Friday, February 28, 2003

Thoughts on Consistency, Part I

In many ways we are all characters, as if in a story. A good story builds a consistent character, or at least a character the reader can expect something from. Hence you have the devices of foreshadowing, irony, climax, etc. We each develop these sorts of roles. As our interconnected stories unfold, we are one others' readers; consequently, we at least think know what to expect from one another. Again, this is more or less the basis of everyday communication, be it verbal, non-verbal, direct, or indirect. (J. Habermas has been saying this kind of thing for ages now; so blame him if you think my premises are wrong.) Anything markedly different generally falls into the category of unstable irony -- the inconsistent becomes the consistent, the harsh becomes the compassionate, etc. I only say this to illustrate the fact that we often have a basic, functional understanding of one other, and as a result we have certain expectations of one another. For the most part, unless we don't know enough about the other person to make such a sound judgment, we normally feel safe enough to engage them without too much prior consideration. Ah, and yet our inner cynic sometimes hastens to try and make us wise to the possibility, indeed the inevitability, of what we do not expect. Obviously, the anticipation of such irony is by no means foolproof; after all, this kind of prophetic prognostication would serve to eliminate the word "irony" from our conceptual dictionary. It just wouldn't be possible anymore. All the same, our inner cynic will go on to assure us that it is still better to expect the random, thus stripping it of some of its more overtly malevolent and destabilizing wiles.

Take, for instance, my present interest, in this short essay, in all things aleatory. To be sure, it has not always interested me, as my friends frequently point out that nothing seems capable of always attracting my transient attention span. It is, one could say, within my character to flirt from fascination to fascination for indeterminate but ever fleeting periods of time. If something, such as the vacuous term "postmodernism," makes an apparent residence in my working vocabulary, it is outside the grain of my established character to maintain any sort of lasting interest. To do so, then, would be unstably ironic for my readers, that is, those with whom I interact. This, however, begs the obvious question: Should we be so reticent to embrace instability? More frighteningly, though, what if we are already unknowingly embracing it?

The randomness of life is a common complaint. And yet this grievance is bandied about as if "life" is something singular, some kind of something. However, consider the implication of believing "life" to be more a collection of something(s) (maybe, for the sake of saving rationality, we can say that the singularity is only recognizable at all -- at least, if nothing else, of being singular -- because of the fact that all we have to go on is multiplicity). Even if we were able to differentiate ourselves as individuals from a singular "life" that happens to be random, we would be left to wonder if we, as individuals, were any less random than whatever is left that constitutes such "life."

The point of this, and a rather banal one at that, is simply to introduce what follows: we human beings are inconsistent, and there is probably very little any of us can do, or possibly even should do, about it.

Consistency is, of course, like most things, in the eye of the beholder, and if we are to jump headfirst into our existential, radical "nowness" (a problematic assumption for any number of reasons that aren't worth exploring at the moment), then it really doesn't hold too much meaning either. As far as I see it, its importance remains mostly pragmatic, as it compels us to assess, from the present of course, our views of the past and the future, and thus come up with a reasonable assessment of the place we think the present plays in all that. So, like the story metaphor I was outlining before, we think about consistency in order to not go mad! We need a unifying story, something to give us a bit of sense to things, even if we kind of know it's something we've told ourselves. There's nothing in and of itself wrong with believing the stories you tell yourself, or the ones told to you for that matter; in fact, belief in a story inevitable. The danger comes when we forget the banal point above, no matter if it is a "good" or "bad" one: don't necessarily believe the hype.

Anyway, I realize that by now, as you come to the end of this post, you are probably more than eager for a clear thesis or a theme, or at least something concrete to make sense of why this is worth writing about, some sort of thoroughfare through which to navigate the twisted terrain of mixed metaphors, puzzling personal pronouns and parenthetical exclamations. That, though, is for the fun-filled non sequitur that is Part 2 tomorrow -- A Trip to the Christian Bookstore.

Man oh man, nothing is more beautiful than Mark Morford when he gets in tune with his writing vibe. I normally can't help but normally roll my eyes at hippy-talk, but Morford's column today furiously yanked me kicking and screaming into the land of cognitive dissonance. Blinders off . . . cynicism low -- for only a moment or two, or as long as it takes to get through an extended quote:

The incessant drive to war, the blank-eyed young soldiers, the drab oil fields, the terse U.N. debates, Rumsfeld's ink-black eyes, the violence and 9/11 and Osama in hiding, Saddam's sneering and Shrub's smirking and Dick Cheney's defibrillator cranking on 11 -- these events are considered "real," they are tangible and raw and ugly and happening right now and we've got the pictures to prove it, all over the media, grainy and grim and mean, CNN and Fox News and frowning pundits and 100-point newspaper headlines, so you know it must be true.

Then there's you, walking through your daily life right now, eating and laughing and screwing and paying rent and thinking for yourself, filtering the onslaught and trying to remain connected to something divine and universal and authentic, all while straining to put this national trend toward violence and warmongering into some sort of acceptable frame.

You are not "real" in this same way. This is the feeling. Your experience is somehow irrelevant; what you do and how you maneuver this daily treachery is an insignificant side note to the big ugly daily political machinations because hey, it's war. It's the Big Boys. Angry White Men with very serious penis issues. All that matters is the machine, and the money, and the oil, and the WMD and the drumbeat rhetoric.

[. . .]

Here is the great fallacy of the American ethos, the one that powers SUV purchases and spawns a billion McDonald's franchises and gun purchases and Adam Sandler movies: it is the notion that Americans exist in a freewheelin' vacuum, that our daily choices don't, in fact, affect the world, and our neighbors, and our children, and the environment and our own bodies.

It is the idea that those very choices -- foods you eat, cars you drive, shows you watch, personal relations you have, waste you create, choices you make -- can't, in a very real and immediate way, erode your divine links, spit on your spiritual spark, taint your mystical meat. Every single one, every single time.

In other words, in buying that gun, smacking that child, abusing that spouse, screaming at that neighbor, buying that thuggish SUV, supporting that war, wishing death upon all them damn furriners, you may think you're exercising your God-given all-'Murkin right to do/say/drive whatever the hell you want because you're an American goddammit and no one will tell you how to live so back off.

Not quite. Rather, you are also injecting a deliberate dose of bitter bile straight into the cultural bloodstream, actually -- and quite literally -- lowering the general vibration of the human collective cause, casting your vote for small-mindedness and solipsism and violence. Yep, you are. And yes indeed, your vote counts.

[. . .]

That postcoital buzz? That post-party feel-good vibe? That genuine laughter? That gratuitously kind thing you did for that stranger? That celebration of your body and your sex and love and spirit in spite of mainstream religious puling and finger wagging? That deep meditative solitude? Bingo. That's the vibe you want. That's the vibe we all need. That's the vibration that makes all the difference.

Yeah, this hippy get-touch-with-a-positive-vibe thing might be complete bollocks, but do you honestly think it's any more so than how most of us are conditioned to think and to live our lives?

"I am still right here"

The legend of Johnny Cash (since that's how I know him, really) never fails to wow me, but not until today had it brought me so close to tears (no small task, either). His video for "Hurt" is getting some well-deserved buzz and airplay on MTV2, and is, quite frankly, the most starkly moving video I've seen in quite some time -- maybe ever. MTV has a nice article about it, but nothing does it the justice it deserves but sitting down and watching it. If you're even a nominal fan of Johnny Cash -- or, if you've ever thought about life in terms of a process of decay and loss, but possibly also redemption -- then you won't want to miss it.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Some Recommendations

I've revamped the blogroll some, adding a few, deleting a couple. The additions aren't necessarily new blogs, just ones that for whatever I hadn't really spent much time reading. The unifying theme between them all is that they generally have some insightful, unexpected things to say about their links. Most bloggers are linkers, and some bloggers say interesting things in an interesting way; however, precious few do both. In order that you don't make my same mistake and miss out on the fun, I thought I'd formally introduce you to the the newbies here at Silentio.

  • The D-Squared Digest doesn't need my recommendation to feel affirmed and loved in the blogsophere. I've been a regular reading for months (only realizing today that he wasn't linked), and hell, from the looks of his Comments, most of the lefty bloggers of note also already frequent Daniel's site. However, it is so well-written, and often so deliciously funny, that I can't help but recommend that you join the masses, too.

  • It's pure oversight that, prior to today, I had never checked out Patrick Nielsen Hayden's site, Electrolite. Less specific commentary than what I generally like in my blogs of choice, but his links alone are more than enough reason that you should make his site a regular haunting ground.

  • I really like Kieran Healy's blog. Unless you don't believe anything you read online, which would probably go pretty far in making you a well-rounded, intelligent person, Kieran is a Sociology professor at the University of Arizona. So yes, he has smart-person credentials -- well, he has a doctorate anyway, for whatever that's worth -- and, far more importantly if you're the suspicious sort I just mentioned, he supplements this with a wonderful wit that cannot be faked. I've only been visiting his site regularly for the past few weeks, but this post completed my conversion.

  • This next one is a very recent discovery, but it's also the one I'm the most excited about. It doesn't look like he blogs daily (which is good for those of you who don't read blogs daily either), but Timothy Burke's Easily Distracted is fabulous. He's also a professor (at Swathmore College), teaching Popular Culture and African Studies, and his posts reflect a down-to-earth thinker with thoughts worth reading. He doesn't have Permalinks yet, but check out his February 12 post ("In Which The Enchantments of Blogistan Fade and I Am Left a Pumpkin"), for a great introduction to the exasperating emergence of the blogging world's self-referentiality, and thus its bloviating sense of self-importance. (His take is not nearly as cynical as my summary of it.)

  • Lastly, I'm going to repeat a recommendation I've made once or twice before. Scott Marten's site, Pedantry, is consistently filled with innovative posts. By that I mean he isn't just rehashing news stories or making fun of people, which, of course, we at Silentio take a certain pride in doing. Often, I have absolutely no interest at all in the topic that Scott begins with; but just as often, I surf away from his site thinking, "Wow, I wish I wrote that." (One might wonder at this point, if you're a regular reader here at all, if that's much of a compliment.) As of a couple of days ago, Scott started getting noticed, so if you're worried about maintaining the hip status that all you Silentio readers so obviously enjoy, you'd better hurry and jump on the bandwagon before it looks like you're there just because everybody else is. Be cool . . . go there now -- you know you want to.

So, there you are, some not-necessarily-new-blogs for you, the not-necessarily-regular-blog readers. For those of you who are regular blog readers, a thousand and two pardons for the probable redundancy. Incidentally, if any of you should come across a good-looking blog, which I'll loosely define as anything (with the exception of newspapers / magazines, online or otherwise) that looks like it's updated at least once a week, let me know. It doesn't need to be purely political or anything like that -- not all in my blogroll are, by the way, should you assume so. I will just trust that anybody who takes the time to email me probably by now has a pretty good take on my internet interests, at least until I'm proven overwhelmingly wrong. Don't let me down, muchachos.

Relief, Part Two

Yes, indeed. Today is a glorious day for America. The infidels shall not break our Promethean spirit by chaining us to an orange-tinted fear. Nay, I say! Today is a fine day, indeed, because the tide has turned: "U.S. Cuts Threat-Level Alert a Notch, From Orange to Yellow," herald the headlines of America. Sweet relief is ours!

Oh, but caution, children:

We emphasize that the United States and its interests are still at a significant risk of terrorist attack," the statement said.

"Detained Al Qaeda operatives have informed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials that Al Qaeda will wait until it believes Americans are less vigilant and less prepared before it will strike again," the officials said. "For this reason, and for the safety and security of our nation, Americans must continue to be defiant and alert. We must always be prepared to respond to a significant risk of terrorist attacks."

My, Al Qaeda operatives are nearly as eloquent as our nation's president. Who knew they used words like "vigiliant," too. Hmm.

Of course, leave it to the New York Times to spoil our national day of celebration with their Northeastern, French-loving cynicism:

One reason the threat level was lowered today may have been to allow the administration to raise it once again to orange if new intelligence indicates a heightened risk of attack. Had the level remained at orange, the only higher level available would be red — a status signifying a "severe" risk of attack. The level has never been raised to red, and doing so would be momentous from a psychological standpoint.

Shame on you, Mr. Stout. Shame. Pick up your pens and write your local representatives now, exhorting them to talk to their representative New York collegages, who can then publically, hopefully in the New York Post shame this unpatriotric scoundrel who doesn't realize we have the infidels on their heels, we're on to their game! It's only a matter of time. Don't you feel safer already?


I for one am glad that even though we can't seem to catch up to Osama bin Laden, we can track down 72-year-old miscreants like Derek Bond. Yes, Mr. Bond, we Americans can't win them all, but we certainly make your life hell while trying. Dastardly doers beware!

Wow, I'm Out of Touch

I'm sure everybody but me has known and talked about this already, but whatever. I just saw the first episode of The Animatrix, and it is fabulous. If you haven't already, and if you have DSL, or know someone who does, do so . . . Now!

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

"The Night" Has Come

"This is surely one of the most gruesome pictures ever painted. Other artists, usually motivated by the higher purposes of patriotism or pacifism, have shown the disasters of war, suppression, and martyrdom; torture and pain are often represented as the just deserts of sinners tumbling into hell, and the roasting and beheading of saints are depicted to serve the greater glory of God. But Beckmann sees no purpose in the suffering he shows; there is no glory for anybody, no compensation, no gloating over justice accomplished-only enseless pain, and cruelty for its own sake. Beckmann blames human nature as such, and there seems to be no physical escape from this overwhelming self-accusation. Victims and aggressors alike are cornered. There is no exit.

"And yet, strangely, the composition is visually satisfying: it is jointed as by a master carpenter. That is the cruelest aspect of this work; it presents utter orderliness, as if to say: This is the way things are supposed to be, this is "regularity." Not only the design, with its parallels and complementary angles, demonstrates this perverted "law and order"; the colors, too, appear well spaced and thoughtfully distributed. The woman in the right foreground may be wearing a blue corset because the tongue of the strangled man in the upper left turned blue and the painter needed a color-equilibrium. The torturer's tie may be yellow in order to correspond to the yellow wax of the candles.

"Beckmann has abandoned the Christian symbolism he used in previous works. There is no salvation in sight. One may consider the tiny window cross in the darkness outside as a symbol of hope, but otherwise the pressure in the tight little torture chamber is without relief.

"This is one moment in one attic in Germany at the end of World War I. There is no past and no future. The phonograph blares in order to blot out the cries of anguish. Its tune emphasizes the newsreel actuality of this happening: this is the present, this is the world.

"The complex psychological situations are boiled down to simple formulas. The young woman performing an involuntary split is menaced by the candle. The woman on the right, nonchalantly swept off her feet, will be unable to prevent the rape. The monkey-like sadist in the middle accomplishes his torture with scientific coolness, as if to test the degree of pain that a human being can stand. Only the dog on the left considers outside help as a possibility: he directs his howling away from the center, believing that there is somebody, something outside the confines of the frame. But he is not rational, of course!

"The foreground shows, for the first time in Beckmann's oeuvre, the pair of candles which he later used again and again in still lifes and triptychs: one has fallen and given up its ghost; the other carries bravely on. It is as if the artist wanted to leave one glimmer of hope, one little flickering light to negate the whole of darkness." (Stephan Lackner)

Yikes, how did the new Max Beckmann exhibition at the Tate Modern slip in under my radar? Fabulous stuff.

"Ma moose dis'nae work"

Having lived in Glasgow for a year and a half now, I for one can say that I'm glad I'm not alone in not always understanding what the hell the native Glasweigans are saying. As it turns out, speech-recognition software has the same problem.

Origami Gone Wild!

I have several friends who are either (a) rather artsy, or (b) unemployed and thus have loads of time to kill. Being one who both encourages fine art and who sympathizes with those who are bored, I offer you: Dirty Origami!!!

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Fear / Anger

Are you tired of being afraid, but aren't sure how to be otherwise? Worn out by your fear of a faceless enemy who said could be any face? God, I know I am -- and I live in Scotland, for God's sake. An idea: how about getting angry instead? For why, listen to Paul Krugman on NPR's Fresh Air. He doesn't say anything he doesn't say over and over again in the New York Times, but hearing it reminds us that sometimes those nagging voices of doubt that creep in from time to time -- normally when we're watching or reading the news, seeing or hearing the promises of a brighter economic future on the horizon if we just eased up on that oppressive tax burden that pinches the rich -- those voices that whisper, "wait a second, that doesn't really make much sense," are the voices of an emergent anger whose time will come. The question is when? and to what effect?

Another Slice of Life

Some of the more interesting groups in the upcoming American Academy of Religion National Conference. First up, lest you think the study of religion is a general field, I present you with:

Religion and Disability Studies Group

The group invites proposals on: 1) The Religious Experience of Families with a Disability. Robert Orsi's 1994 essay, ‘’Mildred, Is It Fun To Be a Cripple?’: The Culture of Suffering in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Catholicism,’ will serve as touchstone for examination of the religious and spiritual experience of families with disabilities and/or the experience of family and related members with disabilities within the home and faith community. 2) Disability and the Cosmic Order. Works of literature, art, or film that represent disability as part of a religious-cosmic order. Topics: disability in canonical texts; inversions of the conventional disability/ ability hierarchy; the implicit theology of monstrosity in western literary texts; and the role of literature or the arts in the self-understanding of disabled persons.

This next group embodies all that we know and love about higher education and its own self-caricature:

Animals and Religion Consultation:

We invite proposals on the following themes: 1) distinctions, differences, and dialogue between the ecology movement and the animal protection movement in any country or cultural sphere; 2) spiritual direction and animals, or animals and religious well-being; 3) movement/ dance as reflected/ embodied in religion and animal themes; 4) sacred texts and animals; 5) religio-ethical status of animals as individuals v. species; 6) vegetarianism as a choice and the religious, spiritual and/or ethical issues of relevance to the practice or study of religion. We emphasize a diversity of approaches to the study of animals and religion.

And last, the name-dropping group -- there's one in at every conference, just like there's one in every circle of friends:

Critical Theory and Discourses on Religion Group:

Submissions are invited on the following themes: 1) religion as communication: do we need a new paradigm? (between Niklas Luhmann’s ‘communicational turn’ and Hartmut Esser’s ‘situational logic’); 2) forgotten classics: reappreciating neglected approaches (e.g., Simmel, Veblen, Achelis, Troeltsch, C. W. Mills); 3) relations between cognitive and neuro-physiological approaches to religion; 4) potential contributions of Bruno Latour (actor-network theory; Jubiler: ou les tourments de la parole religieuse); (5) Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular. [ed. And then, from out of nowhere at all . . .] Consistent with the international focus of the 2003 meeting, proposals addressing Japanese issues in and approaches to the study of religion are especially welcome. [Whaaaa?]

Oh goodie, it's going to be a fun winter weekend in Atlanta!!

A Day in the Life

There are some people, even though you've only seen them once in two years, and with whom you couldn't have a conversation that one time you did see them because you were too scandalously drunk, that you appreciate just knowing they're alive and kicking. I'm happy to say I have such a friend, and though he shall remain nameless (but by now obviously knows who he is) I can't bear the thought of his remaining voiceless. He emailed me today, exciting a frenzy of response and reflection that I of course used to divert myself from the school work I'm paying to do, and I can't help but quote a portion (I hope he doesn't mind):

I don't know how much of this you can pick up on over there, but a lot of people in the U.S. are scared out of their minds over these terror alerts the DoHS keeps issuing. I think that probably keeps most people from thinking about this situation very rationally, or with much focus.

My cynical side wants to say that this is a plot to keep the population distracted from the fact that the economy is in the toilet and we are on the brink of WWIII (yeah, that's right, the big one).

But the truth is that I think that Americans, federal government employees included, are not used to living with the knowledge that we can be "touched," so to speak, and since this has been revealed to us, we are on edge.

I don't think Bush is really the raving lunatic that he is being made out to be (that's not an endorsement, mind you), I think he's something much more dangerous. I think he's a scared and protective father, who worries about the world his children (and my children and your children) are growing up in, and sees it as his God-given responsibility to ensure the safety of his offspring. A lunatic can be sedated. An angry, worried parent? That's harder.

Remember that Bush is a conservative Methodist, remember that his one big domestic achievement prior to 9/11 was leveling the primary education field so that deserving children could receive a good education. Remember that his wife was a teacher and child advocate, and they both come from very close-knit, pro-family, families.

I remember hearing a broadcast about a year ago where Laura Bush recounted how after 9/11 she and Dubya laid in bed, sleepless, wracked with fear and worry. You think that's subsided, yet? For any of us?

Fathers and mothers, at least the good ones, have an instinct to protect their progeny that's as strong as any animal. I think that factor is in play here as much as those devious political plots or bull-headed foreign relation policies.

Well, maybe it's 50/50.

I didn't know how to respond to this for a while. In fact, I was so befuddled that I had to get some work done before I could respond. Finally though, I came to the conclusion that my friend shouldn't deprecate his cynicism to the extent that he did here (he's a dad, though, so I think I understand, in a vaguely hypothetical kind of way, from where he's coming). My reply, in part:

As for Bush's intentions, I'm not buying it. Is it there? Yeah, probably. But I'm not fooled by his American evangelicalism any more than I am seventy-five percent of the preachers I've ever met. Sincerity in that crowd does not go too deep, I'm afraid; and in my experience, its influence begins to fade when there's money and power involved. So, I'll grant you the fatherly intention of his concern to whip the country into a frenzied panic, but I also think he's a fucking megalomaniac who, with his entire cabinet, not only represents the oil industry, here and abroad, but *is* the oil industry. His intentions, as good as they may be and perhaps as real as they may be, are blurred here; like my distrust of this war based upon deceit and a campaign of fear -- that, yes, I absolutely think is manufactured and manipulated, again, despite some of the best of intentions that I may be willing to grant -- I can find no reason in my heart to trust that his concern falls anywhere outwith the interests of himself, his class, and his party. [ed. I would add here that I'm not denying Bush is human with real human concerns; its just that I don't know him as a human, but merely as a president. The latter assumes the former, to some degree; but not the other way around.]

As for his "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Lovely law, in spite of its flaws. But let's not kid ourselves, Bush's kids our [sic] (a) out of school; and (b) when they were in school, were never in any danger of being left behind anywhere. [ed. The only place they're in danger of being left now are the bars of Austin.] I'm not so cynical that I doubt his sincerity about the woes of American education merely because it's one of the most important considerations for voters; no, I remain sceptical because of his administration's unwillingness to bend its financial tinkering to actually give states the money the need to fully implement the program without hampering their budgets more than they already. Robbing Peter to pay Paul does not help education in the "long run," no matter this administration's insistance that all they do is directed toward that.

And so it goes. Another day, another email diatribe. The only difference being that this one made up for having nothing particularly blogworthy to say.

Small victories

Whoo-Hoo. I won my first Ebay auction! The White Stripes, April 12, Brixton Academy -- here I come!

Monday, February 24, 2003

Keep Your Trauma To Yourself, Pal

What if everything you've been told by counselors, ministers, spouses, etc., about the dangers of "repressing" your feelings, that you should unleash your trauma into the world so it doesn't explode within you -- what if all that was wrong, and that repressing it is precisely the best thing you can do? Psychologist Lauren Slater explores this question in her lengthy essay in in Sunday's New York Times. The time you eke out to read it will be, I think, well-spent. If not, well, then just keep it to yourself.

In Other News

I realized recently that I've not done much blogging at all about the situation in North and South Korea. "Why is that Brad?" -- ah, it's you again, with the up-turned eyebrow, how you haunt me. There's a pretty good reason: I don't know squat about what goes on north or south of the 38th parallel. So, instead of reading the last section of Walter Benjamin's seminal dissertation of early German Romanticism, I read up on what's going on in the land that if my girlfriend gets her way we'll never visit. (Long, and not very interesting, story.)

First of all, and jumping right into the fray of today's news, there seem to be several reasons to like South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun. If nothing else, the guy has a great rags-to-riches story.

Little Orphan Annie factor:

The cat's also hip to technology.

Would William Gibson be pleased?
(Yes, I'm stretching the parallelism, aren't I?)

The problem is, he seems a little shady when it comes to foreign policy -- or, wait, I guess it's pretty much domestic policy when the goal, or, as it seems to me, just a mushroom-induced dream, is the reunification of Korea. Far be it from me to cast myself as an expert in Southeast Asian diplomacy, but it just seems, well, forgive me for getting all uppity here, wrong to lay this whole nuclear-weapon-in-North-Korea bag squarely in the lap of the United States. The fact is, it's not just our bag. The other fact of the matter, though, the one that makes the first fact so irrelevant as to almost not even matter, is that, yes, it is our bag (practically speaking anyway).

We can probably just snicker off any chance of Russia or China helping out; Cold War or no Cold War, what's more bad for the United States than it is for them directly, so it seems anyway, remains a positive turn of events. As for Japan and South Korea, I dunno, can you really blame their unwillingness to play hardball, when they stand to lose more, at least in the immediate sense, than does the United States.

Of course, it's easy for me, nestled up in cool environs of lower Scotland to point out the blindness of all four of these countries, and then simply claim, with my own morally vindicated upturned eyebrow of which you seem fond, that a nuclear-free North Korea is good for everybody across the board. However, unless I'm missing something, this seems to miss the biggest reason of all that nobody has been particularly forthcoming about dealing with this situation: U.S. unilateralism.

It seems to me, because the only consistent thing we've seen in U.S. foreign policy of late is its readiness, indeed its preference, to take matters into its own hands, to disregard treaties, to reset the rules without asking anybody, the onus for the kinds of a decisions necessary in regard to North Korea is -- PLUNK -- right where America is saying it shouldn't be. North Korea's neighbors know that in the end, because America's interests are very much in the balance here, they will take care of business with or without support. Hence you have open warrant for diplomatic soft-stepping. Of course, this doesn't absolve the U.S. from acting, and neither is it an excuse for isolationism (which, c'mon, can we finally put that notion to bed?); rather, I think it more accurately pinpoints this administration's relative failure to set the precedent of not going it alone. With the the prattling of conservatives who blame every administration prior to Bush's for every problem he's ever faced running thinner with each successive editorial and quip (what was it these same conservatives said to Democrats in Dec. 1999: "Deal with It"?), one begins to feel a sense of vertigo, as our hopes -- indeed, maybe even our entire West Coast -- will probably once again lie in the by now booze-adled hands of Colin Powell.

A Long Overdue Dedication

There's not too much to say about this, but it brought back some nice memories for me, and I think it will, too, for several of my friends who scammed their way to a reasonable living working in the parking business. We here at Silentio, and not to mention the British Parking Association, salute you. Take a bow, fellas.

I'm far too tired for dark humor this afternoon

As if the tension between France and America weren't overwrought yet, now we're running over French tourists! This would be horrible even without the political backdrop, which, who knows, these two girls might not have cared a thing about. As it stands now, though, and maybe this is just with my sick mind, the sadness of the story stands a good chance of being overshadowed -- tragically, yes, but inevitably -- by the larger mechanisms of human existence that provide us with, and compel us to repeat -- in our quixotic efforts to deal with suffering and sadness, be they personal or otherwise, with irony -- poorly-paced jokes and strained analogies attempting to showcase the foibles of France and America.

Off the beaten path -- some preparatory, oblique thoughts that relate to tragedy, inevitability, and the stories we must continue telling ourselves and others. In this, I'm coming to realize, though maybe not completely understand, the slice of life that illustrates the Whole of life is itself also illustrated by the Whole; subject and object coalesce in a strange reflection that can only ever be lived, that is, can only ever be illustrated anew. To put it another way, the unity that we must assume lies outside a story -- let's say, an author or narrator -- without which we'd have no way of knowing anything in particular was being illustrated at all, this unity itself can only ever be known as illustration / reflection (i.e., not directly). For a lot of people in the humanities, and in some segments of philosophy, this means that illustration begets illustration, signs upon signs upon signs, aka nothing but stories. When expressed so blithely, as it often is, this is outright bollocks; and in a way I don't think I've conveyed clearly at all, the above story got me thinking about why.

First, two questions: (1) Why do we tell stories? If indeed a story is begat by another story which is begat by another story, etc., (2) how then do we tell stories at all, as stories? Doesn't the "as" imply something outside the cycle of stories?

My reply is very cryptic, I'm afraid, but I'll flesh it out someday if anybody is interested at all. If an individual life, and thus a world, can be characterized as a story, as I've suggested before and as I've hinted above, the implications go beyond theoretical, self-help, and religious wanking. In short, life as story would be a fiction that evolves as it is re-read and re-written (i.e., as it is interpreted & lived ["live and learn, doll"]); as such, it is a story that is seemingly random and chaotic -- for some exhilerating, for others disturbing -- but one that is all the same marked by an ineluctable (spiritual? pragmatic?) coherence that makes it legible; and finally, a story whose continued motion is its striving -- which, importantly, assumes the promise of the goal as much as it does its continued failure -- for the immediacy and the freedom of a narrator's repose.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Prediction of the Day

For some reason, call me crazy, I just don't see this catching on anytime soon at church picnics across America. Don't feel too bad for those crazy vegetarians, though; I'm sure there's a place for them, somewhere, maybe, you'd think in the corner if nowhere else, okay, yes, the garden at the Cactus Clinic.

Oh, speaking of church picnics (yes, I know this is a chaotic random post -- the BAFTA's are starting, so I'm rushing!) . . . I've had this picture bookmarked for quite some time, and now seems as good a time as any to make use of it. Enjoy.

Warning of the Day

On almost all of the bank machines I've ever used in London, I've see a little notice indicating that I need to be wary of "Pin Thieves" who work in the area; this means, I guess, I need to cover the screen like I would a math exam and, as soon as the money is spat out, make haste. The sheer number of these little warnings have always made me question their effectiveness in making people any more aware of who might be looking over their shoulders, as we tend to become blind to what we always see -- husbands, wives, do I see you nodding vigorously? What sort of warning do you think the banks of the world are going to post regarding this:

Two Cambridge University researchers have discovered a new attack on the hardware security nodules employed by banks that makes it possible to retrieve customers' cash machine PINs in an average of 15 tries.

The attack takes advantage of a weakness in the cryptographic model used by many HSMs to encrypt, store and retrieve PINs. The system, used by many ATMs, reads the customer's account number that is encoded on the magnetic strip of the ATM card. The software then encrypts the account number using a secret DES key. The ciphertext of the account number is then converted to hexadecimal and the first four digits of it are retained.

Those digits are then put through a decimalization table, which converts them to a format that's usable on the ATM keypad. By manipulating the contents of this table, it's possible for an attacker to learn progressively more about the PIN with each guess. Using various schemes described in the paper, a knowledgeable attacker could discover as many as 7,000 PINs in a half hour, the authors say.

I've been talking to a friend mine via email about student loan debt, and perhaps this provides me with the best rationale to maintain mine: the only people stealing from me anytime soon are my creditors.

UPDATE: My sense of security just vanished -- perhaps as quickly as should my current internet server. (Yeah, that's right I'm a complacently debt-ridden, lazy AOL-user, what're you gonna do about it?)

Question of the Day

Is there any cosmic justice, or at least rationality, in the world to make sense of the fact that a loser like this guy can end up with this girl? I think not.

Thank God for his blindspots.

Lesson of the Day

Who knew they had it in 'em, but our friends the Swedes have a few lessons to teach us about how to make funerals even more memorable than they'd be if they included more distaff nudity and familial fisticuffs. Nordic wisdom of the day: nothing says sorrow like a big explosion!

Friday, February 21, 2003

"Yeah, but do we have to know this for the test?"

I'm thinking of starting a weekly "Best Headline" award. But even if not, I think it's probably pretty safe to say this one should be in the running: Schoolkids to Be Asked to Consider Oral Sex. Surely it doesn't mean what it says, right? Right? Oh, think again, Skippy.

British school children are to be controversially asked to consider oral sex instead of intercourse as part of a drive to cut the country's high teenage pregnancy rate.

Sex education teachers are being trained to discuss with youngsters various "stopping points" on the road to full sex in a bid to reduce the number of teen pregnancies, the government said on Friday.

The idea is to encourage pupils to discover "levels of intimacy," including oral sex, which stop short of full sexual intercourse.

[. . .]

"The courses for teachers are to enable them to discuss various sex and relationship issues with pupils. One of those issues is oral sex," said a Department of Health spokeswoman.

"Oral sex is one of the 'stopping points' on the road to intercourse," she said, denying the advice was encouraging sexual activity.

"Another 'stopping point' is to hold hands" she added. (my emphasis)

Guys, I'm told, have taken to the new British sex education with extraordinary ardour and note-taking fury. Meanwhile, the girls are still debating the relative merits of the textbook.

A Bit of Maintenance

After a few complaints, I've switched the commenting server to Enetation. It's much more basic than BackBlog when it comes to the HTML you can employ when writing a comment -- namely, NONE -- but they promise to be working on that. The plus side is that you can comment to your heart's delight; in other words, no more 400-word limit. As you'll see, the design is pretty spartan, which I like quite a bit, but I'm still aim to fine-tuning the design here and there when I have time. (If you have any suggestions, about the comments or the site in general, do tell me.) For now, though, have a go with it!

No Links . . . No News -- You've Been Warned

I've been doing some thinking, some soul-searching, if you will, about why for the past couple of months blogging has become an active alternative to anything else my free time might have to offer. I'm not sure I have any answers, none that satisfy my initial question; but I do have some thoughts. I thought I'd share.

Silentio is a diversion, active and/or passive, for most everybody involved. For me, most of the time it's a nice, perhaps even healthy way, to include myself in a world from which I'm insulated most of the week. For you, all fifteen or so of you, it is probably a respite from work, and perhaps a portal to a news story, or a silly quip, that you might've missed or just didn't have time to follow up on. I don't feign to think I "break" any news here, or tell you much of anything you didn't already know, or couldn't learn elsewhere. I don't pretend to think I know why some of you return. Is being a diversion good enough? If so, should I, too, be content with that, and quit thinking about it any further? Oh, you who know me, know better than that.

In the course of any given day, mostly during lunch and dinner (just in case you were wondering), I read lots and lots of blogs -- many of which are linked on the right, and you are encouraged to click on at any time during the next couple of paragraphs. As you might have guessed, many, if not most, of these blogs are decidedly political in their posture, and thus also have a pretty obvious agenda to push; and obviously, this has influenced the vision and content of Silentio. However, truth be told, I don't particularly like most political blogs, due to the fact that so many refer more to one another than they do actual news or an opinion creatively expressed. Typically, theirs is a virtual dialogue, you might say. Or, to look at it another, a virtual party-line, be it "conservative" or "liberal," in which you can generally anticipate the blogger's perspective on what another blogger says. It's sort of like reading the The Wall Street Journal editorial page or the newest Michael Moore book -- you know what they'll say before reading a word, and generally even how it's going to be said. I'm not naming names, or pointing out "bad" blogs versus "good" ones, mostly because I'm not sure what my rating criteria would actually say about my blog.

As it stands today, if the blogosphere is a road map, Silentio is a gravel road just off the dirt road that inexplicably emerged from a cornfield two miles away from the state route that leads to the highway. You, my friends, most of you literally my friends, from days of old, are for the most part, like it or not, not included in that dialogue I just mentioned. We're alone -- crickets chirping -- traffic humming far in the distance -- rural mendicants, maybe squatters, huddled around a campfire, singing occasionally, arguing often, but never silent. No, never that. Silentio is yours as much as it is mine. This is what I tell myself, what I like to believe. I like to try, and that's all I can ever do, to write myself away, to erase myself (nevermore!) by writing ever more. But because blogging is the internet's quintessence of pretension -- you are reading MY words (right now, in fact), after all -- I can only ever keep trying, and thus keep failing, to lose myself in the midst of this maddeningly reflective, paratactic writing that, yes, as much as I wish it were not, intentional, and thus subversive to my stated goal. -- Blogging as progressive failure. -- I don't want to blog to reflect upon myself, to navel gaze, to direct your thoughts to my thoughts and thus to me. I'd prefer these words, these words that are me, or least a part of me, to be consumed by their links and be done with, nevermore, forevermore. Poof. And yet, I keep writing . . . and some of you keep reading (even now?). -- Blogging as failed progression. --

Back to the question, which, before my very eyes, has split: Why this? -- Why is this? -- Why, This? Perhaps you who thought it better not to ask were right. Likely so.

Back to your regularly scheduled program later. I promise.

UPDATE: This is related obliquely to the little exchange in the Comments, but it also resonants a little with what I was trying to do in this post; plus, it's just a pretty good article in general that I know for a fact several of you can relate to. The title should say it all: "Caring For Your Introvert".

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Earlier today, in one of my rare moments of lucidity, tucked somewhere in the confines of the comments over on Goblin Queen, I wrote, "[T]here comes a point where one cannot support a war one would otherwise support, because the heads of state leading the war and the reconstruction are shady, unscrupulous fuck-wits who have not articulated solid reasons for a war that one should have no problem making a case for, and who have shown an inability to stick with situations long enough to make winning a war any better than not fighting it at all right now." It's certainly kind of cheeky to quote yourself, I know, but I was feeling as though I over-stated my case a bit -- you know, that maybe "fuck-wit" was going a bit too far; or that "unscrupulous" was maybe unfounded. These were my thoughts as I ate my toasted cheese and soup, until I read that many of the UN inspectors feel the exact same way! You remember them, don't you, those inept do-gooders who can't find the nuclear weapons and what-not that the U.S. continually insists is there and, occasionally, even goes out of its way to kindly point out. What're they up to these days, you think?

U.N. sources have told CBS News that American tips have lead to one dead end after another.

Example: satellite photographs purporting to show new research buildings at Iraqi nuclear sites. When the U.N. went into the new buildings they found "nothing."

Example: Saddam's presidential palaces, where the inspectors went with specific coordinates supplied by the U.S. on where to look for incriminating evidence. Again, they found "nothing."

Example: Interviews with scientists about the aluminum tubes the U.S. says Iraq has imported for enriching uranium, but which the Iraqis say are for making rockets. Given the size and specification of the tubes, the U.N. calls the "Iraqi alibi air tight."

[. . .]

So frustrated have the inspectors become that one source has referred to the U.S. intelligence they've been getting as "garbage after garbage after garbage." In fact, Phillips [the reporter] says the source used another cruder word. [ed. Fuckwit?] The inspectors find themselves caught between the Iraqis, who are masters at the weapons-hiding shell game, and the United States, whose intelligence they've found to be circumstantial, outdated or just plain wrong.

This is, of course, proof that inspections (versus, say, U.S. intelligence) are ineffective, and, because they're so ineffective, provide, in their own special kind of way, as clear a warrant for war as one could possibly need. *Sigh*

(Via Atrios)

Walter's Guide to Diplomacy

I, of course, really have no clue what to make of all the current situation (can we call it a "crisis" yet?) with North Korea, as I have never, nor will I ever, pretend to be anything but an amateur when it comes to North and South Korean military posturing. In fact, I've been mugged a few times in my life, and each time I handed over all my money in spite of not seeing the threatened weapon. That alone, I think, precludes me from criticizing the West too harshly for being overly skittish about North Korean threats to blow up Southeast Asia. Be that as it may, neither shall it keep me from making random references to The Big Lebowski in the midst of a life-and-death situation. Case in point, see the article in yesterday's Washington Post, which I forgot to post because I was locked in a tooth-and-nail battle with Blogger last night, in which Sorth Korean officials basically say of the West: "We're dealing with a bunch of fucking amateurs!!!"

South Korea shrugged off a threat by North Korea today to abandon the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Officials in the South said the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program is not as dangerous as some people in Washington believe.

"I believe the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula is slight -- in fact, nonexistent," President Kim Dae Jung told his cabinet this morning, according to a statement from his office. Kim did not mention the armistice threat specifically, a spokesman said.

[. . .]

"I wouldn't put too much weight on whether North Korea will actually initiate any real conflict," said one official, insisting on anonymity. The problem, he said, is "you've got a lot of people who haven't watched the North-South situation in the past" in Washington. "Suddenly you've got these amateurs with lots of ideas." (my emphasis)

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The Smoking Gun?

This morning, The Independent broke the story, to much ballyhoo, about three silent, rogue Iraqi cargo vessels floating around the world's oceans since inspections began in November. Is it the smoking gun, or isn't it? -- that's the question that Britain's been pondering all day. For the moment, and because I can, I'm going to remain rather suspect. In a follow-up article in The Guardian, The International Maritime Organisation is reported as saying, in essence, there's nothing really all that suspicious about the ships' behaviour thus far. That doesn't mean there aren't weapons there, of course; but, I would like to think that if their content is the smoking gun Bush, Blair, et al really want and need to justify a war (and damn good justification it would be, really), this would've been big news by now.

However, that said, this could also be regarded as the decisive piece of incredibly ambiguous intelligence they need to sway swing votes in the Security Council, and that leaking it now is very strategic. The fact -- and perhaps the purpose -- is: who knows!? At this point the U.S. is not looking for decisive, convincing proof, but rather for a reason to believe (this ain't a court of law, after all), so that fence-straddling Security Council countries can justify either their abstention from voting or their reluctant acquiescence.

God, I hate this feeling of being cowed into looking for and expecting a propagandistic ploy around every corner, but has the run up to this war provided much reason to not do so??

Just a thought

Just before we scoff too much at Turkey's bargaining game with the U.S., and right after we reflect on Turkey's history (and present) of human rights violations, and as we keep in mind the ever-present Kurdish-Turkish tension, let us also remember that Turkey has a really good reason for wanting more direct aid [via Vaara] than what Washington is offering at the moment. They are, of course, not going to get it, and I'm not certain they should; but, I'm just saying . . .


Blogger is being very unkind today.


Just in case I've been too subtle lately, let me back up a few steps and begin again:

George "War is my last choice" Bush is a liar.

There . . . I hope that's a bit clearer.

"Conquerers always call themselves liberators"

Speaking of moral highground. You can accuse the United States of a lot of things, but rarely can you accuse of stabbing you in the back. No, apparently, we prefer to see your horrified eyes, while we lift you [you being, let's say, oh, I don't know, the Kurds] off the ground and throw you to the wolves.

Oh, and yeah, that goes for you, too, Tony Blair.

“In this sort of irony, everything should be playful and serious, guilelessly open and deeply hidden."

Damn, it sometimes feels soooooo good to be a citizen, if not a current resident, of a country who continually holds the moral highground -- especially when it comes to things like nuclear non-proliferation.

I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning. It smells like . . . it smells like _______ (fill in the blank).

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Can You Tell the Difference?

Jacques Chirac today, in a moment of zany French humor, attempted his best Donald Rumsfeld impersonation.

Mr. Chirac, in an unusual outburst to reporters in Brussels on Monday after a contentious emergency European Union summit meeting on Iraq, derided those Central and East European countries that have signed letters expressing their support for the United States as "childish," "dangerous" and missing "an opportunity to shut up."

He went on to suggest that opposing France and Germany could hurt candidates for European Union membership.

"When you are in the family," Mr. Chirac said, "you have more rights than when you are asking to join and knocking on the door."

He warned that Romania and Bulgaria, the poorest of the 10 candidates to the 15-member bloc, "could hardly find a better way" of reducing their chances for membership by speaking up against France.

Feeling inspired by the goodness and the strength than is Donald Rumsfeld, Chirac went on to challenge the Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to a "Mon pénis est plus grand que votre pénis" contest. No word yet on the winner, though Rumsfeld is said to have been "surprised."

Some night watchman has some 'splaing to do

Belgium's diamond industry, and thus the diamond industry as a whole, is still reeling from this weekend's enormous heist at Antwerp's Diamond Centre. Antwerp has been the diamond capital of the world since the 16th century, and it's never seen anything like this, as 123 of the 160 maximum-security vaults were swiped clean. Almost ten years ago five vaults were hit, for a loss of about $4.5 million. Obviously (you do the math), this take is far larger. David Mamet, I'm sure, is on his way to Belgium for field research.

Watch Your Back

I hate Valentine's Day, so I decided, without realizing it, to make today a celebration Friendships and Alliances here at Silentio. To round out the theme, I thought I'd send a friendly warning to all those "human shields," who are, at this moment, doing whatever it is they do when there's not yet a war. My warning: even though I'm sure Sadaam Hussein appreciates the concern you show for the people he's helped oppress, while you keep one eye to the sky and another on the desert void, awaiting the attack to come, please do find a third eye somewhere for that attack that very well might come from behind.

Where's the Love?

I'm reading the Guardian today, and I'm thinking about friends. Specifically, I'm thinking about the suffering our friends invariably bring upon us, in one form or another. It happens to everybody, be they cool, "normal," or not-so-cool. We feel comfortable in our little cliques, our "alliances," let's say, but there generally comes a time in which we have to suffer some degree of humiliation for that inclusion. When you hang out with somebody new, for instance, you are, when you finally get around to introducing your old friends to this new friend, automatically judged by both sets of friends. Their evaluation of one another becomes their evaluation of you, or at least your taste in friends. Sometimes this goes well, other times it goes poorly -- we tend to remember the latter. Sad, but true. In the end, we need and resent the walls of identification that make us who we are. If there is a good thing about gift-giving holidays, it is that your friends, the same ones who cause you this kind of hell the rest of the year, give you a token of the friendship. In l ight of this, I sure to God hope Bush gave something really good for Valentine's Day to Tony Blair, Jose Maria Aznar, and Silvio Berlusconi. (Note: ripping Lauren Bush away from London is the exact opposite thing I had in mind!!)

By now, most of you Stateside readers know about Blair's popularity problem here in Britain, in the face of a few million ethnically and culturally disparate people who are unified primarily by their exasperation. I live surrounded by this exasperation so, quite frankly, it's a bit too boringly British. Ah, but let's head south and east, where we have ourselves the passionate revelry of discontent and intrigue that only Spain and Italy can provide! In Spain:

Spain's prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was coming to terms yesterday with the fact that his unswerving support for George Bush on Iraq had inflicted heavy political damage that could cost his conservative People's party its hold on power.

Ministers admitted that the government's position was "causing significant electoral damage" and Mr Aznar's wife, Ana Botella, was quoted as saying his party was going through "one of the worst moments in its history".

Between 2 million and 3 million people took to the streets of Spanish cities to protest at the weekend in what was said to the biggest overall turnout in the world. As many as one in 15 Spaniards marched.

"But Brad, what's the difference between that and Britain," you ask -- you and your petulant questions!

Mr Aznar also faced embarrassment yesterday when it was revealed that in 1997 he had offered to pay Baghdad in "aid" if it gave oil contracts to the Spanish-owned Repsol company. The government was ready to make a "donation" if Repsol was given a concession in the Nasiriya field, despite the fact that the UN had just issued a series of resolutions condemning Iraq's continued blocking of inspections, according to El Mundo newspaper, which quoted official documents.

The amount of money involved was described as "a sum to be set later". But Repsol never managed to close the deal.

"But Brad, I thought it was France who was knee-deep in Iraqi oil contracts," you wonder, flummoxed -- oh, you with the up-turned eyebrow, I've seen you before here.

And, of course, let us not forget Italy's prime minister (not to mention richest man), media mogul, and uncertain U.S. ally, Silvio Berlusconi, who, in addition to having millions of people Italians flouting his good name in Rome on Saturday, is getting ready to receive his own personal UN smackdown, due to his general disregard for the Italian judiciary. (I'm not saying this was caused by his friendship with Bush, but I am saying it certainly isn't helping garner any sympathy for him in Italy.)

So, here we are, these three friends under the derisive gaze of their own citizens because of their friendship to one man. Three men, I should guess, who will also soon again be united in a new message to Mr. Bush, after he has long forgotten them, because his memory is not nearly as good as their constituents: Where's the love?

Flashback Tuesday

I've read about Owen Harries' 1993 essay in Foreign Affairs, "The Collapse of the West," for quite a while now, but I was never sufficiently motivated to sit and try to track it down. Thanks be to my university's electronic library, finding a transcript proved less work than the ten year delay warranted. Obviously, the essay is a little dated; nevertheless, some of the points it makes about the "fiction" of the West is very much in line with some of the same things I keep harping on about here. The gist of the article is pretty clear: without a clear, determinable enemy, i.e., the "East", the binary-opposite concept of the West not only becomes vapid, it (generally) becomes unworkable because of the obstinate hang-ups on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean regarding the intricacies of maintaining the image. (I'm sensing a trend in my posts of late.) Or, as Harries himself puts it:

In particular, such proposals for what amount to a new NATO are based on a most questionable premise: that "the West" continues to exist as a political and military entity. Over the last half century or so, most of us have come to think of "the West" as a given, a natural presence and one that is here to stay. It is a way of thinking that is not only wrong in itself, but is virtually certain to lead to mistaken policies. The sooner we discard it the better. The political "West" is not a natural construct but a highly artificial one. It took the presence of a life-threatening, overtly hostile "East" to bring it into existence and to maintain its unity. It is extremely doubtful whether it can now survive the disappearance of that enemy.

[. . .]

In the absence of an overriding threat that one is incapable of handling on one's own--and sometimes even in the presence of such a threat--the inclination on both sides of the Atlantic has been to emphasize not unity, but the difference and incompatibility of Europe and America. Thus, even before final victory was achieved in 1945, the prevailing model of the political world had become that of the "Big Three," with Franklin Roosevelt more suspicious of Britain and its empire than of the Soviet Union; and immediately after victory, Harry Truman ruthlessly and abruptly ended Lend-Lease aid to Europe without any obvious concern for the overall well-being of"the West." Even later in the 1940s, as the clouds of the Cold War were gathering rapidly, most Europeans who thought about such things -- George Orwell for one -- conceived the world in terms not of two groupings but of three, with Europe and the United States constituting not one but two of them. In an article written for Partisan Review in 1947, Orwell saw the two as divided not only as separate power blocs but ideologically as well. Europe stood for democratic socialism, the United States, for capitalism. He longed for a self-sufficient United States of Europe, able to hold out against both America and Russia -- that is, for Europe as the original "third world."

I'm not really sure that Harries is (er, make that, "was") arguing for the demise of, say, NATO, but his essay is certainly a prescient presentation of the background that colors the "Western" divide, or at least the strain, that we're seeing emerge now within NATO. For that alone it is quite interesting.

Note: When I originally posted this, about an hour ago, I included a link to Harries' essay. Upon reading the copyright information on the site, however, I saw that my library privileges could be threatened if that link were discovered. Even while I don't get that many hits, thus making it unlikely, the presence of Google is making me thinking twice anyway. If you're interested, though, I have a .pdf copy of the file, and will more than gladly email it to you.

Monday, February 17, 2003

An Official Silentio Correction

Tom Ridge, the U.S. secretary of homeland security, puts me in my place:

Today, Mr. Ridge said any decisions about the alert level would be based on the pattern of intelligence received by the country's security agencies.

"I believe that on a day-to-day basis, it's incumbent upon this country and the intelligence community to assess all sources of information," Mr. Ridge said in an interview on ABC's "This Week."

"And as we continue to prosecute the war more successfully, we have access to more and more information," he added. "And I need to remind America on a day-to-day basis that that's exactly how we review the intelligence. Multiple sources, both foreign and domestic, all kinds of ways we aggregate information. And literally hour by hour they review it."

See, that's funny, because I've been insinuating for the past week that the alert mostly just scared the hell out of people near and far, in hopes that they would, for a while anyway, stop asking difficult questions like "Iraq and Al Qaeda relate how exactly?" or "Who's Hans Blix?" or "How much did Bush's budget say this war was going to cost?" or "How can we afford to help out Iraq afterward if we're spending so much helping out Afghanistan?" etc.; and that the only security such an alert provides is financial security for the hardware stores to which it inevitably sends people so that their houses might made be as inpenetrable as Dick Cheney's, not to mention the doctors who gleefully prescribe anti-depressants for really odd people who just can't handle the stress of living an unmedicated life in the midst of being told repeatedly "It's inevitable that you're gonna be attacked"; and that the silly little alert is more of a cover for a government that has the bejesus scared out of it that people might get wind of the fact that the tax cuts that only really benefit the people they wish they could be, and will work really hard ot be like -- i.e., rich -- are the same cuts that diminish the same homeland security from which those little alerts arise; and that, in general, the color-coded alert keeps people no more safe, nor alert(!), than they were prior to 9/11 -- just fucking scared and irrational and, thus, too, probably more of a menace to themselves and their neighbors than they were prior to 9/11.

Ah, but now, thank you sweet Jesus, Tom Ridge has righted my wrong. I apologize and retract all the aforementioned doubt and cynicism,.replacing it all with unabashed, blindingly orange-tinted trust. (Ask them no question, and I'll they'll tell you no lie.)

Rand McNally My Ass

Finally, a map that we Americans can get behind, support, and, yes, even understand. Murderize correspondent Vicious Headbutt reports:

A new map of Europe was unveiled to the American public yesterday and is causing quite a stir. Vigorously backed by the George Bush administration, this innovative map of Europe does not display the countries by their conventional namesake. Instead, the European nations are called familiar slang terms for its countries populace.

Henry Finklestien, Chairman of the committee Rename Atlas: Project Europe (RAPE), explains the process by which he and his team created the new map system. "We wanted to make a map of Europe so that Americans can remember what countries the news media is referring to. Instead of, 'oil spill off of the coast of Spain', the news commentators would say, 'oil spill off of the coast of the Bitch's country."

Using American's colloquial dialect as a starting point, the RAPE team assembled the commonly used slang terms for each European country. However, there were problems from the beginning. Some nation's inhabitants had an abundance of derogatory names, others had none, whilst still others had slurs the RAPE team didn't want to use.

Thanks to RAPE, we can know precisely where to direct our anger when thinking about those treasonous Bastards (which, interestingly, did not make the final cut as country name), the Fags and the Dorks.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Irony Alert

I wrote a comment in somebody's blog once about European irony, and if I can ever find it I'll post it, but in the meantime a case study is probably far more appropriate. Let's call this (à la Atrios) "The French Strike Back".

I apologize for being so ungrateful. It's just that I learned in school that France and Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939, while the United States was enacting isolationist laws, and that America entered the war two years later, only after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. But now I see that was just Gallic propaganda. How could I have believed it?

I now know what really happened: Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that a country with more than 300 kinds of cheese was worth liberating, and for the love of France he came to our rescue. Joseph Stalin came to the same conclusion, but -- fortunately for us -- he was slower and had to stop in Berlin.


UPDATE: The Mighty Reason Man has an overwhelmingly good post on a related issue. Read it . . . now!


I link to this not to start an argument about the Israeli-Palestinean situation, nor even to decry America's perennial stance on that issue. It's not even up-to-date, for heaven's sake. No, I simply point it out to remind us all that all country's, allies or not, vote and act, in the end, according to their own interests. These interests may not be the "will" of the people necessarily, even in the most stridently democratic countries like Britain and America, but they are official position nonetheless. My point: when a country takes such a position, it often contravenes those of its closest allies. The same holds true whether it be France or the United States.

Yes, I realize there are some marked, qualified differences between the resolutions linked above and those that call for aggressive military action, like resolution 1441 of today; moreover, neither am I suggesting a (necessary) moral equivalence between the Israeli and Iraqi situations. The point is, though, that much of the UN's power in certain situations lies in its symbolism. A cynic, i.e. many an American, thus dismisses it as irrelevant, perhaps even perniciously so ("they're slowing us down!"). The danger in that kind of thinking should be evident by now in the fact that the U.S. is still playing the UN-support game, even when it is quite obvious that America will not be beholden to UN resolutions. All the same, the U.S. wants and needs to appear as to have international support.

What has become problematic is that the veneer of American compromise and cooperation has become a bit tarnished. Consequently, the appearance that America attempts to uphold in the UN is, at best, not taken too seriously; at worst, it is regarded as isolationistic cynicism. When the story one tells oneself and one's neighbor is regarded as too much of a story, it is no longer convincing. When this story is one of geopolitics, and it is inserted into a complex web of regional violence, oppression, and manipulation, much of which is interpreted through an equally isolationistic worldview, the story America attempts to tell, the appearance it attempts to project, the alternative reality it seeks to create, had better be convincing for the people of that region. (Like in a criminal court of law, the truth is secondary to the proof used to convince a jury of a truth, guilt or innocence -- the truth between / of two competing narratives.) One need not agree with everything Henry Porter writes here (and I don't) to agree that the story America has told to the Middle East for the past thirty years has not been bought.

If American is truly serious about combatting the terrorism that is rooted in the region's Islamic fundamentalism, then it needs to get more serious about the power and the coherence of it stories and the means and reception of its storytelling. Sadly, but maybe inevitably(?), this is something that yesterday's protesters, even if they don't always realize it themselves, have a firmer grasp upon than the centres of power they're protesting against.

Ready for Primetime?

Ready or not, the world of blogging, it seems, is set to hit the big time. It is now official: Google has bought Pyra, the home of the ubiquitous software and hosting server for bloggers like myself, Blogger. No word yet on what this will actually mean, or how Google will work it into their primary interface, but, as blogs become more and more popular as a news and discussion outlet, the possibilities are pretty limitless. This has been said several times in the past, and I tend to agree, but blogging is the closest thing that functions to a real (whatever that means when you're online) internet. Will be fun to see how this develops; though, I see the possibility of accusations that Google has now become too explicit in their foray into the content-side of the internet, at a time in which they are already being accused by some of doing this on an implicit level by way of the algorithms in which websites are ranked. Nevertheless, for better or worse, I anticipate the first criticism to be swept aside, on a popular level anyway, as quickly as has the latter.

Maturity Reigns

I don't know about you, but boy am I glad the the US has decided to punish those dirty Krauts and their economy for their "treachery." I mean, sure, a strong economy in Germany is one of the more reliable contributors to a strong economy in Europe, which in turn is good for the US economy -- in a little thing called, oh, what's it called, oh yeah, trade -- but fuck it all, your job (or lack thereof) means very little when compared to those democracy-abusing Germans. Think of the horror: we free them from the tyranny of a dictator who forces them to fight wars they don't want to fight, and this is the thanks we get in return. Have they no shame?! Iraq be damned, my friends, this means war!!

Friday, February 14, 2003

Around and Around We We, Where it Stops . . .

Does this surprise anybody at all?

Meanwhile, in a related story, sources close to Silentio say that the CIA is investigating the sinister coalition of HQ and Ace Hardware of sending its operatives to pose as Al Qaeda suspects in Camp X-Ray. More details as they arise.


"Anti-semitic little Belgium" is not playing nicely, it seems, in its ambitious attempt to try Ariel Sharon for his alleged war crimes in Lebanon in 1982. Israel's foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is calling it a "blood libel" that is indicative of "Old Europe's" treatment of its Jews, a sentiment echoed by the justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, who adds, interestingly, that Belglium is a "small and insignificant" country. Disregarding the anti-Semitism for now, as I think it it is primarily, though not devoid of possible truth, another ad hominem argument thrown into the EU-Israeli fray, it's odd, don't you think, that Israel's number two trade partner, Belgium, should so quickly become "insignificant"? Word of advice to Israeli suitors: you might want to go ahead and get next year's Valentine's Day diamond set now.

Finally, A Point for the Good Guys

Though my rage would've been slaked with deadened brain cells as the primary punishment for those people who insist on not turning off their mobile phones in theatres or museums, New York City has become one of the first of many, I hope, to take some more immediate, if probably just symbolic, action.


I'm tired of talking about Iraq and war, and cannot find the will to spill even one word on formulating an opinion about Hans Blix's report to the UN this afternoon. You know what was said and not said [Ed. Update: if you intend on using CNN as your source, please, first read this], and I think we know what to expect from all the representative voices. Maybe I'm just depressed, or frustrated, but it's just not worth writing about right now. Especially when there are other things that are far more pressing. "Such as?" you ask incredulously, you who love the bright graphics of Fox News and CNN, and secretly even the Orange banner of danger that adorns the collective consciousness of the West, because they are, if rather forboding, a little pretty too. "Such as," I reply: Liechtenstein.

Nestled snugly between Austria and Switzerland, Liechtenstein is called home by 33,000 people living within its 60 square-mile confines, and the favorite tax haven of various do-gooders like Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, war crime suspect Slobodan Milosevic, former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and an untold number of fundamentalist Islamist organizations. There are a lot of reasons to think nothing of Liechtenstein, and I can probably safely assume that most of your thoughts about it, if you've thought of it at all, have been fleeting. Think again, I say, because, as Q-Tip might say, and as reported by today's Guardian, "If ya got the money, the Liecht is for the bookin'":

"[F]or a fee of up to £320 per person per day, a multinational can have it all: the scenic Alpine backdrop, accommodating tourist officials, and the adrenaline rush of symbolically taking over an entire state.

"At the top rate, a four-day conference for 900 delegates (the maximum that can be accommodated) would cost £1.2m. The facilities are, however, far from conventional.

"Corporate clients can 'brand' the entire state with their logo, emblazoning it on prominent buildings. Arrangements can also be made for the discerning multinational to have access to the national art gallery and theatre, the royal family's wine cellar, and at least one of Liechtenstein's fairytale castles - the 13th-century Schloss Gutenberg."

"What of those 33,000 people who live in Liechtenstein?" you ask, still incredulous (I can tell). Them? Oh, don't worry, explains Karl Schwärzler, the director of the company responsible for the idea, Xnet:

"Locals are sceptical. They worry that it will send a message that you can buy anything for money. [ed: Uh, yeah, you think?] They worry about what people will do here, and that they will interfere with their daily lives. 'Who's going to rent me? I'm not up for rent,' is the typical attitude. But we're not asking people to sell their souls, we just want to do business." (my emphasis)

Schwärzler, wiping his blood-stained lips with his Swedish-made scarf, assuages these worries by insisting that renting the country out will give the money-grubbing image of their country an overhaul, and "will allow people to see a different side of Liechtenstein."

How the perspective offered from this is really all that different from, say, Liechtenstein's reigning prince threatening to sell the country to Bill Gates and then move to Vienna if he is not given more power, is, well, a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Simulation and Reality

This afternoon one of the professors in my department presented a paper on film theory and the Romantic conception of the self. No matter what you are probably thinking right now, it was actually really quite interesting. Granted, the discussion that followed only loosely related to film theory or Romanticism, and perhaps this explains the fact that we had much of a discussion at all. Essentially, we found ourselves talking about Jean Baudrillard and his theory of simulation -- i.e., that the Real has forever gone, leaving us only with a virtual, illusory "reality," wherein everything is only a copy of a copy, as though on an assembly line; with codes of codes, where all institutions and communication are mediated matters of commodified, rote repetition. Baudrillard, as you may or may not know, has attracted some measure of notoriety, not least of which for his infamous essay The Gulf War Did not Take Place, in which he takes the philosophy just outlined, and he applies it to the popular apprehension of a "televised" event like the Gulf War. In such an event, he reasons, truth could only ever be mediated truth, ie., on your screen, in your newspaper, via your country's propaganda-machine, and thus it was not Reality, in the common, "objective" sense. Spending time here critiquing Baudrillard is pretty silly, but suffice it to say I think the implications that he and others draw from the mediated nature of truth (aka, "truth-claims"), as well as the hand-wringing critiques of Reality's protectorate, are overwrought, to say the least, considering that the questions he asks are not new ones, no matter what your Literary Theory professor may have told you in class.

Nevertheless, Baudrillard became important in the seminar discussion today because, in line with the comment I made in a post earlier today, the second Gulf War, which we should remember has not yet even been declared, in a sense has already begun (via, for example, the caricatures that governs some of the more intemperate rhetoric of many hawks and doves alike). War has not yet been declared, but, on the one hand, the spoils of war's victory is already being debated, while, on the other hand, its atrocities are being decried. This is not itself a criticism, because both actions are, from their respective positions, reasonable and carry an obvious practicality. Baudrillard would argue, however, before I shut him up again, that the practicality of Simulation (or, as he also calls it, Hyperreality) emphasizes the point he's trying to make.

Similarly, in a wonderful passage in his novel White Noise, Don Delillo showcases not only his understanding of Baudrillard, but, I think he also provides us with a trenchant critique of contemporary media and our relation to it. He writes:

Several days late Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove twenty-two miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences through the rolling fields. Soon the signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photography. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced at once by others.

"We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.

He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.

"What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said. "What did it look like, how was it different form other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can't answer these questions because we've read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can't get outside the aura. We're part of the aura. We're here, we're now."

He seemed immensely pleased by this. (Don Delillo, White Noise)

I don't like to force connections upon people when it comes to art and literature, so do as you please, but, as an experiment, what would happen if each of us, the next time we're visiting "The Most Photographed Barn in America," whatever it might prove to be, be it something profound or mundane; what might happen were we to reflect upon what we're seeing and what that seeing thus betrays about not what is Real or Illusion, but what we cannot see and thus what we cannot know? Thinking this, indeed thinking this question even, is to think aesthetically, with an eye toward the art, which is not to say the beauty, that lies inherent in our existence.

Got Rice, Bitch?

Some things are best left unsaid.

To the Rescue!

I'm probably one of the last bloggers in the world to read this, but a student has to study sometime! Yesterday, Josh Marshall made an excellent point about the Bush administration's apparently fugal marginalization of its Allies, NATO in particular. In the process of making the point, it must be said, Marshall expresses some of the very same things I've been trying to say in several posts this week; fortunately for you, he's far more coherent than I, and writes in much shorter sentences -- though, he's certainly not as handsome, ruggedly speaking, of course, that is, if you're into the harried academic look of one who appears to have slept in the clothes he's wearing, Anyway, yes, if you haven't followed a word I've been trying to say lately, here goes:

This is foolish. We didn't know the French had strong tendencies toward geo-political weenie-ism? Of course, we did. Dealing with that fact is one of the jobs we hire our presidents to fulfill. If NATO goes down the drain, the fact that the French or the Belgians or the Germans were petulant won't make it any less of a loss for us. Perhaps getting UN approval for invading Iraq was never in the cards. But taking action in Iraq without forcing a NATO train wreck should not have been that hard. Their lameness, if that's what it is, doesn't change the fact that we've come to this moment because of this administration's arrogance and swaggering incompetence.

[. . .]

The president and his crew are acting like that not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is high school kid who's always running into reverses and always blaming it on someone else. At first you think he's getting a bad shake until you see the same thing happening over and over again. It's always someone else's fault. The South Koreans are lame. The Europeans are lame. Our Arab allies are lame. Everybody is lame. We're given excuse after excuse. But at the end of the day the result seems to be our historic alliances, if not in shambles, then at least thoroughly beat-up. After all, what profiteth a man if he gain regime change in Iraq, and yet lose the whole world order in the process?

There -- now aren't you happy he's around?

This is just getting silly

Over at Pedantry, Scott Marten has a nice breakdown of some of the very peculiar discrepancies in the reporting of the missle that would have us go to war immediately, without question, against Iraq.

I should point out again, I'm not questioning this kind of thing out of mere blindness or an unwillingness to support a war. To be perfectly honest, there's nothing I'd love more than be convinced by either side's argument, war or no war; barring that, give me a reasonable debate -- which, incidentally, ain't really happening here in rabidly anti-war Britain either. In the end, neither side, of the debate and of the Atlantic Ocean, is talking much about war, but about its caricature. I agree with the disturbing thought I've read a few times in the past few days: if you're not deeply troubled by the position you've taken on this war, you're either not human or you're not thinking.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The Only Thing We Have to Fear . . . .

With Heathrow now resembling Northern Ireland and the typical American home transforming itself into Ace Hardware, and with everybody across the globe being told, essentially, to be afraid, but please deal with your fear in a "vigilant," and thus in a go-about-your-business kind of way (aka, find your sedative substance of choice), I thought we could use the perspective on fear that only Google can bring. You see, fear itself is a sedative -- if you're always afraid, you're never afraid. We medicate paranoid schizophrenics, though, because they're not being active about their fear; that is, they don't know they're supposed to be afraid because they know of no other way to be. At Silentio, inspired by the commitment to fear exemplified by our nations' leaders, but more importantly by the Communal Fear Project, I can't let that happen to you, the non-sufferer of paranoid schizophrenia. There are plenty more reasons in this to be afraid than nuclear and biological annihilation! So sit back, upon taping your doors and windows, readying your battery-powered radio by the computer, and lets remember to fear fear.

Merely a few that are sure to have you quaking, and more importantly, reflecting upon the fact that you're quaking(!), in your boots:

And most important, there is:

Oh, and just in case none of this flesh-and-blood stuff is good enough to scare you, well, try some good old-fashioned religious existentialism.

Now, head for the hills!!!