Notes nov 2 2007

November 1, 2007 § Leave a comment

Some stories are just amazing. From BBC NEWS  World  Americas  Race to save Mexico flood victims

arrived in Villahermosa from Campeche yesterday around 6pm, and it was raining lightly. I have barely no Spanish so didn’t work out what was going on at first. After I left the bus station and headed into town I did notice that it was pretty quiet and everything seemed to be closed. The corner shop selling buckets and life jackets along with the usual stuff seemed odd. There were also a fair number of people filling sandbags, and every TV I passed seemed to be showing a press conference with Pres. Calderon. Nevertheless, I made it to my hotel without incident. However, it did begin to dawn on me that things weren’t quite right. I remembered seeing the river looked awfully full when we passed over it on the way into town, and what might have been a park that was full of water. The queues at the supermarket (one of the few shops open ¿ the only other one I noticed was selling menswear) were another sign. And there were more sandbags, and workmen frantically bricking up the bottom 3 feet of doors. So I returned to the bus station, bought my ticket out for the next morning, patronised a hotdog stand that was literally the only food seller open, and returned to the hotel. Around 10 the power went out, leaving me to find my way to the bathroom with a lighter the desk clerk gave me. It never came back on, although the streetlights stayed lit. This morning I packed up by natural light and headed out to find that the river had come to just across the street from the hotel. The way to the bus station was clear and the bus left only 20 minutes late. It took a while to get out of town what with the huge traffic jams and flooded streets, and I had a good view of the submerged houses, the river way over its banks, people stuck on roofs, the boats navigating the streets, tops of cars and one man a raft of empty water cooler bottles carefully transporting a cage full of budgies. I got off lightly ¿ it looked like hell, although without any sense of panic.
John Fairweather, London, UK

from The National Interest

The Art of the Possible

by Lee H. Hamilton

AMERICAN FOREIGN policy confronts a basic paradox. The United States stands alone as the world’s most powerful nation, with the strongest military, the largest economy, the highest level of technological capacity and the most extensive cultural influence around the world. Even after the setbacks of recent years, no other single power or grouping of states comes close to matching the United States. And yet America’s ability to accomplish things abroad has rarely—in recent memory—seemed so limited. Why?


Robust rhetoric renders the essential prioritizing of foreign-policy objectives impossible. If you look at any national security strategy or presidential campaign platform, the stated aims exceed our implementation capabilities. There are authoritarian regimes throughout the world. Does bringing democracy to Egypt take precedence over bringing it to Turkmenistan or Zimbabwe? Do democratization efforts in the Middle East take precedence over stabilizing Iraq, which, as the Iraq Study Group noted, will require assistance from Iran and Syria, not to mention authoritarian allies like Saudi Arabia?

Our resources are not unlimited. We cannot effectively fight a war in Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan, deal with Iran and North Korea, and combat radical Islamist terrorism and nuclear proliferation around the world. When we try to do everything at once, we do things less well. And we certainly become even more reactive, wrestling with implementing these huge goals and not anticipating what might be over the horizon: the next 9/11 or the next nuclear domino to fall. In turn, we often have trouble sustaining our policies.

From Juan Cole

Perle and Wolfowitz were big advocates in the 1970s of a Team B approach to intelligence on the Soviet Union, whereby you constitute a group of people to look again at the CIA estimates and see if you couldn’t find evidence for a darker, more pessimistic picture.
It is obvious that would you actually need is a Team B that is skeptical from the Left.
Daily Kos, Talkingpointsmemo, Eschaton, many others listed below on the libads blogroll, and I, volunteer to do it for free. Is Washington listening?
First item: Let’s Team B what is being said in the released official US intelligence on Iran.
It would be easy.

This is more than I expected. Think Progress 

“The number of foreign visitors to the United States has plummeted since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington because foreigners don’t feel welcome,” according to tourism professionals. The decline has cost America “94 billion dollars in lost visitor spending, nearly 200,000 jobs and 16 billion dollars in lost tax revenue.”

Bush at the American Heritage Foundation.

“Unfortunately, on too many issues, some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war, . . . This is no time for Congress to weaken the Department of Justice by denying it a strong and effective leader. . . . It’s no time for Congress to weaken our ability to intercept information from terrorists about potential attacks on the United States of America. And this is no time for Congress to hold back vital funding for our troops as they fight al-Qaida terrorists and radicals in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

How many those are really patriots? Also much of the fighting is probably over economic resources and the potential division of the spoils.

I’ve just read

Very worthwhile. A good mix of personal story and clear eyed reporting. It brings us as far as words can into direct contact with those who have suffered died and rotted in, Afghanistan and Katrina.

From Roberto Ungar

It may seem strange to speak of literature in the same breath with religion as a source for the definition of existential ideals. Yet there are few other places where we may find so clearly expressed a willingness to treat the mind as a repository of secret knowledge, won in the midst of dense personal encounter, rather than as a conceptual performer that looks in abstract speculation for a reprieve from personal demand.

There is a distinction to be drawn between early and late romance, a distinction qualified by the awareness that the early version has survived, at least in popular culture, long after the appearance of the late one. The most familiar protagonist of early romance is the young adventurer, at once superman and every- man, who tries to remove a specific obstacle to human happiness, usually one that stands in the way of his own happiness and, more specifically, of his marriage to the woman he loves. His self- knowledge and self-transformation are made to depend upon personal confrontations that escape the limits of any instrumental calculus.

The hero (or heroine) may be the victim of a usurpation or a misfortune that throws him into a world of confused identities and dark powers, of force and fraud. He wrestles with the representatives of this world and finally escapes from it. In the more paganized versions of the romance, his escape is won through patience and guile, by which he turns the devices of the lower world against itself, and through a favoring providence, which is the help and opportunity that flow to the people who have the resourcefulness and vibrancy of life. In the more Christianized versions of the romance, the hero’s good will collaborates with grace, represented by the divine or human love that responds to his efforts.

I am concerned about language. Watching Congress, “Did I say that correct?” Said a congressperson. Reading several blogs this morning,  such as- Prometheus The Science Policy Weblog  much of the discussion is sub highschool at best. I am not talking abut the logic – another issue – but the raw language.

The southern Mexican post storm disaster is too little international reaction – or action. BBC NEWS  Americas  Your stories Mexico flood crisis

Book Review

Why Secularism Is the Exception Commonweal – A review of religion, politics and culture

The Stillborn GodReligion, Politics, and the Modern WestMark Lilla

The Stillborn God might have benefited from this self-deprecating touch. Lilla is never less than lucid, and the erudition on display is impressive, but the first two-thirds of the book are determinedly abstract, moving from Great Thinker to Great Thinker, Hobbes to Locke to Rousseau to Kant. For Lilla, the problem of “political theology” is the habitual human desire to look to God to organize not just religious but political life. It’s an understandable impulse-why shouldn’t a transcendent God offer political guidance?-but potentially a disastrous one, as Protestants and Catholics slaughtering each other during the Reformation discovered.

….Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke then postulated a world where religious ideas did not directly inspire political forms, where politics could proceed independent of church affiliation. Locke, in particular, made the “powerful claim, which we now take to be self-evident, that churches are voluntary associations dedicated to the private worship of believers and should be treated as such.”

The story in nineteenth-century Europe was less happy. In Germany, especially, philosophers and theologians welded nationalism to a particular liberal version of Protestantism. (Here Lilla exaggerates the distance between the Anglo-American and the continental experience, since Protestantism-and anti-Catholicism-in nineteenth-century Britain, Canada, and the United States also marked civic identity.) This German Protestantism, associated with Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Ernst Troeltsch was shorn of most creedal elements, but celebrated religion as an underpinning for modern ideals of individual freedom and economic progress. Religion became less about God than about the social bonds forged among believers…..The simultaneous explosion of biblical scholarship in Germany during the nineteenth century further focused attention on the supposedly more authentic Jesus of the Gospels, shorn of ecclesiastical accretions.

….Because both Barth and Rosenzweig practiced a negative political theology, demanding that believers get right with God before worrying about always transient political structures, Lilla sees them as the crucial figures opening the door to a more dangerous view of politics, a “theological messianism” once thought buried by the Reformation. Even more provocatively, Barth and Rosenzweig, and the apocalyptic rhetoric they favored, “shaped a new and noxious form of political argument, which was the theological celebration of modern tyranny.” Lilla even goes so far as to link Barth and Rosenzweig-“unwittingly”-to the same Weimar talk of crisis that launched the career of a young Bavarian rabble-rouser, Adolf Hitler.

But the ideal of religious freedom seems much more stable now than in the 1920s, and certainly more stable than at the moment of the American founding. Political leaders in Turkey, China, and Nigeria now honor the ideal, whatever their actual practice, in much the same manner that East Germans called their nation a Democratic Republic. That some Middle Eastern governments, notably Saudi Arabia, do not make even a pretense of protecting religious freedom is viewed as scandalous. In this sense Western notions of religious freedom are no longer idiosyncratic. Instead, they provide the underpinning for what increasingly seems a global human right, important in Melbourne but also in Mumbai, necessary for Chicago but also for Cairo.

from a talk with Gary Wills, Head and Heart American Christianities

There is a myth on the right that we started out as a very religious country and have been getting less and less religious ever since, which is the exact opposite of the truth. We were never less religious than in the 1770s, when only 17 percent of the people were churchgoers. The Second Great Awakening took off at the beginning of the 19th century, when the Methodists all of a sudden exploded, when there were more Methodist pastors than post officials.

So the country became more and more religious, and there was not the contamination of religion by politics that occurred in other countries and there was not the anticlericalism that was the result of that contamination.

So the separation of church and state did two things. It unleashed evangelical feelings and it tempered them. It tempered them with reason and rationality.

….. For instance, in the 18th century, it was almost impossible to launch an abolitionist movement, because slavery is approved in both the Jewish scripture and the Christian scripture. There is no word of criticism of slavery, and there is approval of it, in most cases. Actually, it’s mandated in some parts of the Jewish scripture. So whenever you attacked slavery in the 18th century, you got the answer, “You’re attacking the Bible. You’re attacking God. If it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for us.”

It was Anthony Benezet and John Woolman and Quakers like that, who were undoubtedly very pious men, who said, “Wait a minute. You don’t have to take everything in the Bible literally. There are certain things that are time-bound. There are certain things that are culturally conditioned, certain things that are not meant on the same level as the more important revelations.” So, although every northern state had slavery at the beginning of the century, only one had it by the end, and the principal motive power in that was the Quaker abolitionist movement.

….They were able to look at the Bible in ways that Augustine had pioneered in the fourth century, when he said that you don’t have to take the apocalyptic predictions literally. He said, for instance, that we know that God did not create the world in six days, even though the Bible seems to say that. How do we know? He said, because we have read the Greek astronomers. We know the earth is round. When it’s day on one side, it’s night on the other. So there is no such thing as an absolute first day, second day, third day. He said this is symbolic language, and we have to try to get at what God is trying to teach us symbolically.

That kind of reasoned faith is something that the great evangelical outbursts have tried to smother. We are seeing it happen right now with Darwin, for instance. We see it when people assert a kind of religious sanction for things rather than reason about them. A good example of that is abortion. We are told that abortion is a religious issue. But it isn’t. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments or all of Jewish scripture about abortion. There is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount or in all of the New Testament about abortion. There is nothing in the early creeds and confessions and counsels of the church.

The pope himself has said that it’s a matter of natural law. What is the arbiter of natural law? Natural reason, not religion, not revelation, not church authority.


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