Sunday, May 25, 2003

Vocabulary for the day: synonyms for "puppet"

Chalabi, Ahmed: “The Americans are even split over whom to back:
the Pentagon is still committed to its pet politician, the formerly exiled
businessman Ahmed Chalabi, who has no particular constituency in Iraq.
The State Department, which has always distrusted Chalabi, backs a
moderate Sunni Muslim leader, Adnan Pachachi.”
(from the Independent, May 25, 2003)

Quisling, Vidkun (1887-1945), Norwegian politician, whose collaboration with
the Nazis...during World War II (1939-1945) made his name synonymous
with traitor. In the 1930s he found the National Union, a Fascist party
that received subsidies from Germany. After the Nazi invasion of Norway
in 1940 the National Union was declared the only legal party. The Germans
installed Quisling as prime minister in 1942 and throughout the war he
collaborated with the Nazis. Quisling was tried and executed after the war.
(from Encarta)

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The shame of Rockford College

At the commencement exercises at Rockford College recently,
journalist Chris Hedges was booed off the stage for speaking frankly
about war and empire in our time. Rockford, a small liberal arts college
eighty miles northwest of Chicago, evidently has not taught its students the
liberal art of listening to opposing points of view. Ironically, the belligerent
“patriotism” exhibited by a large minority in the audience served to
illustrate the lament and warning that formed the basis of Hedges’ address.

“We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11.
We have folded in on ourselves, we have severely weakened the delicate
international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting
peace and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with
Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or
Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless acts of violence.
We have become the company we keep.

The censure and perhaps the rage of much of the world, certainly one-fifth of the
world's population which is Muslim, most of whom I'll remind you are not Arab,
is upon us. Look today at the 14 people killed last night in several explosions in
Casablanca. And this rage in a world where almost 50 percent of the planet
struggles on less than two dollars a day will see us targeted. Terrorism will become
a way of life, and when we are attacked we will, like our allies Putin and Sharon, l
lash out with greater fury. The circle of violence is a death spiral; no one escapes.
We are spinning at a speed that we may not be able to hold. As we revel in our military
prowess -- the sophistication of our military hardware and technology, for this is what
most of the press coverage consisted of in Iraq -- we lose sight of the fact that just
because we have the capacity to wage war it does not give us the right to wage war.
This capacity has doomed empires in the past.

‘Modern western civilization may perish,’ the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned,
‘because it falsely worshiped technology as a final good.’”

Here is the complete text of Hedges' speech, including evidence of audience disruption.
Perhaps the Rockford mob would have been happier with the display at last weekend’s
graduation ceremony at my university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – a flyover by
a B-2 Stealth Bomber!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Another victory in the invasion and "conquest of nature"

As I was growing up in California, textbooks and audio visual materials were
full of references to a wonderful development unfolding -- "man's conquest of
nature." Signs of progress in this regard included "draining the swamps,"
"clearing the forests," "damming the rivers," and "forcing plants and animals
to serve human needs." Here's an excerpt from a news story about a recent
victory in this grand tradition, the rapid destruction of the world's most valued
fish species.

Ocean species depleted by fishing
Worldwide numbers down 90 percent since the 1950s
Rick Weiss, Washington Post
Thursday, May 15, 2003

Industrial fishing has decimated every one of the world's biggest and most
economically important species of fish, according to a detailed global analysis
that challenges current fisheries protection policies.

Fully 90 percent of each of the world's large ocean species, including cod,
halibut, tuna, swordfish and marlin, have disappeared from the world's oceans
in recent decades, according to the Canadian analysis -- the first to use data
going back to the beginnings of large-scale fishing in the 1950s.

The new research found that fishing has become so efficient that it typically
takes just 15 years to remove 80 percent or more of any species unlucky
enough to become the focus of a fleet's attention. Some populations have
disappeared within just a few years.

"You'd think the ocean is so large, these things would have someplace to
hide," said Ransom Myers, who with fellow marine ecologist Boris Worm
of Dalhousie University in Halifax conducted the new study. "But it doesn't
matter where you look, the story is the same. We are really too good at
killing these things."

Friday, May 09, 2003

Citizens panels and the nanotechnology bill in Congress

As part of my testimony to Congress on April 9, I suggested that among the activities
employed to assess the societal and ethical dimensions of nanotechology, the nation
should now include citizens panels. Evidently, the idea was well received. A couple
of versions of a proposal of this kind were debated on the floor of the House of Representatives
on Wednesday May 7 and one of them, the Republican version, was adopted in the
language of H.R. 766, the bill that passed. The Senate takes up similar legislation soon.

A press release on the nanotechnology bill can be found on the Committee on Science
web page.

Here is the relevant section of the legislation as it now stands.

[Section 3 (b)] (5) ensure that societal and ethical concerns, including environmental concerns and the potential implications of human performance
enhancement and the possible development of nonhuman intelligence, will be addressed as the technology is developed by--

(A) establishing a research program to identify societal and ethical concerns related to nanotechnology, and ensuring that the results of such research
are widely disseminated;

(B) insofar as possible, integrating research on societal and ethical concerns with nanotechnology research and development, and ensuring that
advances in nanotechnology bring about improvements in quality of life for all Americans;

(C) requiring that interdisciplinary research centers under paragraph (1)(C) include activities that address societal and ethical concerns; and

*******(D) ensure through the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office established under section 6 and through the agencies and departments that
participate in the Program, that public input and outreach to the public are both integrated into nanotechnology research and development and
research on societal and ethical concerns by the convening of regular and ongoing public discussions, through mechanisms such as citizens panels,
consensus conferences, and educational events, as appropriate; . . .

My specific suggestions to the committe can be found in the testimony
on my web page.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Inverted totalitarianism -- Sheldon Wolin's argument

Sheldon Wolin, political theorist who is now emeritus professor of politics
at Princeton, writes about the phenomenon of "Invertered Totalitarianism"
in the May 19 issue of The Nation.

"No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist,
but I want to go further and name the emergent political system
"inverted totalitarianism." By inverted I mean that while the current
system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward
unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods
and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany,
before the Nazis took power, the "streets" were dominated by
totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of
democracy was confined to the government. In the United States,
however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive--while the
real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government."
None dare call it fascism

It’s interesting that the topic of fascism and totalitarianism should arise in
discussions about politics in the U.S.A. at present. But what is "fascism"? It's
helpful to notice that one-dimensional definitions are of little help in characterizing
political systems. There are numerous relevant features, each of which can be
arrayed along a spectrum from low to high.

What are some of the social and political elements of states commonly called
“fascist”? Below are some familiar features. Try rating the condition of
contemporary America on a scale from 0 (low) to 10 (high) for each of the

intense nationalism and myth of the great nation

militarism and push for military build-up

blind support for a "great leader"

government by one political party

concentration of power behind an inflexible political ideology

suppression of civil liberties

suppression of labor

rigged elections

close links between corporate and state power

propaganda using the "big lie" techniques

uniform political messages in all mass media

thorough surveillance of citizens and dossier keeping

expansion of police power

hatred of peoples and religions declared "alien" or threatening

detention camps for suspect populations

imperialistic foreign policy

Now add your score on these items and divide by 16. What's your
average score?

How's America doing?

Friday, May 02, 2003

Use the difficulty

This wonderful story and piece of advice came to me from writer, thinker and
dear friend, Tim Stroshane.

"There's a motto I got from a producer in repertory theater. I was in
rehearsals, waiting behind a door to come out while a couple on-stage were
having a row. They started throwing furniture and a chair lodged in front of
the door. My cue came and I could only get halfway in. I stopped and said,
"I can't get in. The chair's in my way." And the producer said, "Use the
difficulty." I said, "what do you mean?" And he said, "Well, if it's a
drama, pick up the chair and smash it. If it's a comedy, fall over it." This
idea stuck in my mind, and I taught it to my children -- that any situation
in life that's a negative, there is something positive you can do with it.
"Use the difficulty" -- it's like a motto in our family."
--actor Michael Caine