Monday, November 28, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
by William Howard Kunstler
You've heard of peak oil, right? But what does it mean for the U.S., and western civilization? Potentially a lot. And if you think technology will save us, you like many another person have something coming.
Problem is, we all do. And if you want a skeptical explanation of why hybrids and hydrogen-fueled vehicles and natural gas and nukes and coal are not going to bail us out because of our short-sighted addiction to suburban sprawl and SUVs, this is the book for you.
It's actually an entertaining (hey, I'm a masochist for these kind of books, and this is pretty well written and imaginative), forward-looking assessment of the coming oil crisis. And it basically confirms what I mostly already knew about oil wars, climate change and the other consequeces.
Turning our energy policies around would be like turning the Valdez around in 2 miles before the inevitable crash -- ain't likely to happen, esp. under Bush. So what do we do? Join the evangelicals in waiting for the Rapture? Stick hour head in the sand (if we were in Saudi Arabia that might not be a bad idea), learn how to garden? Yes, the latter, probably, would help.
There are some problems with this book. Some excessive (at times whacked) use of the entropy metaphor to describe sprawl and other things undercuts his argument a lot.
But hey, whaddya expect from a former editor of Rolling Stone? I definitely recommend this one.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
The U.S. has lost Iraq. The only ones unwilling to admit it, of course, are Bush and his loyalists. And although the schadenfreude of knowing that this has become apparent while the "war president" is in office, becoming his second-term ball-and-chain. Thus, the boy emperor's stubborness is beginning to look like an achilles heel that was first revealed by Paul O'Neill in his book with Ron Susking (where O'Neill described Bush as a "Blind man in a room full of deaf people") is being revealed in spades through his ham-handed reaction to vet mother Cyndi Sheehan's vigil outside the ranch in Crawford (where Bush is spending five weeks of vacation -- working out twice a day; yes, he's in good shape, Maureen Dowd notices -- but Iraq is not).
During my "vacation" I read two books on the Iraq war that take us through the first two years of the occupation and reveal how Bush, Bremer and co. lost:
The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian Parenti and
How America Lost Iraq by Aaron Glantz.
A few observations about these books: Glantz' book starts slow and almost even apologetic for the war, and gets better as it goes along. He repeatedly takes issue with his Pacifica editors and their leftist audience for having such a black-and-white perspective on the U.S. and ergo, failing to understand how Iraqis really wanted to oust Saddam, a criticism that is only fair if Glantz' experiences with his editors (who tell him they only want stories critical of the U.S. military in the first year, when according to his telling it was not yet a certainty that they'd lost Iraqi hearts and minds).
The good thing about Glantz is that he never shuts out his own or others' emotions to portray himself as a kind of macho freelancer in the war zone -- a common characteristic of so many American writers who seem to want to walk in Michael Herr's shoes. He discusses how frightening it is to go to Fallujah and Najaf after they are under seige by the U.S. The rewards are the personal stories he relates from those who fall victim to the U.S. military's indiscriminate violence.
Parenti comes off as a bit more adventuristic. And he is a bit more adventuristic, seeking for instance to interview a member of the resistance. While both writers eschew the regular Green Zone briefings that the mainstream broadcast correspondents use to report on the war, traveling to different parts of the country to get the story, Parenti's book has a little more muscle, Glantz' a little more heart. Both give you a sense of why so few reporters have the guts to go into Iraq, or report outside the Green Zone.
While it is now clear to most Americans (according to the polls) that the war in Iraq was based on a false premise and has only made us more hated around the world and vulnerable to terrorist attacks, most of that sentiment is based on the senseless loss of American lives, rather than the damage to Iraq itself and the virtual slaughter of so many innocent people. Both of these books provide an inside explanation of the latter that is heartbreaking and maddening. They both make it clear how the U.S. won the invasion but lost the war, from the battle of Fallujah, the seige of Najaf, the hypocrisy of shutting down the Shiite papers as part of a process to "bring Democracy" to Iraq (freedom of speech?), Abu Ghraib, etc. There isn't much treatment of the war profiteers and contractors, but the rest is there.
One of the more interesting moments in Parenti's book is the point where he reminds us of Scott Ritter's observations as a UN weapons inspector looking for WMDs. Instead of finding any, he describes how Saddam's M-14 -- the Iraqi Special Operations and Antiterrorism Branch -- undertook extensive planning for the use of IED's before the war:
"While I found no evidence of WMDs, I did find an organization that specialized in the construction and employment of improvised explosive devices -- the same IEDs that are now killing Americans daily in Iraq. When we entered the compound, three Iraqis tried to escape over a wall with documents, but they were caught and surrendered the papers. Like reams of other documents stacked inside the buildings, these papers dealt with IEDs. I held in my hands a photocopied primer on how to conduct a roadside ambush using IEDs, and others on how to construct IEDs from conventional high explosives and military munitions. The sophisticated plans -- albeit with crude drawings -- showed how to take out a convoy by disguising an IED and when and where to detonate it for maximum damage. ... I saw classrooms for training all Iraqi covert agents in the black art of making an using IEDs. My notes recall tables piled with mockups of mines and grenades disguised in dolls, stuffed animals, and food containers -- and classrooms for training in making car bombs and recruiting proxy agents for using explosives."
In other words, before the war, it was pretty well known what kind of war Saddam was preparing for.
And the fact that the U.S. military took so long to provide armored plating and reinforced vehicles shows just how either incompetent or criminally neglectful of their own troops they were.
And that neglect in turn is reflected in the lack of training to deal with Iraqis. How many, for example, do you think have been killed because U.S. soldiers have not been taught a minimum vocabular of words like "stop" so that they can direct traffic and not resort to shooting carsful of women and children who don't understand English and sign language?
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Monday, July 18, 2005
Like the privatization of other public services (esp. education) the far-right's push for budget deficits (via tax cuts for the rich, as well as war) has put the squeeze on government services. The intention is to benefit the market economy (i.e. expand the corporate sector).
In the case of libraries, what that means is cutting off services to poorer communities, destroying one of the last public institutions that people can use to pull themselves up in society. (So much for meritocracy. Do the right-wing libertarians ever notice the connections? Note: a friend who works with librarians has said that the market-based system of weeding books off the shelves, a kind of dumbing down system where only popular literature that gets checked out on a regular basis is guaranteed retention, resulted in the discarding of Darwin's Origin of Species. So Darwin's own work is now the victim of the misapplication of the "survival of the fittest" to that market.)
The business culture has infiltrated libraries in subtle, pervasive ways. Library trustees are increasingly being drawn from the business community (think of experts in real estate development who have no interest in beefing up service branches that might support community-based literacy programs), while the language of library management is subtly bent towards the market system: as a library user, you are now a "customer" (whose late fees are a revenue stream) rather than a "patron."
"A library is a temple to the anti-elitist notion that knowledge should be cheap if not free," Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Anarchist in the Library wrote. But now it's more like those who can afford it will have access to knowledge.
Read Chris Dodge's excellent article, "Knowledge for Sale" in the Utne Reader (6/05) to learn more. And check out the DC Library Renaissance Project.
Firsts (the book collectors' magazine).
Advanced Book Exchange (ABE, one of my favorites for searching used books)
BiblioFind (absorbed by Amazon)
A libris (searching through an intermediary)
Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (lists individual sellers)
International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (links to dealers outsidet the U.S.)
Rare Book School website
Book Sale Finder
A bit of Gramsci for my book group we used the NYU edition.
I also read a book about Gramsci by Carl Boggs -- who I've written about before -- because I trust him to provide a direct uncluttered opinion of this political philosopher. And Boggs delivers.
Gramsci was a radical Italian union activist -- and ergo of course a Marxist -- but one who did not believe in direct economic determinism. (Hence the lineage to Stuart Hall of the UK, whose writings are mimicked in Tom Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?, though I've heard Frank never read Hall or Gramsci before, thank God). Gramsci spent his final years in prison (with no reference books to draw from, and a censor to pass things through), so his Prison Notebooks were quite impressive. Apparently, he also was able to think and write more deeply, with a level of detachment from immediate events. But still, those conditions are one reason to read derivative writings along with the original. His essays are short, which means they rarely draw things together in the grand thesis. Nevertheless, there is obvious ideological power in his writing, due to its ability to join theory with action -- i.e. praxis.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
-- Nicholas A. Basbanes, Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century.
Such is the philosophy of a good book browser, literary flaneur, the one more disciplined people would call peripathetic?
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Recently, I decided to go back to Borges, who I haven't read in 25 years. Instead of plunging into the two collected volumes of his ficciones and non-fiction essays, both labyrinths of learning and satire, I started with Edwin Williamson's new biography, Borges: A Life. That was a mistake. Biographies are only as interesting as the lives of the person they are about, and a librarian who was a life-long momma's boy with a confused political world-view (anti-Peron, but pro-Pinochet) is not exactly an example I would select of someone whose development is worth learning from. So skip it and instead go to Richard Burgin's Conversations with Borges (first person to ask gets my copy) and the work itself, starting with the slim volume, a Universal History of Infamy.
I hear that Hollywood is continuing to mine Philip K. Dick for movie plots. Next year, they are expected to come out with another based on the ultraparanoid cop-narc, A Scanner Darkly.
Anyone who has "been experienced" will appreciate antihero Bob Arctor's struggle with a double life in which his warring double personalities include narcotics agent "Fred," whose job is to spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. The man's mental disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. It's gonna be interesting to see how they pull this off in film.
On the topic of Empire, I just finished Gabriel Kolko's breezy book, Another Century of War.
Kolko is touted as our "leading historian of war" by some Guardian reviewer on the cover, a dubious claim given how saturated the field is, but it is the case that he is a wise and superbly accessible writer. An easy, vigorous read.
If you want something even more morally challenging, I recommend Revolutionary Nonviolenceby Dave Dellinger who, you recall, was one of the Chicago 8, along with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Dellinger was arguably more mature and wise in his behaviors, without being judgmental: he had a good appreciation for the Yippies' antics while keeping his eye on the big picture. These essays really stand the test of time, for their clarity and vision. E.g. in his essays on the assassination of King and RFK, he manages to link them seamlessly to the ongoing war in Vietnam and the broader system of corporate capitalism without appearing to rant. A Yale grad turned community organizer, he writes with a confident voice less imbued with self-serving ambition than many who today seek the mantle of progressive punditry. Is that what corporate control of the media and blogging have done to us?
(btw, blogging creates the same kind of short-sightedness in public figures pressured to respond to just about any news event that "the number" and Wall Street pressure and stock options create for corporate executives to manage their companies for short-term gain at the expense of long-term planning. that's why I don't feel the need to get online and update this site on a regular basis.)
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Michael Klare has a new article about the coming war in Iran and how it's about long-term battle for controlling the world's energy resources.
Also, be sure to check out James Howard Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" , a Rolling Stone article apparently based on his new book.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Comparisons with Thomas Frank immediately come to mind, except Frank (who writes similarly about authoritarian populism, but decades later) is sometimes less precise in his analysis, actually (although I find him to be a much better writer). Look for an upcoming comparative essay by Michael Berube, who has many insights on Hall and teaches cultural studies.
Monday, April 25, 2005
The Bloviator: Speaking of put-downs, Matt Taibbi does a great job skewering Thomas Friedman's latest book. Read the review and you'll be fine with your choice of not reading that one.
I'm also reading some P.K.Dick. The Penultimate Truth was the latest.
Also, Tom Frank's latest essay in the NYRB is okay, but a broken-record criticism of liberal Dems (i.e. they don't have their act together). That's not what the Post says today, but generally I'm with Frank. Problem is, he rarely crosses over from entertaining criticism to specifics about what to do. That's the hard part, eh?
Friday, April 01, 2005
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
by Dubravka Ugresic
A collection of short essays on writing, exile, globalization and publishing as a business from a Yugoslavian essayist and fiction writer who emigrated to the U.S. in 1993. A terse paragraph I liked:
"The contemporary colonizer is the market. The market vacuums up every resistance, takes into account every criticism and even anticipates it, turning it to its own profit. The market colonizes us without our being aware of it and does so with our own values, whether they are called identity, ethnicity, the right to difference, or anything else. It is hard to imagine effective reistance to money, media potentates, conglomerates, the monopoly of distribution chains, or "market fundamentalism" as such."
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Friday, March 04, 2005
"In a prosperous country, above all in an imperialist country, left-wing politics are always partly humbug."
The Internet is advancing research in new and exciting ways. E.g., be sure to read the intro/preface of Banking on Baghdad by Edwin Black ... the same writer who wrote IBM and the Holocaust. The book is a slog, but his research strategy is mind-blowing.
Apparently, he's a professional archivist. In the introduction he describes his research methodology:
"To assemble this challenging story (the 7,000 year history of Mesopotamia), I recruited a team of some 30 researchers working in the United States, Canada, England, and Israel accessing original documents and obscure materials in some 20 archives and other repositories, as well as nearly 50 libraries in five nations. This includes the private files of British Petroleum, Turkish Petroleum, Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Iraqi Petroleum, all of which are organically connected entities. The result was a trove of some 50,000 documents, plus hundreds of scholarly books and journal articles that ultimately yielded the dots that connected into a recognizable line. Ironically, in many cases, that line runs in circles. In Iraq, history not only repeats itself; the unstoppable repetition constitutes the very nature of its history—and likely its future."
"...At any given time, up to a dozen researchers were working in various archives and libraries in such cities as Coventry, London, Washington, or New York. Telephone calls in archives and libraries are strictly prohibited. Instead, we used cell phone text messaging, laptop computers and wireless PDA to share real-time discoveries about corporations, officials, and themes. For example, we might trip across an obscure executive’s name while reviewing documents in an oil company archive; that name was text-messaged out to others standing by at the Public Record Office and the British Library or other repositories where the lead was pursued, with new information coming back to track down further information in the oil company files. Sometimes this international exchange could be accomplished in just moments."
"To bridge the gap between cities, we created a private password-protected intranet site where files and information were posted so researchers in various cities could view them just moments after they were discovered. In many cases, we used books so rare that only one copy might be available in London’s library system, or only a few copies anywhere in the United States. For example, an obscure volume of published diplomatic papers of Iraq from the 1950s was found in St. Louis. Needed pages of this book and others were scanned by researchers and posted on their private websites. We could then print them in my Washington office."
"In addition, modern databases and digital collections allowed us to instantly search the actual page images for key words in diplomatic correspondence, newspapers and journal articles hailing back more than a century. This new digital capability is startling and has redefined historical research. Moreover, because researchers were located in various time zones, research could be done in the Pacific evening or European morning and be ready for us in Washington when we woke up."
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Friday, February 04, 2005
I've been thinking about this for a while.
E.g. Take this passage from The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride Into the Secret Heart of BCCI by Jonathan Beaty & S.C. Gwynne (two Time reporters) -- which is the best introduction to that byzantine scandal (and highly entertaining):
"Though it was fundamentally a financial fraud, BCCI itself was not a bank in any conventional sense. Or, more precisely, banking was only a part of the global organism, the ingeniously constructed platform from which its other lines of business were launched. Taken collectively, it was more of an armed Renaissance city-state of Machiavelli's era than a modern corporation. This "bank" possessed its very own diplomatic corps, intelligence network, and private army, its own shipping and commodities trading companies. And BCCI itself was so thoroughly enmeshed in the official affairs of Pakistan that it was often impossible to separate the two. ... BCCI was bigger even than that: It was the unsettling next-stage evolution of the multinational corporation, the one the theorists had been predicting for years but which never seemed to be able to shed its sovereign boundaries. (General Motors and Mitsubishi are both good examples of this -- huge companies with holdings and operations all over the world that nonetheless persist in being fundamentally American and Japanese entities.) In taking that step, BCCI became truly stateless and very nearly invisible to the authorities in each country where it did business. The BCCI scandal shows what sort of frightening mischief can be made in a world where trillions of electronic dollars routinely wash in and out of international financial markets...Nor was BCCI a conspiracy. In much of what it did, BCCI reflected the way the world works. The organization was designed to mimic the way the world's largest corporations and banks move and hide their money."
(for more on BCCI, also see the Kerry Report).
Of course all companies strive to be like BCCI, because that is the system.
Recall that GE's famous CEO Jack Welch once said, "Ideally you'd have every plant you own on a barge" -- ready to move if any national government tried to impose restraints on the factories' operations, or if workers demanded better wages and working conditions.
And in 1972, Carl A. Gerstacker, then the Chairman of Dow Chemical Co., confided to a White House Conference on the Industrial World Ahead that he dreamed of buying "an island owned by no nation" and on "such truly neutral ground" he would locate the world headquarters of Dow so that "we could then really operate on the
How different is this vision from that of the British East India Company?
Sunday, January 30, 2005
We all know examples -- e.g. MoveOn and the Dean 2004 campaign's effective use of small donors ("professional journalists, byand large, seemed baffled early on by the edge-to-middle politics Dean was using to his advantage. The top-down hierarchy of modern journalism probably played a role beccause editors probably couldn't relate any better to the notion of a dispersed campaign than to the idea of readers directly assisting in the creation of journalism").
The impacts of the new technologies should not be underestimated. Recall that it was the smart mobs used cell phones w/text messaging to organize the protests that brought down the Phillipine government in 2001). And so long as the military and police are hierarchical and centrally organized, they will continue to play an important part in the emergence of new, asymmetric warfare tactics used by global terrorists.
But they also have the potential to enhance democracy. The use of cybertechnology to provide feedback loops is well known as a potential threat to privacy, but it can also enhance democracy and security.
"For any problem there is a person or persons in a large population of educated people that don't see it as a problem. We need a feedback loop that can filter upknowledge and insight. For example: If You have seen a loophole in airport security and have a solution as to how to correct it, there should be a mechanism for getting that information to the people that can makethe change."
Many blog-readers are familiar with these arguments, but Gilmor's book is still a good overview, esp. for those who feel left behind, and since Gilmor is/was a journalist (he left his position at the News to promote his books and seems to spend most of his time at new technology conferences), his treatment is not the manifesto of some upstart activist with an axe to grind about the media, but an exploration of how journalism will necessarily evolve as a result of these technologies. A cogent argement from one who knows the media business from within and has his eye on technology.
One of the recurrent themes here is that journalists need to get out of their priviledge professional walls and "join the conversation":
"It boils down to something simple: readers (or viewers or listeners) collectively know more than media professionals do. This is true by definition: they are many, and we are often just one. We need to recognize and, in the best sense of the word, use heir knowledge. If we don't, our former audience will bolt when they realize they don't have to settle for half-baked coverage; they can come nto the kitchen themselves." but he's not unaware of the issues that arise concerning information and quality control: "I hope we can survive what's coming because I believe in the mission of journalism and fear that serious investigative reporting will diminish, and perhaps nearly disappear, if big newspapers and other serious outlets wither; what blogger will take on the next Watergate scandal the way The Washington Post did?"
They won't, but then again, that's why we have groups like the Center for Public Integrity, who manage to aggregate teams of professional journalists and the new technologies, regularly publishing cutting-edge in-depth investigations.
For no other reason, the web sites in this book are worth checking out, including Gizmodo (site that reports on high-tech gadgets), Earth911 (like Scorecard, but more expansive porthole to local environmental information), Poynter (key site for professional journalists), and Technorati (a blog monitoring and search service), Coases Penguin (essay by Hochai Benkler, a Yale U. law prof. who makes a stong case that open source organizations work better than the traditional capitalist structre of firms and markets in some circumstances). Kuro5hin (web site on tecnology and culture "from the trenches").If you don't know your online rights -- see Chilling Effects , the Electronic Freedon Foundation and the other sites he list in the appendix.
He has a useful chapter on the problems posed by battles over copyright and fair use (readers of Lawrence Lessig will be familiar with this stuff).
We the Media touches on issues that will not only change the media and our role in creating it, but many of our other favorite institutions, such as publishing and libraries:
"Book publishers have increasingly looked at online distriibution with fear, when they should see it as a practical step beyond antiquated printing and sitribution systems, and an opportunity to win new customers. They are supporting a system that mocks the First Amendment, on which they rely for their very existence; publishing, after all, is build on a foundation of free speech. Lending librariesin particular are in jeopardy if publishers take the same hard line that the music and movie companies have taken, because in a pay-per-view copyright regime, lending becomes impossible." (219)
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Kari writes regularly for Lip, ITT, the Reader, etc.
Not many people go to court for the right to pick up trash along the highway.