Wednesday, October 30, 2013

HOW POWER WORKS IN THE UNITED STATED AND EGYPT

I don't have time to elaborate now, but today's news is full of great examples of how power works.

To see how power works in capitalist countries have a look at this:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-climate-war-billionaires-vs-big-oil-2013-10-30?link=kiosk

To see how power works in Egypt -- that is, how the Egyptian army runs its country -- look at this: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/world/middleeast/high-ranking-muslim-brotherhood-leader-is-seized-in-egypt.html?ref=world&_r=0

Egypt does not have an army:  Its army has a country:  to see more of how it works, look at this:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/world/middleeast/ousted-general-in-egypt-is-back-as-islamists-foe.html?ref=middleeast

Sunday, October 06, 2013

POISONOUS LIES CAN RIP OUR COUNTRY APART

We don’t watch Fox News at our house because we understand it was founded to be a Republican “news” outlet, which is to say it's a propaganda vehicle.  So I am ignorant of what they say and am often surprised to hear what is stated on that news source.  And of course Rush Limbaugh is so notoriously biased that it is hard to understand why anyone takes him seriously.  Even so, we know folks, good folks, who listen to these sources and seem to take them for granted, as if they were reliable sources. Politicians are different:  we expect them to overdraw an issue

But in truth I have been dumbfounded to hear what some of these people in the Republican propaganda network have been saying.  [From Bill Moyers today]

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin' In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

These are not inadvertent misstatements; they are outright lies. Everyone who formulated these statements knew better.  So why are they making such outrageous claims?  What are they lying to accomplish?  Bill Moyers today quoted from the right-wing blog, RedState.com:


“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”
It is crucial that we recognize lies to be what they are. Whatever are their purposes they are social poison.  They weaken the fabric of trust that enables a social contract to work.

The American people have been lied to many times:  Just go to the Lincoln National Historic Site in Springfield, IL, and look at all the cartoons about him; he was treated with disdain and scorn my many in his time. Some lies erode the fabric that makes society possible.  

In fact Lincoln and his times are quite a relevant analogue to our times.  How could the American people have been brought to kill each other in the Civil War?  Only by years of bitterness and slander.  By the time the country came to war both sides believed that the other incarnated evil.  Are we on a similar path?

Lies -- slanderous innuendo and outright calumny -- can bring down a country.  They are the foundation for the distrust that erodes the unite of a society and they are the ground on which the abuse of other human beings is based.  Consider these cases of civil abuse:
The Nazis were able to put into motion their Jewish death camps only after years of slanderous tales about the Jews.
When Yugoslavia splintered into several pieces, the terrible abuses of “ethnic cleansing” were made to seem right by the slanders that were promoted by Slobodan Milosevic (on behalf of the Serbs) and Franco Tudjman (for the Croats).
The Rwandan genocide was made possible by the persistent propaganda of a government under the control of Hutu Power, which spouted poisonous propaganda on the radio about Tutsi "cockroaches".

Calumnious propaganda – that’s how you create the climate for civil war.  And that’s what’s being spouted out in our own radio and TV stations.  The effect is growing bitterness, scorn, and distrust on all sides.  Is it not necessary that we expose the lies for what they are? This is why I appreciate Bill Moyers.  Whatever you think about his work, he is at least trying to set the truth straight.  In today’s broadcast he concludes a critical review of what the dangerous slanderers have been saying with the following:
Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.
Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”
This man [picture of Newt Gingrich] is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.
It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.
Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media. …
On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”
At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.”

THE POWER OF LIES WEALTH AND FEAR TO SHUT DOWN THE MOST POWERFUL COUNTRY IN HISTORY

For those of us who are mystified by the behavior of the Republicans in Congress two recent articles have been useful.  They reveal that a cabal set this confusing project – to overturn The Affordable Care Act, which they have derisively called Obamacare – in the face of all odds, as if they could force the Senate to support their proposals and the President to sign them into law.  From here it seems like a fools errand, tilting at windmills.  But the NYT article about the secret meetings immediately after the last presidential election seeking a strategy to at all costs derail the Affordable Care Act help me to get it.
  
All this is interesting and helpful to me, but merely a revelation of what I had supposed all along.  

What has helped me especially understand it is an article by Joshua Holland [“To Understand the Shutdown You Have to Grasp the Mindset of the GOP Base,” October 5, 2013, by Joshua Holland] who has summarized a survey of Republican groups by the Democracy Corp.  This is what they say about the voting base that supports these Republicans:

The base consists of three kinds of groups. Even though they differ in certain ways, they agree on their fear of a changing society.  For all of them The battle over Obamacare, “goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle.” They think [the …] Democratic Party … is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support.” So, food stamps for the poor, unemployment benefits, legalizing the illegal immigrants, insuring the uninsured – these policies create dependency.  So they oppose support for the poor, the unemployed, the immigrants, the uninsured.  “They believe this is an electoral strategy — not just a political ideology or economic philosophy. If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view,” says Holland.  What especially struck me was the comment that this group is fully aware of how white they are “in a country with growing minorities.” So there indeed is an implicit racist worry in this movement.

They all see Obama as a usurper, a liar, a Marxist, even (as some believe) a Muslim, but they differ in certain ways.  
The Evangelicals are primarily alarmed about the gay rights movement.  
The libertarians hardly believe in government and are strongly pro-business.
The moderates on the other hand disdain the Tea Party elements of the party and scorn Fox News – surely the main source of the notions that Obama is a liar, a Marxist, a Muslim, etc. – but they are concerned about how marginal they are becoming to the GOP. In fact, they see the party as pathetically out of date.

So here we are, a country in the grip of a terrified, paranoid minority who have the wealth and leverage to shut down the whole country.  That the rank and file are animated by fears created by a small cabal makes the scene all the more scary.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

JOHN BOEHNER IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH

The way I understand it John Boehner could get a vote to fund the government if he would be willing to let it happen.  The problem is that he is deferring to the demands of his Tea Party colleagues.  He wants to get majority votes in the House that gain the support of all his Republican colleagues.  So he would be glad to have the support of the Democrats in the House if he can get them but he dare not allow his Republican colleagues to split.  The Tea Party guys won’t budge.
So what if [and when] he allows a vote to fund the government to be held?  Could he then be splitting the Republican Party?  Doesn’t it look like we now have three parties, not two?  But the charade that the Republican Party is a more or less united group may be losing its appeal:  the reality is too evident.  Congressman Devin Nunes told CNN "I'm going to continue to support our leadership. Even if we have entered the valley of death, when you enter the valley of death you have to keep running and the whole team has to stick together."  

The valley of death.  I wonder if in truth the GOP is risking a split.  How can they be hostage to the most extreme elements of their party and remain a serious force in American politics?  By extreme shutdowns?  

If politicians who call themselves Communists were trying to shut down the government there would be a groundswell of outrage in this country.  Does anyone else have the feeling that a tiny anarchic cabal is trying to bring down not only the Republican Party but the economy of the United States?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

CULTURE MAKES SOME UNACCEPTABLE PRACTICES SEEM NATURAL. BUT COULD WHAT IS CONVENTIONAL NOW BRING DOWN CIVILIZATION?

We all tend to reject some practices that were considered conventional in the past.  Would we countenance the way the EuroAmericans treated the Native Americans who hunted down and drove out from their lands the Seminole, the Chickasaw, the Creek, the Choctaw, the Cherokee?  Would we have participated in the night patrols seeking to recapture runaway slaves in the 1850s? What was practiced in those times was consider conventional and necessary by otherwise god-fearing Americans.

But what is conventional and seemingly fitting to the times need not be wise or fitting for the long term.

Adam Frank, a physicist at the University of Rochester, has written such a nice statement on popular attitudes toward science [NYTimes 8/22/13].  What the article implies but does not state is that the doubt about scientific formulations in our time has potentially tragic -- rather, catastrophic -- consequences.

Global warming is the most obvious example.  A few days ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change established by the United Nations issued a 2,000 page report claiming again that human beings have caused the warming of the globe and that if the trajectory of warming is not interrupted human society will be radically disrupted.  This time they have announced that they hold this position with 95% certainty, a rare degree of agreement among independent scientists.

We live in a time when a confusing mix of politics and religious faith has undermined the authentic attempts of scientists to reach a degree of certainty about what is happening to our world.  So the claims of science about a vitally important condition, the physical object we live on, are openly scorned.

I have friends who want their doctors to be the best trained and the most up to date physicians available but at the same time refuse to accept the results of scientific knowledge in other fields such as biological history and the climatic changes in our time.  In truth the scientific assumptions and methods that enable medical science are the same as those that lead scientists to conclude that the earth is warming.

A fundamental assumption that made "science" as we know it possible was uniformitarianism, the notion that everything works the same everywhere, provided that the conditions be the same.  Such assumptions and others make a science of the natural world possible.  The knowledge tradition we call science is a single fabric of assumptions and approaches.  Science is a way of thought, a way of seeing.

But in a sense it can never be fully right, which makes it possible for "experts for hire" to claim, as some did, that the evidence linking smoking and cancer is uncertain. And some "experts claim that the evidence for global warming is incomplete and can be doubted.  So in the United States -- nowhere else, I hear -- many people believe that the issue of global warming is highly contested. People seem unaware that those "experts" who contest that claim are funded by the industries whose operations are most at risk if anything is done to reduce the causes of global warming -- most notably, of course, the energy industry.

To neglect to act on what is broadly believed among the real experts and accept the claims of those who have funding from the fossil fuel industry, for instance, is folly.  If the true experts are correct the day will come when it will be too late to save the earth from a crisis, when all hope of avoiding calamity will have evaporated.

A personal grief of this for me is that some of my dear friends, who share a belief in God, nevertheless reject the claim that the earth is warming, convinced that they cannot trust science.  Will our generation reproduce the folly of King Canute, who according to legend tried to hold back the tides?  In our case the price of such folly could be the collapse of modern civilization.

Monday, September 09, 2013

NON-VIOLENCE IS ALIVE IN SYRIA, STILL

AlJazeera today has an article about the non-violent movement in Syria -- Yes, a non-violent movement.  Who knew?



AlJazeera September 9, 2013  4:30AM ET

The Syrian Non Violence Movement continues, despite being largely ignored in the conversation about Syria.Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

…. Typically ignored ... are the voices of the non-violent opposition movement that took to the streets to challenge Assad in March 2011, and which has persisted against great odds.
"No matter how beleaguered it is, civil resistance continues," says Mohja Kahf, a Professor of Middle East studies and literature at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Syrian Non Violence Movement (SNVM). A network of peaceful groups remains active in opposition to the regime inside Syria, their activities plotted by SNVM on an interactive map that can be viewed online.

Although it was the activists in such groups that originally drove the nationwide uprising against the Assad regime, these days much of their activity involves triage, mitigating the impact of the civil war and building the capacity for self-governance in towns no longer under regime control.

[There is] … a flourishing alternative media infrastructure [in Syria, with] grassroots councils to run local government [that] organize humanitarian relief in areas vacated by the regime, and projects such as the Karama Bus -- or "bus of dignity" -- which travels around Idlib province offering psycho-social support for internally displaced children. "For Syrians living in Syria, just surviving and engaging in daily activities is a form of opposition, a form of activism," said Salahi.

Many such efforts are funded by the Syrian diaspora. Rafif Jouejati, a Syrian-American activist organizing solidarity work describes its results as including schools in Idlib, media centers in Aleppo, relief-distribution in Homs and a planned water-treatment facility in Deir Ezzor.

And while many Syrians who first engaged in peaceful protest later turned to arms in the face of the regime's crackdown, others continue to do non-violent political work.



Sunday, September 08, 2013

Reproducing the blunders of the past

The United State government seems to be cursed with a tendency to blunder over and over again in the Middle East.  At least it seems about to reproduce the blunders of the past -- again.  The reason we elect individuals to lead the country is to entrust to them the responsibility of acting in the interest of the whole.  In that capacity they should, on every issue, turn to the individuals that specialize in the issue in question to help decide what is wise.  One of the problems is of course that “experts” seldom agree when it comes to making practical applications on the basis of their abstract knowledge.  Even so, if experts find it difficult to give wise advise it hardly makes sense to entrust crucial and difficult decisions to the American people at large.  That is what the Obama administration has done with respect to the problem of punishing the Assad regime in Syria for gassing its own people.

Of course every major policy decision in a democracy is in some way affected by political considerations.  Politicians, who are supposed to be reasonably intelligent, are nevertheless swayed by their constituencies, so they can entrust specific policy decisions to their respective publics – but to do that is to invite disaster.  We currently have a Congress scattered to their respective home communities and asking their constituencies to decide on how to deal with the difficult and complex question of whether or not to punish Assad’s regime for gassing their own people.

I’m shocked and grieved that the groups I normally identify with, like MoveOn.Org, want to enter the debate, as if they had the understanding to deal with such a complex issue.  But they are not alone.  All kinds of people now are expressing opinions – now that have in the last two weeks paid some attention to what has been going on in the Middle East.  And of course they know what to do; I hear that the vote is against taking action against Assad.  How well does the public know why poison gas was outlawed after World War I?  Why weren’t these weapons used during WWII, even by either side in its greatest extremity?  What prompted the great powers on all sides to refrain from such barbarous instruments of death?  There is a reason those weapons were banned – by essentially universal agreement.

The very idea that such an instrument of mass murder could have been contemplated by any regime is a reflection of how much has been forgotten.  So the American people, who have as a whole little interest in affairs in the Middle East, in fact, have little awareness of what American interests there might be -- it goes far beyond the welfare of Israel.  So of course they see no reason why the United States should take any action on Assad’s brutal resort to mass murder.

The pattern, it seems to me, keeps on being reproduced:  Each new event provides another opportunity to display ignorance and arrogance.  It is hard to face situations as they are without seeing them through the lens of the past.

A brief history:
When Saddam Hussein’s army swept into Kuwait 1991 George Herbert Walker Bush took the wise decision to deploy a military force against Iraq.  He was supported by his Republican colleagues in Congress but most Democrats opposed him.  As it turned out, it was the right thing to do and it was a success; the Democrats looked timid and foolish.
So when George W. Bush proposed to invade Iraq in 2003 the Democrats, chastened by the blunder in the previous event, provided little opposition.  It was a foolhardy program from the beginning and was in fact based on a lie that the Democrats – and the press -- could easily have exposed.  But the Democrats were too cowardly to oppose it.  Now after many lives lost it is clear how unwise it was, and how costly.  The American people seem to have forgotten the lies that made that policy possible; it was a disaster in the end and the general respect the Americans had to that point enjoyed all around the world was lost.  Now no one argues for how wise it was. • The Obama administration is at this time faced with the question of how to respond to the outrageous use of poison gas by the Assad regime.  And our politicians, and the American people, seem to be deciding against taking even the most minimal action against the Assad regime.

I admit that the issue is not simple, but the one conviction I have is that to allow the American people to make the decision, as seems to be what is in process, is to guarantee another disaster.  The right move, whatever it is, should not be submitted to a vote.  The reason we have the electoral process – again -- is to entrust to our leaders the task of dealing with difficult decisions as wisely as possible.

Our country is about to blunder in the Middle East -- again.  

Sunday, September 01, 2013

MORAL SENSIBILITY, NOT RELIGION, IS A FUNDAMENTAL QUALITY OF THE HUMAN BEING

Forgive me for some abstract thoughts on an issue of importance to me:  Ruminating on morals

I need to distinguish between “religion” and a moral sensibility that is more general.  Santayana famously pointed out the problem of using the word “religion” to refer to something shared by all human beings:
“Any attempt to speak without speaking any particular language is not more hopeless than the attempt to have a religion that shall be no religion in particular . . . . Its power consists in its special and surprising message and in the bias which that revelation gives to life.”  
The moment we use the word religion to refer to something common to human beings we strip the concept of any significance; in that general sense the concept is vapid, insipid, jejune.  It is not “religion” that inspires, justifies and animates extreme commitments, it is particular religious ideals associated with Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Krishna and heroic figures whose causes seem worth embracing:  Sayyed Qutb, Mother Theresa, etc.

Moral sensibility is, on the contrary, something that we all as human beings share.  We all as human beings share it. We can all be outraged.  Human beings everywhere share, I assume, the sense that some things going on in our world are outrageous and reprehensible.  Assad’s gassing of his own people – 426 children, we hear – was an act so monstrous as to require worldwide opprobrium.  And for some of us the inability of the great powers in the world to punish his regime for gassing his own people – scarcely worse than the thousands of his own citizens he has murdered through more conventional means – is equally scandalous.

Analytically the failure to distinguish between the moral sensibility that we all share as human beings and the specific religious traditions that give specific shape to such feelings had led to such nonsensical notions that religion should be avoided because in the name of religion so many atrocities have been committed.

The moral imagination expresses itself in many more forms than mere “religion”.  It is a powerful device in politics, specifically political rhetoric.  The great speeches of public leaders are great because they put into verbal form the sentiments of many ordinary people.  The great memorials “work” because somehow in their form they express the collective sensibilities of a people:  the Vietnam memorial is still an effective vehicle of collective and individual grief, evident in the number of people who come to that black wall of granite, place their hand on a name and weep.  You don’t have to be religious to share in that experience but you and I are able to recognize the deep feelings that some folks attach to the scratchings on a block of stone.

Deep feeling, expressed in whatever form, is moral in a fundamental sense.  And in that sense words for it are hard to come by.  That people call it “religious” is understandable but it is better referred to as moral imagination.  Bruce Kapferer has stressed that religion and patriotism are fundamentally similar.  Yes, they are alike in their ability to enlist through various forms – flag, statues, songs, gestures, poetry – the moral sensibilities of a people.

Somehow we are born with it, all of us.  And it colors our judgment of each other and even ourselves, at least when we can be honest with the truth.  This is why we all love to be self-righteous: moral outrage is a privilege we all indulge in.  But it is as fundamental as the pre-language qualities we were born with.  Through experience we learn how to give vent to such feelings, those fundamentally moral sentiments that inform and animate our experiences.  We acquire those devices of moral expression as we acquire articulate speech and other conventions of sociality.

Moral imagination:  this is the fundamental animus of human sacrifice and significance.  Can this term in a more exact way capture what it is to be human?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

THE WASHINGTON CESSPOOL -- WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED?

Watching Bill Moryers’s interview with Mark Leibovich today, on the system of relations in Washington, I learned what I could not have made up, could have have imagined.  Justice is being subverted in DC on a gargantuan and pervasive scale.  Moral sensibility has been dulled all around, not only among the political leaders who are being bought off by the powerful corporations but also among the media.

The details of Liebovich's book are worth repeating, some of them discussed in the interview.  Every person named here should be closely inspected for how he or she has caved into the powerful vortex of corporate interest, which now controls the way our country's wealth is being divvied up.

Here I reproduce Bill Moyers’s critical summation of the situation at the end of the interview: it states so bluntly and vigorously the sense of outrage that the people of this country should feel toward what is happening in Washington [I only wish I could write like him].  Washington is not a place where the interests of the American people are being dutifully served but a place where vultures [the rich and well connected of all sorts] feed on the wealth paid in by the ordinary Americans, distributing the largess in such a way as to insure that blame is so broadly distributed that no one -- no person, no corporation, no industry -- can be held to account.  Most of us don't know how totally our country is dominated by an upper class that includes both parties and even a media that now sucks up to the powerful and connected.
BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below. 
The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke. 
Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. 
They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations. 
We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain. 
The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV -- and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works. 
William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?” 
Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.   
Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands. 

Thursday, August 08, 2013

"ONE DROP OF NEGRO BLOOD": WHAT IT MEANT AND WHAT IT MEANS

[This is a revised version, 8/8/13]
It took me many years in my teaching to declare to my students that societies run on myths.  At this point it seems strange that it took so long for me to come to that. But now I see it so clearly in so many places, in so many ways.  David Runciman reviewed a book in the London Review of Books that caught my attention. Ira Katznelson, in Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, explains the strategic partnership that FDR had with southern Democrats.  Both sides had to compromise in order to work together even though in fact their agendas were different and actually contrary in some critical ways. 

What struck me was how racism was such a critical basis of the agenda of leaders in the South in that relationship.  The whole agenda in the South was to make sure that the federal government didn’t interfere with what the power elite in the south were doing in their own states.  States rights was crucial in their federal discourse because the power elite needed to do what they wanted locally.  Among themselves in the South they justified their grip on power by appealing to racial superiority.  Northern agendas should never intrude on that myth. 

An example:  In a debate about anti-lynching legislation in the US Senate in 1938 the Senator from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, said that “one drop of Negro blood placed in the veins of the purest Caucasian destroys the inventive genius of his mind and strikes palsied his creative faculties.”  With this argument he protected lynching in the South from federal legislation. 

In some ways not much has changed in the South, we might say, because politics in the southern states seems still to be aimed at holding at bay the pressures of outside [Northern] mores.  The difference is that the Republican Party seems to be a better vehicle today for effecting that agenda than the Democratic Party. 

But of course in lots of ways much has changed.  Senator Bilbo made his statement – it shocks ours sensibility in these times – in 1938.  But his world was already ineluctably caught in a world that would unmask the myth that seemed plausible in his time.  Thirteen years later, doctors in Baltimore removed some cells from a tumor of an Afro-American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was, it turned out, dying of cancer.  To their surprise the doctors discovered that the cells taken from Mrs. Lacks could be multiplied in the lab.  Cell research became possible on a scale previously inconceivable.  Since that time those cells have been multiplied more times than anyone knows and become the basis for more than 74,000 scientific studies.  One drop of Negro blood has in this case provided the world – scholars all over the world – with basic insights into “cell biology, vaccines, and in vitro fertilization and cancer” [NYTimes 8/8/13, p. 1].

Little did the good Senator from Mississippi know. But my point is he wouldn’t care. What he sought to effect was protection of the interests of the power elite of his state [who happened of course to be white and their constituency to be white] justifying that agenda by reference to a myth about race; it paid to promote such a fantasy.  The justifications now are different – the power elite and their constituency in Mississippi are different now -- but power seems to work about the same way as before.  Those who have it seek ways to protect it and -- as humans need always to justify what they do – they explain the reasons for their behavior and policies in highly moral terms.  The South – and the North, and all human collectives, when they try to represent their collective interests – still speaks in moral terms; and in the case of the South it is still the Bible Belt.

The difference now is what can ring true: cell research, based on blood samples of a human being is taken to be exemplary of the whole "human race"; it is no longer considered to be a sample of a particular "race" [a category that cannot be documented biologically].

But it still raises questions about what is “real.”  Are all those studies based on Mrs Lacks's cells?  Are they still hers?  Are they "Negro"? Who do they belong to?    

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

WHEN THE RICH CONTROL NEWS, ADVERTISING, AND CONGRESS

An unknown group is funding an advertising blitz in Missouri to reduce state taxes.  They tried through the Missouri legislature to cut state taxes but the governor vetoed the bill.  Now this group has put images of families and minorities on the screen to push for lower taxes, which they say will create jobs.

Reducing government services, which the reduction of taxes would entail, would put people out of jobs, not create jobs.  If jobs are created in this way they will be jobs working for the rich, in companies that will benefit the well-to-do, not the weakest elements of our society.

What the advertisements don't tell us is who these people are who insist on reducing taxes -- that is, for the well-to-do -- and reducing services for the needy.  I would appreciate any guidance on who these people are.

We are getting closer and closer to being a country in which the weak and poor have little or no true voice.  How can this system escape the critique of the great prophet?
"They do not plead the cause of the fatherless,  they do not defend the rights of the poor.... I will certainly cause retribution on such a nation as this!
"... all of them are greedy for dishonest gain.  Prophets and priests alike all of them practice deceit.  They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered."
"Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land."
Jeremiah  5:28-29; 6:13-14; 7:6

Monday, July 29, 2013

McClatchy: CIA Operative Fabricated Reasons for Kidnapping a Muslim Cleric in Italy

The more we learn about the Kidnapping of the Muslim cleric in Italy the more unsavory it becomes.  Here is what an unappreciated whistle blower from that operation had to say about why it was pulled off:

McClatchy Washington Bureau. Sat, Jul. 27, 2013, last updated July 29, 2013 06:21:18 AM
U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON --  A former CIA officer has broken the U.S. silence around the 2003 abduction of a radical Islamist cleric in Italy, charging that the agency inflated the threat the preacher posed and that the United States then allowed Italy to prosecute her and other Americans to shield President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials from responsibility for approving the operation.
Confirming for the first time that she worked undercover for the CIA in Milan when the operation took place, Sabrina De Sousa provided new details about the “extraordinary rendition” that led to the only criminal prosecution stemming from the secret Bush administration rendition and detention program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The cleric, Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr, was snatched from a Milan street by a team of CIA operatives and flown to Egypt, where he was held for the better part of four years without charges and allegedly tortured. An Egyptian court in 2007 ruled that his imprisonment was “unfounded” and ordered him released.
Among the allegations made by De Sousa in a series of interviews with McClatchy:
– The former CIA station chief in Rome, Jeffrey Castelli, whom she called the mastermind of the operation, exaggerated Nasr’s terrorist threat to win approval for the rendition and misled his superiors that Italian military intelligence had agreed to the operation.
– Senior CIA officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, approved the operation even though Nasr wasn’t wanted in Egypt and wasn’t on the U.S. list of top al Qaida terrorists.
– Condoleezza Rice, then the White House national security adviser, also had concerns about the case, especially what Italy would do if the CIA were caught, but she eventually agreed to it and recommended that Bush approve the abduction.
...
More than 130 people were “rendered” in this way, according to a February 2013 study by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a U.S.-based group that promotes the rule of law. Many were tortured and abused, and many, including Nasr, were freed for lack of proof that they were hatching terrorist plots, said Amrit Singh, the study’s author.
....
“There was concern on the seventh floor about this operation,” he said, referring to the executive offices at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va. “But they were reassured” by the Rome station and the agency’s European directorate that “everything was OK and everyone was on board in the country in question.”
De Sousa accused Italian leaders of colluding with the United States to shield Bush, Rice, Tenet and senior CIA aides by declining to prosecute them or even demanding that Washington publicly admit to staging the abduction.
...
De Sousa said Italy and the United States cooperated in “scape-goating a bunch of people . . . while the ones who approved this stupid rendition are all free.”
The Senate and House intelligence committees enabled the coverup, De Sousa added, by failing to treat her as a whistleblower after she told them of the lack of prosecutable evidence against Nasr and what she called her own mistreatment by the CIA that compelled her to resign in 2009.
“Despite that, no one’s been held accountable,” she said.
...
For more go here.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mobilizing "the masses" and slandering a president: More reason to worry about the Republican Party

At this moment, when we all wonder about what is happening to this country, I want to reproduce here some signs of how seriously the politics in this country is broken.  What I present here has been available to the public for a long time but seems largely unremarked.  

In 2005 the BBC produced a film called The Power of Nightmares. The film was directed by Adam Curtis.  The style of presentation, in its content and background music, suggested menace, the sense of dread and suspicion that animated the two opposing leaders whose struggle preoccupied world attention after 9/11/2001:  Osama Bin Laden, representing the Islamist movement, and George W. Bush and his administration. The film was constructed to provoke, even to irritate, especially an American audience.

Whatever might be said about the film, it included some information about the opinions and activities of notable American officials that few Americans seem ever to have heard of.  So I reproduce selections from the film [drawing from the screenplay posted by Bill St Clair]. What they reveal is a body of individuals within the Republican Party who were willing to exploit the religious populations of the country through unseemly manipulation of information.  

A central point of the film was that the Neoconservatives who came to power with George W. Bush had been influenced by Leo Strauss’s notion that societies run on myth.  For these neoconservatives myth is good when it mobilizes populations to take on “good” projects, even if the “myth” is indeed untrue.  Many of the neocons entered government and participated in the Nixon and later Republican administrations.  They had ideas and agendas, but they had the problem of how to mobilize the American people to join in their particular reading of the world and what to do about it.  

Truncating much that ought to be said about the context, I here reproduce what the film reveals about the way the “neocons” got their “troops” – by appealing to the sentiments of the evangelical community.  This is the story I reproduce here.

A major shift in the conservative white community had taken place during the Carter administration.  The white “evangelical” community turned against Jimmy Carter, the only President who had a Bible class before being elected President and returned to his Bible class afterward.  The reason for this abandonment of Carter was this [according to Ralph Reed, Active Faith, p. 105]]: 
"The greatest spark of the [white evangelical] movement was not abortion but an attempt by the Carter-appointed head of the Internal Revenue Service to require Christian and parochial schools and academies to prove that they were not established to preserve segregation or they would risk losing their tax-exempt status. ... For conservative evangelicals it was nothing less than a declaration of war on their schools, their churches, and their children.  More than any other single episode, the IRS move against Christian schools sparked the explosion of the movement that would become known as the religious right." 
Ronald Reagan, a new-age president, saved the white conservative community from Jimmy Carter.  Whatever his personal beliefs were, Reagan easily articulated the concerns of the white evangelical movement.  We pick up the narrative here from “The Power of Nightmares.”   
From Part One:
Voice Over: And at this very same moment, religion was being mobilized politically in America, but for a very different purpose. And those encouraging this were the neoconservatives. Many neoconservatives had become advisers to the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. And as they became more involved with the Republican Party, they had forged an alliance with the religious wing of the party, because it shared their aim of the moral regeneration of America. 
IRVING KRISTOL , Founder of Neoconservative movement: The notion that a purely secular society can cope with all of the terrible pathologies that now affect our society, I think has turned out to be false. And that has made me culturally conservative. I mean, I really think religion has a role now to play in redeeming the country. And liberalism is not prepared to give religion a role. Conservatism is, but it doesn’t know how to do it. 
VO: By the late ‘70s, there were millions of fundamentalist Christians in America. But their preachers had always told them not to vote. It would mean compromising with a doomed and immoral society. But the neoconservatives and their new Republican allies made an alliance with a number of powerful preachers, who told their followers to become involved with politics for the first time. 
JAMES ROBISON , Fundamentalist Preacher, 1980: I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals, and the perverts, and the liberals, and the leftists, and the Communists coming out of the closet! It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet, out of the churches, and change America! We must do it!
Rev. Robinson epitomized the particular way the religious right described those who supported   progressive change in America:  as "radicals, perverts, liberals, leftists, and Communists."  This became the rhetoric by which the conservative leaders  of the country, especially in the South, characterized the progressive movement in America.
PAUL WEYRICH , Religious activist – Republican Party: The conservative movement, up to that point, was essentially an intellectual movement. It had some very powerful thinkers, but it didn’t have many troops. And as Stalin said of the Pope, “where are his divisions?”. Well, we [Republicans] didn’t have many divisions. When these folks became active, all of a sudden the conservative movement had lots of divisions. We were able to move literally millions of people. And this is something that we had literally no ability to do prior to that time. 
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Literally millions? 
WEYRICH : Literally millions. 
Note Weyrich's terms:  The Republican Party was able to "move literally millions" of evangelical Christians by harnessing the agenda of social conservatives in the South to rhetoric of the evangelical tradition.  Some evangelical preachers may have felt it accorded with their own social perspective; at least some became useful voices for the politically conservative movement.  Conservative rhetoric worked for the evangelicals who believed it as well as for the neoconservatives who merely found it useful.  
VO: And at the beginning of 1981, Ronald Reagan took power in America. The religious vote was crucial in his election, because many millions of fundamentalists voted for the first time. And as they had hoped, many neoconservatives were given power in the new administration. Paul Wolfowitz became head of the State Department policy staff, while his close friend Richard Perle became the Assistant Secretary of Defense. And the head of Team B, Richard Pipes, became one of Reagan’s chief advisers. The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America’s revolutionary destiny—to use the country’s power aggressively as a force for good in the world, in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies.
From PART TWO
WILLIAM KRISTOL , Chief of Staff to the Vice President, 1988-92: For Strauss, liberalism produced a decent way of life, and one that he thought was worth defending, but a dead end where nothing could be said to be true; one had no guidance on how to live, everything was relative. Strauss suggests that maybe we didn’t just have to sit there and accept that that was our fate. Politics could help shape the way people live, that politics could help shape the way that people live, teach them some good lessons about living decent and noble human lives. And can we think about what cultures, and what politics, what social orders produce more admirable human beings? I mean, that whole question was put back on the table by Strauss, I think. 
VO: The neoconservatives set out to reform America. And at the heart of their project was the political use of religion. Together with their long-term allies, the religious right, they began a campaign to bring moral and religious issues back into the center of conservative politics. It became known as the “culture wars.” 
[ TITLE : Christian Coalition commercial ] 
VO (on commercial) : Your tax dollars are being used to sponsor obscene and pornographic displays. 
PAT ROBERTSON : I don’t like Jesus Christ, who is my Lord and Savior, being dumped in a vat of urine by a homosexual, and then have my money to pay for it! I think that’s obscene. 
ROBERTSON : Satan, be gone! Out from this [unintelligible]! C’mon! 
VO: For the religious right, this campaign was a genuine attempt to renew the religious basis of American society. But for the neoconservatives, religion was a myth, like the myth of America as a unique nation that they had promoted in the Cold War. Strauss had taught that these myths were necessary to give ordinary people meaning and purpose, and so ensure a stable society. 
MICHAEL LIND , Journalist and former neoconservative: For the neoconservatives, religion is an instrument of promoting morality. Religion becomes what Plato called a “noble lie.” It is a myth which is told to the majority of the society by the philosophical elite in order to ensure social order. 
LIND : In being a kind of secretive elitist approach, Straussianism does resemble Marxism. These ex-Marxists, or in some cases ex-liberal Straussians, could see themselves as a kind of Leninist group, you know, who have this covert vision which they want to use to effect change in history, while concealing parts of it from people incapable of understanding it. 
VO: Out of this campaign, a new and powerful moral agenda began to take over the Republican Party. It reached a dramatic climax at the Republican Convention in 1992, when the religious right seized control of the party’s policy-making machinery. George Bush became committed to running for President with policies that would ban abortion, gay rights, and multiculturalism. Speakers who tried to promote the traditional conservative values of individual freedom were booed off the stage.…  
VO: For the neoconservatives, the aim of this new morality was to unite the nation. But in fact, it had completely the opposite effect. Mainstream Republican voters were frightened away by the harsh moralism that had taken over their party. They turned instead to Bill Clinton, a politician who connected with their real concerns and needs, like tax and the state of the economy.…. 
VO: At the end of 1992, Bill Clinton won a dramatic victory. But the neoconservatives were determined to regain power. And to do this, they were going to do to Bill Clinton what they had done to the Soviet Union: they would transform the President of the United States into a fantasy enemy, an image of evil that would make people realize the truth of the liberal corruption of America. 
….. 
VO: But despite all his efforts, Kenneth Starr could find no incriminating evidence in Whitewater. Nor could he find any evidence to support any of the sexual scandals that had come from the Arkansas Project. Until finally, his committee stumbled upon Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton denied. And in that lie, the neoconservative movement believed they had found what they had been looking for: a way to make the American people see the truth about the liberal corruption of their country. A campaign now began to impeach the President. And in the hysteria, the whole conservative movement portrayed Clinton as a depraved monster who had to be removed from office. But yet again, the neoconservatives had created a fantasy enemy by exaggerating and distorting reality. 
JOE CONASON , Author ‘The Hunting of the President’ : They were trapped by a mythological person that they had constructed, or persons—the Clintons, these scheming, terrible people who they, the noble pursuers, were going to vanquish. I think, in the leadership of conservatism, during the Clinton era there was an element of corruption. There was an element of a willingness to do anything to achieve the goal of bringing Clinton down. There was a way in which the people who perceived Clinton as immoral behaved immorally themselves. They ended up behaving worse than the people who they were attacking. …
They commissioned David Brock to uncover every possible evidence of unseemly behavior in Bill Clinton’s past.  This is the story the film presents of that period, based on an interview with David Brock himself. 
From PART THREE
VO: Since then, Brock has turned against the neoconservative movement. He now believes that the attacks on Clinton went too far, and corrupted conservative politics. 
INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Was Whitewater true? 
BROCK : No! I mean, there was no criminal wrongdoing in Whitewater. Absolutely not. It was a land deal that the Clintons lost money on. It was a complete inversion of what happened. 
INTERVIEWER : Was Vince Foster killed? 
BROCK : No. He killed himself. 
INTERVIEWER : Did the Clintons smuggle drugs? 
BROCK : Absolutely not. 
INTERVIEWER : Did those promoting these stories know that this was not true, that none of these stories were true? 
BROCK : They did not care.  
INTERVIEWER : Why not? 
BROCK : Because they were having a devastating effect. So why stop? It was terrorism. Political terrorism. 
INTERVIEWER : But you were one of the agents. 
BROCK : Absolutely. Absolutely.
So it turned out that none of the accusations against Carter were true and the Republican leadership seems to have known it all the time.  The whole point was to slander Clinton.

And it was to continue appealing to the loyalty of the evangelical "troops" who could be persuaded to support the Republican Party even if the grounds of their appeal were cynical:  There is little evidence that the Neocons shared the deep convictions of the evangelicals whom they sought to use for their projects.

I post this material because I suspect few Americans are aware of these affairs.  I have lamented that the Republican Party seems tragically to have gone astray, to have lost its authentic moral fiber.  These comments by individuals who seem to have been directly involved in the movement since the 1980s give us some clues as to how this misadventure took form. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The world's most successful gun salesman:

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, says that he represents the mothers and fathers and families who are gun-owners.  He never mentions the gun manufacturers who are the main sources of funding for the NRA.  LaPierre represents the gun manufacturers of the country and for that his reported income in 2007 was $900.000.  Pretty good work if you can get it.  Do the American families he claims to represent know how much he gets for representing the NRA? 

Do the American people who hear him object to banning automatic weapons know that he is essentially a gun salesman?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Working list on "The Moral Imagination in Social Practice"


This is a working list on the topic of the Moral Imagination in Social Practice  [11/10/12].  [To accommodate requests for notes from a former course.  There is a huge amount of material; this is only stuff I have used in a course.] In process
>  I take this to be what is involved in all social life.  It is of course manifest in political practice in the sense that all political interactions are informed by issues that in some sense have a transcendental significance, since political discourse implies attempts to frame situations with significance.  So the moral imagination is involved not only in “religious” affairs but in all narratives.

Hayden White:  ??? has argued that all narratives implicitly imply moral orientations

A useful start on the term “moral imagination” can be found at:
http://www.engr.psu.edu/ethics/moral.asp
What I have in mind by social practice I mean practice in a sense developed by Bourdieu:  Outline of a Theory of Practice, The Logic of Practice, etc.

So the topic, Moral imagination in social practice is essentially a way of looking at cultural affairs, social practices, so as to appreciate the moral implications or insinuations in all social interaction.
It’s another way of thinking about culture.  I have defined what I mean by “culture” at:

If I were looking backwards to earlier works of interest I would include:

The counter enlightenment authors:  See Isaiah Berlin,  Counter Enlightenment.  Dictionary of the History of Ideas.  Key figures:  Vico, Hamann, Herder, Hume.  Respondents:  Kant, Voltaire

Max Muller:  In, Exploratons in Language and Meaning by Malcomb Crick
Max Weber.  On Religion…

Other important works:
For a course I gave on this topic, here is a list of some of the readings we examined together: 
            [* = required of most students],  
            [# = optional, except for grad students or students who have taken AN3700, in which case it is required instead of the other],
            [& = another optional reading in case you are interested and familiar with the other readings.].

As per my understanding of culture as essentially a body of forms whose meanings a community more or less share:
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Religion as a Cultural System.” In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973.  "Ethos, Worldview and the Analysis of Sacred Symbols."  In Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
& Clifford Geertz. 1973. Thick Description. In Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.

Geertz:  The following are both about art as a cultural system and can be compared with his Deep Play, which is also about art as a cultural system.  By comparing them you can get a sense of Geertz's concept of cultural system, a topic on which I am not sure many readers have gotten right.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973 “Lost in Translation: Social History of the Moral Imagination.” In: Local Knowledge.
# Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Art as a Cultural System.” In: Local Knowledge.

Clifford Geertz:  The following is the most important article to understand and internalize but it is difficult; it’s easy to miss the fact that the views he presents first are defective.  Note what is wrong with each.  Hint:  Look for what he has to say about defining situations.  The definition of the situation is a critical concept for our topic.
* Clifford Geertz. 1973. “Ideology as a Cultural System.” In: The Interpretation of Culture. New York: Basic.
Also, Geertz, Thick…[above]

Victor Turner:  all of his works are aimed at understanding the moral imagination in social practice.  He comes out of a different tradition [British Manchester School] and so uses a somewhat different language.  See for instance his Betwixt and Between, and his other works on the Ndembu.

Abner Cohen. See his Custom and Politics in Urban Africa.  Also, his Masquerade Politics. [Also from the same tradition as Turner.  Their mentor:  Gluckman.]

Irving Goffman was an influence on Geertz's thought, but he comes out of a "symbolic interactionism" tradition.  This was early associated with Geo Herbert Mead:  "I" vs "Me", as fundamental concepts of the person. 
G. H. Mead.  1934.  Mind, Self and Society.  Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago
G. H. Mead.  1938.  The Philosophy of the Act. Ed by C.W. Morris.  Chicago.
Irving Goffman.  1959.  [selections] The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life.  New York:  Anchor.    *Introduction 1-16.  * [6th day] Performances 17-76.

Marshal Sahlins.  Sahlins's ideas we will spend a lot of time on.
Marshal Sahlins  1985  Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities [Selections]
Marshall Sahlins. 2004. [selections] Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding Culture as History and Vice Versa
            Included is: *"Elian Gonzales"
            Included is: *“On the Shot heard round the world"

William Sewell is looking for theoretical frames of reference that will help historians be more deliberate and conceptually consistent in their work.  I like the whole book.  I don’t think he understands Geertz but he find’s Sahlins’s structuralist approach [that is, as critically revised by Sahlins] to the study of history helpful.  [Of course Sahlins sought to revise structuralism, as in the readings above.]
William H. Sewell, Jr. Logics of History . Chicago: University of Chicago.Chapter 1
* [ch 3, Eventful Sociology ] Logics of History
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 4, Theory of Structure] Logics of History:  Geertz
William Sewell, Jr. [ch 5, Concepts of Culture] Logics of History:  Sahlins
Sewell [ch 6, Geertz]
Sewell [ch 7, Sahlins, Theory of Culture]
* Sewell [ch 8, Translations of Structures]
Sewell [ch 10 Refiguring the Social]

From here many useful studies of the moral imagination appear in the anthropological journals. 
Examples that I have used follow:
On civil wars [civil wars always provide excellent examples of how competing sides misconstrue and misrepresent each other, so good examples of how moral rhetoric works in social practice:
*Denich, Bette.  1994.  "Dismembering Yugoslavia: Nationalist Ideologies and the Symbolic Revival of Genocide."  American Ethnologist 21(2):367-390. [ISSN 0002-7294]
Sells, Michael A. 1996. The bridge betrayed: Religion and genocide in Bosnia. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Sells, Michael A.   2002.  “Construction of Islam in Serbian Mythology.”  In:  Maya Shatz Miller, ed: Islam and Bosnian Conflict Resoltuion and Foreign Policy in the Miltiethnic states.  Montreal:  McQueens.
Ben Anderson:  Imagined Communities.
Bruce Kapferer.  Evil and the State, In: Legends of People Myths of State.

Other works of my own [apologies for self-promotion]:
Robert L. Canfield  :
2008c  Fraternity, Power, and Time in Central Asia. In: The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan, edited by Robert Crews and Amin Tarzi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
2004b  New Trends among the Hazaras:  From "The Amity of Wolves" to "The Practice of Brotherhood".  Iranian Studies 37(2): 241-262.
2003.   Symbol and Sentiment in Motivated Action.  In:  Tom Headland, MaryRuth Wise and Ruth Brend (eds), Language and Life: Essays in Memory of Kenneth L. Pike.  Dallas: SIL International.  Pp 343-358. [This was perhaps too abstract an argument; few people pay attention to it.  The Linguists think it is too elementary to be useful.  But the point is to find a way to describe how signs “resonate” both subjectively and intersubjectively.]

Other works of interest:

Richard G. Fox. 1983. [Selections] Gandhian Utopia
Fredrik Barth. 1993. [Selections] Balinese Worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Fredrick G. Bailey: [selections] The Prevalence of Deceit. Ithaca: Cornell University

Verdery, Katherine. 1991. “Introduction: Ideology, Cultural Politics, Intellectuals.” In: National Ideology under Socialism; Identity and cultural politics in Ceausescu's Romania.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. "The Power in the Story" Ch 1 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot. 1995. "An Unthikable History: The Haitian Revolution as a Non-Event" Ch 3 in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon.
Wolf, Eric R. 1999. “National Socialist Germany.” pp 197-273.  In Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis. Berkeley: California University.  [What is interesting about this is the effective way that Wolf's marxist approach turns out to reveal effectively how the moral imagination was constructed and reiterated in German history.]
Fernandez, James. 1986. “The Dark at the Bottom of the Stairs: The Inchoate in Symbolic Inquiry and Some Strategies for Coping with it.” In: Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture.


Lindsay:. Ch 1, "Presidents and Power" in Faith in the Halls of Power. Oxford University Press.
Wendy James.  
* James, Wendy. 2000. Postscript to Part I: On Moral Knowledge. In: The Listening Ebony: Moral Knowledge, Religion, and Power among the Uduk of Sudan. Oxford: Oxford University. pp 143-156. [James is a product of the Evans-Pritchard approach to anthropology, but she reflects the maturation of that tradition into ethnography that is still very interesting. In the above chapter of the longer work she pauses to reflect on the implications of her ethnographic material.  I found it creative and imaginative; my students don’t get it.]
* M.  Foucault.  Two Lectures. [and other works]
*Katherine Verdery: The Political Life of Dead Bodies

* Yael Navaro-Yashin.  2009.  "Affective Spaces, Melacholic Objects:  Ruination of the Production of Anthropological Knowledge."  JRAI 15(1):1-18.
* Starrett: [on Egypt]
Sorabji, Cornelia. 2006. “Manging Memories in Post-war Sarajevo: Individuals, Bad Memories, and New Wars.” JRAI 12:1-18.
Stoczkowski, Wiktor. 2008. UNESCO's doctrine of human diversity: A secular soteriology. Anthropology Today 25(3, June):7-11.
Backer-Cristales, Beth. 2008. “Magical Pursuits: legitimacy and representation in a transitional political field.” American Anthropologist 110[3]: 349-359.
Armstrong, Karen. 2000. Ambiguity and Remembrance: Individual and Collective Memory in Finland. American Ethnologist, 27(3): 591-608.
Eisenlohr, Patrick. 2006: “The Politics of Diaspora and the Morality of Secularism: Muslim identities and Islamic Authority in Mauritius.”  JRAI 12: 395-412.
Lester, Rebecca. 2009. Brokering Authenticity. Current Anthropology. June
Dipesh Chakrabarty. 2002. "Subaltern Histories and Post-Enlightenment Rationalism." Ch 2 in Habitations of Modernity: Essays in the Wake of Subaltern Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Can Planet Earth Be Saved?

Delegates are gathered in Doha to talk about global warming again but scarcely anyone believes much of consequence will result.  Nick Clark of Al Jazeera has produced an article that reminds us of the consequences of global warming:  The Climate Question: Degrees of Change. [26 Nov 2012]
Climate change has become one of the biggest, most complex issues of our time. And the warnings from some of the world's leading scientists are getting louder.  But sceptics remain. Despite the data, many are unconvinced that the science is on target. 
Who will save Planet Earth? - by Nick Clark
...   Zoom in to a remote island community deep in the Arctic, not far from the North Pole, called Qerqetat. It is spectacularly located on the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. Glaciers sweep down into the sea like snowed-up freeways; icebergs with their azure underwater blues stand sentinel in a perfect flat ocean; Arctic terns soar and dip into abundant waters.
Ashore, a dozen ramshackle wooden houses in varying shades of rusts and yellows straddle high ground. Strips of meat hang from wooden frames, drying in the sun. On the beach a hunting party has just returned and Inuit are passing around small squares of thick Narwhal skin, a delicacy called Muktak.
This is a scene that has been played out for thousands of years. And it was a scene that we filmed earlier this year in August 2012.
"Our high tide is higher than we've ever seen it .... The shacks we live in never used to be reached by the waves but now we have to move them further inland."
- Jaloo Kiguktak, a resident of the Canadian Arctic
But it is a scene that, before long, may disappear forever. And from Bangladesh to Amazonia that is a recurring 21st century story; climate change is changing the way people live.
Given that fact, why does it seem that the majority of the world's leaders do not care? Climate change was not even mentioned in the US presidential debates. And then, almost immediately, along came Perfect Storm Sandy to give us a hurricane-force reminder that the weather is acting up and perhaps we should take notice.
Meanwhile, media coverage of climate change has crashed. In the years since the false hopes of Copenhagen in 2009, it has simply gone off the agenda. But that has got to change. Hold the front page - weird stuff is happening! And whether you believe mankind is responsible or not, it is affecting us all.
The natural order

When we filmed in the Arctic this summer, I met Mads Ole Kristiansen, one of a continuous line of Inuit hunters going back generations. We filmed him tossing bloody hunks of seal meat to his baying sled dogs.
"Without my dogs, I am nothing," Mads said. "Without his dogs, the hunter is nothing."
But this Spring, Mads had to shoot four of his dogs because the sea ice melted so early that he was unable to hunt for food.
This is a man who knows and understands the environment that provides his livelihood. And he is noticing change - big change.

...  So how does that affect the man in Manhattan or in countless cities around the world where global warming seems a distant irrelevance?
Well, the Arctic is a global weather-maker. Mess with that and who knows what will happen? Sea-level rises are already being encountered around the world. It is possible they could reach catastrophic levels, which might just take a city dweller's focus away from the daily bagel - to say nothing of warming ocean currents being stopped in their tracks, the resulting desertification, the impact on food supplies and, not least, the very security of nations.
It has happened before
The Earth's cycles have seen countless ice ages and thaws, warming and coolings. Check out the New Scientist’s fascinating article and you will see how just 120,000 years ago, a blink of an eye in the scheme of things, ice covered a large percentage of the planet. Sea levels were 120 metres lower than they are now.
Then came the thaw, just 20,000 years ago.
And this coincided with mankind beginning to settle in warmer climes where small agricultural communities were formed. Indeed you could say global warming made us who we are today.
The difference this time is the rate of change; temperatures are climbing so rapidly that most scientists now agree mankind is at least partly responsible for what is taking place. And therefore something has to be done.
Which brings us to the latest Climate Change Conference, COP18, taking place in Doha. From Copenhagen to Cancun and Durban, all that has been achieved has pretty much been an agreement to meet again the following year.
And this time around, there is already a sense of resignation that this will be yet another talking shop - where delegates, environmentalists and politicians will speak that impenetrable climate language of CO2 sequestration, anthropogenic (human) interference and carbon offsets and credits. And make little progress.

Secret British files of torture exposed

Governments claim the sole right to exercise violence and they also can excuse or dissimulate or expunge the exercise of violence -- at least most do.  When information about the abuse of human beings by a government comes to light it's important.  Now we learn of a treasure trove of files about the abuse of people by British officials during the colonial era.  That's news.  Strangely, not much seems to have been made of it.

This is what is known:  That a British judge has allowed three Kenyans who were tortured by British officials during the Mau Mau uprising to sue the British government.  Apparently what made their claim plausible to the judge was the revelation that files exist that document British torture during that period.    [From an article by Simon Hooper in AlJazeera, 11/30/12:] 
The government conceded that the trio, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, had suffered brutal abuse, including castration, sexual assault and beatings as a result of their detentions during one of the bloodiest and most enduring rebellions of the British empire's final days. But it argued that the distance from the events over which it was accused meant a fair trial was impossible.
That argument came unstuck when the foreign office was forced last year to reveal the existence of almost 9,000 hidden files brought to Britain from 37 former colonies. The files had been concealed as a consequence of a government policy that any "embarrassing" documents should not be left in the hands of the territories' successor governments.
Among them were several thousand papers relating to the British authorities' handling of the Mau Mau crisis, including details of how senior officials had colluded in the mistreatment of detainees by changing the law to provide legal cover for what they deemed "acceptable punishment", even knowing that what they were condoning equated to torture by international standards.
"If we are going to sin, then we must sin quietly," wrote Eric Griffiths-Joyce, the Kenyan attorney general, in a memo to Sir Evelyn Baring, the colonial governor, in 1957.
Torture, done quietly, is still "sin."  No wonder the files were stashed away to be forgotten.  

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Shameful strategies to deter voting -- in America?


Elizabeth Drew’s account [New York Review 12/20/12] of the tactics used by the Republican Party to restrict the Democratic vote – narrowing the windows of time in which pre-voting can take place, demanding IDs that would be difficult for poor and minorities to obtain, changing the rules for proper registration multiple times ( as Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husten did), even on the Friday evening before election day – these strategies of restricting voting opportunities leaves me wondering if the Republican Party really believes in the democratic process.
“By the time of the election, more than thirty states had passed laws requiring voters to present some form of identification, often a government-issued photo ID that they didn’t possess and couldn’t obtain easily, in many cases not at all. The point was to make it more difficult for constituent groups of the Democratic Party—blacks, Hispanics, low-income elderly, and students—to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.” 
“… In some parts of the country, confusion was sown deliberately: intimidating billboards suggesting that photo IDs would be required appeared in predominantly black and Hispanic areas.  // This was no sneak attack but a national, coordinated enterprise ….”
The result was long lines where voters waited in some instances as long as eight hours to vote.  It seems that many of those situations were not due to mis-management but to deliberate attempts to make voting difficult and unattractive.
“[T]he lines were deliberately caused by limits imposed by Republican officials on the amount of time allowed for voting before election day. In 2008, blacks and Hispanics voted at higher rates than others on weekends in Ohio and Florida, and Obama carried both states. In theory, early voting is supposed to provide voters opportunities to avoid long election-day lines and cast their votes before election day, but the limits on the number of early voting days assured that early voters ended up in long lines on early voting days.” 
“Florida, for its part, created a mess by drastically restricting early voting. …[T] the Republican state legislature cut the number of days for early voting from fourteen to eight and prohibited it altogether on the last Sunday before the election. Sunday had been a special day for blacks, many of whom were transported from church by bus to the polling stations. On the Saturday of the final weekend, … some people waited for as long as eight hours, till past midnight….  Yet on Sunday, polling places in populous Miami-Dade County were still unprepared for the onslaught of people wanting to vote. One place unprepared for such a crowd shut down for two hours and then reopened as would-be voters banged on the doors demanding that they be allowed to vote. … On election night some Florida voters were still standing in line to vote when President Obama gave his victory speech. The last vote was cast at 1:08 AM.”
It’s hard to grasp that Republicans, who pride themselves on their bona fides as "true Americans" [who said that?], would have stooped to such transparently un-American behavior.  Have they no shame?