April 22, 2007
Billionaire Tom Friedman
New York Times columnist, pundit, and author Tom Friedman has the ear of many people these days, with The World Is Flat being a mega-best seller, and his recent declarations that “green is the new red, white and blue,” previously covered in this space, now expanded into the cover feature essay in the NYT Magazine.
However, if you do a bit of digging, a lot of Friedman’s arguments are based not on research and measurable statistics, but on what CEOs tell him. He isn’t really reporting on globalization as a phenomenon, so much as he is a rah-rah booster of it.
Friedman is the mouthpiece for many economic policies that, examined more closely, support his true peers - namely, the richest people in America - rather than average Americans, even though his wisdom is spun out as being from the perspective of an intelligent middle-class professor. The NYT and his publishers are very careful to play down the fact that Friedman is the heir to a $2.7 billion shopping mall development company; his wife’s family, the Bucksbaums, are powerful, influential and well-connected.
David Sirota puts forth an excellent point about all this in this article at the Huffington Post:
Let’s be clear - I’m a capitalist, so I have no problem with people doing well or living well, even Tom Friedman. That said, this does potentially explain an ENORMOUS amount about Friedman’s perspective. Far from the objective, regular-guy interpreter of globalization that the D.C. media portrays him to be, Friedman is a member of the elite of the economic elite on the planet Earth. In fact, he’s married into such a giant fortune, it’s probably more relevant to refer to him as “Billionaire Scion Tom Friedman” than columnist Tom Friedman, both because that’s more descriptive of what he represents, and more important for readers of his work to know so that they know a bit about where he’s coming from.
What’s more troubling about this is his recent calls for yet more misguided funding of ethanol, so we can keep the cars running at all costs. (After all, you can’t have shopping malls without cars!) A point of view expertly skewered by urbanist / curmudgeon James Howard Kunstler in his piece Blowing Green Smoke.
[Friedman’s argument is] predicated on the idea that the US can achieve “energy independence,” which is itself predicated on the further idea that we can accomplish this by switching out gasoline for ethanol. This is such an elementary error in thinking that it would be funny if it wasn’t the lead story in the flagship of the mainstream media. As a Pennsylvania farmer put it to me in February: “It looks like we’re going to burn up the last remaining six inches of Midwest topsoil in our gas-tanks.” Friedman’s statement also ignores the facts that running cars on ethanol would make no material difference in the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, or that ethanol is 20 percent less efficient than gasoline, meaning we would have to produce and use that much more of the stuff just to stay where we are…Where climate change is concerned, this is a variation of the “Red Queen syndrome” (from Alice in Wonderland) in which one has to run faster and faster to stay in place. It also fails to take into account the tragic ramifications of setting up competition between food for humans and crops for motor fuels just at the point when a growing scarcity of oil-and-gas-based soil “inputs” (as well increasing climate problems in the grain belt) will drastically lower American crop yields. The symptoms of this unintended consequence have already begun to present themselves — for instance, January’s food riots in Mexico, which resulted from Mexican corn being sold to American ethanol distillers rather than Mexican cornmeal millers, who couldn’t match their bids.
Posted by aj_kandy at 11:43 PM
January 5, 2007
Stéphane Dion's reaction this morning:
October 26, 2006
Habeas Corpus Suspended Indefinitely in US
Keith Olbermann and GWU constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley offer some reporting and analysis of this appalling bill (the Military Commissions Act) which seemingly was signed into law while everyone was watching Dancing with the Stars.
Posted by aj_kandy at 10:57 AM
July 20, 2006
Climate Change Deniers and the Wilfully Ignorant
Science blogger Bouphonia writes an elegant rant about the airheaded Peggy Noonan’s wilfully ignorant column about climate change.
On the good side, there’s one Canadian public relations guru who’s sick of seeing his colleagues sell out on an issue that affects everyone. I’m happy to present the anti-climate-change-denialist, anti-PR-spin DeSmogBlog.com.
Remember, folks, spaceship Earth doesn’t come with escape pods.
Posted by aj_kandy at 5:08 PM
April 22, 2005
It's strange how often we romanticize aspects of America that we blithely destroyed because there was money to be made. And it's even more strange that having destroyed such things, we replicate them shoddily, and market them as antidotes to the very psychic emptiness that made the real things seem worthless.
For instance, Bush and his creatures trumpet precisely those ideals of small-town life that his actual policies are destroying. The idea that we are a nation of caring families, or cooperative communities, doesn't withstand the slightest critical examination. But the concept of family and community - of belonging - remains eminently marketable. It's as though we've been locked in a bare cell, and are comforting ourselves by imagining the ineffable perfection of Platonic beds and chairs.
In America's smaller towns, neighborhoods have been destroyed and businesses torn down, only to be replaced by chain businesses that offer a cheap imitation of the community values they ruined. "Old-fashioned" qualities - such as conscientious workmanship - are promoted in cavernous, dismal buildings that were made cheaply, out of shoddy materials, by people whose emotional investment in their work was at a bare minimum. Lovely Victorian buildings are torn down, to make way for some gigantic drab enclosure where faux-Victorian gaslights are sold. Our neighbors are driven from their houses and scattered to the four winds, so that chain stores can arrive and proclaim themselves our "good neighbors."
Whatever you consider the human spirit to be, our official culture has stopped making an effort to appeal to its kinder or saner aspirations, or to please it with anything more profound than the numb familiarity one feels when entering a Starbucks or a Wal-Mart...which is really just an adjustment to diminished expectations.
Perhaps our diminished expectations explain some of our strange bitterness towards the rest of the world. We work harder and harder, and pay more and more, and get less and less, but it's almost as though we defend our lifestyle all the more fiercely because of its very shabbiness. For if this is success, who could survive failure? If this is profit, who could bear loss? The closer we come to outright failure, the less we want to admit it.
Posted by aj_kandy at 4:51 PM
February 28, 2005
Power vs. Energy
The always-insightful James H. Kunstler notes that without cheap energy, America isn't the "world's most powerful nation," in fact it's totally at the mercy of others.
Salient point: without oil imports from friendly-ish nations like Saudia Arabia, Venezuela and others, the US has exactly four years of oil left based on its current -- and rising -- rate of consumption.
Right now, the US consumes 25% of all oil produced. In real numbers, the States will burn through 20 bn of the estimated 80 bn barrels that will be produced worldwide today alone.
Posted by aj_kandy at 9:37 AM
November 13, 2004
Understanding The Red States: Leviticans vs. the Beatitudes
I was raised fairly non-religiously, which is, I think, pretty common here in Quebec.
We are a nation of lapsed Catholics: like Spain, we threw off our religious yokes and a quasi-fascist leader to become International Style Modern (in time for Expo 67, no less).
We are still Catholic in culture. We didn't go too Calvinist-skyscraper crazy: we love our indulgences and wrestle with our demons. In our social policy, we fuse aspects of liberation theology to New Deal economics. The old-school pure laines born since the Quiet Revolution are not, as a rule, churchgoers; the faithful in Quebec now are congregations of immigrants - Korean Presbyterians, Chinese and Haitian Catholics, Sikhs and Hindus, some of whom have gladly taken over the historic old churches, others have built new, modernist temples in the suburbs.
Apparently there is quite a bit of evangelism in Southern Ontario, crossing the border around the Niagara region, I'm told.
But I can't imagine Canadian politics ever really, really splitting over a "culture war" as it has in the States.
Canadians just wouldn't buy it. Even as some parties might try to play to those constituencies, religion and politics are like matter and antimatter in our national debate. We just don't go in for it.
My mixed-race family celebrates Christmas as a secular commercial holiday, but we also do Divali. I got Indian mythology and a bit of history as a kid, through a "Classics Illustrated" comic book series called Amar Chitra Katha, printed on cheap pulp paper. Then again, I still tear up at the end of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. We didn't go to church per se, we never discussed religion much, and I was never baptized or initiated into either faith. (Although as my parents have now reached their 60s, they're going to church/temple respectively much more often.)
The heaviest dose of religion I ever got was attending Loyola, a semi-private boys' high school run by the Jesuits. We had a mix of priests and lay teachers; some were unreconstructed Vatican II-era old-schoolers, the younger ones were more idealistic, into liberation theology. Some took up missions to Central American countries and got shot for their troubles.
We had mandatory Chapel (Bible study) courses, endless screenings of Zefirelli's Jesus of Nazareth movies, and of course the usual Masses, which you had to attend for head-count purposes even if you weren't officially participating in the service.
The Jesuit spin on Christianity, as it was taught to me, was very much rooted in the Beatitudes: the concept of service, humility, not just tolerance but love and forgiveness. In fact in your senior year a required course for graduation was to volunteer at a local organization like the CNIB, gerontology centres, etc. and write journals about it. (Sorry Father MacLean, never did turn in that last report.)
The Jesuit tradition, unlike other Christian and even many other Catholic sects, as far as I understand, is unique in that it's rooted in questioning: they embrace logic, philosophy, science, social issues, politics, Greek traditions purposefully excised from Western Christianity early on, as detailed in Charles Freeman's excellent The Closing of The Western Mind. To this day there has been a subtle battle within the church, between the Jesuits and likeminded, freethinking Catholic sects and the more right-wing, dogmatic traditionalists, like the controversial lay organization Opus Dei.
But I think, by and large, it is the Jesuit tradition that informs our secular politics in Canada. The spirit of real debate (not canned stump speeches) continues here, it informs our social programs and our leaders -- Georges Vanier, Jean Vanier, and famously Pierre Trudeau were products of Jesuit education.
In the recent US election post-spin, opinion diverges over the role of "moral values." That term, as used in a postelection Gallup poll, is far too nebulous to even have statistical meaning, but it has sent the Sunday talk show punditry into orbit.
Strictly speaking "value" is a neutral noun like "quality" - things can be of higher and lower value, good or poor quality. To say that "moral values" is a factor in one's thinking, in the context of the current debate, presumes that one candidate has them and the other one doesn't, or that there is little to no overlap between the sets of beliefs held by each party.
As Thomas Frank astutely notes in What's The Matter With Kansas?, somehow, people have been utterly convinced that this is the case.
Jason Epstein's review of Kansas in the New York Review Of Books sagely notes that our vestigial, primal need for acceptance, and fear of exile from the tribe, may go some way towards explaining why people are willing to put so-called 'culture war' issues ahead of economics at the ballot box:
The [Cold War Republican] strategy was so effective that the liberal avatars of the northeastern Democrats, who courageously led the country to war against the Nazis over the objections of midwestern Republican isolationists, are still seen as unpatriotic inheritors of a culture of appeasement, "weak on national security" as they had once been "soft on communism," while heartland politicos in cowboy hats and boots, having exploited the September 11 catastrophe as Goering recommended, wrap themselves in the flag and issue terrorist alarms of diminishing credibility to an increasingly confused if still largely faithful populace. [...] [After the collapse of the Soviet Union,] without an external enemy against whom to mobilize, [they] turned to a domestic substitute by demonizing the latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, school-bussing, fetus-killing, tree-hugging, gun-fearing, morally relativist and secularly humanist so-called liberal elitists, whose elders had been "soft on communism" while they themselves coddle criminals, women, and same sexers, eat brie, drink chardonnay, support Darwin, and oppose capital punishment in defiance of the "moral values" of ordinary, god-fearing, flag-waving, assault gun–carrying Americans. Frank believes that the Republican right echoes the classic formulas of anti-Semitism by which Jews are held to be "affluent, alien, cosmopolitan, liberal and above all intellectual."
Recently, defeated Oklahoma Senate candidate Brad Carson (D) decried the Democratic Party's lack of presence in red-state church congregations in a piece for The New Republic, noting how heavy-handed the - there is no other word for it - culture war propaganda is, even going so far as pastors telling their flocks How Would Jesus Vote?
My own view is that Jesus would probably not vote at all, given the organized corruption that passes for modern American politics. But the idea that Christ Himself might sit out the 2004 election was apparently not under consideration, so I accepted the invitation--much to the pastor's avowed surprise. As an active Baptist who grew up in the Baptist church, I had no illusions that most of my co-religionists were ardent Democrats, but I rarely turned down any chance to make the case for my own candidacy and that of my fellow party members. After all, wasn't Daniel blessed for braving the lion's den?
As I arrived at the church, my wife and I were given the church bulletin, which outlined the weekly selection of hymns and Bible readings. On the back of the bulletin, atop the blank space reserved for copious note-taking during the sermon, was the heading: "wwjv? pro-life or pro-death?" (I favored the partial-birth abortion ban but opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.) In the sanctuary, a 20-by-20-foot depiction of a fetus looked down upon the assembled throng from a projection screen. Superimposed upon the unsettling image--which morphed to show the fetus in various stages of gestation--was fact after fact about abortions in America.
After the morning rituals, the pastor called me to the stage, and we engaged in a lengthy discussion about abortion, homosexuality, "liberal judges," and other controversial matters. After leaving the stage, I rejoined the congregation, and the pastor launched into an attack on the "pro-choice terrorists," who were, to his mind, far more dangerous than Al Qaeda. Yes, he acknowledged, thousands had died on September 11, but abortion was killing millions and millions. This was a holocaust, he continued, and we must all vote righteously. Vote righteously! In 13 months of campaigning across the vast state of Oklahoma, I must have seen or heard this phrase a thousand times, often on the marquees of churches, where, outside of election season, one finds only clever and uplifting biblical bromides. But it was not until that September Sunday in Sallisaw, one of the most Democratic towns in Oklahoma, that I first understood that the seemingly innocuous phrase "vote righteously" was the slogan not of a few politicized churches, but the cri de coeur of millions--millions who fervently believe that their most deeply held values are under assault and who further see this assault as at least tolerated by the Democratic Party, if not actually led by it.
I sometimes wonder who is using whom: right-wing evangelicals or the military-industrial complex. Maybe they are becoming one and the same thing. But I digress.
In the great debate over American Heartland Values, and which candidate has more or less of them, it seems like the argument, in the end, comes down to which section of the Bible you read. It seems to me that liberal Christians prefer the New Testament, and in particular, the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Kurt Vonnegut noted this on their absence from American Christianity:
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
Funny how Canadians are always the peacekeepers, though.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor at TOR Books in New York, blogged the following excerpt from a letter written by her friend, the noted author John M. Ford:
…I refuse to use the word “fundamentalist,” or any of its variations, for their usual shorthand meaning these interesting times. The first reason is that it is an inaccurate term; these positions do not reflect the fundaments of either Christianity or Islam. They are old emergent strains within each, but the premise that these are the root principles, and everything else, like, oh, tolerance and compassion, are poisonings of the spring, is a lie and a slander.
Indeed, where exactly is the Christianity or Islam in either of these two debased ideologies? Apart from a handful of symbols and catch phrases (along with pastiches, like “The Rapture,” that baldly pretend to be authentic principles), there’s nothing of Jesus or Mohammed, or the long discussions of how we should then live that followed them.
To put it in very direct terms, what we are talking about here are psychotic death cults, of the sort we associate with horn-hatted fictional Norsemen and the Uruk-Hai, people for whom the entire material universe is a sort of sand-table exercise by the Creator, who tossed it together on a weekend to play Red Army and Blue Army for the merest blink in the eye of eternity, before putting the good pieces back in the box and tossing the bad pieces in the fireplace for not winning a rigged game. We are talking, further, about thermonuclear war as not a threat but a shining promise of victory. There are people out there who believe (that isn’t really the word I want, but it’ll have to do for now) that an entirely literal atomic conflict on the plains of Megiddo is a necessary precondition to the return of the Christ, who will come as a thief in the night with a bag of Molotov cocktails.
We know, as much as we can know any of this sort of thing, how Jesus responded to the loss of a single beloved one. John didn’t need many words to describe it.
"Jesus wept," in case you're wondering exactly how many words.
And from the discussion thread on her blog, was linked this great essay by John Scalzi which sums up the whole theological issue:
In the comment thread of the last entry, one of the posters wondered why many fundamentalists spend so much time in Leviticus and so little time in the New Testament, and I think that's a remarkably cogent question. Indeed, it is so cogent that I would like to make the suggestion that there is an entire class of self-identified "Christians" who are not Christian at all, in the sense that they don't follow the actual teachings of Christ in any meaningful way. Rather these people nod toward Christ in a cursory fashion on their way to spend time in the bloodier books of the Bible (which tend to be found in the Old Testament), using the text selectively as a support for their own hates and prejudices, using the Bible as a cudgel rather than a door. That being the case, I suggest we stop calling these people Christians and start calling them something that befits their faith, inclinations and enthusiasms.
I say we call them Leviticans, after Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, famous for its rules, and also the home of the passages most likely to be thrown out by Leviticans to justify their intolerance (including, in recent days, against gays and lesbians -- Leviticus Chapter 18, Verse 22: "Thou shalt not not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination").
To suggest that a Christian is actually a Levitican is not to say he or she is false in faith -- rather, it is to suggest that their faith is elsewhere in the Bible, in the parts that are easy to understand: The rules, the regulations, all the things that are clear cut about what you can do and what you can't do to be right with God. Rules are far easier to follow than Christ's actual path, which needs humility and sacrifice and the ability to forgive, love and cherish even those who you oppose and who oppose and hate you. Any idiot can follow rules; indeed, there's a good argument to made that idiots can only follow rules. This is why Leviticans love Leviticus (and other pentateuchal and Old Testament books): Chock full of rules. And you can believe in rules. That's why they're rules.
The Illinois Leader, a conservative newspaper, noted in this guest editorial with Shock and Dismay that the Blue States were overwhemingly Catholic. As we've seen, though, from county maps, urban areas voted Kerry (even in Red states) while rural areas went largely for Bush. Something that bears further investigation -- is it just that immigrant Catholic populations gravitate to cities? Are Catholics more (Pope) Urban-oriented than evangelicals? Or are diverse cities just friendlier to Catholicism in general?
Posted by aj_kandy at 5:20 PM