Sunday, January 30, 2005

Minutiae on Iraq

At In the Agora, Joshua Claybourn writes:
High turnout among the South Africans wasn't seen as the test of the South African elections' legitimacy, and neither should it be the sole test in Iraq.
There are two things that strike me as off about this analogy, one of which is pragmatic, while the other is rooted more in justice. First, the pragmatic: in South Africa, I don't think we were particularly concerned about a civil war or campaign of terror if the white voters were underrepresented. By contrast, this is precisely the concern that drove the movement to postpone the election and has animated many of the dire warnings that the election won't necessarily be a panacea. If Sunnis are greatly underrepresented, this line of argument goes, the citizenry may not feel they have a voice in the government, and may voice their dissatisfaction through violence.

It's the logical corollary of Bush's 'transformative power of democracy' thesis, which holds that if people gain a voice via democracy, they'll channel their energies peacefully. What I find interesting is that the reasoning of many on the left about legitimacy tacitly makes use of Bush's logic. It only challenges the facts on the ground while accepting the force of that logic.

If nothing else, that goes to show that Bush really does have command of the terms of the public discourse.

The second reason I don't find the analogy particularly apt derives from our sense of just-desserts. If the whites in South Africa were underrepresented, well, sucks to be them. In other words, since so many whites directly benefited from apartheid, there's a certain retributive justice in their subsequent disenfranchisement. I've found that my intuitions don't always match up with everyone's, but in this case, if Sunnis don't vote for whatever reason, I have a feeling that the reaction is more likely to be (and should be) 'that's not good,' rather than 'sucks to be them'.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The dangers of analogizing: Exhibit A

At A Constrained Vision, Katie quotes Steven Hayword approvingly:
Others have made the observation that liberals say there is no Social Security crisis, or if there is, we can wait and fix it later, while on the subject of climate change, their position is that we have to take drastic action RIGHT NOW to ward off harm that will not appear for 50 to 100 years or more.
This seems like a pretty weak analogy. I'm no environmentalist, mind you, but if I understand the reasoning correctly, things we do to the environment today will be harder to undo tomorrow. This seems to make a good deal of sense: I save money from throwing some chemical into my pond out front rather than disposing of it correctly. However, it'll ultimately end up costing more to undo the damage I've done, since environmental problems are notoriously intractable and actions, once done, are very hard to undo (check out the size of superfund projects, for example). With respect to global warming, a common argument is that it will be impossible to undo. These are the points with which honest anti-environmentalists (for lack of a better term) will have to grapple.

Briefly, on social security: Hayword writes, "Conversely, waiting on Social Security reform will mean that the costs only grow larger, and the options for dealing with it narrower and more painful." That's pretty uncontroversial, I think. I don't see how it bears on the question of social security, however. In some other world, private accounts might work, but in this world the transition and transaction costs are liable to be nothing short of enormous. If we could magically convert the current system into a private account system, most people would be hunky-dory with it (perhaps with some tinkering at the margins). But this isn't an ideal world, and we can't magically switch systems without transition and transaction costs.

So Hayword has got the key concepts, but he applies them all wrong: if we wait on the environment, we accrue enormous extra costs; if we act now on social security, we accrue enormous costs.

Friday, January 28, 2005

White socks and black shoes?

Regarding the Cheney-as-Pats-fan kerfuffle, Kevin Drum has this to say:
This is not the biggest deal in the world, but it sure is peculiar —
especially since, as the bottom picture from a ceremony today shows, Cheney had
a dark overcoat with him.

That's more-or-less the correct response, and reflects the tone of most bloggers I've read (despite the weirdly overblown frothing on some right wing sites about "elitist condescension"). It's certainly not a big deal, but.....huh? I can say for a fact that my mom would've killed me if I'd dressed like that in a similar setting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rand & Berkely

I have no idea why in retrospect, but I read an article on Ayn Rand by NRO's Andrew Stuttaford in today's NY Sun. I found this part pretty amusing:

Her sagas deal in moral absolutes, her protagonists are the whitest of knights or the blackest of villains, caricatures of good or evil lacking the shadings of gray that make literature, and life, so interesting. Yet "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," at least, have a wild, lunatic verve that sweeps all before them. Like Busby Berkeley, the Chrysler Building, or a Caddy with fins, they are aesthetic disasters, very American aesthetic disasters, which somehow emerge as something rather grand.

I agree with the premise, but not the conclusion that Rand's prose somehow transubstantiates into something grand (as Busby's choreography did). It's just crap. I can see the point: the hackneyed, hyper-formalized style in which Rand writes does resemble the melodramas of the 30s......y'know, I hate the melodramas of the 30s. Total crap. They're good subjects for papers and essays, because there's no subtlety or complexity to get in the way of the operation of ideology, but I think that explains adequately why the only people that seem to like those films are comparative literature students and the like.

I could imagine a counter to that: there's something charming about how the makers of those films didn't have any idea they were doing little other than transmitting ideology. I could see that, I guess; naivete is sometimes charming. That counter also has the virtue of differentiating Rand, since she knew exactly what she was doing and was correspondingly charmless.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

BFF? Liberation Theology and Born Again Political Engagement

(note: the intro is long; I've bolded the first words where the post turns to the meat of the issue)

When I was in college, I was seriously considering applying to some graduate programs that heavily utilized certain marxist and marxian modes of analysis. A handful of people said that I just wouldn't 'get it', however, since these modes of analysis are only fully available to leftists; and despite being a liberal, I'm certainly not a leftist (I love me some capitalism, for example). This bothered me considerably; it just struck me as impossibly daft to believe that some substantive political ideology is entailed by purely formal categories of reasoning.* Since then, I've become more and more interested in the problematic of the division of and relationship between formal reasoning and particular normative, ethical, or political beliefs.

This problematic is particularly stark in the curious isomorphism (structural identity) between certain species of postmodern marxist logic and Evangelical Christian logic. For example, when it comes to pedagogical indoctrination, both hold strikingly similar positions; as I wrote elsewhere:
The view of many evangelical Christians tracks certain post-structuralist and marxist views: there's no such thing as a neutral study, and the claim to neutrality is itself a deeply ideological and evangelizing act.

There's a weird, arational tension here for me; as much as I love marxian analysis, when evangelicals deploy it, I want to cry foul.......but why? I actually agree with their reasoning to an extent, but like my less-than-encouraging college pals, I claim that reasoning for my team.

All of this extended introduction brings me to this (very smart) post at Harbinger about liberation theology. This passage caught my eye:
In general, I accept Hauerwas’ ‘church as polis’ ecclesiology. Such a notion of the church guards against the compartmentalization of political and theological attitudes, a partitioning that inappropriately renders theology irrelevant to the political, one of the most important features of human existence.
Purely formally, this boundary-elimination seems wonderful to me. The compartmentalization is a reification of a staid Victorian ideology that starkly splits the private from the public; this split, in turn, enables the social power structure to operate within the private sphere, leaving the subject without a political venue in which to seek recourse. The antidote: The personal is the political! So far, so good.

For me, however, this acceptance of the formal reasoning embodied in the above is belied by my negative reaction to the deployment of said reasoning by the Religious Right. In fact, one could characterize the recent emergence of the Religious Right as a mass acceptance of this formal reasoning; they determined that their religious lives aren't, or shouldn't be, divorced from their lives in the body politic, and acted on that reasoning. To sharpen that point, it's precisely that conflation that liberals have been absolutely railing against since the Kerry/Bush race. Their argument is based on the concept of Public Reason: for a democracy to be legitimate, its decision must be based on ideas that are accessible to everyone.

There's clearly a tension between these two ideas, however. My question is: how do we reconcile them? Do we argue, as my leftist college pals did, that the formal reasoning of 'the personal is the political' entails certain substantive political values? Do we abandon the normative notion that 'the personal is political' is always good? To do the latter ends in an adjudication between substantive values that seems arbitrary to me. Or do we bite the bullet and admit that 'the personal is political' isn't good or bad, and that its value rests solely on the substanive beliefs that are being justified by recourse to 'the personal is political'? Finally, should we abandon the idea altogether that the personal is the political?

* A bit more technically, marxism may entail substantive political beliefs if one holds all of Marx's ontological theses, one of which is a belief about the essence of man (for Marx, man is homo economicus; our sense of worth is derived from our labor and its fruits). Jettison that one belief, though, and the substantive political beliefs about state redistribution are no longer necessary. Since marxists jettisoned those beliefs long ago under the sway of post-modernist denials of essentialism, it was clear to me that one can be a contemporary marxist and an unabashed fan of capitalism. That's me in a nutshell.

Iraq & the War on Terror

At Damascus Road, Guy reiterates the common contention that Iraq is one front on the war on terror:
The current conflict we are engaged in is not just a “war against Iraq". It is only one front in the ongoing global war against terror. Secondly, one would have to have just dropped down from another planet or just taken off their tinfoil hat not to realize that there is only one exit strategy…and that is victory.
One thing that is rarely seen, however, is a full explanation of just how the war in Iraq relates to the broader War on Terrorism. From what I've been able to glean, the argument seems to utilize these propositions:

P1: Democracies don't support terrorism (the domestication thesis: formerly unruly or hostile peoples can be tamed if their 'energy' is channeled into acceptable forms of political action)

P2: When one country in a region becomes a democracy, people in surrounding countries will transform their own countries into democracies (the domino thesis)

P2': When one country in a region becomes a democracy, the pressure exerted by people in surrounding countries will render State support of terrorism politically infeasible.

For the moment, I'll bracket the commonly cited objections that: the above is too State-centric, and thus is an inadequate reaction to the problem; and that it is impracticable, since P1 requires that the new democracy is fully functioning and has control over all of its territory in order to prevent terrorists from setting up shop in unstable regions.

At the moment, what interests me are the arguments for the plausibility of the domestication and domino theses. Why would we believe that democracy will necessarily, or even probably, lead countries to ally themselves with America in the fight against terrorism or al-Qaeda? The domestication thesis seems to presuppose some curious 'magnetism' among democracies. This magnetism needs to be explained, or an alternative posited. If one argues that democracies will probably or likely gravitate toward one another, I'd imagine that a well-argued version would discuss what likelihood is sufficiently high to take the risk, and what adverse consequences may flow from the failure of democracies to gravitate toward one another.

With the domino thesis, P2 appears to be the most frequently encountered; I added the version P2' as a more moderate, realpolitick version as a suggested alternative in case P2 is found wanting. To put my cards on the table, P2 just doesn't seem very plausible to me; while talk of revolution is common enough, actual revolutions are far and few between. I would think an adequate defense of this prong of the argument would discuss the larger foreign policy in which P2 could gain some plausibility (for example, the combination of internal political pressure and external incentives, such as the Millenium Challenge Account, will foster democratic reform).

At any rate, I find the Bush/neocon vision very interesting, if for no other reason than it's incredible grist for thoughtful mills.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Christian victim mentality

Bad Christian seems to suggest that Christians pull the victim crap out of some sincere & stupid belief that they actually are persecuted. I'm not so sure; I know plenty of card-carrying members of the Religious Right (hi, Matt!), and they're not stupid. In fact, some of them are shockingly intelligent despite their inane political and theological beliefs (hi, Matt!). This strongly suggests that they're being politically cynical; they see that the victim card is a winner, and co-opted it for their team.

Certainly that's behind the utterly retarded abortion=slavery meme. I'd bet dollars to donuts that that particular bit of insanity was drawn up at the marketing department of Focus on the Family. On another note, I find it particularly amusing that identity politicking is now being re-appropriated by the left. As much as I loathe this particular form of discourse for its exploitation of emotion at the expense of reason and whatnot, it seems to work.

Where have all the post-colonialists gone?

At Liberals against Terrorism, Praktike writes of Bush's emphasis on liberty (or freedom, depending on your taxonomy):
...I do think Bush is sincere or at least, he thinks he is sincere about spreading liberty abroad. But I think his utopianism is crazy and dangerous, frankly....I just want to point out, repeatedly, that his approach is the wrong one and is likely to backfire and lead to more problems for the world as well as many more dead Americans at home and abroad.
I agree with Praktike on the major point here: Bush's emphasis on freedom is both reckless and overly nebulous; to be more specific, the former derives from the uncertainties inherent in the latter. Whether or not Americans will suffer is a question I'd bracket for the time being, but good arguments could probably be made for it.

To reconstruct Bush's logic (loosely speaking; it's more of a mythology than anything): the creation of political freedom, the right of the People to self-determination via democracy, somehow awakens a desire for substantive liberty, which would include things like freedom of religion and speech, minority rights, due process, etc. What absolutely needs to be explored is this nebulous somehow mechanism. On the face of it, I flat-out don't see why the formal political freedom leads to substantive, classical-liberal liberties. To the contrary, my post-colonial spidey sense tells me that we have to be verrrrry careful when the concept of freedom - as culturally loaded a concept as one is likely to encounter - is deployed. There are several different senses, and not all of them are compatible with Western models of a good State.

So, to refine Praktike's post, Bush's endeavor is not so much crazily utopian as it is philosophically naive and politically reckless.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Anal Philosopher? Not so anal, apparently

Here's the Anal Philosopher quoting Bobby George approvingly on same sex marriage:
It is certainly unjust arbitrarily to deny legal marriage to persons who are capable of performing marital acts and entering into the marital relationship. So, for example, laws forbidding interracial marriages truly were violations of equality. Contrary to the published claims of Andrew Sullivan, Andrew Koppelman, and others, however, laws that embody the judgment that marriage is intrinsically heterosexual are in no way analogous to laws against miscegenation.
I find it a little disturbing that a philosophy professor, of all people, is so blind to the banality of this, which simply presupposes that "the marital act" is vaginal intercourse. There's really not much more going on here than the same old marriage essentialism argument (if you can call it an argument), not unlike something the General would write.

When propaganda is changed midstream.....

Via Pandagon is this incredible exchange with our cerebral Great Leader:

The Post: Will you talk to Senate Democrats about your privatization plan?

THE PRESIDENT: You mean, the personal savings accounts?

The Post: Yes, exactly. Scott has been --

THE PRESIDENT: We don't want to be editorializing, at least in the questions.

The Post: You used partial privatization yourself last year, sir.


The Post: Yes, three times in one sentence. We had to figure this out, because we're in an argument with the RNC [Republican National Committee] about how we should actually word this. [Post staff writer] Mike Allen, the industrious Mike Allen, found it.

THE PRESIDENT: Allen did what now?

The Post: You used partial privatization.

THE PRESIDENT: I did, personally?

The Post: Right.


The Post: To describe it.

THE PRESIDENT: When, when was it?

The Post: Mike said it was right around the election.


The Post: It was right around the election. We'll send it over.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm surprised. Maybe I did. It's amazing what happens when you're tired. Anyway, your question was? I'm sorry for interrupting.
Some may not know the context of this baffling exchange happened, so here's Josh Marshall to give some background:

Long-time readers of the site will remember that Republicans long called their plan to replace part of Social Security with private investment accounts 'privatization'. It was their word. They came up with it, embraced it, etc. That was until the 2002 election cycle came around and word went out from the NRCC to stop using the word 'privatization' and try as much as possible to get reporters to stop using it too.

Suddenly, 'privatization' was a slur, even though it was the Republicans' own word until word came down from party central to start zigging and by no means zag.

So the above is Bush pretending that no one - ever - used "privatization". Kinda skeezy, if you ask me, and all the more for its transparency.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Best. Movie. Ever.

The proprietor of A Small Victory is asking for back-up on her opinion that Starship Troopers was a Fine Film.

Piece o' cake. Starship Troopers ruled.

In the comments, ejh writes: "You're not alone. It's a good movie as long as you don't try to take it seriously."

Which may be true, but it's an even better movie when you take it way too seriously. Verhoeven uses what appears on the surface to be a mindless action movie to unearth the fascism at the heart of democracy (or nationalism...or something). That's most clearly evidenced by his use of fascist iconography and propagandizing (he famously quotes Triumph of the Will, for example).

My pet theory about the film is that it's a cinematic rendering of Hanna Arendt's thought on fascism. One of Arendt's most intriguing ideas is that fascism is somehow necessarily bound up with racism and misogyny. The film correlates the former with speciesism [ed: and I had hoped that I'd have died without uttering that word...] and directly refers to the latter in one of the most outrageous sequences I've ever seen. The scene in question is at the end, when the "brain bug" is in the lab; the strange thing is that its mouth really, really looks like a giant vagina. As if someone would miss the point, when the scientist "penetrates" the mouth/vagina with some spiky probe instrument, a "CENSORED" strip covers the action.

All the while, an authoritative male voice is triumphantly detailing the progress humans have been having against the killer vaginas from outer space.


Thursday, January 13, 2005

Democracy v Democracy+

Over at In the Agora, Paul Musgrave has a very thoughtful response to one of the standard 'Democracy only works with Christianity' stump speeches (this one from drooling representative Mark Souder of Indiana [ed: Indiana? Shocking!]. As he points out, these arguments are typically poorly thought out (if at all - there's a minor industry that just churns that pulp out), and demolishes the argument in summary fashion through empirical evidence to the country.

The correctly reached conclusion:

The perfectly plausible and--to millions of people for a very long
time--convincing arguments that slavery and, later, racial discrimination and a
denial of women's rights were Biblical in origin surely should weigh in Souder's
moral calculus....

So what does it mean when Souder expresses himself thusly? It means that
he is, bluntly, ignorant and a fool. Ignorant, in that he's unaware of the
democratic success of the non-Christian nations of Japan and India, as well as
the continuing survival of democracy in agnostic countries like the U.K. and
most of Western Europe. Foolish, in that he's unable to realize how Christianity
has accomodated itself to various forms of political organizations--monarchy,
feudalism, social democracy, even imperial Rome--and that other religions may be
able to do the same.

What would Soulder's response be to this? I'm sure it would be this: "But, you see, those weren't real Christians that supported slavery and racial discrimination.

To me, of course, the imagined response seems laughably arbitrary. I'm sure we could also define 'Christian' to mean all sorts of things, from the requirement of voting Republican (many have tried to stipulate that) to belief in inerrancy of the Bible (many have tried to stipulate that), yet these all seem bizarrely arbitrary.

The reason I bring this up, though, is to supplement Paul's criticism. In his speech, Souder said, "Does democracy in Iraq mean the majority Shia, upon winning, can deny rights to women and to religious minorities, not to mention exact revenge upon the Sunni? Why not do these things if the only standard is democracy?"

Implicit in this "Democracy+" approach (meaning procedural democracy + substantive liberty), though, is a deeply conservative critique of bringing procedural democracy to Iraq. If, as Souder suggests, "Democracy +" is only available to Christian nations, then why have we spent all this money? Souder should've been a loud opponent of the war, or at least of the attempt at democratization. His political stance, in other words, severely undercuts his theoretical position.

For what it's worth, I remain deeply skeptical of the approach (championed most prominently by President Bush) that Democracy will inexorably lead to Democracy+. Since there doesn't seem to be any internal or logical nexus between the two, a discussion is long overdue of the relative merits of an enlightened despot that guarantees substantive liberty versus a procedural democracy in which substantive liberty is severely curtailed. Of course, by Souder's lights, in which there is a nexus if and only if the country is Christian (whatever that means), then the whole project is bust from the start. In other words, Souder is still a fool.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Baudrillard on 9/11

"It is almost they who did it, but we who wanted it. If one does not take that into account, the event lost all symbolic dimension to become a pure accident, an act purely arbitrary, the murderous fantasy of a few fanatics, who would need only to be suppressed. But we know very well that this is not so. Thus all those delirious, counter-phobic exorcisms: because evil is there, everywhere as an obscure object of desire. Without this deep complicity, the event would not have had such repercussions, and without doubt, terrorists know that in their symbolic strategy they can count on this unavowable complicity."

We support this with the unforgettable Onion headline from their incredible 'Holy Fucking Shit' 9/11 issue:

American Life Turns into Bad Bruckheimer Movie.


Ethics and the Limits of Philosopht

Over at Pandagon, Jesse writes:
Charles Krauthammer is on Fox News Sunday advancing the line that we can all envision a situation in which we use "rough stuff" (i.e., torture, although coming out of M.C. Krauthammer's mouth, "rough stuff" sounds like a new cookie for some reason) - the fabled terrorist who knows where the nuke in NYC is but won't tell....

In much the same way, the perverse fascination with torture (and the Coulteresque arguments on the right that, well, of course they're against real torture, but that naked pile of men is barely even mistreatment) isn't about security, and it isn't about saving lives. It's about beating the shit out of some people in a way that makes them feel better about beating the shit out of some people.

I think this is more-or-less correct. The ticking time bomb hypo seems to suggest that there are times in which torture would be justified (or even obligatory), but the problem with applying this lesson to real life is that real life simply isn't a hypo. The ticking time bomb hypo (an old saw for utilitarians) is designed to isolate the ethical issue, and to stipulate the epistemic problems out of existence. The work that the hypo does is to create a limit situation; it is designed to be impracticable. It's crucial to note that, by its own terms, the hypo doesn't address every moral issue; it only addresses the limit conditions of one particular moral issue, and once the contrived epistemic limits are relaxed, other ethical concerns emerge. Utilitarians (and who else brings up the ticking time bomb?) ought to be uniquely sensitive to other concerns that have to be balanced against the initial insight that torture isn't always unacceptable.

The above roughly tracks a common criticism of utilitarianism: while their hypos may isolate certain intuitions about abstract moral reasoning, the messiness of the real world renders those insights unusable - while this is always a danger for moral philosophy, it's especially so for utilitarianism, which, by its own lights, is a balancing act of all relevant facts and conditions. In other words, once we let in the real world, the calculus changes.

So Krauthy etal may be able to argue that, in a vacuum, we'd be justified in torturing someone wearing a 'Hi! My name is Terrorist! Ask me where the bomb is!' sticker, their argument doesn't get them any further. Since that proposition seems relatively uncontroversial (to the point of banality, in fact), the vast majority of their argument ought to be directed at the messy uncertainties that exist outside of their ivory tower. (Chuckles Krauth: this would be the perfect time to bring up variants of Jim and the Indians).

The fact that they don't bother asserting the most important part of their own argument, then, suggests that they really don't care about reasoned argumentation: they just wanna tear shit up.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

You'd think this would be a fake quote...

....but I haven't found anything suggesting that it is.

Rob Sherman:
"What will you do to win the votes of Americans who are atheists?"
GW Bush:
"I guess I'm pretty weak in the atheist community. Faith in God is important to me."
"Surely you recognize the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?"
"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."
A page on the site goes on to say:

After Bush's election, American Atheists wrote to Bush asking him to retract his statement. On February 21st 1989, C. Boyden Gray, Counsel to the President, replied on White House stationery that Bush substantively stood by his original statement, and wrote:

"As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government."

Things that make you sick

From Slacktivist:

Most people in Rwanda in 1994 were Christians. Most of the victims, as well as most of the killers. Those of us who also call ourselves Christian must somehow account for this.

I can't help but notice that Ntakirumana's Adventist church is the same branch of Christianity that gave us the modern heresy of Darbyism and the premillennial dispensationalism and prophecy mania of Darby's heirs. I have argued previously, many times, that this religious perspective is dangerous and insidious, inspiring a perverse and self-fulfilling hope for cataclysm.

Yet for all that, there is little in Gourevitch's account that suggests that Pastor Ntakirumana and his countrymen were acting from a particularly religious mania. Despite their nominal Christianity, the driving force behind their participation in Rwanda's genocide seems rather to have been their embrace of the Hutu Power ideology that seems to have supplanted their faith.

Ntakirumana's dispensational views may not have caused him to embrace a murderous ideology, but neither did it prevent him from doing so. Like the "two kingdoms" Lutheran theology of early 20th-century Germany, Adventist dispensationalism may have left its adherents ill-equipped to oppose the rise of such evil.

And what of the other Christians of other denominations who participated in and carried out Rwanda's genocide?

One explanation, of course, is that these people weren't really Christians at all. This sounds like a cop out, an easy escape, but it's also exactly what John writes, repeatedly, in his first epistle:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. ...

And yet.

And yet they called themselves Christians. They went to church. They prayed the "Our Father" to our Father. And then they picked up guns, machetes and clubs and killed hundreds of thousands of their brothers and sisters.

Gourevitch writes with a bewildered horror and unblinking honesty because this happened. This happened and yet the world has never really looked at it, has never really accounted for it.

Nor has the church.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Anatomy of the stinginess affair

I've been pretty surprised with how crazily American media (which includes bloggers) has gone with respect to the 'stinginess' thing. When the controversy first erupted, I figured that what would have ensued would've been an in-depth examination of the metrics of giving: how is giving measured (per capita? raw numbers? how much is private giving compared to government spending?). Any number of interesting discussions could've followed from that. For example, is private giving more moral than public giving? To what extent does America have some moral obligation to help the world given the benefits we get from a globalized world? And so on.

Instead, we've seen a frenzy of UN-bashing and borderline-hysterical defenses of America as 'the most charitable nation on earth' (two things about that: absent an intelligent discussion of how we measure that, how can we tell we're the most charitable? Perhaps it hasn't been raised because the conclusions wouldn't shine well on us? Second: what's with our obsession with being the 'most' charitable? Why can't we just settle for 'really' charitable or something? The obsession with superlatives has always struck me as silly.).

One typical response has been to point to the amount of money that Americans have donated so far, and to conclude that Egeland has been conclusively rebutted. It's interesting, though, that Egeland actually predicted - correctly - that the amount of giving for this disaster would be quite impressive:
I think an unprecedented disaster like this one should lead to unprecedented generosity from countries that should be new and additional funds, cause I wouldn't want to see many of our friends, the donor countries, depleating their natural disaster coffers the 1st two weeks of Jan. then have nothing more when we come to other disasters.
The concern animating this is that donor countries will spend a lot of their money on the tsunami, and won't have anything left for spending on other humanitarian projects. To put it differently: he's saying that there will be 'unprecedented generosity', and that's the problem; their generosity will sap budget outlays for other problems or disasters.

Bjorn Staerk gets it right here:
Egeland denies that he criticized the US for its response to the tsunami - what he meant was that rich countries in general don't give enough to poor countries unless there's a big crisis to prod them.
Egeland's concern was for relief aid that isn't a mightily spectacular disaster that plays well on TV. And really, this is a criticism that's all too common of our nation: we only pay attention to big shiny things. This is a criticism that's as common on the religious right as it is on the secular left. In short, pointing to aid given for the tsunami just misses the point.

Egeland later clarified his remarks. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted:
U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland praised rich nations Wednesday for their generosity in helping victims of the tsunami, but stood by his criticism that the rich do too little to assist the poor when there are no emergencies.
Per the 'USA! USA!' spin on the story, though, this was inexplicably spun as Egeland 'backing off' of his criticisms.

At any rate, I wonder if this stat might explain a bit about the crazed reaction:
A 2001 poll sponsored by the University of Maryland showed that most Americans think the United States spends about 24 percent of its annual budget on foreign aid—more than 24 times the actual figure.

If I thought we gave that much and were categorized as stingy, I suppose I might go ballistic, too, I suppose. Instead, I'm left scratching my head at how off-the-rails the public discourse has gone. It could've (and should've) led to some interesting questions about what we should do, how we measure that, etc. It's been a real missed opportunity.

What happens to terrible movie ideas?

Here's the answer. This guy's site reproduces the awful movie ideas that have been to him.

Truly brilliant. Here's a sample, but it really doesn't do justice to the rest:

The protagonist's challenges throughout the story are:
1) A seagull attack gave him Seagull Herpes, an incurable disease that will soon kill him.
2) The seagull attack also tore a bone within his calf in two. His best medicines are herbs and acupuncture, so the bone never fully heals, and it causes internal bleeding for him to walk. The story involves him running a lot.
3) He has to save his continent from a thing that is destroying it. A corporation has been selling an additive in forms like cigarettes that is not a virus, drug, or nano-machine. Nobody knows what it is, but the smell causes addiction. Withdrawal is fatal....

The year is 3126 and a cataclysm three centuries ago had caused a dark age. Whether this is good or bad is open to opinion....The corporation that caused the cataclysm intended world domination, but they split into six corporations that have feuded amongst each other....Most places are a wilderness and the wild animals left alive are farm animals and pony-sized dogs.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Insane in the membrane

This is totally rad: it's a "rapture index." Ya see, they count all the instances of "beast governments," globalism, ecumenism, "marks of the beast," etc., so that we can see the quickening of the end of the world.

This explanation is brilliant, and totally unhinged:

You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer.

Oh. Ok.