Monday, July 25, 2005


The Amtrak was delayed (surprise surprise), but I've returned from Falcon Ridge. Those were four great days well spent, within the pastoral fields that flow from the Berkshires, listening to fine folk and being with good people. American communitarianism at its best, one could say. The masterful songwriter and guitarist Chris Smither, the feisty and passionate Ani DeFranco* and the very hilarious Vance Gilbert were my favorites. Another great performer was Susan Werner, who sang "Strange Nation", which was an incredible song. (If I could provide a link to the lyrics, I would.)

All said, I had a great time. (If I can figure out how to upload my cell phone pictures to this, I would do that, too.) Falcon Ridge** was one of those awesome, communal experiences that cannot effectively be put into words, because a lot in that way is lost.

*DeFranco's website has a link to a campaign by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service that is opposing a proposed plan to shuttle our national nuclear waste in a facility under an Indian reservation in Utah, apparently.

**This year was the last in which Falcon Ridge was held in Hillsdale (or Philmont or Craryville or wherever the hell we were, anyway). We don't know where it will be held next time but, as we heard, Falcon Ridge is not a location as much as a state of mind. And to that I very much agree.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Hiatus begins this Thursday, when I head off to New York and to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. This will be my second time there. Should be a lot of good times, and so I'll blog y'all later.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Washington Post deputy foreign editor Pamela Constable wrote a fantastic column, "Torture's Echoes," a clear warning to never lose the vigilance needed for a democratic society to survive, in the face of the record of abuse and torture that has led from the 'coercive interrogation techniques' we've visited upon suspected terrorists throughout the world, from which we are prone to shy away and ignore. The more controversial methods are not only counterproductive ("... studies have shown that building trust and dependence is a far more reliable way to break resistance" and thus extract valuable, 'actionable' information from the people we capture than what "produces desperate lies," so-called 'torture lite') and show potential allies for our fight against terrorism an ugly side of ourselves, but, if we are not careful, may threaten the very principles upon which our Republic was founded.

Constable's focus is Chile. On September 11, 1973, we gave direct support for a coup in the country that installed General Pinochet as ruler, thus beginning a reign of terror that brutalized Chilean society as 'enemies' were summarily executed, or disappeared. But she is care not "to push the analogy too far," of course. However, the point driven home is that it can happen anywhere. But we are blessed with the democratic institutions to voice our dissent toward policies that will end up harming us, not granting us safety from those who wish us ill. Constable quotes a Chilean politican as lamenting that they had "'all failed as a society.'" I plead for us all to not let that be our fate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

As a member of ZMag Blog, I made some comments on an article written by Paul Street, who claims the attacks in London were "a price of empire" that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush "are willing for us to pay". My thoughts set off something of a furor, and so I have some clarifications for the forum. (This is due to the word limit on that blog, as well as the asinine 20 minute wait period between posts.) Mr. Street, in a follow-up, ripped apart my arguments quite nimbly.

Hello, all. I never thought of setting off such a firestorm there, so here are some clarifications (and some amplifications):

I generally agree with the idea of 'moral universalism', first introduced to my thinking via the writings of Chomsky, by which the same ethical standards we apply to others are used to judge our own actions. The elegance of the idea is not that all are equal morally, but rather that the measure by which their actions are judged is the same. So, if we imagine murder to be wrong (and I suppose most people do), it is not relevant who is committing the act, for murder would be equally wrong in either case. In this way, intent is immediately dismissed as meaningless. By intending to free Iraq, we have ended up with the deaths of well over 20,000 Iraqi civilians. But their murder was not our intent. We place a much higher premium on human life, I believe, than terrorists who purposefully slaughter civilians without remorse for political aims. But that is still mass murder, regardless of our intent, right? (Adjusting for size of population, the toll of Iraqi civilian dead thus far is roughly equal to 236,000 Americans, which is nearly 79 times the magnitude of the toll of September 11.)

I strongly agree with exploring and developing alternate sources of energy. I paid $32 at the pump today, and eventually that money may go to end up funding the work of terrorists and other murderers. So, if not simply for the environmental damage, I'd like to stop helping a lot of that money flow into the hands of terrorists via the Saudi royal family and their oil ministers and barons, for example.

The central question one is lead to pose from Street's original post (which set off this spirited discussion from all of us) is whether the respective leaders of the US and UK governments are actually "willing to have us pay" the price of the war in Iraq with such gruesome attacks as befell London last Thursday. If so, it would follow that there are higher priorities for our respective leaders than protecting human life, which is sanctified in the President's mind. (Whether the Prime Minister agrees on the "sanctity" of life is an open question, for I don't really know.)

Finally, on the matter of justice in the light of the brutal attacks against Londoners on July 7, I draw a sharp distinction between it and revenge. Let's refer to the definition of "vengeance": in a word, retribution, which I interpret to imply a certain equality. You take out one of my eyes and I take out one of yours, as Hammurabi dictated. Ghandi is credited with observing that the only effect of this writ large is a world of the blind. Justice? "... the quality of being fair and reasonable" (The New Oxford American Dictionary [2001], 923) Is such a draconian law of Hammurabi's devising 'reasonable'? No, because there is nothing to ensure eyes being taken out from happening again, nothing to deter it but rather encourage its incidence by inciting people to poke each other's eyes out and, thereby, seek a strange conception of justice.

But how do retribution and justice fit within the context of terrorism, namely our response to it? The retributive action feeds oxygen to the fire, though it can be masked in the guise of justice. For instance, by overthrowing the tyranny of the Hussein regime and waging the ensuing war and occupation, over 20,000 Iraqi civilians are dead, but the rest have been freed of the former despot's brutality. This is simple. Assuming Iraq had any sort of role in the attacks of September 11 (almost completely ruled out by now), atrocities all their own, this would be such unreasonable retribution. Surely, Prime Minister Blair is not seeking to indescriminately murder fifty people from whatever country last Thursday's murderers take residence, right? For the sake of humanity, I hope not. Such an act would be blind retribution.

British journalist George Monbiot spoke of the idea of retributive *justice*. If one cuts off your right hand, instead of chopping off his you have him perform all of the lost functions of your right hand for the rest of his life. (How one could apply such a principle vis-a-vis the scale of terrorist atrocities is something I am thinking about, but it is difficult.)

I hope that clears up some things.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

UPDATE: Though the perpetrators of today's brutal attacks in London are not yet known, speculation of Qaeda involvement is surfacing, or some kind of affiliate, 'home-grown' terror group with fealty to bin Laden. Who knows at this point. The BBC is reporting, however, that "questions are quickly being asked about possible connections to the wave of violence launched by al-Qaeda" since September 11. But, as of yet, no confirmation on who did it from authorities. According to a report from the New York Times, an Islamist terror group "describing itself as affiliated to Al Qaeda took responsibility" for the bombings, though "British police said they were unable to confirm the authenticity of the claim." The Times adds that the so-called "Secret Al Qaeda Jihad Organization in Europe ... said the attacks were to avenge British involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." If this lead proves true, it may mirror the purported reason sent out that the trains in Madrid were bombed in March 2004. Bastards. If God claims vengeance as his own sole right, as says the Bible, justice is ours. These murderers will never win.

33 Britons were murdered today as four explosions rocked the London transit system, wounding about 350 others, perhaps as high as 1,000. Local authorities do not yet know who was behind the bombings, but Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly linked the attacks to the ongoing G-8 Summit. (Above: Travelers walking "to safety", by Alexander Chadwick near Kings Cross; via the BBC.) This is simply a horrible, despicable act of terrorism, and we must help our friends across the pond to do whatever they can to find and prosecute those who abetted, condoned, and orchestrated these attacks, and see that justice is done for what happened today, and as well to prevent atrocities such as these from ever happening again.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

BULLETIN: New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been sent to jail for refusing in court to burn an anonymous source, while turncoat Time magazine and its reporter, Matthew Cooper, are off the hook from District Judge Thomas Hogan's investigation. This, in my view, is yet another event in a grim series that has heralded dark days for the field of journalism. In fourth months, Miller will be free. But will the press so be, as well?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

You all've read the reviews of Batman Begins, so I decided it wasn't worth my time to add my own thoughts on the film. Anyway, I had a good vacation, picked up a copy of Princeton University professor Harry Frankfurt's essay/book On Bullshit, which was very insightful. I hope you all had a good vacation, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

“Real patriots ask questions” — Carl Sagan

“The man who fears no truths has nothing to fear from lies” — Thomas Jefferson

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” — Benjamin Franklin

“Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on Earth” — Eugene Debs

“[D]issent is the highest form of patriotism” — Howard Zinn

In other words, happy Independence Day. (According to Richard Shenkman, citing some scholarly literature in his book Legends, Lies and Cherished Myths of American History [1988], the actual date in which we declared independence from the British Crown was the Second of July, not the Fourth.)

P.S.: I have just returned from finally seeing (after two long weeks) Batman Begins, which I say was excellent. My review of it will have to wait until ... I return from vacation at Bethany for the weekend. Until then, goodbye.