26 April 2009

Public Service Announcement

The flu pandemic is here, guys!

The government of Ontario's pandemic website is here. The United States government's pandemic website is here.
Take a look at this website for helpful information regarding your own individual preparations. You might also want to stock up on kimchi, just in case.


24 April 2009

West Robinwood Street, Detroit

60 out of 66 houses on this street have been abandoned. On both sides.
The following are two stitched together panoramas of the street.

North Side

South Side

Read more about it here.

Google maps view here.


21 April 2009

The Prosperity of the Wicked

The Senate Armed Services Committee has just released, as of an hour ago, a report entitled Inquiry Into the Treatment Of Detainees In U.S. Custody, November 20, 2008. It will, if you'll pardon the phrase, kick up the mother of all motherfucking shit storms.

Just read the Executive Summary and Conclusions. And call The Hague.

Conclusion 13:

"Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2,2002 approval of Mr. Haynes's recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO's October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq."

But worse, in a way, is this detail:

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes's recommendation [for enhanced interrogation techniques, otherwise known as torture], adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"

Donald Rumsfeld is a war criminal. For sure. Abso-fucking-lutely. 100%. It's time for the media to call him out as such.


20 April 2009

Second Opinion

Though I share with Luke a healthy cynicism about the manipulation of personal and familial introspection as a political marketing ploy, I have to admit it is an effective one, in that as a reader (1) I'm interested and (2) I can begin to form an image of who the next Prime Minister thinks he is. Both of which are to say more than I can about Stephen Harper, (1) about whom I am profoundly uninterested and (2) of whose self-image I remain consequently ignorant.

But more importantly, I have to dissent on Luke's negative or dismissive reading of Ignatieff on the freedom/community problematic.
From the little I can gather from the Globe interview and the book excerpt, I would say instead that Ignatieff can be read as having a properly late modern notion of both concepts that is, well, Liberal enough, but not too liberal. Immediately following from a quote Luke deployed:

Why I value these kinds of societies is actually not that I think they're godless, it's that they leave you the choice of your gods, the responsibility of choosing your gods, the responsibility of leading a moral and disciplined and purposeful life — faced with pluralism, faced with a series of choices, some good, some bad. I like that. I'm at home in this world. He [George Grant] was deeply and profoundly not at home in that world.
I actually think this is a very intelligent take on the condition that not only we Canadians, but all other Westerners are faced with today. Paired with Iggie's invocation of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, all this amounts to is an understanding that all that late moderns can hope for is, as Luke puts it negatively, to be "citizens [with] nothing in common but their need to imagine - without any commonalities regarding the capacity or content of their imaginings."

Good. Rather than pretending that we are one organic whole united by devotion to a common deity or reverence for a mythologized common past, what we share instead is an imperative to imagine ourselves as a community with the full knowledge that, at an ironic distance, this is all we can ever be - an imagined community. This is not distinctly Canadian, of course. Who today thinks that communities are anything more than imagined? More importantly: Imagined on the basis of what? We live in a disenchanted world in which God, our shared genetic roots, or our chauvinistic attachments to a self-image based on superiority, simply have lost all their plausibility as common meanings. Community is not automatic; and this is perhaps what is new about our lives - we need to actively seek - no, create - what marks off our difference in the context of a notion of universal human equality (that we thankfully do share).

I don't think anybody is arguing that an imagined community need exist only in individuals' heads (ontological atomism). But even if I were to argue that, individuals' sharing of community is still common because, even if one is wrong in her belief in some putatively common meaning, she must still by definition imagine that you also share it. This is still atomist, but the normative consequences are communitarian, in the sense that I identify collectively with you and so take your interests as my own. It is enough to generate a common good, even on atomist assumptions.

I think it's better, and more plausible, to read Ignatieff's contentions this way: Yes, the free market is chilly, but that chilliness only provides the opportunity for bringing ourselves consciously together to share in warmth. We still need to engage in that project. Indeed, market society is a constitutive condition of late modern community, not its overriding aim. Ignatieff may be wrong that the market is necessary for our freedom, but he is right in viewing the market instrumentally - a means not an end - which is encouraging enough for me.


Tendebantque manus ripae ulterioris admore

"They were holding their arms outstretched in love toward the further shore"
-Virgil, quoted in George Grant's Lament for a Nation

"So the question that [the founders of Confederation] asked and answered, in their fashion, demands an answer in our time: what exactly is being Canadian worth to us, in dollars and cents? How much are we prepared to invest to keep our country in one piece?"
-Michael Ignatieff

"Money has no motherland"


The Idea of North

I'm still digesting Michael Valpy's conversation with Michael Ignatieff from this weekend's Globe.

Iggy on the imagined community of Canada:

What we know is only a fragment of what is there. We have to imagine the expanse we have not seen. We have to imagine the ties that bind us to our fellow citizens, many of whom may not even speak the same language. ...

We engage in this act of imagination because we need to. The lives we live alone do not make sense to us unless we share some public dimension with others. We need a public life in common, some set of reference points and allegiances to give us a way to relate to the strangers among whom we live.

How does this observation square with Ignatieff's statement that freedom trumps community in market societies? Badly, I think.

I read Ignatieff's meaning to be that the lynchpin of our relationship with others is an exchange built more on the individual's subjective imagining of the other than the shock and humility of engagement with the other's authentic life. An atomized society in which citizens have nothing in common but their need to imagine - without any commonalities regarding the capacity or content of their imaginings.

Fine, you say. Cogito ergo sum. Yet we know that for Ignatieff freedom in the market economy trumps all else. So the freedom to imagine a community precludes any need to subsume freedom to that community: the nation becomes whatever the market economy will bear. The imagination becomes a commodity, and the saleability, self-interest, and self-promotion of an imagined community becomes paramount to success. Chilly, indeed.

I think Ignatieff's obsessive examination and rexamintion of his own family mythology speaks not only to his own fraught attraction to the worst excesses of the Canadian post-colonial inferiority complex, but to his awareness that this complex provides a cagey marketing opportunity. The Ignatieff brand is built on personality: on his intellectual and personal forbearers and on his own genius for cooly revelatory self-analysis in books like The Russian Album and Scar Tissue. Yet this reconstitution of the past is highly selective: a repackaging of Candian history to support the claims of Ignatieff as Canada's "Imaginer-In-Chief."

Ignatieff wants Canadians to see him "as a patriot, someone who is anchored in the country and whose investment in the country is more than a personal matter, more than just a matter of my personal career...a four-generation project." Methinks the fellow doth protest too much.


Cold Snap

As part of the weekend Globe and Mail's Iggypalooza, Michael Valpy speaks with the Prime-Minister-in waiting.

Money quote, at least for me:

...he [George Grant, Canadian philosopher and Ignatieff's uncle] thought capitalism is godless, materialistic and morally relativist. It's not my problem. It never was my problem. I don't mean to dismiss that lightly. But this is where we had substantial arguments when I was young and he was older and wiser.

I like market society because I like its freedoms, and freedom is a very chilly thing. It doesn't give you a metaphysics. It doesn't give you a community. But it gives you freedom. And then you have to decide which of these values in life you want.

He longed, I think, for community. Community mattered maybe more to him than freedom. Freedom matters more to me than anything else.
Pardon me if I find this view unimpressive, unpersuasive, and uninformed to boot.


17 April 2009

Portion Control

The repellantly fascinating intersection of two ostensibly distinct spheres of life in one biopolitical technique:

"While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustain periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision," read the footnote. "While we do not equate commercial weight loss programs and this interrogation technique, the fact that these calorie levels are used in the weight-loss programs, in our view, is instructive in evaluating the medical safety of the interrogation technique."

(Hat tip: HuffPo. Read the full memo, in all its sickening banality and faulty analogy, here.


Terrorism = Crime

Recently released memos confirm what we all already knew: the United States has been in the business of torturing human beings ostensibly for reasons of national security. We know that terrorism, while it leads to an unnecessary loss of life, is far from a grave threat quantitatively [PDF] or, I would argue, qualitatively. Some of the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay did not appreciate Obama's directive that the camp be closed and "prosecutions" suspended - they wished for the death penalty as they wanted to be martyred. Methinks that the obvious solution, which should have been implemented form the get-go, is simply to treat terrorists as criminals. Accuse them of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, vandalism, and so on. Grant them the full protection, scrutiny, and punishment of the criminal justice system. We all know that that system is far from flawless; but to treat terrorism as a seaparate category has already brought out the worst aspects of liberal political community.

Here's hoping to better days for our liberal project?


14 April 2009

Famous People Are Weird (a.k.a.: Megalove goes Mainstream)

It was recently drawn to my attention that some readers of the Hoboken Group may not be familiar with one of the gems of the internet, Laura Snelgrove's blog Famous People Are Weird on the web site of the free daily Metro.

Thus: Famous People Are Weird.


Brand Appeal

Just who is this ad campaign targeting?

I mean, really: interactive shirtless rugby players? Not work-safe - especially the slow-mo shots. Sullivan:

For some reason, I was distracted and mistook the sport in this ad for soccer.
Distracted? Can't think why, Andrew...can't think why.




Across Canada, six federal prisons operate functioning farms. About 300 inmates take part, doing everything from milking cows to fixing equipment to producing food that’s fed to fellow offenders. This summer could be their last harvest: the government recently announced that Canada’s prison farms will be shut down over the next two years. “We determined very few ex-inmates were obtaining work in agriculture,” says Christa McGregor of the Correctional Service of Canada, adding that the CSC spends about $4 million annually on the program.
Idiocy. Unmitigaged, ideological idiocy. Is anybody "obtaining work in agriculture"? Is that really the point? Is farming given so little respect by an ostensibly rural-friendly Conservative government that the skills and work ethic taught through working the land are not considered transferable?

This news is offensive in the worst way. The actions of the current government reach new heights of appaling, self-serving and short-sighted destructiveness on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, our putative PM-in-waiting is busy complimenting an erstwhile one - and it's not Trudeau.


13 April 2009

The Fly in the Ointment

...and the one major problem thus far with the Obama administration. Greenwald:

Simply put, there is no excuse, justification or mitigation for advocating blatantly unconstitutional and tyrannical powers or claiming that secrecy shields the President from the rule of law. Nor is the faith-based belief that Obama is a Good Person who therefore deserves trust even remotely rational or relevant. As Professor Turley put it on Countdown: "It doesn‘t matter if you are a good person doing bad things. You are doing bad things." These secrecy and detention powers are among the most dangerous and tyrannical powers a President can seize, and Obama's attempt to cling to them is deplorable no matter his "motives."
Bagram, like Guantanamo, is an iteration of what Giorgio Agamben, after Schmitt, calls the "state of exception" - the prison camp, in which law and fact become one thing, to the detriment of the humanity of the inmates.

In a way, a hijacked plane is much like a prison camp - its passengers also hostage to the blurring of law and fact. That the West chose to reproduce larger scale sites of exceptions to combat the actions of the 9/11 terrorists does, I think, prove the horrible effectiveness of al-Qaeda's strategy - and the blindness, or at least the acute anxieties, of even a state possessing an administration as enlightened as the current one.

What to do? States of exception are theoretical "black holes" - so perhaps we should let them evaporate, as those in nature do. How would a conceptual "black hole" lose more matter than it gained? And I'm not just talking about releasing the inmates - because that's the easy part.


12 April 2009

Attention Conservative Malcontents

"It's supposed to taste like a shit taco."


Culture Truce

So apparently some Notre Dame alumni and sundry angry Cathos are getting all up in the University's grill about inviting Obama to commencement and granting him an honorary degree while he is so obviously godless in his defense of women's rights. Quoth one alumnus (and Reaganite) in the Times:

[I]t’s important to remember that Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. The school openly flouts the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when it bestows an honorary degree upon a president who supports something anathema to the faith: abortion. Catholic doctrine holds that life begins at conception; as a candidate, Mr. Obama said that determining when life begins “is above my pay grade,” not an answer at all. There is every sign that his administration has a pro-abortion orientation.

The moral conflict could not be clearer. But here’s a solution: Notre Dame should welcome President Obama as its principal commencement speaker but should not give him an honorary degree. You see, policy positions do matter when it comes to honorary degrees, because the degrees honor something.
Win-win right?

But I have the really perfect solution to this "problem." Obama should attend the commencement at Notre Dame, give a gracious but steadfast speech in support of the right to choose, and then decline the honorary degree from the University. That way, a Catholic University doesn't have to hold its nose while begrudgingly handing him a degree, Obama won't be tainted by owning a piece of paper granted by an institution that supports the oppression of women, and yet he will be able to display his magnanimous empathy for the sensitivities of a herd of reactionary morons.



09 April 2009

Volcano Effect (II)

My earlier post on Silvio Berlusconi's abject idiocy expressed some confusion as to why the bigoted crypto-fascist buffoon is still in power - returned to it, even!

Well, now I know why:

Through his media group, Mediaset, Berlusconi and his family control three private national television channels (the family advertising company Publitalia supplies most of the others as well), two newspapers, a fleet of magazines, the biggest cinema circuit, and the country's largest book publisher. Conflict of interest? Ironed out of existence by self-serving legislation that the former hard-pressed and short-lived centre-left government of Romano Prodi never got round to abolishing. Thanks to another trademark law, Berlusconi overruled the constitutional court and legalised his virtual monopoly while consolidating absolute political control over the public service broadcaster RAI.
It turns out few in Italy know what kind of toxic garbage spews out of Berlusconi's mouth - or anything else negative relating to the government, for that matter.

The cradle of western civilization, reduced to North Korea with sweat stains and a pasta maker.


Violence Covereth Them as a Garment

From Larry Hurtado's article in Slate on the historical Jesus:
...Jesus' crucifixion posed a whole clutch of potential problems for early Christians. It meant that at the origin and heart of their faith was a state execution and that their revered savior had been tried and found guilty by the representative of Roman imperial authority. This likely made a good many people wonder if the Christians weren't some seriously subversive movement. It was, at least, not the sort of group that readily appealed to those who cared about their social standing.
No shit. Matthew 10:24-27:
The disciple is not above the master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the good man of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household? Therefore fear them not. For nothing is covered that shall not be revealed: nor hid, that shall not be known. That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops.
At Tenebrae last night, glancing at the crucifix draped amorphously in black during the singing of Psalm 73, the famous image above taken at Abu Ghraib came suddenly to mind.

Anyone who questions the relevance of faith in contemporary public life might consider these things side by side - and also wish the church were louder, and more often heard, when speaking in the light.


08 April 2009

Volcano Effect

Silvio Berlusconi, touring the wreckage of earthquake-ravaged L'Aquila:

They have medicaments. They have hot food. They have shelter for the night...of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping.

In all honesty: how is this man the leader of a European democracy? His mouth is a weapon of mass destruction. At least he didn't cause the earthquake - this time.


07 April 2009

At least the release doesn't start with "Canada's New Government"...

I hope that this will be my final post relating to l'affaire Galloway (because I really do think think the whole thing is best put to bed), but a line in Linda McQuaig's otherwise off-point and fairly unedifying column from today's Star caught my attention:

In March 2008, the Harper government signed a broad-ranging security pact with Israel.

The pact, which has received scant attention in Canada's Parliament or media, established close Canada-Israeli co-operation in "border management and security," under a management committee comprised of Canada's deputy minister of public safety and Israel's director general of public security.
McQuaig's implication is that the Canadian and Israeli governments were somehow in contact regarding banning Galloway.

Frankly, this notion strikes me as silly (not least because the scoundrel would have received a tenth of the publicity had he been allowed into the country), but I was interested in the pact McQuaig refers to. So, off to the Public Safety Canada website! News release is here, and the text of the thing itself is here - it's a Declaration of Intent, not a pact.

As for the documents contents, judge for yourself. The piece explictly declares itself not legally binding. Is it diplomatic bumf? My own instinct is that bumf is usually produced by governments for some specific reason - but as to what that reason is, I can't say. Likely not to explicitly bar loud-mouthed British MPs.

Thoughts? Aldous, what is the precedent for these sort of quasi-binding thingies?


It's Tuesday! Time for the Apocalypse!

Several points in defense of the thesis that if the world isn't going to hell, it's not for lack of trying:

1. Members of the Washington Post op-ed staff - not only Bill Kristol, but Anne Applebaum too! - think that getting rid of nuclear weapons is...a waste of time? I won't bother with Kristol. Applebaum:

...there is no evidence that U.S. nuclear arms reductions have ever inspired others to do the same. All of the world's more recent nuclear powers -- Israel, India, Pakistan -- acquired their weapons well after such talks began, more than 40 years ago.

Doesn't this strike you as both simplistic and a little sophistical? Yet even more bewildering:

...nuclear weapons, while terrifying in the abstract, are not an immediate strategic threat to Europe or the United States.

Except if they go off accidentally - or someone gets the wrong idea. Never mind the creeping normalization of the concept of nuclear war in our cultural psyche. To criticize Obama for the most progressive stance on disarmament in the past twenty years seems laughable - as at least some WaPo columnists have pointed out.

2. Maclean's magazine's Andew Potter links to a post by Vancouver writer Terry Glavin inveighing darkly against l'affair Galloway (in case you haven't been following, a variety of perspectives can be found here, here and here). Glavin:

The bigger story...is a kind of defining moment involves a phenomenon that is playing out on the same tectonic scale as the emergence of a distinctly Canadian democratic socialism in the 1930s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s, and the rise of libertarian prairie populism in the 1990s. As is often the case in such upheavals, journalists are the last to notice.

Something wholly new is emerging in Canada, in all the spaces where the Left used to be, in its activist constituencies, its traditional institutions, and its lexicon. Whatever name you want to give the thing, its noticeable features include a betrayal of progressive internationalism, a pathetic weakness for conspiracy theories, and a routine apologetics for antisemitism and terror. Its outlook is generally parochial, but its global engagements tend to align with fascism’s contemporary Islamist variants, even to the point of objective support for the Taliban.

My sense is that Galloway is a smooth-talking, opportunistic rogue who adapts his popular demagogery to suit the times, and isn't worth all the fuss. I don't dismiss Glavin's broader point entirely out of hand because I have first-hand experience of the kind of attitudes he's talking about - when you're dressed down by a high-ranking person in an avowedly progressive student union for defending the free speech rights of a pro-life group (see Voltaire), you get a sense that the left can sometimes be as heedless of the means used to achieve their ends as the right. These particular battles have raged quietly at the University of Toronto and explosively at York U for at least a decade or more.

On the other hand, the very perpetuity of of these disputes makes me less concerned than Glavin that this sort of sea change is endemic on the left, or even exclusive to the left. I wish Glavin would explain what he meant by "a betrayal of progressive internationalism" -hasn't every Canadian government since Trudeau been variously guilty of that particular sin? As for apologists, they're rife it's true, on both sides of the political aisle. But the Quiet Revolution? I don't think so - in fact, cheering or fulminating against George Galloway is as good a recipe for long-term political irrelevance as I can come up with, and doing anything other than dismissing him quickly and neatly is a waste of time.

3. George Monbiot has an eye-popping piece in the Guardian about the criminally disingenuous favoritism inherent in the UK government's private finance initiatives (PFIs) or as we call them in Canada, public-private partnerships (PPPs). For a good Ontario example of what Monbiot's talking about, take a gander at this Auditor General of Ontario report on the construction of the William Osler Health Centre in Brampton - particularly page 113.

4. David Brooks declares philosophy dead.



Rationalists beware! Obama is a secret constructivist!

"[M]oral leadership is more powerful than any weapon... That is why I am speaking to you in the center of a Europe that is peaceful, united and free — because ordinary people believed that divisions could be bridged; that walls could come down; and that peace could prevail." (Obama Prague, Sunday)

"Human destiny will be what we make of it" (Obama, Prague, Sunday)

"Moving the ship of state is a slow process... States are like big tankers. They’re not like speedboats." (Obama, Istanbul, Monday)


06 April 2009

Why Not Democratize Away Our Mores?

See Luke's post immediately below for context. I really have no idea what Poulos is going on about;I'm not sure what this "legalism" is that's supposedly forcing children to be more sensitive to one another, though I suspect that Luke's right in identifying it with that perennial bogeyman of the American right (sometimes misguided, sometimes not, on this issue): political correctness. And Poulos seems to be saying that this social reprogramming is helping implode the conventional liberal public/private distinction. Apparently, gone are the days when your child's soccer coach could utter an insensitive remark about the mentally disabled without reproach, but gone too are the days when what goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom. Why the two phenomena are supposed to be linked, sadly, is likely to escape any reader who has the misfortune of glancing at Poulos' drivel (seriously, do not follow Luke's link, do not pass Go, do not collect $200, if you want to maintain your mental faculties at their optimal levels).

I also don't have much of a grasp of what Luke is saying, but in this case it's probably because I haven't read Foucault carefully, and more importantly because I don't really understand why it is so important, so good in itself, to curtail our human nature (read: "beastly appetites") or even regard it as "human nature," and not merely contingent patterns of behavior no more eternal than current tastes (which I share) for rather vapid indie music or the passing fad of divine right monarchy.

Poulos seems to be worried that contemporary liberals and progressives have turned the public-private distinction on its head by policing the way children are taught to interact with their fellows while adopting licentiousness towards the "sexual mores of the young" (and what about the sexual mores of the old?). Again, I don't see how this is supposed to work, but it seems to me the problem here is simply that Poulos would like the former to be "re"inscribed in the private realm (and so cast outside the purview of scheming liberal social engineers) and would like the latter to be policed a little, at least to the extent that it is public.

I could point out, additionally, that progressive licentiousness isn't actually such an overwhelmingly totalizing force, given some fairly obvious (and counterproductive) policing practices that have seemed to survive it: the war on drugs and the absurd censorship of movies that masquerades as "content ratings" are the two most obvious examples. But I won't take that road because that argument is too easy to make.

Of course all of these distinctions become pseudo-distinctions when we realize that the "private" is simply what we hold to be felicitous to leave purely to individual judgment and the "public" is simply what we hold to be felicitous to have out in the public forum for deliberation and legislation, and the content of the two is going to shift according to where we think we would like to go as a political community. I don't fear for liberalism, and I don't worry that giving our children a sentimental education by promoting empathy for the feeling of others is going to somehow topple our structure of individual rights (which seems to be Poulos' fear, for I don't know what else it could be). Similarly, I don't fear for the salvation of humanity, and I don't worry that insufficiently policing our children's sexual mores is somehow going to undermine liberalism either.

The bottom line is this: there are some aspects of human life that we generally feel are a matter of public concern, and some that we feel are obviously not, and the content of those two spheres is continuously renegotiated. As long as that renegotiation is carried out in the name of two overriding liberal-democratic principles - "let's not be cruel to others" ; "let's prevent human suffering" - I'm not going to lose sleep over the future of our liberal virtues and values.

Postscript, to make more concrete what I mean: If there comes a day when the country's basements are converted into personal meth labs that are causing a lot of mass suffering, even if personally inflicted, it will make sense for the state to make the content of those basements a matter of public concern, if only to preserve the integrity of the nation's teeth. If there comes a day when bigotry and discrimination become such minute factors in the life of the polity that virtually nobody suffers it at the hands of her fellows, then sentimental education aimed against such behavior may become superfluous and we might safely relegate it to the dustbin.


Postmodern Wha?

I hadn't had the dubious pleasure of reading anything by James Poulos, an apparently prodigiously prolix (or prolixly prodigious?) young conservative blogger, until Andrew Sullivan (whom I generally like and agree with surprisingly often given our respective political leanings) linked to one of his more recent essays, suggesting as he did so that it "prods the left." Since I'm feeling a little understimulated at the moment I decided to take a finger in the midsection and give the piece a read.

Doing so has given me a welcome opportunity to complain, so I guess I've been duly prodded.

The piece in question decries the fact that liberal "legalism" has blurred the line between public and private space while accentuating the urges of of the lower bodily strata (to use a Bakhtinianism) through repression in the cause of political correctness. Money quote - I think:

...our public obsession with security and health parallels our ‘private’ tastes for risk and self-poisoning, and our loving, de-eroticized pieties concerning Respect for All grow apace with our beastly appetite for erotic impieties.

In the face of all this, small-l liberal politics largely bites its lip. The ultimate hero of our civilization is a sixteen-year-old sexpot who saves Darfur and bitchily destroys her rivals, all in a day’s work — Lolita Borgia in a reality-TV production of Legally Blonde 4: Barely Legal Bottle-Blonde Beasts of Prey.
Right. Right?

I'm not going to deny that pinching some late-70s Foucault and throwing in a dash of crypto-titilatory prurience dredges eyeballs- at least, I think it does? - but what all this has to do with "small-l liberal politics" is beyond me.

Poulos is right that the realms of public and private are problematic at the moment, and our capacity to communicate often outstrips our capacity to act maturely - I don't think you'd find a liberal or progressive who didn't agree with that assessment. But does the proscription of public conduct make private conduct worse? And why is said proscription a small-l liberal phenomenon?

Part of the trouble here is that "liberal," "progressive" and other political descriptors are so contested by all sides that I'm at risk, as is Poulos, of making erroneous analogies left, right and centre - if you'll pardon the pun. But I think Poulos has constructed a straw man in the person of the sixteen-year old Darfur-saving, Lindsay Lohan-trashing sexpot - because in whose eyes, other than perhaps those of a coke-addled TV pitch writer desperate not to lose their job - would such a person be attractive?

Let's be clear: the worst aspects of our human natures - those closest to the animal - are now broadcast and rebroadcast, available at any hour for almost anyone to see. But it's the paradoxically distancing and binding effect of the electronic media - disengaging us from the reality of the images or words before us yet connecting us to an amorphous world of fellow viewers - that separates us from the full consciousness of the extent of our culture's abdication of its progressive responsibilities, not the attempts made by progressive politicians, educators and authors to soften the savage breasts of chidren with a little empathy.

If Poulos had read his Foucault carefully, he would know that the rise of the legible citizen - the citizen free to exercise whatever libertinage is permitted by the central power, be it the state, its capitalist symbiotes, or both - is older than the political Left broadly defined. And I would add that liberals and progressives, far more often than conservatives, have sought to curtail power's hold over the individual while harnessing authority's capacity to create the conditions for social and economic improvement.

In other words, I sure as hell am not biting my lip.

Poulous' postmodern conservatism seems, at least from this particular article, to amount to a hyperloquacious plea for the good old days when pastoral power was transmitted through the patriarchal, mystifying and often repressive suasions of official religion instead of through the (at least nominally) democratic mechanisms of the state. The latter is a little - only a little - better than the former, but to imply that the exercise of public power over private mores didn't take place before the era of Big Government - and that our contemporary vices are a direct result of liberal democracy's avowed acceptance of diversity - is sloppy.

I think few actually on the ground attempting to do progressive work - in government, schools, NGOs, wherever - are blind to the challenges posed by our human appetities. To tar these people as misguided at best and hypocritical at worst misses the real problems with power and authority that we, both left and right, face.


The Criminalization of Poverty

As the NYT observes, it's almost Dickensian:

Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments.


05 April 2009

A Rebuttal (II)

Aldous' earlier post on the Russian leadership's apparent irrationality put me in mind of the following learned opinion:

At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity...for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic in form fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries. For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.
You'd think that the author of this quote would back up the Real Clear World piece. Unfortunately, George Kennan has been dead for four years, and the quote above is taken from his famous "Long Telegram" on US-Soviet relations written in 1946 - which is where I would consign any analysis that makes unsubstantiated claims regarding the supposed intractability of Russian strategic aims.


Welcome to Asuncion! Yes, we have no bananas!

If I were a Toronto Star columnist...

...I'd write columns a bit like this. (Or, maybe this?)


03 April 2009

A Rebuttal

The overzealous simplification of complex analytical issues for popular consumption is everywhere and gets me hopping mad most of the time, but here's one case in which I can't let it slide without an appearance on the glorious pages of HG:

Just like the Obama administration, the Bush administration went about seeking to play a “win-win” game with Moscow, pointing out common interests and priorities. It found out the hard way the perils of playing a win-win game when faced with a zero-sum opponent. The Obama administration will surely learn the same lessons; let us hope that it will do so sooner than its predecessor did.
According to the author, the U.S. can't hope to "reset" its relationship with Moscow because the latter is motivated by virulent "anti-Americanism at the heart of the 'Putinist' ideology." This anti-Americanism supposedly obscures or overwhelms the long-term national interests of Russia.

Of course this falls apart if the alternatives aren't "win-win" versus "zero-sum." Obviously the United States and Russia do not have a complete harmony of interests, else cooperation would be irrelevant or trivial, and they do not have a complete conflict of interests, else cooperation would be completely impossible and it would be irrational to attempt to pursue it. Rather, the reality is, as Obama's foreign policy seems to clearly recognize, that the Americans and Russians converge and diverge over a broad spectrum of issues. So, for example, the Russians might not want NATO to win an easy victory in Afghanistan, but to stabilize the country and do so at a high enough cost that they do not remain in the region afterward. And that's precisely why there is room for cooperation.