Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Fundamentalisms

James Carroll offers a critique of all types of fundamentalism in this column published yesterday in the Boston Globe.

After defining fundamentalism and noting its troublesome effects, Carroll considers his own faith's version of the tendency. Noting Pope Benedict's recent "Apostolic Exhortation" and its assertion that certain values are "not negotiable," Carroll writes that "culture consists precisely in negotiation of values, and change in how values are understood is part of life. Moral reasoning is not mere obedience, but lively interaction among principles, situations, and the 'human limitations' referred to in the 1993 Vatican statement," which condemned religious fundamentalism.

Consider some of the values that good people might consider "not negotiable." Consider opposition to abortion or the defense of marriage as an exclusively heterosexual union. Or consider the promotion of democracy or of free-market economic principles. Consider support for human rights or opposition to all forms of war.

Steadfast defense of a principle without regard to circumstances--"mere obedience"--is easy. It absolves the one engaged in such a defense of the need to think about contexts or consequences. On the other hand, recognizing that values may come into conflict or that ends and means are both important--engaging, that is, in "moral reasoning"--is more difficult because it entails responsibility. It forbids the excuse that is so common among those who do evil without even realizing it: "I was just following orders."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Do-It-Yourself Country

If you've ever wanted to create your own utopian state (or maybe a dystopia is more your style), you can do it online here.

(Someone please let me know if it's worth messing around with. I don't have time to try it right now.)

[Thanks to Chelsea McCollum for the tip.]

Hyping the DPRK Threat

Joseph Cirincione makes a compelling case that the Bush Administration handled intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons program with the same disregard for inconvenient facts that it displayed with respect to Iraq. He writes:

What once appeared the exception now seems the rule. Officials in U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration are gingerly walking back from claims that North Korea was secretly building a factory to enrich uranium for dozens of atomic bombs. The intelligence, officials now say, was not as solid as they originally trumpeted. It does not seem that the North Korean program is as large or as advanced as claimed or that the country's leaders are as set on building weapons as officials depicted.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The original claims came during the same period officials were hyping stories of Iraq's weapons. Once again, the claims involve aluminum tubes. Once again, there was cherry-picking and exaggeration of intelligence. Once again, the policy shaped the intelligence, with enormous national security costs. The story of Iraq is well known; that unnecessary war has cost thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and an immeasurable loss of legitimacy. This time, the administration's decision to tear up a successful agreement--using a dubious intelligence "finding" as an excuse--propelled the tiny, isolated country to subsequently build and test nuclear weapons, threatening to trigger a new wave of proliferation.

This is just the introduction; Cirincione provides many specifics in the paragraphs that follow.

The charge of cherry-picking intelligence on the subject of North Korea's nuclear weapons program adds a new dimension to the consensus expressed by proliferation experts at a recent conference hosted by the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA: The Bush Administration has failed miserably in its handling of North Korea.

Monday, March 19, 2007

On the Record

Today, on the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, it is important to remember that this was a war of choice, not of necessity, for the United States. This searchable database of 237 statements made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Adviser Rice about Iraq makes the point very effectively.

Sudanese Slaves

The BBC reports that thousands of Sudanese slaves, most seized by Arab militias during raids on southern villages that were conducted during Sudan's two-decade-long civil war, have still not been released in spite of a 1999 agreement by the Sudanese government to facilitate their return home.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

War on Terror: The Board Game

Consider this an advisory rather than an endorsement:

From the U.K. comes a board game based on the "war on terror." Seriously.

[Thanks to Kevin Iga for the tip.]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My Country

Today, on a day of anti-war protests across the country, I spotted a bumper sticker with the following message: "I love my country, but I think we should start seeing other people."

Friday, March 16, 2007

In Zambia

For those who are interested in experiencing the Peace Corps vicariously, let me recommend Caitlin Dunn's blog. Caitlin is a 2006 Pepperdine graduate who has recently begun a two-year stint in Zambia. Her blog is a candid and detailed (if somewhat sporadic) account of life in the Northwestern Province of Zambia. Give Caitlin's blog a look--and be sure to leave her a note in the comments.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Not For Sale

For those in the vicinity of Malibu, I have a last-minute recommendation: David Batstone, author of Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade--and How We Can Fight It and founder of the the Not for Sale Campaign, will be speaking at Pepperdine tonight. Batstone teaches ethics at the University of San Francisco and writes on ethics for USA Weekend.
Dr. Batstone's talk will be in Stauffer Chapel at 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, a day that commemorates a number of significant events in history that occurred in March, including several associated with the labor movement in the United States. (For example, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which over 140 female workers were killed, occurred on March 25, 1911.) In honor of International Women's Day, I've decided to describe briefly the contributions of one woman associated with the American labor movement, Mary Harris Jones (1830-1930).

One of the most important labor advocates in American history, "Mother Jones" began as an organizer for the Chicago chapter of the Knights of Labor in 1871 soon after losing all her possessions in the Great Chicago Fire. (Just four years earlier, Jones had lost her husband and four young children in a yellow fever epidemic in Tennessee.) From 1871 until the end of her life almost sixty years later, Jones was a part of every significant strike in the United States.

Jones was especially concerned with conditions in which coal miners were forced to worked. In fact, her work with the United Mine Workers earned her the nickname "the Miners' Angel." In 1898, Jones founded the Social Democratic Party. Seven years later, she helped to established the Industrial Workers of the World.

Jones liked to tell audiences, "I'm not a humanitarian, I'm a hell-raiser." She was indeed a hell-raiser, but she raised hell on behalf of those who were victims of economic exploitation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Independence, Texas-Style

Happy Texas Independence Day to Texans and those who wish they were. (That latter category has no doubt decreased in number over the past six years, but, anyway . . .)

Here, for your historical enlightenment and reading pleasure is the Texas Declaration of Independence, signed on March 2, 1836.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Losing Power

"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts."

--Aung San Suu Kyi

Abe and "Comfort Women"

From 1937, when Japan invaded Manchuria, to the end of the Pacific War in 1945, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 women were forced into prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army. So-called "comfort houses" were established throughout Asia, from Sakhalin Island to the Dutch East Indies and beyond. Wherever the Japanese military went, "comfort women" were "recruited" to serve the sexual desires of soldiers. Toward the end of the war, when most Japanese forces were withdrawn to the home islands, even Japanese women were forced to become military base prostitutes.

In 1993, not long after official documents detailing the Japanese military's role in procuring "comfort women" were unearthed, Japan issued a formal apology to the women involved and established a victims' compensation fund supported by private donations. Today, however, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe began to reverse his nation's progress toward the acceptance of responsibility for the terrible crimes perpetrated against tens of thousands of women. Abe said, "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion."

Signs of the Japanese shift in policy were on display last month as government ministers reacted negatively to hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives on Japanese sex slavery during World War II. The nationalist tendencies of the Abe government seem destined to harm relations with Japan's East Asian neighbors and the United States as well.