Friday, March 31, 2006

Quickly noted

Been real busy ignoring my work these last few weeks, so I haven't been able to pay enough attention to the Isreali Lobby piece (short version: yes most of the claims are a little exaggerated, but probably not enough to deserve such vitriol) or to whatever's going on in Paris.

Friday, March 17, 2006

But those schoolchildren learned a valuable lesson...

Reality TV has a body count.

Horn-rimmed, rose colored glasses

The blogosphere has been stepping to the wayback machine this week to play gotcha with quotes from the original Iraqi invasion, three years ago. (Hmm... guess which side turned out to be right?) My favorite is from David Brooks, 4 April 2003:
An Iraqi civilian in Najaf exulted, "Democracy! Whiskey! And Sexy!" giving the war its first great slogan.
Also the first time I've agreed with David Brooks: that really is a great slogan.

via Radosh

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Human Rights Crisis?

Milosevic's death (or rather, his death prior to conviction) and the UN HRC problems (this article is vague, hopefully more will be out soon) are an interesting news pairing. Is there a crisis in human rights? I know very little about human rights theory, besides the fact that some in France (Benny-Levy? Furet? See, I know nothing) have criticized it as an inadequate basis for freedom and equality. The US also seems to be totally uninterested in supporting its enforcement, to the point where it doesn't really disturb a lot of Americans that we're breaking those rules. (To be fair, the BBC story doesn't say what the US objections are--maybe they want more sweeping reforms than others do?) This seems a fairly popular way to think about foreign policy from a non-realist perspective. Do we need another way? What are the alternatives?

One idea I'm toying with, and considering sharing with my students: Europe bases much of its postwar (or maybe post-cold war) self-image on being anti-genocide. Which is a fine thing to be, except that it has the annoying side effect of pissing off lots of Muslims, many of whom see their situation as comparable to what happened to Jewish Europe in 1940-45. I don't happen to agree with them, but to privilege genocidal oppression over versions of colonial and post-colonial oppression seems, shall we say, a little path dependent. Or to be less charitable: suspiciously convenient, from a European perspective.

The usual way this question gets raised is this: why does no-one rally to support Holocaust deniers like David Irving, but when it's a matter of anti-Muslim cartoons everyone jumps on board the free speech bandwagon? Andre Glucksmann says it's a matter of truth (the Holocaust was a fact) versus belief (Islam is merely a religion.) I think this is wrong: the idea of "the Holocaust" as a historical object is a construction that (if I'm right about Europe using it to ground its identity) is just as motivated by political and social reality as is the Muslim religion. I realize I need to be careful here: I don't doubt for a second that 6,000,000+ people died, nor that their deaths were willed by Nazi leaders, nor even that this was unprecedented and a crucial event in human history. I just question whether we can neatly separate that event as a genocide from the thousand other atrocities of the period or even now. Especially considering the Eastern European context, it's fair to say that there were other factors in play. It was genocide, but it wasn't JUST a genocide, and to pretend that's all it was is to let ourselves off to easily. "Never again" has become a sick joke at this point--let's be honest with ourselves.

I would prefer a lower bar for going after human rights abuses--Milosevic's trial would have been faster had people been less concerned with convincing everyone he was the reincarnation of Hitler and more concerned with pinning him with every one of his individual crimes. That would make the reconciliation process easier, probably. Tough in the case of Milosevic, who was less directly involved than Karadic and Mladic. I'll hold off dancing on Milosevic's grave and pray instead that they get those two.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Zizek has this theory (or buy it here) that the West wanted 9/11, that it was the fulfilment of an unconscious desire for the destruction of "the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe." We all wanted to wake up from the Matrix, basically. I had one of those "where were you" conversations about 9/11 a couple days ago--those few days right after there were awful, obviously, but I think they gave everyone the feeling that they were living in the real world for at least a little bit, and five years on that can make us a little nostalgic.

I say this because I'm trying to figure out what makes 24 a good show. One reason is that it brings up cultural issues in such a subtle way that you're not quite sure which side the show is on. For every bitchy mannish female boss, there's a douchebag President resorting to prayer as the last option in a hopeless situation. It should be shocking that a show about terrorism has not generated a single major protest in five years. I don't think this has anything to do with the quality of the show. It's just that no one can pin it down.

But what's the attraction of the show? It moves too fast to achieve anything more than superficial character development. And it sure as hell isn't a thoughtful examination of how one goes about stopping a terrorist plot. So it's basically counter-terrorism porn. But as with all porn, the viewer is not really sure which side they're on. Case in point: the most recent episode, in which (spoiler, but it was days ago, so get over it) CTU is the victim of a nerve gas attack. As with 9/11, the viewer is secretly rooting for the terrorists to succeed, as long as we (meaning the main characters) survive. How many faceless drones died without us giving a shit, before Edgar waddles in and supposedly makes us feel sympathy? The important part is not that we care that he's dead, but that Chloe now has an excuse to pull out her m-16. So the show is wish fulfilment in a different way: we WANT terrorist attacks mostly because it gives us justification for the fucked up things our government is doing.

Me, I'm still waiting for Jack to torture somebody who turns out to legitimately not know anything. Funny how he always turns out to be right, huh?

Vive la bourgeoisie!

Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience.

T.W. Adorno

Spring break, and I'm disappearing