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Sunday, October 6, 2002
western nationalism and eastern nationlism by benedict anderson!

Once a year, the government stages a huge television spectacular, which goes on for many hours and is extremely popular, showing the various peoples that make up the population of the PRC. What is very noticeable in this long display is a sharp distinction between the Great Han people and the various minorities. The minorities are made to appear in their most colourful traditional costumes, and indeed make a splendid sight. The Han themselves, however, cannot appear in traditional clothing, even though we know from paintings and other historical records just how colourful and beautiful these actually were. So the men, for example, appear in business suits, derived from Italian and French models, about which there is nothing Han at all. The Han thus manifest themselves as the Future, and the minorities as the Past, in a tableau which is utterly political, even if not entirely consciously so. This Past, of which the minorities are the visible sign, is also part of a Big Past through which the Chinese stateís territorial stretch is legitimized. It is, of course, therefore a Chinese past.

"democratic fatalism in south east asia today" - benedict anderson speech :D

Now one of the things thatís excluded (or two of the things that are excluded) from this sort of generally determinist framework we can gain, if we turn our minds back to one of the greatest historians of antiquity (some of you may remember him), Tacitus, the Roman historian who had no idea about progress and thought in fact that history was generally speaking a long process of decline.

The two things which convinced [of this], which are decisive factors in history in the absence of progress. One was the morality of leaders, which he thought was generally low and getting lower. Which affected their choice of successors, their selection of policies, and ultimately the character of the populations they ruled. The second was chance. The unpredictable, the untimely death, the freakish accident, the inexplicable epidemic. He would have considered, for example, looking at chance, and if you take the case of Indonesia, he would have said there was no way to predict in advance that Suharto would make the foolish decision to invade and try to annex East Timor. The answer to that wouldnít come out of any kind of macro-history, or a century of progress, or anything like that. It would have to come out of the tyrantís personal morality and his political history. He would also have emphasised, if he had known about macro-sociological laws, that nothing would have guaranteed that East Timor, this tiny, small, poorly-educated, poor country would produce leaders of the calibre of Xanana Gusmao and Bishop Bello. Nor would any of these forces have brought an obscure British newsman with a video camera to the cemetery of Santa Cruz where the tyrantís praetorians were conducting a routine local massacre.

[:: comment! :]

Friday, October 4, 2002
interview with toni negri on s11

It seems to me that Bush would go to war with a weak consensus that will not be strengthened by a call to patriotism. A social crisis is emerging in the U.S. and the government pretends not to see it. Bush's administration took power the moment when the neo-liberal wave had taken all there was to take. Then the crisis of the market shares arrived and in a society of salaries like the American one where the redistribution of wealth largely takes place through the financial market, a crisis of the financial market touches on the low incomes and becomes a crisis of the entire community. Of course in such a situation of potential social crisis, there emerges the political weakness of the American system i.e. a system reliant upon the media and the control of public opinion; and there are no counter-tendencies with respect to the governmental trend in the media.

[...]

Obviously everyone hopes that the Democrats win, however weak and minimal the alternative that they would be capable of is. But my impression is that at the electoral level the essential has already occurred, and this consists in an important modification of the very electoral. There are important sectors of American society who have moved to the right, firstly the Jewish component, with the consequent deplacement of the democratic political class that was traditionally linked to it. Bush took over an alliance between this Jewish right and the Christian extreme right, as well as the Hispanic community. I do not think these ethnic electoral borders are rigid per se but so long as the politics of Israel [see "anti-Likudnik!"] keeps rigidfying them there is little to do.

[...]

The multitude is made up of men and women. The freedom gained by women in the last decades of the C20th already put into practice exodus from the logic of power. In feminised societies such as ours [not Italy presumably - ed] these are relevant to the prediction of how the game will turn out. A great difference with respect to the thirties is the possibility of the lack of feminine consensus to the seduction of power and the strategies of war. Even though the backlash is felt at this level too: as there are backlashes of imperialism on empire, there are also patriarchal regurgitations at the end of patriarchy in the east and the west and these are clearly painful regurgitations. In this situation it is a question wagering - personally for instance I feel like betting that the patriarchal backlash is not a winner on womens freedom.

I see patriarchal regurgitations very well, Bush's position is patriarchal, Bin Laden's too and maybe even Arafats.but you must be able to concretise and configure politically the feminine exodus too. I know very well that the multitude, men and women, is full of potential, but the situation is very dramatic and it would not be the first time that a process full of potential gets blocked and distorted. [i.e. yes dear - ed]

terrorism, "mass-destruction weapons," bush, and iraq by michael["attention h. economy" :]goldhaber

The first thing to note about terrorists is that there aren't very many of them -- at most a few thousand active ones in a world of billions. In a certain sense, the few there are are quite successful: with their small numbers they garner lots of attention to themselves through their violent acts, and even a little to their causes. But in those cases when they have had fairly clear aims, they have rarely succeeded.At most they succeed in terrifying, in disrupting, but not in getting what they supposedly want, be it independence for Basques or Tamils, the incorporation of Northern Ireland into the Irish republic (nor the tighter integration of Northern Ireland into Britain, as Protestant terrorists wish) the incorporation of Kashmir into Pakistan, or the downfall of the State of Israel. Al Qaeda, if it wants a worldwide Islamic "fundamentalist" state, hasn't done well either.

[...]

The point of all this is that though terror is certainly terrible and the death toll of September 11 was ferocious and horrendous, taking that event as the standard of what terrorists can do, especially once there is some heightened degree of alert against them, provides an altogether inappropriate level of fear. It is this fear that the Bush administration is presently manipulating, very deliberately, to prepare the public for an attack on Iraq that they intended to undertake well before September, 2001, and that bears no real relationship whatsoever to September 11. (The success they have had in this is not unconnected to the American public's internal focus, general lack of knowledge of the world- where's Iraq?- absence of memory for those under 40 or so of what a prolonged and messy war entails in loss of life,etc.

[...]

This Bush circle is closely tied with the groups who did everything in their power to take down the Clinton administration, including impeachment over lie about sex, apparently because they were so angry at having lost the Presidency and the power they considered rightfully theirs in 1992. This crew is composed of people whose power base in the defense establishment and in traditional industries tied to energy production was threatened by the end of the Cold War, the rise of the so-called new economy, and the environmental movement, and perhaps also by movements against racism and sexism. Despite the presence of Condoleeza Rice fully on their side in the administration, these are overwhelmingly white men and mostly Anglo-Saxon Protestants. One would have thought their days firmly in command were decidedly over, and they probably are, but that is just what makes these folks so determined and single-minded in restoring their former glory by virtually any means necessary. They are not unlike Communist Party apparachiks in various former Soviet republics or in China in this, and though far more successful, not utterly unlike Islamicist groups such as al Qaeda, who unwittingly handed them such excellent ammunition.

But the administration's strategy for holding on to and perhaps enlarging power has a basic weakness. The US, though now acting bully-like, to its vast discredit, remains by far the most powerful country in the world, compared to which the terrorists, and in fact the entire Arab world are gnat-like weaklings, whatever weapons they may try to use. But as in an odd sort of jiu jitsu, the strength of the reborn cold warriors now advocating hot war remains the perceived threat of al Qaeda and other Arabs. If Bush and company launch a successful war against Iraq, that may gain them momentary popularity, but it will also undercut their argument for continued paranoia as the basis for their rule. If, by some miscalculation, an Iraq war should prove overly costly or a quagmire, they will lose credibility and power even faster.

After all, Bush's popularity was sagging before 9/11 01. He immediately and deftly seized on the attack to raise his standing by announcing that the war against terrorism would henceforth be the focus of his administration. Yet, in the long run, that too has to be a lose-lose proposition: if further successful large -scale al Qaeda attacks occur, the administration will be discredited; if they don't occur, the administration fear-mongering will be. Either way, a power base resting on the flimsy reed of fearing terrorists who are far less powerful than the old Cold War enemy must crash. The absence of a reasonable positive agenda will condemn Bush and the other troglodytes eventually, but certainly more quickly if a coherent opposition with a more vital agenda both forms and finds means of expressing that agenda in ways the distracted public can grasp and align with. That remains the real challenge for the anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-terrorist "left."

[:: comment! :]

Wednesday, October 2, 2002
NWO 2.0, part deux

Presumably President Bush is disappointed by the coverage given his landmark national security manifesto. Reporters, after wading through 13,000 words on his strategic vision, focused mainly on two controversial doctrines: preserving overwhelming American military superiority indefinitely; and pre-emptively attacking nations deemed threatening rather than relying on traditional deterrence. Less was said about the more high-minded stuff, like fostering peace, prosperity and democracy around the world.

But the narrow focus of the press may have done the president a favor. The more broadly you view the new national security strategy, the clearer its contradictions become.

[...]

Nobility is a nice feature in a president, but not as nice as wisdom. Declaring yourself global sheriff would in any age be generous, since you're bearing a burden that should be shared by all who benefit from global civilization. But in an age when hatred abroad morphs easily into mass murder on your own soil, the line between generosity and martyrdom begins to blur.

And if you do insist on being chief law enforcer in such an age, you should at least try to make sure that the world believes the laws are fair and fairly enforced. Yet the Bush administration, with its limited regard for both international law and world opinion, is making America not just sheriff, but judge, jury and executioner. This strategy could lead to a number of outcomes, but national security isn't among the more likely.

after five years, a return to school in afghanistan (via plastic)

With some trepidation, Shabana and two of her sisters, Frishta and Hafiza, sat down in late February to take their placement exams. (Khuttera, their 19-year-old sister, was too old to return, their mother said.) The results reflected just how much time they'd lost: Frishta, who is 17, ended up in seventh grade; Hafiza, who is 14, in fourth. Shabana was placed in the second grade. She was ashamed to be one of the oldest girls in her class. But at least she was placed one grade ahead of Zakia, her neighbor of exactly the same age. A week before school started, Zakia had knocked on Shabana's door to say hello, a miracle in itself; since then they'd become friendly, walking to school together, running over to each other's homes to play, sharing a doll (until its head fell off). After they took the exam, sometimes Zakia liked to tell people that she'd placed into second grade. Shabana was always quick to correct her.

[...]

As has been the case in other wide-scale traumas, the younger girls seem to be bouncing back more quickly than the older ones. Some experts believe young children recover more easily than older ones or adults because their visions of how the world should work are still flexible; as we grow up, our sense of normalcy tends to become more fixed, and disruptions tend to cause greater psychological damage. The older girls, teachers told me, often burst into tears at the slightest provocation. Principals described older students who went through the whole semester without uttering a single word, capable only of smiling nervously when asked a question. A friend of my translator Khalida's was having a hard time adjusting to university, where she had enrolled in January; after one particularly brutal reprimand she received from a professor, Khalida told me in a whisper, ''she suicided herself.'' I asked Khalida whether she thought her friend succumbed to academic pressure or whether she had always been troubled. For young women in Afghanistan, Khalida told me, there's no way to say.

[...]

Shabana was finding that she liked the small competitions of the classroom. She was racing to learn as much as she could as quickly as possible, to show off what she'd managed to remember from the day before. But her sister Hafiza, four or five years older than many of her fellow fourth graders, started dreading the endless unanswerable questions, the daily grilling before a room full of seemingly smarter 9- and 10-year-olds. It wasn't enough that she had to leave her home each day, a routine journey that still left her exhausted and homesick. She was also being forced to suffer through the emotional trial of lessons she should have been learning years earlier. Whenever the teacher fixed her gaze on her and asked a question, Hafiza's mind overloaded, and she panicked, unable to think. Finally, she got one too many math questions wrong. Corporal punishment is condoned in Afghanistan, including Hafiza's teacher's method of choice: she pulled out a clump of her student's hair.

Hafiza went home, humiliated, and announced to her parents that she was done with school forever. And despite her parents' remonstrations, she never went back. If the school experience could be considered a kind of social experiment, Hafiza, sadly, would figure in it as the control -- the girl who chose to stay home. The quietest in her family, Hafiza tends to wrap herself in a scarf covering not just her head but much of her face, though her sisters have cast their scarves aside altogether. On the rare occasions she speaks or smiles, her hand flutters to her mouth. Wherever her older sister Frishta goes, Hafiza hovers close behind. She sits with her back pressed to the wall, as if she could will herself to disappear into its blankness.

[...]

But perhaps nowhere were the effects of shifting gender roles more emphatic than in the family of Wahida, a 10-year-old girl who had spent most of her young life as a boy called Wahid. Wahida was the fourth daughter born in a family that had no sons, a situation considered a family disgrace, as well as a major inconvenience, since girls couldn't run errands or leave the house unaccompanied. So from the time she was a baby, Wahida's parents simply presented her to the world as Wahid, and, when she was old enough, sent her off to school with the boys. After the fall of the Taliban (and with her adolescence just a few years off), her parents felt safe to reveal the truth to her principal. ''When I told the kids, they were astonished,'' the principal says, ''but everyone started laughing and clapping Wahida on the back, congratulating her.'' Her classmates were proud, as if she had pulled off the ultimate practical joke. Wahida, a nearly silent girl with a bashful face, hooded eyes and short hair, is now enrolled happily in a girl's class. (Particularly crowded schools mix boys and girls in the early years, but most do not.) Although she says she felt relieved to have her secret out, she still seems to be sorting out the meaning of her new identity. Asked if she feels more like a girl or a boy, Wahida hesitates indefinitely -- she's either baffled by the question or she's trying to figure out which answer all the grown-ups in the room want to hear. Her outfit suggests Wahida still feels a strong allegiance with the boys: she hasn't yet changed over to dresses, instead wearing pinstriped pants and a cowboy shirt. But every one of her nails has been painted bright, fire-engine red, enticingly glittering and unmistakably girlish.

[...]

Zakera is the girl who told me her friends had vowed not to talk about their lives under the Taliban. But sitting in an empty classroom one afternoon after an exam, she made a brief exception. One by one, she told me, her older sisters had married off and moved out, leaving her unbearably lonely. To earn money for her struggling parents, she spent six or seven hours a day embroidering tablecloths and napkins and men's collars with tiny, measured stitches in geometric, endlessly repeating patterns. ''When I wasn't embroidering, I slept all the time -- two or three hours in the middle of the day,'' she says. ''There was nothing else to do.'' She pulls her scarf forward a bit and turns her head to the side, so that the eyelet-trimmed cloth hides her face, which is wincing from the effort of holding back tears. ''I felt like I didn't exist,'' she says, shaking her head. ''I wished I wasn't alive.''

At home with her cousin a few days later, sitting on the floor and serving candied almonds and tea, Zakera recalls the first time she asked a teacher a question in class, how she forced herself to speak up after two weeks, coaching herself all the way to school. Her cousin, on the other hand, plays it a little bit more cool. She says she was never nervous in school, and in fact, regularly goes to the bazaar entirely by herself, without the burka. Did she feel uneasy the first few times? She shakes her head. ''She says no,'' my translator tells me. ''But I don't really believe her.''

Zakera does not go to the bazaar, or sightseeing with her parents, or out to visit the homes of friends, with the exception of her cousin. For now, she's content to expand her horizons within the safety of her living room, mesmerized by the Afghan television that resumed soon after the Northern Alliance's victory. She watches it for five hours a day, every day, sitting through the news, sports (especially volleyball), the instructional children's hour, the teenagers' hour and the serial drama. (Fortunately, one hour a night is devoted to the news in Pashtun, which is when she takes her dinner break.) While she struggles with her reading, television is her shortcut to worldliness, an instrument of socialization as much as entertainment. Through the soap operas, she has found a way to bond with her fellow classmates, who spend most of their recess rehashing the previous night's developments. Television was introducing her to the foreign world of Indian romances, shocking but beautiful; until local officials in Kabul canceled the program in September it was even teaching her how to dance, or giving her the inspiration to try. A couple of months after the Taliban had left, she and her cousin Sarah put on a tape of Indian music when no one else was home and spun around the room wildly, laughing and waving their arms. ''We danced like crazy people,'' Sarah says. ''For five years, we weren't allowed.''

[:: comment! :]

Tuesday, October 1, 2002
space cadet

Today I commuted for 2 hours on a jam-packed commuter train into Tokyo. EVERYBODY looked miserable. I feel such a communal sadness when standing inside these trains. I mean, there's not much to look forward to (office work), not many opportunities to express ourselves or simply laugh. Tonight's commute will be exactly the same. We are killing our souls and sometimes literally ourselves all for the economy.

sour brew

I own my own home at the age of 19 because of my motivation to do so. I spent the entire summer working as a construction worker building homes in order to convince my mother that i was mature enough to handle home ownership. The financial support for my home came through my fathers life insurance policy. He was a pot smoker and a homosexual. Because he grew up in the south and his sexuality was suppressed by culture he married my mother (a complacent woman) and then proceeded to cheat on her. He caught aids, and continued to use marijuana as a medicine.

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