Saturday, September 29, 2007


I ran across an article on the narcissism inherent in the reporting and discussion of the Iraq invasion which got me thinking.

Ask a presidential candidate about the people and leaders of Iraq, and they might say something like the following:
Our troops did the job they were asked to do. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They conducted the search for weapons of mass destruction. They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government. It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity.
This happens to be Hilary Clinton, but really it could be anybody. I have issues with political dynasties as a expression of this countries sickness, but that can wait for another day.

We need to sit back and look at the facts. As per a study done by researchers from Johns Hopkins published in the Lancet, by July of 2006 nearly 650,000 people have died in Iraq because of the US invasion of their country. Estimates by another polling agency suggest that the numbers may be closer to 1,000,000.

We will get back to these numbers.

Our country and government were not driven by any rational reason to invade this country. They did not constitute a threat to the United States in any way shape or form. There was no reason for the attack. The people of Iraq did not do anything wrong. Hell, they were living in a secular state which supported such absurdities as running water, electricity, public health and education. The country was run by a Very Bad Man, but this is not particularly unusual.

The best argument that we can come up with is that we invaded Iraq for the good of the population.

Back to the numbers.

Assuming that the total count is off by 50%, let us say that the number of needless deaths is around 500,000. Just to give you a tool for understanding how large a number this is, if you lined up that many people side by side (giving everybody 18 inches of space), a line 142 miles long would be created. The distance between San Francisco and Fresno is about 150 miles. Approximately 3000 people were murdered on 9/11. This sickening act seemed to reach out and touch almost everybody that I know and changed the fabric of our society in ways that we are only beginning to understand.

Now imagine the same thing happening every day for 5 years - that is 1825 days for those interested in counting. Now imagine that the social and physical infrastructure that holds our society together has been destroyed almost overnight. No jobs, rule of law, pubic health, sanitation, and not all that much in the way of electricity and running water.

Now give everybody machine guns.

Now import a bunch of wacky theocrats with the sole intention of causing social strife via killing for their own political ends. Mix them with the home grown wacky theocrats for a serious mess.

Do not forget a military presence which does not speak your language and has a bad habit of Blowing Stuff Up. They also the responsible party in the eyes of the populace which adds an element of hilarity as well.

And we sit complaining that the Iraqi people are not taking advantage of the excellent opportunity we have provided to express themselves as a Jeffersonian Democracy. That if they just had a little more gumption there problems would just Go Away. Fucking idiocy so such a degree that my head would explode if I tried to enumerate just how stupid this really is.

Here we go again. Rule of Law. War Crimes. We ignored every notion of Law and international agreement and without cause or justification destroyed a highly modern society killing upwards of a million people in the process. The designers of this tragedy should be set before a War Crimes tribunal and if found guilty spend the remainder of their sad lives rotting in jail.

Instead, Trillions of dollars will be moved from the coffers of Government to those well enough connected to park themselves in front of the trough. Rule of Law. War Crimes.

Crap. There is a growing movement to start this whole mess again with Iran so please contact your congress person and let them know that this is not such a good idea.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

System of the World (2)

One thing that I have been doing as of late is chatting with people who have a longer perspective on what is (or has been) normal in the scope of politics in the past 50 years. While I have memories of Nixon and enjoyed the economic clown car of Reganomics, there is still lacking an intuition about how things are now relative to how bad things have gotten in the past.

So when I asked my neighbor for a little perspective on the current situation, he suggested that I look over a book called "The Decline of American Power", by Immanuel Wallerstein.

The basic idea(s) seem to be that Capitalism as a world system developed in the 16th century is in a state of pathological decline. The most significant causes of this are based on the growing inability to derive profit from a venture caused by:
  • The slow increase of global wages. There are few remaining rural areas of accessible populations to exploit.
  • Taxes have moved upward (relative to the 19th century).
  • Capital's traditional practice of externalizing costs-by simply dumping its garbage into every stream and strip-mining every mountain-is encountering ecological limits. There are no more streams and rivers to pollute without serious consequence.
As the current 900 pound gorilla of the Capitalist universe, the US stands in the center of this mess. The rise of American International military and economic power began with the decline of the British Empire and peaked with the resolution of WW II and the Yalta Agreements between the former Soviet Union and the US. I am not doing justice to the arguments presented in the book, There is a reasonable review of the presented arguments here in case you are interested.

A long paragraph presents the argument quite well:
The Soviet Union actually propped up American power during its heyday, its 'hegemony' (1945-1970). It did this in several ways. First, its military power scared Western Europe into the US camp. Secondly, the standoff with the Soviets relieved the pressure on the US to offer aid to all the allies following World War II. Finally, the Soviets entered into a de facto agreement to police both its own empire and control its supporters worldwide, facilitating a stable world order. The one place where this system broke down was in East Asia, where first the Chinese and then the Vietnamese successfully resisted advice from Moscow to cool things down. The US wound up bogged down in a colonial war in Vietnam. Furthermore, expenditures on this war led to a loss of control of the world money supply. This coincided with both a worldwide revolt against the timidity of the established left (the 'world revolution of 1968' against dominant communists, nationalists, and social democrats) and the narrowing of the economic gap by Germany and Japan. Thus, for Wallerstein, the foundations of US hegemony were shattered by the early seventies, and the period since then has basically been one of slow decline.
According to Wallerstein, the role of the government since 1968 has been (in part) to convince the rest of the world that noting has changed and we are not in a state of decline. So what has changed? The current administration has modified the rules of the game. Not content to exercise the typical gluttony of executive power and profit (why be shy, yes?), they have drank the cool aid of "Unilateral Machismo". This is expressed by both the obvious disregard for world opinion in deciding unilateral military actions, and the obvious disregard for public opinion as treasure is moved out of the operating government into the pockets of their associates.

I am not such a strong believer in the book has an acceptable answer to the question about world change. There are quite a few sloppy arguments and things that I am not all that satisfied with. The thesis is an extremely powerful tool in poking at some if the questions I have.

Nice quote:
Imperial(ism) is a delegitimatizing term, even if hawks think it is clever to affirm it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I read the strangest thing today. AT&T has announced that it will develop and deploy technology designed to keep 'pirated content' off of it's network.

This is such a significant departure from the typical pipe model of common carrier behavior that I thought that this was a joke. As a common carrier, AT&T is provided with a series of privileges such as antitrust and right of way which gives it significantly greater rights than your average corporation.

The whole notion of rights for a corporation throws me into fits, but that will be the topic for another day...
The San Antonio-based telco started working last week with studios and record companies to develop anti-piracy technology that would target the most frequent offenders, James W. Cicconi, an AT&T senior VP, told the “Los Angeles Times.”

Now that AT&T has begun selling pay-TV services, the company has realized that its interests are more closely aligned with Hollywood, Cicconi told the “Times.”

Earlier this month, about 20 technology executives from Viacom, its Paramount movie studio and other Hollywood companies met at AT&T headquarters to start devising a technology that would stem piracy but not violate privacy laws or Internet freedoms espoused by the FCC, the “Times” reported.
As a gentle reminder, AT&T is the same group that was caught providing illegal access to the NSA described here and detailed here. They are now publicly declaring that they want to actively peer into inter user traffic of US citizens. Again, they have no obligation to do this - it is simply play towards better relationships with content providers. I am dumbfounded that this is legal.

NBC Universal has been one of the big drivers behind this push to outsource the work of filtering to the ISPs. NBC's general counsel Rick Cotton recently told the FCC that ISPs should be forced to "use readily available means to prevent the use of their broadband capacity to transfer pirated content." Otherwise, corn farmers could be harmed.

An exec at GE, which owns NBC Universal, later praised the idea in a keynote speech to the telecommunications industry and indicated that his company was quite serious about it.

What to do about this I am not sure. Getting out of my AT&T broadband contract might be a beginning, but as a tier 1 ISP, they touch a significant percentage of all internet traffic at one point or another.

I am, for the time being, ignoring the fact that you can not tell what the legal status of content that you are looking at is. This is all such condescending bullshit.

Common notions of privacy are suffering the death of a thousand cuts. Feh. It is late so I am going to bed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Long days journy

It has been a while since I have posted. Not really from a lack of things to say, or a lack of frustrating political fun, but rather from a lack of stamina. I am tired.

Besides jobs, PAB and a classes, life has been hard for the set.element family. I do not often reflect on the personal, but things have been a little more stressed than usual. The Lucky Cat posting has touched on a few things, but really there is much more.

Lucky cat has dragged himself up to the laptop from the floor. No working back legs. Angry cat...

This needs to be said in some sort of public way:

Mrs. set.element has taken the brunt of her mothers madness both in terms of having her life taken away, and having her life taken away. Both she and her sister have paid their dues. Paid in full. If there was any fucking justice in this world they would be happy and fulfilled. The waste that I spoke of before pales in comparison to the toll that has been extracted over the years in terms of human potential.

Young Mrs. set.element is certainly smarter than her husband and all the alarmingly condescending people she grew up with. She could be a physician or researcher who would make a god damed difference in this world. Every single time that things start going right, something goes wrong with her mom. Every single time. This pisses me off.

Life can be hard, cruel and worst of all indifferent and she has been enjoying a bit too much of all three. We need to figure something out, and soon.

Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lucky the Cat

So Mrs. set.element has been up at her mothers house trying to remove dozens of the (more than dozens) of cats that infest the home. This is a big gross messy job, that is not at all made simpler by the fact that her mother is mentally ill in that special un-medicated way. Her sister flew out from Denver on no real notice and deserves canonization for the effort.

What has been going on with her mother seems criminal to me. Besides the three of us, nobody gives a shit. Other family members and the safety net designed to prevent things like this have literally turned a blind eye on what is going on. She needs to hit 'rock bottom' we are told. What the fuck. She is an old lady who has spent years living homeless in the woods. There is no question in her mind what 'rock bottom' looks like.

Poor crazy people are the bottom of the bottom of the pile. Nobody really gives a shit, but it is more like a high powered apathy. As individuals, you might be able to care. But as a class, it is acceptable to just ignore their problems.

Not that this is a simple morality play. People are complicated, the mentally ill even more so. The frustration felt by watching money possessions and love squandered away over nothing is acidic. Demands on money time and life are often rewarded by silence or accusations of conspiracy. The reality is that you can get sick of dealing with the problems because they just don't ever seem to go away.

The real problem seems to be that the current social infrastructure is totally lacking. The people who are supposed to be there to help are so overwhelmed by numbers and underwhelmed by resources that paralysis takes hold. We have mortgaged yet another component of our infrastructure to maximizing shareholder value.

And Lucky? The newest member of our strange family is probably the most broken cat I have ever seen. Extra 'fingers' on the front, and an additional set of knee joints in the back. Kinda shambles around on his knees and smells bad, but friendly as all hell.

Lucky indeed...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The System of the World

For months now, I have been dwelling on the notion that the current System of the World has changed in some fundamental way. This system is the collection of memes that hold our culture together and provide a way for society at large to view, intemperate and interact with the rest of the world. It is not a static notion given that it is the summation of social thought.

What is my point? We, as a society, are missing something basic in our response to the inability of the executive branch of the government to play nice with others. It feels like there has been a fundamental shift in the rules of the game and we are still figuring it out.

Like the world has moved on. Like this is some sort of unfortunate new age. Like there is a ghost in the machine.
It won't come with jackboots and book burnings, with mass rallies and fevered harangues. It won't come with "black helicopters" or tanks on the street. It won't come like a storm – but like a break in the weather, that sudden change of season you might feel when the wind shifts on an October evening: everything is the same, but everything has changed. Something has gone, departed from the world, and a new reality has taken its place.
Weather Report: The Hard Chill Begins to Bite
Written by Chris Floyd

This is the same general thought that was expressed by Milton Mayer in They Thought They Were Free. The world creeps along in it's own direction, and we are unable to determine what is wrong - like the frog in the pot.

There is so much else going on here. Technological fedishism runs rampant as the sound bites that flood from it. The financial crush that so many people feel is something that can not be ignored either. So many people are under so much pressure just to make end meet in the current environment that trying to think about anything besides trivialities is overwhelming. As of late is has been quite popular to lamblast those fools who were so stupid as to overextend themselves and purchase a house. I am one of those people.

The media. What really to say? One time gunslingers turned fluffers.

But the ghost in the machine still haunts us like a dream that we vaguely remember, but can not place.

Our System of the World is broken and it needs to be fixed. We have forgotten who we are.