Sunday, December 26, 2004


Oh fuck! I mean, really, what else can you say?


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

I Wish I'd Said That

With the excessive fall-out from the Super Bowl halftime show, the rest of the country now knows what it feels like to live in Cincinnati, with its unnecessary overreaction to the slightest things 'adult'. ('The Year in Film & Music 2004: Maximum Gauge')

Things I For Some Reason Cannot Do

I cannot close bottles of Coke without inadvertently sealing them so tightly and rendering them nearly impossible to open without either the utmost limits of Promethean patience and ingenuity, or if nothing else insane surges of adrelin-addled Herculean strength.

I cannot write a 1,200-word review for a book of interviews with a Slovenian philosopher of ill repute, despite increasingly nasty emails from a major academic journal's book reviews editor and a long-suffering wife who insists that I confine my thoughts about the book to the written page she will never, under any circumstances, read.

I cannot read hundreds of pages of notes, written over the course of three years, which would make the task of completing a thesis considerably easier, because otherwise I will not remember most of my past research, let alone the degree to which I suspect I simply do not agree with most of it.

I cannot keep track of my blogging promises, those half-cocked notions of blogging ideas that I say I'll get around to but never do which litter so much of Silentio's archives, like the desiccated detritus of a relationship three years in the making.

I cannot help myself from being slightly frustated when friends of Silentio regularly regard so much of it as a 'full frontal assault on Christianity', even when they know their libelous accusations are clearly not true.

I cannot believe that a disproportionate number of readers expect me to be as bombastic, pretentious or self-important in person as I am so often in blog-form, as though I would ever actually, explicitly, and publicly refer to fellatio, Jesus' penis and homophobic desire in a declarative sentence, as I've been known to do here.

I cannot wait, speaking of pretension and self-importance, until Ryan Adams' version of 'Wonderwall' comes back on my LaunchCast Radio station, no matter the abuse I will inevitably suffer from some of my more-indie-than-thou friends for admitting that I still like some of his post-Whiskeytown-but-not-much-from Gold music.

UPDATE: Okay, 'libelous accusations' may have been a little off the market, as pointed out by the one I was implicitly accusing, as he had linked to proof that I indeed had typed 'full-frontal assault on popular religion in America' -- though, I would still claim, like many an idiotic athlete who is faced with the consequences of his inane comments, that was taken out of context, or, if not out of context, out of the spirit of the dialogue it was said and the jest with which it was intended; moreover, I think he is projecting his desires for such an assault onto one who, ostensibly, is more than willing to lead one front of the charge.

Is it Christmas Again, Already??

Proving once again that being victimized is still its best market strategy, evangelical Christians must be very pleased that they're making headlines this month across the liberal media claiming that their celebration of Christmas as a religious holiday, the day that Jesus sprang from the dilated vagina of Mary, is, of course, the butt of wanton cultural bias.

You know, I'm actually kind of supportive of the beef itself. I, too, get very annoyed that one has to walk on eggshells, not knowing what to say around this time of the year. It was much easier in Britain, where everybody, even the atheists, just said 'Happy Christmas', and you were done with the whole awkward exchange of pleasantries and returned to your pint. Then again, this probably has to do with the fact that everybody over there has pretty much embraced the full-bore secularism of Christmas, and regard Christmas as a time either one must endure with one's family, or a holiday break that allows one to jump on an EasyJet flight bound for Spain.

Not so in America. No .... it's never so easy. Even when America wishes to be multicultural and secular, it's always in the vaguest most hypocritical of hues. I'm not quite sure why these Christians think that re-injecting religion into the cultural acknowledgement of Christmas would be any different in that respect, with its attendant motto: Happy Birthday, Jesus. I hope you like crap!'

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Promised Post On Capitalism & Christianity

It is a philosophical commonplace of these postmodern times that every identity or community is a reciprocal product of its binary opposite. Simplistically rendered: 'I' am not 'You', and 'You' are not 'I'. Also commonplace, and obviously related, is the recognition that evangelical Christianity, to be itself, requires 'the damned' -- i.e. in order that the redeemed / saved might be identified as such. Less often discussed, though, is how all this relates to evangelical Christianity's (not-simply-economic) commitment to market capitalism.

In short, the productive matrix of capitalism not only requires the concept of 'the damned' for the maintenance of evangelical Christian identity, but, more importantly, actively posits its necessity. Which is to say, for the evangelical Christian, 'the damned' are a sort of excess that is actually constitutive of Christian redemption. For those inclined towards a hardline doctrine of 'original sin', this may not seem an immediate problem ... that is, until the reciprocal thought would require you to acknowledge this excess as a conditioning agent, the originality of this sin, itself retroactively presupposed by the evangelical Christian. Is this only the vicious circle of faith?

Similarly, as we know, capitalism also requires losers. Such is the nature of the 'risk', for instance, we are told to enjoy as 'free Americans', that we might lose all that we own in a stock market crash, a corporate scandal, etc. This is the precise means by which the free market creates and sustains itself. Without the risk of loss, which is another way of saying without the reality (and maintenance) of loss and losers, the system simply cannot last. In contemporary, liberal society, all people receive, at least formally, the opportunities of success -- a la 'freedom' / 'democracy'; but, in reality, not all people actually have (or are provided) the means to receive and/or utilize those opportunites. Free trade for us -- the EU, the US, Australia, etc. -- but not for you -- the 'developing nations' who are kept that way under the heel of the First World's protectionist subsidies and trade tariffs.

It is easy to see how this easily weds itself to the evangelical Christian self-understanding. More problematic, however, is the degree to which this self-understanding undermines its official mission: that of 'saving souls'. What many non-evangelicals do not seem to understand is that the Christian mission is, for the evangelical, constitutive of his exclusivism. This leads to a lot of intentional and unintentional misunderstandings of rhetoric and action, some justified and others not. On the other hand, and on a level that goes beyond conscious misunderstanding, many evangelicals do not seem to understand the capitalistic reasons for or implications of their exclusivism's constitutive role in their mission.

This is, I think, the horrific truth of evangelicalism, that from which it shrinks. Namely, that it forces the betrayal of that which he must hold most dear, the mission of saving souls. The radicality of evangelicalism's necessary exclusivity, what it must exclude to be itself, is too much to bear. The betrayal is two-fold: by betraying itself -- i.e. its offical goal -- to realize itself, the truth of the horrific/repressed void at its heart emerges. All my talk of 'void' is not that of passive nihilism -- something I've been accused of in the past. Rather, it is the truth of an unthinkable absolute freedom, an active willing of the impossible, the 'nothing' of an impossible thought that somehow happens, that happens even at the heart of evangelicalism, though necessarily repressed (if formal evangelicalism is to remain what it is); the Event that blinds just before it breaks the old, and creates the conditions of something wholly new.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Where Christmas Yard Ornaments Go to Rest Eternally

Last night, K. asked me if I'd take her out to see some Christmas lights. Being Belgian, she still gets a kick out of this sort of Americana, even while being slightly horrified by it all. In the course of our search, we stumbled upon what can really only be described as a veritable cemetary of Christmas joy. Drummer boys playing throughout the night, without a neighbour one complaining ... wise men bearing gifts on bended knee because they are without receipts ... Winnie the Poohs offering not a dime to the Milne clan ... American flags ablaze with all the patriotism colored bulbs can offer ... 'God Bless America', 'Support our Troops', 'Santa's South Pole' ... Jesi of various hue and developmental stage ... Santas in various degrees of illuminated decapitation, like something from the set of Apocalypse Now ('the horror, the horror!) ... nightmarishly benighted trains set on their circular course, in an endless repetition of Christmas past, present and future ... inexplicable flora and fauna, frozen in time and out of its place ... all set to a soundtrack consisting of 'Grandpa Got Run Over By a Reindeer' and 'Silver Bells'.

I've been to the mountain top, I've seen hell on earth ... and it was fuckin' fabulous.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Bit About Paul

I may not have been able to get much, if any, blogging done here this week, but I did at least contribute a short post to Adam Kotsko's 'St. Paul Week' over at The Weblog.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Wow! -- I think

For several reasons, it became necessary this evening to delete everything in my Temporary Internet File. Not knowing much at all about computers until about a year ago, when I was hit with my first virus and spent a few months actually listening to the advice of my friends in IT, I had completely neglected this important file for over three years. In the course of deleting everything, cookies and all, for the first time since buying the bloody thing, I freed up nearly 300 meg from my threadbare C:. These selfsame IT friends, is that a lot, or am I just being unnecessarily dramatic in posting about it?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Going So Far Over the Rainbow As To Jump the Shark

Now that I'm fully moved and the desk is assembled, I can finally get to a lot of the articles that I long ago bookmarked and printed, in hopes that they'd inspire me and Silentio on to bigger and brighter posts. One can always count on Slavoj Zizek for a little inspiration, if nothing else.

In his most recent piece, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow!', he uses Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America as a means to return to beating his nearly dead hobby-horse: liberalism. I've been reading some very interesting interesting blog posts about this book ([1] [2]), so I maybe it's high time to finally check it out. As is usual with Zizek's book reviews, he doesn't spend much time talking about the book itself. (N.b., I really wish I could get away with that!) Also as usual, there's a lot that's worth reflecting on and quite a bit to question pretty vigorously.

First the stuff worth reflecting on, no matter how repetitious the theme:

The first thing to note here is that it takes two to fight a culture war: culture is also the dominant ideological topic of the "enlightened" liberals whose politics is focused on the fight against sexism, racism, and fundamentalism, and for multicultural tolerance. The key question is thus: why is "culture" emerging as our central life-world category? We no longer "really believe," we just follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores as part of the respect for the "life-style" of the community to which we belong (non-believing Jews obeying kosher rules "out of respect for tradition," etc.). "I do not really believe in it, it is just part of my culture" effectively seems to be the predominant mode of the disavowed/displaced belief characteristic of our times: although we do not believe in Santa Claus, there is a Christmas tree in every house and even in public places every December - "culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without "taking them seriously."

I don't have much to add to this, except to say that I think it's pretty spot-on and a recurrent theme of this particular blog, especially when it comes to popular manifestations of religion.

He goes on to add:

The second thing to note is how, while professing their solidarity with the poor, liberals encode culture war with an opposed class message: more often than not, their fight for multicultural tolerance and women's rights marks the counter-position to the alleged intolerance, fundamentalism, and patriarchal sexism of the "lower classes." The way to unravel this confusion is to focus on the mediating terms the function of which is to obfuscate the true lines of division. The way "modernization" is used in the recent ideological offensive is exemplary here: first, an abstract opposition is constructed between "modernizers" (those who endorse global capitalism in all its aspects, from economic to cultural) and "traditionalists" (those who resist globalization). Into this category of those-who-resist are then thrown all, from the traditional conservatives and populist Right to the "Old Left" (those who continue to advocate Welfare state, trade unions ...).

[. . .]

The third thing to take note of is the fundamental difference between feminist/anti-racist/anti-sexist etc. struggle and class struggle: in the first case, the goal is to translate antagonism into difference ("peaceful" coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups), while the goal of the class struggle is precisely the opposite, i.e., to "aggravate" class difference into class antagonism. So what the series race-gender-class obfuscates is the different logic of the political space in the case of class: while the anti-racist and anti-sexist struggle are guided by the striving for the full recognition of the other, the class struggle aims at overcoming and subduing, annihilating even, the other -- even if not a direct physical annihilation, class struggle aims at the annihilation of the other's socio-political role and function. In other words, while it is logical to say that anti-racism wants all races to be allowed to freely assert and deploy their cultural, political and economic strivings, it is obviously meaningless to say that the aim of the proletarian class struggle is to allow the bourgeoisie to fully assert its identity and strivings. In one case, we have a "horizontal" logic of the recognition of different identities, while, in the other case, we have the logic of the struggle with an antagonist.

The paradox here is that it is the populist fundamentalism which retains this logic of antagonism, while the liberal Left follows the logic of recognition of differences, of "defusing" antagonisms into co-existing differences: in their very form, the conservative-populist grass-roots campaigns took over the old Leftist-radical stance of the popular mobilization and struggle against upper-class exploitation. This unexpected reversal is just one in a long series. In today's US, the traditional roles of Democrats and Republicans are almost inverted: Republicans spend state money, thus generating record budget deficit, de facto build a strong federal state, and pursue a politics of global interventionism, while Democrats pursue a tough fiscal politics that, under Clinton, abolished budget deficit. Even in the touchy sphere of socio-economic politics, Democrats (the same as with Blair in the UK) as a rule accomplish the neoliberal agenda of abolishing the Welfare State, lowering taxes, privatizing, etc., while Bush proposed a radical measure of legalizing the status of the millions of illegal Mexican workers and made healthcare much more accessible to the retired. The extreme case is here that of the survivalist groups in the West of the US: although their ideological message is that of religious racism, their entire mode of organization (small illegal groups fighting FBI and other federal agencies) makes them an uncanny double of the Black Panthers from the 1960s.

Again, I think Zizek is spot-on. However ... the manner in which he fleshes this out, or fails to do so adequately, is pretty problematic. The upshot of his review is:

Are [today's liberals] not getting back from the conservative populists their own message in its inverted/true form? In other words, are conservative populists not the symptom of tolerant enlightened liberals? Is the scary and ridiculous Kansas redneck who explodes in fury against liberal corruption not the very figure in the guise of which the liberal encounters the truth of his own hypocrisy? We should thus (to refer to the most popular song about Kansas, from The Wizard of Oz) reach over the rainbow - over the "rainbow coalition" of the single-issue struggles, favored by radical liberals - and dare to look for an ally in what appears as the ultimate enemy of tolerant liberalism.

This is all well, good and 'radical', but I can't help but think that it is a line of thought that is not especially embodied in anything resembling practical reality. That is to say, how exactly does the 'alliance' of the Right and Left against liberalism actually effect the Leftist socio-economic agenda that Zizek clearly advocates? This is a philosopher, one recalls, who appropriately chides liberals of various stripe and hue as being devotees of the 'Beautiful Soul'-syndrome, whereby they have radical visions (e.g., freedom for Palestine, etc.) but lack the fortitude to deal with the radical consequences of those visions actually taking place. In other words, political / practical reality is pretty damn important. To this end, even though Zizek would undoubtedly not align himself with it, does not Timothy Burke's vision of the possible alliance of the anti-capitalist Left and Right if the Democrat party were to choose the path of communitarianism and 'moral values' as the means to resurrect itself (pp. 6-8), give us a clue as to how Zizek's position might be fleshed out?

Now, I'm not inclined to use the term sophistry too often, as I think it is often a non-starter that could easily be used on me, too; but when a philosopher of Zizek's political zeal is saying something he probably does not truly believe is the case or even practically viable, the accusation seems appropriate. The problem isn't that Zizek doesn't believe anything ... but that in this instance his political vision, i.e., his incessant need to always blast liberalism by praising the Right with a backhand bitch slap, does not seem to match the reality of the Leftist 'impossible actions' he advocates.

To be fair, as noted elsewhere, it may be significant to note that Zizek wrote this in mid-September, some six weeks before his Republican 'allies' swept back into power with a moralistic fury. I'm very curious to see how/if this changes his perspective.

Repetition ... Remembrance [2]

Is it just me, or does this passage from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian sound a lot like another desert conflict, in another part of the world, in another era?

There is an old disordered Mennonite in this place and he turns to study them. A thin man in a leather weskit, a black and straightbrim hat set square on his head, a thin rim of whiskers. The recruits order glasses of whiskey and drink them down and order more. There are monte games at tables by the wall and there are whores at another table who look the recruits over. The recruits stand sideways along the bar with their thumbs in their belts and watch the room. They talk among themselves of the expedition in loud voices and the old Mennonite shakes a rueful head and sips his drink and mutters.

The second corporal looks past his comrade. Are you talking to me?

At the river. Be told. They'll jail you to a man.

[. . .]

The hell they will.

Pray that they will.

He looks at his comrades. He leans toward the Mennonite. What does that mean, old man?

Do ye cross that river with yon filibuster armed ye'll not cross it back.

[. . .]

The Mennonite watches the enshadowed dark before them as it is reflected to him in the mirror over the bar. He turns to them. His eyes are wet, he speaks slowly. The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman's making onto a foreign land. Ye'll wake more than the dogs.

But they berated the old man and swore at him until he moved off down the bar muttering, and how else could it be?

How these things end. In confusion and curses and blood. They drank on and the wind blew in the streets and the stars that had been overhead lay low in the west and these young men fell afoul of others and words were said that could not be put right again and in the dawn the kid and the second corporal knelt over the boy from Missouri who had been named Earl and they spoke his name but he never spoke back. He lay on his side in the dust of the courtyard. The men were gone, the whores were gone. An old man swept the clay floor within the cantina. The boy lay with his skull broken in a pool of blood, none knew by whom. A third one came to be with them in the courtyard. It was the Mennonite. A warm wind was blowing and the east held a gray light. The fowls roosting among the grapevines had begun to stir and call.

There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto, said the Mennonite. He had been holding his hat in his hands and now he set it upon his head again and turned and went out the gate. (pp. 39-41)

If only we listened to Mennonites a little more often, eh, Scott?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Repetition ... Remembrance (1)

As one would expect, assembling furniture is as difficult now as it ever was. The how-to literature is just as esoteric, with its hieroglyphic scrawl and algebraic complexity. The hardware checklist just as frustrating, with its inadequate renderings of wood and screws that look the same. The pre-drilled holes are just as askew, bringing grown men to tearful anger and blasphemous rage. The furniture legs are just as flimsy, insuring that any future attempt at a move will be forestalled by a calamitous crack and crash of pressed wood whose final hour came the moment it was removed from the styrofoam.

I'd hoped my first post in this 'series' -- if it even becomes that! -- would be more substantive. More typically vague and eye-rollingly pretentious. There is something about putting together cheap Wal-Mart furniture, however, that requires the sort of plebeian clarity that Silentio typically lacks. Hopefully, now that the desk assembly from hell has finally been completed, and the study almost fully functional, things will get back to normal.

If not that, I'll make my editor happy and get her a long-belated book review. Either way.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Repetitions / Remembrances

When I first moved to Glasgow three years ago, I was initially struck by the relative 'sameness' of things. In fact, it took a good two weeks before the subtle differences really began to shine through and overpower all the similarities. Something very similar is taking place now that I'm (re-)adjusting to living in America again. To facilitate this, or at least to help me come to terms with it, I've decided that this week's blogging theme will be American Repetitions and Remembrances. How is America different (to me), having lived abroad for three years, married a foreign national, etc.; how is it the same? Are the things that are different really all that different ... the things the same really that similar? In essence, what is the role of memory -- the kind that chases us down more than we perhaps seek it out in moments of insouciant nostalgia , the sort we consciously try to forget while unconsciously embracing and/or projecting -- in shaping our life's repetitions and remembrances?

I wonder.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Most. Boring. Post. Ever.

Yes, I admit it, I lied about getting some blogging done the other night. What can I say, it was freakin' cold and my landlord had yet to turn on the heat. Sitting behind a computer in a cold apartment was not my ideal way of spending an evening. So, instead, I spent it elsewhere, throwing a bouncy ball to a chihuahua with Parkinson's Disease and drinking a couple of bottles of Westmalle Triples in quick succession. Really, you were far better off without me.

I hope everybody made it through the first round of their holidays without any cuts or burns or bruises, save for the mental and spiritual ones that November and December has for most of us in spades. Casa de Silentio was surprisingly fine. Lots of squealy children running about my parents' house, one of whom insisted on screaming in people's ears without any reason or explanation; but this was balanced out by the American Chopper marathon on the Discovery Channel, not to mention the new DVD player my dad shoved in my trunk just before I left. (All we need now, of course, is a television.)

Anybody buy anything today that they've decided to keep for themselves?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Back Online

Ahhhhhh ... the power of the internet has returned to my greedy little hands!! Blogging will commence this evening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Will Work For Food

I've not yet been able to bring myself to look at my site traffic, but I'm fairly sure it's pretty well near nonexistent. Ach well ...

I'd really forgotten how much I hate moving. Actually, let me rephrase: I'd forgotten how expensive it is to move. Finding an apartment in Cincinnati wasn't too bad, given the fact that just about any sane person who isn't intent on living there solely because of ridiculously good library access and cheap rent has already left the city years ago. Two or three days of looking, tops. Now, finding furniture, that's proven more of a worry. I have, you see, become quite spoiled. O'er in bonny green Scotland, for instance, the mizzus and I were regaled with the finest of ugly furniture, whose upholstery was tolerable only because it was faded beyond recognition; it was there when we moved in, and it remained when we left. Such is the beauty of furnished accommodation, so long as you try not to think about who has done what on various cushions and mattresses.

I only realized yesterday, in fact, that the only three pieces of furniture I've ever purchased are (in order): a $15 pasteboard bookcase (current whereabouts, unknown), a beautiful $100 desk from Office Max (current whereabouts, Rumpke dump just outside Cincinnati), and a dinner table from the ring of hell known as Ikea (current whereabouts, my old flat in Glasgow). When I moved out of my parents' house at the wizened age of 18, I enjoyed the comfort of furniture provided in my college dorm; upon graduating, I enjoyed the comfort of furniture stolen from my college dorm. In other words, you can imagine my horror at seeing mattresses priced at $600-$1000, sofas priced even higher, loveseats only slightly less expensive than sofas (which I find baffling), and myriad financing plans that boggle the tiny expanses of my mathematical mind. The only good thing to come out of my search, thus far, is the knowledge that Big Lots has either improved the quality of its merchandise, or I've become extraordinarily cheap.

Anyway, hopefully posting will return to semi-normality this week. I do need to crack out a much delayed, much overdue book review for a journal whose editor once had a semi-orgasmic reaction when I reeled off the names of a couple of Hollywood actors that I thought to be, in the words of her question, 'hot'; but, as has been the case for years, writing that will undoubtedly be the kick in the ass I need to keep writing. Which means that bloggy goodness shouldn't be far behind.

In the meantime, per Vaara's recommendation, take the time to download (via BitTorrent) the three-part BBC documentary that concluded last week, The Power of Nightmares. After finishing part-three last night, and then watching a bit of American cable, I've decided that I'm in no rush at all to buy a television.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Thy Name Is Ambivalence

This gives rise to two thoughts. First, I've finally re-discovered a reason to be out of Europe right now. And yet, second, I've also re-discovered a reason to go back there and get a job!

The dollar could slide still further, in spite of hitting an all-time low against the euro last week in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, currency traders have said.

The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar.


Speculative traders in Chicago last week racked up the highest number of long-euro, short-dollar contracts on record. Options traders have reported brisk business in euro calls - contracts to buy the euro at a pre-determined rate.

However, the market has been rife with rumours that the latest wave of selling has been led by foreign governments seeking to cut their exposure to US assets.

India and Russia have reportedly been selling US assets, as well as petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern investors.

China, which has $515bn of reserves, was also said to be selling dollars and buying Asian currencies in readiness to switch the renminbi's dollar peg to a basket arrangement, something Chinese officials have increasingly hinted at. Any re-allocation could push the dollar sharply lower and Treasury yields markedly higher.

Friday, November 05, 2004

What Room for Religion?

I'm still processing a reaction to this email sent out by Rabbi Michael Lerner. Some of you may be quicker to the draw than I. It's worth reflecting on, even if you have nothing to say or add.

For years the Democrats have been telling themselves "it's the economy, stupid." Yet consistently for dozens of years millions of middle income Americans have voted against their economic interests to support Republicans who have tapped a deeper set of needs.

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that "looking out for number one" has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more-a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning-and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose.

Many of these voters have found a "politics of meaning" in the political Right. In the Right wing churches and synagogues these voters are presented with a coherent worldview that speaks to their "meaning needs." Most of these churches and synagogues demonstrate a high level of caring for their members, even if the flip side is a willingness to demean those on the outside. Yet what members experience directly is a level of mutual caring that they rarely find in the rest of the society. And a sense of community that is offered them nowhere else, a community that has as its central theme that life has value because it is connected to some higher meaning than one's success in the marketplace.

It's easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in ways that liberals find offensive and contradictory. The frantic attempts to preserve family by denying gays the right to get married, the talk about being conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies that accelerate the destruction of the environment and do nothing to encourage respect for God's creation or an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on preserving the powerless fetus and a culture of life without a concomitant commitment to medical research (stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and healthcare reform., the claim to care about others and then deny them a living wage and an ecologically sustainable environment-all this is rightly perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that makes them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have been moving to the Right.

Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for religion and tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that underlie the move to the Right, have been unable to engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly angry at the way that some religious communities have been mired in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, the liberal world has developed such a knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both marginalized those many people on the Left who actually do have spiritual yearnings and simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many who move to the Right have legitimate complaints about the ethos of selfishness in American life.

Imagine if John Kerry had been able to counter George Bush by insisting that a serious religious person would never turn his back on the suffering of the poor, that the bible's injunction to love one's neighbor required us to provide health care for all, and that the New Testament's command to "turn the other cheek" should give us a predisposition against responding to violence with violence.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk about the strength that comes from love and generosity and applied that to foreign policy and homeland security.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk of a New Bottom Line, so that American institutions get judged efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize people's capacities to be loving and caring, ethically and ecologically sensitive, and capable of responding to the universe with awe and wonder.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could call for schools to teach gratitude, generosity, caring for others, and celebration of the wonders that daily surround us! Such a Democratic Party, continuing to embrace its agenda for economic fairness and multi-cultural inclusiveness, would have won in 2004 and can win in the future. (Please don't tell me that this is happening outside the Democratic Party in the Greens or in other leftie groups--because except for a few tiny exceptions it is not! I remember how hard I tried to get Ralph Nader to think and talk in these terms in 2000, and how little response I got substantively from the Green Party when I suggested reformulating their excessively politically correct policy orientation in ways that would speak to this spiritual consciousness. The hostility of the Left to spirituality is so deep, in fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this way they often can't even hear what we are saying--so they systematically mis-hear it and say that we are calling for the Left to take up the politics of the Right, which is exactly the opposite of our point--speaking to spiritual needs actually leads to a more radical critique of the dynamics of corporate capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a mimicking of right-wing policies).

If the Democrats were to foster a religions/spiritual Left, they would no longer pick candidates who support preemptive wars or who appease corporate power. They would reject the cynical realism that led them to pretend to be born-again militarists, a deception that fooled no one and only revealed their contempt for the intelligence of most Americans. Instead of assuming that most Americans are either stupid or reactionary, a religious Left would understand that many Americans who are on the Right actually share the same concern for a world based on love and generosity that underlies Left politics, even though lefties often hide their value attachments.

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. Its time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the Right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson-that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth-a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders.

A confession: I walked by an Episcopal church today, and had to will all of my secular energies to the fore of my body and mind in order to fight the urge to walk in and pray.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Pre-Bed Election Thoughts

As of 12.50 EST, it appears that all my confidence and hope are, like the residual elements of my religious faith, good for very little indeed. With that in mind, commence with the gloating and anger that only self-righteousness conservative and liberal zeal can muster; commence with legalized homophobia; commence with even more tax cuts; commence with still yet more fear, America's most favored of opiates -- if it's not Jesus bearing down on us with an apocalyptic gleam in his eye, it's Allah's bomb-strapped will; commence with a lot of liberals claiming half-hearted expatriation attempts, but only really managing to cross a few state borders; commence with conservatives finding new ways to blame the minority party for their policy failures; commence with me drunkenly wondering, to all willing to listen, how far away I am from this country's collective political will, and whether moving back here is really such a good idea.

Oh, yes, we all have much to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Quick Thoughts

I'm kind of rushed for time right now, as I'm currently in the process of packing everything I own and readying myself for my much dreaded trans-Atlantic move. That's right, my fellow Americans, I am returning home. When? Tomorrow. Why? Still working on that. For how long? Hopefully, not for long. A couple of random thoughts:

  • Sweden is a fabulous land. I only spent three days there last week, but I feel all the more healthy, spiritually and physically, for having done so. Wonderful cheese ... unbelievable butter ... and fabulous bread ... cars that stop when you walk out into the middle of traffic. What more could one ask for, really? Except for, of course, good beer -- which, by the way, Sweden strangely seems to be lacking.

  • K.'s clothes seem to have somehow mated since we moved from Glasgow. Packing them all into a few suitcases has proven considerably more difficult this time around. On the other hand, all that I might wear, save for my very pimp robe, fits in one suitcase.

  • Never buy a friend a box of Belgian chocolates a couple of weeks before a move. That is, unless you have insane willpower and refuse to devour it by your lonesome before you even leave.

  • Always check out the cost of shipping things through the post before paying the excess baggage charge.
  • That'll do for now.

    Thursday, October 21, 2004

    That's More Like It!

    Few things lately have given me something to actually miss about the States, and thus to look forward to when I return. The Boston Red Sox, however, did last night. I'm not a huge BoSox fan, and I'm not even a huge baseball fan. But as a fan of good sport, this year's ALCS and last year's World Series really make me kick myself for not being in an American time zone. How's the NFL looking this year? Do I have anything to look forward to?

    Tuesday, October 19, 2004

    Name Change

    Per the recommendation of anonymous reader, who I think was looking for information on a House of Representative candidate with my same name, I have decided, because I take anonymous recommendations very seriously, and because he actually makes a pretty good point that I've often considered but never did much about, I have decided to revert to a semi-anonymous form in this blog. Slowly, all references to my name will be purged, and slowly but surely, ideally, Googling my name will no longer direct you, or future colleagues, or prospective employers here. This is, of course, a semi-anonymous move, due to the fact that many of you already know who I am. So be it.

    Do you think this is rash? Do you think I should've told 'Anonymous' to scurry away from me and my merry brand of vulgarity and crassness? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Home Sweet Fucking Home

    This is just absolutely disgraceful.

    Eighty-five heads of state and government have signed a statement endorsing a UN plan adopted 10 years ago to ensure every woman's right to education, health care and to make choices about childbearing.

    President George W. Bush's administration refused to sign because the statement mentions "sexual rights."


    The statement was signed by leaders of 85 countries, including the entire European Union, China, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan and more than a dozen African countries as well as 22 former world leaders, notably U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

    Pakistan .... Indonesia .... China!!!

    In a letter to organizers of the statement, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state Kelly Ryan reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to "the goals and objectives" of the Cairo conference and "to the empowerment of women and the need to promote women's fullest enjoyment of universal human rights."

    "The United States is unable, however, to endorse the 'world leaders' statement on supporting the ICPD," Ryan said.

    "The statement includes the concept of 'sexual rights,' a term that has no agreed definition in the international community, goes beyond what was agreed to at Cairo.

    Sexual rights were specifically mentioned a year later, however, in the platform of action adopted by over 180 countries including the United States at the 1995 UN women's conference in Beijing.

    That platform, which the United States also took a leading role in drafting, states: "The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence."

    Wow, this shit really really hits to the core with me.

    A message for my friends and family in America, especially the Jesus Christ lovers one and all (Sings the chorus: 'Just like that, Jesus, the way we like it!!'), it is your moral duty, a la Kierkegaard's knight of faith, to suspend ethics and law and make sure the houses in which I will be bunking for a few weeks upon my return have on hand substantial alcohol and sundry illicit substances. You get through your American lives fraught with liberal ills by way of a faith in a God who doesn't especially like women or gays; while I require only a little blurring of the conscious mind that otherwise keeps me too sensitive to the fact that I am a man without a place he wishes to call home anymore. The difference, it is negligible.

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    Sticking up For a Friend

    Given their hatchet job of an obituary over the weekend, to which I'm not even going to bother linking, I was a bit surprised to find a pretty nice eulogy to J. Derrida by Mark C. Taylor in today's New York Times Op/Ed page. I've long been a fan, if sometimes critical (natch!) of Taylor's work, ever since the day I first picked up Erring in 1997, and haven't really gotten it out of my head since; and still regard him as the most important, if also the most difficult to pin down, theologian of his generation. Taylor brought deconstruction to the halls of religious studies, for better or worse, and has since moved on to bigger and brighter things ... but I've always thought that to be kind of the point of deconstruction itself: moving on. I.e., your loyal to it only inasmuch as you leave it far behind, as you betray it. Taylor, and indeed even Derrida, embodies this in their work and in their philosophy, and, so it seems, their friendship over the years. It's nice to see Taylor sticking up for his mate, in frighteningly lucid, simple prose.

    During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.

    And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.

    As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism - in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.

    Fortunately, he also taught us that the alternative to blind belief is not simply unbelief but a different kind of belief - one that embraces uncertainty and enables us to respect others whom we do not understand. In a complex world, wisdom is knowing what we don't know so that we can keep the future open.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2004

    Of Happiness and Copyrights

    Thinking that the good life of sitting on my ass in Belgium, eating dark chocolate, drinking blonde beer, and spending quality time with my new wife just wasn't good enough, I hopped on a plane yesterday bound for Glasgow. The trip, thus far, has proven more interesting than I'd anticipated.

    For starters, upon the recommendation of K., I read Will Ferguson's novel, Happiness. While I'm not completely sold on Ferguson's writing style -- when he's funny, I'm laughing out loud, but the jokes and the irony often fall very flat very quickly (esp. his Boomer v. Gen-X schtick) -- he has really made his own the 'beware what you wish for' archetype. The premise is quite simple: what would happen if, by luck or malevolence, there was a self-help book that actually worked. Ferguson's answer is just as simple: utter apocalypse. He makes a very good case that cynicism, disappointment, and anxiety are not simply inherent parts of life, but actually constitute the essence of life's beauty and truth. (My biggest criticism is that he he goes out of his way, repeatedly and explicitly, to make sure the reader GETS this point.)

    A hilarious, and perhaps even poignant, bit is when the protagonist's wife learns and adopts the dynamic sex tips recommended by the book, making every night a multiple orgasmic experience for both him and her ... perfect sexual union and bliss, each and every night, by sheer rote. What he discovers, however, is that he misses the anxiety about his skinny body, the sweaty ambivalence of illicit affairs, the terror of regret, the clumsy movements of hands and tongues -- that THESE are the essence of sex, not bliss. Indeed, he learns that the pursuit of happiness, and the necessary disappointment that entails, is the stuff of true life -- not its actual achievement. I may quibble with the details of his point, and certain the didactic way in which he makes it, but I think he is mostly right.

    I read most of Happiness on the plane to Prestwick, and then on the train to Glasgow. After that, I made a mad dash for Glasgow's other train station, knocking pensioners and ruddy faced children out of the way with my bag filled with 1 kg of chocolate, and caught a connection to Edinburgh. On Monday, I'd happened to notice that Cory Doctorow was lecturing over there at the University on the subject of electronic / internet copyright. Now, while I only know a little about modern technology, enough to be dangerous (to myself) but not enough to be especially helpful or insightful, and I know next to nothing at all about copyright law, electronic or otherwise, Doctorow's instantly classic talk on DRM [Digital Rights (or Restrictions) Management] at Microsoft's Research Group earlier this year had me at hello. (n.b.: More on DRM here.)

    Already a fan, and eager to learn more, I was more than happy to lug my baggage and empty belly across Scotland. Doctorow didn't say anything radically new, per se, as even I found myself nodding, along with the people around me, in acknowledged agreement at a point that I'd already read somewhere else, though I might've misunderstood why they were nodding, and succumbed to peer pressure once again; and yet neither was it a complete rehash of the stuff I'd already read. Especially interesting for me was his discussion of the mindblowing developments in radio wave (that's not one word, is it?) manipulation and surfing, which has the potential, legality notwithstanding, to change the way we listen to music (i.e., conceivably, one could download to your computer all the available FM music stations at any one time and place), surf the web (i.e., Wi-Fi stuff, which I only vaguely understand), or even cook our food (i.e., something to do with microwave ovens, though I must confess I didn't quite understand this particular reference, and thus have no clue what the implications are of this technology for my tv dinners). I also had no idea about the extent to which media outlets were seeking the right to claim a copyright hold on the broadcast of something that would otherwise be in the public domain. (N.b.: This is how I understood what he said. If somebody knows better, please correct me.) If this is truly the case, as the EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] is teaching me with each visit to their site, this stuff really matters. Of course, an eighty-minute lecture isn't the panacea to the appalling level of my ignorance about such topics, so I still don't profess to know much about electronic copyright law; but, as with technology, I know enough to be dangerously incompetent with what I do know. Thanks, Cory.

    And now I'm back in Glasgow, rested, fed, and excited to see friends that, in a couple of weeks, I very likely won't see for about a year, if not more. Ah melancholy ... the stuff of life. I hope that truth's not already copyrighted, too.

    Sunday, October 10, 2004

    Lies, Lies, Lies

    Conservative hearts untold went aflutter this weekend with the release of a memo written by ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin. In it he writes:

    The New York Times (Nagourney/Stevenson) and Howard Fineman on the web both make the same point today: the current Bush attacks on Kerry involve distortions and taking things out of context in a way that goes beyond what Kerry has done.

    Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win.

    We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides "equally" accountable when the facts don't warrant that.

    Surely this is an example of the liberal media taking up arms, right? Kerry's lies don't matter! See ... the media has it in for Bush! The fuckers!! The way they supported Clinton through thick and thin, and never had a bad word to say about him ... or Gore!! It's so obvious, you liberals!!!!

    Slow down, Chef. Take a deep breath. Once your blood pressure has stabilized, read this relatively decent fact-check article in the LA Times -- note that while the headline makes it appear that both candidates are equally at fault in bending or breaking the truth to his advantage, the facts themselves would appear to put the burden more squarely on one candidate's shoulders. This is not liberal bias at work. If nothing, it is straining to find an 'objective' balance in the face of overwhelming reality: that Bush's lies are substantively different than Kerry's. Matt Yglesias sums it up well:

    Let me note further that the point here is not that Bush lies more than Kerry by some aggregate quantity measure (that may well be true, though it's hard to see how you'd run the numbers) the point is that Bush's lying is qualitatively different from Kerry's. The main points the media's fact-checkers have nailed Kerry on are, (a) the claim that Iraq has cost $200 billion, (b) the claim that General Eric Shinseki was "retired early," and (c) the claim that America has lost 1.6 million jobs during the Bush administration. The reality of (a) is that Iraq has cost $120 billion and is projected to cost $80 billion more based on current policy; of (b) that Shinseki was punished in a way that's a bit hard to appreciate unless you understand the standard operating procedure for senior military officers, and (c) that America has lost 1.6 million private sector jobs while gaining 1.1 million or so government jobs. In all of these cases, the point Kerry was trying to make (a) that Iraq has been expensive, (b) that Shinseki was punished for being right, and (c) that the labor market has been crappy, are all perfectly accurate.

    Typical Bushian distortions aren't like this at all. They aren't oversimplifications, designed to create a good sound bite but where the basic point stands even if you lay out the facts. To take just one example, Bush says Kerry favors a "government takeover" of the health insurance market. He does not, in fact, favor such a takeover. And the only argument Bush musters against the Kerry plan is that it's a big government takeover. The fact that this isn't what Kerry's actually proposing thus utterly defeats Bush's point. There's a significance to this departure from reality that imprecision about what happened to General Shinseki lacks.

    I know what I said in an earlier post, "The point is not simply to try to find the truth laying behind a policy ..." But equally important is the concluding clause of that same sentence, "... but to find the spirit in which said policy is enacted or proposed." The same can also be said of lies. I.e., we should be just as sensitive to the difference in spirit / intention behind Kerry's distortions of the truth, which tell a more or less accurate story shaded by rhetorical flourishes, and those of Bush that make up the story as they go along. Of course, if you are in the "win at any cost" camp, due to a belief that Kerry is a pinko-traitor bent on supplying the fetuses that Cheney only eats, then obviously the distinction is a moot point. But for the rest of us ......

    Saturday, October 09, 2004

    The 'F'-Word

    David Neiwert, easily one of the bloggers I too seldom read, is currently in the midst of a wonderful series called 'The Rise of Pseudo Fascism' that really ought to be read. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four -- two more parts forthcoming)

    Is it too shrill, you might wonder. Is he calling Republicans fascists, you might pause. The answer: no ... not really ... well, maybe a little ... um, hard to say. Now, I don't deny that Neiwert, especially in using the 'f'-word and relating it to the modern 'conservative movement', is really opening himself up to misunderstanding, scores of comment trolls, and equal parts disdain and adoration for things he's not really saying at all. But, then again, he's smart enough, and good enough writer, to be able to deal with this.

    Personally, I'm more convinced by the broader argument he's making here than some of the specifics he cites -- i.e., that, as Douglas Rushkoff points out well, American political / cultural discourse is increasingly troubling.

    R.I.P., Jacques

    Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 - October 9, 2004)

    Jacques Derrida, one of France's most famous philosophers, has died at the age of 74, it has been announced.

    Derrida died in a Paris hospital on Friday night, news agency AFP reported. He suffered from pancreatic cancer.

    The Algerian-born philosopher is best known for his "deconstruction theory" - unpicking the way text is put together in order to reveal its hidden meanings. [ed. BAH! You can always count on the British press to write about that which they don't understand.]

    Fellow academics have charged that Derrida's writings "deny distinction between reality and fiction". [ed. Many 'fellow academics' who made such a charge, I might point out, never actually read much of Derrida, save for the scare quotes in various monographs about his work.]

    Derrida is one of the most influential philosophers of the late 20th Century.

    In his long career, he taught at the Sorbonne and at several American universities.

    [. . .]

    Jacques Derrida also campaigned for the rights of immigrants in France, against apartheid in South Africa, and in support of dissidents in communist Czechoslovakia.

    He was so influential that lat year a film was made about his life - a biographical documentary.

    At one point, wandering through Derrida's library, one of the filmmakers asks him: "Have you read all the books in here?"

    "No," he replies impishly, "only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully".

    This is quite sad. According to those I know who knew him pretty well, Derrida was wonderfully kind and generous. Disagree with him all you will -- and believe me, I do -- but few have ever faulted the grace with which he lived and worked. He will be remembered and honored ... and not just in the cottage industry of academic and artistic tributes that will inevitably follow in the next year or so.

    Rest in peace, Jacques. We hardly knew ya ... and even those that did, rarely understood ya ... but for those of us who 'got it', we'll never be the same. For a fabulous series of links to his writings online, as well as a couple of pieces about him (J. Caputo's is quite nice, even if I disagree with it), see wood s lot.

    UPDATE: I've added several links since I first posted this.

    Peer Pressure

    Everybody else I know with a blog is talking about the debates, so I guess I ought to throw in my two cents, too. Just watched the tape of it, and, while I obviously agreed more with Kerry's take on things, I think it'll come down to a draw. Once Bush took a chill pill, after Kerry smacked him down about the size of the coalition in Iraq, he was, for him, clear and to the point. Damn near lucid. From a brief look at the editorials, though, his deeply unhinged first thirty minutes may take center stage. To counter this, Bush will almost surely start throwing like mad the 'John Kerry = Liberal' tag from now until November. His campaign is no stranger to decontextualization, so doing so will be very easy. Debate no. 3, for that very reason, might be a problem for Kerry. For his part, Kerry was much the same as he was in the first debate. I don't think he did much to shoot himself in the foot, and may've even been a bit more appealing to Independents and women. I will be surprised if this debate gains Bush more votes than it possibly might for Kerry.

    The real winners of the debate, ideally, are all those undecided voters out there. If you can't find the pertinent differences in the candidates through this debate, then I'm not sure what will do the trick. If it is less about identifying their respective differences, and more about the fact that neither candidate represents your view of the world in full, then I invite you to a mental exercise.

    First, identify that issue which is most important to you in the election (foreign policy, gay marriage, abortion, taxes, etc.), pull it aside for a moment and look at the remaining issues.

    Second, walk through the remaining issues one at a time, Googling where necessary, and determine which candidate best represents your view / attitude to each particular issue, based upon the incumbent's record (very important, that) and the contender's, and his party's, perspective. If you find choosing one or the other difficult, place yourself on a spectrum between the two candidates. The important thing, of course, is not to simply parrot the opposite party's perspective of its opponent. Rather, when it comes to Bush's record, try to focus on what appears to you as the real implications and results of his administration thus far, and compare with Kerry's criticisms; as for Kerry's perspective of the world and American policy, i.e., what he thinks ought to be done, look at his proposals and decide how or if they jive with what you believe is best. The point is not simply to try to find the truth laying behind a policy, a ticklish search that often tends to say more about your sources than it does about the truth itself, but to find the spirit in which said policy is enacted or proposed. It's not that reality or facts don't matter -- this isn't some exercise in relativism, mind -- but just that we ought first to be self-conciously aware of the individual and collective perspectives from which this sort of truth, be it about ourselves or the world around us, is embodied -- emerges, lives, and breathes.

    Third, and finally, as a kind of type-breaker question look at that issue that you pulled aside, that which is most important to you, and ask (aloud if necessary): 'When looking at the other issues, it would appear that __________ best represents me and my perspective? However, with regard to my most important issue, do I think this candidate will fuck things up any worse than they already are? Yes or No.' And leave it at that. Don't worry if Bush or Kerry, depending on whom the other issues show more to represent you and your perspective, will make this important issue go away, or solve it, or keep it safe. Just focus on whether or not you suspect their presence and policies in the White House will fuck things up even more they probably already are, supporting your answer with a short explanation. If you can only sincerely and coherently answer 'yes' to this final question, in such a way that makes sense to you on either an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual level, then, yes, you have a problem, and I can only suggest you remain undecided and keep repeating until November 2. Otherwise, hell, shit or get off the pot.

    UPDATE: I edited this post a bit since first publishing it, to make the general point a bit more clear.

    Friday, October 08, 2004

    'Where ya been?'

    I've gotten a few emails lately wondering where I've been. Friends who normally see me online, and people who expect at least one post a week, have begun to think I've fallen prey to some Belgian evil. No, nothing like that. It's just that, well, the internet has become a bit boring to me this week. I think I hit a certain wall when it came to election coverage, and then for every minute I spent downloading funny videos instead, I was wracked with ten minutes of guilt for not doing something a bit more productive. So, instead, I've been reading Paradise Lost, which I had somehow managed thus far in my life to never even open, alongside my advisor's latest book The Sacred Desert. Both have kept me on my toes as much as they've kept me off the internet for hours untold. Neither, though, have given me much to blog about. For fear of boring an already slightly alienated blog audience, I thought I'd leave you wanting something, if not necessarily more.

    My blogging to-do list:

    (1) I've promised Pat a follow-up post to this one, and had actually hoped to get that done this week. Next week, Pat, I promise. I need to have something to say at a conference on the same topic in a couple of weeks anyway, so I'll use you all as my guinea pigs.

    (2) Additionally, if time and desire allows, I'll talk about the ideas of 'freedom' & 'democracy' (in Iraq, and elsewhere), and how the world's reception of the late capitalist logic of these terms / concepts is the real backdrop of the so-called 'clash of civilizations' they purportedly represent (i.e., that between, for instance, the liberal, Christian West and the fundamentalist, Muslim East). The idea is not nearly as wanky as it sounds.

    Anyway, we'll see. If you're interested in either, stay tuned. Otherwise, I'll be sure to provide sufficient political, literary and just downright silly buffer posts. In the meantime, I'm gonna go back to downloading slightly dirty videos and wishful thinking about tonight's debate.

    Laughing 'Till It Hurts

    Oh man ... this is hilarious.

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    I, For One, Would Not Want My Testicles Shocked Anywhere But America

    Giblets, as normal, is right! The torturers of America are a sturdy lot, but they have families and needs too; as such, on behalf of their lack of organized union, I want to join the mass of patriots imploring the United State Congress to keep those valuable torture jobs IN AMERICA. After all, in America we realize that the rule of law need never get in the way of the rule of law. No! The proposed outsourcing of torture must be stopped. Partisanship should not divide us on this very serious issue. Will somebody please think of the children!!?? The children!!

    For a more serious post on this issue -- and yes, it is a very serious issue -- see Obsidian Wings.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    A Personal Request

    As most of you know, I occasionally have to use Silentio as my own personal noteboard for friends. I try to limit it, but some things take precedence over another political or philosophical harangue. Agreed?

    Where was I? Ah yes. Brad P., if you're still out there, this is directed to you. Why, oh why, do the emails I send you via Yahoo return to me as unsendable, but the ones sent via AOL do not? Is one blocked and the other not? If so, can you maybe switch it the other way around. Finally, after years of saying I was going to do so, I've dropped AOL -- as it has not really been my ISP for a couple of years now, and just a really expensive email program. The address is (Yes, I'm being really paranoid with spam and email lately.)

    Never A Dull Moment in Rural Belgium

    One of the good things about spending the last month in Belgium is that, because I've already sent all my notes and manuscripts to the States, there has been loads of time for recreational reading. The first couple of weeks here gave me a chance to re-read Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, which in turn gave me the idea to outline a future paper / lecture on the philosophy of femininity and chaos, as well as the 'sacramental' value of stories. I can one not like passages like this?

    Acts have their being in the witness. Without him who can speak of it? In the end one could even say that the act is nothing, the witness all. It may be that the old man saw certain contradictions in his position. If men were the drones he imagined them to be then had he not rather been appointed to take up his brief by the very Being against whom it was directed? As has been the case with many a philosopher that which at first seemed an insurmountable objection to his theories came gradually to be seen as a necessary component to them and finally the centerpiece itself. He saw the world pass into nothing in the very multiplicity of its instancing. Only the witness stood firm. And the witness to that witness. For what is deeply true is true also in men's hearts and it can therefore never be mistold through all and any tellings. This then was his thought. If the world was a tale who but the witness could give it life? Where else could it have its being? This was the view of things that began to speak to him. And he began to see in God a terrible tragedy. That the existence of the Deity lay imperiled for want of this simple thing. That for God there could be no witness. Nothing against which He terminated. Nothing by way of which his being could be announced to Him. Nothing to stand apart from and say I am this and that is other. Where that is I am not. He could create everything save that which would say him no.

    [. . .]

    What the priest saw at last was that the lesson of a life can never be its own. Only the witness has power to take its measure. It is lived for the other only. The priest therefore saw what the anchorite could not. That God needs no witness. Neither to Himself nor against. The truth is rather that if there were no God then there could be no witness for there could be no identity to the world but only each man's opinion of it. The priest saw that there is no man who is elect because there is no man who is not. To God every man is a heretic. The heretic's first act is to name his brother. So that he may step free of him. Every word we speak is a vanity. Every breath taken that does not bless is an affront. Bear closely with me now. There is another who will hear what you never spoke. Stones themselves are made of air. What they have power to crush never lived. In the end we shall all of us be only what we have made of God. For nothing is real save his grace.

    After that I skimmed through some stuff that resembled research, with which I will not bore you, but eventually found time to read the copy of Zadie Smith's White Teeth that had been sitting on my shelf in Glasgow for half a year. Now, The Border Trilogy is far and away the better book -- well, three books -- but Zadie Smith's book still ripples with absolutely delightful, hilarious characters, and a zestful storytelling that you simply do not want to end. Now that I think about it, considering the end of the book, which I did not like as much as the rest, maybe Smith herself didn't quite want it to end. Her prose doesn't strike me with the philosophical force of McCarthy's, though that of few authors do, but there were some instances of especially lovely writing. For example:

    It's a funny thing about the modern world. You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, 'Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He didn't love me. He just couldn't deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.' Now, how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll -- then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.

    Yes, quite.

    Does anybody have any book recommendations for my final few weeks here in Belgium?

    Tuesday, September 28, 2004

    A Warning

    We don't get loads of comments 'round here, but a quick warning for those who may wish to do so. I just noticed that I'm getting hit quite a bit by commenting spam, or so it seems, which may very well record your email address if you leave it. Don't know how these things work. My recommendation, leave your name (sans email). If anybody has any thoughts about how I might clean up the comments, I'm all ears.

    Monday, September 27, 2004

    Hip Hip .... Hurray!

    I don't know how often Silentio's own basketball-loving guest blogger of old visits, he being the one who tires of my political and philosophical persuasions the quickest, (yes, I realize that is a very bold statement, considering the competition), but I cannot resist the opportunity, while the thought strikes me, to congratulate him for finally getting gainful employment that doesn't consist of daily worries about the influence of Wal-Mart on business. Kudos, my good man. You've earned the box of chocolates I bought for you today.

    Sunday, September 26, 2004

    The Interview, It Looms

    As many of you know, K. and I have been toiling away these last few months with getting her an immigrant visa to the United States. Well, it looks like the final hurdle is before us. We go to Brussels on Monday afternoon for her climactic interview, where all of our papers are examined, our love life dissected, and our devotion to America questioned. Keep your fingers crossed!

    Update: Your fingers came through! Who knew the power they had? Despite forgetting the $335 fee for this stage of the visa process, having to hurry back home -- missing her train to Brussels in the process -- and being the very last person in line for today's series of applications, K. is now the proud holder of a United States provisional visa. She'll have the full story up on her blog soon, I'm sure.

    That Devilish Detail

    There's a little meme going out around right now exhorting Kerry supporters to recite the reasons black people, in particular, should vote for Kerry. More to the point, they wish us to consider the reasons why black people should, in fact, vote for Bush. As with most partisan talking points, even my own -- when I am straining to be lucid -- is usually very nice indeed. I know some people, example, for whom Clinton could've even used getting an illicit blowjob as a means to get more votes! So the cliche goes, the devil is in the details. Or something like that. Anyway, the reasons for black people to vote for Bush are as follows:

    1. Black child poverty hit all-time low (30%), and remains near the low.

    And yet ... And yet. Even if one were to agree with the Heritage Institute, the Welfare reform came during Clinton's watch, and was one that (I think) Kerry supports / supported.

    2. Small Business Administration loans to black entrepreneurs up 75%

    And yet ... And yet.

    3. Black homeownership rate at all-time high (49.3%)

    Surely, they're getting the same loan rate, right?

    4. Increased funds to historically black colleges 30%

    Ah, but those devilish details strike again and again.

    5. Increased AIDS funds in Africa

    Maybe a lot of black folk can see through the headlines.

    6. Increased funds for diabetes research (diabetes disproportionately affects blacks).

    I really don't know too much about this, to be honest. I think you're giving loads of possibly unwarranted credit to the GOP when you think they're increasing funding for the sake, specifically, of diabetic black people, but I can see its appeal.

    7. Faith-based initiative provides grants to community-based churches to run social services.

    I know a lot of people disagree on this whole faith-based initative thing. Some think it is revolutionary, others dismiss it as simply removing a little bit of red tape so religious organizations can get access to funds they already, technically, had access. The real debate, however, comes down to whether or not it ends up privileging religious belief; and if so, how. Is this representative? -- you be the judge.

    8. Expanded Africa Growth and Opportunity Act to increase African goods access to U.S. consumer market.

    Really now?

    9. More blacks appointed to Cabinet positions - many in non-traditional roles - than any president in U.S. history.

    I actually agree with this one. Hopefully it'll go a long way to reversing a really bad historical trend.

    10. School vouchers options in No Child Left Behind legislation (last Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies survey shows 57% of blacks support school vouchers).

    I remain, for the most part, agnostic about school vouchers. For now, though, Kevin Drum's thinking on this remains pretty definitive for me.

    11. Eliminated marriage penalty tax (which disproportionately affected married blacks because each spouse was likelier to earn similar income).

    As a newly married man I can but say, Bravo!!! Although, I do remember this being a part of a stimulus plan, right? White and black unemployed alike felt greatly stimulated, I'm sure.

    Now, all that said, I've obviously not accepted the challenge and addressed the reasons why black people should support Kerry. Quite honestly, I still have trouble formulating reasons myself, and my whiteness is that of old marble. (Though, really, if I were to come up with one, it would be abortion rights. But, hey.) Be that as it may, maybe Prometheus 6 is right:

    From a Black partisan perspective I have no reason to vote for either candidate. Bush has had four years to actually attend to the Black constituencies in any way and hasn't even tried. Nevermind the problems in the national platform ... The national platform isn't in perfect accord with the Religious Right. But the throws them an abortion bone. It's not in accord with the NRA platform, but he throws them an assault weapon bone. It's not is accord with the Israel lobby but he throws them a spy bone. It's not in accord with fiscal conservatives, but he throws them a tax cut bone.

    Bush don't throw Black folks bones. He says, "Oh yeah, if you can get there you can have some too." That's not the standard that lets you say you've done something for someone. I'll say Bush has done something for Black folks when he start throwing them bones our way.

    Kerry has no record with the Black communities; I can't speak to any history to be pleased or displeased with. Bush's history I'm displeased with.

    Black partisan views effectively removed from consideration I'm left with looking at what Bush has done ... and that assessment has to include a judgment of whether he gives his real reasons or acting. If he doesn't, I can't trust him, end of story.

    Then I look at what must be done and the likelihood of either candidate even seeing it much less acting on it. Because Kerry is capable of examining his positions and adjusting his actions to meet changing conditions, he is the better of the two from the outlook of a generalized American.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2004

    Of Children & Innocence

    As I was telling a friend last night, I have a tendency to treat my thesis -- especially the footnotes -- as a means to think things through, not necessarily to assert something I really believe or, for that matter, to prove a point being footnoted. (My advisors tend to have a whole drawer filled with red pens, to mark out such 'self-indulgences' and scold me for not 'keeping to the point'. Blah blah blah.) For instance, yesterday I found myself doing a lot of thinking about the recent events in Beslan, specifically what is it about kids getting killed that makes us, most of us anyway, shudder and wring our hands while wondering aloud 'what is the world coming to'?

    The most common answers I've received are (a) children are, in general, defenseless; (b) they are less culpable in whatever causes people to kill in the first place; (c) they are generally the fill-ins for a more culpable target that can defend itself; and (d) children are, one can but hope, the only means of changing the situation that causes people to kill. For instance, there is a school of thought -- thought at its most visceral of levels, anyway -- that one is and ought to be more horrified by the children of Beslan dying than, say, the adult Russians killed during the Moscow theatre siege in 2002. Why? Because the children had no means of escape or defense? Perhaps -- although the fact that most of the Russians killed during the siege were killed during the siege itself by Russian soldiers suggests this may not be the case at all. So, maybe not. Perhaps, though, it is because the Russians in the theatre are representative of a Russian electorate that voted for Vladimir Putin, and thus, in the eyes of the Chechen separatists, are reasonable targets. The children, having not voted, are not as cupable by that reasoning, and are but cowardly substitutes. I might be willing to entertain this notion more readily if I were not comfortable with its most obvious implication: that adults of a country deemed oppressive are, in a sense, open game. It is not a mighty leap, it seems, to say that because Al Qaeda, for example, is against America foreign and domestic policy, its liberties, etc., Americans themselves, as long as they are adults, can, in a certain morbid thought experiment, be regarded as legitimate targets.

    Alternatively, one might argue that children are not legitimate targets because they are the hope of the future. Killing the world's children is the same was killing the world's future. I'll resist the urge to get philosophical on this point, dabbling in all things existential, because I don't think the point is a philosophical one. It is, rather, a cynical -- though perhaps realistically so -- view of the contemporary world. And just not contemporary in the sense of the twenty-first century; but rather, in the sense of the present in general. The future holds an allure that the present cannot match and that, so one might pray, the past can but point.

    Such is the myth of a child's innocence. I don't use 'myth' negatively here. Some myths are true, in the sense that they inform many of the spoken and unspoken assumptions we have about the most fundamental things of life. The notion that you are innocent until proven guilty, for instance, is a myth that (in my mind, legitimately) governs the functioning of our judicial system. A myth need not be true in in the ontological sense, though. If, for example, I have killed my wife, I'm guilty of having killed her even without a judicial system. What our judicial system does is provide a legal category to place the act of killing one's wife along with its official consequences. The myth of a child's innocence seems a bit similar.

    A child is innocent, in the sense of having no conscious culpability. But, ontologically, children can be very guilty. A child who bites another child during a playground dispute may not have the proper right-wrong parameters to know that he ought not do that -- though even that is doubtful -- but he by all means is guilty of actually having bitten the kid. To a Palestinean Arab, an Israeli child born in Gaza and the West Bank is probably not regarded as guilty of having consciously chosen to settle there; but she is definitely guilty of actually being there at all. In the sense of the term, guilt can be passed from one generation to another. Maybe there is something to be said for a secular version of original sin.

    Remember, though, I'm not arguing this particular point. Not yet anyway. I'm not sure. I'm exploring.

    What I'm concerned about, and this is something I throw out for any and all to judge as wanting, is the extent to which the myth of a child's innocence actually perpetuates human suffering. In its assumption of a certain of age of culpability, at which a child is no longer innocent, or less innocent than before, is it possible that we devalue human life itself? In our being more horrified by a three-year-old hostage with a slit throat than we are by a thirty-year-old refugee with a bullet in his head, are we in effect exchanging ethical equality with moral sentimentality? In so doing, are we not saying that because the latter is less innocent than the former, his death is somehow less of a tragedy -- not morally equivalent? If so, what is the calculus to determine our proper response to acts of human suffering? Moreover, if we are without one, when left to our own emotional devices, to what extent do we provide their very sanction?

    Friday, September 10, 2004

    Morality Vs. Necessity

    Man... I wish I were as smart as Timothy Burke. (Though I guess I should should just wish for a little more willingness to sit down and blog! Sorry for the silence lately.) This is one of the best, most reasonable posts re: winning the war on terrorism I've read.

    If some people feel uneasy about Kerry, it may be because they feel that Kerry's perspective on international affairs will be governed more by the need to be virtuous than to be effective. I don't think this is a fair reading of Kerry or his team, but it is a fair reading of one major lineage of anti-war sentiment. I think it is important for us to act ethically but not just because that's the right thing to do -- I also think it's the effective thing to do. This is to some extent the accident of this particular struggle. If the war we are now engaged in was a conventional war between two armies battling for the control of territory, and the opportunity to gain an important strategic victory through the use of heavy bombardment even at the cost of civilian lives and property destruction presented itself, I'd say that you go ahead and take the opportunity. That is not what this war is about; that is not the nature of this particular conflict.

    You don't bring a knife to a gun fight, and you don't act like a clumsy occupier or New Crusader if what you really need to do is marginalize and contain terrorist groups in Islamic societies. But if the necessary approach happens to also look like the most conventionally moral one, then that's just a fortunate coincidence. In this instance, Vietnam is less the appropriate historical sounding board than Hiroshima. (Not, I hasten to note, because the use of nuclear weapons is advisable in the here and now, merely because of the moral questions that Hiroshima raises about how to conduct warfare.) Hiroshima may not have been the right thing to do, but it was probably the necessary thing to do, or to put it differently, one kind of moral principle trumped another in that decision. Not so absolutely that we can be sure, even now, which was which: it remains, legitimately, a case to debate. But I know how I would want that equation solved myself, and should a similarly tough decision present itself, I know which way I want the painful calculus to go.

    At least some critics of the war are more concerned with the promotion of national (or international) virtue, and from collective virtue, their own personal virtue. At least some critics of the war worry more about whether they're personally good people than worry about what is good for the United States and the world. The more that Kerry appears to represent that approach, the more than those who believe that our government must do what is necessary in war will feel uneasy or be unable to support him, regardless of the demonstrated incompetence of the Bush Administration in the actual conduct of post-9/11 world affairs.

    That's what the subtext of the absurd battle over who was more manly in 1970 is about: not just who can do the right thing, but the necessary thing. If Kerry can't convince more people that he is ready to do the necessary thing with the hope that it turns out to be the right thing as well, he may lose.

    Thursday, September 02, 2004

    Who knew!

    A little soul searching before I head to bed. Earlier tonight I was talking to a friend about, mostly, chocolate and politics. Somewhere along the way we marvelled at how, despite our profound difference of opinions with regard to both, we could get along rather well -- after which the following exchange occured.

    Friend: 'Well, I mostly believe in shades of grey [metaphorically speaking here], but try to situate myself close to either the white or the black. [i.e., I guess, he recognizes ambiguity of issues, but tries to take a stand one way or the other, but does not relegate himself to right/left white/black on all issues.]'

    Me: 'I'm not exactly sure where I'd fall on that spectrum.'

    Friend: 'Opinion: I think you detest the spectrum entirely, and wish only to destroy it.'

    I had no idea I came off so apocalyptic.

    Zell's Alternate Universe

    I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi, but, wow, Zell Miller really made me want to sit down and write an alternate universe story with him as the lead. The world in which he must live in to deliver his speech said last night (not to mention his sure-to-be classic interview with Chris Matthews -- you must click this, if you've not already seen it) is really very dumbfounding. I'm not entirely sure why it's damning to point out that Kerry's votes against some weapons programs that Cheney pushed hurts his potential as a commander-in-chief; let alone Miller's very bizarre accusation that Kerry wants Paris to guide America's foreign policy, or that freedom of the press was won by soldiers not reporters. Eh? Okayyyy. I really cannot understand why the GOP is finding it difficult to appeal to women. Maybe you just really either have to be or have a dick to be a Republican these days; not sure how I missed the cull on that one. Anyway, Miller could've spoken the gospel truth, and I would've called it shit -- so, don't just take my word for it. As a commenter somewhere suggested: maybe it just reads better in the original German.