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.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

How Do They Sleep At Night?

The old flat in Glasgow is now vacated, and the mizzus and I have hauled everything we own to Belgium. Exciting times afoot! So exciting, in fact, that I was scouring the internet for news about the Republican Convent at 8.30 am. Hey! Did you know that Kerry might as well call it quits, that he has noooo chance at all, that the polls are all against him in horrible ways, that his campaign is out of touch, that Republicans are actually compassionate after all? Well, if not, don't worry, the American media will surely convince you that neck-and-neck polling is the same as a foregone conclusion, campaign staff additions over the weekend are crisis management, and Republicans are savvy political minds. Rest assured. I can deal with everything but the latter. My stomach turns one more revolution around the tiny stake in my gut each time I'm offered wonderfully helpful behind-the-scenes looks at all the machinations and intentions of an electoral campaign -- what plays where, to whom, why repugnantly medieval theological perspectives are politically viable, etc. Meta-political discourse .... nobody does (and loves every minute of it) it like America. It is, after all, the only way to avoid actually taking a fuckin' stand.

Speaking of American media -- this just makes me want to cry. Where are you Bill Hicks?

"By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke..." there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations.

I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags! Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! "Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web! "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?"