Please Excuse Our Progress

Monday, March 17, 2008

The comments made by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor, five days after September 11th give a more accurate account of why the attacks happened than anything I've heard from Obama or Hillary Clinton.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

Maybe the connection between the specific events he cites and 9/11 is tenuous, but the general thrust of his remarks that 9/11 was largely a result of the U.S.' militaristic and economically exploitative foreign policy seems to me right, although it is not discussed by any prominent politician besides Ron Paul.

Despite Obama's denunciation of Wright's remarks, I'm encouraged by the fact that they've had a long-standing relationship. For some reason I've always had this mystical feeling that Obama just lies about his foreign policy views to make them palatable. For example, I'm inclined to accept as a true reflection of his beliefs his statement at a small political event last year in Iowa that "no one is suffering more than the Palestinians," although he subsequently qualified it by saying that he meant "under the Hamas government." So I was encouraged last week when Obama's economic advisor Austan Goolsbee said that Obama's criticisms of NAFTA were just political posturing.

I conclude with some Tom Waits:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There's all the obvious to say for this; but at least we're not calling it a crusade anymore.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I guess this is a kind of changing of the guard.

I don't feel too bad.

But, of course, I blame Reagan for all of this.

And Baker will never be able to penance enough, even for Dante.

What level?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This article is just plain insulting. "Islamic radicals?" I'm assuming the article refers to the Islamic Courts Council (ICC), which is now the functioning government of most of Somalia. Regardless of whether or not they are radicals, making them sound like a two-bit rebel movement is absurd, given that they are much more powerful than the transitional government and in control of a good part of the country.

Also, what does radical even mean? Since the article obviously assumes the reader has no knowledge of Somalia, it seems like a really perjorative term to use without citing evidence (or, hell, mentioning that the ICC has brought some semblance of order to the parts of the country which they control). Wouldn't "fundamentalist" be more apt?

Friday, October 13, 2006

I’ve been wondering a lot recently about the term “Islamo-Fascism.” Does it mean the same thing as “Islamic Fascism?” If so, is there such a thing as “Jewish Fascism?” Were the Nazis believers in “Christian Fascism?” Or were the Nazis un-Christian, and thus just plain “Fascists?”

And if “Islamic Fascism” and “Islamo-Fascism” are different, then is there such a thing as “Judeo-Fascism?” What would you call the Christian equivalent - “Christo-Fascism”? I guess that would be the proper term, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Islamo-Fascism.”

In any event, what does Islamo-Fascism mean? If you wanted to use the term and remain moderately respectful of Islam, you’d probably say “a totalitarian political system in which the state exercises stringent social and economic control, is probably headed by a dictator, and incorporates elements of Islamic theology and culture.”

But isn’t it kind of self-evident that any fascist government would incorporate elements of the culture (including religion) of its country (be that Islam, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism)?

Plus, the word “Islamo-Fascism” strikes me as implying a very intrinsic relation (at least moreso than “Islamic Fascism”) between the religion and the political system. Given these two factors, maybe the correct definition would be “a totalitarian political system based on Islamic tenets, in conjunction with stringent social and economic control, and probably headed by a dictator.”

Ignoring the theological arguments that such a term would inevitably raise (e.g. “can you have a totalitarian political system that is truly based on Islamic tenets?”), there need to be some actual Islamo-Fascists (what good is a word if it doesn’t describe anything?). Since President Bush uses the term, I’m assuming he’s referring to Islamic governments/movements the US doesn’t like. So the government of Saudi Arabia can’t be Islamo-Fascist, nor can that of Egypt.

But the Baath Party could be. But the government of Iraq was pretty avowedly secular, as is the government of Syria (not that they’re above using religion to prop up their regimes; but neither were the Nazis), so they’re not really good candidates for Islamo-Fascism, but rather regular fascism.

How about the government of Iran? They have elections that kind of matter, and there is political debate in the country to a degree that wasn’t seen in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. So, unless Islamo-Fascism implies greater plurality than regular fascism, Iran isn’t a great example.

As for the Taliban, though they fit the dictator/totalitarian/strict social control description, I don’t think they had the same obsession with economic and industrial development as the European fascists. Though maybe that’s supposed to be the “Islamo” part of “Islamo-Fascism” (you don’t need a military-industrial complex if you’ve got God?).

Regarding Al-Qaeda, it hasn’t ever had control over a government, making it difficult to ascertain its exact political and economic programs, though I’m sure it would involve strict social controls. However, is it possible Osama bin Laden dreams of Dar al-Islam governed by Sharia Law and a strict system of checks-and-balances?

Then again, it’s possible that the “fascist” part of “Islamo-Fascist” is just supposed to be an epithet- so a fascist is someone opposed to freedom and apple pie; an Islamo-Fascist is also opposed to hot dogs, bikinis and beer. I guess it’s a good technique: combine two words sure to strike fear in Middle-America, then use the new term to label our enemies.

However, I find this disconcerting- using a term that conflates a religion and one of the vilest political ideologies of the 20th century doesn’t seem to be a particularly constructive manner of labeling an abhorrent minority within that religion, something a lot of people have argued in a manner much better than mine.

That said, I’m at least kind of proud that we aren’t using “Islamo-Communism.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

There was really a ton of hub-bub following Hugo Chavez’s speech to the UN General Assembly last week where he called President George W. Bush the devil. The New York Times featured a picture of the event on its homepage and did an interview with Noam Chomsky to get his reaction to the reference Chavez made to his book. CITGO, the Venezuelan state-owned gas subsidiary, took a couple hits when 7/11 cited Chavez’ remarks as a reason it ended their 20 year supplier contract and a Boston city councilman demanded that the huge CITGO sign above Fenway Park be taken down. And even McSweeney’s, which I usually like, published this shitty Carlos Mencia-inspired parody, Hugo Chavez Has Anger Management Issues. (Which, strangely, doesn’t make fun of Chavez for his previous name for Bush – Mister Danger – which you’d think people would find sillier than anything they made up. I’ve got to believe that this was because they didn’t know about it, and not because they appreciated the literary reference too much to mock it.)

Chavez certainly benefits from the media attention heaped on him. It helps him domestically, where he faces an election in December and anti-Americanism plays pretty well with voters. Even though the election probably won’t be too competitive, it will put him into his last term before he has to amend the constitution again to stay in power. And the kind of demagoguery that can mobilize a 1.5 million member militia to prevent foreign invasions can help keep people’s minds off of poverty and oil price fluctuations. It also is probably generally beneficial for him in the international sphere, where he can influence public opinion in his bids to try to win a seat for Venezuela on the UN Security Council, and to maintain South America’s rejection of the FTAA.

I’m not entirely sure why the US media gives him all this attention, though. I guess it impresses on us the idea that anti-American sentiment in the world is felt only by lunatics. I really can’t think of a single foreigner whose criticisms of the US are given any popular credence. Maybe Fareed Zakaria. And of course the zany Frenchman, Bernard Henri-Levy. But in Henri-Levy’s case the exception proves the rule: the very novelty of that guy coming to give us a look at ourselves was the reason he was able to make the talk show circuit.

And that’s funny because it’s not like anyone thinks Americans’ self-criticisms are sufficient. I, personally, would even say that Chavez’ accusation that the US is a terrorist state for harboring Pat Robertson shows a much better understanding of terrorism than anything I’ve heard from a Democrat.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Please Excuse Our Progress isn't an entreaty. This is an entreaty: Please don't spend much effort thinking about how the authors effect progress. We probably won't do so ourselves. It's enough to try to point out progress when we see it!

If you do really wonder about the provenance of this blog, you might try conceptualizing it as a toy boat guided through a bathtub by a child's hand. Its path will seem capricious and whimsical, and it will be always subject to the condition that it float on a choppy and fairly concentrated solution of human filth.
What is progress?

Progress is building, progress is good and, most importantly, progress is inevitable.

Progress is your refrigerator, the gel caps on your aspirin, and FedEx.

Though some are opposed to progress, most are not. For those opposed, they will be proven wrong and their influence diminished by both historical processes and signs on highways.