Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Road to Nowhere

I had a lengthy – and, I’ll admit, fun – exchange with a pro blogger on ZNet. I don’t know how I got to this site, but the tone of discussion irked me when I started reading the material there.

Clearly it's a lefty site; there's plenty of the foggy language I remember so well (even fondly) from my grad school days. I still have plenty of liberal leanings in my political/social thought, but I was bugged by reading some of the posts. Why? Because it was all pot-shot stuff, people criticizing as if they only needed to offer opinions and evaluations and no substantive considerations to pragmatism.

As for me, I hope that the path I pursue is constructive. If I don't think you are doing something correctly - and I am in a position to provide criticism - then my obligation is not only to say so but also to explain how I think it should be done. From there, my obligation becomes making this explanation a reality in the world of activity.

On ZNet, I find repugnant the lack of solutions being proposed and the absense of practical grounding. To me, these posts read as smarmy, self-important arguments from a detached and idle class. These writers and posters often seem as though they have no real investment in either the things they criticize or the piecemeal solutions only implied by their commentary.

For example, they feel that the U.S. (and, one must assume, other countries) military actions in Iraq are criminally liable. If this is so, why don't they pursue formal charges? Why don't they petition their elected representatives or run for offices themselves? Why don't they seek to create media campaigns to influence greater public opinion? In other words, why don't they walk their talk?

To me, the great lessons of post-structuralism are lessons about action. These posters on ZNet perhaps don't realize the violence of posting, the assault that writing constitues. One must, in my opinion, assume responsibility for the violence one commits, whether it is the violence of the word, the fist or the gun. All this violence is the same Frankenstein's monster: only make it if you are prepared to follow it to the ends of the Earth.

Below, I have reproduced (though introducing my own edits where I wanted to) the basic narrative in the blog posts between David Peterson and myself.
Sun, 2007-07-08 21:23.
Seeing that this Sunday's New York Times advocated at length for the immediate withdrawal of the occupying military's troops from Iraq -- "without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit" ("The Road Home," July 8) -- perhaps it is worth remembering that, five years ago, there already were a hell of a lot of voices in this world -- even in the largely whacked out fundamentalist republic of America -- who opposed the invasion before it ever began, when opposing it really mattered --


Who no doubt would oppose a similar war of aggression against Iran -- under ominously similar scare tactics and sexed-up lies.

And who also opposed the earlier aggressions against Afghanistan. Against Yugoslavia. Against the world. Including you and me.

So you say you want to use military and/or other techniques of destabilization to remove a government, and you'd like to justify it by the conjunction of Lie A, Lie B, Lie C, … etc.?

Who do you call?

The United States of America.

Now why can't the New York Times also call for an inquiry to be opened into the criminality of the individuals most responsible for these acts of aggression?

If you can answer that one, you'll also know why there is very little reason for hope
that the United States won't turn around and do it again.
It’s worth pointing out that this person writes out of Chicago. You’d think he was holed up somewhere in France. That “occupying military” he talks about remains staffed by our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters – staffed by us, you and me, in other words. But “occupying military” sounds sexy and subversive, I suppose, and allows one not to have to worry much about the humanity of the people in the military.

My first post was a ridiculous, sarcastic spoof. What I think I was really trying to challenge, though, was Peterson’s strange implication that Iraq and Saddam Hussein, in particular, were total innocents with no culpability in the military action taken against them by U.S.-led forces.
That Murderous Iraqi Tyrant Should Have Been Left Alone
Mon, 2007-07-09 17:04.
The world should not have interfered with that taunting, evidently dangerous maniac. Instead, the world should have stood by and done nothing, remaining passive and registering (loudly) a self-righteous and intellectually masturbatory moral indignation. Instead, the world should have sat in committee and passed judgment, or maybe it should have taken out an ad in the NYT.

Tell me when it's time to convert to Islam.
Then, to add to a different blogger-on-blogger argument, I posted this.

Hi Pot, It's Kettle ...
Mon, 2007-07-09 20:50.
No apologies here, but what do you think of this report:

TUZ KHURMATO - A suicide truck bomb killed at least 150 people and wounded 250 at a busy outdoor market in the Shi’ite Turkmen village of Amerli south of of Tuz Khurmato (200 km north east of Baghdad) on Saturday morning, police said, according to Reuters and AP. Over 30 houses and 20 shops were leveled in the massive blast, and the wounded had to be transported to hospitals in Tikrit and Kirkuk because the Tuz Khurmatu hospital was understaffed, contributing to the rising death toll. Five people were still missing and unaccounted for, according to VOI. The sectarian and ethnically mixed Tuz region, sandwiched between Kirkuk and Baquba, had recently witnessed increased, deadly activity of Islamic State of Iraq militants, who were possibly on the run from military operations in Baquba and Baghdad.

Will you condemn the actual, human perpetrators for this act? Or will you justify this behavior by saying "bad policy made them do it"? Where is the condemnation of the suicide bombers, of those who encourage such depravity, of the institutions that teach it?

What of this report?

KIRKUK - Four civilians were wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb 25 km west of Kirkuk, police said.

Maybe you don't think some people deserve a dignified answer, but I think planting roadside bombs is a wicked act, especially when civilians are affected by these devices.

So tell me: what have you done to change the bad policies? What would you have me do? Give me some action instead of stale posturing.

Then Peterson himself got into the act.

Tue, 2007-07-10 00:01.
The former President of Iraq was the leader of a very tyrannical and dangerous regime. No doubt about it.

Now tell me something: How is it that you and I know this? Did his regime kill people? Did it terrorize them? Did it invade foreign countries? Devote an exorbitant percentage of the national resources to building up the means of state violence, including "weapons of mass destruction"?

In other words, aren't tyrannical and dangerous regimes those that really do engage in tyrannical acts and endanger innocent people?

If so, then how would you have the world deal with regimes that do such and such things? Should the world (i.e., the international community, and coalitions of the willing) stand by and do nothing when there are clear cases of tyrannical and dangerous regimes, remaining merely passive and registering merely self-righteous and intellectually masturbatory moral indignation? Maybe even take out ads in the New York Times?

Now tell me something else: What's going on in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq today?

I don't believe that you'll need to convert to Islam to answer these questions.

But you will have to approach them honestly.

And on this count, I have grave doubts.
It’s a good response, attempting to show me the hypocrisy of my view, which was trying to show the hypocrisy of his view, and so on. But I saw his core reasoning as flawed.

Tue, 2007-07-10 12:35.
Let me respond to your last point first, in which you express your "grave doubts" about my personal ability to approach serious questions honestly (unless you were using an ambient "you," as in "everyone").

You don't know enough about me to judge my capacity for honestly approaching matters. I'll tell you this, however: I believe that objectivity is a myth. That is, there is no such thing. When you ask me to approach questions honestly, you really mean approach them from your point of view. While I can respect your point of view, I think it is not only a partial view - as they all necessarily are - but it is also a flawed view.

How are you defining terms like "tyrannical"? In these tyrannical regimes you speak of - do you dare to write their names? - who are their single rulers, the ones vested with absolute power and exercising such power unjustly or cruelly?

Define your terms wisely, sir, and then see how they apply not to one country, one ruler or one "side." To me, this seems the more honest approach. Are you willing to take it?

You ask what's going on in places such as Afghanistan or Iraq today? I say that armies are fighting there, staffed by some very good people, people you know and like; some obnoxious assholes; and some people that intend harm to you, whether or not you are sitting in an office in Chicago feeling good about your self-defined honesty.

Now, look at all of the governments directing these armies. Tell me, which one does not kill people? Which one does not terrorize either a portion of its own citizens, its neighbors or the world at large? Which one has not invaded foreign countries or supported invasion? Which one has not devoted an exorbitant percentage of national resources to building up the means of state violence?

Which government is this? Answer this and then tell me how the world should respond.
The "objectivity is a myth" bit was the really important part, but Peterson decided to duck these points and instead build a circumstantial case.
Tue, 2007-07-10 16:44.
But your original post ("That Murderous Iraqi Tyrant Should Have Been Left Alone") was dishonest. Unless you'd like to cop a plea of mere provocation. Nothing wrong with that.

So you were either sincerely provocative or -- as I suspect by your sarcasm to the effect that one tyrant in particular should have been "interfered with," and your closing remark "Tell me when it's time to convert to Islam" – you very well may object to a previous murderous Iraqi tyrant, but you don't honestly object to tyranny per se. Particularly Murderous Super Tyrants.

There is one, and only one, way to determine that a regime is tyrannical, murderous, dangerous, and the like: By what it actually does.

Question: On or about October 7, 2001, or March 18, 2003, which regimes in this world possessed both the intent and the means to conduct their affairs tyrannically, murderously, and to the endangerment of innocents? And not just internally, either. But internationally? Of course, there was more than one regime on this list. But the list is hierarchical: Some regimes would have ranked higher than others. Qualitatively as well as quantitatively so.

Another question: On July 10, 2007, which regimes in this world possess both the intent and the means to conduct their affairs tyrannically, murderously, and to the endangerment of innocents? And in exactly the same manner?

Presuming that you yourself give an honest hoot about the issues you've raised about murderous tyrants,....
The thought Peterson didn't consider? That I didn't see tyranny in the U.S. actions with respect to Iraq. This is why I responded as follows.
Tue, 2007-07-10 17:28.
Of course my original post was primarily sarcastic. Don’t be thick.

If anything, your refusal to engage the plain points of my previous post suggests that you have your own issues with the truth. You seem perfectly fine with acts of real and threatened aggression so long as the perpetrators are not American.

You accuse me of not objecting to tyranny per se; I accuse you of not objecting to aggression and hatred.

As for me, I certainly do object to tyranny. You, however, misuse the term, as tyranny generally refers to a government in which a single ruler has absolute power and exercises that power unjustly or cruelly. I don't see how the U.S. president is currently vested with absolute power, and I ask you to justify your use of the term. I don't think you can, if you're honest.

I give more than a hoot about the issues raised about murderous tyrants. Here’s a challenge for you: make a list of 5 verified tyrannical acts performed or authorized directly by Saddam Hussein. Then, list 5 comparable acts performed directly by the current U.S. president or his most recent predecessors.
I thought this was a decent challenge, but Peterson chose not to respond. Too bad. I wanted to ask on the next go-'round whether it would be preferable to be a U.S. soldier captured by the insurgents in Iraq or an Iraqi insurgent captured by U.S. soldiers. This question might have clarified some issues of where evil lies.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Scare Me Into Training

This story was one of the reasons I decided to start training more seriously for my upcoming marathons!
Triathlete died of a heart attack
He collapsed at Cohasset event
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff July 10, 2007

A 38-year-old triathlete who died during the inaugural Cohasset Triathlon on Sunday suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming, race organizers said yesterday.

Although race organizers and police declined to identify the victim at the request of his family, records from the race identified him as Joseph J. Lyons Jr., 38, of Newton Highlands.

"We're not interested in speaking to the press at all; we have no comment," said a woman who answered the phone yesterday at Lyons's address. Cars were parked in front of the family home for much of yesterday, and neighbors contacted by phone also declined to comment.

Lyons was listed as a certified public accountant who previously lived in San Francisco.

Organizers said they were well prepared for the event and that conditions on the water were good. They said three people, including Lyons, were plucked from the water after experiencing distress during the triathlon, including a 40-year-old woman who remained hospitalized yesterday after suffering cardiac distress and a 29-year-old man who was treated and released at South Shore Hospital.

More than 700 athletes participated in the event, known as a sprint triathlon because its three events cover shorter race distances than some other triathlons, including a quarter-mile swim, 12.5-mile bike race, and 3.2-mile road race. The event drew first-time triathletes as well as more experienced participants, organizers said.

The race began at 8 a.m. Sunday with clear skies, a light wind, the temperatures in the 70s, and a water temperature of 64 degrees. It raised more than $45,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

The event was sanctioned by USA Triathlon, the sport's governing body based in Colorado. Bill Burnett, the race director, said in a statement yesterday that an emergency room physician, five paramedics, and two advanced life support ambulances were on hand at Sandy Beach for the swimming leg. Three Cohasset harbormaster boats, one volunteer personal boat, and eight kayakers were also on hand, Burnett said.

Lyons was taken ashore during the first of six heats in the swim leg of the competition. After being alerted by several racers that Lyons was in distress, a harbormaster boat picked him up and took him to the beach, where he was met by emergency medical personal.

"Upon arrival at the beach the victim went into cardiac arrest," Burnett said. CPR was performed, and the victim was taken to South Shore Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The fatality in Cohasset has cast a spotlight on the grueling sport, which has been growing in popularity.

Lyons's death was the third in the nation this year at a sanctioned triathlon event, according to officials from USA Triathlon. The other deaths occurred at triathlons in Tampa in April and in Missouri three weeks ago, said Kathy Matejka, the group's events services director. As with Sunday's fatality, the other two occurred on the swim course. Two deaths occurred in 2006, also on the swim course. Matejka said.

Many newcomers are joining USA Triathlon's ranks, where the annual membership is expected to pass 100,000 this summer. In 2004, the group had 1,500 sanctioned events and last year surpassed 2,000 events for the first time.

Tragedies like the one in Cohasset are "something that's always on our mind," Matejka said.

Race organizers had to submit a safety plan to USA Triathlon for an event to be sanctioned. "We're extremely confident that all the preparations were done properly," she said.

With the growing popularity of triathlons , Matejka said USA Triathlon's officials have informally discussed creating a system that would require participants to have completed a number of smaller triathlons before being allowed to register for others.

Race officials said that they did not know Lyons's experience, but that the problem of novice triathletes joining the sport is a concern.

"You do need to do the right work, or you're going to put yourself at risk," said T.J. Murphy, editor in chief of Triathlete magazine. He said summer triathlons are more taxing, especially with extreme sodium loss.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Ego Is "Out of the Office"

Recently, I have decided to give my ego a vacation. I have tried to act on this as well, but I’ve been only somewhat successful. The basic idea is that I forget about my personal vanities and the whims of my heart, and just give a rest to all that “be what I want to be” stuff.

I know, it sounds strange – especially in this day and age – for one to strive to reject following his own heart’s desires. But my conclusion of late has been that no lasting goodness has ever really come to me by following my heart.

Most of my life I have insisted that “because I want to” was a good enough reason for me to undertake virtually any course of action. What’s more, I refused to have my decisions scrutinized or questioned by anyone.

So I have lived a life giving primacy to the dictates of my ego, and at 37 and a half, I am finally considering “re-assigning” my ego, not affording it broad influence over my days and nights any longer.

How will I know what to do? I’ll listen better to Torah and the sages. And I’ll improvise: before I act, I’ll pause and try to understand what seems to be happening and what’s really happening, and I’ll choose the ethical path.

Sounds easy, but already I know how difficult it is. Almost every moment of the day calls free will into the scene. Will I eat that ice cream or do some work? Will I indulge in daydreams or occupy my mind with something of value? These are choices that have to be made over and over, constantly throughout daily life.

Hopefully, writing this down and then posting it is part of the choice I am making to strive for ethical improvement. Sometimes there’s a close resemblance between the right thing to do and personal vanity. I suppose time and my labor will together reveal the true nature of this post.

Postscript, September 22, 2007: See my post, "Out of the Whirlwind." Ego stayed aboard and exacted some revenge on me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Free Speech It Ain't

Here’s a nice, little journalistic tidbit out of Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country north of Iran:

Baku Appeals Court here Friday approved on the Preliminary Civil Court verdict against officials of Azerbaijan Republic's San'at Qezti for offending Islamic sanctities.

According to Baku media sources, the Appeals Court has rejected the appeals request filed by Rafik Taqi, the writer of the blasphemous article, and the Editor in Chief of the said biweekly, Sedaqat Uqli, both of whom have been sentenced to three- and four-year prison terms respectively.

The appeals court of the two was held in absentia of the culprits and in the presence of a jury.

The West inclined low circulated San'at Qezty that is published once every two weeks published an insulting article against Islamic sanctities, including Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) last fall, that raised the outrage and the Azeri pious individuals, intellectuals, and various political, social and cultural circles in Azerbaijan Republic ever since then.
To sum up the article: A newspaper writer and editor said something that offended a group of Muslims. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced, and their latest appeal happened without them in the courtroom. It’s unclear whether “the culprits” are in jail or hiding out in another place.

Thank goodness there was a jury hearing the case. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been fair.

Gotta love the “West inclined low circulated” bit in this piece - way to propagandize! You must really feel secure in your way. Yeah ... really ... secure.

Whatever "blasphemy" these poor fellows wrote and authorized, it has apparently boiled the blood the Baku’s pious for something like nine months now. (Puking sounds, to be translated as moral indignation, e.g., "give me a break!")

An article like this reminds me of why I am glad to live in the United States and to have been born a Jew and not a Muslim.