joseph duemer: reading & writing
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Sunday, March 31, 2002
If it's true, as I believe, that we largely create our reality out of the raw materials of perception through the use of language, the control of language (including music, dramatic images linked to narrative, etc.) is functionally equivalent to the control of reality. That's why somebody like me--a word worker--can get so exercised over attempts to own & regulate information.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:19 AM.

Saturday, March 30, 2002
I've just finished reading Vernor Vinge's 1980 classic science fiction story True Names. As a piece of fiction, it seems less than fully imagined to me, but as a piece of prophecy regarding the political struggle over control of information technology, it is on the mark. The terminology may be slightly dated, but the description of the ways in which a legalistic bureaucracy attempts to control the imaginative (& subversive) use of computing technology reads as if it were written last week when Senator "On the Fritz" Hollings introduced his nasty little "rights management" bill in the Senate. The rationale for the bill is pure Kafka: Apparently, demand for broadband hookup has been soft over the last year; folks just aren't signing up for cable & DSL access to the Internet. The entertainment industry has proposed that the reason--never mind the recent recession--for this dip in demand is the lack of quality product. "We just can't afford," says The Industry, "to make quality movies, television programs & music because not enough people are demanding them." And what is the cause of this soft demand? The quality of current music, movies & programming? The fact that The Industry seems to think that treating its customers like thieves is good public relations? No, according to The Industry, the reason for the soft demand is that we are all out here stealing content. And whatever would motivate us to do that? Programming not worth paying for? Transparent attempts by The Industry to extend its command & control over intellectual property that it didn't even create, only packaged? Perpetual copyrights? They must all be old men with dry scrotums out in Hollywood: clearly, they have failed to understand the power of new technologies. I teach engineering students at an elite university: they are not criminals, but if you make a device that will not allow them to use intellectual property they have purchased in ways that they see fit, Hollywood, they will rewire your boxes so fast it will make your encephalitic brains spin. Just the other day in class when we were discussing Vinge's story, one kid said, "just by resoldering six wires on the --- ---- , I can make it play anything I want." The political opposition to corporate control of information will not come from the green left, but from my mostly pretty conservative engineering students.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:36 PM.

Thursday, March 28, 2002
Reading the night sky: Up here between the St. Lawrence River & the Adirondack Mountains, the US Army has what it calls a "racetrack." Fighter jets & light bombers take off from Fort Drum & fly a loop over the mountains. We've noted in the past that when international tensions are high the Army seems to step up flights, but we've never seen them dropping "chaf" or countermeasures before, as they have been doing the last two nights: strings of flares designed to draw away heat-seeking missiles. I will only note that whatever opposition forces are left in Afghanistan do not possess any such missiles. The only explanation I can think of is that the military is practicing for an attack on Iraq. Questions: Is there any public consensus for such an attack? Any international consensus? Any alternatives to a widening of unilateral American military action?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 7:49 PM.

I read in Slate just now that Bill Clinton had lunch in Harlem with Willie Mays the other day [scroll to bottom]. I don't know, I might be willing to go through what Clinton endured if, coming out the other side, I got to have lunch with Willy Mays. When I was a kid in Santa Cruz & San Jose I was a SF Giants fan--this was back in the Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Orlando Cepeda & Felipe & Matty Alou days. I lived & died, in junior high, with this team. Anyway, the note in Slate, combined with getting an anthology of baseball poems in the mail today (in which I have a poem), brought back a flood of happy memories--I can still get interested in a particular baseball game, but I have completely lost my ability to root for a team. The postcapitalist / postmodern structure of contemporary baseball has drained any notion of loyalty out of my relationship to baseball. How, short of impeachment, can I get a lunch with Willie Mays?
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:57 PM.

Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Essential Information: ARTS & FARCES Internet: When Elephants Dance: "Let me point out that I am a copyright owner, as is everyone else who has ever created a work in tangible form. That’s all authors, for short. Authors are almost never members of the entertainment industry club. The entertainment industry hates authors almost as much as they hate customers. Sometimes, especially when authors get uppity, the entertainment industry hates authors much more than customers. Until recently, authors have always been seen to be at least a marginal threat while customers were seen as merely necessary annoyances. // Unfortunately for us—both authors and customers—we’re likely to get squished as these elephants dance. The intent of the entertainment industry, believe it or not, is to outlaw personal computers. As security and cryptography expert Bruce Schneier explains it to Mike Godwin: “If you think about it, the entertainment industry does not want people to have computers; they’re too powerful, too flexible, and too extensible. They want people to have Internet Entertainment Platforms: televisions, VCRs, game consoles, etc.” [Michael Fraase]

The best summary of current copyright issues that I have read. Read the whole article.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:50 AM.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002
Steve Himmer: "Should we tear our misremembered utopias up at the roots before they colonize our waking lives and we get lost in a maze of memory, unable to function at all in the places we actually live?"

That's the question I've been struggling with regarding the city of / my memories of Hanoi, where I've spent a lot of time in the last few years working & walking. I am completely in love with the place: I could walk its streets endlessly; but my life here between the Adirondacks & the Saint Lawrence Valley is my real life. (That is, it is the life I was born into.) How can I bring these two realities together? Damned if I know. I've been writing a hypertext essay that tries to make some connections, but I don't know if it will come to anything. Himmer continues: "Sometimes a landscape resonates because it already feels familiar, whether we've been there before or not." Amazingly, that's how I felt about Hanoi the first time I went there in 1997. Note: I was born in California of English-Welsh-Irish mongrels. No genetic connections to Asia.

To what extent do we ever leave the lives we are born into? I have a student, age 19, a refugee from Vietnam. She's only been in the US three years. Works on her aunt's husband's farm in rural New York. Grew up beside the Saigon River. By any American's standards, Trinh came from a very difficult life, a life of poverty, endless work & social isolation. After tutoring me in Vietnamese yesterday (we meet twice a week in my office), she asked me, "Do you think you'll go back to Vietnam?" "Not this summer, but probably the next, "I said. To which Trinh replied, "Will you put me in your suitcase when you go?" She is of course fully aware of the advantages she has lucked into (I use that colloquialism intentionally: Vietnamese tend to believe strongly in luck); but she still longs for the life she was born into. And though I have had much more control (or at least the illusion of control) over my recent fate than has Trinh, when I was in Vietnam last year--fully aware of the wonders I was experiencing every day--I was drawn back to this cold river. Have to admit that I still think about retiring to a flat in the French Quarter of Hanoi in fifteen years or so: There's a chance that it will still be a culture that honors old people, where old men can tend their tiny gardens in their boxer shorts & still be regarded reverently as Grandfather. Where I can drink a beer & eat bun cha at a sidewalk table. Old men need to go where it's warm . . . & I can't imagine living in Florida.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:11 PM.

Monday, March 25, 2002
An Open Letter to Senator Fritz Hollings

Dear Senator Hollings:
Though I do not live in your state and have not therefore had the privilege of voting for you, I am a life-long Democrat. I am also a writer, editor and professor. I hold more than a hundred copyrights to various books, articles, poems and other works, some traditionally printed and some published electronically. And I am absolutely and unalterably opposed to the legislation that you have proposed that will embed copy protection in consumer electronic devices (SSSCA). This idea is wrong from the start: it will cripple the Internet and bring innovation to a standstill. It will also make me a criminal, since I will willingly and gladly, with full knowledge of the consequences, do everything in my power to subvert, avoid and defeat all such copy protection schemes. This legislation has the potential to kill the American computer industry: hundreds of thousands of Americans will import un-neutered computers from abroad. Do you imagine that a black market will not spring up?

Senator, I am a writer. I like to get paid for my work. But the economic model being proposed by corporations like Sony & Disney will lead to a monopolization of access to information. Intellectual property is not like mere property: it is dynamic and it dies if it is not distributed, exchanged, developed, critiqued, parodied and so on. Intellectual property--as the big media titans will ultimately discover--only lives by changing hands. The witness list for your hearings is depressinglyly lopsided: I strongly urge you to read the articles available at the following sources online and invite their authors to testify:

Dan Gilmore's column in the San Jose Mercury News

Coverage in Wired Magazine

I feel deeply about this issue--as deeply as the NRA feels about guns. (Computers are a far more powerful technology than guns: a technology of the 21st century, not the 19th.) I refuse to allow my computer to become merely a glorified DVD player controlled by major media corporations with the concurrence of a few superannuated senators. You can have my laptop when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. This legislation is an affront to my most fundamental values. It runs counter to the First Amendment and to the free expression and dispersion of ideas. It will restrict academic freedom and bring American education into conflict with the government. The desktop computer and the Internet have revolutionized the ways in which information is distributed—for the better. We are a stronger nation because of the technological developments of the last fifteen years. The legislation you have proposed is anti-democratic and it will harm me personally. It will harm the nation, both domestically and internationally. I am ashamed to be a member of the same political party as a politician apparently so mesmerized by corporate power and corporate money. Please, study the question in more depth; please, withdraw this legislation.

Professor Joseph Duemer
Clarkson University

cc: Senators Clinton & Schumer
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:39 PM.

Sunday, March 24, 2002
I had started to post something earlier about dual citizenship: I read Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall regularly, though I lean a little harder to the left than Marshall, who writes: "I don't think the United States should allow dual-citizenship at all. Not ever. Not with Australia, not with Canada, not with Israel, not with Mexico. Not with anyone." I am always suspicious of universal declarations & this struck me as wrong, but only on a gut level. I hadn't, in fact, thought much about citizenship in this sense--of holding one kind of passport or another. But of course holding one passport & not another can have all kinds of particular human consequences. When the apostle Paul was hauled before the Roman authorities for preaching Christianity against the express command of Roman law, he asserted his Roman citizenship. Marshall continues, "I'm very pro-globalization, very internationalist in foreign policy and outlook. But citizenship is inherently unitary. It implies not only membership but allegiance to a political community and a state. One can no sooner be a citizen of two countries than a husband to two wives or a wife to two husbands. The very idea is a solecism in civic thought." To which I respond: Internationalism & globalization are not the same thing. I am a strong internationalist, by which I mean that the United States must, in order to prosper, engage itself fully in international politics, economics, culture, etc. But I am not in favor of globalization, as that term is currently understood: globalization is essentially the doctrine that believes ceding political & cultural power to quasi-capitalist corporations will lead to improvements in living standards around the world & will as a result lead to peace & prosperity. This is simply wrong. Globalization erases local cultures. I've spent a lot of time in Vietnam over the last six years & there, the model simply does not apply. So, citizenship: In an internationalist world, dual citizenship is not only not a solecism, it might be in certain cases (such as Mexico & the US), a useful instrument of internationalist development & exchange.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:03 PM.

Bright sunshine this morning after three days of snow--more than eight inches yesterday. The air warming. As C & I sat in bed this morning drinking coffee & looking out at the river, the sun came out from behind a cloud & immediately we could hear the siding & roof clicking & popping as it expanded. On a real winter morning the air would have been cold enough to counteract the winter sun; warmer air now & a spring sun. Still looks like winter out there, but I find a bit of spring energy surging through my systems. A couple of Canada Geese paddled along the shoreline.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:18 AM.

Saturday, March 23, 2002
I am not a "journalist," but I keep a journal. A lot of the confusion about the function(s) of weblogs could be cleared up if we got a handle on these two distinct derivatives of the word journal. [Note: at the moment I am wishing that I had shelled out the $300 for the OED CDROM, but I'm going to have to reach behind me now & pull the microprinted A-O volume out of its slipcover & deploy the magnifying glass. Patience.] (Not all that many English words begin with J.) Interesting. Journal & Journey come from the same Old French root: Jour, or Day. It appears that a journalist is someone who does something every day. Later, mostly American, notions of journalism get tied up with the notion of an independent press (which I'm all for) and First Amendment rights (which I'm all for). The point I'm coming round to here bears on several recent discussions of blogging I've run across: is it journalism or is it private diary-keeping? Actually, I don't think that blogging is journalism as we understand the word currently in the US; but I do think that it offers a valuable critique of journalism. A corrective nudge back toward common sense, reality & ordinary life as most of us live it. Contemporary American mainstream Journalism strikes me as a technology of social control. It uses various means to constrain the available universe of knowledge: numbing self-absorption, celebrity, invented sporting events (there are authentic human sports) simulations of "reality," commentary that purports to reflect political opinion, lies, contradictory assertions, imagery at once provocative & puritanical . . . & so on. Add your own characteristics. The kind of journalism that webloggers do runs counter to this monolithic tower of Babel because it is exactly a "confusion of languages." If the mainstream media represent a postmodern corporate hegemony, weblogging gives us a postmodern babel of voices. And not without danger. I'm not a utopian & it would be uncharactistic of me to valorize weblogging & webloggers as a phenomenon. Movement & countermovement. Tim Hardy: "weblogging is just a process: the content is what you desire."

As a teacher in an institutional setting, I see my role & function as essentially subversive. I would like to move my students a little more toward the edge of the spotlight that is contemporary culture--a little more toward the shadows, even the darkness. (I want to develop this idea in conjunction with my thinking about anti-intellectualism & education-as-obedience.)
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:13 PM.

It has snowed steadily for three days with only a few breaks of sunshine. It's been down in the single digits overnight & not over freezing during the days. Right now it's snowing hard enough that I can't see the bridge a few hundred yards down the river. Carole & Angie took off for Saranac Lake this morning when there was only a little snow falling--it's not going to be much fun driving in the mountains. Me, I've just been stoking the woodstove for myself & the dogs.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 10:39 AM.

Friday, March 22, 2002
Linton Weeks redux: Steve Himmer at OnePotMeal picked up on something I posted the other day about anti-intellectualism. I had come upon Mr. Linton Weeks meditation upon American education in the Washington Post & found it . . . wanting. In so many ways. "These days, PhDs are like opinions and pie holes -- pretty much everybody's got one," writes Mr. Weeks in an inimitable & elegant style. Style aside, though, is the assertion true? Or does the inclusion of "pretty much" modifying "everybody" allow the writer to make an assertion he knows to be untrue without having to take responsibility for his prevarication? According to the National Research Council, "During 1998, 387 universities in the United States conferred a total of 42,683 doctorates, slightly more (0.3 percent) than in 1997. The number of doctorates earned has increased for 13 consecutive years. U.S. citizens earned 27,352 of the 1998 research doctorates." Let's use the 1998 figure & multiply by the thirteen years over which doctorate degrees have increased: 27, 352 degrees multiplied by 13 years equals 355,576 degrees. Let's call it a third of a million out of an adult population of something less than 300 million, roughly 70 percent of whom are old enough to have earned a doctorate. Let's call it 200 million. Something less than 2 percent of the adult population have earned doctorates over the last 13 years. Yup, that's pretty much everybody. In fact, only a quarter of the adult population of the United States holds a four year degree.

This is the same "liberal" newspaper that conspired with the radical right to hound Bill Clinton through both his terms, weakening his presidency because he was, well, a good ole boy, a cracker. Increasingly, I'm coming to the conclusion that the function of the media in American society is to induce a cognitive dissonance so deep it rattles our teeth. Why? To prevent thought. Guys like Linton Weeks & his editors & cronies at the post have disdain for everyone who is not part of their circle & they churn out journalistic product designed to satisfy their own egos & keep them on the right side of their corporate bosses. That seems to be the motivation of the New Anti-intellectualism. Add in the phoney pieties of post 9/11 patriotism & you get a truly sickening brew.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 9:28 AM.

Night of the living dead: Ken Starr to lead legal team that seeks to overturn campaign finance reform. "Sen. Mitch McConnell, the chief opponent of campaign spending limits and the likely lead plaintiff in the case, announced his legal team Thursday. A day earlier, the Senate passed and sent to President Bush the most extensive changes in campaign finance law in a quarter-century." [AP] Since the Republicans have the Supreme Court in their pocket, campaign reform is doomed. The sanctimony was palpable yesterday when the reform bill passed: Phil Graham cast the bill as trampling on the rights of ordinary citizens to make their voices heard & Mitch McConnell played this theme to the hilt, arguing that citizens don't really have free speech unless they have "a megaphone" with which to amplify their voices. That amplifier, according to the senator, is television advertising. But what McConnel is really protecting is the right of the wealthy & powerful to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. No one has ever had a rational discussion through a megaphone.

Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:44 AM.

Thursday, March 21, 2002
I picked an interesting day to put a wather map thumbnail on my weblog: first full day of spring & we're having what looks very much like a blizzard. That blue stuff on the map is snow.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:33 PM.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002
The Washington Post sinks to a new low: What a load of anti-intellectual crap. The combination of breathlessness & hysteria is particularly revolting. Twaddle. There might be a story about American higher education in this subject, but this most certainly is not it. "At the University of Georgia you can get a Ph.D. by submitting poems instead of a dissertation." I know a couple of people who teach in that program & this thoughtless, offhand smear is an affront to their talent & dedication. I wonder if the author of this nice little piece of fluff has ever written a goddamn poem. (It's harder than you think.) And the University of Iowa & a bunch of other impeccable places have offered similar options for decades. So this is news? What is the underlying brief of this little essay? That intellectuals are all pretentious boobs without real qualifications, that people who are passionate about intellectual matters are, really, stupider than the rest of us--after all, they can't really make any money at this, can they? This sort of Babbittry can be expected to increase what with the Ur-Babbitt in the White House.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:23 PM.

From Slate: Urine Trouble - Uncle Sam wants you to pee in a cup: "Six of the justices . . . are pretty clear about their intention to uphold the [random drug testing] policy. Kennedy makes it clear that if students are offended by the school's anti-drug policy, they can avoid extracurriculars. Breyer can't really differentiate this case from Vernonia. Rehnquist and Scalia are unequivocal that in loco parentis (i.e., your parents are idiots) carries the day here: Schools are, to quote Scalia, functionally 'prisons. You can keep them after school if they haven't done their homework.' In short, kids have no more rights in school than they'd have if their own parents wanted to drug-test them at the dinner table. Of course, there is an argument to be made that parents who subject their good, achieving kids to unfounded, humiliating random urine tests are freaks. But that's not the court's position. The court thinks there's a drug problem in this country. True. And something needs to be done. Also true. And the court thinks it's not the fault of the government or the utter failure of its war on drugs. The failure, therefore, must be with those punks in the glee club. So, even if it's paternalistic and unfounded to deter (aka 'control') good students with widespread terror and humiliation, they are, after all, merely 'prisoners.'" [Dahlia Lithwick]

Lithwick gives us a much better article on the Supreme Court drug testing case heard yesterday than the mealy-mouthed NPR coverage. I'm interested in this story for several reasons: 1. I used to go to high school stoned; 2. I have an enduring fascination with the US Supreme Court; 3. I teach kids who have just come from high school; 4. I have had the growing conviction for several years that public schools are for the most part penal institutions.

Taking these in order: 1. My friends & I used to regularly toke up driving to school. During my senior year this certainly made first-period chemistry more interesting. Mostly I drew sketches in my lab book for my painting class second period. Funny how all this comes back so clearly thirty years later. The act of smoking dope was itself a rebellion against authority, but the state of mind produced was itself a useful way of saying no to the social & intellectual structures we were supposed to be adopting, supposed to be adapting to. I had several good teachers in high school & I learned a great deal from them, particularly about art & poetry; I also began to learn to reject claims about reality made on the basis of authority. Had the testing now being challenged in the Supreme Court been instituted in my school I would probably have been thrown out--I was editor of the literary magazine--or does that count as a "competitive extracurricular activity"? 2. The Supreme Court, of all our federal institutions, ought to be the most respectable, august & Clear-headed. I love reading about the inner workings of the court, about what we might call techniques of justice; but in my lifetime the court has gone from being a champion of civil rights to being a toady for the Republican party. 3. The students in my freshman classes have to be taught how to lose their prisoner's defensive attitude--an attitude that basically says difference is dangerous, dissent is demeaning, creativity suspect. Most of my students consider even the mildest debate deeply threatening--they want to be nice, be good. Boredom as a mode of being. 4. Most public schools are bureaucratic institutions run, not for students, but for the convenience of teachers & administrators; socially, the schools are factories for conditioning obedience into the post-capitalist workforce.

I still have the same battered paperback of Albert Camus' The Rebel I carried around with me in high school: "The spirit of rebellion can exist only in a society where a theoretical equality conceals great factual inequalities." [20] So, platitudes about freedom & drug testing go hand-in-hand.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 4:59 AM.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Blogs as bogs: [from riley dog] There are two primary ways that a blog can develop: blogs can form as sphagnum moss grows over a lake or pond and slowly fills it (terrestrialization), or blogs can form as sphagnum moss blankets dry land and prevents water from leaving the surface (paludification) . . .
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:55 AM.

Lexical overload. I've been reading my students' essays & grading them & I've noticed that my other reading has been affected--for the worse. I've been enjoying the essays, but I'd rather blog the students than grade them. The longer I spend as a teacher the more I hate grading & its false quantification, its artificial certainty of this is an A, this a B; but it is only recently that I have seen how reading in order to give a grade infects my other reading. I need to do some research on this & think about radically changing the way I read student work.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:19 AM.

Thursday, March 14, 2002
I'm reading too many damn things at once: Student essays from two classes, Poetry & Consciousness by C.K. Williams, The Illusion of Technique by William Bartlett, "Aesthetic Messages in an Edenic Language" [from The Role of the Reader] by Umberto Eco, Michael Joyce's Othermindedness, children's stories in Vietnamese that my tutor has me translating while we're on spring break. Oh, that book to which Chris Robinson & I have devoted an entire weblog, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:55 PM.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002
Reading & writing two cities: I thought I would be able to post from the Associated Writing Programs Annual Meeting in New Orleans, but couldn't find a convenient internet connection. I suppose I should investigate dial-up services with local numbers. (It may be mere snobbism, but I refuse to get an AOL account.) This was my first trip to New Orleans & it reminded me of Saigon. Both cities are perched on the edge of major river deltas; both celebrate, however ambivalently, their colonial heritage; New Orleans & Saigon often get afternoon thunderstorms that blow themselves out quickly, leaving behind pleasantly warm evenings; both are in simultaneous states of decay & renovation; both offer the best seafood on the planet, as far as I can tell; and despite the fact that I prefer zydeco & rhythm & blues to Vietnamese pop, both cities are vibrant centers of popular music. Unlike several previous years at AWP, I spent the majority of my time going to panels & readings. It was a pleasure to hear Ellen Bryant Voigt read again--somehow I always forget how good she is. Voigt was on a double bill with Rita Dove & there was simply no comparison. The former Poet Lauriat’s verse is one-dimensional, intellectually simplistic, barely competent rhythmically, showy--in a word, forgettable; Voigt's poems are emotionally harrowing without sacrificing intellectual rigor, rhythmically masterful, modest. I also went to a panel offered by a bunch of grad students from the U of Florida on teaching creative writing using rhetorical models. I was prepared to be the condescending old professor, but was very impressed. There is also an on-line aspect to their model, using the web as the primary workshop space & so freeing up class time for practice & discussion of models. I plan on using several of their ideas in my intro creative writing course next fall. More on this in a day or two.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:52 PM.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002
MWO "The battle is only days old, and it would be premature and unwise to resurrect the Vietnam comparison (even if Gen. Tommy Franks did by accident say "Vietnam" when he meant "Afghanistan" during a Monday briefing). But it's certainly not premature to point out that the new fighting in Afghanistan should bump the "On to Baghdad" bandwagon into the slow lane. Finishing up the war in Afghanistan won't happen overnight. And it will take time and money (more money than the Bush administration has so far been willing to commit) to make sure the nation gets off to a better restart today than it got the last time a President Bush was in office and Afghans were trying some nation-building after a civil war."

Well, I am only a poor poet living out here in the wilds beside a river, but I have been making the same point since before the bombing began in Afghanistan. And when earlier this week I heard that small arms fire had brought down an American chopper the acid flashback of Vietnam got even brighter & noisier. So I'm not at all sure the comparison is "premature." General Franks slip of the tongue speaks volumes. I am afraid that, just as the Viet Cong could drawn on a virtually unlimited supply of alienated young fighters with nothing to lose. The reasons for the disaffection of the young men (mostly young men) are various & I would say quite different in Afghanistan & Vietnam; it is the fact of their existence that ought to trouble us deeply & frighten us out of our complacency. The mistake of US policy makers then & now is that they believe that those arrayed against us are motivated by ideology; but ideology only gives shape to alienation.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 8:10 AM.

Reading Nixon: "In tapes released last week, Nixon warns the Rev. Billy Graham that the Jews control the media and endorses Graham's statement that 'this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain' --a sentiment assuredly echoed in the surviving cells of al-Qaida. In another conversation, with former Texas Gov. John B. Connolly, Nixon is heard saying of Jews, 'They're untrustworthy ... Look at the Justice Department. It's full of Jews.' // Elsewhere on the tapes, Nixon chats with Henry Kissinger about the escalating bombing of Vietnam and interjects that 'I'd rather use the nuclear bomb.' // He even chides Kissinger for being overly worried about civilian victims: 'You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians, and I don't give a damn. I don't care.' // As if to prove this grim claim, Nixon callously dismisses the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the girl fleeing napalm bomb attacks as 'fixed.' // At another point, news arrives of the shooting of George Wallace, the former Alabama governor, who was expected to run in the 1972 election. Nixon, without missing a beat, says to blame the assassination attempt on the Democrats: 'Just say he [the shooter] was a supporter of [George] McGovern and [Ted] Kennedy. Just put that out ... Say you have it on unmistakable evidence.'" [Robert Sheer, writing in Salon about the newly-released Nixon tapes]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 6:01 AM.

Monday, March 04, 2002
Schizoid reading habits: I read the news obsessively on Salon & the NYT web site. At the same time, I have been reading Wittgenstein & beginning to look at poetry again after a long time away from the art. But what can I do? NPR reported just now that an American heliocopter has been shot down in northern Afghanistan. I am beset by historical analogues such as the battle of Ap Bac in 1963. [second link]
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 5:37 AM.

Saturday, March 02, 2002
This from the London Review of Books "A spectre is haunting America: the spectre of anti-Communism. In a word, Vietnam. Only three weeks into the bombing war in Afghanistan, the dreaded word 'quagmire' headed a New York Times piece by the Vietnam-era commentator R.W. Apple Jr, pointing out the 'many echoes' between the new conflict and the war America tries hard to forget. A rash of articles erupted, explaining how different they really were: Vietnam hot and green, Afghanistan cold and arid, the Taliban had no nearby sanctuary like China or North Vietnam, militant Islam lacks the patriotic strand in revolutionary Marxism, and so on. That Vietnam ended long ago does not explain these hasty disclaimers: World War Two, now recalled with treacly nostalgia, ended even further back. But it ended in a blaze of pure glory: the enemy governments either collapsed or signed a dictated peace, so all the sacrifices had been worthwhile. The end in Vietnam was more enigmatic. Either the world's strongest military and economic power was defeated by a Third World country with less than a fifth of America's population - a military miracle - or, even more shameful, the US abandoned a small ally it had solemnly sworn to defend. 'If we are driven from the field in Vietnam,' President Johnson had pledged in July 1965, 'then no nation can ever have the same confidence in American promises or American protection. We will stand in Vietnam.' Uncomfortable precedents indeed for America's allies in a new open-ended crusade against another ill-defined conspiracy, whose tentacles reach into the United States itself: the selective war on global terrorism." [Murray Sayle is an Australian journalist who lives in Japan]

Sayle's is the best, most dispassionate review of America's bloody embrace of Vietnam that I have read. The way he ties it to the current situation is neither doctrinaire nor simplisitc. I have had a terrible feeling since the beginning of this war that neither ordinary folk or the intelligentsia & opinion makers have had any idea what is going on. I'm not a historian, but I have read the history of American involvement in Vietnam with exceptional care. What has struck me, though, is our peculiar American a-historicism. Which manifests itself--on both the right & the left--as the enactment of myths. One side is in the grip of the triumphalist myth, the other the myth of the American hegemon.
Posted by Joseph Duemer at 2:49 PM.