[ a fully caused & embodied blog ] [ Good Sense Without God ]
It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Required Reading

  • Dean Baker on the gall of the Washington Post
    Yes, I'm talking about the Washington Post, which had the gall today to run a column by Jim Hoagland complaining about how "we" are passing on a bad world to our children. The "we" in the column is meant to refer to the generations currently in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, who he claims are leaving huge problems to our children.

    . . .

    The reality is that the Washington Post and the elite clique for which it is a mouth piece have badly failed us and our children. The housing bubble was easily recognizable. The economic disaster that we are now facing could have been easily avoided if the Washington Post and its elite friends (e.g. Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Henry Paulson) were not too incompetent or corrupt to see the evidence of problems everywhere. Needless to say, those of us who did try to issue warnings were ignored by this elite crew.

  • Louder than Bombs: Andrew Exum considers the paradox of deterrence.
    All signs point toward another war – just as disastrous as the last one. For despite Hizbollah’s claims of victory, there was no winner in 2006. Hizbollah’s followers in the south were punished to a degree that exceeded previous Israeli bombing campaigns in 1993 and 1996; one million Lebanese were driven out of the country or internally displaced; and more than 1000 civilians were killed. One horrific massacre in the Biblical town of Qana left some 30 dead – half of them children – in an echo of a similar slaughter there 10 years earlier. If the war really was a “victory from God” as Hassan Nasrallah claims, then consider me a convert to atheism.

    On the Israeli side, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands were either displaced or driven into shelters, a traumatic experience for a population which thought it had turned a page on Lebanon by withdrawing its occupation forces in 2000. Worse, the vaunted IDF – rightly hailed as the region’s finest military machine – was upstaged by its Lebanese adversaries, even as many of the villages that put up such ferocious resistance were defended in large part not by Hizbollah regulars but by residents who functioned as a kind of “national guard”.

  • Philosophers on God: Boston Review
    The traditional arguments for God’s existence are very much worth our attention, though, for at least three reasons: they are of great intrinsic interest; popular discussions of them often fail to pin down their defects; and one argument, the “design argument,” has had a new lease on life as the intellectual underpinning of the intelligent design movement.

  • Our Excellent Strategy in Afghanistan
    The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

    Four blue pills. Viagra.

    "Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

    The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

  • We have no words left: Palestinians are at a loss to describe this latest catastrophe. International civil society must act now
    "I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing." Those chilling words were spoken on al-Jazeera on Saturday by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defence official in the Sderot area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. For days Israeli planes have bombed Gaza. Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and a thousand injured, the majority civilians, including women and children. Israel claims most of the dead were Hamas "terrorists". In fact, the targets were police stations in dense residential areas, and the dead included many police officers and other civilians. Under international law, police officers are civilians, and targeting them is no less a war crime than aiming at other civilians.

  • Palestine's Guernica and the Myths of Israeli Victimhood
    2. Israel claims that Hamas violated the cease-fire and pulled out of it unilaterally.

    Hamas indeed respected their side of the ceasefire, except on those occasions early on when Israel carried out major offensives in the West Bank. In the last two months, the ceasefire broke down with Israelis killing several Palestinians and resulting in the response of Hamas. In other words, Hamas has not carried out an unprovoked attack throughout the period of the cease-fire.

    Israel, however, did not live up to any of its obligations of ending the siege and allowing vital humanitarian aid to resume in Gaza. Rather than the average of 450 trucks per day being allowed across the border, on the best days, only eighty have been allowed in - with the border remaining hermetically sealed 70% of the time. Throughout the supposed 'cease-fire' Gazans have been forced to live like animals, with a total of 262 dying due to the inaccessibility of proper medical care.

    Now after hundreds dead and counting, it is Israel who refuses to re-enter talks over a cease-fire. They are not intent on securing peace as they claim; it is more and more clear that they are seeking regime change - whatever the cost.

  • Has Global Stag-Deflation Arrived? by Nouriel Roubini
    The latest macroeconomic news from the United States, other advanced economies, and emerging markets confirms that the global economy will face a severe recession in 2009. In the US, recession started in December 2007, and will last at least until December 2009 – the longest and deepest US recession since World War II, with the cumulative fall in GDP possibly exceeding 5%.

    . . .

    With a global recession a near certainty, deflation – rather than inflation – will become the main concern for policymakers. The fall in aggregate demand while potential aggregate supply has been rising because of overinvestment by China and other emerging markets will sharply reduce inflation. Slack labor markets with rising unemployment rates will cap wage and labor costs. Further falls in commodity prices – already down 30% from their summer peak – will add to these deflationary pressures.

    Policymakers will have to worry about a strange beast called “stag-deflation” (a combination of economic stagnation/recession and deflation); about liquidity traps (when official interest rates become so close to zero that traditional monetary policy loses effectiveness); and about debt deflation (the rise in the real value of nominal debts, increasing the risk of bankruptcy for distressed households, firms, financial institutions, and governments).

  • From the Haaretz: The neighborhood bully strikes again By Gideon Levy
    Israel embarked yesterday on yet another unnecessary, ill-fated war. On July 16, 2006, four days after the start of the Second Lebanon War, I wrote: "Every neighborhood has one, a loud-mouthed bully who shouldn't be provoked into anger... Not that the bully's not right - someone did harm him. But the reaction, what a reaction!"

    Two and a half years later, these words repeat themselves, to our horror, with chilling precision. Within the span of a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, the IDF sowed death and destruction on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years, and Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

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