Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Hutton Report was a Whitewash

Two thirds of the respondents to a Sky News opinion poll are understandably unpersuaded by the predictable results of the Hutton Inquiry, which exculpated Blair and his henchmen. You may fool all the people some of the time, etc.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Panem et Circenses

I spent several cents of my hard earned money and several minutes of my precious time on the phone to CBS in New York today for the privilege of informing a machine that I was furious at its owners’ refusal to air MoveOn’s winning Bush in 30 Seconds ad during the commercial break on Super Bowl Sunday, and was planning to protest their censorship of free speech by refraining from watching any of the other advertisements! (What I didn't mention was that I had no intention of watching the Super Bowl in the first place, as I feared that such an admission on my part might perhaps have weakened my considerable powers as a consumer.) Every little bit helps, right? Right? Kafka’s characters didn't have it much worse. Futility, thy name is activism…

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

“Tell me who will put flowers on a flower's grave?"

—Thus the inimitable Tom Waits on Alice, a haunting masterwork of Gothic whimsy.

While my sympathy for some version of the “precautionary principle” compels me to reserve the right to skepticism regarding GM food, it clear that biotechnology per se is not necessarily the devil’s work, anymore than is technology in general—Blake's "dark Satanic mills" notwithstanding! Check out this article for news on an exciting possible use of genetically modified plants, and this website for information on one of the most depraved weapons known to humanity. Needless to say, the United States finds itself in fine upstanding company on this issue, along with its old friends in the “Axis of Evil” and other worthy notables...

Zen and the Art of Frugality

A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath. The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over. “You dunce!” the master scolded him. “Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even one drop of water in this temple?” The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, p. 103

...To pay attention, above all—that is another of the persistent themes of Mr. [Henry] Besuden’s talk and of his life. He is convinced that paying attention pays, and this sets him apart from the mechanized “modern” farmers who are pushed to accept more responsibility than they can properly meet, and to work at freeway speeds. He wrote in his column of the importance of “little things done on time.” He said that they paid, but he knew that people did them for more than pay.

He told me also about a farmer who wouldn’t scrape the manure off his shoes until he came to a spot that was bare of grass. “That’s what I mean,” he said. “You have to keep it on your mind.”

The Gift of Good Land, by Wendell Berry, p. 237

This is Berry and the Buddhists at their most beautiful and there is not much that I could say without throwing a perfume on the violet. “Preserve, Preserve” rather than “Provide, Provide.” Consumption consumes the consumer.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Abject Apologetic Retraction

Apparently my description of Bethel as lying in "the frozen wastes of Western Alaska" has upset some delicate souls in that goodly town, who feel it makes for less than tempting advertising copy from the point of view of the tourist trade... I hereby humbly beg forgiveness for my thoughtless words, and would like to stress that although the Yukon Delta does get ever so slightly cool in the depths of winter, the summers there are perfectly balmy, as this photo clearly shows!

Buddhism for Heideggerians

“All life is suffering,” goes the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: “Birth is Suffering, Decay is Suffering, Sickness is Suffering, Death is Suffering, likewise Sorrow and Grief, Woe, Lamentation and Despair. To be conjoined with things which we dislike, to be separated from things which we like—that also is Suffering. Not to get what one wants—that also is Suffering.” One might add (and indeed Schopenhauer did) that to get what one wants is suffering too. Or as George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman: “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”

English etymology would appear to bear out this pessimistic judgment. “Sadness” and “satisfaction” are cognates—they are both descended from the Indo-European root sa, the latter via the Latin satis, or enough. To satiate, according to the OED, is “[t]o gratify beyond one's natural desire; to weary or disgust by repletion; to glut, cloy, surfeit.” Verbum sapienti sat est. Form is emptiness, as the Heart Sutra has it. Plenitude is vanity, in other words. “We would often be sorry if our wishes were gratified.” Thus Aesop, in “The Old Man and Death.” Quel dommage! Tant pis! Oh my, oh why? Sadly enough, enough said…

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Alaska at Last

Well, I just got back from an internet free spell in the frozen wastes of Western Alaska which is why I haven't posted anything in a while. I'm not so sure that those fine folks at PETA are down with dog mushing, but I have to say I enjoyed the K-300 immensely, despite some doubts about the wellbeing of the animals, including those shivering Irish fans "cheering on" the finishers! (Hey, it's difficult not to look grumpy when you've lost all feeling in your extremities...)

Having spent the whole day trying to recover from Bush's egregious State of the Union Address, I'm distinctly aware of how much happier I was going day after day without any news! Or maybe it was just all that partying in Bethel... Anyway, there are more important things than just being happy, right?

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Bovines for Bush!

Check out this take on BSE and G.W.B. by cartoonist Martyn Turner of The Irish Times. (You have to scroll to 12/31/03 and click on "Get Image" to view the cartoon...) The sheer incongruity of the slogan speaks volumes.

Monday, January 05, 2004

"Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

...Or, more thoughts on globalization in response to comments on my rant against Norberg from Young Master Sunshine and Ektopos.

Well, touche as far as going on goes! We could all do that, I guess, and unfortunately, we often do (the inimitable Mr. Beckett excepted)... As a recovering romantic myself, I have something of a penchant for half-hearted holists, moderate postmodernists, lukewarm luddites and apathetic globoskeptics in general, if I may take leave to coin a new word. That said, I find myself--as do many reasonable persons--worried by their worst excesses, although that's a subject for another day. Not to split hairs, but it's a little careless of DeGregori to call Shiva an ecofeminist and a deep ecologist at once--there are important and possibly irreconcilable differences between the two positions, which leads me to suspect he's tarring some dissimilar misfits with the same brush. On the whole though, his debunkery of Shiva and her ilk cannot be casually dismissed. I need to do a little more homework before I throw in my two cents' worth on this one--which will have to wait since, ironically enough, I'm struggling to complete a late term paper on objectivity and history right now...

I agree that my condemnation of Monsanto was one-sided and that there's no prima facie reason to think that GM foodstuffs are detrimental to human health or that of the planet, though there are plenty of reasons to be wary. I also think every thinking person should be very concerned about issues such as biopiracy and the patenting of genetic material, since the potential for profit--and therefore abuse--is so great. Basically, I am not a believer in the absolute benignity of market forces, not to speak of the machinations of transnational corporations. This is a position which strikes me as naively idealistic at best.

The increased movability of global capital--while it is not necessarily to be regretted--presents formidable ethical challenges. When a transnational corporation decides to relocate its production facilities in an LDC to take advantage of lower labor costs, the overall effects are hard to gauge. Let's assume for argument's sake that low paid workers in industrialized nations lose jobs, while peasants in industrializing nations gain employment. Thus there is a transfer of wealth from the relatively poor to the absolutely poor, which considered purely as such, may indeed be a good thing--though it's not a platform on which even the most idealistic of left wing politicians is ever likely to run for office. This is only part of what happens, however. The transnational corporation relocates because it can produce goods more cheaply abroad, and thus sell them more cheaply at home, increasing its own competitiveness and indirectly benefiting the consumer. But, needless to say, only part of the difference in production costs is passed on to the consumer--part is kept by the transnational in the form of increased profits. Hence, the overall result of such maneuvering is a net redistribution of wealth from labor to management, or from the poor (relatively and absolutely speaking) to the extremely rich. Whether such a net redistribution is to be deplored or endorsed is a separate question, but let's not ignore the fact that this is the direction in which an unregulated global market tends.

The hypocrisy of the wealthy nations in trumpeting free trade while supporting unfair subsidies and crippling tariffs is indeed depressing. There is clearly something wrong with a world in which European cows, to take a well-known example, are subsidized to the tune of two dollars per day under the CAP while a billion humans eke out a living on half that. But again there is no reason that I know of to herald actual--as opposed to apparent--free trade as a panacea to inegalitarian woes. Freedom is a more or less empty concept in the face of enormous imbalances in power. To be sure, less developed countries would be better able to compete if international trade in textiles and agricultural products was liberalized. But whatever edge this would give them might still not be enough for them to pull themselves out of the poverty trap. The situation is analogous, in one respect anyway, to the thorny question of affirmative action. The mere absence of formal injustice and discrimination, after centuries of exploitation and repression, is probably just not enough to iron out undeserved differences in wellbeing.

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