Wednesday, December 29, 2004

SUSAN SONTAG, 1933-2004

Who didn't want her mind? (Well, many of those who voted for Bush because of, not even despite, his commitment to ignorance.)

The obituary in The New York Times neglected any mention of her long relationship with Annie Liebowitz (though they used AL's portrait of her) or of the child they had together. She lived in London Terrace, one block away from where I grew up in Chelsea.

How fitting that she went out fighting, with her ethical demands about the Abu Ghraib torture photographs.

For her simple piece in The New Yorker, which dared to ask whether the 9/11 terrorists were "cowards" and thereby attracted the on-going ire of flag-waving zealots, see

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


as of December 28th 2004:
Asia earthquake, tsunami death toll 36,946.
Officials fear the figure could rise to almost 57,000.

For up-to-date information about the disaster, see this map from Relief Web.$File/usds_quake_idn_281204.pdf?OpenElement.

Nature and its effects are transnational: Estimated deaths/ Injured by country as of 12/28:
Bangladesh 2 India 9,499 Indonesia 7,072 Kenya 1 Malaysia 59 218 Maldives 52 Myanmar 34 Somalia 38 Sri Lanka 18,706 Tanzania 10 Thailand 1,473. (By 12/29, the estimate nears 60.000.)

The Washington Post wrote: "Many specialists said yesterday that thousands of lives ....could have been saved if an early-warning systems had been in place...US officials said that they wanted to warn the countries but there was no mechanism to do so." (12/27/04 reprinted in Boston Globe: A11).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put out a bulletin warning, yet it didn't get through, or didn't have effects....?
Why didn't southern Thailand and other areas have that warning system? Why couldn't an Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration get in touch with the right people?
Not even a hotel concierge?

Shankar Vendantam's Washington Post article continues: "Even without a sophisticated early warning system, specialists said, just learning about the nature of tsunamis could have saved lives." (Apparently experts have long underestimated the possibilities of such tidal waves in the Indian ocean.)

* * *

To get political, let's look take a look at the ever-vigilant anti-anti-Americans -- Here's what Jeff the American posted to Aljazeera, showing that hallmark compassionate conservativism:

"dont waste your breath on a canadian. they are not worth it i was gonna send some money for the relief effort in indonesia, but as soon as i heard that our so-called allies and the rest of the world calling americans stingy? i said to [apparently deleted] with them, let them drink water and if they get hungry? there's plenty of fresh meat to eat. thanks canada"

The "stingy" remark was from a UN official, and referred to the West, and to giving to the poorer world in general, not in this instance.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


The logic of real politik is: it's a dirty world, so we've got to do dirty jobs. Naysaying peaceniks are in denial of reality. Such realism is a conservative canard that passes for masculine maturity.

Mary Douglas, among other anthropologists, have shown us that risk is a cultural construction. As Leviticus makes cloven hooves unclean, cultural discourses present certain threats as significantly real, regardless of their actual likelihood or scale. (Airplane versus car travel, terrorist threat versus murder, heart disease, or drunken driver.)

And conservatives have revealed that their relationship to truth is instrumental. The scientific consensus on global warming is discarded (even as the military assumes its consequences in future scenarios). Abstinence programs don't work. George W. enforces secrecy for customarily public records. They lie about the cost of war, the cost of privatizing social security, the growth of jobs, the safety or danger of risks. The Newspeak names of their policies are a bald soundbitten falsehood. They lie, baldly if not badly.

Their cynical rejection of the truth shows that their real politik is not based on a commitment to facts, however unpleasant, but instead part of their instrumental relation to reality.

Which indicates that conservatives want the dirty world, they desire the dirty jobs, they choose this violence, which violence. (As many have said, in so many words.) And moreover, that they create this dirtiness, not only rhetorically. Facts do not drive the US military to torture to death: desire does.

The general left understanding of the 2004 elections is that while the right-wing regime has an instrumental relationship to truth, the populace has an emotional one.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


The tinted geography of the 2004 presidential elections has been calculated in a number of ways: