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Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Yo, el Supremo!

 My niece Nicole is in Paraguay at the moment. I'm not absolutely sure why. It's a Wilson High or some similar kind of thing. Tipped off by my other sister that there was a web site of sorts where her parents (My sister Ann and brother-in-law Al) could obtain sparse information and the occasional picture, I shook this site out of the internet: -- Category Archive for 'Paraguay' | LearnServe International. They even have their own Flicker set LearnServe Paraguay '09 Blog - a set on Flickr and apparently a Facebook presence as well. The point of this seems to be cultural and global engagement, beyond some material assistance. That and having fun. They are having fun. I don't think I've ever seen my niece look happier than she does in those pictures.


 Following this I did a little reading on the culture geography and history of Paraguay. About which I frankly knew nothing  CIA - The World Factbook -- Paraguay. From this brief reading it seemed that a "Paraguayan Example" could be spoken of. An example of a nation returning to democracy after years of authoritarian rule. For most of my life Paraguay was under the personal iron whim of General Alfredo Stroessner and the Colorado party  Alfredo Stroessner - Wikipedia. It was a nation exemplifying thin institutions and strong man rule. A nation existing in a permanent state of martial law. At one point to preclude demonstrations he shut down and partially razed one university. During these years the Catholic Church was one of the few institutions he dared not confront harshly.  Paraguay had auspicious beginnings. Asuncion was the seat of Spanish governance for all southern South America initially. Though this provincial seat moved to Buenos Aires later on, Paraguay gained bloodless independence from Spain by simply following the decision of local leaders in Buenos Aires. A notable incident from early Paraguayan history is the central government's breaking up Jesuit administration of autonomous missions in southern Paraguy. They were too well-run, self-possessed and peaceful, and this bothered the central government. A strain of authoritarianism increased and found expression in the rule of megalomaniac isolationist Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia. In a subsequent generation of dictators that of Carlos Lopez's son, Francisco Lopez, the disastrous war of the Triple Alliance was fought in the 1860s.  

I, the Supreme []  Augusto Roa Bastos' 1974 novel on Rodríguez de Francia is one of  Paraguay's most well known literary works, an examination of the despotic mind. A likely reference and marker to the Stroessner regime. The 20th century history of Paraguay was one of poverty and non development, coups and return to absolutism. Followed by decades of resistance and demonstration. 1989 brought an end to the Stroessner era and a slow twenty year return to democracy. A new constitution in 1992 was written by a special and freely elected constitutional assembly. By this document Paraguay is constituted as a representative and pluralist democracy with a separate bicameral legislature executive and judiciary.

 In December of last year I wrote a post here  titled "PP !=Dd" It dealt with Thailand's dueling people power movements. Thaksin's populist Red-shirts, and the middle class and urban elite Yellow-shirts. Both rooted in existing national interests BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thaksin demands fresh resistance. What I intended was that popular (populist) street demonstration do not alone indicate a fervor for universal democracy. Either big D or little d democracy. I see democracy, rule of the people, as existing in these two facets. Big D democracy I identify as the principle of democracy embedded in a societies formal institutions and processes. Little d democracy I see at heart as a simple thing . A principle of basic fairness rather than a complex and highly charged ideal. I see it; though, as the more fundamental concept. Where big D democracy crumbles with its institutions, and ossifies with their corruption. Little d democracy can't really be broken and always reasserts itself in human affairs. Democracy's aim is to organize the governance of a group in a manner that our comfort and discomfort as individuals - how comfort and discomfort is experienced - is effected as locally directly and equitably as possible. That the voice of each penetrates all decisions that affect each. When trying to weigh sympathy towards a protest movement or group I would look most closely at their commitment to little d precepts and non-violent character. Protests which have which have greater participation and voice as an object and a spontaneous character, rather than ones supporting existing vested interests ought to be viewed more favorably even when the latter appear mounted on the plinth of big D democratic institutions. There is a great tendency of states, political factions, to transition to authoritarianism using the power of offices freely won, then erecting barriers to further entry and controlling outcomes.   

 New modes of communication will enhance democracy some say. Techno-democracy, or perhaps Demo-technocity. But what technology gives, technology takes away. In the past few weeks I've heard much about what weblogs, Facebook, Twitter, and texting can do:  Does 'Tiananmen + Web = Tehran'? - Do Internet communication technologies make a real difference? On balance I think yes, because they radically increase the  multiplicity of pathways. The internet particularly lends itself to the power and immediacy of images. In Iran though it was characterized by an ad hoc and emergent nature that did not prove sustainable.

 The struggle against authoritarianism and the paranoia of security states can be called Information Wars. It is about information and the control of it. And it is nominally true that information is empowering and democratizing. There is much speculation in the media about the degree the Internet facilitates the transmission of information, through and around gatekeepers. Though there is surprisingly little hard information. The BBC has a program, Digital Planet, that does look specifically at these issues. Here with an article on Web-logging in Vietnam, Cuba and China  BBC NEWS | Technology | Blogging all over the world.  The efficiency and effectiveness of governments to clampdown on the ways and means of information seemed to surprise some as though it were unreasonable for a nation to be able to censor the whole world wide web China, Cuba, Other Authoritarian Regimes Censor News From Iran - The Iranian government's mastery over cell phone networks and texting, Nokia unapologetically sold them: BBC NEWS | Technology | Hi-tech helps Iranian monitoring. This is great re-assurance for such regimes. Even as the Washington Post picks up on the story that China is effectively disbarring its civil rights lawyers  Human Rights Lawyers 'Disbarred' by Paperwork -, there is news that they are secure enough to publicly charge and prepare lengthy incarceration for Liu Xiaobo principle author of the Charter '08 document  BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China activist formally arrested.

 Organizations like the Center for Democracy and Technology focus  mostly on US laws and policy though they do have a side international focus  CDT | International  and the Global Internet Policy initiative (GIPI) which seeks to generate and offer legal frameworks for telecommunications policy based on principles of a "decentralized, accessible, user-controlled, and market-driven Internet." The Personal Democracy Forum also takes as its mandate the effect of technology on political communication. Initially very US and web 2.O fashion forward campaigning centric, they are opening a European Forum this fall, and with favorable view there, beyond in the future.

 As a last thought; I do enjoy spectacle of watching republicans who piously championed the freedom demonstrations in Iran try to figure a stance on the coup by Honduran rightists and the military against the leftist and Hugo Chavez befriending, but legitimate leader of Honduras, President Zelaya. Who admittedly seemed on the verge of a de-legitimizing power grab himself.  Honduran Military Sends President Into Exile; Supportive Congress Names Successor. The pretzel logic of the supreme ones and those who wait by their stage doors with flowers.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Brain Damage

  I feel the need to write a post that is not long and not about politics.  I was dismayed to hear WFMU DJ Kenny G. (not that Kenny G. but WFMU's own chanteuse of French criticism Kenneth Goldsmith - Wikipedia) is rotating off their schedule for a while. Busy guy I suppose. Kenny G:  making radio the way BauBike makes bicycles.

 Kenny's show figures in a little story I want to tell. It happened one day at the library a few weeks back while I was working. It involved Kenny playing then back announcing a piece by someone named Paul McCarthy. At the same moment I was in the middle of a processing a book by an artist named Paul McCarthy. In the trancelike semi-hypnotized state of mid-afternoon copy cataloging, worlds collided and entangled. At first I sensed only a vague confusion which returning full consciousness could not make go away. After some effort realizing that what I was listening to and what I was working on were both about someone with the same name. Nearly as I can determine the same person. The book Paul McCarthy : central symmetrical rotation movement : three installations, two films,  I recall from memory and a cursory examination was a description of a series of installation art pieces. These consisted of a room, with walls and windows, built within a gallery space. The rooms were built on turntables and spun around. In addition there was a closed-circuit video system consisting of a number of cameras and one or more monitors. The monitor would switch between cameras through a special circuit, but was synchronized so that it would never reflect the vantage point of any hypothesized viewer of the monitor. The song was called Finito Kenny G playlist | 05.20.09. The problem really was having portions of my mind running autonomously under only a simple rule set that these separate things should not be the same.  Nothing seemed right the whole rest of that day after that.

 I had a strange echo of this a few days later while flipping through an issue of biking magazine I found myself reading about Andrew Bird. Turns out Andrew Bird rides a bike. Keeps one on the tour bus, tools around between shows. Can one whistle and ride a bike at the same time? Yes, I tried it this morning with only moderate bodily damage.  

  While I'm here considering WFMU I should give thanks to WFMU dj Diane Kamikaze for mentioning the Art of Pompeii exhibit that was at the National Art Gallery back earlier this year  National Gallery of Art - Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples.  I live here in DC I didn't know about it. On the strength of her recommendation I went through it with my sister and nephews the next weekend. I liked the statue of Silanus, All these years I missed the fact that Bacchus had a regular drinking buddy. On the way out of that I was thrilled to find as special bonus a Robert Frank Exhibit down the hall  NGA: Looking In Robert Frank's The Americans:. I wish I had seen the companion exhibit on Photography as narrative in the post-war period  Reading the Modern Photobook   National Gallery of Art - Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans: (bottom). My nephews were flagging a bit by that this point, though.

I enjoyed that little coda to the trip immensely. Frank, particularly with his book the Americans, along with Henri Cartier-Bresson form my photographic touchstones. Robert Frank later made a movie about the Rolling Stones.


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Saturday, June 20, 2009
A Republic...

 There was a recent contested election in Iran, and allegations of fraud. Iran is a country which ascribes to Sharia law. Law with a close relation to original severe Islamic law. You steal a car you may lose your hand. You try to steal a whole country you may lose your head. This was not just an optimistically fraudulent election. One where you keep your head down, but an eye on things and help yourself along: ballot shortages in less sympathetic districts, padding the count in safer districts.

 This was an election where the falsification was planned to a massive and comprehensive scale from the outset Was Iran's election rigged? Here's what is known so far. | One designed to carry a message. The degree of detail controlled is the key indicator. Uniform results across all districts throughout the country this was intended to be a signal of disrespect for democracy. It began with a false informal announcement of a Mousavi victory. After this a second formal announcement of Ahmadinejad's victory, Only an hour after the polls closed, with no witness observed ballot counting, in a national election conducted by paper ballot  New Analysis Points to Fraud in Iran - Behind the Numbers. Immediately on the heels of this: cell phone, text messaging, and internet interruptions. And later broadcast cut-off of the foreign media on subsequent days. When the totals of the official numbers are released they appear to show many localities voting at 90 to 130 percent of their registered number Iran election turnouts exceeded 100% in 30 towns, website reports | World news | Problematic since there is a well documented ceiling to electoral participation due to natural friction - illness and accident - at or below 80 percent. All this prior-intent amounts to a coup d'etat and hollows the meaning of an Islamic Republic of Iran.

 As the scale of the deceit became known and demonstrations started  Social Networks Spread Defiance Online - A program of reaction began Iran elections: mass arrests and campus raids as regime hits back | World news | The Guardian. Arrests, detrainments and an active campaign of agent provocatiership. As Ahmadinejad's thugs ran through the streets in an orgy of violence. I found it interesting that the arrest of Iraqi Civil rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani The Associated Press: Rights groups: reformists seized in Iran crackdown mirrored the arrest of a well-known Vietnamese lawyer, Le Cong Dinh, just last week BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Vietnam holds high-profile lawyer. At the time I had associated that arrest with the arrest and decertification of civil rights lawyers in China that I had mention in a prior post. My (smart, beautiful) friend Trân Nguyen, adding to what the BBC story told me, said she had heard through Viet community news sources that men gained entry to Le Cong Dinh's office in Saigon under false pretenses and once inside proceeded seize his files and computers without warrant. In charging him the Vietnamese authorities seemed most concerned that he had attempted to write a new version of the Vietnamese constitution: one fairer, more just, and democratic. This they referred to as "reactionary".

All of these events underscore danger of allowing this style of governing to appear successful. One piece of information that struck me as significant; someone interviewed earlier in the week commented that Iran's theocratic leadership had apparently determined they could control the country effectively and permanently with only genuine and reliable support from thirty percent of the population. That they believed a modern society could produce and extract wealth enough to buy support from that margin, give them license, and gain permission to repress and suppress the remaining seventy percent. This is a dangerous notion, and an existential threat to democracy. 

  Ayatollah Khamenei's statement one Friday 19Jun09 (Tehran Time) that Ahmadinejad was the definite winner of the election, signaled a reassertion of absolutism  BBC NEWS | Middle East | Ayatollah demands end to protests. It was followed by an unapologetic, but at the same time still extra-judicial crackdown. This brutal intimidation was accomplished mainly by Ahmadinejad's Basij militia Who's behind Iran violence? Website posts video in name-and-shame campaign. | Armed not just with batons and fists, but now Kalishnikovs and directed (or inclined) to act in a threatening deadly and increasingly random manner.  Iranian leadership continued full of bluster and pronouncement that the violence, injury and damage was Mir Hussein Mousavi's responsibility, not theirs  UTV News - Iranian elections: Ahmadinejad's 'dirt and dust' jibe rebounds. They take care; though, to keep direct agents of the government from actions that might implicate them. 

 The Obama administration must find a line of engagement no matter how this plays out. A narrow line, to remain prepared to deal with the situation when it settles  Does Obama still want to engage Iran? | This isn't like taking New England and ten. If U S politicians support demonstrations and have made a show of it, but nothing comes of it. You can't just pay the bookie and move on. There will be an ever more irrational and paranoid Ahmadinejad in the tomorrow that follows.

This is the problem with fits of shallow and irresponsible indignation among those who preferred genuine freedom only in the breech (thought they like to appear as its champion). Rather they court governments of strong men who can give a constant correct answer irrespective of the noise of their people or their legislatures. They salute the world's peacock thrones. They disparage the diplomatic hand as undemonstrative unproductive, but are incapable of recognizing the military hand is as weak if not weaker still. Not seeing that when military power is used, even when it obtains its end, it becomes smaller. The uncertainty is removed. What can be broken is broken, What is not, can not.

 The principle that saying too much might be harmful. That making sweeping statements to claim ownership identity and brand, with politics of another country What's behind Iran's power struggle |, issuing veiled and empty threats can only backfire and empower those that wish to discredit the protester's cause Iran's elections - the human rights dimension | TPMCafe. Allowing them to make this sudden strife the work of an outside enemy, not the treachery of their own leaders. This is not that difficult to grasp, and yet figures like Charles Krauthammer do it any way. I might conclude that their overriding motivation is harassing the President only. That they have no particular interest in or concern for the protesters on the streets of Iran. No more than the ones shot on the streets of Tehran generations earlier. Or shot in Chile and Argentina. Too often to some U S opinion leaders these were never more than a mere rabble who deserved whatever fate men like Pinochet saw fit to give them.

 Now that the regime in Tehran has tipped its hand; however, the Obama administration can afford to take a more forward position and acknowledge the courage and  passion for democratic rule the Iranian people have shown. I hope that he will and think that that he ought to.  Calling the U S and Britain names now cannot restore the legitimacy the clerical autocrats have lost in the eyes of their own people. They cannot make the rest of the world go away like so many inconvenient ballots, inconvenient citizens.

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Thursday, June 11, 2009
Perfect Day

 I've had a song, Lou Reed's Perfect Day, stuck in my head the past few days. I can't  think why, but I've been thinking about the rise of a particular type of leader in the republican party. Seemingly drawn from an American version of Commedia dell'arte, The stock characters are all there: harlequin, brighella, il capitano etc. Their activities have been welcomed, joined with and cheered on, by certain sections of the party in the name of energizing the base. Even as it drives that base down to new levels of baseness. A vitriol that calls for a reactive if not reactionary sensibility. The rank and file, and the elected leaders beholden to the public do not seem to realize that the needs of this set of individuals; controversy, attention, and ratings, may not necessarily align with the parties best interests.

 Now after half a year of malignant broadcast the seeds sown by this hint they may return the whirlwind. A Doctor who performs abortions is shot to death in a church in Kansas City. This is when Scott Roeder shoots Dr. George Tiller. The irony of taking a human life to fill a pro life agenda is not lost, but few take it further to the principle that if any social, subgroup, can rationalize taking human life, for whatever reason makes sense to them, the general moratorium vanishes. Not long after a vile cantankerous old man walks into Washington DC's Holocaust museum shooting a man dead as he came through  Holocaust shooting signals race turmoil, some say -  This person James von Brunn was his name  I think was at the University Maryland back in the spring. I didn't make the connection until I saw in one article that he supported himself in partial fashion handing out materials from the liberty lobby. There was a guy handing out copies of a newspaper called the Spotlight and little cards that raged over the forgotten grievance surrounding the Israeli air force's attack on the US Navy vessel USS Liberty in 1967.  

  In wake of all this, having spent several months ardently stoking this fire of bully vendetta the reaction of the republican commentators is first to try to deny anything is happening, attempting to brush off suggestions that such people as Roeder and Brunn the Holocaust museum shooter are right wing extremists in any event  Eastern Shore Acquaintances Say Museum Shooting Suspect Spouted Hatred - Unfortunately for this argument as people emerge from the chrysalis of childhood into adulthood political sensibilities become as fined tuned and in as innate a manner as one's ones sense of balance or gravity. Brunn's problem was not too many Kumbaya sing-a-longs. Some seized on the fact that Brunn also had the the address of the National Review among his belongings. Surely no true dexter-winger would consider a grievance against hero and champion of La Causa William Kristal. Argument by exclusionary definition, the no true Scotsman argument as some have pointed out  Latest Right-Wing Meme: Von Brunn's A Lefty | TPMMuckraker. The shooting at a US Army/Navy recruiting center in Little Rock Arkansas  AFP: Arkansas army center gunman trawled web for target that killed one soldier, wounded another by Abdulhakim Muhammed, aka Carlos Bledsoe, 23  is an outlier does not change median data. In law enforcement eyes it reinforces a forming notion that we are in a period marked by Lone Wolf terrorist acts  The Associated Press: 'Lone wolf' terrorists elusive target for police.

 What Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and others in the unelected leadership committee ought to remember is that those whose ideology has been honed and pushed into a murderous rage are unstable, are less than ordinarily rational, and unpredictable as well  Federal Eye - Eye Opener: Does Holocaust Shooting Validate Homeland Security Report? Certainly I have seen comments following some of these articles that indicate social constraints are being dispensed with Hate Crimes and Hate - dot.comments in favor of seething contempt.  None of these commentators know when some statement or phrase of theirs will make one of these self-appointed guardians of righteousness sit up on the couch in front of the TV and yell "You saying what know?" Then reaching for his (or her) gun between the cushions calling out: "Bess, old Bess where are you? You loaded? We got some varmint hunting to do"  As Lou Reed sang at the end of Perfect Day: "You're going to reap just what you sow. You're going to reap just what you sow."

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Thursday, June 4, 2009
Gate of Heavenly Peace

"As I walked  on to Kendall square,
and crossed the river basin there,
the Charles was black, the sky was blue,
the view was old, the bridge was new." Bridges, Squares.
... Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

  It is twenty years since the spring vigil for voice and autonomy at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Twenty years since it was crushed, literally, beneath the treads of armored vehicles and gunfire. A bridge between Beijing University Students and the cities workers, broken. A bridge between rising privileged intellectual and bureaucratic tribes and the nations laborers, factory workers of the new economy, never built. Broken as well the link between that generation and the next; the new generations in China. As this pinnacle moment of their youth was brushed away from official existence. The past occluded. The meaning of their lives taken away from those coming of age now. The square by the gate is not discussed either way, good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, overreaction by frightened old men. It is banned, scarcely referred to. Written out of history. And little official memory from this side.

  My one constant window on the world is from a library cataloging technician's quarter-cubicle. And our acquisitions department's river of new books that flow by me, steady broad and deep. From this I take as a marker of the new China's cultural dynamism and wealth not only the amount and heft of books on the art world in China; the new galleries and exhibitions. Also the radicalness and challenging nature of this new art. It is not, one more exhibition of a dusty scroll with a delicately painted reed on it drawn by a sensitive Confucian captioned in bone script (personally I like Huang Binhong's stuff).  It is not Mao-approved revolutionary social realism. No ballet of Kalishnikovs here - well un-ironically at least.  These books  The revolution continues : new art from China [] wear their hearts on their sleeves somewhat - or dust jackets at least. They have titles like  China under construction : contemporary art from the People's Republic = Zheng zai jian she zhong : Zhongguo dang dai yi shu [] Fancy : dream []  ,  New world order : contemporary installation art and photography from China [] Beyond Beijing = Zi you xing [] , Susi, key to Chinese art today. Future & fantasy [] and,  dslcollection a private Chinese contemporary art collection [] This last  is a dvd of a private collection, but the collection also has a strong (flash-based) web site, so you can see much of it online  DSL COLLECTION.

 This richness and dynamism often seems to lack reference to, masks, the failings of the new China. The essential exploitivness of its world factory culture. Perhaps all societies as they progress through structural transition encounter an exploitive phase. This does not mean they can't try to be self-aware. That some citizens should not attempt, or be allowed,  to bring these matters forward to the conscience of all. To ask there be one measure of fairness and justice. Without this there is not balance or symmetry. It would require greater familiarity with this contemporary art world to see what attitudes on the contradictions and disparities of Chinese modernism actually exist in it. Art sometimes declines to drape its final meaning across its surface.

  Manifestos for the time being have been left to the prosaic side. Charter '08 is only from only the end of last year :10 Dec '08 Charter 08 - Wikipedia. I had wanted to write more on this, but have yet to turn up much on it. The manifesto, published in an english translation earlier this year will have to speak for itself for now:  China's Charter 08 - The New York Review of Books.  Primarily it is a reform movement. Seeking only to broaden and deepen the existing political system not over throw or replace it. It  asks for freedom of assembly and association, an independent judiciary, introduction of legal allowance of other political parties.

The principal drafter was detained even before manifesto was formally released. The governments trending reaction can be gauged from this. Many others have been interrogated, possibly all those who were original signers, signers of the subsequent petition supporting it, or in any other way formally connected to it. The Chinese press forbidden to discuss or even refer to its existence.

  Similarly regarding authoritarianism and its discontents This CSM article China guts budding civil rights movement |  reveals that Chinese lawyers who have taken cases to defend cultural resisters are finding their legal licenses are being revoked. Apparently there is a law in China that its 120,000 or so lawyers must renew their registration to practice law every year. The greatest danger the current Chinese government poses is that it serves as a brutalist model for how a modern mass society ought to proceed. A partitioned society capable of delivering profound luxury to a privileged elite while keeping political power out of the hands of the rest. An example that has admirers across the world even in the west, even in the US. More than few US companies, particularly internet and telecom companies, have debased and libeled themselves in a scramble to sell or enable populace-controlling technologies to China (M, C, Y, G).  Such a society is in a fundamentally unbalanced situation, not stable. No matter how channeled and regulated. No matter how on the threshold of a heavenly garden of peace it portrays itself as being.

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