Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Challenge declined: the Bush/Ahmadinejad nondebate

White House rejects Iran debate | | The Australian

THE White House today rejected outright an offer from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hold a televised debate with US President George W. Bush...Mr Ahmadinejad overnight offered Mr Bush a live television debate as he shrugged off the threat of sanctions ahead of a looming UN deadline for Iran to halt sensitive atomic work.

"I suggest we talk with Mr Bush, the president of the United States, in a live television debate about world issues and ways out of these standoffs. We would voice our opinions and they would too," he told a news conference.
The debate "should be uncensored, above all for the American public," said Mr Ahmadinejad"

President Bush yesterday declined an invitation to a TV debate by Iran's President Ahmadinejad. This was probably a wise move since Ahmadinejad, in addition to being quite a sharp politician is, apparently a pretty smart guy--indeed an engineering nerd prone to nose-bleeds. As he himself notes on his blog.

Even though I was very playful those days, but was aware of my school & education. I was a distinguished student. From that time, I was interested and attached to teaching. I used to teach my friends and others in their houses. The last year of my high school, I prepared myself for university admission test-conquer. And later on that year, I took the test. Although I had nose bleeding during the test, but I became 132nd student among over 400 thousand participants. I was admitted for civil engineering major in one of the technical universities in Tehran. That was three years before the revolution. Even though the revolution was taking place and I was involved in certain activities against the illegitimate regime of the monarch in Iran-the mercenary & puppet of U.S. & Britain- but I was aware of my education and did not give it up.

Reading Ahmadinejad's blog, a political item directed at his base, was illuminating not so much about Ahmadinejad's own psychology as it was about the motives and interests of the "base" to which he was aiming to appeal, in particular "why they hate us." The picture he paints is of a body of people oppressed by a Westernized elite under the Shah, and subsequently humiliated by Western powers, the US and UK in particular, intent on forcing Western culture on them while depriving them of access to Western technology. Iran's nuclear program, he argues, will put Iran on equal footing with world powers as a force to be reckoned with.

The appeal to national pride and the rhetoric of communal honor isn't surprising or unfamiliar. It's the same jingoistic line demagogues everywhere, and in the US in particular, take to command the loyalty of the peasantry. I suppose it appeals to some urge for transcendance--identification with some cause beyond oneself, whether a nation, a football team, a religious tradition or a street gang and a gut level commitment to promoting interests that go beyond, and even conflict with individual interests.

That quest for transcendance, and for "dignity" and "honor" through identification with a nation or people, is one of the dividing lines between educated, cosmopolitan elites and the masses. The Iranian masses care intensely about getting nukes--not, as far as I can see, because they want to blow up Israel, or even because they believe they need them to defend themselves, but because they are after dignity, honor and national recognition, just as the American masses care about the US's position as "leader of the free world."

It all seems childish and wasteful, but not entirely pointless I think. Most people have little opportunity for individual achievement: they work to eat and eat to work, sleep, excrete and copulate. Their only chance to get beyond the brute business of survival and procreation, to achieve "dignity" or "honor," is through identification with the nation, the church or the football team, by identifying with their achievements, stature and status. Maybe that's one of the things that privileged people, who take opportunities for personal achievement for granted, don't get.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The End of Libertarianism / Comment & analysis / Comment - The unmourned end of libertarian politics

The most epochal event in world politics since the cold war has occurred – and few people have noticed. I am not referring to the conflict in Iraq or Lebanon or the campaign against terrorism. It is the utter and final defeat of the movement that has shaped the politics of the US and other western democracies for several decades: the libertarian counter-revolution.

Here's a nice article from, of all places, The Financial Times and I hope to God that it's true. To be honest, for me international politics is just a side show. The central political issue from my perspective is the establishment of a cradle-to-grave welfare state.

Why? Because I am simply terrified of being in a situation where I'm trapped and have no room to maneuver, without options. I can't handle long plane trips. I don't go to concerts, movies or any events where I have to sit in an audience without an escape route. At papers, I sit in an aisle seat next to the door or just stand if I can't get one. I am terrified of being bored and trapped. I am terrified, even retrospectively, of the possibility of working at a boring job where I'm physically trapped--behind a check-out counter scanning groceries, at a terminal inputting data, in a carrel taking phone orders. I am terrified of being forced to do work where there's no possibility of learning or achievement--the drudgery of routine clerical work, waitressing, child care, retail sales or any of the default jobs for women which, in addition to being boring and physically constraining, involve people contact which I find almost as bad as boredom and constraint.

I can't cast the first stone. I wouldn't want an arrangement in which people who didn't luck out as I did were forced to do that kind of work--which de facto is the only option most women have. When Clinton abolished "welfare as we know it" I was scared because welfare to me was the ultimate safety net, insuring that if I were prepared to live minimally I wouldn't have to do that kind of work. I was, and am--retrospectively, in spite of being tenured--scared. That's why I have a stake in the Left--in affirmative action so that women aren't restricted to those miserable, boring jobs and, as a fallback position, to welfare so that regardless of what happens there's always an escape route. I have to sit in the aisle seat next to the door.

Ages ago, before I got tenure, I saw a woman go spectacularly mad in public. We were in the pedestrianized town centre in Swindon, just outside of Debenhams, and there was a woman rolling around on the pavement screaming while her carers tried to calm her and take her away. I wondered at the time if that could be an escape route for me. If I didn't get tenure and got fired, would screaming and rolling on the ground in public get me onto some disability program that would pay enough to live on so that I wouldn't have to work, or finance a course in drafting or appliance repair so that I could get a tolerable job, or just get me into a decent looney bin where I could do basket weaving? (I've always liked crafts) When I see beggars at freeway exits and supermarket entrances I wonder if that would be tolerable. It seems pretty bad but I imagine I could read. It beats typing anyway.

I am scared, scared, scared. It amazes me that my fellow Americans are so frightened of violence, of terrorism and plain crime, because the odds of being affected are so low. My oldest kid back from Baltimore and I were talking about this. When we lived there, my home as I still think of it, I walked uptown to Hopkins from the train station, through the bombed out no man's land, and never though anything of it. I got hassled, and didn't like it, but it seemed pretty trivial. In any case, you're unlikely to get killed--at worst they'll take your money and credit cards--which you can cancel. A fortiori, if you live in a leafy suburb the chance of getting hurt is negligible. Why this obsession? The odds of being impoverished, getting stuck working at Walmart, having no options and no room for maneuver, spending every day at this drudgery without any chance of accomplishing anything, are much, much greater and much, much worse.

I just don't get it. Why are people so scared of unlikely, episodic violence but not of very likely chronic misery--poverty, financial insecurity and lousy work?