Thursday, November 14, 2002

MOVING OUT TODAY

THIS BLOG HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

PLEASE READ THIS FOR DETAILS ABOUT WHERE YOU CAN NOW FIND THE ROAD TO SURFDOM


Today is the last day that I will be blogging on this site.

The entire operation has moved to a new site at this address: http://www.roadtosurfdom.com/

Yep, The Road to Surfdom has its very own domain name and (I hope) a nice reliable server.

The entire archive has been moved across, so anything you might want here is available there with the advantage of being more accessible and searchable.

The new site was made possible entirely by the work of Neale Talbot and I can't thank him enough for the time he has put in.

If people could update their links list, I'd appreciate it greatly.

There are still a few things to iron out, so if anyone has any sort of problem, could they drop me a line. But basically, apart from a few cosmetic fiddles and some other updating, it is finished and ready to go.

Now click HERE to make your way across.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

LET THE TRADE BE FREE

Well, this is something no-one predicated as being so high up the Republican agenda in the aftermath of their recent election clean sweep. The US and Australia have announced that negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two countries are to start forthwith:

Australia and the United States are to begin negotiations on a free trade agreement early next year, U.S. special trade representative Bob Zoellick confirmed Thursday.

Zoellick, in Australia for World Trade Organization talks, said he told Australian Prime Minister John Howard Thursday morning that President Bush had committed to starting the talks.

At a joint press conference in the Australian capital, Canberra, Howard said he was "delighted" at the announcement and said a free trade agreement would deliver "enormous benefit".


Well of course he did. And I guess he'd better be right.

As I say, this is all a little out of the blue, at least in terms of the timing, but it's one we can all watch with interest.
OH YE OF TOO MUCH FAITH

This insightful person seems to think he has had an hilarious and penetrating revelation. Wait for it....communism can be thought of as a religion. I bet no-one has considered this angle before:

Sure, the commies make a big deal about there not being a God...but the most radical madrassas would not produce graduates so fanatical, so obsessed as the yahoos who sell Socialist Worker on the campus quad. Marx is the messiah, Kapital the Holy Book, Noam Chomsky the pope, the Ramsey Clark Freakzaoid Brigade the college of cardinals. (Christopher Hitchens - still a hard leftie, despite his support for war on Iraq - is Martin Luther. Tony Blair is a lapsed socialist. Ex-socialist David Horowitz is Satan.)

And then the big punchline:

"Religion is the opiate of the masses," said Marx. Well, Marxism is the opiate of fucking morons.

Well, it's always hard to argue with such an acute mixture of humour and learnedness. But even so, what precisely is the point of the comparison and why does it count as an insult to say that communism (which he very loosely associates with what the press mis-labels "anti-globalisation" protesters) is perhaps treated as a religion by some advocates? I mean, think about it: forgetting about how unoriginal and unfunny the comment is, and even perhaps forgetting whether or not the comparison is sustainable, what exactly is the force of the criticism being levelled?

Is it simply that some people believe in something based on faith rather than empirical evidence? Then wouldn't the criticism be better directed at, oh I don't know, Christians? If your criteria is scientific evidence, then there are more serious breaches within that, or any other actual religion, than there are within communism. I mean, at least Marx existed.

Is Daimnation really just making fun of people who rely on some level of faith? Or does the insult lie in the fact that communism claims a scientific basis for its tenets?

Of course, those who follow the science of capitalism exhibit none of these attributes. No unsubstantiated beliefs. No gross simplifications to make a point. No idols and no priestly caste. No central temples and regional churches. No straying sheep. No faith in abstractions, even in the face of evidence. No vision of a better life based on right behaviour. Just Gradgrindian fact. Absolutely nothing like a religion.

According to some, Jesus made the lame walk. With a bit of luck, he might reappear and provide the same service for Daimnation's lame observation.

UPDATE: Just noticed that James Russell was thinking similar thoughts and got in ahead of me.
JUST PRETEND YOUR INSANE

The game of they'll bomb him-they'll bomb him not continues. As Hesiod points out, Colin Powell is saying that if Saddam fails to comply with the latest UN resolution it won't necessarily trigger an invasion. Hesiod wonders, "Is this a stall tactic because the U.S. is not able, presently, to attack? Or is it an indication that President Bush was bluffing all along?" and concludes, "My interpretation...it's the former."

Another possibility is suggested by this declassified document from the policy subcommittee to the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG). As this article explains:

In 1995, CINCSTRAT Admiral Chiles directed the policy subcommittee to the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) to produce a Terms of Reference that could be used as a baseline for other SAG subcommittees in "expanding the Deterrence of the Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction."

The work continued the efforts of STRATCOM and other elements of the Pentagon to adjust U.S. nuclear doctrine to the changes that occurred with the demise of the Soviet Union and the increasing focus on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The result was a eight-page outline of deterrence theory and its potential application against enemies armed with weapons of mass destruction in the Post-Cold War era. The study emphasized a value-based deterrence, holding at risk those assets that mean most to an opponent.


The fun bit of the document, and the bit that might explain why Powell is seemingly at odds with others in the Administration is this:

Because of the value that comes from the ambiguity of what the US may
do to an adversary if the acts we seek to deter are carried out, it
hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed. The
fact that some elements may appear to be potentially "out of control"
can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubts thin the
minds of an adversary's decision makers. This essential sense of fear
is the working force of deterrence. That the US may become irrational
and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the
national persona we project to all adversaries.


It's a similar strategy to the one Mel Gibson used in one of the Lethal Weapon movies where he makes funny noises and slaps himself in the face to distract the guy he is fighting and then thumps the bejesus out of him. It worked for Mel, and I've written before on the way in which the US Government is always keen to employ the methodology of Hollywood.

More seriously, the difficult thing with such a strategy is that for a pretence of being out of control to have any force, you actually have to be out of control (that is, unpredictable in your actions) otherwise your enemy will soon figure out you're pretending and won't take you seriously anymore. This is very likely to happen if you write long papers about you intend to pretend to be out of control and then release them on the internet.

Confused? Good. But the rest of the document is worth a read, simply for the insight it offers into Administration thinking at the time of the first Gulf War.
VOICE BELIEVED TO BE AUTHENTIC

Washington authorities today released an audio taped message spoken by a voice believed to be that of Vice-President, Dick Cheney. Although FBI and CIA language experts could not confirm conclusively that the message came from Cheney--admitting that it had been so long since anyone had heard him talk that they had just forgotten what he sounds like--they nonetheless were confident that an identification could be made. When asked to comment if he thought the voice on the tape was in fact Mr Cheney, White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said, "who?" Analysis of the mysterious voice continues.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

THE BLOG OF LAUGHTER AND FORGETTING

De Spectaculis points us towards this piece which muses on the connection between humour and terrorism. The article is worth a read, as are De Spectaculis's comments on it.

But's it's ultimately a hodge-podge of a piece. What it tries do is suggest that because of some non-western attribute, Islamic terrorists lack a sense of humour (unlike, say, the IRA, who were really funny guys). It suggests that there is something unique about western humour, and then it tries to link a lack of a sense of humour amongst militant Islamacists with a willingness of the left to excuse such lack. Or something:

DOES THE EUROPEAN Left have a humor problem? The current issue of Merkur, a highbrow German journal devoted to ''European thought,'' explores this ticklish subject. Roughly half of the contributors address the topic of humor and 9/11, and along with the inevitable analyses of American humor after the terrorist attacks, there are a number of well-written polemics excoriating what the authors view as a fundamental hostility within the Islamic world toward Western ideas of fun - and the European Left's tendency to sidestep or blame the West for this hostility.


So there are two aspects here, the interesting idea that terror arises from humourlessness and that the left can't give, get or take a joke.

On the former point I think we can reasonably conclude that abuse of power speaks to a certain lack of joviality, though I wonder if you can quite cast it in this "clash of civilisations" type framework. Fart cushions and poo-jokes are equally out of place in the halls of absolute power of west as much as the east. The idea that humour belongs to the good guys is a staple of political literature and not devoid of truth as readers of, say, Milan Kundera or Vladimir Nabokov would be well aware. There is something fundamentally humourless about the exercise of power and the more draconianly you want to exercise it, the less likely you are to be the life of the party. Power, as Ellis said, devolves to the most boring person in the room, and boring and humourless go together nicely.

But this is too big a topic for a blog post, so let me just deal with the second accusation, yawn, about humour and the left.

That the left lack a sense of humour (or in this case, sneakily, the European left), is a polemical ploy that has the distinct advantage of being forceful without the need to be substantive. It's part of a general method of attack upon the left that works like this - find a trait you think is admirable and then declare, preferably with no evidence, that your political/philosophical opponents don't have it.

Thus the left is variously of accused of being unpatriotic, humourless, against family values, anti-children, anti-American, anti-western, anti-progress, unAmerican, unAustralian (substitute country at will) unwashed, unkempt, unemployed, unintelligent, just plain butt unly. The beauty of the technique is that the more the target objects to it, the more likely they are to look guilty, and this is especially true of the charge of being humourless.

So saying that someone or some group has no sense of humour works well because to try and respond to the criticism is to just about to prove the point - there is nothing less funny than someone trying to prove that they have a sense of humour (as readers of Ken Parish's blog will appreciate). As logical as humour must be (that is, however absurd it gets it needs to be internally consistent to work) there is simply no logical proof you can present to show you have a sense of humour, let alone the right sort of sense of humour. It doesn't matter how unfair the accusation is, the more you protest, the more humourless you are going to look (I was joking, Ken).

The accusation of not being funny is one that cuts deeply. This is probably because we recognise that humour is such a fundamental aspect of human existence that to be accused of lacking it is to be accused of being less than human. In other words, to be accused of being unfunny is a serious accusation. So important is having a sense of humour that countries build up a self-image around the idea that their style of humour is somehow better than everybody else's.

Thus the Brits will tell you, straightfaced, that their comedy is the most subtle and sophisticated available on the world market, that Americans "just don't get" irony and that the entire German nation has had a humour by-pass. In a land with an unwritten constitution, that is, one where ultimate knowledge still resides in an oral tradition, these three oft-uttered statements have the status of immutable truth.

The fact that you can dispel each of them in turn by simply saying Carry-on movies, The Simpsons and, well, there must be something I can use as representative of the depth of German humour (I'm sure it will come to me) is a reasonable indication of the flimsiness of the claim.

Of course, a lot of humour is culturally specific: Australians wet themselves when the guys started pushing Victa lawn mowers around during the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, but I suspect no-one else did, or not for the same reasons. But that's quite different from saying that such-and-such a nation has no sense of humour. Ultimately, we accuse others of being humourless at the perpetual risk of the limits of our own tolerance to humour being breached. And there are always limits. And they are always breached.

Even the author of the article in question, although he tries to cover his arse by pretending that he is willing to laugh at some of the tactics of the Bush Administration (as if to say, see I can laugh at my side) shows himself, nonetheless, to be sensitive to accusations that fall outside his particular humour tolerance zone, even in the opening paragraph with the passing comment about "the inevitable analyses of American humor after the terrorist attacks." What's the matter, Jefferson, don't like it when the nasty German's say you can't take a joke?

He also gets something terribly wrong in this paragraph I think:

If humor is an index of a society's capacity for self-criticism - and the confidence that self-criticism presupposes - then it is not coincidental that the American media's most immediate reaction to 9/11 was a temporary joke moratorium on programs like the ''Tonight Show with Jay Leno.'' It is to America's credit that before long Leno's groaners resumed and computer-altered photos of Osama bin Laden posing next to Bert from ''Sesame Street'' appeared on the Internet. It certainly does not say much for the sophistication of the anti-American demonstrators in Pakistan that they downloaded these very images and used them on placards.

Um, Leno doing jokes about bin Laden says nothing about America's capacity to use humour as self-criticism. And when a comic did try to do actual jokes about 911 as a form of criticism (Bill Maher's comments about the US being cowards for dropping bombs from planes rather than flying them into buildings) he lost his job and the show got axed.

Anyway, saying the the left lacks a sense of humour is about as compelling as saying America lacks a sense of irony. Neither accusation can be sustained. I know a lot of lefties who can spend hours laughing at George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and even Rush Limbaugh (and even, sometimes, during the bits where he's trying to be funny). As to Americans lacking irony: well, what could be more ironic than a nation that prides itself on its rugged individualism, its frontier spirit, its can-do resourcefulness and its tolerance of diversity, and that is also the place where every olive on every supermarket shelf is already pitted, where every movie has a happy ending, where hamburgers are produced with communist comformity, and where Paul Wellstone was considered a radical lefty?

Monday, November 11, 2002

HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM CLICK

I don't know who nominated me, but thank you to whomever it was that submitted this site to the MSNBC "Best of the blogs". I'm really glad they mentioned my nomination of Jeff Cooper too. And, to make it a fun night all round, I notice they mention another Australian site, this one from the Gold Coast:

"This weblog was primarily built as a research site for Communication & Cyber Theory at Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia, and will continue as a research and fact gathering blog about the phenomenon that is weblogging."

Ah, those communication departments, putting the meta into everything.

Speaking of new listings, one worth checking out is De Spectaculis

It's new and anonymous, but it sounds like the owner has an interesting job:

That's what I do: conflict context analysis. Using my field's jargon, we call it "Peace and Conflict Impact Analysis" (PCIA--the "Peace" was added after people decided the acronym might not be appropriate. Seriously). I do analysis of contexts and potential impacts on the conflict. I also teach others how to do it. I'd link to some of the tools, but most of the ones available on the web are simply not practical. Don't worry, I'll get around to a fuller discussion someday.


I look forward to it. I'm almost tempted to apply for work.