31 July 2006

Reflections on an Unpatriotic Subject

I came across the following interesting reflection on patriotic zeal over at Larval Subjects :

Last weekend I went to a party. The people were terrific company in a down to earth sort of way, and the homemade bbq was outstanding, but I found myself highly disturbed by their home. Everywhere I looked there were decorations and wallpaintings depicting either the Texas states flag or the American flag.

I also find this sort of thing disturbing since these symbols of identification are placed where virtually all who see them have the same legal status. This being the case, they don't play their obvious role as marking disputed territory. Their redundancy points to a subtle ideological message.

This is not the first time I've come across this. When I was searching for my home, I came across a number of homes that were filled with this overtly patriotic decor. For every discourse Lacan suggests that we should ask what jouissance is involved?, why do people get so worked up?

Excellent question.

The question that I've been revolving about ever since is what is it that leads people to so heavily identify with something as abstract as a piece of land in this way? I've been a nomad all my life, moving from place to place, so I've never had a firm sense of place. I like the idea of the cosmopolitan in its literal Greek signification as "citizen of the world". The only place I've ever been strongly identified with is Boston. So what is it that leads one to have such a strong sense of place?

I strongly disagree with the author at this point. We all identify with places (as we remember them) or with past memories. I feel a fondness for my childhood, not yours. But I suspect that many who are patriotic don't in fact identify strongly with a place. Patriotism is, after all, an extremely abstract and nebulous notion. The same people who are said to "have a strong sense of place" tend to be open to the idea of destroying such places in order to give energy companies (owned by wealthy people from far away) access to resources.

What sorts of desires are evinced in surrounding oneself with these sorts of images? What is a person trying to remind themselves of? And what ontological consistency do these sorts of icons provide? If we think of patriotism as being something one gets "in" to like anything else, how does a person get "in" to this as one of the primary meanings of their life?

Patriotism, more than many other group identities (the PTA, weightwatchers), requires virtually no effort. You get to be one notch higher than most of humanity simply as a result of having been born with a set of borders.

I'm probably not much better as my home is filled with images of figures like Freud, Goethe, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Deleuze, along with lots of framed leaves and impressionistic art... But all the same, I was a bit creeped out.

No, you are much better. The art in your room doesn't represent some elite club whose membership derives from a bloodline or a passport. Everyone in the world can appreciate noble ideas and great art.

30 July 2006

Right-wing rhetoric & rightwing violence

Orcinus has an excellent post on how rightwing hate rhetoric is poisoning political discourse:

One of the really offensive aspect of the right-wing drumbeat of eliminationism is that so many of its purveyors -- notably Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators, including Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin -- try to slough off criticism of the nastiness of the things they say and write by pretending that it's just "entertainment," or merely a "joke".

While I would agree, I think those on the left make a mistake when we ourselves take these people seriously. Ann Coulter is not an intellectual or a thinker--she's a Nazi poster girl. But Orcinus is right, we have to come to terms with the effect these buffoons are having on civil discourse.

The crude reality, of course, is that the things they say are not only deeply personal, they play out in the real world by poisoning our personal lives as well as our public discourse. Pretending afterward that it was all "just kidding" is palpable disingenuousness. And the right-wing response -- claiming that liberals are responsible for the poisoning of the public well -- is especially offensive because it not only serves to disguise, but provides a positive justification for, the escalation of this kind of rhetoric into real action.

Orcinus then discusses thuggery targetting New York's Orange County left-leaning city councilwoman Gail Soro. The fate of the American republic may largely hang on the number of principled people in the middle and on the right (I'm told they do in fact exist) who won't stand up for this, and of course on the determination of those on the left who are willing to take a stand against it.

29 July 2006


It's going to take a lot to turn the U.S. around and get it headed in a better direction but the ouster of incumbents such as Lieberman is definitely a step in the right direction. The most recent polls have him losing. This certainly sends a message--when a Dem loses in the primary. The voters are sending a message: We have enough Republicons already without such Republicon wannabes.

Close the American Gulags

I have only two things to say about this story: it's about time and what's wrong with the US people--why aren't they stepping to demand that their government close American gulags?

[excerpt] A UN human rights body on Friday called on the U.S. to close any "secret detention" facilities it was operating. In a 12-page report, the Committee said that the secret jails authorized by the U.S. were against the international law and that the International Committee of the Red Cross must be given access to prisoners held in the war on terrorism. The report published Friday condemned the Bush administration for human right abuses saying that the United States appeared to have been detaining people "secretly and in secret places for months and years".

25 July 2006

You Can't Remain Neutral

I just watched the Howard Zinn documentary You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. I was very inspired by what Zinn had to say but even more so by the man's integrity. Zinn is someone from a working class background who has done real work, fought in a real war (WWII), and has stood up to power and repression when there were real consequences on the line. He immediately lost his first job teaching at a black college in the pre-civil rights South for encouraging students to actively take history in their own hands. Especially poignant was the picture of him, during the Vietnam War era, giving an antiwar speech in front of his college's board of directors on the very day they were determining whether or not he should get tenure. This documentary, along with A Peoples History of the United States, should required content for every High School civics class.

20 July 2006

Regarding Our Dead Neighbors (Updated)

Lenin's Tomb has a link to a video clip of a bomb going off in Beirut. With macabre humor, the post is titled "someone just killed the neighbors". While somewhat jarring, this title is actually very insightful: war generally is not something that happens on some sterilized battlefield away from innocent children and bystanders; rather it's something that happens on the way to the market and in people's kitchens. This being the case, all the patriotic rallying by the so-called "religious" right behind Israel is wrong--perhaps true to some Old Testament sentiments--but wrong all the same. Bombing children will never be justifiable.

P.S. I stand corrected: there is indeed someone from the religious right uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance produced by the symphony of thumping Bibles and tank shells blowing apart children. I came across the following piece via Cut-to-the-Chase (I never thought I'd be quoting Pat Buchanan!)

Let it be said: Israel has a right to defend herself, a right to counterattack against Hezbollah and Hamas, a right to clean out bases from which Katyusha or Qassam rockets are being fired, and a right to occupy land from which attacks are mounted on her people.

But what Israel is doing is imposing deliberate suffering on civilians, collective punishment on innocent people, to force them to do something they are powerless to do: disarm the gunmen among them. Such a policy violates international law and comports neither with our values nor our interests. It is un-American and un-Christian.

But where are the Christians? Why is Pope Benedict virtually alone among Christian leaders to have spoken out against what is being done to Lebanese Christians and Muslims? When al-Qaeda captured two U.S. soldiers and barbarically butchered them, the U.S. Army did not smash power plants across the Sunni Triangle. Why then is Bush not only silent but openly supportive when Israelis do this?

Democrats attack Bush for crimes of which he is not guilty, including Haditha and Abu Ghraib. Why are they, too, silent when Israel pursues a conscious policy of collective punishment of innocent peoples?

18 July 2006

Looking on the Bright Side

Since I've been accused from time to time of dwelling on the negative, I figured I'd look at the cup as half full today and talk about some positive political developments in 2006:

First, 2006 is turning out to be a great year for business if you're an Iraqi morgue operator:

Editor & Publisher: In case you are just back from a long weekend without your laptop: The central morgue in Baghdad said Tuesday that it had received 1,595 bodies last month, 16% more than in May and nearly double the total of the same period last year. The New York Times reports Wednesday that Baghdad "has slowly descended into a low-grade civil war in some neighborhoods, with Sunni and Shiite militias carrying out systematic sectarian killings that clear whole city blocks." Even upper-class areas are now getting hit.

In addition to the booming funeral business, those of you who supply Israel with advanced weaponry can expect a raise this year:

WaPo: In Lebanon, Israeli raids again struck the Beirut-Damascus highway, along with gas stations, factories and a small fishing port. Smoke from fires arced over the Beirut sky. News agencies quoted the military and police as saying that more than 210 people had been killed since the attacks began Wednesday. The Health Ministry put the number at 182 dead and 525 wounded, almost all of them civilians, but said that count included only those identified by hospital officials.

Even some of those in the heart-land of the fatherland can order some caviar with that steak, if you're a wealthy rancher:

WaPo: ... money came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Livestock Compensation Program, originally intended as a limited helping hand for dairy farmers and ranchers hurt by drought. Hurriedly drafted by the Bush administration in 2002 and expanded by Congress the following year, the relief plan rapidly became an expensive part of the government's sprawling system of entitlements for farmers, which topped $25 billion last year. In all, the Livestock Compensation Program cost taxpayers $1.2 billion during its two years of existence, 2002 and 2003. Of that, $635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned.

It's also a good year for psychics able to locate lost items:

Lies.com: According to its inspector general, the Defense Department can't account for $1 trillion in spending. The Army can't find 56 airplanes and 32 tanks. But not just that: we're still finding misplaced chemical munitions in America from WORLD WAR I. In fact, some were discovered in a fancy Washington, D.C. subdivision in 1993.

Last but not least, it's been a great year for writers working in the genre of historical fiction:

Think Progress: (quoting Gringrich): We’re in the early stages of what I would describe as the third World War and, frankly, our bureaucracy’s not responding fast enough and we don’t have the right attitude.

So to all of you lefty naysaying ninnies; look on the bright side for once. And if you don't like your present job, change careers--become a weapon's supplier, CEO, or a historical revisionist. Otherwise, just keep your mouth shut!

17 July 2006

Kudos to Blonde Sense for this. It fits in well with this week's quote.

16 July 2006

True Integrity: Ehren Watada

A recent article in The Nation discusses the case of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, an infantry officer stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, who has refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit due to the fact that Shrub's War is illegal. Watada faces up to eight years in jail and a dishonorable discharge.

It's interesting to note that Watada's most crucial legal claims were corroborated June 29 by the US Supreme Court. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger calls the decision "the most important decision on presidential power ever." In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Court rebuked the Bush Administration not only for the Guantánamo tribunals but also for the entire notion of executive power the Administration used to justify them. In a 5-to-3 decision, the Court ruled that the President cannot act contrary to "limitations that Congress has, in proper exercise of its own war powers, placed on his powers." Checks and balances--what a novel idea, eh?!

15 July 2006

More Chaos on the Horizon?

With Israel attempting to bring down the Lebanese government while lashing out at Iran for allegedly assisting Hezbolla, and East Asian countries taking unexpected positions towards North Korea (China voting for a UN resolution as South Korea opposes Japan's tough stance), there's plenty of room for additional chaos within the current world system--a fact that demonstrates the fundamental instability of a world order defined by narrow national interests (which are in turn defined primarily by wealthy interests).

The Price of Poor Leadership

Here's an amazing stat. Unfortunately, the estimate's probably much too low. I've read that once disability pay outs and other factors are accounted for, Shrub's War is likely to cost a trillion dollars.

Cost of Iraq to overtake Korea and Vietnam wars
From Tom Baldwin, in Washington

THE Iraq war is set to overtake Korea and Vietnam as the second most expensive overseas military operation in US history, with spending expected to top the $500 billion mark by the end of the decade.

According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), $291 billion (£109 billion) has been allocated for the war, the equivalent of $1,000 for every man, woman and child in the US.

The figures were published amid intense debate in Washington over when — and how fast — the US can begin to pull out of Iraq. The CBO examined two alternative spending projections. Under the first, more optimistic scenario, the US would maintain troop levels in Iraq at 140,000 next year but quickly begin bringing servicemen home thereafter, with almost all forces out by the end of 2009. This would still cost the taxpayer another $184 billion from 2007 to 2010.

The alternative scenario is a slower drawdown and a US military presence of 40,000 over the long term. This would cost a further $406 billion over the next decade, leaving total costs approaching $700 billion.

Regardless of future costs, operations in Iraq have far exceeded early estimates. Lawrence Lindsey, a former White House economic adviser, was dismissed after predicting that the war could cost between $100 billion and $200 billion.

Congress has approved $437 billion for military operations and other costs related to the War on Terror since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The combined costs of fighting terrorism “could reach $808 billion by 2016”, the report said. An alternative analysis from the Congressional Research Service, which looked at how much money had been spent rather than merely authorised since the invasion began, put the tally for Iraq at $319 billion, with the war in Afghanistan costing a further $88 billion.

The figures may dampen some of the enthusiasm generated by President Bush this week when he seized on newly reduced federal budget projections as proof that his tax cuts were working. He said that his pledge to slash the deficit in half by 2009 was being fulfilled ahead of schedule.

Democrats have pointed out that the new projected $296 billion deficit for the current fiscal year would still be the fourth-highest so far. But Mr Bush has already blamed the continuing deficit on the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Fighting a War on Terror and defending the homeland imposes great costs, and those costs have helped create budget deficits,” he said.

14 July 2006

Was it 6 or 5?

The following comes from Stuart Vasepuru, the 2006 runner-up to the annual Bulwer-Lytton literary parody prize. (Any cultural-illiterates who don't know who "Dirty Harry" is can stop reading here.)

"I know what you're thinking, punk," hissed Wordy Harry to his new editor, "you're thinking, 'Did he use six superfluous adjectives or only five?' -- and to tell the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement; but being as this is English, the most powerful language in the world, whose subtle nuances will blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel loquacious?' -- well do you, punk?"

12 July 2006

Americans Isolated

The following article comes as no surprise, yet it's sad all the same:


Americans are far more socially isolated today than they were two decades ago, and a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom they can confide, according to a comprehensive new evaluation of the decline of social ties in the United States.

A quarter of Americans say they have no one with whom they can discuss personal troubles, more than double the number who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants has dropped from around three to about two.

The comprehensive new study paints a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties -- once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits -- are shrinking or nonexistent. In bad times, far more people appear to suffer alone.

11 July 2006

James Webb's Iraq Statement

Former Reagan Navy Secretary James Webb, in a USA Today opinion piece, recently accused Bush of having "committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence."

Webb then resorted to the older notion of conservatism so as to distinguish himself and his grouping from the neophytes in the White House.

"There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves."