Wednesday, January 30, 2008

QOTD: No Joe-mentum for McCain

(((John McCain; Joe Lieberman; how they won't be running mates; whether Joe has learned that losing doesn't mean you keep going.)))

Answering questions about whether or not he would be interested in running as the number two on a GOP ticket headlined by John McCain, Joe Lieberman said:

No, I'd tell him, "Thanks, John, I've been there, I've done that. You can find much better."

Truer words may never have been spoken. On the other hand . . . who will McCain find to run with him?

I do find it amusing, though, that McCain was being asked this question about running with Kerry, who is way to the left of him, although Lieberman is at least in McCain's ballpark, maybe even to the right of him. But these kinds of cross-party-line ticket stories seem to keep happening around McCain, no one else.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

QOTD: Some of My Best Friends Are Godless

(((Mike Huckabee talking to Tim Russert; religion, atheism, and public life; being human "deeper" than being Christian? rights and the distinction between animals and humans.)))

Mike Huckabee, responding to questions from Tim Russert about where his understanding of faith leaves American atheists:

No, I wouldn't have any problem at all appointing atheists. I probably had some working for me as governor.

Probably? Hey, I don't know, but I'm betting there were some atheists somewhere in my administration. I mean, if there are any in Arkansas. On the other hand, to be fair, this might be a reasonable indication that the guy applied no litmus test. That is, it at least looks like he at least didn't make an effort to exclude non-religious people from positions. Which would, of course, be discrimination.

But still, you know he was just one second thought away from claiming to have atheist best friends as evidence that he's not bigoted. I suppose we can say for him that he stopped short of that.

More interestingly, though, there's something else to be said for him. Maybe. When Russert in the same interview corners him on abortion and claims that Huckabee's position stems entirely from his Christian faith, here's how Huck replies:

But, no. It's not a faith belief. It's deeper than that. It's a human belief. It goes to the heart of who we are as a civilization. If I believe that your intrinsic worth is not changed by your ancestry, your last name, by your IQ, by your abilities or disabilities, if I value your life and respect it with dignity and worth because it is human, then that's what draws me to the inescapable conclusion that I should be for the sanctity of every and each human life.

Two things. First, it's very interesting that he makes the claim that his belief is "a human belief" that is "deeper than" his "faith belief," on two counts. Not only does it imply that if you're human, you ought to believe it, and one wonders what could count as the content of any such "belief," it also positions "human" as more central than "Christian." Mixed, but on balance this is positive. It's a ground for tolerance of other religious beliefs, including atheism, even if it's not at all clear what "human belief" could really mean.

But this leads to the second point, which is that "human belief" seems to mean something like a belief that human life as such is especially special, even unique. So, as is often the case with frameworks for fairly progressive human rights positions, at bottom his case is about the privilege of being human. You can't miss the irony in his argument, though, if you look closely. He says that when you're human, your ancestry doesn't matter. But of course, being human is precisely an ancestry. And if you're a Christian like Mike Huckabee, your understanding of human ancestry is that it goes back to Adam, who was created by God.

So, when you run it through the wash, Huck's pseudo- (or maybe quasi- is better)humanist position turns out to be thoroughly religious after all. And speciesist (which is not the same thing, but which follows in Huck's case).

There's a reason, after all, that he uses that word, "sanctity."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Quote of the Day: And I Don't even Believe in Truth

(((Leo Tolstoy's "Sebastopol Sketches;" Errol Morris's efforts to understand the relationship between two Roger Fenton photos of the Valley of the Shadow of Death; so much of life can be summed up as a dogged quest for something we will never have, and which may not even exist -- or anyway not as something one will ever "have.")))

Now I have said all I wish to say on this occasion. I am, however, beset by a painful thought. Perhaps I ought not to have said it. Perhaps what I have said belongs to the category of those harmful truths each of us carries around in his subconscious, truths we must not utter aloud lest they cause active damage… Where in this narrative is there any illustration of evil that is to be avoided? Where is there any illustration of good that is to be emulated? Who is the villain of the piece? And who its hero? All the characters are equally blameless and equally wicked… No, the hero of my story, whom I love with all my heart and soul, whom I have attempted to portray in all his beauty and who has always been, is now and will always be supremely magnificent, is truth.
[Written June 26, 1855, 60 days or so after Fenton’s letter to his wife.]

I'm quoting here from the second part of documentary film-maker Errol Morris's mesmerizing series of essays on Roger Fenton's photographs of a strip of land where many, many people died in the Crimean War, a war Morris describes as "perfect" in the following sense: "Started for obscure reasons, hopelessly murderous, and accomplishing nothing. [ . . . ] A war defined by innovations in wardrobe – a sleeve [the Raglan sleeve], a sweater [the cardigan] and a hat [the balaclava]. " I've not yet even read the third part, which is where I gather we finally get the solution to the puzzle.

But I'm not quoting Morris, exactly. I'm quoting Morris quoting Tolstoy's "Sebastopol Sketches." Perhaps it's too tidy or unfair to grab a Tolstoy quotation out of this set of essays, but I also think Morris enjoys the confluence of Tolstoy's having been in the Crimea at the same time as his protagonist, if we can call Fenton that, and Tolstoy's summing up so nicely the nature of the work Morris himself has been undertaking in considering the pictures and traveling himself to Sebastopol for genuine field work.

But here maybe war is like life in ways that Morris (and I) would be uncomfortable with, an analogy Morris calls attention to elsewhere in the essay and marks as troubling and deeply problematic. That is, in war as in life, worrying about who are the villains and who the heroes only obscures the truth.

Whatever that is.

[Update: "third part" now actually links to the third part. The NYT didn't do a good job of updating this and I didn't pay close enough attention when I initially grabbed the link.]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Quote of the Day: Be Happy in Your Work!

(((That's right, I said "bourgeois;" moralizing about how menial labor can be fulfilling to the individual in an individual way is crap whichever way you cut it, a classic Gramscian hegemonic move, but here I think the target is the upper classes)))

I clicked a link today to a Forbes story on airlines and got this at the top of the splash screen:

"No task is so humble that it does not offer an outlet for individuality."
-William Feather

And all I could wonder was how pushing a broom offers an outlet for individuality, particularly if it is to be undertaken with Fordian efficiency. Anything that offers an outlet for individuality will be inefficient at some level, unless you want to make the twisted argument that machine-like (not to say machinic) efficiency is an outlet for individuality. Good luck with that one.

Still, it's striking that a moralizing work-ethic platitude like this shows up on Forbes, where one expects the readership is comprised primarily of well-off management types. Is this really about how important their paperwork or spreadsheets are? Is it an exhortation to management to take pride in their own menial labor? One suspects not. It smacks rather of reminding them how they are to think of the work assigned to the people who work for and around them.

Make sure you keep management on the capitalist work ethic program!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Quote of the Day: Not the Same as Believing It

(((Bible; Bible is really, really important, whether you believe it or not; does that mean understanding it is important? I don't know . . . is it important that we understand Hitler or Stalin? And yes I actually think there's way more interesting stuff going on in the Bible than in, say, Mein Kampf)))

The problem of not having the originals of the New Testament, though, is a problem for everyone, not simply for those who believe that the Bible is inspired by God. For all of us, I think, the Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization. It continues to be cited in public debates over gay rights, abortion, over whether to go to war with foreign countries, over how to organize and run our society. But how do we interpret the New Testament? It's hard to know what the words of the New Testament mean if we don't know what the words were.

This is Bart Ehrman, of UNC-Chapel Hill, in a lecture at Stanford. The part I'm quoting begins at about 7:25.

Briefly, two points from this. First, however much one might detest religion in general, and Christianity in particular, this antipathy is no excuse for ignorance (although many will claim their antipathy arises precisely from being smart and informed); the only ways to beat Bible-thumpers (so to speak) are to fight them on their own ground (the Bible) or to shift the ground in an effective way (which requires, if you ask me, knowing the ground they want). All this requires a reasonably nuanced understanding of what's going on in the Bible. It's why I have more perplexing but also (I suspect) more fruitful conversations with religious opponents than some of my more religio-phobic friends. I know how to talk the talk, and I know the Bible better than many believers I argue with.

Second, Ehrman notes that we don't really know very well what "the Bible" actually says. Which makes it hard to know what it means. This is actually worse news for believers than for the rest of us. I don't believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, or anyway certainly not in the way a Baptist does, or even in the way progressive Catholics might. So, that we can't settle on the text doesn't matter to me. And if your opponent settles on a text, you can bet it's a translation, which is already one step removed from the problem of establishing a text.

Because, you know, if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

Thanks to my compañero for the pointer to this lecture, which is a great example of accessible religion scholarship.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Quote of the Day: Subtracting (from) the State

(((Alain Badiou; Karl Marx; dictatorship of the proletariat; the withering away of the state; negation and "subtraction")))

In an effort to explain the concept of subtraction, and to distinguish it from negation simply understood, or understood as primarily or only destruction, Badiou provides an example:

Marx insists on saying that the destruction of the bourgeois State is not in itself an achievement. The goal is communism, that is the end of the State as such, and the end of social classes, in favour of a purely egalitarian organization of the civil society. But to come to this, we must first substitute to the bourgeois State a new State, which is not the immediate result of the destruction of the first. In fact, it is a State as different of the bourgeois State as experimental music of today can be of an academic tonal piece of the 19th century, or a contemporary performance can be of an academic representation of Olympic Gods. For the new State - that Marx names "dictatorship of the proletariat" - is a State which organizes its own vanishing, a State which is in its very essence the process of the non-State. [ . . . ] So we can say that in the original thought of Marx, "dictatorship of the proletariat" was a name for a State which is subtracted from all classical laws of a "normal" State. For a classical State is a form of power; but the State named "dictatorship of proletariat" is the power of un-power, the power of the disappearance of the question of power. In any case we name subtraction this part of negation which is oriented by the possibility of something which exists absolutely apart from what exists under the laws of what negation negates.

There are a number of interesting things about this passage, several of which may not be terribly accessible unless one is familiar with Badiou and perhaps Deleuze. I suppose what it amounts to is this, that the dictatorship of the proletariat—whatever it would actually look like, and a dictatorship of one is not a dictatorship of the proletariat, which is already a reworking of the very concept of dictatorship—the dictatorship of the proletariat is the form of the destruction of the bourgeois state, but it is also, at the same time and in the same way, the form of the creation of the non-state, of some radically new kind of state, such that even applying the name "state" is already deceptive, even more deceptive than the term "dictatorship" in the phrase, "dictatorship of the proletariat." It is not yet the non-state. It is perhaps the anti-state, the destructive part of the negation that operates together in tension with the affirmative or creative part of negation that results in something we probably are incapable of actually conceptualizing from within the context of the bourgeois state.

I don't yet think I have fully grasped the operation of subtraction in Badiou's thinking, but its application here may be very helpful in freeing Marx's thinking on the post-revolutionary "state" from the clutches both of liberals (who like to repudiate Marx and so mark themselves as "reasonable") and of "Marxists" (say, Stalin or even Lenin, and dare I say Mao? who seem content to dismember the liberal state, but then continue on with a mutilated form of it: the state is dead! Long live the state!). I am not even thinking of reactionaries and neolibs, who cannot help but think of Marx in cartoon form.

Badiou's talk is available with reasonable sound on YouTube, with the passage I quote beginning at about 8:40 of Part 1, and continuing at the very beginning of Part 2. There is a decent transcript available, which you might want to have available to refer to in tandem with the videos (the transcript seems to have been hastily done, and contains minor errors that do occasionally confuse).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Quote of the Day: Coke is Hardwired

(((Coke / Coca-Cola; underlying psychology of soft drinks; advertising; selling caffeine-sugar drinks that are, admittedly, pretty tasty, but, really, who are we kidding that there's a "time" for Coke?)))

Coke's head of marketing Mary Minnick, sez:

We believe there are times or a moment in the day when only a Coke will do.

How can they make such a statement, you wonder? Well, "Ms Minnick said Coke had been studying 'the underlying psychology of beverages' to understand 'why consumers are drinking what, when and where.'" This is the realm of scientific soft-drink studies. It turns out that evolution has favored those species who drank Coke at certain times or moments in the day (which have turned out to be the "right" times), and this explains why, in the underlying psychology of humans, there is a right time to drink Coke. And the science says Coke, by the way, not RC or Diet-Rite or Pepsi "colas."

Stay tuned for further developments. Speaking for myself, I'm pretty sure there are times and moments in the day when only a Guinness will do. Indeed, that might be pretty much all day . . . except for the Coke parts, I guess.

Ms. Minnick did not say but surely would have, given the opportunity, that for all those other times and moments, there is Dasani. And PowerAde. And Sprite. And don't forget Diet Coke and Coke Zero. They're working on a gcal calendar that you can subscribe to, once they've got all the moments in the day figured out. Of course, it'll be wrong because it's not Guinness, but whatever.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Quote of the Day: True Love Is Dead, Dead, Dead

(((Asinine ads; the whole credit racket; gender, pre-nups, and credit; man's best friend: dogs or

If we'd gone to, I'd be a happy bachelor with a dog and a yard.

Run credit checks on potential wives, before they wind up stomping around her parents' basement (doubling as your apartment) while you pick up some extra cash filming an ad for a credit monitoring service that purports to be free but will cost you money when you sign up. Yes, because your real dream girl would never default on a credit card, which is such a character failing that it would be much better to write her off (like bad debt) and buy a house for yourself to share with your dog, since (a) credit is irreparable, and (b) the only alternative to getting a loan for a house is the parents' basement (you can't rent if your spouse has defaulted on a credit card).

There are so many repugnant elements to this ad that I can hardly organize them to spew venom about them: assumptions about the nature of credit and responsibility, about marriage, about finding and working with life partners, and you did notice the way the ad perpetuates gender stereotypes about women spending money they don't have and then pouting around the apartment? And, for that matter, about men and how much better it is to just have a dog and a house than to have to deal with a woman (heh, all you guyz out there no whut i mean, rght?).

Oh, I'm such a stick in the mud. Just read the comments below this post on YouTube.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

It's not Torture if You're not at Guantanamo

(((Those destroyed CIA videotapes of waterboarding; how they're not covered by the judge's order not to destroy evidence because the victims--yeah, I said it--weren't at Guantanamo Bay)))

According to CNN:

The Bush administration argued Friday that the CIA's destruction of videotapes that showed the interrogations of two al Qaeda suspects did not violate a court order because the suspects were not at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [ . . . ]

Joseph Hunt, an administration attorney, said the men in the videos were held at secret locations and did not fall under the category of those who were "now at" Guantanamo in Cuba.

"It is inconceivable that the destruction of the tapes could have violated the order," Hunt told the judge.

Okay, it's the judge's bad. They like to blame everything on those activist judges, don't they?

And yet . . . it is also a clear demonstration of bad faith on the part of the administration to even make this argument, never mind to have destroyed the evidence in the first place. Could it be any clearer that they will do precisely everything they think they can get away with?

Quote of the Day: I Guess I Should Hang It Up

(((We're back from breaking, but maybe not for long, since this is fucking depressing; spam-detection software; Blogger decides I'm a spam-blog-bot)))

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog.

I logged in to do a QOTD on that insulting and depressing ad about taking your dream girl [sic] to their site before committing to nuptials (coming tomorrow), and noticed a word verification/captcha for posting the post. I clicked the little question mark and got the message above, together with an "oh we're so sorry, since you seem to be real, but someone will have to look at your blog to see if you're really real."

Blogger's summary of a "splog" and indications thereof:
[S]pam blogs [. . .] can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site.

Well, um. I link to more than one site. I guess, though, that spouting calls for communism (irrelevant) over and over again (repetitive) is pretty nonsensical (um, nonsensical).

Bourgeois pigs. And their little dog, Toto, too. (Nonsensical?)

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