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Monday 23 September 2002

Anti-IMF Manifestoes

Yesterday, I was reading an anti-globalization scavenger hunt list (it’s at the bottom of that page), a partly-tongue-in-cheek list of suggestions for time-killers for lulls during this week’s planned protests in Washington. It includes things like

Organize workplace to strike - 500 points

Occupy offices of K Street PR firm - 500 points

Occupy abandoned building - 400 points each

Plant trees in middle of street - 400 points each tree

Banner hang from building - 400 points

Pie corporate CEO or government official - 400 points

Smashed McDonalds window - 300 points each

Banner hang from highway overpass - 300 points each

Whack a CEO in the head - 300 points each

Talk to person on street about anti-capitalism - 200 points

none of which I’m even going to go into. Linked from the scavenger hunt page I found this page, which is a (the?) call-to-action for the hippies. It calls for them to “shut down” Washington on 27 September as a way of protesting (primarily) the IMF and World Bank’s involvement in third-world affairs and (more generally) the concept of “capitalism”.

This call-to-action includes a list of interesting demands, most of which are amusing.

Their first demand is that

the World Bank and IMF be abolished!

They go on:

The World Bank and IMF are never going to reform themselves and abolish or even lesson [sic] poverty as they claim. To do so, would mean putting themselves out of a job, as their business is making money off loans to indebt countries.

Well, yes and no. The World Bank and IMF probably cause as many problems as they solve, and the world would be a better place without them. It’s hard to find information on these institutions that even pretends to be impartial, though, so I may be misinformed. It seems that the whole enterprise results in more moral hazard, though.

We demand an end to privatization and structural adjustment everywhere.

“Privatization” usually means taking some function that the government was barely fulfilling, writing an incredible lot of regulations governing it, and farming it out to private industry. You then have a function that’s performed with even less flexibility than before, and with someone trying to squeeze the operation to make a profit out of it.

On this one, I’m in agreement with the hippies: no more “privatization”. I’m not sure they’d appreciate my policy of “de-nationalization”, though.

An end to all debt!

Meaning all national as well as personal debt. I’m all for this; I’d all of a sudden have no mortgage. Nobody owes me any money, so aside living in the state of nature that would result from the total collapse of the world’s economy, I’d be sitting pretty.

Personal debt is created through unfair credit and lending schemes designed to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

If “poor” == “stupid”, yes. I was once offered a car loan at 23.5%. I turned this down, and the people at the dealer were shocked. Apparently most people accept the 23.5% loan.

We want housing and food for everyone […] In Washington DC there are over 29,000 empty units of housing yet, families are put on waiting lists for years to get into houses

The problem is that most of those 29,000 empty units of housing are illegal to occupy, because they don’t meet the building codes. Some of those places are truly unsafe (there are still things in Washington that are burned out from the 1968 riots), but a lot of them just don’t have sprinklers, smoke detectors in every room, etc.

Sprinklers and smoke detectors are fine things, but I believe that humanity survived for at least a few generations without them. If we decree that every house must be a palace, a lot of homes are going to be refrigerator boxes.

Point this out, though, and you’ll be accused of wanting the poor to burn to death while the rich are snug in their mansions (collecting interest on those car loans). The ironic thing is that the rich generally don’t have sprinklers in their houses, as the more absurd requirements only apply to multi-unit housing.

Freedom for everyone: Immigrant Rights and Civil Liberties

Can’t really argue with that. But they go on to say:

People from around the world immigrate to DC, hoping for more freedom, many from countries devastated by war or decades of World Bank/ IMF policies. Upon arriving though, they often encounter racism, xenophobia, and poverty and find themselves with few rights and little control over their lives.

Which prompts me to wonder whether these people have ever been out of the United States in their lives. The United States is certainly the least racist and xenophobic place I’ve ever been. And as for poverty — weren’t these people fleeing World Bank/IMF-created poverty in their old countries? Is the point that they’re worse off here? If so, why don’t they go back? Is it not possible that recent immigrants tend to be poorer than the general population, due to a lack of the right knowledge, experience, and social skills and connections?

Women’s liberation.

Of course.

Though women have fought for and achieved many rights in most countries there continues to be an attack on women’s freedoms in the US and around the world.

Yes. The U.S. continues to “attack” women’s freedoms. Obviously. There are some countries in the world where women’s freedoms are under attack, or where they don’t exist at all. But these countries tend to be run by people with dark skin, and that somehow gets them a pass. And:

Women, particularly women of color, are often the most exploited people in the global economy

Yes, like the ones who are worked to the bone being National Security Advisor.

An end to the racist prison industrial system

Well, I don’t know that it’s necessarily racist by design, but I can get behind the idea that the prison system in the U.S. has become a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and industry. But:

People who do not fit it into the capitalist system and could pose a threat to its existence are locked up - in particular black men, Native American, and single moms.

The “black men” thing can go unchallenged. But Native Americans and single moms? They’re just trying to work in a mention, a shout-out to their peeps, as it were, for every one of their imagined constituencies.

Single moms?! I’ll grant that most of the women in prison in the United States are probably unmarried and a great many of them are probably mothers. But I don’t think they were put away for that.

An end to imperialism and terrorism by the US government and all other states.

Well, yes, I’m in favor of that, too. But if by imperialism you mean selling people what they are willing to purchase, and if by terrorism you mean an unwillingness to roll over for one’s enemies, well, I have to disagree. They link this to Cuba:

The US uses sanctions against Cuba to attempt to get the country to bend to the US governments and corporations will and recently sanctions against the country have been increased.

And, in some other ways, decreased, but we won’t go into that. I’d say it’s equally likely that one of the main reasons Castro is still in power at all is because of the U.S. trade embargo. If Cuba were a cheap vacationland for millions of Americans a year, the resulting cultural exchange would long ago have made Castroism untenable.

End colonial status of DC and developing countries.

They mention “developing” countries in their Demand, but in the broader complaint they talk about nothing but Washington, DC — which isn’t a “colony” at all, but which was established as a federal district from the start. Since 1790 it’s been made clear that Congress can rule the capitol city any way it likes; everyone living in DC today moved there or is descended from someone who moved there after this was made clear.

Washington is certainly a horribly mismanaged place, but demanding an end to its “colonial” status is just a non sequitur.

An end to capitalism!

At last the real point. Doesn’t it seem, though, that this clashes with their earlier demand for freedom for everyone? Or is it to be freedom for everyone, unless they’re buying or selling something? It seems to me that a lot of the immigrants they want so badly to help are in fact small businessmen, selling hot dogs and ugly ties at Metro stations.

They support their Demand:

No longer should ones survival and access to human needs be determined by ones economic means.

Or, no longer should one’s economic ends be determined by one’s economic means. I thought these guys were against the World Bank and IMF!

Capitalism is unsustainable, it creates discontent, it kills the environment and it is characterized by constant financial crisis and implosions.

Unlike, say, socialism. Capitalism is actually entirely sustainable, because it is dynamic. What they mean by “sustainable” is “static”, which they see as a good thing.

Workers, who create the economy, are left unemployed with worthless retirement plans and few recourses when companies like Enron and WorldCom go under

Or when, say, all debt is eliminated by fiat (see above).

I don’t go seeking out this particular type of porn, so this is the first time in a while that I’ve seen rhetoric of this type. I realize now that what I had formerly taken for clever parody of far-lefties may actually not have been parody at all.

Posted by tino at 19:44 23.09.02
Thursday 19 September 2002

Some Kids Are Incredibly Stupid

From The New York Times. Kids are apparently handing in school papers using idiotic instant-messaging and SMS shorthand:

Deborah Bova, who teaches eighth-grade English at Raymond Park Middle School in Indianapolis, thought her eyesight was failing several years ago when she saw the sentence “B4 we perform, ppl have 2 practice” on a student assignment.

“I thought, `My God, what is this?’ ” Ms. Bova said. “Have they lost their minds?”

Another teacher says, “I understand `cuz,’ but what’s with the `wuz’? It’s the same amount of letters as `was,’ so what’s the point?”

A student comments:

“I was so used to reading what my friends wrote to me on Instant Messenger that I didn’t even realize that there was something wrong,” she said. She said her ability to separate formal and informal English declined the more she used instant messages. “Three years ago, if I had seen that, I would have been `What is that?’ “

Illustrating nicely the use of ‘be’ where standard usage would favor ‘say’. Interesting because “I was ‘What is that?’” is quite different from “I said, ‘What is that?’” That seems to be an useful addition to the language, allowing quite a bit of subtlety.

Posted by tino at 12:46 19.09.02

Culture War, For Real

Steven Den Beste writes an excellent analysis of the current war, and what it will ultimately require.

This isn’t the first time that anyone (or even Den Beste) has pointed out that the culture of our enemy will have to be utterly destroyed before the war can end, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a decent analysis of where that culture’s problems have come from.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that Den Beste appeals to Ralph Peters’ seven flaws that condemn nations to failure. In an article in Parameters in Spring 1998, Peters said that these “failure factors” were:

  • Restrictions on the free flow of information.

  • The subjugation of women.

  • Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.

  • The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.

  • Domination by a restrictive religion.

  • A low valuation of education.

  • Low prestige assigned to work.

I can argue with none of these, but Peters’ argument (or at least this part of it) appears to be a tautology: Unsuccessful cultures restrict information, subjugate women, etc., etc.; ergo these things make a culture unsuccessful.

It makes sense that restriction of information (etc.) leads to a stagnant culture.

It also seems logical, though, that in an unsuccessful culture, people would ascribe a low value to work and education (because you’re still from this loser culture anyway, right?); that the physically weak (women, mainly) would be marginalized so the culture’s limited resources might be had by the strong; that religion would grow to be tyrannical; etc.

Posted by tino at 11:26 19.09.02
Monday 16 September 2002

British Law Enforcement

I normally discount this sort of thing as a rare mistake or a story taken out-of-context. But stories like this (see here) seem to come out of the UK at least once a month.

Posted by tino at 16:44 16.09.02
Thursday 12 September 2002

High Noon at the U.N.

George Bush has made a reasonably good speech at the U.N. today. It was full of nucyelars and other verbal missteps, but that’s how we know it’s the genuine George Bush and not a clever robotic double.

The content of the speech was good, though, and without bluster. The most important part, though, hasn’t got as much attention as I thought it would, listening on the radio:

Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence?

Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?

In the eyes of the United States, unless the U.N. responds appropriately to this, the U.N. will be irrelevant — and rightly so.

The U.N. and its supporters talk a lot about “international law” and “the rule of law”. The point is to do make international relations more like civil relations, by replacing the rule of might with the rule of law.

Trouble is, the rule of law is based on the threat of state violence. If you break the law, the state will use force to put you behind bars, or to seize some of your assets by fining you. If you don’t pay the fine, or don’t show up in court to be sentenced to prison, the state will send big, strong, well-armed men to find you, restrain you, and see that the state’s violence is done to you.

The U.N. is not a wholly bad institution; it provides a forum for speeches like the one made this morning by George Bush. It allows for some intermediate step in international relations between peace and war. But of late, as a lot of half-ass nations have learned how to work the system, the U.N. has come to be not about allowing some state of disagreement short of war, but about eliminating war entirely, and about lobbing rhetorical stones at the U.S. and Israel.

The paper handed to you by a state trooper when you’ve been caught going 80 mph isn’t the “rule of law”: the rule of law is the certainty that you will be locked up if you don’t pay the fine.

Similarly, the rule of “international law” — a dubious concept I’m just going to accept as a given in this particular rant — is not a horde of diplomats arguing in New York. There can only be the rule of international law if there’s a certainty that U.N. resolutions will be enforced with violence, if need be.

If the U.N. does not accept that, it truly is irrelevant.

Posted by tino at 12:17 12.09.02