Notes, nov 12 2007

November 12, 2007 § Leave a comment

From Juan Cole, using his ME commentary to raise more fundamental issues, which he keeps doing with relevance.

What I don’t understand about American newspaper articles is why they let people like Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dictate the headlines, even when the headline is undermined by the information gathered by the journalist who wrote the article. So the NYT reports,

‘ Most of the capital’s displaced people have yet to return, and the number of those leaving still outpaces those returning, according to Dana Graber Ladek, the Iraqi displacement specialist for the International Organization for Migration.
Over a million Iraqis have fled their homes in the past year and a half, she said, nearly three-quarters of them from Baghdad. And though the Iraqi government is offering one million Iraqi dinars, or roughly $812, to each Baghdad family that returns, she said, only a fraction of residents has done so. ‘

So, why isn’t that the headline? “More Iraqis still Leaving Capital than returning to It”? Why is it al-Maliki’s irrelevant assertion that “7,000 families” have come back to the capital? First of all, that isn’t that many people, and second of all, what we want to know is if they are the ones kicked out of Syria during the past month.
And we want to know how many Baghdadis are still fleeing their own city every week. Do the editors just automatically cede the headlines to the Rich and Powerful? Why? Isn’t this sort of complaisance toward propaganda what got us into the Iraq War in the first place?

Does Putin Want by Scott Horton (Harper’s Magazine)

It reflects, perhaps, the diminished engagement of American intelligentsia with Russia, weakened language skills generally and a world analysis grown flabby in the wake of American unilateralism. And for this world, the New York Review of Books has an essential elixir: Sergei Kovalev’s essay “Why Putin Wins.”

This is, without a doubt, the most important study of things Russian to be published in a popular journal in the United States in quite some time. It is a study of Putin, but more importantly, it is a snapshot of the Russian popular spirit at a critical juncture. When Boris Yeltsin left the Kremlin, Russia’s house was in a state of acute disarray. Its industrial assets had been looted by oligarchs; its treasury was near empty; its self-confidence as a nation was sagging. No political party on the horizon offered an effective message of hope and a way forward. Russians were extremely cynical. And the golden opportunity for the West—a moment of possible reconciliation—had been lost. America had played a heavy hand in the Yeltsin years, and rightly or wrongly, America—and the West—were associated with much of the corruption and exploitation that marked the Yeltsin years. Putin stepped into this void, and transformed Russia. The oligarchs were reined-in, tax revenues were recaptures, the authority of the Kremlin soared.

And now, as oil approaches $100 per barrel, Russia, the world’s leading oil-producer, is sustaining an economic boom.

And then, the serious conclusion that reminds me of Spengler’s view that any empire must turn towards Caesar because any sign of weakness and hey will be torn apart from within and without.

And in all of this there are dark parallels to the Bush presidency. For Bush seeks to bolster his image with the same Caesarist thinking. The notion of pre-emptive wars, the daring, hyped raids, the internment camps, the enthusiastic embrace of torture.

What should be done if one cannot accept the Byzantine system of power? Retreat into the catacombs? Wait until enough energy for another revolt has been accumulated? Try to hurry along revolt, thereby posing another “orange threat,” which Putin and his allies have used, since the 2004 Ukrainian elections, to frighten the people and themselves? Attempt to focus on the demand for honest elections? Carry on painstaking educational work, in order to gradually change citizens’ views?

Each person will have to decide in his or her own way. I imagine—with both sorrow and certainty—that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia. It’s too late to remove it from power by a normal democratic process, for democratic mechanisms have been liquidated, transformed into pure imitation. I am afraid that few of us will live to see the reinstatement of freedom and democracy in Russia. Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that “the mole of history burrows away unnoticed.”

Scott finishes with

Kovalev offers a chilling and very realistic vision. Still, we are watching a process of continued convergence in the world, though a darker sort of convergence that the dissidents imagined in the seventies and eighties. The challenge will be for America more than for Russia. In America, there is still a hope that the democratic process can work to effect a rollback of creeping authoritarianism and a restoration of the beacon of hope that the land once held up to the world. In Russia, all sight of that beacon is lost.

From

Open Left A New World Waiting

There’s a new world being built.  We’re not ready to take full power, as the bridges between the people who are working to create the morality, politics, and infrastructure of this new world don’t exist as fully as they need to for progressives to really take power. 

No candidate right now is talking about that new world, which is why the gap between the melting ice caps and Clinton/Obama/Edwards plans for incremental college education credits is so vast. 

  Mark Mellman, a pollster for Kerry, revealed that Fox News viewers voted for Bush by an 88% to 7% margin.  No demographic segment, other than Republicans, was as united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.

On the possibility of a more natural sceince.The Washington Monthly

Thoreau brings up this momentous topic as an excuse to observe that our natural surroundings influence our instinctive view of physics. For example:

With air resistance it’s not at all obvious that gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate. It took a long time for these things to be figured out, after careful experiments in which different phenomena were separately quantified and/or minimized.

This is something that’s puzzled me for a while. If you drop a rock and an olive leaf over a cliff, then sure, the rock will hit the ground first. And that might lead to confusion. But if you toss a big rock and a somewhat smaller rock over a cliff, they’ll both hit the ground at about the same time. And frankly, the Greeks were plenty smart enough to have tried this. So why didn’t they? And that’s not to mention the jillions of folks in between Aristotle and Galileo who apparently didn’t try it either. Or even Galileo himself, who didn’t drop cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which would have been simple and easy, but instead used the cockamamie pendulum route to figure out how things worked.

And what about Avicenna and his contemporaries? They rooted around in territory that was close to Newtonian mechanics, but did they ever figure out that heavier objects don’t fall faster than lighter ones? Or the Chinese? Supposedly they invented everything, but did they ever try dropping a pair of printing presses off the Great Wall?

Any historians of science out there? What’s the deal with the apparent failure to perform such a butt simple experiment over the course of 20 centuries?

Thoreau brings up this momentous topic as an excuse to observe that our natural surroundings influence our instinctive view of physics. For example:

With air resistance it’s not at all obvious that gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate. It took a long time for these things to be figured out, after careful experiments in which different phenomena were separately quantified and/or minimized.

This is something that’s puzzled me for a while. If you drop a rock and an olive leaf over a cliff, then sure, the rock will hit the ground first. And that might lead to confusion. But if you toss a big rock and a somewhat smaller rock over a cliff, they’ll both hit the ground at about the same time. And frankly, the Greeks were plenty smart enough to have tried this. So why didn’t they? And that’s not to mention the jillions of folks in between Aristotle and Galileo who apparently didn’t try it either. Or even Galileo himself, who didn’t drop cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which would have been simple and easy, but instead used the cockamamie pendulum route to figure out how things worked.

And what about Avicenna and his contemporaries? They rooted around in territory that was close to Newtonian mechanics, but did they ever figure out that heavier objects don’t fall faster than lighter ones? Or the Chinese? Supposedly they invented everything, but did they ever try dropping a pair of printing presses off the Great Wall?

Any historians of science out there? What’s the deal with the apparent failure to perform such a butt simple experiment over the course of 20 centuries?

….(P.S. However, the Philoponus mentioned above did point to the phenomenon of water which falls from a great height: the mass of water becomes more elongated as it falls, thus proving that there is such a thing as acceleration. A pretty clever observation, that.)

From Aristotle direct:

Further, no one could say why [in a vacuum] a thing once set in motion should stop anywhere; for why should it stop here rather than here? So that a thing will either be at rest or must be moved ad infinitum, unless something more powerful get in its way.

From  It’s Time to Get Mad About the Economy (Wal-Mart, Target, Nordstrom General Motors) SmartMoney.com

When a political system is more proficient at generating corruption scandals and hereditary dynasties than it is at balancing the budget, it’s fair to call that system dysfunctional.

The shocker in the World Economic Forum’s recent Global Competitiveness Report wasn’t the fact that the U.S. ranked No. 1, thanks to investments laid down in happier times. The real shocker was that in health and primary education The Superpower came in 34th, in a virtual tie with Montenegro. In macroeconomic stability, a.k.a. balancing the books, we were No. 75, just behind Venezuela and Suriname.

In a related survey, tax rates, tax regulations, government bureaucracy, inflation and a poorly educated work force topped the list of executive complaints. The business cost of terrorism, crime and violence as well as red tape and corruption were all seen as important investment deterrents. We did look good based on our ability to attract smart people from overseas and the low cost of firing them when they get old.

If the business world is truly terrified by the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton (and it is, it is) it would do well to find an alternative with a more productive message than the no-new-taxes spiels of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. This particular brand of business as usual won’t work next year. The next year is all about the dollar, jobs and housing. The next year is about learning from this year.

Another example of how a scientific word has its origin in things human, and loses that meaning .gravityhist2

The modern term inertia can be traced to its Latin roots in + ars, hence iners, meaning unskilled or artless. Kepler first applied the word in a physical sense, but did not use the modern meaning: he used it only for bodies at rest. Galileo discovered the law of inertia, but did not name it. Newton gave the word inertia its modern sense in the Principia: “A body, from the inert state of matter, is not without difficulty put out of its state of rest or motion. Upon which account, this vis insita may, by a most significant name, be called vis inertia, or force of inactivity… .”

On the Jeff Frank book mentioned a few days ago. Another view.

Book Blurble (No. 1)

No one could possibly look or sound more genially, sweetly, beneficently, harmlessly Pickwickian than Jeff Frank, a senior editor here at The New Yorker. Well, appearances can be deceiving.

Jeff Frank, the mild-mannered magazine editor, is the Clark Kent to Jeffrey Frank, the X-ray-vision-equipped Superman of the lethal Washington satire. If you are among the lucky duckies who have read “The Columnist” and/or “Bad Publicity,” you will need no encouragement from me to make haste to acquire his new book, “Trudy Hopedale.” If the existence of Jeffrey Frank’s novels is news to you, pleasure awaits.

It doesn’t matter which one you start with. They’re all of a piece. They’re short, with not a word wasted. And, mainly, they’re funny. Very, very funny. Darkly, deeply funny.

Jeffrey Frank is the master of the satiric novel of company-town Washington bad manners. He is the Peter de Vries of status anxiety, the Henry James of envy. He is the anti-Allen Drury. His books are the precise opposite of those overstuffed airport paperbacks with raised lettering and Presidential seals on the cover, the “towering bestsellers” that take you behind the scenes from the White House to the Pentagon to the storied halls of Congress, where the fate of a nation hangs in the balance and the passions and secrets of the most powerful men and women on earth blah blah thud. Jeffrey Frank’s characters—who are apt to be empty-souled columnists, half-forgotten ex-Congressmen hoping for a sub-Cabinet job, third-tier think tankers pining for a call from the cable-show bookers, fading Georgetown hostesses, and, deliciously (in “Trudy Hopedale”) a “Vice-Presidential historian”—are seldom more than one step ahead of the humiliation they generally deserve but are utterly baffled by. Frank’s command of the voices of his creations, who are often the (unreliable) narrators of their own follies, is awe-inspiring. As Kyle Smith wrote in a Wall Street Journal review of “Hopedale,” the author “stands as stone-faced as a butler in the background while his characters feast on self-delusion.”

These books are not about politics, by the way. They are about certain cringe-making and, sad to say, probably universal aspects of the human condition. These books are merciless. Liberals love them; conservatives love them; centrists love them. I love them. I expect you will, too, if you don’t already.

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You are currently reading Notes, nov 12 2007 at Reflections on GardenWorld Politics Douglass Carmichael.

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