PONY PARTY… it’s an OPEN CORRAL, i mean forum


You know, I only have so much material. To be entertaining that is. You know how I found this out? Babysitting my nephew. When he was around 3-years-old. A three-year-old knows everything and everything they know is correct. Did you know that? It’s true.

But I am limited and finite. And so was my ability to sing songs, play with blocks, talk funny, and make up stories. It was humbling, I have to admit, to know I could only go toe-to-toe with a toddler for about an hour and a half… at most.


The kid did teach me some things, though. He helped me to forget being a grown up when I was with him. He helped me to remember lots of kid stuff in general… songs i used to sing and books i used to love. And he gave me something hard to explain: the understanding that giving is a completing act.

Love that kid and his brother… the baby of our family will be my next story… what are your babysitting stories???

here he is:Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucketgo ahead, talk, play, and be excellent to one another…


America Dreaming

Chips and Cancer: Who Knew?

The AP published a story by Todd Lewan which is full of descriptions all sorts of problems with public safety, science and ethics in the US. Underlying it all is the active resistance to both governmental and private organizations and individuals to do the right thing. Over and over and over, known problems are hidden from view, and appointed government officials jump from their positions where they have oversight and regulatory authority to the very organizations for which they were charged to oversee on behalf of the public interest and safety.

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved implanting microchips in humans, the manufacturer said it would save lives, letting doctors scan the tiny transponders to access patients’ medical records almost instantly. The FDA found “reasonable assurance” the device was safe, and a sub-agency even called it one of 2005’s top “innovative technologies.”

This story chronicles the problems with the implanted RFID chips commonly found used in pet identification, but which have also passed FDA approval for use as medical identifiers in humans.

But neither the company nor the regulators publicly mentioned this: A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had “induced” malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats.

“The transponders were the cause of the tumors,” said Keith Johnson, a retired toxicologic pathologist, explaining in a phone interview the findings of a 1996 study he led at the Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich.

Leading cancer specialists reviewed the research for The Associated Press and, while cautioning that animal test results do not necessarily apply to humans, said the findings troubled them. Some said they would not allow family members to receive implants, and all urged further research before the glass-encased transponders are widely implanted in people.

To date, about 2,000 of the so-called radio frequency identification, or RFID, devices have been implanted in humans worldwide, according to VeriChip Corp. The company, which sees a target market of 45 million Americans for its medical monitoring chips, insists the devices are safe, as does its parent company, Applied Digital Solutions, of Delray Beach, Fla.

Once again, a Republican appointee acted in a way that is a clear conflict of interest with his role as the head of the FDA and his jump to an agency that he should have had no dealings with in any capacity. HHS continues to exhibit this unethical pattern with Dr. John Agwunobi’s leap from his Assistant Secretary of the HHS position to that of Wal-Mart’s Director of Health and Wellness position.

In the latter case, the AMA and the state medical board where Agwunobi is licensed should take a hard look at this disturbing breach of the public trust.  Public health officials deal with patients as communities, and this is surely a breach of the physician patient relationship.  Who can trust Agwunobi when his alliance is clearly to an organization paying his salary instead of as a professional advocate – as his profession stipulates – to his patients?

The FDA also stands by its approval of the technology.

Did the agency know of the tumor findings before approving the chip implants? The FDA declined repeated AP requests to specify what studies it reviewed.

The FDA is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, at the time of VeriChip’s approval, was headed by Tommy Thompson. Two weeks after the device’s approval took effect on Jan. 10, 2005, Thompson left his Cabinet post, and within five months was a board member of VeriChip Corp. and Applied Digital Solutions. He was compensated in cash and stock options.

Thompson, until recently a candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, says he had no personal relationship with the company as the VeriChip was being evaluated, nor did he play any role in FDA’s approval process of the RFID tag.

“I didn’t even know VeriChip before I stepped down from the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said in a telephone interview.

Also making no mention of the findings on animal tumors was a June report by the ethics committee of the American Medical Association, which touted the benefits of implantable RFID devices.

Had committee members reviewed the literature on cancer in chipped animals?

No, said Dr. Steven Stack, an AMA board member with knowledge of the committee’s review.

Was the AMA aware of the studies?

No, he said.

So much for protecting the public.  The HHS, the FDA, the AMA – all of the agencies charged with assuring the public’s safety and holding the public’s trust – have not only failed to do that, but they actively undermine efforts to do what they are charged to do.

Where does that leave Americans?

Former US Surgeons General have testified that science is being distorted and suppressed.  They have testified that the public’s safety has been subjugated by political partisanship.

The first thing Americans must do is to mandate full Congressional oversight into the HHS, FDA, CDC, and all governmental agencies that are charged with protecting the public’s safety.

The public must demand that the AMA, American Nurses Association, and the American Public Health Association put into place tough ethical conditions of membership, and that they publicly disclose members who are expelled or applications that are rejected for breaches of patient trust.

Henry Waxman has introduced legislation to protect and to demand the independence of the US Surgeon General position, and this is a good start.

Congress must enact tough legislation that clearly prohibits any elected or appointed official from having any relationship with entities for which they have oversight or regulatory authority and responsibility.  No more revolving door from comfy governmental position to private sector conflict of interest lobbying and advocacy.  None.  The policy must clearly and transparently be, if it appears to be a conflict of interest, it is, and therefore, it is not tolerated, nor is it acceptable.

The private sector is concerned with maximizing profits for its investors.  Period.

Government is charged with protecting the public’s welfare and safety.

Let the two remain separate and distinct entities.

And let the chips fall where they may. In Veri-Chip’s case, may that be in a red bottom line for its egregiousness.

Pony Party… hey this is an OPEN THREAD

It’s Sunday… almost, anyway. But I’m not actually here here, as you read this. I’m setting this to auto-publish at 9am and, because I plan to lie in as my dutchman says, it’ll only seem like i’m here, which of course i’m not.

And because it’s an open thread, I don’t actually need to be here with you.

But YOU need to be here.

btw, did you know that Barbie’s full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts? is that true? can anyone verify that?

what was your favorite toy growing up, anyway? we had a sand pile that was turned out as the USS Enterprise or we made it into a whole town, with mountain roads, rock houses, twig trees…loved the sand pile.

also a big game player… any board game and loved chess, but very impatient player and always my downfall.

okay, y’all, i’ll check in on you later.

talk… play… be excellent to one another

To Parents & Teachers from a kid

(Beautifully written and great project… happy to promote and keep us updated with more diaries – promoted by pfiore8)

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
From Truth & Progress
Dear Teachers and parents,

I just read the most upsetting story about 2/3 of polar bears being gone in 40 years this morning, and was so upset, that I’m even more motivated to get this project off the ground–or on the ground, as the case may be. So far, I think I’ve spoken to every teacher and principal within my reach, so I really appreciate you allowing me to expand my reach to the blogosphere. 

Unlike most kids my age, it seems that I was born with a deep appreciation for our environment.  My mom’s been trying to clean up a coal and oil burning power plant about a mile from my house since I was a toddler.  Then she went back to school to learn more about energy and environmental policy, pretty much bringing the whole family along, so without realizing it, I have learned a few things too.  But something has happened recently that put me in motion. 

Global warming is looking so much worse than anyone had imagined.  Kids are learning this at school and they’re scared and upset.  They try to conserve, but they can’t vote and nobody really listens to them.  And worse, they’re about to inherit this mess.
Here’s what I had in mind. 

First, I need you to visit my project’s website Blanket the Globe. (please don’t miss the slide show of artwork on the second page)  Well, this is what i did over the summer. This fall, there are a few schools, classes and even a whole school system all planning on participating. I have no idea how I’m going to attach all of the squares if I’m as successful as I hope to be but I promise that I’ll get it done somehow. If you have a school, a troop, a social group, or just some kids yourself, please think about bringing this project to them. If you’re a kid, please add your voice. 

Something beyond square making that really needs your help is to help me figure out what the heck I’m going to do with the finished blanket. And when will it ever be done? Right now, I’ve had it on display at an arts festival, several schools and soon, a farmer’s market. But I’ve thought about bringing it to Washington or even the United Nations. The blanket is only just beginning to reach its potential but already it’s too big for my back yard. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to ignore but who needs to hear it? Do you have any ideas?

Thanks for your help,

(I have to work this morning but will be back after 1:00)

posted also at dKos

Messing with your minds.

I have changed exactly 2 settings tonight.

I’ve changed the Blox headers to OTB Maroon.

This echos the maroon in the eyes

I’ve changed the blockquote background to a very light yellow, hopefully echoing the gold of the Buddha while evoking our Revolutionary Blue and Patriot Buff.

It’s very contrasty, but I can hear the fifes and drums marching.

We could maybe go a little golder.

saturday evening poetry and whatnot diary

(I ♥ poetry – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Good evening all.

It is a warm Saturday evening here in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

I am liking the look of this community so far, very promising indeed.

In the spirit of sharing and creativity, I thought I would share a few of the things (poems and whatnot) that I have done lately.

I would love to hear your thoughts and if you, the reader, could share some of your own works.

Or, even if you want to share a youtube video that caught your attention recently, it’s all good.

Here is a poem and video written and filmed last saturday…

thirty seconds

it takes thirty seconds
to microwave a hot dog
thirty seconds
and a head crowns
sending life giving air
into new-born lungs
thirty seconds
and a despondent hand
pulls a triggers
ending time
thirty seconds
and the last sip is taken
before hitting the road
blurry eyed
behind the wheel
thirty seconds
and ecstasy is reached
and climax is gone
leaving tired bodies
together as one
thirty seconds
and the channel
is changed five times
in a wheel of vacuous
thirty seconds
and the timer goes off
beep beep beep
thirty seconds
and the world
keeps turning.

here is another poem, a love poem if you will, written a few weeks ago…

love poem

I love that little “fizst”
sound it makes when I
twist the cap
I love that sweet kiss
of high fructose corn syrup
as it crosses my lips
I can almost taste the
and it tastes like
the loving embrace of
I love the carton of milk
in my fridge
brought to me by a
pumped up on hormones
that will someday
make my children
seven feet tall
I love the taste of beef
crossing my lips
with an aftertaste
of penicillin
or something of its
I love the sweet aftertaste
of saccharine
as they poison
my insides
I love the taste of
all these things
wonders of science
wonders of anti-nature
they taste like
they taste like
they taste like

and finally, here are a few videos I have made, combining music (if you can call it that) and video editing.

this moment of freedom




How to be a more effective irrational pressure group

This is, obviously, prompted by my discussions with Armando on the role of the netroots.  I’m happy to see this debated on Big Orange.  I would not pursue this effort because I think it’s doomed to fail, but for those of you who think that defunding is attainable — rather than just something to support for (ugh) Overton Window-sliding reasons — I’d love to see this happen, because I think it’s the way you could truly be most effective.  YMMV.  And yes, the title is provocative, but meant affectionately.

This diary is not affiliated with any candidate or campaign.
And take a look at how to celebrate Constitution Day, Sept. 17, here.

People have got to learn the word “exogenous“: “an action or object coming from outside a system.”  If you don’t understand the concept, you will not be much of an activist.

Politics — from within the system and outside of it — is largely about finding the levers of power.  Think about that analogy of a lever for a moment.  A lever is something you can grasp, exert force on, and change something.  If you exert something on something that you can’t grasp or exert force on, you’re not going to change anything.

Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are not exogenous in the Iraq debate.  The fire we aim at them is misplaced.  More below.

(1) “Who are you calling ‘irrational,’ punk?”

I’ve used the provocative phrase “irrational pressure group” in the title because it describes one view of what the netroots should be right now: not a debating society, not a place to think through various policies and come up with the best approach, but a vicious, relentless lobby that will not be soothed, calmed, or satisfied with anything else other than our representatives doing what we want.  In other words, a feared lobby like the NRA or the Moral Majority at its height.  People you just don’t cross, regardless of whether they are making any sense or asking you to do something that can’t be done.

In other words, I’m not using “irrational” as an insult.  I’m using it to describe what many people here would like the netroots to be right now: so furious that we don’t want to listen to rational considerations like polls, plans, prospects, etc.  People who call their party leaders “pathetic hapless cowards” who must be “getting paid off,” “beyond spineless” “handwringers” who need to “grow a sac” rather than “folding with a royal flush,” political hacks/whores who “make us puke” because they couldn’t organize a third-grader’s birthday party at chucky-cheese without help.  (No one can say our writing here lacks panache.)

One problem I have with the approach in the above style of commentary is that I think it weakens the party; I’m one of those who thinks that the country can survive another 18 months in Iraq, but cannot survive another Republican Administration until we’ve defumigated after this one.  (That’s not hyperbole.  I think our Constitution is gone if we lose in 2008.)  The other problem I have is that it’s way too easy.  Slinging insults, telling Reid and Pelosi that they work for us and it’s /their job/ to get the caucus in line — assuming, irrationally, that it would be easy for someone else to step in and do the job that they can’t, that it’s just a matter of will — puts the author in a comfy position of power relative to the target.  It doesn’t require anything of the writer other than outrage and snark.

If the solution is that easy, it’s usually because you’ve misdiagnosed the problem.

I prefer what I’ll call a “reasoned” approach (and if you want to be insulting, you can call it detached, limp, ineffectual) — although in most political environments other than the netroots I would be considered to be as wild-eyed a radical as most other people here.  That means an approach that /doesn’t assume bribery and weakness and idiocy as motivations when a simpler explanation — such as that our leaders can count votes — will do/.  But it’s pretty clear that demanding and insulting and slamming are going to win the day here for the next few months, so if people are going to do it they should at least do it right.

(2) Why people here think that their approach is right

Like a few people here, my understanding of effective activism starts with the book “Rules for Radicals” and its sequel “Reveille for Radicals” by Saul Alinsky.  (Click that link if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and check out his quote citing Dostoyevsky.)  One of his guiding principles is that when you want to win a political fight, you personalize it.  You don’t fight against GM, you fight against the CEO of GM.  (Think of Michael Moore going after Roger Smith.)  You turn your target into a villain.  You demean them, you invite a bacchanal of invective, you tear them down.

That — wheteher people have read Alinsky or not — is the insight that leads people to go after Reid and Pelosi here.  “They’re not performing!  It must be because something’s wrong with them!”  It’s a really effective way of whipping up contempt against one’s targets and getting them to move.

If they /can/ move, that is.  If they can’t, all you end up doing is creating villains for voters.  /Our/ party leaders, rendered as villains.  Wow.

You can make a case for this, I guess, just as you can make a case for not giving the Democrats any more money if they allow the Iraq occupation to be funded again, or for not voting for them — one needs to wield a carrot as well as a stick, after all — or even for voting for and working to elect Republicans in a Leninist belief that the whole rotten system must collapse of its own weight for real change to occur.  But even if you make this case, you have to ask a question: are you exerting your force in the right place?

(3) Exogeneity

The prototypical exogenous variables are demographic ones: race, gender, age, and malleable demographic ones like religion, income, education, where they live, and union membership.  Someone being Jewish or Black increases the likelihood that they’ll vote Democratic.  But the reverse isn’t true in a /causal/ sense; voting Democratic doesn’t cause you to become Jewish or Black.

Some exogenous variables aren’t at a fixed value like age or gender, they’re just the ones that — within a given system — are ones that cause changes in other variables but not vice versa.  If exogenous variable A completely determines the value of variable B, then focusing your efforts on variable B is /not going to make any difference/ unless you’re doing so by trying to change variable A.  Think of a lever attached to a gear that moves a piston.  If you try to move the piston directly while leaving the lever in place, all you’re going to do is break something, if you’re able to have any effect at all.  If you direct your energy towards moving the lever — the thing you can directly impact — then you can move the piston.

If you want to know how to change things, you have to know what’s exogenous to the system.

(4) Why slamming Pelosi and Reid is wasted energy

Pelosi and Reid are not the lever here.  They’re the piston.  What they can accomplish in their positions is determined by their caucus.  They don’t have the “advantage” of a scared and obedient caucus the way that Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay did; for various reasons, Democrats are different.  The constraint on them is whether they have enough votes to put whatever plan they’d like into action.

So: if Reid does not have 41 iron-firm votes — not just 41 initial votes for a good proposal or to sustain an initial filibuster, but 41 Senators willing to sustain a filibuster repeatedly when the House Dems and the media and everyone is screaming at them to give in — then he does not have a winning hand, let alone a “royal flush” as some say.  Reid’s ability to implement plans as a Majority Leader is not exogenous — it’s not something that he just decides by himself, the way individual members casting their own votes so — it’s /endogenous/.  It’s controlled by what the caucus wants overall.  It is hostage, in other words, to a certain number of Blue Dogs.

So: if Pelosi does not have 218 iron-firm votes — not just 218 initial votes for a good proposal — to permanently lock down /any/ attempt to fund the war in spite of all hell breaking loose as people blame the party (wrongly) for troops running out of bullets and all such other nonsense, then she cannot just say “I’m going to defund.”

They are the pistons.  We can exert force on them, but if we don’t do it by exerting force on the lever, we’re just going to break something.  And whoever takes their place — even if it’s /not/ someone like Hoyer or Emanuel who will be worse — is going to be subject to the same constraint.  We want to believe — it would be lovely to believe — that the only problem here is that the piston doesn’t want to move and that if we smack it enough times with a wrench we solve the problem.  (For one thing, it’s fun to smack things.  Look at those comments quoted above!)  But generally, it is /just not true/.

If they don’t have the votes, one can fairly argue what Pelosi and Reid should do.  First, they can bluff, and they can pass symbolic legislation that lets people go on record with their opposition to the war.  It’s not a bad tactic; it’s what they tried with the supplemental bill.  But of course Bush called their bluff and they got slammed.  (Despite the fact that the symbolic vote at least /did/ allow Democrats to go on record, which one might argue is better than nothing.  Second, they can go into hiding.  Not very helpful.  Third, they can start to excoriate their own caucus members.  That’s what a lot of us would like to see, but while reasonable people can disagree on this I think most people involved in politics would agree that it’s really, really unlikely to work.  It’s more likely to truly piss people off, break apart what has been a historically united caucus for the most part, and lead to a Speaker Hoyer or Speaker Emanuel.  (Yes, it /can/ lead to a Majority Leader Schumer, who, if he did the same thing, would be deposed as well.)

(5) So where’s the lever?

The netroots can do a couple of things in this situation.  First, we can publicize and tear apart various proposals that are just wrong.  What Markos did yesterday with the Abercrombie bill is a great example.  We have expertise and information and can bring it to bear.

Second (and related), we can go after wavering and backsliding Democrats on a visceral and deliciously vicious level, without any policy analysis.  Kagro X’s story on Brian Baird today is a good example.

Why do I like these?  Because *Abercrombie’s and Baird’s opinions are exogenous in our system*.  They are not constrained by what other people are doing.  They are /constraining/ what their leaders can do.

*There’s* your lever.

Whatever it is we want, we need to focus our lobbying — and it is lobbying, it is not pie throwing — on the people who are currently constraining Reid and Pelosi from doing what we want.  Changing Reid and Pelosi’s behavior comes from manipulating that lever or it doesn’t come at all.

(6) Moving the lever

How do we do this?  Remember my mentioning Alinsky before?  You deal with something concrete.  Not, in this case, a concrete person like Roger Smith, but a concrete action, a concrete plan.

We know how to do this; it’s one of our favorite tactics.  In effect, we circulate a petition.

That’s right: we ask representatives to state publicly and on the record that they will under no circumstances — no matter what happens in Iraq, in Iran, on Fox News, in the Washington Post, in the public opinion polls — do anything other than what we think is right (such as, for the people I call the “defundamentalists,” means refusing to pass a bill with funding for anything other than withdrawal by a date certain.)

This has a couple of advantages, one if it works, one if it doesn’t.

First, if it works, then they’re stuck.  They’ve pre-committed.  It means that we’re playing a game of chicken with President Bush.  The way to not to lose a game of chicken is to ensure ahead of time that you can’t back out of your chicken.  Of course, it also means that you have to accept the consequences if things don’t turn out as you want.  Public opinion /could/ go against us.  Once it does, if we give in, we look even weaker than before.  It’s a dangerous game; that’s why so many Dems don’t want to play it.

Second, if it doesn’t work — if we don’t get enough names — then at least we have our list of who’s Naughty and Nice and we know exactly who to lobby.  Or, if you prefer, to primary.

(7) Snark is not a platform

If you want to win this battle, this is the way to do it.  I may not agree with the goal, but I’d rather see people who want the goal do it effectively rather than not.  Get members of Congress to commit in blood, and go after those who don’t commit.  If we still can’t get the policy in place when we have a majority signed up, /then/ you go after the leadership, but unless their caucus is whispering to them “don’t go through with this no matter what we signed!”, it should.

So by all means, people should take this ball and run with it.  Get people on record so we know what levers to lean on.  But if all you do is piss over Reid and Pelosi, you’re not doing anything to solve the problem; you’re just gratifying yourself and looking superior.  And as much as you may think you may have earned the right to say you were right and did what you could, you haven’t.  Snark and insults are fun, but they aren’t a platform.

[poll id=”



Nous Sommes Tous Américains, and The Death of Irony

( – promoted by melvin)

This diary is a submission for Progressive Historians’ symposium on 9/11.  Details here.

Let’s look at two famous articles from the immediate aftermath of the events in the U.S. on 9/11/2001. 

The first, and the more famous of the two as being emblematic of international attitude, was the front-page editorial on France’s Le Monde: “Nous Sommes Tous Américains” (We’re All Americans), by Jean-Marie Colombani.  The article is often cited as a sign of world solidarity behind the United States in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon (the latter often left out of discussions, for whatever reason), and the failed attack on the White House.  This was the main headline on the largest-circulation newspaper in the most traditionally anti-American of our allies.

The second, and the source of an endlessly regurgitated soundbite over the following years, was an article in Vanity Fair by Graydon Carter predicting the new age of sincerity, a sentiment soon echoed in newspapers around the country.  Carter (and others) were convinced that among the ways the United States would change irrevocably was in the adoption of a new seriousness in our attitudes, and an inability to treat everyday life with the same flimsy, fluffy detachment that had been so “cool”.  In Time, Roger Rosenblatt gave the sentiment its most repeated form: after so great a tragedy, irony was dead

It’s easy enough to criticize these sentiments with the benefit of hindsight, just as it’s easy to score a quick laugh by juxtaposing the two soundbites in the title (as I did, shamelessly).  What interests me instead are two phenomena: the way the myths of those articles have overshadowed the articles themselves (and their contexts), and the strange fittingness of Colombani’s title – whether he intended it or not.

Rewriting History

In both cases, the articles have accumulated a certain popular narrative about their ‘meaning’ in the greater context: they represented a new and different (inter)national mood that has, in the meantime, faded on its own or been squandered by opportunists.

This is a nice reading, but somewhat reductive.  For example, Colombani’s editorial was not the cri de coeur for supporting America that it has become on the retelling – in fact it’s clear from its copious mentions online that very few people who cite “We’re All Americans” as evidence for international support have not actually read the article, or at least misremember its content.  One major piece of evidence is the way reports cite only the headline in Le Monde, but nothing from the editorial itself (this from The New Yorker, or this from The Guardian, is typical).

It’s true that Colombani pledges sympathy for the American people, but not without a fair share of warnings and criticisms, neither of which attract much notice in the retelling.  I wonder, for example, if those citing the article remember this nugget:

The reality is perhaps also that of an America whose own cynicism has caught up with. If Bin Laden, as the American authorities seem to think, really is the one who ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, how can we fail to recall that he was in fact trained by the CIA and that he was an element of a policy, directed against the Soviets, that the Americans considered to be wise? Might it not then have been America itself that created this demon?

Even in the face of a serious tragedy, Colombani pulls few punches.  But as mythology, Colombani’s headline has outlived his article, to the detriment of our understanding the complexity of world sentiment after the 9/11 attacks.  The United States certainly received widespread sympathy and support, but the sympathy was not universal and the support not unequivocal.  That Colombani’s headline is often used as evidence to the contrary involves some seriously reductive history, especially towards the article itself.

The same can be said of Carter’s and Rosenblatt’s claim that the age of irony had passed.  According to the narrative both in published media and blogs, a serious (and seriously naive) America had recognized the death of ironic detachment because of the shock of 9/11, but as the years passed we recognized how short-sighted these editorials were, and we can no longer read them except with a certain sense of irony.

This narrative has some good points, but like most simple narratives about complex histories, it neglects two important phenomena: the real context of the ideas and their widespread detractors even at their peak.  Was the death of irony ever taken seriously?

First, some context: the “new sincerity” wasn’t a result of 9/11, but had actually begun a few years earlier.  Its champion was the improbably named Jedediah Purdy, an author who’d already gained his fair share of supporters and detractors.  As Caleb Crain of Salon noted back in 1999, the problem with Purdy’s argument wasn’t a philosophical rejection of irony (a form of humor that does have its limits and requirements), but a historical and sociological one.

In the weeks that followed 9/11, while Carter and others adopted Purdy’s rhetoric to predict the serious future of America, David Beers of Salon wrote a scathing review of what he called the self-flagellation of head-nodding editors around the country. First taking them to task for their misuse of the word irony – or at least their use of “irony” as shorthand for “ironic detachment”, which is something else entirely, Beers considers irony the most important protection against a society steeped too long in sentimentalism and easy moral platitudes, especially in the days to follow:

Here is one dictionary definition of irony: “Incongruity between actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.” That kind of irony might note that America, for all its effort to shine a beacon of freedom throughout the world, is seen as an imperial oppressor by large swaths of the Islamic world. That kind of irony would wonder if in this new battle on behalf of freedom, we may rush to strip away civil liberties. That kind of irony would wonder whether this new kind of war, waged to make us safe from terrorist attacks, might plunge the world into a far more dangerous conflagration.

Salon was the first major publication to take on the alleged death of irony, but others soon followed.  Tim Cavanaugh of Reason ripped into what he called “the hidden agenda of anti-ironists, warning us in particular against “taking a page from the decidedly unironic book of Islamic zealotry”.  M. Christian Green at the University of Chicago scripted a well-written defense of irony (reconciling it with religion, no less), in which he tried to remind us that the new sentimentalism was not a new movement at all, but one which had gained traction because of 9/11.  Furthermore, Green notes that the sackcloths and ashes were already being set aside by the culture at large in January of 2002 (Green’s article is fantastic, and highly recommended).

Ironically (another misuse of the word), one of irony’s champions post 9/11 was none other than Jedediah Purdy himself, who was quoted in the New York Times, saying, “In peaceful and prosperous times,” irony can keep “the passions in hibernation when there is not much for them to live on, but another kind of irony can also work to keep dangerous excesses of passion and self-righteousness and extreme conviction at bay.”  Here, whether he realizes it or not, Purdy is making the distinction between ironic detachment and irony, although rumors of death of the first were greatly exaggerated. 

All-in-all, to treat Carter or Rosenblatt’s editorials as indicative of the national mood after 9/11 is to engage in some seriously selective history.  The new seriousness received a spike in the weekly ratings, but it was neither new nor without its intelligent critics.  Sure, even Jon Stewart posted a heartfelt and serious response to the attacks, but not without asserting the role of comedy and the necessity of laughter.

A final quote from the Beers article, because it’s just so damned good:

Whoever named Bush’s still murky plan of retaliation “Infinite Justice” was dangerously devoid of irony, not to mention a sense of Islamic theology.

Irony, in any form, is never dead.  It just waits in the wings for its appropriate entrance.

Rereading History

Ironies aside, the most memorable thing about the Le Monde editorial really was its striking headline.  But here’s the rub: Colombani’s choice of title was either an intentional but covert message, or a coincidence of almost cosmic proportions.  I’ll leave that for you to decide:

If “We’re all Americans” sounds familiar, you may thinking of the title of another essay, published in 1954.  And not just any random essay, but an essay by New York City’s most emblematic writer, published in The New Yorker, about life in New York City – consider that the first piece of evidence that Colombani chose the title on purpose.  The essay begins

Dr. Sockman, the Methodist pastor, says the American city is more like a sand pile than a melting pot.  “People are heaped together, but they do not hold together.”  Well, we have a letter telling us of an incident when Americans held together beautifully.

E.B. White uses just over 200 words to relate the story of a New York queue gone sour, and I can hardly summarize it more economically without citing the entire piece.  In brief, the woman in front of the line has been taking care of her business slowly and distractedly, without regard for the working people behind her on their brief lunch break.  When someone in line expresses his displeasure, the woman snidely cuts him down: “You aren’t even an American, are you?”

The man was quite shaken by this, but the others in the line weren’t, and they came to his aid instantly.  “We’re all Americans,” shouted one of them, “and we are all on the lunch hour!”

This isn’t just a call for solidarity: it’s a warning against the blindness and ignorance of nationalism.  It’s a defense of the immigrant, the foreigner, and the person who talks and looks a little differently than the rest against the snap judgments and potential tyranny that members of the majority might engage in.

Did Colombani know this?  Was his use of White’s famous title not just an intentional homage but a secret warning to Americans not to use 9/11 as an excuse to question the American-ness of others?  Did he foresee the backlash against American Muslims, and the difficulties they’d face because of their culture of origins?

It’s very possible.  Here’s Colombani again:

In the eyes of American public opinion and its leadership, Islamic fundamentalism, in all its forms, risks being designated as the new enemy. Indeed, the anti-Islamic reflex, immediately after the attack on a federal building in Oklahoma City, resulted in statements that were ridiculous, if not downright odious.

As tempting as it is to view this excerpt as proof positive that Colombani intended the reference to White, this is only a small selection from a mostly American-sympathetic article.  I’m not entirely convinced, based on the context of the suspiciously Whitean words, that Colombani specifically knew the 1954 New Yorker essay.  If the message was intentional, the subtlety is astounding.  If unintentional, the coincidence is equally astounding.  But I’ll leave that for you to decide.

I’ll leave with one parting shot.  E. B. White was an odd bird: both a New Yorker and an indefatigable optimist.  He may never have predicted that his beloved city would face a direct hit from a faceless enemy, and he maintained a strong faith in the fundamental decency of people.  Because of this, he’s able to end his essay with a well-timed hyperbole at the expense of the cranky woman in line:

That was no sand pile.  People hold together and will continue to hold together, even in the face of abrupt and unfounded charges calculated to destroy.

The hyperbole no longer seems fitting.  Perhaps the saddest result of our post-9/11 policies has been this: if Colombani intended for the optimism of E. B. White to infect his piece and carry through to his readers, the attacks themselves and the last six years have resulted in the opposite.  A threat “calculated to destroy” does exist, and the cynical foreign policy of post-post-9/11 America has instead soured Colombani’s piece, and working backwards it has infected White’s as well.

Unless, of course, we read it with a healthy sense of irony.

PONY PARTY… party pooper edition

One year ago today: A Senate report faulted intelligence gathering in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Senate report said Saddam Hussein regarded al-Qaida as a threat rather than a possible ally, contradicting assertions President Bush had used to build support for the war.

While the Senate issued its report, that same day, a suicide car bomber struck a convoy of U.S. military vehicles in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 16 people, including two American soldiers.

A few days ago, Sidney Blumenthal wrote this story for Salon, with headline blaring: Bush Knew There Were No WMDs Before Iraq War. This is all based on Blumenthal’s “exclusive” interview with two former CIA officers [who] say the president squelched top-secret intelligence, and a briefing by George Tenet, months before invading Iraq.

I know, this is supposed to be a party. And I was looking for some “this day in history stuff.” When I saw the Senate Report, well, I just couldn’t help myself. I feel obliged to ask: WTF. What is news about this Sidney? What we do need, Sidney, are stories and more stories asking why Congress has NOT acted on this information to stop the current rulers of the White House from any further dastardly deeds.

Anyway, the long and short is this: Blumenthal’s two sources confirm that Geroge Tenet, in briefing Bush, told the President there were no WMDs. Well… I could have told him that. And who was that UN inspector guy? Hans somebody????

And yet there are those who think this is mind-blowing news.

All i can say is that my mind was blown in November 2000 and hasn’t stopped exploding since. As to the mind-blowing magnitude of Blumenthal’s revelation? You know, only a 2, maybe. Cause I’m not sure what Blumenthal’s angle is, but a year ago today, we had the that Senate report referenced above, which was preceded by the 2004 White Paper analyzing CIA intelligence reporting. Oh, and that was preceded by the 2001 report to Congress by George Tenet.

So, just an FYI, Sidney, we know that the intelligence was cherry picked, cooked, or ignored. What we don’t know, Sid,is why our Congress has tolerated this criminality to continue in the administration of one George W. Bush.

Now if you could deliver that answer, that would be mind-blowing.

Okay… that’s it. No more griping. This IS supposed to be a party.

So what’s your cocktail conversation for this September 8, 2007.

The Sydney Distraction on Climate Change

(“Your other right.” – promoted by ek hornbeck)

or, as Alexander Downer himself calls it, a political stunt.

All Hail Market Based Policy!

All Hail the Status Quo!

All Hail the Sydney Declaration on Climate Change!

Bush, far right in the photograph, seems so exhausted by his trip to OPEC or Austria or wherever the hell it was that he can’t even lift up his paw in time with the rest. You can almost hear the photographer: your other right, Mr. President.

Let’s make sure we’ve got our priorities straight right off the bat:

The pursuit of climate change and energy security policies must avoid introducing barriers to trade and investment.

Economic growth, a recurring subject in the text, is mentioned before climate change in the very first sentence. Sounds like a good plan: endless economic expansion, with no piper to pay.

At least it’s proactive:

We are committed to the global objective of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Get out much? That ship left port quite some time ago. Never mind, on to the money shot, of which they seem so proud:

We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.

Anyone care to parse this? Verb, infinitive, infinitive, kumbayaa, mush, more mush, obligatory lie. They don’t want any binding targets, we get that. No targets at all, in fact. How about a goal? Well, okay, as long at it’s just an aspirational goal.

What’s an aspirational goal? Howard’s foreign minister, Alexander Downer, defined it for us in his lecture on APEC at Monash University on April 19th of this year:

Secondly, I think you have to face up to the fact that, within the APEC group, there are economies, and it’s really a Kyoto point again, that believe in setting CO2 emission targets, by particular dates. Some of them, of course, are just aspirational targets, which is code for “a political stunt”.

Posit that you are 40 pounds overweight. If your answer to the question How much weight do you want to lose? is along the lines of I agree to work to achieve an understanding on a long-term aspirational goal to pave the way for an effective reduction of my fat intensity at some undetermined time in the future . . . . I would submit that you are not serious. Enjoy your cheeseburger, and don’t even bring up the subject of weight loss.

Combine the yammering about reducing the intensity of emissions or the intensity of energy consumption with the insistence that everybody has to commit to sacrifice before we can agree to do anything at all, and what do you have? Here’s a clue: the citizens of Bangladesh already walk to work, and the citizens of Namibia consume per capita one tenth the electricity that Americans do. How much more do you expect them to rein in their extravagance?

Most striking is the Action Agenda portion of this document. All right! Action:

. . . . working towards achieving an APEC-wide regional aspirational goal of a reduction in energy intensity of at least 25 per cent by 2030

How much more of this kind of action can we stand?

From Sydney, a bon voyage to Bush as he flits back to get rested up for another series of photo ops on September 11th. And a 21-Bum salute:

Also posted at Truth & Progress

Four at Four

Four stories in the news at 4 o’clock. Simple, huh?

  1. According to The Telegraph, Britain is set to withdraw 500 troops from Iraq. “Britain will withdraw 500 troops from southern Iraq over the next few months, the Ministry of Defence said today. The announcement comes six days after 550 British troops pulled back from Basra Palace, handing security over to Iraqi forces… ¶ It added that further reductions in manpower would be implemented in the coming months as part of ongoing reviews.”

  2. In a surprise to probably no one, The New York Times reports that F.B.I. data mining went beyond targets. “The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call and e-mail patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records. ¶ The documents indicate that the F.B.I. used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on the person it was targeting but also details on his or her ‘community of interest’ — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with. The F.B.I. recently stopped the practice in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters…”

  3. Bleak outlook for polar bears, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. “The polar bear population could be reduced by two-thirds by mid-century, if forecasts of melting sea ice hold true, the US Geological Survey has reported. ¶ The fate of polar bears could be bleaker than that estimate, because sea ice in the Arctic might be vanishing faster than the models predict, the geological survey said in a report to determine if the big white bear should be listed as a threatened species… ¶ That means that polar bears – about 16,000 of them – will disappear by 2050 from the north coasts of Alaska and Russia, where sea ice is melting most rapidly, researchers said. By century’s end, polar bears might be contained to the Canadian Arctic islands and west coast of Greenland.” But, maybe not Greenland, see this story from The Guardian, Melting ice cap triggering earthquakes.

  4. Not only are the polar bears going, but The Independent reports our national parks have been hit by global warming. “The Bush administration has again been criticised for failing to tackle climate change, which is rapidly transforming America’s national parks, forests and marine sanctuaries… ¶ This week, the Government Accountability Office criticised the President for failing to show leadership in tackling the problems. ‘Without such guidance, the ability to address climate change and effectively manage resources is constrained,’ it warned.

One more story below the fold…

  1. Finally, this bit of news from The Independent – “A prominent Chinese cadre, who was sacked and expelled from the Communist Party in February, was exposed by a joint complaint filed by 11 of his mistresses, according to local reports. Pang Jiayu, the former vice-chairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Shaanxi province, faces punishment over corruption charges. ¶ The women were mostly the ‘pretty and young’ wives of Pang’s subordinates when he was mayor of Baoji, the People’s Daily reported. After their husbands were sentenced to death or jailed for their involvement in a financial firm approved by Pang that lost millions of yuan, they decided to take revenge.”

So, what else is happening?

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