Monday, January 22, 2007

On the first part of Lacan’s Seminar on the Purloined Letter,

Lacan’s reconception of Edgar Allen Poe’s text around the question of repetitive automatism (simply put, the unconscious repetition of an action deemed consciously undesirable) begins with the necessary groundwork for determining Lacan’s definitional contours of the unconscious. If we take seriously Lacan’s formulation of the unconscious as the discourse of the Other, we certainly have to understand how this works even on the abstract level of Poe’s fiction. This formulation works as an intersubjective complex, which I hope to explain in this piece.

In the story, Lacan identifies three ‘glances’ that are based on the perspective of characters in the story. This is complicated by the fact that in the story itself there are also implied characters which actually are only hinted at (but must exist in order for the story to function), but are not actually represented in the story proper. So, the implied character who is described as the “personage of most exalted station” is called the Queen by Lacan, and the person whom the letter is being hidden away from is the King. The first ‘glance’ is shared by the King and the entirety of the Parisian Police i.e. they are the ones who cannot ‘see’ what is happening around them in plain sight. The second glance, that of the Minister and the Queen, are the ones that ‘see’ the apparent inability of the King and Police to see. The third glance is Dupin’s, who not only sees the King/Police’s inability to see, but also sees the Minister’s and Queen’s manipulation of the situation. This is the intersubjective complex, which in Lacan’s analysis finds its displacement onto the object of the letter.

In simple Freudian terms the anxiety that results from the letter is focused on the Queen’s tendentious position. If the letter embodies her feminine sexual knowledge (inferred from the Police commissioner’s diction of honor and shame), then the revelation of that knowledge to the King would simply be the recognition of his status as a cuckold. However, the story is brilliant, in a sense, because of Dupin’s explanation of how he was able to obtain his third perspective or ‘glance’; it was based on his analytic ability not only to read the situation, but to also read the second order characters (Queen, Minister).

In this respect, I see this as another example taking Freud to the next level, another example of which can be found in Stanley Cavell’s chapter on Freud in Cities of Words: “[Freud] likes to insist that his insights into the human mind have been anticipated by the creative writers of our civilization. His claim for himself can be said to be that he has systematized the culture’s power of insight into a new science.” (p.287) This systematization of cultural insight into a new science is where I find the intersubjective complex. It is an example of a system within the definitional pattern of Luhmannian systems theory—i.e. a system that is operative within the closed narrative of Poe, and yet functions as an example of how the unconscious is the discourse of the Other. Within the King’s unconscious is perhaps the horror of the possibility of being a cuckold, within the Minister it is the knowledge of being able to reveal that fact at the detriment of the Queen, for the Police commissioner it is the recognition of the potential volatility of the letter but not of the simple location of the letter itself, and finally for the Queen who is only effected if the physical evidence of the letter is ever shown to the King himself. Yet, what about Dupin? Is he part of the intersubjective complex? The question of both recognizing the system and of being within the system is an interesting one primarily because if this is true that actor would be in a privileged position of knowledge, and therefore of power. In effect, this person is worse than the character of the Minister (who apparently is merely pursuing personal gain) because of the fact that he is the only free agent. The Minister has no reason to hire his services (since he already has the letter), and as such can be only of use to the Queen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Adorno on Pseudo-Rationality

In the introduction to The Stars Down to Earth, Adorno attempts to illustrate how through seemingly rational decisions one could arrive at an irrational outcome. The over-emphasis of say 'self-interest' as the categorical impetus of rationality could result in obscenely irrational situations. Adorno speaks of Realpolitik as a possible societal equivalent of this phenomena, where states acting in an 'overly self-interested' manner might result with tragic consequences:

"While the calculations of self-interest are pushed to extremes, the view of the totality of factors, and in particular, of the effects of such a policy upon the whole seems to be strangely curtailed. Overly shrewd concentration on self interest results in a crippling of the capacity to look beyond the limits of self-interest and this finally works against itself. Irrationality is not necessarily a force operating outside the range of rationality: it may result from the process of rational self preservation 'run amuck.'" (p. 47)

So within the closed system of self-interested rationality all actions are justified by the rules of the isolated system itself, even if it violates standards of rationality in the 'greater' supra-system. It can play out this way for a number of situations, say for example within inner-city gangs violent crime and even murder is justified within the rules of gang-conduct, even if it is clearly against the laws of the society the gangs reside in. In the bubble, the rules are different--and now you can probably think of multiple bubbles where this is the case. Perhaps even the supra-bubble of 'society' is only rational within its own limits. Outside of society, the system is probably different, even if it is uncertain. And besides, how can we determine what is rational if we cannot recognize immediately what is irrational? The problem of the known and the unknown, constantly haunting our certainties. What if something you thought you knew is not true? People used to think the world was flat, even intelligent what gross misunderstanding of the world are we living under today?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Young and the Restless

As a somewhat avid reader of Michael Young's op-eds in the Daily Star, I was a little disappointed when he stepped up to the plate and took a swing ( at writing in a world class newspaper. I actually was not too sure if he was actually writing as much as pandering, but either way, the message was clear enough. Israel should not have attacked Lebanon because it was the height of the tourist season; really, why couldn't they bomb the airport, in say, November? I guess he misses a very basic point, something that aught to be obvious especially for someone residing in Beirut, but anyway, I'll highlight it for him. IT IS A BAD IDEA TO BOMB A NEIGHBORING COUNTRY BECAUSE OF THE ACTIVITIES OF GROUPS IT CANNOT CONTROL. PERIOD. FULL STOP. It has the operational effectiveness coefficient of zero. And seriously, I don't care if it is the height of the tourist season, but that really shows where your concerns lay.

And besides that, his sort of geopolitical analysis has about as much sophistication as a toddler spitting out his food. Are you kidding me that there are no lebnanis who are seriously pissed off at Israel right now? Oh, and you say that even your shiite friends are angry at hizballah? Where are these imaginary shiite friends? I really think that comment is outright delusional, or you assumed that arabs don't read the new york times so you can get away with it.

Now lets get to the restless. I think we can focus in on the real source of the problem, which I place squarely on the shoulders of Ehud Olmert, soon to be known as Israel's reincarnation of his holiness the Jimmy Carter. It was his initial incompetence at dealing with the first Hamas-backed hostage situation that has put them in this mess. Instead of taking this backpage news story of a kidnapped Israeli soldier (who literally looked like a kid) and solving it behind closed doors in an agreeable give-n-take, it has now blown in his face as a possible conflict with either Syria or Iran, or perhaps both. When Hezballah saw that he does not know how to play by the rules of the game, they got their own hostages. The reason I am sure is that they were waiting for an egg-head like Ehud to escalate the situation. Only in an all-out conflict can they gain strategic ground. When world powers begin throwing their weight around in the conflict can the tectonic plates begin shifting, and this is what they want to take advantage of. Well, Olmert, mission accomplished old chap. If your next missile is towards Damascus, the casualties will be in the thousands. And then, with or without Bashar's permission, a crazy general with the entire Syrian arsenal of biological and/or chemical weapons will be unleashed on the Golan. The 2006 vintage of Manishevitz is going to taste unusually awful, even by kosherim wine standards, with a sizzling palate of anthrax and a hint of sarin gas in the aftertaste. The other scenario is that they go to the source-source of the problem and bomb Tehran. All of a sudden every Iranian will be strapped with an AK-47, and crossing the Iraqi border in droves to set the motion towards WWIII. The Iranian navy will close up the straight of Hormuz, oil hits at $8.00 a gallon in Wichita, and then China is going to remind everyone like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction who is the fucking Shepherd of this nuclear valley of death. Either way, trading that soldier for some women and children in Israeli prisons does not seem like that bad of a deal after all. You see, Ehud, its not that any of these countries and groups exercise any real effective force in this conflict; but they can drag a fellow down a pretty deep, dark hole. Learn the rules quick, or you'll start thinking how lucky Sharon really is.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Logic of Rendition

As this latest rendition scandal breaks out into the public eye, it aught to be an opportune moment to openly contemplate the fate of the unknown casualties in this war on terror. A chill goes down my spine whenever I see a memorial for unknown dead soldiers, such as the one in Arlington National cemetery or the base of the Arc de Triomphe, as the image of a human so mangled that all efforts at recognition would prove useless flashes across my eyes. If such a strong reaction of sympathy can be felt towards combatants, what of the innocent casualties of war? The huddled family shot into pieces and their corpses dragged into a mass grave; the displaced agrarian waiting to die of dysentery in a refugee camp; the child stepping on a land mine; or the village carpet bombed because of a technical error. War inherently has a senseless ferocity that comes along with it, as the ability to exercise tangible force against your opponent is the only way to prove that you can follow through if your demands are not met. The unknown soldier and the unknown casualty of war can be seen as two sides of the same equation. In the greater balance sheet that is geopolitics, it is scary to think that in the end this could only be a zero-sum game.

Men memorizing each other's phone numbers in the dark, so in the off-chance that one of them gets out he can call their families to tell them that they are still alive. How would such a conversation go? Can you imagine making that call? What would you say? That your father/brother/son is lost in a big black hole? The logic of rendition makes it inevitable that this off-chance of someone getting out will have to become smaller and smaller. The incentive for those practicing rendition to actually release captives diminishes substantially when their captives are actually innocent. In this markedly skewed view of justice and security, you can trust the guilty, but it is the innocent that you have to worry about. If there is an off-chance that your captive is not innocent, is torturing him justifiable if it can save the lives of thousands? This unfortunately is no longer a theoretical question posed by budding ethicists in a classroom, but rather a matter of real practical ethics. This is what justice is to a soldier; to minimize casualties for your side and maximize them for the other. Yet there is more than an off-chance that this logic could be wrong. If we confuse security for justice, we run the very real risk of losing both. And then we would all potentially become unknown casualties, our fate either televised ad infinitum or dispensed quietly in a dirty back-room in Kabul, as the war on terror fights terror with even more terror.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Masking the Un-Masked

With Apple's release last week of boot-camp, allowing mac users to finally be able to run windows on their, um, macs, we have reached the final resolution of one of the great corporate struggles of the 20th century. Unfortunately, PC owners cannot use OS X, but that is to be expected. Reciprocation is over-rated in Steve Jobs' universe. Unless of course it is very lucrative, in the case of the iPod. Of course if Jobs stood on principle in that case and made iPods only Mac compatible he would have been a veritable iDiot--but let us not ignore the larger repercussions of this transition. A mac running windows. Think about it, its like the Cold-War is over. Coca Cola is being sold in a vendor by the Red Square. Plans of world domination usually end up in one of these pernicious compromises. So can someone tell me what it means to have a mac? Has it always been our dark hidden desire, as mac users, to finally be able to run free in the application-rich fields of Microsoft Windows? I agree with Lacan that the desire principle, unlike jouissance, is based on the impossibility of actual gratification--once that desire becomes a reality, it is no longer of interest. In fact, it could become a shock for a subject to realize that the thing that he or she desires is not only possible but now a reality. Or is it more like jouissance in the sense that you can now revel in it, almost masturbatory, a sort of final connection with the Other. When I saw the MacBook Pro running XP, I was flabbergasted--speechless for a moment, then I remembered all those versions of UnReal that were denied to me in my childhood, trying to convince myself that Photoshop LE was as much fun and performed better on my Quadra 650 than any PC. Why that mattered is hardly the appropriate question, the times they are a-changing--uniformity is the name of the game in a globalized world. You can't possibly have two different political economy systems, they have to be one. You can't have multiple capitals for cinema, it has to be one and it has to be hollywood. The next thing I predict is that Coke will invade Pepsi, and then the Capitalist Messiah will appear and begin the final End of Days Sale.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

When is it a Civil War?

When is it a Civil War?

As the media maelstrom caused by Husni Mubarak’s comments clears, we need to make distinctions between the semantic rubble and the actual situation ‘on the ground’ in Iraq. On the one hand we have the journalists who wish to see the situation as a temporal construct with a clear linear plot. For many journalists, ‘civil war’ is merely another act within the greater drama of the Iraq War, yet they are at pains to distinguish when the curtain goes down on the previous act. On the other hand we have government officials (of all stripes) trying to show that this is merely a period of political instability that will eventually resolve itself into a more robust national entity. I would even depict the latter as the position put forth by the Iranian government, whose dream scenario would be a continuation of shi’ite political dominance with a steady representation of its own theocentric blend of democracy in both executive and legislative branches. A recognition that political power currently in Iraq is so closely wedded to physical power is tantamount, especially considering that this configuration has been put in place by the world’s most physically powerful force. If the US military cannot provide localized security (with the notable exception of the touristy ‘Green Zone’), the local militias are attempting to fill the gap. This however comes with a catch: How can you tell a local militia from an insurgent group? Welcome to the semantic rubble, or a game I like to call “when is it a civil war?”

The problem here is one of terminology, and it is hardly new. Even as the twin towers were smoldering, there was a silent debate over how one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. If radical Islamism is the only cogent adversary to the globalized capitalist system, then we have to recognize that this was due to its near dominant entrenchment in the recent post-Soviet historical period. When the crash of the Asian markets did not end with tangible military repercussions, we took it to mean that the world has matured enough to withstand periods of high uncertainty with a great deal of self-restraint. It now seems to us impossible to conceive of a situation where Malaysia would invade Thailand, or even Singapore, but there was also a point in history when in periods of hardship you went to your military for help rather than the IMF. For non-state actors, that luxury is obviously non-existant, and thus we have a situation where they are the only entities that still rely on physical force. What you have in Iraq is a large collection of non-state actors; the majority of which is local, but is amplified by new comers from the Arab states and Iran. Does anyone have any statistics about the number of Iranians in the Mahdi Army? Or the number of Iraqis in Zarqawi’s organization? No, but it would be foolish to think that it’s zero.

If the situation right now is unclear, then let us look at the political moment immediately preceding this one. During the Iraqi elections, very few journalists were using the term civil war to describe the conflicts on the ground, and this to me seems perfectly accurate. Everyone was not in a constant state of warfare with everyone else. Friends of mine who lived through the Lebanese civil war describe a situation where every street in Beirut had its own political party with a small militia. Each group was fighting whoever they perceived to be an immediate threat to their security, and causing a dizzying configuration of bizarre alliances, like Druze/Sunnis vs. Shi’ites, Philange/Shi’ites vs. Sunnis, or any other configuration you can think of. You did not have that situation in Iraq, even after the elections the the three major groups of Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds remained relatively autonomous even when collusion would have been favorable. It would make sense for the two smaller groups, the Kurds and Sunni’s, to unite against the colossal Shi’ites–but the Shi’ites seem to be doing a better job of dividing themselves into smaller tangible units with the inability of Sistani to completely control Muqtada al Sadr. No doubt Iran is the great puppet-master in all this, but it makes you wonder if they have all their ducks in a row.

What I envision happening has very much to do with the question of “when will a civil war break out?” First, what needs to happen is for some Iraqi’s to recognize that which is all but inevitable; that the socio-ethnic distinctions put forth by the Americans and the media is flat-out wrong. It is awfully bad American ethnography that comes from a flawed academic understanding of Iraq. To understand why it is flawed we need to look at the social experiments that Iraqi society has been going through for most of its modern history. You can de-Baathify the army and the bureaucracy overnight. But you cannot change what the Baath regime has done to the people for over 30 years.

Part of the problem is that westerner’s don’t take the nationalist efforts of third world countries seriously; they consider them to be ‘barely countries’ and in no sense as ‘nations’ per-se and certainly not ‘nation-states’–a category they think is only applicable to the great western nations. I have no doubt that a westerner would consider Djibouti to be a country in the official sense; it sits in the UN assembly, it issues passports, etc. But this modicum is not enough in western minds to be considered as a ‘nation’ or a ‘nation-state’ because it lacks not only the industrial capacity but also the intellectual capacity. For one thing, most third world states did not define themselves (like France and Germany), but were defined by the colonial powers when they found the colonial arrangement was no longer tenable. Djibouti in a sense does not have a ‘history’ because its history was defined by others. Their power structures were put in place both by a hazy concept of self-determination, care-taker exiting colonials, and the western educated elite. The natives are in a tenuous position because it is their expected role to resist these efforts at modernization, thus causing a structural failure from the outset but one where the countries can sit ’side-by-side’ with other countries on the level of appearances. This arrangement is for the most part an illusion; once the colonial powers that be left the scene, a lot of self-definition was beginning to take place. Just by teaching several generations of children their national anthem, a re-interpreted version of their national history, and the overall inculcation of political values we have the processes of a societal reconfiguration. We tend to focus in totalitarian regimes on the coercive measures taken in order to punish deviancy. However, what we end up ignoring is the rewards the citizenry get for cooperation; in this case, complete integration with the Baathist social program.

What this integration entails is something that is ignored in the American analysis. I first described the failure as stemming from a flawed academic understanding of Iraq. It is because of the emphasis in American social science on understanding social change rather than how things stay the same–the latter they conceive as merely ‘descriptive’, the former as ‘analytic’. Descriptive work for them is boring, and for one thing, it entails a certain familiarity with a culture that they have been avoiding since 1991. Analytic work for all its rigor is still somewhat speculative. The American’s assumed that the split will be between ethno-religious lines–in fact, I would argue, they encouraged it. Sunni/Shi’i is a divisional category they can understand, even though in isolation they have no idea what makes a Sunni sunni or a Shi’i shi’i. But on the other hand, understanding the situation in Falluja or al-Anbar was not something that was in the initial analysis; hence the shock when they turned out to be the hardest places to control. Had they known they were going to be difficult zones, they would’ve bombed them instead of only focusing on Baghdad. They just had no idea, because no one described to them the social situation in the ground. They just hired an anthropologist who told them the theoretical social categories based on ethno-religious grounds.

What I think the Baathist program was attempting to do was in fact to blur these ethno-religious divisions because it was inimical to its socialist (and nationalist) foundation. The Baath has a great track-record at having an ethnic minority (like the ‘Alawis in Syria and the Sunni’s in Iraq) to rule over other majorities–but this minority did not however control the entire government. Theoretically, if every Sunni or ‘Alawi was to be employed in the government, then you would in no way have enough physical bodies to run it. In fact, even if you only put one ethnic group in all managerial positions, you still could not run it. If the bureaucracy and the military was entirely of one ethnic group, you would’ve had a coup a long time ago. But what they did do was put the people they trusted most (family members, old neighbors, etc.) in the most sensitive positions. Its how they governed Iraq, not the way they organized their society. I am sure that Tikrit got favorable treatment because its local son was running the show, but you benefitted from the improved services in Tikrit if you were a Sunni or a Kurd. And the better proof of this was that the party itself was full of Shi’ites; in fact, the numerical representation of Shi’ites in the Baath party was even the majority. In the long-term social program, it would have been a matter of time before a Shi’ite rose to party leadership, but at that point it wouldn’t have mattered because Iraqi Nationalist/Baathist identity would have been completely hegemonic.

I think the Iraqis will have the societal cleavages for a matter of time, but eventually they will recognize the certain elements they all share. Socialistic thought was something they were taught as children, and it is clear that communitarian element is still strong on their mind. Yankee individualism is simply not the mode they are used to, and the gap is currently filled with Islamism, something that is also somewhat foreign to Iraqi society, but far more comprehensible. However, I think one of the things that Saddam was able to instill is the relative secularization of Iraqi society. Of the four largest countries in the Middle East–Saudi, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey–I would even bet that Iraq is second only to Turkey in its secularism, and even then I would qualify this with a ‘maybe’. So the Islamists, who get so much coverage in the news, will eventually be rejected as a major force because it will run out of numbers. Barring any sort of religious awakening (like in Palestine with Hamas), secularism will still be something that many Iraqis will agree upon. The other thing is socialism. Let us take a look at a quote from Hegel:

“The property of many is, on the one hand, the absolutely identical relation of persons in recognition;–on the other hand, it is mediated by the arbitrary judgment of each individual, which makes a certain thing into their property as against the others’. Recognition is recognition not only of the abstract, but of the real personality of others, that is, of their judgment, and what is or could be my property is dependent on them as well as on their judgment of what is mine.”

–Hegel, Encylcopedia of the Philosophical Sciences #411

What I think is pertinent to this analysis is the idea that some Iraqis will come to a recognition that the natural resources of Iraq is ‘the property of many’; the ‘others’ will be those who deny this communitarian instinct. The Islamists will always say that the resources are those of God–the secularists will have none of that bullshit. When this recognition begins gaining force–be it from continued or even amplified hardship from the American mismanagement of the occupation, or their ultimate withdrawal–we are going to have a major civil war. The message will be one that a lot of Iraqis will be willing to fight for, and in terms that they can clearly understand. They will fight the Islamists (both Sunni and Shi’ite), the weak puppet government, and each other in a manner that will dwarf the current situation because of the sheer numerical augmentation. I really don’t think that most Iraqi males between 15 and 45 have Islamist persuasions; but I do think that they are more than happy to be part of a socialist/nationalist party. These will begin popping up under different banners, each a variant of the Baath but of course completely disavowing their parentage. Some of them might integrate radical Islamist rhetoric, or develop a form of Islamic Socialism that is substantially different than the Post-Muslim Brotherhood message of Islamic investment banking. What you will have is that every street in Baghdad will become its own political party, just like it was in Lebanon, and every single one of them will attempt to replace the old Baathist system under a new banner. It is, after all, what they have been taught to do, and something the Americans can’t seem to replace with anything better.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Tried this new browser called Flock thats based on firefox. Overall has really cool features, such as a user-modified search field--having wikipedia is a huge time saver--and some really cool but quirky blogging tools">Flock. Ok, now I have no excuse to ever leave my browser.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Civil Society and its Evil Twin

There is nothing more convenient than polarity; by simply having a position, the other can be taken simply for granted. Yet there is significant difficulty, or dare I say logical inconsistency, in comparing something with the lack of it. Nothing is simply nothing, so you can not say that it is merely something else; a case in point deals with our understanding of what it means to have a civil society. "They", of course, don't have it, but we certainly do. We therefore have Justice, their streets are riddled with crime. And this is how the basic conception of the issue is framed, beginning from something that is lacking, and henceforth commencing into diametrically opposed configurations. Justice - Crime. Of course, these are all heuristic tools to discuss how one side is superior to the other, and to think for a moment that we have advanced from the days when the Greeks would call their linguistically variant neighbors 'Barbarians', we would certainly be mistaken. All that has changed is the terms, the logic (or lack thereof) remains the same.

Monday, December 26, 2005

well, if you can't spread democracy... might as well save their souls:

I guess gmail identified me as a disgruntled arab male in search of the real salaam. I just hope none of your federal dollars go into this shit.

Has anyone heard the orthodox patriarch from Antakya? Here in kuwait, the arab bbc radio has him on serious britney spears-esque rotation. However, I am not so sure if his comments were directed so much to appease the arab world as much as a back-handed way to insult other christians, especially the crazy protestant missionary groups in Iraq. Clearly, all we need now in Iraq is a heavy dose of millenarian fundamentalist christianity--you know, the kind that defined the term fundamental. Teach the Zarqawi-ites how to really go nuts. Or maybe, try to script this conflict like the one waiting to re-explode.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Love and Hate and the Flaming Lips

I think it would somewhat of an understatement to say that I've run the gamut of emotions with the band known as the Flaming Lips. I think a lot of my problems as an appreciator of music (or my preffered arabic term, thuweeq, which literally means 'taster') can be seen in both embryonic and complex forms in my attitude towards the lips. They are a band I constantly 'discover', in the sense that I hear a song of theirs in a radio or in the soundtrack of a movie, and I am always surprised--no, in fact, shocked--that it was a band I used to listen to but no longer certainly care for. But then you fall in love with the particular song, and your guard just goes down. I liked the lips like 'way back in the day' which at the time seemed a progression away and a development from my love of pearl jam, phish, and the smashing pumpkins. At first they felt more 'sophisticated' as it where, but that sort of grows old when you realize they are more a modern incarnation of the grateful dead. For the dead meets SXSW.

As someone who has been more in the music making side (at least in dilletant fashion), I've gotten a new found appreciation for what it is the lips do. They are being sponteanous in a very orchestrated way. Now this may sound oxymoronic, but what I am talking about is that a lot of ther spontenaity is a product of the studio rather than a live jam a la the dead. Its more like manu chao than jimi hendrix. At some point the lips do let go, they just happen to be wearing loafers and are in front of a mixing board. Lately, I've been jaming beautifally along with my sampler, but the second I turn on the record button on my laptop, I start playing like someone is aiming a gun to my head. Its really hard to let go, even afterwards when you look at what you have and have a certain amount of flexibility. I have over 300 gigs free, I can freakin record ALL my jam sessions and STILL have space for copious amounts of porn and episodes of the OC. I am happy with certain tracks I've recorded with just three fingers, as my index is undergoing a nitrogen oxiding of a wort.

Which comes to my point about the lips; as a band I liked 'way back in the day' they are surprsingly dissapointing in the present. Like Moby, it felt like the thing that was so real in hindsight was actually pretty contrived. It can never be reproduced, or even re-interpreted a la Liszt. It just was and formed the sound of a generation.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Seriously now, who is this guy?

So, Safire's replacement has a great idea: Lets ignore terrorist bombings. I guess if we ignore them, then they aren't really happening, right? Is this guy kidding? Here's a gem: "I'm not advocating official censorship". So I guess the unofficial kind will just have to do.

Tierney claims that the suicide bombings are taking away from the reporters precious time to cover what he considers to be real news. Isn't someone blowing himself up and tens of people around him not real news? Or is it just because it is happening in Iraq, and involving mostly Iraqis that it does not matter? I seriously dare him to look into an Israeli Mother's eyes and tell her "I really don't think that a suicide bombing in an ice-cream shop in Tel Aviv should be reported." Of course, Israel is nowhere mentioned in this report, so he is clearly only taking about the poor buggers who die waiting in line to join the Iraqi police force because unemployment is so bad that they are willing to do anything (including risking their lives) to feed their families. In Arabic we have a super caustic expression, "ma lahum rub?", which translates to "do they not have a god?" It means, roughly, are they not human beings, or are they like ants, their pain and misery is somewhat irrelevant in the larger scheme of things?

The purpose of the media is to report the events in the order of importance. 50 killed and over 200 injured is far more important of an event than phonelines finally reaching some village in Al Anbar. Oh, maybe they shouldn't report the all-out offensive going on in Al Anbar because if too many American casualties (which is likely) would just be a bummer in the news cycle. Though I wasn't here, everyone tells me that in 1990 the Iraqi invasion absolutely invaded American TV stations, who had round the clock reporting. This was an event that initially had nothing to do with Americans, but they were absolutely bombarded by it. Now, that America has actually invaded a country, we barely hear anything nor see any footage of Iraq. What's shocking about sitting through About Baghdad is that I realized that we don't really get to see what Iraq looks like at all. I argue that, in fact, Tierney's objection is totally without merit. We simply do not see enough footage of what is going on over there. Perhaps if we did, Americans would begin to understand what is really going on, and how hard it really is, instead of this fuzzy smokescreen where all we know is that things are somehow both "sorta going badly" and "a massive improvement". Just compare what the BBC is doing, they are reporting from the ground constantly, and guess what? The brits didn't pull out, nor did they kill Blair politically, but they sure gave them a piece of their mind before voting him back into office. Why can't the American leadership handle the same pressure? Are these guys leaders or moody adolescents with delicate feelings?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Iraq's Sunni Human Rights Minister Rejects Nomination

According to the Times, Hashim Al-Shilbli rejected the offer because: "Concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state, and for that reason I respectfully decline the post." If this is truly his opinion, rather than an out of context blurb, then I think he is right. It seems that the purpose of the new government is to see how many different colors of the rainbow can we fit in one institution, rather than hiring competent people to fill the roles regardless of their ethnicity. I personally like Talebani, but primarily because I think the Bush administration will be wonderfully surprised that you can take the man out of the militia, but you can't take the militia out of the man. He was a revolutionary who carried arms for Kurdish sovereignty, and in this way I think he is more akin to the post-American Revolution generals who got into positions of power. The tragedy would be that he would begin dealing with social problems by applying military solutions, which would be a continuation of American policy any way.

I think the sooner we de-militarize the conflict, Iraq will be in a better situation. They have to acknowledge that there are many insurgents who are Iraqi, and they have a legitimate right to be actors in their own country. Kicking out the foreign Jihadis should be the number one priority, and after that it would be to reach out to newly Islamized militant groups and placate them before they get seriously organized and entrenched in the Iraqi cultural psyche. If that happens, it won't be sunni radicals versus everyone else, but rather different groups will begin coalescing. The shi'is who miss the days when Muqtada Al Sadr carried some weight will begin re-organizing, no doubt with assistance from the fringe Iranian elements exporting the revolution. America has two options, neither of them in any way pleasant:

1. If they keep their forces, it will inevitably end up as a proxy war between the US and Iran, with the use of the rising police force versus the Jihadis.

2. They can begin leaving or minimizing their presence, and let the matter be settled through a controlled civil war. Eventually, the Iraqis in government will realize that negotiations are not so hideous, after all, these fellows are in the end of the day Iraqis.

The problem with American foreign policy mindset is that they already think its a proxy war between them and the "terrorists". Remember the press conferences when they suggested that it was better to keep the terrorists occupied "over there" rather than have them plotting to attack US cities? Over there, however, is slowly being considered to 'belong' on some ideological level to America. It is, after all, America's great democratic experiment in the Middle East. This is their pet project, just like South Korea was, or Japan, or West Germany. The officials always shy away, however, from comparisons with that pet project that went seriously awry: South Vietnam. This is not to say there are no serious differences, except that Baghdad is now slowly replacing Saigon as that exotic city in the East where their boys get to see the world and enjoy some serious R&R time. But guess what? There will not be a Baghdad version anytime soon of Miss Saigon. But cable TV certainly is catching on here about the concept of being Over There.

Al-Shibli is right, by emphasizing which ethnicities get what, you are making a forced pluralism that will encourage sectarian tendencies. Instead, you should be working on developing (or re-developing) a unified Iraqi identity. This has happened in the past, during the Iraq-Iran war, the Iraqi Shi'ites fought hard on the Iraqi side of the conflict. If the Shi'ites, under a dictatorial regime that seriously alienated them, were able to embrace their Iraqi nationality over their religious group, then what is going on now is destroying that sense of Iraqi identity that is necessary to build a future unified Iraqi state and society. Right on Shibli, too bad we won't be able to see you in a position of influence anymore.

UPDATE: Apparently, Al-Shibli was the Minister of Justice in the provisional government. He might've seen this new position as a demotion, which I think he might be right. If anyone has any more info about him, it would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Comps accomplished, apparently am distinctive

Woo hoo! Passed the MA comprehensive exams, got "Distinction" (I guess the academic equivalent of Bling-Bling, pointless but somehow necessary). I know once you get your Ph.d. your grades are permenantly sealed, so no one can see how badly you did in say Core Bio if you end up as a bio-ethicist or something. I guess it stays on the good'ol vita, which is a relatively public document (unlike a resume, which you rarely find on the web). I am wondering who it would matter to, and the only thing I can think of is for Phd thesis grants. Surely not when they are hiring. At that point its all scholarship and good looks.

In other news, went to see a kick-ass show by the Decemberists and though I am not usually a fan of pale white geek rock, their lyrical integrity was startingly impressive. It was in the 9:30 club, and if you know that venue you know how loud it can get, but you could still actually hear the lyrics. To be honest, I don't remember a show where you can actually hear singing, perhaps Smashing Pumpkins in San Fran circa Ava Adore. The only thing I worry about these guys is shelf life, like I really can't stand to hear Belle and Sebastian now. Postal Service so far is carrying well, I like the bounceyness of the drum machine tracks, but I am not too sure if you can include a drum machine as a permanent member of your band. You know, there is a lot of good music these days, like Nine Inch Nails single "The Hand that Feeds" was really impressive. I didn't think Trent Reznor could get out of his downward spiral, but alas, I am proved wrong. What happened to my Grime fascination? Who knows, think that was a little too ahead of the curve. I really don't like this post, has absolutely no point to it except taking me away from my final paper for Ken Pollack's class.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Taliban? The Texiban!

Highschool cheerleader's in Texas will soon see restrictions on the 'sexiness' of their dance, restrictions on outfits, and a whole host of dirct government regulations on suggestive pom-pom use. In related news, Max Hardcore commits suicide.

Saturday, April 30, 2005


This is just a gentle reminder to myself that I got to comment on this piece by stanley fish. Wow.

Slick move, Mr. Brooks

Does anyone actually believe that Harry Reid made that secret promise to Frist? With Howard Dean as DNC chairman? Does Brooks think the democratic party is all about unilateral decision making? I think David Brooks here is doing something far, far more sneaky. He is trying to use his clout on the NYtimes op-ed page to make it look like Reid is re-nigging on the 'secret promise' when they actually reach a fair compromise about the filibuster. That way, months from now, he can point back to the article and say "You know what, Frist was right, these demo-gogues should not be trusted." Does he not realize, he still has sometime to go before he becomes Thomas Friedman?

But the times op-ed page is slowly evolving to what I think is quite a strange beast. With Safire out of the picture, its becoming a constant debate about the republican party. Even today's Frank Rich article really does have something interesting to say, and its certainly not what Mr. Rich thinks it is. I must attest that I am slowly moving towards political atheism, the divide now is no longer about issues or even ideology, but about making sure you are the chosen ones who will redeem the earth. Rich thinks the republicans are merely trying to be hip; what he is really revealing is that the party is tearing apart at the seams. South Park insults the Christian Coalition in ways we haven't even begun to understand, regardless of what the libertarians still in the party would want to believe. This party, like any large hegemonic religion, is prone to sectarian tendencies. The Chalcedonian debates have yet to take place, but somewhere in Comedy Central a media-exec is smelling blood. It certainly won't come from the major news networks, which today seem to be reporting about a fantasy realm that is appropriately only 2 channels away from Nickelodean and the Cartoon Network.

I have argued in the past that it will be a split between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives, but I've always wondered about the form it would take. It might be a more cultural split, which in this case means the fiscal conservatives will begin feeling the ire or even restrictions imposed from their church-going buddies. Or it could certainly be one based on self-interest; when the lower middle classes begin realizing that they have been primarily voting for religious issues and failing to monopolize on what the government can do for them. When they realize that ordering drugs from Canada is such a short term solution that you could miss it if you blinked, they'll be hankering for Hillary Clinton's health care plan. Prayer can only go so far to pay the doctor bills, and unlike other religious groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the evangelicals do not have a good track record in building hospitals.
Post on Plagiarism

I posted this comment on an interesting discussion on plagiarism in the Becker-Posner blog:

Two points:

First, I was surprised Mr. Becker did not mention counterfeiting in scholarship. For example, one can state what is effectively his or her opinion, and then call it "the Durkheimian position". This is something I admit I have done on occasion to strengthen my argument, the academic equivalent of a fake "Gucci" insignia. Though it may have some semblance to the original product, but like a counterfeit the idea is to be impressive at first glance, especially when you don't expect too much scrutiny.

My other point is what happens when plagiarism happens through osmosis? What I mean is that it is hard to sometimes remember where certain ideas come from, and one might confuse what they think is their own original thought to what they heard on NPR on the drive to work. The Rolling Stones a couple of years ago got into trouble when a single of theirs actually sounded a lot like a song by K.D. Lang. Keith Richards stated that he owns no records by her, but he acknowledged that he might have heard it over the radio or somewhere else, and that the tune might've stuck. He actually blamed it on old age, and said something along the lines "We try so hard not to sound like our older albums, that we really don't pay attention to when we start sounding like someone else". This one is harder to pin down, when is the plagiarism intentional, and when is it a mistake? On the other hand, didn't Newton and Leibniz both develop calculus independently and at roughly the same time?

Monday, April 25, 2005

Fatties Fighting Back

David Brooks and whoever this guy is have gone on the fatty offensive it seems. Is it just me, or is this just a facet of a larger trend, if you will, one that is also responsible for that bacon-fest known as the Atkins diet? Are Americans beginning to fully accept their excesses and begin shedding one of the last forms of guilt that I believe was in some measure responsible for american greatness? Say what you want about American prudishness, but how Spanish male drivers keep their eyes on the road with naked boobies on billboards everywhere is beyond me. Can you imagine what would happen if there was an open amsterdam-style red-light district in New York? Or hash bars in berkeley? Nothing would ever get done.

This slow dissolution of the Weberian protestant work ethic is somewhat disconcerting, but to be honest the american homeland has been ahead of the curve by at least decades. My dad when he went to school here in the 70's later commented that the average american woman looked like Roseanne Barr. Now that might be an exaggeration, but the recent trends and warm weather have induced scantier clothing patterns in the Georgetown female population. No doubt thanks to Paris Hilton (who her parents aught to be shot for picking such a coy name), exposed midriffs are all the craze, but while some expose a patch of continuous flesh, others have been rather oozing out of their low-waist jeans. There just simply must be a better way out. Tight sometimes just ain't right.

I guess the moral should be is that putting up such high physical standards no longer makes sense. Working out should be tempered and perhaps fun, not a training regiment fit for a marathon runner. America is certainly the land of excess, but whether or not that is a good thing is somewhat up for debate. I am sure that for previous empires, excess was the ultimate display of imperial success. I like the point Tierney (really, where did they dig him up from? Is he Safire's replacement?) made about how only the wealthy can afford the personal trainer, the nutrition plan, the tummy-tuck/stomach stapling. Is the underlying thing behind obesity is not how well fed you are, but rather how economically distinctive it makes you? If its more expensive to be thin in an america where you can stuff yourself for a couple of dollars a night, then that will be the desired ideal? Perhaps, but then again, my fat cats in the middle east don't seem to carry that baggage around. Well, I guess that is partially why they try to get married early, then go on lifelong binge towards heart failure.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Becker-Posner on Country Size

I posted the following comment:

"I have a somewhat related question about institutions & country size. Since the US is so large, is it then more beneficial for the US economy to increase immigration rather than increase outsourcing? Would the country size argument be somewhat in support of this, in the sense that by taking away the managerial and creative talents from large countries such as India and China, it would increase the talent pool for the US and decrease it for other countries?"

I guess the subtext which I shied away from explicitly saying is that should people begin to worry when americans start immigrating to say China & India? Does that reverse brain-drain become an accurate indicator of civilizational tilt? I guess language barriers are somewhat severe, but then again it hasn't stopped the indian or the chinese person from coming to the US. I had a discussion with Jake Katz about this, and he thinks the immigration will go towards countries that will have an auxilary role for China, but are still western-friendly (say australia, singapore, hong kong, etc.) Will the middle east play a similar auxiliary role? I think it might as well just stay as it is; i.e. the Amaco of death for the world.*

*The Amaco of death is a gas station in a nasty intersection in hyde park which is known for its "higher than average occurance" of shootings. It also happens to be the only place to get cigarettes & snacks in the middle of the night. So, like my hood of origin, its a funny place where desperation and risk meet.
Coming to the uncanny realization that I might be a Mets fan

Ok, so today I saw the Mets absolutely demolish the Nationals, which reminded me why I never actually sat through a Expos game before. It was becoming Expo-nentially more painful to watch as I came into the game with a mild allegiance to the nationals due to my current area code. But anyway, since I had Diaz, Cliff Floyd, and Kaz Matsui on my fantasy team, I could not stop being happy to see it going into double digit runs. But then they started showing footage of the fans in shea stadium, wrapped up in raincoats sitting through that depressing april drizzle, you could see them being genuinely happy that they were winning. They were smiling, but it was not the gloating smile-like sneer of Yankee fans were their content comes from their realization of what they consider to be an inevitability, or the screaming yelps of Red Sox fans who seem to be two seconds away from a stroke with every run scored inching them closer to the end of days. No, the Mets fans had a restrained joyfulness about them, as if they were not going to interpret this current run of wins, they were not going to begin worrying about their play-off chances, they were just going to enjoy the moment. They know what suffering is; they actually have the record for worst season in the 20th cent, 40-120 (ouch). But now, now they are just gonna smile. I think if the Buddha watched baseball, he'd be a Mets fan.

On they other hand, they do also know the meteoric rise, like the 'miracle mets' who got the 1969 pennant (just 7 years after their unfortunate record). And to be sure, they have probably seen more play-off action than many other teams. But comon, you gotta wonder in a city where the tenacity of its citizens is somewhat notorious, that the real symbol would not be Steinbrenner's yanks. Constant winning is for the suburbs, where a culture of buying the best to achieve the best is second nature. Being wildly inconsistent is what makes a lot of a cities attitude, the volatility is somewhat ingrained. The highs are high, and god-damn the lows are low. Within blocks you can cross over from the wealthiest real estate on earth to some of the most abject poverty in the developed world. I am not usually high on yankee bashing, but I am starting to see how it would be interesting to prove their paradigm wrong by seeing real new yorkers actively rooting for the mets. Like in chicago, I love the sox and the cubs, and I realize there is somewhat of a cultural war going on in the background. But you see the irony is that the newer flashier stadium is in the poorer south side, while in the north they are the bastion of baseball conservatism--even their teams are built around opposing philosophies that would make sense idiosyncratically if it was reversed. I understand the suburbs bring in another dimension in terms of funding, and that the generic stereotype is not exactly true. But there is to some degree a harmonious relationship between the two city teams, and I sort of wonder if there was a conscious effort to make sure that it happened that way. What I guess I'm saying is that the Yankees are trying to be new york's cubs and sox; the rich dynamic team and the one rich with history. Where does that leave the mets? Well, at least in this last run, smiling...

Monday, April 18, 2005

What the hell?

Did you see tonights episode of 24? Lessons to be learned from the episode:

1. Being for due process is apparently also support for the terrorists.

2. Amnesty International is merely a puppet of Al Qaeda (well, sort of like #1).

3. Torture is always justifiable.

4. If the bastards in #2 interfere, get private citizens to do the torture for you. (Think your gov't giving itself over to Timothy McVeigh. Its funny, for a show that started out as hostile to terrorists, now becomes an avenue to support it).

I know that the show is not supposed to be source of moral or ethical whatever. But it is amazing they manage to find new audiences to piss off. First Arab/Muslims, now its going against democrats, the ACLU, the global NGO community, the list can go on. I am sure there is somewhere a plot line that has america in direct military confrontation with the UN. Better yet, since the nuke codes are being distributed in terrorist chat rooms all over the world, why not nuke the world in some sort of 'pre-emptive strike'. Thats like putting in their cherished apocalypse in fast forward! (Ok, I really don't care that much about this show, but I have to do something with when my blood boils after i killed an hour seeing it instead of doing reading for class.)

My most sincere apologies to the people I subjected to my other blogging experiments. I am very very sorry. Maybe third times a charm. Or charming. Could go either way.