a sumo wrestler ready to pounce, and bellowing in a demonic tenor: 'You knew it, Bitch!'

Nevertheless, my quiet life of domesticity returned, more or less intact, by watching a couple more episodes of 24 (season one). I'm really late on this particular bandwagon, but such is life when you don't have a television for nearly two years. Mindless fun, that 24 -- if you can get beyond those gaping chasms of disbelief it inevitably evokes.

Oh, and lastly, (and yes, I know this is a complete non sequitur, as it has nothing to do with me, but aren't you happy to know that blogging hasn't made me into a complete narcissist? doesn't that make me the coolest, best blogger of the bunch?), rejoice with me, in the imminent return of Berkeley Breathed to America's cartoon pages. And while you're rejoicing, relish the caustic wit that Jim Davis only wishes his Garfield-writers could muster. Don't let your paper get away with not running 'Opus' . . . make some noise if you don't see it on Sunday.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

No Blood No Foul?

Fijians Say Sorry For Cannibalism

The Australian relatives of a British missionary killed and eaten by Fijian villagers 136 years ago thought two apologies were enough.

But yesterday they got a third, in the form of an elaborate ceremony attended by the Fijian prime minister, as villagers strived to lift a curse they say began with their ancestors' cannibalist crime.

The Reverend Thomas Baker was killed in 1867 at Nabutautau, a remote community high in the hills of the South Pacific island of Viti Levu.

[. . .]

Yesterday, they offered cows, specially woven mats and 30 rare carved sperm whale teeth known as tabua to 10 Australian descendants of Baker, a Wesleyan missionary.

In related news that isn't true at all, not in the slightest, not a word of it, Jews worldwide have begun deliberations as to whether the Christians, especially those who haven't been eaten by Fijians, are right about their culpability in that whole crucifixion of Jesus debacle of old. 'It's really been horrible public relations if nothing else,' Rabbi Yulli did not say.

Oh, but buck up, all you wrathful Christians out there. Take it from the Fijians, your vengeful God's still got a bit of spite in him. Don't you, Big Guy?

Village chief Ratu Filimoni Nawawabalavu said the village hoped the ceremony - which mixed ancient Melanesian pagan and modern Christian rituals - would erase the misfortunes they believed had kept them poor since that long-ago meal.

[. . .]

Past apologies haven't helped. The village last said sorry in 1993, when it presented the Methodist Church of Fiji with Baker's boots, which cannibals had tried unsuccessfully to cook and eat.

[. . .]

Villagers believe that since 1867 either Baker's spirit or old disapproving gods have made sure that modern developments like electricity, a school, piped water supply and other essentials most Fijian villagers enjoy have been kept from them.

It was only two weeks ago that a logging company cut a track to the village

All this goes to show: do not fuck with the Methodist Church.

A Silver Lining

All I can say of this is that I'm soooooo glad Katrien now has a job in Glasgow.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Not that long ago, Alain de Benoist wrote something very powerful:

The highest measure of democracy is neither the 'extent of freedom' nor the 'extent of equality', but rather the highest measure of participation.

Well, colour America's ruling party sold! That's right, never let it be said that the GOP doesn't encourage active dissent and critical dialogue:

The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

The decision -- one that Democrats and scholars said is highly unusual -- was announced in an e-mail sent Wednesday to the staff of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. House committee Democrats had just asked for information about how much the White House spent making and installing the "Mission Accomplished" banner for President Bush's May 1 speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.

The director of the White House Office of Administration, Timothy A. Campen, sent an e-mail titled "congressional questions" to majority and minority staff on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. Expressing "the need to add a bit of structure to the Q&A process," he wrote: "Given the increase in the number and types of requests we are beginning to receive from the House and Senate, and in deference to the various committee chairmen and our desire to better coordinate these requests, I am asking that all requests for information and materials be coordinated through the committee chairmen and be put in writing from the committee."

He said this would limit "duplicate requests" and help answer questions "in a timely fashion."

It would also do another thing: prevent Democrats from getting questions answered without the blessing of the GOP committee chairmen.

Oh, but don't worry, the White House assures us all:

"It was not the intent to suggest minority members should not ask questions without the consent of the majority."

I feel better already. Thanks.

Just When All Hope Seemed Lost

Outta the way, Jesse Jackson. Step aside, Jimmy Carter. To the back of the line, Jesus. Indeed, all ye mortals, thank the heavens, for Tenacious D have set their priorities, and life will never be the same again.

Proving the Caricature True

Unctuous. Chicanery. Cloacal. Vulpine. Specious. Cormorant.

Each of the above very well may be for some of us fifty-cent words, but I think today's Washington Post shows quite well that their primary referent may not be nearly as exotic.

When Congress this year decided to allow small-business owners, doctors, lawyers and real estate salespeople to deduct up to $100,000 from their taxable income for the purchase of a luxury SUV, Texas car-dealership magnate Jerry Reynolds could hardly believe his good fortune.

He took to the radio to spread the news, drafted a treatise for the Internet, and last week, the man known around Dallas simply as "the car guy" began advertising in the Dallas Morning News. "It's a loophole," the ad proclaims, "and this weekend, we can show you how to make that loophole big enough to drive a fleet of trucks and sport utility vehicles through it!"

It's enough to make me really and truly want to be believe in Hell.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Come Unto Me, Neo, All Ye Who Are Weak and Burdened

I just got word from a friend that he scored us some tickets to the Matrix Revolutions premiere down in the city centre. While I'm excited to see it, especially since I'll see something before most of you losers back in the States (heh), I'm slightly ambivalent.

A couple of weekends ago, I saw Kill Bill, and absolutely freakin' loved it. If, as Theodor Adorno suggested, there is no poetry after the Holocaust, I think a contemporary (though, admittedly far more shallow -- and I'm not making an ethical evaluation here) corollary might be that there are no more violent movies after Kill Bill. It was utterly shocking. I'm hard-pressed to think of a way that future movies can present violence in such a way as to compare to Tarantino's vision.

I tell you this for one simple reason: I only see the Matrix movies for the comic book, sublime violence. Nothing else. The mythology is pretty shallow and obvious, and the philosophy is of the popular variety that many a thoughtful person might ruminate upon whilst in the tub, stuck in an elevator, etc. So, let's not be fooled, The Matrix is about crazy violence, executed with absurd, electronically-attuned finesse. This, I think, is the reason I left Reloaded a little disappointed. The fights were, for all their bluster and boom, were pretty predictable (save for Morpheus' sudden ability to kick an agent's ass, and I certainly don't credit that as a good plot turn) -- plus, the movie wasn't helped by that bane of such movies: the moviemakers taking their mythology far too seriously, and thus forcing the gunplay to be muted for some insipid dialogue. Moreover, this is the reason I fear I may dislike the last installment. If the early word is true, while there's heaps of over-the-top shoot 'em up, Revolutions will revel in the Christological pap of its suggested pseudo-allegory. Invariably, you'll have people who will remark at the brilliance of this parallel -- evangelical Christians inviting their 'unsaved' friends, so that they might evangelize over a slice of pizza later, in hopes of ticking one name off their Christian hit-list; and, even more annoying, popular culture seminars in which cool black-clad professors push back their greasy, brown locks, and read the trilogy as some seminal moment in contemporary mythology. Urgh. Meanwhile, that'll be me -- at the pizza joint eating a ham calzone, or at the seminar scribbling down a grocery list -- rolling my eyes and awaiting the second volume of Kill Bill.

Anyway, for now, let's hope none of this is the case. Suspension of disbelief begins now . . . we'll just have to wait and see for how long.

A Song for the Day [2]

All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow, no tommorow, no tommorow

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very, very
Mad World

Children waiting for the day they feel good, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should, sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous, no one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson, look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very, very
Mad World

Name that band . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A Song for the Day

When I tell you that I love you, don't test my love
Accept my love, don't test my love
'Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

Don't ask what kind of music I'm gonna play tonight
Just stay awhile, hear for yourself awhile
And if you must put me in a box, make sure it's a big box
With lots of windows
And a door to walk through
And a nice high chimney
So we can burn burn burn everything that we don't like
And watch the ashes fly up to Heaven
Maybe all the way to India
I'd like that

All the ancient kings came to my door
They said, "Do you want to be an ancient king too?"
I said, "Oh yes, very much. But I think my timing's wrong"
They said, "Time is relative. Or did you misread Einstien?"
I said, "Do you really mean it?"
They said, "What do you think we come here for, our goddamn health or something?"

Everybody's waiting for the messiah:
The Jews are waiting
The Christians are waiting
Also the Muslims
It's like everybody's waiting
They've been waiting a long time
I know how I hate to wait, like even for a bus or something
Or an important phone call
So I can just imagine how darned impatient everybody must be getting

So I think it's time now
Time to reveal myself:
I am the Messiah
I am the Messiah
I am the Messiah

Yes, I think you heard me right
I am the Messiah
I was gonna wait till next year
Build up the suspense a little, make it a really big surprise
But I could not resist
It's like when you got a really big secret
You're just bursting to tell someone
It was sorta like that with this
And now that I've told you, I feel this great weight lifted
Dr. Nusbaum was right -- he's my therapist
He said get it out in the open

I spent ten whole days in Jerusalem
Mmmm Jerusalem
Sweet Jerusalem
And all I ate was olives
Nothing but olives
Mountains of olives
It was a good ten days
I like olives
I like you too

So when I tell you that I love you, don't test my love
Accept my love, don't test my love
'Cause maybe I don't love you all that much

Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Theology is a big con

Irregular blogs abound around the internet these days. Not surprising, I guess. What with a pretty damn boring World Series (bully for the Florida Marlins, though) and a war that looks increasingly the same each day -- 'getting better' if you believe the White House; 'not getting better' if you're breathing out your nose right now* -- it looks like we're stuck with a Nelly's stolen jewelry and a quite probably feckless September 11 Truth Commission. While I'm inclined to wax eloquently about the travails of being a multi-millionaire rap-pop star, and being the victim of such a horrible crime, I'm going to resist the urge.

Instead, I'm going to do what most bloggers, myself included, do when they've been especially irregular in their posting. I am, first, going to offer an explanation:

I've been freakin' busy, a'ight!

Secondly, I will offer an example, admittedly a very very obscure one, of what has been keeping me busy. Turn away now:

V. The Character of Theology

(1) The poles of absolute chaos and order betray an inert uncertainty -- a dehumanizing, and perhaps even unethical, stasis

(a) E.g., The alleged fascisms of M. Heidegger and M. Eliade

(2) The tenuous path between these pole is that of a fictive / narrative telling, which, by extension, would rethink the practice and assumptions of theology.

(a) Focus on F. Schleiermacher's hermeneutics -- namely, the dialectic of psychological and grammatical interpretation -- and the importance of his praxis of interpretation.

(a1) Note, as well, how this plays out in his Das Leben Jesu, and its consequent influence upon the other 'fictions' of God / Christ (e.g., A. Schweitzer, D. Strauss, G. E. Lessing, R. Bultmann, and P. Tillich).

(b) Rethinking the play between reality and possibility that is provoked by the ineffable, albeit material / textual, gap between the subject and itself opens theology, amongst other discourses, to an imaginatively adaptive characterization [re-telling].

(3) The discursive praxis of theology

(a) Herman Melville's complex theatricality marks a significant discursive model for the praxis of theological production: that of the 'confidence game'

(a1) Cf., contemporary complexity theory (with its nineteenth-century roots in F. Schelling and G. W. F. Hegel) -- neither centralized nor chaotic, complexity marks the liminal moment between complete order and absolute chaos, a moment itself that is dependent upon the dual dynamics of emergent patterns that evoke comprehensibility and evolutionary adaptation.

(a2) Note how this plays out in the communicative ebb and flow of a 'confidence game' -- in both Melville's fiction and in contemporary culture (notably, 'the Spanish prisoner')

(a2a) The confidence game co-opts memory as a pool of narrative possibility, and thus continuously adapts it -- quite often in shocking, spontaneous ways. Such discourse lends itself to the unexpected (i.e., adaptations, possibilities), while at the same time rending it open to further interpretation (i.e., emergent patterns of comprehensibility).

(b) Theological discourse, modeled on an imaginatively true confidence game, is bound to neither order nor chaos. With the theologian's god as multi-faced as the theologian and the student of theology, systematic order and nihilistic chaos would invariably cripple the constructive character of its discourse.

(c) The ostensible fact that chaos and order are the twin poles of a simplicitity that is not evident in human existence or discourse compels us to think and create theology in all its possible complexity.

(c1) As such, what I suggest here is not a change of venue, per se, from the halls of academic theology to that of literature -- or even the backroom of casinos -- but merely a perusal of the playbill that, like Plinlimmon's pamphlet in Melville's novel Pierre, has somehow woven its way into the lining of our jackets, which we have been unknowingly wearing all along.

Ah, the joy of last-chapter outlines!

*********

*Yeah, that's right, I discriminate against you mouth-breathers. Now, take a Tic-Tac and let's move on, shall we?

The Logic of a Bush

Oh, I get it . . . those 'foreign' terrorists in Iraq last week, last month, etc. -- not to be confused with its foreign invaders -- who were killing American G. I.'s at one or two per day with seemingly indiscriminate shooting and bombing were really deeply idealistic and hopeful of their cause, as opposed to those of the more deadly desperate ilk. Yes, it makes sense: the more that die, the closer the victory; the bloodier path, the greater the glory.

Hast ye, Christian soldiers, deadly onto war! Ask no question, be told no lie.

Friday, October 24, 2003

An Open Postcard to Me Mum

Dear Mum,

I have a few moments to spare before I make my way up to the university and finally, several weeks late, matriculate. I would prefer to put it off even longer, what with the silly fact that I have to pay them gobs of money when I do so, but the registry contacted me yesterday, god love 'em, wanting to know why I was receiving student loans if I wasn't even registered for the 2003/04 term. None of their bloody business, I say! Let me go in debt in peace, please!

All is well . . . surprisingly so. Got my passport back from the Home Office yesterday, with a brand spankin' new leave-to-enter stamp, good until May '05. This was a welcome relief considering what I just said about my lack of matriculation. Work, too, is coming along fairly well; though I bit off more extra work this year than I should've -- what with organising the centre, reading groups (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), and writing several book reviews (1, 2, and 3). This, my third year, I've decided is to be my 'serious' year.

The reason, as you might've guessed, is rooted in some measure of my overwhelming vanity, as I was reminded the other day that my nonchalance about such things as, say, this whole damned academic enterprise, may not always be the best thing for my 'image'. I was talking to a friend of mine who is writing his thesis on technology and conceptions of the Self, and I guess I said something that was either very articulate or particularly astute; whichever it was, because it came from me, it surprised him and everybody else at our table. It seems that I am mostly regarded, at least by the postgraduates with whom I associate, as the first to arrive at the pub and the last to leave -- i.e., the most likely to destroy himself and all he loves w/ the drink and his ability to say really uncouth, alcohol-induced things like 'God, you Brits really hate your Jews, don't you?'

But, you know, I sometimes feel like I just can't be bothered by trying to try to impress these people, or at least this is what year-two B. would say (and what year-three B. will undoubtedly say again after his second double of uisge!). I realise that many of them will inevitably be my colleagues, and some my friends, and that I should try to make a good impression; but I've recently come to an even more important realisation that trying too hard at just about anything is actually kind of frowned upon in Britain. In other words, there are no rewards for all that stuff I was taught in various leadership courses whilst an eager undergraduate in America: namely, proactivity.

For instance, should you wish to register for classes when you are told to do so in the student manual or in countless emails from brusk-sounding administrative types, you will toil your day away in a five-hour queue. Or, should you submit your visa renewal application on time and with the necessary paperwork, as I did last year, the Glasweigan office of the Home Office will go out of their way to nearly lose your passport in the process. Or, should you aggressively position yourself as an important contributor in your departmental centre, you will invariably be second-in-line in every bid for substantial funding. Or, lastly, should you make an innocent call to British Telecom's customer service line, in hopes of making sure that you're not paying too much for calls to Belgium, you are summarily thrown into a vertigo of confusing conversations, disconcerting pauses in the midst of those conversations, and long waits on cold late-mornings with a stomach whose grumbling betrays the fact you've not yet eaten anything - all to learn that, 'we don't even understand why your line is working correctly'.

The Belgian is doing well. She, in fact, says 'Hallo' right now, issuing her trademark, childlike wave (ever notice how she makes a little semi-fist with her goodbye waves?) for all to see. For the most part, she seems to enjoy her job. It is a bit more of a call centre position than she originally envisioned, but the pay ain't bad for a short-term gig. Crap job or not, she's far more resiliant and filled with moral fortitude than I, so even if she truly loathed her job she'd handle it with considerable grace and aplomb.

You'll appreciate this, you who pray over my lost soul all the night long, in those darkest nights of the soul that only a mother with wayward children can know. I was telling a friend of mine the other day - a friend from way back in the days in which I wished to be a minister, those halcyon days before the 'fall', one who has, despite her own ministerial standing, considers me a friend - about how my fascination with theory has been supplemented, quite healthily I think, with a passionate enquiry of ethics, politics, and praxis in general. More significantly, though, so many of these 'practical' concerns are very similar to the ones I had before - though, admittedly, radically altered, tinged with a hopeful, creative, indeed a theological, atheism. Stuff like inter- and intra-religious dialogue, political dissent and compromise, and even eschatologically-charged stuff like 'care for the other'. This is a good sign, I suppose.

Anyway, I guess I've written far more than I thought that I might - and likely far more than you wished to read. Hope you are well almost as much as I do that I might hear from you soon.

Best,

B.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Cut this picture into you and me
Burn it backwards, kill this history
Make it over make it stay away
Or hate'll say the ending that love started to stay

There's a kid a floor below me saying brother can you spare
Sunshine for a brother old man winter's in the air
Walked me up a story, asking how you are
Told me not to worry, you were just a shooting star

Sweet adeline, sweet adeline
My clementine, sweet adeline

It's a picture perfect evening and i'm staring down the sun
Fully loaded deaf and dumb and done
Waiting for sedation to disconnect my head
Or any situation where i'm better off then dead

Damn, this really sucks: "Oscar-nominated songwriter Elliott Smith dead at 34."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

You Mean 'Marriage Protection Week' Has Nothing To Do With Prophylactic Distribution?

Did you know? The glorious God-given sanctity of traditional, missionary-position marriage is under savage attack. The GOP is openly terrified that gays are galloping into the cultural consciousness on sequined horseback, lovers are shunning traditional weddings in favor of incense and anal sex and taiko drumming, children are weeping in the streets, neglected and confused and reading Harry Potter backward, wondering why Mommy scours the nerve.com personals while Daddy is off visiting his "sisters" in Bangkok.

[. . .]

Therefore, if we all work to "protect" marriage -- which apparently means lots of counseling and guilt-thick church meetings and bad sex and rampant loathing of gay people, coupled with your tacit agreement to bury your sense of self and endure yet another decade of unhappy marriage with someone you might not love anymore and who might be abusive or unhealthy or just plain depressing as hell -- society will be saved.

Come now, you know who I'm linking to, don't you?

Let's make this perfectly clear: Marriage does not need protection. Traditional marriage does not need any forcible recommitment by right-wing Christian zealots who try to force everyone into little shiny happy heterosexual SUV-sized boxes of sameness and sanctimony and bad rented tuxedos and engraved gravy boats.

[. . .]

Marriage needs to be tickled until it screams. Marriage needs to be stripped down and sprayed with whipped cream and licked all over. Marriage needs to be blown apart with the dynamite of new possibility and put back together again in ten thousand different kaleidoscopic configurations, each one encouraged and celebrated and applauded, even those that don't involve ridiculously expensive cakes and tepid church ceremonies and the bride zonked on Valium as the groom slams another scotch to calm his nerves.

This is the only way. Evolve or die, honey. Because it's exactly when you try to force-fit love's modern, ever-evolving mutations into archaic, increasingly bitter boxes of ideology and Right wing-approved blandness and sactimony that the culture suffers most. Legislating love is never the answer. Hey, just ask your neighborhood Catholic priest.

So. Let us redefine this week. Let us claim it right back from the hounds of fearful conservatism. Let us call it "Shut the Hell Up and Get Your Damn Conservative Agenda Out of My Love Life Week." In fact, let us make it a month. A year. An agenda of our own.

Okay, how about now? No . . . hmm . . . oooer . . . well, just click the damn link and see for yourself (as if I didn't, without a hint or whiff of shame, already quote half of it!).

Monday, October 13, 2003

Ahh, there's aye a something

So an ever-increasing number of European universites are facing the financial reality that they're going to consider charging (more) tuition, eh? As we say here in Glasgow, with a tip of my hat one way to K. and another to my current loan provider, boo-fookin'-hoo. Keeping this in mind, my award for today's pure blethering skite (it's Glasweigian dialect day here at Silentio, if you couldnnae tell) goes to Humboldt University's own, Herr Thomas Sieron.

The prospect of tuition fees has caused dismay among students, many of whom already work to make ends meet. Student union president Thomas Sieron said that fees would be a disaster.

[. . .]

What, then, was his solution to the problem of university under-funding? "We don't have a perfect solution. Our perfect solution is to smash capitalism," he said. "The need to smash capitalism has become even more obvious over the past three or four years."

He's a right wee nyaff, that yin, intheno?

Seriously, though, there's something seriously short-sighted with this either/or reasoning; and, in truth, it seems like something that could and would only come out of a university (or, conversely, The Wall Street Journal editorial page). Compound the ivory tower / corporate scrum syndrome -- with its problematic dialectic of 'pure' Marxism set against its archnemesis 'pure' capitalism -- with a system in which it's not odd to see forty-year-old students who've never paid a dime for the education (or, hell, the course[!!!] they've no real intention of ever finishing, and this kind of mince is gonnae keep being spouted by more than naff Student Union presidents. (The tragedy being, of course, that people who might realise that 'purity' ain't what it's cracked up to be, and that finding a tenuous, adaptible middle-way between socialism and capitalism might be worth actually implementing, that is, non-[debt-ridden]-Americans, are probably hanging out in the Humboldt University Student Union coffee shop, thinking about switching majors for the fifth time.)

Reading this today was enough to neerly maek me gag on me Irn-Bru. Oh, there's aye a something.

Broken Promises

Whew, I sure am glad we have a president in the Oval Office who doesn't get illicit, icky blowjobs! Yes, I'm glad we have one tells us the truth! No exaggeration. No equivocation. No backpeddling. That's right, those days are behind us since Bush was anointed by his Saviour (funny, innit, Dubya's tendency to need a sacrificial, mediatory figure to take the full brunt of, or redeem, his fuck ups -- be it in his life, his presidency, or his faith?) as 'Leader of the Free Werld'.

Okay, so maybe not.

Fighting Aids was supposed to show George Bush's softer side. "Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many," he said in his State of the Union address in January.

He has since reconsidered, deciding instead to offer a few more opportunities to the few. First he handed the top job of his global Aids initiative to a Big Pharma boss, then he broke his $3bn promise of Aids relief. And now there are concerns that he may sabotage a plan to send cheap drugs to countries ravaged by Aids.

I suppose one might be solaced a bit by Canada's resistance to the American position if it wasn't so inevitably ineffectual.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

A Must Read


I want to be clear, so there is no misunderstanding here: Every single person who voted in this election who did not vote in the actual gubernatorial election in 2002 is a complete and total fucking tool. You could not have been any more used if you were a spent condom.

[. . .]

If you voted for the recall, you might have thought you were voting to boot Gray Davis out of office. But that's because you're a moron, easily distracted by sparkly lights and shiny objects. You were really voting to let small, inherently undemocratic groups run your state all the time, forever. The fact that you thought you were doing the former when in fact you were doing the latter suggests that you would have been more helpful in the governance of your state by hurling yourself off the Golden Gate Bridge and smacking into the bay below with a nice, bone-powdering swack. In addition to clearing out four million bottom-feeders from an already-overpopulated state, California might still have a government still nominally beholden to voters, instead of through special-interest control by mob rule proxy. Good job.

John Scalzi says all that really needs to be said about the California recall.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

I'm Living Paul Auster's Life For Him

. . . which, for those of you who've ever read any of his stuff, might not be as unthinkable as it seems on the purpose. (You know, if Silentio should ever have an entrance fee (indeed, why would it though?) I think it would simply be that you read Auster's New York Trilogy.

Anyway, back to the point. Yes, I'm living Paul Auster's life, or at least that life rendered in quasi-fiction / semi-memoir in The Invention of Solitude -- or, more precisely, a paragraph, ripped out of its context, from said book.

When night comes, the electricity dims to half-strength, then goes up again, then comes down, for no apparent reason. It is as though the lights were controlled by some prankster deity. The electric company has no record of the place, and no one has ever had to pay for power. At the same time, the phone company has refused to acknowledge A.’s existence. The phone has been here for nine months, functioning without a flaw, but he had not yet received a bill for it. When he called the other day to straighten out the problem, they insisted they had never heard of him. Somehow, he has managed to escape the clutches of the computer, and none of his calls has ever been recorded. His name is off the books. If he felt like it, he could spend his idle moments making free calls to far-away places. But the fact is, there is no one he wants to talk to. Not in California, not in Paris, not in China. The world has shrunk to the size of this room for him, and for as long as it takes him to understand it, he must stay where he is. Only one thing is certain: he cannot be anywhere until he is here. And if he does not manage to find this place, it would be absurd for him to think of looking for another.

Yesterday I tried to report at fault with British Telecom, only to be told very politely but with a steady amount of angst, that I should not exist -- or at least should not be talking on the line that I professed to be using. My confirmation to that effect was not enough for the Customer Advisor with whom I was dealing, due in no small part to the fact that I called five minutes before he and the rest of his call centre cadre were set to clock out for the evening. Upon calling this morning, Customer Advisor #2 was so rattled by the mystery that she accidentally hung up on me after a fifteen minute analysis of the problem. Customer Advisor #3, who I reached after a twenty minute, wholly unsuccessful, endeavour to find a neighbour to call me, just to be sure I was in fact real, refused to believe there was a problem at all; she instead enquired whether I was happy with my British Telecom service. Of course, I indicated that I was quite happy with them as long as they kept providing me free service, which she tacitly indicated might very well continue because 'there's nothing I can do for you on this end. We will call you back at that number [the one that, allegedly, does not exist] when we know what's going on.'

In other words, it is a mystery. This matter of the telephone . . . this matter of me. Which is it, Paul?

In the interim, in the void between the moment he opens the door and the moment he begins to reconquer the emptiness, his mind flails in a wordless panic. It is as if he were being forced to watch his own disappearance, as if, by crossing the threshold of this room, he were entering another dimension, taking up residence inside a black hole.

Oh okay, thanks.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

"You are a dreadfully ill-mannered peon and a primitive, flesh-creeping excrement stain on a Sumo Wrestler's underpants."

Are you looking for a time-waster, sometime to while away your workday? Or, alternatively, are you looking to really piss somebody off with your verbal acumen? Either way, or perhaps if you're just curious now, you will want to check out Insultmonger.com. It's my guess that this has been around for a loooooong time and that I've been too much of an internet dullard to know about it. In fact, the insult the site generated for me kind of suggests as much:

You're the saddest, piss-poor excuse for a man I've ever seen, you chromosome-deficient, uber-impotent, rat-faced tard-popsicle. I'm not surprised you're single, you pimple-faced perpetual wedgie victim. Average looking, my ass. You're uglier than the south-facing end of north-bound mule with a ruptured ulcerated fly-covered rump. You're the typical left-wing, know-nothing, good-for-nothing, bleeding heart bungling bum who thinks the world owes you a living. You four-eyed, cerebrally-deluded, Einstein-impersonating, pseudo-intellectual nerdturd with a head full of misfiring synapses. Like your height, everything about you is average; except your stench - which is overwhelming. Lying about your weight again, eh? Since when did Pregnant Water Buffalo Size become 'Average'? You couldn't get a job cleaning shit off a toilet, you utterly useless wrinkled balloon in a muddy puddle of goat's piss. I've seen wounds that were better dressed than you are. I've come across decomposing animal carcasses that are less offensive than you are.

I have to admit, it has me pegged pretty good there.

FYI, It's not all witless and crass. If you're more refined than I, or, say, you're writing a book, article, or thesis on James Joyce or Ralph Waldo Emerson, there's a collection of insults by and about them as well. In other words, it's noontime fun for everyone!

A Blind Link

I've not read all of this yet, but the idea is interesting enough to make it worth a read. If you're a technophile and have an interest in political discourse, or at the very least realise that the way things are in the West's political landscape are not at all how they must be, you may want to check out Open Source Democracy.

Now that I think about it, let me know what you think, because I really have no idea when I'm going to get a chance to read the full sixty-some pages.