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  • Big Coal and Big Oil Wipe Kiribati off the Face of the Map
    • And that is not the half of it Juan (if I may). Yet one scarcely knows where to start. Ocean acidification which you posted about the other day means that we will be walking beaches someday soon with no sea-shells. No oysters, no crabs, no lobsters or clams or scallops. This has enormous implications for even moderately sized coastal economies (several years ago the oyster industry in Washington state went into free fall due to increased acidification in the Pacific costing the state enormous losses not only in oyster larvae but in income and revenue and further depressing an already over-stressed, resource depleted region).

      Then there’s a thing called phytoplankton that helps produce a little thing called oxygen. But acidic oceans eat away at their fragile shells – one can only speculate at the implications for our atmosphere; then of course there is the entire oceanic food chain, on which about 1 billion humans and countless forms of life depend. What will life look like when that food source has been so poorly managed and utterly degraded that it is no longer viable? People should look at some videos by Jeremy Jackson, a noted and excellent marine biologist on these issues.

      Then, as you yourself noted, the Arab Spring may have been fueled, in part, by the spike in grain prices after Russia’s horrific summer a couple of years ago. What happens when the major corn, wheat, and rice producers (as is happening in Thailand and as is predicted to happen here), can simply no longer keep up with demand due to extreme weather destroying crops? What will conflicts in the third world look like and become as water sources are lost in Asia and south America and Africa? The mind reels.

      One can scarcely miss the irony here – the people of Kiribati face a genuine Apocolypse, the end of their world as they have known it. We are destined to go the same way – death by 10,000 Apocolypses – Katrina, spring tornados, failed crops in Russia, bread riots. James Hansen has written the new book of Revelation (for a succinct version go to: link to, only it is not a mystic vision, it is very real. Meanwhile know-nothings who cling to their mystic nonsense do all they can to hasten a genuine Dies Irae.

      Protecting the environment and addressing this issue seems as basic as third grade ecology to me. But that is the point – we have regressed to such a state of political infantilism that we cannot even attain to third grade level science in our political discourse. All you can hope for is that the next time consciousness arises on another planet it does a better job of respecting the uniqueness of life.

  • Santorum Can't Run Away from Limbaugh, who is just taking Santorum's ideas to their logical conclusion
    • Thanks for the service you do posting these Juan (if I may)! But you could go further and tie Limbaugh to his logical conclusion, which is the post below about ocean acidification. That is to say, the logical conclusion of having debates in which we have to respond to Limbaugh-Santorumism in policy terms is nothing short of catastrophic.

      So we start ‘debating’ on measures about which there should be no negotiating because they are basic human rights. This includes health care and education accessible to all, living wages, fair taxation policy, and on and on and on.

      Or worse, we debate about horrific policies such as torture in even ‘liberal’ media outlets such as NPR (which proudly will interview Cheney but refuse to interview Michael Moore). Just what is the ‘centrist’ position on torture? We’ll only water board a little? Good grief. I can think of numerous matters in which there simply is no half-way, there is only respect for the dignity and rights of the individual.

      And, as your post below indicates (on the dying oceans), you can just forget the environment - even though a most dire and urgent issue, it consistently appears at the bottom of most people’s list.

      This is the logical conclusion of so many things - well-funded hard right ‘think-tanks’ (really propaganda offices), deep odium for the civil rights advances in the past forty or fifty years for women and minorities, a vendetta for Nixon’s fall, increased privatization of the airwaves allowing for ignoramuses to control the discourse, futile attempts to vindicate Vietnam through further military adventures, exploitative manipulation of our collectively reptilian brain post 9/11, and the Awterfication of the national electoral process (remember 1988?). And I know I’m leaving plenty out! All of this has been fuel thrown onto the fire of a party that is no longer that of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt but of John Birch plain and simple.

      And what have we gotten as a result? A president who (along with his party) in some respects governs to the right of (the despicable) Ronald Reagan and gets labeled as a socialist by the opposition.

      The end game? My guess (and it is only a guess) is that at some point within the next few decades environmental degradation will become so severe that it will result in resource scarcity in some part of the world that will lead to a major world conflagration. Vague I know, but nonetheless I am afeared likely - that is if we don’t find one on our hands sooner in Persia. On our present course, I am afraid that the worst is yet to come and we are powerless to prevent it.

  • Five Things Rick Santorum Could have Learned in College
    • You spoke my mind Sherm! When it comes to religion and politics we truly live in bizarro world. So the right thumps the Bible and rejects evolution at the same time rejecting the most significant aspects of social justice addressed to the Bible's audience but embracing social Darwinism. Go figure. At the same time the Left's tenets of social justice would be unimaginable without the intellectual heritage of the gospels and Old Testament - but the Left is more wary now than, say, during the period of Abolition or even during the civil rights movement, of acknowledging the debt to the gospels that their notions of social justice have. That debt in large historic terms belongs in no small part to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

  • Ayatollah Santorum Excommunicates Obama, Mainstream Protestants
    • So . . . we are going to base public policy on the New Testament which is based on the ministry of a man who spoke and taught in Aramaic, but the writers of which wrote in Greek and whose earliest canonical gospel was not written until a full thirty years or so after his death and after the region had gone through a horrific conflagration. Yup, I'm sure nothing got lost in transition there . . .

  • Ring of Iranian Bases Threatens US
    • Amen Sister!

      But you need to add to “seen this movie before” also, “and before, and before, and before, and before”.

      We were lied to about Vietnam. We were lied to about the communist threat (why oh why our intelligence agencies had any credibility after ’89 is a mystery to me - communism about to collapse - now how’d they miss that titbit of news? And our government caught flat-footed. For just what were our tax dollars being funneled to the CIA?). We were lied to about Grenada and Panama (and by the way, we killed somewhere between 2000-4000 civilians on Bush Sr.’s little obscene adventure in Panama). We were lied to concerning our support of violence in . . . . well, pretty much most of the global south (I’d list the countries but I think I’d have to list just about all of them, especially in central America from pretty much the 1950s-90s and probably still today). We were lied to about Iraq in ’91 (the Washington Post ran an article a few years ago that the Iraqi military build up at the time along the Saudi border ominously referred to then by war secretary Cheney was pretty much fiction). Were were lied to about the Sudan by Clinton. Were were lied to about Iraq by Bush in 2003. We are currently lied to about . . . well, pretty much nearly everything (such as all those nasty threatening children our drone strikes take out). Hell, I’d like to know one genuinely necessary war we’ve waged since we landed on Normandy.

      Look, governments lie. Iran may be about oil, it may not be; but it’s certainly about keeping the military industrial complex fat and happy. Manufacture a threat and you need to prepare for it and meet it - it keeps the armaments factories humming, the media ratings up, the people frightened.

      The mystery to me is how so many of those in power manage to sleep at night, because not only are they killing (or complicit in killing) for the most part poor people of color in the global south, and far too many innocents, they are taking the future away from our children. And if you don’t believe me then I suggest you take a look at some stats about malnutrition, its costs and consequences in our own backyard.

      So, since we need to pay for veteran care for these wars, since we are still in Afghanistan, since we have low level wars ongoing but undeclared in a sense in Yemen and Pakistan and the gods know where else, will someone please explain to me, who is the next segment of the underclass who will suffer in order to pay for this fiasco we are now intent upon in Persia? And explain to me why anyone has any credibility in terms of its necessity?

      The Onion nailed it the other day, I think, when there was a headline that read, “Iran Concerned as USA Builds 8,500th Nuclear Warhead”.

  • Greek Lessons for the Arab Spring: Majid
    • Re: Henry James: "First, if you think about Homer’s The Ilyad, it is nothing else than magnificent depiction of a religious war! "

      No, the gods in Homer are embodiments of forces essential to the human experience on both sides, but the nature and worship of the gods is NOT NOT NOT in question. It's Greek gods involved in a civil dispute. Their envy of one another causes the war, but in human terms there is NO theology involved, NONE, ZILCH, OUDEN, NIHIL, NADA, and in fact, GREEK gods are portrayed as arraying against one another variously on both the Trojan and Greek side. That is, Greeks and Trojans worship the same gods (and in the same way) as depicted on Homer.

      It was a sexual peccadillo, Paris' kidnapping of Menelaus' wife Helen that caused the war, it only had to do with religion insofar as Hera and Athena were ticked off that they lost to Aphrodite in their little beauty contest on Mt. Ida (Paris had to choose who was mot lovely of the goddesses - he choose Aphrodite).

      That having been said, the ancients were a deeply religious people, and contra the 50s costume flicks with which I grew up, in which as soon as the Christian message got out it was embraced, pagan religion died very very hard and slow.

      I must say that I get mighty tired of these "Egyptian's came first" and "backward Greco-Roman" arguments. Any scholar of antiquity knows ancient Near Eastern society was much older and that Greco-Roman society was indebted to it, nay, even fascinated by it (witness Herodotus book 2 and his Egyptian Logos). But is Shakespeare's contribution to literature any the less because he didn't invent drama? Should we throw Tacitus out the window even though, despite his elitist, even racist attitude, in historical terms he contributed mightily to this very discussion about diversity and democracy? (And by the way, Thomas Jefferson called him 'the first among authors without peer', and Tacitus contributed significantly to Jeffersonian thinking).

      And before we condescend about the cruelty and barbarity of the ancients - who compared to us had little access to information and were technologically backward - we better think about how we stand as somehow morally superior when we see fit to bomb poorer countries on specious pretexts and then let people suffer under the rubble as we poke away at our blackberries in willful ignorance.

      On the whole, it's hard to see how contemporary, modern democratic society would have been possible without Greece and Rome, despite the elite attitudes of their thinkers and rulers. And that includes the emancipation of women, the civil rights movement, and this discussion about the nature and possibility of emergent democracies. All you can hope is that those new emerging democracies don't bollux up their path to democratic societies the way we have, for somewhere in our journey to the future I'm afraid that we have become our past.

    • Steve Rutledge 02/15/2012 at 5:05 am

      An interesting post, and as a Classicist one I can’t let go without comment. As you note Mr. Majid, you are absolutely on the mark about the indebtedness, one that is deep and profound, of western political systems and culture to Greece and Rome. From forms of government, to architecture, to language, they are the forebears of us all, and I would go further and argue that it is simply impossible to have an appreciation of western society without some basic understanding of Pericles’ Athens and Caesar’s Rome.

      But a closer look at Greco-Roman culture would reveal some things to us that are, frankly, shocking. Basic infrastructure for a civil society was pretty well non-existent: systemic institutions for public health, safety, and education were for the most part lacking. Sophisticated and shared notions of civil and human rights were also largely (though not entirely) absent for the majority of the populations in both cultures.

      On the other hand, the lack of sentimentality in Athens led them to have a democracy that truly did believe in accountability, an attitude I wish ours shared. Hence, for example, the great hero of Marathon, Miltiades, was brought into court on a stretcher in his last days and tried for peculation. And the great Roman historian Sallust could look with a cold eye and see that it was the power of money in politics that had helped change the Roman republic into an autocracy.

      Where I would take deep issue with your assessment, however, is where you imply that state business and religion were separated in antiquity. In fact, they were profoundly intertwined and it was impossible to separate the two. Recall one of the main charges against Socrates in the witch hunt after Athens’ loss to Sparta that resulted in his death was the introduction of new gods. Cicero’s De Legibus (On the Laws) and his De Divinatione (On Divination), were all about the place of religion in state and public life. Sacrifice and religious observance was key to any public business, and could be a political football at all times (Cicero’s orations and many of our other sources are full of this). The Romans in particular felt their pietas - knowledge of how to do right by the gods and strict religious observance in both a public and private context - was key to their success; Christianity was viewed as a threat when it came along in part because it asked them to abandon observance of gods who had given them an empire and helped them to run it successfully.

      The really interesting thing to note is that there were no religious wars or conflicts in antiquity; yes, the Romans put down rebellious Jews, but they continued to let them practice Judaism (though it was taxed), yes they moved to suppress human sacrifice, but while they might sneer at worshippers of exotic deities, they only suppressed religion if it was viewed not as a moral threat or theologically at odds with their views, but only if it threatened political stability within the Empire. Yes, they had to have the approval of the gods to leave the city on campaign or to give battle, yes they might deride the gods of their enemies as inferior, but Greek and the Romans simply did not go to war with others based on theological differences.

  • Romney: "I'm not concerned about the very poor."
    • Thanks for the post Juan - the stats you cite are only a part of the problem. I recently attended a conference about food insecurity in my home state, and one of the speakers, a pediatrician from Harvard, gave a hair-raising talk about the cost of having so many children in poverty in this country. The upshot: poverty, particularly for our children, is very very expensive. Having a whopping 20% of our children experiencing hunger at any one time, many between the ages of 0-6, results in privations that have further serious implications down the road.

      Violent behavior, low potential for intellectual growth, illnesses in adulthood - all of these perpetuate the need for social services that cost society down the road, and also result in lower earning potential, hence lower revenue potential for the state. Many of the parents of these children have had bad luck or simply ill-equipped to care for these children. Blaming the parent is a non-starter.

      Any humane person knows that having hungry children in our society in an effort to punish supposedly “lazy” or “ne’er-do’well” parents is itself a moral failure (not to mention intellectually lazy on the part of people who refuse to expend the energy to learn about the complexity of this issue), not to mention generally despicable.

      But I’m afraid the voting public will only come around on this issue when they are flooded with a message that shows just how much cutting, say, SNAP, costs them down the road. And by the way, the so-called private sector, that is, all the food banks and pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, statistically speaking, can deliver a paltry 36 meals a month to a family of four, while the government SNAP program can deliver 252. Cut SNAP by 6%, and it will effectively force already over-worked (and largely volunteer) food banks and soup kitchens to double their efforts, an impossible task.

      I'd give anything to see a talk like the one at this summit aired for a mere 30 minutes on the major news networks over the grotesque circus of heartless men fighting to go to DC to collect dust for four years and big bucks after.

  • Post-American Iraq by the Numbers
    • And American apathy to these statistics is breathtaking. But let’s face it - if you believe in justice, if you believe that the law should have real and unprejudiced application, if you believe we should be more sentimental about the law than about personalities, you doom yourself to frustration.

      Geneva? Quaint! Nuremburg? That’s so pre-9/11. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICC? So not in American interest. The Constitution? We’ll only bring it out when we swear oaths to it that we intend to break, or when Tea Partiers run around with Lipton bags from three cornered hats demanding an end to taxes.

      So, you and I suffer far more consequences for driving 38 in a 25 zone than Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Wolfowitz, Addington, Cheney, Feith, and a host of other bloody-minded specimens do for destroying whole peoples, nations, and cultures - indeed, even worse, they rake in vast sums on books deals and speaking engagements (failing up up and away!) and speak about the destruction of the Mid-East as though it were just another line on their Silver-Spooned resumes.

      I brought this up to my rep at a town meeting and he spoke some argle-bargle about not putting the country through “that” (by which, I presume, he meant the process of accountability for the war criminals among us). Yet we have seen fit to put Iraq through a meat grinder - literally. And dammit, it is time to stand up and say that the crimes that proceed from war are every bit as intentional as premeditated rape or first degree murder. And this is a fact that has been known for centuries. Thucydides observed, in essence, that to go to war is to open a door into a dark room; Sallust had Cato the Younger observe in his War against Catiline that everyone knows the general horrors of war “temples are destroyed, women and children sold into slavery, the flower of youth put to the sword”. It is no less true for us - “collateral damage” is a known quantity, hence the use of force against a population, for all intents and purposes (as far as I am concerned), represents a willful crime (above all if the war, as ours was, is aggressive and committed on utterly false pretenses), from which emerged such episodes as the siege of Fallujah and the embrace of torture.

      But this is the disease of our national character - just ask the Cherokee nation, the Phillipines, the Nicaraguans. And while you are at it, ask those for whom there is not enough money to feed, educate, and house properly in our own country. The cure will only start when the ring of power apparently seized by a sociopathic elite (of assorted militarists, industrialists, politicians, and media shills) has been cast into the fires of an authentic and ardent democracy.

  • Top Things that Should have Disqualified Cain before Now
    • The depth of ignorance on the part of the American people and the msm no doubt drives the dynamic whereby a deeply ignorant man (or, in Palin’s case, woman), can survive, even thrive in our current dysfunctional environment. But a hefty dose of the collapse of public virtue (in the sense that the Founding Fathers understood it) is to blame as well.

      I teach Classics at a major university. When I think of the level of education and learning of men such as Madison and Jefferson and the traditional of intellectualism from which they arose and see what we now have . . . well, one can only weep. Recently a student asked in class how the Romans could go from being a people who, ostensibly during the high Republic (the fourth through the mid second century BC) appeared to have a well oiled machine and a reasonably well functioning state to a people steeped in political corruption and civil strife from which finally emerged a military dictatorship.

      It was a teachable moment, and I did not hold back. It was a chance to speak to the students about our own situation. I simply stated that growing up (I was born in ’63) we as a nation did not openly embrace torture. We had a constitution vibrant enough to effect a president’s resignation for its violantion. We had a somewhat responsive and adult media (and told then about Cronkite’s indignation against Johnson). At one point people took to the streets and stayed there (and some died there) because they decided that sending young people on a fool’s errand to die in a distant part of the world was a horrible idea. Once upon a time we had trouble with fluorocarbons and when we heard they were damaging the atmosphere did not debate the science but actually trusted our scientists and did something about it. How did we get here?

      Now all the seemingly “adult” people to whom we collectively are asked to entrust our future and more importantly the future of the students we teach - from the talking heads on the Sunday morning babble-fests, to the military consultants bought and paid for by CNN, to the presidential candidates, to your local Tea Party or philandering and corrupt congress person (who statistically may well have a criminal record) - are little more as I see it than children with matches.

      But Cain, Palin, even the feckless Obama (who has decided that the president can assassinate U.S. citizens in his Star Chamber and who wants in essence now to ignore posse comitatus), are on a very real level merely the putrefaction of a now decaying corpse of a once living republic. There is a dread nexus in place of corporate, political, media, and military power, and the U.S. is now an authoritarian state (a road on which we have been traveling for decades and which is now complete), made all the more toxic by willful and proud ignorance on the part of a substantial constituency.

      It is no longer two minutes to midnight - it is two minutes past.

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