< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: January 2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Happy Birthday Mozart!

250... not bad. Just got finished listening to the Die Zauberflote in your honor. Timeless.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Executive Power--the Baby in the Bathwater

It's the essence of fashion among liberals to condemn Republican defenses of executive power as somehow fascist and certainly anti-democratic. Liberals need to take a deep breath and think more clearly than that.

First, let us not forget that it was the twin heroes of the modern Democratic Party--FDR and Truman--who were among the most vigorous claimants for strong, unrestrained executive power. In Ciceronic fashion, I will not mention FDR's decision, for national security reasons, to confine thousands of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII--a decision whose endorsement by the Supreme Court remains the law of the land.

Nor will I mention Truman's outright seizure of the Youngstown Steel plant, for national security reasons, which seizure was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, a decision which also survives as the law of the land, to which Truman acceded.

Time nor space do not permit me to mention Eisenhower's commitment of federal troops to enforce the school desegregation order in Little Rock, Arkansas--a decision that remains the law of the land despite four decades of unceasing agitation across the South against executive efforts at "social engineering." (And no, the claim that he was "just" enforcing a court order in no way made it acceptable to the South; executive power was supposed to be withheld, not asserted, in just such circumstances according to the virtually unanimous southern opinion at the time, an opinion that is now the dominant ideology of the Republican Party.)

And of course I must pass over Nixon--whose assertions of executive privilege to withhold evidence were rejected by the Courts and were unable to prevent the inexorable momentum toward impeachment, which Nixon avoided only by resignation.

No, it must suffice simply to remind the reader that our history of the past sixty years is replete with bold assertions of executive power--some, including the most egregious of all (FDR's), still in place as the law of the land, but others consensually rejected. And in that sufficiency it is required that we appreciate that the support for executive power was most often from the left--because the executive, as the only branch directly responsible to all the people of the US, was perceived as more democratic than the Congress which was considered much more beholden to special, and by definition local, interests. But for unprecedented assertions of executive power, more by Eisenhower than by any Democrat, there'd be few racially integrated schools either in the South, or in the large cities of the North.

So it's not executive power, but rather the particular context of its assertion (and no doubt the political climate at the time) that validates or invalidates its use.

It is in that context that we must consider Alito, Gonzalez, and of course Bush. The answer to the overly bold assertion of executive power is to ask simply whether the circumstances justify it, i.e.:

Does the national security threat require the extreme measures proposed by the executive? In a word, no. The Al-Qaeda threat is substantially overstated and cannot--by any rational measure--justify a wholesale assertion of executive power to search the conversations of Americans, seize their papers, or (to hear the administration tell it) do anything it wants to do as long as it does so in the furtherance of a hypothetical war against "terrorism." But the objection is not to the assertion of power; it is to the justification for it in this case.

Of course, framed this way, the argument runs the risk of seeming to diminish the seriousness of the 9-11 attacks. No. It only asks whether the proposed executive power is necessary to comabat the threat. With respect to telephone conversations, the argument needs to address the utter silliness of the assertion that for the NSA to listen to every conversation in America, even every conversation with a foreign citizen, is either necessary or effective. (And its silliness makes clear that darker political motives must be operating to take advantage of the situation not only to have a Nixonian enemies list--political enemies, that is--but also to "find out" what these enemies, i.e. Democrats, are up to.) If the objection is raised that the "guidelines" for the eavesdropping prevent that kind of politicization of the eavesdropping, then the objection is defeated by the president's assertion that he can do "anything" he wants to, i.e. cannot be bound by guidelines, either the administrations's own guidelines for the eavesdropping "program," or those legislated by Congress.

Torture is even sillier: for the president to assert his right--despite Congress's legislation to the contrary--to torture prisoners is utter foolishness for the simple but severe reason that there is no evidence that it works.

My intent is not to cast the executive power argument into purely utilitarian, result-oriented terms. It is simply to say that ideological objections to unexpected exercises executive power have not controlled the debate of the last sixty years. Simpler objections based on plain facts have carried the day.

(And this is not to say that we would today approve the internment of entire ethnic groups of our citizens, as FDR did. A half century of social and civil rights progress--not to mention technological development--has made FDR's precedent also no longer tenable.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

Customer Service at Apple

I am a big believer in Apple the company right now. My own personal investment portfolio is probably way overweighted in Apple stock, and has been since last year. But at the same time, they deliver an excellent product at reasonable prices, so in many ways they are the best pick out there. The iBook G4, for example, is every bit the computer the Powerbook is (or any laptop for that matter). Unless you do a lot of video editing or hard core design and publishing, you really don't need the extra speed and memory the Powerbook offers. Plus the iBook, unlike its flashier cousin, is much more durable. For any true road warrior, the iBook is an exceptional choice. You can even pick one up for $999. That is chicken feed in the world of laptops. And with the help of Macs many "open source" oriented hackers, you can download a hack for free which allows you to span monitors with the iBook (one of the selling points of a powerbook). So I recommend it.

Now comes the but. I recently purchased a Mac Mini, impressed with its design and performance, and sure that it would provide my kids with the same reliability that my iBook and my G5 desktop have provided me. I still can't judge because I don't have all the parts I ordered! It has been over a month since I placed my order through the Apple Store and I'm still missing one of the essential pieces (a keyboard) needed to drive the damn thing!

The frustration is acute because the Apple Customer Service department is lousy. First, after placing my order I realized the wrong shipping address had been included. I called Apple, which informed me that they could not change the address because it is FedEx's hands now. I called FedEx, (by the way, FedEx has a first class customer service department, they should be commended, I've called them numerous times over the years and they are ALWAYS willing to find solutions, even those not immediately apparent, bravo!!) and they informed me that due to a contract with Apple they are not allowed to reroute shipments in progress. If I were Apple, I would seriously re-examine that policy. It only increases the overhead for free shipping offers as the package must go all the way to the destination, and then go all the way back to Apple, and then Apple must resend to the correct address. Frustrating (and expensive for them!).

But the Mac Mini, as you will note, comes in several component parts. You order the mouse separately, the keyboard, and if necessary (which it wasn't in my case) you order the monitors separtely as well. No problem, I thought, since only the mouse has shipped at this point, they'll go ahead and send me the Mac Mini and the keyboard. WRONG!!!!!!!

Apple sent out each piece, over a series of days, to the wrong address EVEN THOUGH they already knew that at least two of those pieces were going to the wrong address. That is poor management of a supply chain which ultimately wastes Apple's resources and frustrates customers.

More frustration. FedEx sent me the tracking number of the returned items. Excellent! I could watch these babies go to the east coast and then turn around and go all the way back to CA. So I know how long these parts have been back at Apple. And guess what? They sat there for a good long while. Indeed. I had to call Apple Customer Service to get them shipped here. What were they going to do, just hold onto them indefinitely?

The next frustration though was the end of the line for me. Not only did I have to call back. I had to call back three separate times to have all three pieces resent individually. Each time I called, sure enough, I would get an email saying the package was on its way. And it would eventually show up. But it would only be ONE of THREE pieces. I would then have to turn around and call back and say something like: "okay, one out of three (ain't bad?), now where are the other two?"

My last conversation really sunk Apple in my eyes. The customer service rep lied to me on the phone. He told me the package just got back to Apple's Warehouse a few days ago. "Really? I have a FedEx tracking number which says it got back to your warehouse almost three weeks ago." His reply: "Please hold. ... ... I'll have to transfer you to the solutions department."

OH! This problem needs a solution. Better get that extension right. As for me, I've recently sold almost all of my Apple stock. I'll keep buying the goods (though I'll do so in person at the Apple store) but I'm not too keen on owning a company that has separate customer service departments, only one of which is in charge of solutions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

F15s Deployed

An F15 squadron based in NC was deployed today to support operations in Iraq, Afghanistan. They are the second in a week. We certainly seem to be inching closer to splitting the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan now.

Update 01.18.06: While you were sleeping. The 355th deployed.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Been Away

Thanks to everyone for posting comments, visiting, and referring the blog. Special thanks to the co-contributors. I've been emailing my posts in while away so I haven't really been able to reply to comments as much as I'd like. Interesting thing seems to have occurred while I was gone. People I know who were once dKos junkies are now writing the whole thing off. They say the quality of front page posts is so low right now they rather read the New York Times (for what its worth, I rather read the FT, but I'm partial to pink especially over that hideous orange). What happened? Did people read Jerome and Markos' book and realize they are full of shit? Whats the matter with Mojo?

So this leads us to the question of the day: Is Daily Kos relevant anymore? Obviously people so inclined will still logon dutifully in election mode to get their marching orders, but has the bubble already burst?

Monday, January 09, 2006

E. Nathaniel Gates

Was a good man, a brave soul, and a true friend. At the last stages of his life he was in immense pain, yet he still took the time to assist me with my own researches, and add to them his own insights. We weren't even half-way done with the work we had set out to accomplish, but I will go that last half with his thoughts firmly in my mind, and his friendship deeply in my heart. Nathaniel was someone who understood that justice was a compound, derived from the generous blessings of reason and love. But he was also a wonderful teacher. His students were always the most engaged, most excited, most committed. Aristotle must have been thinking of someone like him when he said this...
"Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for parents only gave them life, the good educators though gave them the art of living well."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Cultural Divide that Republicans Can't Seem to Cross

Katrina, armor for our soldiers in Iraq, mine safety, and now Medicare drugs--whenever the Bush administration tries actually to deliver services to the poor, those working in dangerous situations (from Iraqi side streets to West Virginia coal mines), or the aged, it finds itself curiously incompetent and clumsy.

It's not random and it is instructive. The incompetence of the administration's political appointees is recognized widely and well, but that begs the question: why are they so incompetent?

Here's a start: when people live a lifestyle of such isolation and privilege that the solution to their needs is simply to summon a servant, then they never learn how to care for others, or even to recognize when others need care. This structural indisposition to act for others then leads to irritation, anger, and further withdrawal to gated communities and compounds.

You bet it's a class war, and Democrats better start waging it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Hegelian View on Globalization

Dan of tdaxp and I have had a little back and forth on the globalization debate and how it might be viewed from a Hegelian perspective. Here goes my effort...

The relevance of Hegel is greater now as a result of the fall of iron curtain. In my own opinion, the current epoch is one where Hegelian philosophy will gain in relevance if for no other reason than it forces the thinker to be comfortable with the nature of things lying in a state of contradiction. In an era of high value volitility (the things which are valued highly changes greatly from day to day) understanding the change (instead of the substance itself) becomes paramount, and Hegel gives us a way to do just that.

There is a direct analogy here to the world of distressed finance. When a business enters distress it enters a state of high value volatility. What becomes critical is not bottom-line growth, but the change in cash from day to day. Those who succeed in this arena are those who aren't bothered by subject matter but instead are only concerned with the change in cash over time. An analyst covering a distressed company will have a lot of deltas on her spreadsheet while an analyst covering a stable company will have far fewer on hers.

Today we see evidence of high value volatility all around. None so strikes the soul as the morally duplicitous imagery invading our homes (ie, American soldiers "fighting for democracy" simultaneously displayed with images of those same soldiers hooking electrodes up to the genitalia of their prisoners and snapping party pics of the event). Such sights make one feel almost criminally complicit and this leads any observer to a crisis of authority.

Don't be afraid here, Hegel can help us understand how these two images might be explained. By embracing the processes of what Hegel calls "speculative reason" we might be able to at least make a little sense out of the madness of it all. There is no reason to choose either a realist ennui, or a dangerously blind idealism. Now, let's jump in.

The standard pop-Hegelian historical account is the French Revolution. Its helpful to a point (though after more detailed analysis, I believe it ultimately falls apart) so here's what it would look it in the Carlson depiction (if you are lost, don't know what a Carlson diagram is, or need some Hegel help, see this post).You must assume that the notion "empire" is somehow a product of the middle term between the reign of terror and the revolution. I've seen this argued, albeit somewhat unconvincingly. But it doesn't matter, what matters is that you see how this works. "I am the Revolution" is negated and turns out to be the "Reign of Terror". The double negation of both leads to the "Empire" (in one sense, the spreading of the revolution and the reign of terror to the world). A9 commenter angelica poses this somewhat American spin on things.

Given the rather extreme Constitutional changes following the Civil War, any legal scholar would agree some sort of regime change took place. Giving it the tag of "empire" is arguable, but in my opinion, quite right.

Whatever you call it though, at the end of the slave regime, and the conclusion of the original republic, America entered the world of nations. It had become a memberof the global regime of nation-states established post-Westphalia. What happened to the US in the Civil War had already happened to the Western world some two-hundred plus years earlier.

In Hegelian terms, the "empire" had eventually forgotten its beginnings, it focused on itself and shed away its origin. It then took what was unique to it, and posited this as its new order. This is the speculative moment.
Here we are then, in today's order, which took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to achieve, the world of nation-states. Speculative moments are almost always violent and take a long time to achieve. Especially when they posit to the being side of things. Creation is a bloody enterprise (as we are seeing) and always involves more than the planners could have anticipated.

But then what is globalization? Is it a new world order or a negation of the status quo? I would propose a negation. The World of Nation-States says: "I, the state, am the source of good" while globalization says: "no, no one nation is the source of good". Globalization tears down the borders (real and imagined) that nation-states erected through history. In other words...
And since we now know that out of a negation a double negation is formed (eg, section 3 in the diagram above) we know that a sublative moment is about to occur. In other words, the opposition between nation-states and globalization is aiming towards some goal. And that goal is the double negation.

So what is the double negation? What takes the middle term between "a state is the source of good" and "no single state is the source of good"? I will argue, somewhat simplistically, that is "global-state". That is, "the globe is the source of good". Or...
Clearly, we are nowhere near section 4 as of today. Globalization has just burst onto the scene and begun its process of negation. We don't even know where the areas of double negation are yet. However, we do see evidence of 4 coming to be. Regional cooperation between nation states, NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, etc. all appear to be areas of possible double negation (that is, they are the negation of the negation, or what rises above the negative effects of globalization). Out of these areas one can guess some sort of framework will arise, perhaps decades, maybe even generations from now.

Yet what is clear is that this is where we are heading. We are not destined to a utterly failed, dark aged world. John Robb's global guerrillas will wreck things, but they won't continuously wreck things. As a negation they have a short shelf life. Similarly though we can't expect the nation states to regain traction either. Their days are numbered as their negation is now on the scene. The "core" and the "gap" will never become wholly one or the other, but will rather sublate. That is eventually, out of the tension between these two orders, out of the dust and ashes, and perhaps out of the legal frameworks we are now building, will arise a third, globally organized community. It may be hell getting there, but getting there is inevitable, in my opinion.

And a final cautionary note to skeptics who would like to ignore, those who have resisted the implications of the Logic have not fared well in history (just like those who have resisted the advice of their restructuring officers have fared).

Hegelian Logic - Down and Dirty

I am going to try to quickly explain an easier way to view the Hegelian dialectic. Consider this a cheat sheet of sorts. I will use the Carlson diagrams to aid in this... this method of analyzing Hegel was developed by Prof. David Carlson (a noted Hegelian commentator) and I've found them quite helpful in trying to help others wade through the Science of Logic. A collection of Carlson's works on Hegel can be found here. Remember though that these images are merely intended as aids, not as actual descriptions. That said, as the slaveboy in the Meno found out, the looks of something are always revealing.

This is the beginning of the Science of Logic. Just simple being. A momentary utterance of primordial existence. The simplest "is". The next moment shows what being reveals itself to be, non-being. Being exists only insofar as it is opposed to something, but that something is the very essence of the thing itself. Think life and death... what would life mean if we were immortal? Etc. Note also the similarity to Heraclitus here. For both Hegel and Heraclitus every thing "wants" its negation. It desires it the same way a man desire sexual gratification. The desire is fullfilled or marked by the conclusion of the sexual act. Being wants what it is, and what it is is non-being (its negation). The third moment of being/non-being is the sublative moment, the process of taking the middle term between the two and sublating it into a new, separate posited existence. That is, out of section 3, (the negation of the negation) a third entity will arise (non-being is the negation of being, vice versa, but section 3 is a unique substance as it comprises the negation of both). Another way to think of this is to simply allow being/non-being to transition back and forth repeatedly. Eventually a third moment is realized out of this transitioning... that third moment is where being and non-being resolve themselves, it is becoming.
This is as far as the simple dialectic will take us, a full and complete gordian knot (courtesy of Carlson of course). The next moment in the Logic is a speculative moment... not dissimilar from the movement from two to three circles, but somewhat more complicated.

The speculative moment can be right side or left side (in Carlsonian terms). That is, positive or negative, on the side of being or the side of non-being. At its disposal, reason has sections 4-7 to use as the basis for its posited new whole in the speculative moment. In other words, speculative reason will seize onto parts 4, 5, 6, or 7 (or a combination thereof) and posit a new whole. This the most crucial part of the Logic, what will becoming be? To find out, you'll have to read the Logic, or better yet, read some of Carlson's essays. For my purposes, this should serve as an ample introduction into Hegelian analysis.