Tuesday, December 30, 2003


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


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


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!


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.


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?