Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The "Soul" of Turkish Politics

Nationalism in Turkey is certainly a harsh downside of Ataturkism. Their great reformer and "Father of the Turks"--Ataturk--was a patriot before anything else. But in the process of forging a modern Turkey, he and his successors have lost the easygoing Ottoman tolerance of a multicultural empire. In fact, one of the five pillars of Ataturk's reform was Turkish "nationalism". This is not just a problem for Kurds and Armenians. The Alevis, an Islamic sect, also feel persecuted. It is dismayingly hard to open a Christian church anywhere, despite Anatolia’s long Christian heritage. And the beleaguered Greek community of Istanbul, the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch and of the (closed) Halki Greek Orthodox seminary, are under pressure as never before. The third pillar of Ataturk's reform is "secularism"--and it means something entirely different from the English usage. Instead of the state being completely separate from its religions, Turk's rely on statism (the fifth pillar of Ataturk) to fund equally, and give equal protection to, its various religious entities. So in fact the state is heavily involved in religion. Yet there is no religion of the state. This is familiar to a long-standing practice of the Seljuks and Ottomans since they ousted the Byzantines in the 11th century, when "enlightened despots" (as the Scottish philosophers used to say) like Suleiman the Magnificent and Sultan Ahmed reigned.

While protests and demonstrations over the soul of Turkish heads of state are not as wild in Istanbul as they were in April or May, the potential for a Turkish uprising, or even a military coup, is highly likely. The Turkish military announced that it would intervene, implying a coup, if the Abdullah Gul was elected president and successor to Ataturk. The military has a strange and eerie constitutional right to be the vanguard of Turkish politics, and to step in whenever the government cannot keep Ataturk's principles before them. This happened several times in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. But since the major parties of that era dissolved into the AKP party, this party has been largely entrusted to kept politics under their orderly rule. The banks, for example, are now independent of the government, which brought inflation down to 9% after being hyper-inflated 153% a few years back. After the currency crises, the New Turkish Lira was introduced.

My task is to uncover the inner-workings and perhaps seediness of Turkish politics, especially the banking sector. To understand the mechanics and informalities of modern Anatolia. As an immense cultural experience, I cannot simply see Turkey from a distance, or through four glasses of raki, like my American colleagues probably will. My goal is to experience Turkey as at once a pilgrim and a scholar. To infiltrate the political and Turkish culture to see how Turks see themselves in its fluctuating political atmosphere. This trip I'm about to embark on will enlighten me about this rich land and its legacy, and gather new ideas and perspectives from which to view the Occident. Since I will have limited internet access in Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya, I will post further blog entries when I return to Freiburg. My flight leaves from Zurich in a few hours. Ciao.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Fractious State of the Ummah in Iraq

The position of the prime minister, al-Malaki, is extremely vulnerable. Two Shia parties have withdrawn from the government in recent months, and, although the largest Sunni political grouping in parliament--the Iraqi Accord Front--has for the time being abandoned its threat to pull out, avoiding other ruptures will soon become impossible. The forthcoming referendum in oil-rich Kirkuk should presage an increase in violence in the city, and possibly the eventual establishment of a de facto Kurdish zone, or state. Some Kurdish separatists are attacking Turkey, of course. States' rights should be respected without having to resort to violence. But the majority of Kurds still appear to think about their independence in a democratic and non-militant way. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Turkey says this on their website,

The KDP supports the struggle of Kurdish people in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Russia for their just national rights and reiterates its support for the way in which they determine their own future within the state they live in and agreements they reached within their central governments.

Similar statements of separatist solidarity are emerging elsewhere. The Coalition Forces don't acknowledge separatism as a legitimate political desire. Washington, as we know, has always insisted on a single-state solution. Maliki's benefactor, the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has recently withdrawn his followers in parliament in the wake of the Samarra bombing. The leader of Sadr's legislative bloc said that "the Maliki government will surely collapse if the situation continues as it is right now."

These political withdrawals and boycotts have a specific purpose, although the media simply mentions it (like in the 2005 elections) without providing any analysis. The boycott, obviously, is rejecting the legitimacy of this Iraqi state--and the disproportionalities, like the representation of Shia and Kurd, built into the system. All for the sake of unity in Iraq. The government of Iraq is a failed project, decidedly, and will most likely collapse within a year or two. Unless nations are granted rights. A new formation or federation of states will emerge in place of the Maliki government. This possibility should have been considered long before it came to this. Four years into occupation, and it still hasn't happened.

Earlier this year the Fadhila Party staged the first direct challenge to Shiite unity when it withdrew its 15 members from the United Iraqi Alliance, the ruling Shiite coalition in the 275-seat parliament. As Iraqis withdraw their support from opposing sectarians, they draw closer to the ideologies that hold the individual groups together. Some observers see the Shiite leadership in Najaf as one of the last bonds holding together an increasingly fractious political grouping and uncomfortable coalition-making. Republican candidate Mitt Romney says the Shiites will dissolve into Iran. But it's no surprise the neo-conservatives are saying such things about a true Iraqi independence movement. Our leaders plan on occupying Iraq for, as General Patraeus said, "Nine or ten years".

Sadr and Hakim are now powerful rivals who command large militias, and Sadr might be attempting to expand his disparate following at a time of transition for the Islamic Council, the largest (Shia) party in the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Sadr is a fierce nationalist and militant, while Hakim has already pushed to create a semi-autonomous region of largely Shiite provinces in southern Iraq. This should be made an easy process. But the neo-cons call this "Balkanizing" Iraq to quell enthusiasm for it. Historically greater autonomy and self-government has been the natural and most productive answer to national or ethnic separatism. When Balkanization begins to happen, there is nothing the paternalists can do to stop it. Tito and Milosevic wanted to hold the Yugoslavian People's Republic together. And after prolonged war with every one of its seven separatist nations except Montenegro, it still has no sense of the national unity it hoped to maintain. With the right to self-determination, as it is called, there can finally be peace.

The only thing holding Iraqis together now is the Ummah, the global community of Muslim brotherhood. They will eventually separate themselves politically, join factions, rival tribes, and eventually form their own nations. That has always been the history of the Arab peninsula, from Bedouins and Gokturks to Sadrists and Kurds. We in the West shouldn't view their "unity" as necessarily under federal government rule from Baghdad. This is a Western perspective, and it is biased towards state unity. We will still see them as "Mesopotamian" peoples. But they deserve this special right to, as Woodrow Wilson said to the leaders at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, "national self-determination". All over the world the wounds and frustrations of bottled nations are swelling. "State unity" carries with it a mystical impression of national unity. Yet the two are radically incompatible when the state is so violently fractious as in Iraq. Peoples have rights. Individuals and groups of them. All classical liberal thinkers have said this. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights agrees with this; the UN Charter also says this. Since 2003 the neo-conservatives have struggled with the question of "nation-building". It's simple. Autonomous nation-building in Iraq should be determined freely by public referendum.

At any rate, change in the Gulf peninsula is imminent, and the path toward stability and self-governmental satisfaction is always an open door.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Politics and Google Informatics

I'm surprised at this point how few candidates in the 2008 race have used the Google AdWord service, which allows SEOs to purchase keywords to direct potential supporters to the correct site. The Republicans, who would like to buy their support, seem to like the SEO strategy more than the Democrats, who prefer social networking abilities like Facebook, Eventful, Meetup, and Myspace. 2008 is going to be remembered as the YouTube election--and Google's YouVote is preparing for participatory campaign debates where users can send vlog-style video questions to candidates. And candidates will respond in real time. Social networking capabilities seem to be the best strategy since AdWord doesn't work with tools like Digg and various 2.0 platforms, but neither parties have a grasp on both concepts. Unlike the other Republican candidates, Ron Paul has "gone viral" as net phenomena. He is the most consistently libertarian candidate in either race. His ideas seem to upset every other Republican except for a small circle of unorganized liberalismes. His ideas hearken back to classical liberals like Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and yet the Republicans shun him for being opposed to the very un-liberal United States foreign policy. He's the only candidate who proposes abolishing the IRS, yet he's not invited to a Republican debate on tax reform. His presence all over the net is in fact a threat to the Republican establishment, and they feign disinterest while he has presented himself as a serious, competent candidate full of ideas. The media will follow the other Republicans, not Paul, and if he disappears they will assume no guilt. The net has taken up the responsibility of reporting news of high interest, like Ron Paul, to the millions of users who have become increasingly unsatisfied with mainstream media.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Capitalism Now!

"I want to give you an argument," Saskia Sassen told a large audience of German intellectuals at the Grosses Haus in Freiburg. She leaned forward complacently and made some kind of gesture that reminded me of Hugo Chavez's speech to the UN last September. She looked up and said, "The WTO and the IMF have done their jobs!" The global power structures have de-nationalized zones around the world which adhere to their own kind of "private law". This de-nationalization of what was once the nation-state is important to her argument. But we lack the kind of vocabulary to describe this privatization of the rule of law, yet it exists and those for whom it exists are the organizations who seek to destroy lesser-developed economies and dominate global politics from a distance. Although the imperative of her diatribe was never made explicit terms, it is something like multinational corporations must be punished for their crimes, and that the nation-state is the most important structure yet the corporations are using them to gain illegitimate power.

But what is illegitimate power? I agree with Sassen on the urgency of her thesis, that there is something illegitimate about the power making its way to the corporate sphere. But I would like to give you an argument too. And I'm going to call this a teleological reply to Sassen's noticeably anti-capitalist argument. "The corporation" is certainly a failed enterprise. But it is not the corporation which is to blame for the emergence of this illegitimate power. Corporate power is simply an effect: it is rather the concept of the nation-state itself which is to blame for all of this. Sassen applauds the "important lawsuits" in the last three years against the 200 largest multi-national corporations. This is really important work, she says. We should not be convinced. This is misguided work. Real work would decentralize state-power, the crux of the problem. Strong states, that is, states with a tremendous amount of executive and distributive power, have not only a huge burden and responsibility, but also have an incredible incentive towards corruption. All the post-communist countries with lingering statists in power have exorbitant levels of corruption deep within the state apparatus. And this is the source of socialist inequality. I mean that: socialist inequality--that is, inequality under the law which is promulgated by a powerful, lopsided state.

The situation of capitalism is perilous. A professor of sociology with academic posts at Princeton, London and Chicago flies to Freiburg to warn the audience of how dangerous corporate extensions of state power are in the United States. But offers no compelling argument as to why the state apparatus deserves its own special status, as if it were an 'enlightened' institution. The IMF and the World Bank are an extension of the US executive branch legally. The organizations she blames for the disintegration of Latin American states wouldn't have existed without the state-sponsorship of Washington. And if Latin American states weren't so strong or so statist they wouldn't have been able to bargain with the IMF and the World Bank. This nasty power can be traced all the way back to the state every situation, invariably.

Sassen commented that people tell her she thinks "like a European", much to her flattery. In fact she spent part of her youth in Italy. Her cosmopolitanism can be attributed to the fact she was born at The Hague where her father, Willem Sassen, wrote articles as a Dutch-collaborator and Nazi journalist. While not a Nazi, she is indeed a super-statist. However, isn't it more apparent that she thinks like a Latin American? After all, she spent the other half of her youth in Beunos Aires, and she remembers the collapse caused by the IMF and the World Bank first hand. Hugo Chavez helped Argentina pay down its debt, she recalls, but the IMF encouraged Argentina not to accept it "because then they'd be out of work." The audience snickers. Oh capitalism.

Another one of her ideas: "Global capitalism needs the nation state to survive." I paused for a moment--she is so close to the idea and yet so removed from it! Of course, heavy state power becomes increasingly powerful when its corporations benefit it, bribe it, corrupt it, manipulate it. What if there was nothing to be manipulated in the first place? A minimal state and a vigil polis can achieve this. But as the ultimate arbiter of these matters, the nation-state is incredibly irresponsible. There are many problems with the contemporary conception of "the corporation", and these all come from the states which assign them a special status. The state has the power to enact, the power to penalize, the power to subsidize, is the object of immense lobbying, has the power to distribute wealth from the citizen to the corporation, the authority to govern belligerently, the power to puff-up its military defense, power to create spaces, power to engage in warfare, power to annex territory, power to manipulate trade, finance, media, courts, etc., the power to imprison, and the willingness to act unjustly and without good governance. This is late capitalism--state-sponsored capitalism.

In Robert Nozick's article Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism he outlines Sassen's academically anti-capitalist disposition to a point. The opposition of what he calls "wordsmith intellectuals" to capitalism is a fact of social significance. They shape our ideas and images of society; they state the policy alternatives bureaucracies consider. From treatises to slogans, they give us the sentences to express ourselves. Their opposition matters, especially in a society that depends increasingly upon the explicit formulation and dissemination of information. I don't doubt Prof. Sassen is an intelligent person. The intellectual stance against capitalism, however, seems to be highly misguided. If statism is the problem, as I believe, the anti-capitalism of intellectuals like Sassen is a serious threat to global civil society and its development. Academic intellectuals, who have spent their entire lives in formal institutions, come to believe that these state tools and easily-manipulable offices are the answer to all civil problems when if they had studied the problems of capitalism more closely, more teleologically, they might have found a more tenable conclusion: the intellectual arguments about the ills of corporate power have invariably taken for granted the strength of the state.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why I Am Opposed to "Tourism"

This sounds like a simple statement but too many tourists do not understand it: mass tourism defeats the purpose of seeing places as they have been created by people and nature. I prefer to see things the way they really are: deathly, destructive, and ugly. Traveling to lesser developed places and observing how people live in poverty appeals to me. So does thanatourism, which is related to historical places of death and grief, like Dachau. But Dachau itself is a rather attractive place for tourists. The tourist industry, which is largely sponsored by strong interventionist states, tries too hard to accommodate Westerners by giving them the same luxuries they expect in their white suburban homes. Five-star hotel infrastructures must be erected to serve the rich and seasonable men and women in skirts and flip-flops. All this infrastructure is boring and pointless. The tourist critical mass would travel anywhere as long as there is a golf resort. So why go someplace far away when they're all over the Everglades?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Now A Three-State Solution to Palestine

This year a Jewish study found that 46% of Palestinians prefer a two-state solution, and only 26% prefer a bi-national solution to the Palestinian Question. But the two-state solution, which has been integrated into Bush's Road Map for Peace in Palestine, never envisioned a completely divided Palestinian Authority.

Hamas, the militant Sunni Islamist party elected to the PA last January, replaced the old majority, Fatah. PA salaries, which depend on foreign aid, have dropped since Hamas was elected. Hamas admirably began a 10-year truce with Israel after they were elected, as well. But from the start, Fatah tried to prevent Hamas from getting full control of the PA military--called the PA security services--which are a cornerstone of political power and a job scheme for unemployed militants, and which had become bloated with Fatah loyalists during the secular party's long and corrupt rule. Hamas responded to this by making an extremely disciplined “Executive Force” of its own loyalists to the PA roster in Gaza, where its stronghold is.

Fatah won the favor of the US, which has turned its presidential guard into an elite force to counter Hamas, whose weapons and troops are superior. The US State Department says Hamas's funding comes from Iran. Under the guise of strengthening Mr Abbas as a moderate (unlike Hamas, which still refuses to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state), Bush has provided $59m for training and supplying the presidential guard with non-lethal equipment, which Israel has let enter Gaza. Israel (Olmert) would also like to strengthen Fatah. Israel and Hamas's truce was ended when Israeli forces attacked Hamas for shipping weapons into Gaza, which it technically does not "own" anymore, so it should be out of Israel's jurisdiction.

The Western support for Mr Abbas's troops, along with the now 15-month-old Western boycott of the PA, is part of a conspiracy to force Hamas out of power. Although it's hardly a secret conspiracy. All levels of defense are beefing up Fatah, when it is clear that Hamas has won a clear democratic majority regardless of their being on the terrorist list in many Western countries. The debate over the security services was aggravated by Western pressure to keep it in the hands of Fatah, the minority party. This is why democracies can fail, and why other democracies wish to explore coercive means of getting the parties they'd like in power.

Fatah's propagandizes that Hamas staged a coup against them, which is impossible if you're already the head of government. And so Fatah has officially outlawed Hamas's "paramilitary" organization, which was to be the security services, and has sworn in emergency cabinets to reclaim power. Hamas then fires from Lebanon to attack Israel, reminiscent of last August. It's a war on all fronts now.

The Palestinian democracy has failed for sure, and that's why massive fighting has taken place this week in Gaza. Fatah now has been ousted from Gaza, where Hamas has total control. Israel invaded Gaza today, to crush Hamas and to move people to the West Bank. So Perhaps the answer to the Palestinian Question is tripartite. Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank will become a flourishing democracy, and Ismael Haniyeh's Gaza will become a militant "Hamastan". Western "history" will hail Fatah as the rightful democratic leader, despite faulty Western intervention, and Hamastan will be demonized as the failed militant state, listed as an "axis of evil" and would its credibility crushed so much that it could not attract one dollar of Western FDI. Western propaganda has and is determined to spoil the fruits of any Hamas-led government.

Viticulture and Capitalism

Does the EU Commission in Brussels trust capitalism? For all the anti-capitalist bleating about beastliness of capitalism, the kernel of European economics is undoubtedly capitalist, no matter how diluted. Yet if you look at an industry that is of special local pride to Europeans, such as wine, you wonder if their leaders truly believe in such concepts as risk and reward or profit and loss.

The European Commission--which is the executive branch of the EU--is on course to approve a proposal to reform the heavily subsidized, minutely regulated European wine business. The general response from Europe's wine belt has been to resist calls for liberalization, in the name of tradition, culture, and the "soul" of wine. The opposition is not about money—not least because the commission has made it clear that it is not cutting funds from the 1.3 billion euro wine budget.

Here in Freiburg the local supermarket shelves are loyal to locally grown wines, regardless of their quality or price. When I trained through France last week the vineyards of Strasbourg were teeming with wine production. Wine production is almost everywhere in Europe. But France receives most of the budget from the CAP, (which in turn is 40% of the entire EU budget!) I love French philosophy, but stuck-up French vintners are truly a national peculiarity. They will bitch in disgust if they have to serve an ounce of wine from the German-side of the Rhine River. A generation ago, these wine growers would not even drink wine from the next village. But now this protectionist bourgeois industry must face the reality that Europe and the world will demand an honest price from them, and perhaps might not pay for their long-time subsidized wine. Sarkozy is of no help because he's a French nationalist, and will help "protect" the French vintners from price demands of capitalism.

But with socialist wine production under the CAP, half of the wine budget pays for wine that is never even bought on the market. That's 1.5 billion liters of wine surplus that is never consumed, and Europeans call this the great "wine lake" of France. A
Free Wine campaign will be a wise decision if it takes place, because right now this industry, while the most subsidized, is also the most complicated. There are rules for nearly everything. (Try reading all the .pdfs in that link and try to figure out exactly how one is supposed to grow the grapes, how to sell the wine, etc.) Mariann Fischer Boel, the (Danish) agriculture commissioner at the EU, says on her website that “there is more tension in wine than I have seen in any other agricultural product.”

And all this time the French and Luxembourgeoissie believe the wine industry is so complex that this only means it requires state oversight to be “properly managed”. Both countries profit enormously from viticulture and wine-related industries, such as wine tourism. At least Luxembourg sells nearly all its wine. French wine
au contraire is often left stagnant on the market. Why not liberalize and allow the best and profitable wine producers to continue producing? Perhaps that will mean more wine from Luxembourg on the market. Nay! Something will stop the ironically anti-capitalist Europe from embracing this prospect.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Albanian Press Pessimism

The Memorandum of Understanding for Trade Liberalization and Facilitation is one of the most successful steps in the context of the Southeastern European Stability Pact. Especially the underdeveloped countries in the Balkans, like Albania, will be pushed toward infrastructural and economic integration through regional FTAs. Albanians are becoming more politically active. As President Bush's walk in downtown Tirana he saw signs that read "Active Citizenship!" The country's free press is so open that it tends to play down the recent developments, forgetting how things were during the communist years under Yugoslav rule. So open, in fact, that people are becoming too pessimistic about the post-Yugoslav zeitgeist. The economy is focused on import substitutions to protect industry, and exports only primary goods like livestock. Press pessimism is warranted, but Albanians are yearning for state planning again. Still, one tenth of the population still lives on $2 a day or less. Unemployment stands at 15% Business permits take more than a month. President Bush visited Albania to put a word in for Kosovo's independence, and the pessimistic press had reported that his watch was stolen during a meet-and-greet. The White House denies this happened. At any rate, Albania will be lucky if it can join NATO, and even luckier if it will join the EU. At this point, sadly, it's not even a "potential candidate" like the other countries in the Balkan region are.

Sedition---Resisting the Police State

Since WWII our commercial interests and foreign policy are no longer separate. Americans are forced to subsidize an international military panopticon, an internal police state, and are additionally placed in greater danger because of our arrogant foreign policy. The cost in terms of lost liberties and unnecessary exposure to terrorism is difficult to assess, but in time, it will become apparent to all of us that foreign interventionism is of no benefit to American citizens, but instead is a threat to our liberties. In the mean time what recourse have our citizens to take against the state? While individualists like myself might prefer the dissolving of government over time, smashing the state is not something I am prepared to do. At least not at this moment. I could, however, resort to protest, and be protected under the First Amendment.

But it seems that this too, is slowly becoming less possible. With the cumbersome laws surround protest permits, dissenters may also be increasingly tried for sedition. And on this, the laws seem quite lax. If state wishes to charge its citizens under the so-called Sedition Act, it can make recourse to 1918 Schneck v
United States which ruled that

When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.

Woodrow Wilson was concerned about the widespread dissent during the time of war, and so amended the Espionage Act of 1917 with the Sedition Act of 1918. The Sedition Act originally forbade Americans from the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, and abusive language" toward the government and its war-time policies. But under the First Amendment--which says "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech"--did not include any exception clauses about war-time policy. Nonetheless, the Sedition Act was used numerous times against US citizens, including IWW workers and the famous socialist Eugene Debs (who was sentenced for ten years imprisonment!!) The fearful press did not speak out against this act, even in editorial form. One author points out that, "Far from opposing the measure, the leading papers seemed actually to lead the movement in behalf of its speedy enactment." The Act was eventually repealed in 1921 on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Sedition is a term of law to refer to convert conduct such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel.

Under the U.S. Code of Law, title 18, activities affecting armed forces during the war, such as protesting or encouraging military personnel to refuse deployment or miss a movement, it can be considered sedition. "Whoever... willfully causes or attempts to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal to duty... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."

Under this, any sort of stirring up of rebellion, of any kind, can be deemed seditious. Treason, however, is the violation of allegiance to one's sovereign state and has to do with giving aid to enemies or levying war--as noted in Section 2381. Sedition is more about encouraging the people to rebel, when treason is actually betraying the country. There's no sense in arguing that blogger Pat Dollard is ridiculous for claiming today that Democrats "advance the war against
America" simply because they argue that the surge plan does not work. But there it is sense in arguing that title 18 is a ridiculous piece of legislation.

This short, seemingly insignificant title itself provides a small foundation for a deeply planned police state. Section 2387 deals with whoever can influence the moral, loyalty, or discipline of the
United States military. They can be imprisoned for twenty years. Section 2385 deals with the overthrow of government, and classifies as subversive those engaged in "prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States". A more historical document, the Declaration of Independence, says that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." Section 2386 says that civilian military activity is illegal, and classifies such activity as, among other things, bearing firearms as a substitute for government military, engaging in military maneuvers, and engaging in military drills with or without firearms. What happened to the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms?

This legal code amounts to a serious violation of individual liberties. Although they seem to be rarely enforced, as Orwell pointed out, One day we will wake up and find ourselves living in a vast policed state. And we will know what it looks like. I don't think this is too far from the truth. Laws like this are enacted by the legislature, and yet they are not challenged. The government might decide in a pinch to put an iron fist down and crush rebellion with its heavy quiver of legalisms. One day we will wake up and find out that our government and legal structure had been closing in around us all our lives, until finally we are trapped without recourse or fair trial.

"This is a war.

We are soldiers.

Death can come for us.

At any time. In any place.

There is only one way to save our city."


Though the Sedition Act of 1918 was repealed three years later, many of the laws and legal structures the government has put in place, like Title 18, will provide a structure that cannot be easily repealed. Just as the Sedition Act of 1918 was put in place, it can easily be reinstated. A strategy might be to repeal each legal enactment at a time, yet the sheer accumulation of unconstitutional items is making it impossible to object to. The wall of legalisms is compiling like in a centrally-planned legal structure. Our courts are brimming, our backlogs are long. There is only one way to oppose our government when the police state happens, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, to "throw off such government".

Fur fashion and the theory of the leisure class

Vanity of vanities.

Take a look at the picture to the left. Cruelty is a fetish that perhaps is the most difficult to dissuade people from. Violence is an anti-thesis to reason. And there can be no dissuasion where there is no reason. Especially when vanity is involved, cruelty is an irrational activity. Of course, there is always some morsel of reasoning going on behind the cruelness, some will to power. It does not suffice to say it is a rational activity in the classical sense.

The vanity of wearing fur is to display a peculiar indifference to suffering. Native Americans used to wear furs to survive, and some believed their souls would encompass the soul of the animal. And with almost all "higher" forms of culture comes from this kind of spiritualization of cruelty, an encodification of violence into culture. Without an element of violence at the heart of this spectacle, this theater of cruel animalistic tastes would not be possible. This is sadistic clothing, literally. It is a symbol of zoosadism. Holding the soul of a tortured animal on your body gives off a kind of spiritual fetishism with the symbols of the "leisure class".

One doesn't need to know exactly what happens at these fur plantations to know that it is a symbol of senseless violence and vanity. A mink must be romped on the ground, its head stomped, strangled while its fur is spread from its live body, and had its face crushed with a sledgehammer all for the sake of a Calvin Klein model pacing up and down a runway in 30 seconds or less. Beaten lamb from Karakul and skins of purposely aborted calves and lambs are considered to be especially luxurious in the fashion industry. Why not take PETA's advice and use their guide to shopping for compassionate clothing which outlines "cruelty-free" clothing like "sexy pleather" and synthetic polyesters. Fashion designers like Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, and Marc Bouwer have refused to work with real fur and leathers. But fur really does have a hold on gluttonous bourgeois dandies, and this is why the silly fashion-designers are still using rotting animal products to plush up their models. Perhaps the designers don't actually know that China, the great human rights violater, is also the largest exporter of the finished fur garments imported for sale in the US. China's fur farms have denied even the simplest acts of kindness to animals, not even the most minimalistic recognitions of animal rights, sort of like how the Chinese government treats the Chinese people.

There are some non-fashion arguments which are helpful here. Contrary to fur-industry propaganda, fur production does destroy the environment faster than alternative fur products. The amount of energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is approximately 20 times than needed to produce a fake fur garment. A fur coat isn't biodegradable either, since chemical treatments are applied to stop the fur from rotting in your closet. This Janus-faced industry is even so bold as to provide us with a list of "reasons to wear fur", and they make little sense when all of them rest on fur being simply "fashionable" and only two address real concerns like the environment and commodified cruelty, (which is pathetically legalistic). It is still legal, they say. Notice the circularity and contingency of this notion. And I find "warmth" itself to be a poor argument also, since so many other fabrics provide that too at less expensive rates and more manageable tastes. also provides the browser with a history section, and neglects to mention how trading fur is remarkably unsustainable. Early American fashion sensibilities for beaver hats drastically plummeted the beaver population. And of course the buffalo population, a keystone species in the North American Great Plains, was hunted to near extinction. Today only two continuously wild buffalo populations exist in North America--in Alberta and Yellowstone. The picture on the right is a disgusting mound of buffalo skulls, much to the pride of the hunters, whose names we have all forgotten by now. In the end, we must look at their silly 1x1 pixelated grins and wonder what sense was there in killing all those precious buffalo and leaving their carcases to rot on the open plain? (The answer, of course, is to make 1x1 pixelated buffalo skulls!!)

There is an anthropological reason as to why fashionists think fur is a symbol of higher status. Beginning with primitive tribes, the division of labor also divided class systems. The top-down political systems made it so groups with a higher status became the group responsible for war and hunting, usually men, while the farming and cooking was left to the inferior classes. The working classes did the bulk of the work, especially in peace-time, while the bourgeois classes remained warlike and aristocratic. The warlike classes have never been as productive or reliable. Their integrity relied upon their honorable "status" as protectors against foreign tribes, even as they banned the peasants from using weapons that could potentially make them stronger than the warrior classes. For example, knights forbade peasants from using crossbows which were more affective than a knight's sword. This was a pathetic legal exercise, and stood in the way of technological advancement to say the least.

The fashion industry similarly grew out of this type of "warrior-class" status, which became accustomed to doing nothing, since the warrior activities and responsibilities had also been shifted to the inferior classes. Yet the leisure class still displayed the warrior-like prowess and the tribalisms of the traditional warrior class. Only now the sole activity of this leisure class is to be leisurely and impress other leisure class-members, an endlessly self-reflective activity. These new "priests" of fashion are useful to no one, yet dictate the desires of the working classes through telecommunications and other means. As a symbol of their leisurely existence, they drape themselves in lavish, inefficient clothing. A symbol of their inefficient and sloth-like status in society.

The priestly status of fashionists neglects to mention the mounds of mink skull the entire project rests upon. The consumers care little about that, however, because this part of the equation is extracted from the codified simplicity of consumerism. Our culture also has ironically pointed out that the killing of other species leads to the killing of our own species. As many serial killers have testified, they enjoyed murdering small animals in their youth. A perusal of FBI records easily displays a link between a history of cruelty to animals in one's childhood as one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of rapists and murderers. It is worse when this atrocity is cemented into "culture". It then lies like a shroud over our perceptions.

Fur fetishism will perhaps be diagnosed as a personality disorder by psychiatrists of the future. Yet for now it is but a symptom of a deep societal disturbance. The French used to round cats up into a large net and lower them into a bonfire. Steven Pinker recounts that the French spectators "shrieked with laughter as the cats, howling in pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized." How classy. How bourgeois. It is this kind of humorous sensibility that pushes me to question more contemporary forms of humor and entertainment. Consider the circus. Isn't it strange that watching wild animals perform unnatural tricks outside their natural habitats is oddly entertaining? Or that it might teach children something about the animals, or their endangerment? By displaying bears as tricycle-riding buffoons and by dressing elephants in tutus, circuses present animals as creatures whose purpose is to amuse us. The codified message is: animals are dispensable creatures, and one can freely laugh at their suffering and captivity. Parents at the circus are just as unreliable as the circus itself, and the child learns nothing.

The greatest folly in recent years has been the connection of our animal rights policy with our foreign policy. American soldiers in Iraq were known to have tortured, humiliated, and beaten Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, like Poland and Romania. This is not a recent phenomenon, but one that has surfaced recently due to technology. When I watched this video on YouTube depicting US soldiers in Iraq torturing a small dog, I couldn't help but feel disgusted by my society and its complete lack of respect toward animals. Even greater, the integrity of our foreign policy is at risk. The soldiers laughed hysterically, as if under a spell, at the dog's humiliated squeals and pained kicking. Kind of like how the 16th Century French aristocrats laughed at cats burning alive. And kind of like how the Americans at Abu Ghraib smile for the camera as Iraqis lie helplessly in heaps, naked, beaten, and exhausted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To Live and Die in Istanbul

Turkish politics are heating up. Last weekend in Istanbul a bombing killed none and left 14 wounded. It is not as bad as the Istanbul bombing in 2003 that killed 27, however. Bombings happen nearly five or six times a year, and more often in Istanbul, the cultural center which is closest to the West. But life seems to go on as normal regardless of infrequent PKK attacks.

The newest danger in Turkey seems to be the possibility that the Turkish military might attack Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq, which is one of the r
elatively more peaceful regions in Iraq at the time. A huge military build-up is already on the way towards Southeastern Turkey, to begin attacks against the Kurdish PKK which is a sanctuary for the murderous anti-Turk separatist guerrillas. The US is telling Turkey not to attack Iraq for stability reasons, and the Arabs are complaining that this would ruin Ottoman integrity. Pro-EU Turks argue this would ruin chances to join the EU.

Weapons are easily accessible in Iraq. And the Kurdish PKK party have been using their access to weapons in order to attack economic interests of the Turkish society. It seems that while I am visiting Turkey for academic reasons, it would be best not to stray onto the path less-traveled. Tourist areas are attractions for explosive attacks, and in fact Sundays bombing was in front of a McDonald's. Steering away from crowds is the best idea. The US State Department says in its travel advisory that the possibility of terrorist attacks, both transnational and indigenous, remains high in Turkey.

Americans should exercise ''caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.'' But Turkey is still not on the current travel warnings list. And regardless of the bombing that killed nobody on Sunday, the city of Istanbul is still a safer place to walk than Chicago or Newark which have higher murder rates than, say, Cairo or Istanbul. In fact, the murder trend in American cities is dropping, but overall, the murder rate has risen by 7% since 2003. It would seem somehow perverted to fear walking in Istanbul as compared to Los Angeles, when in Los Angeles one has a greater possibility of being shot, or mugged. There is even a market in LA for renting 9mm Glocks for a day, something one won't find in Istanbul. As Tupac's To Live & Die in LA lyrics testify, LA is the place

...where everyday we try to fatten our pockets
Us niggaz hustle for the cash so it's hard to knock it
Everybody got they own thang, currency chasing
Worldwide through the hard times, warrior faces
Shed tears as we bury niggaz close to heart
What was a friend now a ghost in the dark, cold hearted bout it
Nigga got smoked by a fiend, trying to floss on him
Blind to a broken man's dream...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Who Is A German?

Germany is one of the few countries in the world that still primarily bases its citizenship on "blood". It harks back to a law passed in 1913 during the Imperial Period. The application of this law spurs many irregularities. For example, immigrants from Romania, Poland or the Russian Federation who cannot speak a word of German, who've never seen Germany, and who are completely un-German culturally, can arrive in Deutschland and automatically lay claim to citizenship because their ancestral forbears emigrated from a German province some centuries earlier. On the other hand a Turk, Croat, or Italian, born and raised in Germany, who speaks fluent German, and who has never seen his ancestor's homeland, is not quite a full German citizen. They have a limited dual-citizenship that requires them to choose one allegiance and renounce the other before their 23rd birthday.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dachau and the American Weltanschauung

My perspective on American worldviews is being pushed into a more radical direction. Americans travel abroad to far away places, without much respect for distant cultures, distant tongues, or distant politics. I visited Dachau, the first regular concentration camp established by the National Socialist government, with a small group of American students.

The whole experience at Dachau was ironic. A sign in the memorial sites reads "Never Again" in five languages. Yet as I write this genocides are occurring in Darfur, where over 400,000 mostly Muslims have been killed in the past five years. The birds around the camp acted as if there were something worthwhile to chirp about. The American girls in short skirts and pink blouses walked around pompously chewing bumble gum and slapping their flipflops against their heels. As if Americans had no blood on their hands. We, too, have illegal camps that have been condemned by the world community. The Americans who liberated the camp shot Nazi SS and then encouraged the prisoners of the camp to beat and murder an estimated 400 German soldiers with shovels and other tools. The Seventh US Army battalion washes over this massacre as a firefight with German soldiers, when in fact, the camp had surrendered and white flags were hung on all the towers. The Germans stationed at Dachau during the liberation had actually just arrived two days before from the Eastern German front. Executing them without a proper trial is not justice, and yet the liberation of the camp is hailed as a testament to American justice and Patton's success. I suppose it would be unpatriotic to mention this in any other context.

Walking out of the crematorium, one of the students, Jared, raised his voice and said naively but honestly, "I don't understand how people die."

Abi from California responded in a declaratory tone, "I don't think anyone really can. It's just one of those things." We all remained silent together for longer than we had during the entire trip.

Perhaps at this moment, life was truly meaningless for us. As we walked slowly back to the entrance gate, I could not speak to them. I could not tell them how meaningless I felt their lives and mine truly are. They wanted the world to remain happy for them and their uninteresting families, to be a place where she can continue conspicuously shopping and live without any moral obligation to the world, where he can continue living for shallow relationships and spoiled suburban pleasures. I could not find the words to break the spell.

"See, America actually gets shit done," Jared said in response to our taxi-driver who compared Dachau to Guantanamo. Granted Dachau is far worse, but the principle that our country is greater than the world community's judgment on human rights and our military's ability to hold and punish prisoners in foreign and secretive prisons is the same principle National Socialists worked on. We believe we operate on an elevated juridical status: our nation does not need to follow the same conventions we expect other nations to follow.

Part of it has to do with the fact that we are ignorant of the rest of the planet. "I don't know that much about Romania so I'm just assuming there's nothing there," a student said a few days ago during class. The relativism of American worldviews and politics astonishes me. How can a group of people be led to believe everything their country does is right?

We took the train back to Munich, and I mentioned how pointless it seemed to put religious symbolism all over the camp in remembrance of those who died. Religionists capitalize on the fact the Christians and Jews were executed at this camp, and so only they are allowed to erect tall steeples and monuments on the site. But Himmler, in his capacity as police president of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners." Thus why aren't the thousands of communists who were tortured and pole-hung in the prison area or experimented on in the medical rooms have a gigantic memorial for their deaths? Abigail responded, naturally, that communism has killed many people too, so it would be replacing Nazi symbols with Communist symbols. But as a Christian nation, Americans apparently don't know that Christian and Jewish symbols have meant "genocide" in the past as well--for example, when ethnic Jews committed genocidal slaughter against everyone in Judea once YWHW had granted them lebensraum after the first exile. The native Judeans was one of the first recorded examples of mass ethnic genocide.

In Munich we met up with another study abroad student who chose to stay alone in the city for the day instead of visiting Dachau with us. She decided she did not want to see Dachau, and I decided she was the most superficial person I had met on the trip. She's a sorority girl who came to Munich only for the Hofbrauhaus and the nightclubs. The same shallowness that keeps her from wanting to visit Dachau is the same shallowness that keeps Americans from caring about Darfur. I told her that she was shutting her eyes to the ugliness of the world, and she shrugged her shoulders at me.

"I just don't want to see it. It's too sad and it's such a nice day." I didn't say anything in response at first because I wanted to draw out the absurdity of her statement. She had been speaking all morning about superficialities like her interest in expensive cars, expensive fur coats, and famous people she had met with her parents. She and the others had been laughing to themselves about their feigned elitism and class status, and in fact complained about poor people in Africa as pests!! If the Germans feel a renewed responsibility toward the world, I felt a responsibility to make her squirm at this moment.

"So you'd rather get drunk by yourself than for three hours see one of the most important sites in Germany? A site that has taught the world one of the most important lessons of history?"

She mumbled to herself, but she never answered the question. The message was simple, yes, she would like to ignore her powerful position as a wealthy, elitist American, who does not have the time or the interest in any of these matters. We spoke few words to each other for the rest of the trip in Munich. It was awkward, but it was my responsibility to express such a concern. If other people had been in my place they might have felt like strangling her long before that moment.

This trip has perverted my view towards America. I believed I would have developed stronger views about who Germans are, and what German culture is. Especially in Bavaria, a German cultural hot spot. Instead I have developed stronger views about Americans and American culture. Our culture is for swine. And we have so many lessons to learn.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I'd Rather Be A Cyborg Than A Goddess

As technology evolves, we are presented with more choices and more opportunities to override our genetic code. In the process, the boundaries between artificial and natural, human and machine, meat and metal, male and female are blurred. Technology gives us a god-like power to transform ourselves. Biology, it seems, is no longer destiny.

Today's headlines announce smaller, smarter and more intimate biotechnologies: computers to be implanted in the human body, wires beneath the skin of the skull to shock us out of depression, nanobots to repair tissue damage, genetic manipulation to improve the quality of humankind, in-vitro fertilization for asexual reproduction, embryos frozen for possible later use. Microsort, a more recent reproductive technology, offers sex preselection. Artificial Life Inc. invents the virtual girlfriend.

Some theorists say technology, not political ideology, is what drives social change. As the celebrity academic Marshall McLuhan famously declared: "We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us."

But it seems technology has always had its own ideology because machines can't design themselves and people are political creatures.

According to feminism, technology has a sexual politics. How technology is designed, and who gets to use it, is determined by unequal relationships of power between the sexes.

According to the old-school feminists, control of science and technology is the last bastion of male power, domination and intimidation. Some say the "culture" of cyberspace is more like the men's change room at a football match - not the most female-friendly environment. In this view, Bill Gates is a kind of evil patriarch maintaining a male monopoly of technological skills and designing more "toys for the boys".

However, this argument is slowly dissolving with the emergence of a new generation of computer-savvy girls quite at home in cyberspace. Women may be gaining ground in an age where power is defined not by brute force but by the mastery of technology.

New technologies have certainly made possible new configurations of politics. The 1990s, for example, saw the emergence of so-called cyber feminism - a school of feminism that sees technology as more liberating than oppressive.

This view says technology allows women to break out of their prescribed gender roles. More than this, high technology encourages us to confuse the very categories of gender. In cyberspace no one knows your "true" gender - you can make yourself up as you go along. Whereas old-school 1960s feminists (allied with ecologists and anti-nuclear activists) saw science and technology as mostly dangerous and threatening, '90s cyber feminism embraced technology. Whereas '60s feminism claimed an intuitive connection to Mother Earth and the natural world, the new feminism rails against nature.

Today, the boundary between the artificial and the natural is dissolving and according to cyber feminism that's a good thing. As the American academic Donna Haraway put it: "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess."

Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto welcomes a future where we will all be part human and part machine.

Haraway's writing is ridiculously complex. I find Marxist literary criticism hard to follow most of the time. And Haraway, in that same Marxist-academic-literary critic circle, is similarly very opaque and sometimes impenetrable. Popular culture has also explored the relationship between people and technology through science fiction and film - from the female cyborg in Metropolis (1927) to femme fatale replicants in Blade Runner (1982) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). (Remember Arnold's monotone lament? "I'm an obsolete design", when surpassed by the stronger, deadlier female terminator.)

The real beauty of the cyborg is that it pushes the boundaries of our ideas about gender and identity. The cyborg has no natural origin - it is made by man, not God. Gender, sex and sexuality can be constructed and reconstructed at will. Accordingly, in the age of the cyborg, the old male/female distinction will be irrelevant. The most radical of new movements spawned by new technologies might be transgenderism.

With technological and medical support, the transgenders construct a gender of their choice, unfettered by biological sex. A loose alliance of transsexuals and intersex individuals, the Transgender Movement sees advances in plastic surgery and endocrinology as the pathway to liberation and self-determination. They argue both gender and sex should be optional and one should be able to demand sexual reassignment. They see the very categorisations of "male" and "female" as rigid and obsolete.

This line of thinking has unsettling but exciting consequences. If the physical body can be transformed or transcended at will, then everything is open to change. The body is an increasingly artificial object. There is no more natural way of being a man or woman, only different styles, images and appendages. On the upside, beliefs about the "natural" abilities of the "opposite" sex are now obsolete.

The downside is that our technological knowledge has exceeded our ability to use it wisely. The best-case scenario may also be the worst: a future without limits. So the time has come to ask political, moral and philosophical questions of these advancing technologies.

In the 1968 science fiction novel, which provided the basis for the film Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick asked: do androids dream of electric sheep? Perhaps the quintessential question for the 21st century should be: do cyborgs dream of creating a better world? Personally, I think the cyborgs dream of being free.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Why Do They Hate Us?

Americans are renowned worldwide as being unusually ignorant and judgmental of other cultures. Americans do not understand other cultures, and what's more, they don't want to understand them, and what's even more, they show that openly. I never thought I would encounter such blatant Ugly Americanism while I was abroad, until this trip.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

33rd G8 Summit in Rostock, Germany

I am currently in the Southern-most part of Germany, Baden-Wurtemburg province. The annual, informal G8 Summit and the protests will be in the Northern-most part of Germany, in a small town called Rostock. All the heads of state will meet in an exclusive seaside resort called Heiligendamm. All of Germany has been activated by the summit, however. There are protest notifications all around the City of Freiburg, where I am staying. The graffiti on the walls read, "Fight the Police State", and "Stand Against Police Brutality. Fight Back!" Others say, "STOP G8" and "FIGHT G8". Unlike American graffiti, German graffiti is very political.

The agenda for this year's G8 Summit--set by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel--is "investment, innovation and sustainability". But also, like last year, Africa (which was not then and probably wont be now, solved) is a priority. Climate change is also on everybody's mind, especially since George Bush made some comments this week about "his" new climate change plan. "The United States takes this issue seriously," Bush said Friday morning just a few days before the G8 Summit was to begin, today. It seemed like just last year Bush "didn't believe" in Global Warming. This is all part of his plan to reject the G8´s Climate Change proposals, however, before he even hears them. Meanwhile, a thousand people have already been injured in the protests, and the Summit has not even officially begun. The whole ordeal is a humongous orgy of statism and anti-statism. Two polar opposites. The world Alter-Globalization movement (or rather, anti Washington Consensus movement) is growing. G8 Summits are unsuccessful in general. The meetings are terribly informal, and cost states billions of dollars to provide the security and the location for these meetings. With the introduction of a world database on terrorist suspects introduced in 2005, it begins to look more like a sort of world-wide Patriot Act
and the encroachment of civil liberties.

Germany has already spent 13 million in Euros to pay for this extravagant meeting, which could just as easily take place digitally.