Tuesday, November 16

Blog sabbatical

I don't plan to blog again until March 1, 2005. Please check back then and thanks for visiting.

Monday, November 15

The after-hike

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Saturday, November 13

No doubt but that...

In Friday's New York Times, a senior official in the Bush Administration was asked about reports that a number of fighters had fled Fallujah before last week's assault began (11.12.04, "As U.S. Presses Fallujah..."). The senior official then gave what the Times reporter called an acknowledgment:
"I have no doubt but that some people did leave before it started."

Anyone who reads the newspapers or is in one way or another subjected to the language of Bush Administration officials will recognize in this utterance the verbal stylings of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Rumsfeld uses this phrase — is it even a "phrase"? — so often, it is almost an obsession. A Google search of "no doubt but that" and "Rumsfeld" brought up over 400 pages and showed quotes from Rumsfeld on a variety of topics.

The fact that this odd grouping of words consistently conveys the opposite of Mr. Rumsfeld's intended meaning never seems to faze either him or the press. The press has never, to my knowledge, sought clarification when Mr. Rumsfeld has claimed having no doubt but that something or other is the case. Everyone seems to have no doubt that Mr. Rumsfeld's assertion is a jewel of clarity and poise.

Since I find this situation intolerable, I will now take the liberty of examining Mr. Rumsfeld's pet locution step-by-step. Let's take the statement that appeared in print yesterday. First, we learn that Mr. Rumsfeld has,

"...no doubt..."

That much is clear. Whether this absence of doubt applies in some sort of unyielding way to Mr. Rumsfeld's overall character or to what he would like us to think of that character, or whether it applies only to the case in hand, is perhaps not the most important point. What we are sure of is this: Mr. Rumsfeld feels absolutely sure about something. Let's pick up the next part of the locution:


Here, an exception is announced to the thing or the set of things about which Mr. Rumsfeld has no doubt. Something is subject to doubt. We can assume that much. Moreover, we should not conclude, from the suggestion or admission of doubt, that Rumsfeld's self-assuredness has been compromised. If Mr. Rumsfeld ever did have a doubt, he would be the first to say so, and he would do it forcefully, using language that puts to rest all doubt. That is, again, part of Rumsfeld's style. Now, on to the next word:


With this, we know, the subject of Mr. Rumsfeld's one doubt cannot be far off. Given the subordinate conjunction, we can assume, moreover, that it will be some state of affairs that is in doubt. Those familiar with Mr. Rumsfeld's manner of speaking surely were anticipating this moment. Upon hearing or reading him say, "I have no doubt...," they may have skipped at once to the words that follow:

"...some people did leave before it started."

So, that's clear, isn't it? The only thing Mr. Rumsfeld has doubt about is that some people in Fallujah left before the assault had started — the assault that was designed to kill them while they were still in town. In other words, they may not have left, for all Mr. Rumsfeld knows. If you have any doubt that this assertion contradicts what Mr. Rumsfeld intended in all likelihood to say, consider that Mr. Rumsfeld follows this boldly phrased acknowledgment by noting that,

"We also know that there are a number of hundreds that didn't and have been killed."

(This is a different point, but what is "a number of hundreds"? Is this to be distinguished from "hundreds"? If so, how? What other kinds of hundreds might Mr. Rumsfeld have been imagining that he perhaps felt it was important to exclude at once from others' considerations?)

The reason why this manner of speaking irks me is that one wonders exactly what Mr. Rumsfeld had (as the reporter noted) "acknowledged" — in this case as in all the others where he has reverted to claiming no doubt but that something or other was (or was not?) so.

I might maintain a principle of charitable interpretation and not over-analyze statements that were perhaps made in the heat of a press conference, but the fact is, Mr. Rumsfeld always uses such pseudo-intellectual gibberish when discussing grave matters. As such, no charity could ever keep up with him, nor would it be warranted if it could keep pace. Moreover, the press is already overflowing with charity towards the Bush Administration. Therefore, I feel I am forced to try to understand.

When I do try to understand Mr. Rumsfeld's repetitive assertion, two possibilities come to mind. According to the first, Mr. Rumsfeld deliberately plants such doublespeak in his public statements. In this way, if Mr. Rumsfeld were ever called out on anything, as when facts emerge that contradict his previously stated views, he could say, "Well, look at the record... I said clearly that I doubted! In fact, I said that that's all I doubted!" Since Mr. Rumsfeld uses the curious expression almost obsessively, he could surely claim, without speaking untruthfully (though with the full intent to deceive) that he had always doubted whether Fallujah fighters had escaped, whether weapons had been stolen from Al Qaqaa under the watch of U.S. troops, whether weapons of mass destruction were being kept or developed by Saddam Hussein, and so on.

According to another possibility, the only thing that Mr. Rumsfeld may have implicitly acknowledged on this occasion, or at any time that he has spoken in such a tortured manner, is his own incoherence and incorrigible phoniness. Of course, if this were so, getting him to acknowledge that he had mistakenly or implicitly acknowledged any such thing would surely require another type of torture. Mr. Rumsfeld is a man of little doubt. Of that we can always be sure.

My conclusion? It is one thing to have a government full of unaccountable war criminals. It is another, and far worse, when the war criminals are bungling, pompous fools. Indeed, I have no doubt but that that is not the case.

In fact, I'm sure of it.


Thursday, November 11

Walk around town

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Tuesday, November 9

The Fight for the Unfetus

Anti-abortion rights activists have developed some flattering expressions to describe themselves and their cause. We are to think of the activists as "pro-lifers" who fight for the "unborn." I would like to reflect on certain implications of these terms, take account of their shortcomings, and offer a neologism to the anti-abortion rights activists that both respects the well-intended nature of their fight and offers them the possibility of overcoming what I think is debilitating shortsightedness on their part.
Whereas the first term, "pro-life," seems to have a truly expansive sense — who would ever proclaim themselves "anti-life"? — the term "unborn" refers only to the fetus, that is, to a state of pre-natal development. One might therefore conclude that by "pro-life" the activists actually mean "pro-fetus." This is in fact easy to confirm by noting that the activists generally take little if any interest in a host of other pressing life-and-death issues affecting children or humanity in general. "Pro-lifers" seem, on the whole, indifferent to the fact that 10.5 million children under the age of five die annually from easily preventable diseases such as malaria, or that approximately 24,000 people die of starvation every day.

However, something new is problematic about these activists' self-gloss. Two life-and-death issues merit increasing attention from both "pro-lifers" and anyone interested in the survival of humankind. These issues emerged in the last century and both represent real threats to the survival not only of the unborn understood as developing fetuses, but of all the unborn; that is, of all those who are either currently in a woman's uterus or destined to a fetal beginning in a generation to come. The issues, of course, are nuclear proliferation and global warming. Their arrival on the global geopolitical scene has increased the threat not only to the unborn in a narrow, biological sense, but to what I propose to call "the unfetus" — all the unborn who are not yet fetuses. The unfetus is a notion that would allow those who fight for the sacredness of human life — the "pro-lifers" — to bring into view the generations of humanity to come. This is important, I think, because it would preserve them from appearing hypocritical in adopting the mantra of "pro-life" and keep them from having to justify an irrational fixation on either one stage of life's vast cycle or only the most emergent generation.

The importance of this widening of perspectives comes, first, from the empirical evidence that threats to human life on Earth are increasing rapidly and thus forcing "pro-lifers" to take account of them in their fight to preserve life (which they conceive, in accordance with religious principles, as a miraculous gift from God). Even more important than these disturbing developments, which are steadily increasing the contingency of human life, is the conclusion that there is no ethics or morality — nor even any religious perspective — that would allow one to prefer the unborn who are currently fetuses to the unborn who are not yet fetuses — the unfetuses. Christianity, in particular, offers nothing even close to a reason for privileging a fetus over other developed forms of life (and, in fact, the contrary is true, as I demonstrate in my post "Is Christianity Anti-Abortion?"). Nor does Christianity or any ethical system worthy of the name provide convincing reasons for assuming that only "present" or imminent forms of life deserve respect or should be deemed "sacred."

The continuum of fetuses and unfetuses is particularly relevant in the United States, where a large religious constituency rallies around so-called conservatives because of their anti-abortion rights rhetoric. Curiously, although its members speak of the importance of cultivating a "culture of life" — which is transparent code for anti-abortion legislation — the Bush Administration, for one, did more than any previous administration to harm the natural environment on which all unfetuses naturally depend for their survival. Moreover, it has broken nuclear weapons treaties and embraced nuclear proliferation as a solution to "national security" problems; and these measures, too, have dramatically heightened the threat posed to innumerable unfetuses.

Even if "pro-lifers" cling to the claim (which is certainly not found in Holy Scripture) that the fetus is the "origin of life," this claim neglects the fact that, without a stable, nurturing, natural and human environment, no fetus would ever be created. Granting the developing fetus the status of "absolute origin" or "divine origin" thus serves to dismiss a whole range of increasingly menacing challenges to human life and to diminish cruelly the importance of the unborn who are not yet fetuses.

The assumption of the fetal-restricted definition of the "unborn" is that life deserves respect only at the moment that a fetus is created, and no sooner, and not from a more general perspective. What creator of life would ever embrace such a presumption as that? What creator of human generations would ever feel honored or comforted by one generation's asserting that it, and its impending offspring alone, are sacred in their creator's eyes?


Saturday, November 6

Thresholdovers: Dorogawa

photo by fanni terrette (3122)  紀の国屋甚八(洞川旅館)Dorogawa

Wednesday, November 3

What We Believe

Yesterday, most Americans had the opportunity to put their democracy to work for their own interests. It seemed like a long time in coming — four years that to many felt as if they had been stolen from them. November 2nd provided the one chance to win those years back.
Many Americans responded. Many voted for the first time and, to cast their vote, many endured the hardships of weather and waiting. Many understood the grave stakes before them. Many understood that the small group of men and women at the top of their government had cynically deceived them into believing that a crooked and distant leader was on the verge of killing Americans in mass numbers. It was clear, to many, that this same group of powerful and wealthy individuals had swiftly emptied the nation's savings into the accounts of the wealthiest few. Of the few enriched by the Bush Administration, some have acted as if the U.S. were just a launching pad for their own heartless projects of corporate imperialism. This fact has not been lost on many Americans.

However, many citizens cast a vote of indifference by staying at home yesterday. According to reports of the popular vote, even more citizens cast a vote of ignorance. What in the world were they thinking? One might imagine a dialogue they might have entertained as they sized up the issues and candidates:

"You know what? Just listen to those people on my radio and TV. I know all their names. They're like family. They crack me up. And I get angry about the things they're angry about. What were those Democrats talking about? Health care? Jobs? The quality of the air I breathe and the water I drink? C'mon! Did you see what they say is written in the Bible? Now, the Bible's a book that can really make a person angry. You should read it. I plan to. Anyway, this has been a crazy time. Color-coded terror threats and, now, what are the Democrats talking about? What they want is to destroy marriage. Those liberals are always trying to undermine the family. They hate families. And they really hate families that are unborn. You know what? While we're at it... John Kerry's a communist, and a traitor. He looks French. And I bet he looks down on simple folk like me. Worst of all, in the past, he's changed his mind. Now, if the president ever stops thinking and saying the same thought over and over, you just know the terrorists will think he’s weak. They’ll start plottin’ all over again. Pretty soon, they’ll show up with smokin' guns that are mushroom clouds. You ever seen a smokin’ gun as big as a mushroom cloud? Shee-it. Well, I certainly ain't, ‘cause there’d be nothing left of me to talk about it.

And don't get me started on the media. This whole election has been skewed by liberal bias. It's everywhere! It's killing Alan Keyes in Illinois, and the mainstream media have been in the tank with Kerry all along. Dan Rather got tricked into accepting a forged document that was meant to prove the obvious and — did you get this? — an ABC news executive sent a memo to his reporters asking them to appeal to "facts" rather than to concoct the appearance of balance when it was shown by independent analysts that the president misled more often and on more important issues. Now, that proves liberal bias! The media won't follow Fox's lead! I mean, how biased can you get? And the point is: the thought that they were even gonna try and present material critical of the president shows that they don't understand the benefits of totalitarianism. And, I'm like, Hello-o?

And on top of that they throw in Michael Moore. He's from Hollywood, right? Or is it Canada? Anyhoo, he'd be better off there. He hates America. He hates everyone and just hates for the money. What a chump! Listen, George Bush is the man. He stands up to the Europeans and to all those fancy-pants international sorts. God bless his soul! And God bless America!

Last thing: did you hear the latest? Iran has tried to get yellow cake from Niger. Those documents the president talked about in his address to the Union were actually forged, but only because they were supposed to say "Iran," not "Iraq." Turns out, the "q" was slipped in there by someone at CBS. So, here we go again! The U.S. vs. Iran. Let's see who wins this one. Ha! It's time to avenge that soccer loss from a few years ago. This is gonna be a helluva ride! And I can't wait to see all the liberals eating their Qaqaa sandwich once Tehran goes up in flames. I'll be lovin' it!"
And so it was that America spat upon itself with a violence that has turned all the heads of the world. We have made a spectacle of our own ignorance. Call us a nation of proud patriots if you wish, but is all of this sort of rubbish what many of us are willing to believe? And, if so, for how long will the delusions last? And down what grim path are we going to be led? Will we ever be able to trust ourselves again?


Tuesday, November 2

Hear the Victory Music

Pink Martini has made available several tracks from the group's recently released second album. While certainly not political in theme, one song sways with a kind of celebratory populism that gets me in the mood for victory. It's called "Anna (El Negro Zumbon)." This is the sort of music I'd love to perform or at least dance to upon news of a resounding Bush/Cheney defeat. Ah, the thought alone delights: To kick up in dance the dust these men had bitten.

Monday, November 1

Tomorrow's Choice: Patriotism or Nationalism

Nationalism is a political movement with an implicit ideology that portrays one's country as somehow superior to other countries, and as deserving of special privileges without regard for international concerns. Nationalism in history has frequently been a reaction to a threat from the external world.... Nationalism thrives on a sense of national insecurity. Nationalism is sometimes an inevitable necessity when a country is just being formed as the home of a nation that gains independence from foreign overlords. But in well-established countries it can easily lead to unhealthy excesses. It nurtures expansionist dreams among rulers. It can stir up people into belligerency and aggressive action against neighboring countries.

Patriotism, by contrast, follows from genuine and reasonable emotions connected to a concern for the well-being of the country to which one belongs. Nationalism cannot be together with internationalism in the same person. But patriotism is perfectly compatible with internationalism. In fact, there may be good reasons to conclude that patriots make good internationalists, since a mature love for the country makes them wish that their country can conduct itself responsibly on the international stage. Patriots do not generally have the tendency to blame foreigners for problems that are home-made.
It is tempting to reduce the choice between John Kerry and George Bush to a single distinction. In many cases, it would be deceptive to do so. But consider these lines from Karel van Wolferen, which were published in 1988, and ask yourself, who, among Kerry and Bush, is the responsible patriot, and who the unhealthy nationalist?

The lines are quoted in A Public Betrayed, a book that studies media consolidation and right-wing politics in Japan. However, don't these lines ring true in the political drama of America today? Don't they suggest that we American voters face a choice between fascistic nationalism in the divisive figure of George Bush and responsible patriotism in the reflective person of John Kerry?

Former White House Bureau Chief Helen Thomas, who has covered presidents since John F. Kennedy, would surely find the comparison pertinent, since she sees "dark times" ahead if Bush is given a second term. (Not surprisingly, George W. Bush sidelined Helen Thomas because of her habit of asking challenging questions. He was the first president who could not stand up to the pressure of an aged woman doing her journalistic duty for the sake of the American people.)