America The Passé
Tim Dunlop has reported on a conversation he had with someone familiar with a recent Congressional trip to India. The Indian government wallahs told the Congressmen, in essence:
"We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That's our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with oyu. We find your approach to international affairs ridiculous. The invasion of Iraq was insane. You've encouraged the very things you say you were trying to fix - terrorism and instability. Your attitude to Iran is ridiculous. You need to engage with Iran. We are. We are bemused by your hypocrisy. You lecture the world about dealing with dictators and you deal with Pakistan. We are very sorry for your losses from the 9/11 terror attacks. Welcome to our world. You threaten us with sanctions for not signing the non-proliferation treaty, but you continue to be nuclear armed and to investigate new weapons. You expect us to neglect our own security because you want us to. We don't care about sanctions."
I have noticed that many world travelling Americans are as shocked by the world's indifference as they are about the negative ("anti-American") comments whenever America is discussed. I guess that when you are number one, you need people to keep telling you you are number one or it means nothing.
The Real Scandal of American TV
CNN Business News has a report today on the FCC's crackdown on "anti-decency", by which they mean naughty words, bare buttocks and the slightest view of the female breast on American television. In typical MSM fashion, CNN describes the events as "the smut scandals that erupted in 2004."
Of course, the genuine scandal is that a typical American child will see more than 20,000 murders on television before they graduate from high school, they will see closeups of autopsies on CSI, they will witness scores of thousands of other violent TV events. This is fine apparently. This is the kind of atmosphere the Americans want their children brought up to, the kind of interpersonal interactions they want them to emulate. Violence and death is the basic education that American network TV delivers.
Having children see genuinely loving couples doing genuinely loving things is apparently illegal and immoral. This is the kind of interpersonal interaction that is to be considered scandalous, matters that should be kept in the dark, away from the ears of children.
Death and violence, though, is OK and should be encouraged.
No regime seeking to develop a militaristic fascistic society can afford to allow their people to think about loving and compassion. Violence and brutality needs to be bred at an early age. This is the educational value of modern American network television. As Rogers and Hammerstein wrote fifty years ago:
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!
With this in mind, we have to say that US network television and their FCC masters succeed brilliantly.
I have to admit that when Bush announced Bernie Kerik as his choice to head the Department of Homeland Security, I was certain that the Republicans had found their main man for 2008. A rough-hewn common man with an action-packed law enforcement resume and executive experience as NYC Police Commissioner. George Bush must have had similar thoughts. I sat back in my chair dreaming of the fabulous fight the early Giuliani-Kerik primaries would be.
But that fantasy is all over now, of course. Kerik has been bought low -- hubris rules! -- and he is no longer in any position to stop the further erosion of his integrity that must surely come as every tiny and sordid-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder detail of his past is dragged into the light. I don't blame Kerik: Everyone has to make their way in the world; some get caught, some don't. But doesn't this show up the sheer arrogance of the Bush regime?
Every bush league reporter has found something about Kerik that should have caused doubts about his appointment, and each something turned out to be something the Bush folks didn't know. Or, more properly, chose not to know. Obviously, with so much dirt being flung in the air by the press after less than a week's research, most of this could easily have been discovered by the intelligence agencies of the administration. They were either told not to look, or told not to report what they found. Why? In my opinion it is because, after scooping an unwinnable election, the Bushites believe they can do no wrong, that their choices should be accepted without question and without due diligence. They seemed sure they could push back against any opposition. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted this morning about the Bush regime's style in its decision to attack Iraq:
"It's a fundamental misjudgment, and it's a consequence of a decision-making process in which skeptics, questioners, people who disagreed really didn't play much of a role."
They miscalculated in the Kerik case, I think, only because they were actually not aware of the breadth and depth of Kerik's problems. Kerik was, of course, which is why he withdrew in the forlorn hope, I guess, that his withdrawal would dam the tide of unwanted public scrutiny. He miscalculated, too, though, as he has lost his place in history and his dirty washing is about to get a thorough airing.
Capitalism vs. Globalization
At al-Jazeera, I read that former Wall Street trader Max Keiser and other "high net worth individuals" have established a hedge fund to short Coca-Cola stock as a protest against US foreign policy.
"We will create a fund based on the amount of people who come and register with us at www.karmabanque.com to boycott the product," Keiser announced. He added: "The more people join our boycott, the more money will be pumped into the fund. The more people join the boycott, the bigger the signal becomes to the financial community to sell their shares. Anyone can participate. All you need to do in this case is boycott Coca-Cola. Any community anywhere, in the Middle East or anywhere else, can use this fund to monetise their dissent. Rather than taking on a whole load of risk themselves, they can use our fund to do it."
Keiser has a first-rate ambition: to use financial markets to destabalise the superpower.
"We are not anti-capitalist. We are anti-imperialist and anti-monopolist. Coca-Cola has been chosen because the stock is American and it is vulnerable ... As for the profits from the fund, they will be given back to victims of Coca-Cola. When we say victims we mean the people in Colombia who have fallen foul of Coca-Cola's anti-union activity. Or in India, where Coca-Cola is tapping water supplies away from local farmers"
It seems a damned odd scheme to me, but anything that helps....
Cultural Beginnings #9
Music is one of the oldest of the human arts. Bone pipes and flutes have been found that are tens of thousands of years old. One of the oldest yet discovered, a mammoth-tusk flute produced perhaps 35,000ya, has recently been unearthed from a cave in the Swabian Mountains of Germany. That was in the last Ice Age and the musician must have been used to scrambling across the frozen glaciers. It is remarkable to me that, in an age when so much of one's time and energy and thought must have been devoted to simple survival, that some people could first imagine and then find the resources to create a musical instrument.
Science is garbage! Or, rather, garbage can help produce good science, especially when one is looking at the earliest evidence of humans' decision to settle in organized groups. Researchers in the Near East have been able to distinguish temporary hunting camps of 12,000ya from sedentary villages of about 9,000ya because the latter had primitive forms of communal garbage disposal, while the ealier hunter-gatherers kept their garbage inside the houses. This strongly suggests that urbanism got its start much later than previously supposed. Given the fundamental fact that sedentary life had "such a profound" and negative "impact on all aspects of life," and "[w]ith it came a complete change in mentality and morality, laws relating to personal property and communal responsibilities,” evidence that civilization is even less "traditional" for human beings is always welcome.
On the other side of the world, in South America, recent research indicates that settled agricultural culture was flourishing in the La Plata region of present-day Uruguay about 4,800ya. The researchers posit a plausible climatic theory for why humans settled down around the world at this time.
"Combined analyses of preserved pollen and phytoliths indicated that, as in other regions of the world, the mid-Holocene was characterized by significant climatic and ecological changes associated with important cultural transformations. During this period, around 4,500 years ago, the climate was much drier than it is today and "Wetlands became biotic magnets for human habitation providing an abundant, reliable, and a resource-rich supply of foods and water. Furthermore, wetland margins offered an ideal place for the experimentation, adoption, and intensification of agriculture encouraging the Los Ajos' community to engage into horticulture", explains [Jose] Iriarte, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama."
I have written several times before of the earliest signs of wine culture in the Eastern Mediterranean around 9-10,000ya (see especially Cultural Beginnings #5), so I am pleased to see research on Chinese beverages has pushed back to about the same period. In the Chinese case, the drink was "a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit." The find comes from Jiahu, a site "already famous for yielding some of the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing." This fascinating article goes on to describe fragrant liquids, probably fermented drinks, discovered in sealed vessels from about 4,000ya.
City Abstract IX series 2
It seems to be that time of year when I find myself building website content for the company that pays me. It is consuming, for a while. But I am saving material and I'll be back with a few new pieces in a day or so.
In the meanwhile, I'm glad to welcome the flood of visitors brought over through a kind mention by Norm at onegoodmove. Stay a while and look around.
Lawn Darts, Nannies and Trans Fats
Behold the lowly -- and quite illegal -- lawn dart. Stigmatized as "dangerous" and banned from sale in North America in the late 1980s, the lawn dart deserves pride of place as an icon of the nanny society in which we are no longer allowed to make our own decisions.
Proponents of the ban claimed there had been 6,700 lawn dart injuries in the 11 years prior to the ban, with 3 deaths. This was enough to have them pulled from the shelves and for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue an urgent advisory to parents that they should "destroy" all the lawn darts they could get their hands on. This ban was put in place even though 1.5 million sets of lawn darts were being sold each year, attesting to the game's popularity.
And this ban was put in place even though the injuries and deaths caused by lawn darts were tiny, especially when compared with other recreational items. For example, 400 children are killed in bicycle accidents each year, and another 400,000 end up in hospital emergency rooms; and yet kid's bicycles remain on sale. As do normal darts -- those with the very sharp points, found in every rec room in America -- and BB and pellet guns, toy weapons, slingshots, and sling-propelled toys which, together, caused almost 2,000 serious eye injuries in 2001 alone.
Clearly the banning of lawn darts has nothing whatsoever to do with safety; if it did, all these other items would be long gone, too. No, it has more to do with government and bureaucrats reacting to noisy pressure groups who want to rid us of our rights to personal responsibility. I am reminded of this sorry history of nannyism by the present loud chatter from the liberal classes calling for the banning of certain foods and food ingredients. For example, the leader of the New Democratic Party, Jack Layton -- Canada's Nanny-in-Chief -- has introduced a bill that will first reduce and then eliminate trans fats from Canada's diet. What the heck is wrong with telling people transfats might be dangerous and then letting them make their own choices? Isn't this what we do with cigarettes, booze, non-illegal drugs and Big Macs? Why should trans fats be any different?
I guess my real complaint -- both with regard to lawn darts and trans fats -- is the hypocrisy involved in the operations of the Nanny State. Why ban one potentially dangerous product but not another? Why allow the smoking of nicotine, but not of cannabis? Why is it OK to gargle with Jack Daniels but not to eat a bag of chips?
Obviously we cannot ban everything that is slightly dangerous (think cars, think guns, think bleach), so why ban anything at all? Evolution teaches us that those who refuse to take common-sense precautions won't reproduce in the numbers that common-sense folks will. I say, scrap the prohibitions and let nature take its course.