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.
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. 
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.  
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:
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?

Doomsday Terror in Modern Russia

In the social sciences the emphasis on "science" can conceal the powerful influence that the moral imagination has on human life and social affairs.  That moral concerns animate a lot of our thoughts and worries seems to me generally unappreciated.

An example:  The worry among some Russias about the rapidly coming "end of the world."  They seem to feel that the Mayan calendar, which marks the end of an era, predicts the end of the world; somehow the Mayans knew something that modern humanity has missed.  This in a country having a high degree of education.  RT reports that "Survival kits and trips to hell" are being sold in Russia in anticipation that something dreadful will happen on December 21, 2012.
In the Siberian city of Tomsk such items for “meeting the end of the world” include ID cards, notepads, canned fish, a bottle of vodka, rope, a piece of soap, among other items. The packages are said to be popular among customers, more than 1,000 kits have been already sold, the company says. 
Ukrainian entrepreneurs also offer a version of a doomsday kit. Just like Tomsk package, the Ukrainian one also includes alcohol: champagne for ladies and vodka for gentlemen. The rest of the kit consist of jack-knife, two-minute noodles, shampoo, soap, rope, matches and condoms. 
One Ukrainian enterprise is selling tours to heaven and hell for December 21 promising full return of money in case of “not getting to heaven or hell.” A trip to heaven would cost about $15, while trip to the underworld is more expensive at around $18. The agency explains difference in price by saying that Hell should be more fun.
I wouldn't bet on that outfit being around on December 22.