Monday, May 26, 2008

War sucks

To be specific, war is a vortex of destruction that sucks in human beings, territory, and material, until it burns itself out. Or a paired set of mutally-reinforcing vortices.

Conflict is a pervasive part of human existence, but only some of the time does it rise to the level of armed conflict. Just as we always have weather, but only under certain conditions does it self-organize into immensely destructive hurricanes and tornadoes.

At a sufficient remove, war just seems like something that happens. Sure, human agency is involved -- we woudn't be in Iraq if not for Bush and his cabal; we wouldn't have had WWII without Hitler -- but pull back for a long view and the leaders don't seem to matter that much, most of the time. WWI just seemed to happen because there were armed states waiting for an excuse to fight; ethnic conflicts have their own inescapable dynamics.

I've had a long-standing interest in the dynamics of conflict, but I can't say I have had any great insights into it since this, other than realizing that there is a reasonably good term for the main phenonmenon that catches my attention: polarization. The way to get rid of war is to subvert the human tendency to form conflicting groups. Don't ask me how that's supposed to be accomplished, but people try.

Anyway, just taking a moment this Memorial Day to remember all of those who have been sucked in and chewed up by this process: military and civilian, aggressor and defender, guilty and innocent.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Useful Emacs Dired launch hack

[leavening some technical stuff into the usual political/philosophical content. I'm curious to see if search engines pick it up.]

I live my computational life inside Emacs, which is the best user interface for almost everything; but it's sometimes frustrating that you can't escape Emacs' text-only world. Well, here is a little hack that lets you launch arbitrary files from a Dired view of a directory; using the operating system's registered application; ie, if you navigate to a .pdf file and hit 'l', Acrobat (or whatever) will launch and show you the file. Now I never have to use the accursed Finder. Works on Mac OS X and Ubuntu; might need modifcations for other systems.

;;; Hack dired to launch files with 'l' key. Put this in your ~/.emacs file

(defun dired-launch-command ()
(case system-type
(gnu/linux "gnome-open") ;right for gnome (ubuntu), not for other systems
(darwin "open"))
(dired-get-marked-files t current-prefix-arg)))

(setq dired-load-hook
(lambda (&rest ignore)
(define-key dired-mode-map
"l" 'dired-launch-command)))

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Random righties

1) From an ultra-conservative website that I've never heard of, an actually pretty intelligent and nuanced review of a book on the history of the left. Most interestingly, it differentiates between the homegrown native versions of the left:
American communism was wholly un-American: all eight of the Communist Party dailies published in 1921 were in foreign languages. Writes Flynn: “Such American originals as J. A. Wayland, Big Bill Haywood, and Eugene Debs passed the baton to conformists directed in thought and deed by overlords halfway round the planet.”
The noncommunist American Left pushed back. The freeswinging and disorderly Wobblies and farmer-labor parties, with their “the star-spangled anarchism,” in Flynn’s felicitous phrase, were a poor fit for European regimentation.
...and defends the Beats and the New Left, who for the most part were trying to get past communism and re-connect with the more rootsy and chaotic American anarcho-socialist tendency.

2) From an allegedly leading light of cultural conservatism (Roger Kimball, editor of The New Criterion), a rather disgustingly preening post about how he doesn't care about people in Burma. It occurs to me that all two of my readers might share his attitude. I feel compelled to write something in response to this although I can't quite get my thoughts in order. First, at some level, you care about what you care about, and you can't be coerced or convinced to care otherwise. But that's very superficial, since in fact the process of moral maturation is in large part learning to be less egoistic, and to care about other people. Does that mean you have to care equally about everybody? Obviously not (some moral philosophers seem to think otherwise; but they're cracked). So, what are one's obligations to total strangers on the other side of the world? I won't pretend to know, but I know that there's something mildly revolting about such principled devotion to uncaring.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Difference of opinion

On the left, opinions differ as to the meaning of Obama:

It's a new era:
I would amplify this and point out that it's time to get ready for a party that is being taken apart and rebuilt as the Obama movement. It's incredibly refreshing, in a sense, for politics to be completely reimagined on top of the internet and with a strong focus on leadership development, volunteers, and outside of DC leadership disdainful of partisanship and the give and take of politics-as-usual. ... it's time to think through the consequences of a party where there is a new chief with massive amounts of power..We have a leader, and he's not a partisan and he can now end fractious intraparty fights with a word and/or a nod. His opinion really matters in a way that even Nancy Pelosi's just did not. He has control of the party apparatus, the grassroots, the money, and the messaging environment. He is also, and this is fundamental, someone that millions of people believe in as a moral force.
Or, not so much:
Even if we assume that Obama genuinely wishes to alter our political system, the critical point is unchanged: one individual cannot do it. It is folly to believe otherwise. More bluntly: it is deeply, profoundly stupid. And the truth is very different from this idiotic fantasy: Obama is the perfect embodiment of the system as it now exists. He will challenge it on no issue of importance. To the contrary, he will advance the goals of the ruling class and ensure that the powerful are fully protected. He will lie to you about all of this, as he already has on numerous occasions ...
Oh, well. Silber is probably right, but I can't help hoping that this time Lucy won't jerk the football away from Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Oh dear

From a commentary by digby on Rick Perlstein's new book Nixonland:
Perlstein uncovers a fascinating metaphor about Nixon's high school years in which the young social outcast formed a club called the "Orthogonians" to compete with the kewl kids who called themselves the "Franklins."
Well, I've been thinking about abandoning or reorganizing or renaming this blog anyway.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Clinton is not qualified to be president, and assorted political links

Not that that has stopped others in the past, but every week I am convinced she doesn't have the required character for the job. By continuing to pander to the worst elements of American culture, she is far more patronizing than anything Obama has ever said. Kleiman's site has a number of other relevant comments nearby.

Speaking of Obama, Arthur Silber has a stirring defence of Jeremiah Wright, along with some personal history and some pointers to a long history of medical abuse of African Americans, which I was mostly unfamiliar with. Open Left explains how Jeremiah's relation to Obama is not symmetrical to the relationship between rightwingers and right-wing preachers.

And speaking of rightwingers, The American Conservative has a common-sensical defense of Wright, or at least Obama's connection to him.

And speaking of Open Left, they have a nice series on the relationship of the resurgent progressive movement and the Internet. I think they are overplaying their argument -- the Internet empowers right-wing haters just as much as it does left-wing groups. As one of the commenters states, mass movements are quite distinct from electoral politics and are not always progressive in nature.

Still, I think it is true that the internet has the potential to reshape politics, and it is progressives who are best positioned to take advantage of it.

And to anyone who found their way here from Odessa Syndicate: welcome, make yourselves at home, try not to smash the furniture.